WORLD CONGRESS ON PSYCHOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY
January 7, 2008
Tantra Panel Presentation
A Cross Cultural Experiential Perspective on Spiritual Awakening and the Support Roles of Masters, Spiritual Advisors, and Holistic Practitioners Judith D. Wilcox, Ed.D., N.C.C., L.P.C., B.C.E.T.S., C.Y.P.
There is an increasing need among mental health professionals, clergy, spiritual advisors and holistic practitioners to understand the normal experience of kundalini awakening across spiritual paths, and principles for providing positive support for individuals who request assistance in understanding, managing and moving through the wide variety of physical, mental, emotional, psychological, psychic and spiritual experiences related to spiritual awakening.
My journey into the experience of kundalini awakening…
Thirty two years ago I began my journey, a dramatic and fascinating inner and outer journey into the experience of kundalini awakening and the process that unfolds once that powerful inner spiritual energy is ignited. It was my great good fortune to receive shaktipat initiation (the awakening of kundalini) from Swami Muktananda who was the realized Master of the Siddha Yoga lineage at that time. I say it was my great good fortune because, in this tradition, not only is the initiation given, but the necessary teachings for understanding the awakening and the spiritual experiences and process that unfolds as a result of it are openly and freely given. I soon realized, through my own inner experience and the experiences of others around me who had received shaktipat, that this divine inner energy not only has the power to give one the highest of mystical experiences, but is also a supreme healer. In her goal to take the seeker to the realization of oneness with Supreme Consciousness, she must help us to remove our inner obstacles on the physical, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual levels. As with any growth and healing process, being faced with obstacles, limitations, negative emotions, negative tendencies and past difficult experiences and unresolved issues, can be difficult and sometimes frightening. When combined with intense, spontaneous experiences of energy moving in ways that an individual has no prior training, knowledge or understanding of, it can be overwhelming, leading the individual to seek help from clergy, spiritual advisors, mental health practitioners and holistic practitioners—many of whom are lacking in the necessary experience and knowledge to provide adequate support, and some of whom may actually misdiagnose the individual’s experience, labeling it pathological. Thus it is imperative that anyone providing support to indviduals with awakened kundalini have knowledge and experience of the kundalini process across spiritual cultures.
Energetic Paradigms Across Traditions
There are many names for the kundalini across spiritual traditions. A few are: the Tibetan Buddhist tummo, or inner fire, the Chrisitian Holy Spirity, the Chinese Martial Arts and Healing Arts Chi, and the num of African tribal dacers and healers. When one explores the mystical texts, poetry and anecdotal material of a variety of traditions experiential paradigms emerge describing the awakening and movement of this transforming inner power. The most articulated system is the Chakra/Nadi system that appears in Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism and Sufism. In this system the kundalini is awakened and moves up through the central channel or sushumna, piercing the chakras or energy centers in the subtle, energy body. In the process of moving through the chakras the kundalini releases a variety of physical, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual experiences. Across the Yoga, Tibetan Buddhist and Sufi traditions the words may differ in describing the paradigm, but they are essentially the same. The Christian system is less fully articulated, but is hinted at in the Book of Revelations as John, after receiving the awakening of the Holy Spirit from Jesus, later experiences a series of mystical visions. In one of them he is shown the seven seals and the seven spirits of God who preside over them. Each seal represents a level of revelation or consciousness. In Kabbalah, the mystical path of Judaism, there is an intricate system of the Tree of Life and the sefiroth. Mention is also made of the 7 heavens and the Hebrew letters or sounds used to attain them. In the Native American tradition, the Hopi Creation Story describes vibrational centers that run along the axis or spinal column. These five centers are located under the navel, at the heart, the throat, just below the top of the head and at the top of the head—a system quite similar to the chakra system. A clay artifact discovered by archeologists in the mounds of the ancient Cahokian tribes that lived along the Mississsippi River in what is now the state of Illinois, shows a berger woman seated on an uncoiling serpent. The serpent rises like a vine up the center of her back, along which are placed a number of gourds. The uncoiling serpent is, in the traditions of Yoga, a symbol of the awakening kundalini, or serpent power. The ancient Druids of what is now England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland had a system of cauldrons. The cauldron of warming located in the navel region contains an inner fire, the cauldron of fire, which is located in its very center. The Druids would meditate on the cauldron of fire to awaken it. Once awakened, the spiritual power, fanned by the breath, rises, igniting the cauldron of vocation in the heart region. Through the intense desire and longing that emerges in the cauldron of vocation, the heat is carried upward opening the cauldron of Knowledge at the top of the head, opening the Master druid to receiving divine inspiration, truth and knowledge from the universe. There is an interesting parallel that seems to have traveled from the ancient Druid system to the Knights Templar and back to Scotland and the formation of the Freemasons. Leadbeater describes the connection between the first three degrees of Free Masonry and the chakra/nadi system, but might well have also shown the link to the ancient Druid system of cauldrons.
