Darkness Visible Retreats

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism


A unique ceremonial workshop to awaken spiritual light, where participants remain in physical darkness for the duration of the course.

 I am glad that Ross Heaven is teaching Darkness Visible work. It is time for us to wake up from the trance we are in to tap into spiritual power
Sandra Ingerman, author of Soul Retrieval and Medicine for the Earth 
 Darkness Visible invites us to regain our magical vision. Turn out the lights; step into the beauty of darkness Malidoma Some, author of Of Water and the Spirit* During this unique ceremonial workshop participants are in complete darkness 24 hours a day. Being in darkness for a prolonged period of time like this invokes a stilling of the mind and gifts of insight, intuition, and creativity. To empower this further, the course includes exercises which bring new levels of dream consciousness, the intuitive understanding of the soul’s purpose, and one of the primary aims of the shaman: the experience of the world as a sea of energy.  Shamanic cultures have always known the power that comes from darkness. Being in darkness for extended periods of time awakens our senses on all levels Sandra Ingerman  The sweet power of darkness invites the discerning listener to attend to the whisperings of the spirit world. True connection occurs and distraction is no more than a distant, indistinct buzz Malidoma Some  Darkness Visible is more than a workshop-retreat into darkness; it is an adventure into the unknown which will call to all of those who are ready to undertake what will be – literally – a leap in the dark.   During it, we use movement, sound, writing, process work, journeying, and shamanic healing to assist you on your voyage towards seership: one who truly sees in the dark and witnesses the world not with the eyes, but the entire body.   [When] We were led into the garden to take off our blindfolds… the sight of nature in all its majesty was overwhelming. I could see everything. From the tiniest hair on the outside of a leaf to the iridescent sequins on the inside of a petal and the minuscule contours on the body of a dragonfly. But more than that, I felt all of this too. It was like I had developed another layer of perception. Even now, a week on, I can bring this feeling back… From an article in The Observer newspaper by Katy Weitz, features editor, and Darkness Visible participant  

* Malidoma’s comments are taken from the introduction to Ross’ book, Darkness Visible.

 No prior experience of shamanism is required for this course, and no special tools are needed.  Workshop booking and detailsEmail ross@thefourgates.com or visit http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Workshops section.


