I’m in a room of folks who are shaking, trembling, laughing and crying. One is even chanting in Spanish though I think she told me she was Bulgarian. We’ve been meditating for about thirty minutes and the sudden outburst of expression is happening because the teacher has gone around the room touching peoples heads. In Sanskrit, it’s called Shaktipat (Sanskrit, from shakti – “(psychic) energy” – and pāta, “to fall”) which translates roughly as the conferring of spiritual energy upon one person by another.
When the teacher touches my head, a stream of coolness pours down my neck and back, and the deepest bliss rises up into uncontainable laughter. Soon, I’m laughing so hard, I can barely breathe. Bent over in my seat, holding my belly, I realize I’ve got it, the cosmic joke that has no words. It’s so funny, and so beautiful. How could I ever forget the incredible ecstatic humour of it all?
Yet, it was this same intensely blissful revelation of who (or what) I really am, that ushered in my own spontaneous awakening in the fall of 2011. Now, three years later, in this room, it’s as if the clear stream of that knowing has become a Niagara Falls-like torrent of grace. It’s not just a reminder of the what I know, it’s a wholesale baptism in that truth.
People have begun to spontaneously sing and tone — it sounds like a kirtan session, and it’s building momentum. There are high soprano overtones and baritones that rumble like thunder in the distance. The sounds of this spontaneous choir are hauntingly evocative and for no reason my laughter becomes tears. There is no thought here, only wonderstruck awe.
This is feminine face of God in the room. This is me. And I am blissfully juicy.
What exactly is this intoxicatingly moist side of God-Self? It’s known by these names: The Holy Spirit, Shakti, Kundalini, the Divine Feminine. It’s not an optional choice on the enlightenment menu but an essential part of dining on truth.
Honestly, if you hang out on the contemporary non-duality circuit long enough, you eventually develop a hunger for the tangible aliveness of your own divinity, something more filling than kibble-sized morsels of Just This, No-Self, Emptiness and No Mind.
Even if these descriptors are actual recognitions on the path, there exists a whole lot of ideation that does not seem to translate into the actual lived reality of peace. In fact, a lot of the online non-duality crowd spend time and energy arguing their right to live daily lives full of anxiety, anger, despair and reactive emotions. Their reasoning goes something like this: “I’ve seen through the illusion of self, so anything that happens or any choices I make are not real anyway, because the me is not real. So who cares if it apparently suffers?”
There are, of course, those non-duality advocates who do experience an abiding peacefulness. And while it can be super-chill to lounge in that still emptiness and attendant Witnessing Consciousness, this detached perspective is the equivalent of seeing the world through only one of your two eyeballs. It’s a monocular vision of Truth and as such lacks the depth perception that comes from perceiving from the wholeness of your Being.
What do I mean exactly, by wholeness?
I’ve been hinting at this a long time, from posts as far back as my entries Empty Mind, Full Heart and Everything Matters Including Whiskey, Fairy Pools and Waterfalls. The dropping away of the self you mistook yourself to be is incomplete unless it is accompanied by the discovery of what you truly are. And you are not just empty. You are fullness itself. You are not only no-thing. You are also everything.
Confusion arises because the initial deconstruction phase is truly a demolition, a wholesale liquidation. Teacher Adyashanti says it well: “Make no mistake about it. Enlightenment is a destructive process…enlightenment is a crumbling away of untruth…It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
But that phase inevitably gives way to a remembering of what is true. This remembering catalyzes a full body-mind metamorphosis (and not always easy or pain-free, as I note in my viral hit post Why We are Not Ready for the Full Bodied Truth of Awakening and Crucify Those Who Tell It. ) That inpouring of our divinity and subsequent blossoming embodiment is the action of Shakti, the dynamic aspect of the immoveable absolute. It’s both a fiery cleaning agent and a soothing nectar–usually in that order.
And it’s not always a calm and quiet affair.
Someone in the room is screaming, the kind of scream you typically associate with a scene from a horror movie, where a guy wielding a chainsaw has jumped out of the closet. Another person is sobbing in a grief-stricken wail–when I hear her, I feel she is crying for the lostness of something, perhaps for the monumental sadness of worldly ignorance. I’m still laughing, but now tears have joined the mirth.
At some point, the teacher asks us to lie down on the mats in the adjacent room. Once I am settled on a yoga mat the kriyas kick in and my arms and legs begin to jerk, like I am a marionette in the hands of a crazed puppeteer.