Spiritual Awakening— the Experience
The classic yogic experience of kundalini awakening through shaktipat initiation that is described in the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism is easily seen in the Siddha Yoga experience. In 1979 I began the process of researching this experience for my doctoral dissertation on kundalini awakening and human development. The study was a qualitative and theory discovering model completed in 1984. Six Siddha Yoga practitioners with three or more years of regular spiritual practice were interviewed extensively about their experience of shaktipat and their resulting ongoing transformation. Qualitative analysis of their experiences and shifts in awareness starting with their search for spiritual awareness, their shaktipat initiation and the impact of kundalini awakening and spiritual practice on their experience of altered states, psychological /self concept, physical and health experiences, values, and lifestyle were done. All 5 subjects experienced classic shaktipat experiences of such things as energy rising, lights, visions, waves of bliss and love, unity consciousness, and spontaneous physical movements in meditation. Over time subjects experienced the following:
- Energy throbbing in the chakras
- Spontaneous pranayama (yogic breathing)
- Spontaneous hatha yoga postures
- Spontaneous weeping, spontaneous eruptions of sounds—animal and other
- The mind becoming still or vacant
- The Siddha Meditation mantra spontaneously welling up inside
waves of bliss
- Hearing inner sounds (celestial voices, roaring of energy)
- Loss of body awareness
- Energy coursing through the spinal column and/or other parts of the body
altered visual perceptions
- Heaviness or lightness of body
- Feeling life passing away
- Constant awareness of energy vibrating within the body
- Spontaneous singing in unknown foreign languages
- Spontaneous involuntary creation of songs and poems
- Divine visions
- Spontaneous deep understanding of scriptural teachings
- Experiences of the Inner Self
- Spontaneous experiences of being charged with energy in the early morning and early evening hours (sunrise and sunset)
Many more experiences and categories of experience of kundalini awakening and unfolding are described in this study. From the stand point of both the seeker and support givers it is important to recognize that all of the experiences described here are normal kundalini experiences that are not only documented in this study, but also described in such texts as Devatmi Shakti and experienced by thousands of individuals on the Siddha Yoga path and other paths where the goal is to attain God realization through the awakening of the kundalini.
Evidence of these experiences is seen on the Sufi path in Irina Tweedie’s autobiography, Chasm of Fire. Here she describes receiving initiation from Creating her Sufi Master, and the dramatic experiences of the unfolding of the kundalini. The great Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, describes the inner experience of the kundalini in his poem “Song of the Reed”:
This flute is played with fire, not with wind;
and without this fire you would not exist.
It is the fire of love that inspires the flute….
It is the ferment of love that completes the wine.
The reed is a comfort to all estranged lovers.
Its music tears our veils away. (1981, p.19)
In Christianity the awakening originally took place when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples. This method of the Master breathing spiritual energy into the disciple also appears in the texts of Kashmir Shaivism as one of the classic methods of awakening the kundalini. After Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples they begin to have a variety of spiritual experiences including visions and speaking in tongues. In the Book of Revelations, John describes a series of mystical visions. He sees the seven seals within which are the seven spiritus of God who are the guardians of the seals. He then sees the fifth angel of God ascending with the living seal of God sealing the servants of God in their foreheads—one of the traditional points of awakening the kundalini. Molotov, a disciple of the Russian Orthodox mon, St. Serafim, pleads with him to help him understand how he will know and understand the experience of the Holy Spirit. St. Serafim prays to God to give Molotov the experience of the Holy Spirit and the two are engulfed in light so intense that Molotov cannot look at St. Serafim saying that the light flashing from his eyes and face is too dazzling too look at. When St.. Serafim convinces him to look at him Molotov begins to experience the love, warmth and peace of the Holy Spirit both within himself and all around him and St. Serafim. In the texts of Kashmir Shaivism two of the classic ways that a Master awakens the kundalini are through thought and through looking into the eyes of the disciple. Although these methods are not clearly articulated on the Christian path, one sees evidence of both in the experience of Molotov and St. Serafim.
