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Living Enlightenment – A Personal Report

Photo by Vanessa Paxton

After 76 days of living in an ashram in a tiny village town East of Bangalore in India, I am home at last.

I still have not found a proper one-liner that concisely answers the common question, “How was it?” A cliché “Good!” seemed appropriate to satisfy the questioner, but it is not the right answer. I’ve tried several answers and nothing seems to accurately conjure what I experienced. “I’ll write about it soon” quickly became my reply… and soon, I started to avoid people all together.

In this article – which is a personal update for those interested – I will attempt to share some slices of experience from my spiritual journey for the past 3 months.

There is so much I want to say, yet there is nothing I feel like saying. I wish to convey my feelings without words, but that isn’t possible over the Internet, so I will do my best with words.

Whenever reminded of my experience, my first instinctual response is to feel an utter space of peace, and sometimes, I feel like crying, tears of Joy and pain which I experienced and overcome, tears of gratitude … grateful for my transformation, grateful for the space of unattached clarity and undisturbed bliss. During this time, I had witnessed many miracles, which are truly beyond words and logic.

Seed of Enlightenment: Inner Awakening

Roughly 3 months ago today, I left for a 21-day spiritual retreat program called Inner Awakening. The program can be more accurately described as an intense process of inner journey for self-discovery and lasting inner transformation under the guidance of a living enlightened guru.

The program attracted seekers from around the world, from countries like Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Holland, China, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, UK, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Canada and (of course) India. One guy came from a small African country, he didn’t speak a word of English, but always wore a big smile.

A total of 300 people attended, with the youngest being 9 years old, and oldest participant being 71. People came from all walks of life, of various religious and social backgrounds. All sessions were conducted in English, with translations available in French and several Indian dialects.

The 21 days were tightly packed with 6 back-to-back meditation programs that explore various dimensions of truth, and gives us practical life solutions to transform specific areas of our life. Each program was designed to logically build on the foundation of the previous program and contributes towards the following program, leading towards the goal of the 21-day retreat: to quiet the inner chatter in our minds by over 50%, permanently.

Here’s one video clip on “Fulfillment” from day 2. Here’s is a list of clips from the entire 21-day program (I also recommend the video on “Memory“).

For those curious, the 6 back-to-back programs are described below according to my own interpretation:

  • ASP (2 days) – Understanding and overcoming emotions that lead to some form of suffering: fear, worry, jealousy, discontentment, depression, greed.
  • NSP (4 days) – In depth focus on the topic of fear and the subject of death. Because all fears are rooted in our fear of death, if we can face our own death consciously, and understand its various components, then fear of it naturally goes away, and thus disolves the fear of everything else. This program clears pain, guilt, and all forms of fear which we experience. This program was one of the most profound and liberating things I’ve ever done.
  • ATSP (2 days) – I don’t remember the details of these 2 days, but I remember being lost in joy and silence.
  • BSP (3 days) – Awakens the divine qualities of love, surrender to Existence, compassion and devotion. A beautiful flowering of the self happened during this program.
  • Healer’s Initiation (2 days) – meditation to heal the mind and body of physical illnesses.
  • Nithyanandam (4-5 days) – An intensive and blissful multi-days process focused on overcoming the noise created by our mind. This program was challenging at first, but soon became my favorite program and I longed for more days.

My Inner Awakening Experience

I felt as though I was transported to another space and time, lost in a sea of utter happiness and seeing the world with such intense and undisturbed clarity. Never in my life, through all the different personal and spiritual growth programs I have participated in, have I witnessed and remained in such a space of mental silence and bliss.

On most days, the feelings were so expansive and profound that I felt as if I had just won the lottery, again and again and again. Imagine winning the 10 million dollar lottery everyday, consecutively for 21 days. Imagine the sheer excitement and surprise you will feel. That’s the best way I could convey what I’ve experienced during Inner Awakening.

The experiences were so profound in its truthful origin that I wanted to stay beyond the 21-day program. Seriously, if you just won the lottery for 21 days straight, wouldn’t you want to stay a little bit longer?

