Below are some of my spiritual experiences. I am one of those people who has lots of them. I hope you will not bother with reading them at all if you find such things annoying or disturbing.
Telling about one’s spiritual experiences is tricky on several levels. First, there is the problem of accuracy and clarity in the telling. These events are ‘numinous’, extremely profound and deep for the experiencer, and it is easy to devolve into meaningless superlatives and worse, gibberish when telling them. Another big problem with telling spiritual experiences is the problem of spiritual conceit. A person feels he or she is somehow favored, and that is deadly. So why offer to share them? I am rendering some experiences here to bring support to my fellow students and seekers. I am putting these things on the record to corroborate the validity of yogic teachings from my own empirical standpoint. Finally, because the source of these experiences is easily traced to the grace of the Siddha Yoga lineage, i am offering these testaments to honor that lineage.
Visions prior to meeting the Guru.
I. First Meditation
Within a few weeks of my freshman year at Harvard i had been introduced for the first time to the concept of meditation by a friend and fellow classmate. He offered to teach me or for me to join him at his meditation center, but i had no real interest in it. It seemed really pointless to me to sit still with your eyes closed. What could be more boring? I thought it was a waste of time.
One afternoon i was alone in my dorm room. As i sat on my bed and remembered my meditating friend, i figured i would give it a try. I sat in a full lotus posture and closed my eyes. Nothing happened. It was just as i had thought, a bore. I gave it three minutes and decided it wasnt interesting, so i lay down on my bed for a quick nap, and dozed off.
I awoke a minute later finding myself unable to move but fully conscious. I tried, struggled to move, to lift my arm from the bed, and it was taking all my strength – the body was rigid, and now seizing violently. I could hear the sound of my breath rattling, gasping and choking.
I was overcome, ceased resisting and found myself hurtling at a terrific speed through a tunnel. At the end of that journey, i heard the sound of wind chimes and found myself sitting in a large grass hut, in full lotus, naked. I had the thought: I feel like i am God.
Into the grass hut a young woman came and knelt down near me. She started to weep piteously about some circumstance in her life. I fixed her with my gaze, and out of my eye came a stream of overwhelmingly beautiful music. This music was choral music, but compared to it the most beautiful musical composition on earth is one degree, and this was 360 degrees of sound, pouring through my open eye into the eye of the young woman. I saw within the music the whole history of mankind, and it was a story of striving, sincere longing, passionate desiring, struggling, poignant, utterly lovable and holy. It was so supremely, unbearably beautiful that as that infinite choir creating mankind streamed through my gaze, molten tears were falling from my eyes.
Then i regained consciousness on my bed.
A few years later i would meet my Guru, Swami Muktananda, and learn that he had done much of his yoga ‘sadhana’, or spiritual practice, in a grass hut in a village called Suki in Maharashtra, India. I recognized that hut from my vision when i saw a picture of it in his spiritual autobiography, “Play of Consciousness”. I also learned that in Hindu mythology, Shiva creates the world by opening his eyes, and is so moved by the creation that tears stream down. Those tears are “rudraksha” the tears of Rudra (another name of Shiva) and they are represented by the beads yogi’s wear made of rudraksha seeds.
II. Kundalini Awakening.
It was the spring of my junior year in college and i was writing my junior thesis, a major term paper, for the anthropology department. I had chosen as a topic the ecstatic religious cults of New Guinea. It was about how ecstatic religious movements function to help people adapt to conditions of extreme social stress. Visionary religious experience, arising from the unconscious, transforms the deep psycho-social programming of human beings undergoing major anxiety and stress. The strain can result from culture contact, especially with a technologically superior culture. But any radical change of environmental or social conditions can render traditional cultural categories irrelevant and unproductive, which is extremely stressful.
The whole process of writing this paper had been unusually energizing and compelling. I was so excited by the material, and wanted nothing else but to read and write about it. One evening i sat at my desk writing, listening to the street music wafting up from the streets of Cambridge. The not terribly brilliant thought occurred: doesnt my own contemporary Western culture qualify as a society who’s traditions are breaking down due to rapid change? We must be ripe for ecstatic religious renewal.
