Branded by the Spirit

Chapter 6

WHAT'S HAPPENING?

"Who is to interpret these phenomena? The traditional doctor knows nothing of energies ... and won't allow herself or himself to see. The popular consciousness movement is busy selling methods of feeling good or being more powerful." --Richard Moss

When I discovered I was experiencing Kundalini, I realized my friend Celia had been having an array of Kundalini symptoms too. For several years, she had searched futilely for help from doctors, and finally concluded she had contracted several diseases, which had not been properly diagnosed.

When I broke the news to her that she might also have risen Kundalini, she reacted strangely. She seemed to prefer the idea that her symptoms were due to disease. I asked her if the thought of Kundalini frightened her in some way. Celia admitted she wanted nothing to do with spiritual emergence because it was connected to the saints. As a child raised in Catholicism, she had hated hearing the nuns talk about the saints' terrible suffering for God. At the time she told me this, I thought she was confusing religious doctrine with something far more majestic and wonderful. I knew very little about Kundalini then...

Seven years later, it struck me that Celia had been right. Kundalini does seem implicated in the suffering of the saints of all traditions. It has certainly been an agent of suffering for many of the rest of us who have felt the Shakti Goddess' electrifying hand.

I don't know if Celia's refusal to acknowledge what I still suspect was her awakened Kundalini spared her any pain. Soon afterward, she severed our friendship. It was obvious that my welcoming embrace of my own transformation was so threatening to her she couldn't afford to keep me in her life.

Kundalini has brought me Suffering with a capital S -- the serpent's fangs drew blood. Before I was plunged into Kundalini's fire, I regarded suffering as something dreadful to be avoided at all costs. I now have come to understand it more as Viktor Frankl did when he wrote "What is to give light must endure burning."

No one escapes suffering in this world; it's part of the earthly landscape. But not everyone who experiences Kundalini gets tossed into the flames. For some, after Kundalini is most active, Her touch is that of merciful healer, and their lives begin to improve on all sides. People who have primarily experienced Kundalini's benevolence are most eager to awaken Her in others, and perplexed when some of their protégés have serious problems with the process.

I've also heard of cases where Kundalini phenomena remained fairly blissful for years before the process became more arduous, and vice versa. Some people rejoice when Kundalini awakens in them despite the difficulties; others are terrified even when their experiences have been painless and beautiful. Our responses and the course of our particular Kundalini odyssey can't be measured against a classic standard because every pattern is unique.

Understandably, this makes many people nervous; they want to know what to expect next. But Kundalini can't be charted. This is a major part of awakening -- being shaken loose of the idea that we know what's up. Kundalini is one knock-your-socks-off surprise after another, restoring our appreciation of the great mystery of existence.

Something's Going on Here...

Over the past five years, I have made contact with hundreds of people who have experienced the process of psychospiritual transformation. Many of these people, upon realizing the cause of their symptoms, have recognized that some of their friends and acquaintances have been having similar baffling disturbances. Some of them have been devout spiritual seekers; others had little overt interest in spirituality prior to their Kundalini awakening. No single pattern or myth seems to fit.

Something miraculous seems to be going on here, but by and large, few people know much about the Kundalini process. Over and again I hear the same story from people who have been unexpectedly initiated into this process: they have run the gamut from finding no information to being given damaging misinformation. When I began doing research to help me understand and cope with my own experience, I was likewise faced with a glut of occult, esoteric, New Age and other material which was often worse than useless. Gene Kieffer, president of the Kundalini Research Foundation, refers to these pseudo-resources as "metaphysical junkfood." While there are quite a number of books written about Kundalini from an eastern perspective, these rarely address the concerns of individuals experiencing endogenous Kundalini awakening. Worse, most of them claim that spontaneous awakening is exceedingly rare and in some way flawed. Unless one has an affinity for yogic/Hindu cosmology, these texts, which describe the Kundalini process in abstruse, highly symbolic language, can confuse and frighten rather than educate those trying to decipher their own experiences.

For centuries, awareness of spiritual awakening has been suppressed in Western civilization. Dating from the Christian church's religious-political expulsion of the Gnostics and on through the scourges of the Inquisition, revealing information about these sacred processes was an invitation to torture and death. Even in Eastern cultures, outside of obscure scriptures, the arousal of the Kundalini was clandestine knowledge denied to all but privileged adepts.

