Pitfalls of openings and awakenings

 

Here are some common pitfalls of openings and awakenings:

New identifications. With an opening or awakening, new identities may surface and the mind may identify with these for safety. These identities include but are not limited to awareness, oneness, spirit, free. These are just more thoughts that the mind identifies with, and it’s good to notice and inquire into these as soon as they arise.

Unprocessed material. With an opening or awakening, the lid may be taken off any unprocessed material. Anything that’s unfelt, unloved and unquestioned comes up to be felt, loved, and questioned. Any unfelt emotions or feelings surface to be felt. Any unloved parts of us or our experience (including our whole world) comes up to be loved. Any unquestioned stories surface to be questioned. This can lead to a version of the dark night of the soul.

Kundalini. With an opening or awakening, kundalini may activate. For some, this may lead to a kundalini overcharge. It may feel like high voltage is going through regular house wiring, and as if parts of us – and perhaps our brain – is fried. This can be prevented and reversed.

What do I mean with an opening or awakening? I mean that we realize what we are, or what we are realizes what it is. This is what the mind may call awareness, oneness, no separation, spirit (or even Buddha Mind, Brahman if it’s so inclined). This may be a glimpse, or it may be a more stable recognition. Often, there is a mix of this recognition and remaining identifications which partially obscure this recognition. We then live partially from noticing what we are, and partially from remaining identifications. This is very natural, and there is not really any problem here, but it’s good to be aware of and acknowledge, and also to have ways to work with these identifications.

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Mood swings in a kundalini process

 

It seems that mood swings are quite common in a kundalini (awakening) process, and perhaps especially if it turns into a spiritual emergency.

During the initial awakening phase, I wouldn’t really call it mood swings, but it was a sense of shifting from bliss and expansion to pain and contraction, over and over, and it was quite dramatic at times. This happened mostly in my teens and early twenties.

Then, there were several years where everything seemed more stable.

And more recently, in the darker phase of the dark night of the soul, it’s been more of what I would call mood swings. Shifting from depth of terror and dread (a couple of years back) or contraction and pain, and a sense of ease and even joy.

Most of the time, the shifts happen within the same day, each one lasting one or a few hours.

Rereading this, I see that “mood” doesn’t quite cover it. It’s more a swing between a sense of ease, joy, bliss, expansion, and pain and contraction, and the specific flavor of each has changed over time.

Of course, one invitation here is to recognize that it’s all coming and going as content of awareness, and that awareness itself is always here. Another is to meet what’s coming up, including my reactions to it, in natural rest, and with kindness and even love. And yet another is to identify and questions any assumptions I have about what’s happening. It’s easy to say, and not always so easy to do. I still don’t do it consistently, and that’s part of finding a more genuine humility in all of it.

Bonnie Greenwell: Kundalini and Awakening

 

All of these aspects of identity are invisible, known to us as thoughts and flows in our energy body. (No one will ever find your identity in an autopsy.) It’s as if we are a computer shifting all of this data around. When kundalini opens and begins to move through the system it is challenging and disorienting, as it clears away much of our identity, opening our body to a different kind of experience, one we might call prior to identification. It will eventually lead us to know ourselves as awareness without identity, which is a knowing that feels eternal in nature, and free of the stuck patterns in our history. It can be very frightening to feel something in us letting go of us. In western cultures we tend to believe this must be a sign of mental illness, but when kundalini is the catalyst it is a sign of spiritual awakening.

– Bonnie Greenwell, in Kundalini and Awakening

An excellent article by Bonnie Greenwell, giving a brief overview of kundalini and awakening.

She also has two new books which I can recommend: The Awakening Guide and The Kundalini Guide.

 

Regression

 

During the darkest phase of the dark night, there was a sense of going back to earlier periods of my life – all the way to infancy and before incarnation. Later, my system seemed to revisit childhood and teenage years. Memories, impulses, wounds, unlived wishes, all surfaced. Not surprisingly, I also acted on some of them – which sometimes was enjoyable (playful impulses), and sometimes painful for me and others (wounds, trauma).

