Insights from 10 Days in Darkness
PLUS: 'Reflecting Forwards' Annual Review Template & Exciting Personal News.
|Jonny Miller 🐢||Dec 18, 2020||3|
Hello Curious Human 👋
🕯️ Dark Room Debrief // The last few weeks have shifted my life in some profound ways. I feel a more in-depth essay brewing but have done my best to share some of the insights + moments from the 10-day darkroom experience (read on below).
📆 Annual Review Template // I’m genuinely stoked at how much interest there was in the Annual Review template—so thanks in part to this wave of enthusiasm it now exists. You can duplicate the Notion template here (pay what you wish) and register for the Annual Review Workshop on Dec 26th.
🌹 Exciting News // By far the most joyful personal news is that Kelly and I are engaged! She has shared a heartfelt story of how it unfolded from her perspective (it involves a death meditation, time miscalculations and a cameo from our confused kitten) on Medium here: ‘A Curious Engagement Story’.
So that’s all for now folks. Please feel free to reply to this email with thoughts + reflections—otherwise, I hope that you have a heartfelt and joyous end to this rollercoaster of a year.
p.s. this newsletter marks the Curious Humans 3-year anniversary! If you feel inspired to support the ongoing creative adventure please do consider becoming a subscriber or forwarding to a fellow human who is also curious.
📆 ‘Reflecting Forwards’
The Annual Review Template in Notion
I've been writing annual reviews for 7 years now, and it has honestly been one of the most rewarding exercises of my life. Here are some of the benefits I gain from the process:
Clarity on next year's intentions—forming clear 'creative constraints'—refreshing + re-aligning my values—mining the previous year's challenges for insights—become aware of broader themes and patterns as well as allowing myself to celebrate the highlights.
Upon completing this seemingly self-indulgent exercise, I feel a greater sense of coherence and a deeper meaning for the projects I commit to—they feel more connected to my underlying values that drive the creative desire. And crucially, for those of you who experienced some struggles in 2020 (i.e. most of humanity), this is a chance to mine those challenges for insights and lessons.
The questions + prompts in this template have been organised using the framework of mature human archetypes. I’ve previously written about the potency of archetypes previously—they are essentially universal genetic human patterns that impact various aspects of our personality and shape how we show up in the world. I find them to be extremely useful lenses through which we can view all aspects of our lives.
If you do decide to use the template, above all I encourage you to use it as a starting point for yourself. Steal what's useful + discard what isn't. Add your own questions, remix it any way you want and really make it feel like your own. This template is designed to be more provocative than prescriptive.
Check out the Notion template here (Pay What You Wish)
🕯️Insights from 10 Days in Darkness
Picture this moment—you’re sitting upright on a meditation cushion in the centre of a small square room, the air is thick with humidity (there are tiny sweat-balls rolling down your cheek) you hear the sounds of crickets outside announcing the sunset—directly in front of you is the flame of a candle—alongside a single incense stick.
Taking one final look around the room (to memorise the placement of the bed + fan) you take a deep breath, lean forward and blow out the candle. The room fades into total darkness, except for the lone incense stick. Your eyes fixate on this glowing ember, knowing it will be the last glimmer of light that you see for the next 10 days.
My intentions going into this retreat were a combination of looking to find a sense of happiness that wasn’t contingent on the outside world, finding my edge (could I even make it?!) and leaning a little more deeply into the mysterious states of consciousness that I believed were possible as a result of prolonged periods of intensive meditation practice.
🙈 Logistics of Living in the Dark? // within the first 24 hrs you quickly adapt to the daily routines without light. I would use yoga mats on the floor to slide my feet along and orient where I was in the room. Essentials such as water bottles + earplugs were placed by the wall so they could be easily located. I also discovered that it’s far easier to squeeze toothpaste directly into my mouth when brushing my teeth ;)
😋 And Eating in the Dark!? // Food was delivered twice a day through a light-sealed box in bento-style tupperware. The sound of the knock and the removing of the velcro signalled a Pavlovian response in my nervous system. I would open the lid, smell and prod the food in an attempt to guess what it was, and then use my hands to eat—which resulted in a delightfully tactile and sense-rich dining experience. Devouring a fresh coconut and spooning guacamole into my mouth when anticipation, taste, texture & smell are so heightened—it was a culinary delight!