In recent times, although certain groups remain intolerant, we in the "free world" are no longer subject to government-sanctioned religious persecution. I have no desire to return to the tyrannical days of yore when speaking earnestly held such dire penalty, where only those who were willing to give their lives for the truth dared speak at all. But today we have the flip side of religious freedom, where anyone who can draw a crowd or woo a publisher can claim to be in possession of arcane wisdom.

Throughout the world, people are looking for greater spiritual connection in their lives. The mushrooming number of multi-modality teachers and healers recognizes this hunger. Meditation, visualization, prayer groups, channeling, drumming, crystals, guided imagery, trance-inducing breathwork, mask making, sacred rituals, somatic therapies, psychic healing, firewalking, yoga: never before has such a metaphysical potpourri been available to the seeker. Many of these healing and consciousness-raising tools are being offered in good faith, while others are hawked by peddlers less concerned with what nourishes the soul than with what feeds their egos and their bankrolls. I have a Brahman Hindu friend who was totally flabbergasted to come across an organization charging money -- "a whole lot of money" -- to activate the Kundalini. His shock was akin to what a Christian might feel upon discovering a New Age group selling the sacrament of the Eucharist. As an American, the reduction of anything and everything to merchandise is not so surprising to me, but I am sorely put off by promotions of Kundalini as a biopsychic power tool.

Kundalini is hardly an easy way to enhance one's sexual prowess and social standing, or a means of bringing some excitement into a ho-hum lifestyle. Yet anything as fraught with mystery and extraordinary potential as Kundalini is susceptible to misrepresentation and fraud. Too many Kundalini teachers and healers refuse to admit that spiritual awakening is an extremely complex, consuming, and potentially dangerous process.

In a New Age publication, I came across an advertisement for a six-week course, which teaches participants how to "run the Kundalini" and achieve enlightenment, all for a bargain price of only $550. Such bogus training sessions perpetuate the notion that raising Kundalini is some kind of parlor trick that can easily be accomplished over a weekend or in one's spare time. A man who must have graduated from such a course now claims to be in command of occult forces. He tells his pagan pals that he can "set" himself at "full power, on-line" and emit invisible bursts of Kundalini energy to insure the success of magical rituals.

Carl Jung once remarked that he had never seen a case of Western yoga practice "that was not applied with the wrong purpose of getting still more on top -- to acquire more power or more control, either of their own body, or of other people, or of the world...." Yoga, which means "union," was never intended to serve the ego in this way.

I once came across another advertisement for a workshop purporting to teach awakening of the Kundalini. The ad seductively described the state of immediate relaxation and unfettered happiness, which was supposed to occur as soon as Kundalini rises. I remarked to Charles that it made it sound like there was no difference between Kundalini awakening and shooting heroin.

It is irresponsible to give people instructions on raising Kundalini without any spiritual understanding of what they are doing. Through our newsletter and Internet exchanges, Charles and I regularly hear from the casualties of irresponsible promotion of Kundalini as a means to personal power and entertainment. It is not only the teachers who are to blame; there are plenty of people greedy for the super-powers these teachers promise, who apparently have to learn the hard way that these tremendous, sacred energies are not psychodynamic toys.

What's Sex Got To Do With It?

I once tuned into a cable TV station where a grinning author was promoting her new book on life transitions. At around the age of forty, she proclaimed, everyone's Kundalini fires up. But she quickly dismissed Kundalini as an antiquated term for "erotic energy." According to this gushing author, when the "erotic energy" bursts forth at mid-life, everyone experiences a second wind of physical vitality and sexual renewal.

There is a grain of truth in what she says. According to what I've been told by the Spiritual Emergence Network, a large portion of callers undergoing Kundalini awakenings are women in their forties. Anthropologist Joan B. Townsend, in her acknowledgment that some of the most powerful shamans are women, "especially after menopause, "seems to indicate a higher incidence of Kundalini awakenings past middle age. Even so, the number of women calling SEN (or becoming shamans) falls a few short of the world's over-forty population.

Many yogis and other religious aspirants believe that celibacy promotes spiritual awakening, and that the Kundalini is, in fact, rechanneled sexual energy. Neither I, nor the majority of people I know who have an active Kundalini, have consciously sublimated or otherwise redirected our sexual energy. In both Eastern and Western religious writings, there is a negative preoccupation with sexuality. Great emphasis is placed on subduing, redirecting, or altogether renouncing sexual activity. Eastern doctrine denigrates sexual expression as a gross, impure, and spiritually impeding use of the life force. Their Christian counterpart has from its inception equated celibacy with holiness, regarding biological life as basically corrupt and detrimental to the soul. Pagan and shamanic cultures have looked upon sexuality quite differently, seeing it as integral to spirituality. Many sacred rites included overt sexuality as a means of accessing the Divine. Sexuality in the earth centered religions, while held in equal esteem with spiritual ecstasy, was generally carefree and uncomplicated. While marriage seems to be a universal human institution, monogamy and celibacy are not.

