Riding the Kundalini Dragon: Integrating Altered States

Via Julian Walker
on Sep 21, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

It Begins


“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the right stimulus, and at a touch they are there is all their completeness. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.  How to regard them is the question…” William James The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 388

With this quote from a book published in 1901 by a man whom many regard as the father of psychology, I would like to begin a consideration of both the importance   and the trickiness of altered state  experience  and phenomena, be they energetic, psychological, physiological and/or spiritual.

My personal journey began at a  young age – I began meditating at 15, emulated my 60’s idols by experimenting with psychedelics in an intentional way after reading Tim Leary and Ram Das at 18 while exploring minor rock stardom in South Africa, came to the USA and started yoga at 19. I chased the light of new Age peak experiences in my early 20’s – travelled to India, spent time in the ashram with Osho sanyassins, sat with countless satsang teachers, tried hard to create my reality, kill my ego and become one with the universe while remembering my past-lives and putting out the intention to call in my soulmate….

I ended up realizing that psychological healing work was an indispensable aspect of spirituality, that I was in fact using spiritual beliefs to avoid my deep emotions and the reality of suffering. I put in many, many hours on the Holotropic Breathwork mat, went on intense meditation retreats, practiced hardcore yoga early in the morning for years, had my body and psyche ripped open by kamikaze bodyworkers, struggled to make sense of the combination of of light and shadow in my charismatic mentor figures and eventually differentiate from them  – and over time developed my own approach to integrating and facilitating energetic and altered state process work via yoga, bodywork, dialog, dance and breathwork.

How then to unpack the power, beauty, terror, magic and wonder of altered states and Kundalini experiences?

I will start by putting my perspective in a context. Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant model from Integral Theory works nicely.


Four Quadrant Gloss

UR = Upper Right

UL = Upper Left

LR = Lower Right

LL = Lower Left

This model from Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory creates a way of talking about the relationships between the inner and outer, individual and collective dimensions of reality. Take a moment to look at the image and think about this elegant way of organizing information and perspectives. For the purposes of this article consider that altered state experiences take place in the UL (upper left, individual subjective) ) but are related to shifts in brain activity in the UR (upper right, individual objective) these experiences are then interpreted most often via the cultural lenses of the LL (lower left, collective/intersubjective) and this might happen in the context of specific LR (lower right, collective/interobjective)  institutions like churches, meditation centers, psychotherapy offices etc…

So what I will do from here on is talk about these relationships in an attempt to give an Integrally-Informed analysis of (as William James puts it above) how to regard Kundalini and altered states. If the quadrants and shorthand stuff makes your inner geek excited, wonderful – if it just seems laborious, ignore it – there will still be plenty of interest!

Chemistry and Brain States

We know that from an empirical point of view (UR, Objectivity) consciousness, and more specifically our state of consciousness is a function of brain states and biochemistry. Too little serotonin and one is depressed, too much dopamine and one is in the midst of a manic episode, scarring from head trauma can produce epilepsy, ingest just the right amount of LSD or mescaline and the folds in one’s trousers or the architecture  of a rose  (as Aldous Huxley famously described in The Doors of Perception) can become imponderably mysterious, beautiful, fascinating  and spiritually rich. So too the sense of spaciousness, expansive loss of ego and connection to the cosmos one experiences in deep meditation can be tracked in relationship to brain function as in the recent work of Dr. Andrew Newberg:

“During meditation, people often feel a sense of no space.”

Scientists investigating the effect of the meditative state on Buddhist monk’s brains have found that portions of the organ previously active become quiet, whilst pacified areas become stimulated. Using a brain imaging technique, Dr. Newberg and his team studied a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks as they meditated for approximately one hour. When they reached a transcendental high, they were asked to pull a kite string to their right, releasing an injection of a radioactive tracer. By injecting a tiny amount of radioactive marker into the bloodstream of a deep meditator, the scientists soon saw how the dye moved to active parts of the brain.

