Why Are We Scared of the Dark?


By the time you read this, I’ll be in the dark about what’s going on in the world. Literally.

From May 17th-27th, 2022, I’ll be in Oaxaca, Mexico, participating in a fairly intense meditation retreat. During this time, I’ll be spending 10 days alone in total darkness. Why the heck would I do such a thing? I’m going to guess that’s your first question. I’ll discuss that shortly, but first…

The Logistics

At this resort, I’ll arrive in the morning of the 16th and spend a day getting used to the room in which I’ll be spending my time. It comes equipped with a bed, futon, chair, desk, bathroom with a sink and shower, and a fan for ventilation. That first day, I’ll be living in this room while learning and memorizing the layout for when the lights go out. On the 17th, the adventure will begin.

For food, I’ll be subsisting entirely on fruit smoothies and protein shakes from a local organic juicery that’s within walking distance of the resort. They’ll be delivered through a special drawer in the door (yes, like prison) that doesn’t let in any light. I chose not to eat regular food, but I didn’t end up choosing the most extreme route they offer, which is a ten day water fast. Apparently, I’m not that adventurous! Regardless, the shakes and smoothies will be delivered at various times throughout the day in order to facilitate losing track of time.

In case I need anything, I will also have a special call button that alerts the staff. This button activates a light that can be seen outside the room, but not from within. Next, the door to my room will remain unlocked, so I can leave at any time if I choose to end this adventure early. I hope not to do so, but the option does exist.

I also plan to bring earplugs and noise-canceling headphones, since the room is not soundproof. When I inquired about this with the owner of the resort (an advance interview is required), he mentioned that you can hear some external noise but not much. His point, which is entirely correct, was that one experienced with meditation should be able to meditate even in a construction zone, but I still wish to eliminate as much noise as possible.

Once the 10 days are over, I’ll spend two more days in the resort, reacclimating to my regular life. They highly recommend not going straight back to your phone, email, and business as usual, which makes complete sense.

What will I do while I’m in there and how did I find out about this?

As far as what I’ll do, I will spend the majority of my time meditating, thinking, sleeping, and writing. And yes, you can still write in the dark. The staff recommends bringing a notebook and straightedge to organize your writing, because apparently, after exiting, reading what you’ve written in the dark, with no external distractions to cloud the mind, can be highly profound. I may do some light stretching and mobility work while I’m in there as well, though I plan to remain mostly still and silent.

I discovered the concept of “darkness retreats” via a friend of mine. He tried this adventure a few years ago, and he told me that coming out into the light for the first time after it ended was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. Having engaged in various meditative practices and spiritual exploration over the past couple of years myself, I was instantly intrigued. When he told me that he was going to be doing it again this year, I decided to try it out as well.

So, the question you’ve all been waiting for…Why the heck would I do this?

I am approaching this experiment from a standpoint of openness and curiosity. In terms of a goal or tangible benefit, there is nothing explicit I wish to gain from this experience. Instead, I’m interested in exploring a few key questions/topics:

  • Where will my mind go when there is nothing to distract it?
    • What will come up?
    • Will I be scared, excited, euphoric, or a combination of all of the above?
    • Will something come up that I feel like running from?
      • What will that be?
      • Why?
      • How will I react?
  • What will it be like to completely give up any sense of control?
    • Will I resist this, or love it?
    • This is also why I didn’t set a goal or intention
    • Doing so seemed like a subtle attempt to control the experience
  • What will it be like to completely lose track of time?
    • Will this be exciting or scary, or both?
    • When it’s over, what will it feel like?
    • Will I easily re-acclimate to the concept of time?

Further, and I’m aware that this will sound a bit morbid, but I’m curious to see what it will be like to be essentially dead to the world with the world simultaneously dead to me. For 10 days, for all intents and purposes, I will not exist. I won’t be in contact with anyone, and no one will be in contact with me. What will that be like? I guess I’ll find out!

Either way, this will be an interesting exercise in humility. I’m going to hazard a guess that during these 10 days, the world will be just fine, and so will I. In a way, this is both comforting and humbling. It’s so easy to become too caught up in our day to day pursuits and place an undue amount of importance on them. If you read my piece on identity, you’ll recall that I believe once you know that nothing is integral to what you truly are, you’re free to engage wholeheartedly with anything and everything as you wish. Returning to the civilized world after being absent from it for 10 days will provide a nice reminder of this.

There’s a lot I don’t know about what I’ll experience, and I’m weirdly okay with that.

As my mother would happily tell you, when I was a child, I wanted an answer for everything. If I asked a question and she didn’t know, I’d follow up with, “Well what do you think?” If she didn’t have a satisfactory response, I’d want her to make something up. There’s even a drawing I made as a 7-year old with a bunch of spiral shapes and the caption, “I wish I knew everything.”

And yet, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to embrace uncertainty more and more. I first noticed this change a few years ago upon realizing that HBO’s incredible drama, The Leftovers, was easily my favorite TV show. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise, so bear with me! It’s a show that does a wonderful job of embracing ambiguity, focusing on a world-altering but unexplainable event, and straddling a line between whether it had a supernatural/religious, more grounded/scientific explanation, or no explanation at all. There are additional mysteries in the show that walk the same balance beam, and provide just enough evidence for all sides of the argument that you’re never fully sure.

By the show’s conclusion, you’re given more answers than you think you’ll receive, but with still enough doubt, uncertainty, and intrigue that you can’t be quite sure what’s true or not. When I was younger, this would have bugged the crap out of me. I wanted definitive, concrete answers to everything. But with this show, the beauty is truly in the mystery. Well, that and the writing and acting, which are phenomenal, but I digress.

The point is, one of my favorite pieces of fiction is centered around an unsolvable mystery, and I think that’s beautiful. I was able to embrace not knowing in such a way that I enjoyed the show more than if definitive answers had been given. I plan to do the same while I’m in the dark.

It will be so different in so many ways from anything I’ve ever done. I don’t know what will happen, and I don’t know what I’ll experience. And I’m totally okay with that. In fact, if there’s a reason why I’m going on this adventure, that’s probably it.

Also, don’t worry, I plan to share as many details as I can once I’m back 🙂

Before you go, I’d love to (retroactively) hear from you! What do you think of this adventure? Are you intrigued, horrified, or maybe a little bit of both? Would you ever do something like this? Have you already? Let me know your thoughts!


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Every Tuesday, learn about topics you might expect to see on a strength coach’s blog, like how to overcome injuries, train smarter, and become more athletic…and about topics you might be surprised to find, like mindfulness, philosophy, and leaving your ego behind.