Indigenous historian Robert Lawlor asserts that among the Gnostics and the Zealots, male celibacy (and in some sects, castration) were practiced under the belief that "sublimated sexual energy was supposed to provide men with a spiritual power of creativity higher and more significant than women's natural power to give birth."

The practice of asceticism in various sky-god and masculine religions may have also evolved from a misguided attempt to return to the pristine innocence and spiritual purity found in archaic cultures. For instance, the Aborigines, who lived without personal possessions or material attachments while existing in a state of perpetual heightened consciousness, known as "Dreamtime." However, Aboriginal and other Goddess cultures were not erotically restrained and remained sexually active throughout their lives. For women in particular, sexuality was considered a birthright and female sacrament, to be enjoyed until late into old age. It was in fact considered dangerous to the harmony of the community for a woman to be sexually frustrated or cut off from sexual activity.

There is a direct correlation between right brain activity (dreams, creativity, intuition, psychic perception and mystical experience) and heightened sensuality and sexual appetite. The popular dumb blonde bombshell image of Hollywood females of the 1950's was a degenerate simulation of the erotic vitality of women in right-brained dominant Goddess cultures. Kundalini increases the flow of electromagnetic energy in the body so much that it throws off compass readings and plays havoc with wristwatches and electrical equipment. The energy is often felt rising from left foot and leg -- the negatively charged feminine half of the body. Studies have shown that the positively charged south pole of a magnet stimulates right-brain activity as well as producing greater metabolic warmth, more rapid healing of wounds, increased oxygen utilization and enhanced sexual vigor-- all phenomena associated with Kundalini! It seems that Kundalini involves an increased flow of positively charged electromagnetic energy from the earth into the receptive negatively charged left side of the body. At no point in my own Kundalini process has sexual activity had negative consequences. (On a few occasions, the opposite has been true. Trying to ignore or repress heightened sexual energies has resulted in physical sickness and emotional distress for me.) I know of plenty of other married and lovingly-coupled men and women whose risen Kundalini did not require (or result from) sexual abstinence.

According to Gopi Krishna and his devoted long time associate, Gene Kieffer, the majority of India's illumined sages on record were married and had children (and some had more than one wife). Throughout his writings, Gopi Krishna stressed his belief that Kundalini arousal was biologically correlated with "reversal of the reproductive system and its functioning more as an evolutionary than as a reproductive mechanism." But to Krishna, there was a clear distinction between this and sexual activity, which ordinarily will neither awaken nor deter Kundalini. (Many so-called Tantric sects which purport to be spiritual groups are more aligned with swingers clubs. The worship of sex in itself and indiscriminate, orgiastic sex practices rarely spark Kundalini.)

Irina Tweedie's Sufi guru told her: "Kundalini is not sex-impulse alone; but sex-power forms part of Kundalini." From what I have read and been told, it does seem that the sexual organs undergo changes during the Kundalini process. Swami Muktananda, Ram Dass, B.S. Goel, Gabriel Cousens and Gopi Krishna all describe incidents where they experienced strange genital sensations, including painful erections and seeing or feeling their semen stream up into the sushuma (central spinal canal).

Women sometimes report suction sensations (with or without sexual arousal) at the cervix, or a bubbling or vibrating genital energy. In his writings, Gopi Krishna speaks of being approached by a woman who asked him, "Can this be the way to God? As you are saying, I am experiencing the most abominable sensations inside." When he questioned her about the sensations, she replied, "I can't even speak of them; they are the usual sensations associated with sex." And Irina Tweedie, who was a widowed proper European woman in her mid-fifties when her Kundalini rose, experienced an unexpected flood of sexual desire which was "uncontrollable, a kind of wild, cosmic force." She gave a detailed account of this in her journal, which has since been published under the title Daughter of Fire: "Never, not even in its young days, had this body known anything, even faintly comparable, or similar to this! This was not just desire -- it was madness in its lowest, animal form, a paroxysm of sex-craving... a wild howling of everything female in me, for a male... But the inexplicable thing was that even the idea of any kind of intercourse was repulsive and did not even occur to me."