Simultaneously, the ashram was hosting a 3 months program called Life Bliss Engineering (LBE), which takes the essence from Inner Awakening teachings to another level. Knowing the growth speed of the number of participants in these programs, and seeing this as a rare opportunity, I wanted to stay… I didn’t want to wait.

After talking it over with my husband Jeremy and getting his hesitant blessings, we extended my trip, paid the tuition, and booked a new flight home for September. Thus starting my journey and the many inner struggles of in-depth transformation that happened in the following two months.

Life Bliss Engineering

Thirty four other people like myself stayed for the remaining of the 90-day LBE program after attending Inner Awakening. There were roughly 160 participants in the LBE program.

Many people had stories of personal sacrifice in order to attend the program: some had left their jobs, some had no homes to return to, some had relationship jeopardizes, and many had to put their family life on hold to be there.

Each time I was reminded of what some participants had to put everything on the line to be here, I would whisper a prayer of gratitude for the warm support and freedom I was fortunate to have.

The 90-day program took us deeper into the practical understandings of the original lineage of Yoga from Patanjali – the father of Yoga. To integrate what we learned in Inner Awakening into our being through many, many opportunities of personal and emotional challenges. The purpose of this 90-day process is to develop a yogic body and a strong Vedic mind – a mind free of conflicts and inner chatter. To top it off, we also did several travel study programs to important spiritual sites within South India.

The Remaining 2 Months – My LBE Experience

living-enlightenment2-2.jpg
Photo by Katsuaki Shoda

I would love to say that LBE was fantastic… and it was. But it wasn’t what people expected. The obvious experience people expect is bliss, like you are floating in bliss for 90 days and then you leave. This was not actually the case.

In reality, it was a serious, intense and extremely challenging period in my life. In addition to learning many new intellectual knowledge about spirituality, my emotional and mental limits were tested, stretched and I got to practice many of the techniques I learned in Inner Awakening.

I have never experienced so many conflicts in such a short period of time. The 2.5 months felt as if I had live 3-5 years in the outside world. Miraculously, everyday, I would be faced with several new or reoccurring conflicts. The reoccurring conflict only subsides, once I am able to handle it with peace and ease.

On many mornings, I would want to leave, the pain I was working on seemed unbearable, but typically by the afternoon, I would sit under the 600-year old Banyon tree (which is the size of a city block) and wished that I could stay there holding it forever. The ups and downs I experienced were a typical story with every participant, and despite the painful moments of us facing our own issues, we would all agree that it was worth it in the end.

Sometimes, I would get so frustrated with myself that I would cry, but always, I could feel that there is a compassionate energy within the core of my soul that provided me with the cushion of safety, hope, inspiration and encouragement to keep trying. And one by one, challenge after challenge, I would cross it, and a space of silence, of possibilities, of life would gradually replace these various experiences of pain.

During this time, I witnessed many miracles, “unusual” things, most of which are too personal or mystical to share publicly. For one, why there isn’t a single drop of bird or animal poop under or on the Banyon tree, despite many birds and animals (like that family of monkeys) living on the tree.

Other Highlights

With the quieting of my mind, the first noticeable change was my sleep naturally and gradually reducing to a quick 4 hours a night. I wake up feeling more refreshed than ever, ready for our 2 hours of daily morning yoga, before a ridiculously delicious breakfast with an unfathomable selection of food choices.

Speaking of food, the ashram and its working volunteers really went out of their ways to accommodate for our “Western” needs. They actually hired a chief from a 5-star hotel, and in addition to the vast array of Indian foods, we were provided with continental options like salads, pastas and plenty of tropical fruits.

At one point they even brought in an authentic Italian cappuccino machine for us. Here we were – in the middle of nowhere – surrounded by farms and tiny traditional villages, hours away from anything modern or noisy, and we had our choices of cappuccino, latte or mocha. It was a weird sight and overtly exciting at the same time. It’s too bad the life of this poor little machine didn’t last very long, after overworking continuously for the 150 coffee craving westerners who came back for seconds and thirds.

