|Look; and then leap into the unknown...|
|The following excerpt is the Introduction & Chapter 1 of my book:|
"Kundalini and the Art of Being"
Published by Station Hill Press. Available through Amazon.com, other on-line stores and hopefully your local book store. To read some insightful reviews from readers, click the following link to visit Amazon.com.
Chapter 1 of the following excerpt was previously published, in slightly different form, in the Sedona Journal of Emergence (November 2002)...
In the fall of 1994, I was twenty-two and leading a relatively stable life in rainy western Oregon, when I rather impulsively quit my job, sold my old Datsun pickup, moved out of my house and hit the road with just my backpack and my thumb. I had only a vague notion of where I was going and what I was getting myself into. I simply had an undeniable yearning for adventure and the unknown, which I chose to follow. I was the type who tended to act on these sorts of impulses. Little did I know the real adventure I was embarking on this time.
Two months later-after hitchhiking part way across the country-I was staying with a friend in Texas, with even less idea of what I was now doing in my vagabond existence than when I'd started my impulsive journey. It was nearing winter, I was almost broke, a long ways from home, and the living situation with my friend was less than ideal.And then, in the midst of a deep meditation one evening, something subtle yet powerful shifted within my mind, that changed my world forever. A sudden rush of energy flooded through me like nothing I'd ever before experienced, or could have even imagined. I had no understanding then of what had unexpectedly occurred within my fragile consciousness. All I knew was that, in no more time than it takes for a bolt of lightning to strike, my experience and perception of reality was utterly and irrevocably altered.
What happened to me in that pivotal moment actually had a name, though I didn't know it at the time-kundalini awakening. I wish I could have known then that I wasn't just going crazy, but instead had initiated a spiritual breakthrough. At the time, however, I found myself cast abruptly into a psychological and physical hell, from which I found only temporary relief. I seemed to have, for no apparent reason, become schizophrenic. My spiritual quest of the past few years had inexplicably taken a painful turn. The torment I experienced following my unanticipated kundalini experience was so profound as to make me wonder if it was even worth enduring, just to live through another torturous day. For the first time in my life I seriously doubted my reasons for living at all, as I spiraled down into madness and despair.But fortunately, as surely as I'd fallen down a canyon of darkness within my soul, I managed to climb back out of it as well-to live to tell the tale, as they say. As those frightening first few days turned to weeks, and then months, I began to see a glimmer of light shining from within myself, that eventually proved to guide me back to something resembling sanity.
Following is the story of how I found myself in such a predicament-like many seekers these days, by stumbling rather blindly down the spiritual path-as well as how I managed to get myself out. Though I certainly didn't feel it initially, the kundalini fire is in actuality a great blessing, as I've discovered over a number of years of living with this dynamic energy, learning over time to incorporate it into my daily life. Kundalini has the power to deeply invigorate and evolve our spiritual beings, if we can just learn how to handle it. I'm not a qualified expert on the subject-just someone with a story to tell and a perspective to offer. My hope is that sharing my own experience will prove helpful to those struggling with this phenomenon, as well as satisfy the curiosity of those interested in kundalini-who may decide, instead, that they want nothing at all to do with its awesome force-or else perhaps be inspired to seek it out within themselves, and in so doing journey to the heart of the unknown.
PART 1-Electric Shock
Late one December night, I lay meditating on my back at a friend's apartment in Austin, Texas-though I was far from a state of peace. Turbulent thoughts and feelings rushed through me from the past days and weeks of emotional turmoil. I lay there in silent stillness, eyes closed, struggling to focus my scattered energy; searching for that place of serenity within myself, that I might drift gently into the solace of sleep and dreams.Finding that place wasn't easy. There was such discordant energy coursing throughout my consciousness-chaotic, disturbing thoughts; deep feelings of fear and hopelessness; flashes of light and random energy coming from somewhere within my mind. I lay unmoving despite my inner anguish, feeling it all, trying to let it flow through, willing myself to find that space of inner peace. Finally, I touched something within myself that felt balanced and grounded, some aspect of my being anchored beneath the confusion that seemed real and connected, like a sturdy shelter amidst a terrible storm. I entered into this place I had found within my mind and pulled myself down beneath the turmoil, to a place of calm.I basked in relief as I ceased my struggling and allowed myself to relax into this tranquil place. I could feel the storm of my distress still raging all around me. But I was no longer engaged in resisting it. Its presence even seemed to diminish somewhat, as I became more attuned to the quiet peace in which I had finally found refuge.
