Monthly Archives: June 2011

Of Love and Immortality

When it comes to kundalini, how are we going to talk about it? With Saraswati, of higher levels of power in the nervous system, of a “wider range of human activity”, of a “heightened awareness and capability”, of “entering the spiritual dimension”? With the excellent Hiroshi Motoyama, of a gradual ascent through physical and mental, and beyond, overcoming the limitations of each level? Shall we talk about biology, psychology, and all the attendant phenomena of energy, health and bliss?

We could, but what is it all? When we talk about kundalini or about ‘enlightenment’ of any kind, we do seem to be talking about the great human quest. What can we say about it that catches the soul, the way the soul needs to be caught? Aren’t we talking, after all, about something that should call to everyone? What?

The idea that comes to my mind is found in Plato’s Symposium, his greatest artistic achievement, and crucially a work that concerns love. Its most important contributions are from a woman — the mysterious seeress Diotima of Mantinea, one of the few speakers in all of Plato who shows Socrates a thing or two, and the only one to school him so thoroughly. Socrates claims to have learned from her the ‘true philosophy of love’.

What she unfolds to him is the universal pattern of eros. Beginning with the love of a physical partner, it finds a truer love that communicates on a soul level. From this beginning it progresses searchingly through higher forms of eros, to worldly achievement, to artistic and scientific understanding, and eventually comes in pure contemplation upon the proper object of eros, the true and divine Beauty, unalloyed and pure, of which all other forms of love were a mere foretaste, and which always existed behind them all.

Diotima also extends our discourse by giving a reason for this search, and that reason is immortality. This, she implies, is deeply implanted in us as an instinct. Immortality causes us to love our children, for we see our continuance in them. An apprehension of immortality drives people to do deeds which will be sung after they are dead. It leads people to try and discover underlying truths about life and reality, which have the character of something eternal. And the ultimate, the ne plus ultra of this erotic quest, which is revealed to those who have travelled it all in due succession, is a “nature of wondrous beauty”, “the final cause of all our former toils”, “a nature which is everlasting.”

In making immortality the object of eros, Diotima involves us in the matter of death. The final goal, she says, has no ‘waxing and waning’ in it, no fair and foul, simply everlasting beauty without change. By contrast, all of us know the fundamental facts of the other varieties of love — they do change, and whatever we love apart from this ultimate will be bound to be impermanent. And here is something we can all comprehend, that does indeed call to us all. Here is the human quest. On some level, we seek immortality by instinct, cannot seem to help doing so. Much of the psychology that does any good simply amounts to this. No lesser love can suffice.

My subconscious flashes up to me the famous interview that Melvyn Bragg did with the writer Dennis Potter, not long before the latter’s death. As television, its power seems universally acknowledged, commanding respect even from YouTube commenters. I haven’t watched it recently, but as he attempted to explain the consciousness of childhood, I recall Potter talking about the extraordinary pungency of thinking, as a young boy, “I’ve lost my pen.” As he said (you’ll correct me on the wording I’m sure), “the penness of that pen, the lostness of that lost…” That is the truth of eros — I had it, the love seemed real, but now it is gone. I had a relationship with it, but now I am alone again. On some level, we seek love that is immortal, but the loves we do find seem to trick us.

And that is the great quest, the quest of kundalini. Yes, we can lay out very cleverly all the psychological ramifications, but in the end, it’s all about love. We can talk about false self-concepts that must be destroyed — they’re only loves of ideas of ourselves we try and fail to make immortal. Or projection and concretization — just the attempt to make our fantasies of immortal love physically real by ignoring the nature of those around us. All results from love of things other than the absolute formless reality which, all kundalini lineages seem to concur, underlie all else. All love you have experienced is just a dim reflection of the underlying Truth. The bitterness of loss leads you to contemplate life, in an attempt to discover that which can’t be lost, and that can only be discovered by giving up what is a mere reflection.

Some part of us knows what it is to be immortal. Some part can never be happy without it. That’s the message of Plato by Diotima. The Platonists take it forward, but it exists also earlier in Greek philosophy, in different forms — recall the great Empedocles, the ‘exile from the gods’, the wonder worker who consciously foresaw his return to immortality. And in more eastern terms, is it any wonder that the excellent Stuart Sovatsy sees in yoga “overwhelming ecstasy, effulgently enlightened consciousness, pathway to an endless eroticism…”, even when he writes so eloquently of celibacy? Let’s not beat around the bush, there is an actual lovemaking with the divine being talked of here. In my experience it is perfectly literal. The Sufis speak of god as a lover. The Taoists are not shy of claiming real immortality, by the combination of yin and yang which make love and give birth to the immortal child. Ask Teresa of Avila about the eroticism of her divine experiences, not shirked in the depiction by Bernini:

We are not speaking about metaphors here. It won’t be long into any real practice before you get the idea: the love and immortality involved are not mere “ideas” in the sense we normally use that word — if so, there would not be so much emphasis on removing thoughts, and right at the beginning of the process. We have had it upside down: the metaphor is not in the divine world, it is our physical world that is in some sense merely symbolic and only the pale echo of something incomparably greater.

