Monday, November 29, 2010
What Is Kundalini?
Of all human phenomena, Kundalini is one of the most mysterious and least understood. According to ancient yogic texts, Kundalini is a serpent resting at the base of the spine. When aroused, it ascends in spiral fashion through the various chakras (wheels) of the body until it reaches the crown, where its energies unite with those of the immensity which sustains all. At that moment, the small self loses itself in forgetfulness, and regains its primal condition as part of the ever-flowing consciousness which is the final reality. This—a state of unimaginable bliss—is known as enlightenment in many Eastern philosophies.
Kundalini means “coiled,” for in the Hindu symbology the snake is coiled three and a half times in its resting place. According to traditional thought, each chakra is an energy center, a “wheel” which presumably begins to spin as the energy passes through. On each side of the spinal column is a major channel for ascent, one known as Ida and the other Pingala. These form a helix around the central channel, the Sushumna, a tiny thread rising from the base to the very top of the spinal column.
Some envision Kundalini as a goddess ("the goddess of all goddesses") and consider that "union" occurs when Shakti (the life energies at the base of the spine) rises to merge with Shiva, the potential dynamic of all creation. Only when these two become one in the larger universe does the cosmos as we know it come into being. Only when they merge at the crown does true enlightenment occur, for it is then that one realizes (embodies as feeling) one's role in the massive phenomenon we call "reality." One then knows that this immeasurable creative force is all that truly is, and one's own individual "self" is a myth, a fiction, a non-reality. This news is difficult for some to swallow.
Many devout students of yoga devote their lives to perfecting the technique of awakening and then lifting the Kundalini energies. To this end, they adhere to a strict yogic discipline, including the practice of asanas (yogic positions), a closely restricted diet, and performance of austere purification measures. Only the very pure in body and spirit are deemed fit to follow this path with impunity. Those less prepared expose themselves to dangers of every sort, from physical illness to emotional imbalance. Because of the difficulties inherent in the practice, the student is cautioned to proceed only under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Once the technique is mastered, the student is said to be gifted with many “supernatural” powers---such as the ability to see or hear at a distance, to travel out of body, and to charm without effort. (And some teachers warn against getting caught up in these "siddhas", seeing them as a distraction on the true path.
Kundalini has also played a prominent role in many other cultures, where it has been a key element in spiritual practice. Kundalini (under various names) has been identified as central to such spiritual traditions as the esoteric practices of early Egypt, Taoism in Asia, and shamanism throughout the world. Some feel that even the ecstatic states reported in mystic Christianity reflect the workings of Kundalini. Kundalini, by whatever name, is universally treasured as a sacred experience, and venerated as a means of passage to other worldly realms.
In contemporary thought, Kundalini is widely viewed as the essential spiritual/psycho/electromagnetic system which undergirds and sustains all of the operations of the self—from physical to mental to emotional. This guiding force generally operates below the level of consciousness, keeping the body in balance and performing in a “normal” fashion. However, spontaneous Kundalini experiences—even full awakening-- can occur and unexpected arousal is being reported more and more frequently across the globe. Often times, the arousal occurs as a direct consequence of some emotional or psychic shock to the system—it is as if a vacuum is created in the normal field of consciousness, and Kundalini rushes forth to fill the gap. Other possible triggers are the experiences of childbirth and death itself.
Further, the path of ascent may vary from the traditional descriptions. The energies may simply rush upward in a general swift ascent, a possibility recognized even in certain ancient accounts. And, as the process continues over time, the energies may be felt as a diffuse bliss rather than as a progression through the classic channels.
In the majority of cases, this “awakening” is imbued with a deeply spiritual cast. It generally begets in the subject a response of humility and awe. She is now able to experiences states far transcending anything known before. It is as if she now thinks and feels at the “cellular” level, with a capacity for knowing deeper and swifter than any perception achieved through the familiar “rational” mind. She may now be vulnerable to states of both ecstasy and pain beyond any previously imagined. Some may develop rare healing powers or acute mental abilities. In its perfect manifestation, Kundalini purges the self of all its latent illness and psychological perturbation, leaving a being empowered to express her fullest potential.