For me, this has happened in the form of phases – of weeks or months or even years – where I have felt, and sometimes acted, like an infant, or child, or teenager. These days, I feel like I am in my late teens and early twenties. For others, I know that this may come in a gentler or less  all-consuming way.

In one sense, there is a regression any time we are caught in wounds, trauma, beliefs or identifications. We “go back” to when these dynamics were initially created. We feel, and sometimes act, as if we are five years old (or any other age when these dynamics initially were created).

Also, it seems that we can go back to earlier times in our own life as part of a healing process, or as part of a kundalini process.

And, really, there is no “regression” or going back in time. It’s all happening here and now, including any memories of the past, and any emotions, wounds, traumas, or unlived healthy impulses. Stories of regression can be a useful shorthand to communicate something, and it can also be misleading since it’s all here now.

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Why did the dark night happen?

 

I have written about this a few times but wanted to revisit it, mostly as a way to explore it again for myself.

A dark night of the soul, in a technical sense, is what typically happens after an initial awakening (AKA illumination) and before finding a deeper ease with what’s here, independent of what is is (AKA equanimity). (See Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism, or Adyashanti’s Resurrecting Jesus, for more on this.)

The term itself – dark night of the soul – can be understood in a few different ways.

Life is working on us in a way that’s hidden from us. (As it really always does.) It’s hidden and unknown, as in a dark night. This is the original meaning of the word, as far as I know.

What happens may be seen as “dark” in a more modern sense. It’s a challenging phase, dark psychological material may surface, things seem to go wrong, and  (apparently) desired things fall away. The word “dark” is here used in the sense of hidden, or what’s conventionally seen as undesirable.

A dark night implies rest, and rest seems to be an important part of the dark night of the soul, at least at times and for some of us.

Why does a dark night of the soul happen?

It may be due to a burn-out from the initial awakening phase, with strong kundalini energies running through the system.

It’s a natural reversal from going “up” in the initial awakening, and now “down” so both can be met, included and loved.

It may come from an inability to repress material anymore, sometimes due to the opening of the initial awakening. Whatever is unmet and unloved in us (wounds, traumas) come to the surface to be met, loved, included and seen through.

What’s left of identifications (beliefs, velcro) surfaces, so this can be met and loved, and perhaps seen through. (A variation of the one above.) With this comes an invitation to mature as a human being, and deepen in our familiarity with the terrain – human and consciousness.

We may have said a “dangerous prayer”, asking for full awakening no matter the cost, or to be shown “what’s left”. (I did both, at different times. The dark night of the soul started a year-and-a-half after the first prayer, and the darkest phase of the dark night came a couple of weeks after the second.)

We don’t know. Even if the stories above may be helpful, we don’t know.

For me, there may also have been a couple of more specific reasons:

I went into a life situation that felt wrong and went against my guidance, and that’s when the dark night started for me. I stayed because of fears and shoulds, and a hope that it would get better, and it was very draining, which is perhaps what led to the darkest phase of the dark night (with health problems, inability to suppress, and more).

I received some diksha sessions a few years into the dark night. These led to what seemed like a nondual awakening, which lasted for about six months. This, in turn, was followed by a collapse of my whole system (fatigue, brain fog, inability to suppress etc.). I wonder if the diksha forced what otherwise would have been a more gradual, slow and more natural process, which led to a backlash. The diksha energy may also have changed something in me (the brain?) which my system reacted to.

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Traditional teachers and spiritual emergencies

 

This is something it took me a while to figure out.

When I had my initial opening, which started a quite dramatic kundalini awakening, I initially didn’t know anyone who was even remotely interested in those things.  (I was a hardcore 16 year old atheist in a small town in Norway, so no wonder.) After some years, I did find books that seemed to have been written by people who had a similar realization as what was revealed to me, although I also saw that many – or most – seemed to write about things they didn’t have personal experience with. And that included some traditional teachers.

