When I arrived to Lake Atitlan two years ago, my friend Aaron gave me a run-down on all the things that I could and should experience in the spiritual community of San Marcos la Laguna. The list included Mayan fire ceremonies, a full array of yoga and massage practices, meditation retreat centers, ashrams, kirtan song gatherings, ceremonial-grade cacao ceremonies, full-moon gatherings, ecstatic dances, drum circles, cuddle puddles, silent retreats and the brand new ‘dark room’.
Hold up? The what? A completely dark room that you enter for a retreat? I have an open mind, but this concept was beyond my comprehension, yet it was the one thing that caught my attention. I immediately thought, who would intentionally pay money to put themselves into solitary confinement? I started asking questions and learned that a local retreat center, The Hermitage, had just completed a private space where you could ‘just be’ in complete darkness for as long as you wished. But… WHY would someone do that to themselves, on purpose?
The collective answer given was ‘to remove all outwardly distractions, rest your busy mind and allow yourself to meet your worst enemy and your best teacher… yourself.’
According to The Hermitage website: “Retreating in complete darkness is a practice common to many of the ancient and contemporary spiritual traditions across the world. From the monks and lamas in Tibet, to the Kogi Mamos in Colombia; the ancient Egyptians and the mystics of 15th Century France, Dark Retreats have provided revelation and illumination to countless practitioners who have sought the inner light.”
They go on to say that “the Dark Retreat is an unparralleled experience in intense seclusion, in which the practitioner is deprived of all light and sensory distractions, and thus plunges into a deep witnessing awareness of the mind, and eventually experiences the perception of the inner light of pure Consciousness.”
I thought about the experience and even inquired with those who had personally experienced time there. Most people would go in the darkroom for a 3-5 day reset, of sorts. There’s something magical about 54 days, and some man on a mission stayed for 89 days. Good on him, but I knew that would be too much for me. When I checked in with my guides, they said you could do 3. I joked that I would be lucky to make it 3 hours. I had never been silent for more 3 waking hours, so this was going to push me into uncharted territories.
Alain at The Hermitage Yoga Platform Overlooking Lake Atitlan. Photo by Tamila Timm
On July 25, 2015, just one month after first learning of this practice, there was an afternoon sound bowl event being offered at The Hermitage dark room. Remembering what my guides said, I thought I’d give it a whirl for 3 hours and see how it goes. The stars aligned that day when I entered the dark room and sat next to a man I had never met before. I would later learn that his name was Alain. That’s how we met… in the dark. I recognized his energy as familiar to me, even though we had never met… at least in this lifetime. Quite a love story unfolded from that moment. I knew that I had been led there to meet him and embark upon a journey of learning on many levels from each other.
In the summer and fall of 2016, Alain and I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, India and then walked the Camino de Santiago across Spain. In November, we returned to Lake Atitlan to rest, resume community volunteer activities and our therapy center practice. I found myself being extremely busy, but not necessarily productive, My desire to write diminished to less than zero. I filled my days with pleasant, but none-the-less distractions such as; spending hours each day with friends, eating out, listening to music, watching documentaries… everything EXCEPT going inward each day.
When we go inside and find our truth, we gain clarity and insight. I know this. I do this, but I was allowing distractions to creep in and take over. Distractions keep us out of alignment from our center, and out of balance. My quiet time wasn’t happening regularly enough for the growth that I was asking for. For the first time in my life, I was actually craving the quiet time that I once ran from. I was ready and wanted this experience more than ever. Actually, I needed it.
I contacted Emma and Severin of The Hermitage. They are beautiful space holders who built the retreat center along the shores of Lake Atitlan. I asked for the next available dark room was… wait for it… she replied ‘July 25th’. Are you kidding me? The same day I first stepped into their space and met Alain. I laughed at the synchronicity of it all. A week later, I was ready to go in and didn’t want to wait a few months, so I contacted Emma and asked to be put on a notification list if someone cancelled. And guess what! Someone had just cancelled. I was now scheduled to go in that same week. My heart danced and I smiled at my own transformation over the past 2 years. I went from thinking WTF to BRING IT ON.
I went to The Hermitage Retreat Center for my 84 hour, or 3.5 day dark room experience on March 26th, 2017 at 5pm. Their center is on the shores of Lake Atitlan with beautiful views of the volcanos, cabins for silent retreats and a scenic yoga platform enclosed in glass. My new home for the next 3 days was a round building built entirely of stone, mortar and imbedded crystals to raise your vibration. The space was light-prrof and thoughtfully designed. Delicous meals are available twice a day, using a light-blocking double-door pass through. You have a comfortable bed, meditation cushion area, shower, bathroom and a fresh-air ventilation system.
Before going in, we met and went over the logistics. I asked if there was any recommendations, such as eyes open or eyes closed. Severin joked that it will all be the same, so just do what feels best for me. Emma encouraged me to consider this experience as ‘being embraced in the womb’. This would prove to be helpful and called upon during my experience. Emma took me into my the space, oriented me to the water filtration system, shower, bathroom and the rest was pretty self-explanatory. We exchanged hugs and then she left me with a single candle and a fragrant copal incense stick burning. I felt so at home, protected and comforted by the crystals embedded in the walls. My heart was at peace. I was delighted to be unreachable for 3 days as well. No phone, no lights, no electronics. This was going to be an interesting, yet amazing journey. I would become completely blind for the 84 hours. I set up the essential things in my Virgo-esque organized way to be able to find them in complete darkness. I would also be taking hand-written notes during my experience using a spiral notebook and a ruler to guide my lines.
