Kundalini Splendor

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Encountering Kundalini 

How We Are Apprehended and Claimed by the Invisible

When I was in my early fifties, something happened to me which changed my life forever. I did not go out of my body and float beneath the ceiling, I did not fly down a tunnel toward a lighted figure waiting at the end. This experience was something other, something almost no one in my circle had heard of at the time, and which I knew only by rumor, brief allusions in certain texts and one autobiographical account by an Indian mystic.

The name of what occurred is "Kundalini Awakening." Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning "coiled." According to ancient seers, the Kundalini energy is a snake resting (for most of us) at the base of the spine. When it is roused, it raises its head and climbs upward, activating various energy centers (chakras, or "wheels") as it goes. The student is cautioned to approach this process warily, for premature awakening can easily lead to imbalance of the system. Acute illness, even death, as well as major psychological disturbance can result. The practitioner is warned to proceed cautiously under the supervision of an experienced teacher, one pure of heart and well versed in the nuances of energetic transformation. The reward of successful arousal is ineffable bliss and union with the divine--in other words, enlightenment itself.

Now, my Kundalini experience did not follow such a pattern. I was, at the time, 53 years old. I was living in a Midwestern city teaching English and women's studies in a state university more dedicated to the production of engineers and M.B.A.'s than in supporting the humanities. I had never meditated nor done yoga. I lived primarily in my head, not in my body. I had never even had a massage.

I had in this life, just as I have always done wherever I have been, constructed a secret universe, an inner world to serve as a refuge from the hostile elements without. My first secret world, that of childhood, was simply the world of books and nature. In the woods near my house I sensed an unknown but compelling presence, a reality unlike any I encountered elsewhere. At home I read, and then spent long hours dreaming by the fire of my imaginary encounters. Then in my teens, I was introduced to a church whose beliefs and practices went so far beyond the familiar institutions of my time that I felt I had been inducted into a secret society. My next experience of the hidden--as a young adult-- arose from living as a lesbian. For me, this was a totally private experience, which had nothing to do with public revelation or political involvement. Indeed, in those days, even friends who recognized each other as lesbian sisters often did not acknowledge the discovery to one another.

Then, when I was in my forties, I began to explore still other unfamiliar realms. Once more, I was seduced by books, but now the authors were writers such as Carlos Castaneda, Jane Roberts, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Mircia Eliade, and John Blofield. I plunged into a deep study of W. B. Yeats, where I discovered the Golden Dawn and the lure of communicating with invisible spirits. By now my partner Kate and I were in a state of psychic merge; we could make the letters on the ouija board flash with iridescent light, as the planchette flew to spell out tantalizing answers to our questions. But one night a very startling message came through, one which frightened and disturbed us both. We renounced our project, and I returned to my teaching pursuits.

So when, after several years of avoiding psychic and/or intense spiritual encounters, I was (it seemed) singled out and captured by a new spiritual energy, one which appeared to originate within my own body, though connected in some mysterious way to an outside force, I felt that something entirely novel had entered my life. It took many years before I realized that what was now happening was linked to, indeed was a direct consequence of all the prior events of my life, as if an inner intention, thwarted at one gateway, had simply withdrawn, and later, at the propitious time, entered swiftly through a different door, seizing me and claiming me as its own. For, once Kundalini flashes upward through the channels, once it floods the higher centers, unlocking the crown to receive the streaming effulgence of the light beyond, one knows, forever and indisputably, that the atomic crystal which carries our name is but a fiction, a tale repeated by the (small) self to the self to lure us into the belief of separate identity, until the dream-armor is shattered and nothing remains but silence and being.

I knew almost nothing of this strange power called Kundalini. To my notion, it was the essential energies of the being, which lay collected at the base of the spine, coiled like a serpent. Kundalini is traditionally imaged not only as a snake, but also as a goddess who awakens. (Indeed, she is held to be the "goddess of goddesses," the fundamental force of the universe itself.) According to the ancient texts, she may be experienced in her fullness only when Shakti, the personal energies of the self, are aroused and brought up (lifted) to the head, there to unite with Shiva (the cosmic energies which give life to the universe and all its elements). When this union occurs, the head will "open" and fill with the delight of "a thousand petals unfolding." Thus, the tradition holds, after many years of dedicated practice, the initiate may attain "enlightenment," blissful union with the divine.

My awakening did not come about in this manner. It was, rather, abrupt and unforeseen, my life transformed in a single instant of grace. From one point of view, I was totally unprepared to be plunged into such an unfamiliar state. From another, I had been preparing my entire life for this transition, and the actual event was merely the culmination of circumstances which had built as if from a foreordained plan. In any event, I was plunged into a time of unimaginable bliss and bodily ecstasy, as well as periods of intense pain and suffering. Indeed, for the "unprepared" initiate, Kundalini exacts a long period of balancing and integration, until the system at last finds it own inner stability and calm. For me, the process was well worth the extremes of its rocky course, for it opened a path of union with the divine. Each deep encounter provided verification of sacred reality, the essence which engenders, enlivens, and sustains all that is, and whose energies can literally be felt in our own bodies, if we but open to them. The "Beloved Within" is not a metaphor. It is a reality to be known and acknowledged in the undeniable evidence of our own subjective experience.

