© El Collie 2000
THE DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN
One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.
-- Joseph Campbell
A problem confronts every serious spiritual seeker: for long stretches of the journey, the quest requires great self-investment for seemingly little in return. For individuals who have voluntarily chosen a particular spiritual discipline, commitment wavers during these laborious and weary periods. But for those in whom the Kundalini has autonomously risen, there is no alternative, no possibility of backing out. Kundalini has an unstoppable momentum. When Shakti enlivens us, we are no longer following anything; rather, it seems like we are being carried along willy nilly like leaves in the wind.
At times, despite the dynamism of this Force that has reshaped our destiny, we are rife with doubt. What begins in fear or amazement goes through seasons of joy, hope, disillusionment, and despair. When, we ask ourselves, does the process bear significant fruit? How long must we suffer through the daily pummeling of body and psyche? As weeks turn into months and years, our faith in the benevolence and guiding presence of the Spirit is sorely tested. Radiant gifts of bliss, beauty and unmistakable blessing are overshadowed by long sieges of pain, torment and physical/emotional depletion. Even if we want to surrender to the workings of the process, often we do not know how.
Charles Breaux says that after an initial six months of "incredible 'peak experience,' the dross began
spewing out" into his external life. He wrote: "These last seven years have been one intense drama after
another, the deepest and darkest karmic patterns within me have been relentlessly quickened by the power of Kundalini."
At the end of his book Journey into Consciousness, he confesses that he continues to wonder if the necessity for
letting go will ever cease.
Rhythms and Cycles
Sometimes while writing this I feel it's too big, I can't do it. It's as if I'm standing waist deep in a trench filled with mud and rocks and blood and carnage, yet down in this very morass there lies the most beautiful thing, a thing that has pierced my flesh and entered me like a lover, a thing so wondrous no one would believe it. And if it were only me, it would be my special secret, and there would be no point in trying to describe it. But the trench of rocks and blood is the world in torment, and the beautiful thing is what changes it from a horrible spectre to a heroic quest. The hero is the soul; the beautiful thing is Spirit, and I am not the only one who has been pierced.
Kundalini gives us sudden wings to transcend the writhings of life, but she also turns around and delivers us into the depths of the trenches and makes us find the treasure buried there as well. Spells of depression are a common feature of the transformational journey. I am, in fact, experiencing one as I write this. I am doubting the value of this book and questioning my more optimistic musings on the benefits of Kundalini. From where I sit at this moment, it seems as if years of the process -- and of my life in general, for that matter -- have been little more than an endurance test.
I feel that everything I have written about the beauty and potential of spiritual awakening has been fraudulent... that in truth, the splendor is short-lived, and the time spent suspended in pain is interminable. Yet I know that this is the nature of the shamanic path. Of the countless interviews and autobiographies I've read, the two most repeated words to issue from the mouths of shamans are "spirit" and "suffering."
Despair is not the monopoly of those who fall off the tracks; it is integral to the journey itself. Like physical pain, it is a circuit breaker that interrupts the usual program to bring a special message. The news is not good and we don't want to hear it, but hear it we must.
Every time I fall into one of these pits, I want to curl up and die. Yet I've noticed that they invariably precede a breakthrough of some sort. They seem to be a means of emptying me so something new can fill my cup. In this sense, longing for death is a psychospiritual congruency and precisely what I need. Despair returns us to ground zero, to the place of nothingness which seems barren but is in actuality a realm of dormancy, a wintering of the soul without which there can be no spring.
Being able to go with the flow of the transformative process is easier when we have some understanding and acceptance
of the cycles of nature. Everything that lives follows its own internal rhythms of growth and decline. The Kundalini
process also develops in cycles of expansion and contraction. The state of expansion may feel eternal, but eventually
it dissipates. As Roberto Assagioli says: "Such an exalted state lasts for varying periods, but it is bound
to cease... The inflow of light and love is rhythmical as is everything in the universe. After a while it diminishes
or ceases and the flood is followed by the ebb."
If the process begins with an explosive surge of energy which plays havoc with the system, we feel as if we've been blasted out of our skins or out of our minds. In the early stages, we may be physically sick, mentally stunned, emotionally raw. We're in free fall in a surreal limbo, not knowing where or if we'll eventually land.
It can help to understand that the first stage of any transformational process is chaos. Things blow up, fall apart, go berserk. In alchemy, this chaotic phase is referred to as the prima materia which forms the basis of the work which will eventually produce the "gold" -- the desired outcome (or spiritual treasure). "The prima materia is in a state of conflict all the time," astrologer Liz Greene explains, "blind, potent, undirected, but full of raw power and constantly embattled."
