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Christian Prayer and Kundalini: A Visit with Philip St. Romain
After years devoted to the Christian life of prayer Philip St. Romain experienced an unanticipated awakening of an energy that in ancient India was called Kundalini or serpent power, and which played an important role in Hindu mystical experience. He unwittingly became a laboratory in which Christian spirituality meets the wisdom of the East. This is a detailed account of both his Christian life and his Kundalini awakening.
At the time of this interview Philip was the associate director for lay leadership and development at the Spiritual Life Center, Wichita, Kansas where he helped direct a wide variety of programs, as well as gave retreats and workshops.
Format: Straight interview with some introductory shots of Philip at home, and later at the Spiritual Life Center.
For another video on kundalini, see Philip's Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality.
For information on how to buy the latest edition of Philip St. Romains book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality, go to http://shalomplace.com/books/kundalini.html
How to Order
A Complete List of Books, DVDs and CDs
More about Philip St. Romain
Philip St. Romain, M.S., D.Min., is the author of 17 books on prayer and spirituality, including such titles as Praying the Daily Gospels (Liguori Publ., 1995), The "Logic" of Happiness (Triumph Books, 1995) and Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (Crossroads Publ., 1991). Currently, he is director of Contemplative Ministries, Inc., working closely with Heartland Center for Spirituality and with The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning, Inc. He conducts retreats and workshops around the country, and on the internet, as well.
Philip is married to Lisa Bellecci-st. romain, with whom he co-authored Living Together, Loving Together: A Spiritual Guide to Marriage. They live in Wichita, KS, and are the parents of three children.
Philip St. Romain's Christian Spirituality Resources
Visit Philip's Internet Ministry web site: http://shalomplace.com/, which includes biographical information, a complete listing of his books, and a bookstore with titles on Christian spirituality (through Amazon.com). A variety of essays and reflections are also available for downloading.
He is founder and editor of a free daily e-mail newsletter A Daily Spiritual Seed at http://shalomplace.com/seed/ which features a quote from a mystic and other helpful information on Christian spirituality. Daily Seed reaches hundreds of subscribers daily.
Philip is a resource to the staff at Heartland Center for Spirituality, and the coordinator of their website, http://www.heartlandspirituality.org/
Philip has also served as webmaster for the Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning, Inc. (http://www.brightspot.org) This internationally renowned center provides alternative (traditional ) medicine for its patients, and does cutting-edge research on curing cancer.
More on Philip's book
For information on how to buy the latest edition of Philip St. Romains book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality, go to http://shalomplace.com/books/kundalini.html
How to Order
A Complete List of Books, DVDs and CDs
Jim: Hi. Im Jim Arraj, and today we are going to visit Philip St. Romain. We visited him at his home in Wichita, KS, where he lives with his wife, Lisa, and their three children, and spent time with him at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita where he works. After years devoted to the Christian life of prayer, Philip experienced an unanticipated awakening of an inner energy that in ancient India was called kundalini, and which played an important role in Hindu religious experience. Philip spoke to us first about his Christian journey.
Philip: I grew up in a small Cajun town in south central Louisiana called Mansura. It was 99% Catholic. I went to a Catholic school the first eight years of my life, and then went to a public school. I graduated from high school in 68, and then went off to college at Southwestern Louisiana University. There was nothing, looking back at those years, that even now stands out as being predictive of things to come in later years, and if I were doing a biography of the person who lived then, it was a person of pretty normal upbringing, who did sports and hunting and fishing. In fact, I probably chose my college career on the basis of that love for hunting and fishing and being out of doors. I chose a major in wildlife management with the hope of being a wildlife biologist in some kind of beautiful reserve in the mountains, perhaps, or in the marshes, perhaps in some kind of wild country. This was the late 60s and so ecology was an in thing then, and it looked like there would be some kind of a future. There was money in government being allocated for ecological research, and I was interested in all that, but I was interested in having a job out of doors and being outdoors. I did enjoy my college career very much, and ended up getting a bachelors at the University of Southwest Louisiana, then a got a masters degree there, and then went on to Louisiana State University where I completed all the work on a Ph.D. in biology except for the dissertation, so I never got the doctorate. I became somewhat of a naturalist on ethnology, mammology, herbatology. I took everything in all of those fields. I took everything, enjoyed everything, taught everything, leading research parties all around the United States and Mexico collecting. I just really loved it. All through this time I was what you might call a faithful church-going Catholic. All through my college career I would go to Mass on Sunday. I never quit believing what the Church taught, but it certainly wasnt something I had in my mind very often. I had a good moral conscience, but it just wasnt there for me. It wasnt informing my daily life in any way. It wasnt a living reality. I went to Church, and so just because I had a nice, quiet feeling there and would have felt too guilty to not go in those days, but I can see now that those years in college did raise some very deep questions for me just about God and creation, and how it all worked. Most of my teachers were evolutionists, and if they were not atheists, agnostics, and they all tended to look at Christians as somewhat fundamentalists, and to them the issue of the 6-day account of creation vs. the one of evolution was one that was constantly on the table, one which I had never really had much of a problem with as a Catholic, but I guess just the whole negative attitude about all things religious was there in the academia, especially in the physical sciences, and it had undermined considerably my intellectual convictions about the faith which I had picked up through the years but had never really reflected on much.
