Image by Ashely Barli
During a kundalini awakening we move from feeling as if we are human beings experiencing something spiritual to a direct experience of our transcendent nature. We move from being someone who feels like kundalini is increasing our consciousness to understanding that kundalini is consciousness and that we are consciousness. We can even move into a state beyond that of witnessing consciousness itself.
As the snake of kundalini unfolds within and up our midlines, we move from basic self-interest into greater awareness. Each time that the snake uncurls we move to a new stage of being. Each chakra or knot that we move through is an initiatory process in which our individual consciousness evolves. With the first uncurling of the snake, we are focused on self-healing. This is the arousal of the first and second chakras, located in the genitals and lower abdomen. In this stage, the focus is still on the self. We begin to realize that we are more than the chaos and noise that makes up our daily lives.
While the entirety of kundalini awakening can be called a purification process, during the first stage the focus is often on early childhood and areas that are well covered by modern psychology, as well as the ancestral and past life patterns that have contributed genetically or spiritually to our limited understanding of who we are.
The first phase of kundalini awakening is the fire purification phase—the release of past trauma out of the system. In this stage the fire and heat generated through kundalini awakening burns away our personal and transpersonal traumas.
The Second Stage: Moving Beyond Self-Interest
During the second stage of kundalini awakening, the snake uncurls its second and third aspects, and the focus is on the third chakra (solar plexus) through heart chakra, in which we have made it beyond basic self-interest and are now beginning to look at the world and ourselves with greater perspective.
In this second stage we go from being someone who “has kundalini” to someone who is experiencing kundalini. While this seems like a small distinction, it is the beginning of understanding that the force rising within us is consciousness itself, and that many of our previous experiences were byproducts, or releases of limited perspective, in order to realize the self as consciousness.
During this phase we begin to separate from the unhealed material of our first and second chakras and to resolve many of those patterns. The dramas we enact for ourselves, the illusions, the egoic needs such as being superior to others, dissolve. By seeing ourselves as more than just a separate self, fighting against ourselves, the world, and the people in it, we begin to understand and feel compassion for those around us.
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As solar plexus and heart chakras are pierced by the snake rising within, we realize that what we see in the outer world is a projection. In tantric understanding each person that we run across is an aspect of ourselves, and we can look inward to resolve what we react to in the outer world. In other systems this is called “shadow work.”
In this phase we experience the basic underlying connection between ourselves and others. We begin to recognize oneness as more than an intellectual concept. A perspective shift occurs: we see that we can utilize the outer world, the people in it, and any personal suffering that remains, to understand what is blocking further realization.
This is a deconditioning process, which allows us to heal remaining persecutor issues (the times that we, our ancestors, or past lives, have created harm in this world). We extricate ourselves from enmeshment with what society, culture, or the world seeks for us to do or to be.
The Third Stage: Realizing That We Are Consciousness
As the snake unfolds its third curl, kundalini makes its way through the throat and into the third eye. At this stage we begin to realize that we are consciousness. As kundalini moves into the brain, we experience immense light as well as an indescribable sensation of flow. We are a drop in the ocean of divine consciousness and at the same time the entirety of that ocean.
This can feel quite blissful; it is referred to as en-light-enment for a reason. We experience clear light, grace, ecstatic states, and tremendous flow through the body. In this stage we begin to do internal work for the benefit of the world and the people in it; we surrender to divine grace and are led by it.
The Fourth and Final Stage: Being One with The Universe (Ego Death)
In the final stage the last half curl of the snake unfolds from the third eye through the crown. The snake has straightened its three and a half curls and kundalini can permanently flow through the midline and throughout the body. This is commonly referred to as ego death, in which we experience being one with the Universe, undifferentiated, part of the totality instead of merely an individualized human in a physical form. The fear of death dissolves. A drastic reorganization process occurs in which we no longer focus on the sort of commotion and projections emerging out of trauma and blind emotive reaction, nor identify with the human form as the dominant force and concern in our existence.
After the crown has fully opened, the feminine and masculine energies of the body can move permanently into wholeness. Once this has occurred, the now undifferentiated force can flow back downward, opening the spiritual heart and completing the process of enlightenment.
Another Option: The Path of the Bodhisattva
Some choose to postpone achieving full enlightenment in order to be of service to their fellow humans, to be a catalyst or assistant for the evolution of humankind. This is the path of the Bodhisattva. There is an old Zen saying that many of you probably know: “Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” The end of the path is the descent of grace—a return to the human form with a feeling of flow and penetration through the heart.
In any type of grounded spirituality, which does not reject the importance of the human form, the eventual result of awakening is to bring oneself back to the world and to experience enlightenment through the physical form. From Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Zen realizations of enlightenment, the completion of the path is expressed as clarity that we carry into our daily activities, letting go of attachment and being of service.
An activity that is meant to transcend the body or its senses is temporary, and for a distinct purpose: to shift the perspective of the body and its consciousness. In later phases of awakening there is a reintegration with the senses and the physical form, but without being hooked into them as we were in less conscious states.
