What It's Like to Be in Total Darkness for 82 Hours

'Outside' writer Tim Neville details his experience at a 'dark cave' retreat
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2024 11:00 AM CDT
What It's Like to Go on a Darkness Retreat
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / erdre)

Darkness retreats made headlines last year, when NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers went on one in order to spend time contemplating his future in the league. Such retreats are nothing new—they've evolved from centuries of practices involving total darkness used by people like the Tibetan monks in the 10th century who spent time in the absence of light to "attain a state of transitional consciousness," and they're particularly popular in the Czech Republic today. In the US, there's only one commercial dark retreat that advertises itself as such, though other informal ones are said to exist, and it's that one—Sky Cave Retreats in Oregon, where Rodgers visited—that Tim Neville of Outside decided to try.

As he writes in his resulting piece for the magazine, he became "consumed" with the idea of going on a dark-cave retreat, which is said to have mental health benefits (though, so far, little documented research exists to support this). So he signed up to spend 82 hours (four nights and three days) alone and completely removed from any source of light, inside a "semi-underground darkness space" at Sky Cave Retreats. He documents those hours from the mundane (his daily routine, how he found the toilet) to the truly "weird": Eventually, he starts having vivid "hallucinations," and by the time he leaves, he is able to "effortlessly conjure up that space between thoughts," which "has been there since long before I had words ... to fill it." The result? A feeling of "total fulfillment," which, months later, he can still conjure on demand. Read Neville's full piece at Outside. (More Longform stories.)

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