© El Collie 2000
"The universe is full of signs... The shape of clouds, the way birds fly, the sounds of nature, an unexpected meeting -- all these transmit a message that expresses the will of the gods. The universe is a whole that fits together logically and that maintains itself and develops in a meaningful way."
Brazilian Macumba priestess
The risen Kundalini announces itself in veiled or blatant symbolic and synchronistic messages. A woman who had no idea her various ailments signified anything beyond poor health one day felt an inexplicable urge to pick up her young daughter's crayons and draw. This was something she had not done since childhood herself. To her amazement, a picture, which included a dancing woman, seemed to automatically emerge from the crayon. The title for the picture also wrote itself: "I am dancing in the arms of the Great Mother." At the time, this person knew nothing about Kundalini illness or the connection between Kundalini and the Mother Goddess.
Another woman who was reading through the list of common Kundalini symptoms posted on our Shared Transformation Web site had been experiencing many of the symptoms but doubted they were attributable to Kundalini. But as soon as she had read through the listed symptoms, she had a sudden urge to read her horoscope. Uncannily, her horoscope stated: "Let the Kundalini rise; the serpent has been waiting a long time."
Synchronicities and serendipitous events challenge the random and mechanistic world view of Western culture; they point to a vital coherence and interdependence between all life. Vicki Noble describes this underlying interrelatedness as "a web that connects each of us with everything that is." She points out that a number of world creation myths describe the World Mother as a centrally positioned cosmic spider spinning forth the universe: "In the same way that a spider's web is infinitely sensitive to vibration, and the smallest movement is felt reverberating over the entire web, so are all actions and reactions felt by everyone contained in the web of life. There is nothing that happens anywhere on the planet (or in the galaxy, for that matter) that does not affect each one of us and that we do not feel on some level of our being."
As our consciousness expands, awareness of our interconnection with all creation exponentially increases. This in turn enlivens and liberates us, because, as the spiritual teacher Michael J. Eastcott points out: "Expansion ever relates to something greater, and this has an elevating, exalting, joyous effect. We are released from the tighter bonds that held us down in our smaller perspectives, we have gained a wider freedom, can range in new fields. It is stimulating to all our bodies -- mental, emotional, and physical."
Kundalini not only breaks down "barriers between the various layers and states of consciousness," as Arundale has written. It also enables a profound experience of unity by breaking down barriers "between the individual himself and the larger Self..." Meaningful coincidences and seemingly magical events weave us into the great web of life, blurring old consensual-reality boundaries. We become aware of an awesome intelligence, which operates both within and beyond us, which is not mute but speaks a special language, which previously we did not understand.
Synchronicities occur with greater frequency as we realize our oneness with the universe. A really interesting phenomena is what author Alan Vaughan calls the "Synchronicity of Synchronicity," in which interest in or attention to meaningful coincidences seems to increase their number! Neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall has witnessed this phenomena first hand: "Whenever I speak about the meaning of coincidences, more and more coincidences seem to occur for me and for those around me."
The term "Synchronicity" was coined by Carl Jung, who was acutely aware of the importance of such coincidences in his own and his patients' lives. Marie-Louise von Franz, who worked closely with Jung for 30 years, observed an amazing phenomenon: the older he became, the more constantly synchronicities occurred in his life. They often happened when Jung needed information for something he was working on. Research materials, says von Franz, "simply ran after him." For example, "Once when he was occupied with a specific problem, a general practitioner in Australia sent him the complete material which he could use, and it arrived by mail just at the very time he said: 'Now I ought to have some observations on that kind of thing.' It was as if even the collective unconscious of Australia was cooperating!"
Most of us have at times experienced synchronicities, which startle us. Once when I decided to call a friend I hadn't spoken with for quite awhile, I picked up the phone, but oddly, there was no dial tone. To my surprise, a voice on the line said tentatively, "Hello?" It was the friend I was going to call! She had dialed my number, but I had "answered" the phone before it rang. Snychronicities can be expressions of psychic attunement between individuals, or they can be messages from the Spirit. Sometimes these meaningful coincidences are very beautiful. On our wedding day, Charles had placed our rings side by side together in a small box. Right before our marriage ceremony, he opened the box to take out the rings and was amazed to see that the rings themselves had "united" -- they had fallen together, with mine nestled inside of his. (We took this to be a very good omen for our marriage, and it has proven true.)