When the Kundalini rises, it may initially enliven the second chakra, which is the sexual center of the body. During these early stages of the process, one may go through episodes of inflamed passion. But we may just as likely experience surges of grief, rage, ecstasy, or any other powerful feelings when Kundalini-Ma engages us. The thrust of the Kundalini is toward revitalization. She infuses us with the throbbing energies of life, which includes sexuality as well as the many realms of the Spirit.

Kundalini and Menopause

There does seem to be a correlation between menopause and the rising of Kundalini, but to exactly what degree remains unknown. In the Fall 1994 issue of the KRN newsletter (the official publication of the Kundalini Research Network), in a column called "Ask Dr. K," a 48 year old women wrote in asking "How do you tell the difference between menopausal hot flashes and the heat sensations related to Kundalini?" This woman said she had been in a Kundalini process for the past 7-8 years and was now experiencing hot flashes and wondered if hormonal replacement therapy would be appropriate in her case. Dr. Yvonne Kason replied that "we do not yet know the effects of most drugs upon the Kundalini process" and said she recommended drugs only as a last resort "because a person in a Kundalini process is often very sensitive to subtle side-effects of drugs."

On occasion, I have felt extreme heat in my body from the beginning of my own Kundalini process. In later years, I have been experiencing menopausal symptoms, including irregular periods and hot flashes at night. For me, the Kundalini heat and the hormonal hot flashes have been qualitatively different. Kundalini heat, in my case, has been more intense (although it never caused sweating). The hormonal hot flashes feel as though I have suddenly been enveloped by humid, tropical heat, whereas Kundalini heat is like a white hot conflagration in my very bone marrow. With Kundalini, I know the heat is emanating from my own body, while with menopausal hot flashes, I sweat a lot and cannot distinguish my body heat from external temperatures. I have to check the thermostat to see if the room is inordinately hot, or if it's just me. Also, my hot flashes generally last between 5-15 minutes, while Kundalini heat has at times continued unabated for hours.

These personal experiences lead me to believe that Kundalini heat and hormonal hot flashes are not the same thing. But others report different experiences with Kundalini heat, including extreme night sweats. Men and women of all ages have reported these, so they cannot be solely attributable to estrogen shortages! Other than the heat, there are a number of typical menopausal symptoms that coincide with Kundalini symptoms:

1. Skin sensitivities, including the "hair shirt" syndrome (described in Chapter Three), that is clinically known as "formication."

2. Sense of an electrical charge or static electricity in the brain.

3. Headaches

4. Gastrointestinal distress

5. Dizziness

6. Heart palpitations

7. Fatigue; sleep disturbances (often due to hot flashes)

8. Emotional volatility; depression

However, there are other distinguishing menopausal symptoms which are rarely encountered during Kundalini awakening, such as joint pains, breast tenderness, frequent urination or incontinence, and other sex-hormone related problems. While some menopausal women experience energy rushes, they do not report kriyas or whole body sensations of astonishing electricity. They mention no dramatic mystical, psychic or paranormal experiences; nor do they complain of hypersensitivity to environmental forces -- all of these manifestations indicating an opening of the Chakras, which occurs when Kundalini has risen. (Women who do experience all these things may well be in the midst of both the climactic and Kundalini awakening.)

Although there are some authors who regard menopause, as a time of Kundalini arousal, it seems evident that not every menopausal woman experiences Kundalini awakening, just as not every individual with a risen Kundalini is a menopausal woman.

Overcoming Stereotypes

There are teachers and healers who regard Kundalini difficulties as disorders which occur when one has failed to voluntarily and diligently keep house in one's psyche. These allegations suggest that if only we had "done everything right" in our spiritual practices, in our choice of a healthy lifestyle and in our psychological inner work, we wouldn't be paying big dues now. This is much the same kind of thinking many people take toward adversity in general. Sy Safransky, journalist and editor of The Sun magazine, describes this attitude. He wrote in his poignant memorial to Stephen Schwartz, who died of cancer at the age of forty-three: "I wanted to believe that eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, not smoking, and, most importantly, living authentically and compassionately granted a person some kind of immunity. Yet spiritual teachers seem to die of cancer as frequently as the rest of us. Death welcomes them no matter how pure their diet or noble their thoughts."

