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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. Michael-S

    Pavs – That’s an extremely rude thing to say, thinking you can put down someone elses experience because of your own bloated sense of self. You have absoultely no idea what she went through, or the motives of her Guru.

  2. Siew Yong Teo

    Nithyanandam Tina,

    Life Bliss Foundation S’pore posted your blog link which made the connection again.

    Still remember me? The other Chinese girl from Singapore?

    It has been 2 months since I got back to Singapore. I can absolutely relate to the ‘new space’ within which is infused with awareness when we are faced with challenges in life again & again. This is where the real life begins….in fact, I am still in awe with the miracles that are constantly happening around me since Inner Awakening. :-)

    When one is reconnected with the Source, one sees the whole world becomes a play, a drama, a constant happening. A deep relaxed feeling lands in my entire Being.

    A side note to Pavs :- I can certainly understand your skepticism since there are numerous black sheeps out there. But don’t let a few rotten eggs prevent you from seeing the Truth. It’s time to reconnect back to your Indian roots as it has so much to offer in raising your consciousness and collective consciousbess of humanity.

    In nithyananda,
    SY

  3. Indy

    Congratulations. You seem to have had a genuine experience.

    But USD 6000 for enlightenment? Phew… I guest that leaves out 99% of the world’s population who can’t afford it. That’s a shame… And what’s funny is the centre’s website claims they will use these funds for social projects. Who knew?

  4. Wow!
    That sounds absolutely amazing!
    I’m so happy for you that you had this experience and that you could share it with us.

    I have never really meditated,yet read so much about it, and it’s on my list to do sometime before I’m 30.

    Social conditioning and media takes away so much of our inner peace and clutters our mind, and I think it is good to cleanse the mind.

    Awesome Article!
    Stumbled it!
    Diggy

  5. I was surprised when I saw an RSS feed from TSN the other day. It’s nice to hear that you have a great time over there. Never really meditate before so I can’t put in much thought on the subject :) Talk to you soon Tina.

  6. Welcome back Tina – you were missed.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience and your lessons with us. Like commenter Belinda Munoz, I would also love to learn how to shift from an emotional state to a relaxed one.

    I’d also like to read more about “Understanding what someone needs before they speak to ask for it, even in a different language”. The idea of this really fascinates and intrigues me.

  8. Jen

    Hi Tina
    Thank you for sharing some of your journey, it sounds really amazing and there is alot to absorb here from what you have learnt.
    jen x

  9. Jen

    Great to have you back Tina and thank you for sharing some of your experiences… they sound amazing and are really inspiring. I look forward to reading more.
    Jen x

  10. Mark S

    You have been very missed by all of us. Looking forward to continuing to read your insightful posts.

    Before you went on this journey, based on your other writings, I thought you were pretty damned enlightened already! What’s always kept me reading and admiring you is how you expressed to much clarity on your life’s experiences, and compared to most people I know (myself included), you have far more wisdom.

    I’m glad you had such a great experience. Can’t want to get to know you better through your writings and to see how this has transformed you.

  11. This really sounds magical Tina. Welcome back and congratulations on such an experience! I look very forward to taking part in something similar before long. So far the closest I have gotten to enlightenment is a little daily morning mediation and a day-long trip here and there to Spirit Rock Meditation Center just outside of San Francisco. I have more than enjoyed the experiences and benefits so far and can only imagine how such dedicated practice and learning as you’ve done has effected your mind and life. We are inspired! Hope to see you at one of Swamiji’s events when he’s back out here.

    To clarity,
    Scott

  12. Sounds like a productive retreat. Congratulations.

    Best of luck with integrating your experiences. Post-bliss-retreat integration can be painful when you lose access to the profound bliss, sleep needs increase, and the temptation can be to go back on retreat rather than deal with ordinary life.

    Often old habits come back with a vengeance after long retreats. Be kind to yourself if you notice old cravings, emotions, and addictions surfacing–it happens to all of us humans, no matter how many retreats, or thousands of hours of practice.

    Bliss is wonderful, but notice how it passes, and how non-bliss is also ok just as it is. Then even deeper freedom can be discovered, the freedom of accepting all experience, pleasure and pain, bliss and suffering, in the ordinary experience of just being with it all.

    Also, when you are ready, make sure to keep your mind about you and exercise critical thinking. Study is an important part of spiritual development, and we can sometimes be too eager to drop the positive. Guru traditions can be useful, but have a long history of abuse (especially in the West), and your guru has already been accused of corruption by several inner circle members: http://bit.ly/4gNn

    Whether the allegations against Nithyananda are true or not, this is no way negates or invalidates your wonderful and positive experiences. Many of us get a start on the path with charismatic teachers that have very human problems or are even quite unethical (I certainly did). But these teachers bring us great benefit for starting us on the path, even if they are more human that they publicly admit.