Darkness Visible: Ceremonial Darkness in Shamanic Tradition

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism


My darkness falls suddenly and without warning.  One moment I am looking up at the night sky, marveling at the stars, like diamonds scattered on a jeweler’s velvet, the next I am held from behind, with a blindfold across my eyes. Then I am spun three times so I am no longer certain of direction and led into a darkened room, where I will stay for five nights, always in darkness, blindfolded for most of it. This is not a kidnapping. It is a ritual procedure conducted in Haiti as part of the ceremonial process for initiates into the Caribbean tradition born of African shamanism and carried to the New World in the enslaved hearts and souls of shaman-priests and princes.  A psychologist by training and a writer by profession, I am in Haiti to study this tradition for a book I am writing on traditional spirituality and why it might be needed and important in the modern world. But this is a secretive tradition – not surprisingly, given the harsh treatment of the slaves, many of whom were murdered by their masters simply for praying to their own Gods – and the only way to know it is to initiate into it and become a priest. This is what I have chosen to do. Initiation involves a number of ceremonies and warrior trials, most of which are conducted publicly before the village community. But some, like this particular ritual, are different, because, once blindfold, I am required to spend the following days in confinement within the sacred space of the djevo, the heart of the temple. During this time, the secret teachings of the religion will be passed on to me and there will be visits by the spirits themselves, felt either as a ‘presence’ or, more directly, through the possession of the priests who oversee this process. Darkness is central to the experience and it is the darkness that fascinates me most. I might have imagined that being alone in the dark would be an isolating experience, perhaps even frightening. In fact, my body finds it deeply comforting, though I am aware of my mind working overtime, chewing itself up over questions which, on inspection, seem quite meaningless; chattering on just to save itself from silence. There seem to be layers and layers of voices in my head, each one with a personality of its own.  Psychologists call these sub-personalities. We imagine ourselves to be one consistent person with a stable worldview but, in fact, if we listen, we are all of us legion.  I recognize three such voices immediately. The ‘critic’ is the first. She speaks with a woman’s voice and wants to judge me for getting myself into this situation of potential danger and so many unknowns, and not taking my responsibilities seriously. After all, I have children at home who love and need me.  The critic delivers a rage of sarcastic comments – “you’ve done it again, you fool, got yourself into another ridiculous mess, lying on a dirt floor, blindfolded, in a jungle hut. It’s always the same with you, you never learn!” – before she is silenced by another voice, that of the ‘kindly parent’, who answers with “leave him alone. The boy has to learn. He has to experience the world – because that is what being alive is all about!”  And finally the voice of the ‘scientist’, the impartial observer who walks between both judgments and offers an  ‘informed’  and ‘objective’ view of what is ‘actually’ happening and why. The scientist thinks himself superior to the others because of his objectivity, but it is this very thing that stops him from feeling and distances him not only from the experience but, to some extent, from humanity itself. To me (whoever ‘me’ is, now I understand that I am more than one person), this dialogue – these claims and counterclaims over who ‘I’ am – seem fascinating – until I realize I have been hooked once again by the chatter and am following this useless and circular dialogue in my head instead of experiencing what is actually happening to me right here and now. My head has me trapped in theory and bullshit, not what is.  And then, ironically, I’m back in the cycle as the critic leaps in with her new judgments – “You’ve done it again, fallen for the game of the rational mind, got involved with the voices in your head” – without realizing that she herself is part of this game. It really is remarkable how easily we slip into mind-stuff and are lured away from simply being, from feeling something, and from experiencing our lives. After a few days of this going round in circles, though, something new and surprising happens. The mind, having exhausted itself perhaps, or having no more visual stimulus to feed and distract it, begins to go quiet. I notice that the chatter has stopped.  From that point onwards I feel an ‘opening up’ of myself. The priest calls in the spirits who appear through possession states and offer advice, counsel, divination, and healing secrets, or carry out healings of their own on me and the others present. Whereas my rational mind, just a few days ago, would have questioned all of this, now I accept it. In fact, I more than accept it, I feel the healings as they take place. Something shifts in my emotions as I drift in mythological landscapes and, at a deep, non-rational level, I know that, of course, these healings are real: because I experience them to be. One version of reality tells me that my body is lying on a dirt floor is a squalid hut, but in my mythological mind I am in a great temple, surrounded by Gods and Goddesses, great pillars of gold, wise Elders, visionaries, and master physicians. I no longer know which of these versions of reality is true – if either – or care. What is ‘truth’ anyway? What is ‘reality’? Isn’t it all just what I choose to believe?  What I believe right now is that I feel comfortable and comforted here. Held, loved, supported. Blissful. That, then, must be the reality of my experience and what is really happening. I relax even more and drift into dreamscapes. From somewhere I hear the words of Joseph Campbell, advising his students to follow their bliss because this is the only way to truth. “The adventure is its own reward”. Hours pass, days – but perhaps they are years or only seconds. In darkness it is hard to tell. This place, this state of being, is as timeless as it is spaceless, with no exact location except in my dreaming mind. But there comes an event in any case – a moment when time returns – and I am taken from the djevo, where the blindfold is removed and I am presented to the sun. This is the first time for days that I have seen nature: the forest, the sky, the Earth. Perhaps it is the first time I have ever really seen it – because now everything is alive and different, vast, beautiful, breathing, pulsing, glowing with energy, and singing of its own existence in the hum of cicadas and the whisper of breeze through leaves.  Then, at this most sublime and magnificent moment, I have a Homer Simpson realization: “Doh! It is alive, you fool!” And suddenly I see it: everything I have forgotten or not noticed before – nature is a living thing and I am part of it too, creating this vision, created by it. The ‘It’ and the ‘I’ are one. That grand and inexplicable landscape of mythology that I have been a part of for days (for my whole life, in fact, though I have not always known it) is right here in front of me, in the world all around me; the greatest dream of all. The adventure is its own reward. 

Darkness Visible: The ‘powers of darkness’ in shamanism

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism


Malidoma Somé is a “walker between worlds” as a Western-educated PhD and a shaman of the African Dagara tribe. In 2005, he provided the introduction to my book, Darkness Visible. Here, he explores ‘the powers of darkness’.


In an age in the Western world where there is an almost insatiable yearning for “enlightenment,” what could be more timely than an invitation to reestablish a sacred relationship with darkness?


