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Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
Listen in as they explore their latest challenges and breakthroughs—the leading edge of their work.
Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Lawrence Edwards, president of The Kundalini Research Network, as well as the founder of a kundalini support website, kundalinisupport.org. He is also a contributing author to a new anthology published by Sounds True entitled Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Lawrence has practiced and taught meditation for over 35 years, is a board-certified neurotherapist, a licensed psychotherapist, and has been on the faculty of New York Medical College since 1998. Lawrence discusses his own experiences with kundalini energy, the subtle body, and the kind of transformation that is possible with kundalini awakening. (53 Minutes)
Tami Simon: You're listening to "Insights at the Edge." Today I speak with Dr. Lawrence Edwards. Lawrence is the president of the Kundalini Research Network, as well as the founder of a kundalini support Web site, kundalinisupport.org. He is also a contributing author to a new anthology published by Sounds True entitled Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening. Lawrence has practiced and taught meditation for over thirty-five years, is a board-certified neurotherapist and a licensed psychotherapist, and has been on the faculty of New York Medical College since 1989.
I spoke with Lawrence about his own experiences with kundalini energy, an energy that is known by yogis and other serious spiritual practitioners to lie dormant at the base of the spine until it is activated. We talked about the subtle body and about the kind of transformation that is possible with kundalini awakening.
Lawrence, to begin with, I would love it if you would share with us some of your own history and experience with kundalini and kundalini awakening.
Lawrence Edwards: OK. Well, in some regards that goes way back. For me the experience and what kundalini is, is a way of coming to know the feminine face of God, the feminine face of the Divine. And my experiences began when I was three or four years old, literally in my crib, awakening in the night and a raging thunderstorm was going on, and I saw this beautiful woman standing next to my crib, looking over me very tenderly. And of course at three or four years old that's got to be your mother, and I was watching her and feeling comforted by her presence, and I started to go, "Ma," because the thunderstorm was really raging on. And she didn't answer, and then I noticed that as the lightning flashed, she would disappear, because it actually, she was made of light, and I could only really see her and her radiance in the dark. So then that—I started to go, "Ma!" I started to actually scream, "Ma! Ma!" My mother comes running in, and this woman disappears. And for years I would ask her, and I'd say, "Who's the Lady of Light? Who's the Lady of Light that I saw?" And my mother would go, "That was just something that happened in the thunderstorm, don't worry about it."
Well, eighteen years later, she reappeared in the exact same form, and shortly thereafter—and I had just begun doing meditation and yoga practices, and shortly thereafter I met a great master of kundalini, Swami Muktananda, and began practicing and studying with him, and experiencing what can happen with the awakening of kundalini and the unfolding of that grace through meditation and yoga processes.
Tami Simon: Now, you say that kundalini is a feminine force, or the feminine face of God, and you saw this Lady of Light. Can you help me understand how is kundalini feminine?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, that term is used because that energy often presents itself as a female form. In the yogic and Eastern traditions, the goddesses are the creative forces of the universe. And though in their ultimate sense they have no sex, they have no particular gender and can appear equally and do appear equally in male form and female form, they are often understood and approached as feminine forms of power. And so in the Eastern traditions and actually beyond that, the archetype of the divine feminine as the Creatrix, the Creator and Unfolder of all forms, and so many of the highest traditions of understanding will say that all forms are her form. But it's getting at that this is the fundamental energy and power of creativity to manifest the universe, and is often revealed and related to in the form of the feminine.
Tami Simon: Now, however many years later this is, decades later, when you think back to this Lady of Light, this figure that appeared, how do you understand that? How do you understand the appearance of a goddess, and then disappearance?
Lawrence Edwards: Right. My way of relating that and experiencing that as an ongoing presence is that in our evolution as individuals, our spiritual evolution, which to me goes across lifetimes, and the benefits of practices and things that we do accrue and stay with us over lifetimes. And that when the Divine in whatever form it might be—because it doesn't have to be in a feminine form, but for me it was, was revealing itself in that way, it was in a sense the calling of grace, the calling of our highest power, our highest self, and in a sense reaching out to the ordinary ego-mind and saying, "Wait a minute, there's more to this world than what you think."