When we find ourselves in this initial phase of transformation, everything becomes precarious. The old anchors and safety nets no longer hold. We can feel lost, confused, terrified, despairing. Cultures more attuned to the cycles of nature regarded adversity as a possibility for growth. The Chinese word for crisis is wei-chi, meaning a perilous opportunity. In fact, it is well known that the more radical the transformation, the more severe the crisis which precedes it. Shamans and spiritual teachers have long understood this principle: the greater the crisis, the greater the potential for beneficial growth.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Contrary to popular belief, initiation is never totally predictable or safe. The very idea of initiation as something glamorously exotic leading to immediate spiritual ecstasy is quite misleading. More often, as Alice Bailey warned, our initiations are expensive rites of passage, bringing upon us "increasing work and increasing responsibility." In Fire in the Soul, Joan Borysenko says that "crisis resolves in one of three ways." The ordeal may end when "we slowly put ourselves back together again and life goes on in the same overtly or vaguely unsatisfactory way that it did before," or "we become so terrified, agitated or depressed that we commit suicide or stay in the desert of mental illness; or we come out transformed, emerging with a new strength, wisdom and vision."
This third and most healing possibility is the great alchemical "secret." On the heels of chaos comes a developmental restructuring. This is paralleled in Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine's discovery that large perturbations of energy cause living systems to fall apart, then re-coalesce in a more elegant order. "First destruction, then creation -- this is the way of the Goddess, the Shakti," says Vicki Noble. "The fire burns through the old structures, eradicating them, transmuting their energies to a higher vibrational level." Or, as Deepak Chopra expresses it, "...life shows itself as a miracle of renewal. All the order that dissolves into chaos comes back as another kind of order." But this new pattern is rarely apparent immediately; more often, it comes into being in fits and starts. We begin to notice something shifting in our perception and response to life. Some of these changes are dramatic and extraordinary; some are more subtle and vaguely familiar, as though lost or atrophied parts of ourselves are reemerging.
Sometimes the initial expansion state is heralded by joy and a sense of freedom and elation. Rather than hitting us as a crisis, it breaks through as an epiphany. Feelings are intense and we are hyper-energized, immersed in sublime mystical experiences and staggering, soul-nurishing realizations. Although we may be soaring out of control, we have no doubt that we're in flight. There is a breathtaking sense of being swept into the numinous, carried aloft by fantastic forces. In either case, the next stage, contraction, is more dense and grounded. Whether it comes on like a sudden crash or takes hold more gradually, contraction has an anticlimactic tone. If the expansion stage was ecstatic, with the contraction that follows, things seem to fall into a state of decline. If the expansion state seemed fraught with significance, the contraction phase may be characterized by its weight of fearful uncertainty or oppressive meaninglessness. We may still feel the spiritual process at work within us, but now the dazzling perks are gone. No more ecstatic visions, no more extraordinary sensual bliss, no more beautiful visitations, no amazing signs of divine intervention.
Depression deepens into despair as we watch the magic of our recent transcendent experiences slipping into a grey self-doubting fog. Like a little child checking the mirror every day to see if he has grown, we keep taking inventory of our condition, searching for any positive changes. The whole thing may seem like some kind of absurd fluke -- a cosmic joke on us. We may begin to seriously question if we are truly in a transformational process at all. Are we hopeless cases, beyond redemption? Has something gone sour with the process itself? Whether it feels like divine liberation or hellish upheaval, in the expansion stage, particularly in an intense Kundalini awakening, the manifestations are so powerful that we are ripped away from our ordinary concerns. In the contraction stage, we feel more grounded, but so also may our usual fears and troubles come flooding back, often amplified because we may be in a worse predicament than before the process began. It often seems like we've made no progress at all. We may feel ourselves physically or mentally deteriorating in a terrifying way, and fear that we've fallen from grace as well.
The expansion stages last more briefly than the contracted state -- particularly the more draining periods which may seem to drag on forever. But this is also the natural rhythm. As the contraction stage continues, it may seem to be pulling us lower and lower. It is during such periods that we are most likely to feel as if we are "losing it." Our past conditioning and the opinions of those around us may work very much against us in this phase. Painful and seemingly self-annihilating experiences are roundly condemned, as Marc Ian Barasch observes, "in a culture that celebrates surfaces, speed, and success... We try at all costs to resist our descent, because we believe that once we hit bottom, there will be no return." But if we allow ourselves to be drawn into this dark chasm, at the very nadir of futility and anguish, the process shifts once more. We are moved from crisis to surrender to the "labor" stage preceding our rebirth. In this rebirthing period, we receive inner and outer guidance that allows us to break free from old traumas, outgrown habits, and limiting or injurious conditioning. "When our souls are on fire," says Joan Borysenko, "old beliefs and opinions can be consumed, bringing us closer to our essential nature and to the heart of healing." At last, new ways of thinking, perceiving, relating, responding and being take shape from our very core.
