© El Collie 2000
HERE THERE BE DRAGONS
The soul doesn't care at all what price we have to pay to follow our calls. Our happiness and security and status simply don't matter to it, although our courage, faith, and aliveness do.
-- Gregg Levoy
Kundalini is the mysterious bio-spiritual agent that awakens consciousness. In India, she is worshipped as a Goddess. I did not go in search of the Goddess; she came to me when I least expected it, pouring herself into me through megavolts of energy that turned my body into her electrified living temple. Throughout my life, I had caught glimpses of her in the shadows, not knowing what it was I sensed hovering there, as she patiently bided her time, whispering occasionally in a language I could not fully comprehend, "You belong to me."
My path is uniquely my own, which is true of everyone. Yet there is a universality in what I have experienced and learned from Kundalini which will be apparent to anyone else who has been graced by her presence. The specifics of the particular tangent my life has taken will seem strange to many and familiar to some. I feel it's necessary to highlight this part of life insofar as it helps explain my arrival at this juncture of my spiritual journey. The rest of the book describes the workings of Kundalini in a more general manner.
Behind the Scenes
Many non-traditional people of the West seem not only to appreciate the "road" of the shaman, but also appear to have an affinity for the "Medicine Way." -- Joan Halifax
I've come to realize I've been a shaman/priestess all along without knowing it. I spent decades grappling to identify my calling in a culture, which until very recently couldn't acknowledge or tolerate people like me. A unicorn in a herd of horses is apt to be regarded as a defective horse until the unicorn population explodes, which, thanks to Kundalini, is presently happening across the globe. But unless you have unicorn friends or happen to be a unicorn yourself, you may not have noticed.
My life has been a series of unexpected Shamanic initiations. (Kundalini awakening falls roughly under this category, although there are people who experience Kundalini who are not shamans, and shamans who never encounter Kundalini.) Shamans function as conduits for the Spirit. They are messengers who mediate the Divine and facilitate spiritual growth for their fellow humans through healing, ritual, art, music, teaching, prophesy, and magic. Shamans act in accordance with Spirit guidance, and access multiple planes of existence.
If that clears anything up, let me muddle it again. I'm not a shaman by prevailing definition. That's been a problem all my life: I'm not exactly anything by prevailing definition. I've been writing reams since I was fifteen, but so paltry an amount of it has ever seen the light of publication that it's a stretch to call me a writer. I've had a flaming passion and prolific involvement with the arts even longer than that. While I quickly sold the only stuff I actually put up for sale (in a short-lived visual arts consignment shop in the early 80's), I probably fall more into the category of "arty" than artist. Then again, I hold myself to such towering standards than only a virtuoso could attain to them.
I've spent thirty years studying and disseminating what I've gleaned of spirituality and metaphysics, though all of this was done informally, free of charge, and without emphasis on my teacher/counselor role. I read incessantly (and once tallied the number of books I'd consumed in my adult years to roughly 5,000). I've been a behind-the-scenes innovator in both the performing arts and spiritual communities, while remaining a minnow in the splashy public pond. I've lived on the fringes of the periphery, in the basement of the underground... and I've entered most every social edifice through the back door. Whatever it is that I am, it tends toward the self-made and homegrown.
Even so, my journey has been an obstacle course cum pathway carved out for me by forces which have alternately frustrated me and buoyed me along what has seemed to be a destined route. I've been pushed, prodded, shoved, lured and lifted to places where I never would have arrived if I'd been left to my own devices.
The way the Shamanic works in my case is that Power reveals itself to me, which sounds horribly grandiose, but I know of no better way to put it. Periodically, the Universe has grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and commanded: Here, know this Great Secret. Then it shows me something so far buried in the closet of the collective consciousness that I am left reeling.
Power has revealed itself in many ways, many forms, many degrees throughout my life. This is not to say that I am a powerful woman in any normal sense of the word. To the contrary, to all outer appearances, I am eccentric at best. Shamanic power operates differently than mundane power. It is given as a tool for spiritual service and in my case has been delivered in such a way as to be unquantifiable by standard measure. In plain English, it's unrecognizable as power.
Nonetheless, it has equipped me to reach and fortify people who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the cultural structure: fellow sensitizes, misunderstood mystics, frightened initiates, new shamans-in-the-making -- all lost in the metropolis of hard core materialism. Power has given me voice to call out their true names and destinies in a world which tells them they have no valid identity or vocation here.