The Throne Mystics of the second and third century were the predecessors of Kabbalistic schools of Judaism. There is a story of Rabbi Yohannin and his disciples. As they were discussing the meaning of Ezekiel’s vision of God’s chariot the Holy Spirit descended on them in the form if fire. Kabbalistic teachers Rabbi David Cooper and Mark Stavish openly speak of parallels to the kundalini experience in the practice of Kabbalah. Rabbi Cooper compares the experience of the sefiroth and the kundalini paradigm in his recorded course The Mystical Kabbalah. Mark Stavish in his recent book, Kabbalah for Health and Wellness, actually presents Kabbalisitc meditation practices for awakening the kundalini.
In the Native American Lakota tradition, Archie Fire Lame Deer, in his autobiography, Gift of Power, the Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man, vividly describes the experience of his father energetically passing him his power and knowledge hours before his death. He says that at this time he went into a totally different spiritual dimension and truly became a medicine man.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there exists the tummo, or inner fire tantric practice for awakening the kundalini. Geshe Gyatso, in his book Clear Light of Bliss, describes the intricate practices and the classic experiences of state of consciousness that are achieved as the inner fire is directed upward through the chakras into the crown chakra where a “drop” of bliss is released, then directed downward through the chakras, and then back upward in the reverse order until the drop merges again in the crown chakra taking the practitioner into the state of enlightenment.
In the ancient Druid tradition the powems of Nede Mac Adme, and Amairgen, translated by from ancient Irish Druid texts by Caitlin Matthews, describe the experiences of the cauldrons of warming, vocation and knowledge. In both the poems of these ancient druids and in stories of dialogue between the Master Druid Nede mac Adne, it is suggested that only the Master Druid experiences the full awakening when initiated by a Master who has attained the highest state of Druidic knowledge. That knowlege is only gained through the tipping upward of the cauldron of knowledge to receive divine inspiration and knowledge from higher consciousness.
Some Considerations In Providing Support
An experiential understanding of spiritual awakening and the unfolding of the kundalini is essential in providing support to those who seek it. Charles Tart’s now classic statement about research on alter states applies to providing support to those experiencing kundalini awakening and the myriad altered states and life transforming experiences that follow. In doing research it is difficult, if not impossible to research altered states of consciousness if you have not experienced them yourself. It is difficult to guide and support someone through their experience of awakening and unfolding of kundalini if you have not experienced it yourself. The awakened kundalini is a fully conscious and intelligent force that can guide you in both your own process and in the process of supporting others.It is important to understand that the awakened kundalini’s role and purpose is to purify and refine all dimensions of our experience— physical, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual— and finally bring us into the state of oneness with God. One glimpse of that oneness unleashes a flood of energy that spirals through whatever is between us and that extended experience of our Divine Self. When this happens one’s internal process of clearing obstacles, gaining new understandings of self, of expanded spiritual dimensions and of physical healing can become so accelerated that one becomes overwhelmed and experiences psychological, physical and spiritual crisis. Without a paradigm for understanding kundalini awakening and the process of the undfolding of kundalini, the experience can be extremely confusing both to the seeker and those who are providing support.
The unfolding of kundalini through the chakras and nadis is not a linear process. In other words, the kundalini does not clear the impressions held in the chakras, or energetic centers one at a time. Nor does it move from the lower chakras to the higher ones in linear order, clearing each before it moves to the next. The kundalini spirals through layers of issues, spiritual experiences, memories and tendencies contained within the chakras and the energetic body, moving back and forth with an intelligence that is often awesome to behold. When one considers the process that one experiences in psychotherapy, or in healing, without the awakened kundalini one sees a similar pattern. Issues surface, are worked through and subside, only to resurface from a deeper level at a later time, often triggered by life events, or internal work that needs to be done to strengthen us to go on to the next level of transformation. We all, in our personal development work, peel away the layers of an issue gradually, as we are ready, returning to the issue to move to the next level of resolution when we are ready. When the awakened kundalini becomes a part of that growth process the process is intensified and accelerate. When this intensified personal process is combined with the classic kundalini experiences mentioned previously both the uneducated seeker and the uneducated supporter run the risk of misdiagnosing the experience and confusing the individual more. Spiritual visions and energetic sensations can be misdiagnosed as hallucinations. Involuntary physical movements and seeing of lights can be misdiagnosed as neurological disorders. Racing thoughts, changes in visual perception and rapid experiences of bliss and sadness can all be conveniently fit into a number of psychological disorders. Where disorders of a physical or psychological nature have been previously diagnosed assessment becomes even more complicated when an individual experiences the awakening of kundalini, as the crises precipitated by the awakening demand considerable knowledge of both the kundalini process and the disorders previously diagnosed in order to successfully guide the individual on their journey to wellness and to transcendence.