I even indulged in this peace, wanting to hold onto it forever and not have to face the discomfort I had managed to leave behind, though I knew this could not be so.I soon felt this quiet space begin to expand within and around me, engulfing me entirely. And then, abruptly, I began falling slowly downwards. At first I was scared to be falling. But then I noticed that I enjoyed the feeling of drifting slowly down in quiet darkness; and I surrendered to it. The farther I fell, the more isolated my consciousness became.
Soon I had completely forgotten about my previous turmoil. I only experienced myself falling, down what seemed to be a narrow tunnel of darkness within my own mind.Eventually I began to slow down. Finally I became still again, amidst a vast darkness. I began moving around within this darkness to figure out where I was-and stumbled across a memory.I was three years old, it was Halloween, and I was trick-or-treating with my father. We came to a dimly lit house with a long front walkway. My dad stood at the street to let me walk up to the door on my own. I walked timidly toward the door. It seemed like such a long way, and I was a little scared, especially with the dull front porch light. Finally I got to the door, reached up, and rang the doorbell. It chimed pleasantly, reassuring me. The door opened and a woman was standing there, reaching into a big brown bag of candy on a small table by the door."Trick-or-treat!" I said,proud of myself for having met the challenge, raising up my own quarter-full bag of candy."Well, aren't you a cute little boy," she said.Older women were always telling me that-to my annoyance-because of my curly blond hair and cherubic face.
"Well, here you go,"she said, dropping a couple of Hershey's Kisses into my bag. "Don't forget to say thank you," my dad called from the street. "Thank you," I said."You're quite welcome," she said as she smiled, and then slowly closed the door.
I turned to step down from the front porch. Just then a shadow loomed over me, as a man leapt out from the darkness of a nearby bush-arms raised overhead, mouth and eyes wide open-and gave a blood-curdling scream, like a banshee about to pounce on his victim.I screamed, terrified, dropped my bag of candy and ran crying to my father."Hey, kid, c'mon, I was just joking," the man said, suddenly feeling apologetic.My dad was furious. He marched up to him from the sidewalk, shaking a fist. "What the hell is your problem, you asshole, scaring little kids like that?" He seemed on the verge of punching the guy in the face, having been almost as surprised and scared by the event as myself."I'm sorry," said the man, cowering a little, clearly regretting his actions. "It was just a Halloween prank." "Yeah, real funny, scaring little kids half to death..." He reached down to grab my bag of candy from the front steps, and then walked away, muttering, "Stupid goddamn jerk...some people..." as he took my hand. We walked back home through the night as I cried, still baffled by what had just occurred.
As I lay on the apartment floor deep in meditation, I relived this scenario as if I were actually there. I felt the intense fear that had engulfed me at the time, and remembered that it had stayed with me for a long time. For weeks afterward I had talked about the boogeyman at night, afraid of going to sleep with the lights out.I became so involved with reliving this childhood memory, that I completely forgot about my present-time situation-until, amidst re-experiencing these feelings of fear, terror and grief, I was brought back to my body by a sudden, subtle movement at the base of my spine. My mind went instinctively to this movement to see what it was. As I brought my attention there, I felt the ball of energy move again. Then I felt it rise slightly, as if it were trying to move up my spine of its own accord.I had a sense that this energy moving at the base of my spine-whatever it was-was somehow connected to the intense feelings I was reliving in my childhood memory. I thought that perhaps if I allowed this ball of energy to flow completely through me, then this process would dissolve all the unpleasantness I was experiencing, and I would then be left with a feeling of deep and lasting contentedness in its place.I concentrated on this energy at the base of my spine until I felt it move again. I continued focusing my attention on it, as it began moving up my spine. It felt something like a bubble moving up a straw. It rose slowly, as if it were being sucked up by something. It paused for a moment as it came to my neck and the base of my skull-and then it exploded into my brain. At that moment, I was assaulted by a rush of energy so powerful that I literally thought it might kill me. It seemed to last an eternity and an instant all at once. It felt much like an explosion, or electric shock, throughout my consciousness. I surrendered to this sudden flood of energy as it engulfed me, because it was so unanticipated that I had no time or strength to even attempt to resist it.
As the rushing sensation eventually began to subside, I was relieved to find that I had survived. I hoped that the gentle, peaceful bliss I had anticipated would now replace the terrible and unexpected shock I had just received. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, I was horrified to find an overwhelming terror roaring into my consciousness that for the moment eradicated from my memory my earlier experience of childhood fear. An ever-mounting, cascading, crashing wave of crushing terror overtook me, as if a dam had broken between my conscious and subconscious minds and I were being flooded by unresolved experiences and feelings buried deep within my soul. I waited for these overwhelming feelings either to render me unconscious, or else to pass through me and then subside.
