My first enlightenment experience


When I first saw an ad for an Enlightenment Intensive back in 1991, I was pretty sceptical. “An opportunity to experience the change in state of consciousness traditionally known as enlightenment” it said—and in just three days? There had to be a catch! I thought it was supposed to take decades, lifetimes even, to reach such a state.

I gathered that the format was like a cross between a zen meditation retreat and an intensive therapy group, combining non-stop contemplation with one-to-one communication exercises. Participants spend the entire three days contemplating a question like ‘Who am I?’, and from time to time communicate to partners what they became aware of as a result.

The communication bit worried me. As a newcomer to the growth field, I had no experience of counselling or therapy (despite being a psychologist), and I was unused to sharing my thoughts and feelings with complete strangers. I did like the idea of contemplating who I am, however.

At that point in my life I was literally anxious to know myself. Outwardly I presented a well-rehearsed “cool dude” persona. But inwardly I saw myself as a shy, nervous oaf, with a very dark shadow. I’d been in an identity crisis since my teens, and now, approaching my thirtieth birthday, I reckoned it was time I stopped playing games and ‘found my true self’—if I had such a thing. I reckoned I’d probably benefit by diving in at the deep end and doing some really heavy work on myself. I had nothing to lose …

I found myself, like everybody else, going through all manner of stuff during the three days—anxiety, amusement, boredom, frustration, happiness, grief.

On the first day I was mostly affected by the orderliness of the situation—the lack of everyday distractions, like TV. It’s amazing how interesting wallpaper can seem once the inward search begins to bite! Without the support of the group structure as a constant reminder, I know I wouldn’t have had the will-power to stay with the technique. Some people soon wanted to leave, but the master assured us that resistances will come and go all the time. I just resolved to see it through, give it my best shot.

On the second day it was more like taking the lid off my unconscious. I had all sorts of spontaneous memories, feelings, images, fantasies, as did others in the group. Seeing others taking risks to say what was really going on for them was, for me, incredibly inspiring, and I began to feel very close to several in the group, despite (or because of) the formalities. That second day was the noisiest—there was screaming, shouting, hysterical laughter, yet all the time we remained sitting respectfully in our neat rows!

On the third morning there was a calmer, more ‘studious’ atmosphere. A warm trust had developed within the group, and almost everyone was by now well into the process. Then … whenever I closed my eyes and asked myself Who am I?, I kept ‘seeing’ this gravestone. As I looked more closely at the gravestone I realised that it had my name on it. It was as if my unconscious was getting me to accept that one day I’m going to die, something which I found terrifying. The last thing I wanted to do was to confront that fear—so here it was, bang on cue.

I started shaking and panting as I communicated it to my partner, but I finally got it out.

Then it was time for lunch, and the whole thing was behind me.

But it was during lunch that I had the most amazing experience of my life. Right out of the blue, as I lifted a piece of lettuce to my mouth, there came a timeless moment at which I just knew who I was. I knew it because I was it. I had caught myself in the act of being. “Here I am!”

Part of what I got is that, ultimately, who I am is integral to the very fabric of reaity.

It was as if I had always known my being, but had simply forgotten. It was so obvious, yet so marvelous!

I started laughing uncontrollably, until a passing monitor got me to communicate it to her. As I did so, I understood why communication is the key to this process. In communicating, that moment of knowing returned, leaving me so awestruck and humbled by its reality that my rational mind could never deny the experience.

I had read of people having spontaneous and totally unexpected mystical experiences. One moment they are out walking the dog, the next moment they are in blissful union with … well, whatever. Then moments later they are back to normal, only now their lives have been changed for good. I knew I had just experienced something of this sort.

Despite all my efforts I hadn’t made it happen, it had just popped out of nowhere, like an act of grace. I later learned that almost a third of the group had had direct experiences of varying intensities, some more clear than others, and that this is par for the course on Enlightenment Intensives.

Since that first one, I have taken numerous more Enlightenment Intensives. As a result of being blessed with more and more encounters with truth, my initial scepticism has given way to a developing spirituality and self-knowledge grounded in absolute reality.

See also:

Enlightenment Intensives – my overview article

My first Enlightenment Intensive, by Isis the psychic

11 thoughts on “My first enlightenment experience

  1. In reading about your first enlightenment experience here, I am filled with emotion and awe (honestly, I teared up and don’t really know why). When I think about what it would take to truly delve deep into myself to see the answers that have always been there, that I know have always been there, I am filled with dread and fear. Yet at the same time, I am constantly reflecting upon my actions and thoughts. It’s as if I know who I am, but don’t. I want to know everything. Yet…don’t. You know what I mean?

    • Oh absolutely! I want to know everything true apart from anything negative about me, even though that resistance is precisely what holds the deeper Truth at bay. It *really* helps having other people sitting in front of you, asking you to say who you are.


  2. I am amazed, astounded, flabbergasted (I run out of adjectives strong enough to express what I feel) on reading this.

    I am a tad sceptical. You will not mind, I am sure, since you say you were sceptical yourself to begin with. And what you write of here is beyond awesome, it is, well, the ultimate.

    I have always thought this enlightenment thing, if it is true, is something one arrives at (something a lucky few arrive at) after ages and ages (perhaps lifetimes) of effort. And here you say you arrive at it, or something very like it, in only three days!

    I’ve done intensive no-distraction retreats myself, quite a few times, stretching across days, and while they’ve been good in many ways (or I wouldn’t have returned), there was no real “breakthrough”.

    Who offers these retreats and workshops, and where? Can anyone attend, try it out for oneself?


