Saturday, May 17, 2008

How to Handle Difficulties with Kundalini

A number of months ago Paul and I put up several videos on Youtube. It was kind of an experiment and we didn't know what to expect. To our great surprise some of the videos we've done have gotten very little interest (325 and 350 hits in 8-9 months) but the one I did by interviewing Paul about his Kundalini awakening experience has gotten 12,700 hits in the same time period.

We get a number of comments in the comment section from people having trouble with Kundalini and it's hard to even think about having this discussion in an open forum like that--especially when Youtube limits the space to 500 characters or less. And it is difficult to address issues such as this in a responsible way without being able to have a dialogue. Still it's important enough to address so I'm going to give it a shot.

Meditating without a teacher used to be unheard of. Now it's commonplace so strange and/or difficult experiences a teacher would have been able to talk someone through are now something people are experiencing -- on rare occasions--without information or help. The average person does not have difficulty with Kundalini. The average person does not have their Kundalini awakened by casual spiritual practice and some people who practice their whole lives trying to have a Kundalini awakening fail at it and never achieve any equivalent experience at all. But I have had difficulties with Kundalini and have gotten through to the other side.

Rule # 1. Get help. You don't need a guru. You don't need to join an ashram. But you shouldn't try to go it alone. If you're having what you think is a Kundalini experience, you first need to rule out an actual physical illness. Many of the people who have written to us about "Kundalini" describe symptoms that easily could be something else. There are also chemical imbalances that can create symptoms that mimic Kundalini distress. Psychosis of all sorts can result from this. Without medical or psychiatric assistance you could be in trouble. Don't assume that because you were sitting on a meditation cushion when your symptoms started that they must be spiritual in nature. Get help. Check it out and then continue from there.

Rule #2. If you're not physically sick, learn everything you can about spiritual emergence, spiritual emergency and spiritual awakening.

Rule #3. Work on your fear, get help with it, find a meditation instructor who knows something about psychological issues that come up in meditation, or find a Spiritual Psychologist who knows about this stuff. Paul and I have been able to help some people with these problems but we prefer to work with these issues in-person in an official spiritual counseling and healing capacity. People frequently ask for answers via email, and we do the best we can on a case by case basis, but usually an actual Kundalini opening requires focussed individual attention.

Rule #4. Find support for your spiritual awakening process and, when you've cleared the fear enough, let go. Surrender. Go with the flow. Literally. Kundalini flows to whatever point it can reach in your energetic system without blockage. If there's no resistance it just goes right on through. But if there is resistance at any level due to past fears and conditioning you will experience difficulty unless you release those concerns, address the issues, and/or learn to surrender and trust the process of Kundalini power to do its work. That's why people recommend finding a teacher. It's easier with the support of someone who knows what this is all about.

I didn't have a meditation instructor, and even if I had one most meditation instructors these days know little or nothing about Kundalini anyway, so I don't know who to recommend to those of you wanting to find the right guru or set of meditation practices to see you through. (Please don't write offering your services in this regard. There are lots of charlatans out there and if you're not Jack Kornfield or someone equally reputable I won't print your comments and recommend you.) Oh, did I just recommend Jack Kornfield? Uh, yeah, I guess I did. He wrote a book called A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life which I found immensely valuable in seeing me through the worst of my problems. I didn't go to Spirit Rock and work with him in person but if he can't help you directly he, his books, or the staff at Spirit Rock most certainly will put you in touch with someone who will.

Still, even though I didn't choose to have a meditation instructor (I was afraid of meditation by that time), I did have lots of other help:

First, I was in school getting my Masters Degree in Transpersonal Psychology and took a class in Spiritual Emergence and Spiritual Emergency. This gave me a context for this experience, a wealth of useful information, teachers and friends who understood what the process was about, were not overly frightened, and gave me ideas of what to do. I did not take all their advice at first-- the common approach was to surrender and let the Kundalini do its work but I was too frightened to do it. I didn't want to lose my mind. Because my Kundalini rising experience manifested as both energetic (not scary to me) and psychic effects (very scary--I was hearing voices), I was very afraid of going crazy and refused to do anything I feared would allow it.

I did, however, consult with a Transpersonal Psychologist because those of us with degrees in Transpersonal Psychology learn at least a little bit about Kundalini experiences as part of our training. I also had a team of trained peer counselors who gave me emotional and peer support through the whole thing; two psychic friends who gave me several techniques for working with spirit guides and differentiating between spiritual guidance and reflections of my own fear; I worked with both a hypnotherapist and an acupuncturist to help me learn to be more grounded; I stopped meditating; I ate red meat; I concentrated on physical labor; and after graduating from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, I got a job that kept me focussed on helping other people instead of obsessing endlessly and needlessly on myself. I also worked on the fears about psychic and spiritual experience that had been purposely instilled in me in my childhood and discovered that this was probably the key to the whole thing having happened in the first place. The descriptions I read of both psychic and spiritual awakening frightened me and those of you looking up Kundalini on the internet certainly have come across enough crap to know what I'm talking about. I was concerned (and yet curious) about what might happen before I ever took up meditation. That's why I didn't join a class -- I didn't care to reach "enlightenment," it scared me. I just wanted to feel good and meditation is nowadays touted as a tool for stress reduction.

My intention with the approaches outlined above were to shut the Kundalini down. I more or less succeeded at that but it took a lot of very committed, concerted effort over several months to get the worst of it to stop to several years before I felt completely whole again.

But that wasn't the end of it. (Now comes the good part.)

