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Psychedelics and Kundalini – A Journey of Discovery

‘Even now, when spontaneous awakenings appear to be more frequent, people who are uninformed about Kundalini may initially be fearful of this power. Accurate knowledge about the unfolding of this process can provide enormous comfort.’ (Lawrence Edwards, 2013, p xv)


It is 12 September, 2023. I’m journeying on high dose psilocybin at a psychedelic training retreat in Holland. Overwhelming waves of energy seize me, pushing the ‘I’, I know as myself aside. My body is moved into strange positions which I strain to hold until I can no longer. Although the force and intensity are hard to bear, I offer myself to what feels like possession by a divine, feminine consciousness flowing through me. It is a demand, an exhortation. She claims me. 


mandala drawing
Mandala

I believe this is the strongest experience I have had of what Naranjo calls the ‘kundalini phenomenon’. I say ‘believe’ as, really, I don’t know. How can I know if my inner experience is like someone else’s – let alone like something people have written about for centuries!

Psychedelics, Naranjo suggests, are ‘kundalini activators’. My first, mild, experiences came in 1997, while in a Holotropic Breathwork session. I had no idea what was happening, but people told me this is not at all unusual when entering non-ordinary states of consciousness. No big deal.


Over the years I’ve had further experiences – during Holotropic Breathwork and meditation, while using psychedelics, and arising spontaneously during the night. Some of these experiences were, especially in the early years, quite challenging, both physically and psychologically. But more of that later.


In case it’s helpful to some of you, I want to share my attempt at making sense of such experiences as they arise during psychedelic journeys in the widest sense - times of entering non-ordinary states of consciousness which are ‘mind-manifesting’.


This is not a systematic study. I’ve just used whatever I found that seemed helpful - bits of Jungian psychology, object relations theory, and new ways of understanding consciousness, reality, and feminine ways of knowing.


And of course, this is only my understanding - a reflection of where I’ve got to. You will bring your own experiences and understanding, which I hope we can find a way to share. We all catch glimpses of the whole, and we will bring our own distortions. Maybe together we can align to build a fuller picture.


I write out of my concern that people using psychedelics may not be sufficiently prepared for kundalini experiences.


While it may be mentioned, such experiences seem not to be much explored in training courses or psychedelic preparation. Without some prior knowledge, the experience could be frightening.


People might resist, or try to control or force the process. They might feel they are going ‘mad’, and those around them may dismiss their experiences or mis-diagnose them as a sign of poor mental health. People have been hospitalised and medicated.




So, what is kundalini?


Shakti, which is called kundalini as it manifests in human experience, is described as an autonomous, subtle (non-physical), creative force. It’s present in everything - a kind of feminine, energetic presence or consciousness.


In humans, we can think of it as an archetypal process of embodied, self-directed, psycho-spiritual transformation – an inner tendency towards growth and healing.


Kundalini-Shakti was extensively written about in Hindu and Buddhist Tantric texts from the C4 onward, but it was known about all over the world, including in China (Taoism) and prehistoric South American cultures.


Some use the metaphor of a snake which lies dormant, coiled at the bottom of our spine until it’s activated. Then, it rises through our core, through a network of energy conduits, in particular the Ida, Pingala, and the central channel, the Sushumna. As it goes, it energizes a series of chakras - energy centres which interpenetrate the physical body.


It seems to be a natural, universal potential human experience, which is increasingly being reported by Westerners.



What does it feel like, and what causes it to activate?


One of the first to investigate kundalini was Dr Lee Sannella (1987). He interviewed a number of Westerners about what he called physio-kundalini experiences.

They described sensations of heat and/or cold; internal light or sounds; varying amounts of pain throughout the body; emotional, mental, and thought disruptions; detachment / dissociated cognitive states; feeling their body was much larger than it is; and out of body experiences.  


More recent studies, such as by Richard Maxwell and Sucharit Katyal (2022) found very similar experiences.


While kundalini energy can come up spontaneously, a range of triggers have been identified, such as engaging in Eastern practices (meditation, yoga); near-death experiences; psychedelics or Holotropic Breathwork; and physical or emotional stress, or trauma.

It is thought that entering non-ordinary states of consciousness can activate kundalini because they relax our ego-control and body armour.


As we become less defended, and as the energy moves through and clears our blocks against experiencing the fullness of our being, intense emotional, psycho-somatic and spiritual experiences can arise.



And yes, it can be scary…


For me there were intense, challenging energetic states which were also ecstatic and deeply satisfying; a sense of being seized by an overwhelmingly powerful, deeply feminine, intelligent energy which streamed or radiated through me; inward vibration, shaking, and changing heart rhythms; heat; physical pain; involuntary physical movements, straining and changes in breathing; and powerful emotional and dream-like inner processes and emotional release.


I’ve been afraid of having a heart attack or stroke due to the force of the energy. From my post session notes:


[I’m] concerned that if I’m open and let the energy run through, it may burn me. It seems like someone answers me saying ‘The blocks are illusory, and you can take the energy’. I should trust and let it happen. (Holotropic Breathwork, May ’97)


I have also been terrified of the seemingly bizarre inner narratives that unfolded, especially during the night. These felt very real while I was in the experience, and it was a while before I learned to relate to them as a form of spontaneous active imagination.


They included having a sense of being possessed by a powerful force or entity; feeling ecstatically drawn into a process of being fed on by, and feeding on, a vampire; experiencing initiation into being a witch and having symbolic objects inserted into me; and so desperately longing to know reality, that I entered into a Faustian pact to surrender my soul for that knowledge.


These were spontaneous night-time episodes of kundalini, not involving psychedelics. Thankfully I could always go to work in the morning, and my daytime sense of reality was not affected, except for one time when I remember going round to a friend’s, crying, terrified I had really signed my soul away...


These experiences felt profound and important to me, and driven by my fears, I needed to make sense of them. Jung has been my lifeline in doing this, so that is where I’ll pick up this story in my next piece.



About the Author: Jeannet Weurman, MSW, DipCouns, trained with Stan Grof in Holotropic Breathwork facilitation in the late 90s, and recently completed a two-year training in Deep Relational Process training (psychedelic-assisted therapy) with the Institute of Psychedelic Therapy in the UK. She co-facilitates a psychedelic integration circle in

Cambridge and is a volunteer guide with the Imperial College PsilOCD trail.


In four short articles about psychedelics, kundalini, Jungian psychology, and feminine

consciousness Jeannet will write about her own journey of integration of material she

found difficult to come to terms with. She stresses the need for training courses and

practitioners who offer preparation and integration for work with psychedelics, to be

well-informed about the phenomenon of kundalini, so they can prepare and support

journeyers, should such experiences arise.


She uses the experience of numinosity as an indicator of potential points of intuitive resonance between psychological and spiritual theories and proposes the possibility of the constellation of a ‘kundalini complex’, in the hope that such a familiar, psychological term might be helpful for Westerners in thinking about kundalini. Jeannet’s other interest is developing a trauma-informed approach in hospice and palliative care through the Trauma-Informed Palliative Care Project. She lives in Cambridge, UK.


The artwork, other than her own ‘mandala’ drawings at the start of each article, is used

with kind permission from visionary artist Ted Wallace. https://tedwallaceart.com/

 


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