Spiritual Energy: Perspectives from a Map of the Psyche
and The Kundalini/Recovery Process
Charles L. Whitfield, MD
Have you had a spiritual awakening? Or do you wonder if you might leave had one? A spiritual awakening is an experiential opening to a power greater than ourselves. As a result, we become more aware of and open to our self, others and the Universe.
Based on informal surveys that I have done on people attending my workshops over the years, I estimate that at least one in three people have had a spiritual awakening of some sort. Perhaps 25 % of those spiritual awakenings were triggered by near-death experiences. The remaining 75 % are triggered by numerous other experiences, from meditation, to childbirth to ''hitting bottom'' in a critical or desperate life situation. Some of these events have opened some people to experiencing the painful yet often freeing Kundalini process.
Who or what is it that actually does the awakening? Is there a part of us that begins to become more aware and opens to our self, others and the God of our understanding? My sense is that it is a spiritual energy that starts to awaken us to our Real or True Self, and helps us learn about our ego or false self.
Who Am 1? A Map of the Mind
Throughout the struggle of the human condition, many people have asked some important questions: Who am 1? What am l doing here? Where am l going? How can I get any peace? While the answers to these questions remain a Divine Mystery, I have found it useful to construct a map of the mind or psyche.
(God, Goddess, All-That-Is, Universe)
(Atman, Guardian angel, Cosmic Consciousness, Holy Spirit, Ruach ha Kadosh)
(Soul, Child Within, Heart)
(false self, Shadow, Toxic wounding )
sorting and handling
internal and external reality
…and while the map is not the territory, maps can be useful.
Other names for or dimensions of the True Self, who I really am, include the real or existential self, the human heart, the soul, chakras 4 and 5, and the Child Within. They are all the same because they are our True Identity. I also have within me a Divine Nature, sometimes called a guardian angel, Atman, Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, chakras 6 and 7, Higher Self, or simply Self. And both of these, my True Self and my Higher Self are intimately connected to my Higher Power, God/Goddess/All-That-is, a part of which is also within me.
I see this relationship---True Self, Higher Self and Higher Power as being such an important relationship that I can also view it as being one person, which I call the Sacred Person. In a loving, supporting and teaching way, pervading throughout the Sacred Person is the Holy Spirit ( Kundalini, Chi, Ki, Ruach ha Kadosh and Divine Energy).
As a part of the Mystery, my True Self makes or constructs a curious assistant to help me in limited ways as I live out this human experience. We can call this assistant, this sidekick, the ego –also known as the false self or co-dependent self. When this ego is helpful to us, such as in screening, sorting and handling many aspects of our internal and external reality, we can call it positive ego. But when it tries to take over and run our life, it becomes negative ego.
This map of the psyche is more evolved than the maps of Freud, Jung and their colleagues of up to 100 years ago, when they used the term “ego” to mean both True Self and false self. Since the 1930s the self psychologists and the object relations psychologists have begun to make this more precise differentiation between True Self and false self and today we use ''ego'' synonymously with false self. (This understanding is in contrast with many writers who still lump the True Self and false self together and call it the “ego.”)
A contemporary holy book called A Course in Miracles says in its introduction:
What is real cannot be threatened.
What is unreal does not exist.
Herein lies the peace of God.
What is real is God and God's world, that of the Sacred Person. The ego and its world is not real, and therefore in the grand scheme of the Mystery, does not exist. Herein, when we make this differentiation, lies our peace and serenity.
But growing up in a dysfunctional family and dysfunctional society of origin, we may have become wounded. That wounding made our Child Within, or True Self, go into hiding, and the only one left to run the show of our life was our ego (false self). And since it is not able or competent to run our life successfully, we often end up feeling confused and hurt.
The way out is to begin to differentiate between identifying with my True Self and my false self, and to heal my wounds around all of the past traumas that hurt and confused me. That is what I have described in my books. While all of this information is useful to know on a cognitive level, it is healing only on an experiential level. To heal, I have to experience working through my pain, as well as living and enjoying my life. If we can identify with having a Kundalini arousal, the gift is the co-operation of a spiritual energy that can assist us as we heal.
Spiritual Awakenings and the Recovery Movement
Over the decades of the 1980s and the l990s, and into the 21st century, an increasing number of people have begun to awaken to many of their traumatic experiences and are beginning to heal themselves. This phenomenon, called the recovery movement, with its free and effective Twelve Step Fellowships, is part of a new paradigm, a new and expanded understanding and belief about the human condition and how to heal it. This approach is so effective and has developed so much momentum for two reasons: it is grass roots - its energy comes from the recovering people themselves, and it employs the most accurate and healing of all the accumulated knowledge about the human condition. But what is different about this knowledge is that it is now simplified and demystified, as shown elsewhere.
