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Wednesday
Apr032013

Rooms 261-275: Say Hello To Darkness

Rooms 261-275: Say Hello To Darkness
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Simon and Garfunkel

Seeing as how I’ve never shied away from revealing myself as a disgrace to my gender, let me go on the record with a new confession: 

I’m afraid of the dark, especially when it comes with dead silence. 

I’m sure a good therapist would say I’m actually afraid of being alone, which is probably true, and even more distressing considering the fact that I’m always alone.

As a writer, it’s an occupational hazard. I live a solitary life. Just me, my thoughts, and a keyboard. 

But then, who am I really kidding? I always have the blinds open and Johnny Cash singing in the background. Not to mention a wife, two kids and 34 tabs open on my web browser. I have plenty of distractions to keep me company. 

But in the middle of the night? Pitch black? Dead silence? That’s a whole other beast. It’s like you’re watching a horror flick, with that uneasy feeling that something is just around the corner. Call it uncertainty, fear, doubt, or maybe it’s just everything we don’t want to face during the day, which suddenly pops out at us like a guy waving an axe. 

It’s no wonder the sleep medicine industry is a billion dollar a year business. 

Now I realize this confession might get me kicked out of my monthly poker game, or even lose me my spot on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine, but it’s true. 

You know what else is true? 

I’m not alone. Yeah, even you, the tough guy on the Harley or the CEO of the Fortune 500 company. Admit it, sometimes you’re afraid, too.  

And before you deny it, ask yourself this: how often are you actually alone? Not alone in the office, the car, the bathroom, or the shower. But alone in the dark, with no distractions and complete silence.  

Go ahead, spend a few hours in a sound proof closet, then tell me how it feels.  

Of course, to be fair, it’s probably safe to say that it’s not darkness we’re afraid of, or even being alone. It’s what the darkness and solitude makes us face.

Ourselves.

That’s the real fear. And not the “self” we show to the world, but the “self” who came into this earth alone and will leave alone. 

And as intimidating as that may sound, we all know that if we really want to walk into new rooms, we can’t afford to be afraid any more. We need to embrace the illusion of the dark so that we can light up the path that will reveal our true nature.   

I bet you didn’t know if you keep a goldfish in the dark it will eventually turn white. Humans are much the same way. If we can learn to embrace the dark, and the solitude that goes with it, we will inevitably come to illuminate our own lives as well. 

Rooms 261-275: Say Hello To Darkness

Look at this week’s room as a meditation of sorts. Not in a close your eyes and focus on your third eye sort of way, but as an exercise in learning how to be alone, while embracing the dark and quiet that so many of us fear.  

Here are three experiments to get you started.  

Experiment #1: Set An Early Morning Alarm Clock

Sometime this week, probably the weekend for most, set your alarm clock for 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Get out of bed, go into another room and just sit for a half an hour. Don’t lie down or close your eyes, otherwise you’ll just fall back asleep.  

Depending on where you live, you’ll immediately realize it’s not as quiet as you thought it was. There will be all sorts of sounds. Humming street lights or buzzing refrigerators, crickets or mosquitos, ceiling fans or clocks ticking, coyotes, police sirens, or neighbors coming home late.  

Don’t ignore the noises, but don’t focus on them, either. Just let them be, washing over you like a gentle wave. Listen for a moment or two, then start to breathe slowly and deeply. 

It’s likely you’ll feel anxiety at first, maybe impatience, and even boredom. Stay with it. Eventually a calm will take over you, and your breath will become like a flame that lights up your path into uncharted worlds. 

It might take 10 minutes or 10 years to get there. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we start, and that we face our darkness like warriors who want more out of life. 

Experiment #2:  Take A Trip Into The Closet

This might be a little weird for many of you, but it’s a good experiment. It’s a tradition in my house. A tradition I started yesterday. 

Spend at least 30 minutes in your closet. Or an hour. Or as my wife suggests, the whole day. But, whatever you decide, do it in the middle of the day. Bonus points if you do it right before an important meeting, or when you’re rushing to get out of the house.   

Just open the closet, dump out the dirty clothes basket, shut the door and sit. Oh, and put on a headset if you have one. We want to block out as much light and sound as we can. And no falling asleep, or organizing of shoes. 

Just sit. Embrace the darkness. 

The challenge to this exercise is making the time to do it. Practically speaking, this shouldn’t be hard, and nothing more than taking a shorter lunch, or a few less likes on Facebook. 

In actuality, most of us don’t think we have the time, that or we’re afraid we’re going to miss out on something—emails, phone calls, or the guy from the lottery with a fat check. 

Trust me, you’ll come out and discover the world didn’t even know you were gone. And the payoff will be worth it.   

Being alone in our closet forces us to not only face darkness and silence, but all the chatter that creeps into our minds when we’re alone—the to-do lists and wish-lists, the annoyances and irritations, the anxieties, fears, and doubts.   

Once again, don’t ignore the thoughts or focus on them, either. Just listen to them for a moment or two, then start to breathe deeply.  

Let your breath burn away all the mental chatter that has taken up so much of your time, space, and energy. Keep doing this until all that remains is you. 

And here you thought your closet was just for storing clothes. 

Experiment #3: Try A Flotation Tank

For those that want to take the experiment one step further, you can always step inside an isolation tank, also called a sensory deprivation tank, or flotation tank. If you’ve never tried it, it’s a 4 x 8 x 7 chamber containing about 1000 lbs. of dissolved Epsom salt, which allows you to float effortlessly without gravitational requirements, in a completely light and sound-free environment. 

It’s supposed to reduce stress, improve sleep patterns, normalize blood pressure, all while unlocking the creative centers in your brain. 

Of course, the brochure said nothing about making you feel as if you were being stuffed into a refrigerator, which was exactly how I felt as I stepped into my tank this morning at the Float Labs in Venice, California.

I might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. It was sixty-five minutes of one-hundred percent—face your fear darkness, with a little claustrophobia detox thrown in for good measure. 

It’s hard to imagine feeling more physically alone than you do in that chamber. I won’t say it was easy, or that is was my finest hour. Hopefully, nobody heard the soft whining. 

But, I got through it. Yes, I spent the first sixty two minutes wondering what I was going to have for lunch. But, ah, those last two and a half minutes were like pure Buddha bliss. 

At 50 bucks it’s not cheap, but it’s a great experience. 

Of course, anything that makes us slow down, turn off the lights and face the quiet will work. Whether that’s a flotation tank, our closet, or some middle of the night alone time, this is our chance to seek out the dark so that we can begin the challenging work of shinning a light on who we really are.  

It won’t always be easy. We’ll have to move past our vulnerable selves, the part of us who enjoys the safety of believing that the world is only what we see.  

But, that’s okay. Honor that self with kindness and acceptance, but then, like the warrior you are, go deeper and deeper, until you eventually come face-to-face with your real self—the powerful and infinite you. 

The you that is not afraid of anything, especially the dark.

  

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