As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross puts it, we emerge "polished" from the "tumbler" of our ordeals. And as long as we are incarnate on this planet, we will continue this process of spiritual refinement. At intervals, the entire cycle begins again, dissolving and re-crystallizing, waxing and waning. We are being inwardly tempered. It can help to remember this when we find ourselves in the more difficult parts of the process. It's all necessary, it's all purposeful. Contrary to popular myth, transformation isn't an easy, lightning flash switch. We don't turn presto-chango from frog to prince (or princess). That's why awakening is called a journey -- it takes time to reach the destination. There will be many challenging times ahead of us. Our souls and our faith will be tested. The resultant suffering is part of the universal "curriculum."
"Adversity marks the history of all the saints and world-servers, and the story of Job is proverbial", wrote Michal Eastcott. "Yet still, when we come under the shadow of these periods, we are apt to forget they are part of the communion of saints, and are a necessary time of preparation and building of fortitude..."
Our understanding of the process makes all the difference in the way we deal with our experiences. "The
birth and characteristics of the new self are determined in large part by the stories we tell ourselves about why
the time of darkness has come," says Joan Borysenko. "If we have a strong belief that our suffering
is in the service of growth, dark night experiences can lead us to depths of psychological and spiritual healing
and revelation that we literally could not have dreamed of and that are difficult to describe in words without
Dark Night of the Soul
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
-- Wendell Berry
There is a self-annihilating existential crisis which can occur at any stage of awakening. It occured to me after the most profound spiritual experience of my life, which I describe in Chapter Twenty. Christina and Stanislav Grof describe it well: "Not only do those facing such an existential crisis feel isolated, but they also feel insignificant, like useless specks in a vast cosmos. The universe itself appears to be absurd and pointless, and any human activities seem trivial. Such people may see humankind as being involved in a rat-race existence that has no useful purpose. From this vantage point, they cannot see any kind of cosmic order and have no contact with a spiritual force. They may become extremely depressed, despairing, and even suicidal. Frequently, they have the insight that even suicide is no solution; it seems there is no way out of their misery."
Since this grim sense of alienation feels so spiritually bleak, those who pass through this stage rarely recognize it as a purgation of the soul. It seems instead to be a nihilistic deadend, an insurmountable pit of hopelessness. We become convinced that all prior spiritual longings and experiences were mere wishful thinking, and that no one and nothing can rescue us from what we now regard as the brutal truth. Mark Twain, a remarkably spiritual man, must have been at such an impasse when he wrote, "God is a malign thug."
I spent years in this bleak state, and I can now see it as neither the cold truth that it seems, nor a wholly mistaken outlook. These mental crucifixions are purposeful. Hitting bottom narrows down our choices considerably: either we emotionally expire or we open to the impossible beauty of the heart.
When I first dared to trust love, it was not out of optimism, but out of total despair. I simply knew I could no longer live with the alternative. In retrospect, I am glad this choice was forced on me at a young age. It instilled in me a steadfastness which has carried me through all the subsequent troubles of my life.
It is immensely helpful if we are able to remember, even in the darkest, most frozen periods, that this is the
archetypal pattern of the soul's growth. We are not really lost, nor hopeless. In fact, according to psychologist
Ira Progoff: "The active germination of a growth process often takes place at the low, seemingly negative,
phases of a psychological cycle. Thus, at the very time when the most constructive developments are taking place
within a person, his outer appearance may be depressed, confused, and even disturbed."
Even from the strictly biological standpoint, perfect balance does not exist except in death or inert matter (and not completely in these). As Paul Pearsall has pointed out: "Ecologists all over the world are now changing their view that the normal condition of nature is equilibrium. Studies of the forests, climate, and atmosphere of our earth reveal that turmoil is the natural state of nature." He quotes ecologist Stewart Pickett: "The balance of nature makes nice poetry but not such great science." In physics, chaos theory demonstrates, as scientist Douglas Hofstadter has said, that "an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind the facade of order -- and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order." After wrestling through a personal health ordeal that included two bouts with cancer, Pearsall concludes: "Having gone through my own best and worst times, I am convinced that there is an order in our living, and like the matter and antimatter or the quantum world, for every magic moment of insight and celebration, there are 'antimoments' of pain and fear."
"The law of chaotic order" says Pearsall, "suggests that chaos -- the actual process of disorder -- is healthy in and of itself. The universe is not a beautiful balance; it is a chaotic miracle." With this in mind, he remarks that "We can live our life in dread of future problems, or we can accept the fact that we could not exist if we were not, like all of the cosmos, in the process of constant change and remember that the definition of the word dread is not only "fear and apprehension" but also "deep awe and reverence."
While suffering cannot be avoided at times, the tendency to dramatize our own predicament and fall into self-pity
only adds to our misery. On the other hand, when we can remember that pain and hardship are purposeful and archetypal
features of the spiritual path, our perspective of our present difficulties widens. The Buddhists have long understood
the art of embracing the vicissitudes of life as just part of the ongoing parade. Says Tarthang Tulka: "Learning
to 'flow' with our experience gives us true stability and freedom. When we discover change as the real nature
of existence, our old conception of the world seems dwarfed and limited. Our world comes alive; we are whole again.
