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Disconnect to Reconnect: Beyond Silence and Darkness

Meditation retreat and Dark Room: I tell you my experience.

The search for inner peace and personal development has led many to explore methods such as silent meditation retreats and dark room experiences. Both approaches offer unique journeys into the self, each with their own conditions and benefits. A few weeks ago, I went to Beaujolais in France to do a retreat of almost three weeks, I'll tell you about it.

dessin d'un homme assis en train de méditer

Silent Meditation Retreat: A natural pathway to the self

I retreated to Hridaya Yoga in Longeval to attend a 10-day silent mediation retreat. I had already gone there in March last year to participate in my very first retreat and it had a very strong impact on me in the weeks and months that followed. A deep reconnection that I couldn't imagine was possible after just ten days.

The silent meditation retreat is an immersion in meditative practice, in a calm environment conducive to introspection. For ten days you are in silence, the mirrors are hidden, all sources of entertainment are removed: telephone, internet, music, reading,... only writing is allowed. Any contact with other participants is prohibited, whether by verbal, non-verbal communication or by looking. However, it is possible to communicate with the teachers or the person in charge of the group by asking questions through notes on pieces of paper.

A typical day

The first days, the duration of morning and afternoon meditations is one hour and gradually increases to two or two and a half hours. Before that, different meditation techniques are taught and practiced over short periods of thirty minutes.

This is how the schedule of a day looks like:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up with a gong

7:00 a.m.: Morning meditation

9:00 a.m.: Breakfast

10:00 a.m.: Lecture on a topic, Hatha yoga and meditation for 30 minutes

1:00 p.m.: Lunch, free time, rest and karma yoga (daily task to be carried out such as sweeping the floor or washing the restaurant tables in order to contribute to the running of the center)

4:00 p.m.: Afternoon meditation

6:30 p.m.: Dinner

7:30 p.m.: Q&A, lecture on a topic and meditation to close the day

10:00 p.m.: Sleep

The center is quite isolated and surrounded by forests, it is possible to immerse yourself in nature and get some fresh air during breaks which is quite pleasant.

Meditative metamorphosis

This ten-day period was a significant advancement in my meditative practice. It felt like I was picking up where I left off in March. My meditation sessions have varied between intense depth and lighter moments. Initially, I had many visions, visual manifestations and lucid dreams, but later I felt my kundalini intensifying further. What began as a subtle movement from the heart in the first few days, transformed into an activation shaking my entire upper body and head, often tearing me out of my meditative state. Hridaya adopts a non-dual tantric approach, perceiving energy as a simple manifestation to be welcomed, without seeking to control or repress it.

This retreat is very different from a vipassana which is very strict and rigid. It's a completely different approach with different meditation techniques. Vipassana, through its rigor, allows one to transcend the body and reach higher states of consciousness. At Hridaya, we use the method of self-inquiry according to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi with a focus on the heart by asking the question 'Who am I?' and thus go to the source of who this 'I' is.

Being quiet and disconnecting from your phone and the internet can be a source of worry for many, but in the end, it's quite a natural and simple process. It's like releasing a weight and having more time to be fully immersed in the present moment.

My first time in Dark Room: Darkness is powerful and intense...

A dark room retreat is exactly what it refers to: an extended stay alone in a space completely devoid of light. Considered as an advanced practice in Tibetan Buddhism, this type of retreat is also used in India in Ayurveda and is called Kaya Kalpa or in the Tao, Mantak Chia has made it one of the pillars of these teachings.

The idea of ​​doing this type of retreat has been on my mind for three years and honestly aroused lots of fear in me. Only six months ago when I thought about it I felt rather excited and told myself that I was ready to dive in.