Of course, the meaning of synchronicities, like everything else, is in the eye (or mind) of the beholder. Arnold Mindell describes an incident early in his psychotherapy practice with his first schizophrenic patient. The man was grinning "in a wild and ecstatic condition" and Mindell says he felt terrified. The man proclaimed to him, "I am Lucifer, the bringer and destroyer of light." Mindell took this as evidence that the man was crazy. "I do not remember if I told him what I thought," said Mindell, "but he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'And since you do not believe me, watch what I can do now.' Mindell says that "At that moment, the lights in my house went out. The fuses had not blown." At this point, Mindell could have had any of several reactions. He could have refused to acknowledge the relevancy of what had just happened, which is a common defense mechanism of denial in the face of unwelcome information. Or he could have become horrified and decided his patient was indeed possessed by the devil. Instead, he was immediately humbled. "Call it chance, synchronicity or anything you like," he says, "but it cured my inflation of thinking that I was real and sane and he was just crazy."
Many such synchronicities seem to be teaching devices. In what psychology calls "projection," our internal and external realities can be mirrors of each other. For instance, those who are extremely self-critical may find that critical, nitpicking people dominate their lives. Or it may work inversely: those who try to be superhumanly selfless, repressing their own needs, may be smothered by needy and selfish people. In this case, the self-centeredness of people surrounding us reflects our need to take care of ourselves more.
Years ago, after reading a book on metaphysics, I was wondering if hostile and fearful thoughts could magnetically draw negative external experiences. Walking barefoot across my bedroom, I suddenly stepped on an unseen thumbtack on the floor. I burst out laughing (hardly feeling the sting in my foot) as I realized the universe had answered me affirmatively with a synchronistic pun: I'd been attacked by a tack! (This taught me two things: whatever the mind is focused upon can bring about analogous situations, and the Universe has a wild sense of humor.)
Synchronicities are most often experienced during crisis or crucial periods of life -- during accidents, illness, or around births, deaths, career changes, weddings, or other significant transitions. The shaman Gloria Feman Orenstein marvels at the fact that she was born on International Women's Day (March 8th) and grew up to be a professor of women's studies. Her experiences have taught her that "the most ordinary occurrences in our everyday lives, in what we mistakenly think of as nonsacred reality, are really signposts on a path whose underlying pattern has been set in motion with our birth, or more likely perhaps, even before our physical birth into this dimension." Looking back at the synchronistic signs, symbols, and omens of her life has convinced her of the genuine sacredness of worldly reality.
Rediscovering Our Shamanic Nature
"We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
To those of us raised on the premise that everything is separate and unrelated to everything else, synchronicities seem extraordinary or outright supernatural. But to our ancient ancestors (and to indigenous peoples still alive today), not only are synchronicities natural and ordinary -- they are indispensable guideposts for daily life. No shaman would consider carrying out an activity without getting an agreement from the spirits, most often through a synchronistic event. This dependence on Spirit guidance rather than the rote routines of the modern world earned tribal people an undeserved reputation for being lazy and unreliable. Rather than living by the clock, these people waited for a sign to know when it was the right time to perform a task.
Shamanic people have looked with horror at the lives of those in "civilized" nations. They are stunned by our ignorance of the voice of the Spirit and the cycles of nature, both of which speak through the primordial language of synchronicity. Where, they ask, is the soul of such a mechanical and ruthlessly rushed people? Actions taken without consulting the Spirit are considered very dangerous, not only to the individual who dares to do this, but to the entire community as well. Much of our current predicament of global conflict and ecological disaster stems from our refusal or our inability to watch for signs and to act in humility and reverence to the greater Whole.
Those of us whose lives are increasingly guided by signs and synchronicities are relearning the truths of the ancient ways. The more we get into the flow of our own authenticity, as Marion Woodman has remarked, the more we become aware of synchronistic events: "... you begin to realize that the outer and the inner are in fact the same. And the balance is when these two come together. What you thought was outside is part of your inner life."
The nonlocal ideation of the self is no longer solely the domain of mysticism. Physicists like Erwin Schrodinger have reached the same conclusion: "The localization of the personality, of the conscious mind, inside the body is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use." Synchronicities demonstrate interconnections and cohesive forces that operate quite differently than our chopped up, time/space barrier-view of reality allows. When we fully move into synchronistic perception, we realize that there is nothing in our experience that is not in some way relevant to us. We reconnect to what Arnold Mindell calls "our native mind, our Shamanic heart," and through this ancient remembering, realize that everything on earth is also part of our personal process. Says Mindell: "In your natural mind, there are no mysterious connections or synchronicities. There is no wilderness. Everything is part of you. Neither is the world statistical. The indigenous paradigm does not split psyche from matter, inner from outer. Like the Yogi who discovers that he is, in fact, the Atman, or the whole world, the native person lives as if the world were her partner and herself."