But they did neither. As the minutes wore on, the erratic energies crashing throughout me became only more intense and unbearable. I was soon consumed by the wish that I hadn't done whatever it was I had just done. My previous emotional turmoil-and even the frightening childhood memory-were but feathers compared to the incredible weight of madness that was now beginning to descend on me.I soon began to notice within myself more explosions of energy, like aftershocks of an earthquake. They came as if from the darkness of my own mind, closer and closer to my conscious awareness until I was hit by a steady wave of electric shocks in successively increasing intensity.As I lay there on my back feeling crushed, bombarded and overpowered by something I couldn't even identify or locate in my consciousness, I kept thinking, "This has to subside, this has to go away eventually, this can't go on much longer." Yet even as I was telling myself this the force of energy was increasing. Whatever this disturbing power was that I had somehow brought into my consciousness, it seemed it wasn't going away any time soon. The brief moment of peace and comfort I'd experienced during my meditation felt now like a fading mirage of some kind-a calm before the storm, a temporary stillness until harsh and chaotic reality set in.
Finally, I got up from the floor-where I'd also been sleeping the past few weeks-and began pacing back and forth, wracking my brain to make sense of what had just happened to me. My rational mind tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for my strange predicament. I went over what I had just experienced-a ball of energy moving up my spine while meditating, and then flowing into my brain. I came to the conclusion that there must be some sort of bodily fluid residing in the spine, that wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the brain. Somehow I must have released this fluid, causing it to flow into my brain, creating a chemical reaction of sorts that was somehow manifesting as my feelings of psychosis. Although this flimsy explanation managed to calm me momentarily, unfortunately it did nothing to alter my painful psychological symptoms.
Since it seemed that I wasn't going to be falling asleep any time soon, I put on some warm clothes and then left the apartment to get some fresh air and go for a walk. I hoped at least to distract myself from whatever it was that had just occurred. Though it brought me some temporary relief just to get out of the cramped apartment for a bit and feel the night air, all that I was feeling stayed with me. When I came back to the apartment and sat down at the dining room table, I realized that not only had my symptoms not diminished, as I had hoped. The physical activity seemed instead to have increased the flow of energy coming from the base of my spine, further intensifying the painful sensations in both my body and mind. Yet sitting down and trying to relax increased my discomfort, as my mind instinctively focused on the source of the pain, desiring to alleviate it, but instead giving it more power by its attention.I had a fiery burning sensation coming from my root chakra at the base of my spine. I felt that I had to stay continually focused on holding down this fire, as I was afraid that letting it rise freely would mean receiving more overpowering energy than that which already was threatening to trample me. My heart was both pounding and skipping beats.
I was now receiving electric shocks at the tops of my feet and the backs of my hands, as well as from unknown places within my consciousness. I felt something unexplainable pulling at my temples, as if trying to extract my life essence, and a crushing sensation around my head as if my skull were in the grip of a large wrench. The fire at the base of my spine was spreading upward despite my attempts to control it, engulfing my entire back in raging heat and pain. And the electric shocks coming from my hands and feet spread throughout my limbs to my torso, so that it felt as if the nerves, bones and muscles in my body were becoming electrically charged. I decided to lay down on my thin mattress on the floor and try again to fall asleep. I hoped at least that unconsciousness would provide me with some temporary relief. However, I found that, exhausted from a day that had been emotionally draining to begin with, only to escalate into a state of severe psychic imbalance, I was unable to sleep. Instead, I lay there through the night enduring my inner torment, tossing and turning, praying to drift into unconsciousness that might ease my pain, or at least give me some strength to regain my sanity in the following days.
If I had known at the time that it would be not days or weeks, but rather years before I found myself in a psychological state I could call manageable, I doubt if I could have survived the awesome journey on which I had just embarked. I had no understanding then of what had just occurred or what might have caused it. I didn't know that this was a legitimate and well-documented spiritual phenomenon. Though I had practiced yoga and was familiar with the term kundalini, I had no idea that this intense onslaught of energy was what it actually referred to. I didn't know that there was a positive side, of spiritual healing and well-being, to this experience. All I knew was that, for no reason I could fathom, my fundamental experience of reality had been shattered-as if I'd been struck by lightning out of a clear blue sky, and I was reeling in shock from its damaging effects on my body, mind and soul, struggling to stay alive.
