hygienic darkroom retreat
hygienic darkroom retreat
Andrew Durham
Buy on Leanpub

sample note

This sample includes, on one page:

  • front matter: blurb, intro, etc
  • 3 of 11 chapters: hygiene, format, air
  • back matter: faq, bibliography, etc

The entire book is spread over several pages at darkroomretreat.com.


relief, rest, recovery

A hygienic darkroom retreat consists of extended rest in a totally dark room. One is alone, with supporters nearby. There is food. The room is quiet, comfortable, and well-ventilated.

Why do this? For:

  • relief from distress and overstimulation
  • rest from exhaustion and depression
  • recovery from trauma and disease

This is a complete manual, with theory, protocol, and design. It explains why retreating works and how to do it. It includes drawings and instructions for beginning at home.

toward a hygienic psychology

Neither spiritual, therapeutic, nor psychedelic, this is the first approach to darkness based on hygiene. Hygiene is the science of health, a branch of biology. It respects life’s self-preserving nature. It identifies life’s normal conditions: air, warmth, work, relationship, cleanliness, etc.

Hygiene started in 1832 and rapidly spread worldwide. The 19th century’s famous improvements in public health resulted. Now its rudiments are common sense. Billions who never see doctors benefit from hygiene daily. But few know it formally—or its greatest benefits.

In darkness, hygiene finds its missing link: a psychology. Now hygiene can extend its superlative care to the organic system of the psyche. This proves to be the key to health. The result: reliable miracles.


This book comes out of an investigation into the cause of joy.

At 15, great joy spontaneously overcame me. It felt normal. But after three heavenly months, it disappeared. My other concerns seemed empty. The need to solve this mystery gripped me.

After 21 years of investigation, I did. Others had discovered the destroyer of joy: cataclysmic trauma. I discovered the self-healing power of the psyche and the essential condition nature provides us to heal: darkness. More than a decade of testing, refinement, and documentation followed.

Briefly, joy is a function of being alive, not effort. Lack of joy indicates a damaged system, not moral failure. Given conditions of profound rest, this damage heals by itself, and joy returns.

It’s that simple. We are all days away from a return to happiness, health, and peace. My condolences to the founders of world religions for either getting it wrong or explaining it so badly.

Effort, our lifeway’s smug panacea, gives false and fleeting results. With the will, one can do nothing directly to restore joy. One can only provide proper conditions. The organism does the rest autonomically.

For 10,000 years, we civilized people have correctly ascertained that something is terribly wrong with ourselves and that we must do something about it. But we have mistaken which part of ourselves must do it. At long last, this book puts the issue to rest.


When I first retreated in darkness, I just did it to rest. It worked. After 56 hours, I felt caught up on all the sleep I had ever lost, truly awake for the first time in decades. I was stunned.

Two years later, the same thing happened. Except, unusually, I also felt humbled. Genuinely calm. Well in my soul.

This sense of psychic health stayed with me for months. But how, after a lifetime of depression, alienation, and anxiety?

From hygiene, I vaguely remembered the self-healing nature of life, and rest as the primary condition of healing. The onset of middle age was daily demonstrating the organic nature of the psyche to me. One morning in a dream, these clues fused in a conception of the restful use of darkness in support of the self-healing psyche.

I began testing this idea in more darkroom retreats. As predicted, lethal psychic issues that have tortured me for a lifetime began resolving themselves spontaneously. In 10 years and 25 retreats, I have seen no sign of an end to this process—short of full recovery of psychophysical integrity.

Now I feel confident about what I have learned: what happens in darkness and why; how to retreat and what for. And I can only go further in this by sharing this approach. It needs more participation, resources, and velocity.

Hygienic darkroom retreating requires minimal effort and no faith. Darkness is not a void, but a sanctuary. It is not the absence of light, but the presence of the self. It is yours.
Europe, 2019


In civilization, we are:

  • over-stimulated and distressed. We need relief.
  • exhausted. We need rest.
  • hurt and sick. We need recovery.

How? By hygienic darkroom retreating: profound rest in total darkness for the self-healing organism. It is a rational method of switching off the world, with its noise and demands. One takes refuge in the deep self, supporting it in healing itself by itself. This book is a complete manual for understanding and doing it.


how it works

  1. The psyche, as an organic system, is self-healing.
  2. The primary condition of healing is rest.
  3. Profound psychic rest occurs in extended total darkness as a physiological response

Because the process of healing is automatic, it is foolproof. The psyche needs darkness for rest like lungs need air for breathing and eyes need light for seeing. It knows no substitute. Healing happens involuntarily—by itself—when conditions of rest are sufficiently provided. This is fully developed in hygiene > secret and contextualized in
psychology > hygienic psychology.

This book tells how to provide them, from abstract theory to concrete practice. Most importantly, it introduces the hygienic attitude. Merely knowing it opens the door to super-intensified healing, ie, miracles. When you are ready, you can walk through it. The book includes designs for darkroom components precise to the millimeter so even amateurs can get them right. It inspires you to heal and support others in healing by revealing what healing requires.


1. caring for health by respecting life’s self-preserving nature and providing its normal conditions.
2. the biological science of health
3. hygienism; Natural Hygiene
Natural Hygiene
the 185 year-old school of health that champions and exemplifies hygiene
what is biologically appropriate (not merely usual or average)
the faculty of consciousness, including:
  • forms of intelligence and associations
    • moving: sensation / physical / instinctive / gut / reptilian
    • feeling: perception / emotional / intuitive / heart / mammalian
    • thinking: conception / mental / intellectual / brain / rational
  • parts (used as both adjectives and nouns)
    • unconscious: coordinates processes fundamental to existence like metabolism, cell division, and blood oxygen levels. It cannot become conscious or directly controlled except, to an insignificant degree, through intense yogic practices, techniques like hypnosis or biofeedback, or psychoactive substances. Synonyms: autonomic, involuntary
    • subconscious: acquired automatized knowledge, which can be made conscious, like walking, emotional associations, cognizing words, and dreaming
    • conscious: ordinary waking awareness, as when reading this book or running an errand. Primarily used to direct attention. Synonyms: will or volition
  • scales
    • cells
    • organs
    • systems
    • the organism as a whole
of or relating to the psyche in general (not occult powers).
    For example, I refer to psychic illness rather than “mental” illness. Psychology is not just the study of the mind, but the psyche: the entire faculty of human consciousness. This includes emotional and physical aspects not reducible to the mental one.
a way of life; everything that happens with people in a given group in the course of living.
    I once used the word, culture, for this. Then John Zerzan explained to me that culture is recent: an aspect of civilization. I wanted a single word which would include all approaches to human existence. Lifeway is a compressed term common in anthropology.

Here is a note on my use of words.

I don’t use neologisms. I don’t use words in any special sense. Virtually any dictionary will clear up confusion you may have while reading. Read through the senses and the etymology as well.

My usage is sometimes unusual because I take pains to recover the original or essential meanings of words using etymology and historical usage. Popular use and manipulation by elites constantly degrade the true senses of high-level abstractions. Words become corrupt or acquire unfortunate associations. Language is artificial and must be maintained.

I consider this half the job of intellectuals and our audiences alike. The Oxford English Dictionary exemplifies this effort. Editions of American Heritage Dictionary and Webster’s from before 1970 are excellent. Beware of newer lexicology. It is both better and worse than ever due to extreme divergence of philosophical influences in the last 40 years.


To retreat, one needs three things: knowledge, materials, and support.

  • knowledge:
    • of theory and practice of hygienic darkroom retreating
    • of hygienic attitude
    • of oneself
  • materials - darkroom - personal belongings - food - time
  • support
    • hygiene is the basis on which sick people can help each other without making things worse
    • our problem is collective and is solved with increasing degrees of cooperation as we become more capable of it

Meet these requirements by reading this book, preparing for a retreat, and retreating. Your first retreats are just warm-ups. You will get better at it.


A darkroom is a bedroom, suite, or house that is perfectly dark. Sealing a room like this often requires additional ventilation measures. A darkroom can be basic or deluxe. To summarize the practical point of this book, I advocate arranging basic darkness in your bedroom now, deluxe darkness in a remote location later.

Basic darkness means perfectly dark, well-ventilated, reasonably quiet, and comfortable. This provides: darkness for nightly sleep; a place to familiarize yourself with extended darkness at your own pace; and a place for your first short retreats.

Deluxe darkness adds extra features, comforts, and space. A dedicated darkroom is built in a small fully functional house in a quiet location. Like all houses should be but are not, it is perfectly and easily darkened. More in design.



Darkness is instinctive. We sleep in it at night and nap in shadows. We use our hands to cover our eyes when overwhelmed. We take longer refuge in caves and shelters when injured. We and many other animals always have.

Absolute darkness is natural. Our natural habitat is tropical forest. At night its floor is pitch black.


Spiritual traditions have used darkness for millennia. They tend to view it as the ultimate environment for self-discipline and gaining unusual knowledge. Egyptians and Maya have used it in pyramids; Christians in catacombs; Sufis and Taoists in caves; Tibetan Buddhists in cells of monasteries.

Indigenous traditions do likewise: Amazonian shamanism uses darkness in ayahuasca ceremony. Welsh shamans and Navajo, Maya, and Kogi Indians alike build special dark structures, holding darkness in high regard as essential to self-discovery.

Western science has studied sensory destimulation since the 1950s for astronautics, health, and mind-control. Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing tradition, uses extended periods of darkness for rejuvenation. By reports, it is nothing less than the fountain of youth.

Unfortunately, the partially or completely active nature of these approaches to darkroom retreating compromises them. This means they depend on an active will, the faculty most in need of rest. Hygiene is passive, allowing the distressed will to finally rest and recover. Hygiene primarily depends on the autonomic self—omniscient, omnipotent, and infallible—to accomplish the work of healing. This removes structural conflict in the method, promising limitless results. Hygiene completely secularizes the use of darkness for the specific purpose of healing. There is nothing mystical, disciplined, or complicated about this approach. It is rational, safe, and natural: a reliable miracle.


Hygiene is not just cleanliness, as medicine has led us to believe. Hygiene is broad and deep, dealing with all conditions of health. We know the word today because of Natural Hygiene, a radical school of natural health originating in America in 1832. It led the global natural health movement of the 19th century. Hygiene respects the self-preserving nature of life. It observes that organisms both maintain and recover health under normal conditions of life. So it studies organic self-preservation and how to provide its conditions.

Normal conditions of life include fresh air, sunlight, natural food, and cleanliness by regular bathing. Hygiene taught the modern world their enormous benefits, significantly raising health standards worldwide. Its motto: “Health through healthful living”. It has only lacked a psychology and an appreciation for trauma as the cause of all illness; this book begins to correct that.

Hygiene identifies disease as the process of healing. Disease is the normal organic activity of self-repair, elimination, and re-energizing, but distressed by abnormal conditions. Thus, disease is not an invading entity to be fought. It is a beneficial process to support with healthy conditions and practices and to view as a set of clues to precisely guide this caregiving.

The fundamentals of hygiene help us reconnect with our own common sense about healing. They guide us past incorrect assumptions we likely have about it. Once you have these absolute basics down, you can learn the concrete details of a darkroom retreat and approach it with confidence. Moreover, hygiene provides guidance in all aspects of healthful living.


My parents had taught me the importance of eating well through their interest in natural diet. When I was 9 years old, I got sick and realized it was from the junk food I had eaten the day before. Diet became my religion for 30 years.

Natural Hygiene came knocking three times. The first time was in 1989 through my dad’s second wife, Jennifer Justice, also a truthseeker. Among her fascinating books I found the ecstatic Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. Again in 1992 through a great friend, Sterling Voss. In the greatest letter anyone ever wrote me, he told me about Fasting Can Save Your Life by Herbert Shelton, hygiene’s systematizer. Finally, in 2001, through friend and colleague, Frederic Patenaude. He was the editor of Just Eat An Apple magazine and author of The Raw Secrets. These publications were about the raw vegan diet.


I worked and was housemates with Frederic Patenaude a total of three years off and on from 1998 till 2003. We worked at Nature’s First Law in California; Tree of Life in Arizona; and at his new office in Quebec. Frederic had started in hygiene not with the works of Herbert Shelton, but the old French hygienic master, Albert Mosseri. Frederic read all his 20+ books and was in contact with him till his death in 2012.

Slowly, I absorbed the essence of Natural Hygiene’s radical perspective through Frederic. By this, I mean he got it through my thick skull with his calm, relentless, crystalline arguments. I was challenging but sympathetic, so I kept asking and he kept answering. It took time because I started out quite lost. A mess of alternative dietary ideas floated around my head since childhood. Something finally clicked and I started studying hygiene on my own.

Frederic’s dedication and great knowledge made him immovable where I was merely stubborn. I can only hope to return the favor with the current work. It illuminates certain mysteries of diet that frustrated us. Like why some people can stick with eating healthy food and others can’t (see hygiene > capacity). And the greater mystery of metaphysical suffering that we, like so many others, failed to solve with diet.


I first heard about darkroom retreating in 2004 from my former guru, Purna Steinitz. An American Hindu, he had heard about its use in Ayurveda. He told me, “Apparently, after a few weeks of it, one comes out completely renewed.” I found the idea very strange. A budding hygienist and attracted to spirituality’s Apollonian upper world, I thought we needed light. But like a lot of earthy things Purna said, the idea of renewal in darkness stayed with me.