🧘 What about the Meditation? // Lacking the structure of the previous 10 days in silent retreat, prolonged seated meditations were more challenging than I’d imagined. That said I managed 6-10 hours a day, some days flowed easefully, others (especially towards the end) I would lose myself in elaborate fantasies of creative projects, plans for the upcoming year or even writing this post! However, there were also some beautiful moments—on the morning of day 6 for no apparent reason the line ‘Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens’ came to mind and I felt a surge of wellbeing resonate through my body and this sensation of joy (for no reason whatsoever) lasted for the next 2 days.
💡 How to Human—from First Principles // just as chess grandmaster Josh Waitzkin will train for months with only three pieces on the board or the world’s greatest sushi chefs will spend the first decade of their career only cooking rice—I believe that spending highly focused time with only our minds provides an opportunity to discover how we operate from first principles. With no eternal visual stimulus at all, there is a rare opportunity to inquire into the very nature of our minds—for example, have you considered whereabouts your thoughts and emotions arise from? Or where they live in the body (for me I noticed subtle sensations and niggling tensions in my lower belly especially).
✊ Remembering True Freedom // I would hear dogs barking or the sound of trucks in the distance and notice my mind leaning into judgement or frustration before gently bringing it back to the felt sensations in my body. There is a remarkable liberation that comes from remembering that you ultimately are able to choose how you respond to that which is out of your control. Or as Viktor Frankl wrote whilst imprisoned in a Holocaust camp: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing -- the last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
✨ Taking the ‘Great Backwards Step’ // In Zen they talk about taking ‘the great backwards step’—surrendering your ego into the witness of all sensations. Or to cite a recent Spielberg film ‘Ready Player One' the final race upon which the great game depends is won not by going faster than the other racers, but by reversing over the start line and discovering the shortcut that takes them all the way to the source. Amidst a lot of sweaty frustration and monkey-mind, there were pinpricks of moments where I abandoned even ‘trying’ to meditate & dropped into states of deep stillness and a felt sense of connection to my heart that I hope will have a lasting impact.
🌅 Re-emerging into the World // On Day 10 at 6 am, Kelly knocked on my dark-room door. I pulled away the velcro and opened it, still wearing my eye-mask. Taking in a deep breath of the cool ocean breeze, I stepped outside. Instantly the combination of intense anticipation + sheer relief brought a tear to my eyes. Holding my hand, Kelly walked me step by step to the balcony above the darkroom. My legs were shaky having barely been used for the last 10 days. Sitting down on a bench, tea in hand, she removed my eye-mask. As the light reached my retinas I felt an overwhelming rush of awe + wonderment. The horizon appeared soaked in orange hues—the colours looked almost psychedelic—as if the saturation had been dialled up to the max. It was difficult to focus on anything so I just sat there, shedding tears of joy and feeling a renewed appreciation for just being able to witness a simple yet awe-inspiring sunrise.
🔗 Et Cetera
📸 The year in pictures
❤️ When an AI falls in love
😴 An ode to tactical laziness
🤯 52 intriguing tidbits from 2020
🖋️ David Whyte’s ‘Letter from the House’
👨🎓 Build a creativity inbox via Anne-Laure
⚙️ Mechanical gears discovered in nature
🥢 Beautiful slice of Japanese craft culture
🤓 Mathematically modelling perfectionism
💸 Insightful connection between love and money
💻 Analysing the impact of going remote via Packy M
🌎 Apply to be a citizen of the internet’s first country
🎙️ I was interviewed about Resilience on ‘All Things Risk’
📝 Parting Poem
I was a samurai sword in the forge
Glowing, scorching, becoming.
Sharpening edges—ready for battle.
I'm spirit, dust in a sunbeam
Floating, noticing, dancing.
Paying attention—arising & passing.
I will be reborn anew.
Unfolding, transforming, returning.
Into whom? Ah the great mystery!