If you have ever wanted to experience for yourself a moment of genuine spiritual awakening, or if you simply want to know who you truly are, then an Enlightenment Intensive could be for you.
Enlightenment Intensives are residential group retreats with a single aim: to help you find the answer to life’s great questions such as “Who am I?” and “What is life?”
Not an answer in the form of words or ideas, however, but a direct experience of who you are, of the very essence of your being — that which some call True Nature, or simply Truth.
In short, an experience of enlightenment. In just three days.
I went in being me but not knowing it. I came out being me and knowing it. It was this that changed my life.
Sandy (EI participant)
What does enlightenment mean?
I know that finding enlightenment on one short retreat sounds pretty far-fetched. But this is largely because the word itself is not well defined.
To many, enlightenment refers to nothing less than the Buddha’s final, permanent state of absolute freedom and perfection, “liberation from the wheel of death and rebirth” — something unimaginable to most ordinary mortals. To others, it can conjure up images of extraordinary saints, or gurus endowed with supernatural powers.
Less well known, perhaps, but a lot more common the whole world over, is an experience known as “sudden enlightenment”.
This is a kind of momentary inner awakening to what is ultimate Truth. It involves a simple yet radical shift in consciousness, an experience that is far different from normal perceptions, thoughts and emotions. It is a timeless moment in which you suddenly, spontaneously, awaken to the absolute essence of self or life or reality.
I laughed with sheer joy at the’rightness’ of it… No doubt you know the jubilantly satisfying ‘click’ one experiences when one finds the solution to, for instance, a complicated mathematical problem. Well, the experience I had was of a similar kind but carried to the ultimate. A king-size, super-hyper-Click!!! And with the feeling that I had ‘come home’. It included the blissful awareness of unity, of being in all, and all being in me.
(from The Relevance of Bliss by Nona Coxhead)
In Zen, this sudden awakening experience is known as or kensho or satori. In the West, we also refer to it as illumination, the unitive experience, mystical union, self-realisation and so on.
It is simply a moment of true inner knowing; a discovery of ultimate Truth … not by reading about it, not by listening to people who teach about it … but by finding it for yourself, within yourself, by direct experience.
Many modern accounts, as well as spiritual traditions, describe how very ordinary people have stumbled upon just such an experience, almost by accident. What people experience in these moments of illumination is both universal and, paradoxically, unique to each person.
Common descriptions include:
- A profound sense of having “come home”
- An awe and reverence for life
- Unparalleled joy, fulfilment, gratitude
- Quiet certainty
- A deep sense of Love
For many people, knowing who and what they are brings a deep sense of relief and peace. Other people are surprised at the obviousness of it all, or amazed, or laugh hysterically at the cosmic joke involved. Some experience feelings of bliss; some a release of joy and energy that had been held back for years. It is not uncommon for people to recognise that this is what they always wanted but did not realise until they experienced it.
With the dropping away of the hope or desire to get it right, I caught a glimpse of something new; I sank into a direct if brief experience of who – or perhaps more accurately what – I am. It took my breath away. It moved through my body like fire and left me laughing with the sheer delight of being.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer (spiritual teacher, describing her experience on an EI)
But above all, enlightenment gives the most profound insight into reality, a sense of knowing and of oneness that is absolute … and hard to do justice with mere words!
What happens on an Enlightenment Intensive?
A journey from the mundane of routine life to the warm glow of truth through the valley of despair.
Ed (EI participant)
At the start of an Enlightenment Intensive, the participants are taught a simple contemplation technique using the question: “Who am I?” The aim is not for you to find a logical or correct answer to the question but to experience for yourself, within yourself, the actual truth of who you are … whatever that may be.
You then contemplate this question virtually every waking moment for three days. This is part of what makes the process intense.
But instead of just holding you in continuous silent meditation, the Enlightenment Intensive technique combines this with communication exercises. These 40-minute exercises are the main feature of the Intensive. During the communication exercises, or “dyads“, you pair up with another participant (a different one each time). Then, you and your partner take turns to say what you are experiencing as you contemplate.