We often grasp on to transcendental states, as we do many spiritual experiences, to use them to fuel personal ideologies, rather than to experience liberation. While experiences of emptiness, bliss, love, or ecstasy are important, what is happening in such states is often the creation of a road map. It is much easier to travel down a new road with a map than without one. While experiences of kundalini temporarily arising can be quite spectacular, it is easy to mistake the creation of a road map with permanent attainment.
Challenges along the Path
It is hard to describe to those wholly invested in the spiritual path that at a certain point the obsessive and all-encompassing nature of the path gives way to utter simplicity. We attend to the human form and realize how precious life is, how we are meant to connect.
With the descent of grace, we work through what is preventing us from connecting to ourselves, one another, and the world. Clear light and the sensation of flow are felt throughout the body, and the areas of static consciousness continue to resolve. When the senses open, emotions can flow, and we can deeply and authentically feel. Our attention turns beyond personal selfishness to others in this world, communing through our senses, allowing deep acceptance of everything, both inside and outside of ourselves.
Opening the Senses Wide
In the early stages we are so traumatized and caught in our own chaos that we create the illusion that by healing ourselves we will get to some inhuman state of no longer feeling, or experiencing only love. Yet it is paradoxically by deeply feeling, by opening the senses wide, by accepting all of our emotions as valid, that we can feel love.
Continual effort is required by those who wish to remain in anything beyond the most superficial states of realization. The path of substantial awakening is one of discipline. To have consciousness flow through us on a continual basis requires balance and stability, as well as spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.
It is a paradox of this path that a process of moving us into oneness is also a deeply individuating process. Although we are all consciousness, we have different histories, different expressions of the elements within us, different aptitudes in this world. The creativity inherent in kundalini expresses itself in each individual differently—our cycles of birth and death, our physical reproductive capacities, our sexual essence, our ability to create and evolve on so many different levels. Through this process there is realization of our individual divine potential, and the removal through purification of anything that blocks that potential.
Deepening Connecting to Ourselves and Others
Romanticizing this as becoming a great spiritual teacher or a millionaire is the result of illusion. One of the most awakened human beings I know is a high school mathematics teacher. His potential is to use his awakening to reach the students that pass through his school. He is not well paid or famous, but he has very much taken the vow of the Bodhisattva, and has in many ways completed his spiritual path. Many other individuals I know who have attained great consciousness simply return to their daily lives; they live in the joy of deepening connection to themselves and others while they still have the benefit of being in the human form.
Many great artists—painters, thinkers, inventors, musicians, poets—whose creations have emerged from kundalini arising, were not met well in this world, at least during their human lives. Those who walk a profound spiritual path find their lives filled with unique difficulties, which differ from the typical chaos and projections that most people deal with.
The completion of the journey of kundalini awakening is the rise of energy through the midline out of the head and then the descent of grace, flowing on a permanent basis, with clear light emanating through the heart as well as the whole body. But such consciousness can always unfold more clearly, connect more, feel more and flow more. Kundalini is an evolutionary process, and within the human form we can always become more evolved.
Traps and Illusions Along The Path
Such a path is difficult, and many get lost along the way. There are many traps and illusions along the path. The first is always that we mistake the first step on the spiritual path for the last. The second is that we can so easily immerse ourselves in ungrounded mythic creations rather than integrated or grounded realities.
We know when we are steeped in illusion because our mythic versions of ourselves and our everyday reality and inner feelings are too far apart. We always know if something comes from pain or lack of healing. We know when we are wounded, when we are not bringing our authentic selves into the world, when we have put on a mask.
Awareness Is Not Always A Gift
The increased perspective we get as our peephole widens reveals a world filled with illusion, trauma, pain, disconnection, and societal structures that make it impossible for many in our world to truly thrive. This is a painful realization; awareness is not always a gift.
Spiritual flow, or kundalini, arises through our physical forms for a reason. There is no other way for us to evolve; we must transform all aspects of our being, including the dense physical form. It is by looking directly at our projections, at our masks, and at the suffering that is beneath them, that we can awaken.
Subtitles by InnerSelf
Working with Kundalini: An Experiential Guide to the Process of Awakening
by Mary Mueller Shutan
Kundalini awakenings can have profound physical, emotional, and mental effects, making it difficult to cope with everyday life, yet these powerful awakenings can also allow you to release past trauma, see past the illusions of the false self, and awaken your spiritual heart, enabling you to recognize the divine self. Providing detailed guidance for each phase of Kundalini awakening, this experiential guide supports you as you transform not only emotionally and spiritually but also physically and socially into your divine self.
About the Author
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer and teacher with an extensive background in Chinese Medicine, CranioSacral therapy, Zero Balancing, and energy work. She is the author of The Spiritual Awakening Guide, The Complete Cord Course, The Body Deva, and Managing Psychic Abilities. Visit her website at www.maryshutan.com