Printed in the Spring 2013 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Nesky, Andrew. "Kundalini and the Chill" Quest 101. 2 (Spring 2013): pg. 64 - 67
By Andrew Nesky III
The Sanskrit word "kundalini" is literally translated as "coiled." The word is found principally in the lexicon of yogic and Tantric practice and refers to a latent energy or consciousness that resides at a point approximately at the base of the spine. It is usually pictured as either a "coiled serpent" or a "goddess." In either context it is considered feminine and is related to unconscious, instinctive, and/or libidinal forces.
Some yogic and Tantric traditions claim that this force can be "awakened" by various means, a moment at which it will "uncoil" and begin its ascension to its "lover" (or polar counterpart), which resides at an area approximately at the top of the head. When the ascension is completed, the union of these sympathetic forces is thought by some to produce an illuminated human being.
Actual, documentable accounts of kundalini ascension are very difficult to come by, a fact that has created a field ripe for speculative and distorted descriptions of the process. In response, this article speaks directly to the realities of this ancient and important human possibility through a first-person account, incorporating events that were witnessed by others who can verify that many of the external phenomena actually took place.
The event happened when I was in my mid-thirties. It was the second of two life-changing transits that seemed to come from nowhere. This nowhere was within the most personal of all experiences—the act of having sex. While in retrospect it seems a natural culmination of spiritual and psychic processes that had begun during my twenties, this kundalini experience was as uncultivated and unexpected as any other miracle.
While I have been asked to avoid graphic sexual descriptions of the triggering event, I want to say that I believe that specifics of posture, position, and action are key to the process. It is further important to say that the sexual energy was extreme and unquenchable. As the event moved to its conclusion, I felt something that I took for the onset of an orgasm. It was deeper than I'd ever felt before, and began at a place I would later identify as the bottom of my tailbone. It started a pleasing warm glow that began in a very small but then progressively expanded. The sensation very pleasant and unlike anything I'd ever experienced. I was preparing myself for what I was sure was my climax when suddenly I felt the "ball of energy" liquefy and begin to move up my spine.
The liquid energy seemed to be traversing a channel that followed the path of my spine and whose rear radius extended beyond the limits of my physical body. As it started to move, my erection collapsed without discharge.
The energy continued its upward movement until suddenly it seemed to encounter a block at the approximate level of my heart. I felt the pressure build until the barrier broke, which freed it to continue its upward path.
I was sure I was having some sort of stroke and was concerned that if the process reached my brain would die. At about this moment, the upward-moving force encountered another barrier at the level of neck. This barrier was much denser, causing the energy to exert more and more pressure. I called out to confused partner to rub my neck. During the neck rub, I felt the energy push past the blockage and begin streaming into something that felt like a chamber at the top of my head. It was as if an area between the top my brain and the underside of my skull were lined with a bladder that was being filled. As the energy entered the receptacle, I felt the cavity expand to accommodate it. I genuinely thought I might die.
The energy continued to flow until it seemed to completely occupy the space—and then stopped. At first the resulting pressure was very uncomfortable. While experienced this discomfort in my head, my body felt as if it had been pinned to the bed. Like a boxer who finds himself on his back after a particularly hard punch, I couldn't move my arms or legs. After some time passed, I was able to roll off the bed and crawl to the bathroom, where the hot tub of water I'd asked my partner to prepare waited for me. I soaked until the water started to become cold and then found that I could stand and walk. As hours passed, the pressure at my crown continued, but with some over-the-counter painkillers the sensation was bearable. After a few days passed, I no longer required the medication. After a few weeks, I realized the energy would be staying in what seemed to be its new home.
During this initial period, I suspected that I had had a stroke. I spoke to my doctor and he prescribed a CT scan, but there were no anomalies. Finally he told me he had no diagnosis and had never heard of anything that could explain the symptoms I told him about.
Beside the addition of the new energetic form in my crown, I found that my body had experienced several other changes. My "chill reflex" —the tingle that starts at the base of the spine and works its way to the top of the head—would never be the same; it was as if the most important part was no longer in it. I would also never again feel the tingle that indicated the chill had made it to the top of my head; that space now belonged to the energy that was residing there. My orgasm also changed: it was less intense, and the tingle that used to occur at the top of my crown was no more.
As of this writing, the energy has spent over a decade in its new habitation. It becomes active (with a sort of glow that is felt rather than seen) when I meditate or otherwise focus my attention on it. The rest of the time it is known only by the ever-present background pressure that is a constant reminder of its initial ascension.
