Do you sometimes wonder… Why am I here? What am I doing? Who am I? What am I?
I had just ﬁnished my Yoga Teacher Training, later in life, after raising a family and ﬁnding myself at a crossroads of yet another relationship ending. Our Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras teacher was offering something I had never heard of before: a self-inquiry retreat where a contemplation technique would be used along with a koan, question, instruction to bring one-pointed focus. This inquiry would use whatever came up in contemplation as a starting point of discovery. It would be a quest for enlightenment, using a question or koan to deepen into a state he called direct experience. We had studied in the Yoga Sutras: “Yogas chitta vritti nirodah” translated to mean “Yoga is the stilling of thought-waves of the mind.” I will tell you honestly, at that time I had little idea of what that meant, only quick glimpses in meditative states. I certainly had no idea life could be experienced from anything but the ego or personality self. But I WANTED to know! I was tired of suffering! I wanted union, yoga, freedom, with every cell of my being!
The creator of this work, Charles Berner, also known as Yogeshwar, was a life-time seeker in the 60’s who was trying to help others when he noticed that people made more progress in life and were happier when they knew who and what they were at the deepest level. His guru was Swami Kripaulu, lovingly called Bapuji. His friend, his “brother”, was Yogi Amrit Desai, Gurudev. These Enlightenment Intensive Retreats were done at the ashram, as I understand it, several times a year. But that’s another story! Maybe this year, Gurudev will be on campus during our EI November and can reminisce a bit about those days.
This year, I’m studying the Bhagavad Gita. Just recently I was in a class where the college professor from Davidson College interpreted verse 6.46 as: “Be a yogi, Arjuna!” But just what does THAT mean? Even if we think we might “know”, this is easier said than done, right? How do we experience ourselves in union, whole, holy, the Self or Atman, Presence, Love? Can we know God not as a concept but directly?
On an EI, one is supported, encouraged, continually re-focused on one-pointed contemplation. During the retreat, we start to wake up to life as it is, rather than as we want it. We start to trust that what’s in the way, IS the way! Through our curiosity about what’s going on, we may ﬁnd that anything can serve as the transformative ﬁre. As we work with a partner in a dyad, we begin to bear witness to our own stories or beliefs about how life is and past our judgements into the mystery of truth. It’s pretty amazing that when someone is really listening to you and gets you, you begin to hear yourself. Suddenly you get it, and often can then see through your own illusions! Sometimes your own patterns and pre-conceived ideas become so clear that they release and let go through our very own presence.
This reminds me that one of the most impactful things I learned in Yoga Teacher Training was simple: “Every THING, comes…to go.” It seemed important to realize that there was something to someone present for all the arising things experienced, while the events, circumstances, objects were no longer here. Who/what was THAT? So, through an EI, we start to let the things, come and go while we start noticing our very being, witnessing, experiencing, presencing.
At the end of my ﬁrst self-inquiry retreat, I had told all my stories until the stories were gone. Kundalini energy had freely moved through me and I had moved into a unitive state. I’d “popped” - broken through- and was no longer the subject experiencing an object. It was like nothing else I’d ever known. There was direct experiencing, direct knowing, and everything was lit up with this light and love.
OK, some of you may ask, so how do you maintain that? How does one integrate that into life or life into that?
I’d love to say that every direct experience is still happening, that I’ve never left the enlightened state, but that is not the way it has worked for me, nor for most people. So, what is the beneﬁt from having direct experience? I’m happier having experiencing life directly. I’m more joyous being open and connected. I actually begin to be less judgmental, for I meet what arises with a sense that it is a guide, a possible ally, rather than an enemy to guard against. And whenever I move into illusion or fear, I recognize it as such. It’s as if the direct experience has left me a bread trail to follow back home. I can slip in between breaths and know the real. This being present and allowing is key to being in the natural ﬂow of life energy bringing my good, and totally trustworthy. I begin to trust myself through my increased capacity to respond rather than react. It’s all good, all Divine.
So when I’m in an EI, I discover for myself that whatever arises, whether the most joyful or the most painful, can take me into an enlightened state. Anything that can be experienced fully has the potential to bring me into direct experience/ enlightenment. If I’m in life reacting rather than responding, I can hold my intention to open, to go for direct experience, and watch whether it’s real or not. Illusions disappear.
I am allowing Grace to do what Japanese potters do with broken pottery. In their wabi-sabi or Kintsugi technique, they repair, with gold, simultaneously accenting the cracks which highlights the emptiness of the bowl now ready to receive whatever ﬂows into it next. By Grace, and my intention, I can ﬁnd my way back to center, to my Essence as Love rather than fear, and to the clarity of truth rather than the muddle of confusion, pain and illusion. I can be in life responding from love to others, seeing every encounter as a dyad where I can receive another, and possibly where I will be gotten through my efforts to communicate as authentically as possible what is occurring for me that moment. When that doesn’t happen, I somehow have the strength and compassion to ﬁnd self-compassion, to be with what is until it lets go, even if that means I need some chicken soup for the soul and lots of rest for awhile.
I do an Enlightenment Intensive Retreat to know the power of Self, embodied in this body/mind, witnessing all that happens and knowing it is good, consciousness, love and by Grace. Personally I ﬁnd that the support and encouragement available to me on an EI is just what I need to break through barriers than alone would stall me in my tracks. I become more grateful.
I give Enlightenment Intensive Retreats to witness the Divine unfolding before me in YOU, and to share the joy of our oneness! It is a way I can be in service to the light and love I am.
I do hope you will give yourself this gift, this blessing, and join us for our next EI. We are ALL in this TOGETHER! We are all needed here in this beautiful evolution of consciousness. It’s all about relating, relationship. There is You, and there is this Other. What happens “between” us is LIFE. Together we break through the illusions of separation as our understanding increases and becomes self-evident. Or should I say Self-evident?!?!? Come play with us on the Divine Playground and ﬁnd out who you really are, experientially, not conceptually. Let the inner guru bring you the knowledge you most need now for your fullest expression and highest good.
Upcoming Enlightenment Intensive at Amrit Yoga Institute