Total Darkness Retreat

by Lindsey Vona

Lindsey Vona is a talented musician, graphic artist, and poet living in Northern California. With her permission, I’ve included a section of her report about experiences that resemble classic mystical descriptions and reports of entheogenic journeys. A major difference seems to be that while peak experiences aided by psychedelics last at best a few hours, Vona seems to have spent days in the unitive state. As with a proper use of psychedelics, set and setting were important variables in letting Vona come, on her own, into this state of consciousness and later to begin to integrate her new view of her identity into her life.

Vona spent two weeks in darkness at the Sierra Obscura Darkness Retreat Center. At its blog (go to and click on “overview”), the center is described as “an optimal environment in which individuals enter into perpetual darkness, with all of their basic needs provided for, in support of self-realization.” The stated optimal time period for these retreats is fourteen days, with two days post-retreat at the center for integration.

A Darkness Retreat Report
This is a detailed description of my retreat in total darkness for fourteen days at Sierra Obscura Darkness Retreat Center. Recently, I’ve been getting quite a few requests from friends in the community to share my experience, so I decided to go all out and offer a candid portrait of my journey through the abyss into self-realization.

During my retreat, I had my own bedroom and access to two full bathrooms and a large, comfortable, common space, all totally “en-darkened.” Organic food and liquids were delivered, by way of a corridor and a series of doors to ensure no light leakage, at varying hours of day and night. Food boxes were left on a table in the common space with a wooden number on it associated with the room.

Vona described the first eight days in detail, which included many other kinds of experiences. Her report of the second part of her retreat and her return to her normal life are included here. For her full report and more about her work, go to

Around day nine, I felt like I was being teased right on the edge of ego death; it was very different than ayahuasca. The visuals in my meditations began to lessen, and my mind basically stopped for long stretches of time. I was awash with black nothing and the occasional passage of thoughts as I lay waiting for the next stages of internal changes.

Somewhere between day nine and day eleven is when I had my most profound opening into self-realization. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but this is a fair description of what I remember. At one point in my meditation, my head opened and flooded with light. I watched and felt this quiet bliss and gladness take over and noticed that my body became pure vibration. I couldn’t feel or relate to myself as physical anymore or as Lindsey in any way, and yet I was still myself, but it felt much more real than what we call waking life.

I was absorbed into this light, and this light became the entirety of space around me until I was only this giant, radiant light-filled void. I was real and home again and bigger than a trillion of our suns. In some way of seeing beyond having physical eyes, I looked down and saw the dots that were the earth and sun and solar system and thought of Lindsey. None of it was real. I was the only thing real. The material thing I once identified as and thought of as myself and my world was realized to be a full and total illusion, not even worth defining.

Words like spiritual and Lindsey and Earth flashed before my awareness of perfect peace and were realized as inconsequential, as though they never existed and were only beautiful idea-pictures already come and gone and dissolved back into my actual self of pure light. I zoomed down to Earth and saw Lindsey. It didn’t make sense. I was a gigantic bigger-than-all-concept-of-universe radiant unending shimmering ball of light emanating perfect compassion forever without cause. Even now, as I write this, I am aware that it’s total illusion and ultimately inconsequential. I 
am holding this paradox while sitting in physical space and time, not quite sure how to relate it to you at all, really.

The nature of reality is not what it seems. Even my experiences of perceiving the maya, of perceiving emptiness and suchness throughout my whole “life as Lindsey” as a spiritual seeker could not come close to this total absorption into self-remembering perfection of total . . . er . . . uh . . . beyond words and description annihilation into 

During this absorption into light, I also realized that I was able to sit on the rug of my room as a perfected vibrational entity, not as “Lindsey,” but as my true self, a vibration of perfect Buddha nature. My best metaphor for this is that we are like living, vibrating, nonphysical Tanka paintings. We’re already perfected and beyond even concepts of enlightenment or self-realization, and perfectly realized. We’ve just forgotten, and rightly so, because these mind-body-desire mechanisms are not us, even though they are. This life is a shadow in a great memory probably already forgotten by unending intelligent light.

