Philosophy Behind Kundalini Mediumship
Karma and Nervous System Imprinting
The spine and nervous system are the are the gateways to our energetic body. They are where traumas and karmas are held. These traumas and karmas imprint patterns onto our physical body and cause us to carry ourselves in a particular way, both physically and energetically. Physical pain like a knee or foot injury causes us to limp. A limp is a way of protecting our damaged tissue– we don’t put weight on a damaged foot so that we don’t aggravate the injury. However, if we don’t stop limping we will never learn how to use our foot correctly, and we’ll eventually imbalance our whole system. Emotional and energetic pain causes the same issues and has the same potential. For example, some people with unresolved trauma learn to walk with their head down and shoulders slumped. That can be a way of retreating from the outside world, of protecting a damaged psyche. Over time, that pattern will create tightness and pain in the spine and neck, eventually causing a systemic imbalance and laying the groundwork for other maladies. Our whole body (physical, emotional and energetic) is actually a complex map containing all of our accumulated memories, thoughts, feelings and actions. The nervous system holds all of these things, and then projects and recreates those memories out into the world. Whatever patterns are present within our nervous system become the basis for how we interact with the world. The world will manifest to reflect back our imprinting in a self fulfilling feedback loop. Abuse, trauma, unexpressed emotions– these hidden parts of ourselves (collectively called the shadow) are constantly engaged with the outside world– using the outside world to reflect and draw attention to itself. If a person does not realize this, the world is only a dark, scary, fearful place. Of course in many ways it is! But if we try to change the world without actively working on our own shadow it will not change, because our own shadow is an extension of that disturbed external world. If a person does not actively engage with their own shadow, and begin the process of self-healing, their war with the world will continue and they will head deeper into anger, depression, violence and hatred.
There’s a tribe in India called the Gadulia Lohar. They were known as excellent weapon makers and armorers for the ancient kingdom of Mewar. However, in 1568, the kingdom was defeated in battle by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Taking the defeat personally, the Gadulia Lohar vowed to never spend a night in a village, light a lamp after dark or draw water from a well because of their intense shame. To this day the people of that community carry the burden of a 450 year old memory and the children continue to take their vows. We all carry burdens not just from our personal history, but from our family and culture, impacting our view of ourselves and the world.
The important thing to remember is that when an unhealed traumatic pattern reoccurs it is because the trauma is trying to reveal and heal itself. It is not punishment, it’s not because you’re a bad person. The shadow will try to trick you, to make you think your trauma is a manifestation of how “bad” or “sinful” or “damaged” you are, when in fact the shadow is really only a flimsy covering over our divine essence, or our essential truth and goodness. We have to recognize how the wounded shadow speaks to us, versus how the truth sounds. When people have been listening to only the shadow for most of their lives, it can be very hard to discern the voice of truth. It can actually be rewarding for some people to listen to how bad or damaged or sinful they are, as it allows us them the comfort of self-pity. It can be much more difficult and painful for some of us to see our own divinity.
Dissociation and Addiction
This is not the place to go into all the ramifications or scientific understanding of addiction. I’d just like to say that for the purposes of this work, let’s view addiction as a process that is adopted by people (mostly unconsciously) in order to take them out of experiencing their pain and suffering. If we don’t find a way to process and release trauma, we will develop coping mechanisms so that we can continue with life and get some distance from our suffering. This is a process of dissociation, of trying to remove ourselves from the source of our pain. It’s a short-term solution with long term consequences because we only create the illusion of a disconnection with the trauma or pain. We can never truly disconnect from unprocessed trauma. It lives inside of us, in our nervous system and other bodily tissues. The trauma will return– as sickness, disease, pain, dysfunctional relationships, etc.
