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NFL star Aaron Rodgers went on a darkness retreat. What's that?

A room at Sky Cave Retreats, where visitors spend days in total darkness.
A room at Sky Cave Retreats, where visitors spend days in total darkness.

In February, professional football player Aaron Rodgers told “The Pat McAfee Show” that he planned to visit a darkness retreat.

“I’ve had a number of friends who have done it and had profound experiences, it’s something that’s been on my radar for a few years now,” Rodgers said. “I think we could all use a dose of turning our phones off once in a while and unplugging from society.”

The NFL star’s mention of darkness retreats raised immediate interest and some skepticism. It also motivated listener Michael in Minnesota to reach out to us, asking us to explore the topic.

“The first reason I wanted to learn more about them was just how unusual it sounded and also how challenging they are,” Michael wrote us. “It would be really cool to hear from an expert on what light deprivation does to the human mind over time.”

The topic piqued the interest of journalist Morgan Childs, too. Back in 2018, she visited a center for darkness therapy in the Czech Republic, where the practice is much more common than in the United States.

Moving about the lightproof space came to make me feel vulnerable and fearful, and the darkness itself soon struck me as somewhat sinister. With little else to capture its attention, my mind went to places I normally wouldn’t allow it the time or space to go—what (and who) wasn’t working in my life, what role I was playing in maintaining my own dissatisfaction, how seldom I was willing to go after what I really wanted. Hugging my knees to my chest in the recliner, I got choked up; before I knew it, I was weeping. And then, because there was nothing else to do, I got into bed and waited until the darkness of sleep overtook the darkness of the room.

What are darkness retreats? What is their spiritual history? And what does research tell us about the value of sensory deprivation?

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Avery Jessa Chapnick