So, while you ask yourself “Who am I?” and then describe whatever you experience, your partner simply looks and listens in silence. After five minutes, you swap roles: you become the listening partner while your partner contemplates their question and tells you about their experiences.
Talking with others in this way is not like having a normal conversation. You listen and are listened to with full attention but what you say is never commented on. No advice is given, no judgements made.
This provides a powerful foundation of security within the group. It gives you incredible freedom and promotes ever increasing openness.
The Intensive has a full daily schedule from early morning to late evening. Your time is spent alternating between the communication exercises and periods of silent contemplation. There are walking periods, meals, a working period and a rest period. These periods are essentially silent, other than if you are asking for information or guidance from the staff.
The schedule is designed to build up a focus of attention and energy on contemplating your question.
To reinforce this, the Intensive also has a set of rules designed to remove all distraction from focusing on one’s contemplation. These include no smoking, alcohol, coffee or other drugs. There are also rules which ensure that each participant is free to follow their own process. These include no touching and no commenting on any other participant in any way.
How is an enlightenment experience possible in just a few days?
The Enlightenment Intensive is a capsule spiritual journey which starts with thoughts and ends with truth; starts with intellect and ends with your very being; starts with games and ends with the explosion of every game, including the Intensive itself.
C.L. (EI participant)
The process of sharing your inner journey — and listening to others share theirs — continually brings you into the present. It immerses you in the moment-by-moment awareness of your ‘now’ without letting you get lost in a stream of thoughts and feelings.
It is this combination of continuous contemplation and contact with others that is responsible for the speed and intensity of the process. And it is the extraordinary state of openness which results that enables enlightenment experiences to occur in a relatively short time.
No-one can guarantee that you will have an enlightenment experience. In fact, neither you nor anyone else can make it happen. This is why enlightenment has often been described as an “accident” — because when it occurs people do not usually know how it has occurred. It just happens all by itself, often when you least expect it.
All we can do is maximise the conditions which enable it to occur. And everything about an Enlightenment Intensive is designed to do just that … to make you “accident prone”.
On a typical Intensive usually about a quarter of the group will have an enlightenment experience.
But taking part in an Enlightenment Intensive produces a wealth of insights, awareness and new perspectives on you and your life. This is so irrespective of whether you have an enlightenment experience or not.
Does it change your life?
What a complete transformation has happened to me in the three years I have been participating on Enlightenment Intensives. Really – from wishing life would end to now being fully self expressive and passionate about every aspect of life.
Stuart (EI participant)
A single enlightenment experience is not a magic bullet which will solve your life and ensure your happiness forever. It is, however, a pivotal event for most people.
It can resolve or eliminate certain existential issues once and for all. Some people, for example, lose their fear of death — or their fear of life. And it can stimulate a whole new sense of inner strength and direction in life.
Some have described it as like attaching a rocket booster to your personal and spiritual growth.
And some would say that enlightenment is not about change at all, but about simply accepting what is. After all, whatever you discover in a moment of awakening already is; it always was and always will be. You just didn’t know it before. In a sense, nothing needs to change.
But the knowing of what is does change something: it fundamentally changes your perception — and this opens up new choices. Being more understanding of oneself, life and others, you become more aware of positive alternatives in how you choose to live.
The effects of this, described by many people, include:
- Deepening self-acceptance
- Increased compassion for themselves and others
- Increased trust in life
- Greater ease in being themselves
- Greater clarity about their life’s direction
- An infusion of new meaning and inspiration in your life
- A core of ‘knowing’ which isn’t dependent on how you feel or what anyone else says
- Increased reality and authenticity in relationships
- A deepening sense of spiritual connection
The communication element of an Enlightenment Intensive ensures that the process is very grounded. This means that much of the progress made in terms of insights and breakthroughs can be carried over into your everyday life. Most people also find that during the week after the Intensive more insights are gained and it becomes clearer how to make further progress in life.