“What Did I learn?”

I’ve learned many life lessons and truths through personal experience during this time, here are a few of the ones on the tip of my tongue in this moment. Though many of the lessons below are seemingly obvious and are ones we may already know, they remain the kinds of things to be truly learned, and integrated into daily practice only through experience.

  • Attracting Miracles – Gifts are constantly showered upon us, everyday, but we choose not to see them. All we have to do is walk outside, and we will find someone less fortunate than us. Everything that happened to us on our path to this moment was a blessing, truly. Count those blessings, everyday, be grateful for all that we have… from the sunlight, to our food, for our shelter, to our relationships, to our body. As we do so, we will witness more gifts and miracles occurring in our life, moment to moment, every moment.
  • Overcoming Suffering – Suffering is a choice, even though during moments of intense suffering and emotional pain, the suffering seems unavoidable and that we are choice-less and hopeless. During moments of suffering, bring intense awareness into it, and tell it, repeatedly, “I will not mother these thoughts anymore! I will not create unnecessary suffering on myself! I will overcome this.”
  • “The Running Mind” – On any given day, there is always something that presents itself as a problem that will bother us. When thinking about it, it seems like the most urgent and important thing, and indeed, it boggles our mind throughout the day. But the moment we replace that thought with another, the problem no longer seems so real. And when you overcome it, or stop seeing it as a problem, another problem will sure surface. That is the workings of our mind. It’s not real. Be aware of it.
  • “It’s Okay to be Flawed” – It’s easy to judge people and point out their flaws. But when we judge, that quality which we are judging is a reflection of a flaw within ourselves. Truth is, we are all flawed, and pointing them out is the easy way out. Find the compassion and understanding to accept other people for who they are, allow them to be, for you too are flawed and surely, you would like others to allow you to be as you are. Overflow love towards that person, and see how you can shift your state of mind about that person. Look for the good.
  • Bad Days – No matter how bad a day can get, it has the potential to instantly change and turn around to be a breath-taking phenomenal day. It’s happened before, so why not now? Never view a “bad” mood as a permanent thing, it is what you’re feeling now, who knows what will happen in the next 5 minutes, or one hour. Accepting the present for what it is, and welcoming the next moment with freshness can only bring wonder and joy to you.
  • Choosing a Response – When another person is giving us attitude or saying things we don’t like, with awareness, we can choose our responses, including silence. Other people’s reaction to things has to do with them, and their state of mind. What others think, feel and chooses to respond is beyond our control. So surrender. It’s not worth spending energy on it. Let it go! It’s not about who is being the “bigger person”, it’s about recognizing an action that is fruitless and saving the energy to do something else conducive to your wellbeing.
  • Blessings from a Rude Encounter – When another person is rude to us, perhaps the best lesson we can learn is how it feels on the receiving end when we are rude to others in moments of unconscious behavior. It’s a blessing. Secretly thank that person and whisper a silent prayer for them. It’s not worth getting all worked up and defensive. Find the lesson and move on.
  • Nature of Discontentment and Complaints – The moment we complain, we are taking this moment for granted and we are missing out on life. When we complain, we are not appreciating or trusting the wisdom of cosmic intelligence, we become disconnected with the whole, with source, with our inner selves, with nature, with bliss. And we suffer.
  • Expectations in Life – Expectations of exactly how things should be, how things should play out only leads to inner conflict and resulting emotional suffering. I keep re-learning this lesson, even till today. Because we cannot predict the future, and things never go as we expect in its entirety. Once we have our hearts and heads locked on a definite course of events, even a slight shift in change can shatter our hopes. Even the most secure relationships can have its unexpected turbulences. Even the most trusted friendships can take its turns from the promised future. Let whatever happens happen. Trust with great conviction that, “Whatever happens is the best thing happening to me. So let it be.”

“Can You Float On a Cloud?”

living-enlightenment2-3.jpg
Photo by Lauren

When Jeremy returned to work the next day after I arrived home, his co-workers asked with a mysterious curiosity, “So, what was she like?”