At that moment there was an explosion of energy at the base of my spine, energy which wriggled upward with the gushing power of a fire hose to the crown of my head. The whole room turned into dazzling white light, myself included. The light spoke clearly to me: “A great Being is in a body in your lifetime, and you will recognize him.” The light conveyed some other knowledge as well.
After regaining a sense of my physical body i ran out of there, afraid. Only later would i understand that i had had a classic kundalini awakening, and learn that Kundalini Shakti, subtle energy normally dormant at the base of the spine, rises to the crown center through yogic processes producing states of super consciousness.
III. Leaving my body
(these are a few of many episodes that occurred prior to meeting my Guru)
What the doctors called hypnagogic trance happens in the transition between sleeping and waking. After the Kundalini awakening these were happening with enough frequency that i was sometimes afraid to go to sleep. I would inevitably feel that i was leaving my body, and the ensuing ‘dream’ would have the feeling tone of super-reality, more clear and vivid and real-feeling than the typical waking state.
Once while falling asleep i left my body and found that i was standing in the living room of my mother’s apartment, looking out the window at the view over the Hudson river. I heard a deep rumbling sound like rolling thunder, almost a drum roll, a sound that for me frequently accompanies ‘earth-shaking’ inner visions. The shining crescent of the rising sun appeared at the base of the night sky across the river. But the sun was enormous, the size of the whole horizon! and it was rising in the West…The hair on my body stood on end, i am feeling “this is not a dream!” and i am absolutely terrorized.
The vision over, it takes me a few moments to orient myself and assess that the scene i witnessed was not “real”.
Another out-of-body vision: I am standing on the ocean shore looking out over the water. In the distance a dove is flying across the ocean straight for me. The dove lands on my third eye. This doesnt hurt, but it is so heavy that i spiral into the ground so deep and fast that it ends up destroying my body. The body is discarded on the surface, and i have become one with the earth.
Another time i awoke early one morning and looked out the window of my dorm room. I heard a sound that was so loud that i knew that the entire world could hear it. It was like a trumpet blast! Yet though i knew it was louder and more cosmic than any sound i had ever heard, it didnt hurt my ears. (This is similar to how the blazing light of the crown center does not hurt the inner eye). I knew this must be the end of the world. Out of the sky came a jeweled chariot, and i could see the people within it, and it was streaming straight for me! The chariot entered my third eye and i lost consciousness.
Later when i met Muktananda i was present in a large audience and thinking about the sound i had heard during that vision. How encompassing it was, and i could hear that it had no end. There was something about the sound that told me it was never-ending. I had been unable to get that out of my head. As i was thinking about it, Muktananda started talking about meditating on something called “OM” I was barely understanding what he was saying, but he pointed directly to me in the audience and said “You are doing this now.” [meditating on OM] I was shocked and actively denied it, shaking my head “no.” But we both knew he was telling the truth.
I had many more spiritual incidences just prior to meeting Muktananda, but at no time did i think they were valid. I was afraid i was going crazy and went to a series of MDs at the campus health clinic where i was given an EEG and other neurological tests, on the suspicion that i was having seizures; the tests were inconclusive. I was in this state of mind when my uncle, Henry Madden, casually announced that he was going upstate to “meet a saint” and that i should join him. I had nothing better to do on the 24th of June 1976, even if i didnt believe in saints.
We drove to the Catskills with a friend of my uncle’s, a playwright named Arnold Weinstein. During the ride i started telling Arnold about my ‘seizure’ problem..he seemed thoughtful and didnt comment on it really, but when we arrived at the head of the line to meet the saint, we got down and pranamed to him in his chair and Arne startled me by saying to him “This girl has had many visions…” I was mortified, but the saint, who was Baba Muktananda, seemed pleased by this! He had a thick sheaf of peacock feathers and was hitting me on the head with it, a pleasing “whump” of the beautiful feathers, which were scented with a strange and lovely fragrance. He hit me six times. I was bewildered and shaken and went back to my seat in the large hall. Muktananda seemed to be looking right at me in the crowd. Mentally i wondered, “Are you looking at me?” I was taken aback when he nodded his head “yes.”
