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Aaron Rodgers’ ‘Darkness Retreat’ is exactly as weird as it sounds

Rodgers is going to sit in a dark room for four days.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers isn’t ready to make a decision on the 2023 season yet. First comes sitting alone in the dark for four days. Seriously.

Rodgers has pivoted from ayahuasca to isolation this year. The Packers’ quarterback spoke to Pat McAfee on Tuesday, saying that he isn’t sure about his plans for the future yet — but will be attending a “Darkness Retreat,” where he hopes to gain some insight in sensory deprivation. At that point, presumably he’ll emerge and tell the world whether he plans to return to the Packers in 2023, retire, or potentially request a trade.

We can’t just gloss over this whole “Darkness Retreat” thing. It’s the latest mind-expanding passion Rodgers is seeking. So what is a “Darkness Retreat,” what does Rodgers hope to achieve, and what do the people running these camps promise?

Dark retreats have been a practice for thousands of years

Spending extended periods in darkness is a common practice in certain branches of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, a religious offshoot of traditional Buddhism.

In both cases they instruct yogi (followers of the religion) to spend extended time alone in specially sealed off rooms with an absence of light. This is coupled with the practice of techniques designed to hone imagination, which people claim leads to visions and spiritual awareness.

In the religious tradition there’s a belief that those who master being in darkness can come face-to-face with deities. It’s also only practiced by seasoned yogi, under strict supervision, and can last from periods of a few hours — up to years.

Like a lot of non-Judeo-Christian religions it’s been commercialized in the United States

Similar to Rodgers’ ayahuasca retreat a year ago, the “mind-expanding” promises of Eastern and traditional religions are marketed to the wealthy as self-improvement. It’s unclear which Darkness Retreat Rodgers plans to attend, but one such enterprise “Hermitage Retreats” has been organizing Darkness Retreats since 2015.

Under the Hermitage model, attendees are placed in a locked, dark cabin for a pre-determined amount of time. There is unlimited water, but the only food made available are two vegan meals provided through a two-way box in the door — almost like something out of solitary confinement in a prison.

Unlike the Buddist and Bon tradition there’s no focus on religious enlightenment, but rather an increased emphasis on “detox” without a lot of promises on what else this is supposed to do. The Hermitage website continually references cultures doing this for thousands of years, but omitting the religious experience in favor of vagueness. In addition it offers the potentially dangerous promise of healing trauma with just darkness, rather than traditional therapy.

“beyond what is known as the dark retreat benefits like the activation of the pineal gland, dmt, healing traumas and near death experiences. The invitation is to drop expectations of what you think you know about the dark and let the experience unfold itself.

A lot more is written in their FAQ about their no-refund policy than the promises of what a Dark Retreat can do for someone. Take that as you will.

Does a Dark Retreat actually do anything?

Your perspective on that is entirely based on your perception of the religious principles behind it. Let’s set aside Tibetan Buddhism for a second and focus on wealthy Americans who are paying to spend time in the darkness.

There is some scientific evidence a person can see visions while in sensory deprivation due to the Ganzfeld Effect. This is where the brain, when deprived of visual stimuli after receiving it for an extended period of time, amplifies neural noise in an attempt to amplify visual signals.

The result of this is people in isolation seeing things, as their brain amplifies specific brain activity. This can result in visions ranging from simple shapes and colors, with some recipients of sensory deprivation saying they could see the blood vessels in their eyes — all the way to complete visions and hallucinations.

So while it is possible to have an experience in sensory deprivation, scientifically speaking there’s very little to indicate it allows someone to process trauma or deal with near death experiences, as marketing would have you believe.

What’s next for Aaron Rodgers?

He’s going to go into the darkness. Rodgers told McAfee that he would attend the retreat for four days, then presumably he’ll emerge with the answer about his future. When we’ll find out about his 2023 intentions is anyone’s guess from there. But you can bet on it at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Rodgers traditionally drags out his decisions, as he did before ultimately re-signing with the Packers last year. So it could be some time before we know his next move.