Shared Transformation Issue 5
Breakdown or Breakthrough?
by El Collie
In 1991, to my utter amazement, I found myself unintentionally thrust into the volcanic physical, mental and emotional upheaval of a body/mind transformation known as a Kundalini awakening. I was wholly unprepared for this experience, and never suspected such a thing could happen to me. Although I was not completely unfamiliar with the concept of a Kundalini awakening (having read of it many years earlier), I didn't connect my symptoms to the rising of the Kundalini until five months into my illness. (Around this time, a series of synchronicities led me to knowledgeable people who helped me to accept that I was genuinely undergoing a benign transformational experience.) Prior to this, I spent months in and out of the hospital undergoing extensive medical tests. My doctors advised me that I might have an incurable and/or fatal condition. Brain tumor, lyme disease, ALS, myasthenia gravis and lupus (or perhaps another, more rare autoimmune disease) were suspected. I was repeatedly told that I was "an interesting case" -- from the mouths of physicians, an ominous euphemism meaning, "We've never seen a disease quite like this." Initially, without a clue to the real cause of my illness, I was simply terrified. Like Gopi Krishna wrote of his own experience: "I did not know at the time that I was witnessing in my own body the immensely accelerated activity of an energy not yet known to science, which is carrying all mankind towards the heights of superconsciousness..." (Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man). Contrary to our Western beliefs, the body plays a crucial role in spiritual development. Early cultures were well aware of this vital link. In many shamanic traditions, the healer or seer-to-be receives his/her powers through a mystical, "spirit-sent" sickness or near-death experience. In Sanskrit, the physical symptoms are called tapas -- purification. These periods of physical suffering are considered necessary -- and ultimately beneficial -- signs of spiritual initiation. The illness results from a profound inner cleansing and reconstruction of the body. This is actually a process of transformational growth, preparing the body to tolerate ever increasing levels of radiant energy. In her book Shakti Woman, Vicki Noble explains, "The body is more than a sensual receptor, more than a physical vehicle, it is an instrument of superconscious awareness with a direct line to the soul." While each individual's process is unique, there are recognizable elements common to all. For some people, the ravages of the active Kundalini are primarily physiological. For others, the process is filled with mental and emotional torment. In either case, there tends to be some distress on both the bodily and psychological level. (In my own experience, the physical aspects have been most dominant.) The symptoms differ in degree of intensity and duration for each person; some experience only a few of the physical changes, while others, like myself, seem to encounter a full spectrum. Particularly in the case of a violent, extended Kundalini awakening, physical symptoms are so profuse and varied they can mimic just about any other disease imaginable. The difference between Kundalini symptoms and those of other afflictions (including poisoning and environmental illness, which may also be suspected) is that the Kundalini phenomena are continuously changing. New symptoms appear as frequently as old ones recede. The Kundalini process is also self-limiting; eventually, the symptoms vanish, with or without specific treatment. Most telling, there is often a sense that something extraordinary is happening, even before we consciously realize that we're undergoing psychospiritual transformation. Many people are aware of inner guidance or protection, or of an omniscient intelligence which is directing their process. The progression and development of the various Kundalini manifestations is also timed differently Breakdown or Breakthrough? (continued from page 1) for each. I didn't have the classical experience of spectacular inner lights, awareness of immense energy surges in my body, chakra openings, kriyas and mudras (automatic bodily movements) and other mystical experiences until five months into my illness. Others experience dramatic alterations in consciousness from the very onset. These numinous and paranormal experiences have a far more lucid and profound nature than the delirium which may accompany other diseases. Just because this is a spiritual phenomenon doesn't mean that the symptoms are subtle or imaginary. The process can be savage and alarming. The pain and terror of undergoing this dramatic physical deterioration was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Everyone I know who has experienced an intense Kundalini awakening has told me, "I almost died." Often, these brushes with death come more than once, particularly in a process that drags on for years. I myself have certainly felt as if I were dying, a fear that was not alleviated by the tentative diagnoses of my doctors. I have been so riddled with pain and so utterly disabled during my crisis periods that were it not for the loving help of my husband, Charles, I might well have died from starvation or thirst simply because I was absolutely unable to fend for myself. Yet I hesitate to say, "I nearly died," because I know the human body is amazingly resilient, and that one can stay alive in horrendous states of pain and helplessness for incredibly long periods of time. It is probably most accurate to say that a violent Kundalini awakening has such a devastating effect on the body and psyche that survival seems miraculous. (This is not to claim that no one really dies or comes to the brink of death during a Kundalini awakening; some actually do.) But not all Kundalini phenomena are so severe. In the two and a half years since my process began, I haven't passed a single day without experiencing an ever-changing array of physical symptoms. But aside from the two most acute episodes in which I suffered an agonizing physical collapse lasting many months, most of this time has been one of continuous discomfort in my body rather than an ordeal of unremitting pain. (In cases where the Kundalini arises as a result of meditation practice, the symptoms may be intermittent and felt most often during meditation or at night, during sleep.)
