Darkness Experiment II

December 6-10, 2023
San Diego, California

Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.

~ Gerald May

This is your invitation to participate in a radical human experiment.

You will spend five days in the complete dark (pitch black), in a retreat center you’re not familiar with, with 20 people you’ve never met. No clocks, no phones and you don’t know what is happening next until it’s announced.

How does that sound?

Maybe your first reaction is fear. This space is 100% dark, meaning your eyes will be completely useless and you will be forced to navigate the entire event with your other senses.

Maybe you feel excitement. Five full days with no screens, nothing for your eyes to fixate on, and nowhere to be. Maybe that sounds nice (or terrifying, for some). Maybe you feel a sense of relief at the chance to go inward and focus on yourself and your body.

Maybe you feel curious. After all, 80% of all our sensory impressions rely on sight, so this would free up attention for something else. Maybe it’s a chance to tune in to what you can hear, or maybe your sense of taste, or touch? When was the last time you listened to music with no distractions? When was the last time you were fully present with all the tastes and smells of the food you were eating?

Maybe your reaction is intrigue. What it would be like to “meet” 20 strangers, yet never see their face or what they look like. Maybe you consider the effect that might have on your need to be seen, both positively and negatively. How would you occur to other people if they didn’t know what you looked like? How would other people occur to you? How would we connect with people if our stories about them based on how they look, weren’t there?

This is a different kind of darkness retreat.

Most darkness retreats exist in meditation communities, and they can be absolutely profound. My first Darkness Retreat as a participant was six days in the dark at a retreat center in Vancouver, Canada. While there will be a significant period where we go inward and not interact with other people, this is not a silent retreat. This is a relational experiment.

This is also a space where you get to discover who you are when no one is looking — because they won’t be. How would you dance when no one is watching? How would you sing when no one is looking at you? Who are you when you’re not performing for others?

This retreat is not for the faint of heart, and that’s not said to be provocative or “edgy”. Being in the complete dark is disorienting, confusing and scary. This is very different than being blindfolded. Your eyes will play tricks on you, you will think you can see something when in fact you are completely blind. You will get lost, and have no way of navigating the space other than using your other senses. That may be exactly why you want to do it, but it also may be a good reason to not.

This is an experiment, both for you as a participant and for the hosts. While a tremendous amount of attention and intention goes into creating a safe, nurturing container, there are limits to how much we can track you in the dark. You will need to source much of that care from within. Again, that may be a great reason to join, but it also may be a great reason to conclude that this is not for you.

Mastery must yield to mystery.

You will be in a completely new world, born in an instant, into a reality of which you are innately afraid of and have almost no experience navigating. That’s the bad news.

The good news is we get to do it together.

Here is a taste of what you can expect:

  • Time to go inward. On the second day we will begin a 36-hour, solo, silent, water fast. There will be no interactions and you will get the chance to spend that time completely with yourself. This is a chance to truly reset your system in a deep, meaningful way and give your body a chance to re-calibrate to the darkness.

  • Echolocation training to “see” in the dark. Yes, you read that right. We will be working with Daniel Kish, a visionary leader who travels the world helping blind people navigate their world using echolocation. It’s impossible to sum up how special it is to have Daniel join us for this retreat, he is an absolute gem of a human. If you haven’t heard of him, I highly recommend starting with Daniel’s TED Talk “How I Use Sonar to Navigate the World”. Daniel will also be present on the first day to help us navigate the house in the dark. He is arguably the world’s best person to help with this, and it’s truly and honor to have him as part of the team.

  • Deep surrender to the moment. There will be no clocks, no way to tell time, no printed schedule, no agenda and no way to know what’s going to happen next. You are on a need to know basis, which forces us to be in the moment and pay attention to the here and now.

  • A memorable and rich experience of food. The entire retreat could be about the joys of eating mindfully, and we do not intend to skip over these opportunities. Food will be lavishly prepared, by our skillful chef Gerard Labonté. You will have the pleasure of dining in the dark for every meal. Gerard will also be guiding you through the water fast.

  • Exploration of authentic movement. What would it be like to dance in a room of people when no one is watching? How does your body really want to move? Explore movement in a whole new way.

  • Unleashing your voice. We are often so self conscious of how we sound when we sing, but the ability to vocalize and feel the gift of singing is available to everyone, regardless of training, skill or background.

  • Intuitive touch. We will be working with the language and the sense of touch, both to navigate the space, but also in relating with each other. How can we listen to our hands and bodies and follow their directive? In the dark, without our minds being engaged, we have a greater opportunity to find deeper intuitive touch.