A year later, I moved to an ecovillage in Oregon. I hit it off with the old village maintenance man. Name of Finn Po. Scrawny guy. Lots of energy. A hippy from birth since his dad was a beatnik. Wizard-level resourcefulness. Full of wry optimistic sayings as well as good-natured quips about people’s hang-ups. Drinks his own pee and lives in a tiny geodesic dome he built out of garbage 20 years ago.

Naturally, Finn also had a darkroom.

“Tired of enlightenment?” he asked. “Try endarkenment.”

I said, “Ohmigod, Finn, really?!”

“It’s the way of the future. Don’t be the last to know.”

“What’s it like?”

Eyes closed, arms wrapped round himself, he said, “It’s a luxury.”

“How do you do it?”

“Ah, just git in the room.”

A benevolent Pied Piper and the coolest 60 year-old around, he had inspired all the village’s youth to try a retreat. After listening to him rhapsodize about it all winter, I did, too.


But as Finn says, I was just getting started. It would take two more years, the shock of leaving my guru, and another successful retreat for me to grasp the significance of retreating in darkness.


How did all this begin?

My parents were thinkers and somewhat unconventional. They taught me about philosophy, health, design, and music. I took all of it more seriously than they expected. They were distant. My intense older brother became as big a force in my life as they. For me, our house was more training camp than home. Other influences and people helped smooth it out.

I felt awed by life at 2, happy at 3. School started and a part of me died. About halfway through, I read The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It impressed me. Later came Do You Really Need Eyeglasses?, which introduced me to palming. My father’s hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, showed me a future without school.

By age 15, I felt morose and alienated. But something from childhood was stirring in me. One day, I was slumped in front of the TV. One of the tiny people living inside it mentioned the importance of loving oneself and being happy. The timing was perfect. My mood was like the Death Star and this advice was Luke Skywalker’s photon torpedo.

In a moment, I was overcome by rapture: sublime joy in apprehending our perfect, beautiful universe. I had felt it at 3 and 4 years old. Now it was bigger. This perspective and feeling lasted three months. When they faded, so did my previous interests. More than anything, I wanted to understand the cause of joy. I wanted it back.

I finished high school. Barely. I started living out of a backpack. For 21 years, I independently investigated this mystery for 21 years. I experimented with the elements of my legacy: philosophy, health, and design. Toward the end of this period, I did my first darkroom retreats. Soon after, in late 2008, the answer came:

A slight increase of vital energy from adolescence had caused a temporary, partial restoration of my damaged psychic integrity, revealing an enrapturing universe. So a massive increase from profound rest in darkness would cause permanent and complete restoration.

With this breakthrough, my search ended. Testing of my discovery began. I and 28 clients have tried it. Their results echoed my early ones.

Over the course of my 25 retreats of 2–7 days, noticeable restoration of my psychic integrity and function has occurred. My body’s scent has improved. I regained some access to my long-buried sexuality. From one retreat, I woke up feeling like an adult for the first time in 41 years; this feeling has not changed. Alongside my childish panic in the face of challenges, an adult now thinks through them. In retreat, symptoms of fibro-myalgia dissipate. Flexibility returns. I wake up just knowing things that have always mystified me and feeling resolved about issues that have frustrated me for decades. Insomnia, exhaustion, and suicidal thoughts and feelings evaporate. Clarity, energy, relaxedness, even joy return for weeks at a time. Basic functioning lasts two months. All these came to me after going years at a time without them.

Besides this supporting evidence, no data contradicting the basic idea has yet emerged. Interest in darkness is growing worldwide. I met an internationally recognized psychology professor with decades of experience as a flotation researcher. She unqualifiedly agrees with my theory and wants to do research with my exact method. Wherever I go, people are as struck as I am by the simple logic of this idea and want to try a retreat.

As Finn says, what else can go right?



This book is for:

  • those who appreciate good arguments and reasonable tests thereof
  • those who suffer in any way—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, ecologically—and need hope and a way out
  • those who sense hygiene’s greater potential
  • self-experimenters and self-explorers who don’t necessarily have terrible problems, just yearning, curiosity, wonder, or a wish to find their next steps.
  • those who wish to understand why humanity is in such rough shape and what to do about it

Darkroom retreating is for anyone to whom it makes sense and who feels moved to do it, whether to heal from acute illness or just see what it’s like. Much if not all physical illness is psychosomatic and therefore amenable to self-healing in darkness.

However, darkness is no escape. Sometimes illness needs to be addressed in other obvious ways first. But just knowing about darkroom retreating can be greatly encouraging in doing so. It helps puts things in perspective. And acquaintance with hygienic principles is invaluable to healing from any illness.

how to use this book

Above all, this book presents an idea for consideration. For now, doing a retreat is not at issue. To do something like this, you must know how and you must want to. To want to, you must believe in it. To believe, you must know enough about it to find it true. So first, learn the idea. Natural motivation comes from rational belief. Invest your time in knowledge by reading every word of this book, cover to cover. As Finn says, “Nothing costs more than what you don’t pay for.”

Once you are motivated, use the book as a manual for making basic darkness for yourself at your own place. Download the companion darkroom retreat zip file to get all the plans for components. Or find a retreat center. See prepare for resources.

Help from others may or may not come. You are the one you have been waiting for. The need for self-reliance applies to darkness more than anything else I’ve ever gotten involved with. It has been hard for me to recover enough of a self to rely on, to ferret out remnants of it I didn’t know I had. But bit by bit, “a little here, a little there”, the task is being accomplished.

The full application of the idea of hygienic darkroom retreating consists of doing retreats of increasing length alternated with periods of making the radical changes in lifeway one becomes capable of in darkness. This includes studying and applying the rest of hygiene. Continue until your psychic integrity and physical health are completely restored. Live.


Chapters are mostly practical with a dose of theory to start with.

  1. hygiene: the general theory underlying the restful use of darkness
  2. darkroom retreat: the inner workings of profound rest
  3. psychology: the further radicalization of hygiene
  4. format: ways to use darkness in retreats and daily life
  5. protocol: what to do in a retreat
  6. prepare: orientation, menu, packing list
  7. design: darkroom specifications
  8. make: general descriptions, plans, and instructions for building darkrooms
  9. air: ventilating, silencing, and heating a darkroom
  10. darkness: refined darkening techniques
  11. water: simple kitchens and bathrooms for darkrooms


  • faq: frequently asked questions
  • bibliography and influences
  • acknowledgments, services, license, bio

Note: underlined words in paper book are clickable links in the e-book and online. When italicized, they are crosslinks to other chapters and sections of the book. Usually, the link text indicates the link target, like this:
chapter > section > sub-section.

This book is online at leanpub.com/darkroomretreat/read and my website, darkroomretreat.com. There, you can also read:


Thanks for reading. Please copy and give out this free book as much as you please. See license for more options.

If you have comments or corrections, email me or open an issue at github. This is free content and an open source project contained in a public code repository. If you know distributed version control, fork the project, and submit a pull request.

In addition to this book, I can assist you by email, skype, and in person. See services for details.

I continually update this book. Especially before building, download the latest version of the book and review relevant sections for new plans.


Now on to how darkness completes the life-restoring perspective of hygiene.

1 - hygiene

Hygiene is a complete system of health and healing based on the self-preserving nature of life and an appreciation for its normal conditions. More than mere cleanliness, hygiene is a 185 year-old, globally embedded health care system. We hardly discuss it because it’s just how things are done. Almost unknown in its fullness, its details strike newcomers as oddly familiar.

Hygiene provides a comprehensive context for the restful use of darkness in support of the self-healing psyche. Hygiene enables us to understand what darkness is and how to relate to it for the purpose of health.

Which is the point. We are organisms, so our purpose is to live. To live fully, we need health.

What is health like according to hygiene?

“Health does not consist merely of the absence of symptoms of illness. It is a state of positive well-being that is evidenced by a constant state of euphoria. It is rarely, if ever, experienced by humans today.”
–Herbert Shelton, father of modern hygiene1

Euphoria is exactly the sign of long-lost function that my adolescent rapture hinted at. Once tasted, nothing else will do. The thing is to come by it on purpose, not just by chance. What conditions would make it possible? Identifying and providing conditions is hygiene’s forte. It accomplishes this by making ordinary observations of life in nature along certain lines.

So we will learn these lines—these principles—in this chapter, which relates the theory of hygiene. Chapter 2, darkroom retreat, relates its application. In chapter 3, we head into the uncharted territory of hygienic psychology.

I aim to do much in this book: reform hygiene’s laws, its pathology, and add a psychology. It is renewal through radicalization and completion. If the 19th century was hygiene version 1.0, and Shelton’s systematization of that vast body of work into modern hygiene was hygiene 2.0, then this is the beginning of hygiene 3.0. This is when hygiene becomes complete and instigates another global mass health movement.


Hygiene has three senses in its definition:

  1. the science of health; a branch of biology.
  2. conditions and practices conducive to the preservation of health
  3. cleanliness

In common usage, the third sense strangely dominates. Hygiene is reduced to vigilant cleanliness against germs and the use of safety equipment to protect against a hostile environment. Why? We will get to that. Meanwhile, the dictionary shows that hygiene includes all healthy conditions and practices. Ist is fearless and relaxed. It respects life’s resilience.

Natural Hygiene makes all this explicit. It identifies “preservation” with life’s defining characteristic of self-preservation. And it identifies “conditions and practices conducive” to health with the normal conditions of life. Thus it recognizes the self-preserving organism and seeks to provide it with normal conditions of life in both sickness and health. This originates in hygiene’s observation of ubiquitous health in nature, where organisms also get injured and sick, yet only normal conditions of life exist. For humans, these conditions and practices, both physiological and social, include:

  • air, warmth, water, food, light & darkness, shelter
  • rest, work, poise, exercise, cleanliness
  • family & friends, camaraderie, affection, sex, love
  • freedom, peace, prosperity, habitat

The extent and organization of this list are somewhat arbitrary. It simply helps ground our discussion in biology, including psycho- and sociobiology.


This book mainly deals with the condition of rest, which is half of life. In our action-obsessed lifeway, we disdain and resist it, viewing it as a waste of time. But not only is rest an end in itself, another equal aspect of living, but nothing else is possible without it, neither action nor healing. If we wish to be healthy, we simply must correct ourselves in this matter.

Rest is of two kinds: ordinary and profound.

Ordinary rest includes nightly sleep, naps, and relaxation, alternated with daily activity in light. It is for maintenance of health.

Profound rest means extended retreat lasting days, weeks, even months. It is for recovery from major trauma and sickness, including aging. It is gained in four ways (in ascending order of intensity):

  • silence
  • solitude
  • fasting
  • darkness

The benefits of profound rest accumulate day by day. If interrupted, some healing processes must start over. One good night’s sleep, or several in a row, are simply not enough to recover from what really ails us. We must bring retreats into our lives in a serious way to get the profound rest needed for healing.


Hygiene originated in America when it was still the only marginally free country in the world. It was a generation after the Revolution, in the Age of Enlightenment. Hygiene became a mass movement in 1832 with the lectures of Sylvester Graham, physiologist and namesake of Graham (whole) flour. Two doctors, Isaac Jennings and Russell Trall, abandoned drugging, further developed hygienic theory and practice, and spread hygiene widely with publications, teaching, and organization.

Mary Gove helped bring hygiene to women of the 19th century, whose increasing independence it matched. Florence Nightingale transmitted its rudiments internationally through nursing (before medicine co-opted it). John Tilden buoyed and innovated in hygiene after the untimely death of Dr Trall. Herbert Shelton revived and systematized it for the 20th century. He formalized it as “Natural Hygiene” to strike the imagination and distinguish it from narrow medical usage.

Hygiene led the natural health movement of the 19th century which resulted in the famous improvement to public health then. Medicine, funded through Rockefeller’s pharmaceutical interests, opposed hygiene while taking credit for this. Medicine made war on hygiene’s exponents, institutions, and full teachings through propaganda, lobbying, and prosecution, nearly destroying hygiene. Medicine covered its tracks by using hygiene’s mistaken emphasis on toxemia to reduce hygiene to the idea of cleanliness. Thus few know the real story.

Nonetheless, hygiene remains the most effective and influential approach to health and healing in world history. It now benefits nearly every person on the planet several times a day with the understanding that fresh air, pure water, regular bathing and exercise, and nutritious food are matters of course in a healthy life. With the advent of a hygienic psychology and the astounding self-healing power of the organism in darkness, hygiene’s influence will increase exponentially. So I am leaving behind the special name, Natural Hygiene, to reclaim the ordinary word, hygiene, for our tradition.

laws of life

Shelton describes hygiene as “the employment of materials, agents, and influences that have a normal relationship to life, in the preservation and restoration of health according to well-defined laws and demonstrated principles of nature.”2 These laws of life are the absolute heart of hygiene and thus a great key to understanding it.

I have grouped laws by subject and importance. Four primary laws form the context for the rest. I formulated two of them, Coordination and Capacity. I suppose that has not happened since Shelton or earlier.

I substantially edited the original list. See it in appendix: laws of life, along with my criticisms of it. Titles in parentheses below refer to it.

Here are all the laws of life, the strongest dose of hygienism you can get.


