August 17

21 Days of Darkness: Journeying into Natural Psychedelia

The darkness retreat felt like a rebirth, granting me new sensory perceptions and a refreshed mindset – like resetting a computer to its original factory settings.

I entered the retreat alone and emerged alone, akin to the processes of birth and death. We come into this world alone and depart alone, but we are never truly alone. We are guided and supported by energies greater than ourselves.

You won’t find any scientific evidence to support these “energies,” although I experienced them myself during this retreat in Northern Thailand, where I spent 21 days in the dark.

For three weeks, I immersed myself in darkness out of an insatiable curiosity to delve into the depths of meditation and gain a deeper understanding of the time-honored Asian traditions. 

I had learned that when our physical bodies are deprived of light for an extended duration, our spirit molecules have the potential to be released. 

This fascinating process involves the body’s innate capacity to discharge neurotransmitters, which in turn initiate a chemical cascade that influences our sensory perceptions, culminating in profound mystical experiences. 

Driven by curiosity, I set out to personally encounter this phenomenon, approaching the experience with an open mind, ready to embrace whatever unfolded.

Surrendering to a different state of consciousness

In preparation for the retreat, I fasted for three days while keeping up with my usual mediation schedule.

I’d been studying Taoist meditation and found that the darkness retreat was considered one of the most advanced practices one could undertake.

Growing up in a Buddhist society, one of the main teachings instilled within me at a young age is that all things are impermanent. I relate this detachment as surrender, surrendering the needs of our ego, surrendering the need to own and to accumulate.

I also learned that expecting the unexpected can sometimes yield the best outcomes. 

I went in with the expectation of learning how to surrender to deep meditation and different states of consciousness. I didn’t know much about consciousness at the time, and it was this experience in the darkness that would ignite my studies in human consciousness.

Like many, I sought to understand who I was, where I came from, and my purpose in life. While I did have these broad questions in mind, I didn’t necessarily have specific inquiries to pursue during the altered state of consciousness brought about by the practice. Instead, my prevailing request was, ‘Please show me what I need to know.’ 

I can confidently assert that spending 21 days in the dark was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had.

The first 72 hours

Excited and curious, we arrived at the retreat, a two-story building sealed in darkness. The guests settled into the space, trying to get used to the dark while memorizing a set of instructions for a bell signal, its meaning and when to do what.

After settling into our personal spaces and learning to navigate in the dark – from the bed to the bathroom, meditation hall, and food and water areas – we all gathered on the first floor for the opening ceremony. 

During this ceremony, we listened to the teachings of the master and received essential instructions, such as the schedule for the bell rings. The first bell rang at 4 am, signaling that participants were welcome to get up and meditate in their rooms or the meditation hall. The second bell sounded at 5 am, indicating that fruit and juice were available at the food area for those who wanted to eat.

The next bell rang at 8 am, when the master led a group meditation. Participants were free to be comfortable in their own space, engage in their self-process, and maintain silence. Group meditation and movement in the dark were also encouraged. The following bell sounded at noon, and the next one rang at 5 pm for the evening meal. Finally, the last bell signaled silent time at 8 pm.

Within a week I would mostly ignore the bell, my brain flooded with natural DMT, my body with no need for food.

Natural DMT and the journey within

In the darkness, the pineal gland plays a major role in both science and the esoteric. 

There is ongoing research and debate about the role of the pineal gland in visual perception, especially in relation to the production of the endogenous psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT). 

While some researchers suggest that DMT may influence our perception of reality and potentially lead to altered states of consciousness or mystical experiences, there is currently no definitive evidence that links the pineal gland’s activity to the generation of internal light or visual perception without external light sources. 

But my personal experience after 72 hours of light deprivation – absolute dark – I began to perceive the edges of objects around me, albeit faintly. 

After one week, there was no discernible difference between having my eyes open or closed, as I was in complete darkness. However, it seemed as though I could now see images through my mind’s eye. The images I experienced were not typical visual representations of objects we encounter in our daily lives. Instead, they resembled a 3D movie playing in my head, particularly around my forehead, an area commonly referred to as the third eye.

Imagine a point midway between your eyes, right above your eyebrows, extending deep into the center of your brain – this is where the pineal gland is located. When examining the pineal gland, it is essential to consider both its functions from a modern scientific perspective and its significance in esoteric or spiritual contexts.  

During the second week, the intensity of my internal movies or visions increased. While I cannot recall all of them now, most of the images that appeared in my mind’s eye during deep meditation seemed to reflect aspects of our lives, experiences, and collective consciousness. 