After 2-3 years, I found and went to the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Oslo and thought I would get help from one of the teachers there, but they didn’t seem to understand or relate to what I was going through. I also talked with several visiting teachers about it, and had a similar experience. On top of that, the advice they gave me – to continue my standard practice – seemed exactly the wrong advice for me. At the time, I needed grounding, while those practices brought more energy into a system already overloaded with huge amounts of energy, they opened up a system already wide open, and they brought the energy up in a system where the energy needed grounding and calming more than anything else.

I now realize that these teachers most likely had very little experience with people who had spontaneous and dramatic openings. They were used to working with people within their tradition, who had followed the progressive practices outlined for them, and had a much more gradual path. I also assume that Tibetans tend to be more grounded – both psychologically (more whole) and energetically – than many westerners are, so they are not so used to dealing with people as ungrounded as I was at the time.

This is just a reminder of the need and importance of researching spiritual emergencies, disseminating information about spiritual emergencies, and – perhaps most importantly – training teachers (in yoga, meditation etc.) to recognize and guide people through spiritual emergencies.

Being up front about the possibility of spiritual emergencies

 

Spiritual emergencies can take several forms, including kundalini awakening, a spiritual opening turning one’s world upside-down and inside-out, a dark night, wounds and trauma surfacing to be healed, a “dry period” of lack of interest in the world, or more.

These spiritual emergencies may happen “out of the blue” without any prior spiritual practice (as it did for me), or they may happen as an apparent consequence of a spiritual practice – whether this practice is a form of meditation, yoga, chi gong, shamanic practices, or prayer of the “true” or “dangerous” kind (for awakening, be shown what’s left, etc.).

So just as a medical doctor will inform a client about possible side effects of a medicine, especially if these side effects are common and can be severe, it’s good practice for a teacher of any spiritual practice to inform the students of possible side effects of their practice.

To me, it seems reasonable to – at the very least – offer….

A map of the terrain, including (i) the typical phases and facets of the process, and (ii) common and less common forms of spiritual emergencies and their symptoms.

And guidelines for how to navigate this terrain in general, and spiritual emergencies in particular, in the most skillful way possible.

Knowing the map will help students recognize the symptoms when they occur, and see that they are common and even to be expected. It helps prevent or reduce an additional layer of distress, bewilderment, and either inflation (f.ex. kundalini awakening) or thoughts that something “went wrong” (f.ex. in a dark night).

Practical pointers can also be invaluable. For instance, how do I prepare to reduce the chances or intensity of a future spiritual emergency? And if one happens, how do I relate to it in the best possible way? How I ground myself during a kundalini awakening? How do I help see through the distress of a dark night?

In addition, being open and frank about this up front has several benefits. It may help some students decide that a particular practice is not for them, at least not at this point in their life, and they may chose something else that’s gentler and more grounding. It gives the students an idea of how well the teacher knows about and understands spiritual emergencies, so they can chose to go to them – or someone else who is more experienced – before a spiritual emergency takes place, or if or when it takes place. And having more information about these matters out in public makes it easier for people who have a spiritual emergency “out of the blue”, without any prior practice or interest in spiritual matters, to find information, support and guidance.

In terms of education, it seems reasonable to include information about the spiritual terrain and spiritual emergencies in the school system, and in the training of medical doctors, psychologists, priests, and – obviously – teachers of meditation, yoga, chi gong and similar practices. It is already happening, to some extent and in some places, and it may be more widespread in the future, especially as there is more research in and public knowledge of this topic.

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Pitfalls on the path

 

1-Pathological Regression

Retreat into infantile prerational uroboric fusion. Indulgence in dissolution and fragmentation; often due to lack of modeling, support, structure or clearly defined developmental framework of ascent that covers all sides of the whole human (survival, somatic, emotional, social, spiritual). Desire to let ones life collapse in the hope of being rescued. Retreat into depression and grief to escape more expansive perception and profound sense of being.

