Byline: Rachael Kim and Aljolynn Sperber
Growth happens in the dark. When you think of a seed, what do you do with it? You dig a hole, bury it, and then let nature do its work. Above the ground the soil receives light from the sun and water to help it grow, but what happens underground? Before the sprout comes the break. Before any rooting or grounding or growth comes the break. Growth does not occur without the break. Taking a retreat in the dark is as important as living in the light. That is true for all natural beings.
Darkness produces growth where healing occurs to encourage further growth. We are in need of healing from 2020. So can we say it is time to embrace the darkness so that the healing can happen?
A hypothesis that Rachael Kim, CEO & Founder of Project Untaboo, an early femtech start up focusing on empowering individuals with periods to discover their period lifestyle through a single trusted platform, and I wanted to test out via a dark retreat. A traditional Dark Retreat is where one goes to a cave or any location that is completely dark to practice the restoration of the mind, body, and soul. No speaking, no technology, no seeing—simply complete darkness. You will have access to food and water, depending on the type of retreat you visit. You can stay as long as you need, 24 hours to 3 weeks, or even longer. Practitioners of dark retreats are typically those who practice yoga since the time in the darkness is meant for meditation and some yoga-safe practicing in the dark is essential.
As a proponent of mini dark retreats, Rachael has tailored them from the comfort of her own home. She suggested we should test it out and share our different experiences. Being an advocate for mental health and healing, I was excited to test out an at-home darkness retreat and share my experience with you, dear Menstruator. Read on to learn about our experiences.
In the past, a dark retreat can last from 2 hours in a day or an entire weekend depending on my energy and fatigue from the previous month. Given the intensity of the US elections, the COVID impact on my team with the second wave also hitting later, and autumn settling in triggering Seasonal Affect Disorder for the first time in my life, I decided that I needed a 24 hour dark retreat and make sure to book it in my calendar as a priority (also my flatmate was away for the weekend).
For me, I combined a detox with the 24 hour retreat which means I fast with water and green tea to help me feel more focused during and energized post retreat as the heavy, lethargic yo-yo eating habits of the past two weeks contributed to my dwindling energy. It also resets my digestive system as gut health is one of the areas I keep tabs on as I have been susceptible to ulcers from significant work stress in the past.
This time, I prepared mine through a clean and cozy space and also set up:
- Smell: Oil diffuser with ylang ylang, jasmine, and neroli
- Sight: All lights off in my bedroom with my blinds down
- Taste: Water and green tea beside my bed
- Sound: Spotify playlist to help focus and guide me through meditation
- Touch: comfy robe with Le Bon Shoppe red socks and soft, fuzzy comforter
The feeling I create is a warm, safe cocoon so that I can mentally focus on unraveling the tension in my head, shoulders, back and the rest of my body to simply give in to my basic needs and heal.
It’s always good for me to start my retreat after a hot shower, and mentally prep with the Fork & Melon lotion over my body in general. For particularly sore areas, quickly using the Brown Sugar VooDoo massage candle makes me feel more calm and centered to rest in the dark.
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash
After I wrap up and lie down, I make sure the diffuser is going, blinds are down, and that the playlist is at the lowest volume so I can still hear my thoughts. I do not set an alarm, but have my phone on silent and use it only to see the time when I awake from meditation or sleep to go to the bathroom. During this time I will feel like a bit of a zombie, but the whole point for me is not to worry or “be on,” I let myself heal the way that my brain and body is telling me to do and let the darkness cloak me again to process all conscious and unconscious thoughts in my head.
There is nothing perfect about the way I do my dark retreat, but every single time I do it, I always feel renewed and ready to re-engage in the real world. I mainly notice that my body is rested, pain points in my body are muted and that I am mentally grounded again for the week— enabling a brightness to the different way I view things and engage with others as a human being.
And that’s why I do it, to feel like a whole human being again who can breath, think, and act clearly in a COVID world where anything goes. As a proponent of mental health, this is one of my ways of creating that center from within. Daily meditation and other self-care practices usually happen in the light, but I wanted to iterate one that I do in the dark. As darkness comes with winter, I see it as an opportunity that you can embrace instead.
Photo by Brigitte Long, Courtesy of Fearless Foundry
As a solo mom and entrepreneur, I went into wanting to test an at-home dark retreat since I have seen friends and colleagues testing at-home retreats. The purpose of any retreat is to disconnect from your everyday life, so how does one do that in the comfort of their own home? Only with some serious preparation.
Here’s what I had ready - tried to base this off of the 5 senses:
- Sight - A tidy and organized room and clean bathroom to retreat to.
- Sound - The Restore playlist on Spotify created for this month’s box.
- Touch - Le Bon Shoppe red socks.
- Touch & scent - Massage candle from Brown Sugar VooDoo
- Touch - Fork & Melon lotion
- Touch & scent - The rose petal & mint flavored lip balm from Balm Standard
- Scent - Yuni Carry Om essential oil roller
- Taste - Classic Sea Salt Nana Chips by Bubba’s Fine Foods
Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash
I did not succeed in the necessary level of preparation of prepared meals, water supply, blackout curtains, and childcare (because COVID-19). Sorry, Flo Riders. But here’s what I did, which was important because I was starting to feel burnout from my everyday life. Some of you may not know but I have a full-time job and run Lady Box, as well as solo-parent my son. So there isn’t much time for myself —my strategic brain is constantly running. So instead of a darkness retreat I used the items I did have and used them to create a comfortable space on my couch and binged watched The Crown and some Great British Bake-off on Netflix. My phone was on do not disturb for most of the weekend. While I didn’t completely disconnect, I stayed connected to what would serve me for the weekend: my family, a tiny bit of work, list and plan making for the week, delicious and healthy meals and some anglophile entertainment.
While my experience isn’t necessarily revealing of any moments of growth and healing from the darkness, I will share that I have gone through my own healing process within and from the darkness. It takes willingness to admit that you need healing and commitment to continue the work of healing and growth everyday. The fact that I took downtime so that I could be more present for the week ahead is a result of the healing work I practice everyday. It’s important to recognize when you need to take time for yourself and to actually use that time. Earlier it was mentioned that growth and healing needs a breaking point for it to even happen, and while that may be true it’s important to recognize the difference between a breaking point and a bursting point. A break is easier to heal than a burst. Take the time to heal before the burst.
The items in the November box can help set you up for an at-home darkness retreat. Would you stay locked in your room, at-home, in the dark for 48 hours if you knew it could lead to healing?