A new reality emerges from the old, like a phoenix out of fire."
Rachel Naomi Remen comments upon the paradoxical truth that "The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become." In letting go of what we thought we couldn't live without, we become more deeply able to participate in life.
While we are struggling up a stony, thorny path, there may be nothing in our experience to give us hope. But there is always support, if we know where to look for it. "Lest we have considered difficulties and darknesses for too long and become a little dismayed," advises Michal Eastcott, "let us remind our selves that the truth of this promise is always before us every night -- it is then, in the darkness, that we see the stars."
In the beginning, when the Kundalini is moving upwards, Dr. R.P. Kaushik said "it is a negative force --
it is destructive. It destroys all your attachments, all your material possessions; it is destroying everything,"
which can lead to "a dissatisfaction with everything you have." Kaushik notes that such feelings of frustration
and desperation intensify as the energy works to clear through the six and seventh centers. "The yogis have
described this movement in a beautiful language," he continues: "The serpent, when it awakens, starts
devouring and eating everything that is in its way. When it has gone to the crown center, then from there it descends
downwards, as a creative force -- the descending triangle or the Shakti triangle. This is the positive movement..."
It is only when this positive, creative part of the cycle is reached that the process begins to smooth out and become more consistently rewarding. This is not to say that we will all live happily ever after in a cocoon of bliss. "Waking up entails remembering your whole self in the midst of trance states and problems and making sense out of them," Arnold Mindell reminds us. "It does not mean being without problems."
A woman experiencing a lengthy Kundalini awakening told me of a period where she was having frequent nightmares from which she awoke screaming. All these terrible dreams had the same theme: "they" were hacking her to pieces. Eventually, these dreams began to change, and instead of being chopped up, dream figures were putting her back together in a way that made her -- like the Bionic man -- "better and stronger" than ever before.
This is a classical shamanic dismemberment experience. It is a symbolic transformational drama which has been recognized in the wisdom traditions from time immemorial. In Sumerian mythology, Inanna was a sky goddess who had to pass through seven gates of the underworld, each time being stripped of deeper parts of her being until she was naked and lifeless. In the book, Shaman's Path, Rowena Pattee describes the Egyptian enactment of this drama in the myth of Osiris, the pharaoh who was slain, dismembered and supernaturally resurrected to conceive his son Horus. In the Greek mystery religions, Pattee says that "Dionysus was torn to pieces by the Titans while his heart was rescued by Athena, goddess of wisdom, suggestive of the wisdom born of the dismemberment experience."
In all of these stories, something magnificent and creatively abundant occurs after the original being is broken apart. These myths infer that all creation is the result of a single divine Self which has been sacrificially fragmented. The Inuit Indians of the Arctic celebrate Takanakapsaluk, the dismembered goddess whose severed parts form all the creatures of the sea. And in pre-Aztec religion, the earth itself was created out of the dismembered parts of the goddess Tlalteuctli. As the myth goes, ever since she was torn apart and turned into the earth, Tlalteuctli she has wept and can be consoled only through the "blood" of torn open (i.e., spiritually consecrated) human hearts. "To sacrifice our hearts," says Kate Duff, "is not to give ourselves away, but to keep ourselves true, by freeing our hearts from distraction and realigning ourselves with our appointed destinies. Ironically, we often find our true selves, and engage our souls, when our hearts are broken, bleeding or sacrificed."
Those of us who are being transformed may have graphic dreams or visions of being brutally cut up or torn apart. This phase may be preceded (or accompanied) by visions or dreams of catastrophic disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, nuclear holocaust, etc. Our primordial fears are triggered by these scenarios. This is one of the most physically and/or mentally arduous stages of awakening. Unfortunately, some of us also have literal dismemberment experiences when the Kundalini is purifying our bodies and psyches. Our bones, joints, vertebrae, internal organs, eyes or other parts of the body may be gravely affected by the process. Serious injuries or diseases may occur which seem to be permanently destroying us.
Our very survival seems to hang by a thread. For some, the fear of death looms large during this period. For others, death would seem a welcome respite from the terror and agony of the "dismemberment." Kundalini researcher Tontyn Hopman reminds us that "the awakening encompasses both the state of being in harmony with the Tao and the knife-edged path with its violent purifications and sudden, catastrophic perils." The dangers of the path are not illusory, he tells us: "Everything may really be at stake... The Spirit knows no half measures or lukewarm adjustments. How else could a person be transformed except through the most intense experiences?"
So far, the spine injury I incurred in 1993 has been the most traumatic of my Kundalini "dismemberment" experiences. Anyone who has suffered a serious illness knows what a nightmare long term disability and chronic intense pain can be. In some cases, other personal crises such as deaths of family members or friends -- which sometimes occur in uncanny clusters around the individual with risen Kundalini -- are the hardest part of the process. Sickness, injuries, and loss of loved ones are human ordeals that eventually confront us all, no matter what our Kundalini status may be. But it does seem that the risen Kundalini increases the likelihood of crisis in our lives. The Shakti Goddess will utilize everything possible to shake us up, break us open and pare us down, casting off everything we thought we had or knew or were.
