When Rob Patzig experienced Lux’s “Sacred Journey” for the first time, it reminded him of an ancient Bön Buddhist practice called dark retreat, which caps off a years-long cycle of practices called “The Experiential Transmission.” A dark retreat can last for up to 49 days- no light, no sound, no communication with the outside world, just an unlit room and a piece of ground on which to “sit and abide,” as he put it. The aim is to reach a sort of “primordial state,” a state of being existing within each of us but that we lose connection to in the business of an increasingly complicated outside world. A state of being that has always existed, will always exist, no matter how many layers get added on top of it. Without any outside stimulation for weeks and weeks, practioners report intense sensations, feelings of well-being, even visions.
“It gets you to a place where you can’t attribute anything arising in your immediate experience to anything but your own mind,” Rob told me. “When you take away everything else, there’s still something left.”
That “everything else” includes anything that people ordinarily build their sense of self upon. Today one’s sense of self updates every minute. The Sacred Journey has been designed to create a space apart from that constantly updating world— a space where sensory stimulation is reduced to a minimum in a creative way. What was surprising to Rob when he tried it out was how quickly one’s sense of the outside world disappeared.
“There was an immediate sense of stillness, an enormous spaciousness,” he said, “an enormous spaciousness.”
Rob is the President of Ligmincha International, a network of retreat centers and practitioners devoted to the Bön Buddhist tradition. He first encountered Buddhism as a 10-year-old, when some random kid brought Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha to a camping trip and decided to read it aloud. At 16 a copy of The Life of Buddha fell into his hands and helped him transition out of an emotionally dark period. Since then the practices of yoga and meditation have helped guide him through adulthood in one form or another, from his days as a literature instructor at Virginia Tech to his days as Chief Investment Officer of an investment firm, days when he was far more plugged-in to the modern noise-o-sphere than he is now.
These days he’s been welcoming weekend retreatants to Serenity Ridge, Ligmincha’s center in Charlottesville. Many are newcomers who are working the same manic jobs he came out of, who are now seeking solace from their ever-chirping electronics.
“New people can find days of silence very unsettling,” he told me, “they hear silence and they just want to fill it up.”
As I talked to him, I felt the same anxiety. Between our exchanges there would be 5, 10, 15, seconds of quiet. The periods of silence disrupted my breathing pattern, made my mind scramble crazily for the next question. How do you spell Dzogchen again? How long did you say your daily practice was? Do you remember that Super Bowl halftime show, when Michael Jackson just stood there for like, 2 whole minutes?
“I remember that!” he said, “and there was a producer in his ear just screaming at him!”
That producer was in my ear too: don’t waste time, don’t be tedious, say something interesting, now something personal. I was in a Barnes and Noble surrounded by strategically end-capped magazines, beautiful people of various shades of demographic interest all emoting for my attention: a blonde with a bright, over-the-shoulder pose, giving off the rising movie star vibe on the cover of Entertain Us Weekly, the stubble-chinned Hugh Jackman look-alike in a jeans-blazer combination—who, thirty years ago would have absolutely been smoking a cigarette—on the cover of a “gentleman’s” magazine. Meanwhile the badly postured guy at the table next to me is audibly ripping through World of Warcraft and a table of suits at the opposite corner are reaming through their quarterly earnings.
“When you take away everything else, there’s still something left.”
Pause, beat, beat, beat. Silence. Did he hang up? Say something!
The one time I experienced the Lux’s “Sacred Journey” I felt a complete release of pressure. It was like having the lid removed from a world I hadn’t realized I was trapped in. In the absence of outside stimulation—people to interact with, work to do, scenery to gaze at vaguely—I was left simply with existence. Whatever that means.
Let me try again: in the expansiveness of that room, accompanied by little stimulation besides some atmospheric music, I could focus on the sensations that used to preoccupy me as a kid—the wonder of just being alive, right now, of being a small, complex part of a gigantic, mysterious whole. Of returning, if briefly, to my own “primordial state”—that place that still lingers underneath layer-after-layer of adulthood.
By Ryan Masters