I am bad at taking drugs. The reasons why will become apparent. But I always wanted to try LSD, so when the opportunity arose recently, and those who had taken it reported a mellow trip, and seemed to be having a mild and lovely time, I felt that conditions were good for me to give it a try, so I gratefully received a minimum dose.
Soon after, Boffo and I performed the Headless Rite under an ancient oak. At the termination of the ritual I heard the tree exhale a long, sighing breath. Over dinner, the effects were more pronounced. There was a blissful disjoint in my belly and chest, and between my mind and its perceptions. But the disjoint expanded and I was not sure I could maintain social interactions, so I went to bed to take a closer look at what was going on.
A practitioner of vipassana meditation for decades, my instinct is to burrow into experience and analyse it to pieces, which is why I am not good at drugs. What I found was a mind like broken hardware. It was out of phase, with all the sensory modalities bleeding into each other. But what was it out of phase with? Reality itself, it seemed. This made no sense, because being out of phase was just as real an experience as any other. The upshot was I was not happy with it. I had put a chemical into my brain and screwed it up. There was nothing interesting occurring; it was only brain damage. I must wait for it to pass and enjoy the ride as best I could. There were pleasant feelings in my body, and I used these as an anchor to prevent slipping off completely into suffering.
Boffo was my saviour throughout the night. He suggested a walk, and this certainly felt easier than reflecting on experience indoors. But everything was so unintegrated there was little to hold onto. Everything was flattened out, at a distance, as if relayed from far away and taking ages to register upon awareness. After a short time I wanted to go to bed again and try to sleep.
Of course I could not sleep, and then some challenging impressions took hold. Experience was so far out of phase it did not count as experience at all. Then what was this? Some new kind of life in which none of the usual means of making sense possibly applied. The conviction took root that I was dead. The more I looked, the more clearly I perceived brittle, inert artefacts of something very far from alive. Nothing in this new experience joined up with life. Everything of me and mine was dead, and had been always. Laughable to think I had believed it any other way.
Later, a different view took hold: that awareness was excreted into reality through slimy tubes, in a sordid, sleazy way, like a penis sliding out from its foreskin. Everything was visceral, consciousness no exception, just a bodily organ like any other, but with a transparent surface so that light passed in as it was excreted through its tube. Consciousness was a transparent turd.
Boffo put on calming music: Eno, Dowland, Allegri’s Miserere. But the latter was just too agonisingly beautiful. I was transfixed by visions of vast cathedrals of cloud and radiant light.
“I’m about to get emotional,” I said.
“What are you feeling?” said Boffo.
“Anguish, I think.”
A sense had been growing from that formerly pleasant buzz in my abdomen that my body consisted purely of vibrations. My thighs, belly and chest had ceased to be physical and were instead a buzzing swirl of energy about certain points which, I realised, were the chakras.
The anguish was swirling and swirling about my heart. Boffo snapped into energy worker mode and helped try and move the energy upwards and out. That seemed to clear it somewhat, but then the energy re-focused in my belly and thighs where it felt even more solid. The energy seemed inexhaustible, only indirectly physical, as if it were passing through my body rather than belonging to it, but instead of passing through and on its way the energy seemed to be snagging somehow upon the physical. I was writhing, spasming, grunting and groaning in a way I had not felt before, as if there was something stuck in swadisthana (just below the belly button) that needed to come out. But how could it come out, if my body were physical yet the energy flowing through me were not?
The writhing spasms seemed to offer some relief. Boffo was helping, as before. There was one great moment of spasm, and it seemed it might all be over, but then it became apparent the crisis was coming in cycles or waves, and another bout of writhing built up all over again.
I was not sure that what was in me was entirely me, but instead something I would very much like to expel, and the means of expulsion seemed to be to afford it some means of expression, as if this could expose it to a light that prevented it from operating in secret. I sensed that it very much disliked this and wanted to remain hidden. Repeatedly, I took my awareness down through the chakras, passing my right hand side-on down my body. All the upper chakras seemed fine, but each time my awareness and my hand reached swadisthana, I hit something that made me buck and spasm. At one point I bent back hard on the bed, uncontrollably gurgling and hissing, words forming in a nonsensical guttural language, a demonic voice.
It did not feel at all that this was part of me, yet I was aware of what was happening, and afterwards I remembered it all. Humour was also still in operation, because as Boffo laid his hand upon me, steeling against more demonic writhing, I grinned and quoted from The Exorcist: “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”
The vivid perception of circulating vibrations gradually subsided. My body was physically trembling now in the areas affected; the transition from etheric to material seemed to promise that reality might settle down. Sleep seemed a possibility. Boffo was facing a long drive early next morning. I was acutely aware he needed rest. I had apologised to him earlier. I think that part of me had calculated I was safe in Boffo’s company, and had staged unconsciously this whole thing.
Whilst Boffo caught some fitful sleep, I lay awake, perturbed by my frantic heartrate and struggling to ignore intermittent thoughts that cardiac arrest was imminent. I was lying in bed, but my physiology was on a long-distance run. Later, Boffo assured me that as I was not hyperventilating, I would probably be okay. I consoled myself a kundalini crisis was also a highly efficient way to burn off excess calories.
The next day, Boffo headed home and I spent the quiet day doing grounding things: eating, sleeping, masturbating and chores. I felt fragile but wired, and resolved never to touch acid again without a solid reason. I have no conception what that reason would be.
