Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. If you appreciate it and feel like supporting it in any amount, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site and there’s also a donate page that offers or explains other ways to donate.
My guest today is Bonnie Greenwell. I interviewed Bonnie several years ago and really enjoyed the conversation. In fact, I listened to that conversation this week and thought there was quite a bit in it. We really covered a lot of ground, so if those listening to this one find it interesting, you might want to check out the previous one as well. Bonnie is a transpersonal psychotherapist and non-dual teacher in the lineage of Adyashanti. After her kundalini awakening in graduate school, she wrote a dissertation and book on the kundalini process. In 2003, she met Adya and experienced a deep shift in consciousness that led to editing his books, Emptiness Dancing, which I think I have on the shelf right behind me, and an Invitation to Teach. She has worked as a mentor guide for people in kundalini or awakening processes for over 30 years. Her fourth book, When Spirit Leaps, navigating the process of spiritual awakening, was released last June. Bonnie was a founder and director of the Kundalini Research Network and has trained people internationally to work with spiritual emergence and understand kundalini phenomena. She believes the awakening of consciousness to truth is a natural realization available to all who sincerely long for self-realization and that kundalini is fundamentally a clearing and transformative energetic support for this process. She offers webinars and consultations on the web and can be contacted through her website and her Awakened Living blog which I’ll be linking to from her page on www.batgap.com. Well, first of all welcome, Bonnie, thanks for doing this again.
Bonnie: Thank you for inviting me.
Rick: I’ve often referred people to you over the years who get in touch with some kundalini situation, usually something that rather concerns them. I usually refer people either to you or to Joan Harrigan. Joan is retiring from that now, so I guess it’ll just be you. Also, Lawrence Edwards is a good person to refer people to. I’ve interviewed him also.
Bonnie: I’ve appreciated that and I’ve enjoyed all the contacts that I make. It’s been a gift for me to meet all the fascinating people who contact me over the years.
Rick: Yeah, me too. We move in interesting company when we do this sort of thing, don’t we?
Bonnie: Yeah, yeah, it is. It’s really lovely, isn’t it? It’s just fun, you get to meet the most interesting people and hear the most amazing stories.
Rick: Yeah, fascinating. I don’t know if we covered in your first interview the kundalini awakening you had when you were in college or graduate school. In case we didn’t, would you want to just explain that a little bit, what happened to you?
Bonnie: First of all, I went back to graduate school when I was about 40, so I wasn’t just a young college student. [I did a degree] in personal psychology. At that time, I had about fifteen years that I had been doing meditation pretty steadily, so for a long time and I had done a lot of Jungian analysis, a lot of therapy. I was licensed as a marriage and family counselor at the time. So, I had a lot of background and I went to ITP, because at the time it did a lot of body work as well as having spiritual teachers who would come through and speak. I was interested in those things and [thought] that I might as well get a doctorate for doing it. So, when I was there, I went to a workshop with Gay Hendricks. Have you ever interviewed Gay?
Rick: No, I remember the name, Gay and Bonnie Hendricks, I believe.
Bonnie: No, it’s Catherine.
Rick: Catherine, okay.
Bonnie: Yeah, and Gay was doing something called Radiant Breath Work at the time. Now [he’s dealing] with relationships, but at that time he was doing Radiant Breath Work and I watched him working with someone else and I immediately knew it had to do with spiritual awakening. It was the first time, even though I’d been in many yogic systems and other places, [I hadn’t felt] the strong connection between the body and spiritual awakening before. So, I went to Gay and asked him to work with me and just told him I wanted to let go of any barrier to knowing God. I worked with Gay and after just one intense session, I went back to class. I was sitting on the floor [as was usual at] ITP in those days, and my energy just started rising, just went up over and over. [I was] extremely ecstatic from it and when the class was over, [I] went to [a] meditation room there and just sat for a couple of hours and went into an altered space. Fortunately, I was in [a group of] people who were familiar with Kundalini, [so I was not] having fear about it. I knew what it was from watching Gay work and from talking to other people there. I was also quite involved with [Christina] and Stan Grof at the time. So, I was just on the [verge of doing my] dissertation and decided to do my dissertation on Kundalini. And because the experience tended to be very, very wonderful, [I was feeling] just incredible bliss spontaneously, walking down the street feeling connected with everything. It’s a really wonderful experience and I got curious about the difference, because I kept hearing from people who were having difficulties with it. So, I wrote a dissertation exploring the difference between someone who has a positive experience and [those who have difficulties with it]. It led to publishing my first book, [and to establishing the] Kundalini Research Network with other people that I found who were involved and interested in the topic.
Rick: Someone said they’re having some problems with the sound, your sound is breaking up a little bit but I don’t think there’s anything we can do about that, it’s a bandwidth thing. But don’t worry about it, nothing you can do. Okay, well that’s a good overview. What kind of meditation had you been doing for 15 years?
Bonnie: When I was young, I had a Jungian analyst who was a follower of Yogananda, so I used to sit with him, he did meditation every week and then I had a friend who was a psychologist that was a student [of ?] and so I also sat with him part of the time. Then, I also got interested in the three pillars of Zen and so I was also exploring that. Before that, I had been involved with an organization called Creative Initiative Foundation and that was my first exposure to the idea of meditation and even also to Jungian psychology. When I left that organization, I just had this incredible longing to make a deeper connection and that drove me into the sitting for hours. I’d get my children off to school and I would sit for many hours a day just sitting, [using] different approaches, did different practices at different times.
Rick: This brings up an interesting question which I wasn’t going to ask until later but it kind of relates I think to what you’re saying. Someone named Clarice from Freehold, New Jersey asked, “Is awakening predetermined? Some teachers seem to avoid answering this question because they don’t want people to lose the motivation to practice.” And she also adds this is perhaps related to the topic of free will. The reason I think it’s relevant to what you were just saying is that some people just seem to come into this life with the seeds of a very strong ardent desire for awakening and enlightenment and so on and it just consumes them and they pursue it and very often get results and others just aren’t interested. Texts such as the Bhagavad Gita talk about how we might have done spiritual practice in a previous life and then come into this life and be born into circumstances that will be conducive to continuing our path. So, do you have any comments or thoughts about whether it’s predetermined? And I know we’re going to talk a lot about the significance of practice. I don’t think even if you think it’s predetermined that you would say that don’t bother doing anything and it’ll happen if it’s meant to happen.
Bonnie: I don’t think we can know if it’s predetermined, that would just be an opinion or a belief system. I think that [the potential for awakening is] built into every human, but the longing for it varies greatly and that many people are just so distracted by other goals and intentions and challenges in their lives that they’re just never drawn to those kinds of existential questions that draw meditators. So, I feel that anybody who has a deep longing, I think that’s kind of the primary dynamic that supports awakening is this and a persistence with that and that in a way you could say that that’s what that which is longing is the pure consciousness and it’s simply meeting that call. On the other hand, I’ve met many people who had many [spontaneous] awakenings who weren’t intending it at all and in those cases it might indeed be predetermined or it might, very often it appears possible that it was [coming from] a previous life and they were obviously going to wake up in this life whether they expected it or intended it or not. So, it can happen both ways. There’s many different events and [things] that can happen that cause at least a glimpse of truth. It doesn’t mean they wake up and they stay awake and enlightened suddenly, it just means they have glimpses, they’re being called.
Rick: When you use phrases like wake up or stay awake or so on, it kind of sounds black and white, on and off, it’s like either you’re awake or you’re not. And if we take the example of sleep at night, obviously there is a transition period between waking and sleeping where we’re sort of trying to wake up but we’re not all the way there yet. Then obviously a little bit later and when we’re into our day, we would say we’re totally awake as compared to what we were when we’re asleep. So, do you think that’s a reasonable metaphor for spiritual awakening as well, that there could be kind of deep darkness where there’s hardly any glimpse of it and there could be very clear realization of it but there could also be a middle ground which is sort of foggy but still some degree of it?
Bonnie: I think a better metaphor would be somebody that has to wake up every night and get up and then goes back to sleep again. I think that what happens to most people is an initial [awakening] event in which suddenly everything falls away and they’re just standing there in their pure connection with everything or a very clear sense of “I don’t exist, I’m not what I thought I was.” But then the old psychological patterns and the old identities come back [again]. I believe that [for] most people, there’s a kind of a moving back and forth between the sense of freedom and openness and experience and the sense of contraction and being entangled in some old emotional issue or dynamic. That’s why I think of the energetics of the process as being a clearing process, because it feels like the energy supports that clearing that has to happen. That letting go of, you know, “I thought I was really free and now this has come up so, clearly, I’m not free anymore”. People get very upset about that but the sense, the awake-ness is always there, it’s just that all these other preoccupations and distractions and you could say your dharma, [things that] arise in your life that belong to you. They arise, they have to be met, they have to be understood or really accepted in some way, in some new way. [So,] that light of pure consciousness has more [possibility] to shine through. So, it goes on I think for most of our lives for most people. It’s not a permanent state for most people, at least not [in the beginning]. In fact, Adya once told me that the Buddhists say that after an awakening you should allow about 12 years for it to mature or become more stable and that’s if you stay committed to your practice. You’re not just saying “oh I’m done” and you want to wander off into other distractions.