I am speaking poetically, of course. My experiential knowledge allows me to help others receive the gifts which come in the strangest wrappings. I am able to serve those who have been unexpectedly anointed by Spirit; those who have been torched by the soul's flames; those broken in body, heart and mind by Life; those left standing raw and vulnerable at the side of the road to God only knows where.
I know how to reach out and help because Power has dropped me into the same situations and taught me firsthand what it takes to survive, learn, and move on... That is the shaman's work: to climb one's way out of the abyss and thereafter be a living beacon of hope and guidance to others who have fallen and can't get up.
Again, I realize this sounds inflated and histrionic, as if I'm depicting myself as some kind of supernatural super hero in spandex and cape, flying to the rescue of the wretched of the earth. It actually works in quiet, simple, often guileless ways. I share what I know, I extend my heart, I offer support and let the Spirit do the rest.
As an eighth house Scorpio, I also have the unenviable task of retrieving everything sacred from the cultural garbage bin of the taboo: the perception of all things invisible, discourse with spirits, holy sexuality, all the Goddess sacraments, knowledge of animal and plant allies... In all of these, I'm aided by a growing cadre of emissaries devoted to restoring the lost wisdom of the divine feminine.
The selective sociopolitical "war on drugs" has demonized the most powerful of sacred plants, including the compassionate narcotic species and the gateway psychedelics. Of all these, the potent sacred herb tobacco has most retaliated, casting a curse on a world which has used it irreverently. Because of this, it is the most currently despised of all taboos, and will probably remain on the forbidden list longer than any of the others.
I've stopped experimenting with contraband drugs twenty years ago, but I still smoke tobacco. I'm not claiming that cigarettes are good for anyone's health, but the sacred is not about physical fitness. A great many seers, mystics and healers have been smokers, including Helen Shucman (who channeled the original Course in Miracles books), Elizabeth Kulber Ross, Stephen Levine, Jane Roberts, Edgar Casey, Peter Hurkos... New Age teachers standing on the shoulders of these luminaries often try to sanitize their memories. The visionary astrologer Caroline Casey was amused to find that the portrait, which hung in the foyer of the London Theosophical Society office of their founder, Madame Blavatsky, had been airbrushed to remove the perpetual cigarette from her hand.
A relevant aside: Richard Moss, an MD turned spiritual teacher, suspects "that people who smoke are already fairly sensitive and employ the cigarettes to ground themselves..." This observation is in line with what I have noticed about myself and certain other smokers. Whenever I tried to quit smoking, what bothered me more than the withdrawal symptoms was the mental fog accompanied by a startling increase in my psychic awareness (something not addressed in stop-smoking clinics!).
Once, after three months without a cigarette, I was experiencing outrageous telepathy, clairvoyance, and visitations from entities from other realms. What was most unsettling was an immediate materialization of any thought, which came to my mind. These were of a different order than the absolutely lucid and deliberate manifestations performed from the God/Self state. They were beyond my ability to control and seemed to be coming from my unconscious, from whence things have an unsettling knack of surfacing in their hairiest, most uncensored form.
In a milder fashion, while I was out walking (which has always been a form of "moving meditation" for me), if I thought of any individual I knew, within minutes they would drive by or pop out of a store I was passing. Perhaps these were not materializations of my thoughts at all, but flashes of precognition. I never could tell which, and this in itself disturbed me. I worried that I was going to start manifesting scenarios from paranoia-hell, like the psycho/psychic kid in the movie, "The Twilight Zone." Thankfully, it never happened.
Much of my distress came from being so alone in my predicament. Had I been able to find another soul who shared some of these uncanny gifts, I may have been able to handle them with more aplomb. As it was, I learned quickly that trying to talk to anyone about these things provoked skepticism, fear or frustrating misunderstandings. True to form, establishing consonant relationships was of far more importance to me than being a species unto myself with weird powers.
For the record, the criteria for spiritual progress, is quite different than generally imagined. One does not have to be a paragon of virtue or perfection. I have heard from people who were alcoholics when their Kundalini rose, and from many whose real or imagined shortcomings pressed them to ask, "How can I be worthy of this? Why me?" When the same question rose up from my depths, a voice of quiet conviction answered simply: Because you were ready.
In every sense, the route I've taken is off the beaten path. My shamanic education has been traditional in the sense that I didn't choose it; it chose me. I didn't sign up for courses; I never attended be-a-shaman workshops nor had myself apprenticed to native Medicine women who abducted me for special transmissions. Until recent years, I didn't even know that my bizarre proclivities were following a pattern classically known as shamanic. Prior to the flowering of cross-cultural lore in bookstores and seminars in the seventies, no one I'd ever met knew what shamanism was. Even today, a true shaman is off the map in most people's model of reality.
Shamanism as I practice it has nothing to do with Voodoo witchdoctor Stephen King X-Files put-a-spell-on-you Hollywood special effects. It isn't about channeling opinions from friendly Azor in hyperspace, nor does it involve theatrical magick productions in which spirits come forth like genies from the lamp to do one's bidding. In short, it is neither evil nor fiction.
From an outsider's view, a shaman appears to be a wholly independent agent whose behavior is unpredictable and peculiar. Prayer, rituals, introspection, meditation, trance work, dreams and focused awareness are tools of the trade. Feathers, masks, drums, rattles and other exotic accessories are optional and are more associated with indigenous customs than with basic shamanic procedure. Being a minimalist, I make marginal use of such props.
In traditional shamanism, items like a pipe, drum, medicine objects and such, have to be given in some way by the Spirit in order for them to have sacred power. When these things are bought or improperly acquired, they are without shamanic value. It isn't the specificity of the objects so much as the energy they carry which renders them medicine tools.
At the most elemental level, the shaman relates to the innate consciousness in all things. As a small child, I talked to trees. I would climb up 15-20 feet high in the pines around our house simply to enjoy their companionship. I felt they were protecting me; although I often climbed up where the branches were precariously thin and brittle, I never fell. There is an analogy here: much of my life has been spent, if not out on a limb, at altitudes where there hasn't been much in the way of visible support.
My tree-climbing was a portent of unsuspected forces gathering for my future rendezvous with the occult: "The climbing of trees in the process of shamanic initiation can be found in Malaysia, Siberia, the Americas, and Australia," says noted medical anthropologist Joan Halifax. Trees figure centrally in all shamanic traditions, being sacred in their own right as well as having esoteric meanings (such as the inner tree of life -- the central nervous system of the spine and brain, which very much resemble a tree).
The Native American holy man, Bear Heart, tells of a traditional initiation for children in which they are led blindfolded to sit by a particular tree to get the feel of it: "Be with this tree, touch it, hug it, lean against it, stand by it. Learn something from it." Later, the child would be able to find her way back to her particular tree just by touching the tree, or by being intuitively drawn to it. "That's how we began to connect," says Bear Heart. "It's amazing what you can feel from a tree. It can give us energy... That's why my people have great respect for trees. The trees are our relatives -- we call them `tall standing brothers.'"
My personal bond with tall standing brothers continues to this day. When I was having trouble recuperating from a knock down flu, a friend who considered himself a metaphysician insisted I accompany him on a trip to the woods to hug a tree because trees emit powerful healing energies. I had no problem with his idea, but when we found a secluded eucalyptus grove, I immediately felt wave after wave of fear and pain from the tree I touched. My friend, who had also embraced a nearby tree, was upset with me for "projecting my anxieties" and insisted that trees only resonate peace and tranquillity.
I was perplexed too until, while coming home, we passed a work crew a mile down the road which had begun sawing off branches and tree tops in a pruning frenzy. "That," I motioned to the carnage, "is what was messing up my tree."
I've always instinctively known that "All that exists lives," as a Chukchee shaman told an anthropologist. For me, rapport with other life forms is less convoluted than communicating with humans. Mental imagery and emotion are the universal telepathic language. Although I'm seriously allergic to cats, in a lapse of reason, I'd allowed my daughter to keep a kitten named Sherman. As Sherman reached adolescence, he preferred spending most of his time outdoors, which cut down on the allergy factor for me. Our neighbors who had cats permitted to romp outside would stand on their porches in the evenings calling "Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.…" I found it more dignified (and easier on my vocal cords) to stand in our open doorway for a few moments and silently announce, "Sherman, if you want to come in for the night, here's your chance." He always "heard" and understood me perfectly. Within seconds, he would come streaking up from wherever he'd been hanging out and dive into the house.
Once on a beach, I stood for a while watching some gulls as they soared in huge looping figure eight's far in the distance. Awed by their beauty, I asked them if they would come a bit closer so I could see them better. To my delight, they flew immediately toward me, graciously performing their aerial ballet in the sky directly overhead.
