Retreating into complete darkness for an extended period of time has a major effect on the brain. Shifts of consciousness can help us see that which is beyond illusion. If we take a look at the chemistry of the brain we can start to make sense of the biochemical process behind dark room techniques and their effects on the brain.
"The effect of darkness is to shut down major cortical centers of the brain, depressing mental and cognitive functions in the higher brain centers. Emotional and feeling states are enhanced, especially the sense of smell and the finer senses of psychic perception. Dreams become more lucid, and the dream state manifests in our concious awareness. Eventually, we awaken within ourselves the awareness of the source, the spirit, the soul."
- Mantak Chia
When one experiences complete darkness the area of the brain stimulated is a gland called the pineal gland. The pineal gland is the gland in the brain associated with our third eye. Spiritual leaders around the world view the "opening of the inner eye" as a time when we can clearly see shifts in our perspective, when we open up to our intuition and our own psychic abilities and when the outer world stays the same but our inner world changes. We know that the pineal gland needs darkness in order to produce and emit melatonin. What happens during extended periods in darkness can be described by participants as a waking consciousness.
Melatonin continues to build up in the brain as you stay in complete darkness. When the melatonin stores build up to about 15-20 mg the brain begins to realize it no longer needs melatonin and begins producing pinolene. Pinolene is said to be released by the pineal gland also and is responsible for what we call "the light show". In complete darkness you may be able to see light patterns forming. These visions are connected to the internal workings of the mind. At this stage there is a letting go of the ego as we lose perception of the physical world. This process often occurs within the first 3 days of darkness.
If we look deeper at the pineal gland and its response to the dark for more extended periods we are introduced to a psychedelic substance called Dimethyltriptamine, or DMT. This substance is naturally occurring within the brain, also produced by the pineal gland, and typically only released at birth and at death. It has been nicknamed "the spirit molecule" because of the states of altered consciousness it provides and how it translates into feelings of universal compassion. This is a state where we can deeply work on healing ourselves from past traumas.
To take an even deeper view on DMT we can look at the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon and how they ingest the substance in plant form, Ayahuasca. Shipibo shamanism is deeply rooted in plant-based healing and research has now showed incredible promise for treating ailments such as mood disorders, substance abuse and PTSD with the plant medicine.
Researcher on DMT, Terrence McKenna, believed the substance was a portal to another dimension wherein we gain access to the true nature of reality, a vibratory non-material space of loving energy and unlimited potentiality. This theory is not far from what has already been taught in ancient Eastern religions or Shamanic traditions. Extended periods of darkness is a much softer, natural way to experience conscious altering DMT without ingesting anything.
Everything we need to reach these deep conscious states is naturally within us all.