Spiritual Masters, spiritual advisors and clergy, mental health professionals and holistic practitioners may all play significant roles in supporting individuals experiencing intense kundalini awakening. Each has a potential role to play.Perhaps the most important role is that of the Spiritual Master. In the case of kundalini awakening this Master must be a true guru, one who has the power to awaken, control and guide the unfolding of the kundalini. It is the role of such a guru to do just that for those who come to him or her for spiritual teaching. Such a guru also provides time honored teachings from scriptures that offer guidance to the student in understanding the process and the practices that support the unfolding of the kundalini. The sankalpa or intention of such a guru can instantly awaken the kundalini, modulate its intensity and direct the process of the unfolding of the kundalini in a way that is suited to each individual student. I have experienced this power many times through the course of my own journey on the Siddha Yoga path, starting with the initiation that awakened my inner kundalini and moving on through many intense experiences of the movement of that kundalini. One of the most amusing experiences happened in the Siddha Yoga ashram in Ganeshpuri, India. This was early in my experience of the classic kundalini experiences described in Devatma Shakti, and later in my own dissertation. I began to have roaring kriyas, in other words, I would spontaneously, without control over this, begin roaring like a lion. This experience continued to intensify. I would begin to hear the roaring internally and know that I needed to run to someplace where I would not disturb other students who were meditating or chanting. The roaring seemed to be triggered most intensely by the chant they we did each evening in the ashram, so I stopped going to the chant and would sit up on the roof of the dormitory building, the roaring starting with the first verse of this chant. At this time, Baba Mukatananda then said “Everyone must come to the chant.” He would send people around to make sure everyone was coming. So…I had to go to the chant. I sat back near the exit in order to escape quickly once the roaring started to overpower me. I could hear it, was holding back and chanting, but there was no holding it any longer. The shakti was in control and the roaring was errupting, so I leaped up and ran for the exit, only to be met by an ashram security person who insisted I sit back down. When I explained what was happening he sent me into the hall adjoining the courtyard where we were chanting. The roaring erupted and the hall, with window open to the courtyard, acted like a megaphone sending the roaring out into the courtyard where Muktananda sat with all of the students, chanting. Suddenly, I heard him laughing within me, and then he called me by my spiritual name and said, still laughing, “Now, now, be quiet.” Instantly, the roaring stopped and the kundalini shakti picked my body up and I started dancing blissfully, classic mudras forming with my hands. From this bliss welled up within me and my body began to whirl like a dervish. I realized as these beautiful movements of the shakti unfolded that Baba Muktananda had simply directed the kundalini to move quietly and blissfully, rather than roaringly! Many times since then when sitting in meditation intensives that became noisy with animal sounds, spontaneous singing and other sounds I would hear either Baba Muktananda, or later Gurumayi Chidvilasananda simply softly say “Quiet now”, and the entire hall would become very still and quiet as participants would be plunged into the deepest states if meditation. When offering support to those experiencing intense kundalini awakening, it is often helpful to send them to a Master who has the power to modulate the intensity of the experience, particularly if the individual has had a spontaneous awakening without the benefit of a Master’s guidance. When this is not possible simply invoking the assistance of such a Master can also be helpful. Studying with such a Master can also deepen one’s own inner experience of the kundalini and the Divine Self, providing understanding and inspiration in the work of supporting others.
Spiritual advisors and clergy have a specific role in counseling and teaching others as they pursue their spiritual path. They have not reached the level of Master or Guru, but can have a great deal of inner experience and knowledge of the kundalini process and the spiritual disciplines and practical day-to-day strategies and techniques for integrating the experience into one’s life. In spiritual advisors and clergy to be helpful in supporting the seeker who is experiencing an intense awakening and unfolding process, they must have experience and knowledge of the process. Throughout history there are cases of great saints who were viewed as either heretics or insane by the clergy of their traditions, because the clergy had no knowledge of spiritual awakening and the classic mystical experiences that accompany it. For those who have limited knowledge it is important to seek out those who have the knowledge and understanding and refer seekers to them.
