Shamanic initiatory illness – it can happen to you

I have a bunch of half-baked ideas swirling around in my head after reading the following description of kundalini and shamanic initiatory illness at the Beyond Meds blog (also reprinted below). I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about kundalini and altered states as most others who write on this topic. I haven’t experienced protracted drug withdrawal, which is how some people may experience kundalini, but I’ve undergone something like a shamanic initiatory illness  the experience of becoming “sick” in synch with someone else and then getting better once the other person shows signs of recovery.

I had a gut feeling all along that I would know that Chris was on the path to recovery when I got physically sick. My original thinking is that this sickness would be a stress reaction on my part that would emerge after the major stress with Chris was over. I had no idea what form this illness would take, and hoped it wouldn’t be something life threatening.  As it happens, for a period of about two years, and ending a year ago, I had inexplicable spells of vomiting. Since I rarely vomit, it was a concern to me that every three months I had violent (and I mean violent) spells that would last a couple of hours, or, in one case, about three days. The first time this happened was after I meditated on a full stomach not the smartest thing to do, I learned to my regret. More often than not, I couldn’t link the vomiting to anything specific I had done.

I wondered, during this period, if I was literally purging myself of sadness, guilt, trauma, and preparing myself for a new phase of life. Chris’s crisis situation reached a peak in early 2009 when he went into the psychiatric hospital for the third time. By November 2010, tired of the recurring vomiting and now swollen ankles, I  finally decided to see a doctor, who ran some blood tests. My liver enzyme levels were alarming. I read with horror what normal levels were supposed to look like compared to what mine were. I booked an appointment for another blood test and then to discuss the results with a specialist.

In the meantime, I meditated on my health problems, using decree and divine light as the mechanism of healing. I went for a Thai massage and imagined the masseuse bathed in golden light while she worked on different parts of my body. The swollen ankles disappeared right after the massage. By the time I saw the specialist, he reported that the test results were normal. I have not had a problem since.

One explanation for this cleansing process that I went through and for Chris largely overcoming his mental health problems might be that we both learned to see Chris’s so-called illness as in a more positive perspective. We embraced the “mental illness” and the physical illness, meaning we saw the good in it and a process we knew we had to go through. There was a reason for it, and we might as well learn something from it and maybe even enjoy it while it lasted. I started to see Chris as a shaman, a healer, who was put here in part to bring healing to those around him. I encouraged him to find out who he is by visiting other shamans and learning from them. So, in my own way, I, too, became a shaman. The process of becoming a shaman is democratic. Anyone who believes can join.

Kundalini is a neuro-psycho-spiritual developmental potential that traditionally resides latent at the base of the spine until it is activated. It can be activated on purpose by spiritual practice, or by accident through physical or psychological trauma. Once it is activated, it involves a deep cleanse or purge of the body, psyche, and spirit. Psycho-physiological traumas from throughout the lifespan are repaired. The grueling symptoms listed above are merely the side effects of this repair process.

The final result is a rewired neuro-endocrinological system. The person who goes through the process and comes out the other side takes a quantum leap in health, happiness, peace, wisdom, sense of mission, and, potentially, “extended human capacities,” or what we call psychic abilities. It’s like being born again into a second life without actually dying in between. And it’s supposed to result in a literally more evolved human being.

A shamanic initiatory illness is a transformative ordeal that either comes on unexpectedly with no known precipitating event or can be activated on purpose by spiritual practice. It shows up as an odd amalgam of mental and physical symptoms, as mentioned above; is typically very debilitating; and takes the individual to very odd and dark mental and physical places. Interestingly, the illness seems to create a field that affects family and friends around the sufferer, who sometimes go through their own tough times in parallel.

 Most initiations seem to be involuntary and un-asked-for, and, consequently, resisted. Eventually, the resistance in broken down, and the sufferer agrees to be a shaman. Symptoms can remit quite dramatically once the initiate starts to “shamanize” in some way, such as performing healings (using herbal knowledge, psychic healing, or a combination) or divination, involving knowledge and abilities s/he did not have before the illness. Shamans are considered to be more advanced in their development or more evolved than people who have not gone through the initiation.

Jayme at Rayne’s World, in a similar vein, relates how she overcomes dissociation, one of her many debilitating symptoms.You can read the full post here.

She writes: This method also worked with Dissociation. The diagnosis used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. If I have other personalities inside of me, why not get to know them and embrace them and learn from them? They are there for a reason, and they are me! I could write a whole post on this subject alone (and maybe I will), but trying to fight off any aspect of myself, whether it is depression, anxiety, or multiple personalities, is only denying myself yet another human experience. I refuse to do that anymore. I have a right to experience being human because I am human!