  3. Thank you for sharing this. I went through a period of enlightenment about 5 years ago. It was both a chaotic, scary and an uplifting time. I was going through a great deal of stress at the time. My “mystical” moment came very spontaneously. I was driving down the street either going to or from work, I can remember exactly. The sun was filtering through my windshield and i was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of connectedness to everyone and everything, the cars driving by me, the people walking outside. I felt a moment of blissfulness, perfection. I was so overcome that it brought me to tears. I have never since experienced anything as intensely as that moment but I am grateful for the glimpse, even if I couldn’t hold on to it.

    • Aah, that’s beautiful; thanks Katy.
      Though perhaps we should stick up a sign somewhere:
      WARNING – driving while under the influence of enlightenment can be dangerous!

  4. Very happy for you and thanks for sharing your journey and this site! It is a powerful feeling of bliss. I also was forced to face my fear of mortality after I had my son. With a newborn, definitely not a time when you want to consider dying and its implications while preparing to protect your child for his lifetime. Scary thoughts, but primal fears and needs surfaced along with his birth, that I had never ever experienced. So started me on my quest at 32 yo with a 1 yo son. He is my gift from God, so I had to do my ‘spiritual homework’ so Id be able to pass on wisdom to him. ( My parents were clueless and still are.) Id rather him have a headstart than to have to start from scratch like me. One glaring truth was that I knew God was not a punishing God from a young age, and going through alot of trauma with my parents made me want security and to be a steadfast parent myself. Thank you for this site! Your words encourage me to look deeper, think deeper and share my story. I wish there was someway we all could know who is enlightened and who is not. Like a rank after our names! LOL

  5. Beautiful. About 3 weeks ago, I came across information that let me know that “It is all within me.” As cryptic or abstract as it sounds, I somehow understood it on a deep level, but was not sure I could fully trust it. I pondered this, myself, and my beliefs for a week. It felt right, but what did it truly mean? Then, 1 week later, before bed, I had a confirmation by seeing another statement that basically said, “If you let go, there is nothing to fear.” And again, that felt right, but could I trust it? Throughout the week, I was becoming aware and questioning the purpose of fear. After re-reading that statement, I truly understood. Everything clicked and I felt a small ball of happiness grow. Happy and set for the night, I went to bed. There must of have been something amazing at work in my dreams, because I felt it for the next full day. I was in a wonderful mood, but it became even more intense as I began to walk more and more in the Present and just observing things as they were. I was becoming more aware and noticing how vibrant the rays of sun were again the spring leaves. It was amazing and I had no idea the feeling was ‘bliss’ until days later when I began to unearth mounds of information on the awakening. It is surely amazing and seems to begin with becoming conscious and just ‘being’. You feel the connection with everyone and everything. It’s really beautiful and devastating once you learn the sheer amazing design and harsh realities of mankind.

    I tried to explain the feeling of bliss to one of my best friends. It felt like I could have burst of sunshine, love, awe, wonder, joy, and more love. I told her, “You know when you feel it. Let me know when you do because it is surely amazing to feel and share.” She is beginning to understand and it is a joy to watch.

    • Oh, that’s wonderful.
      The ineffable wonder of just being, and being conscious of being…
      Many thank for sharing!

  6. I am a bit like your wife, inclined to communicate my life experience in story form. I was commune hopping in New Zealand in 1979, inhaling Castaneda and trying some of his apprentice sorcerer breathing techniques. I was working as an apple picker, living on the orchard and socializing with other pickers in the area whenever possible. There was a birthday party on a sunday afternoon that I attended under duress. There was no alcohol, bad, barely audible music via ghetto blaster, and people actually dancing to it. This struck me as lame and numbing. I started working on a discreet exit strategy. But of course, someone took my hand and pulled me into the dance circle and I groaned and half-heartedly shuffled around a bit, self-conscious and desperate now to disappear. Before long however, an unusually blissful feeling emerged and I began dancing animatedly, with boundless energy and a smile plastered on my face. It didn’t feel weird and phony anymore, just real, joyous and without judgement. I stayed all afternoon and had a great time. It was as if I had been blessed with a state of grace, so powerful and beyond mind that I couldn’t even sabotage it if I’d wanted to.

    There was a woman on another orchard whom every red-blooded male apple picker was attracted to. She was unwilling to get involved with me because the season would be over in a couple of weeks and we would likely never see each other again. My typical response would have been overzealous and desperate and thoroughly alienating. Instead, whenever I felt desire welling up, I followed a prescribed breathing pattern and without sublimating it, could actually transmute desire into acceptance and respect for her wishes. This afforded an unprecedented level of strength and power, allowing me to channel thoughts and feelings through a higher Self, without any sense of ostentation or pretence. In other words, in the past I might have feigned disinterest while working hard to fulfil desire, but this was different: it was real. We became friends, hanging out whenever we weren’t working and then one day she said we should inhabit the moment, be lovers and whatever was to come would come.

    Talk about instant gratification. To be rewarded for spiritual integrity threatened to topple my egoless state, but it didn’t, adding to the confidence that for once I couldn’t sabotage the power of grace. I vowed never to refer to it in the past tense, and it took me to many places my old self would never have earned the right to go…

    It is 35 years on. I reflect on that extended period as the high point of consciousness and struggle accepting that now despite the proud accomplishments of 3 grounded, grown children and a loving marriage, I am most assuredly NOT in a state of grace, not stripping away extranea, but adding clutter and dodging distraction. I read and relate to Advaita, the Journey of Souls and take heart that grace is just a breath away.

    Thank you Barry, for putting yourself out there for our edification and reflection.

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