And so what appeared at that time to be a separate force, a separate presence, is now something that is as intimate as my breath. It's the unfolding of what my essential nature is and what is the true essence of each and every person—in fact, each and every thing—so that there's really no separation now. It starts out—and that's true of most spiritual practices, things start out in a realm of duality, of separation. But as the process matures and unfolds, you come to the place of direct knowing, that there is no separation, there is no distance.
Tami Simon: Now I know, Lawrence, that you've worked a lot with people who believe they're undergoing some kind of kundalini awakening process, and perhaps are experiencing difficulties or confusion, and that as a therapist, you're helping people sort this all out. And I'm curious to know what you've seen as the central misunderstandings about kundalini awakening, and try to help listeners understand more of an accurate view of the process.
Lawrence Edwards: OK, so because I do get, I get calls and e-mails literally from around the world, in part as my background of being the head of the Kundalini Research Network and being somebody out there and connected to spiritual emergence networks around the world, I get phone calls and e-mails. And there are in a sense a few categories of how I look at things. Some of which are people going through difficulties that may not be actually kundalini awakening, but they're spiritualizing them and sort of inflating them in ways, and they need help to get better grounded and see what kinds of issues they're facing, whether it's depression, whether it's an illness. I've had people calling me with symptoms that really stood out to me as medical illness, and they had been misdiagnosing themselves, thinking, saying it was kundalini and people telling them, "Oh yes, this is kundalini." And when I could get them to get a proper medical diagnosis, it turned out that one person had quite a severe thyroid condition, another person had quite a severe neurological condition, and they needed proper medical treatment. So those kinds of misunderstandings happen.
When a person is going through a profound, spiritually transformative experience, and there's no criteria to say, "Oh, OK, this is kundalini, this isn't," it takes having experience and having worked with this for decades now to help sort these out often. But two things that often come up with people is, one, the sense of being overwhelmed by the experience, and so our kind of ego, ordinary ego-mind, getting really overwhelmed and swamped by all the things that can be coming up, transcendent, divine things as well as really difficult things that may be connected to physical processes that are going on.
So that sense of overwhelm then can trigger fear, and for some people as well as the fear a sense of even anger about the process and what it's doing. Those kinds of emotions really in terms of, if you want a sense of that emotional energy running through subtle body, kundalini is in a sense, it's home is the subtle body that we speak out of in the Eastern traditions, made up of the chakras and the nadis and channels of energy. Well, fear and anger are real knots, real contracted presences in the subtle body, and anything that triggers that actually becomes that much more of an obstacle to kundalini and intensifies difficulties. So often it's helping people both to just get grounded, to come out of the fear, to see it in a much greater light, and being able to start transforming what that process is for them.
Tami Simon: Now, just to unpack a couple of the things you've said. You said, "Kundalini's home is in the subtle body." Can you help our listeners understand that a little more?
Lawrence Edwards: Sure. You know, the subtle body in the yogic traditions, and that underlying both classical yoga but even sort of Buddhist yoga traditions, it's looked upon that we're familiar with having a physical body, and ordinarily that's all we would think of. But through the practices of meditation over thousands of years, these traditions have looked at what are we beyond just the physical body. And one way of understanding is to say that in addition to the physical body, we have this subtle body, a body made up of the mind, of energies, of patterns of energies. Some people are familiar with that because they know about acupuncture, and acupuncture really works on the meridians, the channels, the flow of energy in the subtle body, and how it affects our physical health.
But in that subtle body, there are what are really centers of consciousness that are called chakras. Some people are familiar with that. But there's a series of chakras running along the central channel of the subtle body, it's called the sushumna nadi. And each of these centers of consciousness are a way of understanding how this sublime power of creation goes about manifesting the individual, the mind, the body. And the chakras are a map for understanding how that comes to be. The one that creates that is looked at as this power that we would refer to as kundalini.
