|Enlightenment Darkness Retreat
February 11-March 2, 2OO2
Universal Tao Center, Thailand
Video produced, directed and narrated by Annabella Morelos-Chan,
PBS producer and freelance writer.
Videotext transcribed and edited (plus additional reportage as Darkness participant)
by Dennis Huntington, UTC instructor and editor.
Darkness Retreat Introduction
In the highways of life today, our frequent fellow travelers are stressed -- defined as alienation from the divine, and fear, a projection of the ego guard. We struggle with emotional control, yearning to break out of the box into a life of quality. In our hearts, we wish for meaningful lives with better health, enriched by love and flowers. Yet it takes courage to leave the familiar road and head for the unknown hills and the horizon.
This February at the Universal Tao Center in Thailand, a master offered to provide a journey to enlightenment, a darkroom retreat for twenty-one days. Based on the Tao teachings dating back 2,500 years ago, Mantak Chia, a visionary teacher of the ancient wisdoms, created a modern cave---a womb where one could withdraw from the world in safety and five-star comfort with other seekers.
Forty-five pioneers from sixteen countries gathered. Brave souls prepared to see the light, convinced that once they see the light, they can become the light. They came alone and in pairs, each one an explorer on a vision quest, urged by their inner voice.
Participant Interviews Going In
The following are interviews with some participants on the first day, a few hours be-fore they entered the darkroom environment:
Mr. Sergei Petrulevich, Russia
I have come from Russia to take part in the darkroom retreat. It is very interesting for me to be here. For the first time in my life I will take part in this. I have been practicing the Tao for one year, but I have known about the Tao for about ten years. For me the explanation is very easy; maybe I feel that I belong to that part of Russians who always want to find the truth. Because of that, it is easy for me to take this way.
Mr. Michael Kotur, USA.
I'm from Dayton, Ohio. I feel I like I could acquire a heightened sense of peace, more freedom through peace if I settle down within. Iron Shirt practice has helped my lower back a lot, and I had a calcium deposit in the middle finger of my left hand because of my work---I do the same motion over and over. Even without directly intending the energy there, the practice fixed it, no more deposit.
Mr. Jorge Jeronimo Garcia Zenteno, Mexico.
I hope to see reality -- that which is eternal. It is a privilege that only a few can have. It is such an opportunity to see the eternal. The benefits of these practices promote health, permitting aging into an advanced age with a young body and most interestingly, harnessing the energy to circulate throughout the body and thereby releasing beneficial substances such as hormones and neurotransmitters. Those then provoke states of ecstasy, which are marvelous.
Mr. Mike Moore, New Zealand.
I don't really have any expectations. I came with a fairly open mind, and just want to experience whatever I can experience. I first read one of Mantak Chia's books, and as he didn't run any courses in New Zealand, my partner and I both decided to come here to experience Tao Garden and also do some of the courses with Master Chia.
Mr. Hans Seidel, Austria.
The darkroom: I thought it would be my next step since I have done the microcosmic and fusion meditations. I learned them in Vienna, and I have also come here to Tao Garden three times.
Mr. Edgar Alberto Sanchez Gonzalez, Mexico.
Principally one learns to understand one's body and love, which brings about humility and interest in that which is natural. Well, for me, the Darkroom represents an opportunity to encounter one's inner silence, introspection into one's conscience, but I expect nothing. I prefer to keep my expectations as minimal as possible, and in this manner, stay fluid like water and let it lead me to the darkness. I feel a combination of emotions---somewhere between excitement, enthusiasm, fear and also a sensation of calm that increases with each moment as we get closer to entering the Darkroom.
Mr. Dennis Huntington, Thailand.
"I'm from the United States. I grew up in Maine, and then I lived in the San Francisco area in California. Later, I lived in Japan for thirteen years before I came to live here at Tao Garden three and a half years ago. I have been practicing the Tao of Master Chia's teaching since 1986. I am looking forward to the Darkroom experience because it is a good opportunity to set everything else in the world aside and just take my full attention inside. I was in a situation about thirty years ago where by doing that for the first time, I discovered the third eye, inner vision experiences and out of the body experiences. So, I'm really looking forward to this opportunity to take my experience to a new level."