The transformational process creates all kinds of havoc in our systems, and can have a powerful somatic impact. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, it's wise to get a medical checkup. In the case of psychospiritual illness, it's unlikely that doctors will be able to diagnose the cause of your symptoms. Unfortunately, when medical examination and clinical tests detect no pathology, doctors are apt to declare our symptoms psychosomatic or neurotic. Medical science is still largely in the dark about psychospiritual illness, and doesn't understand that a process such as a Kundalini awakening produces very real metabolic and neurological changes in the body. The following is a list of the blitzkrieg of physical symptoms encountered in my own awakening process and/or in the experiences of others who have been in psychospiritual transition. I have roughly categorized these into two groups: Outward Manifestations, which can be "objectively" observed, and Sensory Manifestations, which are internal sensations.
1. Tremors, shaking or convulsions For me, this began gradually, first noticed as an uncontrollable tremor which caused my head to shake rhythmically back and forth, even when I was lying down.
2. Rhythmic, jerking, spasmodic or graceful involuntary movements These are called kriyas and mudras, and may be mild and infrequent or very vigorous.
3. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea Many of these symptoms come on suddenly, and last a short while -- a few minutes or hours, or a day or two, then just as abruptly, they vanish.
4. Unusual breathing patterns; cessation of breath for short periods This is known as automatic pranayama.
5. Reddening, blackening and loss of toenails or fingernails
6. Skin cracking or peeling (or turning red) (continued from page 3) 7. Skin eruptions: blisters, warts, cysts. pimples or boils
8. Loss of hair; hair standing on end
9. Weight changes (which may or may not correspond to food intake)
10. Nose bleeds
11. Menstrual changes (more or less pain than usual; lighter or heavier bleeding, longer or shorter cycles) Women undergoing Kundalini awakenings often find that the symptoms intensify during the time of their periods.
12. Compulsive running; automatic dancing, or automatic posturing of the body (often in yoga asanas)
13. Involuntary vocalizations (or inability to speak)
14. Increase in metabolism, causing weight loss; faster growth of hair and nails
1. Sensation of great heaviness in the body. I felt as though hundred pound weights were hanging from all my limbs and an elephant was sitting on my chest!
2. General physical weakness; partial paralysis For me, this symptom occurred in the early months of my process, in the wake of the sensations of heaviness in my body. My ankles turned to rubber and my feet dragged and flopped sideways when I walked. My arms became increasingly useless, and it was hard to move my fingers. I couldn't pick up small items, and I had no gripping strength. Just trying to hold a spoon was a formidable feat. I became so weak I could no longer lift my arms. At the crux of this condition, I was a bedridden invalid, unable to use my hands even to dress or feed myself. My walking was reduced to a faltering shuffle.