Signs & Symbols
"The whole world is a book of symbols insofar as physical things naturally reflect those of a higher plane. We do not have to make symbols, only to recognize them; and they are there whether we recognize them or not."
-- Arthur Osborne
Readers of Shared Transformation newsletter may recall an image of a Black Panther leaping across a galactic scene in the introductory issue. Twenty years ago, when I drew this, I had no conscious idea what it symbolized. When I selected it from the portfolio of my old artwork to illustrate the "Fire and Snakes" article (later in this chapter), my logical mind balked. What did a panther lunging through space have to do with snakes or fires? I rationalized that it portrayed powerful and unpredictable forces of nature, which did pertain to the Kundalini energies... and besides, I liked the drawing.
Years later, I was amazed to come across the phrase "Leaping fearlessly into the Void of the Unknown" describing the "medicine" (i.e., the symbolic power) of the panther. This was from the book The 13 Original Clan Mothers by Jamie Sams, and could have been used as a caption for my picture!
Several weeks later, Charles brought home a nature-symbol reference book called Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews. I was even more stunned to read his researched symbolism for the Black Panther, which can "reflect an awakening of the Kundalini!" Moreover, "the panther often signals a time of rebirth after a period of suffering and death on some level" and represents "a time of moving from mere poles of existence to new life without poles or barriers." Andrews goes on to say that "the panther is a symbol of awakening to the heroic quest," and "that no matter the depth of degradation -- whether self-inflicted or from outside forces -- there is always the promise of light and love to lead us back."
After reading all this, I realized I couldn't have picked a more apt illustration for the article! Although I had been innocent of what I was communicating to myself at the time I had drawn the picture, in retrospect, I realized it had been among the many encoded signs and messages I had been receiving or inadvertently broadcasting throughout my life, spelling out my own destiny. Some part of me, or something channeling through me, had been dropping clues and hints that I was not able (or ready) to understand.
Some of these symbols I had understood perfectly without realizing it. In the March/April '93 issue of Shared Transformation, I chose to illustrate an article called "Following the River" with a picture of a turtle swimming in the crests of an ocean wave. Again, as with the panther illustration, my logical mind had told me this picture was not really of a river, and therefore not completely appropriate. One of the last lines I wrote for the article was "When I stop trying to push the river, whatever is meant to be comes easily, effortlessly." In late 1994, I bought the Medicine Cards created by Jamie Sams and David Carson. When I looked up the meaning of the turtle, I was elated to discover that one of the meanings of this animal, due to its slow, plodding pace, is a warning "of the dangers of pushing the river."
It is apparent to me now that especially through my poetry and artwork, my soul had been declaring its commitment to transformation throughout my life. I did not fathom this at the time I composed these works, nor did I suspect how deep and consummate a spiritual current ran through me even then. To the contrary, I imagined myself immersed in creativity rather than spirituality. This was before I understood that inspired art and spirituality are one in the same! All ancient cultures knew this, which is why they made no distinction between art and sacrament.
I knew that my creative inspiration rose from a mysterious inner fount, expressing a passion and boldness that sometimes took me by surprise. For instance, the seemingly self-obsessed, drumroll declaration of a soul-mission poem I wrote in 1982 was enigmatic to me then, but glaringly obvious now:
This is dynamite.
This is dynamite wired to my heart --
I just need a match;
I just need a light.
This is nitroglycerin.
This is nitroglycerin stashed inside my brain.
I just need something to shake me.
I just need something to set me off.
This is high explosives!
This is beware/danger!
Everybody stand back!
There's a bomb on this plane.
This flight could last forever.
This could be the countdown.
This could be the blast-off.
I am a missile designed for eternal flight.
I am ready to blow.
Everybody stand back
or I might just take you with me.
That untitled, cryptic warning could have been dubbed "Prelude to a Violent Kundalini Awakening." Nine years later, in a far more subdued and somber mood, the following poem was, in retrospect, a notice to myself that "blast-off" was imminent:
Something in me wants to move.
There is somewhere much more real than this
and I must go.
The mundane is too brittle and endlessly grey.
I've been here long enough.
Something in me wants to leap beyond the pale.
Something in me crouched in waiting
wants to move.
The walls have grown thin and blurry now.
