“It happens sometimes. People just explode.” Repo Man, 1984.
“Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through my spinal cord. Entirely unprepared for such a development I was completely taken by surprise; but regaining self-control instantaneously, I remained sitting in the same posture, keeping my mind on the point of concentration. The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring loude, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light.” Gopi Krishna, Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Shambala Publications: Boulder and London, 1971. pp.12-13.
Yes. People just explode. For me it was like a blast of wind that blew every molecule apart and put me back together again in a nanosecond, but with a slightly different assembly. Prepare for a tale of strange.
It was the evening of Nov. 7, 2001. My husband, children, and I had just moved into a new home in September. We were about to light a fire in the fireplace for the first time. I remember my husband’s mood as somewhat disgruntled though I can’t remember why. But it was a Wednesday and so it was likely he’d had a hard day at work.
I’d already had several unusual experiences in my life, especially in the year that immediately preceeded this incident. You could label them “psychic” or “spiritual,” and though I was fascinated by them, they were not a welcome topic of conversation in my marriage. In fact, I’d become obsessed with Hawaiian culture in that last year, as most of these experiences had happened in Maui and Hawai’i Island. I wanted to understand these experiences and their possible cultural context. To that end, I’d been corresponding with some native Hawaiian activists about sovereignty, and had also taken up the study of hula. And I was doing as much reading as possible. (However it would be a few years before I was also aware of the impact of white settler/colonists having spiritual experiences in those islands).
That evening, because my husband was grumpy, I went into the bedroom to check email. I was in the middle of a particularly generous and informative correspondence with a cultural practioner in O’ahu, and I was always delighted to get an email from him. I had so many questions, and though he couldn’t answer them all (why should he?), he was kind enough to answer some. There was a phrase in his latest email, a particularly poignant one (from a historical and spiritual view), and when I read this phrase, it was like a light switch turning on.
The big wind ripped through me, the energy rushed through me, it tore me apart, left me staggered and changed. In that brief span of time I had also acquired a “visitor” and she (I know it was a she) was with me until the sponteneous kundalini surge finally subsided on Sept. 29, 2002.
“Alive…in a body…again!” The fierce visitor cried out in my soul and sounded through my body, and I, my little self encased like a small red bean in a gelatinous cube of her, could scarely believe what was happening.
So, you’re thinking “psychotic break,” right? I only wish it had been that simple. I could have gotten help. However, it might not have been the right kind of help. Stanislav and Christina Grof, who helped pioneer the concept of spiritual emergence (that might become an emergency) vs. psychosis, would have been the people I needed the most at that point. But I didn’t know of the existence of their work, or even what I was dealing with.
“…the Grofs’ definition of spiritual emergency, which is ‘both a crisis and an opportunity of rising to a new level of awareness'” (Grof & Grof, 1989, p. x)” Viggiano, D. B., & Krippner, S. (2010). The Grofs’ model of spiritual emergency in retrospect: Has it stood the test of time? International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(1), 118–127.. http://dx.doi.org/10.24972/ijts.2010.29.1.118
Though I was aware that I was experiencing something that was extremely abnormal, my only way of dealing with the question of my sanity (at least at first) was to ask, “Am I functional?” And the answer was, yes, I was. I continued to take care of my children, work at a part-time job, carry on normal conversations, and look and act mostly as I usually did, even with this fierce guest surrounding me like a marshmellow aura. For she was not “in” me, she was surrounding me. I never knew her name and only really knew her emotions and “pre-thoughts” (quasi-verbal). Clear statements like “alive, in a body…” were rare. She was ancient, with a consciousness very unlike that of a modern person, the embodiment of an atavistic culture. I could not presume to know her well.
She was very emotional. The first three months were agony. In fact, as soon as she appeared in my life, a smell of death entered the house and lasted for three whole weeks. Everyone could smell it. We had heating vents and the basement inspected, tried to locate the source of the smell, nothing was found that could explain it. It was a cold, rainy season, and my youngest son was sick during part of that time, and so I could not open the windows for fresh air. The terrible odor built to a crescendo until the moment I could feel it subside. I was halfway up the stairs to the second floor, and I felt it decrease. You can imagine my thankfulness.