In life as in death, even those who are exceptionally disciplined and have dedicated themselves to spiritual self-development can have chaotic and painful transformation processes. Gopi Krishna, whose harrowing twelve year Kundalini awakening began when he was thirty-five, had been meditating daily since the age of seventeen. In the beginning of his autobiography, he states "Long practice had accustomed me to sit in the same posture for hours at a time without the least discomfort..." Both Krishnamurti and Swami Muktananda had been following austere religious disciplines since early adolescence. Yet all three of them underwent lengthy and difficult awakenings.

Swami Muktananda went so far as to claim that the more dynamic process was granted to "a seeker who is steadfast and full of devotion to his guru." Carlos Castaneda's Yaqui Indian benefactor, don Juan, seemed to be describing Kundalini awakening when he spoke of a physical power that develops for the initiate "on the path of knowledge." This power or energy is first felt as an itching or burning, and then progresses to great discomfort. Don Juan seems to be in agreement with Muktananda when he says: "Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain."

The ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda's Aghori yoga guru, Vimalananda, was particularly infuriated by people who made glib claims about how easily Kundalini could be aroused and controlled. Kundalini is a tremendous force, he exclaimed, and few people can handle such power "This is why I get so wild when I read about all those people in America who claim either to have had their own Kundalini awakened painlessly, or to be awakening the Kundalini of all and sundry effortlessly. Don't ask me to believe such drivel. If it were so all of America would have merged with the infinite by now."

While the wheels of change are slowly turning, it is the rare psychiatrist or therapist who has expertise with Kundalini; even fewer medical doctors have the slightest awareness of it. Although Lee Sannella (himself a retired psychiatrist and opthamologist) and others have made courageous attempts to inform doctors and hospitals of the Kundalini symptoms, they have been fairly well ignored. To traditional physicians who are locked into the Cartesian mindset, the idea that spiritual energies exist, much less that they have the power to create disruption in the body, is inconceivable. This is a real obstacle for those of us who are manifesting severe physical symptoms. Hordes of us have been subjected to a diagnostic battery of CAT scans, MRIs, EMGs, brain scans, blood tests, etc., with negative or inconclusive results that leave us and our doctors more baffled than ever. Or we have received inaccurate diagnoses and inappropriate, ineffectual and sometimes harmful medications and treatments.

I know of three women who were unable to leave their beds for the first year of their Kundalini process. One of these women had a compassionate doctor who nonetheless was at such a loss to account for her condition that he broke down and wept when another of her endless tests proved inconclusive. This particular woman's Kundalini awakening lasted four and a half years. At no point during her process did she know what was happening to her, but because so many profound changes occurred in her life because of it, she had dubbed it "the mutation disease."

When Gopi Krishna wrote his autobiographical account of his own spectacular Kundalini awakening, he was afraid he would be perceived as a ranting crackpot. His fears were not unfounded; for a long time, no publisher would touch the manuscript. A friend of mine, writing of her own experiences during her six year awakening, remarked wistfully, "There is no way I can prove that these things really happened to me." Fearing that we will not be believed, or actually having our attempts to explain met with ridicule and ostracism, is why many of us who have Kundalini experiences are reluctant to admit to them. A number of contributors to Shared Transformation request that their stories be printed anonymously; there remains a very real threat that their jobs or their reputations could be lost if they were "found out." But many of us who are going through intense Kundalini awakenings cannot hide what is happening from others; the physical, mental and emotional changes are too consuming and dramatic to conceal.

The authentic literature says Kundalini awakening can eventually lead to wondrous physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being. I've already tasted some of these fruits, so I believe this is true. Prior to 1991, I thought that with rare exceptions, only devout aspirants who followed rigorous spiritual disciplines could have Kundalini awakenings. I had imagined that this harrowing but ultimately benevolent process was the reward of unremitting orthodox practice. When my Kundalini arose, this and many more of my long held assumptions were blown to pieces. I began meeting others who were in the midst of dramatic Kundalini awakenings. Not one of these people fit "the profile" before their awakening. We had all been highly sensitive people; most of us had experienced some degree of psychic awareness earlier in our lives. Each of us had a hunger for communion with life/God/others, and a strong desire to learn about the mysterious and magical side of existence. Here the similarities between us ended.

Our religious backgrounds, ages, race, gender and lifestyles were diverse. Some of us had previous exposure to, or interest in eastern religious practices such as yoga, meditation, or spiritual studies. Some had adhered to Judeo/Christian beliefs; others were involved in New Age systems. While some had experimented heavily with psychedelic drugs, others had little or no drug experience.