Everything is old and atrophied
except for something in me
that wants so very much
Within a few months of writing this poem, something sure did move -- Kundalini blew me wide open! The depressed tone of my later poem reflects a common pattern: before their Kundalini awakenings, many people have told me their physical and/or psychological vitality had drastically declined. Several had premonitions of impending death. A sense of utter depletion signals that some kind of radical turning point is approaching. (This is not a universal motif, however. Some people's lives were very satisfying immediately preceding the eruption of their Kundalini. In one such case I am aware of, the individual has had a more turmoil-filled process than mine, so it would seem that one's prior degree of self-contentment has little bearing on the course of one's awakening.)
As transformation intensifies, all sorts of archetypal and symbolic material comes up with it. Some of it we receive with an instantaneous "eureka!" of recognition -- we simply know what it means. Other things remain perplexing or barely noticed until we are led to discover their significance. As in the case with my panther drawing, understanding may not occur until many years later. But I have found that often it can come more quickly if we earnestly seek for understanding. Once I realized that the figures appearing to me in visions and dreams had multileveled importance, I became very interested in these messages. Soon -- sometimes within a matter of hours -- I would find my interpretive answers.
The signs and symbols that are most significant are the ones that come to us unbidden. Yet for this reason, they are the ones we are most likely to ignore or reject. This is particularly true with some of the bizarre images and mystical episodes that occur to us during spiritual awakening. During the most eventful period of my Kundalini process, I had many strange experiences, but the only one I strongly fought against -- and managed to abort -- was when I spontaneously felt myself turning into a tiger. This sensation was so overpowering I seriously feared I would lose my human reasoning abilities and take on the feral instincts of a tiger. What was most immediately alarming to me at the time was that this tiger-self might harm our pet birds or rabbit. My need to protect our pets gave me the willpower to fight off the possessing tiger spirit.
Later I learned that it is not uncommon for those with an awakening Kundalini to feel themselves morphed into
powerful astral animals like bears, wolves, lions... or tigers. But it was not until I was studying shamanism
several years later that I more fully understood this phenomena, which is called "shape-shifting." Especially
for those of us who have a Shamanic calling, helper spirits often come to us in the guise of animals. This can
be in meditation, in dreams, or through a paranormal or ordinary world experience.
I learned that far from being threatening (or proving me insane), my tiger had been a wholly benevolent protector spirit. In Tibetan lore, the tiger is the guardian of the Gates of Knowledge, and in India, the tiger is sacred to Kali. In the past, a Guru sometimes gave his advanced disciples a tiger skin on which to meditate and sleep for spiritual empowerment.
Too late, I realized it had been a mistake to reject this spirit ally. Such a powerful guardian protects one from all negative influences, including illness and injury. And the way in which it made this spontaneous appearance, by merging itself with me, was, I now know, a great honor. I still suspect I might never had suffered my severe back injury had I the wisdom to accept my tiger spirit when it first chose to reveal itself to me. (Several years later I discovered the tiger spirit had not altogether deserted me. In both Charles' and my dreams, it sporadically reappears.)
Gifts and opportunities can be lost to us if we do not understand their symbolic meanings. It is important to recognize that a symbol may have an archetypal meaning beyond our personal associations to it. At the time the tiger manifested through me, I knew nothing of this Shamanic phenomena and my limited personal knowledge of tigers told me that this was a dangerous predator -- possibly a demonic intrusion from the astral plane. Because I did not know its archetypal and spiritual significance, I could not receive what was being offered to me.
Our misinterpretation can make us afraid of things which are actually very positive, just as our well-intentioned friends can scare or mislead us through the same limited understanding. A woman who dreamed of a bear was told that this was a bad omen, symbolizing ferocity and aggression. (This definition had come from a book of general symbology.) Yet to Native Americans and other peoples worldwide, the bear spirit has long been recognized as the guardian of the most powerful healers. The woman who had this dream was developing a healer's ability with her awakened Kundalini. In her dream, the bear had turned into a cloud, as if to let her know it was a spirit bear.
Bradford Keeney, who often had visions of Jesus, was bewildered during one of these visions when the image of Jesus transformed into an eagle and began flying through fire. This greatly disturbed him until weeks later, when he learned that the eagle was an early figure for depicting Christ and that "ancient peoples saw the eagle as a carrier of light and fire and that the symbolism of Christ as light and fire was part of ancient Christian understanding."