Traps in Spiritual Awakenings
There are some traps in spiritual awakenings. After having had our particular spiritual experience and possible Kundalini arousal, one trap is 1) being misled by other people who may try to steer us off of our personal spiritual path. These others may be therapists, counselors, clergy, gurus, family or friends who themselves may not understand and may even have distorted boundaries. And so they may label our awakening and subsequent signs and symptoms as being psychotic, the “work of the devil”, hallucinations, flaky, or try to invalidate our experience in some other way. They may try to put us on or even force us to take 2) toxic drugs--from sedatives to antidepressants to major tranquilizers, to “mood stabilizers”. Or lock us up, or shame and guilt us in other ways. But the fact remains that we have had a spiritual awakening and something has been aroused in us, and we are looking for validation and support on what actually happened, including on the rest of our journey.
When we allow our Kundalini process to evolve naturally, the result is usually psychological and spiritual growth over time. A problem is that many of the symptoms and experiences mimic what psychiatry and psychology calls “mental disorders.” Today most psychiatrists and some psychologists, social workers and counselors aren’t able to recognize Kundalini and instead prescribe or recommend one or more psychiatric drugs in an attempt to lessen the patients symptoms. In Kundalini awakenings we become progressively more connected with self, others and God. These psychiatric drugs are toxic to the brain and body and tend to shut down or aggravate the normal flow of the Kundalini process. The drugs slam the door shut to our psycho-spiritual growth.
Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, MD said, “It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine accurately the psychological condition of a person who is taking psychiatric drugs. There are too many complicating factors, including the drug’s brain-disabling effect, the brain’s compensatory reactions and the patient’s psychological responses to taking the drug. I have evaluated many cases in which patients have deteriorated under the onslaught of multiple psychiatric drugs without the prescribing physicians attributing the patient’s decline to drug toxicity. Instead, physicians typically attribute their patients’ worsening condition to ‘mental illness’ when in reality the patient is suffering from adverse drug reactions.”
Breggins’s work has reflected the sometimes-missing conscience of psychiatry. For anyone who accepts help in the form of psychiatric drugs, realize that you are entering into an area that you may regret or may not be able to stop. Each drug has toxic effects that turn out to be as bad as or worse than the original complaint and often leads to more drugs to counter these toxic effects, which include drug withdrawal. Breggin spells this out in his comprehensive textbook.
In his groundbreaking book Kundalini, Psychosis or Transcendence? Lee Sannella MD said, “There are many undergoing this process who at times feel quite insane. When they behave well and keep silent they may avoid being called schizophrenic, or being hospitalized, or sedated. Nevertheless their isolation and sense of separation from others may cause them such suffering. We must reach such people, their families, and society, with information to help them recognize their condition as a blessing, not a curse. Certainly we must no longer subject people, who might be in the midst of this rebirth process, to drugs or shock therapies, approaches which are at opposite poles to creative self-development."
Another trap is 3) the frustration that usually comes with trying to do what is called a spiritual bypass. A spiritual bypass happens when we try to avoid working through the pain of our prior traumas, so that we may try to jump from an earlier stage of healing directly into the most advanced stage. Because this concept is crucial to making sense of and handling spiritual awakenings and the movement of spiritual energy (also called Kundalini, Ki, Chi, and the like), I will describe briefly the generic stages of the healing or recovery process.
Stages of Recovery
A spiritual awakening and movement of spiritual energy may happen during any of the following stages of recovery.
Stage Zero is manifested by the presence of an active Illness or disorder such as an addiction, compulsion or another disorder, including any physical illness. This active illness may be acute, recurring or chronic. Without recovery, it may continue indefinitely. At Stage Zero, recovery has not yet started. It may be at this stage that the spiritual awakening happens either from a near-death experience, or bottoming out from the illness, or the like. The actual trigger for the awakening could cause what we call “retraumatization.” First we carry traumas from our past, possibly our childhood, that may not have been “metabolized,” and now we are traumatized by the trigger for the spiritual awakening. This retraumatization brings back the past traumas that may have been suppressed. If this is validated immediately then we can avoid a more painful acute stress disorder. If it is not validated, we eventually may experience acute and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) This trauma and its effects commonly underly the Stage 0 through 3 wounding and work.
Table. Recovery and Duration According to Stages,
with Ease of Understanding and Using Spiritual Energy
Recovery Condition Focus of Approximate Understanding &
Stage Recovery Duration Using Spiritual Energy
3 Human/Spiritual Spirituality Ongoing Easier
2 Past trauma Trauma-specific 3-5+ years Some difficulty
1 Stage 0 disorder Basic-illness full 1/2 to 3 years Difficult
At Stage One, recovery begins. It involves participating in a full recovery program to assist in healing the stage Zero condition or conditions. If a person has a spiritual awakening while in Stage Zero they may try to bypass doing Stage One recovery work.