Says Holger Kalweit: "Many shamans were critically ill, socially unacceptable, and psychically confused
over periods of several years; during their time of suffering their body and psyche adjusted themselves to an alternate
mode of perception. This continuous biopsychic process of transformation often culminates in experiences of dismemberment,
which represent the zenith and turning point of inner change toward a spiritual state of being."
At its deepest level, the dismemberment experience dismantles our old identity. It is a powerful death and rebirth process. The experience of being stripped to bone forces us to examine the bare essence of what we are. This divestment of every superfluous thing is a fierce teaching. We learn what is truly important and what is nonessential to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual survival. In short, we learn discernment and simplicity. As Clarrissa Pinkora Estes says in her poem, "Refuse to Fall Down": "It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. The one who says nothing good came of this is not yet listening." Anthropologist and mystic Felicitas D. Goodman notes that Siberian shamans regarded dismemberment as an essential phase of initiation for healers. To her surprise, Goodman discovered that this archetype seems universal. In her trance work with Westerners, those who had spontaneous dismemberment visions were invariably destined to become various kinds of healers. Joan Halifax's words explain why this is so: "The shaman is a healed healer who has retrieved the broken pieces of his or her body and psyche and, through a personal rite of transformation, has integrated many planes of life experience: the body and the spirit, the ordinary and nonordinary, the individual and the community, nature and supernature, the mythic and the historical, the past, the present and the future."
Completing such a restorative rite is serious business for the soul. Says Kalweit: "The lonely struggle with the forces of nature, during which one is at their mercy for better or worse, is a requirement of shamanic training, because only when the apprentice becomes aware of his smallness and helplessness, when he becomes modest and humble, can his spirit blend with these tremendous forces. An awareness of the interwoven mystical unity of nature is an essential experience during initiation of of the shamanic view of the world in general."
With her typical eloquence, Halifax declares that "To bring back to an original state that which was in primordial times whole and is now broken and dismembered is not only an act of unification but also a divine remembrance of a time when a complete reality existed." The positive side of the dismemberment experience is that it eventually leads to a "resurrection" -- a higher state of spiritual development. The darkness which had seemed endless and impenetrable is at long last revealed to be simply a very hard passage -- the proverbial tunnel, at the end of which is a beautiful, welcoming light. In his book Imagick, Ted Andrews correlates the Kundalini process with what he calls the "13th Path" of the Qabalistic tradition. In the Tarot, he relates it to the archetype of the High Priestess. "It is a bittersweet path," he warns, and one that presents us with "a tremendous test of faith." On this path (which is also called "Gateway to Knowledge"), after being divested of all nonessentials and overcoming our karmic obstacles, we are able to discover our deepest truths. "This is the path of the final dark night of the soul journey," says Andrews. "It is here that we have the opportunity to awaken our strongest intuition and ... to impregnate ourselves with the light and love of the divine!"
Surviving Spiritual Crisis
Give me everything mangled and bruised, And I will make a light of it to make you weep. And we will have rain, And begin again.
-- Deena Metzger
A man whose Kundalini experiences had expanded his horizons in enjoyable ways said the process had proven smoother than "the time bomb" he had initially feared it would be. It sounded like he was bearing up well under his initiation, but for some of us (myself included), the time bomb has detonated, and living in the wake of the explosion is the greatest challenge of our lives. How do you survive in this world when you are too psychically sensitized and/or mentally and emotionally ravaged to go out in public and too sick to work? Individuals who are involved in intense and protracted Kundalini awakenings face these problems. Many who were self-sufficient, independent and well equipped to provide for themselves before the psychospiritual crisis now find themselves needy and indigent. In his autobiography, Gopi Krishna tells how he "was in too delicate and precarious a condition both mentally and physically" to be able to work, which resulted in poverty for his family for over seven years.
In The Alchemy of Illness, Kat Duff speaks of the damage this does to our self-esteem: "One of the most deeply ingrained cultural imperatives we must confront is the work ethic and its equation of personal worth with productivity." Paul Pearsall came up against this same frustrating compulsion to do something, anything in reaction to what was to become a long and torturous battle with cancer. "We live in a do-it-yourself culture with an emphasis on the do," he later wrote. "Such terms as adjusting, adapting, and managing are common in our vocabulary." But when we are in the midst of physical or psychological crisis, our capacity to adjust or cope is seriously compromised.
In the most intense phases of transformation, we may be so disoriented or disabled that we need to be helped with even our most personal needs. There have been periods in my process when simply crossing a room felt like scaling Mt. Olympias.