And it's said that through that process of creation, it then takes in a sense a dormant form in what's called the root chakra; it's the lowest center of that energy and corresponds to the earth element, it's called the muradara chakra. And so it's said that kundalini in its dormant form is resting there, waiting for that time in the soul's evolution across lifetimes to awaken and unfold really what's the ability to know the Infinite. Through much of our evolution we come to know what's finite, what's limited: the limited mind, the limitations of body, the limitations of consciousness. And it's seeing that sort of in the course of evolution of the soul's journey, there comes a point where we've explored that far enough, and it's time to regain our innate understanding of the Infinite. And that power that allows us to know the Infinite is our innate power of consciousness of kundalini. And so it's said to reside in this root chakra, the muradara chakra, the earth center.
Tami Simon: And then the process, the subtle body process of kundalini awakening is experienced as . . . How is that experienced?
Lawrence Edwards: Right. Well, it's experienced across the entire realm of what we as humans are capable of experiencing. So the awakening of kundalini is a way— One way of understanding it is, and the reason why it's called awakening, is analogously when we're asleep at night, we're not aware of the ordinary reality, the physical reality, the bedroom we're in, all that. It's gone, whether we're in the dream world or the deep-sleep world, we are not aware of the ordinary world that surrounds us. When we awake in the morning, there it is; you know, the room is there, the light is coming in through the window, and we're suddenly aware of a world that five minutes before, we were completely unaware of.
In a similar way, the awakening of kundalini is the awakening of that power of consciousness that is innate, inherent to each and every one of us, to know the infinite, to know what transcends the ordinary mind. But the process that we go through that will help the ordinary mind and the body to be able to in a sense enter that field of knowing, enter that field of consciousness, is a process of transformation. And that body goes through physical processes that are called kriyas. Actually "kriya" also refers to movements of that energy in the subtle body as well. Those movements can be everything from subtle feelings of energy running through the body, or heat or warmth; they can be tingling sensations, they can be your hair standing on end, to waves of rapture and experiences of merger into the Infinite, and visions of light and transcendence, and everything in between.
So that process of unfolding, which was really the esoteric goal of all the classical forms of yoga—hatha yoga, alaya yoga—these had as their goal the awakening of kundalini, because it was known that it was this extraordinary power that does the full transformation, the full sort of rewiring of the body and the mind so that it can know and participate in the highest states of consciousness.
Tami Simon: Now when we began this conversation, Lawrence, I asked you about your own experience with kundalini awakening, and you took us to a time when you were three or four years old in a lightning storm. How was that appearance of this Lady of Light related to what you're describing here as the awakening of a dormant energy in the central channel of our subtle body? What's the connection there?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, that was the experience of being able to perceive and sort of open the doors of consciousness. Awakening is in part beginning to become aware of that there is something beyond the ordinary reality of the five senses and ego-mind. And so that was in my experience, already there were raps on the door happening before the time that I actually met Muktananda and had a very classical kind of kundalini awakening with him. But it was already the feeling that something was guiding me toward that in that power.
Then being with Swami Muktananda and doing practices of meditation and use of mantra—and mantra is one of the classic ways that this power of consciousness is passed on to another—that's when I also began having the more classical experiences of energy and light flooding me in meditation, the experience of powerful energy surging through my body and dissolving all awareness of ordinary mind and ordinary consciousness. And it was those kinds of experiences that also led me to doing my doctorate work as a research project on the study of kundalini and its effects on people.
Tami Simon: That's a fabulously interesting doctoral thesis. What did you discover in the writing of it?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, what I was interested in, what happened to people long-term, people who had been practicing for ten or more years—so that length of time was the minimum requirement for people having been practicing siddha yoga as a classic form of kundalini yoga—and to look at the kind of transformations that had occurred. And in that research, and looking at people who lived in ordinary life and everyday world, to people who were living in ashrams, to even studying a small group of monks, of sannyasins, swamis, who were a part of the tradition.