Substance abuse fits perfectly into this process. When we use substances to mitigate difficult emotions/trauma, then that substance becomes a part of the dissociative process. It is not the substance itself that is the problem, but whether that substance is used to disconnect. When someone is deep in their addiction they will do whatever they can to maintain the illusion of the disconnect from their suffering. The wounded ego will do whatever it can to avoid healing because healing involves directly confronting pain and suffering. That’s why addiction specialists say that some people need to hit rock bottom before they can change. When there is literally no other place to go, and the substances can’t keep up their illusion on the addict’s mind is when he or she is really ready to begin healing. But the addict is not just the down and out person we see on the street. It’s us! We’ve all tried to escape from our suffering, and we can all understand the process of dissociation.
If the underlying pattern of the wounded ego is dissociation, or trying to get away from our feelings, then we break that pattern by cultivating awareness. This may sound simple, but putting it into practice is tricky! Real awareness is tapping into our feelings and sensations in each moment. If we're angry, we not only feel our anger but we are aware of its source. Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone and realized at some point that you're actually not angry about what you're arguing about? Maybe you realize that the other person triggered some long-held pain. Congratulations, some people never make it that far! You've at least developed the awareness that your anger is deeper than what's happening at the surface.
As I talked about earlier, our karma and trauma have a way of attracting people and situations that reflect back these deeper issues. If we never develop the awareness of these deeper things, then we'll continue to repeat them and re-traumatize ourselves, creating more karma.
A lot of times people come into the clinic wanting help with a particular sickness or disease, and with no understanding of the emotional/spiritual components of their sickness/disease. Some people are beginning to tap into these other components and talk about the mind/body connection, or wanting to “destress” their lives. But this is only surface level stuff. At a clinical level, what I’ve seen time and time again (and in myself) is the physical manifestation of suppressed emotions and traumas. This is really deep stuff, going beyond simple stress. Through tracking, we can find the roots of our karmic and emotional patterns in childhood and past life trauma, and in the reflections of interpersonal relationships. But in our bodies, we can actually physically feel where these roots live. We have to connect into our bellies, and find the karmic roots that we’ve allowed to take hold in our system. These roots are like a twisting, gnarled mass that bury themselves deep into our guts, and then extend out into other parts of our body. Its no wonder people try to disconnect from this— its very scary stuff! But If we don’t connect to and process what’s there, our bodies will force us into this process eventually through creating sickness. Every moment of our life is an opportunity to connect into ourselves, or continue the process of dissociation. Sickness is actually the process used by nature to help us heal these patterns if we make the decision to connect inward. But if we don’t do this work, we develop an antagonistic relationship with sickness, just as we develop an antagonistic relationship with the external world that does not meet our expectations.
This is why the breath and bandha work are the keys to kundalini mediumship. We can’t run away from the sickness and divine held in our bellies when doing breath and bandha work. This is also why the process of healing our interpersonal relationships through uncomfortable conversations is also a part of the work.
These terms come from the yogic tradition. They came from a particular time, place and culture that is in many ways very foreign to us. My goal with this work is to translate these terms into a language that is approachable for us in our culture. In doing so, I may translate or understand these terms differently than others, and my goal is not to claim an absolute understanding or interpretation of these concepts, only to share my own personal understanding of them and how they relate to my work.
Nadis – channels (or rivers) that run through the body. This is equivalent to the nervous system, or more specifically, the karmic imprinting that is held within the nervous system.
Kundalini – the primal energy that is the basis of creation and healing. When this energy is dormant, we are like a train on a set of tracks. We can look back from our train car and see our past karmas, wounds, family and cultural baggage behind us. All those past karmas bind us to a certain future. We end up perpetuating and recreating the life situations that we know, and that creates an inescapable set of train tracks that we can see into the future. For many people, changing these train tracks is scary. Many people would rather stay on a train of suffering that they know instead of working through their wounds and opening themselves up to the unknown. However this is the nature of the kundalini. It is the energy of creation and destruction, and navigating it requires trust and a letting go into the unknown. When the kundalini is awakened, it starts clearing away those imprints, and we realize that we are not victims of the past or bound to a set future. These imprints manifest in the physical body as blockages. The kundalini vibrates throughout the body and unwinds the blockages.