So, what really happens when I embrace all these symptoms rather than fix (mask) them through psychiatric “treatments”? Hmmmm…. well, I very rarely have any of these symptoms anymore, and when I do, they don’t last nearly as long. To be honest, I can’t remember details of their recurrences anymore because they don’t stand out like they used to. They are no longer “bad” or “horrible” in my mind or my experience, so why make a note of them? It’s like having a rainy day. Who cares? It just happens. Anyway, my goal was never to make the symptoms go away. It just happened.

Probably the greatest benefit of using this method is the lack of fear and guilt I now have toward any of these symptoms creeping into my life.

A Kundalini explanation

A Kundalini emergency can mimic schizophrenia and other health issues. While Eastern mystics and yogis and many Western holistic practitioners believe in it, mainstream Western medicine does not. Whether you call it an aroused Kundalini or an energy imbalance or a spiritual emergency, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s a health emergency.

Western medicine was not able to provide an answer as to why Chris experienced intense piercing pain over his eyebrow as our plane landed. He screamed in pain, and then it was gone just as quickly as it came, except for the lingering headaches over the next few days. The nurse at the airport had no explanation. I took him to our family doctor, who offered no explanation and didn’t recommend any tests. Chris continue to feel sensitive (inward inversion of pressure) in that area for the next six months. He then began experiencing the first of many symptoms which medicine labels the “prodromal signs. When I brought the head pain to the attention of the doctors after Chris was hospitalized, they simply shrugged their shoulders. They had never heard of intense head pain as a symptom of schizophrenia.

Western medicine had no explanation, but Kundalini arousal offers one. A friend alerted me to this* article on the symptoms of Kundalini. One of the many possible symptoms is headaches or pressures in the skull.

The Kundalini-Network in Denmark has a site that documents seventy-six cases of Kundalini arousal.

Else Johansen writes:

– Kundalini arousal especially occurs as an unintentional side effect of yoga, meditation, healing or body-and psychotherapy. Some of the other releasing factors can be: Births, unrequited love, celibacy, intense studies, physical traumas, deep sorrow, high fever and drug intake. But Kundalini arousal can also occur suddenly without apparent course.

– When the process of Kundalini had lasted in me for about ten years, I was too tired out to be able to earn a living on my own. I went to a doctor and said: “It is completely crazy, my Kundalini has been aroused. What shall I do?” And then I told him about my state.
 – “You are deeply psychotic”, he said. “I will send you to a good psychiatrist. The energy you are talking about does not exist. You have serious misconceptions”.

– I got sick pay and later disability pension, diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, without first having been taken in for a mental examination. No doctor that I spoke to concerning my pension believed my talk about Kundalini.

– But in the yoga literature I got a reasonable explanation of what had happened to me. Yes, I understood that the secret purpose of yoga and meditation actually is to release the kundalini force. When Kundalini reaches the brain, it is said to be stimulating the brain cells that are normally not used, so that a higher state of consciousness is reached.

Else Johansen continues and says that the doctors’ ignorance of Kundalini has led to diagnoses like hypochondria, escapism, inflammation of the brain, and calcification of the brain.

– In a radio program, in which I participated, a psychiatrist said that Kundalini is just an idea, imported from the East through yoga. People hear or read about it, and therefore they think they have Kundalini arousal.

– But that reasoning does not hold, Else Johansen continues. I have met 250 (1996) people who have had a well-defined kundalini process, and about half of them did not know about Kundalini beforehand. It was a shock to them when the process started. They have been helped a lot, knowing what actually happened to them, because in any case it is an advantage to know what is going on. That they later found an explanation to the odd thing that happened to them, has helped them enormously, because it is in any case an advantage to know what is going on.”

The addition of, or withdrawal from, drugs (legal or illegal,) exacerbates the physical and mental symptoms.

An earlier post of mine discussed correcting energy imbalances by shifting the assemblage point.

In Castaneda’s The Fire from Within, Don Juan repeatedly warns about the health dangers that come from an assemblage point that has been knocked off center. Both legal and illicit drug use can knock an assemblage point off center. Don Juan uses peyote and other medicinal plants to induce a hallucinatory state in Castaneda. To bring him back to a balanced state afterwards, Jon Whale observes that Don Juan surreptitiously gave the author a quick sharp blow to the shoulder blade, popularly referred to as the shaman’s blow.

Dr. Whale has observed that psychiatric drugs do a poor job of moving the assemblage point back into position. According to him, psychiatric drugs do not take into account the complexities of the endocrine system and leave the patient in a chronic depressed state rather than correcting the situation.

*Mudrashram Institute of Spiritual Studies webpage