hygienic dark retreat

profound rest for the self‑healing psyche

a book by andrew durham

formerly darkroomretreat.com


In civilization, we are over-stimulated and distressed. We need relief.

We are exhausted, sad, anxious, enraged, and depressed. We need rest and recovery.

We are hurt and sick. We need healing.

We are broken, lost, and empty. We need to recover ourselves.

How? By hygienic dark retreating: profound rest for the self-healing psyche. It is a rational, scientific approach. It is nature’s solution to suffering. Nature is the only source of real solutions.

In darkness, one switches off the world, with its noise and demands. One takes refuge in the deep self, supporting it in healing itself by itself. This book is the complete manual for understanding and doing it.


how it works

  1. The psyche, as an organic system, is self-healing.
  2. The primary condition of healing is profound rest.
  3. The most profound psychic rest occurs in extended total darkness as a physiological response

Because the process of healing is automatic, it is foolproof. The psyche needs darkness for rest like lungs need air for breathing and eyes need light for seeing. It knows no substitute. Healing happens involuntarily—by itself—when we voluntarily provide ourselves with sufficient conditions of rest. This is fully developed in secret. It is contextualized in hygienic psychology.

Through abstract theory and concrete practice, this book tells how to provide all the conditions of rest in perfect proportion. Most importantly, it introduces the passive, hygienic attitude toward healing. Merely knowing it opens the door to super-intensified healing, ie, miracles. When you are ready, you can walk through it.

The book reveals what healing requires in detail. It inspires you to heal and to support others in doing so. It includes designs for darkroom components. Their precision enables even amateur craftsmen to get them right.


To retreat, one needs three things:

  1. knowledge:
    • of hygienic theory
    • of the practice of hygienic dark retreating
  2. materials
    • darkroom
    • food
    • personal belongings
  3. support
    • supporters are knowledgeable: have read this book, possibly Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene*, Herbert Shelton’s masterwork on hygiene
    • experienced: have done at least a 5-day retreat
    • sympathetic, protective of himself and retreater

      Hygiene is the basis on which sick people can help each other without making things worse. Our problem is partly social. It is solved with increasing degrees of cooperation as we become more capable of doing so.

Meet these requirements by reading this book, preparing for a retreat, and retreating.

Your first retreats are gratifying warm-ups. You will get relief, sleep, and healing like you never thought possible. You will feel the meaning of hygienic ideas. You will learn how to be in darkness. Then you will be prepared for the ultra-effective medium and long retreats.


A darkroom is a bedroom, suite, or house that is perfectly dark, well-ventilated, quiet, warm, and comfortable. A darkroom can be basic or deluxe. To summarize the practical point of this book, I advocate making basic darkness in your bedroom now, and arranging for deluxe darkness in another location later.

This provides darkness for nightly sleep; a place to familiarize yourself with extended darkness at your own pace; and a place for your first short retreats.

Deluxe darkness adds extra features, comforts, and space. A dedicated darkroom is built in a small fully functional house in a quiet location. Like all houses should be but are not, it is perfectly and easily darkened and undarkened. More in design.


biological integrity; wholeness; being intact, complete, hale. Characterized by strength, beauty, radiant energy, function, and ease. Experienced as euphoria.
[Gr. Hygieia, goddess and personification of health) 1 - the science of health, a branch of biology. 2 - caring for health by respecting life’s self-preserving nature and providing its normal conditions. 3 - hygienism; Natural Hygiene

Take a moment. Pull out 2-3 dictionaries. Look it up for yourself. Some do not even mention cleanliness.

