Korken Alexander: 10 Days of Illuminating Darkness


childAnd as I opened the door at the end of the 10th day and walked back out into this great beautiful world, I realized it had forever changed in my eyes.  Yes, I was extremely grateful to be able to see all the colors, plants, and incredible sights all around me, but it was the eyes of my heart that really brought me to my knees in one of the most unforgettable moments of pure bliss, happiness, and immense gratitude I had ever experienced.

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Darkness has a bad rep.  Most of us look at the color black and see nothing useful or pleasant about its essence.  We usually think of evil, fear, hatred, and loneliness as we peer down a dark alley or sit in an unlit room.  As a kid, I used to put my younger sister in a bathroom, turn off the lights, close the door shut, and yell Bloody Mary.  She loved it, of course.  But why is it that when we can’t see what is in front of us, we suddenly panic and think we are in great danger?  Why is the darkness so forboding in our minds?  It was this very question that sparked my curiousity enough to convince myself that spending 10 days in total darkness was a great idea.  Little did I know what awaited me in the nothingness.

Now, most of us can’t really wrap our brains around being in darkness for 10 days, so just think about what it feels like to be blind folded.  Now extend that experience to 240 hours of seeing nothing with your eyes.  Easy right?  For me, the first three days were just that…easy.   They flew by, while I practiced yoga, meditation, and pranayama; ate great  food, and slept a whole lot.  But soon my body’s chemical make-up began to drastically change and my mind began one of the greatest wars against me.

But before I get into that, let me just say that if you are going to go into a retreat like this, it is incredibly important that you have a reliable and understanding facilitator.   This wonderful person brings you your food, cleans up if things need cleaning up, and listens if you need to talk to someone.  I was blessed to have an incredibly giving woman, who was very patient and loving, especially during the times that I really struggled mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Let me paint the picture of these struggles for you before I get to the good stuff.

Every dark room is different but this one seemed custom-made to force me to get through my biggest mental challenges.  First off, it is important to know where everything is before you turn off that light.  There is no turning it back on to find things, and many times I became frustrated with misplacing things, tripping over my own feet, and really having to do things for myself through blind eyes.  That, within itself, is a great lesson not so easily learned.

The room had no toilet or shower.  I had a separate pee bucket and pooped in a compost bucket, which was nicely placed under a wooden contraption that you sat on.  Each one had a top that would help keep the room odorless, but the increased sharpness of my sense of smell never seemed to jive with the moments when I had to remove the top to these buckets.  And God forbid if your aim was to miss these buckets, because only your sense of touch could guide you to your ‘fallen friends .’ Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.   And when I got a parasite on Day 4 (very normal in Guatemala), I was visiting the poo factory 3 or 4 times a day.  Nothing I ate wanted to stay inside of me, and every time I opened the bucket, my mind would scream, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here you arrogant piece of $·$**%!’  But, no no, I was not going to allow ANYTHING to force me out.  And the challenges kept coming.

The shower was a large bucket that you stood in.  Then you would pull this hula hoop off the wall that had a shower curtain wrapped around it and you would put the hoop over your head.  Once the curtain was totally around you, you would stick the bottom of the curtain inside the bucket to make sure no water spilled out.  Above you was this solar heated, water container that had a small spout.  The trouble was if you were standing in the bucket, this container thing would be pressing against your face and  almost daring you to try to keep your balance, which was not so easy in the dark (with your eyes practically closed).  So I’d have to squat in the bucket to make sure I never ran the risk of falling outside the bucket and taking the whole little contraption crashing down to the floor with me.  Needless to say, I did not shower everyday.

I remember wailing in grief to the heavens one night for what seemed like an eternity and really had no idea why I was crying so hard.  It felt like these deep layers of fear and pain were being released from my body, much like the first time I did a cacao ceremony months before.  But at the end of all the sorrow and pain, I felt a much deeper connection not only to myself but to my higher power.

As I laid down on my yoga mat one night, a little friend of mine wrapped itself around my neck and stung me.  I am pretty certain it was a scorpion but will never know, because  not even that forced me to turn the light on or run screaming from the room.  There was this one fly that kept buzzing around my head all day and sometimes would come down and bite me.  Very strange.  I called it the Lord of the Flies.  There was also this strange, creepy noise that would come from one corner of the room.  It sounded like a small, baby dragon trying to scare off some predator.  I still have no idea where it came from.