3. Exhaustion, fatigue (sleeping most of the day)
4. Insomnia, hyperactivity If for an extended period, this manic phase may lead to temporary psychosis
5. Dizziness, faintness, blacking out
6. Muscle twitches, cramping, aching or spasms
7. Prickling, tingling, itching or vibrating sensations on or under the skin
8. Numbness in the limbs
9. Pain in the solar plexus; sensation of being "punched in the stomach" (especially when confronted by fear, anger or manipulation by others)
10. Sensations of extreme heat or cold. (The heat may be detectable by others.)
11. Pain in the spine or back. This can be severe and crippling. Although it is not common, in my case, when the Kundalini became active in my spinal column, I suffered a ruptured disk that kept me flat on my back in bed, unable to move, for over four months. I felt a bubbling, liquid sensation in my spine that one healer thought might be the movement of my spinal fluid. At times it felt as if my spine were disintegrating; sometimes I felt sharp pains and internal blockages that felt like chunks of broken glass in my spine. When the Kundalini becomes active in the central channel of the spine, there are usually pulsating, ticking, throbbing, thumping and strong energetic feelings in the lumbar and tailbone region. Powerful energy may rush through the spine--one man said it felt like a locomotive running through him.
12. Feeling or hearing cracking, tearing, popping in vertebrae, joints and tendons (or in the brain).
13. Headaches, intense pressure in the head
14. Constriction around the throat; swallowing difficulties or convulsive swallowing My throat stopped working altogether. When I tried to eat, the muscles that contract in swallowing simply refused to move. It was as though my swallowing reflex had somehow short-circuited. I found myself gagging and having to spit out the food. I could only get down liquids, which depended more on the pull of gravity than the cooperation of my throat muscles.
15. Pressure in the chest; breathing problems
16. Stabbing, ripping or burning pain in the chest; "heart attack" type symptoms
17. Heart palpitations, rapid pulse
18. Shooting pains throughout the body
19. Fluctuations in appetite (from none to voracious hunger); craving certain foods.
20. Tremendous surges of "electricity" and/or vibrating energy in the system
21. Pain in the eyes; increased sensitivity to light, dimming of vision
22. Eyes "bursting out of sockets"; rapid eye movements (visible to others); poking, pulling, tugging sensations in eyes In my case, I felt a horrifying sensation that felt like toothpicks stabbing into my eyeballs. Later, I endured weeks of furious movements of my eyeballs, which even occurred in my sleep.
23. Heat or energy radiating from the ears.
24. Tongue spasming or curling backward into throat When I developed this tongue-spasming symptom, it made my speech difficult at times, and I would slur my words or bite my tongue when talking. I also experienced blisters on my tongue. When the tongue curls backward into the throat, there is a tendency to gag. This seemingly bizarre and alarming phenomenon is actually a well known positioning of the tongue in yoga, the kechari mudra.
25. "Migrating" tooth aches (sometimes all teeth aching at once)
26. Acute increase in hearing, taste, smell, touch or vision
27. A sensation of being about to disintegrate or explode
28. Feeling of being "out of body" or expanded into an energy field
29. Sensation of changing size (growing larger or smaller)
30. Conflicting needs: feeling hungry and full, tired and agitated, overheated and cold at the same time
31. Abrupt drops in blood sugar (these can lead to some of the mental and emotional symptoms described below)
32. Floating sensations; actual levitation
33. Swirling or spinning sensations
Emotional turmoil and mental disturbances may also occur during a psychospiritual process. These include:
1. Confusion, temporary amnesia, mentally blanking out
2. Uncontrollable weeping spells, sometimes without definite emotional content
3. Outbursts of temper
4. Feelings of great neediness and clinging to others
5. Sudden episodes of anxiety, fear, rage, grief, guilt, etc.
6. Depression, despair, hopelessness
7. Aggressive and hostile behavior Very rarely does this carry through to actually harming others.
8. Exaggerated fears; paranoia
9. Feelings of impending doom
10. Terror of, or longing for, death
11. Deluge of memories of events from our past
12. Ideas of self-aggrandizement; interpreting our process to mean that we are now specially appointed saints, messiahs, or extraterrestrials on a mission from God. (Self-inflation)
13. Altered states; episodes of psychosis
14. Terror of going insane; frightening thoughts or visions
15. Disgust and anger with ourselves, the human race, God, the universe
16. Difficulty dealing with the way others are being affected by the higher vibration of our energy (People seem to be inordinately magnetized to, or repelled from, those in transformational processes.)