On a more subtle level, symbolic acts and ideas seem to quietly surface throughout the awakening process. (Or more accurately, our awakening consciousness makes us more aware of these symbols, which are ever-present in everyone's life.) When the energy was so intense that I could neither remain still enough to rest or meditate, nor focus on any physically or mentally demanding activity, I spent long hours doing needlepoint and embroidery. Another woman going through a powerful six year Kundalini awakening told me that she also found needlework a "grounding" pastime. Long afterwards, I came across this astonishingly apropos passage by Walt Anderson: "The symbolism of thread, of weaving, turns up again and again in the Eastern spiritual disciplines... The weaving of thread is a metaphor for the deep interconnectedness of all life in a bewilderingly multifaceted cosmos."
Once while sitting indoors talking with Charles, I was awed to see a black bird materialize from nowhere, flash around the room at ceiling level, then vanish. It appeared very real, but I knew it was a spirit-bird because Charles had not witnessed it and because of the magical way it had shot out of thin air. I did not know what kind of bird it was; it appeared too small to be a raven or crow. Due to its dark coloration, I was a little worried about what it might signify. This was during the time when I was still having a lot of spine pain, and I had been fervently praying for spirit help and healing.
When I tried to find the bird in a wildlife reference book, I came across a picture that looked just like it -- a purple martin. But I still had no idea what it could mean. It was not until weeks later, when Charles brought home the book Animal-Speak that I had my answer. According to Andrews, the purple martin is a blessed omen. When it appears, he says to "look for a positive change in your fortune. It is a bird that brings peaceful living energies with it." The purple martin's deep hue is associated with the divine; this, says Andrews, "and its aerial ability have caused it to be called God's bow and arrow." I took this to be an omen of healing, and it did seem that from the night of this "vision," my back and my life in general began improving.
The images that appear to us through visions, dreams, and daily life experiences are part of what anthropologist Angeles Arrien calls our "psychomythology." These visual or other strong impressions are "often our psyche's way of showing us what is important about our nature," and can provide us with guidance. "The psyche is relentless about using every possible symbol, feeling, sensation, or memory," says Arrien, "to let us know where we are in our journey -- physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually."
Plants, stones and other natural elements have symbolic meanings, as do colors, numbers... and really, everything imaginable. "The whole world is a book of symbols insofar as physical things naturally reflect those of a higher plane," wrote Ramana Maharshi's disciple, Arthur Osborne. "We do not have to make symbols, only to recognize them; and they are there whether we recognize them or not." People who become adept at reading symbolic meanings can achieve a level of awareness that matches or surpasses that of gifted psychics. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, most psychics have an intuitive or acquired understanding of symbols. The clairvoyant medium Eileen Garrett was well acquainted with symbols, and said that certain symbols reoccurred during her life, providing infallible guidance. One of these was a vision of a "rosy three-petaled figure -- a true flower of the psyche" which would appear to her to let her know she would be successful when she did healings. Another inwardly perceived symbol was in the form of a spearhead: "It dances before me when I am to be approached to start some new endeavor."
Whispers to the Heart
"In the world of physics we watch a shadowgraph performance of the drama of familiar life," wrote Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington. He elaborates: "The shadow of my elbow rests on the shadow table as the shadow ink flows over the shadow paper. It is all symbolic, and as a symbol the physicist leaves it. Then comes the alchemist Mind who transmutes the symbols... To put the conclusion crudely, the stuff of the world is mind-stuff."
This was equally evident to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in his essay on "Language," proclaimed, "Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." To Emerson, there was no doubt about it: "The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind."
As already mentioned, nature-revering cultures have understood the universe in this way for eons. As the Native American author Paula Gunn Allen observes, "What modern people call material or physical reality is a symbol or reflection of the real." The Lakota shaman Lame Deer articulates the Native American view: "We Sioux spend a lot of time thinking about everyday things which in our mind are mixed up with the spiritual. We see in the world around us many symbols that teach us the meaning of life... We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual and the commonplace are one. To us [symbols] are part of nature, part of ourselves, even little insects like ants and grasshoppers. We try to understand them not with the head but with the heart, and we need no more than a hint to give us the meaning."
It takes courage as well as attention to read the symbols all around us. The greater our awareness, the more we perceive both the glory and harshness of life. It is impossible to screen out one without losing our appreciation of the other. When we are open to symbolic language, pivotal and significant events are announced to us in advance. In what I now know was a subconscious farewell message, a friend sent me an unusual Christmas card with a picture of a woman holding open a basket to release a white bird into the sky. Inside the card, my friend said he did not know what this card had to do with Christmas, but the picture was compelling to him. Two months later, he died suddenly of a stroke.