Indeed, it is in the redefinition of darkness that we discover an entryway into a potent transformational experience that can assist us in rethinking the nature of both reality and healing. What might we learn about ourselves and the powers of the “other world” by surrendering to the beauty and opportunity for greater vision afforded us in darkness?


In all parts of this planet the first nine months of human gestation are spent in the rich, protective darkness of the womb. It is there that the being makes the transition from the spirit world to this one, and it is in the absence of light that the spirits work their greatest magic. It is in the light-absent womb that they do the necessary work to prepare the soul for its journey into life on planet Earth.


In the modern world, the newborn is evicted from the peaceful uterine environment into harsh fluorescent brightness, and it seems that the rest of the person’s life is spent trying to sever ties with that nurturing, sensual landscape.


In our ever-more-illuminated houses, streets, and cities, we seem to have lost our way; we have become blinded. We have forgotten the benefits of darkness; we have forgotten how to find our way home. Darkness, however, is ultimately inescapable, and at the end of each day, as the soporific seduction of nighttime overtakes us, we are, once again, transported to yet another gestational experience, yet another opportunity to be reborn.


From a tribal perspective, it is darkness that is the light of the ancestors. It is only in darkness that certain powerful aspects of indigenous technology can be revealed. It is of little surprise, then, that in the African village nearly all rituals of initiation are carried out after the sun has given way to the deep night. The constant presence of darkness provides a protective umbrella that prevents the intrusion of distraction and delusion. It is there that the psyche is invited to surrender to that which is not available in the daylight. It is there that the eyes learn to see what is hidden by the sun’s light.


We often find ourselves ill at ease in modern society, caught in recurring cycles if dis-ease and depression. We might ask ourselves whether our discomfort comes from compromising the sacred and balanced partnership between light and dark. What healing might be available to body and soul if we would turn off the lights and invite the powers of the night into our lives?


In the West, there is a largely undiscovered potential that can only become a reality in darkness. What is familiar and sacred in the nighttime to an indigenous person seems, at best, to be an inconvenient irritation to the modern person. The tribal person knows that there are certain types of wounds that can find healing only in the nighttime and only in the hands of the ancestors who show up for work after the last candle has been extinguished.


We would do well to learn to appropriate a definition of an elder as one who is the keeper of the gates of darkness. It is the old who have finally become disillusioned with the glittery brightness of the manufactured world and who feel the enticing whisper of the darkness, inviting them to draw closer to their earlier transitional home, to the place where they were held in their first months, in the deep liquid intimacy of the ancestral womb.


It is the sweet power of darkness that invites the discerning listener to attend to the whisperings of the spirit world. In darkness true connection occurs and distraction is no more than a distant, indistinct buzz.


Darkness Visible invites us to regain our magical vision. Turn out the lights; step into the beauty of darkness.


Darkness Visible, by Ross Heaven, is published by Destiny Books. ISBN 1594770611.

DARKNESS VISIBLE: Liberating Ourselves From The Stories We Live By

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism


Tibetan Bon shamans believe that we are already one year old when we are born. Our first year of life is spent in our conception and gestation in the womb, a time when we are conscious, aware, and learning about the world through the experiences of our parents (especially the mother, in whose energy field we reside). Their feelings and sensations are carried in the egg and sperm and then in the life force of the mother’s blood. As a consequence, we are all born with certain predispositions, leanings, assumptions about the world, psychosomatic behaviours, and inclinations. There is a ‘mood’ to our lives and, already, a life script in place that we will increasingly come to live by.

 The same notion can be found in other traditions too. In one of Castaneda’s books, for example, the shaman don Juan reveals a Toltec formula for calculating the amount of personal power or energy available to us, which is very similar to Tibetan beliefs. The Level of energy of all beings depends on three fundamental factors”, he says: “The amount of energy with which they were conceived, the manner in which the energy has been utilised since birth, and the way in which it is being used at the present time”.  And nor is this just a spiritual or esoteric idea. Modern day paediatricians have also found that emotional disturbances in newborns, as well as their sleeping and eating patterns, exactly reflect those of the mother, as if they have learned from her in the womb how they should ‘be’ in the world as soon as they are born. Even the nutrients carried in the mother’s blood which feed the growing child are packed with information. Whether the mother chooses to eat well during pregnancy or not, is stressed or relaxed, avoids alcohol or continues to drink, all say something wordlessly to the child about the emotional nature of the world he is coming in to and the worldview of his parents. 