My uncle and i took a greyhound bus back to the city, and he was acting very strangely. He said that he had been resting alone in an ashram room prior to our departure and that there had been a knock at the door. He went to the door and there was Muktananda. Baba had stepped forward and embraced my uncle with great love and tenderness, pouring energy into him. My uncle was baffled by this but it was the beginning of a highly unusual relationship that Baba had with him. Baba absolutely loved him and continuously treated him publicly as if he were a rare and highly attained spiritual being, and believe me, Baba didnt show that kind of attention to anyone. My uncle claimed he had no idea why, but anyone who knew him knew why, because he was an extraordinary man.
Meanwhile, back on that Greyhound, my uncle is moving and shifting in his seat and saying that his whole body is buzzing incredibly loudly and that he cant believe i dont hear it. I had no idea what he was talking about and finally we each went home. The moment i arrived home i tried sitting and meditating, because thats what the people at that place had been doing. I sat in lotus posture, closed my eyes and found myself seated at the foot of the crucified Christ.
This was the beginning of a passionate and thrilling spiritual journey initiated by my Guru that i will tell about in time.
II. After Intitiation
It is hard to be accurate in telling about the stages of Kundalini yoga that were given to me by the initiation, but i am going to try my best.
After the initial shock of being instantly transported through time to witness a living tableau of the Crucifixion, i got up and walked into my mother’s living room. I was dazed, awed. I was gazing out at the view of the river. It was now nighttime. I felt a very strong, firm and intelligent force move within me, causing my head to draw down toward my left shoulder. It felt as if two strong and gentle hands were moving my body from the inside. With the right side of my neck stretched and open, i felt a flood of energy course through my body and pour out of my neck, bringing with it lifetimes of struggle, pain, negativity, and cleansing those things from my body and soul. I could ‘see’ the negativity as a rapid torrent of scenes of strife and anger and ugliness poured out of me. Then the strong force moved my head to the other side and the process was repeated. I was feeling the energy as very fluid, a similar feel to the flow of water, which i still feel. In its rapid cleansing scintillations, it has the same texture as flowing water, or it can sometimes be felt as a sweet fire. I understand why the pentecost was experienced as “tongues of fire.” What they meant is that the awakened spirit quivers and flickers exquisitely within as a flame or a tongue licks, and is almost singing ecstatic praise in the center of the heart. The fulfillment of every sense’s desire, the total cessation of every form of want, is what is experienced.
At that point (as you may imagine) i went back to read the literature of the place i had visited that day, the ashram of Swami Muktananda. I had a brochure spread out on the floor and i sat crossed legged looking at it. I was still trying to comprehend what was happening. The brochure showed a photo of my Guru’s Guru, Nityananda. He was large bodied, clad only in a loincloth, and gazing at me with perfectly simple equanimity. Again i felt the forceful inner hand strongly guiding my body into a full pranam: Forehead to the floor, my face caressing the photo, and i was hearing clearly “Guru Om, Guru Om, Guru Om….” Believe me, i was absolutely shocked at these occurrences and couldnt process them. I went to bed and i remember sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night, seeing the whole room bathed in brilliant light, the light incredibly kinetic, singing and electric. I saw that this is the light we all live in all the time and is always there, even in a ‘dark’ room. This was the first of a few times i woke up like that during my ‘sadhana’ or spiritual practice, when i would awaken to the brilliant light and not be able to tell if the lights were on in the room or not,because it was so bright. This light is alive, transparent, rainbow colored, full of sweet luminous consciousness, and it sings.
The next day was a bit of a blur. I was going away with my boyfriend for a summer weekend, which would prove to be a very strange weekend for both of us. I felt like i was hallucinating, without drugs, as i was seeing things in a whole new light, literally. Some very weird things occurred on that weekend trip that were the beginning of a huge gap between not only myself and my boyfriend, but between myself and most of humanity. The action of the Kundalini within me was giving me a whole new reality. One weird thing was that i could put my hands on a person and know what was wrong with them, read their energy body. I had the copy of Muktananda’s book, “Play of Consciousness” I had purchased at the ashram and was reading it. When i looked at his portrait on the cover, thick golden light was pouring out of his face, which pretty much frightened me.
One of the most shocking moments of that first weekend happened when i went out for an evening walk on the beach with my boyfriend. As i stood there under the stars i was overcome by a wave of rapture and suddenly seemed to shoot up into the sky where i found myself looking down at the two of us from miles above. Strangely enough, though i sensed i was very far up in the stratosphere, everything below could be seen clearly in detail. I had a moment of fear as i realized i had clean left my own body through an opening in the crown of my head. I was horrified and came rushing back into my body from above. My boyfriend was frightened too because he had seen a flash of light around me when that happened.