Mood of Anticipation
It was a historic moment, possibly the first time that so many from varied cultures had a chance to follow the sages of the past. Each was drawn by the rich tradition of the Tao in the ageless wisdom that teaches how to harness the universal energy that is everywhere in abundance for all, but which only a few claim. Emotions and excitement ran high. A sampling of additional preliminary comments illustrates the mood:
I'm a bit nervous, but not too bad. I was probably more nervous back in New Zealand, but now I'm here and it's the day to go into the Darkroom. I feel more relaxed."
I feel very well. I'm feeling that I can accomplish it. I look forward, really, in these two weeks to whatever comes."
I'm very excited, and I am anticipating it. I don't know what to expect. What I have learned from my experience is that we do the practices that we have learned to do and those we will be learning in the Darkroom. Then just leave it up to the body, the chi and the universe to give what is in order. Take what comes. So, I don't have an expectation of a specific outcome. But, I know from the past experience---at whatever time---I will be rewarded by approaching it with a positive attitude and with a sincere commitment."
Darkness Retreat Vision Materialized
A year's preparation had gone in---the culmination of a dream for Mantak Chia, a peripatetic master of Chi Kung and the Tao. His teachings are captured in videos and seventeen books, available in thirty-seven languages. A healthy force of 1,500 instructors in thirty-seven countries teaches them.
This vision materialized in the eighty-acre Tao Garden Health Resort in the Chiang Mai countryside, bordering the Mae Kuang Dam. On the property, rice, vegetables and fruits are grown organically, fed by one kilometer of streams. Spanned by ten bridges, these gently water the ten thousand trees and aromatic flowers, filling numerous ponds where golden koi frolic among the lotuses.
The Darkroom was situated inside a spacious brick condominium. On the first day of the retreat, the interiors were dimly lit for a few hours---enabling the participants to familiarize themselves, imprinting landmarks of the physical space of their inward journey to the transcendent. The accommodations were arranged comfortably with fully equipped bathrooms and air conditioning. All light sources were switched off at the fuse box or taped over. Not a speck of light showed.
The food was abundant, healthy and surprisingly delicious---grown mostly in the Tao Gardens and prepared to exacting standards by the trained staff. Creature comforts inside the darkroom were available throughout: massages from the in-house staff and a range of healing modalities offered by the participants---allopathic doctors, international acupuncture specialists who were amazingly accurate in the dark, psychotherapists and esoteric healers.
Master Chia and a medical doctor, Jose Antonio Rojas of Puebla, Mexico, took part in explaining possible body changes from a carefully designed menu (rich in enzymes to trigger hormonal activities), as well as from the absence of light and the meditative practices planned. The goal was to optimize health, both physiological and emotional during the retreat.
Some had come with the unconscious knowing that in the dark their authentic self might surface: much like the visualization of waterwheels and bubbling springs, modest at first until practice grew it into a gushing fountain. In sightlessness, some hoped to find a key to a loft in history and link with the forces of the universe for a compassionate, healthy and blissful future.
Post-Darkness Retreat Interviews after One or Two Weeks
Mike Moore (and partner), NZ.
All too soon, the long night ended, and one by one, they began to emerge in the tropical evening with uncertain steps. Dark glasses on, as even the silver moon was blinding, the next day was full of stories.
"We came out the following Sunday [due to a problem related to a previous condition related to a lower back disorder]. So, we were in darkness for about seven days."
Mrs. Alana Burgoyne, NZ.
"There were a lot of very personal things, but I suppose that one of the impacts, just about from the moment we were in there, was no thoughts. Just this clear, clear, clear focus of my mind. No bloody thoughts---and usually my mind is full of really annoying, bloody thoughts. And also, the feeling of---I mean I never wanted to come out---it was so wonderful, the feeling of safety and nurturing as if being in the womb. That came very early on, to me. I'm hard pushed to say what's the best because I also had a lot of feelings about the universe and the cosmos---more clearly understanding how that might fit together and my part in it."
Mike. "I'd recommend it to anybody that's searching for the spiritual path, even people who are just mildly interested, or I'd recommend it to practically anybody because it's a real five-star experience to start with. It's a beautiful place to stay, the accommodation is superb, the food is amazing---even in the dark---and in fact, the food even tasted better in the dark. I didn't think it would be possible; so, the staff and everything is five-star plus!"
Ms. Germaine Winterberg-Burger, Switzerland.