It was clear—and one of the things that delineated that, there were over a 169 types of transformation that could be discerned, that covered everything from people's experiences of everyday life, their relationships, their capacities for love and compassion, the health and shape of their bodies; it touched on everything. It was the most holistic, completely integrative, and sort of all-consuming kinds of transformation that one can imagine.
Tami Simon: I'm wondering, listening to you, if you believe that spiritual awakening, this experience of unitive consciousness—and you know, different ways to define it, but let's just go with that—is always accompanied or could be characterized by a kundalini awakening? And what I mean by that is, you know, in today's world there's so much talk about spiritual awakening, and yet the idea of kundalini and your kundalini awake, that's kind of for a few yogic freaks. They're not seen as equivalent, and I'm wondering if you think they are.
Lawrence Edwards: I don't think they are. And I think there's—people begin to awaken spiritually and even have experiences of transcendence are beginning that process. But kundalini awakening is a unique part of that process that then really signals that an inner power of transformation is in a sense ignited that no longer requires the kind of self-will, self-motivation, involvement of the ego-mind that ordinary practices done require. And so there's an empowerment to the practice.
And that's part also why the awakening of kundalini was sought after in so many different ways in different traditions and spoke about. Because it was seen that you would do your practices and do your practices and do your practices, and that's sort of like trying to get a fire going if somebody hands you two sticks. And you gotta rub and rub and rub and rub and rub and rub, and finally you get enough heat for the fire to get going. And then it starts to consume things: whatever you feed to it, that fire ignites and releases the energy from. Well, that point of ignition and what happens after that is different than what was going on before when you were rubbing the sticks.
Tami Simon: Now, let's say a listener is thinking to themselves, "I wonder if the fire's lit in me." Do you think that if they're asking the question then it's obviously not? Or are there any reference points or telltale signs?
Lawrence Edwards: There are usually a number of signs, and they have to do with how the experience of being drawn to and into—it can be any variety of practices. I mean, I've known people who've they've got shaktipat—sort of a technical term for this awakening, it just means descentive grace, awakening of kundalini—and then entered into a Catholic community that was connected to a Benedictine monastery. So it's not like you have, that necessarily what is ignited has to be yogic in a sense in nature, but what's ignited is this strong fire and yearning for knowing the Divine, knowing the Infinite, unfolding that capacity to do it. And you might do it in a Christian tradition, you might do it in a Buddhist tradition, you might do it in a Native American tradition, but what happens is that you feel this inner, sort of unclenchable draw toward that. The first stirrings may be that happens occasionally. But at some point, it becomes something that is so irresistible and so consuming that it draws you along.
Tami Simon: It's interesting the way you're describing it, you know, you're describing it sort of as a yearning or a longing. I thought that you were going to describe it more in some kind of energetic terms.
Lawrence Edwards: Well, I think that that's an expression of that energy. In other words, we may not experience the energy as lights and sounds or thises and thats, but one of the ways that we experience energy [is] in our yearning, in our desires, in our longing. But when that starts to shift from just the pursuits of ambition, pursuits of possessions, pursuits in the world, to the pursuit of something different, that's starting to say that, OK, there's a quickening of spirit there, is another way that it would be spoken of. Or it's a time in the soul's journey where it's starting to go, "You know, these things just don't satisfy." And that is already signaling that that soul's journey is going to take this kind of turn.
In the yogic tradition, you could summarize the whole journey of the soul's consciousness across countless lifetimes as having two phases. One was called sovriti; it means "with form." It's the sort of outgoing and exploring the whole realm of what it is over lifetimes and lifetimes to take on this form, that form, follow this desire, have this experience. And at some point, the soul starts to go, "You know, I've experienced it all, I've known it all, but somewhere in the back of my mind I remember I was part of something greater." That awakening starts to happen, the remembering starts to happen on some level, and it starts to turn the journey into what's called the nivriti; it means "without form." And it becomes a part of the journey where we start to waken up and let go of having to identify with this and pursue that and be encumbered by this other thing, because we're looking for what lies beyond all those different forms.