Later, once the subjects had finished meditating, the regions were imaged and the meditation state compared with the normal waking state. The scans provided remarkable clues about what goes on in the brain during meditation. “There was an increase in activity in the front part of the brain, the area that is activated when anyone focuses attention on a particular task,” Dr Newberg explained. In addition, a notable decrease in activity in the back part of the brain, or parietal lobe, recognized as the area responsible for orientation, reinforced the general suggestion that meditation leads to a lack of spatial awareness.

Dr Newberg: “During meditation, people have a loss of the sense of self and frequently experience a sense of no space and time and that was exactly what we saw.” The complex interaction between different areas of the brain also resembles the pattern of activity that occurs during other so-called spiritual or mystical experiences.”

See here for some informative Q&A about Newberg’s work.


Experiential Awareness and Stage-Based Interpretation

In  the subjective personal realm (UL), one’s state of consciousness, and particularly how one interprets those states can be discussed with regard to stages of psychological development, traumas  (or complications  in that developmental process), self-awareness, spiritual practices, education etc. Most significant here for me are the psychological, spiritual and cognitive lines of development.

I will go into the area of stages of development later, but as to spiritual practice,  one of my favorite lines comes from New York Zen teacher Baker Roshi, who says “Enlightenment is an accident, but meditation makes you accident  prone.”

In other words: the altered state of consciousness sought by the meditator and the stabilized stage of development in which that state is integrated  are not guaranteed by meditation – but meditation does set up the conditions within which that process can occur.

Even more than meditation, we see an ever growing interest in yoga practice,  especially because of the positive state change that it creates. While most beginning meditators have a good few years of difficult, boring, frustrating and confronting mental exercise ahead of them before states like the ones Newberg is describing start showing up for more than 5 or 10 seconds at a time, yoga is more predictable more quickly, given the specific stimulation and soothing of the nervous system, glands and brain and the circulatory effects of the physical practice.

I would argue that with specific regard to states of consciousness the UL and UR (or subjective awareness and objective biochemistry )are in an interwoven relationship that is almost impossible to separate. The changes in state that yoga and meditation produce are clearly rooted in physiological processes that involve glandular activity, the nervous system,  areas of the brain etc – those  processes  depend upon an exercising of awareness that trains one in generating the physiological activities that drive the state change  via either movement, breath, posture and intention/concentration.

Gopi Krishna’s famous initiation into kundalini is a perfect example. This was an ordinary man practicing meditation without a teacher who happened upon a powerful and harrowing experience  of his own UR/UL relationship that led him to the conclusion that there is a biopsychic evolutionary principle  dormant  in the body. For more see his eloquent and powerful account in the classic Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man.

 (Please note that whenever I recommend this book I do so with a disclaimer that will follow further down the page. )

Here in the meantime  is a short introduction to Krishna, as well as video of  an excellent  interview with him (at the bottom of the page). It’s worth your while to watch this and perhaps have it open in another window as you keep reading….

Regarding the UR/UL relationship,  this  line from the interview  particularly stands out “Yoga was developed in India to make experiments  on the brain.”

A man after Dr. Newberg’s own heart!


Mythic and Cultural Interpretive Overlay

Now on to the cultural  context  (LL) within which states of conscious arise, are conditioned and interpreted.  Of course, both the UL&UR factors described above emerge  (or fail to emerge) and are made sense of within a cultural (LL) framework. States of consciousness that are universally possible in human beings will be given very different kinds of support or repression, training and interpretation depending on the society in which they are experienced. It is an individual of rare brilliance, disposition and self-realized insight that can step back from their own cultural framework and see their spiritual/altered state experience on it’s own terms and as something ultimately transcendent of that framework.

Notice how Gopi Krishna, whose defining experience happened  in 1937, has an absolute clarity about the universally human nature of the revelations that arose for him. He expresses in the interview a (way ahead of his time) multi-cultural inclusivity, but we do still also hear his underlying Vedic philosophy and metaphysics.


