Enlightenment Intensives

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:

  • self-realization
  • satori
  • spiritual awakening
  • enlightenment

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.

Charles Berner 1In 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 Announcements

Here’s a Facebook page where upcoming Enlightenment Intensives around the world are announced →

Facebook LogoEnlightenment Intensives

Here’s a global EI event listing website by Thomas Tiller   →

Upcoming Enlightenment Intensives


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.

Why communication?

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.

Further Reading


tell-me-who-you-are-cover-83x100Jake 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).


EI book by Lawrence Noyes

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.


See also:


17 thoughts on “Enlightenment Intensives

  1. I’ve done twenty-three enlightenment intensives since 1977 and I find them the best method of clearing away the obstacles to revealing myself to myself.

    I also took the est training and combined the lessons of that technique into my EIs. I found that the est training lacked time to apply the excellent material they offered but that EIs provided the time. For me the combination was dynamite, but I have to admit that I have never received a great deal of support for having worked in this fashion.

    I’m truly happy to see someone else writing on the subject. Thank you very much for this article.


    Steve Beckow

    • Thanks, Steve. I’m really curious to know more: What aspect of est do you bring to EIs, how do they combine, and what happens as a result?


  2. Here is one example.

    The basis of the est Training was an explanation of how the mind works – according to “records,” which are multidimensional memories of simultaneous moments of “now.” Below one record is another record.

    Anticipating how the mind worked from my time in est, I burrowed down through the records in each EI.

    Another example would be that the est Training discussed numerous ways of breaking free from the grip of a record: telling the truth, sitting with something like a brick in the lap, sharing a withold, etc. I used all of these techniques in EIs, often cycling through them to discover which would allow me to break through a stuck moment.

    I could give many more examples. est was rich in knowledge, but allowed little time for work. EIs were rich in time, but the ones I attended were not rich in knowledge.

    So I combined est knowledge with the the EI format.

    I was much criticized for it and reminded that EIs were for burning a laser hole through experience to the knowledge of Self. I have had many experiences of Self, but I found the best use of Eis was to complete unfinished business in the way I just described.

    Completed unfinished business did not return, but a momentary experience fo Self quickly disappears.

  3. Maybe you could make changes to the blog subject title Enlightenment Intensives Personality & Spirituality to more better for your subject you make. I loved the blog post even sononetheless.

    • Hi
      To the best of my current knowledge, there are EIs in USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, various other European countries, Australia, and sometimes India. If you do a google search for “Enlightenment Intensives” + “dates”, and maybe also specify a country, you should get the latest scheduled events. They are usually surprisingly inexpensive. If you are in the UK, see enlightenment-Intensives.info for information about ours.

  4. barry – you are doing good work. but i just want to say that after living with a self-realized guru in india for 35 years and practising the same sadhana by which he became enlightened, i just want to say that it is not so easy to get enlightened. its not a small thing. its not a passing thing. my guru is totally identified with the absolute. his very being is rooted there and the absolute pervades every bit of his dna, his consciousness, his actions, all the time. it has taken him more than one lifetime to get there. you’d have to meet him to realize these things. the observation that westerners haven’t got the time to do this does not make the process any quicker for them. there are no shortcuts. a lot depends on the guru, the technique, and the seeker. you may say – oh i have heard all this before about the indian gurus and their systems of meditation and breathing and i agree. a lot of pseudo people are teaching whatever they know but its not enough. you have to be enlightened yourself to teach others how to get there and your system has to pass any scrutiny from anywhere anytime to be proven that it is real. so how to know if the teacher is enlightened? you have to meet him in person and decide for yourself. it might not be easy to find such a person. peter brent in his book godmen of india quotes his sadhu guide in india as saying that there are very few gurus who can do this. and that was about 50 years ago! by now there might be none left in india, let alone anywhere else in the world. i just say these things so that you can have a realistic perspective on spirituality. india has been the land of spirituality since the beginning of creation and is very seasoned and mature in this regard. the real thing has always been present here and its hard to fool even the ordinary man on the street about it. you would have to visit to experience it and be open to the vibrations here on many levels. all these words are not to discourage people, but to inspire them to keep on doing whatever they are doing in this direction. best regards, frank uncle

    • Frank
      I am not at all confusing transient enlightenment experiences with permanent enlightenment as a final state, and I am very surprised that you think I am. Perhaps the distinction needs to be made clearer on this page.