A psychic I consulted when I was having a hard time with Kundalini symptoms insisted that I "get a business
card" and immediately set myself up as a spiritual healer. You've got to be kidding, I thought. In the shape
I was in, I wouldn't have been able to hold a job as a paperweight. A more spiritual way of looking at the situation
is expressed by the meditation teacher, Shinzen Young: "If Nature (or 'God') has given you so much pain that
you cannot do anything else other than be with it, then there is a message here: you are not expected to be doing
anything else! In other words, spending time -- even long periods of time -- just feeling pain is a legitimate
calling in the eyes of God and Nature. Assuming that you are making at least some effort to purify and evolve
consciousness by being with pain in a skillful way, you are engaged in productive and meaningful work."
Young goes on to say that not only is this inner work valuable for us as individuals; it is also a psychic contribution to the rest of the world: "...whenever a person does something, it makes it easier for others to do that thing, even though the others may have no direct contact with or even knowledge of the original person's work... According to this theory, a person isolated and cut off from contacts, who is working to purify through pain, is in some way making it easier to all other sufferers in the world to do the same; a worthwhile and meaningful job indeed!"
With this understanding, Young encourages us to "sacramentalize" our pain by regarding it "as a kind of imposed monastery or sacred ceremony." During a Kundalini awakening, our desires to have a normal or comfortable life may be severely thwarted. All our old and familiar security anchors can disappear. We may feel lost, vulnerable, outcast and helpless. Yet somehow, miraculously, our moment by moment needs are met. We survive, even against seemingly impossible odds.
Throughout my worst period of near-paralysis, I needed Charles to serve me food, help me to the bathroom, and help bathe and dress me. At the time, neither of us knew when or if I would recover. It was a tremendously humbling experience for me. I felt embarrassed and guilty for requiring so much assistance. I worried about the emotional toll this was taking on Charles. It was also a time of great tenderness between us; I felt gratitude verging on adoration towards him. Never before in my life had anyone treated me with such selfless love.
I was (and am) deeply blessed. Not everyone who undergoes a Kundalini awakening is so fortunate. Some find themselves utterly on their own. The luckier ones have partners, friends or family who are willing and able to provide support. And there are a few who find spiritual communities -- retreats or ashrams -- where they can function at a minimal level in a peaceful and supportive environment.
Assagioli counsels: "In reality, this is a period of transition; a passing out of the old condition, without
having yet firmly reached the new; an intermediate stage in which, as it has been aptly said, one is like a caterpillar
undergoing the process of transformation into the winged butterfly. The insect must pass through the stage of the
chrysalis, a condition of disintegration and helplessness. But the individual generally does not have the protection
of a cocoon in which to undergo the process in seclusion and peace."
Since so much of psychospiritual change is a deep inner process, the grueling effects can be invisible to others. Internally, we are ricocheting wildly, bombarded with strange and overpowering sensations and fantastic, overwhelming new perceptions. Our mental and emotional connection to the profane world may be stretched so thin it seems that at any moment we can lose hold and go spinning furiously into the Unknown. Yet outwardly, we may appear to be perfectly normal. Others may suspect us of exaggerating our condition.
All the while, we may be sorely afraid of winding up homeless and starving on the streets. Especially in current
times of global economic crisis, it seems incredible that some of us are managing to get by at all. Those who
have directly experienced or worked with others in extreme spiritual emergencies understand the need for a safehaven
for such individuals. In an interview given near the end of his life, Gopi Krishna stressed the need for a safe
environment and special care to nurture people through the raging fires of Kundalini: "The goal of such care
would be to guide these individuals toward the altered, paranormal, and transcendent states of mind to which the
Kundalini process naturally evolves. No one would deny that the Kundalini process can be exceedingly painful.
But if allowed to progress to healing, the results can be extraordinary. To this end, an entirely new discipline
of medical care, in which nurses and physicians are knowledgeable about Kundalini, is imperative."
Darrel Irving presses this even further, calling for the establishment of "Kundalini schools and universities, Kundalini medical facilities, Kundalini laboratories, Kundalini libraries..." etc. Indeed, residential Kundalini support centers and other spiritual crisis facilities are presently being created in various locales to serve these functions. But many of these sanctuaries are only in the planning stages. The few that are currently in operation are geographically and/or financially beyond the reach of many of us.
In the interim, how can we assuage our fears? I have found that it helps to focus on what I have now, rather than to dwell on what I may not have tomorrow. Although our circumstances may be far from ideal, it helps to realize how miraculously we've managed to survive thus far. Despite the pain and difficulty of my own years of transformation, I wake up each morning feeling it is a miracle that I'm alive and living in the comfort I've been given. I have food to eat, a (usually) quiet place to live, and a soft, warm bed to rest in. In this world, these are great blessings. So very many on this planet do not have these simple things.