From such subtleties as these our lives become at least partly predetermined for us because we are already channelled in certain directions and the vastness of potential that we were becomes narrower as a consequence.

 Real and physical outcomes can result from such a narrowing of focus. The French medical doctor, Patrick Obissier, found, for example, that it is possible to trace the root cause of any patient’s illnesses back to his parents and their unresolved psychic distress, which becomes part of the cellular memory that patients inherits from them. Diabetes, which creates excess sugar in the bloodstream, was triggered in his patients by feelings of powerlessness inherited from their parents. To compensate for this lack of power, the body would manufacture more sugar to fuel the muscles. For a cure to be effective, the psychic distress beneath the physical symptoms had first to be resolved or the propensity for diabetes would continue to be passed to the next generation, like a story told by a mother to her child.  

In order to be healthy, whole, and well, therefore, our challenge is to free ourselves from the life scripts we have received.


The challenge is a real and difficult one. In Celtic mythology, it was known as geis (pronounced ‘gesh’) and is variously depicted as a curse, taboo, or a sacred quest. Often in these mythological stories, geasa (the plural of geis) are made against a warrior by a parent, wife, or other significant person, and compel him to do certain things or avoid others he might have sought out. The hero’s quest arises from his struggle to find a way around these circumstances. Sometimes he is successful – though not always in the most obvious or immediate ways – and these Celtic stories therefore offer us cautions and counsel in how to make the epic journey for ourselves.


In the legend of the warrior Oisin, for example, he is placed under geis by a lover when he is carried to Tir na N-Og, the Land of Eternal Youth by Niamh, the daughter of the faery king.


Under the spell of his abductor, Oisin marries her, but after three years he begins to wake from his enchantment and miss his father and homeland. Fearful that Oisin may leave her, Niamh allows him to visit his father but only on condition that he does not leave his horse to step upon the ground. Oisin promises he will not, thus accepting his geis. Almost inevitably, however, disaster strikes when he falls from his horse by accident. Three hundred years pass by in an instant and Oisin, now ancient and dressed in rags, is left blind and wretched, never to see his true family again.


Looking at this story as a metaphor for the human condition, and tracing its outcome to first causes, we see that the problem for Oisin was not falling to the ground, but his acceptance of Niamh’s conditions in the first place. Because once we buy into limitations and restrictions, we act in accordance with them, sometimes accepting them wholly and living our lives as others wish us to; sometimes, as in the case of Oisin, rebelling against them in the form of ‘accidental’ behaviours that manifest our desire to be free. Thus, any geis or thoughtless promise becomes, not just words, but the energy of others that infects us as we live their fears and dramas instead of pursuing our own truths.


How, then, can we overcome our limitations and free ourselves from this unhelpful chain of energy that we have become a part of?


“To escape from prison, one first has to know one is in a prison”, wrote Gurdjieff. Self-awareness, then, is the first step to freedom. We have to make conscious the myths of ourselves that we have bought into so these attachments can be released.


The shamanic traditions call this recapitulation: the revisiting of key life events and the dramas surrounding them so we can see the stories we have become part of and begin to let them go. A contemporary example of the process might look like this:

 The Pure Essence of Self

Imagine in your mind’s eye the moment before your birth, a time when you were pure spirit, uncluttered by social definitions and no stories about you yet existed. Who were you then? What was your face before you were born, as the Zen masters ask?


This spirit made a decision to be born. It had a purpose, a mission to fulfil, in making this choice. What was it for you?


Knowing who you were and what your soul purpose was (and still is) and then comparing this with the way your life is now reveals where you are giving away power and the attachments you have made to your story.

 The Conception Journey

As Castaneda explains it, a third of our energy comes from conception and gestation in the womb. The pure energy that we were becomes coloured by that of our parents and theirs before them. This is emotional or spiritual DNA, and it starts to shape us at a cellular level, perhaps leading to the issues identified by Obissier, which are of a physical as well as a psychological nature.


The next step in the recapitulation process, then, is to imagine yourself back in the womb, asking questions such as ‘Why did I choose this father/mother?’, ‘What do they have to teach me in line with my soul’s purpose?’, ‘What were my pre-birth and birth experiences like and how do these still affect me?’, ‘What have I forgotten about myself now that I knew then?’

