An Enlightenment Intensive is a group retreat designed to enable a spiritual enlightenment experience within a relatively short time. Devised by Americans Charles (1929–2007) and Ava Berner in the 1960s, the format combines the self-enquiry meditation method popularised by Ramana Maharshi with interpersonal communication processes such as the dyad structure of co-counselling in a structure that resembles both a traditional Zen sesshin (meditation retreat) and group psychotherapy. Religious teachings and philosophical concepts are generally avoided.
Charles Berner had observed that those who were most identified with their self-image, ego or personality tended not to make much progress in personal therapy, which may require flexibility.
Mystics who practise insight or jnana yoga report a momentary change of consciousness bringing a direct experience of the reality or truth of self or of others, or of existence, such as is known in various traditions as kensho, satori or samadhi. But traditional techniques for this realisation depend upon a monastic or eremitic life difficult to attain for the average Westerner.
In spring 1968 it "just suddenly occurred" to Charles Berner - "what source it came from I know not but it wasn't a process of sitting down and figuring it out" - to combine meditation methods with the structure of an interpersonal workshop.
The first experimental Enlightenment Intensive was held soon afterwards in the Californian desert with Charles and Ava Berner. Berner ran dozens over the next few years, gradually refining the format and method, optimising the retreat for the "weekend truth-seeker". He also trained others to lead groups. His 99th and last Enlightenment Intensive was held in Berkeley in 1975.
The typical intensive is three days long: there are also longer Enlightenment Intensives (e.g., seven days, two weeks, six weeks) using essentially the same format as a three-day. It is led by a "master" or "facilitator" whose role is to set up the retreat, ensure it runs smoothly and provide participants with information, support and encouragement, both as a whole and individually. It has a set of rules designed to ensure a single-minded focus on the purpose of the retreat.
A typical day starts early in the morning and lasts until late in the evening and usually consists of a single structure interspersed with eating, washing, exercise, work and meditation. Each day there are ten to twelve 40-minute periods where participants work in dyads, rotating partners, giving an instruction, chosen by the participant or the master/facilitator, often called a koan. The most usual instructions are "tell me who you are", tell me what you are", "tell me what life is" or "tell me what another is".
One partner gives the instruction to the other and listens intently without any response. The "talking" partner looks for a direct experiential answer and reports it to their partner. This continues for 5 minutes when, in response to a bell or chime, the "talking" partner becomes the "listening" partner for 5 minutes. After 40 minutes there is a break before resuming with another partner.
When participants have a direct experience of great clarity they may present an answer to the master/facilitator. The participant then continues, either with another instruction or the same instruction.
There may be a period on the last day to support integration of the experience into daily life. There may also be a follow-up meeting after some days.
Enlightenment Intensives are now held in many countries around the world. They may be offered as a "stand-alone" process outside any tradition, movement or organization. There are also numerous derivative processes going by different names, perhaps involving some alteration of the format.
- Chapman, J. (1989). Tell Me Who You Are. (ISBN 1-85421-026-2) http://www.enlightenment-intensives.org.uk/TellMeWhoYouAre(part1).pdf
- Quoted in Noyes, L. (1998), The Enlightenment Intensive: Dyad Communication (created by his wife Ava Berner) as a Tool for Self-Realization. North Atlantic Books. (ISBN 1883319730)
- Love, J. (1979) The 72 hour mirror, the Enlightenment Intensive Process. by Jeff Love. Guerneville, California: Inner Ed. Reprinted April 1986 by Origin, Star Route, Sattley, California. 59 pgs. (ASIN B000N6B0GY)
- Noyes, L. (1998), The Enlightenment Intensive: Dyad Communication as a Tool for Self-Realization. North Atlantic Books. (ISBN 1883319730)