Testimonial of a 2 Day Darkness Experience*
by Andrew Durham (February 2006)
I just came out of a pitch black room after two days inside. We call it a darkness retreat. I feel great.
In the small room is a bed and a small open area with a rug. The building is cob (earth and straw) with
windows that have been thoroughly blacked out for this purpose. There is an electric radiant heater and a
composting toilet, an infinitely more pleasant update on the chamber pot of old. There is an inversion swing
for hanging upside down.
Finn, my host and guide, would come in a couple of times a day to find out how I was doing, and to bring
me fruit and anything else I needed. Mostly, I lay in bed. I slept a lot, well and easily. Sometimes I would
stretch or swing. I had my CD player, a U2 album, and a French language course.
From the first moment of turning off the light, I felt a wave of relief from what I had never known until then as
the constant assault of light we experience in modern buildings and cities. The rumbling of the city did not
go away, but the break from light calmed me significantly.
It also practically erased my appetite. Emotional disturbances were, how shall I put itÖ more endurable.
Normally I just pop out for an ice cream bar or granola. That has long been my main emotional coping
mechanism in the light. Food consumes my attention a lot of the time. In darkness, I hardly thought about it.
In 54 hours, I had four apples, an orange, and two kiwis and I still feel full. I took a 30 minute break from
darkness last night to make unnecessary phone calls. Within 15 seconds of being in light, I wanted to eat.
For an hour afterward, I was ravaged by cravings for my usual snacks. Darkness has got to be the single
greatest way to disrupt poor eating habits.
I felt disoriented in darkness because Iíve been very visual and mental in my life, so things I can see
function as points of reference, aids in thinking and concentration. My thoughts in darkness simply swam. I
felt unnerved and, at times, nauseous. But my discomfort in darkness was still nowhere near as intense as
when Iíve fasted in light (drinking only water while resting). In fasting, my emotions, thoughts, impulses, and
surroundings were like an abrasive plague, like living in a tumbling sandpaper world. Darkness is soft. It is
still. It is nurturing. It is comforting at the same time that it necessitates tangling with chronic internal
discomforts. As Finn says, it is a luxury. Like cool silk sheets on a hot summerís day. Like a mother standing
by your bed when you are sick. Like a clear summer morning in the country with nothing but friends and
adventure before you.
By this morning, I was able to maintain a train of thought for more than 10 seconds. And it all started coming
together: the possibilities in my apparently stuck, dead-end life. The obvious insanity of trying to make life in
a city work for long. The total irrelevance of our cultureís standards and demands. Iím starting a business, or
at least, thatís what Iíve been telling myself for months now. Now I donít care. If it works, it works. No more
senseless pushing. I will happily go bankrupt now. Or not. Whatever. Iím available again to the Lifeforce. Let
it take me wherever, to serve it however. Thatís how I feel. My massive credit card debt is meaningless in
the dark womb of life, which secretly surrounds us all the time.
My main job today, besides tending to a few items of business (heh heh), is to make a sleeping mask. Of a
new kind that is comfortable, healthy, and effective so that I and maybe others can finally get some friggin
rest in this streetlight-infected world. My designs for shelter will change. Since the whole point is rest, what do we need windows in bedrooms for, anyway? Light feeds the eyes, it is true, but darkness allows them to
rest. And with them, so many other parts of the being that it is unbelievable.
Thereís no way to tell you how hung up Iíve been lately by worry and confusion. Now it is obvious that all of
it constantly perpetuated by stimulation from the visual field. This is what disappeared that first night upon
unplugging the light. I felt an underlying ocean of painóat the same moment of being relieved from it. I was
unaware I had suffered this way for years. No wonder I have felt so crazy. This, at least, is part of it.
I slept deeply. It happened many times that one moment I would feel a little sleepy and the next, I had
awoken from hours of deep sleep. I had no dreams or sense of passing time while asleep.
When dreams occurred, they came shortly before waking. They were so intense, they would sometimes
continue after waking. After opening my eyes, I twice saw vaulted ceilings above me for some seconds or
minutes. The first had a surface of tiny diamond tiles, like a rattlesnake-skin. The second was rough earth,
with ancient yet simple pictograms pressed deeply into it, maybe 4cm square. Last night, I saw green light
for awhile. This morning, several images of cinematic quality passed before me. I felt the power of art again.
One thing I could do that helped in difficult moments was to follow my breath. Without my visual point of
reference, this was very difficult at first. I could not remember to observe my breath for more than two
inhalations. But in the dark, everything good happens very quickly. By last night, I could stay with it for
several minutes before falling asleep. Breathing is a good reminder of the action of Life upon us.
In following it as it automatically went in and out, I could take refuge in something stronger than my
constant, low-level worry and panic. Also, these things were constantly getting undermined by the darkness,
without my visual point of reference to sustain them. So they were not as strong. While the apparently
positive side of my habitual patterns of awareness also got undermined, what is Real grew in my awareness
in an extremely short period of time compared to wilderness sojourns and fasting. However, it would be
easy to combine all these for the most amazing rejuvenation process imaginable.
My darkroom had a fresh air problem. Itís important to have plenty of fresh air. To have it be warm and
comfortable enough to be naked would be great, too. (It was pretty close, actually.) A shower, various
furniture, etc, would be cool. Naturally, as I lay there, I was inventing air-to-air heat exchangers with no
moving parts in my mind. Oh, also, I was hilariously bombarded with visions of womenís breasts. Fractal
boobies in three dimensions! Okay, sometimes it was a turn on. Who knew there were so many lovely
breasts, sometimes attached to women, in the universe? Okay, I did have an idea about that previously. But
this was ridiculous.
Again, I had several fits of emotional disturbance and confusion. They were not easy, but they were much
less difficult than in other settings. Many times I also just felt calm. I studied French with excellent
concentration for 90 minutes straight yesterday. Normally, 30 minutes is a lot. I listened to U2?s new record.
Darkness is the ultimate renewal. It is just the beginning.
* Please note that Andrew's retreat did not take place in one of our earthbag domes.
For more information on retreating into complete darkness, please see our darkroom resources page.
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was co-founded by natural builders and permaculture designers Hubert Huot and Julien Balmer in 2008 and is dedicated to disseminate and popularize permaculture ideas and earthbag building. After extensive study of alternative building methods in general, and earthen construction techniques in particular, among others at the Earth Institute in Auroville, they met on Koh Phangan in 2007 and began conceptualizing what little later became an earthbag adventure.