A way to discover who you really are.
What are Enlightenment Intensives?
Each of us can discover, within ourselves, the ultimate truth of who and what we are. This inner discovery goes by various names:
- spiritual awakening
Enlightenment Intensives are modern group retreats which enable us to experience this in as little as three days.
I took my first Intensive in 1991, and on the third day I stumbled into a direct knowingness of who I am that has stayed with me ever since. (You can read about it in this article.) Since then I have taken about a dozen 3-day Enlightenment Intensives, as well as three 2-week Intensives and one 6-week Intensive. They remain the most powerful and significant growth process I have ever known.
Where do they come from?
Enlightenment Intensives were devised by an American spiritual teacher named Charles Berner (1929-2007), also known as Yogeshwar Muni.
In the 1960s, Berner (right) had been developing processes for personal growth. But he noticed that some people tended not to make much progress because they were so identified with their false images or egos or personalities, unaware of their true inner being. So he began to wonder how he could help people to discover who they really are.
Traditional techniques for experiencing self-realization, such as self-enquiry using the question “Who am I?” (as taught in the 20th Century by Ramana Maharshi), were too slow and involved for the average Westerner seeking personal growth.
The inspiration for Enlightenment Intensives came to Berner very suddenly one afternoon in 1968. He held the first, experimental Enlightenment Intensive in the Californian desert soon afterwards. He then went on to run dozens of Intensives over the next few years, gradually refining the format, the rules, the technique and so on. His 99th and last Enlightenment Intensive was held in Berkeley in 1975.
After that, he trained others to lead Enlightenment Intensives in the same manner.
Enlightenment Intensives are now held in many countries around the world.
My wife and I took the training in 1992, and have been running Intensives in the UK, on and off, ever since. Here are some links —
Worldwide Facebook Page
Here’s a Facebook page where upcoming Enlightenment Intensives around the world are announced →
How do they work?
The format of an Enlightenment Intensive resembles a cross between a Zen meditation retreat and a group therapy workshop.
The basic technique is one of contemplation, or self-enquiry, asking oneself the question “Who am I?” continually throughout the retreat.
(Other questions that may be used are “What am I?”, “What is life?” and “What is another?”, but for your first Intensive the question “Who am I?” is best.)
The aim of asking yourself “Who am I?” is not to figure out the “right answer.” It has nothing whatsoever to do with ideas, concepts, teachings or philosophies. Instead, the aim is to directly experience who you are — to consciously be your real self and know it.
It’s about you discovering you, the very essence of you awakening to the very essence of you.
All it takes is a single moment. And the question “Who am I?” makes this possible by gradually drawing you the very truth your existence.
Immersed in the process
Well, that sounds easy enough. We just ask ourselves “Who am I?” and … pop!
For the majority of us, however, it’s far from easy.
Self-enquiry can be a frustrating and disheartening process. We get distracted by everyday life, or we run into personal issues, or we simply get bored with the question, and we soon lose interest and motivation.
So for self-enquiry to “work” we need to be completely immersed in the process for a period of time. And it helps to be part of a group of like-minded people all doing the same thing, preferably with the guidance of someone who’s been there already.
This is exactly what many ashrams and monasteries are — communities for dedicated, long-term contemplation or meditation.
But the majority of us have neither the spare time, nor the freedom from responsibilities, nor the overwhelming desire, to live like that.
This is precisely why the Enlightenment Intensive came into being: to provide people who have a real desire to know who they are with a method that is both quick and accessible.
The process is highly immersive, like a silent retreat, and it uses self-enquiry. But where it differs from traditional methods is in the use of communication exercises.
With any inner practice such as meditation, we inevitably stir up personal thoughts, feelings, attitudes, difficult memories, and even unconscious blocks. Some of this may be may be superficial, while some of it may be deeply meaningful. Either way, in the context of self-enquiry, all this mind-stuff stands in the way of our ability to directly experience who we actually are.
But as we know from “talk therapy” and group-work, we can overcome such things by naming them, expressing them, and sharing them with others.
