Saturday, 23 August 2014

On Kundalini, the Serpent ...

Our Tantric series has been designed, in part, to transliterate an Eastern way of thinking into Western philosophical language. We do not think it useful to mask phenomena with obscure terms derived from exotic languages and faraway cultures - what I call the namastisation of language.

Not 'Namaste', please, but 'Yours Sincerely' at the end of a communication ... and yet the concept of Kundalini remains useful because there is no Western equivalent. The Qabala perhaps expresses the same concept to a degree but with an excess of intellect involved.

Kundalini, a serpentine Eastern goddess, conceptually represents the flow of psychic power coursing through the body from root to perceived transcendence far better than anything that has emerged out of late nineteenth century Vienna or mid twentieth century California.

We do require some term to describe how it feels to have an energy flow from Will in the mind down through the body and back up to the brain as a sensation. This serpent goddess and the identification of nodal body points called Chakras is the best that we have at this time.

Exactly what is a Chakra and what is not is disputed by the 'authorities' but the matter is probably best considered expansively as what nodal points seem to work for each person regardless of doctrine.

What flows of energy are felt between nodal points are equally a personal matter. The point is only that there are nodal points and that there are flows.

The consequent process of psychic management is essentially one of 'visualisation' - a mental concentration on nodal points and on flows in order to work inner change. We will return to visualisation later because not everyone can visualise easily and 'pure' visualisation overlaps with narrative dreaming.

The traditions might best be regarded as teaching methods but a certain autodidacticism is reasonable once the principles are established. Sometimes one has to accept a weak theory from a 'guru' in order to get access to the technique but one should always be cynical about theory. Ideologies rarely reflect all reality.

Let us demystify the chakras by translating the six widely established nodal points into language we can all understand:-

  • The root of the system is where we start. It is basically the near-arse where all the tension lies that needs exploding upwards. It is as if one shits one's liberation upwards. Waste out, enlightenment. up.The root, where we expel waste, is our link to the matter of the world through our adding to it. The metaphorical link with money and stress, or rather to our need to eat to add to a messy matter which takes us away from ourselves, is apposite.
  • The sex organs are the driver for enlightenment. It is our actual unconscious and libidinous centre. It is from where we may decide to move no further. It is the bit of us that we are socially and unconsciously (and incorrectly) inclined to see as monstrous and inchoate. Ordering this towards individuation and self is the necessary precursor to the next stage
  • The third chakra is the navel - rather it is our centre and our gut. It can be lower down in the abdomen in some and higher in the stomach in others but it is our bodily material core when we bother to think about it 
  • The heart is not the beating life-giver but where we feel high stress and emotion. It needs to be calmed for the next stage psychotherapeutically when our relationship to matter, the unconscious and to our 'root' have been dealt with.
  • The throat is the place from which the sounds arising from our heart are made real. It is the place of communication with existence, a connection with being. It is perhaps the hardest to understand. 
  • The 'third eye' is the expression of that mind as pure power, a surge of ultimately libidinous energy that not so much commands the world as makes the world irrelevant except in the light of the mind's command. Its action is non-magical because the world of matter itself is not changed but the view of the world is transformed - and so the world is transformed insofar as the world is imagined and magic returns by the back door. 
Above all this is a narrative of perceived transcendence which is a sensation of rising above and out of oneself that comes, as in a sequential flow, from the root, driven as an escape from the world, through awareness of material reality, emotional existence, the presence of existence and a sense of inward power towards something that, even if momentary, can be life-changing.

The concept of Kundalini as an unwinding serpent captures this process conceptually as libidinous energy operating beyond thought and reason as one's very core in action. All the attempts to conceptualise this process analogically and allegorically come down to variations on this theme.

We have the earthiness of our arse and the liquidity of our libido working through the furnace of our gut  to float free in our heart and into the sound-space of our throat - whatever! The symbolism is all very well for teaching but it obscures the path for the natural 'adept' who simply feels what is true in the core process.

The Nath sect's simplification into sexual organs, heart and head is equally intuitively right even if simplistic - libidinous drive, emotional somatic response and thought all driven towards the transcendent point that makes life more than just the drudgery of duty and social obligation.

The root or point between arse and genitals, the earthing point, is the threshold between being human and being unconscious matter, effectively between life and death. The Kundalini is cthonic, not accidentally a serpent, coming out of the Ground of Being to become transcendent from the death to which we will return.