When it became apparent that there was no medical explanation for my condition, I began to look to esoteric literature. I thought it possible that I had experienced a kundalini ascension, but I had little information about such things. Until that time I was convinced that a kundalini experience was just another metaphorical description of the process of enlightenment — a process I associated with expansion of awareness and states of bliss. I had no clue that a kundalini awakening could result in the sort of physical symptoms I had felt. Since any sense of the universe expanding was absent in my experience (I had already had such experiences during an expansion of awareness that had happened in my twenties), it seemed unlikely that kundalini could explain anything at all. And then I found the Indian mystic Gopi Krishna.
In his book Living with Kundalini Gopi Krishna recounted an experience that happened during his meditation practice when he was thirty-four. I immediately saw that his experience had many parallels with mine. Here is his description of the beginning of the event:
I suddenly felt a strange sensation below the base of the spine, at a place touching the seat . . . The sensation was extraordinary and so pleasing that my attention was forcibly drawn towards it.
Here is the description of the ascension when the force reached his brain:
Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through the spinal cord.
And this describes his physical state when the event concluded:
When I opened my eyes and looked about, I felt a little dazed and bewildered, as if coming back from a strange land completely foreign to me ... I tried to lift my hands ... my arms felt limp and lifeless. With an effort I raised them up and stretched them to enable the blood to flow freely. Then I tried to free my legs from the posture in which I was sitting and to place them in a more comfortable position, but could not. They were heavy and stiff. With the help of my hands I freed them and stretched them out, then put my back against the wall, reclining in a position of ease and comfort.
Further in my search for understanding I discovered the Hindu-Jain "sex" temples at Khajuraho, India. It quickly became clear that the hundreds of sexual images on the walls of the medieval religious buildings depicted the energetic process of sex but not orgasm. Could my own experience of delaying orgasm have accidentally triggered the lofty ancient purpose of Tantric sexual practice?
As I persevered in my investigation, I began to realize that the kundalini event had miraculously focused and connected many phenomena in my past that had before seemed disparate and scattered.
At a very young age I became conscious of my chill reflex, I also noticed that it was triggered by thrilling or terrifying events. During my observations, I found the effect could be stifled or expanded. Eventually I learned to create the reaction at will.
I don't know exactly why I was drawn to explore it; possibly I just enjoyed the way it felt. When it came spontaneously, I tried to see how I could move or change it. Or, when I felt the desire, I would trigger and play with it for no reason at all. I found my first real use for it in my mid-teens, when I discovered acting. Since I knew this chill was something that occurred naturally at extreme moments, I began to experiment with creating the effect at times my character was supposed to be experiencing extreme things. Although I intuited that this was a very appropriate thing to do, I really didn't have any objective feedback that it did anything at all for an audience. I'd guessed that it somehow amplified an emotion, yet while I received accolades and awards for my dramatic work during that period, I really didn't know if using the effect added anything at all to my characterizations.
Eventually I started to experiment with applying the chill to theatrical moments that would not naturally summon such a response. When I did this, I started to gain more insight into how it might work. For instance, if I summoned it before walking on stage as a master of ceremonies, I felt my on-stage energy go through the roof. During this experimentation I made a conscious effort to use it (or not) for similar events and came to believe that when I used it I definitely had more of the audience's attention then when I didn't. And yet I still had no real objective result that I could use to prove its value to anyone but myself.
Further discoveries were largely absent during my college years, with one notable exception. During an acting class I was made aware of a method actor's stage triumph, which came from impeccably moving his audience during a scene in which he portrayed his character's suicide. Critics marveled at the chills they experienced as they watched his character move to his demise. When the actor was asked how he achieved his result (the moment was largely nonverbal, so there was little he could do with his voice to bring about the audience's reaction), he explained that during his preparation he realized he needed to understand how it felt to commit suicide. Since it was not expedient to actually kill himself, he created a kind of proxy experience using his bathroom shower. First he convinced himself that if the water from the icy cold shower touched him, he would die. He then ritualistically disrobed, stood under the shower head, and then "pulled the trigger" on the cold water.
He memorized his body's responses to this as well as the changes in his psychological states; he then attempted to reproduce the changes as a means to non-verbally communicate his character's suicide.
I understood immediately that doing what he did excited the same energies I was already exploring. The actor had used external means to excite the same effect I was becoming more and more competent at creating with my mind. This was the first major validation that this unseen energy could move other people who had no clue it was in use. Yet for all the information I gained, I was completely unaware that this "suicide" was energetically very similar to processes that can create higher states of consciousness—a reality that would be very prominent in my near destiny.
