How I made it in the dark at home
Tips and Cautions for Your Darkroom Retreat at Home
By Han Serhan Keser
Darkroom retreats offer a unique opportunity for introspection and transformation, providing a sanctuary away from the distractions of the outside world. Drawing from personal experiences and guidance from Master Mantak Chia, here are some essential tips and cautions to consider during your stay in the dark.
I did two darkrooms consecutively during the pandemic. They were highly transformative where I had profound experiences. In this article, I would like to share some tips and cautions you should be aware of during your stay in the dark, and preparation is the key.
Before entering the darkroom, ensure you have everything you need within reach. From basic necessities like water and food to essential items like a lighter and sunglasses, thorough preparation is essential for a safe and enriching experience.
Industrial Type Garbage Bags
The most important item to get is to find thick industrial garbage bags. They will appropriately light-seal the windows. If you cannot find industrial ones, you can use two layers, which will do the job. But make sure you find black ones. The blue or green ones may leak light, ruining your experience.
My summer house on one of the islands in Istanbul had huge, wall-to-wall, almost ceiling-to-floor windows for a better summer experience. Its big windows did not take more than an hour or so to seal them with plastic garbage bags.
My island house during preparation and installation of garbage bags.
You will get lost!
Even though you might be in your own house, you will lose your sense of location. You will have no visual coordinates to adjust yourself to. But within one or two days, you will get used to the total darkness, and it will be easier to find your way. Finding your way in the dark will activate your inner vision, and you will use parts of your brain you haven’t used much before.
It turns out that, in the brain, there are nerve cells that represent your location, called place-cells. Place-cells in the hippocampus build an inner map of the environment. The additional information you need is directions. The brain also has head direction-cells found in several areas. The brain uses an additional and fantastic trick to solve the problem of navigation. It is related to a coordinate system on a map. This brain system is called the grid-cell system. You will get lost, but be amazed at how quickly you adjust to your new environment.
On your first day, you may have difficulties finding your way, and this disposable flint-lighter will give you enough light to capture the environment in a millisecond but will not harm your dark experience. Ensure you have a simple flint lighter without gas but with a working flint. Magnetic lights will not do the job. See below.
While heating your food or turning your computer on to connect to the classes, you may expose yourself to light. Please wear dark sunglasses to lessen the effect of light.
Cook in advance!
Cooking in advance is necessary unless there is someone to prepare your food daily. I cooked everything in advance, put them in jars, and placed them in the freezer.
Grains, all dairy products, wheat, all meat, and egg yolk should be avoided for a better experience. Clear vegetable broth is highly recommended for proper nutrition.
Storing Your Food
The next item would be to get glass jars to store your soup and food. I cooked vegetable broth and other things parallel with Master Chia’s recommendations and divided them into how many days I would spend in the dark. I stored the jars in the freezer and took one out each morning. I then opened the lid and put the jar into a 120-degree Celsius oven. 120 degrees is not hot, but enough to melt the icy soup. I am totally against the use of microwave ovens. If this is okay for you, you can use them. You can use your lighter to adjust the settings on your oven, and in my experience, momentary exposure to weak lights, like digital displays, did not ruin my journey in the dark.
My Vegetable Broth Recipe
For the broth, you can use all the root vegetables you can find. Carrot, beetroot, potato, turnip, daikon, parsnip, celery root, ginger (if you like), onion, garlic, etc., are good sources of nutrition. These vegetables should be washed, peeled, diced, and cooked in water until the broth becomes brownish. The cooking should continue for at least 4 to 5 hours in low heat (simmering) to get the most out of the vegetables. After this, the broth should be filtered and put into jars for your daily use.
Apart from the vegetable broth I prepared, I cooked highly nutritious cakes for fiber.
My Seed Cake Recipe
For this cake, you can use an equal volume of any seed or nuts of your choice.
The seeds can be chosen from quinoa, teff, amaranth, chia, black and white sesame. You can also use nuts, like walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds. These mentioned ingredients are very nutritious and will keep you feeling full.