During Stages Zero and One clinicians who don’t understand or are not educated regarding Kundalini arousal may want to prescribe psychoactive drugs (antidepressants and antipsychotics). This will likely have a detrimental affect that could abort the transformational process. These drugs may give some relief for a short time but will soon numb the person out and “dumb them down,” like a chemical straight jacket. Even worse, these drugs can cause psychotic symptoms for those in a delicate phase of their process.
We can reframe depression as unresolved grief. The label of depression creates a frozen diagnosis. There is no movement. When we allow our grief from past traumas to surface in Stage One or Stage Two, we may experience a bittersweet release emotionally and even the sensing of energy movement.
Once the Stage Zero condition is resolved, in a Stage One program, Stage Two therapy groups are a safe productive place to identify and release grief coming from our past.
Stage Two is one that many people also may try to bypass. It involves healing the effects of past traumas, sometimes called adult child or co-dependence issues. Once a person has a stable and solid Stage One recovery--one that has lasted for at least a year or longer--it may be time to consider looking into these issue. An adult child is a term that has been used to refer to anyone who grew up in an unhealthy, troubled or dysfunctional family. Many adult children may still be in a similar unhealthy environment, whether at home, in one or more relationships, or at work. Because a Kundalini arousal brings up our unconscious material, working a Stage Two recovery will likely help us heal, and authentic humility assists us here and in our spiritual growth. Being humble is facilitated by having the courage to make the choice, moment by moment, to let go of ego-centered thinking and behaving.
Spiritual practices and awakenings can revive and exacerbate unresolved conflicts. This is not necessarily bad, since the process can bring to the surface issues and difficulties requiring attention, and it can result in considerable healing and personality integration. If a treating therapist can respect these spiritual awakenings as a possible Kundalini arousal, they will be able to support a trusting relationship where the patient feels cared for and safe. This will create a positive attitude in which the patient expects that the process will prove valuable and healing. Thus, opening to and talking about the experience can be helpful and can be facilitated by psychotherapy.
Stage Three recovery is the one into which we may be compelled prematurely by having a spiritual awakening. It includes the experience of spirituality and its incorporation into our daily life. This is an ongoing process. In this stage we make meaning out of our past. We are now aware of being free of old beliefs and can use this stage to get comfortable with a fresh outlook while creating stability in our life while practicing gratitude and humility. 
If we try to go around or bypass the darkness to get to the Light, i.e., if we try to ignore the lower to get to the higher levels of our consciousness, something-- we can call it our shadow (Jung) or repetition compulsion (Freud) -- will pull us back until we work through our particular unfinished business. Trying to avoid this work of Stages One and Two recovery can also be called premature transcendence or high- level denial. This is seen in any number of situations, from being prematurely born again, to having a spiritual awakening and focusing only on the Light, to becoming attached to one way that is the “only” way. Its consequences are often active co-dependence: denial of the richness of our inner life; trying to control one self or others; all-or-none thinking and behaving; feelings of fear, shame and confusion; high tolerance of inappropriate behavior; frustration, addiction, compulsion, relapse, and unnecessary pain and suffering.
The way out of this trap is to develop humility (i.e., openness to learning more about self, others and God) and work through the pain of wherever we may be, or just enjoy the joyous feelings. Those who are actively addicted or disordered can work through a Stage One full recovery program. Those who are adult children of troubled or dysfunctional families can work through Stage Two recovery. We need to stay mindful of these necessities: we cannot let go of something if we do not know experientially what it is that we are letting go. We cannot transcend the unhealed; and we cannot connect experientially to the God of our understanding until we know our True Self, our human Heart. People who have progressed in their Kundalini Process join a Stage Two or Three therapy groups to help support themselves in their new experience of co-creating their life with a Higher Power. Their new expansive and creative abilities may not fit in to their original life/relationships and being in a weekly group gives them a place to talk about their feelings and check themselves out with fellow aspirants.
If we can expand our beliefs and bring our higher nature into our everyday life—we can experience true humility. Kundalini Energy invites us to stretch beyond the limits of who we thought we were and become all that we are. This process allows us to experience a healing unity with ourselves, others and our Higher Power.
© Charles L. Whitfield 2008
for The Kundalini Research Network
Charles L. Whitfield, MD, is a pioneer in trauma recovery, including the way we remember childhood and other trauma and abuse. A physician and front-line therapist who assists trauma survivors and spiritual seekers in their healing, he is the author of fifty published articles, and ten best-selling books on trauma psychology and recovery including Healing the Child Within and Alcoholism and Spirituality. He lives and practices addiction medicine, trauma psychology, and holistic psychiatry in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Whitfield is one of the authors in the compilation, Kundalini Rising, published by Sounds True. For more information go to www.Barbara-Whitfield.Blogspot.com
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