By Day 4, I had intense diarrea, a pounding headache, and every time I tried to move my body,  I ended up right back on my bed because moving became rather unpleasant. I was forced to slow down and do nothing most of the day & night and really had  no idea what time it was.  My mind kept attacking me and begging me to let us out of the room.  And most of the time I had to find the humor in the whole situtaion to overcome my mind’s onslaught of negative thoughts and somehow keep my peace & sanity.

This continued through Day 7, and although the diarrea hadn’t yet ended, something was released in my mind that completely began to take this experience in a whole new direction.  Some call it DMT, but I honestly have no idea what it was, but know it was my saving grace that made the whole experience well worth it in retrospect.  As a side note, most people only do 3 day retreats, because our minds and bodies are not prepared to handle the challenges that accompany a longer stay in the darkness.  Many yogis train their minds and bodies for such an experience many months & years ahead of time.  Perhaps I should have looked into this more before boldly throwing myself into the darkness for so long, but honestly, I have no regrets about the decision.

Now, onto the good stuff!  As you pretty much have no sensual stimulation  for so long (especially visually), your imagination begins to take you to whole new levels of thought and visualizations.  During the four days where I mostly laid on my bed or the hammock, my imagination was what saved me from my own mind.  I saw some incredible visualizations that sparked many inspiring ideas in my mind.   I had conversations with different people and so-called imaginary friends- the Pink Panther and the 7 Dwarfs became frequent visitors in my little world.

But what I began to discover was that I could either sit in this darkness and see it for what I thought it was or I could fill it in with beauty, colors, friends, you name it!  One of my favorite moments was when I  was in Willy Wonka’s Chocolote Factory and began dancing with the Oompa-Loompas and singing their little song.  I felt like a child again, free to believe what I wanted and free to create my own reality.

And then it hit me.   I had forgotten this inner power somehow.  I had spent so many years of my life trusting and only relying on my senses that I forgot that there is a great big world beyond them.  A world that we can create.  A world that is just as real as the one we think is the real world.  I began to ask myself, ‘What is truly real?’  And I had found my answer one day during lunch with  Happy, Sneezy, Doc, and the rest of those adorable little men.  I yelled in great delight to Grumpy, ‘I decide what is REAL.  I have total control over my reality!’ And for the first time, Grumpy smiled at me and nodded his head.

It felt like I had just released a great big bag of bowling balls off my shoulders.  Like Peter Pan, I was free to fly.  But deep down inside I knew none of this would matter if I didn´t take this with me into the light.  It’s one thing being in the nurturing darkness of acceptance, without limitations, but it is a whole other thing  bringing this freedom to the light, where your senses and the world around you try to remind you that none of it is real.  That it is all just a figment of our deceptive imagination.  And this is what we tell our children, robbing them of the greatest gift we have all been given.

There’s this story of a young boy.  His parents have just brought home his newborn baby brother and are a bit worried about how he will react to this new addition to the family.  And that same night, the young boy makes his way to his baby brother’s room, followed closely behind by his mother, who quietly waits and listens outside of the room.  The boy leans over his brother’s crib and whispers, ‘Tell me about where we come from, because I’m starting to forget.’  Indeed, the older we get, the more we forget our greatest gifts, the more we forget our perfection and ability to create everything in our lives.  The darkness reminded me of  this, and I can’t express how grateful I am for this priceless reminder.

The scorpion became my greatest ally and friend Scorpo.  The Lord of the Flies became my little, fairy friend who would give me advice and whisper sweet messages into my ear.  Everything that bothered me in the beginning began to transform into pleasantry, and it all was made possible by my strong belief that I was the Master of my Creative Kingdom.

I felt so many moments of great peace and calmess as I sat in the darkness those last few days.  I began to feel at home, almost like I was back in my mother’s womb, protected, safe, and unconditionally loved.  I had entered the room as young Simba and was ready to go back into the world as a grown lion, with a whole new perspective, ready to help bring salvation to my great, big family through the wisdom & peace of the darkness.

And as I opened the door at the end of the 10th day and walked back out into this great beautiful world, I realized it had forever changed in my eyes.  Yes, I was extremely grateful to be able to see all the colors, plants, and incredible sights all around me, but it was the eyes of my heart that really brought me to my knees in one of the most unforgettable moments of pure bliss, happiness, and immense gratitude I had ever experienced.

For the blackness taught me to walk through my life with integrity and love, to walk with impeccability beating through my heart, to trust in the invisible world around me.  It taught me to look at the world in every given moment through the vision of the wisest pair of eyes this world has to offer: the innocent, pure, loving eyes of a child.

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