  • Stillness. So much of our lives are hectic, and many of us rarely ever get the chance to just be still and calm. While there are activities planned, this retreat is built upon the beauty and the “enough-ness” of being still.

  • Ego-less relating. When relating to others in the dark, there’s less of what I call our “high school brain”. We aren’t thinking so much, and can focus on the pure experience, rather than letting our minds distracts us.

  • Deep listening. So many of us love music, but when was the last time we just listened without distraction? When was the last time we listened to music on high definition speakers, instead of earbuds? We will be exploring and rediscovering the simple magic of listening to music, both recorded and live with high-fidelity speakers and professional musicians.

Who should attend?

Due to the the sensitive nature of this space, every participant is carefully screened and vetted. When in complete darkness, there is a greater need for self-awareness and personal integrity, so my vetting process reflects the need for that level of safety and trust. This retreat will not involve sexual energy or sexual acts in any form.

To apply, please click the “learn more & register” button below and follow the instructions on that page.


I chose to celebrate my birthday this year by flying to California and spending a few days in the dark with Dave Booda and friends in the dark. While I was initially quite nervous about the 24 hours in dark, silent and alone, it was truly the best way to return home to myself, and then to spend the next two days in deep connection with the others there, it just got even better. If you have even an inkling of going, follow the inner guidance that is calling you into the darkness. It’s so very worth it.

~ Ali Katz, Boulder CO

The darkness retreat was one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences I participated in this year! Not only did I build a trust and resilience within myself to navigate the darkness metaphorically and literally, but I also got the unique experience of falling in love with 20 people for who they actually were on the inside, not what they looked like on the outside. Also Dave’s facilitation is very masterful: strong but relaxed, playful and yet deep. I think connecting with yourself and other people in the dark should be something we all do on a regular basis!

~ Annika Knepper, Seattle WA

The dark is liberating. Free of self-consciousness and judgment. It is warm and cold. Vast and intimate. Simultaneously emancipating and oppressive.

Under the cloak of invisibility, I could be uninhibited, silent, voyeuristic… as participatory or introverted as I authentically felt, without fear of disapproval or even much awareness of myself from the group altogether. My attention was more sharply focused upon my own experience than when distracted by seeing and being seen.

In such a space of undistributed introspection, one can truly observe the quality of their own thoughts — examine, challenge, discard and up-level from a place of compassionate, self-loving neutrality. The darkness provides incomparable opportunity to shift our relationship with ourselves/existence so that we may feel truly aligned with the version of ourselves we are most self-acceptingly, un-apologetically proud of.

Reverential, humbling and empowering indeed.

~ Tes Kempner, San Diego CA

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Staff & Teachers

Your host:

Dave Booda is a writer, musician and social entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of IntimacyFest and hosts The Darkness Experiment. He has led over 400 workshops on connection, touch and relationships and has consulted for and facilitated experiences for companies, communities, retreats, festivals, conferences, men’s groups, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, and gatherings of all kinds — with the intention to inspire authenticity, depth, group cohesion and connection. He has published over 200 essays for boodaism.com and played over 1000 shows as a touring singer/songwriter. He is a former Naval Officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, currently serving on the board of directors for the Foundation for Intentional Community while touring and living at different communities in North America.

Your chef & movement specialist:

Gerard LaBonté is a chef, nutrition coach and movement specialist. Raised in a family of chefs with a classically trained 3-star Master French Chef for a Dad, Gerard has been immersed in the world of taste and nutrition his entire life. As a Cross Fit athlete and college wrestler he studied the body and pushed it’s limits to understand what it’s capable of. Today he combines gourmet cooking with advanced, cutting edge nutritional knowledge to help both clients and retreat participants enjoy good food and mindful living to it’s fullest.

Your special guest teacher:

Daniel Kish is the lead Founder of World Access for the Blind.

This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization uniquely combines a self directed, no limits approach with expertise in perceptual development, positive psychology, person-centered instruction, and public education to develop and mobilize innovative, high impact strategies to facilitate self directed achievement by challenging all forms of blindness throughout the world.

Daniel holds Master’s degrees in both Developmental Psychology and Special Education, emphasizing perceptual development, family dynamics, and children at risk.

He also holds two national certifications in Orientation and Mobility, COMS and NOMC. Daniel is the first totally blind individual to obtain both certifications.

What makes night within us may leave stars.

~ Victor Hugo