A twelve-acre farm near Lake Jacomo is home to a “darkness retreat”

Photography by Samantha Levi

Although the concept of a “darkness retreat” has been around from time immemorial, a spiritual practice used in many religions, it recently started trending when Aaron Rogers announced he was going to hunker down in utter darkness for a few days and contemplate his life choices.

Dark therapy is about depriving yourself of light and sensory distractions with the intention of finding greater awareness.

Photographer and writer Samantha Levi, who has been embarking on her own spiritual journey since 2018, experienced a darkness retreat at Kansas City’s The Darkness Call about a year ago. Levi spent three nights and four days completely alone and in complete darkness in one of three small spaces at the twelve-acre farm not far from Lake Jacomo.

Here, she explains part of her experience–Editor’s note

My heart was racing as I stood on the threshold between light and dark. I had an immense anxiety and fear of what I was about to step into. Brian Cochran, my facilitator and darkness guide, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This is mother, this is the womb.”

Emotions and tears filled my eyes as the reality and depths of what I was about to step into became so viscerally real. It was overwhelming and uncomfortable. I was entering the womb of the “mother” to go deep into the shadows of my own self to eventually rebirth.

This was a deep soul call that I’d heard for almost a year now, something I would sit and imagine, but now I’m actually here—standing here—ready to plunge into the depths of the darkest waters for the next three nights. It was uncomfortable in every sense. I felt like a warrior going off to battle with myself as my opponent. This felt like something I had to do for myself. I had to confront the core of my existence. 

When you know, you know. Many people have heard about darkness retreats, but they may not fully understand what it entails or why someone would do such a thing. I hope that sharing my experience will provide some clarity on this topic. In order to do so effectively, however, I must first explain what it means for someone like me—an ordinary human being—to “retreat” at all.

How was this idea birthed? 
Photography by Samantha Levi

Let me go back to October 2021, when I took a ten-day solo trip off the grid to Sedona, Arizona.

The same week I was there, I was staying at a campsite next to a conscious community that was part of Aubrey Marcus’ Fit For Service Retreat.

This community invited me to join them in their fire circles. The one night I decided to go, there were two people sharing their seven-day darkness experiences in Guatemala. I had never heard of this concept before, but I was so intrigued by the radicalness of it that it kept me up for nights. 

Being an artist my entire life—a professional photographer and visual person—the concept of taking away my sight to see what would reveal itself was otherworldly. I turned deeper inward and asked my heart if this was for me. Under the Sedona sky, my body said yes. From there, it was a matter of patience. I trusted it would align when it was time. 

I originally thought, “Okay, I’m going to have to take three to four weeks off from work and save money so that I can head to Guatemala.” At the time, I was not aware of any darkness retreat centers in the United States. But then, six months later, Brian Cochran showed up at my studio. He was there to facilitate a community breathwork session and told me he was building a darkness retreat just twenty minutes away. All I had to do was pay for my food and give a testimonial in exchange for a spot in his pilot program. The moment confirmed for me that I must trust the process and be patient. 

So, logistically speaking, now all I needed to do was figure out when.

Pure consciousness
Photography by Samantha Levi

If you’re looking for a way to experience the inner light of pure consciousness, there’s no better place to do so than in complete darkness. It’s one thing to meditate on the nature of your mind, but it’s another thing entirely when you’ve got nothing else to focus on but your own thoughts and the stories you tell yourself.

It’s a pretty simple concept: You’re in total darkness, so there are no distractions. No light, no sound, no smells. Just you and your thoughts. After enough time passes, those thoughts become less important than the silence that surrounds them. Within forty-eight to seventy-two hours, you gain the ability to tap into the natural DMT within your brain, and that’s when the darkness visuals begin.

The result is something like a revelation—a sudden realization that there’s more to life than just what we can see and hear. It’s a small but significant step toward enlightenment. The darkness is a type of medicine that clarifies and heals. We are on our own individual journeys of self-mastery. We can only “heal” ourselves.

It’s no secret that darkness can be scary, but for centuries, people have been seeking out the inner light of pure consciousness through darkness retreats. 

So what is a darkness retreat, exactly? It’s an unparalleled experience in intense seclusion. You are deprived of all light and sensory distractions and plunged into a deep awareness of the mind. The practice is common in many of the ancient and contemporary spiritual traditions across the world. It’s been practiced in ancient Egypt and fifteenth century France, by monks and lamas in Tibet, the Kogi Mamos in Colombia, the Buddha himself and modern day New York City yogis. In each case, darkness retreats have provided revelation and illumination to countless practitioners who have sought the inner light.

The light, in my opinion, is actually scarier than the dark. This may seem hard to believe, but think about it: In the dark, there is nothing—nothing to distract you from yourself. You just are. It’s a great reminder of practicing being in the present moment versus worrying about the past or the future. Worry is wasted energy. The past is the past, and the future is untold. Anxiety stems from the worries and fears of the past and present, which is the greatest reminder to be present.

 Through this experience, I further understand that “home” is within me and always has been. This human existence is all about remembering our core essence of our soul and reconnecting the golden threads. This darkness experience was a reminder that I must find my own inner sanctuary and remember I am safe and held no matter where I am. I learned that the “sanctuary” existed in me all along. I am the lighthouse in the darkest waters, and I have the ability and power to untether myself from the confines of my own stories.

Finding my own inner happiness is about letting go of what I thought my life was supposed to be and embracing where I am now and just how special and magical that is. The work I choose to do, being a lighthouse, only reflects outwardly and creates ripples of greater awareness, which is shown in how my community and those around me show up. As my dear friend once said to me, “If this is what you created, think about what will come next.”  

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