Exactly what is experienced and how it affects one’s life is unique to each person.
The beauty of finding out for yourself
I have had my world turned inside out and upside down by truth. I have always wanted truth and this process blows me away. I can think of nothing else that has set me so totally free.
Amala (EI participant)
Finding one’s own truth for oneself is one of the hallmarks of Enlightenment Intensives — they are purely about self-discovery. You are not required or expected to buy into any belief system whatsoever. There are no teachings, no philosophy, no religion. There are no discussions about what the “answer” is or might be.
The only thing you are taught is the contemplation technique. And the only prerequisites on your part are a sincere desire for self-knowledge, and an openness to the possibility that you can know yourself directly, beyond your normal thoughts and perceptions, at an absolute level.
It is purely and simply about you finding out for yourself through your own experience here and now. So if and when illumination dawns, it is a spontaneous eruption of Truth within your own consciousness, and it is entirely a result of your own inner searching.
Because when you find something out for yourself, rather than just taking someone else’s word for it, you are much more able to make use of it in your life.
Is it right for you?
Amazing. Extremely difficult. One of the best experiences of my life.
Nicholas (EI participant)
Enlightenment Intensives are not for everybody. They are indeed intense. But this is all part of what makes them so powerful and effective.
Let me paint a picture of what it’s like to take an Enlightenment Intensive. You contemplate the same question for about sixteen hours a day, virtually non-stop. All your usual distractions have been taken away, so there is nothing else to do. You find yourself revealing your innermost thoughts and feelings to complete strangers. You might have long lost memories emerging from your unconscious. You may also run into deep-seated emotions such as guilt or grief that have been held in for many years. You find yourself crying one minute and laughing the next. You suddenly see others in a new light, as your usual filters and projections fall away. You feel a silent love pervading the room. You contemplate your question but nothing seems to be there and you fear that you may be empty after all…
On and on it goes, as ever deeper levels of personal truth are uncovered.
In short, taking an Enlightenment Intensive is a true adventure in self-discovery, one not to be taken lightly.
Taking an Enlightenment Intensive may be right for you if any of these ring true:
- You are drawn to seek greater depth, truth and meaning in life.
- You would like to discover something within yourself that is absolute.
- You prefer to find things out for yourself.
- You want to discover the truth of who you are.
- You have read other people’s stories of spiritual awakening and would like to experience it for yourself.
- You want to be more awake and more real.
- You want to live with greater authenticity and relate to others with more reality.
- You want to be more ‘yourself’ in life.
I would advise you not to take an Enlightenment Intensive if you are unwilling to look at yourself in complete honesty. All genuine pursuit of greater spiritual awareness involves meeting one’s personal inner barriers. Enlightenment Intensives simply accelerate this meeting. They encapsulate both the grace and the grit of true seeking and true finding.
You cannot resist your truth and be open to your truth and at the same time. You cannot hold onto your ego and expect to somehow go beyond your ego at the same time. You have to commit yourself to truth.
And I would advise you not to take an Enlightenment Intensive if you hope that enlightenment will somehow be given to you by someone else. No-one can do it for you. It requires effort on your part.
Where to take an Enlightenment Intensive
My wife and I run Enlightenment Intensives in the city of Bath, UK (see our website here).
There are others running Enlightenment Intensives all over the world. You can find some useful links on the Wikipedia entry for Enlightenment Intensives.
Enlightenment Intensives have enabled thousands of ordinary people around the world to discover who they really are — to experience a moment of enlightenment.
I hope to inspire you with the very real possibility of discovering what such an experience could mean for you.
Enlightenment Intensives – this is a brief and slightly more formal introduction to Enlightenment Intensives, including information about where they come from.
My first enlightenment experience – this is my own account of what I experienced the first time I took an Enlightenment Intensive.
My first Enlightenment Intensive – by Isis the psychic – an African American woman talks about her introduction to Enlightenment Intensives in the 1970s.