I was able to easily shift between my awareness of self as this great unending light and my awareness as this vibrating, perfectly realized Buddha, nonphysical self for what felt like forever. I think this realization state lasted several days while in the dark. All fear of death was completely annihilated in this realization. All relationship to suffering or suffering over the suffering of others at this time was not even a laughable possibility. Identification was futile. I was happy to die into this light forever. Part of me wanted to die. Part of me very much did not want to come back into this room, this body-thing as Lindsey. It didn’t make sense, and yet it happened and here I am. I didn’t think about my parents or whether they would miss me if I let myself get completely absorbed in the truth of what I am because I knew that ultimately they are the exact same thing and that eventually, whether in this “lifetime story” or at the time of “death,” we pretty much all remember because we already are it. I guess I can’t really know what is true for you or “anyone,” except that you are me, and this life is not at all what it seems.

This idea of physicality is still just a concept, and we have very sophisticated sciences now that describe this process of liberation through all of these body energy centers, and it’s funny that you can get back to yourself through this map called a body, but ultimately it is the false identification. What a joke!

It is very much a dream-thought radiating from the one eternal emanation, which is also you, right now, beyond the husk of your worldly identity. The earth herself is a dream and is dreaming, and we are all asleep in it right now. Even though I’ve had this realization, right now, for the most part, I am sleeping because the dense physical plane is the world of attachment and desire, and ultimately, I am a vibration shape-shifting back and forth between image-vibration and perfect eternal light and identification with the physical, which isn’t really physical, even though it seems so real.

This realization completely annihilated my need to “work on myself” in the way I had been during the previous abyss moments of the retreat. I didn’t need to feel blissful anymore or have any particular experience or have an identity that I had sculpted well enough to get what I want out of this “life” from you or anyone or any “world.” All that was spoiled, and I was free from all fear or notion of death and still am . . . in this moment. It is funny. Right now I am excited about life as well as death, but that’s only partially true because I’m right here and life and death are only concepts. It is a paradox.

Amidst this realization as I came back into this husk of illusion sweet self, it occurred to me that perfecting human love will do nicely for now, that I am happy to break open into the depth of love with you in this lifetime and excited for the challenges to come in the hopes that I can maintain these perceptions enough in my awareness to live more gracefully in the truth of the light that we are sharing here together.

A few abyss moments after this, Danielle came downstairs, and we spoke, and she lit a candle next to my bed.

The first time I saw the physical apparition of light in fourteen days, I saw the true nature of reality, this time with human eyes. I could only look at her for a few seconds, and then I started shaking and crying and needed the candle to be put out for a while as I integrated what I saw.

Then I went upstairs to be with Paskal and the Sierra Obscura team near the fireplace, the blank slate of my awareness free of all concepts. I saw light dancing everywhere and the unborn world radiating and 
perfecting itself in presence. A thought arose in my mind, and I saw how its flash across the screen of awareness literally bent reality around me; a projected thought is a distorted lens that conditions this mind-world. Sitting as source, seeing everyone in their God-self-hood by candlelight, I cried and silently noticed how easily the psychic energies from the minds around me danced and played together, refracting off of the screen. Later that evening, I called Rigzin, who I knew had been sending us prayers for the entire retreat, wanting to share the depth of my gratitude from that pure place with her and with the whole team who served us for those two weeks.

The next morning, with sunglasses on, Danielle took me for a drive along a beautiful tree-lined road on our way into downtown Nevada City. The light was so mesmerizing, and it was hard to really talk; I just wanted to look at everything.

As I saw this “world” again, I could barely contain my laughter at how unreal it seemed but tried to hold it together in the restaurant.

This retreat was by far the most profoundly important investment I have ever made in this sweet dream thing I now humbly, temporarily, call myself. I am slowly coming back into my “life” and integrating. Although I have been mainly silent these last few days, I can feel the conditioned world of concepts and desires dancing again, although without as much power over me as it once had. I am excited that my body/mind is now naturally waking up early and wanting to meditate right away. I understand that many, many beings on this planet, including possibly you, have died into this perfect state of self-realization. After all, it is what we are.

I can’t really know for sure how my life will unfold from here. All I know for sure is that I am perfect god light temporarily dreaming Lindsey and World and none of this happened or is real at all. Under this husk of temporarily arising selfish thoughts, preferences, conditions, images, attachments, and desires, I am a vibration of pure compassion, which is being itself, already liberated, never born, never died, traversing the great void that holds each of us, whether as gods or humans, as my teacher Maniko says, more perfectly than any living element. I’m filled with emptiness and quiet gladness and gratitude at having an opportunity to take this on alone in the dark, in comfort, with so many beings, physical and nonphysical, supporting me.

Excerpt used from The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Famidman, Ph.D, with permission by the publisher Park Street Press © 2011 Inner Traditions / Bear & Co.

Please also read the new interview we conducted with Ms. Vona at: