© El Collie 2000
PATHOLOGIZING THE SPIRIT
"The dictionary's first definition of mystical is 'direct communion with ultimate reality.' The second meaning: 'vague or incomprehensible.' Here is a central problem: Direct communion with ultimate reality is vague and incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it!"
-- Marilyn Ferguson
Due to the array of symptoms set off by Kundalini, the process is often misdiagnosed. Certain neurological and psychiatric illnesses may in fact be entirely or frequently cases of awakened Kundalini which medicine has been staring in the face for eons without recognizing what it was seeing.
For instance, Joan Borysenko mentions that people diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy (also known as complex partial seizures) "may report out-of-body experiences and also frequently report strange feelings akin to electrical discharges that originate at the base of the spine, give rise to orgasmic flows of energy, can cause their body to contort into yogalike postures, and sometimes lead to insightful revelations." Other so-called symptoms include a preoccupation with religious ideas.
What is authentic spiritual experience for the mystic might appear to be obsessive religious involvement to
an uninformed observer. Repression of the Spirit runs so deep in the modern psyche that even when confronted with
something that looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, the clinician confidently proclaims:
"We have before us a broken watch."
And anyone who says otherwise is a quack. (Sorry, couldn't resist the bad pun.)
"There is something called schizophrenia," said Jill Johnson, "and it means brokenhearted." Not long ago I came across a tragic story of a young woman whose unhappiness due to sad life experiences was medically mismanaged so badly it destroyed her life. She had married young to an abusive husband and had suffered a miscarriage with her first pregnancy. Her depression after the loss of her baby combined with the other stresses in her life prompted her to seek professional help. Unfortunately, the professional she contacted was a psychiatrist devoid of empathy or any understanding of human emotion. Instead of helping her deal with her grief and bad marriage, he labeled her schizophrenic and prescribed antipsychotic drugs. Being told her problems all stemmed from her mental defects -- her "schizophrenia" -- dashed her hopes of recovery and crumbled the remains of her self-esteem. This and the brain-damaging effects of long term antipsychotic and antidepressant drug use turned her life into a blur of medication-induced stupor and hospitalizations in psychiatric wards. After years of this dehumanizing regime, she became one of psychiatry's hidden Frankenstein monsters, developing full-blown psychosis.
For as long as psychiatry as a whole cannot distinguish between mental deterioration and natural emotional responses to life crises, the brokenhearted remain at risk of medical assault. This is doubly true for those of us experiencing the "holy madness" of spiritual awakening. B.S. Goel says that during his twenty year Kundalini process, he manifested symptoms of just about every mental illness on record. When Gopi Krishna was undergoing his own tormented awakening, he said he instinctively knew to steer clear of doctors and psychiatrists, no matter how bad his condition became. He realized they would not have a context to understand his mental and physical symptoms, and that in their ignorance, they might impose treatments which would have a deleterious effect on the process
While we were putting together Issue #22 of Shared Transformation (with the theme: "Insanity or Transformation?"), I came across the newly published Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health, which is a thick compendium of diagnostic criteria for major mental disorders recognized in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders). Reading this book was educational to me in ways unintended by the authors, Dianne Hales and Robert E. Hales, M.D. This is the stuff taught in medical schools -- the DSM-IV is accepted as law by the majority of psychiatrists, mainstream therapists and insurance companies. These are the suppositions mainstream doctors measure our symptoms against. In the introduction, Dr. Allen J. Frances, Professor and Chairman of the Psychology Department of Duke University Medical Center, proudly states: "I recommend this timely, authoritative, and insightful book as a reference you can use with confidence for problems that affect you and those close to you, and as a source of information and enlightenment now and for years to come." News flash, doc, it's not so confidence-inspiring as you think. For anyone experiencing Kundalini, psychic opening or other forms of spiritual emergence, segments of this hefty tome read like the Inquisitioner's Handbook.
The most glaring omission in the book -- and indeed, in Western culture -- is a failure to consider spiritual elements as having any impact or influence whatsoever on the human psyche. In light of the considerable advances made in other disciplines, it is astounding that modern psychiatry is still bound by the very constrictions that Carl Jung found so objectionable in his early psychiatric training in 1900: It believes only in what is "probable, average, commonplace, barren of meaning" and by so doing, it manages "to renounce everything strange and significant, and reduce anything extraordinary to the banal." Some ninety years later, Seth Farber, Ph.D., one of the directors of The Network Against Coercive Psychiatry, echoed the same sentiment: "R.D. Laing was viewed by the Establishment as an extremist who 'romanticized' the suffering of the 'mentally ill.' The mental health experts have succeeded in de-romanticizing virtually every dimension of human existence, leaving us with a universe denuded of meaning, bereft of poetry, a lifeless machine."
Not incidentally, while only 10 percent of the general populace are atheists, a survey of American psychiatrists found that over half of them professed they did not believe in God. This goes a long way toward explaining psychiatry's long-standing antagonism toward spiritual and mystical experience! Those who enter spontaneous altered states of consciousness have traditionally been viewed as morally or mentally defective, and have been subjected to incarceration and repressive medical treatments.
The following are various "mental disorders" which include (without being officially recognized as such) Kundalini phenomenon. This is not to say that any of these categorizations exclusively concern Kundalini; rather, they reveal a confusion of symptoms whereby a doctor using these guidelines could easily mistake the Kundalini process for true mental illness. I am listing the disorders alphabetically.
Brief Psychotic Disorder is a sudden outbreak of disorganized speech and behavior, catatonia, and/or what is diagnosed as delusions and hallucinations. The episode lasts anywhere from a few hours to a month, and is usually triggered by "overwhelming stress." Spontaneous Kundalini trance states could be misdiagnosed as catatonia and most mystical experiences are dismissed as hallucination by psychiatry.
Conversion Disorder includes symptoms that have no apparent physical cause, such as psychosomatic "blindness, double vision, deafness, loss of sensation, inability to speak, impaired coordination or balance, weakness or paralysis, difficulty in swallowing, seizures, tremors, loss of consciousness, numbness of hands and feet." The authors explain that "conversion symptoms are not consciously or intentionally produced," and say that the syndrome can result from trauma. It is often found among shell-shocked soldiers during war. I know of cases that would fall into this category which are non-Kundalini related, such as a woman who became inexplicably paralyzed for a year after the shock of learning that her fiancée had secretly married another woman. The fact that the disorder frequently occurs to patients with clinically diagnosed neurological and orthopedic problems, including head injuries, seems in direct contradiction to the standing psychiatric theory that the symptoms are unconsciously produced to hide shameful emotions or to avoid self-responsibility!
Delirium: This condition is not the same as dementia, which is found in Alzheimer's disease. Delirium, in which the patient is quite "out of it," is often preceded by "restlessness, difficulty in thinking clearly, hypersensitivity to sights and sounds, insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and vivid dreams and nightmares." We are told that "severe delirium" can lead to such hallucinations as sensations of "insects crawling under the skin," which the authors claim is really just "itching." (What clinical instrument, pray tell, detects these real sensations?)
Tremors, shaking, rapid heartbeat and flushed face are common in delirious patients, as is difficulty concentrating and memory lapses. Many physical illnesses cause delirium, as do head injuries, drug overdoses or abrupt drug withdrawal. Antipsychotic drugs have been known to cause it, yet antipsychotic drugs are often administered to control it! (I very much doubt that doctors prescribing Thorazine to counter delirium are deliberately employing the homeopathic theorem that like cures likes.)
Delusional Disorder: This category includes stalkers who believe against all evidence to the contrary that the object of their affections returns their love; persecution complexes which often lead to violent "retaliation" over imagined slights; inordinately controlling, possessive spouses who are certain -- again, without cause -- that their partner is unfaithful; and you or I, if we are convinced of the reality of chakras, spirits or Kundalini and our doctor is convinced otherwise.
Depersonalization Disorder "involves a persistent, strong, disquieting, and unpleasant sense of unreality about one's self" which people find very difficult to describe. Out-of-body and near-death experiences, as well as many levels of transcendent consciousness would fall into this category. DD is considered a mental illness despite the fact that, as the authors state, 70% of young adults have reported an episode of this nature. (This may mean the younger generation is expanding in consciousness very rapidly!) While this condition can be a reaction to extreme crisis, loss or trauma, it is not an uncommon response to transcendent experience, and in such cases, surely should be treated through spiritual (not psychological) counseling.
Depressive Disorders: These speak for themselves. The greatest danger from psychiatric intervention is the use of electroconvulsive therapy, still considered the treatment of choice for drug-resistant depression.
Panic Disorders are discussed later in this chapter.
Schizoaffective Disorder: "The combination of a psychotic disorder and a depressive disorder..." In essence, this is schizophrenic tendencies combined with a potential for suicide.
Schizoid Personality Disorder: I am including this purported disorder, not because it has direct relevance to the Kundalini process, but to show how at odds psychiatry is with religion. An individual may be diagnosed with SPD if he or she is a loner, very emotionally restrained, disinterested in socializing or intimacy, involved in few activities and indifferent to the opinions of others. This may be a description of the Unibomber suspect, Ted Kaczynski, but these very qualities are also cherished in monastic religious groups. What is being described is none other than the detachment of a natural ascetic. Yogis, hermit-mystic types, nuns and monks of all traditions as well as many shamans display these traits -- and work hard to attain them!
Schizophrenia: While schizophrenia is believed to develop between the ages of 17-24, another term -- Schizophreniform Disorder -- is attached to symptoms arising later in life and sounds more like a description of temporary Kundalini psychosis than does the profile for general schizophrenia.
As usual, anything, which would strike the average citizen as preposterous, from the outright bonkers to signs of psychospiritual development, are classified as schizophrenic delusions. I.e., weird paranoid ideas (believing you are victim of a conspiracy between the CIA and Roger Rabbit, or that the TV weather forecaster is deliberately sending you coded messages about very personal matters); absurd positive or negative inflation (being convinced you are Napoleon, the Devil or the Tooth Fairy); weird behavior or utter disregard for personal appearance and hygiene without awareness of the affect this has on others... and hypersensitivity; hearing inner sounds, music, voices; tingling or burning sensations. Another schizophrenic delusion, we are told, is the belief that "they have a rare gift, such as extrasensory perception." (The authors do not make clear whether the schizophrenic is delusional because he or she is not, in fact, experiencing ESP, or because ESP is impossible and therefore anyone who thinks they have this ability is bananas.)
E. Fuller Torrey offers the following symptoms as typical indications of schizophrenia:
1) Alterations of the senses
2) Inability to sort and interpret incoming sensations, and an inability therefore to respond appropriately
3) Delusions and hallucinations
4) Altered sense of self
5) Changes in emotions
6) Changes in movements
7) Changes in behavior
Obviously, something is wrong here; many if not all of the most common Kundalini manifestations would qualify as signs of schizophrenia according to Torrey's list! Here is one of the cases he uses to exemplify delusions and hallucinations "At an early stage the appearance of colored flashes of light was common. These took the form either of distant streaks or of nearby round glowing patches about a foot in diameter." If perceiving such flashes of light are "delusional," most of the world's mystics, seers and illumined spiritual leaders were simply hallucinating and religious experience can be written off as brain dysfunction. In the hands of modern psychiatry, Buddha would have been diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and plied with antidepressants! In fact, every Avatar, saint and holy person from time immemorial meets the current diagnostic criteria for multiple mental disorders. This would be hilarious if psychiatrists did not wield such obscene power over people's lives. In many states, psychiatrists are legally entitled to commit anyone -- regardless of whether or not the person is their patient -- to a psychiatric ward and force them to undergo drug or electroshock treatments against their will and without the consent of their families for however long they deem necessary (or for however long one's insurance or Medicare will pay for it). Somatization Disorder is psychobabble for "we can find no biological explanation for your illness so you must be nuts." Many physical Kundalini symptoms would easily fall into this category, which tellingly includes menstrual difficulties beginning early in life for women. For years, male doctors pooh-poohed menstrual problems as "all in the head." With today's increasing numbers of female physicians, women are no longer being told they are imagining PMS or menstrual cramps, but psychiatry is still male-dominated.
Undifferentiated Somatoform Disorder: Do researchers hand out prizes for whoever comes up with the most unintelligible label for a disease? Don't be surprised if this one winds up on your medical chart. Symptoms include difficulty in swallowing, fatigue, loss of appetite, digestive complaints and so forth, which have no apparent physical cause. USD symptoms often begin or get worse during periods of stress or crisis in the patient's life. These symptoms are also believed to be caused by repressed emotion.
I am not arguing that emotional repression cannot cause difficulties of this sort; I am sure that it can. Were
psychiatry more hospitable to the soul, there might be a chance for earnest dialogue between the medical and spiritual
communities. Many psychiatric insights could be applicable to mitigate the severity of certain Kundalini symptoms.
But as it stands, confiding in a shrink can be hazardous to your health, particularly if you are experiencing awakened
In our recent past (and I very much hope it is entirely in the past), even such a natural process as childbirth has been treated savagely. I have heard atrocity stories of delivery room nurses forcibly holding shut the legs of a pregnant woman in advanced labor because the obstetrician was not yet on the scene to authorize the birth. Such practices have resulted in brain damaged or stillborn infants. Just so, a grossly medically mismanaged and violated Kundalini awakening can result in an arrested or aborted process. "Psychotic-like states -- spiritual emergencies -- can fragment self-boundaries, permanently damaging the self if mishandled," warns John Nelson: "Such relatively benign states are well known to experienced spiritual guides... But because these crises superficially resemble pathological states, less experienced guides often confuse the two. This is a cardinal error. Many treatments that are appropriate for malignantly regressive [altered states of consciousness] are contraindicated for spiritual emergencies, and vice versa."
We have seen how psychiatry mistakenly lumps together those suffering from life's many blows with those who are overwhelmed by spiritual awakening. A mistake in the opposite direction may be occurring among those who claim that all cases of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and manic-depression are in fact Kundalini disturbances. In his book, Science and the Evolution of the Consciousness, Hiroshi Motoyama, (who has personally experienced Kundalini) describes his scientific findings using an apparatus by which some of the bio-electric changes associated with risen Kundalini can be measured. As part of his research, Motoyama, a physician, acupuncturist and electrical engineer, compared test results from examination of patients clinically diagnosed as psychotic (group C) with two other groups. Group A was composed of highly spiritually developed individuals who had experienced major alterations in consciousness, and group B were people who had begun to spiritually awaken and were noticing physical and psychological changes, but had not had transcendent experiences. The results of the study strongly suggest that Kundalini-triggered psychosis is of a different order -- organically and energetically -- than other mental illnesses.
"In general," Motoyama summarized, "I found that group A subjects can easily be distinguished from individuals diagnosed as mentally unbalanced, whereas many group B subjects initially show distinct similarities to the deranged." On further testing, the differences between the B and C group widened. A corroborating series of studies examining galvanic skin resistance data consistently indicated global imbalances of the autonomic nervous system of the psychotic patients. No such systemic problems were detected in groups A or B. Further tests measuring the overall metabolic state of the organism showed high readings for those with awakened Chakras, and extremely low readings for the psychologically unbalanced subjects.
Jung discovered that archetypal themes repeatedly appear in the dreams of both ordinary and insane people, which would suggest that at our core, we have universal access to the same territories. But this does not mean we are all traveling at the same speed or in the same direction. Anyone who has studied case histories of seriously deranged patients (or has had much personal contact with such people) knows that while there may be a strange internal logic to their madness, there is also a chaotic and insular quality to it. This is not true of mystical "psychosis." Observers of people in spiritual crisis report that they remain cognizant that their experiences are extraordinary, while psychotics have no such sense that they are behaving and talking bizarrely.
Psychosynthesis founder Roberto Assagioli mentioned "cases of irregular development" in which certain individuals "reach a high level with one part of their personality and yet [may] be handicapped by certain infantile fixations or dominated by unconscious conflicts." Gopi Krishna also spoke of this phenomenon, which is more recognized in Eastern cultures. Those "who combine extraordinary clairvoyant gifts... with schizophrenia or manic-depressive psychosis in varying degrees" are called Avahoots in India and Mastanas in Persia. I have witnessed several cases of this type. I believe they are in a parallel predicament to my difficulties with my spine injury. Kundalini complicates and aggravates my condition, but it certainly could not therefore be said that because some of us have both a risen Kundalini and back pain, everyone whose back hurts has an activated Kundalini.
Much mental/emotional illness is a defense against consciousness. Jung had a case of a psychotic woman who, he learned through her dreams and symbolic language, had allowed and encouraged her own children to drink contaminated water in a subconscious desire to rid herself of them and be reunited with a lost lover. When one child -- her little daughter -- actually died, the woman went crazy. Jung saw clearly that she could not recover until she had squarely faced what she had done and taken responsibility for it. This proved true. Once he confronted her with her culpability, she totally regained her sanity and had no relapses thereafter.
By contrast, in spiritual awakening, what is being called psychosis is not a defense against knowing the truth, but an awareness of truths the populace is defended against! We break cultural taboos when we see more of reality than other people can see. In this case, we do not need help to face up to our own truth, although we may need help dealing with the terrible loneliness that comes of knowing too much. If our previous beliefs about reality were too rigid, the new material can throw us into shock, temporarily producing mental/emotional disturbances. This may be why there were superficial similarities between psychotics and neophyte spiritual initiates in Motoyama's studies.
If we are unfamiliar with spiritual phenomena, even something as benign as sensory awareness of our own Chakras can make us feel crazy, but this is only our fear and bewilderment in the face of the unknown. In this regard, Motoyama assures us, "Anyone, no matter how healthy, who is successful in the practice of a spiritual discipline will most likely undergo a period of psychological and/or physical instability as a matter of course, since the body and mind must change and adjust to their new relationship to the nonsensory dimensions of existence. This is a natural function, and no cause for alarm."
Social misconceptions make it difficult for many people to distinguish between actual mystical experience (or
healthy mystical experience) and mental degeneration. In her otherwise excellent book on mysticism, The Ecstatic
Journey, Sophy Burnham falls off track in attempting to distinguish between mystical experience and schizophrenia
(and other forms of mental illness). "I heard of one woman who in the midst of a manic episode decided that
she was having a spiritual experience, as she wandered homeless through the streets, subject to energy waves,"
says Burnham. "In these distorted states, the spiritual imagery may include satanic encounters, strange dreams,
or the idea that everything is fraught with meaning... Everything becomes a message from God."
Burnham makes several erroneous conclusions in this passage. The woman roaming the streets may have lost touch with reality or she may have simply been indiscreet about declaring her experiences to people who could not conceive of internal energy waves as being something real. (Nowhere in her book does Burnham associate energy currents with genuine spiritual awakening.) It is difficult to tell from this if the woman displayed actual signs of mental disorientation or if Burnham wrongly assumed that sensations of energy were proof of delirium. "Satanic encounters and strange dreams" are hardly indicative of 'distorted states;' many of us have had bizarre dreams and confrontations with demonic or negative entities at some point in our awakening. Much as we may wish otherwise, dark and unfriendly forces do exist on many planes, and becoming aware of them does not demonstrate mental dysfunction.
Burnham is making the common mistake of confusing content with response. The problem for the schizophrenic is not a deluded idea that everything has meaning and is a message from the Divine; shamans and mystics throughout the ages have known that everything is indeed meaningful and have used this knowledge to good purpose. This is where the difference lies. The schizophrenic or manic person lacks the ability to wisely utilize psychic and spiritual information. Seeing that the candle's light signifies Divine Light, the mentally unbalanced person eats the candle or burns himself with the flame in a misguided attempt to merge with God. He cannot distinguish between symbol and essence and therefore behaves inappropriately. He is overwhelmed by the complexity of his perception, while the mystic is able to maintain the same vastness of awareness without losing her powers of discernment.
It is not what we see or feel or know, but how we relate to this information that spells the difference between madness and sanity. As Don Juan once told Castaneda, the trick is in not "losing our marbles" when confronted with the awesome and mysterious.
Burnham tells of another man who claimed to be God rather than to have merged with God. She holds out this subtle distinction as a sign of insanity (not to mention blasphemy), yet later in the book she quotes esteemed mystics as having said essentially the same thing. In fact, God-realization is regarded as the pinnacle of enlightenment in Eastern religions.
I had this experience when I was twenty-one years old and it is not one of merging but of directly knowing. Unlike the man Burnham speaks of, I did not thereafter become a megalomaniac. (Egomania is the chief danger of God-Self awakening -- many gurus have succumbed to it.) I knew that El Collie was not God, but that I AM GOD -- I am the One-Self dreaming the whole of creation, as we all really are. Rather than proclaiming myself enlightened, I simply shut up about it and continued on as always. Prior to this, I have only mentioned it to three other people, two of whom also had this experience. I suppose that while I'm out of the closet I may as well add that contrary to myth, God-realization is not the final step on the path because there is no final step. The journey is in truth an eternal dance: Shiva!
As Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat remarked, "We're all mad here." But different kinds of craziness ask
for different kinds of healing. Some, like the God-intoxication of the true mystic, may not need help at all. Just
letting be is sometimes the best medicine.
No matter how serious the physical, mental and emotional problems of the process may appear, Roberto Assagioli would remind us that these "are merely temporary reactions, by-products, so to speak, of an organic process of inner growth and regeneration." A temporary episode of apparent psychosis, when allowed to run its course in a supportive environment most often leads to new levels of inner clarity and awareness. Conversely, bombarding the system with mood-altering chemicals may prevent the erupting unconscious material from being integrated, resulting in a "frozen" condition in which the patient neither returns to normal nor is able to complete the interrupted self-healing process.
More brutal than the arsenal of drugs are involuntary incarceration in mental hospitals, electroshock treatments (which permanently damage brain tissue), and various inhumane restraints. In Denmark, where electroconvulsive treatments are common, many "Kundalini victims" have been subjected to this very dangerous "cure." Here in the US, Kundalini patients have not fared much better. Patients in benign altered states of consciousness, manifesting vigorous kriyas, have been strapped for days or weeks to hospital beds. Even the softer therapies can be hurtful to someone in the midst of a transformational process. Professionals with a know-it-all attitude, but lack understanding of spiritual emergence, can be patronizing at best. At worst, they can and do destroy lives.
Thomas Szasz, one of modern psychiatry's most blistering critics, has warned that "Americans today are more misinformed and more gullible about the true nature of psychiatry than people anywhere have ever been." From its inception, he asserts that psychiatry has been a legal way for people with power to get rid of less socially influential family members, neighbors or other human beings who were causing them any kind of distress. "Because psychiatrists have a great deal of power," says Szasz, "and because they are utterly corrupted by the pretense of helping so-called patients while in fact acting as agents of social control on behalf the patients' familial and social antagonists, it is imperative that potential customers of psychiatric services be familiar not with what mental health professionals say, but with what they do." As Szasz sees it, psychiatry's most dangerous feature is its "deliberate, systematic dehumanization of man, in the name of mental health."
No matter how disturbed the person, John Perry has found that offering support is better than drug-induced repression: "... in the high-arousal state when the archetypal unconscious is energized and activated, the psyche autonomously does its own work in its own fashion. What it needs for this is not 'treatment' but rather a coming into close and deep relationship with another individual who empathizes and encourages but does not interfere."
Perry's view corresponds with that of spiritual traditions like Siddha yoga, in which the risen Kundalini is regarded as the intelligence of the Goddess, an inner divine feminine guru who knows exactly what She is doing. "When Kundalini awakening takes place through grace, it will rise of its own accord, and become established where it should be established," Swami Muktananda assured his followers. "Kundalini will take care of Herself, for the Shakti is a conscious and all-knowing power."
Unfortunately, few therapists and psychiatrists have been trained to deal with extraordinary, non-pathological
states of consciousness. Some try to force the client's experiences to fit into a reductionistic formula of childhood
trauma or unresolved personality issues. Sometimes they are "successful" at this. With such therapeutic
"aid," a woman undergoing profound psychic opening became convinced that all her spiritual experiences
were meaningless hallucinations resulting from childhood abuse.
An Abridged History of Western Spiritual Blindness
It's disheartening to live in an era, which provides so little support for transformational experiences. Until very recently, the phenomenon of Kundalini awakenings was virtually unheard of in the West -- which is not to say the process never happened. I am very suspicious of the 19th century and earlier use of the now obsolete "hysteric" diagnosis. These patients had unexplained seizures and related neurological symptoms which makes one wonder how many might have been experiencing unrecognized Kundalini awakening. Hysteria was known in the days of Hippocrates, although it was considered a pathological condition specific to women. The so-called hysteric of ancient Greece displayed such physical symptoms as: "paralysis or tremor of the limbs, functional blindness and deafness, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, lumps in the throat, pain in the groin or legs, fainting fits, skin rashes, digestive disturbances... and menstrual blood which flowed the wrong way and flooded the other organs of the body, including the brain."
This last anatomically impossible symptom caused the hysteric diagnosis to fall out of favor with later European physicians. Even today, the "reversal of the menstrual flow" idea is regarded by scholars as a quaint and primitive notion. What an idiot that Hippocrates was, imagining blood in the uterus could flow backward through the body all the way to the brain! Try substituting the words "Kundalini energies" (which often feel like warm liquid moving through the body) for "blood," keeping in mind the Eastern religious teachings that claim the risen Kundalini reverses the flow of Shakti from the sexual organs. Sexism aside, Hippocrates may get the last laugh.
Scientists in the 18th century likewise guffawed at Mesmer's theory that the universe "floated in an interconnecting
fluid resembling ether, and one physical body influenced another through vibrations passing along the currents
of this invisible medium." Mesmer effected numerous miraculous cures by serving as a bodily channel for the
mysterious "ether" -- which the Chinese knew as "chi," the Hindus called "prana,"
and which today's healers simply call "energy." In later centuries, Mesmer's followers developed his
methods into what is in modern times known as hypnosis, believing they had salvaged the viable part of his theories
while dissociating themselves from his insane "interconnecting fluid" concepts. (Mesmer, like Wilhelm
Reich with his orgone theory and others too far ahead of their time, died a social pariah and broken man.)
Dawn of a New Era
It may be that the incidence of Kundalini isn't actually increasing, but the recognition of it has increased. Who knows how many bona fide cases in the past were written off as mental aberrations? Like seeds germinating in vain beneath the pavement, many potential healers and teachers have been lost to the rigidity of a culture that would not admit them into the world. Thank Goddess, the pavement is finally beginning to crack and the seeds are thrusting their way into the light.
While current accounts of Kundalini awakenings remain subjective and anecdotal (anathema to the scientific community), in the not too distant future, Kundalini may yet be validated by science. Research in this direction is already underway. When the two Australian researchers Bronwyn Fox & Jasmin Arthur-Jones finished their presentation at the Kundalini Research Network Symposium 1994, members of the audience exclaimed that their data was "stunning." What they have uncovered is that since 1980, when the criteria for what Fox calls "the myth of panic disorders" was added to the DSM, individuals experiencing classic Kundalini symptoms have been told, in effect, that they are mentally/emotionally ill and have been medically [mis] treated accordingly. Their research has received high recognition: in 1995, the combined governments of Australia and New Zealand presented Fox and Arthur-Jones with the prestigious Silver Award to honor their achievements in the field of mental health via their panic disorder work.
From Fox's and Arthur-Jones' findings from their two scientific studies, it would appear that a third to three-quarters of all people diagnosed with "panic attacks" are, in fact, undergoing Kundalini awakenings! Apparently, as more people experiencing involuntary and unrecognized Kundalini awakening in the 70's flocked to doctors and psychiatrists for help, the medical authorities decided that these patients were having "uncued panic attacks" (i.e., they were having episodes of extreme fear with no provocation). All the Kundalini symptoms were explained away as effects of excessive adrenaline in the system brought on by the allegedly unprovoked terror these patients often reported.
In truth, Arthur-Jones explains, the fear they experience is a perfectly normal response to unknown (to them) and overwhelming Kundalini experiences, including: feeling rushes of electric, hot prickly or vibrating energy throughout their bodies; spontaneous out-of-body experiences (which psychology calls "dissociation"); experiencing inner sounds and brilliant inner lights. Additional symptoms and sensations most commonly reported by these individuals (which they say are "constantly changing" and which many of them experience 24 hours a day) are: depression, shaking, trembling, headaches, lower back pains, temporary paralysis, neck aches, diarrhea, extreme exhaustion and fear, abdominal pain, hot flashes, sciatica, night sweats, migrating unexplainable body pain, recurrent pelvic pain, unexplainable rashes, chronic and temporary pains all over the body, sensitivity to light, acute hearing, difficulty breathing, burning sensations in the stomach. Sound familiar?
The majority of these people have never meditated, and seriously fear they are dying, going insane or losing control when these experiences and symptoms occur. 74% of these so-called "panic disorder" patients said that their nervous system was functioning differently than it had before their first "panic attack." 33% reported kriyas, which they called "spontaneous physical jerking" which occurred most vigorously at night in bed. A third or more reported the following mystical experiences during or after their "panic attacks":
* Seeing a white or golden light
* An overwhelming sense of love
* New understanding of spiritual truths
* An emotional flood of devotion, joy or reverence
* Expansion of consciousness
* Intense feelings of peace
* Overwhelming sense of wonder and awe
In working with these individuals (none of whom seemed to have been helped much by the standard medicating approach), what Fox and Arthur-Jones found most beneficial was teaching them meditation as a way of releasing their fear of the process, and encouraging them to allow the symptoms and sensations to occur. (Before, due to fear or belief that they were crazy, they had tried to resist and fight off these manifestations of the process.) Although what is being called the "panic attacks" -- i.e., the Kundalini experiences -- do not stop, "recovery" is defined as the lack of fear of these manifestations. The most helpful therapeutic technique was helping these patients work through inner issues brought up by the process itself -- i.e., healing past trauma and making personal adjustments for their own growth and well-being. Fox has pointed out that the newest DSM-IV has made some progress in recognizing that these so-called "uncued attacks" are a different syndrome than phobias, post traumatic stress, and anxiety attacks, which rarely involve Kundalini symptoms. However, the manual still fails to recognize that this is indeed the Kundalini process (even though it now includes a separate categorization for spiritual emergence experiences). In a similar vein, medical researchers studying symptoms such as "a racing heart, muscle tension, head pain and perspiration" that are sometimes triggered by meditation have dubbed this process "relaxation-induced panic." Neither the researchers nor Dr. Barry Burnett, who wrote an article reporting this research, realize that these are possible signs of Kundalini activation and not simply a product of fear! But at least they acknowledge that meditation is not a guarantee of spiritual smooth sailing. Burnett quotes Nathaniel Mead (who mentioned the research in the March/April '94 Utne Reader): "When a meditator is led to expect stress reduction and instead comes face to face with his true self, the result can be anything but relaxing."