Tami Simon: Now, you're mentioned this term "shaktipat" and the descent of grace, and you were speaking about it I think in reference to the time you spent with Muktananda. But I'm curious, this descent of grace, does this always happen through the connection with a master and transmission from a kundalini master, or can shaktipat, this descent of grace, just happen while I'm taking a walk in the forest?
Lawrence Edwards: It can happen anytime, anyplace. You know, the power of grace isn't limited by any person or form. And so it can happen then, it can happen in dreams. There are classic forms of people who have received initiation from visitations of great masters or divine presences in dreams. It can happen all the sudden; it can happen in traumatic events. You know, I'm not far from New York City and the terrible tragedies of 9/11; there are people who had, who were transcendently awakened because of the severity of the trauma, thrust beyond the limitations of the ordinary mind. So trauma can do it. People have near-death experiences because of trauma or a car accident, something like that, and it leads to kundalini awakening, shaktipat.
Tami Simon: So I'm curious once again, and I think that it's just trying to get my arms around— How would I know if this was a shaktipat experience? And I think what would help me would be if you would tell me in your own life, oh, that these were times that they were descentive grace, shaktipat times, versus, you know, intense moments in life.
Lawrence Edwards: Right. Well, shaktipat is usually, just to clarify, is usually a term that's used to refer to that initial awakening. And that is often marked by a particular experience. It might be marked by a ritual because it was a part of a transmission through an empowered tradition. It might have been a moment [when] people have talked about their shaktipat experience. Descentive grace can be felt over and over again. Shaktipat is usually more technically referring to that initial kind of awakening experience.
Tami Simon: OK, that's helpful. Thank you. And in your own life, was there a moment when you said, "Oh!", when you received shaktipat? Was that with your experience with Muktananda?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, what happened was becoming aware that I'd actually had shaktipat in a past life, and that was why I was even at three years old having experiences of this goddess of light standing next to my crib and the events that then led up to meeting Muktananda. So my experience was a little bit out of the ordinary in that kind of regard, but then being with Muktananda and starting to do those practices, you know, there was a time, very, when I first met him, and receiving the initiatory mantra from him—along with thousands of others, I mean, there wasn't anything unique in, you know, suddenly there I was and he was and it was, this was amongst a throng of people. But what happened to me in that moment was quite extraordinary, receiving this mantra not even really knowing at that time much about kundalini, shaktipat, I didn't know anything about this. I just heard about a great master, and a friend of mine had told me, "You really should meet this person, he's really unusual." And I did and received this mantra of OM NAMAH SHIVAYA, an ancient mantra that's used in many traditions, and I had heard of that before.
But receiving it from him, immediately I started to have this extraordinary experience right there in the hall of both settling into a profound stillness of meditation. And I had been meditating in Buddhist traditions and Vipassana Buddhist traditions for years, and this was unlike anything I had ever experienced. And over the next several days, leaving Muktananda and going back to my work—I was helping to run a Jungian psychiatric treatment center in Connecticut at the time, this was back in '75 or '76—and for days the experience continued to unfold and deepen with expanded states of awareness in meditation. And still I wasn't sure what it was about; I was just sitting doing meditation practice, but now I was doing, using this mantra. And I started hearing mantras being chanted in meditation, seeing just fields and fields of light and energy and dissolving into them. It was quite extraordinary.
Tami Simon: Now, you mentioned that you became aware of having received shaktipat in a previous lifetime. How did you become aware of that, and what was the situation in the previous lifetime?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, as is fairly common, many people will have as they pursue their meditative practices—and I've found this to be true having studied in [the] Tibetan Buddhist tradition and under great masters in that tradition as well as yogic traditions—the boundaries of time and consciousness that begin to dissolve in meditation can often lead to spontaneous experiences of past lives. So it's not something that one seeks or has, you know, entertains the desire, because really entertaining any desire is an obstacle, but these things can just come along. And so you're just sitting in meditation, and you can find past lives unfolding. Some people don't, but some people do, and what they gain from that often helps them in certain ways. And through that, I became aware of having spent a number of lifetimes as Tibetan Buddhist monk, living in Nepal, and through the empowerment traditions and practices there, having had that, this energy of kundalini awakened and unfolding.