    Again, congratulations and I wish you well on this journey.

    May all beings be liberated,
    ~Duff

  13. I saw that I didn’t finish one of my sentences. I should have written “Study is an important part of spiritual development, and we can sometimes be too eager to drop the positive aspects of mind in our quest to eliminate the clinging, craving, and aversion of mind.”

  14. I just found this excellent article that covers the bliss states (jhanas), and some of the profound lessons involved in learning to let them go, from someone who just came back from a 2 month retreat:

    http://www.realitysandwich.com/jhanas_meditative_absorptions

    Imagine your greatest dreams fulfilled, in oceans of light, bliss, love, and mystical union. Now imagine that you have to let them go. This is the lesson: that even the greatest of states arise and pass. You can’t hold onto anything conditioned, even the dearest and most precious experiences imaginable.

  15. Nithya Jeeveshwari

    In response to comments regarding the cost of the LBE program, if you look at the cost of attending a typical yoga teacher’s training program in the U.S. (check out the September 2009 issue of LAYoga), you can easily spend $2000-$4000 just for a few weeks of yoga teacher training alone.

    As a fellow LBE participant, when I was trying to figure out how to afford the program, I realized that I spent more living in Los Angeles–about $3000 per month–than I would spend living in India for three months. Many people in the West, especially in cities, would easily spend $6000 in three months on rent, food and utilities.

    For LBE, food, board, daily yoga, three months of intensive classes/workshops, study materials, and bus trips were included in the program fee. I felt that it was an extraordinarily generous program.

  16. Wow. That’s quite a huge journey of transformation you’ve went through! But one thing’s for sure and that everyone here would agree on is that… glad to have you back on TSN Tina! :)

  17. Hi Tina,

    Great to hear about your blissful experience. And reading your post has once again reminded me of Swamiji’s ability to lead the seekers to enlightenment. All the best on your journey.

    @pavs, yes it is possible to achieve inner peace in the middle of Manhattan using any number of meditative techniques, but the intensity of practice is what a master accelerates. He/She performs the role of a very powerful catalyst.

    Cheers,
    Krishna

  18. I’m so glad that you are back and thank you for the great post.
    unfortunately I can’t access the video linked above .
    During the time you are in your journey, I feel like I’m missing something, I need your article badly ^_^
    thanks again that you are back .

    xiexie??

  19. lisa

    Welcome back Tina!

    It’s nice to hear from you again. As always, you never failed to amazed me with your journeys in life, esp. this inner awakening of yours. Your unselfish acts of sharing with us your experiences makes you a great blessing to your readers, me included. I’m grateful that someone out there is willing to put into writing the events of their lives that others may learn from them. I thank you so much. You always uplift my spirit right on the spot!

    Keep it up.

  20. For years I’ve wanted to do a meditation retreat and this has just upped the desire. There are some great centres here in Spain and in France that I’ve been looking at.

    Hmm….

  21. Hi Tina,

    Your experience sounds incredible. I think we’d all benefit with an update post in a couple of months after coming back to the states? Just a thought :)

    Paul

  22. Sophie

    Welcome back indeed Tina!I would love to know more about the miracles please – any tiny ones you could share apart from the poo proof tree?!;o)

  23. Enjoyed…thank you and Blessings!

    My book, Suffering ~ A Path of Awakening: Dissolving the Pain of Incest, Abuse, Addiction and Depression, takes the reader on a 39-year journey of my life, from a victim of sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, and depression to the doors of death, into 12-step recovery, many spiritual paths and finally to full embodied awakening to Consciousness in August of 2008 with almost eleven years of sobriety.

    ‘Suffering’ was released this past May and is already touching the hearts of many people.

    This powerful little book is for anyone who has longed for more in their life, has been (or is) lost to their purpose, struggled on different spiritual paths or experienced suffering, abuse or addiction at any level.

    The raw truth and vulnerability of this incredible real-life story is inspiring hope and healing in the hearts of many who read it. A brave and heart-wrenching adventure, it will forever change the way one looks at suffering and enlightenment.

    Visit shelleerae.com for reader’s reviews.Press release: http://www.pr.com/press-release/152365

    Blessings and Love, shellee

  24. Darwin

    Thank you so much, Tina, for this. Your post has once again enriched my life. Thank you, thank you.

  25. Hi Tina,

    It sounds like a wonderful and life-changing experience for you. That’s great!

    What’s worked equally well for me is simple Awareness and Release. A simple, conscious way of being shouldn’t require complicated theories and study. Though, I’ve been to Vipassana Meditation retreats, and I can see the value of group/community learning. I’ll try the Ashram thing one of these days.

    Welcome back, and I look forward to your posts again.

    k

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