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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. the goal of the 21-day retreat: to quiet the inner chatter in our minds by over 50%, permanently.

    Wow this goal is enough to make me sign up tomorrow! Once their removed I can see why you feel bliss and joy and a lotto winner. Not to simplify it of course. This is huge!

    I’m off to watch the video clips!

  2. Tina,
    This was such a fascinating description of your experience, I had to go back for a 2nd read to see what new ideas would grab me. I loved your point on *Attracting Miracles*. We’re surrounded by so many gifts, but its up to us to notice and embrace them.
    So intrigued by how this expereince will effect your future posts!
    Glad you’re back!

  3. I would love to take a yoga class… especially if it involved tidbits of insight like the insight you offer.

  4. Krismint

    Hi Tina,
    I have a problem and hoping you will able to guide me. Your articles are beautiful and they inspire you to live a very simple and happy life but lets face it life is not so easy. I want to know, even if we change and try and be good to people around us, how do you manage people who are not ready to change? People who give you so much negative vibes and who you know have some mischief planned up their sleeves? Your good nature makes them feel that you are spineless and they can get away with anything. How do you react to such people who take advantage of your innocence and good behaviour. Its like the bad people get away with everything because someone is being good to them and they continue harrassing you with their dirty mind games. Please tell me what are your views on this.

    *********************
    REPLY

    > how do you manage people who are not ready to change?

    Allowing people to be who they are. We can only change ourselves, and our perceptions of the world.. we cannot change others, only they can change themselves should they choose.

    If you are around someone negative who you would rather not be around, just simply move away from them. Do what you can to take care of yourself, but doing so peacefully and kindly.

    So far, I’ve not encountered anything taking advantage of my “innocence and good behavior”… I, myself still have a lot to work on.

  5. wow – reading about your experience here reminds me of my own at the Pachamama Osho Commune in Costa Rica. i reviewed it briefly on my blog but – thinking my spiritual experience was profoundly intense and personal – didn’t really illuminate what i went through. seeing someone else articulate it though is absolutely inspiring. and you are bringing me one step closer to India!

  6. Loved the article and the links thank you

    This article was worth the wait

    All the best

  7. Wow… Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience Tina. I think everyone should experience a retreat like this for growth and transformation.

    I recently spent 3 months in an Ashram as well, in Reishikesh, India – The foothills of the Himalayas – Lots of yoga, meditation and studying of the Sutras.

    The most powerful and transformational experience I have ever had in my life was there – during 40 days of silence.
    The ultimate retreat to get to know yourself and go inward – the first 30 days was challenging but the last 10 days – pure bliss, cannot explain in words.

    Thank you so much for sharing…I would love to visit your guru -swamiji in Vancouver

  8. Raman

    Nice blog post.
    I live in India and I totally agree with the comment posted by PAVS above.

    Namaste

  9. Hi Tina,
    So glad to hear from you again. Loved reading about your experiences. I will most probably be going there in December as well for Inner Awakening. Very much looking forward to it. Hope to see you in Seattle or LA in the next month or so.
    Love
    Hemali

  10. Winnie Yu

    Tina,
    Glad to found your blog.
    It is my lucky to read your articles.
    I will read it carefully and learn from it.
    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Ravi

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, it is inspiring to me. Also, thanks for recommending the “Memory” video, followed the lecture thrice to grasp each sentence, and each one is like a whole lesson indeed. Have to go through it once more.. love the part about a person being new at each moment and how imposing our memory of that person from earlier is unfair to that person; It does help in approaching a person with open-mind.

    Looking forward to your next post!

    Ravi

  12. Poonam

    Tina

    I came across this enriching website while i was on the net trying to find something to read so that i can overcome what i was going through some 2 months ago …. and luckily i came across this website. You were not available at that time as you went for meditation in india. I must tell you that i have been through the whole website and almost every article. The story were similar to mine…what i have been through and also what i feel sometimes… no doubt you have more enlightenment that i do but i have a lot to learn from you. I am born in a hindu family, however there was something within me that always made me believe that there is only one God, but it is us human who made religion. At the end we all want one thing when we pray, we all pray to GOD, it is just that we have different ways …..

