The culture we live in is frenetic, fast-paced, and often produces tremendous anxiety. As a result it is difficult to do spiritual work that can lead to higher states of consciousness. At the same time, however, more people today acknowledge the possibilities of spiritual transformation than ever. Seminars, workshops, weekend intensives, and many kinds of retreats are available from many different approaches and traditions. Yoga and meditation are very popular all over the country. Nevertheless, one can feel that it takes all one has just to keep one’s head above water and the opportunity to achieve liberation can seem very far way. In my view, the Contemplation Intensive is a tremendous gift to all those seeking to take a journey toward awakening. It can assist us to experience our true nature and many other things as well. But most of all, it can open the door for us to really take a spiritually transformative journey while living in the everyday world.
Opening the Door
Historically, the C.I. has been given in a manner that is independent from any other traditions, programs, classes, etc. People coming from all kinds of backgrounds and interests come and take the Intensive and then return to their regular life. Naturally, participants have many types of experiences ranging from full enlightenment to other, so-called lesser kinds. Most participants though report that their experience is life-changing as it opens the door to the possibility to higher consciousness.
Pema Chodron, a well-known writer and Buddhist nun, was speaking to Bill Moyers about her own process and experiences. She took a one-year silent retreat in order to have a breakthrough experience. For her and many others it takes great effort, sacrifice, and dedication to reach a free, awakened state of consciousness. And for them, that is just the beginning. Many people believe that it would take that level of concentrated effort to truly slough off all of the egoic material to reach the higher states. This is how the C.I. can help us for it assists us to reach these higher states in far less time than many types of meditation. The C.I. can accelerate the releasing process tremendously. However, one can also see that for this to happen, there is going to be even more intensity than what can be expected from a one-year retreat. One is packing months of meditation practice into only three days.
Something Important to Recognize
Those who have been involved with the E.I. from its inception were aware of the tremendous breakthroughs occurring for participants. But they also discovered something else, which if you think about it, is not surprising. Here is a comment from one of the people who was in the original Intensives: “Some of us in this community found that there was a fallout from the ‘build up- breakthrough’ approach which resulted in refining our own approach to enlightenment and spirituality. Some people were crashing and burning, sort of like coming off a drug high. This meant that integrating and grounding their experiences in life could present a problem after an Intensive. As a result some of us began to develop a softer approach. The number of dyads was shortened and the approach became more contemplative and less pushy.” He went on to say that while the experiences were less flashy and exciting, they did become more supportive of long-term gain. Many of them supported their further growth by looking to older traditions and practices.
The Importance of Opening the Door
This view however is based on the fact that participants were left on their own. There were no programs developed after the Intensive specifically to support their often life-changing experiences. In my view, if a person does have somewhere to go, then there are advantages to an intense approach. Firstly, it is valuable to know that higher states of consciousness do exist. The moment a person begins to suspect that evolution is a distinct possibility, it then becomes important to have a real experience that becomes a ground for all further work and effort. Furthermore, Gurdjieff and others believed that people are mistaken if they think that in their present condition they are able to begin’ real’ work. We cannot make the correct efforts if we do not know what to do. This shocked me when I considered it many years ago, but it now does seem true to me. He went on to say that there is a distance to be travelled from the beginning of one’s pursuit of knowledge and experience to being able to actually begin real Work. No matter what kind of experience a person has in the Contemplation Intensive, it can assist a person to learn what one needs to do to begin the transformational process. At that point, they are also ready to learn what they must do to continue the process started during the Intensive.
When we do re-enter the world and begin the integration process, we can suffer a letdown, a loss of the wondrous higher state we were in during the Intensive and afterwards. The higher state can recede, diminish, or leave altogether. This is to be expected actually, as it is merely part of the transformation process. But it can also help us to become very focused and motivated to discover what is standing in the way of our being in this higher state all the time. Working on these things is exactly what beginning to do real Work is about.
It’s About the Journey
The opening of the door represented by the enlightenment experience is only the beginning. It is far from being the end. We are now equipped, perhaps for the first time, to begin work on ourselves. PEAK experiences are valuable indeed, for they show us the way. If we understand that we are now ready to begin, the experience we have had and the possible letdown will cease to be depressing or disturbing. It won’t be just a crashing and burning. Instead it can be recognized as a launching pad that can propel us to even greater states of Being and to do so in a way that allows us to stabilize at each plateau we reach on the way up the mountain. And even if a person does not have that peak experience, that will be fine as well for they will have learned valuable things that will help them on their way. We benefit from discovering that enlightenment is not actually a big deal, but is part of a greater process. We are humbled by the knowledge that there are many steps to be taken and that none of them can be missed. We are climbing a mountain and each time we learn something, no matter how difficult and even painful, we are in reality one step closer.