Sushumna – this is the central channel (or nadi) of the body, equivalent to the spinal canal. It starts in the perineum and ascends through all the chakras and exits at the top of the head. The chakras are energetic spots that hold all of our karmic information, but in reality they are just extensions of the sushumna, connected by nadis to the central channel. Emotions/karma/traumas twist up and block the sushumna. In this work, we access the sushumna (and therefore the chakras) through the breath and bandhas.
Granthi-- this is a knot deep within our belly, hidden behind our belly button. There are actually many granthis in the body, and different yogic texts describe their locations differently. By working through this knot-- with the kundalini vibrating and opening and unwinding it, we can access all of the nadis in the body. The kundalini herself will unwind the karmic knots in the manner she sees fit. When this process happens, people can experience vibrations or numbness in strange parts of the body, sweating, or hot or cold sensations. This is the kundalini unwinding and releasing our karmic knots.
Bandhas – muscle contractions or locks. Bandhas are used to open up the abdomen-- to clear out blockages so that the kundalini can flow. In this work, most of our focus is on mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. There is a spot deep in our abdomen that we have to find by uniting uddiyana bandha and mula bandha. We have to do a lot of internal work to find this spot (breaking through Vishnu granthi), but when we do the kundalini will begin to move. The final component here is the breath. After we open this spot with bandha work, we then bring our breath into it.
Mula bandha – contraction of the muscle group between the genitals and anus (the perineum). This is a "pulling up" movement.
Uddiyana bandha – contraction in the abdominal cavity. This is a "pulling in" movement.
Jalandhara bandha – contraction of the spot just above the sternum
4 phases of breathing – inhale, inhale retention, exhale, exhale retention. Breath retention is called kumbhaka. Mula bandha can be performed at any stage of the breathing cycle. Uddiyana bandha usually begins during the exhale and peaks at the exhale retention.
Breath and Kundalini
The general movement of kundalini is in an upward and outward direction. As the kundalini travels up the spinal canal and out to the peripheral nervous system, there is an inverse process that needs to happen with the breath. Breath must travel down from the nose and mouth when we inhale, and then into the chest and abdomen. There are 2 doorways that need to be open for this process to happen smoothly. The first is the notch just above the sternum. This is the doorway that lets prana travel from the throat into the lungs. The second is the solar plexus. This allows prana to travel from the chest into the belly. The kundalini travels upward from the base of the spine, breaking through blockages in the abdomen (during the exhale and exhale retention). When blockages open up, we breathe in to create space to allow prana to flow into those places (during the inhale and inhale retention). In the yogic texts, this is called mixing the prana vayu with the apana vayu. Again, reading about these things is an intellectual exercise. Understanding how it works in your body is the goal. These are things that are discussed during treatments and workshops
Kali and Karma
When the kundalini begins her ascent, she moves from the first chakra located at the perineum (the lowest point of our torso) into the second chakra. The second chakra is the realm of the goddess Kali. (Special thanks to Bhagavan Das and Sharada Devi for this teaching). This is the point when things can become very difficult. Kali in her fierce and awakened state symbolizes all of our suppressed emotion and unhealed trauma. According to the laws of karma, we must eventually experience the fruits of all of our actions. Usually this process takes many lifetimes. But the awakened kundalini can force us to confront all of that karma very quickly. If we are not prepared to really see, acknowledge, and heal our shadow-- to really go deeply INSIDE, then Kali will become our antagonizer. She will take the forms of our worst demons-- not to terrorize us, but to force us to confront our own unhealed darkness. So what's the force that compels us to go inward, into our suffering rather than try to escape it? Read on...
Tapas is sometimes translated as "austerities". In India, there are groups of holy men and women who have chosen to disengage from the everyday demands of society. They are sadhus. The sadhu has chosen to focus solely on spiritual life, forgoing the benefits and responsibilities of society and focusing on tapas. Tapas is the art of actively confronting the part of our mind that seeks to avoid discomfort. Our "monkey mind" seeks contentment and ease, but we paradoxically create more pain and suffering by avoiding the darkness inside ourselves.
As long as we actively engage with discomfort instead of trying to disconnect from it we are practicing tapas. Tapas is key if we are going to raise the kundalini from the dark, hidden, shadowy realm of Kali. Tapas generates heat and internal fire. That fire helps burn away our karmas and provides the upward force to elevate the kundalini.