It’s this quest that meditation and energy work of the kind I talk about on this humble blog reveals to the aspirant. This is the human quest, the quest for a love that transcends death. (Did you really think all those hermits had no fun at all? ^_^) Is it any wonder that Saraswati talks of these heightened powers, Motoyama of this gradual transcendence? We are speaking of human beings who seek to re-establish themselves in the divine, and the divine in themselves.

Having understood all that, it’s only natural to ask: why? How do we human beings find ourselves in such a position, constantly looking around us for a love we can’t find, and having to quest for it, to unwrap the veils covering it?

Here, unfortunately, we have to take leave of philosophy. The only answers to this question that human beings have managed so far are mythic. Not that we should spurn the mythic either — Plato certainly didn’t, and I value it greatly — but there is never any way to confirm the understanding given by myth. It becomes merely a question of tasting the flavour of it, of seeing whether it can apply. We don’t know.

The myth I’m thinking of is found in the Corpus Hermeticum, that wonderful collection of tracts arising out of the spiritual ferment of Hellenistic Egypt. Its first text is a revelation by a being named Poemandres (an aspect of the universal mind) who amongst many other things gives a mythic account of human origins. Apparently it was all a question of love, right from the beginning. We as immortal beings fell in love with Nature, and she with us, and we became lovers. But because of this, we subjected ourselves to fate and became mortal although still also immortal. We loved ‘not wisely but too well’, as we still do, all of us, and bound ourselves up in a world that operated as a permanent distraction from the Truth that, within, still motivates us.

One of the best lines of Poemandres is translated in the more modern version of Copenhaver using the word ‘desire’, but the Greek original says eros, and I prefer the older translation of G. R. S. Mead, which is still a valid reading I think:

Let him [that is, us, humanity] learn to know that he himself is deathless, and that the cause of death is love, though Love is all.

Could there be any better description of the human condition? Love causes death, yet is also the answer to it if its form can be transmuted — to something far beyond what the ordinary person experiences.

That this transmutation can actually take place is what is attested in all the spiritual traditions I’ve mentioned, and indeed in everything I’ve been trying to write. We have never been dealing with anything other than this. The version of the quest given by Poemandres is more esoteric than Diotima’s, but with its journey through seven spheres to re-emerge in the realm of Heaven, it may well remind us in some way of the journey through the chakras that Glenn laid out, following in his turn so many others. In any case, there is surely a sense in which all of these quests are the same. I encourage all those who choose to undertake any version of the quest. May you find the love that does not die.


(In Parenthesis)

I want you to know I am listening to you. :)

This blog is in its early days; it really in a sense hasn’t begun yet. I would not disagree there is a need for a separate intro page on kundalini, how we can define it in modern terms, links to psychology and philosophy, etc… and I will take care of this soon. The thing is, my own personal theories about kundalini and what we seem still to call ‘spirituality’ (basic, guiding-star, use-it-if-you-get-lost theories I mean) are still being formed based on daily experience. I want to put it together in a nice way… Although obviously, like the Reading List page, it will be dynamic, the basics of the ideas have to be there in some kind of solid form, for other people to think with and react to.

What I’ll build up eventually will work on also on the level of physiology (which is inseparable from the other two these days anyway, and in kundalini experience not least), to the extent I know anything at all about that, and equally on the energetic level. Where you go from there into mythology of any kind is up to you — and the cosmos with which you are interacting — but we are talking about a multileveled process with a hugely transformative effect on all those levels… the description will be consonant with the way I was taught but also with the wider understanding that would take in the history of spiritual philosophy etc. And should work to help with the particular kinds of issues kundalini throws up, plus loose enough to take account of some interesting variation.

Not to mention, I’m also coming to the end of my first round of research into cross-cultural appearances of kundalini which is a fascinating topic. Reading the accounts of people is always very interesting. And you can bet there will be plenty of weirdness too.