2-Running Away

Retreat and evasion through dissociation and denial. Inertial holding back to former modes of perception and being. Effort to pull energy down, back and in through substance addictions, heavy food, sedentary lifestyle and through avoidance of “opening” practices and therapy. Secondary fear chemistry due to negative interpretation of kundalini events resulting in panic, paralysis, stagnation, isolation and avoidance. Even running away from bliss and increased wellbeing with various forms of anaesthetization, self-repression and self-destruction.

5-Fixation on Internal Processes

Overly fascinated, morbidly curious, distracted by and absorbed in kundalini symptoms, psychic phenomena and newfound spiritual powers (siddhas). This compulsive obsession with symptoms and phenomena feeds inflation and interferes with relationships and functional utility. Possible secondary fear or depression over the temporary loss of adaptive functions and left-brain sharpness. Inability to disembed to perceive emotional storms as psychosomatic events of alchemical cycles. Excessive reactivity to conditions both internal and external.

– from Pitfalls on the Path (I added the underlines)

I can find most or all on the full list in myself, and the three above seem especially relevant to me at times in my recent process.

Some statements and topics for inquiry….

Collapse: I need to be saved. I need someone to save me. It’s hopeless. I can’t do it. It’s too much. If I collapse, someone will help me. I need to collapse to get what I need. I don’t have what I need. –> Look for command to collapse. Command to find someone (something) to save me. Look for the one who needs to be saved. Look for the one who is collapsing. (Living inquiry.)

Compulsions: I need to move away from this experience. I need to distract myself. Food is comfort. Internet is comfort. Friends are comfort. Clarity will keep me safe. –> Look for command to move away from experience, to eat for comfort, to go to the internet for comfort, to go to clarity for security. Look for the one who is doing (or needing) these things.

Emotional storm: It means something terrible has happened (will happen). It’s too much. These emotions reflect reality. –> Look for the threat in the thoughts, images, sensations. Look for the command to move away.

And in general:

If I do any of these – go into a pitfall – it means I am doing it wrong. I am not up to it. I won’t get through it. I will fail. I am unable to cooperate with the process. –> Look for command to do it right. Look for the command for perfection. Look for the one who is doing it wrong. Look for the one who is doing it right. Look for the one who is doomed. Look for doom.

 

 

Kundalini description

 

I just came across this description of a kundalini awakening, which is an especially clear, honest and touching account. It doesn’t happen for everyone that way, and doesn’t have to it seems, but it is good to know about.

Kundalini awakening or bi-polar surfacing? by Kara-Leah Masina.

It has been a cautious path forward, seeking answers, observing myself. The peak of my experience was the psychosis, but after Kundalini Awakens, it still needs to integrate into your system. Over the last two years, I have continued to experience energy moving up my spine. I have had energy releases from my solar plexus. And perhaps most frightening of all, I have witnessed my body moving through mudras and asanas that I had no conscious knowledge of. […]

This sensation of energy moving up the spine started in 2000 for me, at the very base of my tailbone. I could observe it slowly rising when I was meditating, it would rise until I felt it hit a ‘block’, then the energy would spontaneously move my body around sometimes jerking it right off the ground, until I felt a ‘popping’ or releasing sensation. Then the process would begin again at my tailbone, only this time it would get a millimetre or two higher until it hit the next block. Over a four year period, this energy reached higher and higher up my spine, and the energy releases became more and more violent. Sometimes my eyes would roll back in my head as energy surged up my spine and jerked my head backwards. […]

My hope is that by speaking out about my experience, I might reach others who are under-going this process and have no idea what is happening to them. As yoga and meditation infiltrate Western society, especially if they are mixed with drugs like marijuana, LSD and mushrooms, more and more people are going to awaken Kundalini.