Rick: Yeah, so let’s dwell on this a bit more in terms of definition of awakening versus enlightenment and so on. I hear Adya himself saying that even in his own experience there’s a continuing growth and who knows if or when it ever ends. And some people would take exception to that and they would say well that which awakens doesn’t change and so how can it grow? And what would be your answer to that?
Bonnie: Well, the awake-ness doesn’t change, I mean the awake-ness is there but it, as I said it gets kind of clouded over by our personal [aptitudes and] attachments and challenges and so you could think a bit more that the sky never changes, the sky is always there but sometimes it’s full of clouds, sometimes it’s full of darkness and shadows and sometimes it’s just bright sunlight. So, the ground of being isn’t going to change but your ability to be in touch and move from that is going to vary greatly depending on many different circumstances.
Rick: Yeah, that’s a good answer. I mean we could even say that a rock has the same ground of being that we do, but the rock has some room for growth in terms of being a conscious functioning being of some sort. By the same token we have room for growth, perhaps we’re better off than the rock but doesn’t mean we or anyone has reached the sort of ultimate possibility of embodying pure consciousness.
Bonnie: The human that we are, it gets attached to our [bodies]. We’re designed in bodies to function as human beings with one another and separation. So, when consciousness wakes itself up, the human characteristics that we have that’s just programmed into us to be human beings is very alarmed by letting itself fall away. So there [will be] a struggle between the character me, [and the energy, which] first feels very unknown, very much not me that’s coming up through us and trying to take over our lives. So, there’s a sense of struggle for most people for a long time, [until they can allow themselves to] let go and insights and wisdom and potentiality of their true nature to come through. It’s just natural because we’ve been built as a physiological system in such a way. And often the people that are going through this have spent many years improving their self-image or their abilities to function in the world. You know they’ve individuated and it’s like you have the feeling of “I’m going to lose all of that. It’s all been for nothing, but the whole way I’ve been living my life was wrong” and you get into these struggles and there’s room for growth. There’s room for more.
Rick: Would you say that’s true of everyone, that there’s a struggle and a feeling that you’re losing your ability to function or is that just one of a number of varieties of experience that can come up?
Bonnie: There’s some kind of a dynamic between the old established personal self and the [true] nature which has a very different sense of identity. That can vary greatly. For example, somebody that’s been in a very long-term spiritual practice and this is what they’ve been looking for a long time is this awakeness or awareness, [that kind of] experience. Then they have a context for it. They might more easily let go. [Or if someone has] had a near death experience or was in a [car accident where their kundalini was] activated and they were doing something. One woman for example, was a dentist and [she] activated her energy through some shamanic workshop she went through. [It can be very hard if] you’re very scientifically oriented and all of a sudden, you’re seeing things very differently. So, it varies greatly from one person to another how they meet [the energies as they arise].
Rick: But I guess just to summarize the general point you’re making here is that awakening entails a real transformation of the vehicle through which awakening is experienced or anything is experienced, namely the mind, the nervous system, the personality. You can’t pour new wine into old wineskins, you’re going to have to get a new wineskin or transform the old one into a new one. I think that’s what Jesus was alluding to when he said that.
Bonnie: Yeah, I think that’s true. That’s what the energy process does. We have 72,000 lines of energy flow in our body and I feel that we are energy fields. In fact, I saw a quote by Einstein the other day where he said everything is energy. If you could move at the speed of light, you’d become infinite. So, we’re energy fields and everything that’s ever happened to us in this life and maybe even previous lives, is woven into our energy field. So, when kundalini arises its function is that clearing out of those old knots and patterns and belief systems and assumptions and [what was] created in our energy field and our consciousness because of our past experiences.
Rick: Yeah, that’s an interesting quote by Einstein. You know, it takes, what, about two million years for light to get to us from the Andromeda galaxy, but if you were a photon, if you could imagine a photon having a perspective, the photon arrives instantly. So, for a photon there’s no distance, the photon you could say is infinite as Einstein said, it’s omnipresent, it’s everywhere instantly. And I think there’s a kind of corollary between that and the way consciousness is described.
Okay, so in your book you mention at some point that some spiritual people or traditions, perhaps Advaita or maybe Neo-Advaita people, kind of dismiss the whole energy thing as kind of an illusory consideration that we shouldn’t bother dwelling on. As if we’re just kind of getting ourselves caught up in unnecessary complexities or something if we give much attention to it. You address that question or doubt in your book, so I’ll let you do so here.
Bonnie: One of the reasons I’ve written this book and all my books, particularly this last one, is that so many of the people who contact me have [a traditional] spiritual system and often if they raise energy or they have unusual phenomena going on in their meditation centers, they’re told that it’s wrong or it’s dangerous or they shouldn’t be coming to sittings anymore because they’re disturbing people. And they’re not being given the kind of support guidance that they need. And this is true not only for therapists who often misdiagnose a spiritual awakening, but it’s true for yoga teachers, it’s true for Buddhist meditation teachers, it’s true for even energy workers when people go into transcendent states or particularly energetic activities, sometimes they make sounds, sometimes their body is doing strange things all night, they get frightened. They don’t have anyone to talk to, because their teachers don’t understand the process. Unless you have a teacher that’s really gone through the whole process themselves, and many have not, they’re not going to have an understanding of it, and the advantage of a teacher who does understand it is that I’ve seen many different systems, people coming out of many different systems with many different kinds of phenomena, where most teachers who teach about Kundalini are saying, “This is how it’s supposed to be, this is what it looks like.” One teacher wrote to (me) inquiring about his (student, who was having) difficulties, wrote back and said, “This can’t be Kundalini because Kundalini is always positive.”
Rick: Where has he been living?
Bonnie: So many people have written in, said when they found my book, they wish they had found it ten years earlier because they had struggled [alone for] a long time. They didn’t know what the energy was, they didn’t know how to manage it, they were afraid they were going crazy, and they didn’t know how to bring it [out]. What I found is [when they get] stuck in the energetic process, they don’t know about waking up. They don’t know what it means, in a sense, to wake up, to recognize your true nature. And so, if they can continue to move [in the right direction,] once that shift happens, the energy is much calmer, much easier to live with. What’s been important to me, what I’ve learned and been so grateful for is that I started out with the yogic model and I spent some time in India and I did a lot of classical looking at Kundalini. [Yoga is] definitely a model that uses the energy body to bring one into an awakened state, to bring in and wake up. And when I was in that model, I didn’t know that it would [be possible to] have an awakening without the energy. But when I started sitting with Adyashanti, I started seeing people have awakenings, having these great shifts of consciousness, but afterwards their energy would start to change. I’ve been really blessed in seeing that it can happen in both ways. [Un-]fortunately, sometimes in Advaita or Buddhist systems, there’s not a recognition of the energy, and in the energy systems the awakening can happen first. I’d be able to see both sides of that picture.
Rick: Pull any one leg of the table and all the other legs will come along. One thing I appreciate about your books and your whole perspective, is that it’s so all encompassing. You’re open to all possibilities as having relevance to the awakening process. I also consider that my perspective, because I have to, if I’m doing a show like this. I’m talking to such a variety of people and I hear week after week stories of very significant shifts and awakenings and so on through such a variety of means. If I had to summarize it, I would just say that God is not a one-trick pony. The diversity of creation that we see in a rainforest or in the world in general is paralleled by the diversity of spiritual paths or means through which or varieties of experience which people can have as they awaken.
Bonnie: That’s true, that’s the advantage of [being] like yourself or like me, because we get to hear stories that obviously come from so many different [traditions, or] practices, encounters with life. So, you can see the broad range of ways and that awakening can happen.
Rick: I was talking to a gentleman last weekend and he had gotten some flack from religious fundamentalists at a certain stage of his path. I reminded him that there are some 40 billion earth-like planets in our galaxy by most estimates and they’re saying these days about perhaps 10 trillion galaxies in the known universe and if even 1% of those earth-like planets, and who’s to say they have to be earth-like, have some kind of intelligent life on them that has begun to tune into the spiritual dimension, just think how many varieties of spiritual experience there are in the universe and how absurd it is for anyone to be rigidly insistent that theirs is the best or the only way.