Tami Simon: That's interesting and helpful. Thank you, Lawrence. You know, in the Sounds True anthology that we put together, Kundalini Rising, in which your essay is featured on "Kundalini: Her Symbols of Transformation and Freedom," one of our I guess you could say hypotheses of the book was that more and more people are undergoing the experience of some form of kundalini awakening today than at other times in history. And I'm wondering from your experience, running the Kundalini Support Network and Kundalini Research Network, if you think that's true.
Lawrence Edwards: Well, I'm not sure. I've often been asked that. And you know, I don't have a way of saying, I haven't gone into a past life and had a sense of "How many are awakening now?" and coming back to this lifetime and say, "Oh, how many are awakening now?" and seeing the difference.
But I do have a feeling that there are a lot of people on our planet, thank the powers that be, who are waking up and having spontaneous experiences, as well as what I think are still the reverberations of past lives where they had done practices. In the yogic tradition, if you die before you reach samadhi, you know, the great samadhis and the states of freedom, all your yogic practices and the benefits of them that you've accrued over that lifetime and even previous ones, go with you. And I see that a lot of what we think of as uncaused means that we're just not looking past this one particular life, that there are many people who have practiced yoga in Buddhist traditions and yogic traditions, Hindu traditions, as well as other spiritual practices in other traditions, and their strong intentions, the power of those practices, have accompanied them into this lifetime. And that's what we're seeing, people going, "Whoa!" and having these experiences that are inexplicable.
I mean, I have somebody who came to me recently who is a, in a sense, he thought of himself as the least likely candidate for anything like this, because he's a big city policeman and fireman, detective who worked in the most nitty-gritty neighborhoods, had no spiritual connections to anything, you know, was a bodybuilder, liked to drink and carouse, this and that. And suddenly he's having these experiences and his life is turned upside down. After going through all kinds of medical diagnoses and seeing endless doctors in the Cleveland Clinic and everything else like that, stumbled across my name, comes to me, and he's having profound kundalini processes going on.
Tami Simon: What kind of experiences was he having that he was confused by?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, he was having at first—and this can happen, people can have, as this process of transformation, as one's own power of transformation, because that's was this is. Often when we talk about kundalini, the term sounds alien, so it makes like we're talking about something separate and apart from ourselves, and it isn't. It's more closely connected to you than your inhalation. But as this power of transformation unfolded for him, it was bringing up really difficult times in his body, and the purification process of this energy transformation can be bringing up latent diseases, muscle spasms, joint problems, digestive problems. People can go through all kinds of things. Hot flashes and sweats and things, numbing sensations, all kinds of things that can happen that aren't the most pleasant ones that you might hear about in terms of spiritual transformation. But once they're understood and the energy is worked with, then you can start to get aligned with it and help it clear. And that's what's happened with this fellow.
And then he starts having all kinds of yogic kriyas. Well you know, hatha yoga, all the postures that people go and learn at hatha yoga at the YMCA or whatever, those postures, they were developed by watching people who had kundalini awakened, and their body was put spontaneously into physical postures by kundalini. That system was developed over thousands of years by watching that and seeing that as a spontaneous action. And sometimes people who have kundalini awakening will go through spontaneous hatha postures. People go into headstands that have never done it before, go into all kinds of yoga postures that they've never seen or heard of. But the energy is moving them through that to both work the subtle body as well as the physical body in order to set it free.
Tami Simon: And why might the awakening of kundalini energy result in some of those physical symptoms that you described like, you know, headaches or dizziness or hot flashes or you know?
Lawrence Edwards: It all has to do with what needs to be cleared out for the vehicle of the body, the physical body as well as the vehicle of the mind, the subtle body, to expand, to be able to experience as much as possible the fullness of consciousness and energy that we're capable of. And if there are blocks in the system, the energy, kundalini energy, your awakened shakti, you're this power of consciousness, works to remove them so you can more fully participate and expand into what is your own innate nature, your birthright to know this.
