Aaron Rodgers not only shred his hope to be traded to the New York Jets during Wednesday’s episode of the Pat McAfee show, but the Packers quarterback also revealed details of his recent darkness retreat in the Oregon wilderness – an experience that included hallucinations.
‘It was a great reset for me, for my body and my mind,’ the 39-year-old said of the four-day excursion. ‘Maybe a little bit longer than I needed. I feel like by the time I got to the fourth day, I was like, ”Alright, I’m ready to come out.”
Rodgers appeared on McAfee’s YouTube podcast to discuss his immediate future as his career hangs in limbo. The four-time MVP said he recently requested a trade to the Jets, and the Packers are eager to grant one, but only after reaching a trade agreement with New York. If and when that does happen, Rodgers is expected to move on to the Jets for a 19th NFL season.
But before requesting the trade, Rodgers first spent four days in total darkness in southern Oregon, mostly meditating while trying to avoid walking into the walls of his roughly 300-square foot cabin.
‘Food that came at 6 o’clock every day, so I had an idea of where I was,’ Rodgers said when asked if he was able to track time while in the darkness. ‘You’re kinda counting down the nights once you get to the third night. ”I got one more night of this after this night.” That’s how I gauged the process.’
McAfee asked Rodgers if he would be waiting at the door when the daily food delivery occurred.
‘It’s so quiet that you’re just listening for that door handle to come up, and you’re like: ”Finally, it’s 6 o’clock, I can eat,’ Rodgers said.
Of course, it’s that silence that Rodgers was seeking following a disappointing 8-9 season in Green Bay.
‘There’s not a lot of sounds in there,’ Rodgers said. ‘The mediation in there is incredible because there’s zero distractions, zero light. Your eyes don’t adjust, so you can’t even see parts of the room.
‘You have some hallucinations, at some point, where the room looks different than it actually does,’ he continued. ‘And you really got to walk around with one hand out here, one hand over here, bumping into stuff.’
Rodgers, who previously admitted to using halleucinogenics like mushrooms and ayahuasca, stressed that these visions were not the product of any substances.
‘It wasn’t any vitamins or anything,’ he said. ‘It was all natural.’
As for any impact on his football career, Rodgers said he re-emerged from the darkness retreat wanting to put off retirement. And when he discovered the Packers were no longer committed to him as their quarterback, requested the chance to meet with the Jets, who are now in the process of putting together a trade package for the decorated quarterback.
Initially, Rodgers didn’t want to use the retreat to focus on football. Instead, he entered the cabin leaning towards retirement and thinking that it would help serve as a transition from the NFL to whatever came next.
‘At this point, I got to admit that I went into retirement 90 percent retiring and 10 percent playing,’ Rodgers said. ‘That’s where my mind was. My mind was: ”I’m tired of this.” I hadn’t gotten back into my workouts yet and I thought that that was best for me.’
Rodgers would spend one of his days in Oregon focusing on retirement and the next thinking about returning to the NFL for another season, he explained.
Now that he plans on playing at least another NFL season, Rodgers said he was ‘glad’ he did the retreat: ‘I’m really thankful for that time in the darkness.’
So how does this experience differ from yoga, meditation, and ayahuasca retreats?
For starters, this is mostly self-guided.
Whereas an instructor might be present for a yoga retreat and shamans administer and observe the use of ayahuasca, a darkness retreat is based on solitude.
And while yoga can make on physically uncomfortable, the darkness retreat is aimed at making individuals confront unpleasant thoughts.
‘We kind of hold discomfort as a negative thing and not to say that it’s positive, but there’s such a hard structure that discomfort is bad,’ Sky Cave Retreats owner Scott Berman, Rodgers’ recent host, told ESPN.
‘The moment somebody feels uncomfortable, they get on their phone, they go for a walk, they eat food, or they do wholesome activities, they do yoga, they go for a run. There are a million things that people do to avoid discomfort.
‘If somebody’s sad in our culture, it’s like, ”Let’s fix you immediately,’ he continued. ‘There’s not a real genuine exploration of, ”Why are you sad?’ What happens if you just include the sadness and rest with the sadness, and be with it, without trying to change it? What happens from there? That is a unique aspect of darkness retreat.’
Located about 30 minutes from Ashland, Oregon, Sky Cave currently has only three dark rooms, all of which are booked for the next 18 months, Berman told ESPN. There are seven more rooms planned in an effort to trim the lengthy waiting list, said to be in the hundreds.
After an hour-long orientation, guests review a meal plan before exploring their new spaces and unwinding.
The hosts provide a meal before sundown and take care of any last-minute requests, but are otherwise scarce, arriving only once a day to take care of material needs, like food or wood for the stove.
The cabins are all equipped with a flushing toilet, bath, fresh mountain water on tap, and a sink for the retreats, which can last anywhere from three to 40 days. Guests do have access to a light switch, but most prefer to resist that temptation in order to get the full experience.
‘Typically, most retreatants find that they sleep, more or less, for the first 24-48 hours,’ reads the Sky Cave website. ‘As the days continue to unfold, they tend to find that they need less and less sleep. Many eventually find that they either do not need to sleep at all or are only sleeping for 1-2 hours a night.’
But it’s after the first one or two days that the biggest impact can be felt.
‘Heightened sensitivity and the opening of the subconscious can naturally begin to arise as early as the 3rd day of the retreat and continue to intensify as the retreat progresses,’ the website continues.
‘This is due to different neurochemical reactions that occur from various glands and hormones being both suppressed and/or stimulated from the light deprivation and the simple nature of the dark and solitude.’
Prices are not listed on the Sky Cave website, but one vacation website has a seven-day trip listed for $1,350. (Sky Cave spokespeople did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for prices)
Berman typically helps his guests brainstorm by offering short, through-provoking prompts during his daily visit.
‘I am able to have a little window into what’s going on,’ Berman said. ‘And sometimes it might be a 10-second conversation and sometimes it might be 20 minutes.
‘It just kind of depends on what feels appropriate and what that person wants.’
Rodgers is not the first athlete to do a retreat with Sky Cave.
Endurance athlete Colin O’Brady spoke about his eight-day, seven-night retreat with ESPN, saying he found Berman’s prompts to be helpful.
‘He’s just wise,’ O’Brady said. ‘It’s a couple of little thought starters, and then he just leaves. … I thought that his very, very subtle guidance throughout was a really beautiful by-product.’
O’Brady, who has climbed Mount Everest and crossed Antarctica, said the experience is particularly helpful for athletes.
‘I’m always looking for ways to tap into the power of my mind,’ he said. ‘And I thought the exercise of being alone in the dark would really be advantageous in a number of ways, emotionally, spiritually.’
Personal trainer Hannah Eden told ESPN that her time at Sky Cave was ‘the most beautiful experience I think I’ve ever, ever had.’
Eden said she learned about forgiveness, and has even booked another retreat for later in 2023.
O’Brady, who said he learned about personal fulfilment, said he wrote in his journal: ‘I wish I could stay; I’ve touched the calmest places of my soul in the dark.’
The benefits of a darkness retreat cannot be found in scientific studies, but the practice has existed for thousands of years through several cultures: Ancient India, China, Tibet, Greece and Egypt, for instance.