Bonnie: I think a lot of times, particularly in fundamentalist systems, if participants wake up, the whole idea of somebody having experience of the sacred or of God or of the universe is threatening to the hierarchical structures [of that system,] because you don’t believe anymore. It’s not about believing, it’s about [having an] experience. And in many systems, you’re really not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to go on faith in the system that you [are in, or] in the particular minister or priest that is the head of that system. So, it’s very hard for [people] in a real fundamentalist system. Often, they get terrible advice being told it must be of the devil or it must be dangerous or they sound crazy, and it can be very damaging. So, it’s very important, I think what you’re doing is very important. I refer people to you all the time too, but I’m hoping, you know, I’m getting old. I’m wanting to get this material out there and in the hands of ministers and [priests and] various people who are in a role where they can tell somebody, just give someone a book or tell them perhaps this is what’s happening to you, instead of frightening them to death.
Rick: Yeah, it’s great you’re doing that because as I see it, the sort of pace of awakening and the sort of frequency of it, the commonality of it in the world is increasing. There’s something in the field that’s getting enlivened and more and more people are waking up and as you say in many cases, they don’t know what it is or they get flack from their religious leaders and so on. So, I think it’s really something that’s going to have to become more common knowledge and is becoming more common as we go along over the coming years.
Bonnie: [Un-]fortunately as it becomes more common knowledge there’s also quite a bit of distortion on the web, so people need to be cautious. People need to find their own intuitive knowing about what’s right for them and really develop that capacity for discrimination along with the trust in their own energy and their own experiences. There’s a lot of distortions that are presented to people and you can get stuck in the wrong direction for a while.
Rick: Before you get off that point, I just want to say I’ve been thinking about that as I was reading your book and about the importance of both knowledge and experience. It’s like they’re the two legs through which we walk on the spiritual path and you can’t really walk on one leg. So, experience without knowledge can result in all kinds of fear and confusion and misunderstanding and taking thorazine or something because you think you’re going crazy. And knowledge without experience can become fanatical and pedantic and dry and one can mistake mere knowledge for the actual experience to which it refers. So, I think it’s really an important safeguard and necessity on the spiritual path to be simultaneously culturing both in a genuine way.
Bonnie: I feel like one of my prime intentions is to create a context so that you have a context for the kind of phenomena that’s arising, which in my opinion, is that this is an opportunity for human transformation. It’s happening to you because you’ve been invited for your consciousness to wake up and live in a new way in the world and it can be thought of [as dangerous], but it doesn’t have to be, it can be thought of as a human potential transformative experience of being more [aware of your being].
Rick: And two people might have the very same experience and interpret it in both those different ways. It’s like we all look at a painting or we listen to some music and we have very different interpretations of it, yet it’s the same painting, same music, same sunset we’re looking at.
Bonnie: [Right!] Yeah, it touches us in different ways. It calls us, I think, to a new expression in the world. If we stay with it, if we embody what we’ve seen, what we felt, it calls us to find a way of expressing it [in what,] from our deepest core, feels necessary to come through us. And that’s why you’re doing the work you do. Something called you.
Rick: Actually, in a way, Adya called me. I’ve been doing this stuff for my own spiritual practice and pursuit for decades, but I was out in the garage listening to Adya- shanti while working out on a Bowflex machine and the idea popped into my head to do an interview show and then that idea wouldn’t leave me alone. Initially I thought of it as a local radio show and this little station we have here, but that wasn’t really going to happen and then finally we got it started and put it on the internet, one thing led to the next, but I’ve always felt like there’s a real nice wind at my back and doing this project is something that’s needed and something that’s supported.
Bonnie: That’s such a good point, because a lot of times people who have had an awakening [and gotten it] established, they want to know what to do. And when we’re younger, before you would say we’re driven by the intellect or the mind or the intention, you know we have goals in life and we’re going after those goals. But it doesn’t work that way after an awakening. It works as a [spontaneous thing.] To me after my kundalini awakening, I wrote my dissertation, there was nothing else I could have written about. I was so full of this energy, [so I did it] with the thought that if only one person gets some use out of this, it’s worth my time. And then somehow the Kundalini Research Network evolved and it was like, it happened through me, I managed it for several years. [And it was] effortless, it was just happening and it really was not something I decided in my head, I’m going to do this. It was as if it just came through. It’s like, okay bring people together that have had the [experience]. And I think people need to understand that if [they don’t know] what to do, it has to do with listening, really intuitively dropping in and waiting for that inspiration, and if it’s the right thing for kind of bubbling, it’ll keep coming up until you lean into it a little bit and see if it’s what you’re meant to do.
Rick: Yeah, and you were talking a little earlier about discrimination and discernment. I think some people can swing too far in the other direction where they’re just sort of following their impulses because they feel like that’s the way the universe is guiding me. But you can end up indulging in whims, you know. You can quit a good job or quit a good relationship or something just because you have some kind of impulse. It all needs to be tempered and kind of counterbalanced with other factors and so on.
Bonnie: I think that’s true. You have to learn the difference between the [ego’s] impulses and deeper potentialities. Usually, I tell people, if something keeps coming up, you know, repeats itself, maybe it belongs to you. Lean in a bit, [pay attention to] the results, see what happens, and if it’s meant for you, if it’s the right thing, it’ll unfold in just the right way. If it’s not, [you won’t be comfortable,] you won’t be happy pretty quickly. You’ll know, “No, this isn’t going to work for me,” or “This was just temporary, I don’t know why.” But even with the Kundalini [Research Network], that energy ran out for me and it was just over for me. And when I left that organization, within a few weeks or months, I met Adya and it opened a whole new door. And then I helped him with, well with Emptiness Dancing, I decided to create Emptiness Dancing. That was a new experience and for a long time I thought, “Well, I don’t [know if I] can do this. It sounds like I’m just trying to get attention or something.” I didn’t know if it was an egoic impulse or not, but it kept coming up. So finally, I just went to him and [said that] we had all these talks that had been written, [that had been] transcribed from his lectures, from his satsangs, and they were just sitting in the fireplace. [I said,] “I’d really like to take some of your talks and put them into a book. I think it would be helpful for the organization and people would find you.” And he said, “Okay.” So, I did that. So that just opened me up to a whole other world, really. And so that came from following something that was kind of just pulling it. [?] It’s very interesting. It takes a while to get the sense of how it is to fall into that part of yourself, but it happens eventually for people that stay in this process.
Rick: It does. There’s a saying in Sanskrit, I don’t remember the Sanskrit, but the English of it is “Brahman is the charioteer,” and I think what it means is that, well, you can think of a chariot or you can think of a car and initially we feel like we’re driving it, you know, we’re in the driver’s seat, we’re in control. But you were talking earlier about this transition one must undergo and the transition entails, among other things, a shift of who’s in control. And eventually Brahman is found to be the charioteer, the wholeness, the cosmic intelligence or whatever is, and we’re just going along for the ride. But it’s tricky as the transition is underway and it can take decades in process because there can be this gray area where it’s like, whose impulse is this? Is this my ego? Is this something that’s meant to be, in some deeper sense? And it’s kind of a constant discernment that has to be worked out in order to allow. You can’t surrender too much to the point of passivity and indecision, but you don’t want to be egotistically dominant in terms of forcing it, you know, my way or the highway. There’s a balancing thing that happens over time.
Bonnie: Well, what often happens is, if you’re moving in [a direction where] you feel crappy, you don’t feel well, you have all kinds of barriers come up and you’re not, you’re both interior and exterior. Most of us, we’re raised to believe we should fight through everything. But instead, we need to actually listen. What’s the message here? Is this the right place for me? Is it toxic? Am I feeling dead in my work now? Do I need to really listen? And that we need to learn [to listen to the] silence, as Adyashanti likes to point out, and wait and be patient because this is [kind of] a new [thing] that wants to be heard. But unless we go into the silence and the stillness and spend some time inviting it, it’s not going to show up. True nature doesn’t push through, it doesn’t push through our egoic stuff. We have to meet it, we have to get in a cooperative relationship with it [so that it will really open up].
Rick: There’s some quote that when you said that kind of came to mind, I don’t remember, there’s some scriptural thing either from the Bible or some Vedic thing about how, maybe you can remember it, but how the Divine is not pushy. It’s not going to beat down the door and insist that it be welcomed in, it’s going to need to be invited. There needs to be a sort of a surrender really, from our side, a cooperativeness and it’s not going to force us to do that.
Bonnie: That’s true, I’ve heard Adyashanti say that too. That’s why the meditation and the sitting in stillness and the resting is so important after an awakening.
Rick: Maharishi once used the analogy of going in for surgery, you know surgery can’t operate until you’re willing to lie still and be willing to undergo the process.
Bonnie: That’s right, it helps if you begin to see that you never had any control anyway, that that was an illusion all along. If you look back at your life, you’ll see most of the major events in it you didn’t control. The person you’re married to, you didn’t say I’m [going to find] such and such, that’s just like this and you had control. I met my husband in a parking lot, you know. I mean it wasn’t controlled at all. And your children, when you have children evolve, you have very little control, you have a lot of influence emotionally and psychologically but most of us would say our children have moved into directions that we didn’t foresee for them. At least that’s been my experience. And I know my mother was a very devout Catholic, she’d be quite shocked to see what I’m [doing]. We have the ability to respond, to accept [responses], we appear to have that ability, although it’s probably based on our conditioning. But our life had many, many of the most amazing things that have happened [which were not] because you were in control of it.