As the light of dawn finally began to emerge the next day, I awoke from restless sleep, to find that my symptoms had neither subsided nor lessened in intensity, but instead were now even more magnified due to my insomnia. I decided to get out of the small apartment for the day, despite my exhaustion, with more hopes that I might be able to distract myself from my disconcerting situation. I prayed incessantly for relief, having no knowledge of how to change or direct my ongoing symptoms.The reasons for which I found myself in Austin, Texas, of all places, were rather complex.
But to make a long story short (for now), Amy, the friend whose apartment I was sharing, was actually an ex-girlfriend of sorts, with whom I was not in the best of communication at the time. She was actually seeing someone else while I was living with her in her one-room studio. And yet she was the only person in the entire state whom I could call a friend. The emotional turmoil that opened this story was a result of this predicament-making my life situation at the time a rather dismal one, even before this bizarre experience.I spent most of that day wandering around Austin, in a combination of a daze and a hyper-conscious state.
I found neither relief nor understanding of the mental, emotional and physical pain which seemed to be ever-increasing. It took all my strength, and more than I thought I had, to keep from being crushed by the incredible force of this energy. By that afternoon, my exhaustion had intensified my symptoms so much that I was unsure if I could withstand them much longer. In addition to the terrifying psychological imbalance, the blocked energy was also manifesting as pain in my body. My heart alternately wrenched, stopped, stuttered and pulsated wildly, so that I was wandering along downtown Austin with my hand clutching my chest, as if that might somehow keep it from stopping altogether. The burning at the base of my spine was a constant presence. And I was receiving electric shocks at random times all throughout my body.Eventually I decided to head back to Amy's apartment. I was relieved to find that she wasn't there, since I wouldn't have known what to say or how to relate to her in my present condition. I took a shower, then lay down on my mattress on the floor to take a nap.
Finally, miraculously, I was able to fall into some real sleep.When I awoke later that evening, I actually felt a little better, momentarily. But I soon found that everything flooded back as I fully awoke. I also experienced a moment of panic, as I remembered that I had a job at a nearby deli, and I might have to work that evening. The moment of relief I felt after calling in-to find that I wasn't working until the next evening-was little comfort, as it left me with the dilemma of what now to do with myself through that evening and the next day that wouldn't heighten my anguish.I went for another long walk in the evening air. I came back later that night to find Amy already asleep with the lights out. I crawled into my sleeping bag on the floor and closed my eyes. Once again I tossed and turned for hours, unable to relax. Finally I managed to fall into a few hours of fitful sleep, finding some comfort in lack of consciousness.I awoke to the morning light dawning through the curtains. As before, my tormenting symptoms descended on me rapidly as I came back to waking consciousness; as well as a deep exhaustion that left me with little energy to get out of bed.
I eventually gathered the strength to get up from my spot on the floor, put on some clothes and eat half a bowl of cereal-which I was unable to finish because the act of eating somehow created bizarre electrical sensations throughout my mouth and throat that scared my appetite right out of me. Finally I left the apartment, and spent another day wandering aimlessly around Austin, praying constantly for relief from my torment or at least some understanding of what I could do to alleviate my distress.That evening I had to work my shift at the deli. Given my situation, I wasn't sure if I could tolerate spending eight hours making sandwiches and cordially ringing up orders for customers. But I decided at least to show up and give it a try-perhaps it would help bring me back to the world of normalcy. If not, then I would come up with an excuse to leave.
I showed up for work that evening to find my already distorted perceptions greatly magnified by the bright lights and plastic atmosphere of the fast-food deli. After a few hours of somehow performing my duties, I began to feel completely overwhelmed due to both the unnatural environment of the restaurant and the necessity to repress and hide what I was experiencing. All of my symptoms were increasing significantly. I was literally beginning to feel as if my body was losing its ability to function, unable to hold the energy that was trying to flow through my physical frame. I was like a 30 watt light bulb being hit by 90 watts-and it felt as if I were shorting out.The pressure on my skull was so intense I thought it might actually be damaging my brain. My bones felt like electrified metal, and I had the sensation of a steel spike penetrating my body at the top of my head, driven all the way down through my crotch and sticking out between my legs. My very consciousness seemed to be trying to separate from my body, as if I were about to fly uncontrollably into the astral planes. Finally I told the other employee that I had to leave, because I was feeling sick. I left the restaurant and began walking in the direction of Amy's apartment.
