Before January 2014, I had never heard of the term “kundalini” other than vague references to kundalini yoga, which I associated with people wearing white turbans and breathing hard. But on my daughter’s 8th birthday, I experienced something that my medical knowledge never prepared me to understand. I was with my new friend Dennis, an agnostic scientist who was drawn to me after we met at a holiday party at the Institute of Noetic Sciences because of our shared curiosity in energy healing. We weren’t doing anything particularly interesting at the time. We weren’t meditating or doing yoga or having sex or doing breathwork or using any mind-altering substances or otherwise seeking out any sort of mystical experience. We were just sitting upstairs on the floor of my bedroom with my roommate April, when something very curious happened.
Like many of you, I was a child raised in the United States in the era of John Wayne and James Dean, when the rugged individualist was prized as the pinnacle of American success. If you relied on no one, proved yourself to be self-sufficient, autonomous, and independent, you won the brass ring of life’s merry-go-round. I was conditioned to believe that in order to be a valued member of society, especially as a woman raised during the feminist movement, I must avoid being “needy” or, even worse, “clingy,” and Lord knows I’d better not lean on a man or take more than I give to anyone.
My dear friends, I just survived one of the most intense ordeals of my life. A series of traumas—one after the other over the past two years—have threatened to level me in a way that is reminiscent of the Perfect Storm that led me to leave medicine ten years ago. That Perfect Storm fundamentally transformed my life, resulting in a quantum leap in my consciousness, my career, my relationships, my spiritual journey, and how I live my life. I can only assume this one will as well. But damn . . . it’s been painful.
I was in Bali teaching a writing retreat the day of the United States Presidential election in 2016. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an American. When I first arrived in Bali, the taxi drivers would ask me where I was from and I’d say, “California.” They’d respond with things like, “Oh . . . naked naked sexy Hollywood.” I’d say, “No, not that California.” After the election, they’d ask where I’m from, I’d say “California,” and they’d say, “Ah . . . Donald Trump.”
Many of us are well versed in tolerating pain. Especially in spiritual circles, we may even gravitate toward painful, uncomfortable situations, milking them for all the soul growth we can tolerate and being grateful for the discomfort. But we can get out of balance this way. We can even venture into full on masochism if we’re not careful! What if the real challenge is being equally fluid and open to both pleasure and pain? What if we’re not grasping at pleasure or resisting pain, but we’re also not grasping at pain and resisting pleasure? Might it be possible to just roll with what life throws our way, relishing in the pleasurable experiences when they arrive and composting all the painful experiences as soul growth?