Rick: Interesting that we’re dwelling on this topic as much as we are, but I’m just reminded of so many instances in which parents demand that their child be a lawyer or something like that, which is completely opposite to what they want to be. It’s like Dead Poets Society, that was one of the themes of that movie. In my case, from the age of four, I wanted to play the drums and my parents kept saying I should learn to play the piano first. I hated playing the piano. That went on for ten years, until I finally got a drum set and then I took right off with it. So, obviously, kids need guidance, but there’s something about letting. There’s this verse in the Gita, it said, “Creatures act according to their own nature, what can restraint accomplish?”
Bonnie: You know that’s an issue for a lot of people who have awakenings, is that they’re in a career that they chose, or maybe they’re college students. One young man I’m thinking of was an economics major in college and he had a terrible automobile accident and it activated his energy. He just didn’t want to study economics anymore. And many people are [in professions] because somebody directed them to that and said that would be the wisest thing to do because they’d make more money, or because their family, all their family does it, their family [says they ought to do it].
Rick: You remember that line from The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s trying to figure out what he’s going to do and the guy says, “Plastics.”
Bonnie: If that’s been your story, if your story has been you’ve been in the wrong field, or you’re [in with] a group of people that feel really toxic, you won’t be able to stay in that. Eventually you’re going to have to listen to your gut about what do you really want to express and what would feel congruent and authentic. And you’re going to have to make some changes, or you won’t be happy. You don’t have to make the changes, but if you want to be content and free, you may have to make some serious changes.
Rick: I’m going to segue here back to something we were talking about earlier, just want to dwell on that a little bit more and then go through some other points. We were talking about awakening and you said, as you were talking about that, that it’s kind of unusual for a permanent shift to take place, that there’s this sort of “I got it, I lost it” thing. And you implied that that’s going to be the norm for most people. But do you want to correct that before I go on, if that’s not what you meant to say?
Bonnie: All I can say about it is that it takes time for the pure consciousness to be more consistently dominant. One way I take it, it’s like here’s this the little self, the me, the person, the character you’ve been pretending to be all your life, with all your goals and abilities and accomplishments and problems. And here’s the pure consciousness, and all of a sudden, wham, this is up, and then this comes up. It may take an hour, it may take a week, it may take a few months, it’s about the longest this ever stays. And then this comes up again, and then you’re going like this. And eventually, if you stay committed, [meditating (?)], facing your stuff, your psychological [problems], getting your life kind of oriented in a way that feels more authentic, it becomes more and more present. And eventually this is more dominant, but this might pop up once in a while. That’s how it seems, I’ve talked to thousands of people, and of course, if there are people who just have one simple awakening and they’re completely free the rest of their life, call me. So, but this is [usual for] the people that I work with.
Rick: Yeah, I think one thing that people might find helpful is, and I think most people understand this, is that you can have a really profound experience. Let’s say you’re in meditation and you have this transcendent, blissful, unbounded experience, you know, you feel like you’re omnipresent or something. And every experience of that nature tends to fade, and many things tend to integrate through repeated exposure to them. And as they integrate, they become the norm. And so, you might not even think about it. You could actually be in quite an unbounded awareness and driving your car and talking to your wife or doing whatever you’re doing, but it’s just kind of the natural state and it’s not something one reflects upon or remarks upon. So, it’s like the contrast when something initially happens can be quite notable. But enlightenment is not a contrasting experience, it’s not a flashy experience, it’s more of a natural state which becomes as comfortable as breathing or something.
Bonnie: What I feel it is, it is a different way of perceiving the world, and the perception is different. It’s more holistic, it’s more in the moment, and present in the moment, it’s more intuitive, it’s more just being present with what is, and not resistant to what is. Those are some of the qualities that I feel. And that becomes more the norm in how you function. And I think the thing that really falls away is the (thing) Freud called the superego, the part of your mind that’s always telling you maybe you’ve made a mistake, or something’s wrong, or what’s wrong with that person? That collapses, it doesn’t have any [purpose]. So, it’s much more clarity when [you’re with people, or] you’re reading or you’re listening or you’re just being present with what is, and responding in a way that feels authentic, that feels it’s coming kind of from the heart or the gut rather than the mind. The mind has stored all that information that you’ve picked up over the years [like you’ve read so many books], but it just kind of comes up [automatically], you don’t have to work to think about what you’re going to say.
Rick: Yeah, I know the way Eckhart Tolle operates, he says that he never prepares for his talks or anything, he just gets up on stage, gets in the car, goes to the place, gets on the stage, sits down and something starts coming out of his mouth. On the other hand, I know when Adya prepares a course, he does a lot of research and he has books around his house with little tabs in them or he’s taking notes of things and all that stuff. So, I don’t think the two are incompatible. I think that, obviously, if you were, let’s say, an awakened person studying to be a doctor, you’re not just going to wing it. You have to do all kinds of study and learning and memorization and everything to be an effective doctor or airline pilot or anything else. There’s no incompatibility there.
Bonnie: Well, what I have found, it’s been interesting, I’ve known Adya now for maybe eighteen years, and I would say that, for many years, everything he taught was spontaneous. [He would come to a satsang, and he] may have had an idea of a theme when he came in, [but it was] really spontaneous expression. And I think what happened, and I’m projecting here because I haven’t ever asked him, but I think that he began to meet so many students, thousands of students from all over the world. He became much more interested in looking at the cross-referencing of all the different [students]. I think that after a while, at first everything feels really spontaneous. But the mind, many people will say their mind is not sharp, you can’t really learn academically for a while, it feels uncomfortable. You can do it. I found for myself, I [went to] graduate school and I couldn’t teach from a program anymore. I just hated it. I had to just teach spontaneously and so I quit teaching graduate school. But I believe, what I have seen, is that after a certain period of time, the mind becomes much more clear and crisp in a way, and so you can go back to absorbing information. At least if it’s meaningful to your spiritual work. Maybe for other things too, maybe you become more brilliant, maybe [Einstein] was awake and he got his brilliant ideas from that, I don’t know. I’ve seen Adya evolve in that way and in the kind of programs he teaches, his interest in bringing in many other rich resources [that he finds] in the world.
Rick: I may interview him again in a week or so, if I do, I will ask him that because I think it’s an interesting point. Okay, so just to put a cap on it then, I hesitate to use the term enlightenment, because it has such a kind of superlative static connotation, like it’s some kind of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow kind of thing. Do you feel that there is some state that humans achieve or have achieved, which is worthy of a term with such connotations? Or do you feel like even the most enlightened beings to ever walk the planet still probably had a horizon before them which they could explore? Or do you feel that that’s just something that you can’t, none of us can really speculate on until we get there?
Bonnie: It’s a good question. [I think the problem is that] everybody has a different story about what it means.
Rick: That’s the problem, it shouldn’t be that way. I mean there must be something that that term relates to in human experience, as is the case with most words. I mean we shouldn’t all have an opinion as to what fifty-five miles an hour means. It means something that we have to abide by. So, it’d be nice if words correspond to actual realities and we agree upon their meaning.
Bonnie: I think it’s easier just to say what you mean by it and then [see where] everybody [fits] in, because some people will say, oh it means you can walk through walls, it means you can translocate like Rama-[na was] said to do. Somebody [said that] their teacher, and there are teachers, some of them in classical traditional who say, oh, you can’t possibly become enlightened in this life, you’re not ready. Or they say, they take up some [thing with pride(?)] like you mentioned the other day or sometimes a teacher you interviewed, he said he never sleeps, some will say you never dream. So you know people will say, well gee that’s not true for me, so I’m a long way from (being able to) trans- (or bi-)locate and I still have dreams occasionally. So, I like to think of enlightenment more as [a way of] being present in the world that feels very free, very open, coming from, love comes through sometimes spontaneously for no reason at all. Very [open] to having particular results, less reactive, wanting to be of service and some of the other qualities that we’ve talked about. People don’t become enlightened, enlightenment arises, [it] just becomes more present. I don’t believe an individual, most people will not tell you they’re enlightened, they won’t use that phrase. The personal little me that talks doesn’t feel like that’s even possible. You can always find a dozen reasons why you’re not enlightened, but consciousness can come through it at times and be very, very beautiful and for some people that happens more consistently, permanently for some. I think the other thing that people get confused about and [it’s] wonderful for me with my friendship with Adya and Mukti too and others, is that they’re willing to be normal humans.
Bonnie: They’re willing to, they’re not pretending to be on some elevated level that normal people can’t relate to. I took a package in for the Sangha and the postmaster saw the name on the package and said, “Oh Steve, he’s [a nice guy, isn’t he?] you know,” so it’s just like he knows how to be ordinary. And even though he’s not just ordinary, he’s got a perspective and a capacity to bring what the average person doesn’t have.