But then I found out something---that I am free. Perhaps more free than many other people. Now, I saw in the dark that I limit myself; this was one of my experiences. I realized that when I wanted to see the infinity, I started to limit. So, I found a way that I could proceed and not limit myself. This was that I saw this as a very sensitive, fine thing---that this way to infinity is not 'Whooom-m-m, I go with the infinity!' It was more a flying in the infinity.
I had a big surprise with this lady that I shared the room with. We were not good together. We did not have good feelings together. So, she wanted to massage me. Later, I observed in the Darkroom---I heard her voice---her voice was changed completely from the situation that we had in the room together, not in the Darkroom. * So, I feel that she changed. Her massage---that was a beautiful thing. It was the same as a dance. She did it very, very soft -- and I am very flexible. In the muscles, I mean, and in all this I am very flexible. All the massage men said, 'How is it possible that when I press my thumbs into the deepest places in your muscles, it is not painful?' But her massage was not like this kind of deep muscle massage. It was just the gentle pressure from only the small joints at the tips of her fingers. And, I responded so that we had the same as a dance together, but in an absolute minimal movement. And so, the energy flowed, and it was something absolutely wonderful."
*[The Darkroom referred to is the central meeting area of the enclosed and tiled inner courtyard of the condominium, which was covered with comfortable foam exercise mats for the daily gatherings, classes. There were also chairs around the outer fringes. All of the rooms were also in total darkness.]
Mr. Michael Kotur, USA.
"Well, I got out of the darkroom last night after being in for two weeks. I had a wonderful experience, and it was a lot more stable than what I thought it would be internally, yes. And, the physical proceedings of the people were a lot more cohesive than what I ever would have thought."
Mr. Oliver Mueller, Germany.
"What I liked yesterday when I came out was the moon. It looked totally different. It was violet. I never saw a violet moon! I thought it was the sunglasses, but no. I took them off, and the moon was white, but the corona was bright violet. And tonight I will see if it has changed or if it's the same."
Mr. Hans Seidel, Austria. About the moon: "It changed, but it only, I think, makes it firm that it might vary very much in this way."
Alana. "Always, there was always---I had the purple light and white light like the stars."
Germaine. "I feel that, now, this was my wish to come into the very finest thing. And so, with her this was possible for the first time I ever was fine. But that was the absolute finest I have ever felt in my life."
Oliver. "Lucid dreaming happens while sleeping, and maybe it's a vision. For example, I walk several steps, and sometimes I see a garden. I see palm trees. I see flowers. I see a huge building. OK---and this was very clear---as clear as I see this building [pointing to a nearby building]. Very, very clear. OK, maybe this is a house; maybe this is a vision of some house a thousand years ago in Africa. Maybe it's on another planet, but I don't care. You know, I don't care. I think it was not so important for me. Maybe it was a vision, or maybe it was a hallucination.
"Lucid dreaming, I did before; I had lucid dreams before. And this is very in-teresting, and may be very helpful in life---because it's a dream in which you know that you are dreaming. This makes it clear and gives this dream continuity so you can act and do many good things. And there was also a change. Lucid dreams, that I had before, happened in the night while I slept. It's like you have a dream, and then maybe you are flying. And then you think, 'I cannot fly; normally I cannot fly. This must be a dream.' And, phut-t-t, it's a lucid dream. And then I would awake and I think, 'Oh, I had a lucid dream.'
"But in the Darkroom it's different because when I was not sleeping, it also turned into a dream. So, the border between dreaming and not dreaming diminished. This is the Taoist way, lucid dreaming. This is what they are teaching. This was very interesting. Would I recommend it? If one is curious, then it's very good. Being curious is a very good way to go inside. If you were not curious, maybe it would be difficult or boring. But if you are curious, you can get insight and benefit inside. Yes, I would recommend it."
Seeing Light and Visions
Little specks of light dancing---the darkness was dancing---and sometimes I had the same, the white light, flashing on, and I would think, 'Oh, someone's coming with a torch [flashlight] or---and of course it would be, well, you know, it wasn't in any of those times---and then it became more permanent."
Mike. "I had already done one or two of the meditations, particularly the cosmic one, since we've been out, and it's been just as good as when I had been in the Darkroom."
Alana. "Even with a 'crook' back!"
Mike. "Even with a bad back, yes."
