What is an Awareness Intensive Retreat?
Where does this approach come from? What is its purpose and goal? What is the format of an Awareness Intensive and what makes it so appropriate for the discovery of True Nature? In what way is it the suitable and seamless tool for those who seek to meet themselves in the truth of what they are?
The questions & answers below will help you to better understand what the awareness intensives are about and support your next participation.
A brief history…
Originally called Enlightenment Intensive, this process was developed by an American named Charles Berner, who had been working with communication techniques for personal growth during the 1960s. In 1968 Charles Berner had the idea to merge three unique self-enquiry practices; the ancient ‘Who am I?’ question, the Japanese Zen sesshin* format and a modern communication technique. Soon after that, the first experimental enlightenment intensive was held in the Californian desert.
The excellent results obtained with these early intensive retreats encouraged some of Charles Berner trained students to share these retreats in other countries, particularly in Europe and from there, they were introduced to Osho, an Indian teacher (1931-1990) who included them in his meditation centre in Pune, India.
At some point he suggested using «Who is in?»*** rather than the traditional «Who am I?». He also suggested including his own active meditation techniques to support the process. While slightly different in their format, due to the addition of his active meditations, the awareness intensives, just as the enlightenment intensives are geared towards the same goal which is to directly experience our true nature.
* A Zen Sesshin is a self-awareness retreat of five or seven days that takes place in Japanese monasteries. During a sesshin, monks and laymen practice Zazen (silent sitting) many times during the day and, in the Rinzai Zen tradition, use koans**.
** In the Rinzai Zen School, riddle-like question, called ‘koans’, are used to provoke the practitioner to discover truth within himself. A koan cannot be answered through logic; the answer can only be experiential. When the mind is exhausted with trying and trying to figure it out, it gives way and you are then available to experience the existential truth of the answer.
Some famous koans from the Zen Rinzaï School:
*** «Who is in?» helps participants access more easily the different aspects of their personality, their masks, their conditionings, their 'inner voices'. It gives them an opportunity to effortlessly recognize, what they are not, freeing to way to experience who they are.
As for the answer is concerned, there is no difference between ‘Who is in?’ and ‘Who am I?’
The aim of the awareness intensive is to lead the participant, via the use of a single pointed instruction into directly experiencing* himself in the present moment. In an awareness intensive, riddle like questions such as 'Who am I?', 'What am I?' or this modern version: 'Who is in?' are used.
* When the sense of 'I' or 'me' is not there, when 'you' have disappeared, when subject and object have merged into one, when the sense of separation has disappeared - then there is only direct experiencing, also known as direct knowing or relaxed awareness.
This 'Zen style' structured process supports the participant on different levels:
Last but not least, the core component of this process is trust. Trust in oneself, trust in the process and trust that by opening to oneself, as well as to another, one can directly experience one's true nature.
* The word ‘dyad’ is a Greek word that means ‘two’. A relating dyad is two people who work together to bring about understanding through effective communication and focused listening. It is this element of relating added to the self-pointed question that accelerates the process of direct knowing in the awareness intensive.
The awareness intensive is a highly structured combination of communication structures, active meditations and silent activities interwoven in such a way as to maximize the participants’ efforts and to create a balance between physical and non-physical activities.
It takes the form of a silent retreat within which these different activities take place.
The schedule of the awareness intensive provides a supportive framework within which participants are able to put all other concerns aside and focus intensely on their quest. The days start early and finish late. Each day there are up to ten communication exercises; these are interwoven with other meditative activities such as active meditation, silent walks, working meditation, eating and resting. In this way, the day becomes 24-hour opportunity for self-awareness.
View the awareness intensive daily schedule.
All awareness intensives are fully residential and in silence retreats during which participants are dedicating all their energy into one unique direction: intending to directly experience their true nature.
To support this intention and smooth the unfolding of the retreat as well as every one’s process participants are asked to observe a set of agreements. These agreements, the schedule and the communication technique are fully explained at the very beginning of the intensive, after which a confidentiality clause is asked of each, including the staff, to support opening and trust for each.
The Communication Technique
The main element of the awareness intensive is a communication technique; a structured 40-minute communication exercise where participants work in pairs, one communicating, one listening; changing roles every 5 minutes.
The repeated use of a single-pointed instruction during the communication dyads leads participants, by cutting through their non-essential layers, into directly experiencing their true nature, who or what they are in the moment.
Simple and straightforward, yet often challenging in practice, this unique communication aspect of the awareness intensive is often a mental, physical and emotional challenge for the participants. Yet, it enables a true contact with oneself.
This communication technique is carefully explained on the first evening of the intensive.