Principle One: Consciousness and Physiology are Deeper (More Universal) to the Human Condition than Cultural Differences.

In support of the above principle, see this remarkable  article  by researcher, yogi, professor and psychotherapist, Dr. Stuart Sovatsky on the cross-cultural similars to Kundalini in which he notes that:

 “Kundalini/pranic awakening and its cross-tradition similars—the spontaneous spinal rockings known in Judaism as davening and in Sufisim as zikr; the “taken-over” gyrations of gospel “holy ghost” shaking and dancing and charismatic/pentacostal “mani-festations”; the Dionysian “revel”; Quakerism’s and Shakerism’s autonomic quaking and shaking; Tai Chi guided by chi itself; the shamanic trance-dance; Buddhism’s and Raja-Yoga’s effortless “straight back” (uju-kaya) meditation; the yogically derived ecstatic belly-dance and Flamenco; and even the full-bodied, spontaneous Reichian “reflex”—literally embody the spiritual path.”

Sovatsy too is pointing out the innate/endogenous nature of transformational processes in the mind-body matrix.


Social Infrastructure

Lastly (and mostly for symmetry’s sake) I will mention the LR quadrant. Suffice it to say that in the West we have almost no social infrastructure, religious or psychological for understanding and interpreting altered states. Religion has mostly become the domain of belief – with little room for direct experience and introspective/psychophysical  practices  of the sort that engage  initiatory energetic experiences. Psychology with regard to altered states  remains mostly the domain of psychiatric intervention and homogenization of consciousness. Notable exceptions are the budding yoga/ecstatic dance/meditation communities – they are doing good work, but there is a lot more to be done with regard to initiating, integrating and contextualizing authentic, discerning stage-wise growth.

I would however be seriously remiss  not to mention the work of Stuart Sovastky, Lee Sannella and Stan Grof in creating clinical resources for those going through intense psychophysical (kundalini) process. See here for some interesting info on that…

What seems most important  in the creation of  intelligent and supportive LR infrastructure/institutions  is an integration of both the mind-body spiritual/energetic  awareness of what may be occurring for the individual and it’s possible value – as well as the cold-eyed realism of DSM-based psychological assessment. After all, in the words of Meister Eckhart “ The madman is drowning in the same waters that the Holy man swims in…”

In other words a good starting point is this:  all kundalini is not psychosis and all mental illness is not kundalini.


Bless This  Dragon and All Who Ride Her

 So what is Kundalini?

Well I want to begin by putting this word where I feel it belongs. In India, Kundalini is the name of a mythic serpent goddess, said to reside at the base of the spine – to be  awakened from her slumber by yogic practice  or spiritual grace. On awakening she moves through the chakras, or major energy centers of the body, cleansing them of physical and emotional  blocks and initiating a powerful psycho-spiritual awareness process.

I think it is very important to bear in mind that “kundalini” is one culture-bound  signifier for an experience that transcends  culture. Also we should bear in mind that mythic symbols always lose a great deal of their potency when interpreted literally – especially with any kind of exotic idealized projection of magic onto another culture or time.

The experience signified by the word “kundalini” – as pre-eminent scholar on the subject , Stuart Sovatsy indicates above, is common to many cultures and goes by many names.

 Principle Two: Names and Beliefs are Always Secondary to Practice and Direct Initiatory Experience.

In my own study, personal experience  and clinical practice, I have observed phenomena that have led me to the conclusion that the serpentine imagery invoked by both the Kundalini mythology and the caduceus/Hermetic symbology refers to an innate physical process in which the body makes spontaneous movements that:

a) at their most basic level of expression release tension and stress,

b) as they are expressed more deeply bring deeply held emotions to the surface, and

c) as the stress, trauma and conflict get processed ultimately express as an ecstatic and pleasurable full-bodied fluid aliveness.