  5. Hello, I have just begun to research all aspects of reincarnation, soul stages, and enlightenment.
    before, I Had no true knowledge of this realm of beliefs. from all religious knowledge I have obtained throughout my seventeen years..from in this body, these practices and the ‘Michael teachings’ have had the clearest explanation above all other beliefs. it just makes sense, I don’t feel so doubtful.
    I can’t even begin to think of a suitable question, there are so many to chose from. I just long to discover the place where I belong, my true self, all the can be told about myself, my entity, my essence. I feel it will be a long time before I get a chance for the truth.

    • Hi Claudia,

      A good question to ask yourself every day is “Who am I?”

      Another one I got a lot out of is “What is my life’s purpose?” One day I literally locked myself in a bedroom and didn’t come out until I felt I had got the real answer out of my bones. Only took about 45 minutes!


  6. How does this relate to the articles on soul evolution? Does recognizing who you are advance your soul growth, or is the discovery of spirit/Atman/Buddha-Nature something separate from the individual soul’s journey?

    My understanding is that the soul is that which is always individual – my soul is never your soul. Yet what’s realized in enlightenment is the pure consciousness which is universal – the pure consciousness typing this is one and the same as the pure consciousness reading it. Seen through different eyes and understood through different souls and minds, but one and the same consciousness.

    If we recognize our enlightened nature, how does that benefit our soul and help its journey? I think you’ve said before that you don’t need to do anything spiritual to become an old soul and complete reincarnation. In which case, what’s the point of it?

    • Hi Oliver

      Thanks for the great questions.

      Here’s my take:

      How does this relate to the articles on soul evolution?

      You and I and everyone else are beings developing (or at least capable of developing) in consciousness. Soul evolution is all about gradually expanding and refining the consciousness that each of us has.

      But we are not our consciousness as such; rather, consciousness is an attribute of our being. No one has had a direct experience that came out as “I am a Mature soul”.

      Does recognizing who you are advance your soul growth, or is the discovery of spirit/Atman/Buddha-Nature something separate from the individual soul’s journey?

      If we recognize our enlightened nature, how does that benefit our soul and help its journey?

      I would say it makes a massive contribution to one’s own journey, if one so desires it, but in itself is not necessary.

      Yes, it is possible for a soul to reincarnate from beginning to end and eventually become fully evolved, yet without seeking or having a single spiritual transformation while incarnate. The lessons of life can be assimilated between lives. And the truth of our spiritual nature is pretty damn obvious to us between lives anyway.

      For many of us, however, as soon as our spiritual juices are stirred whilst incarnate, we feel compelled to pierce the veil that covers us in each incarnation so that we can actually stand here on Earth as ourselves, consciously and knowingly. This will be particularly so when we live a life with the goal of Growth.

      I don’t think there is any reason to assume one way is better than the other (seeking or not seeking spiritual transformation). If we are drawn to maximise our spiritual consciousness while on Earth, then we are free to do so, and the world will no doubt be a better place for it.

      My understanding is that the soul is that which is always individual – my soul is never your soul.

      The most common first-time enlightenment experience is : “I am.” The individual discovers that their own innermost being, their true self, is an absolute reality and truth, always was and always will be. Indeed, many Buddhists who are taught to believe in “no self” are knocked sideways to discover that their own self does indeed exist at the absolute level — not as a soulless void but as a rich presence that is uniquely THEM.

      In such moments of enlightenment/realisation, there is a paradox:

      While the discovery that “I am” is universal, the actual experience of knowing that “I am” appears to be unique to each individual. In other words, the existence of each individual as an individual is an absolute Truth, yet at the same time there is only one absolute Truth.

      Our linear brains struggle to make sense of how on the one hand “all = one” and yet on the other hand “my self ≠ your self”. But as we go into deeper states of enlightenment/realisation, asking ourself What am I?, What is Life?, and What is Another?, we come to grasp more of the subtlety of Truth.

      To say that there is only one consciousness — yes, in the sense that all the water on planet Earth is one and the same substance. But there are many different instances of water, and likewise each soul or self is a unique instance of the universal consciousness.

      What is the point?

      There is no point to pursuing enlightenment other than because it makes sense to YOU. Perhaps it brings you peace or joy or contentment, or perhaps it satisfies your vast curiosity about “what it all means”, or perhaps it scratches that terrible itch for self-knowledge and self-acceptance, or perhaps it helps elevate your consciousness above the meaningless games that we play on Earth….

      If you can see some benefit in it for yourself or others or the world, then that is all the point you need.



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