  • Force: A force inherent in an organism, called lifeforce, sustains its structure and the instinct of self-preservation in its every cell, organ, and system. (Life’s Great Law)
  • Order: Life’s defining characteristics are its self-preserving nature and conditional existence. The constant practical aim of self-preservation is health, life’s natural state. Self-preserving means it is completely self-generating, self-maintaining (self-ordering, directing, and defending), and self-healing (self-repairing, cleaning, and energizing). From the outside, it needs only its original conditions: air, warmth, water, light and darkness, food, company, etc.
  • Coordination: The instinct of self-preservation coordinates living processes. Instinct is a basic form of consciousness. The faculty of consciousness is the psyche. Thus the psyche is the coordinating system of animals. It works mostly unconsciously (involuntarily). The voluntary conscious mostly serves to maintain conditions.
  • Capacity: Capacity determines function. Capacity is the degree of an organism’s structural integrity. Function is its physical, emotional, and mental ability to live. Capacity increases with rest and decreases with trauma. How one is determines what one can do—and benefit from.


  • Action: Whenever action occurs in an organism in response to external influences, the action must be ascribed to the living thing. It has the power of action, not the external thing, whose main characteristic is inertia. Much related to the laws of Power and Capacity.
  • Dual Effect: Every action and substance has a primary effect followed by an opposite and equal secondary effect.
  • Vital Accommodation: The organism accommodates itself to external influences it cannot use, control, or destroy. It distributes the force of acute harm, lowering overall health.
  • Proportion: The success of each organism is directly proportional to the amount of its life force and inversely proportional to the degree of its activity. (Life’s Great Law.)
  • Economy: An organism under favorable conditions stores excess vital energy and materials above the current expenditures as a “reserve fund” to be employed in time of special need. (Special Economy)
  • Compensation: When activity has expended the substance and energy of the body, rest is induced in order to replenish them.
  • Development: The development of an organism is directly proportional to the amount of vital forces and nutritive materials which are available to it, and limited by the factor in shortest supply. (integrates the law of the Minimum)
  • Power: The power used in any vital or medicinal action is vital power, that is, power from within and not from without.
  • Distribution: Distribution of power is proportionate to the importance and needs of the various organs and tissues of the body.
  • Limitation: When the expenditure of vital power has advanced so far that a fatal exhaustion is imminent, a check is put upon the unnecessary expenditure of power; the organism rebels against the further use of an accustomed stimulant.
  • Utilization: The normal materials of life are all that an organism is ever capable of constructively utilizing, whether it is well or sick. No substance or process that is not a normal factor in physiology can be of any value in the structure of an organism. That which is unusable in a state of health, is equally unusable in a state of illness.
  • Selection: When the quality of nutriment being received by an organism is higher than that of the present living tissue, the organism will discard lower-grade cells to make room for appropriating the superior materials into new and healthy tissue. (Quality Selection)
  • Elimination: All injurious substances which, by any means, gain admittance into an organism are counteracted, neutralized, and eliminated as fully as bodily nerve energy supply allows and by such means and through such channels as will produce the least amount of harm to living structure. (Selective Elimination)
  • Conservation: Whenever nutritive abstinence occurs, an organism’s reserves are conserved and economized. Living structures are autolyzed in the inverse order of their usefulness, while toxic substances are eliminated. This law refers to fasting; it applies to starvation as well.


The perfect sense of these laws exposes common myths of health. The laws affirm our deep sense of life’s correctness. They intrigue and inspire. They give grounds for hope. Consider yourself initiated into hygiene.

Elder hygienists have written much about these laws, and I refer you to their work, beginning with Shelton. I will make a few comments here.

As we can see, hygiene is philosophical. It mirrors the axiomatic concepts found in realist metaphysics. Hygiene is based on the being, identity, consciousness, and causality of life. Life is. Life is what it is: alive (self-preserving). Human life is self-aware and volitional: Life knows and chooses. Life acts in accordance with its nature.

Life is assertive, intelligent, and active. It is not a helpless, stupid reaction. This regards the laws of Force and Coordination. Self-preserving means self-generating, self-maintaining, and self-healing. These obtain in every aspect of life and at every scale, from the cells to the organism as a whole. This is part of the Law of Order. It preserves itself as well as it can stand to, and this capacity varies. This is the Law of Capacity (more about this law later).

Other laws follow. The Law of Action states that only the organism performs vital action, including healing. So only the organism can heal the organism. Again, this is true at every scale. Even a cell must heal itself; another cannot. The Law of Power states that energy used to perform action resides only in the organism, not anything external to it. (This law might have treated the ability as well as the energy to act. The Law of Capacity now addresses ability along with other elements.)

Thus, no drug, herb, or food heals; neither any condition or practice; nor treatment, person, or device. Thus there are no cures. Attempting to heal the body from the outside further damages it or drains its power to heal itself. Whatever benefit might appear in the short term, such attempts mask the body’s illness and delay its healing. This is an example of the intriguing Law of Dual Effect.

The other laws compliment and develop on these.

NOTE: In an earlier edition of this book, I wrote:

Sixteen laws is too great a number for the mind to apprehend at once. So over time, integrating laws will emerge or some laws will be recognized as primary to others. Three to five “Great Laws”, with the others as corollaries or sub-laws, will bring hygiene within reach of everyone’s understanding.

In the above list, this process has commenced.


Whether well or ill, one’s conscious (volitional) role is to discover and provide the normal conditions of life in the proper proportion. The autonomic processes of the omniscient, omnipotent, infallible organism handle the rest. Hygiene systematically describes how this happens with these logically interrelated laws. All are derived from simple observations everyone can make. It is science for everyone, ripe for self-experimentation.

A drug, for example, is a poison by definition. This is why drugs are legally controlled. An organism does not relate with poison but rapidly neutralizes and expels it. It gets hurt in the process and we call it side effects. By contrast, an organism assimilates food into its own structure without harm or compromise.

Fasting when ill is an instinctive extension of time between meals. It is observable in many other animals and has long been a part of Natural Hygiene. In this pause in eating, the body can rest from most metabolic processes. It repairs tissues, eliminates deeply stored toxins and waste, and replenishes itself with unabsorbed nutrients and energy to the farthest reaches of every cell. For example, anemia, supposedly caused by iron deficiency, disappears. Blood iron levels normalize during a fast. We might say a similar case is women who cannot conceive become pregnant after fasting. The capacity either to absorb iron or conceive is restored. Just as fasting enables metabolic rest, darkroom retreating enables profound psychic rest.

One of hygiene’s most striking insights regards disease. In disease, the symptoms we observe do not afflict the body. They are precisely how the body is healing itself and signaling for care. Disease is not hostile. It does not invade from without, as in the germ theory. It is the body itself in action. Pain signifies damaged tissues and their repair. Infection and inflammation after first aid signify neutralization and elimination of internal toxins. Unpleasant discharges—vomiting, diarrhea, extra sweating, rashes, bad breath, dark urine—are the elimination of gross accumulated toxins and waste through every organ. Fatigue indicates energy has been diverted to all this critical work.

These healthy processes must not be stopped but supported and waited out. Drugs or treatment require the body to neutralize or recover from them. Creating “another disease” does not aid healing but delays it. It adds to one’s damage, toxic load, and exhaustion. It guarantees worse symptoms later when one has less time and energy to deal with them. With medicine, one goes from a cough to a cold to bronchitis to pneumonia to death. We can trace similar tracks in the pathologies of those with cancer, diabetes, stroke, digestive disorders, depression, AIDS, etc. More about pathology in psychology > pathology

Loss of appetite conserves energy from the immense effort of digestion. Pain, nausea, weakness, and exhaustion immobilize the organism, enabling all vital force to be used for healing. Every one of these is a biological virtue. None should be feared or suppressed. All should be viewed as vital victories to be trusted, observed, and supported, not fought. All occur in the most efficient possible way for the purpose of restoring health. Disease is our friend.

In the relationship between food and nerve energy lies another example of vital relations. Food does not actually give energy to the body directly. Food initially takes nerve, chemical, and muscular energy to eat and digest. Otherwise, we could just eat to restore our vigor, even when sleepy. Food provides sugar, which refuels everything from large muscle movement to thinking to cell operation. Some of this refueling can occur within seconds of eating fruit, the most easily digested food. But even this takes material and energetic reserves to accomplish. The body only transforms sugar into reserve electrical potential of the nerves during sleep. It only repairs tissue eliminates toxins from it completely while they are unused. Eventually we run out of the power necessary to utilize food and must rest.

Again we see that no external force has the power to act for life, only life itself. Life is the doer. Hygiene helps us redirect to the autonomic self the vast attention paid in our lifeway to the volitional self. Volition plays a critical yet small part in the whole process of life. Hygiene puts these elements in their proper places. Hygiene can now offer darkness as a means of caring for the autonomic self in its primary system, the psyche.

The deep self will not solve all one’s problems in darkroom retreat. But it will have the chance to recover lost capacity. Recapacitated, one can then make the radical changes in lifeway necessary to handle one’s remaining problems. See
protocol > post-retreat.


I have mentioned capacity a few times. It is the idea that integrates this whole book. It is so important, I have formulated a new hygienic law about it. I’ll restate it then explain.

Law of Capacity: Capacity, the degree of an organism’s structural integrity, determines function, its physical, emotional, and mental ability to live. Capacity increases with rest and decreases with trauma. How one is determines what one can do—and benefit from.

This is the philosophical law of causality applied to health: a thing acts in accordance with its nature.

Everything has a structure, whether it is an idea, a building, a body, a galaxy. In organisms, structure is the psychophysical framework of life, holding it up, keeping it together. Like life, capacity is a union of being and consciousness. It is the vital pattern of an organism. It exists at every scale like a fractal or hologram. It is lifeforce in a particular form. Yet it cannot be reduced to consciousness, the nervous system, the skeleton or myofascia, or DNA. Any of these might serve to represent its status.

Capacity is synonymous with constitution, endowment, type, inheritance, stock, and potential. Like these, capacity is conventionally assumed to be static; in fact, it is dynamic, changing constantly. Capacity is experienced as a sense of ease in doing something. It shows up in colloquialisms:

“Do you have it in you? Do you have what it takes? The wherewithal? The right stuff? The touch? The X factor?”
Or, “He’s a natural. He was born to do it. It’s in the blood.”

Two influences affect capacity significantly: profound rest (positively) and major trauma (negatively). Profound rest is both physical and psychical. Fasting provides primarily physical rest; darkroom retreating, primarily psychic rest. These can be used together or separately depending on capacity.

Contrary to common opinion, effort, will, and discipline affect capacity insignificantly. Lifestyle, the daily conditions one arranges for himself, merely help one realize one’s capacity. Whatever gains one makes by them beyond one’s capacity are minor, however impressive they may seem, and they are easily lost.

Likewise, heroic discipline or super-effort (doing something twice as much or twice as fast) have the notable but still insignificant effect of turning people into weird assholes. Common examples include religiosity about god, politics, work, and food. Fortunately, this condition abates with enough rest.

This law has a strange implication. The benefit one derives from anything cannot exceed one’s capacity for it. When capacity is damaged (as with virtually all of us now), the unconscious self prevents further damage from the increased energy of normal levels of pleasure, joy, fulfillment, and success running through damaged circuits. We often call the results of this life-saving mechanism “self-sabotage” or “bad habits”. But we can best understand it as a symptom of disease. Thus, as hygienists, we seek to understand and support it, not fight it like the moralists. Which hygienists have unfortunately been when up against a person’s habits.

Same goes for more obvious means of self-protection like resistance and stubbornness.

Imagine a damaged electrical device. Simply running a regular amount of power through it won’t repair it, and may well cause further damage to circuitry. It is best to immediately stop it, turn it off, unplug it, and bring it to a mechanic for repair.

Likewise, one’s capacity for ordinary rest determines how much of it one will enjoy. A good night’s sleep begins a deep healing process that may take days or weeks to complete. A good night’s sleep entails stillness and leads to re-energization and clarity. These tend to irritate damaged capacity. It’s like rebreaking a badly set bone. The organism accepts it if the new energy will fuel complete repair. But if light and activity will interrupt the process in the morning, then, from the comprehensive perspective of capacity, it’s best to not start at all.

If, due to a lack of time, safety, or understanding we have not met all the conditions of healing, then unconsciously, we will be prevented from sleeping until we can really sleep. Insomnia typically results. As with the rest of functioning, only in profound rest does the organism restore its capacity for ordinary rest.

This analysis applies to everything we try that repeatedly fails and frustrates us.

Like staying on a good diet. One starts eating well. Congestion clears. Sleep becomes easy and delicious. Clarity, motivation, and joy return. Eventually, the energy level reaches a fever pitch and something snaps. With the indifference of an executioner, one inhales three pieces of stale cake that, just a few days before, was obviously horrifying.

The unbearable level of energy in real emotion has the same effect on many of us. Or in meeting a magnificent personality. Or in getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Choke artistry springs from nowhere. “Boy, it’s time for an all-night movie marathon! Where’s the ice cream?” To prevent further damage to capacity, the autonomic self does whatever it takes to curb one’s enthusiasm.

Thus, we can see how moralizing about choices, habits, commitment, etc, is ineffective because it is irrelevant. We are not creatures of habit. We are creatures of capacity. In any given moment, we do absolutely the best we possibly can. Whether willed or automatic, every thought, every feeling, every action is an utmost expression of one’s capacity. The instant capacity rises or falls, so does function. Life cannot do otherwise.

Genuine benefits gained by normal efforts simply realize one’s capacity. That’s why they feel fun. When emergencies or unusual opportunities call for extra effort, the body supplies adrenaline for it. But we err in continuing to exert extra effort over a prolonged time span for any purpose, let alone the mind-boggling task of restoring original human capacity. The will fails to achieve it. Only the involuntary power that gave us life in the first place can. This power cannot be manipulated, only provided for.