I’m working as quickly as I can! Indeed I’m only getting my first breathing space now in a long time. When I see the title of a book by the famous Neoplatonist Proclus, “On the Existence of Evils”, and accidentally misread it as “On the Existence of Elvis”, I know I should get out more. :)

Asking Why

The great Herbert von Karajan was once asked what his reason was for preferring the Berlin Philharmonic over the Vienna Philharmonic. His reply was: “If I tell the Berliners to step forward, they do it. If I tell the Viennese to step forward, they do it. But then they ask why.”

With all due respect to him, “asking why” is actually what drives a lot of what is valuable in human culture. I’ve been very happy in checking out some aspects of the Western Mysteries, as some call them, and I do love Plato, but re-reading Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics is like stepping back in time. (Anything to do with it being a translation from German? ^_^). As the very first exercise explains, “You must devote the greatest attention to this thought control exercise because it is extremely important in magical development — a fact which you will later understand.” And so on throughout: no explanation or reasoning is given, the idea is “just do it, because I say you ‘must’ and you’ll get it later”. No model is given for explaining the ‘must’ either, no pattern of progress is charted, no real talk about the nervous system, no addressing of the feelings of the aspirant. Evidence that the exercise is a good way is not given and the idea that it should be needed it isn’t even considered. In a time where trust between generations is at its lowest ebb for centuries, that’s asking an awful lot of the average westerner’s obedience mechanism.

With the Glenn Morris approach, of course, the opposite is true. There is nothing done without good reason, and if possible evidential testing, to back it up. Apart from anything else that makes good consumer sense — people want to know what ‘latest studies show’, and cultural scholarship makes airy mysticism at least appear to have some backing. But clearly, there’s more to it than that. Just as with Platonic philosophy, so with modern psychology: a cultural movement based on not knowing has sprung up, based on thinking for oneself and testing in other words, on admitting that doing things ‘just because, and you’ll see’, is actually often highly problematic in human culture. It would certainly seem to have improved our understanding of the world, to keep that questioning open.

I’ve argued the evidential attitude is one which we still need to apply more thoroughly in all areas of spiritual life, as is the simple act of thinking and intuiting carefully about what is done, in the area of mysticism perhaps above all. ‘Simply obey’ is still an instruction that can lead to incredible mistakes, and all must at the beginning be warned against it. (Buddha, for example, took care to do so.) The consequences of unthinkingly following guru orders are well documented in such cases as Andrew Cohen.

Plato, having been absorbed into the Christian compost, could hardly seem more establishment to us, yet his Socrates was a why-asker nonpareil, doing nothing without carefully thinking through the conventional reasons for doing it, and mostly, discarding them as ridiculously inadequate. People got so fedup with the power his endless ‘gadfly’ behaviour exerted on others that a court convened to chasten him ended up ordering him to drink lethal poison, which he did without any sign of distress, as Plato tells it… I’ll save for another time more thoughts on Socrates, a person of considerable importance to this subject matter in my view, and on other examples of Attic philosophy and what it can mean for us now, especially perhaps on the ironized relationship of that mindset with religious traditions, and on the similar irony inherent in modern transpersonal psychology — a productive irony, I hasten to add, and one that can ‘save the soul’ from the mediocrity of a culture that will quite happily destroy it without a second thought.

Right now, we need only observe that this irony allows one to revisit the older ‘just obey’ stuff (which has resulted in mass neurosis in general, too, when it came from a guilt-instilling religious source) and see it afresh. With the help of reason, many things can be recalibrated as psychological and hence we can act freely with respect to them; admitting our ignorance gives us this option. Doing that has given me great respect for Bardon, as I have had respect for some of his students whom I’ve encountered. Interest in his system remains high, and with good reason. What is most interesting of all, I think, is that Glenn actually worked out a similar progression to Bardon’s, without ever having read Bardon’s work. It’s also very unlike the pure-chi-work system of someone like Mantak Chia, say, even though it would quite happily make use of Chia’s energy skills, and also unlike the ‘just sit and meditate’ approach. It is a constellation, a cocktail of practices that work in a harmonious sequence. This is the reason Bardon’s work is still in the Reading List.

Glenn liked to talk about being a ‘hobbyist’. That didn’t mean he was uncommitted by any means. What it did mean was that he was very happy to go to anyone and learn from them, considering it a personal encounter rather than a lifetime loyalty – although he had the latter for Hatsumi Masaaki, no question. (His loyalty was to people, I think.) He then used psychology as a big bag to hold everything else, to talk about everyone from Patanjali to Freud. He found some of what had once been locked up by the head of the family/temple/dojo, and only unlocked for a couple of lucky qualifiers, was now on Amazon for 11.99, and he took full advantage of that too.