Contrary to appearances, the crisis was not over. A few days passed normally. I returned home and resumed my usual low-key practices of meditation and yoga. I was reunited with my girlfriend. It had been our first time apart, and we made it up with lots of sex, without ejaculation on my part. (For more on this, Dave Lee has written recently on the aims and benefits of tantric sexual practice from a chaos magickal perspective [Lee 2017: 258-264].)
The following weekend, it crept up slowly, but by evening I felt exactly as I had under the influence of LSD. There was the same sensation of mental brokenness, the visuals and scents, and frightening, delusional thoughts: you have a brain tumour… you are going mad… The vibrations and demonic writhing returned but I forced them into abeyance, because, although Boffo took them in his stride, I could see my girlfriend found them more distressing.
I made an internet search for help, which turned up the work of Tara Springett, a psychotherapist specialising in clients with kundalini syndrome. Her book, Enlightenment Through the Path of Kundalini, available in PDF format for a few pounds, offers advice on dealing with kundalini symptoms. At first, I approached it with caution, because Springett avers the theoretical portions of her text were channelled from the goddess White Tara. Yet White Tara chimed entirely with my own practice and experience, and Springett’s book proved a lifesaver. My opinion is that Springett’s manifestation of White Tara is extremely useful.
Springett views kundalini as a bodily energy that sets itself apart from the non-dual love that permeates the universe. Ultimately, therefore, kundalini is an expression of universal love, but it is also an expression of an individual self. The antidote to an excess of kundalini, then, is love and compassion towards self, others and divinity.
In marked contrast to other writers, Springett asserts that kundalini syndrome is amenable to psychotherapeutic intervention, and that energy work or bodily intervention is actually likely to exacerbate the problem. This is because kundalini is not a material entity or energy. As she puts it, “this sensation of energy ‘rising’ is not real. It is just a sensation that happens spontaneously […] and therefore we should refrain from trying to manufacture this experience” (Springett 2014: 105). Likewise, practices such as pranayama, samatha and vipassana will tend to exacerbate kundalini episodes, because they supply increased attention. The only practice likely to dampen and re-balance is compassion.
This I started, and immediately the kundalini responded. The experience of kundalini is love, so generating love outwards provides a deeper relaxation into love. Trying to take love apart through introspection (vipassana), or attempting to eject it somehow from the body (demonic phenomena), accomplishes nothing. It is stupid to want or attempt to dismantle love.
I walked in the cemetery, and in the quietness practised this, and felt much better, far less insane. On the way home I noticed an intense pang of sadness. My body felt oddly heavy as I walked.
Springett recommends surrender to a divinity. Given that this whole experience was consequent upon a Kali puja that Boffo and I had performed, I visualised lying in the loving arms of the goddess, surrendering in compassion to her and to the world. My state of mind still felt too much, but the kundalini loosened in response to the love. A thought arose: “If things aren’t normal, it’s only because I am different from before. Things are not the same because now I am Kali’s.”
A strong vision of the goddess immediately arose. She was in the room, a giant, oblong column dense with qualities; some I knew, but much else was unknown. My mind was hers; her being was mine. It was clear from that moment how we were entirely merged. She gave me a mantra, mine to use. (“It’s not quite Sanskrit, is it?” I remarked later, showing it to Boffo. “Sounds more likely bloody Aztec to me!” Boffo quipped.)
Still too intense, at least now I recognised my state for what it had been all along: merger with the goddess, which I had desperately been trying to fend off and deny. My sufferings were actually bliss. My body was actually suffused with ecstasy. The terror occasioned by clinging to normality decreased at once on realising there was no way back, no benefit in retreating.
Monday, I was in ecstasy. At work, it was fine whilst tackling the usual tasks. I was not entirely convinced that intellectually I was up to scratch, but things seemed to get done. Solitary bliss is one thing; in the presence of others it becomes more taxing. “Today my whole being is so sweetly reeling / with Mother’s own drunken love”, wrote the eighteenth century poet Ramprasad in one of his many hymns to Kali, “that even those soaked in ordinary wine / consider me one of them!” (Hixon 1994: 67) And, surely, the others in the meeting could see I was completely off my tits! A sense of paranoia crept in, and then, consequently, a wish to break free from all the everyday aspects of my life. The basis of suffering is feeling unable to accept the state one is in. But by trying to let things be as they are, by practising compassion, I managed to pull through.
Since then, three weeks later, things have settled. This was the only spiritual experience in which I found myself, rather than clinging onto the states of mind involved, instead looking forward to when they would pass. But once they had, inevitably I hankered and experimented with practices that might top it up again. Tantric sex, connected breathwork, meditation and yoga, in descending order, all seemed capable of stimulating the kundalini, but not in any simple or predictable way.
Perhaps the most confusing thing has been occasionally to find myself in states of bliss when things that are otherwise unpleasant and uncomfortable are happening. I wonder what horrible kind of person I must be to have a capacity for pleasure in the presence of my own and others’ suffering. Yet the bliss does not arise from or because of the suffering.
Perhaps Ramprasad should have the final word: “Mother dwells at the center of my being, / forever delightfully at play. / Whatever conditions of consciousness may arise, / I hear through them the music of her life-giving names, / Om Tara, Om Kali” (Hixon 1994: 37).
Hixon, Lex (1994). Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment. Wheaton, IL: Quest.
Lee, Dave (2017). Life Force: Sensed Energy in Breathwork, Psychedelia and Chaos Magic. Norwich: Universe Machine.
Springett, Tara (2014). Enlightenment through the Path of Kundalini: a Guide to a Positive Spiritual Awakening and Overcoming Kundalini Syndrome. taraspringett.com