His reply was, “Well, there was this cloud, and she was floating on it.” And for a few seconds, they believed him with wide-eyes before he burst into laughter.

No, I can’t levitate yet, nor do I intend on seeking such things. However, additionally to the countless life lessons I received, the priceless experiences, the significantly reduced mental chatter, and an in-depth practical knowledge of yoga, I noticed some of the following:

  • Reduced sleep. No more than 5 hours a night is needed (usually between 4-5 hours will suffice). I wake up naturally at around 5am everyday without an alarm clock.
  • Understanding what someone needs before they speak to ask for it, even in a different language.
  • Fast, solid and clear decision making with no regrets.
  • Sharp focus on whatever I am doing. As a result, things get done very quickly.
  • Ability to shift my emotional state into a relaxed one almost instantly (within a few seconds).
  • Heightened awareness of myself, and my inner state. I could feel the birth of a new thought being formed (before it becomes a thought) and clearly seeing it rising out of me.
  • Lack of fear, worry or stress. I am pretty much relaxed most of the time, and when I am not for a brief moment, I could shift out of it almost instantly.
  • Increase in memory. I remember and recall things without my explicitly trying to memorize them.

Parting Words: Embracing Enlightenment

Being in this spiritual incubator for nearly 3 months was the most exhilarating, profound, insightful, yet challenging (and at times uncomfortable) situation I’ve ever experienced.

I had come to the program with a deep desire to raise my own level of consciousness, to experience living enlightenment first hand, to transform myself such that I could integrate it into my life and to radiate it through my actions. With that as the measuring scale, the program was a success for me, and I am happy.

But sometimes, doing the right thing for ourselves come with sacrifices, even if we do not realize them at the time. In this case, the toughest bag was shouldered by Jeremy – who became my husband only 4 months prior to India. It was an unexpected, and unfair trade for him. For that, “I am grateful for you for putting my happiness above yours and hope that you could forgive me for being gone for so long.”

The challenges doesn’t end with the conclusion of the program, but merely just began as I stepped into the outside world. As I continue to work on myself, new and unexpected challenges are already being formed in front of me, once again my mental and emotional limits are being tested by the turbulence of life. But this time, I am no longer afraid. I surrender to life with open arms and an open heart.

For all the readers out there who have been waiting for articles in the last few weeks, I thank you for your understanding in my sporadic disappearance, and for continuously supporting me with your encouragement and readership.

* Share your thoughts and story with us in the comment section.
See you there!

Further Note:

For those curious to learn more about the living enlightened guru we affectionately call “Swamiji”, find out more on the foundation’s main website here. Or watch clips from his live talks on YouTube here (the playlists are very good).

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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98 thoughts on Living Enlightenment – A Personal Report

  1. Hi Tina

    Oh my goodness this sounds, well… amazing to say the least!
    I am in awe of your experience and would love to this as well with my husband, so thanks for the links as I would like to look into it further.

    I have always wondered what effect such a retreat would have on me, and maybe just maybe I will get a chance to find out one day, soon I hope.

    I have had my own spiritual awakening about 4 years ago and today live in bliss, literally, but still there is nothing like getting away from cars, your house, stores, people around you, etc and just immersing yourself like this.

    Fabulous! I am so happy for you and that you were able to experience this :)

  2. Nice to see that you are back. And I am glad you had a wonderful trip. I am sure your readers including me are waiting eagerly to hear more from you on your experiece. You list of schedule would definately help many people including me.

  3. Tiffany

    Wow.. i almost feel like i won the lottery just from reading your post!

