The topic of the retreat, and its goal, is the turiya state--the elusive fourth level of human consciousness. During the typical human experience, say the Yogis, most of us are always moving between three different levels of consciousness--waking, dreaming or deep dreamless sleep. But there is a fourth level, too. This fourth level is the witness of all the other states, the integral awareness that links the other three levels together. This is the pure consciousness, an intelligent awareness that can--for example--report your dreams back to you in the morning when you wake up. You were gone, you were sleeping, but somebody was watching over your dreams while you slept--who was that witness? And who is the one who is always standing outside the mind's activity, observing its thoughts? It's simply God, say the Yogis. And if you can move into that state of witness- consciousness, then you can be present with God all the time. This constant awareness and experience of the God-presence within can only happen on a fourth level of human consciousness, which is called turiya.
Here's how you can tell if you've reached the turiya state--if you're in a state of constant bliss. One who is living from within turiya is not affected by the swinging moods of the mind, nor fearful of time or harmed by loss. "Pure, clean, void, tranquil, breathless, selfless, endless, undecaying, steadfast, eternal, unborn, independent, he abides in his own greatness," say the Upanishads, the ancient Yogic scriptures, describing anyone who has reached the turiya state. The great saints, the great Gurus, the great prophets of history--they were all living in the turiya state, all the time. As for the rest of us, most of us have been there, too, if only for fleeting moments. Most of us, even if only for two minutes in our lives, have experienced at some time or another an inexplicable and random sense of complete bliss, unrelated to anything that was happening in the outside world. One instant, you're just a regular Joe, schlepping through your mundane life, and then suddenly--what is this?--nothing has changed, yet you feel stirred by grace, swollen with wonder, overflowing with bliss. Everything--for no reason whatsoever--is perfect.
Of course, for most of us this state passes as fast as it came. It's almost like you are shown your inner perfection as a tease and then you tumble back to "reality" very quickly, collapsing into a heap upon all your old worries and desires once again. Over the centuries, people have tried to hold on to that state of blissful perfection through all sorts of external means--through drugs and sex and power and adrenaline and the accumulation of pretty things--but it doesn't keep. We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, begging for pennies from every passerby, unaware that his fortune was right under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart. The kundalini shakti--the supreme energy of the divine--will take you there.
This is what everyone has come here for.
When I initially wrote that sentence, what I meant by it was: "This is why these one hundred retreat participants from all over the world have come to this Ashram in India." But actually, the Yogic saints and philosophers would have agreed with the broadness of my original statement: "This is what everyone has come here for." According to the mystics, this search for divine bliss is the entire purpose of a human life. This is why we all chose to be born, and this is why all the suffering and pain of life on earth is worthwhile--just for the chance to experience this infinite love. And once you have found this divinity within, can you hold it? Because if you can . . . bliss.
I spend the entire retreat in the back of the temple, watching over the participants as they meditate in the half-dark and total quiet. It is my job to be concerned about their comfort, paying careful attention to see if anyone is in trouble or need. They've all taken vows of silence for the duration of the retreat, and every day I can feel them descending deeper into that silence until the entire Ashram is saturated with their stillness. Out of respect to the retreat participants, we are all tiptoeing through our days now, even eating our meals in silence. All traces of chatter are gone. Even I am quiet. There is a middle-of-the-night silence around here now, the hushed timelessness you generally only experience around
3:00 AM when you're totally alone--yet it's carried through the broad daylight and held by the whole Ashram.
As these hundred souls meditate, I have no idea what they're thinking or feeling, but I know what they want to experience, and I find myself in a constant state of prayer to God on their behalf, making odd bargains for them like, Please give these wonderful people any blessings you might have originally set aside for me. It's not my intention to go into meditation at the same time the retreat participants are meditating; I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on them, not worrying about my own spiritual journey. But I find myself every day lifted on the waves of their collective devotional intention, much the same way that certain scavenging birds can ride the thermal heat waves which rise off the earth, taking them much higher in the air than they ever could have flown on their own wing-power. So it's probably not surprising that this is when it happens. One Thursday afternoon in the back of the temple, right in the midst of my Key Hostess duties, wearing my name-tag and everything--I am suddenly transported through the portal of the universe and taken to the center of God's palm.