Mental health professionals can be tremendous support to those individuals who are experiencing kundalini awakening and unfolding, if they are transpersonally oriented and have experiential as well as traditional knowledge of the kundalini process. It is equally important for mental health professionals to develop cross cultural competencies and understandings of the common truths, practices and understandings across paths when attempting to provide counseling and support. It is also essential to have an openness to questioning one’s diagnosis of psychological disorders when working with individuals with awakened kundalini. Asking questions about spiritual practice and experience needs to be a standard part of the assessment process. In most cases if you don’t ask about spiritual experiences the client will not share them, for fear of being thought to be hallucinating, or simply to be “weird”. Not every person who needs support with spiritual awakening is able to identify and ask for that support. Without the benefit of a spiritual path that provides a paradigm and normalization of the experience of awakening and the transformation process that takes place after awakening, many individuals present with what they are assuming are either psychological crises, or total confusion about what has started to happen to them. It is essential to be able to identify the awakening experience and the “symptoms” that follow it and then bring the mental and emotional reactions to this into perspective, before assigning a DSM diagnosis! In some very complicated cases, both exist. There may be a clear psychiatric diagnosis and a clear experience of spiritual awakening. In such cases, the task becomes one of finding a balance in working with both the psychiatric symptoms and the spiritual experiences in a way that brings about healing and spiritual development.
Holistic practitioners can offer much support to individuals experiencing kundalini awakening and unfolding, providing they have the knowledge and experience of the process themselves. Some holistic practices that can provide essential supports are energy healing, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, hatha yoga, Tai Chi, nutritional counseling. Any practitioners working in the energetic field of someone with an awakened kundalini must proceed with great caution and sensitivity in order to not interfere with the work of the kundalini, or intensify an already intense experience. What one does as an energy healer needs to be in collaboration with the kundalini. This means, gently follow her lead. This is also true of hatha yoga and Tai Chi practice. Hatha Yoga practice was originally developed in order to purify the body and ready it for awakening of the kundalini, thus many of the asanas and pranayama practices can actually intensify the kundalini experience, particularly in the early years of the experience when the process is the most intense. The asanas and pranayama techniques are designed to clear the nadis or subtle energy channels of the body. Individuals with awakened kundalini should be cautioned to be aware of the power of these practices and to monitor themselves to see if they are creating more intensity or balancing the intensity out for them. Nutritional counselors need to be aware of the foods that cool the kundalini down, i.e. sweets, milk products, and leave them in the diet. Often when the kundalini awakens one begins to pull spontaneously away from meat, fish and poultry and move to a vegetarian diet. Lighter, easily digestible foods are more compatible with the kundalini process and may actually ease the purification process and physical symptoms considerably. One must also caution the individual to make sure to eat, as the digestive process actually draws the shakti to it and sometimes helps to ease the intensity of the process.
This article outlines information on the cross cultural experience of kundalini awakening and provides some guidelines for those providing support for individuals experiencing awakening and the transformation process that evolves from that awakening. For additional information about the kundalini experience please feel free to contact Dr. Wilcox through this website. More extensive consideration of this topic will appear in Fire of Love, Descent of Grace, Dr. Wilcox’s upcoming book. For more information about this book please go to the book page in this website. For additional information about energetic healing go to the Yuen Method pages of this website.
Cooper, D.A. (1994). The Mystical Kabbalah, Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc. (tapes)
Fire Lame Deer, A. & Erdoes, R. (1993). Gift of Power, the Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man. Santa Fe: Bear & Company Publishing.
Gyatso, GesheKelsang. (1982). Clear Light of Bliss. London: Tharpa Publications.
Helminski, E. (trans.) 1981. The Ruins of the Heart, Selected Lyric Poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi. Putney, VT: Threshold Book
Matthews, C. & Matthews, J. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Rockport, MA: Elements Books, Inc.
Tirtha, Swami Vishnu (1962). Devatma Shakti. Rishikesh: Swami Shivom Tirth
Tweedie, I. (1979. The Chasm of Fire. Tisbury, England: The Compton Press, Ltd.
Wilcox, J. (1984). Kundalini: A Study of Spiritual Awakening and Movement Toward the Self. doctoral dissertation. Teachers College, Columbia University.[/vc_toggle]