17. Agoraphobia; panic attacks These are often the result of psychic hypersensitivity.
18. Alienation from the external world; emotional flatness
19. Extreme introversion and retreat from worldly contact
20. Losing faith in everything
As miserable as it can feel to go through any (or many) of these experiences, it has always helped me to remind myself that others have endured these same difficulties in their awakening processes. It has been a relief to me to know that these symptoms aren't indications that something has gone terribly wrong with my process. None of these things are fun to undergo, but all of them can be a natural stage in our inner unfolding.
A Kundalini awakening is an unexpected odyssey into a realm of strange sensations. Some of these are uncomfortable or unpleasant; some are simply new. The first time an unfamiliar sensation arises, it may be frightening or difficult to tolerate. But many of the typical Kundalini symptoms last for extended periods of time. Eventually, one becomes accustomed to these peculiar feelings. I have been "buzzing" for so long, it almost feels normal to me now. This sensation feels as if every fibre of my being is gently, steadily vibrating. In addition to this, I very often also feel a fluttering, focused vibration which travels to particular sites in my body. I personally call this "Tinkerbell" because it reminds me of a little fairy whisking around. This flutter vibration may suddenly occur in my nose, then jump to my hand or feet. It's painless and almost pleasant, except when I feel it inside my throat, which makes me cough. While many of the Kundalini manifestations are difficult and disturbing, some are truly delightful. One of the more positive of my own experiences is a phenomena I call "sparkles." This began about five months into my Kundalini awakening, and has been with me, in wavering degrees of intensity, ever since. It occurs as a simultaneous audio and tactile sensation, though it's hard for me to describe it well. The sound, which seems to emanate from within my head, is paradoxically soundless -- yet I distinctly "hear" it. The best analogy I can make is to one of those glass dome paperweights (with miniature scenes inside) which are tipped upside down, then right side up to create "snow." This falling silent snow is what the sparkles sound like to me: an exquisitely soft and shimmering white noise. The tactile aspect of the sparkles occurs in my sense of taste, yet again, words are inadequate. It's as if everything I eat or drink has an effervescent quality, somewhat like carbonation, but more ephemeral, and without the sting. When the sparkles are strong, water especially has a miraculous quality in my mouth. I don't know what this signifies, though I wonder if perhaps I've been sensitized to perceive the life force vibrating in the atmosphere, and in food and drink. Whatever it is, I'm deeply grateful for it. With the sparkles, I can't fail to appreciate the incredible grace and grandeur in even so ordinary a gift as a sip of water. Another frequent sensation is something I call the "hair shirt". The skin feels prickly, irritated and hypersensitive. Yet there's no rash or visible chafing. Sometimes it feels like sunburn. Clothing and bedding feel rough and abrasive. Microscopic vermin seem to be swarming all over the flesh, biting and stinging. Sometimes they seem to be inside the body. Even the blood and cells seem to be bubbling in some kind of acidic brew. Those who are unfamiliar with the most common Kundalini manifestations can become frantic trying to discover a cause and cure for the hair shirt symptom. Tingling, vibrating, prickling, crawling, itching or tickling sensations are typical Kundalini phenomena. Sometimes these sensations are subtle, but often they are pronounced and maddening. As with most of the Kundalini manifestations, these symptoms are far more disturbing when we don't understand what's happening to us. Frequently, the most distressing hair shirt sensations coincide with periods of emotional edginess. The sensation of being infested by something can bring up feelings of self-loathing, shame, or rage at the invasion. I've known people who have driven themselves nearly to exhaustion by running from one doctor to the next, trying to get relief from this strange ailment. Some have been variously diagnosed and prescribed medications which proved useless. Others have taken it upon themselves to solve the problem by trying to eliminate every possible allergen from their environment and diet. Others have turned to homeopathic and herbal remedies. I've not yet heard of any course of treatment which worked to alleviate the hair shirt condition. Our bodies are being infused with very high vibration energy. Until we are inwardly transformed to accommodate this energy, it produces distinctive forms of disturbance in our systems. The hair shirt is one of these uncomfortable symptoms. Worry and anger toward these sensations only exacerbate them. Conversely, accepting them as a natural part of the process does much to reduce the discomfort. I take this one step further and actually feel grateful for the hair shirt sensations, because they are my ongoing reminder that the Kundalini is still active in me, and still very much at work to heal me. In