After the ten days in silence, I went to a village nearby where Bénédicte, a Hridaya yoga teacher, offers this type of retreat. The room is rather large and pleasant, with a bathroom equipped with a shower, a kitchen area (the lights of the fridges and kettle have been removed). The windows and the door are covered with a thick opaque black linen. Not a little ray of light passes through. Bénédicte shows me the room and explains to me how the trap works where the morning and midday meals will be placed. I settle in and make sure to visualise the room I will live in for the next six days several times. She suggests I go from light to dark by lighting a tea light and letting it burn until it goes out. I'm so impatient that barely five minutes after lighting it, I'm blowing on it. And there, plunged into total darkness...

Except that...

I had the impression very quickly, and this throughout my stay, that there remained a sort of residue of light that the walls and surfaces had absorbed and which shone in this darkness. I sometimes surprised myself by having the impression of seeing my hands moving in front of me, I even had fun making movements in front of my face and was convinced that I could see them! Do I have a gift? I doubt it... What I deduced was that my brain and my consciousness were trying to recreate a familiar environment, trying to project a space in the darkness in which I was immersed.

My experience

The first days you adapt to your new environment, making tea or eating are activities in their own, without sight everything requires much more attention, presence and time. You also sleep a lot! The body and our circadian cycle are regulated by light; in its absence, such as during a retreat in the dark, melatonin production increases and the need for sleep is increased. After two or three days, we adapt to the darkness and the pineal gland begins to produce DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) which leads to the appearance of visions in the days that follow.

Mine started quite quickly, there were a lot of lucid dreams and very light visions, very few colors as if veiled by a dark gray filter. They generally appeared late in the afternoon and mixed with dreams at night. Lots of nature with fields of trees, grass, seabed, clouds, starry skies,... The room also evolved and transformed into large spaces with drapes, flowers of all types, and a different configuration which have misled me on several occasions; to the point I hit walls and corners of the tables many times.

At times, I felt my body melting, absorbed by the darkness, as if I was nothing more than consciousness and I felt this energy field that I am and which vibrated at times very intensely.

I organised a program of meditation, yoga, sport and stretching but often I didn't follow it and was more connected to my body and what it needed. I started doing tapping, massages and mantra chanting, why is that? I don't know, I just listened to my intuition and did what my body wanted at that moment. Without an agenda or obligations, it's incredible how the return to the body happens naturally.

There were a few times when I felt bored and asked myself what am I going to do with all this time, not finding anything to do to entertain myself. But these moments only lasted a few minutes and didn't bother me that much.

The shock

In a darkroom meditation retreat, as in deep sleep, the entire objective world disappears. You have nothing left. Absolutely nothing...

I understood this within the first few hours, and my first night I woke up suddenly with panic. We only realise the intensity and depth of the dark once we really experience it.

Also, in the first moments the anxiety of losing track of time arose. It was only the next day when I turned off the ventilation, which noise can be annoying when meditating, that I heard the bell tower of the village church ringing every hour and every half hour from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. What a relief! But it quickly became an obsession, meticulously planning every moment of my day and waiting for the bell to ring. For a first experience it was reassuring, but next time I will equip myself with noise-reducing headphones in order to fully immerse myself in the process.

Why we should all take an annual retreat

Because yes, I would like to try the experience again, for two weeks at the end of 2024.

The fact of taking a break and going on an annual retreat brings me a lot on all levels and for me from now on it is necessary at least once a year and I would like to deepen this practice in a dark room as the experience shook me and put me quite a slap.

Historically, some religions and spiritual paths recommend that their followers take an annual retreat. For people just starting out the dark room is probably not suitable, but all types of retreats are beneficial.

It is also possible to start with a three or five-day meditation retreat for people who wish to discover or for whom ten days seems impossible.

No matter which method you choose, the experience of a meditation retreat allows you to immerse yourself in a state of inner silence, offering a beautiful opportunity to connect with yourself and explore the depths of the mind.

If you're still here, thanks for reading to the end! Please feel free to share a comment or tell your story if you have experienced one yourself.

Learn more

Meditation retreats in Hridaya (in French or English)

Hridaya Perspective on Retiring in the Dark

Reflections on a 40-day retreat in the dark

Darkness Technology, Mantak Chia

Dark Retreat France

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