Like the Law of Force, the Law of Capacity integrates several existing hygienic Laws of Life. It casts them in a different light. It contains elements of the laws of Compensation, Distribution, Development, and others. It has many implications. If, like me, it takes over your perspective, you may realize some of your usual efforts are futile. You may feel your attention freed to focus on what you can actually accomplish.

This idea of capacity has its roots in the Ayn Rand’s character studies in Atlas Shrugged and in esoteric spiritual teaching such as Gurdjieff’s. I have simply resituated it in hygiene. Here it is in harmony with nature, universally accessible, and more useful by orders of magnitude.

false capacity

The world equips us, its creatures, with everything we need to live fully. This seems to be about 50 times more than we need to just survive. Which is good because we have lost so much of it. But even this huge margin is proving insufficient. In our permanent state of emergency and distress, a single major crisis can overwhelm most of us.

We compensate for damaged normal capacity by building false capacity. By constant effort, we attain substance and momentum as personalities, even some personal power. We gain knowledge, strength, skills, character. We beat competitors, achieve independence, win respect. We gain a modicum of stability, reserves, resilience. It’s hard work, but if you are a good person, you do it. If you are lazy and don’t struggle, you only get what you deserve. (Sound familar?)

False capacity is not only hard to build, but hard to maintain. It is inefficient and gives partial results. So as the organism restores normal capacity in darkness, it removes false capacity as soon as possible, similar to the Law of Selectivity.

False capacity exists near the surface of the personality, where we use it. Normal capacity gets restored from the bottom up. This occurs rapidly in darkness, slowly in regular living. So we retreat long enough for it to reach the surface before too much false capacity is lost. Then it can replace false capacity in practical ways.

With false capacity go the survival tricks it sustained. The ego is concerned with survival. It constricts its attention and rules to a specific disaster. The organism is concerned with overall function and efficiency. False capacity is specialized. Normal capacity is generalized and adapts to a variety of situations. It is natural, but takes some getting used to after a lifetime of faking it.

This idea contradicts our perversely moralized perspective. How shocking to discover that years of hard work on oneself accomplish little compared to doing nearly nothing for a few weeks in darkness; that our efforts make us fake; that our pride in them keeps us stuck.

This is the hardest lesson I have learned about darkness. With every new breakthrough I had in darkness, I would experience a corresponding loss of function. It confused me for years and began to scare me. Abilities I counted upon, that I always had, suddenly disappeared. Retreating seemed like it was backfiring.

But, no. Doing far too many 3- and 4-day retreats caused the problem of overloss of false capacity. False capacity breaks down too much before the organism can restore normal capacity to the point of usefulness. The solution is simple: do no more than one or two 4-day retreats. Advance quickly to 8-day and medium-length retreats. I discuss this more in format.


This is the general theory of hygiene 3.0. Our main subject, the darkroom retreat, instigated the revision. Now, in context, we can see our subject more precisely.


4 - format

We can use darkness in various formats for different reasons. Here, I describe formats in which I have experienced deep rest and gotten positive results in my energy level, psychic state, and general well-being. I also explain ways darkness can go wrong and how to easily avoid them.

I recommend gradually increasing the length of stays in darkness. First darken your bedroom for sleeping and maybe mini-retreats (12–16 hours). This improves your sleep and gives you a taste of a retreat. Upgrade it for a 4-day retreat. This gives you relief, some profound rest, and the beginnings of healing.

A dedicated public darkroom works better for 8-day retreats and medium-length retreats (3–8 weeks). I believe we can heal from the core of our suffering in a medium retreat. Your experience at home might inspire you to build such a darkroom yourself. Interest in darkness is growing and the world needs more than the 50 or so facilities that exist.

Greater, probably private preparations must be made for long retreats (3-12 months). We can heal from everything in a long retreat, especially physical illness, including aging.

In general, the longer a retreat, the better its conditions must be. This means more silence, space, comfort, and support. While you can pull off a 4-day retreat in a minimalist manner nearly anywhere, even an 8-day retreat requires upgrading. A retreat may prove one of the most important things that happens in your life. It deserves serious attention.



Get relief tonight from most outdoor ambient light. Put dark, dense sheet material over your bedroom windows and doors. In 5-10 minutes:

  • tack or tape up
    • blankets, sleeping bags, dark bedsheets or extra curtains
    • black plastic, carpet, or cardboard
    • or prop up plywood, old doors, or big table tops
    • use whatever you have to cover the windows
  • extend corners of flexible materials as far past door on either side as possible
  • turn off or cover any devices in your room that produce light
  • make sure you have plenty of fresh air, even if it lets in a little light
  • block some of the remaining light with a sleeping mask from an airline or travel store; a tall winter hat pulled down, or a dark t-shirt draped over your eyes. Every bit helps.

We all know how it feels to sleep a lot after too many short nights: we feel sluggish afterward. Some people call this getting too much sleep, a physiological impossibility. They just do not know how tired people can get and still not get fired from their jobs. In fact, we are tapping into the first layer of a backlog of lost sleep. Feeling groggy is the first phase of catching up. This can take days. Reversing sleep deprivation is like withdrawing from strong drug. Like me, you may need a retreat to get to the other side of it without backsliding.

In the meantime, this format helps us remember how important darkness is. Next step is to make an instant sleeping mask. When ready for perfect darkness for nightly sleep, make blackout blinds, a silencer and lightproof vents so your room is dark, quiet, airy, and easily reopened to light during the day.


We require total darkness to sleep well. No one is an exception to this. You may be able to fall asleep despite the street light right outside your bedroom, but only at the expense of overall function (see the
Law of Vital Accommodation). The circadian system has not changed one iota since industrialization. It never gets used to anything. If light intrudes on your sleep, it will signal the circadian system to make your sleep less deep and restful, whether you know it or like it or not. It’s like what many clients told me after their retreats: “I had no idea how tired I was.”

From simply darkening his bedroom, a friend reported to me a huge difference in the quality of sleep he and his mate experienced, as well as a return of vivid dreams. I have experienced the same thing whenever I have been able to darken the room I sleep in. As a rule, the darker the room, the better the sleep. 100% darkness is 1000% better than 99.9% darkness. Extinguishing that last bit of light leaves the mind nothing to hang onto, giving new meaning to “falling asleep”. See for yourself.

It is best to go to sleep early, from 18:00 to 22:00 at the absolute latest. Then one naturally awakens about 4 hours later for 1-3 hours. At this hour, one is freshly rested, yet the promise of sleep lies ahead. The world outside is quieter; children are asleep; the mind runs more slowly; and inhibitions are slightly relaxed.

Thus sex can be especially gratifying. Many consider it an auspicious hour for meditation or prayer. Use a candle or other dim, warm lighting. Avoiding the cold blue tint of some LEDs, which signals the circadian system to awaken. Light exercise, light reading, and light snacking (on fruit) are fine, too. And perhaps a menial chore or two. But avoid more serious work. It stimulates too much waking thought and distracts from getting back to sleep when tired again.

Usually sleep goes 3-4 more hours. It is deliciously renewing. A nap in the early afternoon, as short as 20 minutes, will refresh you yet again. That is, if you can stand feeling this good.

Before widespread public lighting, this was a common sleeping pattern. It’s called biphasic or segmented sleep. It is natural and retreating strongly resets it. If it happens to you, don’t consider it strange, but a normal part of human life recovered.

Many aspects of modern life seem increasingly out of control. Blackout blinds offer the unique thrill of reclaiming control over one of the most basic functions of existence: sleeping and waking. Neither the sun nor streetlighting nor scheduling accidents determine anymore when you wake up. You do, and only when you are good and ready.



Short retreats span from 14 hours to 8 days. You can at least begin at home.


Note: I do not recommend mini-retreats for everyone, just if you feel strongly called to it and find yourself able to do it without cutting corners and endangering yourself. I cannot do them properly, so I don’t try anymore. I just include it because I saw it was possible and I can imagine there are people whose capacity and circumstances make it appropriate.

A mini-retreat allows you to dip your toe into retreating while keeping your usual daily schedule. It includes the two primary phases of a retreat: sleeping long and deeply, and being awake by yourself without distraction for some hours in the middle of the night.

It is the same as sleeping nightly in darkness except you:

  • turn off lights by 20:00*
  • maintain darkness whether or not you wake up in the middle of the night
  • get 1-2 extra sleeps in the morning
  • stay in darkness 12–16 hours*

A mini-retreat helps maintain restedness between 4- and 8-day retreats. Some benefits of retreating fade and at different rates. To extend them and smooth the transition to the moment of needing to retreat again, do a mini-retreat once a week between regular retreats.


Do not start a mini-retreat after 20:00, nor stay in longer than 16 hours. In me, these induced mild shock and very negative feelings and thoughts that took a 4-day retreat to recover from.

In retreat, the organism strongly resets natural biological rhythms. Namely, going to sleep whenever tired, especially at nightfall. If you can’t start your mini-retreat on time, postpone it till you can. Starting regular retreats an hour or two late is less than ideal, but it still works because the organism has time to compensate. This is not the case with mini-retreating.


The human organism in darkness seems to go through a 48-hour cycle with a point of no return after 16–18 hours. So either exit before going past this point or complete the cycle with a 4-day retreat. Otherwise you may experience very negative consequences. It’s like jumping out of a Ferris wheel after it has gone too far up. Read my blog post, how not to retreat, for a longer explanation.

Biological rhythms are very powerful and apparently cannot be messed with in this way. So, better safe than sorry, at least until you have retreated enough to feel confident about experimenting with mini-retreats.

4-day retreat

Once your darkening and ventilating measures are working smoothly for nightly use and mini-retreats, you can easily add the remaining elements of a darkroom for a regular retreat. (If you retreat for the first time at a center, you can begin with an 8-day retreat.)

Everyone interested in a 4-day retreat can try one. Though not guaranteed, it is possible to catch up on all the sleep one ever lost in four days. The amount of deep sleep that can be had in such a short amount of time is impossible to conceive beforehand and hard to believe even after experiencing it. You can get relief from your distress and overstimulation. You can recover homeostasis and equilibrium. You can regain hope and register a memory of feeling very good. While most effects fade after a few weeks, you will begin to recover little pieces of your lost self. Lastly, you start learning how to be in darkness. Your supporter starts to learn how to be around a retreat. You will get a clearer idea about how and when to do future retreats, and for how long.

Timing of regular retreats is a bit more flexible than mini-retreats. Plan to turn off lights between 18:00 and 20:00. If something comes up and you are a little late, it’s ok. But if you start after 22:00 due to scheduling, insomnia, anxiety, or addiction, add an extra day and night of darkness to your retreat. This, by the way, is how to begin seriously interrupting these illnesses. The effect of such a short retreat will likely be temporarily. But at least you’ll glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.

In accordance with the natural diurnal cycle, go into darkness in the evening and come out in the morning. Just stay in extra days in between. This makes the dark part of a retreat 2.5 days (60 hours). Avoid checking the time. Use a cellphone alarm set to a specific day to know when the retreat is over.

Besides sleeping as much as possible, eating, eliminating, and bathing, what does one do in darkness without work, people, or media? Light exercise and restful placement of attention. I explain more about the latter in protocol > attention.

Afterward, slowly re-adjust to light. You did not just watch a matinee in a dark cinema, but spent days in total darkness. Sudden exposure to daylight would be a painful and unnecessary shock. Spend a minimum of 15 minutes gradually relighting the room by opening the door and window panels a few millimeters at a time.


I got caught in a whirlpool made of a several 4-day retreats. It has been difficult to break out of. I lost too much false capacity before restored normal capacity could compensate. Avoid this mistake. If you do one, just do one or two 4-day retreats, and absolutely no more than three. Then steam ahead with arrangements for an 8-day retreat.s_


It takes time to properly readjust to light and ordinary life. So a period of unstressed transition back to it is just as important as darkness itself. For every three days of darkness, plan at least 24 hours of identical conditions except with sunlight and walks during the daylight.

Hormones need time to readjust to light. The sense of balance can also be affected. Retreating has often felt like a chemical process, with a feeling of sleepiness or coolness flooding through my brain or hands. And it takes time to reflect on what just happened, to begin integrating the changes, extra energy, and value of the retreat.

So spend the transition quietly. First, uncover at least one window. Take a slow walk or two and sunbathe outside. Visit with no one. Take a nap, covering the windows for it if you like. Then cover the windows between 18:00 and 20:00 and spend the whole night again in darkness.

After your last sleep, slowly uncover the windows. Consider your retreat finished by noon at the latest.

Ease back into your regular life. I mean avoid non-routine activities the first week. You will likely continue to notice effects from the retreat. Due to their dreamlike intensity, I call this the aftermath. See protocol > post-retreat.

If your location has no running water, it’s no problem. For this short of a period, it is unnecessary. See water for a short list of requirements.

8-day retreat

If you have built your own darkroom, only do an 8-day retreat once you and your support team have each done a 4-day retreat. If retreating at an established darkroom, you can begin with an 8-day retreat. The organism’s response to darkness is cumulative; the healing process deepens every day. Eight days is more than twice as beneficial as four.

Many of my early clients felt like they were just beginning to get somewhere when their 4-day retreat ended. Some were either so wound up or so rested to begin with that 48 hours was not enough for them to get anywhere, whether with their exhaustion or their inner struggle. So I upgraded my darkroom to handle 8-day retreats for first-timers.

