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Psychedelics and Kundalini – Insights from Psychology

This is the second article of the series "Psychedelics and Kundalini". To read the first article, click here. The following experience came during a Holotropic Breathwork session.

I have a sense of being a carcass. […] There are snakes writhing where my stomach had been. Something is going up through my ribcage, into my skull, and boring out through the crown. Then searing light goes all the way through, bleaching the bones. Eventually, I dissolve and turn to powder. I’m still there, though. For a while, I just ‘am’, without a body. I wonder if this is what it’s like to be dead. A tingling [energy] rises up […]. My breath almost stops for a while, as I experience a bright, white light inside. […] Then, a period of nothing. I’m in a black space - nowhere. I feel stuck, cut off, and terrified. Alone. […] Lost. In the end, my body doesn’t feel like a carcass anymore. I don’t really have a body, but to the degree I do, it is made of dried skin or parchment sewn together and filled with stuff. It’s dead, brown, a bit angular, box-like. My head is the head of a dog.    

                                                            (Holotropic Breathwork, April ’98)

drawing kundalini energy

This is the second of my reflections on how to make sense of what Naranjo called the ‘kundalini phenomenon’, and the strange physical and mental states that can come with it.

Psychedelics, Naranjo suggests, are ‘kundalini activators’ and I have been driven to explore the meaning of these ineffable, chaotic and intense states by my fears of what they might lead to.

At a point at which I was most terrified, I turned to Jung and his ideas about the collective unconscious, individuation and the Shadow.

Jung on Kundalini

Carl Jung (1875-1961) developed a deep interest in kundalini and the tradition of Tantra, which he saw as a symbolic theory of the psyche. He offered his thoughts in a series of seminars in 1932.

Eastern and Western psychology, he thought, were fundamentally different.

In the West, we tend to focus on the way our ego works and how it interacts with the world around it, while in the East people have tended to see the ego as a hindrance to experiencing a more collective, transpersonal dimension of mind - the non-ego.

Jung thought descriptions of the Eastern experience of kundalini mirrored what he understood as the process of individuation – a drive in all of us towards psychological growth and transformation. 

While Jung has been criticized for thinking Westerners might get too absorbed in their inner world if they engaged in Eastern techniques of ego-dissolution, I think his suggestion that kundalini is a direct, embodied awareness of the influence of an impersonal, independent dimension of our being, of the non-ego or the Self, is helpful.

Jung agreed with the Eastern view that the psyche and body are one, inter-penetrating whole. Psyche permeates the body but extends beyond it.

Jung’s Understanding of the Chakras

For Jung, the chakras represented qualities of experience which relate to stages of psychological development – a move towards greater awareness of the reality of a subtle (non-physical) dimension of experience.

He describes the chakras as having two aspects – a ‘gross’ physical or material dimension and a subtle, psychic, dynamic one. This subtle dimension includes our mind, thoughts, intuitions, emotions, feelings and other forms of energy.

As kundalini energy moves through the chakras, we become increasingly aware of psychic realities that lie outside of our ego.  We see our psyche is not really our own, as it is infused by a wider, psychic field of information – the collective unconscious.

painting gods of earth
Gods of Earth - Ted Wallace

We start to disidentify from our ego to a degree and can see ourselves and our lives in context, more objectively.

Jung thought seeing our ego as reliant on something larger than itself and aligning ourselves with the more impersonal values of the Self, was important for our wellbeing at a time of increasing alienation. He gives a detailed description of the chakras and how they reflect stages in our psychological development in his 1932 seminar. I have given a very brief summary in the slides of my talk, but it would go too far to go through that here.

As both kundalini and the Self are understood to drive the process of individuation, Dana Swain has suggested we can think of kundalini as an embodied experience of the Self.  

But what about those strange thoughts that can come with kundalini?

Jung came up with a couple of concepts which help understand how these can be triggered by kundalini.

Archetypes and Complexes

Archetypes are ‘a priori’, universal, formative principles or patterns in the personal and collective psyche. They structure the way we encounter the world. They have a deeply meaningful, awesome, numinous quality, and we can never know them directly.

The main archetype is that of the Self. Where the ego is the centre of our awareness, the Self is the centre of the psyche - a kind of ‘god-image’ we carry inside of us.

painting by Ted Wallace
Soaring - Insite Out - Ted Wallace

Complexes are unconscious clusters of psychic content (memories, associations, behaviours, etc.) around a core element with a strong emotional charge. This core draws in material from the personal and collective psyche, in line with archetypal patterning.

Complexes are more or less autonomous, and we register them in an embodied as well as a mental way.

The Anima

A key archetype in the context of kundalini is the Anima. Jung describes the Anima as the archetype of life itself. She is the image of ‘Woman’ in a man’s psyche – a feminine soul and complex, the counterpart to his Persona.

The Anima has many forms - light and dark, with reasonable and form-giving aspects and terrifying paradoxes and ambivalences. She is of great value but also carries dangers. Until men consciously relate to their Anima, they will project her and engage with her in their external lives.

Jung thought that for women, the Animus had a similar function.

Gareth Hill suggests there are two aspects to this feminine dimension of our being, which together reflect the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.

There is a static dimension to the feminine – the creative, regenerative potential of life; motherhood – the mystery of manifesting psyche or soul in material life. This dimension supports form. It is linked to nature and to the preservation of life.

There is also a dynamic dimension, which dissolves and morphs form. This involves a spontaneous, responsive, intuitive surrender to what is new, non-rational, and playful. This dimension is linked to the creative, playful aspects of chaos - the creative synthesis of evolution. It brings ineffable wisdom through direct experience.

Femtheogenic consciousness

Maria Papaspyrou describes the way ego-based Western patriarchy feels threatened by feminine consciousness. It has denied and oppressed it so that we have lost the guides and frameworks of mystery traditions, rites and rituals, which had evolved to channel feminine ways of knowing. Feminine consciousness has moved into the unconscious – our collective Shadow.

It can’t be captured in language but flows fluidly through dreams, signs and symbols. To heal ourselves and society we need to trust again in intuitive knowing, in surrendered, embodied being, and in the creativity of chaos.

We need to reconnect with the Anima Mundi, the World Soul – the intrinsic connection between all beings and aspects of creation. She is consciousness in matter. We need to restore the balance between masculine and feminine ways of knowing and being.

Maria uses the term ‘femtheogenic consciousness’ to describe the way expanded states give access to the feminine archetype and its ways of knowing through the deep psyche. It re-enchants matter (nature, the body), restoring the link between matter and soul.

This is also what is said of Kundalini.

The link to kundalini as it can manifest with the use of psychedelics

As kundalini is the individual form of shakti – the cosmic, divine, feminine, foundational force of manifestation - Dana Swain sees it as an Anima image.

Kundalini brings a call into a process of death and rebirth – death of the ego, through the total defeat and surrender of will, and rebirth as we are changed in the process.

We are drawn by the Self into the depth of our inner world as part of individuation towards wholeness.

Dana stresses that, although for Jung Anima and Animus were linked to gender, in Tantra the feminine principle of kundalini lies in men and women equally.

As a quality of consciousness, kundalini reflects the feminine aspect of Eros - a more immediate, non-rational, intuitive way of knowing; embodied, experiential, and relational.

This could bring an integration of masculine and feminine energies in our psyche and could balance out our Western, Apollonian, logos-based culture, but, following centuries of repression, this fiery love can involve a Dionysian movement of wild abandon to instinct and deep feeling, which, if not channeled well, can lead to tragedy as well as ecstasy.

This brings us back to the question of how safe it is to open up to such powerful energies while using psychedelics. This is where we will start next time.

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.

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