These movements are called “kriyas” in the yogic tradition,  the “reflex” or the “orgasm reflex” in Reichian body-based psychology, “unwinding” in Craniosacral therapy,  and are said to relate to “primary process” in Primal Therapy. They are also seen in Network Chiropractic, Shiatsu, Ecstatic Dance and Holotropic Breathwork. The Kalahari Bushmen in Southern Africa have an all-night dance ritual in which certain participants will begin to shake and experience a burning in their spine which they will then be able to share with others in the group via a healing laying on of hands.

The awakening of energy and softening of what Reich called the “body armor” or chronic muscular tensions has implications for every aspect of our psychological and physical functioning – instinctive, sexual, emotional, creative, spiritual etc…

My perspective is that the UL experience signfied by the words chakra, shushumna and kundalini respectively have UR correlates in the nerve plexi that branch off the spinal chord, the dural tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and the biopscyhic life force energy that is running body and mind.

The video that follows down the page will illustrate how I interact with this reality on a daily basis. What you will not see is the powerful opening into the unconscious and the ensuing psychospiritual process that can also emerge.

Somatic Experiencing creator Peter Levine is a Phd. Biologist who has done fascinating research on the way animals release intense nervous system activation after life-threatening situations by laying down and surrendering to full-bodied release that looks like they are just vigorously “shaking it off” but when the videotape  is slowed down it reveals sequences of movement that look like running and biting, fleeing and fighting. The nervous and glandular energy aroused to sustain the threat to survival has been discharged. Levine also teaches that a natural nervous system homeostasis that cycles between tension and release, resource and trauma can be re-accessed and utilized to allow managable and integratable processing of unresolved intense stress that still lurks in our physiology.

So breath, touch, movement, emotional process, all can serve as an entry point into this altered state in which the mind-body system processes, releases, re-enlivens and rebalances itself. In my work I use yoga, dance,  breathwork  and hands-on bodywork as doorways into this powerful process. The novel and revelatory experience of energy can serve as a resource, as can elements like touch, breath, sensation, music, trust etc…

To learn more about my work see my 8 CD set of  lectures and experiential classes: Radical Transformation: A Map to Mind-Body Ecstasy.

To experience my work come on an Transformation Retreat. There’s one coming up in November!

In the video below, I am demonstrating energy activation in a workshop with students  from my bodywork and yoga world using breath and touch to release stress and tension – and enter an ecstatic state. In a more formal healing session this work would go on longer and start to access both emotional process and physical structural shifts. This is just a glimpse.

Open Sky Bodywork

If you haven’t seen energetic process like this before, it will usually bump right up against the cultural taboos we all carry- taboos about the body, vulnerability, touch and sexuality. Think of the images you are seeing as illustrating the awakening of an embodied ecstatic state of consciousness that is not limited by the shame that those taboos enforce. We are conditioned to live in a very limited framework that does not allow for very much emotional honesty, pleasure, open-ness or vulnerability – and yet it is in the discovery and development of our capacity for precisely those things that we become  more fully ourselves and that we awaken to authentic and grounded spirituality.

I would hazard a guess that it is this kind of ecstatic group ritual space that the Christians in ancient Europe (and wherever else they colonized) were so offended by and branded as Satanic or related to witchcraft. In the article above Sovatsky mentions both the pre-Patanjali  ecstatic Tantras of ancient India as well as the Dionysian revels of ancient Greece. It should however be noted that the naturally occurance of energetic process in ancient cultures does not mean that their interpretation or integration benefited from the contemporary perspectives (Integral analysis, mind-body integration, depth psychology, modern science, postmodern insights etc..) we can now bring to bear! The way lies ahead, not behind us…


My initial experiences  of energetic unwinding/kundalini came through Holotropic Breathwork, an experiential therapy that involves deep sustained breathing, pre-programmed evocative music and the occasional application of physical bodywork techniques.