Alana. Probably one that I had---it was quite a small experience, but it was a vision, you might say; it was very, very real---of a beautiful amber butterfly, outlined with white, white, white light. It was just glowing and dripping with light, and it was so beautiful! I don't think I shall ever forget---that was wonderful. It was so clear and bright! And, it just, you know, emphasized to me again that there's a lot more to life than meets the eye."
Hans. "No question, because it's available to everybody; there is information in the Internet so that everybody can read about it. It has very detailed information; so, it's not secret information anymore. So, how somebody is confronted with it depends very much on the society one is from, from the cultural organization of his or her background. But the experience always should be very much a matter of the direct personal inner experience of the individual. So, it doesn't have much to do with things from the outside, from an outside organization.
Michael. Usually I would do, um---some of my favorite meditations were before I would actually go to sleep after doing Tao Yin at night. Then, I would wake up an hour or two before the bell rang and get some very quiet time because the building was very quiet. So, those were a lot of the times when I would peak in my meditations. I have been 'projecting' for the past few years and honing my Fusion work. But, uh, this was a whole 'nother' level---particularly when Master Chia would do the guided meditations and go up. I always sat back on the chairs [rather than cross-legged on the mats] because I'm very comfortable sitting. So, I can sit: I can rock and feel my sacrum---and I can rock and go up. I can stay connected, grounded, with my feet, and I can go both ways [up and down]. And, once again, I would 'huup,' shoot out [the sound made during the practice of projecting a 'pearl' of conscious energy up through the crown of the head to connect with and gather universal energy]. And it would get, sometimes nothing. But still, a very blissful feeling, and then sometimes I would 'catch' and start seeing specks---like what you would see in a space book.
Mike. The light started for me pretty soon after we went into darkness, most probably about a day. It started with a flickering of light in my right eye down around the bottom area, and apart from being in the darkness, I was wearing my eye shades most of the time [a padded upper face mask that completely covered the eyes]. And so, first of all, I thought someone was flashing a light behind me; so I kept looking around. Eventually, the flickering light, after about a day or less than a day, the light turned to a steady white light on both sides. And then, all of a sudden, I could see it was light in front of me. And so I was a part of it, too, sort of just like in a big cavern. Sometimes I noticed the ceiling had, paneling, carving; sometimes it was the walls, I noticed, that had big woodcarving and paneling---it seemed to change all the time. Sometimes it was just very ornate pillars more or less filling up."
Other Experiences in the Dark and After-Effects
Michael. "I just loved Master Chia's explanation of compassion---when he talked about how he had asked [Buddhist] masters in the past he had studied with, saying maybe a heightened sense of kindness, so much kindness you get compassion, so much loving
---and that congealing of all of the virtues in the heart and the pakuas spinning here [on both sides of the heart], and feeling that compassion resonating [and expanding outward from the heart].
"I was noticing this morning---I got up before dawn and got to sit for a while and did some Tai Chi---I feel so-o-o much softer and so much more quiet inside. My heart rate is slower. The biggest surprise is the feeling in my feet! Because, you know, the other things I did---when you go up, there's not a whole lot of feet---and so sometimes you feel you're floating, you know. I feel very stable, very succinct. To be able to go up and use it---that's what I love about this system. We know why we are going out, and there's a purpose of transformation---crystallization as Master Chia says.
"I'm going back to 'the world of dust,' so to speak. I'm ready to go back into my life and to just keep this resonance. It has certainly changed my perspective, actually my whole perspective of the big picture of why I'm doing this. Why do I sit down and meditate? Why am I going to stand here every morning for forty-five minutes in the 'tree'? [Iron Shirt Chi Kung: 'Embracing the Tree' posture]. This experience has helped me to not just look at the trees, but to see the forest."
Hans. "It was spiraling of energy, and suddenly my body was lifted up from the mat. It's a sudden explosion, really; so, it was an experience also for me, and it was interesting. It's an expansion---I would describe
it---more into yourself. I don't experience expansion outside, but more into myself, into my body, into my being-ness. I would talk about it to other people for sure, but I think the recommendation should come from oneself. Everybody should decide for himself or herself. Each person should decide if they can do it, or would do it. The information is around, and I would like to share my information.
"Come back to the Darkroom? Yes, it might not be next year. It might be two years or three years. I would like to share it also with my wife, Sylvia. And yes, I want come back."