Brugh Joy mentioned a similar omen in his own life. In his case, it took the form of an actual event, when someone close to him was nearing death. Always late at night, a bird would appear flapping and pecking in a strange manner against his window pane, then soar off into the darkness. Within two days, a death would follow. Of course, as Joy warns, "not every external event will be predictive, and an observer must discriminate between fantasy and actual psychic information."
While symbolic information is more evident in the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding momentous events, the ordinary issues of our lives are symbolically represented as well. "We must explore more fully the subtleties of relationship, for even casual encounters are significant," says Tai Chi instructor Maria Parisen: "In a living Cosmos, communion is sacred dialogue. Every meeting, even with what appears inert, is with a living presence. Through the soul of things, we envision and are beheld by divine Being. We commune with angels every day, in the most mundane as well as momentous events."
Most people have become familiar with the Native American ritual of the Vision Quest -- in its traditional form, an arduous supplication for spiritual guidance and the discovery of one's life mission. But it is not necessary to embark on such a difficult quest to be given answers to daily issues. When I have a question regarding things that are happening in my life, I simply notice the first thing that catches my attention when I go outdoors. This method yields remarkable results for me. The sounds, sights, the particular activities of animals or people in the vicinity, or anything else that is particularly striking in our encounters with the world are symbolically speaking to us, and such messages become more frequent and decipherable when we begin to take them seriously.
Symbol interpretation engages both hemispheres of the brain, bridging image to idea, sensory detail to conceptual
pattern. Westerners need to watch for a tendency to over-intellectualize, without grounding their interpretation
of symbols to experiential facts. Just as feeling alone cannot arrive at insight, head-tripping cut off from heart
and gut impressions seriously distorts our understanding of things. Forcing symbols to fit into pre-existing theories
usually sacrifices truth for the sake of elaborate configurations of meaning. To Freud, for instance, anything
that was longer than it was wide was a phallic symbol, in keeping with his belief that sex was the prime motivator
for all human endeavors. Then came Jung, with his genius for translating dream language, yet he also occasionally
drifted off on cerebral tangents. Later in his life, Jung declared that he was not himself a Jungian and was dismayed
that many of his followers were applying his ideas as gospel rather than using them as springboards for making
their own discoveries.
Of course, it is as possible to misuse or misapply symbolic information as anything else. I once knew an extremely narcissistic man who would spy on his girlfriend, interpreting everything he saw her do as relevant only to himself. He drove others crazy with his attempts to involve them in this paranoid pursuit, asking things like "When she changed her shoes, do you think it meant she was getting ready to leave me?"
Two mistakes we can make in terms of understanding symbols is to give up too easily or to frustrate and punish ourselves by trying too hard. At the age of nine, the Lakota holy man, Black Elk, had a monumental spiritual vision that took him the remainder of his life to comprehend. Bit by bit, as the years passed, so also did more of the truth of his vision come to pass in the outer world. But because it was such a great vision -- for the restoration of harmony, health and well-being to his people and to all the beings of the earth -- he did not live long enough to see it become fulfilled. Believing he had failed his mission, this great man died broken hearted.
His story makes me suspect that some -- perhaps all -- of us are here to serve in a part of a vision or Divine Plan that is so tremendous, it will pass on to many generations after us. We are carrying -- or being carried by -- forces that evolve us at the same time they are transforming the whole of the planet. Without a perspective on this, we may get swept into personal grandiosity or, like Black Elk, suffer self-reproach before the immensity of such tasks.
In this as with all else, we need to be patient and kind to ourselves. So much of the transformational experience is new to us, and so beyond the confines of conventional thinking, that often we are left scrambling in the dark. Understanding symbolic messages rarely comes easily, at least not until we become accustomed to "reading" things in this way. But the more I realize I am being "spoken to" by everything I experience, the more eager I am to learn about the archetypal and symbolic meaning of everything I encounter. I have also learned to allow myself a "don't know" attitude toward many things. At another time in my life, I was afraid to do this; afraid of being stupid, and unwilling to be vulnerable to things I didn't fully comprehend. But rushing to categorize and explain everything can foster a much worse kind of "stupidity": without openness to the unknown, learning is impossible.