The similarities between his way and Bardon’s are:

1. The need for a psychological approach to self-knowledge, determined by the student at least partly, as part of a bigger package of practices including energy and meditation.
2. The use of the four-plus-one-elements model, both energetically and in terms of psychology.
3. The requirement of an initial attainment in pure mental meditation before serious energy work is begun.
4. The mastery of kundalini prior to doing major astral projection.
5. A focus on sense concentration exercises.

So the shape of the two practices has much in common, yet more or less developed independently, which itself is interesting evidence. Learn relaxation, purify and heal the psyche, meditate so that you can watch thoughts and leave thought behind. Then learn sense concentrations, awaken energy and build it. The body and soul are rejuvenated and the social masks are doffed. Initial enlightenment experiences follow, and these are the preparation for OBE and also union with the All, etc. Comparing this approach to that of Chia or Frantzis, say, I personally find they lack that multidimensionality, that way of operating on the whole human being at once, by using all those different sorts of exercises in a natural progression. Perhaps the simple fact that multiple methods make for interesting variety could help explain why Glenn’s way, like Bardon’s, seems to work.

A lot more could be said about each of these 5 items, but perhaps the major point to make is that Glenn’s approach was reasoned when it came to understanding them. (It was also well-written, something I welcome in this age of spiritual garbage, and no, Bardon’s work, unlike Crowley’s, has no literary merit.) Everything Glenn did was about having continually asked why, and he himself had no one fixed teacher. Consequently, he believed in (and enjoyed) ceaseless researching and never following only one way. He did have very good psychological ways of talking about the process, but — again like Socrates or Plato — never made them into one big congealed model.

I’m still working on the psychological angle, and it’s absolutely clear that just about every psychological system can have something worthwhile to add to the process of “enlightenment”. This I think is amongst the more fascinating and productive aspects of kundalini awakening at this time — observing the process from the psychological angle, as well as the physio-energetic and the mental-spiritual, seeing that what happens does make the most enormously deep sense, and trying to describe how, in such a way that it works for others too, and in that sense replicates.

As time goes on I’ll give my own thoughts on the psychology of kundalini, but one thing’s for sure — I expect everyone to continue asking why.

Chakra Psychology

As I’ve been writing the first 22 posts on this blog, I’ve of course been experimenting with the techniques that power my viewpoint, most of which are now organized around the ideas of Glenn Morris — yet I find I’ve hardly talked about him. Glenn was a genius and hard to categorize.

He wanted to make a way that would survive him, and he has — the people over at KAP (Kundalini Awakening Process) are the most obvious inheritors, that is Susan Carlson, Santiago Dobles and Tao Semko. They have now taken on a new guy as a regular teacher called Paul Densmore, and seem to have trained several others too. There’s also Rob Williams, who is affiliated with them but teaches from his position as Soke of Hoshin Budo Ryu, the martial arts lineage Glenn established. Then you have others such as Robert Morgen, and Susanne Williams who is still turning up with useful stuff. (Thankyou, internet). And so forth, they all are continuing the same Glenn methods with their personal emphasis, tuning and sculpting.

Glenn was one of the great American mystics. When he does choose to write about the non-physical world, there isn’t a sniff of convention, of mealy-mouthed light and “ascension” stuff from some new age channelling tract, of anything reliant on calculation, of any disingenuousness in it. It just spills out in mythic colours. His spirituality is as full-blooded as his words are subtle. (I hope the literati discover him one day). If you are trying to tread incautiously in his footprints, respect is recommended — yet he makes it all sound so natural. He has been there, and he knows how to write about it:

The woodcuts of Blake resemble the dark holographic hollowness of the shape-changing energy beings… The gods can be treacherous and were forged in very different times… If your fundamentals are not in order, they will show you to a very glorious death. Some people have strong needs to be crushed into oblivion. The ladies of yin are very well versed in crushing.

Plato’s Republic lacks a variety of roles necessary for a valued, meaningful, fun life in a complex modern society like the U.S. His model, however, is popular with the dragons from whose cave he stole it… It’s breathtaking.

Even female lions will support a philosopher king, as was demonstrated by the pride at Florida’s Budweiser Gardens in the late 1960s when they kept killing the males introduced by their keepers to replace “Old Charlie” who eventually died in the saddle. The goddesses are waiting in their pure gardens starved of affection, and bored after waiting a few thousand years for a prince to show up with a kiss and an encyclopedia.