Sure enough, they did fine and expressed greater satisfaction with their retreats than 4-day retreatants. Scheduling a first retreat of 8 days ensures a breakthrough of some kind is made. I can imagine in some very crystallized cases, longer still will be necessary. Strong defenses and controls must dissolve enough to begin making progress back to health. But 8-day retreats have great potential to support recovery of the lost self.

An 8-day retreat has all the elements of a 4-day retreat, plus:

  • a support team of at least three people. Two people should be nearby all the time with one available to respond. This creates psychic shielding for the retreatant.
  • after physical restedness is reached in the first cycle, a major psychic issue can arise and be resolved in the second cycle
  • a second day of transition is added at the end
  • a fully functional bathing facility is added for emotional as well as physical reasons. For remote locations, see plans for a portable indoor shower.


A medium retreat lasts 3 weeks to 2 months (including 15 transition days). By all accounts, the process goes really deep. My sense is that the core of one’s personal dilemma, the cause of the worst of one’s suffering, can heal in a medium retreat. Plenty of problems will remain. But one will be able to solve them. With so much time, the organism can restore capacity and clear space inside sufficiently to finally put things right again. At least, that’s the basket I’ve put all my eggs in. Fingers crossed.

It’s best to get away from all accustomed influences and associations to minimize internal obstacles. Now that you know what you’re doing in darkness, it’s worth paying extra for this. Take a trip at least a couple hours away. Fly to a darkroom on another continent if necessary. Or rent a fully functioning small house in an unpolluted place and darken it yourself, arranging for maintenance and support.

The darkroom needn’t be fancy, but it must work in every way without compromise of function. Someone else, a maintenance person, should have the responsibility of keeping it that way. There’s nothing like mechanical issues to ruin a retreat.

Yet another person, a supporter, should be available all the time to make sure you have food, basic comforts, someone to talk to for a few minutes if really necessary. By the time you decide to do it, you will know you are doing one of the most important things in your entire life. Prepare accordingly.

Use the last day or two of your transition to start handling your affairs again: checking messages and accounts, making travel arrangements, etc.

The benefit of short retreats is impressive but shallow and short-lived. Doing a lot of them does not equal doing a few long ones. The law of diminishing returns combines with the frustration of glimpsed but unrealized potential. Boldly escalate from a couple short retreats to a medium one.

Personally, I have been stuck in a rut of short retreats. My goal is to retreat for 20 days (including 5 transition days). In 2008, in my second successful retreat, I had a hunch: in 2 weeks of darkness I will heal from my psychic trauma at the core. This will enable me to put the rest of my life back together afterward. I do not know exactly how long others would have to retreat to reach the same point. One guy I know has been considering this for awhile. In his early experiments with darkness, he got a hunch he would need 3 weeks of darkness. I expect it’s a pattern. It makes sense that people come to know what they need the more they get of it.


A long retreat lasts three months to a year. I have heard several reports of retreats like this. All had results we would consider miraculous but which are well within the capacity of the human organism. The organism made itself under difficult circumstances. Under ideal circumstances, it is certainly able to remake itself. Perhaps better than new.

Stories persist of astonishing physical healing occurring in Ayurvedic darkroom retreats lasting 3-12 months: recovering lost hair and eyesight; growing new teeth; and even recovering youth itself. It seems worth looking into. The hygienic protocol for long retreats is yet to be determined. I trust our short and medium length retreats will give us clues. The reports from other traditions are certainly useful as well. For example, in the above story, the yogi exposed himself to a tiny amount of light at dawn. His assistants would leave the darkroom door cracked when they brought him food in early morning.

I like how he attributes his amazing recovery not to his practices in darkness nor the ayurvedic herbs he took, but to Lord Krishna. Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver. He represents the self-healing power of life.

This is part of everybody. It means you and I are enough. Given the chance—the proper conditions—we have in ourselves what we need to recover.

There are four harmful and dangerous ways to retreat in darkness. I learned about them the hard way and am paying the price to this day. The only possible point of my enduring them was so I could warn you. These are little gateways to hell. I sincerely wish for you heed my words and to avoid such suffering.

Fortunately, avoiding it is easy once you know. I will just list them here and point you to longer discussions of them elsewhere in the book. Just say no to:

  1. Mini-retreating behind schedule. See mini-retreat section above.
  2. Ending a retreat without transition days. See 4-day retreat above and protocol > post-retreat.
  3. Doing many 4-day retreats rather than quickly advancing to 8-day, medium, and long retreats. Very serious no-no, folks. Again, see 4-day retreat above and hygiene > false capacity. There, I have understated the matter simply because it cannot be overstated.
  4. Poor support:
    • insufficient support
    • hostile support (!) or people hostile toward either you or retreating in or even near the same house. Say no to abusive relationships.
  5. I know I said four dangerous ways, but maybe there are more. And worse. Why find out? There is no penalty for following the guidelines. Until you have gotten somewhere and know what you are doing, stick to the tried and true. Err conservatively. Be reckless about some other part of your life. The most amazing thing you ever do is bound to have rough edges if handled incorrectly. Don’t pet pigs backwards, either.

Ok, now you know, so you are safe. Back to the many wonders of hygienic darkroom retreating.


I would like to find the simplest way health, including sanity, can be fully restored. Like perfect healing of a broken bone. To this end, I would like to see hygienic retreat centers worldwide with facilities and support for:

  • short, medium, and long darkroom retreats
  • fasts (a la Albert Mosseri’s groundbreaking method)
  • physical retraining
  • instruction in healthy lifeway, including both lifestyle and livelihood
  • open source research and development of the above
  • a village residence for staff, family, friends, and guests, where all this gets applied and tested in real life

In three visits over two years, one would be:

  • restored to full function and vitality
  • prepared to maintain it in daily life
  • prepared to deal with the residue of the past

For a few years, I focused on designing and building public darkrooms. Then came a few more years of making and helping individuals make private darkrooms at home. As a consultant, I am also available to help:

  • operators of public dedicated darkrooms for short and medium retreats
  • those with existing centers wishing to include hygienic darkroom retreating in their programs
  • developers of hygienic retreat centers as I just described

Those who support hygienic darkroom retreating are eligible for my future network, through which I can refer clients to you. Write me for more info.


It may take a few generations of healthy living to fully restore our health and realize our potential as human beings. But we can make huge strides in our lifetimes, getting most of the way back.

We have examined different formats of the restful use of darkness for different circumstances and purposes. Let’s look ahead to more of what happens in a retreat and exactly how to conduct it.

9 - air

The tricky part of making a darkroom is not darkening it but ventilating it. After all, now its windows and doors are sealed! So we’ll look at ventilation first and darkness in the next chapter.

Even trickier is making it quiet. With noise pollution, we are usually at the mercy of our neighbors whereas with air pollution, we could buy a purifier if necessary. Ventilation most affects the silence of a darkroom. It also affects temperature. Let’s examine each condition and see how they work together in a mechanical system.


Below, I will give design constraints and describe various systems of ventilation. But I will first address its physiological importance.


Nature gives us a constant, abundant supply of fresh air, so our buildings should, too.

I have observed a shocking number of people who seem oblivious to their own need for fresh air. Even though everyone knows we die within minutes without air, the importance of continuous fresh air has somehow escaped many. I can only attribute this negligence to mass psychosis, my explanation for the appalling features of civilized life. At the risk of insulting your intelligence, I am bound to address this fact of life, though it is one of the most basic, most obvious ones of all.

Fresh air is always important. It is a normal condition of life and, along with warmth and safety, one of our most urgent necessities. Every second of our lives, quintillions of organic processes occur, and virtually all of them require oxygen. It is the most important nutrient we consume. We can live days without water and weeks without food. Not so, air.

Just like food, air becomes a part of one’s organism with every breath. This affects quality of life to a very great degree. Though it weighs little, the daily amount of air you breathe weighs twice as much as the food you eat. In a darkroom, you have little to do besides breathe. So if you haven’t usually paid attention to air quality, you will likely notice it in darkness.

Whether you do or not, poor air quality cancels most benefits of a retreat. Intermittently airing the room out does not work. I mean opening the door a couple times a day with eyes covered. Put this approach out of your mind. This is darkness, not the dark ages. Whatever it takes, no matter where you are or what you are doing, always provide yourself with continuous fresh air.

For a darkroom retreat, this means either:

  1. following the instructions below
  2. hiring an HVAC contractor to clean, repair, replace, or install ventilation in your home
  3. moving somewhere the ventilation system just works (like the tropics or a new house in northern Europe)
  4. using oxygen producing plants
  5. a combination of these

Somehow, it must be done. Forget darkness a moment. We have few more urgent concerns in life than arranging to breathe fresh air continuously and comfortably. Keeping it foremost in your thinking about darkroom design and construction will help ensure a successful retreat.

Not freezing to death and avoiding danger are more urgent than continuous fresh air. Building systems that meet these needs can all work in harmony. But unconsciously, fear and ignorance result in design conflicts between them. We have largely eliminated open fires in uninsulated buildings, which require massive inputs, labor, and maintenance. But we still often depend on windows for ventilation instead of a proper, separate system. The rest of this chapter will help you avoid such errors.


  • system provides plenty of fresh air
  • absolutely lightproof
  • silent: absolutely no hum or harmonics from fan and exterior noises mostly extinguished
  • comfortable temperature: no undesired cold drafts
  • economical: ie, no wasted heat to the outdoors. This is more involved and a lower priority than retreating itself, so don’t get stuck on it. It requires a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). Besides significantly lowering heating costs, an HRV improves air quality and comfort in nearly all climates. More about it below.


Somehow, fresh air has to get into the darkroom and stale air has to get out, without letting in noise or light.

In the terms of the HVAC industry (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning), the fresh air vent is the supply and the stale air vent is the return.

Sometimes, supply and return vents exist in the same room. This is the fanciest version of balanced mechanical ventilation. If your place has it, thank your lucky stars. Just make sure it runs continuously. Unless your room is huge, intermittent is not good enough.

More commonly, balanced systems put supplies in bedrooms and living rooms, and returns in kitchens and bathrooms. This means air escapes a bedroom around the door. Unless the space outside the door is totally dark, this calls for a threshold lightproof vent (plans below).

Balanced systems are rare. More common are negative pressure systems: bedroom and living room windows act as passive supplies and bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans as active returns. In this case, a lightproof multi-purpose helix vent, built into a window blind, is the supply. Or a silencer if noise surrounds your dwelling. A threshold vent is the return, letting stale air escape the bedroom to the exhaust fan.

Rooms with totally passive ventilation rely on open windows, exterior vents, and infiltration through cracks. These will get sealed against light. Such rooms will need helix vents in blinds at different heights to take advantage of convection. But they probably call for a fan and a silencer, maybe ducting.

By closely observing buildings I have discovered some simple ways to ventilate them. Sometimes rooms have lightproof and sound-dampened holes built into them in unexpected places:

  • unused holes for pipes, wires, chimneys, and ventilation.
  • behind a cupboard or inside a closet
  • a removable panel or piece of trim that could be temporarily replaced with a panel with a hole in it.

For example, I once found a cosmetically damaged door in the garbage at a building supply store exactly the same size as my darkroom’s door. So I stored the original door and cut holes in the damaged door for ventilation.

Another darkroom had no ventilation or suitable holes anywhere. Except it had no door. So we built a frame inside the doorway with a narrow door on one side and a narrower panel on the other. We cut holes in the panel for ventilation ducts. We fixed the frame in the existing doorway with metal straps screwed into old hinge holes. So we left no trace when dismantling the darkroom.

Similarly, we hung 7m of ducting that ran through three rooms; attached a silencer to it; made three window panels; and imperfectly covered five more windows with only one new screw hole in the entire rented house. And that hole was invisible behind a loose piece of trim. “Leave no trace” is a fun game that often improves design.

Sewage pipes drain downward but are ventilated upward. Once, friends and I replaced a flush toilet with a composting toilet. The exposed drain pipe, being oversize and in a single-story house, wasn’t subject to backflow. So it proved a perfect exhaust duct for a case fan at floor level. Imagination conquers all obstacles (and renews itself in darkness).

If you are building a new house, separate ventilation from fenestration (windows). This improves many attributes of a shelter: security, economy, comfort, quietness, control, and darkenability.


Here are further design constraints, photos, plans, and instructions for making and installing lightproof vents.


(helix / helix-z specifications in parentheses)
{threshold vent specifications in curly braces}

  • durable (protected by cardboard shell or silencer){subject to damage by kicking but easily rebuilt and can be made of sheet metal or shielded with cardboard or thin wooden boards}
  • thin enough to fit between blind and window (80mm) or door and threshold {adjustable}
  • cross-sectional area >75cm2 (90cm2){60–120cm2}
  • fully traps light, sending light around at least 5 corners (7 corners / 5 corners){6 corners}
  • short airway (240mm / in-silencer version, 160){140mm}
  • minimal size (87 x 220 x 216 / in-silencer version 87 x 148 x 260){fits under door, sticks out 20mm each side and up 60mm}
  • easy to make (so-so){yes}
  • elegant (yes: simple compact form, uses common materials, zig-zag-shaped passage accommodates natural helical movement of air){yes}
  • cheap ($4 in materials, 2-hour assembly time){$2 in materials, 1-hour assembly time}

helix vent

This photo is of the old helix vent. The new one is similar but: a bit narrower; triangles inside are more pointy; their edges have flaps; there is no fabric; at the side opening, the cardboard has a lip and the core has flaps.

plan: helix vent, assembly

plan: helix vent, channels

plan: helix vent, inner wall

plan: helix vent, outer wall

plan: helix vent, shell

plan: helix vent, slot

I call it a helix vent because of how air actually moves through it: like a corkscrew. It might look like air would zigzag through like light. But air is a fluid like water and takes the path of least resistance. Which is to maintain the same curved trajectory by helixing through. Because the helix is the natural form of fluids in motion under any circumstance, this minimizes friction within the airstream as well.