Grind them, mix them with 3 to 4 egg whites (no yolks), and add 2 to 3 volumes of water to soften the batter. No sugar is necessary, and sugar should always be avoided during your time in the darkness. Raisins, goji berries, dates, or dried jujube (chop them) will give you enough natural sweet taste. You can also use carob powder to replace the sweet berries or dates or to add more taste. You can sprinkle a pinch of mineral salt if you like salty flavors alongside sweet.
Blenders or food processors cannot process the seeds well, so I do not recommend them. You better use a simple, inexpensive coffee grinder.
The batter should be cooked on cooking paper in an oven tray for 45 minutes. The result is something like this picture.
You can, of course, get unsweetened granola bars to replace this cake for ease. They should be available in healthy grocery shops.
My Green-Leaf Vegetable Cake Recipe
This is a very nutritious quiche-like cake made of green vegetables. You can use any green-leaf vegetables of your choice, such as parsley, coriander, celery, fresh onions, basil, etc. Chop the vegetables finely and mix them with 3-4 egg whites, seeds like fennel, cumin, flax, cilantro, mineral salt, and clarified butter if you can find one. Decorate with sesame seeds and cook for 55 minutes.
No recreational drinks other than herbal teas are recommended. Coffee should be avoided; black or green tea is well tolerated. Tao Garden Shop has a list of detox teas and Pigu pills you can buy to enhance the experience.
A darkroom retreat is typically a practice where individuals voluntarily isolate themselves in complete darkness for an extended period. This practice has its roots in early Taoist literature.
Participants should stay in a room devoid of light and sound but full of fresh air. Find a way to let air into your environment without light outside. This means no artificial light sources, including electronic devices, candles, or other light-emitting objects. Using these devices will ruin the effectiveness of this ancient technology.
The absence of external stimuli, such as light and sound, allows individuals to focus inwardly, facilitating deep states of meditation, self-reflection, and heightened sensory perception.
Darkroom retreats can induce various physiological and psychological effects, including altered states of consciousness, vivid dreams, sensory enhancements, and emotional processing.
Engaging in a darkroom retreat requires careful preparation and consideration of potential risks. Extended periods of darkness can harm circadian rhythms, and isolation may trigger intense psychological experiences. It’s essential for home participants to be in good physical and mental health and to have proper support and guidance during the retreat.
The emphasis should be on the quality of time invested rather than the quantity of time spent. Exercise caution and avoid excessive exposure to darkness, as prolonged absence of sunlight can pose serious risks.
Embrace the Darkness
The darkness of the retreat serves as a canvas for exploration and self-discovery. Embrace the absence of light and allow yourself to surrender to the unknown. In the darkness, profound insights and experiences can emerge, guiding you on your journey of personal growth.
Honor Your Limits
While the darkroom retreat offers an opportunity for profound transformation, it’s essential to honor your limits and comfort levels. Listen to your body and intuition, and don’t hesitate to take breaks or seek support if needed. Remember, the retreat is a journey of self-discovery, and it’s okay to proceed at your own pace.
Practice mindfulness and meditation to deepen your connection with yourself and the present moment. Master Chia teaches 4 hours for 4 days. Make use of the techniques to cultivate inner stillness and awareness. Through meditation, you can navigate the depths of your consciousness and uncover hidden truths. You can replay the meditations during the days he is not teaching.
Approach the darkroom retreat with an open mind and release any expectations or ideas. Allow the experience to unfold organically, trusting in the wisdom of the darkness to guide you on your journey. Be receptive to whatever arises, knowing that each moment holds a valuable lesson.
After the retreat, take time to integrate your experiences into your daily life. Reflect on the insights gained and how they can inform your actions and decisions moving forward. Share your experiences with trusted friends or mentors, and consider journaling as a tool for processing and integration.
Embarking on a darkroom retreat is a transformative journey that requires courage, openness, and self-awareness. By following these tips and honoring the guidance of Master Mantak Chia, you can navigate the darkness with grace and emerge with newfound clarity and wisdom.
May your journey be illuminating, enriching, and deeply transformative.