I have faith that we are all divinely guided. This isn't to say we are invincible or infallible, but that no
matter what happens, we are never truly without recourse. We may not be aware of this guidance, or it may not
manifest in ways that we want. We are free to follow it or ignore it. And I believe that if we ask for help,
help will be forthcoming, although we may not always recognize the help that is made available to us. The Spirit
meets us on its terms, not on ours. Understood at another level, our souls have priorities which may not at all
be in keeping with our ego plans. What we think we must have and be and do may be irrelevant to who we really
are, and to why we're really here. There may be anxious and confusing transition periods, but all we need to accomplish
this magnificent journey is continuously given. This is true for all souls at all levels of development, but for
those of us whose Kundalini has risen, this support is more recognizable. Everything becomes accelerated. Things
seem to come together (or fall apart) much more rapidly for us. Astonishing synchronicities occur which bring
us exactly what is right for us. Spirit voices give us guidance, or visions and dreams show us what we need to
do. We learn to deeply trust our inner knowingness and intuition. At times, the precise things we need seem to
almost fall out of the sky for us. Sooner or later it dawns on us that no matter how isolated we are, or how little
worldly support we have, we're not going through this alone. The Spirit is always with us.
At points we are all afraid, in pain, and desperate to find some beauty in our existence. We believe that love is better than war and we want to do something to bring some light into a world gone made with greed, violence, ignorance and cruelty. We want our lives to have dignity and meaning beyond simply being able to call ourselves survivors. We turn to spirituality in hopes of finding respite from our suffering and fullness in our lives. Most of all, we want to feel joy and to be given to know, not as an idea but as a present reality, the holiness of existence. When Kundalini rises, we get a taste of the holiness and joy. It is for the most part fleeting. Our candles do not stay lit in every storm, but we hold onto the memory of the flame... For much of the journey, it is our only source of illumination. We learn to pray, not always knowing what to pray for, not knowing how or if our prayers will be answered, but knowing that Something is listening. "Pray always," Irina Tweedie's Sufi master told her. "Help is always there." When she asked his approval of a specific written prayer she was using, he waved her away. The form and content of the prayer is irrelevant, he tried to explain. What matters is not words, but intent. Any prayer which reverently turns the self toward the divine is a good prayer.
Through his personal experience and his encounters with holy men and women from indigenous traditions around the world, Bradford Keeney came to understand that prayer is the universal "motor for spiritual development." The best advice to give to someone who is spiritually hungry, says Keeney, is "Pray hard and pray harder." Since the late '70s, a group called Spindrift was engaged in orthodox scientific studies which quantifiably demonstrated the effectiveness of prayer. Some of their research involved rates of germination between batches of seeds, some of which were prayed for and some which were not. Different people were asked to pray over designated seed batches in multiple reproductions of this test, and the results were significant. Yet even more amazing were the results from later experiments in which the seeds were severely stressed by adding salt water. The prayed-for batches far surpassed the other seeds in germination and healthy growth.
The implications of this are profound: the more traumatized the organism, the more spectacularly prayers seem to help. For those of us undergoing painful and difficult processes, this is welcome news. It is even more wondrous in context of the magnitude of suffering of every kind throughout the planet. Our prayers are not only greatly needed now; the terrible problems plaguing the earth mean it is in the prime condition to respond miraculously to prayers!
Prayers connect us both to the divine and to each other on a powerful soul level. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has collected verified reports from those in near-death states who have been able to hear prayers for them, even from great distances. She tells of one man who had not believed in spirituality or an afterlife before he "died" (and was later revived) in a devastating automobile accident. The wreckage created a horrible traffic jam. The man in the accident was pronounced dead on the spot but because traffic was so heavy, it took quite some time to get an ambulance through to him. During this time, he had an NDE that began with an out-of-body state, during which he was able to clearly hear the thoughts of all the drivers on the freeway. Of these hundreds of drivers, all but one were spewing thoughts of anger and frustration at the blocked traffic. This man was able to distinguish one woman's thoughts, far back in the congestion of cars, who was fervently praying for the stranger in the accident. He was so touched that this woman was praying so selflessly for him -- for someone she had never even met -- that it moved him to his own first prayer to a God he had never before believed in. He asked to be allowed to live long enough to find and thank this woman for her prayers for him. His prayer was granted -- over a year later, after an incredible recovery from massive injuries, his doctor helped him locate this woman.
Everyone I know who has endured a difficult Kundalini awakening has told me that they prayed during the darkest episodes. Many use prayer as their main "tool" to survive the process. A few have said that prayer was the only thing that saw them through. During the most difficult and overwhelming periods of my Kundalini awakening, I prayed incessantly. The form of prayer which comes most easily to me is mantra, although I use other more personal prayers as well. Prayers can be silent, spoken, chanted aloud, or sung. When my awakening was most intense, I would frequently sing very spontaneous, childlike prayers of love to Kundalini-Ma. Prayers can be offered to God or Goddess, spirits, angelic guides, saints, gurus or deities, in any combination that feels right to us. When I give prayers of thanks, I include "all the Holy Ones and helping spirits" and, as the Native Americans say, "all my relations" -- meaning all beings of all kingdoms whose existence is interconnected with mine in this great drama called life.