A woman in her late sixties wrote and asked me "Aren't I too old to be going through this?" two weeks before another woman, thirty-years-old, asked me "Aren't I too young to be experiencing this?" Kundalini phenomena can begin any time in life from early childhood to advanced old age. One can also be born with a risen Kundalini. In a case where this had happened, the person told me it was not until she was in her thirties that she realized everyone else didn't experience regular, blissful rushes of energy powerful enough to make her eyes tear and her hair stand on end.

There is no telling just how many of us are undergoing Kundalini. Psychiatrist John Nelson, who distinguishes between transcendent and pathological states of altered consciousness in his book, Healing the Split, said that he had only encountered one case of Kundalini awakening in his twenty years of psychiatric practice. On the other hand, spiritual leader Ram Dass confides "I get phone calls all the time, as I imagine the Spiritual Emergence Network does, from people who are having Kundalini experiences." Apparently, whatever our numbers, we are scattered near and far. Those of us in radical transformation occupy every strata of society. The people I have heard from who are experiencing Kundalini include business owners, executives, artists, scientists, healers, psychologists, lawyers, therapists, doctors, writers, astrologers, firefighters, scholars, poets, social activists, clerical workers, ministers, college students and homemakers. We can't be found in any specific interest group or community. No one knows just how many of us there are, or where all of us are.

I had imagined that there would be more of us gathered in places like important Eastern religious centers, especially those whose teachings center on the raising of the Kundalini. To my astonishment, I discovered this was untrue. At one point in my own awakening, I called such a renowned local ashram for a referral to a dentist who could deal with the involuntary jerking movements of my kriyas. The receptionist at the center told me they didn't give referrals; furthermore, she said she did not know of anyone locally -- devotee or otherwise -- who had actually had a Kundalini awakening! While a number of these yoga and meditation centers are aware of mild symptoms and transcendent Kundalini experiences, they seem to have little cognizance of the complexities of the process.

Many Eastern religions teach that Kundalini is awakened through the guru -- usually by transmission of spiritual energy known as "shaktipat." A few people experiencing spontaneous Kundalini arousal told me they had received shaktipat from such gurus -- some a decade or more prior to the unleashing of their Kundalini. Was this a factor? In several cases, traumatic events such as the death of a loved one or a physical accident preceded the most severe Kundalini symptoms. For others, meditation, prayer, bodywork or breathwork seemed to be the immediate catalyst. In cases like my own, there was no evident external trigger.

Kundalini Variations

In certain religious and psychological circles, there is quite a bit of nitpicking about what signs and symptoms constitute a real Kundalini awakening. These arguments often fail to take into account that the process can continue for a lifetime, and that in this time frame, an incredible spectrum of manifestations can occur.

Not everyone experiences Kundalini in the same way. Among the traditions that acknowledge and describe Kundalini awakening, the teachings or scriptures offer a model of this process, not an accurate depiction of how it affects each individual. When the model is mistaken for a precise definition of the Kundalini process, it proves to be of little help to those who are experiencing the Serpent Fire firsthand.

In the early stages, people may experience only a few of the classical hallmarks of the risen Kundalini. For some, the process begins with a sublime mystical revelation. For others, it isn't until relatively late in the process that mystical and paranormal events occur. Eastern sagas of Kundalini tell of initiates swooning in supersensual bliss. Euphoria and ecstasy are Kundalini's enchanting calling cards, but not everyone gets such a lovely introduction to the Shakti Goddess. Bliss may be a long time coming. I have not been graced with much in the way of physical delights in my own process. There have been times when I've enjoyed mildly pleasant energy rushes (usually immediately after a Kriya, although these sensations only last a few seconds). I have had mystical experiences that were ecstatic... yet these occurred long before my Kundalini rose. From what others report to me, it seems that when the bodily symptoms are as extreme as mine have been, the early years of the process are rarely blissful.

Great peace of mind is a welcome gift of spiritual awakening. I experienced sublime peace once, years before Kundalini, during a near death episode. Never since have I experienced such perfect tranquillity. The absence of many of the coveted positive Kundalini effects in my personal awakening may make me an exception to the rule, but as of this writing I have box loads of letters from similar "exceptions." Of the commonly experienced joys of the Spirit, the greatest that Kundalini has thus far bequeathed to me is joy itself. This and an ongoing, deepening of love I feel for and from Charles, life and the Spirit has lit my way through some of the desolate stretches of my journey thus far.
Feeling powerful is another oft mentioned Kundalini attribute. I certainly have felt filled to overflowing by Kundalini's potent force, but at no time did I sense this power was mine. There are also many reports of feeling supremely safe and protected -- almost to the point of invincibility -- during intense Kundalini episodes. This sense of divine safety I too have been granted. In my case, it was not that I felt removed from harm so much as my heightened perspective enabled me to see all that happened as the perfect workings of the Tao. During the most spectacular months of my awakening, I was surprisingly calm, almost fearless.

