What's a darkness retreat? NYC's Rubin Museum offers a glimpse into the closely guarded tradition

Darla Miles Image
Monday, May 29, 2023
What's a dark retreat? NYC's Rubin Museum of Art has the answers
At the dark retreat workshop at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, attendees can experience the practice Aaron Rodgers described as profound.

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) -- Mental Health Awareness Month is a good time for many to check in.

But an ancient, more advanced form meditation has been steadily growing in popularity among those looking to reduce anxiety and stress.

It's called a dark retreat.

If the name rings a bell, it's probably because New York Jets' latest signee Aaron Rodgers recently said the practice helped guide his decision to join the team.

Of course, the question on everyone's mind after Rodger's admission became: what's a dark retreat?

The process is almost exactly like it sounds.

"The goal is to experience the nature of our mind," said Justin Von Bujdoss to Eyewitness News.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the duration of a dark retreat is 49 days, and is reserved for senior practitioners under spiritual guidance.

At the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, that person is Justin Von Bujdoss.

Attendees experiencing the dark retreat workshop at the Rubin Museum of Art spend five to 15 minutes mediating in complete darkness.

"As people are moving through this workshop, they are beginning to align with this idea that all of the wisdom arises from you," said Bujdoss.

"You're cloistered in darkness 27/7," he added. "A lot of amazing experiences arise, and a lot of destabilizing experiences can arise."

In addition to the workshop, the museum has an exhibition on the 6th floor that features a masterful collection of Tibetan Buddhist art, exploring the notion of death, the life after, and the Bardo stage.

The latter explores consciousness.

"That is when a person dies, you leave this body and the consciousness traveling," said Tashi Chodron the ambassador of the Himalayan Programs & Communities at the Rubin.

"During that stage, you go through this darkness of different stages, seeing different figures and so dark retreat helps you understand better what consciousness comes across."

For those who are looking for a mental check in, it doesn't have to be as daring as a dark retreat.

A couple minutes of staying still can also calm the mind.

"We use meditation a lot in psychotherapy and research shows it can be really helpful," said Dr. Thea Gallagher, who is a psychologist at NYU Langone.

A visit to the fourth floor of the Rubin provides a meditation space in the Shrine Room.

"There really hasn't been much research on these dark retreats, just anecdotal experiences that some people have found to be beneficial for them," Dr. Gallagher continued.

There's no question that the moment Aaron Rodgers mentioned his darkness retreat experience, the sacred practice garnered mainstream attention.

By coincidence, the Rubin Museum already had programming in place, giving a glimpse into the closely guarded tradition.

"We're kind of bringing some attention to this, in a way that's respectful to the tradition, but also open it up a little bit so people can learn about this dynamic experience," said Bujdoss.


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