I’m no stranger to kriyas–which translates from Sanskrit as “action, deed or effort.” These spontaneous movements, from trembling, shaking, jerking to involuntary vocalizations and even postures, are well known in kundalini circles. My first encounter with this powerful force, I was 39 at the end of a yoga class. I thought I was dying. I did not sleep for two days. I was not prepared and I was not educated. I thought I was having a seizure or a stroke and stayed away from yoga for weeks to avoid a reoccurrence.
Yet the kriyas continued on and off for another six years. A few sexual partners experienced their first kriyas just getting close to me (it’s catchy). I was being purified by a holy fire, though then I would have said I was being harassed by kundalini. In the end, all that kundalini activation must have been good for something because my overnight spontaneous awakening three years ago was gentle.
One day I was me. The next day I was still a me, but without a trace of mine. It’s hard to possess something when you are everything.
What a growing number of contemporary spiritual leaders are beginning to message to the world is we need to include the feminine face of God, that any awakening that cleaves to the Absolute (Shiva) only, is in fact a bypass. As one teacher declares in his talk at the 2014 Science and Non Duality conference:
“Knowledge is too dry. Even the knowledge of the self is too dry…if you are not drowned in the waves of your own love that that knowledge evoked, you’ll be fried. You’ll become brittle. You may think you’ve realized the Self, you may think you are bathing in the glory, but bathing means being wet. And it’s only Shakti that gives us wetness. The juice of life is in the Shakti.”
But why does it matter that we engage this juice of life, the sacred feminine? Why not continue on in the dry detached transcendent non-duality view that nothing of the world is real, and therefore nothing to worry about, nothing to do?.
Because it is becoming alarmingly obvious that the planet that sustains us can no longer be mistreated by her human children–if this earth is to sustain us, we need to cherish and to nourish that which gives us life. And the recognition of the divine feminine, of shakti, brings with it always the clarity and heart-centered knowing that all beings are interconnected. It’s as simple as this: to harm another, to harm earth, is to harm oneself.
Said most poignantly by contemporary Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, “…my heart hurts for the Earth, grieves at the way our culture treats her wonder and gifts, her magic and sacred meaning. And the question arises from my depths, in a culture of seeming abundance, how have we lost so much?”
One of my favourite spiritual philosophers and mystics, Andrew Harvey sums it up best in his book, A Return to the Mother.
“We are now, I believe, on the threshold of a third stage which I call the stage of the sacred marriage. This is the only position we could possibly take and still survive. This is a stage beyond both matriarchy and patriarchy. It involves the restoration to human respect of all of the rejected powers of the feminine. But it is absolutely essential that this restoration should be accomplished in the deep spirit of the sacred feminine. Not only should we invoke the sacred feminine, restore the sacred feminine, but this union between the matriarchal and the patriarchal, the sacred marriage, must be accomplished in the spirit of the sacred feminine for it to be real, effective, rich, and fecund. It must occur in her spirit of unconditional love, in her spirit of tolerance, forgiveness, all-embracing and all-harmonizing balance.”
The morning meditation and discussion period is over and, at the week long immersion retreat I’m attending, I find myself sitting beside the women whose voice I had recognized as she chanted in Spanish during the post-shaktipat outbreak of kriyas.
I ask her: “What were you saying? I only caught a few words, my Spanish is not that good?”
Her eyebrows raise. “Was that Spanish?”
“Yes, I clearly caught more than half of the words,” I say, sharing with her what I managed to translate.
“Oh.” She hesitates. “Well, I don’t speak Spanish”
I laugh, realizing at once that what I heard was what the Pentecostal Christians (I was in the movement for two years in my late teens) used to call speaking in tongues, one of the gifts of the holy spirit, along with spontaneous healing and mystical rapture. Not only does Shakti bring juice to the parched party, but she has a lot of magic up her sleeve.
And it’s that kind of magic–that sense of wonderment and mystery–that is so lacking in contemporary non-duality teachings. In that wasteland of no-self philosophy, we’ve lost a sense of the sacred and the non-ordinary.
And in dismissing this planet, its beings and our very bodies as somehow unreal, we’ve become blind to what matters: In the words Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth or we will not survive at all.”
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Disclaimer: While at the time this was written statements in this article were true for me, I’ve since discovered a ‘guru’ can also be a reason to hide from my own inner-teacher and truth. The slippery slope of enchantment in another (no different in many ways to falling in love) leads inexorably to unrealistic expectations and pedestaling from the student and too often authoritarian power tripping from the teacher. That said, the shakti described here is real. The reliance on an outer source via shakti-pat is to be cautioned against. (In the original version of this piece I named the teacher who is doing the shaktipat. If you desire to know who this is email me privately). — July 22, 2015.