 People who make such explorations find that this seemingly simple process can produce profound realisations about who they (think they) are. One of my workshop participants, a 43-year-old woman called Lucy, had a difficult childhood and felt fearful, disempowered and uncomfortable around others as a result of her early experiences. She recounts her journey back to conception as “Amazing. I gained a sense of love I have never felt or witnessed between my parents. There was a loving passion which has only ever in my lifetime shown itself as anger and disagreement between them”.  

This is new information which means, at its most basic level, that the habitual story is changing.

 “Now I feel a greater understanding of my parents, my creation, and why I chose them”, she continued. “I understand more fully what fears, feelings and dreams my parents had for me prior to my birth and can appreciate the stress my birth and babyhood placed on them. For the first time I was able to experience the feeling of being created out of pure love and perfection”. As Don Snyder puts it in his book, Of Time and Memory, no matter what our lives, we can all “hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story”. If we can see that in our parents – and in ourselves – then something of our lives can change and we can find “the path back through stars and memory”. The Story Unfolding

As soon as we are born our life stories begin to weave themselves more tightly around us. The process typically starts with throwaway comments (“He’s so like your father”, “He’ll be a doctor/teacher/play for England when he grows up”), all of which are instructions to a young mind that knows no different and regards the parent as an all-knowing God.


When our parents tell us we will become doctors, or “little devils”, or play for England, whether they are serious or not, it sets up a tension in our minds which, to find resolution, must result in a loss: either we reject the parent’s wishes or they reject part of us. Either way, the story remains central because some part of us is still defining who we are in terms of their words. If we do become doctors, then, is it really our choice? And if we don’t, have we failed our Gods? That is why, as parents we must be careful with our words, and as consumers of the word we must be cautious about what we give our attention to.


All of us have a story like this and it can be illuminating to write it down. If your life were a book, for example, what would it be – a comedy, tragedy, adventure? Who are the main characters? And where does it go from here?


Every author is, of course, free to change his story at any time and, as Ram Dass points out: “What, after all, is personal history if not a dream?”.


How would you rewrite your story to make for a more empowered future?

 Cutting Ties

From your explorations so far, you may be aware of energetic links to others or to events that are more aligned to your ‘story’ than your true soul purpose and which are therefore not serving you. Through breathwork you can begin to remove the energetic attachments that hold you to this dream.


This part of the process consists of imagining yourself back in each of these events and then breathing in to reabsorb the energy you have been expending on them while breathing out the ties you have formed to the drama of that moment. Learn from the experience, too, that these are all situations in which you have a tendency to give away power because, knowing this, you can make sure you don’t do the same in future.


The final step is to forgive; to understand that all of these events are also just stories and that, more positively, they reveal the things we need to work through to be true to our souls. Forgiveness, then, is another way of releasing our myth so we can return to spiritual wholeness.


Thus, in the Celtic tale related earlier, Oisin did not blame Niamh for the geis that he carried for, in his aging he became, symbolically, a man, standing on his own two feet, on his home turf, and free of the Land of Eternal Youth where power is wielded irresponsibly and promises are extracted with threats.


A question arises in all work that has to do with life scripts and the process used to unearth them: ‘Is it all just my imagination?’

 This question is a chimera because it doesn’t actually matter if the events you saw ‘really’ happened exactly as you experienced them in your visualisations or not, because whatever you believe to be true you will make real anyway. Our entire lives are, in this sense, an act of faith, and wherever we place our belief those are the results we get. If I believe I was an unwanted child, for example, as Lucy did, everything in my life conspires with me to create that story and I will grow up fearful of others and expecting to be rejected, and so I will create that very outcome. If I remember – or choose to believe – however, that there was love in my family, I can become more loving and loveable in my life and change my destiny now because I remember how love works, and not just the pains of my youth. Having said that, there do tend to be remarkable correspondences between what we sense instinctively to be true and what did happen. Howard, working through this process, saw his mother’s attempt to abort him. Unbeknownst to his mother or to the doctor at the time, the attempt failed, and in his mind’s eye Howard saw himself being born and heard the surprised reaction of the surgeon who expected to be delivering a dead child: “It’s alive!” These were the first words he ever heard. A little while after his recapitulation, Howard decided to speak with his mother about it. After her initial surprise it was clear that she needed to get something off her chest and she was frank and open about the circumstances of his birth. She confirmed that she did try for an abortion and that the words “it’s alive!” were spoken by the surgeon. This startling revelation led to a beautiful reconciliation with my mother”, Howard continued. “She told me what happened, about her motives, and about my father. This explained a lot for me because at a gut level I never trusted my mother, and now I knew why: unconsciously, I had known all along that she had tried to kill me.  “From this I also got a profound insight into what makes me the way I am, and I understood how that remark ‘it’s alive’ had influenced my life, as my response to living has always been ‘I’ll show them I’m alive!’ I sometimes wonder at the surgeon’s words though, and at how different my life might have been if the first words I had heard were not ‘it’, along with surprise at my existence, but ‘he’s a beautiful baby boy’ or something similar. I had bought into the story of ‘it’ and the disappointment I must have been”. 