Rick: Yeah, I think that’s one reason Adya is so popular with [a certain group]. And it’s a safety factor also for him and for students, because I know of a number of teachers who get into this specialness thing and it gets more and more inflated. And they end up creating a weird scene around them, students have a weird relationship with them, they end up crashing and burning in some way because pride goes before a fall. And so, I think it’s a safeguard for both the teacher and the students, his students or her students, to keep it grounded, you know, keep it real.
Bonnie: I think it’s very important, I don’t think anybody that’s truly free, and maybe we can talk about it more as freedom or liberation than enlightenment, anybody that’s truly free does not need to be worshipped by anyone, doesn’t even want to be worshipped, doesn’t want to be considered special. Instead, they’re likely to look at everyone else as having the same source and the same potential. And they’re not likely to put themselves on a pedestal or have people throw flowers at them and all of that. That’s kind of the old ancient classic way of honoring your guru kind of thing. Maybe it was useful at one point in time because what you were doing [was] honoring the self and it was devotional, but it’s not relevant today. It’s not helpful with the kind of work we’re doing today.
Rick: Yeah, I would temper that statement a little bit, it’s a little bit un-nuanced. I would say that firstly this whole devotional thing is somewhat of a cultural thing, it’s more normal in India than here for instance. But secondly, I would say that even here there are people for whom it’s still relevant. I mean you go to see Amma for instance and the scene around her is quite devotional, although first thing she does when she comes in the hall is bow her head to the floor to everyone else. So, I don’t know, I’m just careful not to make blanket statements.
Bonnie: I agree there, [in this] age of spiritual evolving, very powerful devotion is very helpful, and this is true in Christianity, devotion to Mary or Jesus or a saint. In India many people [find a] special being that you choose, that you throw all your devotion to, and it’s very important because it opens the heart. And if you’ve had that channel opened in your life and you wake up, you’re much more able to move from an embodied awakening. So almost [any path will include] some approach to opening the heart. So yeah, I don’t, I certainly went through a very strong [period of devotion my-] self with Yogananda and I’ve seen it in many other people. I don’t think devotion takes you all the way to realization, but I think it prepares, it opens the channel.
Rick: Yeah, there’s an age-old debate about that between the Vaishnavites and the Advaitins about whether devotion and maintaining some separation between you and God is a state you’d want to perpetually be in for the bliss of that relationship or whether you’d want to go for full merger and union. And as some teachers have put it, it’s really none of your business at this stage, decide that when you get there. It’s not something to argue about. So, okay, we were talking earlier about the relevance of energy to awakening and you were saying how some teachers sort of dismiss it or don’t consider it terribly relevant or don’t know anything about it and others would consider it instrumental. And I think you would be one of those who would say that it’s definitely something that needs to be understood and dealt with, because it’s going to happen to so many people. But here’s a question that kind of extends that a little bit and that is, is a Kundalini awakening or opening, even if it comes to some completion, if there is such a thing, is that sufficient for true enlightenment or does one need some teacher or other influence to fully come to rest even after Kundalini has fully awakened?
Bonnie: Well, that’s a challenging question. There may be people who have had all on their own a complete realization of truth through a Kundalini activation who have never had a teacher. Those don’t tend to be the people that call me, so I can’t say that I’ve met a lot of people like that.
Rick: Let me rephrase the question slightly before you go on and that is that, is full awakening of Kundalini tantamount to or perfectly correlated with full development of consciousness or enlightenment or is it just sort of one stage of it and there might be something more that needs to be done after that or needs to happen?
Bonnie: I believe it’s the stage, it’s [of import] for enlightenment or liberation, but usually in the system of Kundalini specifically, the goal seems to be Samadhi and Samadhi is a great sense of consciousness merged with universal. I’ll simplify it by saying that it’s not quite enough. People can go into Samadhi and they just spend all their time lying down or leaning against a wall [or going into a cave] and disappearing. There’s a need for a return and [to] bring the energy back down below the neck and sometimes there’s a great need to clear out your old psychological stuff. If you have unfinished psychological business you’ve never worked on, everything is going to come up eventually. Sometimes people that are capable of going into Samadhi states or Satori and they feel free and escaped out of their body and their life. The next step is to come back into your life, to be awake in life. Sometimes you need some guidance, you need a context. Your next door (neighbor or) your parents aren’t going to help because they’re [not totally] detached. So, you need some place, a community or some kind of guidance to get a context of how do I be alive [and have an awakening?] And how do I live it, how do I connect with whatever this wants of me to (participate in) the world and to do it in a way that is going to be unique to you but it would be useful to have some kind of a guide. It might be a teacher, it might be a community that is working this together in a way, supporting one another. I know [it might] be a good friend on there with you, I can’t say, I wouldn’t say that no one can [be your] teacher, because that just makes no sense, but it’s probably rare for somebody [to achieve this] with no guidance.
Rick: I just want to say one thing about Samadhi, there’s a number of different kinds of Samadhi, different terms for different stages or degrees of Samadhi and I don’t claim to be an expert, but I believe it’s Nirvikalpa Samadhi, isn’t it, which is supposed to mean without break, so that it’s an integrated state which one can live in the midst of dynamic activity and yet there’s a sort of continuum of pure awareness, regardless of the circumstances or what challenges you may be confronting.
Bonnie: I think that would be comparable to living from an awakened or enlightened [space]. It’s not as dramatic as the kind of Samadhi where you’re out of your body.
Rick: It’s integrated. Yeah, I mean when Ramana first woke up he went into deep Samadhi in that pit in that temple and insects were chewing his leg and he was oblivious to that and all. But later on, after years in a cave and an integration he was fully functioning and yet in that state of Samadhi while talking to people and running an ashram.
Bonnie: [He was in a different state.]
Rick: So, I think that’s an important point is that, that which initially might require complete inward turning of the senses and inability to function eventually can get integrated and stabilized and lived in the midst of all functioning. That doesn’t mean you’re living in a state of not having your senses functioning, it means they’re functioning and yet that pure awareness which once required complete inward absorption is now stabilized in the midst of anything. Yeah, I was listening to Adya last night and he was on a recording and he was saying something about how there are degrees of situations which might test that and he was referring to his health problems and the severe pain it had caused him. He said there’s certain things that you can tolerate without losing your equanimity. But he said even in his own experience, at times it went past a certain point and he was less established maybe than he would like to have been.
Bonnie: True, great physical pain. I don’t believe [if you’re] awakened or liberated that you never have feelings either, people [have] grief. I remember Baba Hari Dass at Mount Madonna Center, when one of his primary students died, [who] everybody thought would probably take his role eventually, and you know he felt it. He talked about feeling it, but what he said, what he would say, he didn’t talk but he would write on his little chalkboard, he said that when you’re awake, it’s not that you [don’t have a feeling, but you] never hold onto it, you don’t carry it around. It flows through you. I thought that made a lot of sense.
Rick: Also, you have more of a buffer, I mean let’s say you’re a billionaire and you gain or lose a thousand dollars, it’s no big deal, you know, you’re a billionaire. But let’s say you’re homeless and you’re living on the street, gaining or losing a thousand dollars, even though it’s the same amount of money, would be a huge deal. So, you know, this sort of pure awareness or whatever we want to call it is like a kind of an inner affluence which results in natural equanimity.
Bonnie: That’s a good way of putting it.
Rick: Okie dokie, so. There’s a lot of practical advice in your book about preparing for awakening, getting grounded, getting stabilized, preparing the vessel. So, maybe we could talk about that a little bit. If someone has a deep yearning for enlightenment or awakening, they have a longing, what can they do to prepare for its dawning and to support it?
Bonnie: Well, I think that, of course, having a consistent meditation practice, [where you go into the stillness], [if you find a school of meditation in addition, that] is a good place. Other schools of meditation or if you have a center near you that does mindfulness or something like that or TM or whatever, it is having a consistent meditation which you’re sincerely using to connect with your longing for truth. It’s a longing for truth. It started out for me as a [longing to know if there] is a God but everybody has a kind of a different longing or [goal] they’re seeking, inner peace or something of that sort but I think that the longing for truth, not caring what the truth is, I want to know what’s true and then just dropping it and going into deep stillness is helpful. Something to open up your body a little bit better, like yoga or [chi gung or] something that opens up those energy flows in the body, is very helpful. If you’ve had a trauma, had [any] kind of a rough time as a child or a young adult, if you’ve had psychotherapy it’s very helpful, because yoga brings up everything and it’s going to bring up [things]. Meditation and yoga will eventually bring up (the things) that you are holding on to. So, if you’ve learned how to look at that and hold it and work with it already [it’s much easier if you’re] familiar with the territory and you already have some [ways to] deal or [for] coping with old memories or distressing habits and things like that. It’s good to be healthy to take care of your body. I think those are the basics. I’m going to drink a little water. Sometimes I cough when I talk so much.