a way of life; everything that happens with people in a given group in the course of living.
    I once used the word, culture, for this. Then my neighbor, John Zerzan, explained to me that culture is recent: an aspect of civilization. I searched a single word that would include all approaches to man’s existence. Lifeway compresses the phrase “way of life” into one word. It is common in anthropology.
the science of curing disease
Natural Hygiene
the two-century-old school of health that exemplifies and champions hygiene (as distinguished from the medically reduced view of hygiene as mere cleanliness)
what is biologically appropriate (not merely usual or average)
a whole living being consisting of physique and psyche, body and soul, being and knowing
the faculty of knowing, specifically of man, including:
  • intelligence: form / center / functions / association
    • moving: sensation / gut / physical, instinct / reptilian
    • feeling: perception / heart / emotional, intuition / mammalian
    • thinking: conception / brain / mental, intellect / rational
  • parts (used as both adjectives and nouns)
    • unconscious: coordinates processes fundamental to life like metabolism, cell division, and blood oxygen levels. It cannot become conscious or directly controlled except to an insignificant or backfiring degree, through intense yogic practices, techniques like hypnosis or biofeedback, or psychoactive substances. Synonyms: autonomic, involuntary
    • subconscious: acquired automatized knowledge, which can be made conscious, like walking, emotional associations, cognizing words, and dreaming
    • conscious: ordinary waking awareness, as when reading this book or running an errand. Primarily used to direct attention. Synonyms: will or volition
  • scales
    • cell
    • tissue
    • organ
    • system
    • the organism as a whole
of or relating to the psyche (not occult powers).
    For example, I refer to psychic illness rather than “mental” illness. Mental means of or relating to the mind. Psychology is not just the study of the mind, but the psyche: the entire human faculty of knowing. This includes emotional and physical aspects not reducible to the mental one.

I don’t use neologisms. I don’t use words in any special sense. A dictionary will clear up any confusion you may have while reading. Read through the senses and the etymology as well.

My usage is sometimes uncommon. I take pains to recover the original or essential meanings of words by digging into etymology and historical usage. Bad philosophical influences, manipulation by elites, and sloppy popular usage constantly degrade the meanings of high-level abstractions. Words become corrupt or acquire unfortunate associations. Language is artificial and must be maintained.

I consider this half the job of intellectuals. The Oxford English Dictionary exemplifies this effort. I used to jot down words to look up in it on my next visit to the library. Pre-1970 editions of American Heritage Dictionary and Webster’s are excellent dictionaries in single volumes.

Beware of newer lexicology. Idealism dominates intellectuals. Its radical irrationality has corrupted English. I mean the modern heirs of Plato and Kant: Bernays, Adorno, Mao (political correctness), Marcuse, etc. Their followers aren’t just writing screenplays but editing dictionaries.



Darkness is instinctive. We sleep in it at night and nap in shadows. We use our hands to cover our eyes when overwhelmed. When injured or sick, we take longer refuge in caves and shelters. We and many other animals always have.

Absolute darkness is natural. Our natural habitat is tropical forest. At night its floor is pitch black.


Spiritual traditions have used darkness for millennia. They tend to view it as the ultimate environment for self-discipline and gaining unusual knowledge. Egyptians and Maya have used it in pyramids; Christians in catacombs; Sufis and Taoists in caves; Tibetan Buddhists in cells of monasteries.

Indigenous traditions do likewise: Amazonian shamanism uses darkness in ayahuasca ceremony. Welsh shamans and Navajo, Maya, and Kogi Indians build special dark structures. They hold darkness in high regard as essential to self-discovery. They also use caves for healing.

Western science has studied sensory destimulation since the 1950s for astronautics, health, and mind-control. Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing tradition, uses extended periods of darkness for rejuvenation. By reports, a dark retreat is nothing less than the fountain of youth.

Unfortunately, the partially or completely active nature of these approaches to dark retreating compromises them. They depend on an active will, the faculty most in need of rest.

Hygiene is passive, allowing the distressed will to finally rest and recover. Hygiene depends on the autonomic self—omniscient, omnipotent, and infallible—to accomplish the work of healing. This removes structural conflict in the method, promising limitless results.

Hygiene completely secularizes the use of darkness for the specific purpose of healing. There is nothing mystical, disciplined, or complicated about this approach. It is rational, safe, and natural, leading to reliable miracles.


Medicine led us to believe hygiene is just cleanliness (see history). In fact, hygiene deals with all aspects of health scientifically. Any good dictionary proves this. Hygiene is broad and deep.