The length of time spent in altered states varies, which makes quite a difference in their impact on our daily functioning. Some may only last a few minutes, or they may continue uninterrupted for days, weeks or months. Once Kundalini is fully active, the process often lasts for many years. Even those with shorter experiences may find that brief but dramatic episodes recur in their lives during a five to twenty year period.

Those who have had relatively short and easy (and often partial) awakenings frequently make the false assumption that everyone's process should conclude quickly. There is a strong, unfortunate tendency to believe that the way one's own unfolding occurred is precisely the way it should be for everyone else. Such narcissistic thinking leads to all sorts of useless criticism and poor advice. Everyone I know who has undergone a prolonged Kundalini awakening has been told by at least one professed "expert" that he or she was definitely not experiencing Kundalini. People who have never themselves had Kundalini experiences are often more eager and evangelical in spelling out what is a "real" process than those who have actually gone through it themselves.

A subtle or overt jockeying for position occurs among quite a few spiritual mavens, each trying to claim ultimate authority and superiority of his/her path. Many teachers whose Kundalini was self-induced regard spontaneous Kundalini awakenings as premature and inauspicious. Turning the tables, Gopi Krishna, whose Kundalini erupted spontaneously and very unexpectedly, considers unbidden awakening preferable and calls intentional arousal of Kundalini forced and unnatural.

The long years of extreme difficulties Krishna candidly describes in his autobiographical books are sometimes held up as proof of his spiritual ineptitude. His accusers display a curious amnesia when it comes to the painful and protracted awakening processes of many adherents of the do-it-yourself and guru-supervised genre. I have always gravitated to the unassuming, broad-minded teachers who acknowledge a diversity of approaches to the Spirit (without imposing a scale of values favoring their personal system).

Rather than extolling one way at the expense of the other, it makes more sense to me to consider deliberately raised Kundalini as yang evolution, and spontaneous awakening as yin evolution. Since I belong to the latter class, I can speak better to and for others likewise summoned by Kundalini than to those who have commanded her to rise. Quite honestly, for all its splendor, spiritual transformation is so tremendously difficult, I think anyone who goes out of their way to catalyze it must be exceedingly brave, naive, or crazy!

Some people want and need a teacher to lead them through their transformation -- and I do not mean "need" in the pop-pejorative use of the word, in which anything but proud independence is labeled co-dependency. A teacher is right for certain constitutions, just as others have no need of a human guide and could be impeded by one. There are teachers who strenuously object to the untutored path, some out of true concern for the initiate and some to keep drumming up business. But there will always be seekers and mentors, and a good teacher is never in danger of losing all disciples in a mass defection to autonomy.

Once the process has taken on a momentum of its own and is causing havoc, anyone who has kindled Kundalini under the auspices of an unqualified teacher or overly enthusiastic spiritual/occult practices may worry he/she did something wrong to have tampered with cosmic forces. My sense is that however Kundalini has awakened -- no matter by what system or lack of one -- it was meant to be. Rather than torment ourselves over what we might have done differently, our sentiments are more wisely spent directed to learning all we can to make the best of our situation now.

More Misconceptions

In addition to all the confusing mixed messages we receive from others, we have our internalized prejudices that add to our doubt. These internal demon-guardians of the Gate prevent us from fully entering the Sacred. In my own case, I had a hard time feeling worthy of my awakening, because I didn't feel that I was "advanced" enough to merit such a gift. Like many others, I'd bought into the idea that only saints experienced radical flowering of consciousness. Ideas such as "only renunciates and those who live austerely make genuine spiritual progress," or "only those who regularly meditate, pray, or engage in devout religious practices have powerful spiritual experiences," are among the common misleading spiritual stereotypes. Other misconceptions include:

* Visualizing (or mental concentration) is sufficient (or always required) to rouse and safely direct the movement of the Kundalini.

* Unless one is serene, passionless, detached, and is in control of the mind and senses, one cannot experience higher levels of consciousness.