The helix vent can go anywhere. Flaps of either its edge or face opening poke through a slot and get taped or glued down to the other side.

  • blind: attach it to the back of a blind and crack the window behind it.
  • door: cut slot(s) in it and use helix vent instead of a threshold vent.
  • wall (leading outside or to another room): attach vent to a flat cardboard box and attach box to the wall over the vent. Vent can be either supply or return
  • silencer
    • outside: with shell, attached at face opening
    • inside: without shell, attached at face or edge.
    • Z version: simpler, more efficient, higher capacity version especially for the silencer. Attaches at the side opening. Short and straight, it has fewer light-stopping corners and no shell. It is only for installing inside the silencer or other enclosure with two or more corners for light to go around. See drawings in next section.

If your darkroom’s ventilation is passive, put vents both low and high in room to enable convection. This works better the greater the inside and outside temperature difference; the greater the vertical distance between vents; and the more vents.

Do you need a more compact vent? I used the 3-4-5 triangle ratio in the channels, so it can be shrunk to make a narrower, shorter air passage. Do you wish to manufacture vents? A set of simple wooden or sheet metal templates and jigs can speed production tremendously while keeping equipment and investment to a minimum. Start in your garage.

Materials are simple and non-toxic: heavy black acid-free paper, cardboard, fabric, and wood glue. Look in art or office supply shops for the paper. North Americans, use this paper weight and size conversion chart. If large sheets are unavailable, glue small sheets together between folds in plan. Wood glue has high tack and quick drying time, easing assembly. School glue will work, too.

Read through instructions once while studying plans.

  1. materials (see plans for quantities)
    1. paper (for channels and walls)
      • black, acid-free bond, coverstock
      • available at art supply, stationery, and book shops. In Europe, common posterboard is often acid-free.
      • two posterboard-size sheets (498 x 648 minimum) per vent
      • weights
        • channel: 120–300gsm (200 ideal)
        • wall: 180–400gsm (200 ideal)
        • total: 350–600gsm
    2. cardboard, single layer, 3–4.2mm thick (for shell, unnecessary inside silencer)
    3. fabric: polar fleece, black, medium weight (for seal. Quality check: 10 layers of it in a stack should measure 30-35mm high)
  2. follow instructions in make > fabricate
  3. glue channels to walls 1. refer to plans and key to get a clear idea of how parts go together. Keep plans right side up, marks visible, wall on bottom, channel on top. Test joints with masking tape till you’ve got everything right. 2. fat grey glue lines: long-dashed areas mate with short-dashed areas 3. glue joints - outer wall/channel: left to right in assembly plan - inner wall/channel: right to left - use as little glue as possible to minimize warping, ~2mm bead - match lettered lines 4. glue channel flaps to tops and bottoms of walls
  4. assemble core
    1. orient sections
      1. stand them right side up, channels facing you, outer section behind inner section
      2. flip over inner one, so it is upside down and channels face each other
    2. test joints
      • work inner and outer sections together
      • note how cut-out areas of inner wall’s top and bottom butt up against outer channel’s triangles
      • curl middle flaps between cut-out areas outward so they will contact outer top and bottom when glued
      • note how flaps help align sections
      • practice using table knife to press tops together when glued
    3. separate sections then glue back together, one end at a time
      • use table knife
      • use flaps to align them
    4. glue down flaps of outer wall to outer and inner walls
  5. shell
    • glue joints of shell together with shell seals
    • put core inside and attach fleece seal with glue. This is a 20mm wide double-layer strip of fleece that goes around the flaps of the face opening. Three sides of the seal attach to the shell flaps. The fourth side goes across the core. Double-layers overlap at corners.
    • when not in use, store core inside shell, taping up flap by side opening. Cover exposed part of core with scrap piece of cardboard to protect core from being crushed.
  6. installation
    1. determine vent location
      • in blind, panel, or silencer
      • whether it will attach at edge or face opening
      • shell is unnecessary when installed inside silencer or other enclosure
      • vent should not touch window handles, locks, or frame
    2. mark slot with slot plan
      • the slot plan spaces slot correctly on most blinds and panels
      • face opening, 35 x 281, on blinds, panels, or outside silencer, with shell
      • side opening, 32 x 281, inside silencer or other enclosure, without shell
    3. cut out slot
    4. position vent over slot and fit vent flaps through it
    5. when attaching to soft window covering like fabric, plastic sheeting, or cardboard, pull long flap snug, use back of table knife tip to crease the outside of it right where it passes through slot
    6. fold flap at crease and tape it to cover. Tape is removable for vent reuse in another configuration later if you like. Only glue it in place if you are certain of not moving it for years.
    7. repeat with other long flap, then with short flaps
    8. attach shell to cover with tape, glue, or screws going through cover, into wooden braces if cover is soft
    9. cover shell with foil and/or white paper to minimize warping by sun

helix vent-z

For inside silencer or other enclosure with two or more corners for light to go around. Follow helix vent instructions above, adapting as necessary.

plan: helix vent-z, assembly

plan: helix vent-z, channels

plan: helix vent-z, inner-wall

plan: helix vent-z, outer-wall

threshold vent

A bedroom door often has a gap at the bottom—the threshold—for ventilation. In mechanically ventilated dwellings, this gap allows air to flow out of the bedroom toward the dwelling’s return vent (or perhaps just a window). The threshold vent lets air out but no light in. Its design adapts to door thickness, the height of the gap between bottom of door and threshold, width of door, and width of vent necessary for sufficient airflow. It works if gap is 15-33mm.

If greater than 33mm, add cardboard or wood to the bottom of the door or build up threshold with boards. Or modify the design. If less than 15mm, you can trim the bottom of the door. Otherwise, or if bottom of door fits into a stepped threshold, this vent will not work. Somehow, air has to get out of the room without letting in light.

Block light that reaches the door from the outside as much as possible. For example, make a removable partition in the hallway, which can also darken the path between darkroom and bathroom. It’s a wooden frame a little wider than the hallway so it wedges in at an angle, with a fleece seal around the frame, filled with black plastic sheeting with helix vents as needed.

plan: threshold vent perspective

plan: threshold vent


  1. materials
    • paper, black, acid-free, 400-600gsm
    • muslin fabric, black
    • fleece fabric, black
  2. follow instructions in make > fabricate
  3. blacken inside of ends (grey area) with marker
  4. cut fabric to cover:
    1. area of bottom of door surrounded by vent + 30mm above each side (180–2_h_ x w)
    2. threshold (t+40 x width of threshold+40)
    3. inside of vent except ends (t+200 x w+5; area between corners p, q, r, s)
    4. underside of vent + 10mm all the way around (t+60 x w+20)
  5. attach fabric
    • with tape to door and threshold
    • with glue to vent
  6. fold up ends to make a box-like structure, as in threshold perspective drawing
  7. tape flaps to outside of vent body (this can be undone later to store vent flat)
  8. tape vent to door at the triangular flaps
  9. fill in gaps on each side of vent with fleece baffle, as in drawing. Fleece measurement formula: 20+2h+t/2 x width of gap+10. Use 2 layers. Horizontal edge of fleece should be 10mm above bottom of door. If it drags out of position, weight it with a stick inside, half the thickness of the door. It is 5mm extra wide on each side to seal against the vent and the door jam. Cut away any fleece that interferes with door seal (see below).



Noise is another form of pollution a darkroom must provide shelter from. Noise comes from outside from machines, traffic—including big boats and airplanes—construction, music, fireworks, and talking and playing people. It comes from inside from other people in adjoining spaces, machines—refrigerators, fans, water pipes and pumps—music. At some point, noise defeats the retreat. It must be attenuated somehow, even in remote locations.

The four principles of soundproofing are clear and widely understood:

  1. mass: heavy materials absorb low-frequency (bass) sounds
  2. absorption: fine fibers absorb high frequencies and prevent echoing in air cavities
  3. dampening: using rubbery material to dampen vibration in resonant materials like metal, wood, masonry, glass
  4. decoupling: disconnect structures and airspaces to prevent transmission of sound vibration from source to receiver

Soundproofing tutorials abound online.

These principles apply to ventilation as well. Dampening and decoupling figure in fan mounting, and mass and absorption in silencer design. The silencer eliminates most noise, including from the fan.

Fans make noise directly and indirectly. Small fans have little hum to start with, but they run at high speed, so they develop a hum and harmonics. Bigger fans start with more of a hum but they run more slowly for the same air output, so they develop less noise overall. Avoid amplifying these vibrations by using the fan mount, below.

Even the quietest fan makes noise because of the friction of air itself against the fan blades, housing, ducting, and vents. Because of air friction, fully silencing a ventilation system requires a silencer of some type.


A silencer is an expanded duct section lined with insulation. Its greater volume depressurizes the airstream. This transforms low-frequency sound into into high-frequency sound. High-frequencies vibrate the fine fibers lining the silencer, transforming the sound into heat. Genius!

You can make or buy duct silencers.

  • my double-turn box design is below, $2-$10 depending on your material salvaging skills.
  • DIY straight tube design
  • acoustic ducting, at least 3m with 2-3 bends
  • silencer for sound booths. With dark insulation and enough bends, this eliminates the need for a lightproof vent.
  • manufactured silencers are made of metal and other super durable materials and cost $100-200.

In the past year, I built two box silencers into window recesses. They were simpler and much more effective than I hoped. They swallowed up sound. One of two window panes formed one face of the box. The window recess in the thick wall provided the 4 sides. Boards formed the box’s outer face against the inside of security bars, about 20cm from the glass. I bought shredded fabric insulation to line it. See
darkness > window > panel section for more about adapting the design below.

Thanks to Richard Nöjd of Skattungbyn, Sweden, for pointing out these cool solutions. Silencers and acoustic ducting are standard industrial components, making buildings quiet worldwide.

plan: silencer


The plan is straightforward. It is just a wooden box with insulation. The zig-zag channel has a hole at each end. Each hole has 4 possible locations: either face, side, or end. Cut a circle for ducting or fan, a slot for a helix vent. The fan mount adapts to all 4 locations, inside or out.

The box is lined with porous non-toxic insulation. Pillow filling, quilt batting, cellulose, clean wool, shredded fabric, wood fiber could all work. Note, the shredded fabric and wood fiber I’ve tried had faint smells that I disliked. I feel hesitant to use acoustic foam because I don’t know what chemicals are in it. Fiberglass and rockwool are unpleasant to work with and fiberglass often smells of chemicals. Closed cell foam like styrofoam, polyisocyanurate boards, camping pads, etc, is not porous so will not work.

Discarded furniture is made of melamine, an excellent material for silencer boxes. It is particle board with plastic veneer, usually 15 or 19mm thick. Marine plywood uses non-toxic glue. Otherwise, avoid plywood or line with aluminum foil.

Use a table saw to cut the 8 pieces so they come out square. Or have a carpenter do it for you, including the holes. Just take the drawing with you, modified for your needs. The carpenter probably has some extra melamine laying around to sell you cheap. To screw pieces together, first drill pilot holes so edges don’t break. I always drill pilot holes in wood less than 30mm wide for this reason.

To insulate, make round tubes of plastic screen. Cover with porous fabric if insulation is fine, like cellulose. Stuff insulation around it and close the box. Roughen the plastic surface first with sandpaper so the glue sticks.


In Europe, I have detected a strange hum in many places. It is a low-frequency sound and vibration that comes through the air and ground. My best explanation is that all the machines we use combined generate this hum. This includes cars, trains, airplanes, factories, ventilation (ironically), farm machinery, underground pumps and anything else you can think of. Most people can’t hear it. It drives me more nuts than usual.

In fact, tomorrow I’ll visit a music recording studio. Their technique of building a room within a room may work to stop this noise. The walls and ceilings of each structure don’t touch. The inner room’s’ floor “floats” on vibration-dampening springs or rubber blocks. Let’s hope the acoustic and recording engineers have solved this problem.



Use an axial case fan, also known as a squirrel cage fan. Specifications:

  • DC (direct current)
  • 12V (volts)
  • 120–360mm diameter
  • 600–1200RPM (revolutions per minute)
  • maximum 20dB (decibels)
  • 65-200cmh (cubic meters per hour) or 40-120cfm (cubic feet per minute)

120mm is the most common size, salvageable from a desktop computer tower, $1 at thrift stores or flea markets, or $2–20 at a computer or electronics store. Once you have experimented a bit, Noctua makes the best and quietest fans available, of 120, 140, and 200mm diameter, and as low as 7dB. Rexflo offers a 360mm jumbo fan. Avoid AC (alternating current) fans due to their penetrating hum (more on noise below).

Power it from the grid with an AC/DC universal adapter with pole switching and variable voltage for speed control ($5 at variety stores). Off grid, use car or household batteries or a solar power system. To control speed, use a 12V DC/DC car adapter from eBay. Attach one fan wire at each end of the pack. No fan movement? Switch the +/– poles on the adapter or switch the positive and negative wires.

I just discovered cheap centrifugal “blower” fans in the same size. $10-20 on eBay. I can’t wait to try one.

fan mount

plan: fan mount


This mounting design totally dampens vibration from the fan, which is already smooth and quiet. The silencer then absorbs the fan’s airborne noise. It is inspired by studio microphones and tensegrity structures. The resulting module fits over any hole in the silencer.