The active meditations
Interwoven with the communication technique and other silent activities, these active meditations – mainly Dynamic, Mandala and Kundalini - help participants move more rapidly through physical and emotional barriers as well as to anchor themselves in a meditative space, in awareness.
Within the awareness intensive, these active meditations also help create a balance between physical and non-physical activities.
For more on active meditations
Other silent activities
Silence is a tremendous help and support to any inward journey. During the awareness intensive participants are asked to maintain silence at all time, except during the communication exercises (dyads).
All activities: working, eating, walking, taking a shower and resting periods are done in silence and considered as meditation time supporting this inner search.
Talks & Interviews
During the awareness intensive there are no 'teachings' about what the truth supposedly is, or discussions about what it might be. Yet a time is set daily for guidance on the technique and for supporting participants to move through the difficulties that may arise for them. A time for questions & answers is included in these talk time.
It is also possible for each individual to have, at any time, the possibility of a personal interview with the facilitator. It can be a private time to clarify a situation or to get an answer on a specific aspect of the technique. It can be a time to sort out a difficulty that arises or to communicate an experience. More simply it can be a time for personal support and encouragement. Whatever the request, it will always be received and, as much as possible, satisfied.
The facilitator or ‘intensive master’
The awareness intensive is led by a person who accepts full responsibility for ensuring that the retreat runs as it should. This facilitator is sometimes referred to as: ‘the intensive master’, not as in a master/student relationship but more as the ‘master or captain of a plane or a ship’.
He or she is someone who has been inspired by his own experience of truth while participating in various intensives and wishes to share this self-enquiry practice with others. They are specifically trained to help participants in their journey towards themselves within the format of the awareness intensive.
His role is to provide appropriate information, support and encouragement, both to the group as a whole and to individuals when and where needed. He is often supported in his role by one or more assistants. These assistants, usually people who are themselves in training to be awareness intensive facilitators are a precious help both for the facilitator and the participants. Their role covers quite a wide range, from helping the facilitator by taking care of material aspects of the intensive so that it runs smoothly, by responding to the needs of participants, by facilitating the meditations or taking care of that the dyads runs as they should when the facilitator is in an interview with a participant. They can also take part in the communication dyads when it is needed.
There is no controlling organization behind the awareness intensives, just a loose network of inspired individuals sharing their passion for this process.
With certainty, Yes!
The awareness intensive specific structure accelerates the process of dis-identification from the self, from our beliefs system and preconceived ideas. Many people have conscious direct knowing of their true nature in three days or less, though some people need more time. Many report having conscious direct knowing experiences on the way home or in the days or weeks following the intensive. It all depends on the person’s commitment to this self-enquiry process.
It is a powerful personal and spiritual growth process and the state of conscious presence or direct knowing that people experience is the same that Buddha experienced centuries ago or that anyone has ever experienced through any spiritual or personal growth system.
Yet, although the state of conscious presence is the same for all, this awakening experience can be lived differently and at different depth according to each individual. Its depth is often directly related to the capability of the participant to be open to what is, more than to anything else.
In awareness intensives most of the participants who directly experience themselves do so for a few minutes, or few hours (Kensho*) and it can also last over a longer period (Satori*).
Then the mind creeps in and the participant returns to his so called ‘normal’ state of being in life.
Identification starts again, yet, not completely this time, some of the fragrance of direct knowing remains. This moment of grace remains forever anchored in the person and it can change the course of one’s life.
Those who have the longing to abide in this direct knowing will need to continue dis-identifying from their beliefs, pre-conceived ideas and expectations while at the same time anchoring themselves in a silent and peaceful state.
* The words Kensho and Satori come from the Japanese Zen tradition and are simply indicators of the awakening depth.
Participating in an awareness intensive retreat, one may gain or experience some or all of the following:
As a side effect, you may experience yourself more joyful in life, more loving towards others. You may realize that you are now living your life from a more relaxed state. You may find yourself more creative, more playful and contented.
A willingness to follow the proposed technique and the schedule and to commit oneself to the search for truth during the intensive is all that is required.
Awareness intensive retreats are happening all around the world; please check the Upcoming Events page to find when and where will take place the next Awareness Intensive that I offer.
You may also want to check the World Wide Links page to find an Awareness Intensive or an Enlightenment Intensive near you with other facilitators.
Awareness intensives retreats are suitable for anyone with a sincere interest in experiencing himself. Generally speaking, the participant gains awareness about himself, about who he is, what he is, and how he relates with himself as well as with the world around him. His life starts changing by itself and not as a result of arbitrary decisions; it becomes more flowing and relaxed.
Expressions of their Experience...