Alana. "Well I did find when I came out---after a few days---I was able to look in the mirror, when my eyes had adjusted. And, I saw that my eyes were very bright and a lot of the wrinkle lines and frown lines had, kind of---gone! Which, I thought was rather wonderful."
Germaine. "I discovered that my energy can go everywhere, and anyone can take what they need. But I don't lose anything. It's only my present---to be.
"It was different; it was much more direct. You cannot look at any faces; you cannot become disturbed by anything. You let yourself not be disturbed. If you are great, I think you can do it everywhere, within the dark or not dark. But now, in the Darkroom it was much more easy. I'm still wearing dark glasses in the light, but I feel with my hands that the wrinkles have gone a little. It is my idea of life that if you are happy, really happy, all people benefit from you.
Oliver. "Very much. This was maybe the most important physical change. Very often I had two portions of the food, but anyway, I lost weight. I lost four kilos in one week. Well, I have gained it again now, because I have no problems with weight. I don't know---maybe cleaning, maybe some psychological reaction---I don't know.
"I did this kind of practice before. I expected it would be similar, maybe more intense---and it was. I didn't expect much more; I expected it would be interesting. And, I wanted to see how my normal senses would improve. For example, they had those balloons hanging at special points. When I reached them I could smell them, maybe thirty centimeters before. At ten centimeters you could feel their electrostatic field. And at the end, it was maybe two meters when I could smell them. And also later, I saw things. The eyes could see infrared or something.
"You have the voice; you have the smell. It doesn't mean that they 'smell,' but you smell people. You depend on your other senses. I immediately made some picture of how they might look in the beginning. But I found out how much I already did all this. When I see people, I am so focused on seeing them and watching them that I don't feel and smell so much. But maybe I see a person and touch, and I think, 'I like them or don't like them. Good or bad?' You have some feeling, but you don't know what the reason is for it. If you don't see them, you know. You know it's some-thing in the voice; it's some movement; it's the distance; it's some smell."
Michael. "I just loved Master Chia's explanation of compassion
and that congealing of all of the virtues in the heart
and he just so actively uses that compassion energy for self healing and transformation. And, uh, I guess that's not a very direct answer. If I was to answer more directly, I would say, uh, 'I daggone feel more loving!' "
Annabella interjects: "So ladies, watch out!"
Michael reacting: "Aa-ha-ha-ha-a-a-a!"
Changes, Handling Fears or Problems
Hans. "There was a very short period of very clearness and, even, sightedness. So, it was such that you could experience everything around.
"Also, when I was sitting in a half-lotus position on the mat, and this energy would lift me up, but there were so heavy forces in the body that you wouldn't stay up. But it came up in this Darkroom environment. [He was combining a practice from Transcendental Meditation 'flying' techniques, which he had learned previously, with Master Chia's teaching in the Darkroom.]
"Ever afraid or have problems? Yes, but because of this arrangement of having a very dear friend in the room [the 'buddy system']---also to have this very good food service---this diminished the problems and was a big help."
Mike. "I was always sort of scared going to bed in the dark. I think that in my day parents, to get kids to bed, used to say, 'If you don't get to bed, the bogey man will get you'---and different things like that. So, It was a question of getting into bed, getting your head under sheets and hoping that because you couldn't see, that they couldn't see you. So, I think it all comes from there. I was also brought up through the blitz in London---so we had a lot of bombing and so the night had a lot of terror in it.
"We intend to repeat it. In fact, as you know, we were booked in for two weeks, but unfortunately we couldn't finish the second week [because of a chronic back problem]. But, yes, I definitely am very keen to come back and next time do the full three weeks.
Alana. "Yeah, definitely, I want to come back---yes, definitely. I was very disappointed to have to leave, but at least we had a taste of what it's like, and next time I'll be better prepared, you know, with packing.
"Another dimension, or aspect, was added to our relationship."
Oliver. "One shift is that there are more shifts---sometimes very, very peaceful and quiet, and sometimes angry or maybe you want to sit and calm down and meditate. It's normal that sometimes people bump into you---boom---OK. One minute---boom---then one minute later---boom---and sometimes you think, 'Oh no, I don't want this!' Then I can feel people coming; so I lean back out of their way, and phuut-t-t, they go on past---OK. And, uh, this is also an emotional shift. It's OK---it's in the dark; we don't see.