The word is common because of Natural Hygiene. It is a radical school of natural health originating in America in 1822. It led the global natural health movement of the 19th century.

Hygiene respects the self-preserving nature of life. It observes that organisms both maintain and recover health under normal conditions of life. So it studies organic self-preservation and how to provide its conditions.

Normal conditions of life include fresh air, sunlight, natural food, work, friendship, and cleanliness by regular bathing. Hygiene taught the modern world the enormous benefits of these simple, free, natural, pleasant influences. This significantly raised health standards worldwide. Its motto is “Health through healthful living”. It has only lacked a psychology and an appreciation for trauma as the cause of all illness; this book corrects that.

Hygiene identifies disease as the process of healing. Disease is the normal organic activity of repair, elimination, and re-energizing, but distressed by abnormal conditions. Thus, disease is not an invading entity to be fought. It is a beneficial process to support by restoring healthy conditions and practices. It is a set of clues to precisely guide this caregiving.

The fundamentals of hygiene help us reconnect with our own common sense about healing. They guide us past incorrect assumptions we likely have about it. First, learn these absolute basics. Then you can learn the concrete details of a dark retreat and approach it with confidence. Moreover, hygiene provides guidance in all aspects of healthful living.


My parents had taught me the importance of eating well through their interest in natural diet. When I was 9 years old, I got sick and realized it was from the junk food I had eaten the day before. Diet became my religion for 30 years.

Natural Hygiene came knocking three times. The first time was in 1989 through my dad’s second wife, Jennifer Justice. She was a truthseeker with scores of fascinating books. Among them I found the ecstatic Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond.

It knocked again in 1992 through a great friend, Sterling Voss. In the greatest letter anyone ever wrote me, he told me about Fasting Can Save Your Life by Herbert Shelton, hygiene’s systematizer.

It knocked a final time in 2001, through friend and colleague, Frederic Patenaude. He was the editor of Just Eat An Apple magazine and author of The Raw Secrets. These publications were about the raw vegan diet. This time, I opened the door.


I met Frederic Patenaude in San Diego at a raw food potluck. We found we helped each other get things done. We became housemates and coworkers for a total of three years off and on from 1998 till 2003. We worked at Nature’s First Law in California; Tree of Life Center in Arizona; and at his new office in Quebec.

Frederic had started in hygiene with the works French hygienic master, Albert Mosseri. Frederic read all his 20+ books and was in contact with him till his death in 2012.

Slowly, I absorbed the essence of Natural Hygiene’s radical perspective through conversations with Frederic. By this, I mean he got it through my thick skull with his calm, relentless, crystalline arguments. I was challenging but sympathetic, so I kept asking. He kept answering.

It took time because I started out confused. A mess of alternative dietary ideas floated around my head since childhood. Fortunately, I was committed to logic. The rationality and simplicity of hygiene made it finally click. I started studying it on my own.

Frederic’s dedication and great knowledge made him immovable where I was merely stubborn. I am grateful to him for this.

I can only hope to return the favor with the current work. It illuminates certain mysteries of diet that frustrated us. Like why some people stick with eating healthy food and others don’t (see capacity). And the greater mystery of metaphysical suffering that we, like so many others, failed to solve with diet.


I first heard about dark retreating in 2004 from Purna Steinitz. He was my guru between 2000-2008. An American Hindu, he had heard about its use in Ayurveda. He told me, “Apparently, after a few weeks of it, one comes out completely renewed.”

The idea struck me as strange. The well-lit Apollonian upper world of spirituality attracted me most. As a budding hygienist, I thought we needed light. But like a lot of earthy things Purna said, the idea of renewal in darkness stayed with me.

I also learned from him the ideas of capacity, function, and how one’s results come from how one is being. As with darkness and grace, I have extricated them from the spiritual context and put them into the more profitable biological one of this book.


A year later, I moved to an ecovillage in Oregon. The village maintenance man—I’ll call him Harold—had a darkroom.