Many years later, I met Paul Hood. In the course of our relationship he sent me a healing long distance (we lived in two different states back then) and I felt the rush of Kundalini come through like a freight train. By then I had learned a lot, I knew better than to get in the way, and I did what people in my Transpersonal Psychology program originally tried to recommend: I surrendered, let the energy move all the way through and out the top of my head.

And then I had the most wonderful awakening. My consciousness followed the energy until I couldn't feel my body and instead experienced myself as infinite, free and at peace. I liked it but then I had a concern that I might not be able to get back to my body and I wasn't ready to be done with it yet. As soon as I had the thought I was back in my body and it felt constricted. I also felt tight areas and pain that I knew I lived with all the time but just accepted as my normal physical state. I didn't like that at all and wanted to get back to the expanded state . . . and I did.

I realized then that this experience we call earth and the alternate experience of infinite being was simply a matter of consciousness shift. I was amused-- this thing I had been so terrified to experience was no big deal. It was peace. It was also endless nothingness. And yet in that state of complete being all I needed to do was intend returning back to physical experience and I was back again. I practiced going back and forth over and over again until I fell asleep.

I haven't fully chosen to let myself return to that infinite state since. I don't really want to yet. For me it was peace and quite wonderful in its freeing effect but not bliss. It was infinite nothingness and while today I believe that from that endless void everything could be manifested into existence it didn't occur to me to explore such a thing then. All I knew is that despite how peaceful and pain free it was I didn't want to stay in the state of infinite nothingness for very long. For me, at that moment and that time in my development, I thought my earthly life was more entertaining, interesting, and enjoyable. Today I think there's probably more to the infinite state than I realized. If I were someone else I'd probably join a Buddhist sect and practice the art of meditation so I could return to that infinite state and practice using my intention to see what other experiences I could create. But I'm not someone else yet. As I said, I don't think I'm quite done with this form of manifested existence just yet. . . although I would like to add a number of improvements.

By the way, Paul does not offer shaktipat (Kundalini awakening) services. He didn't intend for that to happen with me—he intended the healing be for whatever benefit I needed and that's what it turned out to be.

So there you have it. I hope it's useful to you. Here are a few other books and resources I can recommend:

The Spiritual Emergence Network --This is the place to check for spiritual psychologists and and other resources who specialize in spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency. It was founded by Stanislav and Christina Grof who were pioneers in the field. The network originally was housed at Esalen, later at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (where I went to school), and then in Santa Cruz (where I worked with them as a newsletter editor). Last I heard it was being sustained by the Association for Transpersonal Psychology

Spiritual Emergency:When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis
by Stanislav Grof, Christina Grof
Essays by Roberto Assagioli, John Weir Perry, Ram Dass, Lee Sannella, Holger Kalweit, and others about the experience of spiritual emergency and how it differs from the traditional medical worldview that would otherwise label these experiences psychosis. Stan Grof and his wife are considered pioneers in the field. This is a helpful resource for anyone in spiritual crisis who fears they may be going "crazy" and for their families.

A Sourcebook for Helping People With Spiritual Problems
by Emma Bragdon
This book was considered the "Spiritual Emergency Bible" when I worked at the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN). Frances Vaughan, PhD., author of Beyond Ego and Paths Beyond Ego calls it "a valuable resource for anyone interested in spiritual experiences and their relationship to psychological health and pathology." Useful information about the nature of spiritual emergencies and preferred treatments.

Trials of the Visionary Mind: Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process
by John Weir Perry
John Weir Perry was a pioneer in the field of spiritual emergency and, with Stanislav Grof, was one of the first people to distinguish this condition from a state of psychosis. Perry founded Diabasis, a safe haven in San Francisco where individuals in spiritual emergency were helped to go through the process in a caring environment without medication. In this book Perry shares the lessons learned and insights he gained from this experience.

A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life
by Jack Kornfield
This book was my earliest introduction to meditation and was a life-saver when I experienced the psychic/spiritual opening that permanently changed my life. It has a practical, down-to earth approach peppered with lots of personal examples and insight. One of Kornfield's great gifts is his honesty. Most books on meditation skirt the issue of the difficulties that may arise. Kornfield dives right in and guides the reader to helpful solutions.


Anonymous said...

I haven't fully read this as I was in the midst of other things. I skimmed the parts that spoke to me, and what spoke to me most was that you said we don't need a guru to deal with Kundalini awakening. I believe I have had Kundalini arise, and then sink back down (I don't know the words to describe it all). It's a long story, but I found that what I most needed were healers to help balance me when I got out of balance. Today a tantric teacher told me I can't go the tantric path without a guru. I don't think I do or should believe that. So I appreciate your article very much, because it is balanced and wise. I think help is good, support is good, but I'm not sure it's so healthy to depend on a guru for even Kundalini issues. However, if I have Kundalini issues in the future or want to go the Tantric path, I will seek out a lot more wisdom and support before I get myself in too deep. Thanks! and I may try to email you or find some way to converse with you later...)

Sheryl Karas said...

Thanks for your comment. I don't believe a guru is necessary because I didn't have a good one, of course. But should you seriously decide to pursue a deliberate Kundalini rising practice I strongly recommend finding a spiritual community, a guru if you feel called to have one, or at the very least positive experienced support people to guide you and support you along the way. It's good that you already decided to do that. It's not easy to do without direction or support all on your own.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I had a kindalini rising experience however I was not prepared for it, as I had no spiritual training,and had never meditated before. I was scared--some of the things that were happenening in my life after this experience were eerie and did not fit into my previous belief system of randomness.I eventually found the answers I sought in books on quantum physics.