I am aware that these descriptions defy credulity but i am compelled to tell the true story of my experience, and there it is. As you may surmise, my boyfriend began his withdrawal from me, as this sort of thing wasnt his idea of a good time. I would come to understand that i would have to conceal such things if i was going to have normal relationships, and i have tried to do that. However in these pages i am letting it all pour out as i feel the need to tell what happened to me when i met my Guru.
i cant remember the exact sequence of the yogic “kriyas” or inner movements that started to unfold, but one of the main things was spontaneous pranayama, breath control techniques that would just start happening, without my doing them, the moment i sat down to meditate. I would have “Bhastrika” the rapid fire bellows breathing, “sithali,” and all kinds of pranyama. Yogic kriyas are hard to describe. Muktananda explains them at length and consummately in his spiritual autobiography “Play of Consciousness.”
There was an energy inside me, Kundalini Shakti, making me perform intricate breathing techniques, elaborate and perfectly executed “mudras” or hand gestures, yogic postures, and even rapid fire speaking in tongues. In addition to the dramatic physical kriyas i had, i also had many inner kriyas, experiences of light, sound and vision. The Kundalini energy is moving through the subtle energy body creating these effects. What i found was that the Kundalini responded very actively to chant – in other words, when i sat down to chant, She, the energy, would start moving. More to the point, when i let love flow through my heart as i chanted, She would dance with abandon and zeal, giving me amazing ecstatic experiences. The inner touch of that Shakti is exquisite, as St John of the Cross expressed in his poetry: “O living flame of love, how tenderly you wound my soul in her profoundest core!”
Much of Her work seemed to center around a reprisal of my past. I started seeing a replay of my life, images rising up on my internal screen, like snapshots, and i especially saw the deep impressions that the cartoons i watched as a very small child left in my consciousness, for example distinct images of daffy duck, fred flintstone, elmer fudd and the gang pouring through my inner vision. I had a vivid recollection of being swaddled by a nurse who was speaking baby talk to me, i saw the bright room, the examining table, and as i am being held by her i am fully cognizant that i have just been born and, oh brother, i have a long way to go.
In my case this retrieval of the past continued until for quite a while i was seeing images and scenes from my past lives. I witnessed all this quite clearly. My most recent past life was and is very significant to me, as i was a nun during the time of the Byzantine empire. I was a lover of God but also seemed to have some authority in the convent where i lived and died, young, of a respiratory illness. I saw my death in that life, and my funeral. When we leave our bodies, most of us get to witness our own funerals, in a kind of ‘post mortem’ analysis of our life. Frankly we are indifferent and emotionally unattached from that point of view, but still interested in the information aspect of things.
Though i am a hedonist and an active ‘sinner’ in this life that nun personality is still strong in me. I believe all of us have sub-personalities based on our previous incarnations. When i was practicing intensely i could frequently ‘see’ the previous incarnations of the people i associate with. In order to live a normal life i have actively reduced my sensitivity to such things as they just get in the way of the social lying we all do to interact according to accepted norms. But i still see some people’s past lives clearly. If i ever say anything about it, the person usually doesnt believe me, and i lose credibility.
Some of the other previous lives i relived during meditation were one as a female spiritual teacher in Ireland during the reign of the Celts. I would sit in a huge circle and conduct chant and meditation sessions. I saw this happening on the Cliffs of Moher, which i recognized when i later visited Ireland and saw them. We Celts sat in circles to practice devotion and transcendence. We were interested in the experience of Oneness, which confers spiritual powers.
Another amazing life i relived vividly and often was as some kind of horseman in a phenomenally large hoard- like five miles worth of thousands of guys on horseback. We sang deep throated songs in roundelays that set our spirits aflame. And i knew that we were going to rape, pillage and kill, and was so excited by this that i could clearly feel my rampant erection. I never saw the destructive acts that followed but i sensed that they did occur. I relived this life enough that even now i can get in touch with a kind of blissful and natural ruthless warrior inside. During that life i was more on horseback than off, and i had bow legs as a result. i also had a colorful hat that i wore as a distinction of my rank.