Tapas doesn't have to be "spiritual" though. It's any activity where we push through internal resistance to achieve a goal. Studying for a test when you'd rather watch TV or exercising when you feel lazy are both forms of tapas. So is saying sorry to someone you've wronged (forcing you to confront your pride) or standing up for yourself when someone treats you disrespectfully (confronting your fear). We don’t engage in tapas simply for its own sake— there are benefits, whether spiritual or material.
So the kundalini has been awakened. What now? What's the point? When the kundalini enters our heart, we begin to see the interconnectedness and sacredness of all things. We see ourselves as a part of the divine plan. Not just ourselves-- but our friends and family, neighbors, country, the planet... everything! And when we really take a look, and feel what's happening in our world, our hearts have to break-- to smash completely open. All the suffering that's in the world is inside of us and we have to awaken ourselves to the compassion that is right there. But to do that, we have to feel so deeply and strongly into all the hurts and joys of everything. This is the essence of bhakti yoga, which has been described as the highest form of yoga. The yoga asanas (or postures) are great, but they really should be used to prepare our body to hold the kundalini in our heart and to awaken our compassion and understand how we fit into the divine plan. Bhakti yoga is worship. The goal is to worship God so deeply and strongly that we begin to see God everywhere and in everything. The God that we worship-- whether its Jesus, Allah, Shiva... is really a bridge, a manifestation of God in one form so that we can then see God in all forms.
Meditation is the process of watching what is happening objectively without judgement. One of the most important parts of meditation is discomfort. The most common reaction to meditation is the desire to stop it, to move out of it. Most people take this as a sign that they can’t meditate or that they are no good at it. Quite the opposite! It means that you are successful at the first stage of meditation– noticing how mentally and physically uncomfortable you are. The physical discomfort and mental agitation are reflections of each other and a change in one will manifest as a change in the other. Gradually, if you sit and breathe through it, the discomfort and agitation will begin to transform and you’ll let them go. Then, after a little bit, they’ll come back! Many people ask me how long they should meditate. I usually tell them at the beginning, let that intense discomfort come and go 5 or 6 times so you learn how temporary those states are. You can gradually increase the number of times those waves come and go.
Tracking the Wound and the Obstacle
Tracking is the art of getting triggered, and using the triggering process to find our wounds inside. This is a many layered process and is very tricky! But here’s the basics.
When we get triggered, an external situation pushes our buttons and activates our wounds. Our wounds are memories, stories and imprints that we’ve carried around since childhood— the inherited trauma and suffering of our parents and ancestors. Whatever they were unwilling or unable to deal with is passed on to us, either to heal or pass on to the next generation. These wounds give us meaning and identity, but frequently at a great cost as we continually act out stories of suffering.
These stories are held in our body and send out energetic cords to the world around us. The wounds actually seek out people and situations that will trigger them, to bring them to the surface. We are in a continual process of triggering ourselves, of looking for people who will activate our wounded imprint! But unfortunately, most people don’t take this this opportunity to heal. This is because almost as soon as we are triggered, the obstacle jumps in.
The obstacle is the many layered wall that tries to keep us from going into our wounds. We create our obstacle as a way of dealing with our suffering. In our culture, we are not taught how to process difficult emotions or trauma. When we lack the ability to process those things, we end up trying to wall them off or disconnect from them. The obstacle has its own voice and it will do everything it can to keep us from feeling into our wound. It is the greatest block to our own self knowledge and at the same time the path in to our self-knowledge.
Our bodies are wonderful maps for tracking. The wound lives in our granthi (see the section on yogic anatomy). Within this knotted up mass we can access all of our wounding and trauma. But to really get in there we have to work through the obstacles, which manifest as tightness and rigidity in our abdomen. We can really see and feel into both the obstacles and the wounds through breath and bandha work— the physical keys to Kundalini Mediumship.