Rick: Just as you said, “it’s important to be healthy,” you coughed.
Bonnie: Yeah, [I felt some] throat blockage.
Rick: You said that the longing for God or to know if there’s a God was one of your initial impetus. What’s the plural of impetus? In any case, how did that go? I mean what’s your orientation to that question now?
Bonnie: Back in the days when I was in that organization called Creative Initiative that I mentioned, I [did some] psychological work. My mother died suddenly when I was 14. My family is Catholic and to me if God could do that, God was, at the very best, if God existed, He was indifferent. That was how [my father saw it,] because he was very devotional. She had a brain hemorrhage that she died [from]. It was unexpected and, in those days, they didn’t have the ability that they do today that she might have survived. So, I was pretty shut down for ten years. When we started to do personal work in this organization, I began to open up to the pain [that I discovered and] worked on and began to see that there was kind of a hole in me. I discovered it wasn’t just the missing my mother but was missing God because I had had a strong devotion as a young child. “Well,” I said, “I don’t know how to fix this.” And people said, “Well, why don’t you meditate?” So that, I had never done [anything like that]. I began to do all that serious meditation I mentioned earlier. But it was really with that deep desire to know if there was a God. I had a major [breakthrough] during that time in which the question went away. It wasn’t as if God appeared, it was more like some kind of an expansion happened that the question disappeared. God was no longer some person out there that I was looking for. I felt connected, I guess you could say, and I felt very blissful. It was very blissful. What happened is, I was about twenty-eight or thirty at the time, and I was washing dishes one day and I was feeling wonderful and I thought, “I’ll never do anything like (feeling) wonderful washing dishes.” And so, I decided to go back to graduate school and become a counselor. So, during those years of going back to graduate school and taking on all of that, starting [to] work in that field, I kind of had lost that deep connection and that’s one of the reasons I went back to a graduate school that had a spiritual component, because I wanted to reconnect. And by then my question was more, “[I wanted to find something to] take me further, let me go, give me, bring me to truth.” So that was really the driving force in my own story.
Rick: Would you consider yourself a seeker now or do you feel like that whole seeking energy has dropped off just as the God question dropped off?
Bonnie: [I don’t have] any interest in seeking but I keep staying open to possibilities. But I don’t, it’s not an attachment, it’s like I’m happy where I am. I want to be of more use to people that I work with, so, I still stick [with my work] as much as I can, but I’m not attached. I just want to stay open to what life wants to give me.
Rick: Do you still meditate or do some kind of spiritual practices?
Bonnie: Off and on, not with a consistency, there’s no drive, but I’ll feel like it and sit down and drop into that space. And I do Satsang too.
Rick: You do what?
Bonnie: Satsang in Ashland here.
Rick: It’s interesting, I had my 50th anniversary of learning to meditate this summer and I’ve done it very regularly ever since. And sometimes, I actually got a little flack when I announced that on Facebook because some people said, “Geez, you know, 50 years haven’t you sort of gotten it by now? You’re still seeking after all these years, like Paul Simon is ‘still crazy after all these years.’” But I don’t relate to it that way, it’s more like what you were just saying about an ongoing interest and fascination and exploration and adventure. There’s so much to learn and experience and it’s no longer driven by the sort of empty craving feeling that you may start out with, it’s more like feeling a great deal of fullness and contentment and yet no diminishment of enthusiasm and fascination with this whole field.
Bonnie: [I agree], I feel like it’s, I think of it as like a marinating in the truth, marinating in that deep stillness. And [to be open to it] and it’s like going, [it’s like someone told me,] I feel like it’s just going home. You know, Adya’s just doing a program right now, a three-month meditation program that I’m participating in. And one of the things he says if you’ve had an awakening, don’t just assume it’s done and [say,] “That’s it, I don’t need to do any more.” Keep sitting, keep meditating because [there’s an] unlimited potentiality that can arise. I don’t know if that’s the language he used, but that’s my interpretation, don’t stop, keep sitting, he recommends, and I think that’s really true. I always tell the people that come to me with their issues, see what’s next. Just let yourself, it helps you to embody it in that place more and more and you can drift away from it if you never take the time.
Rick: Yeah, I’m no expert on the Buddha’s life but I’m told that he practiced some kind of meditation all of his life, you know, some hours a day and yet he was already liberated.
Bonnie: Especially today I think we’re living in a really intense world. There’s [all kinds of] data being thrown at us all the time, most of it [is] geared to make us frightened or worried. There are crowds, there’s traffic, you know, we’re not living in a (healthy) environment for the most part. I think meditation gives you a center, it gives you a connection so that you can move much more from the hara, from the deepest point of connectedness in the world and that it’s very easy to get scared. There’s always something on the television or the radio or the driver next to you that’s wired, that’s throwing negative energy your way. It’s very important [for] people in an awakening process. Usually, your sensitivity becomes very heightened and sometimes it’s really important [in these stages] to avoid toxic input as much as you can, whether it be people that upset [you], going to big box stores or watching too much television. Some people can’t even read the newspaper today, because your sensitivity, all your senses are just very acute, at least for a while.
Rick: Yeah, for a while. I mean it depends on what you can handle. I went through a phase where I would just feel scatterbrained and drained if I went into a Walmart or something, now it doesn’t bother me. Yeah,
Bonnie: Usually. But it’s just important, too, I think the meditation gives you a home base, it helps you grow that stillness inside of yourself and that makes it more and more tolerable to be in environments that are static.
Rick: Yeah, I find it rejuvenating. I also find it interesting to challenge it in ways that aren’t deleterious, such as playing really intense sports or something like that and finding the juxtaposition of silence with that intensity is just fine. It’s not shaken by having pickleballs slammed at my head.
Bonnie: That’s great.
Rick: The term spiritual emergence, when I first heard that term, I thought it was sort of a play on the term emergency because you hear about people having emergencies with kundalini awakenings that they can’t handle. And I guess that’s part of what Stan Grof was trying to help people with. But I guess, and you can tell me in a second if there’s some synonymousness there, but emergence really means something like a chick emerging from an egg. Or it means a plant emerging from the ground, it means sort of a blossoming forth, and I guess that’s the sense in which that term is used in that phrase?
Bonnie: You could say consciousness [is] emerging, something in the energy [is] emerging, there’s a something new is emerging and changing the system. More often it’s equated with a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
Rick: There you go, that’s why you have that on your book cover, lots of little butterflies. Do you often deal with people? I think I’ve referred some people to you who were having a real hard time. And what percentage of the people you talk with are having a difficult time coping with the Kundalini awakening that they’re experiencing?
Bonnie: Oh gosh, well it depends on what you mean by a hard time. So, there’s a huge range. Most of the people I talk to, once they have a context and they begin to make friends with the energy, to make friends with what’s happening to them, they [look at it] in a more neutral way and let go of their fear. Then a lot of the issues stop. I mean they still have difficulties figuring out what to do about, oh their head is jerking a lot or various things are happening. But once they develop a cooperative relationship with the energy, [instead of saying] “I don’t want to have this happening, stop it.” Sometimes people go for a few days without sleeping and that’s going to make them look very psychotic and those are the ones that often end up hospitalized. The ones that end up hospitalized are usually, they’ve had the awakening on a psychedelic. They’ve gotten very, very wired, excited, maybe they were in India, (maybe they were) new, immature about it and they didn’t sleep for two or three days. Well, anybody who doesn’t sleep [for a couple days] is going to look psychotic. It doesn’t require a kundalini awakening, but they have an experience and there [are examples of] this in the book. One woman was a psychiatrist, she had a very dramatic experience with [a depression] after an opening that occurred during, I think during labor or related to birthing a baby. And her husband hospitalized her, because he was so alarmed by it. So, if that happens, it’s hard, because people have this little gnawing feeling, “something’s really seriously wrong with me” and they really [wonder], “but gee I had this ecstatic moment of total unity and what does that mean?”
Rick: Yeah, well, that kind of relates to what I was saying earlier about the importance of knowledge and experience. Without adequate knowledge of what’s happening, your head starts shaking or something, you think you’ve got a neurological disorder, which you may and you might need to get it checked out. But there are all kinds of phenomena like that that happen with kundalini awakenings that could be really disconcerting if you have no idea what it is, but which you take in stride with a shrug if you know that that’s what it is. It’s okay, fine, something good is happening, this is not dangerous, I’ll just kind of go with it.