We know far more than we think and we carry the fears, hopes, and life experiences of our parents within our emotional DNA. These become our stories until we choose to take back our lives. Recapitulation is the first step to freedom.

This article is partly based on the books, The Spiritual Practices of the Ninja: Mastering the Four Gates to Freedom, published by Destiny Books in April 2006, and Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light through Darkness Meditation, also published by Destiny Books. Ross also runs workshops on the themes of this and his other books, including Darkness VisibleTM and The Four Gates To Freedom, which focus on the exercises in this article. The names of participants used in this article have been changed but their words are accurate. 

Darkness Visible: Finding light in the darkness

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism


In the creation myths of the world there is always a time of darkness before the birth of the human race and, within this darkness, an undifferentiated oneness where all is God and everything is one. There are no human beings, only God-beings, or rather, aspects of God waiting to be born – if a unified consciousness can have aspects at all. 

And then something happens. God becomes lonely and longs for a partner, a beloved, or becomes curious about his powers and potential as a God. In order to know himself and what he might be capable of, God must do two things: he must separate himself into at least one other form so he can look back at himself and know what it is to be God. And, so he can see what he has become, the God of darkness must create light.

 God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light…Genesis I Then he realised, I indeed, I am this creation, for I have poured it forth from myself…Upanishads And so it is that with God’s ‘illumination’ comes separation and the arrival of opposites, parts in conflict with one another. The universal consciousness we all once knew becomes split into many – a chaos of fragments, a world unknown, a oneness divided.  This notion of separation and the fate of man within it is there in mythology the world over, whose stories speak of the distance and ambiguity of God (this original first consciousness) from man (what God has now become).  The Greeks, for example, regarded human beings as the playthings of the Gods, who were multiple and often at war with themselves, with mankind a tiny and insignificant concern. In Christian mythology we also have a God who is unavailable to us, and so we are given angels, archangels, and even fallen angels to keep us company instead. “We come to God in bits, dismembered. We don’t know if the bits can be made to fit in the way they used to”, writes Michael Begg, an Irish philosopher. His prayer is a simple one: “We ask God to re-member us”. But to do so, we must first remember ourselves by going back to that primal darkness and experiencing a world without forms. RECONNECTIONMan has been searching for reconnection with the infinite and for a meaning to life ever since his realization of separation. Most often, if it is serious, this search will take place in darkness – of a physical kind rather than the metaphysical “dark night of the soul”, as Carl Jung defined it. Recognizing the primal union that was present in that first darkness, sages and mystics have always used the dark as a vehicle for returning to a state of bliss and understanding. This return to peace and stillness enables them to break through the concerns and anxieties of their earthly lives, with all of its socially-prescribed reality and the conditioning of the world outside, so that they might, in some way, attain reconnection with an undifferentiated consciousness where all is One once again.  Within the Shinto tradition of Japan, for example, there is a discipline known as komori – seclusion – undertaken in the darkness of a cave, a temple, a shrine, or even a room in one’s house, which is specially prepared and purified so it may bring the gift of power and illumination. Japanese texts make frequent mention of sojourns in places such as these and in windowless huts, known as the komorido, which can be found on various holy mountains where ascetics undertake their dark retreats.  

The practice of spending extended periods within caves can also be found in the remote peninsula of Land’s End in Cornwall, where Iron Age communities felt compelled to construct subterranean passages, known as fogou, a word which translates from the Cornish as ‘underground chamber’ and may derive from ogo, meaning cave. These typically consist of a long passage with walls built up in horizontal courses of rough granite stones, some 40-50 feet long, six feet in height and five to six feet in width, constructed in a deliberate curve, and entered through a low restrictive doorway, so the initiate must bow to the darkness on entering.