I have come to prefer being a student of the mysteries than a professor of the facts. In the West, we imagine that the Zen Roshi who advises the initiate to cultivate a "beginner's mind" has, himself, progressed to a far wiser "Master's mind." This is not so. The "beginner's mind" isn't simply a requisite for embarking on a path toward fuller awareness; it is the condition of receptivity that sustains continuous spiritual growth. Uncertainty, far from being a state of confusion, is a signpost of mental flexibility. The "beginner's mind," an unadorned humility in the face of the infinite, is the Master's mind.
Fire & Snakes
The serpent and fire are both archetypal symbols for the risen Kundalini. Both of these symbols have multiple meanings. Among other things, fire signifies purification and spiritual energy.
It appears in sacred literature from Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush to the Rig Veda's statement: "Universal Order and Truth were born of blazing Tapas." The Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind, may have a deeper esoteric meaning -- a symbolic reference to Kundalini fire, which brings humans to cosmic consciousness.
In her analysis of Teilhard de Chardin's work, religious scholar Beatrice Bruteau says that Teilhard often refers to primal, universal energy as expressions of divine presence or Fire: "It is 'the devouring fire... [Identified] with the Divine' and pointed out by science in the form of the various energies of the world, from nuclear fusion in the stars, to life, to soul. In all these ways, 'See, the universe is ablaze!' he cries. Fire is, for Teilhard, the archetypal energy; it represents the ultimate energy of which all other energies are special manifestations... Everything is illumined and animated from within by this divine Fire. God is in the world as 'a universal transparency aglow with fire.'"
In what sounds suspiciously like a description of the awakened Kundalini, Bruteau continues: "For we ourselves are now the fuel of this living flame... We must open our arms to 'call down and welcome the Fire.' It is not enough to contemplate this 'super-substantial, personal Fire' which solicitously preserves what it consumes. We must resolutely give ourselves to it as food."
The other main symbol of Kundalini, the serpent or snake, represents primordial energy, great mysteries, cosmic forces, and, by virtue of shedding its skin, rebirth. To the Australian aborigines, a spirit snake is believed to be the female creator of the world and represents a growth and vitality principle. This definition would apply equally to Kundalini.
The snake appears in the spiritual literature and religious art of nearly every culture on earth. In some portrayals, it has an evil connotation, standing for unregenerate or unconscious impulses. In Egyptian and other lore, even such a sinister snake represents the potential for good. The snake, which has been conquered, corresponds to forces, which have been mastered, harnessed and rechanneled for the benefit of the psyche and humanity. Even so, Joseph Campbell maintained that "the usual mythological association of the serpent is not, as in the Bible, with corruption, but with physical and spiritual health." He writes: "In America, a feathered serpent god was recognized as symbolic of the power that casts off death to be resurrected."
Many of the Kundalini sensations echo the fire and snake motif. Undulating energies are felt throughout the body. The physical shaking and vibrating experiences have a serpentine quality. In fact, the spiritual teacher Dr. R.P. Kaushik has said that Kundalini is called serpent energy precisely because Kundalini energy always moves in waves. When the Kundalini is active, the hands, arms, head and entire body often move in involuntary sinuous, snakelike motions. Those with an active Kundalini often describe sensations in their spines that feel like little snakes or an electric worm wriggling its way up the back. And intense heat is a common feature of Kundalini. This may occur in localized areas of the body, or come as hot flash episodes. Sometimes this heat is so fierce it feels as if one is about to burst into flames.
As I mentioned earlier, at the crux of my painful illness (but weeks before I realized I was involved in a Kundalini awakening), I awoke one night in a burning angst, with every muscle from the soles of my feet to the top of my scalp writhing, wrenching and spasming. I cried out to Charles, wailing that my body felt like "Burning snakes!" Several weeks later I was to have another extraordinary snake-experience. Thankfully, this one entailed no pain, only pressure in the crown of my head. I had the peculiar sensation that my skull had become oblong and egg-shaped, and that something alive was trying to hatch out from it. I somehow knew that this "hatching egg" was a metaphoric enactment. Then, the hatchling broke free and wriggled down to my forehead. I was in quite an altered state at the time, and was awed to recognize that the creature born from my egg-skull was a baby snake! Strangely, although the sensations from this were quite convincing, I was not repulsed in the least. To the contrary, I felt sudden, inexplicable joy. (It was not until some time later that the Kundalini symbolism became apparent to me.)
Another woman with an active Kundalini had a very similar experience. She spoke of it as a light which wrapped around the top of her head and shone down over the front of her face in a way that reminded her of the Egyptian serpent on the headdress of the pharaohs.