* Spiritual experiences are always uplifting, beautiful and welcome.

* People whose consciousness is evolving are constantly "high" and radiant with happiness.

* Other people can easily see there is something special and mystical about those who are having spiritual awakenings.

* Spiritual experiences are ethereal and only effect the soul -- they never involve the body or the "negative" emotions.

* A true Kundalini awakening occurs as an instantaneous flash of total enlightenment.

* Only five people in the history of the world (or some infinitesimal number) really have a risen Kundalini.

* Those who undergo transformational processes are superior to other people.

All of these assumptions are simply untrue. Those who have transformational experiences don't fit into any one mold or myth. "Decadent" bleached blondes with flashy wardrobes and lots of makeup are just as likely to undergo spiritual awakening as neo-Amish type virgins. Those who meticulously follow ordained spiritual practices appear to have no advantage over those who adhere to no specific regime. Even spiritual aspirants and faithful believers aren't exclusive prospects; to their surprise too, atheists and agnostics also experience spiritual awakening.

Glenn Morris, Ph.D., is a prime example. A Ninja master, who is an avowed agnostic, Morris defies stereotyping. Awakening the Kundalini "has nothing to do with healthy lifestyle," he contends, "and nothing to do with eating rice and being a vegetarian." Prior to his Kundalini awakening, he smoked, drank Scotch and ate red meat with gusto. He induced his own awakening and teaches others to do the same using Chi Kung meditation techniques. Even so, he says that when his Kundalini rose, it almost cost him his life. It took nine years to heal the nerve damage incurred when the energy skyrocketed with such force it nearly blew his head off.

People who consider themselves "spiritually correct" are often more antagonistic toward spiritual emergence in anyone who doesn't fit the bill than are the hard-core materialists and skeptics who disdain anything spiritual. Anyone who has experienced Kundalini outside the auspices of a religious tradition knows what I'm talking about. Dogmatic types are also most likely to try to commandeer someone else's process, giving irrelevant instructions and unnecessary dire warnings.

Dropping Expectations

As punitive as other people's judgments can be, the most formidable obstacles are those we harbor in our own minds. Our images of who we should be or what is true begin to crumble as we spiritually evolve. For some of us, the realization that something greater than materialist science and human ingenuity are at work here can be shattering. New realities that break through as consciousness unfurls can be disturbing and bewildering. It takes work to integrate spontaneous insights and mystical experiences that have no place in one's previously accepted reality model. Marilyn Ferguson, a frontier reporter on consciousness research, has described the double-edged sword of mystical experience: "The mind now knows what the heart had only hoped for. But the same experience can be deeply distressing to one unprepared for it, who must then try to fit it into an inadequate belief system."

There can also be vacillations in our personal needs and desires, which alarm us. At certain points in the process, those of us who have been health-conscious or vegetarians develop cravings for "forbidden" foods, such as sweets and meat. Erstwhile self-sacrificing individuals find themselves needing to withdraw and say no to other people's demands. Those who have embraced celibacy or sexual moderation might be horrified to discover their passions smoldering. These and many other changes in the transformational process can be a torturous inner war if we cling to stereotypes of what is absolutely right, good, or pure. If we think anger is un-spiritual, we'll be mortified when we go through episodes of emotional catharsis. If we have deified certain foods, we'll feel guilty and miserable when our bodies demand that we eat differently. If we have disowned or repressed any part of ourselves, the transformational process is sure to bring these parts back with a vengeance. The more we try to push these "wrong" parts away, the more painful our struggle.

Even improvements in our lives can be unsettling at first. Alan Arkin describes how he reacted when he discovered one morning that his habitual, compulsive and frenetic pattern had dissolved: "After a couple of minutes, when nothing locked into place as an urgent demand, a must do, my reaction was one of terror... Half a dozen things were equally balanced. And this ability to choose, calmly and in an orderly way, threw me into a panic."

For those who have tried to be "good" people, by whatever standard, the most devastating part of the process may come when the "goodness" is stripped away. I don't believe this happens simply to expose our hidden negativity. It's also dissolution of attachments which are blocking our awareness. It is relatively easy to see the benefit of letting go of greed, malice, deceit, etc. It's harder to recognize that our ideals and lofty expectations are equal entrapments which bar us from the truth. All the stereotypes, even the beautiful ones, are ultimately crippling. Every preconception limits awareness. If any generalization can be made about spiritual evolution, it is this: It's never quite what we expected it to be.