 On the other side of the world, among the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso, the darkness is also sacred. Indeed, in common with other ancient tribes, it is forbidden even to illuminate the darkness, for light is known to scare the sprits away.  When Malidoma Some – who was born a Dagara tribesman but abducted and raised at a Jesuit Mission – returned 15 years later to his tribe he discovered that no-one in the village wanted any form of light, and that the villagers were expected to function in the dark. “I was given light because I had lost the ability to deal with darkness”, he writes, but “each time people saw the timid light of the shea-oil lamp in my room, they would walk away from it as if it signaled the presence of someone playing with the elements of the cosmos. No young man ever came to sit by me at night  

Somewhere for us all, darkness holds the answers to our being and our destinies – and yet all we need do is close our eyes to reconnect with our source.


To get a sense of what the darkness may hold for you, you may care to try the following exercises. These are taken from my book Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light Through Darkness Meditation, which explores the use of darkness worldwide as a means of spiritual enrichment.


Close your eyes…

The first step in darkness work is just to experience the dark, but actively instead of passively. We are all consumers of darkness every time we blink or lay down to sleep, after all, but most of us think of these things as interruptions to our normal life of doing things in the world – if we think of them at all.


To become a voyager into darkness, spend some time with your eyes closed, as if in meditation, and just be aware of what thoughts, images, and other information start to surface, all of which you might never have noticed before because your attention was so firmly on the world ‘out there’.

 Starting small is recommended – no more than 15 minutes at a time – but you can build up to longer periods of an hour or more. Then, when you are comfortable with the darkness, try moving, dancing, or eating in the dark. How do these taken-for-granted activities feel now you are using other senses to guide you? 

Playing God…

The religious texts of the world tell us that there was a time before separation, when we all knew the mind of God because we were part of that mind. With your eyes closed, allow an image or sensation to form of what this primal God-like state would have been like, when you were a part of this conscious and undifferentiated energy. Feel how it is to be at One with this soul-community. Drift with it for a while. At some point, you decided to separate from this energy so you could be born and experience life as your self, one form divided from the whole. What was your purpose for doing so? What did you come here to explore? When you consider your life now, have you fulfilled this purpose or, if not, what is there still to do? 

Forgiving God…

In my healing practice clients often seek help because of some schism or great divide in their life. They feel alienated, lost, or apart from someone, who might present as a parent or a partner but underlying it is often a greater existential separation: the client feels alone.

 That feeling is valid. Since we fell from grace and were thrown out of Eden we are all alone. The first person to forgive, then, is God – or, if you prefer, the essence of Life Itself – for having visited upon you in this way. Close your eyes and let an image emerge of whatever you consider God or Life Itself to be, and your relationship to it. Talk to this being, expressing honestly your grief and rage and fear, as well as your joy; whatever you need to say about the situation you find yourself in and the abandonment you feel. And then switch places. Become God or Life Itself and look back at yourself. Then, from this perspective, answer your own complaints. Let God explain to you why things are this way. Continue with this dialogue, switching places when you need to, until you reach some understanding and agreements for the future.  

When you are ready to forgive, step back from this image and see yourself and God facing each other as separate beings, then allow them to walk towards and into each other so these two beings merge and become one image of a new God-Self. Breathe in the energy of this union and see it as a light that fills your heart.

 Open your eyes. How does the world look now? 

Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light Through Darkness Meditation is available from bookshops or from Amazon. Ross Heaven also runs Darkness VisibleTM retreats in the UK and overseas.  

Authentic Darkness Visible Retreats with Ross Heaven

Posted in darkness book, darkness courses, darkness retreats, darkness therapy, darkness training, darkness visible, darkness workshops, healing, ross heaven, shamanism, soul retrieval on February 17, 2008 by ayahuascashamanism

Darkness Visible

Ross Heaven is the author of Darkness Visible: Awakening Spiritual Light through Darkness Meditation, the seminal work about the use of physical darkness to explore our light and depth of our souls.

Information on these workshops is available from ross@thefourgates.com or by visiting the website http://www.thefourgates.com and looking under the Workshops section.