Year To Live Project: The Darkness Finale – Death & Reemergence
Dark Space Video HERE, Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, Part 3 HERE, Part 4 HERE. Part 5 HERE
Welcome to the final chapter of my dark experience. We’re jumping back in on Day 13, not even halfway through the 28 full days, but it’s time to wrap things up. The five days leading up to Day 13 were hellacious, but also life changing. I saw the connection between my family upbringing, my first relationship, and the unskilled ways I went on to avoid and dissociate from my own pain—and how it all lead to my life falling apart last year. These experiences were relived day and night as The Pain Guru forced images and mental video clips into my mind around the clock.
At this point, I had stopped working out, I had essentially stopped sleeping, and my bones ached from exhaustion. I was sick of watching the same stories, sick of seeing the same arguments, sick of having to make up for all the times I tuned out with drugs, alcohol, and sex by having to tune in with no way to turn off the stream of consciousness.
The worst part of it all was presented by my mathematical survival method. I’d been keeping myself sane by playing games with long division. For example: By day 13, I’d consumed 36 meals of the 84 total I would be served, that’s 48 meals left. 48 divided by 6 is 8. Each day is 3 meals, 3 meals times 2 is 6. I can breathe knowing I only have to do 8 more times. Tomorrow, I’ll have done 7 days twice and only have to do that 2 more times. Yesterday, I couldn’t say that. This is progress. I’m 2 days away from completing 9 days twice and at that point I’ll only have to do 9 days one more time and plus 1 more day. These mathematical games were how I staved off the anxiety that lived on my shoulder, whispering disempowering thoughts into my ear.
But this math was actually the worst part because as awful as I felt, as exhausted as I was, as annihilating as the experience had been thus far – I was not even at the halfway point and my equations served as a constant reminder that I would have to go through it all again. That thought was crushing. I kept telling myself, “You’re tougher than you think you are. Hang in there. I got you.” While that positive affirmation picked me up for a few minutes, the slide back down the hill to, “Fuck, man, we’re not even halfway there yet,” was heartbreaking.
Fortunately, I was about to get a massive pick-me-up, if only for 24 hours.
Water Jugs & Human Touch
On Day 13, I made my first contact with the outside world, scribbling, “Pretty sure I’m almost out of water,” onto a piece of paper and sliding it into the food slot. When breakfast was delivered the next morning, the note disappeared. At lunch, Arpita rang her magic bell and told me she and her husband would be in to change the water jug that evening after dark. I was equal parts excited, equal parts nervous about someone coming into my dwelling.
“Intimacy” is a large word. In 13 days, I’d been more intimate with myself, my past, and my being than at any time in my entire life. Having someone enter that space, my space, my home knowing I was that exposed was unsettling. But, water trumps feelings, and I was running out of it.
After slurping down my dinner soup that night, I lay on the floor and waited for Arpita’s arrival. I did my best to tidy up my space, putting the toilet seat down, brushing my teeth, and organizing the pens that lived next to my notebook. When the knock on the door came, I put on a pair of blackout goggles to make sure the sanctity of the darkness remained intact, unlocked the door, and sat on the floor off to the side.
With the opening of the door, a cacophony of sounds and smells from the outside world rushed in, causing a surge of sensations and analysis as my brain tried to catch up with the sudden and overwhelming input. I sat quietly while Arjuna changed out the five-gallon water jug and then waited outside leaving me alone with Arpita. “People aren’t his strong suit,” she would tell me when speaking of him a month later.
“How are you doing?” she asked in her multi-language, love-infused accent.
“Um…it’s hard,” is all I managed to get out. How do you answer that question without writing a small novel (or at least 6 blog posts).
Arpita explained someone else would be looking out for me as she and Arjuna were leaving to Europe to visit family.
I wished them both safe travels.
“Safe travels to you, too!” Arjuana joked from outside. Maybe he wasn’t so bad with people after all.