It's sad that in the name of healing, so much harm can be done. After we printed the information about the Fox and Arthur-Jones research in Shared Transformation newsletter, we were inundated with letters of gratitude from our readers. In one poignant letter, a reader who had been struggling in the dark with her Kundalini symptoms for twelve years said that her heart sang upon discovering agoraphobia and panic attacks among the common Kundalini difficulties. It was only when she came across this information, she told us, that she was finally able to "forgive herself" for these symptoms, which she had previously perceived as signs of personal inadequacy and spiritual failure.
Panic attacks can occur when Kundalini is trying to bring up repressed emotion, traumatic memories or other
unconscious material. The writer and physician Rachel Naomi Remen began having panic attacks soon after exposure
to transformational ideas at Esalen. A therapist asked her to close her eyes and allow image to come to mind that
related to the panic. Remen saw a thin, flat white rectangle, which at first she thought was a business card. The
therapist told her to contemplate the image for the next few weeks and just allow it to reveal its meaning.
Eventually, this happened. "Suddenly, the flat white rectangle reappeared in my mind's eye," said Remen, "but this time it started to change shape, to puff up." This so alarmed her that it set off another panic attack. But the message finally came through: "The white rectangle was not a business card after all. It was a marshmallow that had been subjected to a steady external pressure for many, many years. The pressure had distorted its natural shape so that it was long and flat. But now, this pressure had been released. Its shape was changing and it was terrified. It felt as if it were dying. But the marshmallow was not dying, it was returning to itself. The shape that had been most familiar to it was not its own shape. With the lifting of the pressure, something deep in it could remember its integrity, its true shape, and was reclaiming it now."
Remen realized that her childhood conditioning and years of medical training had stomped down her natural sensitivity and tenderness. Now she was regaining these precious parts of herself: "Although I could be analytical and pragmatic, by nature I was an intuitive, even a mystic... I had remembered and I was going home." She never had another panic attack.
The word "panic" originally meant terror of the nature god Pan, who had been demonized by the patriarchal church. In fact, Pan is Greek for "all;" the great Pan was believed to be omnipresent in the natural world, much like the goddess Kundalini is said to be the life-force. In this sense, the word "panic" was first used to denigrate the direct, inner connection to primal, sacred forces. History repeats itself, alas.
It is a commonly believed that people who have psychic and spiritual experiences are other-worldly and eccentric at best; the less charitable sentiment is that they are crackpots, far more psychologically unsound than those who do not venture into such strange waters. But when sociologist Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center tested such individuals, including those who claimed to have had profound mystical experiences, he discovered just the opposite was true. These people had top scores in the standard tests that measure psychological health. Greeley reported that far from being "religious nuts or psychiatric cases," most of these individuals demonstrated higher than normal intelligence and somewhat less religious involvement than average. In fact, Larry Dossey notes that according to Norman Bradburn, one of the psychologists who developed these tests, "no other factor had ever been found to correlate so highly with psychological balance as did mystical experience." Their findings were reiterated in other researcher's studies of indigenous shamans. Far from being psychotic or hysteric (as psychologists had originally supposed), shamans exemplified a higher level of mental health and balance than other members of their society.
Hopefully, those of us having these powerful, and little understood spiritual experiences, are the vanguard
of a new epoch in human awareness. The persecution we suffer is probably much less than what someone in the throes
of spiritual emergence must have faced 20, 30 or more years ago. Even if we are unable to get through to those
people who are locked in abysmal ignorance, we can stand up for ourselves internally, and not give others the power
to interpret our reality for us. Through our networking and our unimpeded completion of our own processes, let
us be instrumental in spreading awareness of the true nature of transformation. Let's pray that our children and
their children will inherit a better, wiser world in which spiritual evolution is recognized and honored as an
authentic, purposeful, and crucial part of human development.
The old medical standby "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning" has its modern counterpart in "Take Prozac and see me in three months." Most people who consult doctors for help with mental, emotional or physical Kundalini illness are eventually prescribed psychotherapeutic drugs. In The Stormy Search for the Self, Christina and Stanislav Grof note that those who are experiencing spiritual emergency "often feel helpless and welcome assistance from any source," making them especially vulnerable to inappropriate treatment. As the Grofs point out, repressive medications "often add to the person's confusion and disorientation." More ominously, a multitude of the possible adverse reactions to these medications are very similar to Kundalini symptoms. While the naturally occurring Kundalini manifestations are usually harmless and transient, their evil twin symptoms of chemical poisoning can result in permanent (and sometimes fatal) physical damage.
In my own case, two different physicians (a general practitioner and a neurologist) offered me antidepressants for my physical symptoms. The first prescribed trazadone (generic Desyrel) for my breathing and swallowing difficulties. (These symptoms later vanished by themselves; I learned they were typical manifestations of heart and throat chakra openings.) I was given a very low dosage to be taken before bed, since the doctor told me the only side effect I might encounter would be slight drowsiness. She assured me that this was a very safe medication and that in her many years of practice, only one man had complained to her of an adverse reaction to this drug.
The night I took my first trazadone tablet, I was jolted awake an hour later with my whole respiratory system
in revolt. All the mucus membranes of my nose, mouth, throat and sinuses had swollen so much I was nearly suffocating,
and blood was pouring from my nose! It took hours for these effects to subside. The next morning when I reported
this incident to my doctor, she advised me to discontinue the medication. (Even had she instructed me to continue
it, I would never have gone near the stuff again.)
The second antidepressant prescribed for me two years later was desipramine. This was when I sought help for my excruciating back pain. My neurologist told me this drug had been found useful for alleviating chronic pain and said the only side effect I might encounter would be "dryness of the mouth." When I asked him if the medication was addictive, he answered "Not at all."
