Recently, a new client came to me seeking help for “kundalini syndrome”. Kundalini is a Sanskrit word referring to a pattern of energy flow awakened in the spinal column, often due to meditation and yoga practices. In the Tibetan Buddhist and Chinese medical traditions, this phenomenon is more broadly known as wind energy.
In my early thirties, while living at a Buddhist meditation center, I started to experience what felt like electrical currents running up my spine. Sometimes they happened during meditation, or while lying in bed before falling asleep. Sometimes I was awakened early in the morning by these sensations. Almost always the experiences were blissful and brought rushes of altered, more expansive perception.
I found a book in the center’s library – Lama Anagarika Govinda’s, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism and began to read. The descriptions of kundalini energy in Govinda’s book matched my experiences. Immediately, I felt a definite swell of egotistical pride as my mind spun stories about my amazing spiritual accomplishments, confirmed by my “mystical” experiences.
From a deeper perspective, kundalini is just an energy – it has no intrinsic significance. It is neither good nor bad, profound nor mundane. It just is. It is not even primarily a spiritual (i.e. mental) phenomenon, as the energies themselves are physical forces acting on the elements of the body.
When later I had the good fortune to relate my experiences to a qualified Buddhist monastic teacher, my ego was put in it’s humble place. My teacher told me: “Maybe it is a good sign, maybe not. The important thing is just to be present with whatever arises, without attachment.” Not what my deluded ego wanted to hear at first, but gradually, I loosened the tight grasp of ownership I felt over My Experiences, and kept doing my meditation practice.
I still have a lot of anger, greed, desire, pride, jealousy, doubt and anxiety, and any thought of spiritual accomplishment is instantly torpedoed by the obvious presence of these disturbing attitudes and mind states. One of my teachers tells a story passed directly to him by a simple Thai forest monk, who though ignorant of modern scientific discoveries, was far advanced in spiritual knowledge:
“Everyone wants to be a somebody. Nobody wants to be a nobody. If there ever was a somebody who really was a nobody. That nobody would really be a somebody.”
Therein lies the riddle of spiritual awakening. One must constantly strive to see the hidden machinations of ego, the shadow of Mara sneaking in unnoticed, not allowing oneself to get too comfortable with states of calm and bliss, lulling one’s awareness to sleep, allowing very old (beginningless in Buddhist thought) habits to arise, planting new habitual (karmic) obstacles within the mind-body continuum habitually grasped as an independently existent I. This delusional grasping at an inherently existent I is the fundamental problem and obstacle to our happiness.
There are no magic pills or practices enabling us to transcend our worldly neuroses and sufferings (samsara in Buddhist terms). True spiritual maturity is only accomplished through patient practice. We must patiently pull the weeds of our deluded states from the wild untamed garden of our mind – replacing distraction with mindfulness, self-cherishing with universal compassion.
There is a parallel between kundalini syndrome within the individual, and the materialism of modern culture. We are enthralled with our gadgets and gizmos – whether they are used for personal entertainment or commerce. We are taught to equate progress with material development instead of spiritual development. We are wowed by powerful apps and peak experiences, paying less attention to the plain, mundane and pedestrian. Achieving balance and healing with the biosphere will require the same qualities as needed for inner spiritual development – mindfulness, compassion, patience, courage to confront false narratives and old habits (like our addiction to fossil fuel derived energy and meat).
Whether we are experiencing the awakening of internal wind energy or discussing technological solutions to the planetary crisis, we must remain extremely mindful to avoid being fooled or distracted. Material technology is useful, but not a solution by itself. Similarly if we succumb to spiritual materialism, while forgetting the basics of practice, we have gone astray and lost the path. Learn to love your enemies, practice deep sharing with all life, develop true understanding of the truth of interconnectedness with all life. Walk on.