The work (like any truly effective practice or therapy) softens the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious mind, and allows physical tensions, repressed emotions, memories, longings and insights to emerge into awareness and be processed in an experiential,  embodied way. It produces a profoundly altered state of consciousness in which instinctive animalistic body states, infantile and childhood memories and feelings, unacknowledged truths and deeply spiritual capacities can and do all arise. As this process unfolds it is standard to go through the unwinding/kundalini processes I have been describing.


One of the most striking, perplexing and undeniable stimuli toward altered states has to be psychedelic or entheogenic sacraments.

For the sake of brevity, this piece of writing can only gesture toward all the different reference points I am wanting to establish, so for now I will just say that the use of plant medicines  that produce altered states is something that anthropologists have found to be ubiquitous and widespread, from Mesoamerica to Africa to India to Ancient Greece, to Egypt and Sumeria, to the Amazon Rainforest to Mexico to Siberia. For more on this a good starting point is the book Persephone’s Quest by R. Gordon Wasson et al.

There is considerable evidence and highly educated guesswork that suggests that humanity’s interactions with potent psychoactive plants and fungi may have played a major part not only in the development of culture, mythology and spirituality/religion, but also in evolution itself. For more on this see references in Joseph Campbell as well as the more explicit work of ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna and writers like James Arthur, Daniel Merkur, Robert Forte and pre-eminent scholar of world religion Huston Smith.

Stan Grof  – called by Ken Wilber the world’s greatest living psychologist, spent his early years doing extensive clinical research on the psycho-spiritual implications of altered states and specifically of the information revealed via psychedelics. He later developed Holotropic Breathwork as an alternative  approach when psychedelics were outlawed.


Personally, seeking out and then learning how to integrate altered states has been a central thread in my life story as an adult. From early experiences  with psychedelics (like Jack Kornfield, Stan Grof, Ram Das and most of my counter-culture spiritual heroes) to meditation retreats, psychotherapy, bodywork, holotropic breathwork and yoga, I have found that altered states present two very difficult problems with regard to integration:

Principle Three: States and Stages Are Not the Same Thing.

In the altered state the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious mind becomes more permeable – creativity blossoms, mythic archetypes  emerge, long hidden emotions and memories arise and potential spiritual capacities like compassion, insight, and equanimity  may be experienced.

See Stan Grof for more on this, but also Abraham Maslow, particularly his idea of “self-actualizers “ who guide their lives by their “peak experiences.”

What Transpersonal Psychology has grown to understand  in the last 40 years  is that entry into a peak altered state, while convincing and authentic at the time is not the equivalent of having reached the stage of development to which the state is alluding.

In other words a vision of the mountain top doesn’t mean you don’t still have to start climbing from the bottom when the vision fades…

Principle Four: While Altered States are Available to Everyone Regardless of their Stage of Development, One’s Interpretation of the Altered State will be Entirely Dependent on One’s Psychograph (or combined developmental profile.)

In other words: One’s general stage of development will determine how one interprets the altered state once they are back in their steady state. So the same experiential territory might be interpreted completely differently by someone with a literalist faith in mythic religion, as opposed to someone who has done a lot of psychological work, as opposed to someone who is very invested in New Age metaphysics, or someone who has a background in Advaita Vedanta. The tricky part is that because the (primary) altered state is so convincing, our (secondary) interpretive  lens will be lent an often unwarranted authority….

This is a very difficult trap to side-step – and then proceed with as grounded and accurate an interpretation as is possible…

So integration has to include perhaps both the attempt to step back and look at the experience with some degree of objectivity, as well as consulting with guides or “community of the adequate” members  whom we trust and respect. This will help put altered state work squarely in the necessary “three strands of science” realm. Here’s a fascinating video of Ken Wilber talking about how a broad scientific method can be effectively applied to spirituality:

Integration, as well as even being able to manage altered states is also a function of something I call the “trauma/resource  ratio.” Each of us has a different ratio between overwhelming traumatic occurrences  and resources that support groundedness,  self-esteem, compassion, courage  etc…This is not something we choose but is the product of the complex relationships between genetics, life experience, childhood, gifts and abilities we have been able to develop etc… The trauma/resource ration will determine how  well we are able to manage and integrate altered states of consciousness and energetic process.