my case, another almost constant sensation, varying only in degree of intensity, is great pressure in my forehead (sixth chakra). When this pressure first occurred, it was so tremendous I felt as if I were trying to give birth through my head. The pressure seems to be pushing from the inside out. Many people have told me they have had long periods of this and similar head pressures. One woman described it as "an atomic bomb in my head." Although this explosive pressure is painful for some, I rarely experience headaches with it. But when the pressure becomes extreme, it causes my eyes to roll upwards and cross-eyed. I also experience frequent activity in my brow area in synch with this pressure. My forehead will repeatedly crease up and relax, causing my eyes to keep opening wide, as if I were startled by something. Some people experience inner sounds, such as popping, tearing, crunching, crackling or snapping noises. Others hear ringing, roaring and whooshing sounds, and so forth. Beautiful music or singing may be heard. There may be episodes of hearing multiple voices, like overhearing snatches of conversation or listening to other people's thoughts. These telepathic experiences are usually unsought and unwelcome; one may feel like a living radio antenna, bringing in too many stations at once. Externally, hearing can become so acute that one can clearly pick up sounds from an astonishing distance. Vision may also become sharper. Colors are seen with an unusual radiance. One may see light emanating from everything. Conversely, there may be times when vision gets dim. A sort of haze or blanketing shadow clouds everything. One person described a period where she was seeing everything through a green fog. The sense of smell can intensify. One may become hypersensitive to (and repulsed by) previously unnoticed odors. Or one may get sudden, mysterious whiffs of ambrosial fragrances. The sense of taste can become so exquisite that ordinary, simple foods are savored with great pleasure. Sensations of floating, falling, passing out and spinning are common Kundalini experiences. Often there is an awareness that these sensations are connected to the psychic (or astral) rather than to the physical body. Just the same, some people do have literal experiences of falling, fainting or levitating. During intense phases, the body itself "dematerializes" in the sense that one feels transparent and/or outside one's body. The ordinary sense of self located within the confines of the body no longer pertains. One feels like a formless field of incredible energy. The body doesn't disappear from view; it simply ceases to serve as a frame of self-reference. This is a direct, experiential awareness that "I am not my body." The world looks much the same (except often more vivid), but one's relationship to it has dramatically changed. No longer does one identify oneself as a living human object amidst an assemblage of other objects. At the feeling and awareness level, boundaries are dissolved. All is vibrant, coalescing energy. John Nelson has noted that altered states of consciousness often "change the way a person expresses himself and uses language" (Healing the Split). During the "expanded energy field" period, I referred to my body as "the body." This was not an affectation on my part, nor did I lose recognition that consensual reality demanded that I identify myself with this particular organism. One may also experience alterations in one's sense of physical presence. A sensation of growing larger, or regarding the world from an unusual height, is sometimes reported. There may also be odd sensations of not fitting right inside the physical body. Everything may seem slightly askew, as if one were leaning strongly to the left or right, or as if the spiritual or astral body is in a different position than the physical. Sometimes the astral body can be felt or seen to move independently of the physical. One woman witnessed herself having multiple astral arms performing graceful motions (mudras). Another felt her astral body moving in sinuous, snakelike undulations while meditating. (It is also common for the physical body to actually move in these spontaneous ways.) To those who are unfamiliar with these and other psychospiritual sensations, such things may sound like the product of an overactive imagination. Doctors and therapists may insist that these experiences are merely stress or indications of mental and emotional illness. Those who confess such sensations may be instructed to ignore, deny or otherwise repress them. This, I believe, is hurtful advice. The transformational process seems designed to move us into greater awareness of, and acceptance of, our own unique experience. If our experiences deviate from the norm, others are often critical and suspicious of us. Most people are incredibly tenacious in clinging to their own version of reality. They resent or discredit anything or anyone who challenges this. But we are not here to support one another's limited perspectives. Those of us in transformation need to be free to experience the richness and wonder of our own beings, and of our expanded capacities and revelations. Like Alice through the looking glass, we are discovering astonishing dimensions of consciousness.
© El Collie 1995