After settling in, I offered up my intention to the Universe, took a deep breath in… and then blew out the candle. I was now in complete darkness and silence. In that moment, my journey inward and upward began.
I would like to be silly and say that this is a picture of me levitating. In truth, this is what complete darkness looks like.
This was my first time doing anything like this. I usually keep busy and distracted in my day to day life. Yes, I meditate, but it looks more like movement than sitting still. Because I easily connect and communicate with spiritual beings, I often go into that realm and commune for knowledge and remembering what we have forgotten about our essence and path. For me, it doesn’t require closing of the eyes, a lotus position or joining my thumb and forefinger in a particular mudra position. I just go there and chat it up with my guides. Because of this established connection, I easily went into the other realms, but this time further than ever before. Language is not sufficient to describe most of the things I experienced, but I will do my best.
This is a picture of The Hermitage mediation and yoga area of the dark room. Photo by Tamila Timm
8 things I learned in the dark:
It was easy. Every need was provided for and I just relaxed into the experience. I napped, woke to meditate, did breath work, ate breakfast, stretched, showered, channeled spirit messages, ate lunch, slept, more breath work, more sleep and repeat. In the beginning, it’s natural to sleep a lot. By the afternoon of day 2, you feel rested and tend to meditate more often than nap. Time means nothing, you just go with the flow. No clock to check. No where to be, nothing to do except go inward. I slipped into a self-nurturing place and enjoyed every minute of it. Knowing myself as I do, I had brought some emergency chocolates and snacks, just in case. It was nice to have them there, but they were not needed. I had to laugh at myself a few times, remembering how much resistance I felt when I first heard about the dark room. Why do we resist what we have yet to understand or experience?
Being alone in silence was peaceful beyond imagination. Once the candle was blown out, that was the beginning of pure peacefulness and tranquility. Imagine climbing back into the womb, but this time a womb of endless self-love. It was so magical in there. In my small village, I have a therapy center and have been adopted as the on-call nurse for ’emergencies’. There is often someone standing at my door knocking for one reason or another. Going into the womb gave me the much needed down time for self-reflection, self-nurturing and exactly what my parasympathetic nervous system was craving. Peace and quiet.
I could see more clearly. Messages just flooded in through my spirit channel. I was tuned in and they just kept talking. In the pitch black, I could see light streams coming down from the ceiling, sacred geometric shapes and visions. There were no distractions, only an open channel to connect in with for knowledge. I could also see how my own behaviors have either helped or harmed me or others in some way. The great teacher appeared and it was powerful.
I surrendered. Surrender. This is a word that many utter, but rarely perfect. I surrendered to trying to control my behaviors and thoughts just to avoid pain in my world. We do this so naturally, too. I mean, who really enjoys suffering? Surrender created peace for me. It looks a lot like zero F*#K’s given, but with awareness and peace in your heart.
We love to distract ourselves. I am the queen of distractions. I should have the t-shirt ‘LOOK, A SQUIRREL!’, because that’s my nature. I am a photographer, and therefor very visually stimulated by design. I see everything and movements distract me. I wake up with 4 things to accomplish and maybe get one or two done because I let other things crowd their way in. Mostly because they seem more fun than my task list. I am working on my focused awareness and the dark room experience helped immensely to reset and re-wire my brain. There were zero distractions in the dark, so I could go deeper than ever on my journey inward.
Time is an illusion and means nothing. A dream represented this perfectly for me. In my dream, my Grandfather had died. My Grandmother put all of the clocks outside on the street curb for anyone to take for free. I asked her why and she said matter-of-factly: ‘Time is just an illusion. There is no such thing as time, therefore these clocks are unnecessary clutter.’ Both Grandparents in my dream have crossed over already and in reality, In 1999, I found my Grandmother’s watch just after she had died. The watch was laying next to the place where she had her heart attack. In that moment, it struck me that time stops for no one. Not even the grieving. I knew then that time was an illusion. The same beautiful woman confirmed it 18 years later in the dark room, in my dream.
I found my light in the dark. While I was in a meditation, a spirit animal came to me in a vision and gifted me a multi-faceted diamond. I was told to put it in my heart. I did as instructed and immediately a bright light came from my chest, flooding the pitch black room. I felt such love, joy and gratitude beyond measure for their sacred gift.
I was given a song to share with the world. When I was six years old, my guides told me that I have a song in my heart. I have never written a song, but after 40 years of hiding inside of me, it popped out in the dark room as a channeled message. It is now being recorded and will be featured in a Mayan Cosmovision documentary. I am certain that my beloved Mayan Ancestral spirits helped with this.
To summarize it: beautiful, amazing and powerful things happened during my time in silence, stillness and darkness. I was visited by Ascended Masters for divine healing, I observed the root cause of challenges in my life, I learned how to be a better partner, I gained clarity and so much more. I am beyond happy that I did this and have recommended it to many of my friends. I’ve noted some of the things that I learned and hope that it inspires you to find time for yourself to do the same.
You are worth it!
Check out this video of The Hermitage Dark Room to get a glimpse inside.