Tami Simon: Which brings us back around to your response to my question to the people who call you as part of the Kundalini Support Network, and they have questions: "Is what I'm going through a medical problem or is it caused by kundalini awakening?" How do you help people sort that out?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, first and foremost, to me it's always important to get a good medical checkup, diagnosis, whatever, first. Because if there is some underlying medical condition, that needs to be addressed. And it's always just prudent to do that. Because if it's not medical, that's fine, but if you're ignoring something, and I've seen too many cases of that, then whatever the medical condition is, is progressing unattended to and can be even life threatening. So to me it's always prudent to get a good medical checkup, make sure there's nothing medically going on.
Then in addition, start looking at what's going [on] for that individual, what's happened in their life, what kind of practices they might have been doing, what kind of stressors or traumas they might have gone through that have projected their awareness into some sort of state that may be transcendent but dissociative because it's not integrated. And so when I'm talking with a person, I try to go through what's happening, where has this [person] gone, what have they been experiencing, as well as try to find out what resources in that area I may know of to refer them to because they—you need to be working with somebody closely near you, and there aren't enough really skilled people in the field of kundalini that I'd like to see who are really able to do this. But if I know of somebody in an area, then I say, "Here, try to work with this person."
Or if I know people who have part of the skills. You know, if a lot of symbolic material is coming up, people are being flooded by those kinds of images and archetypes, well, then often a good Jungian [analyst] and working within a Jungian framework can help with that. And there may not be a kundalini specialist in that area, but there might be a Jung center and somebody trained in the works of Carl Jung. Sometimes people are getting overwhelmed by physical energies, and if there's a really good chi kung master in the area, they might help to ground that and be able to help them disperse that energy in a helpful way.
Tami Simon: Wonderful. That's helpful. So I can imagine at this point in our conversation different listeners' responses. If people have made it this far in our conversation, that some listeners may be, you know, "I'm going to immediately get a hold of Dr. Lawrence Edwards so that he can help me with my kundalini process." But I can also imagine someone saying, "You know, I have a yearning for this ignition that you described. I've been rubbing matches, I've been doing my practices, but the truth is I don't think kundalini is really awakened in me yet." What would you suggest to that person?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, to me it's— What I've discovered in my own practices that have drawn me across more than just one tradition—I studied deeply and long and trained as a sannyasin and gave up everything to study with Muktananda Swami in India and pursued that, but also having studied with some great Tibetan Buddhist masters, a great Witcholi shamanic master—and across the different traditions, what I see is when you find a deeply practiced, deeply committed, morally ethically individual who has really mastered the practices of their tradition and can pass on the power of that, with all the humility and grace that goes with that, that's what's important. And to me there are wonderful Tibetan Buddhist masters, there are wonderful masters in each tradition. But you have to go to the real masters. You have to seek them out.
Tami Simon: Well, that's interesting. I think some modern listeners think, "You know, I don't really want to get in a relationship with a master. I mean, can't I just read books and listen to p>Sounds True programs and do my practices?"
Lawrence Edwards: Well, that will give you a certain degree of knowledge, a certain degree of understanding. But what we have to understand is—and part of what happens in anybody's spiritual pursuit, when it gets to a certain point, then what has to be worked with also is the confines of the ordinary ego-mind. And the ordinary ego-mind would like to say, "Oh, I'm the master! I can be in charge of this; I can teach myself. I can learn this." That's all the ego-mind speaking.
Well, if you want to get beyond the ego-mind, then you're going to need help. And that's always been true. In fact, there was one of the great desert fathers from the Gnostic tradition back 1800-odd years ago wrote that if you see a person trying to climb to heaven by themselves, pull them down, because the higher they go, the greater their fall is going to be. Because you can't get into that domain by just the efforts of the ego-mind alone. And so it's always going to take some additional help in order for us to get past what the ego-mind does.
