“Barry” at the WordPress blogsite called “Personality and Spirituality” has posted an article on a theme close to my heart – the utility of a practice called “Enlightenment Intensives” for clearing up the unfinished business in our lives and clearing the obstacles to revealing ourselves to ourselves.
Based on the work of Charles Berner, who further drew on Zen and Ramana Maharshi, EIs are dynamite and I highly recommend them to anyone who wishes to prepare for 2012 Ascension. Here is Barry’s article.
What are Enlightenment Intensives?
Enlightenment Intensives are modern group retreats which enable us to experience that which is traditionally known as self-realization, satori or enlightenment in a relatively short period of time.
The typical Intensive is just three days long. There are also longer Enlightenment Intensives where the aim is to go for deeper enlightenment but using essentially the same format as a 3-day.
I took my first three-day Intensive in 1991, and on the third day of that Intensive I stumbled upon the direct experience of who I am. You can read about it in the article: My first enlightenment experience. I have now taken about a dozen 3-day Intensives, three 2-week Intensives and, in 1998, a 6-week Intensive. My wife and I have also been trained to lead Enlightenment Intensives, and have been doing so, on and off, since 1993. We currently run Enlightenment Intensives in Bath, UK.
How Do They Work?
The format of an Enlightenment Intensive resembles a cross between a Zen meditation retreat and a group therapy workshop.
As a participant, you are taught a simple form of meditation known as contemplation. This involves repeatedly asking yourself a question such as “Who am I?” throughout the retreat. (Other questions typically used are “What am I?”, “What is life?” and “What is another?”)
The aim is not to come up with an intellectual answer, but to probe deeper and deeper within oneself in search of the actual truth of the matter.
Contemplation is maintained steadily throughout the three days by repeatedly – and sincerely – asking the same question.
As with a Zen retreat, the Intensive is led by a person who is traditionally called the master, though some prefer the term facilitator. The master’s role is to set up the retreat, ensure it runs smoothly, and provide the participants with appropriate information, support, and encouragement, both to the group as a whole and to individuals where needed.
The master is supported by monitors who take care of both the participants and the retreat environment.
The Enlightenment Intensive also has a set of monastic-style rules, such as no reading, no TV, no makeup. These are designed to ensure that a single-minded focus on the purpose of the retreat is maintained and, as far as possible, participants do not get into discussions, issues, conflicts or collusion with each other.
In particular, participants are required not to express any judgments of one another when communicating.
Where the Enlightenment Intensive differs from a traditional meditation retreat and resembles a modern therapeutic workshop is in the fact that the participants, rather than facing a wall to meditate, spend much of the day sitting face-to-face in pairs, taking turns to communicate to each other about their inner experiences.
These one-to-one communication exercises are known as dyads.
During a dyad, you and your partner take turns to contemplate and communicate whatever occurs as a result. While one partner is contemplating and communicating, the other partner just watches and listens attentively but makes no response. You swap roles every 5 minutes over a 40-minute exercise.
Asking yourself a question like “Who am I?” focuses your attention inward. Doing it intensively for a period of days, you inevitably become aware of a wide variety of thoughts and feelings, memories, attitudes and even physical sensations which are stirred up by the asking. The purpose of then communicating such inner experiences to another (within a safe setting) is that it dramatically accelerates the internal shifts needed to open your consciousness up to a possible experience of ultimate truth.
The contemplation/communication technique is built into a daily schedule from early morning to late evening in which 40-minute dyads alternate with periods of silent contemplation (including all eating, resting, walking and break periods).
What is “Enlightenment”?
“The Enlightenment experience is a singularly intense experience which tells one his or her place in the scheme of things. This is a more often than not a once and for all experience which will cause the experiencer never again to doubt his or her relationship with or to the self, others, the world, and whatever one may believe is beyond the world. This experience is enormously validating or empowering, and is unlike any other experience one can have.”
