Search Our Site

Find an Author, Find a Book:

Chapter 1: What is a Dark Retreat?

Dawning of Clear Light: A Western Approach to Tibetan Dark Retreat Meditation
Martin Lowenthal

A dark retreat is a solitary journey done in total darkness. The dark retreat facility usually consists of a room for meditation and sleeping and an adjacent or nearby bathroom. The duration of the retreat will often vary from a few days to forty-nine days, and even to years in the case of some yogis in the caves of Tibet.

The purpose of such retreats is to relax into the nature of our own being, allowing the mind to discover its natural awareness. In this relaxation we discover the essential qualities of authentic presence, inner lights and visions, the energies of aliveness, silence, and listening, and sacred wisdom. In time we adopt an open heart posture of praise, gratitude, love, compassion, and peace. To find that relaxation and experience that wisdom means confronting and transcending our core fears, unspoken longings, and patterns of denial and addiction.

In a dark retreat, the play of the bodymind is exposed more clearly, without the presence of the usual multitude of external stimuli. External darkness becomes a screen for the performance of the internal theater of images, stories, and reactions.

As we relax and practice free of distractions, the energy of aliveness in all its embodiments is revealed and amplified. All of our physical, mental, and emotional patterns can be seen clearly. We also can more readily sense the flows of energy in the body, the energy field of presence, and the qualities we share with all existence. The wisdom qualities of "being" become more evident. These qualities are uncovered, recognized, and then cultivated, not because of a sense of incompleteness but because of the natural impulse to share and manifest as a beneficial presence in the connections that we feel and that we come to know exist with all others.

In the dark retreat, all experiences arise within a basic sense of hosting awareness and dissolve back into the space of hosting without the hosting's being affected. Just as the dark is open and inclusive, so our own being can include everything in its open nature, in the space of its awareness. Everything that arises comes from that space, exists within its nature, and dissolves into the space.

A way to think about this might be to imagine an empty room. A bed and desk are placed in the room. The space in the room is not diminished by the furniture. The space is the same before the furniture is moved in, while the bed and desk are in the room, and after they are removed.

The key aspect of this realization is that our basic nature is not affected, diminished, or enhanced by what we think, do, or say and that all thoughts, deeds, and expressions are natural reminders of our fundamental nature. What gets in our way are our habits of mind and reaction which hijack our attention away from our own natural way of being.

In these retreats, visions naturally arise and we learn to distinguish between those which are reactive projections of our body of habits, and those which are manifestations of our wisdom nature. We realize how all visions are a product of our minds.

The dark retreat is a safe space to practice and accelerate our relaxation into the sense of ease with the nature of being (nature of mind). For many, doing even a short dark retreat can bring about a significant shift in their lives, revealing another way of being, of relating to life, and of being present with oneself and one's own mind. We gradually enter into ourselves more completely, and at the same time, into all being. ...

Back to Dawning of Clear Light