I found these visions entertaining, though I don’t typically watch movies often and am quite selective about which ones I expose myself to. All life events and movies have the potential to influence our minds, thoughts, thinking, actions, and overall well-being, both emotionally and physically, as well as our psyche.  

During the second week, I found myself constantly watching these internal movies, which I believe focused on self-exploration, personal identity, and our connections with others. They encompassed various aspects of the self, including perceptions, feelings, and emotions. 

These visions were not limited to visual images; they also featured sounds that our minds could imagine in silence, as well as a sense of smell, tactile vibrations, temperature, and colors or monotones. They seemed to engage all the senses that humans can perceive.

At times, these visions appeared as symbols, shapes, or colors, while other times, they manifested as facial images – both pleasant and unpleasant, with some even proving to be disturbing.  

One of the most notable highlights of my experience occurred towards the end of the 14 days when I encountered the classic near-death phenomenon. My body felt as if it were spinning rapidly out of a dark tunnel, accompanied by intense cellular vibrations. The speed increased until I emerged from the darkness into an extraordinary, indescribable space that transcended words. 

In that moment, I felt like a star, one with everything and yet nothing. I experienced a profound sense of unity, as if I were one with God, or perhaps God was one with me. It was an experience that human language could not adequately capture.

During the first week, I participated in group meditation and engaged in group activities. 

However, starting from the eighth day, I felt the need for quiet solitude to process my inner experiences without worrying about schedules or specific activities. I simply allowed myself to be, meditating silently for the entire time, communicating with my inner visual and auditory messages, observing sensory experiences, and recording my experiences in the dark.

I lost my sense of time, and my body and mind guided me in addressing their needs and desires. I didn’t feel hungry and managed to live the last 14 days without solid food, relying only on fresh juice and water to keep my physical body hydrated. 

The passing hours ceased to matter as I transcended the constraints of space and time.  

Lack of physical movement was the hardest part. The human body is designed for movement, and during the retreat, particularly the last two weeks, my physical activity decreased substantially. 

I felt the need for physical movement but didn’t want to go down to the teaching hall. Instead, I managed to exercise within my space through stretching and other movements. I wished I could have engaged in more physical activity at the time, but when our minds are in an extra-ordinary state and our brainwaves are moving slowly, we naturally don’t feel inclined to participate in physical activities.

However, I experimented with mental exercise, practicing Tai Chi in my mind every day. This approach is something I often teach to people who are physically unable to move, allowing them to still experience the benefits of physical exercise.  

I had no idea when it would end

I had no idea when it would end, but each day the experience grew more interesting and profound. It felt like a journey into the mind, exploring ideas, space, the universe, stars, galaxies, and seeking the meaning behind the visions shown to me. 

I was curious about what they meant, why I saw them, and what messages they held. Instead of overthinking, I set aside my analytical left brain and fully immersed myself in the experience, which was pleasant and intriguing most of the time. 

As the third week drew to a close and my mind anticipated returning to reality and light, it grew anxious to re-experience that once again.

On the last day, we exited the dark space into the night air. Though the night was dark, it seemed incredibly bright to me. We wore sunglasses as we left the space, making it a memorable experience in which we altered our senses. 

A fire ceremony awaited us upon our exit, and we were encouraged to walk on red-hot coals, a practice common among indigenous people. This ritual, often referred to as firewalking, serves different purposes depending on the culture it is practiced in.

In some indigenous cultures, firewalking is a rite of passage, a test of courage, or a means to overcome fear. It is believed that successfully completing the walk demonstrates mental and emotional strength, as well as spiritual fortitude. 

Participants often prepare for the ritual through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices that help them achieve a trance-like state, which enables them to walk over the hot coals without experiencing pain or injury.

In certain mind-training traditions, firewalking is a demonstration of the power of the mind over the body. It serves as a way to prove that with proper mental focus and control, one can overcome physical limitations and pain. This practice aims to build self-confidence, self-discipline, and mastery over the mind.

Should you try 21 days in the dark?

Above all, my time in the dark left me with a sense of cosmic fearlessness.

However, a retreat like this is only for people who are ready and well prepared for the experience. With the appropriate guidance and coach, one can greatly benefit from healing, personal and spiritual growth.  

As I continue my journey in psychedelic medicine, my 21 days in the darkness have taken on renewed relevance – more than two decades later – as I work with others to crack the Psychedelic Code.

I am planning to do this retreat again, early next year. This time I will spend five weeks in the dark. 


DMT, healing intelligence, the source

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