Tami Simon: Now I know one of the interesting things about you—well, there's so many interesting things about you, Lawrence, actually; you've such a creative and diverse background—but that you work with clients using neurobiofeedback and biofeedback technology, and I'm curious in that work, working with scientific instruments, what you've discovered about the kundalini awakening process. What do these technological tools tell us?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, what they say—and my work has bridged a number of different sorts of paradigms. Sometimes in the morning I'm lecturing at the medical school or to a bunch of physicians, and in the evening I'm chanting mantras and talking about kundalini, and to me it's a great delight because these do all go together.
What things like biofeedback and EEG biofeedback and neurofeedback allow us to do is to discover the same lessons that the yogis discovered, that these vehicles of mind and body, they have controls to them that we can learn to use. And the yogic tradition, whether it's the use of focusing through mindfulness training, focusing of mantra, well, we now know that there's a whole science to what goes on in the brain when that happens. So when I'm working with peak performers—I work with an Olympic coach who sends me elite swimmers from around the world, and we're doing peak performance training—well, I'm training them to focus their mind in ways that are not dissimilar from the kind of focus that could be developed by using yogic and meditative techniques. But neurofeedback allows us to dial into that in a sense that much more quickly, because you can put a sensor on a person's scalp and begin to see what's going on and help them to change that.
Well, I've had meditators come to me and say, "You know, I've been meditating for many years, and I'm not getting all these benefits that, you know, people are talking about actually come from meditation. What's going on?" Well, I'll put some sensors on their scalp to read their EEG and tell them to start meditating, and it turns out they've been sitting and thinking for the last ten years. And they've been wonderfully disciplined about that, but they've really not gotten past the discursive mind, and we can see it in the EEG. So by just a few shifts in how they practice, suddenly I've had people go, "Oh my goodness, this is what they were talking about! No wonder!"
Tami Simon: Now, "A few shifts in how they practice." Can you give me an example? What shifts?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, part of it is what shows up on the EEG, and with that it's often a letting go. But one of the great things about EEG biofeedback and other forms of biofeedback is it's very clear feedback. In other words, if you sit down and meditate, the only feedback you're getting is your sort of felt-sense of what's going on. But if you don't have a clear felt-sense of what it means to shift states, to shift your brain out of a discursive pattern into something else, you may not be able to find that little doorway as it passes by. But if I put a signal on it and say, "OK, every time you hear that tone, that's an indication of the kind of brain wave that you want to settle into." Well, in short order, that person can start to put out that tone more and more, and more and more fully, and it's a signal that tells them, "Oh, this is what it is." And now they don't need the neurofeedback machine anymore because now they know what that feels like internally.
Tami Simon: Now, we talked just a few moments ago about the power of the teacher, and even the necessity of working with a teacher. But could my computer with its biofeedback capacities help me find a doorway like a teacher could?
Lawrence Edwards: Well, it can help you find certain doorways. I mean, a book can help you find doorways too, but it's not going to set you free of the ego-mind. You're still the doer, and you're still identified with the doer, and sitting down doing something now with the computer. And so what happens often is the ego-mind tries to protect its supremacy in the realm of its world, and avoids coming into relationship to a teacher specifically in order to protect itself.
Tami Simon: Well, Dr. Lawrence Edwards, it has been really interesting talking to you here on "Insights at the Edge." And to finish our program, I want to ask you about insights at the edge in your life. And what I mean by that is, I'm curious if there's an edge or a question you're asking these days, something that you're working with.
Lawrence Edwards: Well, at this point in my practice, it's—and to me, this is where most all practices eventually lead up to—it's the moment-by-moment being surrendered to the power of the Divine, the presence of the Divine, in every moment. And that my ordinary mind, ordinary self, the actions of this body, how to have it always be in service of that.
Tami Simon: Well, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about—
Lawrence Edwards: You're welcome, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.
Tami Simon: —who you are and the work you're doing. Dr. Lawrence Edwards is a contributor to a new Sounds True anthology called Kundalini Rising: Exploring the Energy of Awakening, and his essay in the book is on "Kundalini: Her Symbols of Transformation and Freedom." Soundstrue.com: many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.