What is being said here is that transcendence is the precise opposite of death, the counter-point where, albeit briefly perhaps and sometimes accidentally, the human being experiences the life-changing illusion of immortality, the eternal and the absolute - in a rewiring of the brain that permits new ways of seeing reality.

This brings us on to technique. Each of the traditional techniques is fundamentally physiological rather than spiritual (unlike, say Christian prayer). This gives us a clue to what is going on here. This is not an attempt to seek help from outside as in the Christian tradition but an active attempt to manipulate one's own matter.

This is not to say that 'prayer' does not work to achieve some desirable ends - including the suspension of disbelief to effect healing - but only that transformation of mind, rather than of body, requires a transformation of body through an aggressive engagement with it.

Physical re-positioning (yoga) and breathing exercises (pranayama) are rigorous, potentially dangerous, techniques that manipulate physiology in order to trigger biochemical change.

The rousing of the Kundalini through pranayama (and the equivalent Taoist exercises) are proven techniques for driving the sense of 'flow' upwards through the body. The surrounding analyses of what is going on may be absurd but that something is going on is a fact from the ground.

If symbolism and ritual enter into the process, this is based on the suggestibility of the body to the mind (as of the mind to the body). Pure visualisation can achieve transcendent ends as can pure physical technique while combinations of both may be regarded as 'pure'. What floats your boat is all that is required.

Different body/minds (aka persons) will have different abilities to 'think' somatically and conceptually. Most minds tend to fall on either side of dead centre of the continuum between the two.

The truth is that the body/mind is variably pre-geared to the possibility of transcendence and that it is the will to technique that is more vital than the precise method. Some literally 'yearn' for transcendent experience and other have no interest at all - neither type is superior to the other, simply different.

One might be aroused by sounds or words (which have physical aspects as sound waves), by mental images, by sexual excitation, by asceticism but the central point is that, by whatever means, a flow of energy is ready to roll and it just needs the trigger that suits that person.

The central question is always - who am I? Am I centred on the physical or the mental, on mind-emptying or mind-filling or on some combination of both? Katon Shual (Mogg Morgan) has a useful mental model, derived from Eastern practice, reproducing one's own body/mind as a visualised external temple.

Part of the success in this and other visualisations lies in the fixedness of perception inwardness away from external sensory distraction. All models - physical and mental - rely on a reduction of sensory inputs and their replacement by repetitiveness of function (stillness or concentration) or a fixedness of internal imagery.

It is the removal of the mind from the process of editing out extraneous data (including memory data) that permits that same mind to turn inward towards the body and so allow the flow of internal energy to start to work the 'non-magic' that will eventually result in the transcendent experience or such near-analogues that make the hard labour worthwhile.

This is also close to 'pathworking' in the neo-pagan community and is a technique that extends far beyond the usual tantric suspects. Or it is 'guided imagery' for those who see it as a technique for life without any attempt to add a spiritual gloss. Intensity of the experience can build up into a trance-like status of perceived non-magical 'magical' power.

A real adept at visualisation can construct whole worlds that are coherent, meaningful and perfectly reflective of specific personal issues, constructing a flow that mimics the 'goddess' Kundalini. She can create 'gods' or 'goddesses' integrated with herself to reflect and express aspects that are hard otherwise to articulate.

Personally, I have a set of separate coherent worlds all accessible through a defined portal and each framed by a narrative. There is a physicality about these worlds that can take them to the edge of and even over the line of alternate reality, usually with some symbolic starting point or core image.

As I get older and resolve conflicts, I need the narratives less and the process centres on a 'state'. But the given task of the narrative is to reproduce those aspects of the unconscious that are not merely stress-relieving but permit psychological machinery to emerge which can face fears or uncover truths.

Ultimately, while the narrative visualisation process is never likely to trigger transcendence in itself, it can create the conditions by which other things can trigger transformation.

Whether managed through a therapeutic or self-managed engagement with the body or through an imaginative re-ordering of the mind, something can be done to sense and manage the flow of energy within the body that can result ultimately in individuation or transcendence - which is really self-possession.

Although Wilhelm Reich may have identified the disease of blocked flow in the West, the best therapeutic cures still remain Eastern - as adaptations, without the cultural baggage, of Taoist and Tantric technique. And we still have no better alternative to Eastern terms, Kundalini or Ch'i, in describing the experience and the process.