This time I didn't take his word for it. I checked in four reference books that list uses and warnings for prescription drugs. Not one mentioned any pain-relieving properties, but all four said that desipramine should never be abruptly discontinued, as this could produce severe withdrawal symptoms. To me, this is a working definition of an addictive drug! Each book gave a somber enumeration of "minor" to "major" side effects, many of which were substantially more serious than a dry mouth. Most of the tricyclates carry the same risks. Brand names for these antidepressants include Norpramin, Pertofrane, Tofranil, Janimine, Elavil, Endep, Aventyl, Pamelor and Vivactil. The possible side effects are as follows: Agitation, anxiety, blurred vision, chest pains, confusion, constipation, convulsions, cramps, diarrhea, difficulty in urinating, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, enlarged or painful breasts (in both sexes), fainting, fatigue, fever, fluid retention, hair loss, hallucinations, headaches, impotence, heartburn, increased skin sensitivity to sunlight, insomnia, loss of appetite, mood changes, mouth sores, nausea, nervousness, nightmares, nosebleeds, numbness in the fingers or toes, palpitations, peculiar tastes in the mouth, restlessness, ringing in the ears, seizures, skin rash, sleep disorders, sore throat, sweating, tremors, uncoordinated movements or balance problems, unusual bleeding or bruising, vomiting, weakness, weight gain or loss, or yellowing of the skin or eyes.
So many of these symptoms are commonly reported Kundalini manifestations, and which might be overlooked as serious warning signs by someone going through a Kundalini awakening.
The tricyclate antidepressants are known to be antagonistic to spiritual emergence. They may arrest the process in an unfinished stage of emotional clearing, prolonging or prohibiting psychological resolution. According to Peter Breggin, research indicates that these potentially devastating drugs are "hardly much better than placebo." When they do work, they produce "lethargy and disinterest, that feeling of being 'zonked.' They also tend to produce generalized mental dysfunction and... render the mind unable to generate higher psychospiritual responses." And they have been known to trigger or aggravate psychosis in those whose psychic balance is fragile, (which happens in many phases of spiritual awakening).
Armed with all of this information, there was no way I was going to dose myself with this chemical invitation to iatrogenic disease. Besides all the obvious reasons for avoiding them, these medications rarely take effect until they have been circulating in the system for 3-4 weeks. I don't want to put any foreign substance into my body that I have no real need for (I was not suffering depression in either case), and that I can't safely stop taking when or if I suffer a bad reaction to it.
As frequently prescribed for those experiencing the mental overwhelm of altered states are the antipsychotics. This class of neuroleptic drugs includes Thorazine, Stelazine, Prolixin, Vesprin, Haldol, Navane, Trilafon, Tindal, Taractan, Serentil, Orap, Quide, Repoise, Compazine, Dartal, Clozaril and Mellaril. Some of the most life-threatening potential drug reactions to these are nearly identical to Kundalini symptoms: Spasms of the neck (if severe, can lead to death by asphyxiation), difficulty swallowing, protrusion of the tongue, mask-like faces, drooling, tremors, pill-rolling motions, motor restlessness (an inability to remain physically still), agitation, insomnia, shuffling gait (I experienced something akin to this for several weeks at the beginning of my Kundalini awakening).
A very disturbing neuroleptic-induced disorder is TD (tardive dyskinesia). (The tricyclate antidepressants have also been suspected of triggering this disease.) This condition is permanent and incurable, and can appear years after the drug is discontinued! The TD symptoms, which can mimic kriyas, often begin with slight undulations of the tongue. This later develops into rhythmic, involuntary movements of the face, mouth or jaw, such as puffing of the cheeks, puckering of the mouth, chewing movements, sticking out the tongue, and so on. Sometimes these automatic movements also involve the hands and feet. The drug manufacturers advise physicians to terminate use of medication if any of these symptoms appear. But it might not dawn on those who were experiencing kriyas before taking these meds that the drug and not the Kundalini is creating these symptoms.
Peter Breggin describes an unusually severe case of TD in a woman who was "grossly disfigured and disabled" and could "no longer control her body." He tells of her "extreme writhing movements and spasms involving the face, head, neck, shoulders, limbs, extremities, torso and back -- nearly the entire body." From this description, one might conceivably identify her as someone in the most intense phase of Kundalini kriyas. But Breggin goes on to say that the woman "had difficulty standing, sitting, or lying down, and the difficulties worsen as she attempts to carry out voluntary actions." We might gather from this that although the symptoms bear a superficial similarity, the kriyas are signs of neurological stimulation, but TD is an indication of neurological destruction.
In my experience, and in everything I have studied about Kundalini, the automatic movements of the kriyas become most pronounced when one is relaxed. They subside or vanish altogether when there is a need to perform "voluntary actions." (It is also sometimes possible to negotiate with the energy and ask it to tone down under special circumstances.) Other serious reactions to the neuroleptic drugs include allergic reactions, blood abnormalities, cardiac arrest, catatonia, cerebral edema, endocrine disturbances, grand mal and petit mal convulsions, hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure), intestinal paralysis, liver damage, psychosis, skin disorders, urinary retention, and something called Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS), which has a fatality rate of 12-20%. Symptoms of NMS include muscle rigidity, irregular pulse or blood pressure and altered mental states, all of which likewise can be encountered during a Kundalini process. If all this isn't bad enough, these medications can also produce strokes, heart poisoning, bone-marrow poisoning, and suicide due to drug-induced despair.
Breggin unequivocally states that the neuroleptics all cause brain damage and "are among the most dangerous medications ever used in medicine." He doubts they would be legal if they were given to anyone but individuals judged mentally ill. "We tend to hold the health and well-being of psychiatric patients in low regard, a prejudice that has resulted in drastic harm to millions of people."
Aside from the risk of adverse reactions and side effects, approaching the Kundalini process with medication sends a message of illness, obscuring the fact that the afflicted individual is undergoing a transmutive spiritual journey. It's unfortunate, as psychiatrist John Perry says, that "At the very time when one needs loving acceptance one finds oneself either alone or surrounded by professionals who want to suppress the process and make one conform to the ways of the former self and former world."
To the extent that we attach shame and blame to mental and emotional disturbances, we can easily be duped by
medical propaganda which reassures us that although something is indeed out of whack, it is a biochemical mistake
of nature and not our faults. If we did not feel guilty about our suffering, this ruse would not work. I am saddened
when people who are trying to be unflinchingly honest and responsible impute their pain to their resistance to
life or their failure to abide by some standard of perfection. Mental and emotional turmoil don't prove that we
are unstable or that life is hopeless.