Difficulty in managing and/or integrating altered states and energetic process can show up as:

 * Ungroundedness or Dissociation

* Regressive Worldview/Belief System

* Overwhelming/Out of Control Physiological Symptoms

* Psychotic Delusions

* Extreme Narcissistic Inflation

* Obsessive Chasing of the Peak State

* Rationalization/Denial of Reality in Favor of “Other Realms”


* Complete Lack of Self-Care Resources

(Sidenote: Cults and toxic Gurus rely on these elements to keep people disempowered and “hooked in”.)

Although we do not choose the trauma/resource ratio we start with, we can choose to become authentically aware of our situation and do the crucial work to cultivate resources while finding safe spaces to process trauma. At various stages in one’s cycle it is  often necessary to step away from practices that evoke energetic proces and/or altered states and spend some time doing the crucial but unglamorous work of grounding, soothing, re-orienting and integrating.

In Closing

I said earlier that I always recommended Gopi Krishna’s classic book on Kundalini with a disclaimer/caveat. the reason for this is that Krishn’as experience as recounted in the book is terrifying and somewhat psychotic in places and I have my own theory regarding this aspect of the book.

My observations:

* He had no physical practice to keep him grounded and facilitate processing the powerful energy that was washing though him.

* (In predictably culturally influenced ways) He reveals a very puritanical attitude toward sexuality and

* A very stoic attitude toward emotions. ( So neither his sexuality nor his emotions were outlets for expression, release and relief – they were held in dualistic regard as not being sacred or part of the process. Danger!)

* He felt he had to hide his experience from others. ( A set-up for deepening alienation and paranoia.)

* He had no guidance and no community.

This adds up to a perfect set-up for a pretty bumpy ride. Lots of repression and very little resource – his journey really is very traumatic. That said it is still an eloquent and powerful account of energetic initiation and deep self-realization.

In contrast and by way of conclusion i want to reiterate that energetic process and altered states are powerful, universal human experiences that can, under the right conditions, be utilized responsibly, beautifully and in ways that create not only exciting experiences but also genuine stage-wise growth. This possibility is well-served by:

* An Integral 4 quadrant framework.

* Active cultivation of resource.

* Safe space for processing trauma.

* Responsble, knowledgable and experienced teachers/guides/healers

* Transformational community

* Physical practices that move energy.

* Shadow work that allows for deep emotional process.

* Three strands of science type methodology.

* Continuing education and practice.


These combine well with the four principles I suggested through the piece, and which I will reiterate here:

* Consciousness and Physiology are Deeper (More Universal) to the Human Condition than     Cultural Differences.

* Names and Beliefs are Always Secondary to Practice and Direct Initiatory Experience.

* States and Stages Are Not the Same Thing.

* While Altered States are Available to Everyone Regardless of their Stage of Development,     One’s Interpretation of the Altered State will be Entirely Dependent on One’s Psychograph.

Thanks for your time!




About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com. www.julianwalkeryoga.com


27 Responses to “Riding the Kundalini Dragon: Integrating Altered States”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  2. Awesome, Julian! Thanks for presenting such a comprehensive overview of a subject so often mangled and misunderstood among the New Age crowds – when is the full-length book coming out? 🙂

  3. mb says:

    "Stan Grof – called by Ken Wilber the world’s greatest living psychologist"

    Did you know that Ken Wilber also at one time called Adi Da the "world's greatest living spiritual master" ?

    Oh well, 1 out of 2 ain't bad – he got it right in Grof.

  4. yogijulian says:

    touche! yeah he got a few things dead wrong…. i wrote this article actually a few years back before i had realized this as much as i now do.