Thats where I was in the fall of 1973, just beginning to work on my masters degree in biology, and still a church-going person, and beginning to wonder how these things could all somehow fit together, if they could. To back up a little, in the spring of 73, as a result of a field trip in Mexico, I picked up a disease called tularemia, rabbit fever, and spent some time in the hospital with pneumonia, and probably came close to dying. I remember at that time thinking it might be odd to die. It was a curious kind of a feeling. Not something I was afraid of, but neither was it something that I was looking forward to. Dying was just like falling asleep, and maybe waking up somewhere else, and maybe you dont. But my dad had made a Cursillo retreat and had come back very much alive in his faith, and I had a couple of friends who had also gone to Cursillo, so while I was in the hospital I thought maybe it was time I did something about that. Obviously I dont disbelieve, but neither did I strongly believe. Maybe I should take some time and see just where I am with that. And so after healing up a bit from that illness and being in pretty much full steam by the fall, I decided to go on the Cursillo. Looking back at the Cursillo, I would say there was nothing I heard there that was great shakes, in fact some of the theology that was presented I would probably object to, some of the tactics like keeping us up for long hours, and hearing long talks some of that I would disapprove of but all I can tell you is that it worked on me at that time in my life. I didnt come out with any answers to my intellectual questions, in fact, I came out with more questions than ever, but I did come out with a real sense of Gods love for me, being alive inside of me, a kind of a heart-level awakening. I remember walking around the campus after that and saying to myself, "If you never have another day like this, please remember for the rest of your life that God is real, and God is loving, and if you never know this again, but this is what it is like after death, by God it is worth waiting for." It was so beautiful. It was like everything was colored with this joy and this peace and this love, and there was something about this experience that revealed how it had always been there in some way. In feeling that way that fall, I got in touch with all the other times in my life when I had felt that way, and there were times of being close in the family, helping with the dishes, milking the cows, just walking outside on a clear fall day, and saw that they were all experiences of God that I had known, but never had been able to name, and Cursillo kind of helped me identify that this was God. It was so alive for me, and I had a small group of friends at Southwestern Louisiana who had gone through Cursillo, or who had had similar types of retreats, and we hung out together, and we prayed together, and had a community together that kept this alive. It was just a blessed awakening, a time of real heart-type emotional awakening. One of my friends was very involved in charismatic renewal, and I didnt know a thing about that. When we would be in Church sometimes, praying we would generally pray the rosary after that he would act as if it was all right if he would pray in tongues. I had no idea what he was talking about when he first mentioned that, and so I said, "Thats fine with me," and so we were praying a while, and then he began to pray in tongues out loud, and it was very strange-sounding what he was doing, but on the other hand, I knew this guy. He was an all right guy, and so I began to learn about charismatic renewal from him, and what this was all about. This was how he followed up his Cursillo retreat, in an involvement in the charismatic renewal. He played guitar for a prayer group, and I also played guitar, so I thought maybe I could at least go and pray guitar there, and wouldnt have to be involved. Many times in ministry I have used the guitar that way, something to stand behind instead of project to. So I went, and this was still in the fall of 73, shortly after the Cursillo, while I was still on the top of Mt. Tabor, enjoying all those beautiful vibrations from that retreat experience. So I went to a prayer meeting in the fall of 73, and a very gifted and anointed preacher named Richard Shaffery was a prayer leader in a little church in Abbeyville, Louisiana, and he had such a powerful teaching about the reality of Gods presence in our lives, the reality of the gift of the Spirit, and I listened and I believed, but I really could not identify with the kind of praise that people were doing. I remember kind of standing back during my first few prayer services, and saying, "Well, this "Praise, Jesus" stuff theyre doing, this "Praise, God," Gods all right. God doesnt need all that. "Thank you, Lord." Why do they go on and on with this stuff? But I kept playing the guitar. I enjoyed that, and I enjoyed being with my friend there, but Shaffrey had a gift of laying hands on people, too, and when he did that, they would seem to fall on the floor and they would be what they call now, "resting in the Spirit." I remember one time we were sitting in pews, and he would come behind the pew and lay hands on you, and if you didnt want it, he wouldnt. You could request a healing session or something, and he would bend down and listen. He asked me if I wanted anything, and I said, "No, not really." Then he asked if he could lay hands on me, and