The Healing Side of Depression
"The culture expects one to be manic: hyperactive, spend and consume and waste, be very verbal, flow of ideas, don't stay too long with anything -- the fear of being boring -- and we lose the sense of sadness... It's so ego identified that we don't even see it as a syndrome! What we see as a syndrome is slowness, sadness, dryness, waiting. That we call depression, and we have a gigantic pharmaceutical industry to deal with it." -- James Hillman
We now live in the Brave New World of bio-psychiatry, which threatens to sweep away what few humanitarian strides have been made in psychiatry in the last century. By 1983, says Breggin, research was showing that mainstream psychiatrists had become convinced that psychological approaches (i.e., giving attention to past and present conflicts and trauma in the patient's life) were utterly useless. In effect, psychiatry has dispensed with the patient's personal history -- what Jung lovingly called "the patient's secret, the rock against which he is shattered". Bio-psychiatry assumes that we are utterly mechanical creatures, at the mercy of our defective genes and renegade neurochemistry, and that the cure for all mental and emotional distress is to be found in corrective drugs. Never mind that the widely touted "abnormal brain chemistry" theory has never been scientifically proven, nor that drug interventions act on the order of chemical straight jackets to subdue unwanted feelings.
Biological science has discovered that the chemical composition of tears of grief differs from tears that occur to naturally cleanse the eyes. Does this mean that grief is caused by aberrant chemicals, or that chemical changes accompany -- and may be produced by -- our emotions? It has been scientifically demonstrated that depression and grief compromise our immune systems. Strangely, this is rarely reversed to proclaim that immune system disorders cause depression and grief. I am not suggesting that this is a better perspective; rather, I am questioning the way certain correlations are medically interpreted. The fact that brain chemistry differs between contented and unhappy individuals, in no way proves that feelings are caused by chemicals in the brain.
The current popularity of psychotherapeutic medications rests on corporate greed and our modern demand for fast-fix solutions to all our troubles. How much easier it is for all involved when the doctor gives a patient a ten minute assessment and sends him off with a prescription than it would be to sit with him long enough to get some inkling of the complex psychological, social and spiritual conflicts in his life.
According to recent statistics, depression is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide. Rather than interpreting this as some kind of global siege of neurochemical dysfunction, might this not be a healthy response to a world on the brink of disaster? Our depression, grief, anxiety, anger, outrage or "manic" sense of urgency: all these are nature's way of telling us that something is wrong, not simply with us personally, but with the whole setup here. (There has been research demonstrating that depressed individuals have a more realistic view of situations than do people who are never down.) Through these upheavals, our awareness and self-compassion is trying to unfold. As we gain trust in all fluctuations of mood and feeling, we discover that everything we experience moves us toward greater self-integrity and spiritual maturity. These difficult feelings are cries from our souls, not for chemical brain adjustments but for new values, new possibilities, new relationships founded on something more meaningful, beautiful and sacred than "normal" reality allows.
Of course, this takes time, as well as willingness to bear with extremely uncomfortable feelings and courage to stand up to society's derogatory messages. When we are internally overwhelmed, such heroic work seems daunting. We simply want relief, and when our doctor, therapist and family are pushing us toward the pharmacy, it is not so easy to Just Say No. Today, antidepressants and antipsychotics are as indiscriminately prescribed as once were Valium and Librium, the "mother's little helpers" of the 50's and 60's. But caution is advised. Don't let anyone coerce you into taking any of these drugs. Only you can decide if taking these medications is worth the risk. If you are currently taking these or other psychoactive medication, don't rely completely on your doctor for information. Many physicians are misled by drug companies and underestimate the real dangers of these chemical concoctions. (For a more comprehensive view of these and other pernicious "advances" in bio-psychiatry, I highly recommend Peter Breggin's courageous expose, Toxic Psychiatry.)
If you are currently using prescribed psychotherapeutic drugs, do not suddenly stop taking them! Otherwise,
you may face severe withdrawal symptoms, as Breggin warns: "Disturbing muscular control problems can develop
during the withdrawal period. Withdrawal can cause a temporary or permanent worsening of psychotic symptoms, with
anxiety and even anguish, as a result of central nervous system rebound from the drugs. This can take weeks or
longer to clear or may not clear at all. Insomnia is common. Withdrawal commonly produces a very distressing flulike
syndrome, including runny nose, headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, and gastrointestinal upset."
He goes on to say that patients need emotional and social support from others when coming off the drug, which should be done gradually and under supervision of someone who understands the process. Most importantly, "It should be understood that withdrawal symptoms may encourage and doctor and patient alike to resume the drug prematurely, when what the patient really needs is time to recover from the drug." To those of us who do not need this kind of chemical help, it might seem sheer insanity that anyone would voluntarily put these substances into their bodies. But I know of quite a few people whose process included so much mental and emotional chaos that these medications were their only salvation. If the energy is moving too fast and furiously through our systems, this in itself can cause serious mental and physical damage. A number of teachers seem to agree with Richard Moss's belief that "there is an inner wisdom to this process that halts it before there is significant physical damage. But this natural fail-safe can be overridden if one tries to amplify the natural process through excessive meditation, dangerous occult practices, through the use of amphetamines or other harsh drugs, or from the ravages of sheer terror.
While I do not know what additional precipitating factors may have been involved, I am aware of three incidents in which the unconscious and superconscious material unleashed by the process drove individuals to commit suicide. In cases this extreme, where no other help is available, the sedating effects of these medications can be life saving. As with other potent drugs (such as chemotherapy used to treat cancer), it is necessary to weigh the potential benefit against the known dangers. Then we can make an informed decision for ourselves. Some individuals have told me they deliberately tried taking these kinds of medications to terminate their Kundalini awakening. No one that I know of who has done this has had good results. One person said he had an adverse reaction and had to immediately discontinue the medication. A few people told me they had tried out a slew of antidepressant and Antipsychotic drugs, none of which made any difference whatsoever with their Kundalini symptoms. Several others got stuck in psychotic states and remained socially dysfunctional and permanently dependent on the drugs. To me, this seems like a risky alternative to allowing the Kundalini process to take its course.
Making use of medications to stabilize ourselves is one thing; trying to chemically combat the call to higher planes is another. It is less self-defeating when we can meet the challenges and changes of transformation with patience, humor, compassion for ourselves and at least a bit of trust in the wisdom of the process itself.
Our personal suffering, physical and psychological, is a microcosm of the macrocosmic suffering of all living beings on this planet. This suffering is trying to tell us something, trying to teach us something. If we refuse to listen, individually and collectively, madness will be the least of our problems.
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© El Collie 2000