“Feel your feelings. Feelings are meant for feeling. You can’t think your way out of a feeling.”
Yes yes, we all get it, but how, when, where do we have space and time to actually do just that? Especially when the world is seemingly designed to distract, numb and stimulate away from anything other than “fine.”
Below is a tale of the absurd lengths I went to to create enough space, time and well… boredom to actually feel my feelings and the simple, spacious miracles that are happening since this experience.
I first learned this was a thing, like so many others, from my friend Aubrey Marcus. God bless the true early adopters willing to take the risk in order to share new medicines with the planet.
I knew from the moment I heard about this “darkness retreat” that I would go. I just wasn’t sure exactly when. Or if I’m being honest… exactly why.
Around New Years, I was gifted an Akashic Record reading. The Akashic Records are a vast body of knowledge and those who know how to “read” them can tune into the records and share postcards from the unseen. In this reading, the records said that my main order of business right now is to SOFTEN. They said the warnings have been subtle so far — minor back pain, some relationship turbulence — but if I don’t listen and really do what it takes to put my sword and shield down then the warnings will get more intense.
They also said to let go of the “container” when it comes to my dream of 80k people climaxing simultaneously at Dallas Cowboy Stadium while holding a dream for the species. And to move at the rate of Nature, not at the rate of my ego.
None of these messages came as welcome medicine.
Historically I much prefer to hustle, and “make things happen”. I even pride myself on being able to time warp manifestations. I mean, I built a whole career of framing meditation as a PRODUCTIVITY TOOL. Please do not tell me to soften, slow down or adapt my dream, Nature. I like to go as hard and fast as I damn well please.
However, I knew it was true. So I reached out to the kind humans that run Sky Cave Retreats in Oregon.
Since Aaron Rodgers shared about his experience there, they booked out 10 months in advance with over 900 people on the waitlist!! So I was delighted when Scott, the masterful steward of this project, said he was able to adjust some things to make space for me with just a few weeks’ notice.
What is a Darkness Retreat? It is where you go into a small structure built into the earth that gives you total, utter, enveloping darkness. You stay there for 4-6 days alone. No phone, books, music, light or stimulation of any kind for days on end. Scott brings you food and makes a fire once a day and may leave you with a timely quote to ponder.
Other than that, you have time. The luxury and burden of seemingly endless time.
Nowhere to hide from yourself. Nowhere to hide from the boredom, the grief. Nothing to distract from the pain, the fear, the rage. Nothing, literally nothing, to do except feel.
And this. This is where the medicine becomes profound and healing.
It’s found inside the feelings we avoid in favor of our ultra stimulated, busy, distracted lives.
If this sounds like hell to you then it may just be the exact medicine that will free you to receive.
Scott picked me up at the airport at 10:30p and drove me up to his heaven on a hill. It was dark so I couldn’t see the vast, virginal beauty of the land. I got to sleep in “the cave” for one night but with the lights on. I was grateful for the opportunity to get my bearings and make a mental map of the room so my hands could find the necessities without the help of my eyes once the time came.
I landed on a Tuesday. Wednesday, I spent the day wrapping up work from a tiny 6×6 hut — the only place that had wifi on the 42 acres of land.
I said my goodbyes. My son very sweetly sang me a song, “I love you so much mommy. I love you so much mommy. I love you tooooo much,” as he enjoyed some spring break flavored ice cream.
I am super into Alana Fairchild’s Isis Oracle deck. Of course on this day, I pulled the “Temple of Black Obsidian” which invites you to charge up with the frequency of pure love as you descend into the darkness of your shadows.
We did a few rounds of sauna/cold plunge which has been one of my favorite delights of having a body as of late.
This was a huge wooden sauna that could fit 15 people right next to a stunning, freezing cold stream filled with freshly melted snow from the mountain. I stood naked in the woods with the icy water rushing over my feet, letting the sun stream through the trees and penetrate every cell of my body. Charging myself up from these final drops of sunlight to take with me into the chamber.
Then I did a two hour somatic healing session with an angel named Adrienne. She helped me to break the seal on the feeling of feelings and to help me to start to ask the body questions instead of the mind.
Then they left. Lights on. They said, “Oh, you initiate the ceremony.”
I had a taste of just how dark it was the night before and I was scared. Like a little kid scared of the dark, afraid I was going to run into something. Little did I know, the much bigger thing to fear was the 44 years of backlogged emotions I was about to face.