  4. Wow…AMAZING post!

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience and what you learned, etc. You have me inspired to do the same. :)

    Thank you,

    Dayne

  5. Glad to have you back here Tina. As always, I love reading and learning from your wisdom. Thanks for sharing the link and tour dates, I’m taking a serious look at the meditation intensive in Toronto. :)

  6. Good to have you back, Tina :)

  7. Welcome back, Tina! I’ve missed your posts in your absence, but you certainly came back with a bang! It was great to hear about your experience. Some of what you wrote about reminds me of the book Eat, Pray, Love. It sounds like you learned a great deal from your time away and challenged yourself in new ways. Good for you! And good to have you back, blogging again! :)

  8. Wow Tina,

    I am enjoying your very personal sharing here these days. This post definitively outlines the healthy changes one can experience from a sustained practice of meditation and yoga.

    Though we may never be able to “float on clouds”, the experience of living this way is priceless.

    Many may not be fortunate enough to take such a sabbatical and journey so far. From my own personal experience, I can say that many of the benefits from the practice of meditation can be achieved without going anywhere. But then again, who wouldn’t want to study under an enlightened guru if afforded the opportunity? ;)

    I’ll keep reading and hope you share with readers how you sustain your practice back in the “outside world”, as I think many will find that information quite valuable.

    Congratulations to you and my compliments on your bravery for leaving what you know, what is familiar, and flinging yourself into the unknown, unfamiliar, and committing to (and extending) the experience. You stayed well beyond the “honeymoon” phase, and I’m sure what you learned during the LBE, though challenging, will continue to prove invaluable. Your trip may be over but I suspect this journey has not yet come to it’s conclusion. I believe that the most meaningful and lasting transformations in us take place when we let go of all we know but haven’t yet quite “arrived” at our new destination. You may already be home, but you’re probably still arriving.

    (See “The Parable of the Trapeze” http://bit.ly/2IGDlg I’m sure you will relate.)

    Thanks again for sharing your experience here. I look forward to keeping up and reading more about this.

    Cheers,

    Miche :)

  9. Tina,
    So good to see you back here. These lessons you’ve learned – yes, they almost seem obvious some of them – and yet, the real key is not just saying them, it’s really living them. And that’s where this idea of raising your consciousness has to have been such a great help. Tina, this whole journey sounds like one that has been so worthwhile and good for the soul. And that’s a pretty great place for you to be in.

  10. Great description. I do think something changed not only in your writing, but in your overall perspective at all. What you call “Inner Awakening” was certainly a real transformation with powerful effects on how you project yourself to the outside world.

    Thank you :-)

  11. Thanks for sharing your incredible experience.

    I would love to read a post on how to shift from an emotional to a relaxed state within seconds.

  12. efzozt

    amazing post, it`s enlightened me as well

  13. Carol

    Please, keep writing.

  14. Welcome back seems not quite right, welcome back into our lives perhaps says it better since you seem to have moved forward and upward :)

  15. Wow, Tina! I am so impressed and inspired. I’m impressed because you took such a long sabbatical from your life and your blog even though it was such a huge success. Most people can’t step away from their blog even a day for fear of losing readers or page views. So, I applaud you for having your priorities well in order.

    I am inspired because I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go away on a spiritual retreat of some sort… a day, a weekend, a month, whatever. Maybe because I’m a mom I haven’t yet found the right opportunity… or maybe I’m just making excuses because I haven’t been “ready.”

    Either way, after reading about your experience, I am even more convinced this is something I NEED to do. It may not be three months in an ashram, but I’m definitely due for some time away from the things of ordinary life.

    Thank you… and Welcome Back!!

  16. Uzma

    Dear Tina,
    That sounds and feels beautiful. So many times, I could feel tears rising in me. Tears that come out of timelessness.
    I wondered where you were and how you were doing many times. More so because I am so close by in India. I am glad that you had a wonderful and happy time.
    All your learning has now become our learning too. But more than that the inner peace is radiating right through this blog page to us. I think when one transcends or sees peace, you connect to a Oneness, that then connects us all. And its seeping through so beautifully.
    Do write more about the exercises. Maybe you can have a e-book with exercises, self enquiry etc for your readers. We would truly love that.
    God bless and every happiness and peace always
    Love

  17. Hi Tina,

    Welcome back! I could relate so much to what you wrote. I spent six months in India at an ashram and prior to that I almost became a nun at one of the high orders in India.