With that, I extended my hands out and Arpita held one with her own. Our hands touched for no longer than fifteen seconds before we let go and she excused herself. The door was wedged shut and I locked my side. Although I was alone again, the warmth of her touch continuously pulsed throughout my hand. I pressed my palm against my heart, weeping uncontrollably at the joy of contact with another human being.
Arpita had also left me with a small dish of vegan ice cream, which I devoured—taking the smallest bites possible to savor the experience yet accelerating from bite to bite unable to contain myself. I licked the container and collapsed on the floor in a heap of contentment. The succulent desert combined with the sweetness of Arpita’s gesture had me on cloud nine and not only did I sleep through the night for the first time in ten days, the entire next day flew by.
Unfortunately, the high didn’t last.
This Is Death
Arpita had said her goodbyes on a Saturday night and the following Monday I woke up in a state of dismay. The day before had been the hallowed halfway mark, the milestone I had reached by crawling through an emotional minefield. My hope was that Day 15 would be the start of the shift into a lightness, an easing of the experience.
On the contrary, the fatigue of the previous week joined forces with the understanding that while I was halfway through this experience, I was only halfway through this experience. Thus, Day 15 marked the start of a rapid decline. One that is still difficult to articulate because it was so underwhelming in its presentation but in hindsight so extraordinary in its gravity.
On Day 15, I stopped caring. I gave up. But not in a negative way. I stopped caring about the drama of illusion that is so much of our reality—that was my life. I had risen above the drama and illusions, by surrendering to my insignificant role of life. I realized how unimportant my physical life was to the outside world by knowing the world was continuing to go on just fine without me.
Sure, I knew people at the Ashram were thinking about me. Yes, I knew people in my life were sending me strength, good vibes, and love. I knew this. I felt this. It sounds weird to say, but I could hear messages from people on the outside, words would come out of my own mouth that didn’t originate from within me, and entire conversations were held with “people” in that room that I believe wholeheartedly were not my own creation.
The world was still turning. I had completely removed myself from existence and could feel—not think, but feel—what it would be like on the outside if I died there in that room. Nothing would change. People would miss me. People would post messages on my Facebook page and talk about me. But my death would be nothing more than an event that came and went, a memory carried by those who knew me, but life on the whole would go on.
While this had a depressive element to it, it was a complete understanding, not a “woe is me” feeling. I knew, fully accepted, and surrendered to the fact that this was the reality of death, and I was being given a glimpse of it. Death was just a way of traveling away from society, not a disintegration of my being, just a removal of it. I was completely at peace with the idea that I might never leave that room, that I might die then and there, or even might have died already and just didn’t know it.
What was extraordinary was the juxtaposition of completely accepting these ideas—“I am insignificant” and “I am actually dead already”— and seeing clearly what I would be doing for the next ten years of my life. I saw myself standing in front of the audience at TEDx Santa Barbara. I saw the cover of the book this blog is transforming into. I met my future wife and my future son and daughter. I spoke to them, introduced myself to them, and agreed to wait until the right time for us to meet in the outside world.
The illusory drama and the insanity of life became so clear, and not being a party to it, or even in it, was peaceful—but in a crushing way. If there is no drama, if all is an illusion, then where do I stand? What do I think about? What do I do now?
Battling the stories of my past and the lessons of the Pain Guru gave me purpose. They burned me with anger and emotion, they fueled me on a daily basis, and now I was left with nothing. Nothing to rebel against, no one to scream at, no reason to punch the walls or even stand.
So I lay there on my back on that damn yoga mat for the next two weeks. Dead. Or as close to it as I think I’ll ever be until the glorious day it comes for real.
Thank You Darkness
After dinner on Day 27, I sat in peace knowing all of the math was done. I’d eaten my 84th meal, had done 7 days twice, then one more time, then 6 more days. I’d meditated for over 100 hours, showered 8 times, and bumped my face more times than even my mathematically obsessed brain could count.
I had made it.
I crawled up the ladder into bed that last time and hoped for a long night’s sleep culminating in the ringing of the bell the next morning. On par, I woke up an hour after falling asleep and spent the entire night staring into the blackness until the slight thud of outside footsteps vibrated its way into my dome letting me know it actually was time.