Bonnie: You know, one of the things I’ve really tried to do with my book and I [am] not sure if it comes across, is show the general good health of most people who go into a spiritual awakening process. Most of the people I talked to have had successful lives at some level. They’ve either raised a family, [or they were] professionals in their field, I’ve talked to judges, psychiatrists, teachers, [medical] professionals, IT professionals, they’re people who are not people who have [mental] disorders or other kinds of problems before this happened to them. So, to look at what’s happening with a little bit of distance instead of being totally immersed in it the way that you might be if you’re more tenuous, they’re seeing these weird things and they’re saying, “What’s going on here? I don’t understand it. I don’t care about my work anymore. I’m having all this energy. I can’t sleep at night because my energy is revving up and running through me. I’m scared because I had this vision, I don’t know what it means.” So, they’re trying to understand it and they’re not unhealthy people. Once they get a context [about what is happening] to them and they can see some things they can do to ground the energy, or maybe they need to do less of some kind of practice they’re doing. They need to get a new context because somebody told them that they were crazy or that the devil was after them and they knew that couldn’t be so. So, they don’t have any context. But once they get that, then they can work with it. What I’m doing with people that I do assessments with is doing webinars, where I bring them together. They love it because many of them, I’ve had people in Norway and Switzerland and China, Taiwan and they’re all alone. They don’t know a single person they can talk to about this. If they do try to talk to people in their community, the people, at the very best, don’t understand what they’re talking about. They may be supportive because, “Oh, I really care about you. I’m sorry you’re going through this.” They have no way of helping them get any kind of understanding. So, they’re so happy to meet other people and see that these other people look just as normal as you and I. They’re just normal people. They’re interesting people. Then they start to feel more okay. “Okay, well, all right. I guess this is something important I need to understand better that’s happening to me.” Maybe when I was meditating and this was what I was [aiming for], I didn’t know it but this is the process. Once they understand that, things calm down greatly. Getting rid of fear is the most important thing anyone can do. Then there’s a lot of other things you can do. You can really trust the energy itself. To accept and trust it makes a huge difference. You can do activities to try to express some of that energy. That’s very helpful. There’s many things they can do. If you’re bothered, get some energy practices that open you up more. So, once they get a handle on, “There’s actually things I can do to get in a more cooperative relationship with the energies,” they feel a lot better. So, that doesn’t really take very long. It’s really just knowing.
Rick: Good, that’s an interesting point. I’m glad we keep coming back to that, the value of knowledge. There’s that saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I think that the more one can understand this whole process, without becoming obsessive about it, the better served one will be. But it’s an interesting point you just made about how most of the people who come to you are fairly accomplished people, professionals of some sort or something. You’re saying, I guess, that there seems to be a correlation between having one’s act together, having one’s life together, being a coherent, mature person with a well-developed sense of self or whatever, and having some kind of awakening. Is that what you’re saying?
Bonnie: Well, what I feel is anybody can have an awakening, but most of the ones who contact me, [their history] shows that they were pretty functional, very functional. An exception is young people, nineteen or twenty-year-olds. Often, it’s because of a psychedelic that they’ve had this opening, and they haven’t really yet developed their place in the world. They’re still [in that] other transitional phase of [“I’m not who] I’m going to be.” It’s a lot harder in a way for some of them, because then it’s… I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it’s good. You’ve probably seen that several of the Buddhist teachers have said that it’s much better to have a good ego before you go through this process than not to have it. If you’re kind of borderline or bipolar [before your awakening], it’s much harder to figure out how to cope with it because your way of functioning is more erratic. And so, you really need to take care of the underlying [psychological issues, you have to be mature, before you enter] the awakening process. And it’s a kind of a mix of learning, you know, what do I have to do to take care of myself so that I can deepen my awakening and live with more, deeper peace and presence in the world.
Rick: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. You take kind of a dim view of psychedelics, I think, in your book. At least that’s the feeling I got as I was reading that section. And yet these days there’s a lot of interest in it. People are micro-dosing and there’s popular books out. Michael Pollan, whom I hope to interview, has a book called Changing Your Mind, in which he compares the mind to a snow globe and he said, “You know, at a certain point in your life it’s good to just shake up the snow globe,” which is precisely why I would be very reticent to use anything like that, because I feel like I’d be playing Russian roulette with my brain. I think there’s been a certain amount of brain sculpting going on, to use another popular term, neuroplasticity, all these years, and why gamble with it? But for some people it seems to really precipitate an awakening, and yet as you say, taking the 60s as an example, if people go about it in any kind of a reckless way, or if they’re not mature and psychologically healthy, they can get into big trouble. And one more statement before I bounce it back to you, in spite of what I just said, psychedelics apparently are being used to help people suffering from PTSD and alcoholism and stuff like that. So, there’s some conflicting evidence in there, and since it’s been illegal, it’s been hard for adequate research to be to be done, but there’s certainly growing interest in it these days.
Bonnie: I think that it’s quite possible to have very expansive experiences on psychedelics. The difference is that once you take it, [once you use] that substance, it’s just going to do what it’s going to do. So, if you’re a very adventurous person, and you’re pretty stable, maybe it’s not a problem, but it’s a totally unpredictable ride. So [there are many] positive things and negative things about it. I’ve run into a number of people who [had] huge openings when they were young in the 60s. One friend of mine, he [was wandering] on the beach babbling and totally out of control and was hospitalized. And that whole experience stunned him so much that it was years before he was willing to go back to any kind of school. [He was] afraid of meditating and spiritual things, afraid it would throw him into that same place. [I’ve seen] a number of people that that’s happened to. Ram Dass is a case in point that he decided let go of the psychedelics and go to India and find some real teachers about this stuff. And that worked out well for him. It’s really a crapshoot. For some people it’s going to be helpful, and for others it’s not. There’s a new drug that seems to open up a part of [the psyche, that has a real] gut appeal, [that it seems] one can go into very beautiful connectedness, that people are experimenting [with].
Rick: Is that DMT or something?
Bonnie: Yeah, DMT. I’ve known people that have done that that are mature, that it seems to last about 15 minutes. It’s not like four or five [hours]. And the people I know that have used it are very mature people, very experienced. They’ve appreciated the boost. But I don’t know, generally, there’s no research on that kind of thing right now, and who knows whether it’s [got] a long-term impact on the brain that’s positive or negative. We won’t ever know until we are able to research such things.
Rick: I also wonder, although I’m in favor of marijuana being legalized, because I think it’s ridiculous that people are being put in jail for it, as I was a couple times back in the 60s. At the same time, I wonder what the long-term effect is going to be of its use. I know what the long-term effect on me would have been had I been doing it all these years. I would be a very different person, in a bad way, than I am now. But who knows, maybe it’ll be like it was for us, maybe it’ll be a stepping stone for some people.
Bonnie: [Some people think] marijuana is particularly good for people who are in a spiritual process. I’ve known a few who have had spiritual experiences while smoking marijuana, they meditate on it, who became quite distorted. [They had] a little more psychotic type [of] episodes or they [developed a lack of] discrimination. I cite one in my book, a man I met many years ago who had been [visiting Muktananada] and he would do practices looking at Muktananda’s pictures. [And then he was] on an airplane, and he decided he had to bless everybody. So, he’s walking up and down the aisles blessing everybody and of course, [he got told to, but] he wouldn’t sit down. He had other tendencies like that that got him in a lot of trouble. It’s like the brain, I don’t think the brain is going through changes in long-term meditation, it’s slowly evolving and opening up new brain centers. [If you] throw in a substance that creates images, allows you to have kind of a hallucinogenic effect, it’s like [you get all mixed up,] you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Your discrimination isn’t so good. I can’t speak from experience about marijuana because that isn’t part of my history, but I’ve certainly talked to a lot of people that use it and there’s some [who are] attached even though they’re waking up. The other thing a yogi once told me is that it leaves toxins in the body, stores in the fat cells and one of the things the kundalini is trying to do is release all your toxins. So, if you’re smoking pot regularly, you’re going to have probably (the) need to release energy, but then other people have told me it calms the energy down. [How] interesting it would be to do some really serious research.
Rick: I remember seeing some research that indicated that there’s some kind of chemical gunk deposited in the synapses between neurons, you know, if people smoke a lot of pot. But I don’t know, this whole topic is somewhat a matter of opinion, although I think it’s something that could be researched more. But I have friends in India who are of the opinion that ninety-nine percent of those Sadhus that sit around the Ganges smoking pot are just bums, you know, they’re just potheads, there’s nothing, no real serious significance to their realization.
Bonnie: (Have you read) Christina Grof’s book about [the something search for the self, or] something, she talks about her own addictions and how important it was for her to get off of alcohol and drugs, how much it messed up her spiritual process, her awakening process. I can’t remember the full title of the book, but it was by Christina Grof, if any of your listeners are interested.