The other wonderful map for tracking exists in our interpersonal relationships. All of our relationships can reveal our wounding if we truly examine them. One of the things I counsel people about is their relationships with others. Frequently, people tell me that they cut off a relationship with someone because they can’t handle them or the other person causes them too much stress. Those phrases exist in the realm of the obstacle. The obstacle speaks in generalities and constantly references others. To work through the obstacle we have to think and speak specifically about ourselves and our own emotions. If someone is really willing to do this work, they can use difficult relationships to explore and even heal their own wounding. But that involves truly taking responsibility for our own wounds, and when we do that we can have relationships with anyone. This is very tricky work!
The word "malandragem" comes from Brazilian Portuguese. In order to explain malandragem, I have use my own knowledge of the history and culture of Brazil. I'm discussing this concept as an outsider, so I apologize for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations!
The Portuguese that colonized Brazil (like other Europeans at the time) imported slaves from Africa. In fact, the state of Bahia in Brazil was the biggest entry point for enslaved Africans in the Americas. And Brazil (like America) was founded on racism and oppression of people of African descent. Because Afro-Brazilians were denied access to schooling, proper health care, political power, jobs, etc. they had to make do and survive any way they could. This is where the concept of the malandro came in. The malandro was a hustler, using his cunning and wits to thrive in a society that didn't care whether he lived or died. He did this by using malandragem-- trickery, deceit, improvisation and adaptation to overcome difficult circumstances.
I first learned malandragem in the context of capoeira regional, the Brazilian martial art I learned from Mestre Almiro. Malandragem in this context is a little different. Capoeira regional is a dangerous, high intensity "game" where awareness of your surroundings is the most important skill to develop. The capoeiristas (capoeira players) form a circle (roda), playing musical instruments and singing. Then, two players jump into the circle and "play the game" with each other. The game involves a complex interaction between the two players and within the flow of the music. There can be a lot of acrobatics, fast kicks and complicated movements. One of the goals of the capoeirista is to create a beautiful flow of improvisation within the structure that the music provides. When you play, you have to be totally aware the whole time-- aware of the music's tempo and what's being communicated through the song, aware of where you are and your movements, aware of what your opponent is doing and anticipating his next move, and also aware that anyone from the circle could jump in at any time to "play" with you. You are also trying to confuse and outwit your opponent-- trying to get them out of their flow while they are trying to do the same to you.
Developing malandragem in this context means understanding and anticipating the forces coming at you. It also means being aware of your own strength and limitations, as well as the abilities of the person you are playing. Is the person playing against you bigger and stronger than you? Maybe you need to play defensively! Is he really proud of his acrobatic skills and does he want to show them off? Maybe you can catch him and make him look silly! Malandragem involves a playfulness, an ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances without taking things personally. It also means being able to adapt at any moment to the ever changing flow of the capoeira roda
The big picture, of course, is that the capoeira roda is a metaphor for the world. The world is a constantly changing, potentially dangerous place, with many forces coming at you from different directions. And just as in the roda, using malandragem can help us to have success in the world. We have to be aware of who or what is around us or coming at us. We have to remain in the flow of life, adapt to our environment, and redirect our energies into where we want to be without taking things personally and draining our energy.
How does malandragem fit into Kundalini Mediumship? Many of the fundamental concepts of Kundalini Mediumship run counter to our cultural norms. This work involves tapping into our inherent divine energy by directly diving into and confronting our wounds, by meeting our shadow head on. Most societal systems (political, religious, and cultural) are designed to disconnect us from our trauma and our emotions. They are like a capoeirista in a roda trying to get you to look at anything other than the danger right in front you. This is where malandragem comes into play. It is about developing the awareness of how messages in the world amplify the idea of disconnecting and dissociating from ourselves.
But the deeper malandragem work comes into play internally. We actually have to use malandragem on ourselves, on our wounding. Just like forces in the world, there are patterns inside of is that seek to keep us trapped in old patterns and old ways of doing things. Our trickiest opponent is actually inside ourselves. Using the concept of malandragem to work through and confront and heal from our own wounding is actually the essence and deepest work of kundalini mediumship.