As I passed by a public phone, I decided to call 911. I had no doubt right then that my situation was an emergency-if I could just manage to explain what it was. I dialed, and asked to speak to a medical professional. When I got one on the line, I tried to relate my predicament to her. I proposed the spinal-fluid theory I had come up with earlier, hoping it might be a genuine medical problem she could help me with. Though she tried her best to understand my condition, her basic response was, "I'm sorry, but I don't quite understand what your problem is..."I hung up, and decided to call my dad. It was comforting to hear his voice at the other end of the line. Though, understandably, he couldn't comprehend the magnitude of what I was going through, talking to him was helpful and he tried his best to be supportive. He understood that I was in a great deal of turmoil over whatever it was I was experiencing-evident by my shaking voice and tone of despair-and suggested that maybe I should come back home to California. Since I hadn't known quite what I was doing with my life even before this new development, I said that I would definitely think about it. He told me to see how things went over the next day or so, and then to call back and check in-maybe he would come up with something.I hung up, and continued my wandering in the direction of the apartment, struggling to get a grip on my crumbling reality, searching my brain for some conceivable way out of this bewildering experience.
My schizophrenic symptoms increased and multiplied by the hour. I now had flashes of light bursting throughout my consciousness, as well as visibly in front of me. In addition to my feelings of intense compression, I felt simultaneously as if my soul were being pulled outwards in all directions, about to be mercilessly torn apart. The sheer force of energy moving through me felt like a freight train trying to ram its way through my soul. No matter what I did to try and alleviate the pressure, nothing made any real difference.
As I passed by a church, I decided to sit down and rest on the front steps, in the light of a single bulb shining overhead. In actuality, I sat down in front of this church with the acceptance that I was going to die. I felt in that moment that I was about to be obliterated into nothingness by the awesome power coursing through me, and that there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing I had done over the past few days had led to any relief. And I was certain that I couldn't handle it for much longer. I was at the end of my rope, fully prepared at that point to let go.
I sat down on the church steps and resigned myself to death. I expected it to overtake me at any moment. I wasn't sure quite how the final blow would come. But I felt certain that it was coming. I just sat there on those cold stone steps for a long while, waiting to die, part of me even willing death to hurry up and take me. After fifteen or twenty minutes of just sitting there, staring out at the darkness, contemplating everything I had been through in the last few days, I began to look back over my unusual life. I pondered my childhood, romping through the forests of Northern California with my younger brother, chopping wood with my dad, swimming in our pond, sledding down the hill of our orchard in the occasional blanket of snow.
I thought about the many places I had been in the course of my travels the past few years-all the people I'd met along the way whom I would miss, the wonderful memories I would cherish even in my impending unconsciousness. I felt a great sorrow overtake me for all the dreams I'd had that would never be fulfilled. I tried my best just to let them go, and accept that there must be a reason for the situation in which I now found myself. Everyone had to die someday, and this must be my day.At least I had managed to pack a lot of living into my twenty-two years. What an exciting adventure I had been lucky enough to live! How I would miss the whole experience of being human on planet Earth, hard as it was much of the time. How sad that it had to end this way, in lonely despair and confusion, when all I really wanted in life was to enjoy the simple love and beauty of the world-that I knew was real, because I had experienced it plenty of times before. I was sure that I would experience that beauty again someday, if only in another life.
Deep down, I knew there had to be a reason for this extraordinary experience in which I now found myself immersed. Though it might not make sense at the moment, I had faith that in the end the universe was a work of perfection, and anything that might happen was part of that ultimate perfection. At some point, I would understand.After a while of sitting there musing, I startled myself with a realization: not only did it appear that death wasn't going to overtake me right then, but somehow I had managed to relax into a reverie of sorts. As I came back to the present, I noticed that my symptoms seemed to have lessened slightly. A glimmer of hope was ignited in me. Was it possible I might actually be able to survive this?I noticed that, having sat there on those hard church steps for what seemed like hours, I was cold, tired and getting hungry. Since it appeared that I wasn't meant to die just then-and I didn't feel like sitting there indefinitely-I got up, walked back down the stairs and continued in the direction of the apartment.I felt anything but good.
Though part of me had managed to accept that what I was going through must have a purpose of some kind, this in no way erased the bizarre and challenging nature of what I was experiencing. And yet, something had definitely shifted. Within myself I
had resolved, for the time at least, to live.The next day I called my dad. He had found a cheap one-way flight from Austin to San Francisco, and wanted to know if he should buy it for me. I told him, "Sure." Two days later-the day before Christmas-I was on my way back home.
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