    What you experienced will only grow, I have no doubt. :)

  18. Dr.Shilpa

    WOW
    Thanks for the link of Videos !!!

  19. This was a wonderful read.

    I’m on my own semi-retreat my regular travel and life right now in the small woods of Maine with regularly six to twelve hours of alone time in any given day. I have found that having that quiet and lack of bustle gives me a great deal of time to focus both on projects and inward on myself.

    It’s quite a change from my past year of travel – changing location every two weeks, teaching, dancing, being on the go.

  20. I love your journey, your description, your changing impressions and understanding of the depths of our ‘Core Light’ ~ everyone’s journey is unique, but so many are now discovering, more and more, the same Truth by whatever path. Really enjoyed reading your blog, and I invite you to the website given for information about my newly published book of metaphysical poems. I think you would enjoy reading them; they basically explore that very Oneness that Is, the metaphor of the physical for the spiritual. May Light continue to bathe your travels!

  21. Dang, if I had an extra $6000 I’d totally go in December. But I guess I’ll have to just stick to going it alone for now. *sigh*. I found your blog through a tweet today and SO glad I have. I’ll bookmark you so I can come back and keep up.

    This journey of yours sounds amazing and I was relaxed just reading about your experiences. Congrats. Hopefully I’ll get to that total package place one day.

  22. Mike

    More than I ever your post reminds that NOTHING in life is free. $8000 seems like a lot to pay for your experience but it is so much less expensive that alternatives. Most Christian denominations demand 10% of your gross income as payment.

  23. pavs

    Hey Tina,

    Long time reader here. I am glad that you had a positive experience with your visit to Ashram. Even though I don’t believe in any organized religious or spiritual cult that asks for “mandatory donations” to help you seek inner piece in the middle of the village under tree. I can understand that people are different and everyone has their own ways of finding peace or answers to their problems and I can respect that.

    I just ask that you put things in to perspective. As I have come to know you through this blog – you are a very smart and thoughtful and passionate person. People who reads your blog, gives a lot of weight in to what you have to say about your experience – specially when it is positive.

    Meditation is not rocket science. No one needs to go to India to find their inner peace or better understand their spiritual self. You can be in the middle of the Manhattan during broad daylight and still find your peace with proper meditation with the help of good literature to guide you. The location of your meditation or people who are conducting such meditation are not important.

    I am an Indian (born – living in NY) and I am often amused to see how easily “westerners” get drawn to this “spiritual” teachings organized by people with the ultimate goal of making profit.

    Like I said, everyone has their own unique experience and I can understand and respect that you had a profound spiritual experience in those circumstances. But let’s not give this so-called “guru” any more credit than they deserve. They didn’t find any secret to life or they are above others in terms of spiritual well-being. They just found a great to make money out of people who are willing and able to afford them.

    Best.

  24. O.N

    Hi Tina,

    I am happy for you for all the lessons you learned and the success you achieved..

    I am interested to know more about “NSP (4 days) – In depth focus on the topic of fear and the subject of death. ” I wish you can write more about what you have learned regarding this topic.

    My believe regarding death is as simple as God told us in his Holy Book:

    “Blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath Power;He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving;” (Quran, 60:1,2)

    Everyone carries the fear of death. however, it is the believe that there is a life after death that gives us the hope and peace in this life. The fear will never completely go as long as we live in this life, but we can overcome this fear by understanding the purpose of our life and carry on our responsibilities and activities. And just keep in remembering that day after day our life is moving more and more towards the end, but at the same time by our faith and our good deeds we are building the second life.. as long as we are on the “right path and have the right faith..”

  25. The Hopi peoples of AZ testified that “A Simple And Spiritual Life is the only Life that will survive”…….

    Simplicity not only in thought but in life”style”…….

    No guru is needed, only the realization that sufficiency is yet of Creation and The Creator, not of oneself…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world, for “the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth…….

    Truth is that which is Real, and that which is Real is never ending…….

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