Because this account includes journal entries, kept in notebook form over a period of years, it includes a variety of voices and tones--some narrative, some lyric, some reflective, and some playful. "What I was thinking" was often the primary content of "what I was experiencing," especially in the preliminary stages, the time of preparation. These insights seemed to come as divine teachings, inner instruction as to certain fundamental realities, particular truths the student must grasp as part of the initiation process. And at times, the voice is quite clearly that of the inner teacher, answering specific questions or dictating certain passages.

I have included in the primary text a few of these early sections of abstract speculation in order to show how mental exploration can serve as preparation for spiritual renewal, and to reveal the abruptness of the shift from a primarily mental to an essentially experiential focus. Other such entries appear in the appendix, to emphasize that thought itself--the seeing into the invisible--was a key element in the experience, in both early and later stages. I have incorporated some examples of Kate's "Dream Speaking" in order to show the closeness of the personal relationship, and because they illumine in a special way how the unconscious functions as a vehicle for puns, word play, and humor. (In part, the entire experience of Kundalini awakening is one of bringing unconscious materials into consciousness. For me, that unconscious is essentially the transpersonal level, present but unknown much of the time. In Jungian terms, this realm of the unknown is the repository of the archetypes, the domain of the collective unconscious, and these, I believe, are not fantasies but realities which can enter our lives to operate in highly significant ways.)

I feel that this experience is distinctive in that the initiate is not, at the end, swallowed by or absorbed into an established spiritual ideology, nor wafted out of the world. Her teacher is the inner guide, the solitary voice within who leads to ever higher levels of spiritual discovery. The student (which is me) frequently functions both as subject and interpreter, seeking out hidden implications of such deep rooted spiritual experience for contemporary society with its many abiding tensions. Though she follows ancient paths, she remains established in the present, able to witness and respond to the events of her time. She acknowledges the shadow on both personal and global levels, and continues to seek the ultimate amidst the contingencies of daily experience. Reality is not defined as a closed system. Rather it--the future and our tenuous vision of truth--remain always open to continuing investigation and dialogue.

Thus nothing in this notebook--particularly in those sections which involve the "processing" of ideas, many of which are drawn from the storehouse of perennial wisdom--is intended as a final statement or definitive pronouncement. This manuscript is a record of transactions, not a presentation of "Truth." Some of these transactions are mental (conceptual), some describe personal experience, and some are "dictations" from an unknown source, the "inner guru" ready to answer the deep queries of the self.

Is Kundalini, as some suggest, the next stage in the ongoing evolution of human consciousness? Gopi Krishna and others have drawn such radical conclusions, and, after careful thought and years of experience, I agree; indeed, universal transformation through stimulation of Kundalini appears to be a process well underway. Twenty years ago, it was virtually unheard of outside of the East. Today, it is becoming more and more common across the globe. Various websites offer discussions and personal accounts of myriad seekers who are undergoing inner transformation engendered by Kundalini encounters of one sort or another. The word is heard ever more frequently in common discussion. Although few arrive at the ultimate gate of "enlightenment" (indeed, the very notion is currently under question), increasing numbers are experiencing this wondrous power in diverse ways. Each encounter is unique, geared to the nature and needs of the novice/initiate. For most, it is an event which transforms the self at the deepest level. It carries us to regions of whose existence we had not dreamed, and yields visions we cannot describe. Kundalini is the source, the point of balance, toward which we all continually struggle. It is indeed a potent healing force for the self and for the world. Manifesting as love, compassion, and oneness, it can carry us to the next stage, humanity transformed and transfigured.

Introduction, Unmasking the Rose


Each of us is searching for
a wise man or woman
to lead us,
to present us
a scroll heavy with answers.

Some of us have climbed the mountain,
tracked the glacier's crust,
lain down in snow for days, years,
burning away to essence,

Others have clung
to the underside of overhanging rock
until their fingers turned
to stone,
until they were riveted
like lead
to this thin edge of certainty.

And others wander, drifting like mist
through the valleys.

What is it we are seeking?
What will we do if we are brushed
by this lion's mane?

from Marrow of Flame

Smoke Clad

Only the stunned and bewildered ever glimpse the throne.

All of us have been stunned enough,
and bewildered enough,
passing again and again over landscape
we could never name,
sun where stars should be,
moon coming forth at noon,
ourselves leaping through exploding
rainbows of flame,
landing, perhaps, at the heart,
the silent core,
hands glowing and empty,
bodies clothed only in ashes and tint.

from Marrow of Flame

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