Those undergoing transformation often dream of snakes or fires. When the Kundalini is active or is about ready to rise, people often have dreams of being bitten by a snake or of snakes entering their bodies. In one case, a twenty-year-old man who had been unable to get medical help for his slew of perplexing symptoms had a vivid dream in which a large snake spoke to him. Because he knew nothing of Kundalini symbols or symptoms, it was not until he recounted this dream to some friends that someone finally made the connection. I also know of a woman undergoing a relatively mild Kundalini awakening who specifically asked for a dream to help her understand what was causing her illness. At the time, she didn't suspect it was anything but a physical problem. In her dream, a doctor showed her a little "worm" coiled in his hand. Interestingly, Joseph Campbell spoke of the Kundalini as a tiny snake, about the size of a hair.
In my experience, and in that of many other people, the fire and snake also appear in quite literal fashion during Kundalini awakenings. In his autobiographical book, Play of Consciousness, Muktananda mentions that snakes are often present during Kundalini awakenings. In his own case, a cobra lurked nearby (yet never harmed him) during the intense phase of his process.
Six months into my awakening, a new neighbor on the block was visiting next door. I looked out across the yard to see him showing off his pet -- a twelve-foot long python! One man in a Kundalini process came home from an afternoon walk to find a large black snake sprawled at the foot of his apartment door. He lived in an urban area, and the snake was inside a locked entry hall! Another woman kept inadvertently tuning into radio and TV programs about snakes at the early stage of her Kundalini awakening.
Fires seem to break out in the vicinity of the one with the awakening Kundalini. Usually, these combustion's occur as natural accidents. Several people in the throes of Kundalini awakenings have reported kitchen fires, which they attributed to their own "spacing out" while cooking. One woman undergoing an awakening found her bed on fire when a lit candle fell from the nightstand. Another "barbecued" her house when she left a bag of what she thought were cold fireplace ashes behind her house. The wind fanned sparks and set the back of the house ablaze.
The week my Kundalini arose, my husband and I were startled in the middle of night by explosive sounds. The house next door (fortunately unoccupied at the time) was a flaming inferno. It burned almost to the ground before firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze. In the fourth month of my Kundalini awakening, I had a particularly vivid dream in which the whole city was burning. In the dream, the conflagration was a natural disaster called a "fire storm". The next day, recalling the dream, I thought it had been merely symbolic. I had never heard of a "fire storm" except in war devastation. Two months later, a cataclysmic firestorm (as the media called it) raged through Oakland, where I live, destroying 3000 homes.
I have never heard of anyone undergoing a Kundalini awakening who was seriously hurt by either a snake or a fire, though a few have been injured. Yet I would not underestimate the dangers of such occurrences. Like the risen Kundalini, fires and snakes represent powerful, unpredictable, and potentially devastating primal forces. When such forces are unleashed, they cannot be taken lightly. I know of two people who committed suicide during overwhelming Kundalini episodes. I have met others who were locked in psychosis states for months or years. And I have heard of those who haven't survived the unimaginably ferocious physical manifestations of the risen Kundalini.
I don't mean to terrify anyone by these disclosures. I believe that for most of us, despite the severity and painfulness of our process, we will survive and even live to rejoice in our transformation. But I think it's important to regard what we are experiencing with due respect. A Kundalini awakening is the most tremendous spiritual rebirth process known on earth. Even if we aren't always able to meet the next twist in our process with faith, courage, acceptance, trust or fortitude, it helps to remember the magnitude of what we are undergoing. Even the saints had a hard time enduring these things. How can we expect more of ourselves?
Sadly, we live in a society that pressures us to "normalize" everything, and to downplay or deny our extraordinary experiences. Being "in control" is extolled as the highest personal virtue. But those of us whose lives have been infused by spiritual energies know such control is illusory. Whether we feel elated and ecstatic or battered and broken by these energies, we cannot repress or stop them. Too often, this leads to self-condemnation.
What we are going through isn't normal, but that doesn't mean it's unnatural. We have become vehicles of the spectacular. It seems easier when we can accept whatever comes. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. It's okay to feel helpless, hopeless, angry and resentful. It's okay to feel incapable of suffering through another day, another hour, another minute of this incredibly demanding process. This too will pass.
I think we need to be as compassionate to ourselves as we can. Perhaps on some deep, heroic level, our souls have volunteered to go through this incredible fire. And whether we go through it consciously surrendered, or kicking and screaming every inch of the way, we can't turn back. No matter what we may at any moment feel about it, we are on an awesome, ancient and sacred path.
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© El Collie 2000