In fact this theatrical lesson epically foreshadowed events that would expand my awareness by showing me the reality of a much larger universe. Before this period in my life I hadn't much use for nonmainstream thought. I was very engaged in the "reality" of commerce and sought my destiny within its processes. Like a soldier, armed with the certainty of my perspective and buttressed with a great deal of energy for executing its mandates, I assaulted the world in a way that I was sure would reap the rewards that were coming to me. Yet by my late twenties I was in a death struggle with unexpected and oppressive forces that were much more powerful than my ability to counter them. Having pushed my reality to its breaking point, I found myself in deep, dark, and painful meditation. It wasn't long before I came to the clear revelation that my impression of the universe did not work. I had decided that such a reality was not worth living. I was seconds away from physically acting on this decision when a miracle stilled my hand—a miracle that descended from nowhere and pulled me into a much larger universe.
Unlike the character in the play, I had survived the dangerous penetration of my habitual way of looking at myself without physical suicide. I had discovered the irony that in many important ways the transit to a higher consciousness is very similar to suicide, except that what must die is the limited perception that unenlightened consciousness mistakes for its universe. Unfortunately for most people this consciousness is solidly identified with their body. Thus when growth occurs beyond this immature stage of being, they often mistake the living body for their illusory identity—a mistake that easily causes them to aim their energy for transformation at the wrong target. Instead of using this intense evolutionary force to break the cocoon of ego-enforcing illusion, many mistakenly point the force at the living body that is identified with the illusion—and physical suicide is often the result. In my case I found that when this dangerous process had settled, I had forever escaped the limits of identity and was grounded in life's larger dimensions. As I fell into the blissful revelations gained from the unfolding heightened states of consciousness, I felt extended (but otherwise familiar) spontaneous chills.
The years after the initial awakening were a profound period of discovering the much larger universe I had fallen into. I energetically read all sorts of spiritual writings and philosophical and religious texts. Eventually I frequented a few esoteric and philosophical organizations—subsequently staying to help lead at least two.
During this initial period after my revelations, my first personal, objective evidence of the chill's effect on others showed itself. I was about to engage in a theatrical process, and as part of my preparation I brought the energy from the chill response up with all the force I could muster and then did everything possible to keep it going. A female friend standing next to me was chewing gum. When I was ready to move toward the place where I would sing, she opened her mouth and showed me that her chewing gum had turned to powder in her mouth. Although I never told her what I was doing (or when I was doing it), we were able to achieve the same "powdering" effect on several more occasions.
During this time I also noticed that something tangible was beginning to radiate from my hands—an energy that other people could often feel. Although I had no clue what it could do, I delighted in involving others in my experimentation. I would begin by clasping my hands together and briefly rubbing them as if I were preparing to grip something heavy. I would then hold one of the hands (usually my right) over another person's upturned palm at a distance of two or three inches. Once it was in position, most people felt their skin begin to warm under my hand. As soon as this warmth presented itself, both the observer and I could often feel a "pressure" that was felt to move in unison with my hand as I moved it back and forth and side to side.
It was about this same time that I would combine the chill effect with the effect of projecting the energy from my hands to enhance and magnify my presence at times of prayer. I made a practice of trying to keep the effect going as long as possible. I also started to become aware that the energy emanating from my hands had healing properties that could sometimes bring relief to other people's maladies. This was my state of being at the time the kundalini event occurred.
A great difference between Gopi Krishna's experience and my own is that his event started a very problematic and dangerous period of his life. According to his account he drifted in and out of psychotic states and was often unable to feed himself. It took years before he was able to find enough balance to live a normal life. Perhaps I avoided the years of problems he experienced because I had been unconsciously strengthening myself and encouraging the experience since my childhood. Conversely, perhaps my kundalini ascension happened as some sort of a completion of the psychic transformations that were already well underway— or perhaps it is my destiny to experience similar sorts of complications at some time in the future. Whatever its final disposition, I recount my events now because I want to offer knowledge of this effect to others. I also hope to encourage a dialogue that may help me to gain further insight into my own process.
Andrew Nesky III is the president of the Theosophical Society in Pittsburgh. He has twice been elected to the position of Master of a Masonic Lodge and is a published writer. As an actor he has appeared in hundreds of performances on regional stages; he also lectures on metaphysics and human development and has coached high-school competitive public speaking. Andrew hosted the Webcasted talk show "Science and the Outer Streams," which investigates the frontiers of human thought, science, and spirituality; it can be viewed on YouTube by using the key words "Outer Streams:'