Christina Grof, a pioneer in the field of transpersonal psychology and spiritual awakening, passed away recently. Few people have experienced more “kundalini” rising episodes or have passed along more of their learnings than she. From her, I learned to honor the experiences provoked by holotropic breathing, consciousness drugs, meditation or simply those that arose spontaneously. Holotropic breathing, which is based on ancient practices, is a tool and methodology created and taught by Christina and Stan Grof. Using this tool, people open to many types of the same experiences had by people using consciousness drugs and/or meditation techniques.
Christina’s passing comes at a time when I’m writing about listening to such experiences, be they small or overwhelmingly dramatic. I call these experiences “spirit-gates”-times when the ‘veil’ between our everyday world and the ‘unseen’ world thins, and we have a chance to be more aware of our true self.
So I dedicate this writing to Christina Grof with gratitude for teaching me deep awareness of and respect for myself. There are so many times in a life when we have opportunities to come closer to the awareness of Spirit. These unusual and special experiences are gifts for us – little nuggets of gold to gather and savor. Not always are these experiences pleasant, however, and they often take enormous effort to work through and understand. I give some examples in this article as instructive of what can happen. With her life and teachings, Christina showed us how to use such experiences. I also list some of her books, along with others that explore and explain these experiences, in a special section on my website.
Whether it be simple things like knowing the phone will ring and who it will be to complex visions and energy surges throughout the body, all these things need to be explored and understood as doorways, as moments when we come close to the very essence of God. They are like bells heard in meditation halls that call us to stop and listen within for guidance.
People have sometimes found their way to me, and others who also work with these phenomena, who have never heard of the term Kundalini or anything like what is happening to them. Sometimes they are frightened and think that they are losing their minds when, indeed, what is happening is that they are actually coming into contact with sanity. I’m going to write about one such woman here who had very extraordinary experiences of rising energy within her psyche.
We will call her Deborah. She was a woman in her 50’s who worked in the IT industry as middle management. She had worked in such for the previous 30 years. She came to me because she had read that I worked with people undergoing “spiritual emergencies,” Kundalini-type experiences which she had never heard of.
Deborah had never before had such experiences in her self-described “uneventful” life as a successful manager, mother of three and wife to a man who was a coach in high school. She was afraid to go to a psychiatrist or doctor for fear they would put her on medications thinking she was crazy. She herself wondered if she had become psychotic in some way.
Instead of rejecting the experiences or even trying to help her control them, together we began to listen to them, and explore what messages they might be trying to give her. She had become a voracious reader of New Age, Jungian and, finally, Eastern religions as well as gnostic and mystical Christianity. So, I added to this the work on Kundalini by Stan and Christina Grof, Gopi Krishna, Anne and Jim Armstrong, Jung, and others. Actually, there is quite a lot of material now. And we went to work on her inner life.
Mostly through examining and listening to her own experience, she realized that although quite unusual, her experiences were opening her to a world that had been available to and explored by teachers throughout time. Her experiences were mostly visions, what she believed to be past-life recall, experiences of vivid dreams and light. She kept a journal that ended up being very much like Jung’s Red Book.
Before these energetic shifts, she was a fairly well adjusted wife and mother who had a pretty good relationship to her husband and whose work life, although described by her as tedious, had brought much satisfaction and good income for the past 30 years. She had been mildly interested in some psychological reading such as Carl Jung, but didn’t take it in very deeply.
Once the experiences began, most of her beliefs about life and meaning changed dramatically. This shift came directly from her experiences themselves. She remained in her job for quite awhile, but noticed that her heart just was not in it anymore. She finally quit and was able to bring her new values and understanding (combined with her knowledge of IT principles) into businesses that reflected those values.
It is important to note that the main thing we did in therapy was to listen to the experiences in a compassionate, curious and reasoning way. Bringing heart and intelligence together allowed this woman to learn respect and humility for her own experience. If allowed to carry us deeply enough, our own life experience becomes the teacher.
I am not meaning to imply here that as therapists we accept all of these experiences as coming from so-called healthy realms. Clearly, they do not always come that way, and that’s why careful examination, courage and discernment are necessary. I’ll talk about other experiences in therapy as guidelines with how to work with “negative” energy in other places.
The experiences that Deborah had are unusual, but they seem to be happening to more people in ever varying ways. I think God is helping us see much more clearly during a time of desperate need on our planet. Everyone of us is being given the little signs and nudges that we need to know a deeper and more serene reality.
Overall, I’m trying to convey how important it is in therapy and in life to pay attention to all the small and large experiential events in our day-to-day lives that are Spirit-gates, God-gates, if you will, that give us a window into the deep Source of our existence. These perceptual shifts, when acknowledged and examined, begin to build. They then happen more often and become stronger by virtue of focusing on them and acknowledging them with gratitude.