Rick: Well, the body is the temple of the soul, and it’s the instrument through which anything is experienced and through which awakening is experienced. And so, I think what you and I have been talking about for two hours is there’s an importance to cultivating or culturing the vehicle so it’s better and better able to support this experience which we’re interested in. And by ‘experience’ I mean an abiding state, not just some flash in the pan. And drugs tend to be flashes in the pan by definition, you go up, you come down. So, it’s just something to be approached, if one is going to approach it at all, with tremendous caution and respect. I had this realization when I was 18 on LSD one time, and it was the last time I ever took drugs. I was sitting there reading a Zen book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, three in the morning, and it just kind of struck me. I thought, “Wow, these guys are really serious and I’m just screwing around. And if I keep on like this, I’m going to live a miserable life, and what’s more I’m stuck in this body and if I damage this body I’m going to be stuck in a damaged body.” I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it as clearly at that point, but that was the essential realization. I thought, “That’s it, I’m going to stop taking drugs, learn to meditate and see what happens,” and I’m grateful that I did. So, I’m open-minded, I want to interview Michael Pollan and some other people on that topic. I’ve done so before, but I’m just very, very cautious and reticent on the topic, because I’ve seen so much damage, you know, so many problems.
Bonnie: Yeah, I agree, I feel the same way. I’m not opposed to it, but I think it can go in any direction and you’re really taking a gamble. It might be worthwhile for you, but if you really want a functional, stable life with deep inner peace, if you’re drawn (to that) rather than drama, you might want to do meditation instead.
Rick: Yeah, I think another thing is, you know, whatever drugs do to our brain chemistry to enable us to have certain experiences, I think most researchers would say we have the capability of producing those chemicals or those brain states without any substances. There are subjective methodologies, such as meditation and other spiritual practices, which can elicit those things, but will do so in a more safe way when the time is right, when you’ve actually built up the degree of purity or clarity that would naturally support such an experience. But like you said earlier, I mean someone, young person, no spiritual background or anything else, they can pop anything in their mouth and it might elicit all sorts of changes in the brain, but are they really prepared for that? All the deep conditionings and impressions and impurities and everything else that may be in the system, they’re still going to be there and you may stir up a hornet’s nest if you just embark on such a thing without the kind of preparation that serious spiritual traditions usually advocate.
Bonnie: It’s a slow transformative process with meditation or breath practices and yoga. It’s a slow evolving and changing of the brain. With a drug it’s sudden and you just have no predictability about what’s going to get changed or how you are going to feel afterwards or [even if] it’s going to fall away. It’s going to get added like these visions and things that are going to be more of a nuisance than a benefit.
Rick: And also, I mean, how are you going to stabilize it? That was one of the complaints of Ram Dass and others. Well, you always come down and are you going to take LSD all your life in order to stabilize the state of realization? I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s going to have that effect, so you have to think long term, what is really going to serve me over the course of my entire life.
Bonnie: That’s what it was, yeah, I agree.
Rick: Well, I don’t know if we want to end on this note, we’ve been talking about all kinds of things and here now we’ve been talking about drugs for the last 10-15 minutes. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you want to be sure to mention before we wrap it up?
Bonnie: Well, I would say that in my book I offer a lot of solutions, potential for various phenomena that arise. But generally, I just want to say that there’s certain cornerstones that really help us [with awakening]: meditation, working directly, being friendly and curious instead of being afraid, meeting and clearing up your old psychological stuff, trusting [that] this is a process that wants to bring you to a new level, [it can give you more] inner peace, much more clarity, it’s not out to harm you in any way, using creative expression to express some of it, take good care of your body and to be authentic. And those are the cornerstones that I’ve been using in looking at what does somebody really need. And if anybody listening is a therapist or a yoga teacher, meditation teacher, those are the things that people need [in order to come] to a more balanced and harmonious place with their energy. So, I just want to make sure people know that [my mission] in life is to get that information out there.
Rick: Those are pretty useful prescriptions for life, anybody’s life, you know, spiritual aspirant or not.
Bonnie: That’s true.
Rick: A question just came in from a listener in Austin, Texas, I might as well ask this. It’s Kate from Austin, I just said Austin. She said, “I had a drastic change of personality, much more open and relaxed. I would shake and lie still for hours in a night or day, didn’t need to speak for days at a time, felt lovely. However, a lot of sexual energy which was fairly alarming and I still have to swim, she’s not using punctuation here, and I still have to swim a mile and do yoga once a day. What’s all that bit about?
Bonnie: Energy comes up from the base, it [can] get stuck in any of the chakra areas or it can over-activate any of them, so sometimes it just gets stuck in the sexual area, in the second chakra, and it can be very [uncomfortable.] Sometimes when it’s in the heart, [it gets] really active, you can feel a difficulty with your heart, with your chest, beating too hard or trouble breathing, some [people] have these funny neck movements. What I usually tell people is, there’s two possibilities, learn the bij mantras, b-i-j mantras, those are tones to activate each of the chakras and you can use them to move energy from one chakra to another. You can find people doing those a couple of places on the YouTube. There are classical yoga sounds for each chakra. OM is the one [people are most] familiar with. OM, there are lam, vam, ram, yam, ham, OM, those are all listed in my book. The other thing is on my website, my kundaliniguide.com website, there’s a meditation for harmonizing chakras that I put on there that I felt would be useful to help people learn that through attention you can move energy to different areas. So that coming into a relationship with your own energy, it’s your own life force, it’s your own energy. But you can get in [contact with this energy,] you can learn to, when it’s too much in one area, to bring it [to a different] area of the system. And so, [that meditation on] my website was designed for it. Some people have said it was helpful so I would suggest that. The other thing is if this person is doing, they need to look at their life and see if they’re doing anything that’s overcharging them. It’s good to be a detective, like when I have too much sexual energy what was I doing that day? Or when I’m awake all night with too much energy, [what was I doing, where was I,] who was I talking to, [was I] worried about something, what was going on? So that you can learn to adjust your day to the things that feel more balanced and harmonious. And you can recognize that, because [you can] think of the energy as it’s [trying to release] stress from your body. It’s trying to release everything, it’s trying to make you very open. So, the more you’ve got in there that’s stressful or anxious or [if] you’re preoccupied with something, the more it’s going to need to work that out and it usually chooses it to do it. So that’s what comes to mind anyway, right off the top. Usually, I do consultations where I send people a questionnaire so that I can get background information. [It makes a difference for] the guidance I offer if I know someone’s history. I’m always looking for correlations between certain behaviors or beliefs or history and the kind of phenomena that they’re struggling with. So, yeah, they can get insights. There’s a contact on kundaliniguide.com or awakeningguide.com and then I’ll send them the questionnaire and other information about the assessment. That’s the best way.
Rick: I’ll link to those things from your page on Batgap. Also, I think it sounds good that she swims a mile a day and does yoga. That’s great. I’m a big advocate of physical activity. A lot of times spiritual types sit around on their butts too much. In fact, I was just talking to a friend the other day here in Fairfield where you know thousands of people have been meditating for years. He saw a bunch of people recently that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He was shocked at how old they looked and he happens to be a tennis instructor and I see him up at the gym all the time because I go up there and we both thought that the problem is inactivity. These people sit around too much, their diet might be inadequate you know and they don’t get enough sun and you know it ages you. So, it’s again coming back to this theme of the body is the vehicle, you have to take care of it and balance in all things.
Bonnie: I agree. So, it’s very good to do something physical to keep your body healthy and as open as possible.
Rick: Okay great, well I guess that’s a pretty good wrap-up point. Thank you, Kate for that question that enabled us to sort of end it on that interesting practical note and I presume those who have been listening understand that you can get in touch with Bonnie if you feel that what she has to offer might be useful to you and I think just about everybody at some stage of their spiritual practice might find it useful. But in any case, there are her books and I have read two of them now, one for each of the interviews I’ve done and I’ll be listing them all on batgap.com, linking to them so people can check them out if they like. I found them very, in fact this one, there’s this guy named Rick Archer who said “you’ll find this one of the more useful and memorable spiritual books you’ve ever read.” My little blurb on the back. I like practical advice and I like people who, I like it when people don’t have a one-size fits all attitude. They realize that there are so many varieties to spiritual experience and everybody’s just not going to fit into the same mold and different people are going to need different bits of advice or practices or remedies or therapies or whatever in order to deal with whatever they’re going through. I think that’s the reality of the situation. Okay great, so let me just make a wrap-up point or two. You’ve been listening to an interview with Bonnie Greenwell and this is my second interview with her and if you enjoyed this one you might want to go back and listen to the first one as well. I’ll interlink them on BatGap and obviously, I continue to do these. If you like to be notified of new ones go to batgap.com and sign up for it to be notified by email or you could subscribe to the YouTube channel. It also exists as an audio podcast for those who like to listen while driving and stuff. Next week I’m going to the SAND conference. Are you going there Bonnie?
Bonnie: No, I won’t be there this year.
Rick: Okay, well I’m going out and I’ll be doing a bunch of interviews there and a panel discussion and whatnot and I’ll be putting them all up on BatGap, so they’ll be the usual post SAND flood of material when I get back. So, thanks a lot for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one. Thanks Bonnie.
Bonnie: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.