    Discovering my inner self is something fantastic that i am currently doing. I have been through your experiences and followed some of your advice….. Tina i am glad that there are other people in this world who does understand what i feel, what you feel…. i think we should share this in a better way…. i simply love your website…

  13. Welcome back Tina. You have been missed. Thanks for the great write up about the experience!

  14. Hilary

    Thank you so much for this article. I am very interested in visiting an ashram, because the experience sounds life changing. I really appreciate that you have shared your experiences here so candidly.

    I have a question that may sound ridiculous – but I thought that Swamiji was no longer living, so I think that I’m missing something here. Is this one of Swamiji’s students that has taken over the teaching?

    Thank you again!
    Hilary

    ***********************
    REPLY

    A “Swami” is an honorary title. Read more about it on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami

    “Ji” appended at the end of a title or name makes it a respectable way to call someone.

    So there are many swamijis. My guru’s name is actually “Paramahamsa Nithyananda” meaning Paramahamsa = “Divine Swan” and Nithyananda = “Eternally Blissful”. We call him swamiji for short.

  15. Hi Tina,

    I am new to your site. Got here because of Jonathan Fields blog.

    I know this, real balance is the absence of stimulus. From this place of quiet then can arise the inspiration of one’s What is Needed next expression and then Experience.

    I am glad you have moved to a new expression. I just wish there had not been the pressure of our culture to push you out of your place of balance in its incessant need to be stimulus acting upon itself and everything else.

    Robert
    the IRF

  16. Krismint

    hi tina,

    thnks for ur reply. I have recently joined yoga. Since i am from india yoga is normal way of life for many. i always wanted to learn it and have managed to get started. My teachers have also done a one year residential course from an ashram in bangalore. I think its the same asharam that u have been too. I hope i am able to achieve the mental peace and happiness that we all are striving for thru meditation. Do let me know when ever u are in india. Its always a pleasure to meet likeminded people.

  17. Woo! I had to really follow it to the end. Well done!

  18. I found it strange to come back to the world. It was like I had been released from it and it took a little time to acclimate.

    It’s such an intensely personal and heart-shifting experience and I am impressed that you’ve been able to clearly communicate some of what you experienced. It can be tough when those experiences seem to transcend what you’ve known, the very person you are.

    I wish you the best of luck (and some mindfulness!) in getting back to your life.

  19. Frank Mifflin

    Simple recipes and fast food for the mind.

  20. Hi Tina,

    Great to see you back and it seems like you gained a lot of insights and knowledge from the program. Recently I have been into meditation and it seems like Paramahamsa Nithyananda will be in Singapore for the one day meditation programme,Kalpataru Darshan. I got to check it out.

    Cheers,
    Vincent

  21. What an interesting journey and a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Jbelem

    I have got to say, thank you!

  23. “Self improvement is masturbation. Now self destruction, that’s progress.” -Tyler Durden, Fight Club

    Hey Tina,

    Personal growth happens through struggles, not pleasure. Just like with your LBE experience: during the tough moments is when you grew and became more conscious, not relaxing under the sun. It wasn’t pleasurable, but the result afterwards is what’s awesome.

    When you work out, you don’t enjoy the sweating, burning, exhaustion. But the boosted strength afterwards is sweet, and why you keep working out.

    I’ve been on a few multi-week Alaskan adventures–full nature assimilation–and it was really tough sometimes. Cold, windy, raining, trying to get a fire going with damp wood, trying to put up a dry tent – all tough, and I wanted to be warm and at home. But afterwards, I felt great for pushing my pain threshold. I was more alive, had more energy, and gained clarity through being so far out into tough nature.

    Thanks for sharing your kick-butt experience. Here’s to continued desirable struggles – and the resulting growth.

    Oleg

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