  5. yogijulian says:

    as soon as i can find an agent or publisher that gets excited by the new new paradigm shift i am trying to sketch! 🙂

  6. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. yogijulian says:

    in fact i think wilber has a classic boomer generation fascination with the myth of the great enlightened master – and with himself as a kind of john the baptist figure revealing him to the world etc..

    his endorsement of da, andrew cohen and now the quantum charlatan guru trivedi are all demonstrative of an appalling lack of judgment and lack of integration of this particular drive to believe such nonsense…

    just goes to show that brilliant intelligence and long term meditation may still not guarantee psychological integration and rational grounding.

    nonetheless he has 3 or 4 totally unique, insightful and ground-breaking observations in his long and prolific career!

    al of that said – even stan grof goes off the deep end with whacky past life/astrology/synchronicity kookiness, but he has a storied history of psychedelic use to no doubt account for this….

    rare is the outlier who breaks new ground and still remains grounded and integrated – this is what i personally aspire to!

  8. Padma Kadag says:

    Julian…I am not at all interested in the Integral movement nor am I verse in Psychology…but I would like a comprehensive explanation of this idea of "Evolutionary Spirituality" or "Evolutionary Enlightenment". This idea is coming up more and more and I would like your take on it. To be honest I would probably not read a suggested book but would enjoy hearing a succinct definition from you.

  9. mb says:

    Oops – the co-author is actually Emily Kelly, and they both work at the University of Virginia…

  10. yogijulian says:

    you know that is more an andrew cohen idea – and i am not big on his work…

  11. yogijulian says:

    gosh – i think mind body dualism and the pantheistic notion of consciousness existing prior to biological evolution and somehow transcendent of organisms is a fun one and one we are innately predisposed to find compelling – BUT i see no evidence in favor of it and in fact just about everything else we do know about reality suggests that it is a faulty premise…

  12. Padma Kadag says:

    ok thanks.

  13. Padma Kadag says:

    In your assessment of Wilbur, to which I would not argue for or against, you mention, "brilliant intelligence and long term meditation may still not guarantee psychological integration and rational grounding." All of us should make an effort to keep in mind that although one says that they meditate, this can mean so many things. This concept we call meditation has no true definition unless it is being used in a specific path or school rendering the generalization of the term useless. So many meanings and methods. No real hard point to make here…more of a passing thought.

  14. yogijulian says:

    true observation!

    but wilber has been pretty explicit ad naseum about his meditation practice, type, schedule etc, as well as his 9 day period of being in complete non-dual wakefulness – check out his book one taste as an example

  15. yogijulian says:

    i mean i think the idea is that what is meant by enlightenment changes as we keep evolving… that enlightenment itself evolves and that in fact maybe it is the teleological driver of evolution or some such! 🙂

  16. Scott_Newsom says:

    Very interesting post. Wilber's explanation of science, especially the dismissal of the natural world as the appropriate focus of science reveals his limitations as clearly as anything. That aside, there seems to be a really huge presupposition to this entire post – that altered states are a desirable experience that should be sought and in particular, states that include some sort of alteration of perception of reality. What evidence do you use to support such a position?

  17. Scott_Newsom says:


    I have heard this term used recently too and I really cringe when I hear it because the word "evolution" is being attached to a completely unscientific idea. It isn't the first time charlatans have attempted to use a veneer of science to give their sacks of excrement the allure of a gourmet meal, nor sadly the last. It is good to recognize it for what it is before you bite.