I lit one tea light candle and turned off all the other lights, secretly hoping I would fall asleep before the candle went out so I could face the dark in the morning.
I slept deeper and longer than I have in years. Likely 15-16 hours. No wifi, no cell service, no sound and the deepest, vastest dark I’ve ever experienced.
Having a four year old son and running a company is not a great recipe for sleep, so the rest was welcome. I got up for a few hours and slowly felt my way around the room. Then, the darkness gently enveloped me back into stillness. More sleep. After 2 days of so much sleep my body simply didn’t want or need any more.
I would go to bed after the food drop and check in from Scott and wake up at what felt like the middle of the night.
Imagine waking up and doing a full morning routine. Yoga, meditation, Pilates, HIIT workout, breathwork, bath, breakfast… And then, 17 more hours until anything else happens.
Time. The luxury and curse of time. I learned how to really relax. How to enjoy having a body. To play the game of seeing how long I can take to do something. How much can you savor one bite of food? What happens if you really chew food 40x like my doctor says we are meant to? What does it feel like to not rush? To have no one to answer to but yourself? It is a recovering codependent’s dream. And nightmare.
The only thing left to do is feel. And sweet mother of pearl did I feel.
Years of unexpressed rage came flooding out. Conversations I never had with my father, my exes, myself. I screamed so loud I thought I had a vocal cord injury. Just in case I ever need to go back to Broadway I sang a few hours of show tunes. Still got it.
Then sadness. Uncried tears fell like rain.
Judgment. Holy wow did my “Judge Judy” alter ego come to party. She has never felt so righteous. So needed. So much better than everyone else.
I kept waiting for the moment where the shadows would be transmuted with love. But it didn’t come. Just more waves of anger. More screaming. More punching. More tears. More problem-solving with the mind.
Finally I realized that feeling the feelings with the goal to transmute them does not allow them to actually be fully felt or witnessed. So I surrendered to the fact that I may leave the cave a lot angrier, a lot more judgmental and still feeling trapped.
And not surprisingly this is where the magic happened.
The pain, just like all of us, wants to be seen. It wants to be heard. To feel understood. Once it is witnessed with no agenda to change it. It seems quite happy to sit quietly in the back seat for a while and keep its hands off the steering wheel of life.
This combined with the realization that all the judgment is not helping me get what I want allowed me to find a new kind of stillness. A new kind of acceptance.
So on the final day Scott came to bring me into the light. The moment I had been looking forward to for seemingly eons… and I asked for more time. I had just gotten in the bath and I wanted to savor my last moments in the abyss of everythingness.
I imagine this is quite like life. When we think we have endless hours left in a body, we distract, waste and rush away our time.
But when we know it may be over soon — when the hours left in a body are numbered — that’s when we start to savor it, cherish it, and get creative on how to best use them.
I got on my knees and gave thanks. Deep gratitude to the dark. Deep gratitude to the depth and breadth of my pain. My judgment of it melted away.
I do not think my pain is bigger or smaller or more special or less special than anyone else’s pain. Now I am simply left with the question of how will I make space to feel it? Because now I know, in my cells I know, the beauty, the peace the liberation of pure BEing that lives on the other side of simply feeling the feelings.
What a funny trick that it took utter sensory deprivation. That the mind couldn’t have ANYthing else to distract itself with before it finally surrendered to the wisdom of the body.
And you may be less stubborn than me. Perhaps a day without your phone or a good ole fashioned rage playlist may do the trick for you. But whatever it takes, let’s all help each other to feel our feelings. The bravery to feel the depth of agony is what makes space for the heights of ecstasy.
To be able to experience both in a single day seems to be a uniquely human and perhaps highly coveted experience.
At long last Scott came back to bring me into the light for real. I put on an eye mask and he walked me to a chair looking over the horizon. Just removing the mask with my eyes closed felt like being born… like what it must be like to see light for the first time after emerging from the womb.
When I finally opened my eyes I gasped. The blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the texture of the trees. The leaves dancing playfully across the ground in the wind. All of it seemingly painted for me by Nature. Feeling the wind on my skin was a miracle. Smelling fresh air. I know it’s impossible not to take it all for granted again because there is simply too much magic to continually savor, but in those moments I felt in utter awe. All five senses acutely tuned.