I learned to make requests of the rain and the sun in a similar way. Since for most of my adult life I had no car, on stormy days it was hard to go grocery shopping in a downpour or carry sopping wet sacks of soiled clothing five blocks to the Laundromat. I would state my case to the rain, explaining that I needed to go out and buy food or whatever, and ask if at all possible it might clear up just a short while to let me get to the store. Generally, the rain stopped just long enough for me to get to wherever I was going; it would usually let up again when I was ready to return home.
I conversed with inanimate objects too. This was particularly useful when an appliance malfunctioned, since I rarely had money to get anything repaired. Once when my sewing machine broke down, I politely asked it to help me out since I needed to mend some clothes. I got a strong impression of jealousy coming from the machine, which at first made no sense to me. Then I realized I'd been spending a great deal of time writing with a new typewriter... and the sewing machine apparently resented it! After I assured it that it was a truly fine sewing machine, every bit as marvelous as the typewriter, it resumed functioning perfectly.
Until I met Charles, I didn't know anyone else who communicated with "objects." But others are beginning to come out of the social closet on this. The psychoneuroimmunologist Paul Pearsall has spoken about his recovery from the usually fatal stage IV lymphoma. Among other things he did to heal himself, during his radiation treatments, his heart told him he could "somehow actually connect with and influence the machine." He was so successful with this that a radiation technician remarked to him, "This is very, very strange, but you seem to get a much more measurable effect with much less dosage and time than most patients. What are you doing to our machine?"
I realize that while my experiences in this realm are not considered normal in terms of our cultural suppositions, they have actually been quite ordinary. Anyone can speak to `objects' or animals in this way; it doesn't require any special psychic skill. But it takes shamanic instincts to honor the sentience and responsiveness of allegedly mute beings in a world where only crazy people and little children are permitted to believe in such things.
Much of my life has unfolded on a threshold between the mystical and the common place. What has been extraordinary is not so much the events themselves, but my ability to resist conditioning that convinced everyone else around me that such things were impossible. Through inexplicable grace, the creative, playful spirit at the core of us all, fueled by wonder and love, remained aflame in me despite the best efforts of the world to extinguish it.
As a child, I knew that communication with anything beyond our own species was taboo and I mentioned it to no one, not even to other children. It has always struck me ironic that humans imagined themselves to be the only intelligent beings on the planet while making life so much uglier and harder for themselves by treating everything else as dead matter...
Shamanism is a lot more involved than this and is scary because the realm of the Spirit is incomprehensible and tremendous in power and intent. When one serves as vehicle for this power, one is thrust into inconceivable situations by unimaginable forces, and sometimes they play very rough. In recognition of the dangers of the path, the Chukchee speak of shamans as "doomed to inspiration." When you are summoned to be a shaman, you are forced to relinquish conscious control of your life. You don't write the script and you don't call the shots. If you try, you get yourself into deep trouble fast.
Shamans learn to listen inwardly, to distinguish insight from ego, spirit allies from hungry ghosts. As a shaman-in-training, you act on faith, usually feel like a fool, get in your own way a lot, and to your amazement, the Spirit still manages to make some good use of you. It takes a great soul or a very long time to be a shaman with grace.
As I've said, I'm taking liberties in defining myself as a shaman. Yet even for a neophyte like me, there is no such thing as a lightweight shamanic path. This is why I -- like anyone I have ever heard give an authentic account of a shamanic life -- did my best to resist the call. For other types of healers, artists and mystics, the call may be gentle. They may be born with gifts that blossom over time, or they have fortuitous encounters, which redirect them down their destined path. For a shaman, the call is more often a banshee scream, which leaves the callee -- and whoever else may be in the vicinity -- with hair standing on end.
In a world of materialist-reality and militantly rational values, heeding the call of the Spirit is sure to brand you a weirdo if not worse. If you manage to escape the scornful notice of psychiatrists, police, religious pontiffs, social-programmer educators, mortified relatives, busybody neighbors and true but concerned friends, you still have to do battle with the nether forces that take their role in your development with fierce dedication. No shaman, no matter how low on the totem pole, gets off without some close skirmishes with illness, injury, insanity and death. The more potent the shaman, the more harrowing the experiences.
Short of having the great fortune of being taken under wing by a master shaman who can show you the ropes (and these are about as rare as white buffalo), modern shamans are pretty much on their own. They learn from the fires and voyages life pushes them into... or they perish
Chapter 2 : Backtracking
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© El Collie 2000