  18. […] Riding the Kundalini Dragon: Integrating Altered States […]

  19. mb says:

    You seem to be making an argument here for materialist science trumping magical thinking. However, do be aware there are many respected physicists (e.g. Penrose) out there whose research seems to lead them to suggest otherwise. Wilber has in the past trotted out his EEG readings during meditation – but does physical evidence of brain waves of a specific frequency and amplitude over a specific duration of time actually equal "meditation"? Or are they the physical correlates of an activity whose origins are not necessarily physical? Materialistic scientists might emphatically state "the dog is wagging the tail" and new age magical thinkers might emphatically state "No, the tail is wagging the dog". What might actually be the case is that neither is strictly true. Don't forget that Galileo got in a lot of trouble for opening his mouth in the time period he lived in, but was later proved "right" by open-minded consensus later on.

  20. yogijulian says:

    i will ask you my friend what i ask everyone who levels the accusation of scientific materialism – what is the alternative? ghost in the machine-ism? invisible immateriaism? make believe metaphysicalism?

    but seriously what would an alternative viewpoint to materialism be? we live in a material universe. there is not one single case ever of consciousness without biological basis. the more complex nervous systems and brains evolve to become, the more complex is the sentient consciousness of the organism. these are just the facts.

    of course i agree that there are various methodologies: empirical, logical, aesthetic, introspective, contemplative etc… but the moment any of the philosophical, psychological, or spiritual disciplines start to make assertions that can be empirically tested or that fly in the face of what we do know scientifically – we owe it to ourselves and our sincerity about our spiritual lives to be honest about the facts.

    in addition to the facts of the matter there also the question a lot of people have a hard time figuring out, namely: given what we do know and the possible explanations, what is MOST LIKELY to be the case?

    the whole philosophical quibble about materialist science is to me a massive red herring!

    what other kind of science is there? if not science what alternative method that has been spectacularly successful and transcends biases, beliefs culture etc shall we employ?

    magical thinking is a relic of superstitious pre-scientific times.

    comparing dualist believers in an unreasonable and outdated notion of consciousness that we have zero examples of and that fits with zero of what we do know about the universe and especially biology to GALILEO?! come on…. the churchland's and harris' and ramachandran's and greene's and cox's and hawkings' are the galileo's of our times – not the woo woo magic peddlers!

    i hear this all the time from the pseudoscience crowd – masaru emoto is the new galileo, deepak, nassim haramein, lynn mctaggart, all these fringe players touting magical thinking and mangled quantum physics to try and propose the scientific validity of mind/body dualism are hardly about to usher in some new paradigm that "materialist science" is just too closed minded to see!

    there is a difference between fringy pseudoscience and real breakthroughs of the kind that are happening say at cern and in neuroscience laboratories and in stem cell research etc…

    honestly i think people who are taken in by these incoherent philosophical red herrings need to grow up and accept the fact that we are animals in a physical universe who have evolved complex brains and will nonetheless one day die – and the moment the brain stops working – poof! no more consciousness.

    it's really quite simple. 🙂

    as for penrose – well i have only seen his collaborator stuart hammeroff present their ARC theory of consciousness at conferences on video and he generally gets laughed out of the the room.

  21. yogijulian says:

    ah what an excellent question! i don't know that i have an answer, the piece is based on my own journey and those of many others i have studied and worked with – all of whom were fascinated with the subject!

  22. […] Riding the Kundalini Dragon: Integrating Altered States […]

  23. Usually I do not learn post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice article.

  24. Vikram Zutshi says:

    Great article, one of the best I've read on EJ so far. Thanks for the links to Pandit Gopi Krishen and Dr.Stovasky. I too live in LA and dabble in some of what you're doing from time to time. Would be great to talk at length..

  25. […] Kundalini is a word that can often be a little frightening for the layman and it is not a discipline that can be undertaken without some knowledge, but it is in my opinion the highest form of merging with the divine. […]

  26. […] As a student and teacher, I know you’re not supposed to allow your mind to wander like this, but to listen to this master who studied for years in India and then ended up in Montana was such a treat. It evoked a sort of Kundalini Rising. […]

  27. […] people seeking enlightenment are looking for big, mystical, altered states of consciousness. One most likely will experience mystical, altered states of consciousness at some stages along the […]