It is not necessary to pray with words at all. Visualizing light can be a wonderful prayer. Meditating on photographs, mandalas, statues or images of deities or one's guru are forms of prayer. Ancient peoples of all traditions knew that certain physical movements were prayers. This was the basis for the sacred dances. These movements and dances didn't originate when someone decided to position the body in symbolic ways. Dance is a far more instinctual and archetypal than we realize. When the spirit powerfully ascends, the body is automatically thrust into these sacramental postures and motions.
When my spontaneous mudras developed, I became aware that many of them were wordless prayers. The meanings of some of these mudras would come to me as they occurred. My arms would fly up over my head with my palms outstretched as if I were holding up the sky. "Everything belongs to God" is expressed in this mudra. It is a sort of wordless "Hallelujah!"
There is a Native American teaching that we are praying to the Creator every time we admire something in nature.
I think this extends to any instance of gratitude: every thanks issued from the heart is a prayer. Appreciation
and recognition of the continual blessings life bestows upon us -- not just the big miracles, but all the ordinary
little gifts as well -- keeps us consecrated to the Spirit.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Spiritual teachers from almost every sacred tradition impress upon their followers the need to ask the Universe for help. When the African shaman Malidoma Some was asked what people might do to transform themselves and the planet, he replied: "The first thing is to get into the creation of sacred spaces in which one can begin to pray to spirit... to acknowledge spirit's influence in our lives, and to boldly, and daringly ask spirit for guidance... it is to be willing to wake up every morning and say to spirit, 'I don't want to handle today, so why don't you just take over and I'll follow. Just guide me.'"
In Where the Spirits Ride the Wind, anthropologist and shamanic teacher Felicitas Goodman tells how she "began to understand that these Beings were standing ready to be our helpers and our friends. All we had to do was ask them, and they responded instantly and in startlingly tangible ways." While the human plane is bereft without the intervention of Spirit, Goodman reminds us that the realms inhabited by these holy helpers are "equally incomplete without involving us, and the world about us. Although they are so much more powerful than we are, in this sense they need us."
When I consulted psychic and Kundalini "graduate" Anne Armstrong for guidance in my own difficult process, she told me that meekly supplicating the spirits rarely suffices. She said that if I was not getting definite results, I should demand spirit aid. I was taken aback by this aggressive approach, which Anne said took her a long time to learn for herself. But I have since found that this kind of heavy duty prayer is sometimes necessary. I suspect that it is not because the spirits are so inattentive that we must rant and rave to get noticed, but rather that we are being led to claim our birthright of partnership with the divine. This is for our own sakes, to brand into our minds the understanding that we are wholly deserving of this partnership, and that, in fact, the quality of our lives rests upon it. Even when we have been opened to incredible mystical experiences and realize there are beings and forces in the universe much greater than ourselves, it can take a long time for us to learn we can call upon these supernal intelligences for help. Some of my worst and most disabling symptoms have seemed designed to force me to "let go and let God." As long as we think we can (or should) cope with everything alone (which is pushed on us in our culture of rugged individualism and materialism), it does not occur to us to ask the Universe for help. But I don't think we are spiritually intended to be working without Spirit assistance. I find that even the tiniest details of my life turn out better when I pray for help, down to opening a new jar of mustard! But the Spirit (including angels, spirit guides, etc.) cannot intervene unless we invite it. This is one of the most important things I have learned from my own Kundalini awakening -- to welcome the Spirit into every part of my life. I still forget sometimes, but when I remember, everything goes so much more smoothly. In Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, Christiane Northrup reminds us that when turning to the Spirit for help, we need to realize that "neither our intellect nor our ego can control either the connection or the results." She suggests three steps for opening ourselves to receive help:
(1) "...hold the intent to connect with divine guidance;"
(2) "...release our expectations of what will happen as a result;" and
(3) "...wait for a response by being open to noticing the patterns of our lives that relate to the original intent."
To elucidate this, she gives an example from her own life when one day she used the Frances Scovell Shinn supplication, "Infinite spirit, give me a definite lead, reveal to me my perfect self-expression. Show me which talent I am to make use of now." Later in the day, a friend who was a literary agent called her and suggested that she write a book. Northrup says that "it wasn't until much later that day that I put those two events together."
The Siberian healer and shaman Valentina told me she advises all her clients to remember the two crucial principles behind any request to the Spirit. First, we need to be very clear about our intent and ask with great sincerity and desire for what we need. Then, we need to detach completely -- just let go of all concern about the matter and trust the Universe to hear and answer. Both steps are necessary. When we can engage ourselves fully, then switch and release all desire and expectation, surrendering to the perfect wisdom and timing of Spirit, wondrous things can happen.
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© El Collie 2000