Aubrey Marcus’ Darkness Retreat Produced Psychedelic Visions

Astronaut Entering Cave On Alien Planet

Aubrey Marcus is widely known as being the founder of health and fitness brand Onnit, a company focused on what he calls “Total Human Optimization,” which develops dietary supplements, nootropics (natural compounds that enhance brain function), and exercise gear.

Concurrent with his company’s meteoric growth, Marcus has become one of the most popular voices in the alternative, new age space with his eponymous podcast, where he discusses topics ranging from mental health to plant medicine, sexuality, and cultural paradigm shifts. 

Like most stories of success, Marcus struggled in his early adulthood to find true meaning in life. While discussing his legacy in a recent interview on Open Minds with Regina Meredith, Marcus said, “I was looking for my purpose. I always felt like I had something important to give.” 

This sentiment began early in his life, inspired by movies depicting sagacious masters who encouraged their protegés by telling them they had something important to contribute to the world. But like the archetypal Hero’s Journey, his road to success was punctuated by obstacles he first had to overcome.

One of the ways Marcus gained clarity on his journey was by imbibing the powerfully psychedelic ayahuasca brew, which gave him insight into the nature of his mind and his role in the universe. Today, psychedelic modalities through breathwork, sensory deprivation, and plant medicines are topics regularly discussed on his podcast.

But it was through his initial experience with the DMT-containing ayahuasca that Marcus embraced not just an internal philosophical shift, but also one in his identity. Choosing to rebrand with his middle name “Aubrey,” he began to build Onnit, based on a conversation with Joe Rogan about what kind of supplement he would be interested in trying. When Rogan responded with a cognitive enhancer made from plants and natural substances, he began formulating Alpha Brain and subsequently formed a fortuitous partnership with the world’s most popular podcaster. 

Marcus’s conclusions about life are highly influenced by his fascinating firsthand experiences that drive his philosophical curiosities. While potent psychedelics like ayahuasca are an almost guaranteed method of achieving ego death and confronting inner demons, Marcus’ desire to explore the deeper realms of human consciousness has taken him even further.

In 2020, he embarked on a retreat spent in complete darkness for an entire week. This sensory deprivation was undertaken with the intention of self-reflection as well as inducing a release of endogenous DMT to produce psychedelic visions. Though the first few days didn’t exactly produce powerful visions, Marcus says he did contemplate and pick apart every aspect of his life, convincing himself he needed to change everything, but these thoughts were fleeting. Then, after a few days, he says he eventually experienced some of the most intense visions, culminating in a discussion with the Buddha, himself.

Marcus says the insight from these experiences gave him new outlooks on life including an appreciation for his family and loved ones, in addition to learning how the machinations of the ego shape our daily thought patterns.

Marcus’s work is also about helping people discover the freedom to be themselves by recognizing who they are in all their complexity. He tells Meredith we are really a mixture of good and bad, courageous and fearful, and that we don’t have to pretend to be one or the other. It’s about being aware of the “shadow aspects” that we suppress instead of embracing who we are.

Marcus admits, “I know nothing. But every day I ask questions and take a seat at the table where Truth likes to have snacks.”

Sacrifice as a Catalyst for Rebirth and Bliss in Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey

Sacrifice and Bliss Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell is one of the most influential writers, philosophers, and professors in history. His work on mythology has taken native stories beyond their face value and deep into the human psyche, where they resonate with the core of who we are. 

Campbell’s life’s work brought countless people across the world in touch with the collective unconscious that underlies our every thought and motivates us to seek happiness. His phrase “follow your bliss” is now a household prompt, thanks to a series of interviews with celebrated journalist Bill Moyers in the early ‘90s. Gaia members can now experience this timeless discussion, listening to episodes discussing “The Hero’s Adventure”, “Sacrifice and Bliss”, and more.

Campbell’s teachings applied the lessons of heroes and metaphors of mythology to our own lives. “A myth is not a lie,” he famously said, despite this commonly misused definition. Rather, a myth is a story meant to turn the mind inward to reflect upon itself and reveal the essential truths of reality and our relationship to the transcendent. 

As Campbell explains in his series of interviews with Moyers, myth is often constructed as a hero’s journey — a pivotal course of events that slowly test the story’s protagonist and push them to the next step of unfoldment — toward transcendence. Each obstacle the hero experiences is a reflection of himself, as he is moved one step closer to sacrifice the egoic sense of self to the greater good, which is total consciousness.

When we study mythology, Campbell taught, we find the theme of sacrifice to be all-important. We must let go in order to receive what is already present. Campbell said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” The hero sacrifices his lower nature for his higher nature, and his safety for the one he rescues, or perhaps an object of desire for a noble cause. 

Campbell taught that sacrifice is a theme that runs through all things natural — death (the sacrifice of a living being) gives way to new life in an ever-continuing cycle. But death is often metaphorical and may be the death of a habit, a pattern of thinking, or an attachment to something. Or, he said, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship.”

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