10 days in darkness
"Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness."
10 days in darkness and isolation
In May 2022, I went back into darkness and isolation.
3 years before that, I went into a 7 day darkness retreat. It was a profound and life altering experience. Before signing up for it, I thought about going in for 5 days to build up my capacity to endure the deafening silence of stillness. But the lady who ran that darkness retreat center in Germany told me to to go in for at least 7, and ideally 10 days. She said the most powerful experiences in the dark tend to occur after day 5.
She was right…
I remember seeing the brightest white light I’ve ever seen in my life on my 5th day in the darkness. It was so bright, I kept trying to shield my eyes from it by covering them up with my hands. I repeatedly touched my eyelids because I couldn’t tell if they were open or closed anymore.
On day 6, I experienced an even more intense light show. Laying in my bed, my arms became locked by my side and I couldn’t move. Believe it or not, that’s what happened. I felt paralyzed. Right above me, I saw green and red lights envelop the ceiling. It looked like millions of stars in a galaxy. With no sense of time, I couldn’t tell how long this voyage to the infinite lasted. I wandered into this mystical realm for what must have been hours.
Then on day 7, I returned to the light.
I wondered what might have transpired and what new worlds I might have explored had I continued my dance with the darkness…
So I went back into the dark for 10 full days to unearth new treasures within my soul.
Beyond just the length of time in the dark, this journey delivered an entirely novel experience for a few other reasons as well.
Two of my very close friends joined me in the darkness. We each lived in our own isolated room, but there was a shared camaraderie knowing we were going through this together. Our brotherhood developed even further when we got caught in a hurricane in Mexico the day after coming out of the darkness.
It took us 5 days to get back home, but we were lucky. The destruction it caused for others was horrific and heartbreaking. We helped where we could and used every moment as an opportunity to practice maintaining inner stillness in the face of a very literal outer storm.
A film crew also came to Mexico to capture me leaving the darkness and reentering the light. This will be one small part of a documentary we are creating about a much bigger project. I embarked on this voyage into the abyss as a part of my preparation for that project.
The last time the darkness called to me, I went into it to heal the past. This time, I went in with an eye into the future.
I chose to return not just for my continued evolution, but primarily as mental and spiritual training for a never before accomplished feat of endurance. One so arduous, that a man often referred to as the “world’s greatest living explorer” deemed it to be “probably impossible.
So I entered the darkness with a very specific intention: I went in to build a new self and become the kind of man who could successfully complete such an audacious mission.
To begin with, I had to ensure adequate suffering, for that is the only way I could grow from the experience. I amplified the intensity of the journey by adding the ingredient of hunger. I chose to do a juice fast for the first 8+ days, during which I drank only 2 juices a day. For the last 40 hours, I decided to eliminate all calories and have nothing but water.
On day 8, I did 1100 lunges in the dark as well. Accompanied by the hunger, that made for a beautiful challenge. However, these elements were supplementary.
The core focus of my efforts in the darkness was “The Method.”
Before going into the darkness, I spent months studying the craft of method acting.
Method acting is a technique some actors use to prepare for a role in a movie. It is a process by which they immerse themselves in the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the character they portray. They literally lose themselves to that character.
A method actor doesn’t act an emotion during a scene, he or she feels that emotion.
The greatest method actor, and in my opinion, the greatest actor of all time, is Daniel Day Lewis.
He fully embodied every character he portrayed, to the point that, as he once said “I have thoughts and feelings that aren’t mine for months.”
While filming, he would think and feel, I would venture to guess he event dreamt, not as Daniel Day Lewis, but as the character he was portraying.
Director Jim Sheridan said of Daniel Day Lewis, “he comes closer to the obliteration of self than anybody ever.”
That is awe-inspiring. The possibilities this presents for self growth and mastery in any craft are limitless.
If an actor can completely shed their identity in order to build a new one, I wondered, could I do the same? Could I create the “character” and identity of the man I need to be in order to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat of endurance?
I went into the darkness to find out.
I could not have prepared for what I experienced…
To become the character, I often paced back and forth on a yoga mat in the darkness, speaking out loud to myself. At first, it felt quite mad. It felt insane.
But once I let go of what I believed to be “normal” or “rational,” it created the space for something else to rise up within me.
That’s when the true metamorphosis began.
As crazy as this may sound, it was no longer me speaking. I surrendered to the “character” and allowed words to flow through me.
In doing so, I spoke phrases that I had never said before.
The character, who I named “The Legend,” revealed his truths to me. I did not consciously generate them. I never had those thoughts or concepts within me before. They were birthed in the darkness.
“The Legend” proclaimed his “10 Noble Truths,” that I now have etched into my soul.
I saw things in the darkness I had never seen before.
I had a conversation with what I believe to be God that left me bawling in tears.
The passages I wrote in my darkness journal continue to give me goosebumps when I read them. Many of them, I don’t remember writing, yet I see the words on paper in my own handwriting.
Last time, when I did the 7 days in darkness, I shared the entirety of my darkness journal here on this site. I did so only to be of service. I was genuinely nervous about exposing some of my deepest thoughts and feelings. Yet, I chose to share it because I thought some of the passages that came to me in the darkness might help others find the light.
This time, I will not be sharing my darkness journal publicly.
The constructs and beliefs that underlie the foundation of almost all my journal entries are… let’s just say, unconventional. I have some sense of how they will be perceived and I am choosing not to engage in that dialogue.
Unlike last time, I do not believe these journal entries will be of service to someone who doesn’t know me well. I believe they will only invite unnecessary conflict or confusion for anyone who may look for lessons within them.
With that said, there is one passage that might be of value to you.
If any of my work has made a positive difference in your life, this will give you a deeper understanding of what drives me and why I do this.
More importantly, it demonstrates the tremendous importance of getting clear on why you are here on this earth. After you finish reading this, I invite you to take some time to be still with yourself and write down what words do you want written on your tombstone.
I wrote this entry on day 10 during my last few hours in the darkness. I hope this helps you find your North Star…
“It just hit me, my, the legends, tombstone must read “he brought light into darkness.” That’s the ultimate why, to bring light into darkness.
You suffer, you chase that moment, you explore the edges, all of it, so that you can bring light into darkness. All the other stuff is the how, that’s the ultimate why.
The words “he explored the edges with human heart to serve his tribe with human soul,” (These were the words I previously chose to mark my tombstone) that’s the how. Pretty wild that this hit you in your final few hours in the darkness. That’s why you are even here in the first place. To know the darkness so that you may find the light within.
All the struggle, all the suffering, all the pain, all the darkness you seek out. Those are the battlefields where you build the weapons and develop the strength and learn the path from the darkness to the light. Your wars give you the wisdom. Without that wisdom, you cannot serve anyone. By you playing in the darkness, you are creating the roadmap to show others how to get out of it. You cannot create the roadmap unless you know the roads first yourself. So keep playing on the edges and bring the treasures you find back to give to your tribe.
He brought light into darkness, let that be your true North Star.
As Al Pacino said, (in the movie “Scent of A Woman”) there is nothing worse than an amputated soul, there is no prosthetic for that. You are not healing limbs or saving bodies as a doctor or a soldier might do. Those men and women have greater skills than you do.
But on your path, your job is to touch souls. With the work you do, the stories you tell, the lessons you teach, your job is to bring light into those souls who struggle in the dark.”