Then I remembered a quote:
“Drugs are cool and all. But have you ever seen moss grow on a tree?”
What a gift it is to witness and be witnessed by Nature.
After I acclimated to the light, I got to see the oh so gifted somatic therapist for a final session that may have been just as valuable as the five days in the dark. She helped me to see how as a very little girl I didn’t trust the masculine. That I developed some core beliefs. One of them was this… That I need to hold it all together or it will fall apart. I realized that because I didn’t feel safe with the masculine, I would pretend not to want it or need it. These foundational decisions are like glasses we put on as children. And we all have them. The trick is that they color every action, decision and relationship from that point forward.
She helped me to experiment with what it would feel like to be held. To allow. To soften. She had me vision my deathbed. Who was with me? What really mattered?
Instantly the content of all the judgment felt so much less relevant. That all I really cared about was how much we loved and that we had a great time doing it.
Now that might seem contrary to the passionate plea for us to make feeling your emotions cool again, but this is the great paradox. That if we can do the valiant work of feeling our darker feelings, it leads to a different kind of feeling great. A more trustworthy, well earned bliss that radiates our entire being.
A bliss that is adaptive. A bliss that is vulnerable. A bliss that doesn’t need everyone else to feel happy in order to feel safe.
I had a few hours to do my beloved sauna/cold plunge rotation. I met a new friend in the sauna. He is divorced and coparenting in Oregon on this sacred land I just fell in love with. He had access to this sauna and cold plunge every day. And yet he was feeling trapped.
He is a musician and desperately wants to be in Brooklyn. I am divorced and coparenting in Brooklyn. I have access to live music and shows and a density of culture… and yet I am feeling trapped. I desperately want to be in Nature. I deeply desire a sauna and cold plunge. To be surrounded by trees and the sounds of Nature instead of sirens.
We were a perfect mirror for each other. Each of us thinking that if we had what the other had we would be happy. Classic grass is greener syndrome.
We could see and appreciate the specificity and sense of humor of the mirror. As he closed the door to the sauna, I asked him if he had ever heard the quote, “The grass is greener where you water it.”
So for now, I will water my Brooklyn-shaped grass. I will get sound-proof windows and fill my home with art and music and more plants. I will find a way to get a sauna/cold plunge in my apartment, even up 2 elevators.
Because the future never comes. And most of our worries don’t either. So we may as well savor the now, love your beloveds well and have a great time doing it.
Now I’m asking myself how I am going to make space to process the feelings without having to plunge myself into 5 days of complete darkness. You may be asking yourself the same. To be honest the darkness retreat is not for everyone. But if you are curious… good news!
Scott, the man who created this retreat is going to be a guest on my new podcast coming out on May 16, “Why Isn’t Everyone Doing This?” We will chat about how he found the darkness, what it has given him and why it’s been practiced for thousands of years. Stay tuned for that coming soon.
In the meantime, there are ways to carve out the space for you to feel.
A great place to start is inside of a meditation practice. Giving yourself a sacred time and space in meditation, where you are straddling individuality and totality — that is where the safety to feel your feelings can be cultivated. It is inside this safety where your lifetime of emotions and stress can start to come up and out.
Interestingly, I only meditated about once a day despite having so much time because the whole thing felt like dancing in the unmanifest for days on end. So when I went to meditate there was nowhere to go. I was already in the transcendence.
If this retreat taught me anything it is the increasing urgency of tools, modalities and safe ways to feel the unfelt. So in my classic, why isn’t everyone doing this? nature I am deep in process, birthing ways for us to do just that… together.
To including all of it. The light and the dark,
P.S. Believe it not, on the final night after coming into the light, there was even more magic. Scott and his friend Travis invited me to join them in the “kiva.” The kiva is an underground chamber that also gets completely dark. They filled it with instruments and they said they only bring a few guests in. The ones who aren’t afraid to get wild. 😉
The next four hours of my life were some of the most creative, hilarious, channeled fun of my life. All four of us lost our identities to the sound, we followed the collective current of inspiration and painted the darkness with our sonic imagination. I could tell I was in the presence of mastery.
These guys have been improvising music for decades together. It reminded me of the pure magic of PLAY. Yes the darkness can carve out space, but what we fill that space with is up to us. Play is free and available to us all the time. This is actually what one of the first episodes of the podcast is all about… The power of play. Mark your calendar for that coming on May 16. It’s gonna be fun.