He had inspired the village’s youth to try darkness. After listening to him about it over the winter, I did, too.


But as Harold liked to say, I was just getting started. It would take two more years and another successful retreat for me to grasp the significance of retreating in darkness.

Harold had shown me my work in this life as well as the means of recovering my lost self.


How did all this begin?

My parents were thinkers and unconventional. They were much concerned with philosophy, health, design, and music. I took all of it more seriously than they expected.

They were emotionally distant. My intense older brother became a big force in my life. For me, our house was more training camp than home. Other influences and people smoothed it out a bit.

I felt awed by life at 2, joyful at 3. School started. A part of me went comatose.

By age 15, I felt morose and alienated. But something from childhood was stirring in me. One day, I slumped before the TV. A tiny woman lived inside it. She mentioned the importance of loving oneself and being happy. If my mood was the Death Star, this advice was Luke Skywalker’s photon torpedo.

In a moment, I was overcome by rapture: sublime joy in apprehending our perfect, beautiful universe. The feeling was bigger than at age 3. It lasted three months. When it faded, so did my previous interests. More than anything, I wanted to understand the cause of joy. I wanted it back.

In elementary school, I had read The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. It left an intriguing impression.

During my rapture, I found Do You Really Need Eyeglasses?. It shows how to care for the eyes naturally with exercises, sunning, and palming. By palming, I found “the field”: the dark screen or space behind covered eyes where imagination plays. I came to rely on it for rest and solace, too. Twenty-three years later, I found that book’s hygienic origin when I read Shelton’s chapter on care of the eyes.

My father’s hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, gave me a way to avoid college. “Better four years of experience than four more years of education,” he said. That was all I needed to hear.

After barely finishing high school, I started traveling and living out of a backpack. For 21 years, I independently investigated the cause of joy. I used my legacy: the philosophy, hygiene, and design my parents had taught me. I did my first dark retreat. Two years later, in 2008, the answer came:

A slight increase of vital energy from adolescence caused a temporary, partial restoration of my damaged psychic integrity, making me sensible to the enrapturing beauty and perfection of the universe. So a massive increase from profound rest in darkness would cause permanent and complete restoration.

With this breakthrough, my search ended. Development began, starting with testing. Besides myself, 28 clients have tried it. Their results echoed my early ones.

Over the course of my 27 retreats of 2–7 days, noticeable restoration of my psychic integrity and function has occurred. My body’s scent has improved. I regained some access to my long-buried sexuality. From one retreat, I woke up feeling like an adult for the first time in 41 years. This feeling has never left me. Alongside my childish panic in the face of challenges, an adult now steadily thinks through them.

In retreat, symptoms of fibromyalgia and autism dissipate. Aches and pains dissolve. Flexibility returns. I wake up just knowing things that had always stumped me. Issues that dogged me for decades resolve themselves. Insomnia, exhaustion, and suicidality evaporate. Clarity, energy, ease, and purpose return for weeks at a time. I naturally exercise, like a cat or a child. Basic functioning lasts two months after just a short retreat. All these things come after years or decades without them.

In all these small miracles, I have sensed far greater ones await in darkness. I gained invincible hope, the will to persist, and a more precise compass for finding my way.

Besides this and other supporting evidence, told in greater detail in my retreat reports, no data contradicting the basic idea has yet emerged. Meanwhile, interest in darkness is growing worldwide.

In Europe, I met a professor of psychology and renowned researcher in REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy). This is the academic approach to both flotation and dark retreating. She unqualifiedly agreed with my theory of psychophysical healing. She proposed research with my exact method, once I had a darkroom. I was not ready and could not arrange it, but it was a good sign.

Wherever I go, people are as struck by the logic of hygiene and darkness as I am. They wish to try a retreat.