And in fact this proves to be incredibly effective as a way to support self-enquiry.
So the purpose of communicating in an Enlightenment Intensive is to consciously identify and express whatever is brought up into our awareness as we contemplate “Who am I?”
Combined with sustained self-enquiry, this communication element dramatically accelerates the inner search for truth.
How is communication combined with contemplation?
Throughout an Enlightenment Intensive, there are regular periods in which all participants sit face-to-face in pairs, or dyads. The two members of each dyad take turns to communicate as they contemplate, switching roles every five minutes.
To get an idea of how this works, let’s imagine two people, Alice and Bob, in an actual dyad.
To begin the exercise, Alice looks directly at Bob and says “Tell me who you are.”
Bob now contemplates his question, “Who am I?”, probably with his eyes closed. Alice does nothing apart from continuing to watch Bob.
After a minute or so, Bob has something to say. He looks up at Alice and says (for example):
I just had a memory of being a kid at school … Being asked a question by the teacher, but not knowing the answer … and feeling pretty embarrassed. In fact, feeling a bit stupid.
Alice listens to Bob saying all this, but doesn’t react or respond. Her role right now is simply to pay attention to whatever Bob has to say.
Having communicated that, Bob now carries on asking himself “Who am I?”
A few moments later he looks up at Alice again, and says:
I noticed that I was feeling tense … But it was because of that memory of being at school and getting it wrong … And then I thought, well it’s not really like that here, ‘cos it’s not about producing the right answer … And now, I’m not feeling tense.”
And so it continues with Alice watching and listening as Bob contemplates and communicates.
Then, after 5 minutes, a staff member tells the group it’s time to switch roles. So Alice will say to Bob, “Thank you,” and then Bob will look at Alice and say, “Tell me who you are.”
Now it is Alice’s turn to silently contemplate the question “Who am I?”, and to communicate to Bob whatever comes to her as a result. And for these 5 minutes Bob will remain silent, just keeping his attention on Alice and listening to whatever she says, without responding.
By communicating to each other whatever comes to mind as a result of contemplating, each partner is able to keep moving forward with their self-enquiry.
Whenever one of them is contemplating and communicating, the other will just watch and listen attentively, but make no response. This not responding is very important. It removes the fear of saying things that in normal life could elicit judgemental reactions, criticisms, and so on. This enables all participants to take courage as they go deeper and deeper into their own truth.
Again, after the 5 minutes is up, they will switch roles. And so it goes on for 40 minutes, until the exercise is over.
Throughout the daily schedule, from early morning to late evening, these dyad periods alternate with periods of silent contemplation (eating, resting, walking and break periods).
In addition to not responding in the dyads, participants are required not to get into informal discussions or conversations outside the dyads. In effect, it is a silent retreat apart from the communication exercises.
There are several other monastic-style rules, such as no reading, no TV, no makeup. The rules support the sense of immersion and group focus as well as maintaining a sense of absolute safety for all.
As with a Zen retreat, the Intensive is led by a person who is traditionally called the master, though some prefer the term leader or facilitator. The master’s role is to hold every aspect of the structure and process, and to provide all participants with appropriate guidance, support, and encouragement.
But the overriding orientation of an Enlightenment Intensive is self-discovery. In fact, religious teachings and philosophical concepts are generally avoided.
Hence, Intensives are offered as a stand-alone process, outside of any sect or movement or organization. You do the Intensive, you go home, that’s it.
Jake Chapman’s Tell Me Who You Are (self-published, 1989) gives a delightful first-person view of taking an Intensive. You can access a free online copy here (PDF reader required).
Lawrence Noyes‘ book The Enlightenment Intensive: Dyad Communication as a Tool for Self-Realization(North Atlantic Books, 1998) gives a comprehensive explanation and inspiring description of every aspect of Intensives.
The Quantum Gods: The Origin and Nature of Matter and Consciousness by Jeff Love (iUniverse, 2000) is an introduction to the Kabbalistic perspective which also includes a whole chapter devoted to Enlightenment Intensives.