– from a talk by Rev. Vajra Karuna, “Sudden or Gradual Enlightenment?“
All those people whom we regard as “enlightened” masters, saints, sages and gurus appear to have some real insight into the most essential truths of our existence—they somehow know who they are, or why we are here, or what the meaning of life is. Moreover, they all teach that each of us has the same access to truth—because ultimate truth lies within us and is the very essence of our being. Each of us can uncover for ourselves the mystery of who we are or why we are here or what life is really about.
And it is by consciously living our own truth that we find real meaning, purpose and fulfilment.
This inner discovery of ultimate truth goes by various names:
It is a sudden awakening to what truly is, the actual essence of reality—regardless of our beliefs, opinions or preferences, regardless of what anyone else says on the matter, regardless of whether or not it makes sense or feels good.
It is a timeless moment in which we simply know the way things actually are because we are at one with Being itself.
This is the experience you seek during an Enlightenment Intensive. It is a momentary change in your state of consciousness in which you directly experience (or become conscious of being) that which is absolute reality or ultimate truth – the ultimate truth of self, or of life, or of others. The contemplation questions are designed to point you to that ultimate truth.
For example, working on “Who am I?” facilitates the direct exprience of your real self, your inner being. Working on “What am I?” facilitates the direct experience of your true nature and purpose. “What is life?” facilitates the direct experience of the true nature, meaning and purpose of life. “What is another?” facilitates the direct experience of the reality and true nature of others. Needless to say, the ultimate true nature of self, life and other are not necessarily different! The different questions are just different ways of approaching the same realm of Truth.
Where do Enlightenment Intensives come from?
Enlightenment Intensives were devised by an American spiritual teacher named Charles Berner (1929-2007), also known as Yogeshwar Muni.
Charles Berner 1In the 1960s, Berner (right) had been developing the use of interpersonal communication processes for personal growth. But he had observed that those people who tended not to make much progress in their personal growth would be those who did not actually know who they were – that is, they were “identified” with their false images or egos or personalities, unaware of their true inner being. Traditional techniques for experiencing self-realization, such as the ancient yogic method of self-enquiry using the question “Who am I?” (as taught in the 20th Century by Ramana Maharshi), were too long term for the average Westerner seeking personal growth.
The inspiration for Enlightenment Intensives came to Berner one sunny Spring afternoon in 1968.
“I had four or five hours one afternoon with nothing to do. I was in the Santa Cruz mountains in California, staring at the trees in a nice quiet area … Suddenly the whole idea of the Enlightenment Exercise occurred to me and moments later it occurred to me to use the format of a Zen sesshin [intensive meditation retreat], but to call it an intensive. So essentially the basic outline of both the Enlightenment Technique and the Enlightenment Intensive came to me at that time. And what source it came from I know not but it wasn’t a process of sitting down and figuring it out. It occurred to me in one moment. I was just reflecting on this problem on this beautiful spring afternoon and suddenly it came to me: why don’t we take the age-old question of ‘Who am I?” which is at least 7,000 years old, and combine it with the communication techniques that I had learned? And thus was born the Enlightenment Intensive.”
– from a talk by Charles Berner in 1993 on the 25th Anniversary of Enlightenment Intensives
The first, experimental Enlightenment Intensive was held in the Californian desert soon afterwards.
Berner went on to run dozens of Intensives over the next few years, gradually refining the format, the rules, the technique and so on. Having optimized the retreat for the “weekend truth-seeker”, he also trained others to lead Enlightenment Intensives in the same manner. His 99th and last Enlightenment Intensive was held in Berkeley in 1975.
Enlightenment Intensives are now held in many countries around the world.
Note that the overriding orientation of Enlightenment Intensives is self-discovery. In fact, religious teachings and philosophical concepts are generally avoided. Hence, Intensives tend to be offered as a stand-alone process, outside of any tradition or movement or organization. You do the Intensive, you go home, that’s it.