This book is for the:

  • hygienic dark retreater. Knowledge of hygiene enables trust in and care for life. Then miracles of healing can happen.
  • truthseeker like me. See for yourself if I found some. I’d like to save you some time. Maybe you, not I, will get us across the line. Whatever it takes.
  • sufferer, who needs hope and a real way to stop the pain, be it metaphysical, mental, emotional, physical, social, or ecological
  • normal man, who is functional, reasonable, positive, and busy; who knows there is more to life than The Program; but, for now, only has evenings, weekends and vacations in which to explore further
  • self-experimenter, who feels yearning, curiosity, wonder, or a wish to find his next step
  • servant, who wishes to know why mankind is in such rough shape and what to do about it
  • thinker, who appreciates new ideas, good arguments, and reasonable tests for them
  • hygienist, who senses hygiene’s unrealized potential
  • ones who detect something of importance here

Hygienic dark retreating is for anyone to whom it makes sense and who feels moved to do it, whether to heal from trauma or just see what it’s like.

Chronic physical illness originates in trauma. Trauma heals in darkness, so the illness does, too. +Do not underestimate the power of the self-healing organism in darkness.

Retreating is not an evasion. It suits everyone, but not necessarily right now. Sometimes, problems need to be addressed in other ways first. Hygiene offers some means of doing so. Keep one eye open for this possibility.

Learning about hygiene through dark retreating reveals hygiene’s scope and reach like nothing else. It helps one understand the basic processes of health in a complete context of body and soul. It puts things in perspective, showing where one is in the process of healing. It offers rare encouragement and hope.

Amidst the opposing influences of our time, a solid grasp of hygiene is critical to healing from any illness. To this end, Herbert Shelton’s Science and Fine Art of Natural Hygiene* is essential reading.

how to use this book

Above all, this book presents an idea for consideration. For now, doing a retreat is not at issue. To do something like this, you must want to. To want to, you must believe in it. To believe, you must know about it. To know, you must learn. To learn, it must interest you somehow.

So invest your energy in gaining knowledge by reading every word of this book, cover to cover. Once it makes sense to you, rational belief will form. Natural motivation follows. Then you will.

Use this as a manual for making basic darkness for yourself at home. Download the companion zip file. It has all the plans for components as well as some reference work on hygiene.

You are the one you have been waiting for. Others care about you, but not enough to make this happen for you. They will only help after you start without them. The need for self-reliance applies to darkness more than anything else I know. I have had to recover enough of a self to rely on, to find remnants of it I didn’t know I had.

The full application of the idea of hygienic dark retreating consists of doing retreats of increasing length, alternated with making radical changes in lifeway. In darkness, one becomes capable of them. They include studying and applying the rest of hygiene.

Continue this two-part program until your psychic and physical health are completely restored. Live.


The front part of the book—disclaimer, dedication, contents, blurb, notes, foreword, preface, and introduction—isn’t just a sales pitch. Its elements succinctly present the basic idea in different ways to aid understanding. In hygiene, understanding is always the first task.

Chapters are grouped in three parts:

  1. hygienic (theory)
  2. retreat (process)
    • format: retreat lengths and purposes
    • protocol: what to do and how to be in a retreat
    • prepare: orientation, questionnaire, menu, pack
  3. dark (building)
    • design: principles and specifications
    • make: general instructions
    • air: ventilating, silencing, and heating
    • darkness: refined darkening techniques
    • water: simple sinks, toilets, baths

It often links to my website, hygienicdarkretreat.com for:

  • retreat reports
  • early essays on darkness
  • elaborative blog posts
  • other writings: essays, designs, prose, myths, poetry, and lyrics since 1988, and writings by others.

This whole book is free to read there. The ebook is for sale at leanpub.com/hygienicdarkretreat/.


Thanks for reading. Please copy and give or sell this book to others. See license for details.

This is free content and an open source project contained in a public code repository. If you have comments or corrections, open an issue or email me. If you know distributed version control, fork the project, and submit a pull request.

In addition to this book, I can assist you by email, messenger apps, and in person. See services for details.

I continually update this book. Before rereading or making anything, get the latest version.


Now, on to hygiene, the science of (euphoric) health and the ultimate basis of dark retreating and psychology.


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