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  • Enlightenment Intensives
Chronology of the Annual    Intensive
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The Evolution of the Enlightenment Intensive

Charles Berner was deeply involved in Scientology prior to the time that he, with his wife Ava, developed the Enlightenment Intensive in the late sixties. The dyad form was based on Scientology’s “auditing,” a formally structured type of one-on-one talk therapy. After Charles broke with L. Ron Hubbard in 1965, he and Ava bought a piece of land in the high desert near Lucerne Valley, CA, and began leading Intensives and working with students who either lived and worked there or commuted in on weekends. 

Accommodations were spartan and meals were minimal, with portions pre-served to make sure everyone had something to eat. The Enlightenment Intensive schedule started at 6 AM and went full throttle to midnight. Working contemplation consisted mainly of manual labor… building the structures or digging ditches under the desert sun.

The staff in those days were trained to be strict. Participants’ car keys and valuables were collected and locked up on arrival. Knees were placed against the backs of sleepy or slouching participants while their shoulders were pulled back and their heads straightened. Dyads were closely monitored and frequently broken into with questions like, “Is that coming up as a result of contemplating?”

Contemplation, the centerpiece of the dyad technique, was explained as a combination of intention and openness, aka will and surrender, but in those days, more emphasis was placed on the will part. Participants were encouraged to “go for a direct experience” with single-minded determination. If one was not achieved, there was the feeling that they had “failed.” Breakdowns and freakouts occurred frequently. Some emerged from these three to five day Intensives having had a breakthrough but many also experienced phenomena, sometimes mistaken for direct experiences, that resulted from food and sleep deprivation and stress.

Over the years, two camps began to emerge. Students came in who had no prior experience with Scientology and were not on board with the harsh monitoring and restrictive rules. Others found the form unsuited to their temperament. The rigidities began to ease somewhat but the percentage of direct experiences remained the same. A few masters began experimenting to find out how much stress really contributed to enlightenment and how much could be relaxed without compromising the results. The results were surprising.

In the mid-80’s, the Love Intensive was introduced. Love Intensives still continue after thirty years and most masters now include the question, “What is love?” at their Intensives.

Around that same time, the Dyad Meditation Retreat emerged. It was identical in purpose to the Enlightenment Intensive and nearly identical in form but the monitoring was lighter, participants were treated as adults, and fewer rules, now referred to as “courtesies and agreements,” were required. Enjoyment of the process itself and the integration of direct experience into life was emphasized over the dogged pursuit of peak experiences and breakthroughs. The body was supported with adequate food, rest, and exercise and there was considerably less drama but the percentage of direct experiences remained consistent. Initially there was more sitting contemplation but most Intensive participants had no experience with meditation and preferred more contact. The main schedule changes were to eliminate the midnight dyad, which was there mainly to break down participants’ defenses, and to move the afternoon lecture to later in the afternoon, more in tune with the body’s natural rhythm. Will and surrender were coming into a natural balance.

The original participants were getting older too. Most had had a number of direct experiences and were less inclined to push their will. They were working on integrating their direct experiences into life and going for a steady state of awareness. They didn’t want the close monitoring of the early days, and they didn’t need it. Participants were taking more responsibility for themselves. Toward the end of his Intensive career, Charles Berner remarked that the future trend of Enlightenment Intensives would be toward “informality.” What he meant by that was becoming clear.

Another change, introduced at the 1990 Annual Intensive, was the cycle changeover. In this form, participants were instructed to contemplate their question, communicate what came up as a result, and the roles would reverse without the bell or changeover call. Just one bell would ring at the end of the 40-minute cycle. In the beginning, listening partners were instructed to say “thank you” when they thought they had understood the contemplator’s communication. This turned out to be unworkable. Participants were being cut off after pausing for breath and were told to ignore the “thank you” and continue if their communication was incomplete, which resulted in confusion and breaks in rapport. The problem was resolved by instructing the contemplating partners to indicate when their communication was complete. Cycle changeovers, which initially promised to revolutionize the process, turned out to work about the same as bell changeovers. Both have advantages and disadvantages and some prefer one form or the other, but in the end, they both work equally well.

Over time, zen, vipassana, dzogchen, and advaita non-dual teachings were gaining popularity in the west. These complemented the Enlightenment Intensive and offered the benefits of a daily practice. EI masters started teaching moment to moment awareness. In addition to participating in Intensives, people learned to meditate and began attending retreats in various traditions. Silence between dyads became favored over talking, allowed participants to go deeper with fewer distractions. The form was evolving, along with the spiritual environment of the time. Co-mastering was becoming more popular.

In 2014, the concept of the “Senior Enlightenment Intensive” was introduced to a group of traditionally trained masters and students. Similar in form and intent to the Dyad Meditation Retreat, it was a progressed version of the standard Intensive better suited to experienced Intensive participants whose needs were different from those just starting out.

In 2016, at a training for masters receptive to the evolving form, the “Advanced Intensive” was introduced, incorporating the elements of mindfulness, metta (well wishing), and receptive, open awareness. Sitting contemplation instructions were more refined and specific and there were more discussion of sitting posture. The body continued to be supported with adequate food, sleep, and exercise, and the question, “What is awareness?” was added to the basic five.

The Advanced Intensive was designed as a lifelong practice for those working on integrating awakening into life and who see the dyad technique as a “contemplative art” or practice that refines over time. In closer alignment with classic meditative traditions, the advanced form has the potential to increase the accessibility of the Enlightenment Intensive in the US and throughout the world.