"So, I feel more here. More, well, I feel the place where we are, and I feel more connected to the environment. This has to do with the darkroom, and, for me of course, it has to do with the practices we did in the dark, yeah. Because: you expand to the universe outside, and then you come back. Now this is a feeling of being nor-mal here, but also a something of me is also outside. It's good.
"If you have many expectations, you're so focused. For example, some people were focused on seeing the auras and on detecting who is coming by watching the aura. OK, I didn't see the aura, but I would think, 'OK I want to meet this and this person,' and then forget it. And two minutes later, boom, it's them. But if I had focused on seeing their aura, I would have never met them. But maybe, just my normal senses found them. So, if you are open and curious, this is very good. You can make fantastic discoveries."
Hans. "In the lectures, Master Chia, many times, mentioned the way of Jesus, the Bible and the way of the Tao, and I think that for me this was very interesting. I think this is exactly what I was thinking---what happened and what Jesus said about this. So I liked this; for me, it was very good."
Michael. "Next year, if he does the Sealing of the Five Senses, I'll be back, definitely. Definitely!"
Hans. "What I experienced in these two weeks, what I find so valuable---to be part of this and to constantly work in this environment, yes. As a boy I had experiences in this state between awake-ness and sleeping before I slept---where I would be moving between the stars and somewhere. I got afraid in that wide space, and then, I was just back where I was in the bed. This kind of feeling came back to me, but now, with much more understanding available for me, my expectations were focused on myself. The two weeks were good, yes. There is a very fine feeling for this morning---for the light, for the sun, for the flowers, for the nature in Tao Garden. This feeling is very deep, and still there is a trembling in this body, but it makes the environment so fine to see!"
Mike. "We intend to repeat it. In fact, as you know, we were booked in for two weeks, but unfortunately we couldn't finish the second week. But, yes, I definitely am very keen to come back and next time do the full three weeks.
"I'd recommend it to anybody that's searching for the spiritual path, even people who are just mildly interested, or I'd recommend it to practically anybody because it's a real five-star experience to start with. It's a beautiful place to stay, the accommodation is superb, the food is amazing---even in the dark---and in fact, the food even tasted better in the dark. I didn't think it would be possible; so, the staff and everything is five-star plus!"
Alana. "Yeah, definitely, I want to come back---yes, definitely. I was very dis-appointed to have to leave, but at least we had a taste of what it's like, and next time I'll be better prepared, you know, with packing."
Mike. "The meditations were beautiful, particularly the cosmic orgasmic meditation."
Germaine. "I think the dark, the awareness of it---for me, the awareness of it---this infinity in the dark, and it is so warm. It's so warm.
"When I said before that I am going into the dark, the normal people said, 'Oh, you know, you are crazy.' But so-o-o crazy-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-a-a-a-a-a! You know, false thinking. But, but then they were noisy. They were noisy. And, so many people at home---they wait. What has happened? They want to know: What has arrived?"
Oliver. "I think the improvement of the senses will be long lasting. I expected changes, and I find it wonderful that I can hear, feel and smell more."
||Hans. "There is a very fine feeling for this morning---for the light, for the sun, for the flowers, for the nature in Tao Garden. This feeling is very deep, and still there is a trembling in this body, but it makes the environment so fine to see!"
Michael. "I don't fear going back to 'the world of dust,' so to speak. I'm ready to go back into my life and to just keep this resonance. It has certainly changed my perspective, actually my whole perspective of the big picture of why I'm doing this. Why do I sit down and meditate? Why am I going to stand here every morning for forty-five minutes in the 'Embracing the Tree' posture? This experience has helped me to not just look at the trees, but to see the forest."
In the end, the Darkroom experience appears to be unique for each one. Perhaps its greatest gift is to equip us with renewed energy---and a vehicle to ride past the tunnels of self-limitation---to cross the bridges of life's challenges with greater ease, and to go forth into the future unafraid.
Additional Darkness Retreat Report from Dennis Huntington
Annabella videotaped the above interviews with participants who completed one or two weeks during the first two weeks of the Darkroom Retreat. Most participants stayed in the Darkroom for three weeks and were not interviewed with the above group.
Dennis' Darkroom Report (click here for more information)