Gopi Krishna maintained that Kundalini would be the engine for the evolutionary transformation of humanity. Those who experience its high bliss and overwhelming sense of connectedness to divine purpose and direction can only concur. Whatever else it does, Kundalini permanently changes the nervous system, making it capable of states of awareness well beyond the familiar spectrum. These changes lead to a shift not merely in what we see but how we see. The threshold is lowered for both pleasure and pain, the defenses are stripped away. One experiences the interconnectedness of all beings and levels in the most personal and intimate sense—one resonates at the deepest centers with this new found knowledge.
Kundalini opens the system to infusions of the divine; one is held by unmitigated, unimaginable, pure love. And one realizes that this love is the sustaining force of the cosmos itself.
This transition to a new state is not easy—it is as if in today's world those refined energies are apt to descend on certain more receptive spirits--as if they are the “forerunners,” in effect, the “volunteers”-- those who have (it would seem) in some mysterious and undefined way “agreed” to undergo this process as part of the saving transformation of the race. Each one becomes a way station, a base of energetic force helping to sustain the ongoing process, which no one comprehends in its fullness but each feels honored to serve. Each participant gives in the manner best suited to personal talent or capacity—perhaps the assignment is, as one friend put it, simply to “carry this vibration” until it can be established throughout the globe, and global initiation through planetary awakening can occur. This process is without familiar precedent or guidance. Together, the collective (whose members are often not known to one another) prepare a field of consciousness, which makes each subsequent transfiguration less difficult for those who follow. (Rupert Sheldrake uses the term “morphogenetic field” to describe such phenomena.) In the Kundalini process the divine becomes dramatically aware of itself embodied in the human. Humanity is the device whereby the sacred reality establishes itself more firmly on earth in fullest manifestation.
Kundalini as such is not a stranger to earth. But our own age is the first in which Kundalini consciousness is coupled with the heightened “self-awareness” available to contemporary mind. Our current addiction to left brain (scientific/technological) perspectives has often clouded our connection to the intuitive and the unconscious realms of feeling. Ancient societies had access to these unconscious realms through shamanic and other traditional practices. The intuitive and the rational (right- left brain functions) now may be paired in a new way. The body is known in a fresh perspective. The self becomes a ground for experiment; the mind experiences novelty and then reflects on its own internal operations.
Jung and others have pointed out that the subconscious realms are vast reservoirs of latent creative energies, where the libido (life force) waits to be called into service. When these reservoirs are sealed, we lose much of our creative and feeling capacity. Kundalini releases these inherent energies, and we can feel and act with much greater effectiveness.
The rapture awakened in many Kundalini experiences is not to be confused with mere sexual arousal (though they are kin), nor are the reports of bliss to be dismissed as merely accounts of interesting internal somatic events. For the serious student, each such experience carries the sense of the infusion of the holy energies, a uniting with a force so beyond conceptualization that feeling itself is the only avenue of communication. Although we cannot know the divine reality in full, we can—in part—experience it in our bodies. Hence the paradox—we remain convinced of the reality of that which we can neither see nor hear, which lacks substance and material presence, but which nonetheless is our daily companion.
Because we in modern society typically do not experience Kundalini under ideal conditions, we often must spend many years in the long balancing process. Some become so sensitive that they may no longer be able to function in the familiar world, and must go into a period of retreat. Others may become highly creative and discover talents they did not know they possessed. Virtually all, however, agree that this is an experience to be prized above all others, for it endows the aspirant with an irrefutable sense of deep connection to that which is most meaningful in human experience. One feels that there is indeed a divine presence, and knows that one is in fact very much a part of that reality, however minute or humble one’s role. This is unconditional love in its most compelling expression. It is the final proof, the assurance which goes beyond all doubts and questionings, the ultimate self-validating experience. It is the path to “ planetary initiation,” entry into a new mode of being.
(from "Unmasking the Rose, A Record of a Kundalini Initiation" by Dorothy Walters)