“You knock at the door of reality,
shake your thought-wings, loosen
I sat before my partner, contemplating the instruction she had given me, “Tell me who you are” I closed my eyes and felt my entire body transformed into a great bellows. My hands moved in front of me squeezing the bellows in and out. As I squeezed, I felt the heat rise straight up into my head until it burst into a blaze of white light. I heard a voice beside me, (our Enlightenment Intensive Master, Brenda) gently urging me on, “What do you see?” “It’s so bright, so bright” I heard myself say. “Look deep, look inside, what do you see?” “Tell your partner what you see”. I was only aware of the light and the light was blinding…
This was the beginning of an encounter I had been preparing for my whole life, an experience that had been waiting just for ME! The Enlightenment Intensive is a combination of pure communication, self-inquiry and deep contemplation… like a Zen meditation session on steroids. Its sole purpose is to give people the tools, the time and the method to achieve a direct experience of their own true nature.
On the surface, it is deceivingly simple. A small group of people (14 in the session that I attended) retreat from their daily lives for three full days (with an evening before for orientation and a morning after for decompression) and commit to search for the truth that exists within each and every one of us. The Enlightenment intensive is secular and non-denominational. It requires no spiritual or religious commitment of any kind. We came together, one early spring evening in March at a retreat centre, north of Lake Erie, in rural Ontario, Canada. All ages (from seventeen to seventy), five men and nine women, from a variety of backgrounds, along with the intensive Master and two co-facilitators called monitors. We turned in our watches, our cell-phones, our shaving equipment, our makeup… we gave up our wine, our tobacco, our coffee, even our manners. We agreed to confine our conversation to the exercises we were given, to follow a few basic rules, to practice the techniques we would be given. In return, our meals would be taken care of, our activities structured, the outside world kept at bay and we would be given the time and the space to focus entirely on our own inner journey.
The core of the Enlightenment Intensive method is a paired exercise in which a speaking partner and a listening partner (called a “Dyad” from the Greek word for “two”) take turns at solving a koan-like question, such as, “Who am I?”, “What am I?”, “What is life?”, or “What is another?” The listening partner will give the instruction (pose the question), for example, “Tell me who you are?”. The speaking partner will then enter into their own experience with the intention of directly experiencing the “one” who is experiencing and proceed to open to whatever may arise (it may be a sensation, an emotion, an image, a memory) They then report that out to the listening partner. It is the listening partner’s role to receive the communication – without comment, gesture or other acknowledgement, except a simple “thank you” when the speaking partner has concluded their communication to acknowledge that the communication has been received. Dyad sessions are forty minutes, with each partner taking turns of five minutes each. At the beginning of each session, people change up so that they are working with as many different partners as possible.
Over time, as participants begin to strip away layers of their being, the dyad sessions can become quite intense. Powerful memories (pleasant and unpleasant), painful and pleasurable experiences, bodily aches and pains, tears and laughter, strange and familiar images rise to the surface and are cleared away. But this is not therapy! The Master and the monitors gently guide participants away from the entanglements, distractions and attachments of the mind and direct them to become aware of the “who” or the “what” that is behind or experiencing these ‘things’. The day is broken up with exercise periods, walking contemplation, eating contemplation (even sleeping contemplation) and talks by the Enlightenment Intensive Master who encourages participants to “go for the truth”.
After many hours and days of this intensive work (it’s not called an “Intensive” for nothing), individuals start to penetrate the many layers of consciousness and may achieve extraordinary insights, even “enlightenment”.
But, what is “Enlightenment”? We know religious leaders, monks and other spiritual seekers have been hungering after this elusive experience for thousands of years.
Shortly after the Buddha’s extraordinary experience of sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, when he was traveling back into the world, the Buddha encountered a man who noticed the Buddha’s shining countenance. He asked the Buddha, “Are you a God?”. The Buddha answered that he was not. “Are you a magician or a sorcerer?”. Again the Buddha answered that he was not. “Then what are you?”, asked the man. The Buddha answered: “I am awake”.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Muhammad received his revelation at the age of forty, when, “At length, unexpectedly, the Truth came to him and said, “Recite.”
The Wanderling recounts this well-known story about the Buddhist nun Chiyono and her enlightenment experience:
“Late one night a female Zen adept was carrying water in an old wooden bucket when she happened to glance across the surface of the water and saw the reflection of the moon. As she walked the bucket began to come apart and the bottom of the pail broke through, with the water suddenly disappearing into the soil beneath her feet and the moon’s reflection disappearing along with it. In that instant the young woman realized that the moon she had been looking at was just a reflection of the real thing…just as her whole life had been. She turned to look at the moon in all it’s silent glory, her mind was ripe, and that was it…Enlightenment.”
It is difficult to relay what enlightenment is, adequately in words, for it is truly outside of space, time and ordinary experience.
The great Indian guru Ramana Maharshi said, “There is no mind to control if you realize the self. The mind having vanished, the self shines forth.”
No individual’s experience of enlightenment is completely alike. Some come to the realization slowly, some quietly, some suddenly, some boisterously. But there are some common characteristics of the experience itself:
• The experience is direct. There is no mediation of thought or feeling. Boundaries are dissolved. There is no distinction between the “knower” and the thing “known”
• The experience is timeless
• The experience is undeniable
• The experience is real
• The experience is spontaneous. It cannot be invented or manufactured.
The experience is often accompanied by a heightened sense of awareness. Familiar objects take on a “newness” as if they are being experienced for the first time. There is sometimes a sense of fullness, of joy, of bliss and unconditional love. There is often tears or laughter or a deep sense of quietude or abiding peace.
For my own experience, I awakened to peals of laughter – my own! – And to the realization that I was ME!, only me, totally me and that I had always been and always would be ME! There was nowhere I needed to go and no place I needed to be. I was wholly and completely present. It seemed absurd and ridiculous that this simple and obvious fact had been staring me in the face the whole of my life and was just waiting to be discovered.
I can say, without reservation, that the experience transformed my life. Prior to coming to the session, my days and nights, like old chewing gum, were beginning to lose their flavour… meaning had gradually seeped out of my life, like air leaking from an old tire until it had become flat. My landscape was slowly losing its colour and in danger of turning to monochrome. After I realized my true nature, and recognized myself for who I was and always had been, I experienced the world as if for the very first time… and it was BEAUTIFUL! It still is!
If you have spent your life wondering who you are, if you are willing to lose the cartload of baggage you have been carrying around with you and are ready to fall in love with the truth that resides within you, a vast treasure waits to be discovered in the Enlightenment Intensive. While not everyone who attends an Intensive experiences a breakthrough on their first journey, the experience is deeply transformational. Some people realize the truth days weeks or months later (some on the drive home!). For others, the change is gradual and may take a number of intensives to realize. The important thing to remember is that enlightenment is real and attainable for just about everybody who sincerely desires to know the truth.
A number of years ago when I was first getting to know Buddhism seriously, I attended a luncheon with a number of Buddhist nuns. At the luncheon, everybody attending received a bookmark with a Buddhist maxim or saying in Chinese characters. This saying was intended to describe one’s footsteps or journey along the Bodhi path. As I have no Chinese, I asked a fellow attendee to translate for me, and here is, loosely what it said,
“Every moment presents the possibility for enlightenment”.
Then, they were only beautiful and mysterious characters. Now I know they’re true.
Miles Murphy works in the field of learning and professional development. An independent scholar, he has a wide range of interests including the humanities of East and West. He is a devotee of Buddhism and a t’ai chi ch’uan enthusiast. His poetry and other writings endeavour to poke about in the rich soil and empty sky of the human condition. Miles can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org