(from Chapter 13, “Denizens of the Deep”, in Shadow Strategies of an American Ninja Master)

This being a tiny flavour only. There’s plenty of weirder stuff, all written with a cheek recalling Heinlein’s or Cabell’s heaven-storming clever grins.

But the reason we take this from Glenn is that he is also a man of practicality. He doesn’t always talk crazy. Glenn had a Sc.D. in Psychology, of which his favoured branch was the Humanistic, and when it came to his meditations, he was determined to use it.

One of the greatest results is his chakra psychology. Well that’s not an uncommon thing to write about nowadays… Indian texts describing the chakras themselves evoke states of mind as well as the more mystical symbologies. And Jung ran with the latter, to some good effect. But not all the work done with chakras nowadays has that level of seriousness. (I’ve noticed, for example, material that attempts to relate the chakras to developmental age bands in a psychodynamic manner, on absolutely no evidence.)

Here, Glenn was completely different. The use of chakras was a psychological matter to him, and when it came to psychology, you were talking about science. We all have chakras, whether we are mystically inclined or not. Glenn focused his research on ordinary members of the public and, using the traditional four-elements-plus-void attributions of the chakras, tested the character traits of over 5,000 people using instruments and personality inventories of his own, as detailed in the posthumous e-book, Quantum Crawfish Bisque. The result was a personality system of real value typologically — and also mystically. The traditional elemental chakra attributions (Earth for base/muladhara, then Water, Fire, and Wind, with Void for the top three chakras) formed both an initiatory system and a psycho-ecology which fed the energy and body and inner imaging.

So one could look at the chakras and see subconscious motivators. For example that extraordinary mix, so exactly right in practice, of the earth chakra: leadership, sex, practicality and sensuality, manifesting, growing, teaching, protecting — and negatively sexual obsession, repression, bullying, etc.

But also, adopting the positive attitude of the chakra helped to awaken it and to conquer the negativity in it as one went through one’s psyche. If you want better earth energy and an open earth chakra, work on being strong but flexible, sensual but not lazy, practical; tighten up your use of sexual energy without being judgmental, and speak the truth; look for where you’re overly loose and not consistent in these areas and you will see the specific change you want. Do it with impeccable intent.

And to cap it all, use this to open up the system in meditation. The apotheosis of earth if you like. Attitude and affirmations (and perhaps some symbols appropriate to your personal way, more on that another time) that you have already used for healing can be brought in. You may, if interested in movement for art or fighting purposes, already have ‘walked the walk’ of the element concerned. Now you sit, still the mind, smile, open the tan tien, maybe run an orbit or two. Then take the attitude of the element and imbibe it deeply — for earth it would be that mix of steadiness, lovingness, confidence, practicality, uninhibition, truthful words, enjoyment of body, use of anger to right wrongs but never initiate, etc. (See Shadow Strategies, p. 46).

Hey presto, you are the earth chakra. You are listening to it and it to you. Now when you use your energy skills and then circulate the chi, that is going to do something — it’s going to open you up, change you, reinforce you, in that particular earth way. Your body is already awakening and healing, and your mind is learning to master the positive and negative manifestations of this node. Then you’ll string the whole series of these elemental attitudes together, water next and so forth through the pillar… and as the energy responds (within control) you’re already at Lesser Kan and Li. Your system from Light down to feet is starting to play a unified alchemical symphony in harmony with your environment, and your physiology is changing. (Then you have to learn to surrender.)

The sheer genius of this idea is that it makes a chakra initiation a series of psychological and emotional states, in a general enough way that we can all apply the idea. It’s that old topic I’ve mentioned before on this blog — inner multiplicity. As Tao Semko points out in a recent video, there are plenty of initiation systems designed to awaken kundalini. But apart from the actual techniques of meditation and breath and energy, they give stuff on the mental and emotional levels. They give you an attitude and a set of beliefs, and that commitment necessary to awaken the energy. If we take the set of elemental attitudes, plug in what we know about psychology and real life, and test it — suddenly we have an updated version of something that started off in the bronze age. Psychology and a certain artistic intuition will do the work that religion or philosophy used to have to try and do on its own. You use the ethic that makes sense for you and then you learn by feedback with the life force itself (If you get it wrong, you will be corrected.)

I’m going to continue this series with a little comparison of Glenn Morris’ to Franz Bardon’s system, which also uses the four-plus-one elements approach. See you then.