Quarterback Aaron Rodgers Emerges From “Darkness Retreat”

Rodgers: went off-grid to consider his future
Aaron Rodgers has emerged from his “darkness retreat.” The Green Bay Packers star quarterback ended his four-day stay in an Ashland, Oregon facility, Sky Caves Dark Retreats.

Unconventional Rodgers went dark to assess where he is in his life at age 39. It’s probable that part of Rodgers’ assessment is determining whether he will return to the Packers or play elsewhere in 2023. ESPN reported that Rodgers spent the four days in a 300-square-foot room in a partially underground structure without light. Rodgers could turn on lights through the cabin’s “self-contained off-grid system to power the ventilation fans, propane hot water heater and lights occasionally used during the integration process,” according to the facility’s website. Sky Caves Retreats is a facility that offers guests an opportunity to spend time immersed in darkness. According to the facility’s website, there are three separate rooms. One is a “cob/strawbale cottage” and the other two are “hobbit” cottages built into the hillside and are fully buried in the Earth.”

The Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers quarterback recently announced his next step: a four-day darkness retreat to help him decide whether giving up the pigskin is his next best step. Because nobody wants to pull a Tom Brady fooled ya retirement switcheroo that appears to have cost the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback one marriage to a fed-up wife.

Rodgers, a four-time MVP, is a man unafraid to make headlines for his interest in alternative healing modalities. You might remember he got in a wee spot of trouble during the pandemic for saying no to the COVID-19 vaccine and misleading people about his vaccination status, and yes to ayahuasca, an ancient plant medicine used for religious and medicinal purposes in South American countries that’s found a foothold in the U.S.

And now he’ll spend four days in a darkness retreat, another practice that goes back thousands of years in many spiritual traditions. Rodgers will spend 96 hours in a pitch-black environment. No phone, TV, books. A couple of meals delivered twice a day in such a way that allows in no light. And hopefully he’ll employ a support person to do daily check-ins to make sure he’s OK in all the ways: mentally, physically and spiritually.

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“I’ve had a number of friends who’ve done it and had some profound experiences,” he said on “The Pat McAfee Show.” “It’s something that’s been on my radar for a few years now, and I feel like it would be awesome to do regardless of where I was leaning after this season. It’s been on the calendar for months and months and months.”

Don’t worry too much about our grizzled protagonist during his time off-grid. He’ll be fine. He can always exit his living quarters if it becomes too much. And according to those with dark retreat experience, he’ll likely spend the first two to three days sleeping.

A dark retreat is different from other such spiritual experiences, such as traveling to India or taking plant medicine. Those adventures require a big output of the body and wear out the nervous system, says Britt Bradford, founder and owner of Inner Light Darkness Retreats in Colorado. Spending time in the dark is much more restorative.

“There’s something about being in the pitch black that their body goes into recovery mode, and they sleep most of the time,” she said . “Your body starts to find homeostasis and self-healing mechanisms initiate immediately because of deep sleep. There’s no input going into the brain so you get to just fully relax.”

Bradford, who lives near Telluride, is excited about the publicity Rodgers has generated around dark retreats. She’s done two in the last year and is spending two weeks in the dark at an Oregon retreat. She’ll offer two opportunities to the public, in June and November, at Chamma Ling Retreat Center in Crestone. People usually start with three to five days in the dark, she said, though some practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism do 49 days as the completion of their religious studies.

“This is something you can do using your own body’s chemistry and intelligence,” Bradford said. “It’s a simple technology that can be available to anyone and it’s legal and free apart from some people pay to go to a retreat center. You could even dark out a room in your home for free.”

The benefits of such a retreat can be substantial.

“You get still and quiet and gain a sense of spaciousness and peace from doing that much meditation continuously,” said Chamma Ling co-founder and board member John Jackson.

“Even between meditation sessions you remain in a meditative state, and even when you’re sleeping you’re in a meditative state. You get into a clear space that’s sweet and beautiful and does persist when you come out.”

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But it’s definitely not for everyone, says Jackson, who’s done quite a few dark retreats, the longest of which was a week. People must apply to go into the dark at the nonprofit, which mostly operates as a solitary retreat center.

“When you were a kid afraid of the dark, who were you afraid of? The boogeyman,” Jackson said. “If you haven’t faced your boogeyman, guess who will come visit you in a dark retreat?”

Over the last two years he’s received a dozen applications to do such a retreat and has declined many of them: “It’s a very advanced meditation practice. Only people who have spent years doing serious training are interested in this.”

If an applicant has never done a solitary retreat, the answer is no.

“If they haven’t sat in solitude with the lights on, I won’t let them do it with the lights off,” Jackson said. “You have to build up to this sort of thing. Going into the dark is an intense experience for most people, especially if they’re not prepared.”

Bradford will rent the Chamma Ling space to hold her own public retreats that are unaffiliated with the organization. She’ll be on hand to do daily verbal check-ins with retreatants, as well as support them as they exit. Those who do a dark retreat with Chamma Ling don’t have that support person, another reason Jackson is vigilant about the applications he accepts.

As far as Rodgers going into the dark, Jackson doesn’t have big concerns, though of course he doesn’t know his background or how stable he is.

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“If people go in for two or three days there’s not a whole lot of risk,” Jackson said. “They’re typically not going to freak out if they don’t freak out when they first close the door. I have seen some people freak out in the first day though.”

Anything can happen during a dark retreat. Some might sleep, some might have wild visions and others might just sit around and do a whole lot of thinking.

“Maybe it’s good for him to sit and think about whether he’s going to retire,” Jackson said. “It’s like anything else — it’s who goes in the door and where they are in their lives and their mental and emotional states. If you’re psychotic going in, you’re going to be more psychotic. If you’re peaceful going in, you’re going to be peaceful in there.”

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As far as visions, those aren’t guaranteed, Bradford said. But things happen to brain chemistry when you’re in the dark. Tryptophan gets turned into serotonin, which gets turned into melatonin, and eventually, around day three or five people can experience psychedelic visions. Worlds melt together, and dreams can become more real than the waking state.

“If you can soften into the process it will happen, but some aren’t ready for that or their mental state’s not ready,” Bradford said.

“It (darkness) meets you where you are. It’s a really gentle medicine because it shows up perfectly for each person and that’s why it’s so different for everyone.”

For those who are intrigued, Bradford suggests reading through other people’s experiences via her website at innerlightdarkretreat.com, and if those get you excited you might be a candidate. To prepare you can use mindfolds, which are blackout blindfolds, to see if you’re comfortable with total darkness.

Or try a sensory deprivation tank, otherwise known as a flotation tank, and see how that goes. It’s also good to talk with your therapist or spiritual mentor to see if they think you’re ready. And ideally you’ll have a community, support system or some other way to integrate the experience afterward.

Jackson advises developing a strong meditation practice so it’s not a problem to sit for at least eight hours a day, because that’s what you’ll be doing in the dark. He’d like to see people who have done at least a weeklong solitary retreat, and ideally a monthlong one.

“That would indicate to me you’re stable enough to go into the dark and it not just being a waste of time, or putting you at risk,” he said. “Spend a minimum of five days in the mountains by yourself meditating in a cabin. See how you do in five days in the light where you’re practicing all day. No books. No phone.”

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