The design is fairly self-explanatory:

  • description
    • a fan suspended in a web of 4 concentric rings of rubber, extended with 4 sticks in the web’s middle, stretched between 4 screw posts, anchored in a wood base
    • modular, fitting on or in silencer in any configuration
  • materials
    • base: 20 x 240 x 240 (center hole, 120 diameter). Cut precisely with jigsaw or have a carpenter do it for you.
    • case fan: 120mm (standard computer fan)
    • screws: 4@5 x 50 machine + 8 nuts, 16 washers
    • wood sticks: 4@ 4 x 18 x 154
    • rubber: 0.8-20mm thick, 15-40mm wide (depending on thickness; 1.5mm x 20 is best), 2560 long. Use inner tube of car, motorcycle, or bicycle wheel. Join two strips if necessary: overlap ends 30mm and staple together. It is tricky to work out distances between ties so that rubber has enough tension to suspend fan without too much movement. Start with these lengths: 800, 640, 640, 480
    • tie: wire, twist ties, zip ties, staples, or string
    • gap: 0.5–1 between base and fan
  • assembly
    • overlap ends of each rubber strip by 30mm. Staple them once at first, 4 times after getting the lengths right. They should be stretched taut enough to suspend the fan.
    • ties: connect each ring to the next
    • trim rubber to 17mm width at screws
    • align fan directly over the hole in base. Gravity may pull it to one side or another. Tug on webbing to reposition it.
    • adjust base-fan gap with nuts and washers and tugging webbing.
    • screw base onto silencer over a hole in any position
    • keep wires clear of outer 3 rings to prevent them from transmitting vibration.


In my first major darkroom in Guatemala, I had no electricity. I survived on foraged fruit and meals with my friends, Josh and Nadia, spending my last quetzal (worth $0.12) on darkroom building materials. At first, to create a draft, I actually made lamps that burned cooking oil inside a lightproof chimney. It was a messy, unreliable, and labor-intensive process. No one should ever repeat it. But it worked long enough for my brain to make the leap to the 20th century and remember the existence of batteries.

AA batteries made a quick and dirty solution. One night requires 4-8 batteries, alkaline or rechargeable. Connect them in series: positive end of one to negative end of the next. Voltage adds up like this. Each battery is 1.5V, so 4 batteries=6V. Some fans need 7V or 9V to start, thus 5 or 6 batteries. Increase fan speed by adding batteries to the pack, up to 8. Increase pack life by using bigger batteries or another series in parallel (fan wires contacting ends of both series).

I was isolated and just learning. This simple discovery encouraged me after weeks of the absurdity of oil lamp-driven convective ventilation. However, changing batteries every day also quickly got to be a pain. So I bit the bullet and got a proper solar power system for less than $100:

  • solar panel: 12V. Size depends on location: 10W in Guatemala, 40W in rainy Oregon winter. ($10–$100 on eBay)
  • charge controller: 12V, 4 or 6-pole ($35 on eBay)
  • battery: 12V 7A, lead acid ($30 at a motorcycle shop)
  • wire, 20 AWG, enough to connect everything ($0–10 from your shed, a dumpster, yard sale, or hardware store).

Once built, maintain by wiping dust off panel once a week. What a luxury! Of course, if you have reliable wind or hydro power, that’s great.


For heat, I often use a portable oil-filled heater. It is silent and can be positioned by a window or vent to warm incoming cold fresh air. Before buying, check that its indicator lights are easy to cover (not glowing from the interior through multiple cracks) and that it doesn’t rattle or hum. Old or cheap ones often make noise.

If you live in a cold place, I highly recommend buying and installing a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) for both health and economy. It conducts heat from return air to supply air while keeping airstreams separate using an exchanging core and fans.

Fine wire heat exchange (fiwihex) technology is my favorite. It is 15x more efficient than conventional plate exchangers. Fiwihex cores have been available for $150 from Viking House and
Vision4Energy and possibly Fresh-R. These companies’ Breathing Windows embody an intriguing design for a complete ventilation system.

However, I lived with one for six months and found it too loud due to its small, high-RPM fans with no silencing. If fans were separated and silenced, fiwihex would be great. DC centrifugal blower fans are $10-20 on eBay. Building your own HRV is doable. You need a centrifugal fan to create pressure to overcome the resistance in a core. Axial fans don’t.

It also needs a filter despite the manufacturers’ strange denials. Just a leg of a stocking inside a tube for each intake is enough. It’s much easier to remove, clean, and replace than using core itself as a filter.

I have conceived a design for a convection-powered fiwihex ventilator. Worth trying someday.

The most interesting plate exchangers use the Mitsubishi Lossnay core, found in Energy Recovery Ventilators such as Renewaire’s. Made of high-tech paper, the Lossnay recovers heated water vapor as well as heat from air. Lossnay’s principle has DIY-potential, using 25m2 of non-siliconized parchment paper (“sandwich paper” in supermarkets). I have conceived a design for it. Please write me for details.


In some cases, an air purifier becomes necessary. If your house is near a factory, busy roads, in a smoggy city, or near a smelly restaurant or neighbor, get one. Purification methods include:

  • activated carbon
  • HEPA
  • Photo Catalytic Oxydation (PCO) is a new, interesting technology that destroys pollutants at the molecular level. Several companies make filters with it. Prices vary widely.
  • UV-C light bulbs with 253.7nm wavelength destroys VOCS and germs and cost less than $10. These would use the regular case fan and just need a helix vent to stop light.
  • ionization produces toxic levels of ozone

Recently, I upgraded the ventilation system of a darkroom where people nearby burn coal for heat. Coal smoke smells terrible. I installed a carbon filter into the silencer. The $50, 18 x 18 cm filter eliminates the smell. Catching the particles would require HEPA filtration, but it seemed less important at the time. The filter also stops all light and some sound. It requires a more powerful fan than a standard case fan to overcome the resistance it presents. The cheap DC centrifugal blower fan I mentioned above would work. Soon I will test it with the silencer, which will likely cancel its extra noise. If so, I’ll adapt the fan mount for it, too.

If air quality at your home is bad enough, consider moving. Lots of places in small towns and the countryside have clean air and are less polluted in general. It can be a cheap and simple solution to multiple problems.


That’s it for lightproof ventilation, silence, power, heating, and purification. On to darkening doors and windows.



  • Where can I go to retreat?

If you can, I recommend making darkness happen first in your own home for sleeping, then for a 4-day retreat, maybe 8. Once you’ve learned the ropes, make another darkroom in the countryside or go to a public darkroom for a medium retreat (3-8 weeks). There are 50 of them worldwide and counting. Most are spiritual and therapeutic centers. I think most will support hygienic retreats if you ask and know what you are doing.

  • Do you eat in a retreat?

Yes. Food and water are always available. I recommend fresh fruit and tender leafy green vegetables, in accordance with the frugivorous nature of human anatomy and physiology.

  • How many people retreat at once?

One. The point of this retreat is to rest, heal, and recover oneself. There is nothing more stimulating and distracting than other people.

  • How do you do things in darkness?

Very slowly. And after becoming familiar with the room and making memorable places for your belongings before turning out the lights.

  • Could you just retreat with a sleeping mask?

No. The skin has enough light receptors to awaken you from sleep. Masks do not stay in place, so they leak light. They are not comfortable for extended use. And you still need a properly ventilated room, minimally furnished to eliminate dangers, distractions, and associations.

Sleeping masks are good for travel, naps, and sleeping until your bedroom can be darkened. Also, for walking through a semi-lit space between a darkroom and a bathroom in dwellings where this is necessary.

  • Is it like meditation?

In essence, no. On the surface, the two processes have some similarities. Each involves less physical activity. Attention gravitates from the world to oneself. But what goes on inside oneself radically differs.

Meditation is active, ie, the will drives the process. Willed activity is the primary process that goes on. The purpose of meditation is to make the unconscious conscious, or to compel the conscious to submit to the unconscious. It is a quiet internal war.

Darkroom retreating is passive, ie, the unconscious drives the process. Unconscious activity is the primary process that goes on. Willed activity is secondary, The will is servant. The purpose of retreating is to rest so the being can restore itself to wholeness naturally. It is peaceful.

These subtly different drivers and purposes have massive effects on one’s experience and results. As extraordinary as the process and results of meditation and spiritual practice can be, they still pale before the power of the autonomic self.


  • Is total extended darkness safe?

Yes, if you do it correctly. This is uncomplicated. Dangers are easily avoided if you know what they are. I have identified four ways to retreat incorrectly. See my warning.

  • Wouldn’t you go crazy staying in darkness that long?

Just the opposite. We are already crazy. We heal from it in darkness. Our craziness does become more apparent in darkness as the organism heals from it. This can be uncomfortable, painful, and frightening, like the traumatic causes of craziness. But simply having feelings is not dangerous. The room is safe and comfortable. Supporters are at hand.

You would only go crazy in darkness from being forced or trapped there, as in prison or a caving accident. A retreat is a choice based on reason. You and your supporter each have a key to the door.

  • Do you get bored?

Yes. It is a very good sign. Sometimes your autonomic self works on something so damaged, painful, and draining that the psyche has had to completely shut off feeling to it. It becomes an internal black hole. Boredom means you are approaching it and that recovery of a lost part of yourself is imminent.

  • Four days is a long time to do nothing.

If you mean sitting around “doing nothing” under regular circumstances, yes. But that is an activity. It doesn’t count. Darkness is different. We enter a different state of mind. You are incredibly interesting. You will rediscover this when you finally have enough time in the right place to be with yourself while doing nothing. Everyone is a little worried about this at first. But after days of delicious sleep and time to themselves, most wish they could stay longer.

We’ve been told being idle is bad. But neither is being productive all the time a virtue. Generally, people overwork and overconsume. Enough, already. Moreover, we’ve all spent more than four days doing destructive things. Doing nothing would have been a big improvement, to say nothing of the secret benefits.

Civilization has taught us that will is the only useful driver of activity in the being. But without autonomic activity, we would be poisoned to death by our own internal waste in seconds. Still, we are told if we are not busy, then we are bad. Only doing things by wilful effort is respectable. Nevermind that when it comes to restoring psychic integrity (every animal’s greatest value), the will is nearly helpless and the autonomic self is infinitely intelligent, capable, and graceful.

If you mean it sounds pointless or dreadful, in fact a retreat usually begins with a sense of relief. Discomfort may come. But then you make contact with your autonomic self again, and this is extremely meaningful and enjoyable.


  • I could never do a darkroom retreat.

At the moment, your doing a retreat is out of the question. You cannot do it if you don’t want to, you cannot want to if you don’t believe in it; and you cannot believe in it if you don’t know enough about it. So, for the time being, forget about doing it. The only thing that matters is, does it interest you enough to learn more about it? If so, then I can recommend a good book on the subject.

  • Isn’t total darkness unnatural? Shouldn’t we be exposed to stars and moon at night?

No. First, our natural habitat is tropical forest. Its dense canopy makes the forest floor perfectly dark at night. Even when sleeping in the open, the amount of light from stars and moon is surprisingly little compared to artificial light. Which now bombards us nearly everywhere.

Second, covering our eyes, seeking solitude, and taking cover when traumatized is a reflex. We have to be conditioned out of it by force. Taking extended shelter as in a darkroom retreat merely supports this reflex when the trauma is great enough to require it.

Shelter is an instinct that intensifies with trauma. Large uncovered windows came to popular architecture very recently. Traditional shelter, civilized and indigenous, is dark or easily darkenable.

Our obsession with building—the principle activity of civilization for 13,000 years—indicates a people in search of extreme sanctuary to self-heal from cataclysmic trauma. When we get especially frustrated, we even have wars to destroy buildings so we can build new ones. Nothing could be more natural to us in our damaged state than extended total darkness.

  • Extended darkness could be good for some people, but there are many ways people can heal their suffering. Nothing works for everyone.

I wish it were that easy. Then none of this would be necessary. The sad fact is there are many ways to gain temporary relief. Some help us heal from the worst part of our suffering. That is good. It enables us to catch our breath and survive. But it does not get us near full recovery. It is merely acceptable by our lifeway’s low standards.

For full recovery, as with all living functions, nature provides single conditions or specific combinations thereof. We’re not talking about which color to paint a house. There is no menu, no smorgasbord of options in physiology to suit one’s tastes. To breathe, one must have air. To heal from major trauma, one must have darkness and associated conditions of profound rest. These solutions work for everyone, even other animals. But there is no substitute. Physiology is what it is. Post-modernist dogma doesn’t alter it one whit.

We can look at it in the negative as well. If this tired statement were true,

  • the “many other ways to heal” would make sense and work
  • everyone who tried them would now be ok
  • the deep healing necessary in cases of cataclysmic trauma could occur without profound rest
  • profound rest can occur in semi-darkness and other compromised conditions
  • or psychic trauma is not the primary cause of metaphysical suffering
  • or the human organism has no specific needs for recovering from such pain. It is all random. This, despite its specific and universal need of rest for recovery in all other cases. As well as its specific need of light for seeing, food for eating, etc. And despite suffering’s being an indication that something is wrong.

Evidence shows all these are false. Again, relativism makes fashionable philosophy but poor physiology. Repeating it changes nothing.

  • If hygienic darkroom retreating is so great, how come you are still sick?

Is it great?