She cried at the sight of islands in San Francisco Bay, while driving across the Bay Bridge. She was astonished at the sight of magnolias blooming against a bright blue sky. She wondered where her people were. She wanted to share what she was seeing. She wondered why she was torn out of time. She didn’t seem to wonder about me, at all.
I wondered about her, of course. Was this a past-life fragment? Or a spirit “sitting” on me (noho) as one of my Hawaiian correspondents thought? I experienced her as sexually and emotionally intense, proud, lonely, and full of anticipation–but anticipation for what? Whatever she was, she was 24/7 and there was no escaping her.
My own heightened kundalini surges were also part of this mix. They were agonizing too, especially before I got used to them. I also experienced powerful lucid teaching dreams during this time. But could I tell my husband about all this? It took me about six months to do it. The results were…mixed. I felt estranged. Still, my family grounded me during this period. Without them, I would have been unmoored.
Fast forward to a period of crisis. Toward the end of summer, 2002, I began to feel suicidal. I was exhausted by my experiences, but there was nothing in my life (except her) that would have caused me to have these feelings. Now I was worried. I began to question my ability to cope. And still I soldiered on with family tasks. “Professional help” was not an option for some reason. Perhaps I was afraid that I really was crazy after all.
However, I encountered two healers. One was a man skilled in a Tibetan modality that used chanting and breath work, and though he provided a bit of relief, it wasn’t enough.
Then on Sept. 29, 2002, I took my oldest kid to the Novato Renaissance Faire, feeling utterly horrible yet determined to provide a nice outing for my child. As we approached the Caravansary portion of the faire, I grabbed my kid’s hand and said, “We’re going to get a reading!” (I’d never done that before.) We made a beeline for one of two “fortune tellers.”
“You’re a writer. You have to write the happy ending,” said the fortune teller, a woman who was to become a friend. This was the key phrase to end the “enchantment” of the first phrase that had triggered the whole incident in the first place. Magic words indeed. I had the power to “write” the happy ending. The fortune teller saved my life.
By the next morning, the woman who’d been with me all that time was gone. She’d melted away. In her place was a gestalt, a vista of that woman’s situation as I could understand it, the fragment of her life that I’d relived along with her, for whatever reason.
She’d been pregnant and anticipating the baby’s arrival with love and joy. She had also counted on the baby as important to her status (within her community or perhaps with the father–I am not sure). But she’d lost the baby, either as a still birth or shortly afterwards. I think her natural grief was complicated by post-partum depression, maybe even psychosis. She leapt off a cliff, but returned to her senses just as her feet left the ground. (I could feel that, an equivalent to “oh shit!” in modern terminology.) Now, the above may just be a narrative offered by my subconscious as a comfortable context, but the essence feels “true,” even if the details are not. Who is to say?
And so my challenge had been to experience her and her emotions, but to not do as she had done. At least, that is the meaning I took away from this bewildering incident. Also, there are other parts to this story that I am not sharing as they are more deeply personal.
Once this experience was over (to my profound relief), I began to study tantra with the thought that if a spontaneous kundalini surge ever happens again, I want practices that will help me deal with it.
Later I would find the book, The Woman in the Shaman’s Body, by Barbara Tedlock (Bantam, 2005). She offers anthropological evidence of “self-initiation” among women, contrary to the usual practice for men, which she says generally consists of study and initiation within established mystery schools and traditions. She also writes of her own experiences with koyopa (“sheet lightening”) as “flowing and shimmering” body energy: “Initially these ecstatic feelings seemed strange, and I was frightened that I was becoming possessed by something outside myself” (p.79).
When I was in my late teens, someone took me to a dowdy little “psychic church” in San Diego. At the time, I was in the midst of dire circumstances, mostly involving a suicidal childhood sweetheart. When it was my turn in the circle for comment from the medium, she took one look at me and said, “Don’t waste your time on tears, honey.” And though I’ve shed too many over the years, I’ve also tried to accomplish whatever it is I think I’m supposed to be doing here.
I have come to see my own experience of “spontaneous combustion” as a true “spontaneous initiation” of the sort known by female-identified and multi-gendered people throughout time. It forced me onto a (very convoluted) path and though I haven’t always known what I’m doing, I do know that I have to do “it” anyway. Tears or not.
Thanks for reading. If you’re a fellow traveller, let me know you’re out there.