The bell rang and a woman’s voice said, “Traver, you made it! Take your time and come out whenever you are ready.”
I climbed down, slowly and steadily, taking each rung of the ladder one at a time. I put both hands on the wall of my home, bowed my head, and ran through my gratitude list for the last time in that space. Then, I walked to the front of the dome, stopped, and took a deep breath.
“Thank you.” I said to the darkness. “Thank you for this incredible experience. For shepherding me through this, for guiding me, changing me, and transforming me. Thank you, pain. Thank you, darkness. I promise to talk about everything that’s happened over the last month and to live by the principles I’ve sworn to in here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
I smiled to myself, turned the key in the lock, and took one last deep breath to savor the moment before ripping the door open.
An explosion of light rushed in, despite the sun still sitting well below the hilltop. It nearly knocked me over, forcing me back down on the floor to gather myself. Over the course of thirty minutes, I inched my way along the floor into the doorway, peering out tentatively at the brilliant greens and floral reds of the foliage outside of the dome. The light was blinding, the smallest movement of the leaves unsettling. I tried to watch an ant crawl across the ground and got dizzy.
The stunning figure of a woman dressed in white appeared before me. Her name was Johanna and she had been the one holding space for me and cooking my food for the last two weeks. She knelt down, took my hands in hers, and whispered the sweetest words I’d heard in over a month.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said.
“I’m so proud of me, too,” I said. I started crying, overwhelmed that it really was all over. That I’d made it. That I was back in the light.
The sweet, delicious light.
Darkness Redefined – Final Thoughts
Carl Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
While I’m far from enlightened, I now know darkness. I know it. I thought darkness was the week my wife walked out, my business partnership dissolved, and I went to my first AA meeting. That wasn’t darkness—that was change. I thought darkness was years of numbing myself with drugs, alcohol, and sex. That wasn’t darkness—that was avoidance. I thought it was the years I spent in a relationship with a pathological woman. That wasn’t darkness, either—that was codependence. I even thought it was my upbringing. That too wasn’t darkness—that was life.
I now know darkness is complete freedom. It is the ability to express yourself in every way you’re currently afraid to or feel that you can’t. It is intimacy without a trace of judgement. It is purity. It is love. It is partnership. It is your deepest, most sacred secrets splashed across the headlines of the morning newspaper—and yet you’re more than fine with it, you’re untouchable. It’s the opportunity to be the “you” that you don’t bring out in public. The you that secretly feels “they” must have done something to deserve what happened to them. The you that hates, that curses, that fantasizes wildly, and plots and schemes heartlessly.
In first week I was out, I spoke with a number of people and relayed the freedom I experienced during my month of darkness. The freedom to say anything and everything on my mind no matter how vulgar, inappropriate, sick, or twisted. The ability to lie on my back and vengefully concoct the destruction of entire cities, to wield the crosshairs of karma into people’s lives with surgical efficiency and unbridled brutality. To be free of the thought, “Thank god, no one knows what I’m thinking about right now.”
Until you know your darkness, you don’t know a fucking thing. Love and light are but half the coin of Truth. The half the vast majority of the New Age community writes about in warm fuzzy books, helping people feel better for a minute but in the end doing them a disservice—creating nothing more than page after page of spiritual Hallmark cards. Thanks, but no thanks. Go all in and be honest about darkness or at least admit your half measures.
When I shared my experience of freedom, many listeners broke down and cried at the obvious distance between the freedom I expressed and the constraints under which they lived their lives—self-imposed constraints on a mental and emotional level, societal constraints on the physical level. And while I’m certainly not advocating anarchy and lawlessness on the physical plane, I do believe in it wholeheartedly on the spiritual one.
Be willing to walk into any room in your life, no matter how dark, and sit there. Get intimate with your own darkness. Love it. Learn from it. Express it. Let it inspire you. Don’t run from it in any way. Sit in it for as long as it takes until you find the Truth that lies within it.
Cheers from both the darkness and the light.