Anyway, I’m glad you asked. It tells me I have gotten enough of my idea across for you to begin struggling with it. When enough people are struggling with it, a great door will open, and we will sail through.

bibliography and influences

  • anthropology, history
  • psychology
    • Magical Child Matures, Joseph Chilton Pearce
    • Birth Without Violence Frederick Leboyer
    • The Primal Scream, Arthur Janov
    • Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich.
    • Fury on Earth, Myron Sharaf, biography of Wilhelm Reich
    • Pleasure, Alexander Lowen, a faithful student of Reich
    • Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, Alice Miller
  • philosophical and spiritual traditions
    • my parents, John and LouAnn, and brother, Paul
    • Atlas Shrugged, etc, Ayn Rand, preceptor
    • Tantric Hinduism with guru, Purna Steinitz
    • In Search of the Miraculous, Ouspensky (Gurdjieff’s basic teachings)
    • radical orthodox Christianity with DeWaynn Rogers (late legal counsel, enigma, and possibly Teacher of the Age)
    • animism from nature, books (above), elders (scoutmaster Jack Asher; godfather and mentor, John Boyer), extended family, and friends
  • health
    • my parents
    • initiated into Natural Hygiene by Frederic Patenaude
    • Do You Really Need Eyeglasses?, Marilyn B. Rosanes-Berrett
    • Fit for Life, Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
    • Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene, Herbert Shelton
    • The 80/10/10 Diet, Dr Douglas Graham
    • Introduction to Human Technology and Human Technology, William Arthur Evans (thanks to friend, Sterling Voss, for finding this rare work)
  • design and art
    • my parents and brother
    • grandelder and grandmaster craftsman and engineer, Jack Nuckols
    • childhood teacher, Steve Parks (Horizons School, Twin Falls)
    • accompanist and mentor, Willetta Warberg
    • The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
    • The Natural House, Frank Lloyd Wright
    • Selected Poems, Robert Bly
    • BuckyWorks, Jay Baldwin (about Buckminster Fuller)
  • experiences
    • 1 week of humane society at Sawtooth Methodist Church Camp, Idaho, Joanie Williamson, director, 1985
    • 3 months enraptured, Idaho, 1987
    • 23 days fasting in California desert, 1991
    • 1 week at Rainbow National Gathering, Idaho, 2001
    • 60-hour darkroom retreat supported by elder, Finn Po, Oregon, 2006
    • 10 days in audience of Advaita grandmaster, Arnaud Desjardins, Montana, 2007
    • 8 seconds in dreamtime with elder, Adrian Wolfe, Oregon, 2008
    • 18 months with the Maya at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, 2011
    • 2 months of life-altering sex, Sweden, 2012


Thanks to hundreds of people in a dozen countries on 2 continents for over 3 decades, who morally and materially aided me during my prodigal search, especially my:


…for heroic efforts to make this book real. In triage, you were as merciful as you could be:

  • Are Solheim, writer and fellow refugee in darkness, for seeing and believing in me and the book, for visionary editing, hosting me during the rewrite, and your compassion for humanity, even me
  • Magnus Vanebo, philosopher, for enthusiastically diving into the text and sensitively editing it


  • Bertrand Besigye, outlandish poet and fellow journeyman in darkness, for early support of the book


Immediate, extended, and adopted: I leaned on all of you that would let me. It can’t be easy rearing a stubborn 20, 30, then 40 year-old psychotic infant in a world that denies everything real. Thanks, especially, to:

  • Brother Paul, for shelter and guidance you should never have had to give
  • Grandmother Anna Lou Craig Callen Posey, always there
  • Brother Francois, for constant experience of love
  • Cousin Christopher, for your generosity and grit
  • Uncle Jim—dropout, drug dealer, beach bum, loser, cool-ass motherfucker—for laughingly giving the system the finger till the day you died. RIP, man.

Trimurti: my second family, torn away as soon as I noticed, for helping further raise me


…for friendship, support, and/or raising the bar so high that anti-gravity boots became necessary. And especially:


  • Jack Nuckols: a giant and first among my elders, you took care of me till I found my way. RIP.
  • Willetta Warberg: you poured your heart and soul into me through your piano, kindness, and huge personality
  • John Boyer: you fed me with so much of your time
  • Purna Steinitz: you destroyed my sentimentality and kept your terrible promise. Shiva Shambo.
  • DeWaynn Rogers: you helped me up and kept me from the system’s clutches. RIP.
  • Finn Po: elder, master job trainer, and pioneer of the way of the future, you could not have done more

Each of you gave me the world.

old friends

  • John Roberts: lifelong best friend, tremendous supporter, and host
  • Daniel Meulbroek: guardian, supporter, and host extraordinaire
  • Brian Riggs Sullivan: full-throttle collaborator, who gave first help in developing these ideas and, as always, trying them out
  • Evelyn Thomas and Alton Sterling Voss: supporters, fellow investigators and survivors
  • Ian Robertson: for the life-ring of rationality when it mattered most

since darkness

  • America
    • Rob Miller, Malia Shultheis, and Jen Carroll: supporters and early retreat hosts
    • Jesse King, John Monroe, and Elisabeth Goward, Dome Villagers at Maitreya Ecovillage, Eugene: serious camaraderie and support
    • Blanche Colson: for getting Finn and me started in commercial window coverings for darkrooms. Of course, it was cardboard.
    • Hannah Christina Torres for the second prototype window covering idea
    • Daniel Tucker and Les Stitt, then Ben Ramsey and Stephanie: for KCMO shelter
  • Guatemala
    • The Maya: for your friendship and unshakable presence
    • Chrissy Weisgard: friend, host, supporter, and, like Sandro, a fellow dyed-in-the-wool darkness spelunker
    • Niels Gronau: for the miraculous Guatemalan facility
    • Elena Rago: friend and provider of an experimental facility
    • Karsten: friend, supporter, client, and for lending me tools and a workshop where such things are rare
    • Tom Savage: friend and supporter
    • Sandro Garcia, Nancy Gayle Martin, and Violet: heroic friends, hosts, supporters, retreatants
    • Joshua Brang: friend, supporter, travel agent
    • All my clients in Guatemala: for exploring darkness with me
  • Europe
    • Kostas: fast friend, host, and shepherd from Greece to Northern Europe
    • David Friman and Erika Hedstrom, for darkroom design test space
    • Oscar, Limme, and Max at Kulturforeningen Gryning of Helsingborg: friends and supporters. Cheers!
    • Anna Ericksson: supporter and darkness experimenter
    • Sanna Aatig: friend, supporter, host, and nurse in my darkest days
    • Frank Cicela: angel supporter since 2002!
    • Brad Crutchfield: friend, always-interested supporter, and deep well-wisher
    • Åsa Ringstrom and Johan Lörne: friends and supporters
    • Johan Järlind: work partner, investor, retreat host, supporter, confidant, and friend in a critical year. You gave me so much, I’m speechless except… thank you.
    • Richard Nöjd for hardwon darkroom design ideas
    • A woman, unnamed, who initiated me in an essential part of my lost self, leading to the conclusive test of this idea
    • Marcus Ivarsson and Emma Sofie Berg: connectors
    • Stisse and Carina Gilgren: Swedish godparents
    • The people and place of Skattungbyn, Sweden
    • Dr Anette Kjellgren: for unqualified, professional encouragement
    • Oscar Nelson for the donation that sustained me and the book for a winter
    • Bård Anders Lien, friend, host, sponsor, apprentice and guide in Oslo
    • Terje Tjensvoll, supporter, host, collaborator, and guardian
    • Elisabette Molin: friend, host, and champion retreat supporter
    • Simen Kirkerød, Astrit Gashi: friends, hosts, collaborators
    • Ketil Berg, friend, host, sponsor, treasurer extraordinaire. Without you, 2015 would have been very hard to survive.
    • Marie Richert and Virginie Bournaud, friends, hosts, sponsors, and guides in Paris
    • 40 contributors to my successful 2016 crowdfund to support my 20-day retreat, sadly aborted at 5 days. I’ll try again.
    • Aimee Fenech and TomTom, friends, hosts, helpers, and mentors
    • Mary Salama for proof-editing this book
    • Marion Abbott, for endless transworld conversations and constant in-the-trenches support starting 2016


I called some people here guides, but anyone who hosted me also guided me. I’ve needed a lot of help for a long time. Everyone on this list put a lot of time and energy into me and my work.

I also made enemies and hurt some people along the way. I’m sorry it didn’t go the way we thought at first. Here’s hoping it was not in vain.

Acknowledgments in books usually bore me. This one I cannot reread without weeping. Onward, then, till the task is complete.


I do nearly everything related to hygienic darkroom retreating: study, experiment, write, speak, consult, design, build. At the moment, I am not operating a darkroom or supporting retreats. For that, find darkroom retreat centers on this cool global map.


  • Get my ebook from leanpub
  • Quote and excerpt anything in my book and website. Credit me and tell me where it will show up and I will also acknowledge and link to you on my website.
  • Invite me to write for your publication on any subject related to hygienic darkroom retreating and hygienic psychology.
  • Publish me, make money. See license

(Free or as you please)


Invite me to edify your audience.

(My minimalist expenses + something that fits your budget.)


Get my advice on darkroom retreating, building darkrooms, and issues arising thereof.

(€25/hr. First couple emails are free if you have read my book.)

I will respond in detail, by email or skype, to all your questions and concerns about:

  • how, where, and why to set up a darkroom
  • how to organize a retreat with a supporter
  • how to deal with specific issues you have personal and about retreating itself

My responses will be based on my experience. Over the past ten years, I have:

  • done 25 retreats from 2-6 days long
  • facilitated 25 retreats for others
  • designed and built or upgraded 21 working darkrooms, operating three of them, consulting remotely on three more, all in three climates on four continents
  • written 150,000 words about darkroom retreating for web, email, and print
  • given 14 public talks


Have me design and build your darkroom in an existing building or from scratch.

(€25/hr + materials, travel, and shelter)


Welcome to the political-economy of cool, where you get rewarded for cooperating, not threatened with punishment if you don’t.

  1. Copyleft 2009-2015 by Andrew Durham. Copying is an act of . Write me for a print-worthy pdf. Please copy, distribute, and sell (yes, sell) this book in its entirety or its industrial applications, ie, darkroom components, in any media or business venture for your own personal gain.
  2. I would like credit where due, so I will recognize and link to you on this site if you:
    1. credit me for a quotation or excerpt and tell me where it appears
    2. share suggestions for text or designs by making pull requests or opening issues in my github repo, or sending email
    3. include this license in your partial reprints of my work and with instructions accompanying components
    4. include a printed or electronic copy of this book with components (a link is sufficient)
  3. Furthermore, I will also give you my endorsement, a visible mark to use in your marketing copy if you:
    • share with me part of your earnings from:
      • reprints of my writings (8% of retail price for print and 70-90% for e-books)
      • reproductions of darkroom components (1% of retail price)
    • and/or somehow astound me

    See home page > help out for how to send me money.

    Basically, this means you can instantly become my publisher or manufacturer! These deals roughly equal what you and I would make if I were published or self-published and you were simply selling the books, yet without your having to order from me in bulk, pay shipping, keep legally complicated records, or sign a contract.

The idea is to make the book and components available with minimal friction in every way, at every level of distribution, so that we all can retreat asap and make reasonable livings as we go. If anything about this license seem to conflict with these goals, please let me know.

We now possess the means of recovering the whole self, the source of all wealth. Applying it even slightly will make money irrelevant. Let’s be cool and have a good time with this.


Join the dolphin economy: I help you help me help you…

Here is how:

  • apply
    • darken your room
    • retreat according to this method at home or at a center
  • interact
    • send me a question or comment
    • buy this book after reading it if not before and you find it useful
    • report your experience online with photos and send me the link
  • engage
    • tell me about spelling and grammatical errors you find in the book
    • improve the website
    • improve the method and designs; see below
    • publish the book; see license
    • invite me to speak at an event
  • further
    • help me organize a retreat so I can heal from my own psychosis
    • do something not listed above, perhaps what only you know about or that we could develop together

More regarding improvements:

If you find a theoretical or practical error in the approach, or a way to improve it, please let me know. I am happy to alter the book if your proposal:

  • presents a rational argument
  • remains consonant with hygienic principles
  • includes clear reports of your own reproducible experiments with the current method

Likewise, I would like to work with you in any way to develop hygienic darkroom retreating and advance its cause as long as you:

  • have read my book
  • demonstrate understanding of its basic ideas
  • have done a retreat according to my protocol and are convinced of the value of my approach



Born 1971, Twin Falls, Idaho. From age 16, I searched for the cause of joy. I independently studied philosophy, health, and design. I tested my findings while traveling America, living outside or in small groups, doing odd jobs, playing music, and building alternative shelter.

In 2008, my quest culminated in the darkness conjecture, a concept of the restful use of darkness in support of the self​-healing psyche. Since then, I have been:

  • proving the concept
  • designing and building darkrooms and supporting retreats in Guatemala, Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Czech Republic
  • giving lectures and consulting for readers
  • refining and documenting my work at darkroomretreat.com.

Now I seek a way to fully apply it in a 20-day retreat in order to heal from my own psychophysical illness.


website: darkroomretreat.com
email: info@andrewdurham.com
voicemail: +1 541 210 8470 (in the US)
Also see services


1TC Fry, Life Science Health System, This is actually Fry’s ‘elegant paraphrase of original quote by Herbert Shelton in Natural Hygiene: Man’s Pristine Way of Life

2Herbert Shelton, Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene, back cover