I said, "Fine with me." He said, "Dont be uptight." And nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. I didnt fall on the floor. I did feel my heart slowing down, but theres this guy next to me, just conked out on the seat. As I say, I thought it odd. Nevertheless, some kind of seed was planted that night. I continued to wonder what the baptism of the Spirit was like, and I continued to wonder if something like that had begun with Cursillo. I continued to pray with my friends, and then shortly before Christmas of 73 while praying with them one evening, I really felt like I was beginning to get choked up inside, a deep kind of feeling was stirring. They sensed it, and they asked if they could lay hands on me and pray with me to help whatever was happening to happen, and so they did. I didnt know what I was supposed to do to pray in tongues or anything like that. I thought maybe you became possessed by some kind of spirit and lost all control of your verbal abilities, that you were possessed by God, and they said, "No, no, thats not it. Just focus your mind on God and let your mouth give praise to God in whatever way." And I began to do that, and it was as though my tongue became loosened in a way. I was beginning to utter syllables and sounds that didnt make a bit of sense to me, but which had the function of opening up something inside, some really deep reservoir of surrender was opened up. I felt my whole insides relaxing and just really being given to God in this way of prayer. I guess right now I would have to say that the best thing that ever happened to me in my life was that, the baptism of the Spirit, because it has given me a way of prayer that is responsible for everything that has happened spiritually since as a way of continuing to really surrender in a way that I dont understand, but that is in a way nevertheless real. I could give it a little interpretation and say that a lot of these symbols, syllables and things, are ways of activating the chakras, the energy centers. The Hindus have these sounds they use and they meditate on to activate the chakras. I think that as one prays in tongues and just runs these sounds that the chakras are being massaged, or activated, or something. The whole person is being awakened by that.
So a new kind of prayer happened. I had a big love relationship that developed about that time, and I was really, really in love and on fire for Jesus, and it stayed like that. I was on this tremendous high for about a year at least. Meanwhile I was also doing a lot of reading. I was feeding my mind. I had a real appetite to go through adult education classes on the Catholic faith, learned more about the Bible, how the Bible came to be written. Very basic stuff that I needed to have again. I had all the answers. The Baltimore Catechism training I had had was all there for me, and very helpful. Who made you? God. What is the purpose of life? To love and serve God. Now I started to reflect more on those old answers, and they made more sense. But I was very hungry to learn more about the faith. So I was this intellectual searching and struggling, especially religion and science issues. I was still dealing with a lot of that. In my Bible study, learning the various criticisms helped to understand that the Bible is not a scientific book, that science had its place in the search for truth. It could overstep its bounds into the realm of religion. I began to make some helpful distinctions there.
The bubble began to be burst somewhere in 74 when I left Southwestern Louisiana and came to Louisiana State, and was living with one of my old Christian friends. That romantic relationship in Lafayette began to kind of start to fade. Those long-term relationships dont always work out so well, and this one wasnt. It was a strange new place and I was growing increasingly disenchanted in biology and making a career in that. Nevertheless I continued to go to school, to teach classes. I didnt know what else to do, but I figured I would continue with that for a while. I thought about joining the priesthood, but I felt very called to minister and give my life to God, but I wasnt sure if the priesthood was the right way. But I gave it a lot of thought in that time anyway. By the spring of 75 that romantic relationship had pretty much ended, and with it my disenchantment with my career seemed to come to a head, as well. I couldnt see myself doing that for the rest of my life. Even being in a nice reserve in the mountains, and being a naturalist out there just didnt attract me. That dream was dying, and close to dead by the spring of 75. Plus, I dont know if it was connected with that, but I had some really deep depressions that were beginning to set in that I couldnt always put a name on. Some of them were related to the lost relationship, some of them were related to the dying of the dream, and some of them just seemed to come from nowhere, plus I had anxieties and fears.
By May of 75 I was a first-class neurotic. I was doing the bare minimum. I was getting up, getting myself to work, teaching my class, coming back, spending more time in prayer, too. Prayer was the only place where I could just feel at peace and it was OK just to be. I didnt have to do anything or make any plans. I could just be with God. I had already begun to experience I dont know if you want to call it contemplation but I think it is very much like that. A just being with God in silence, God with me in silence. I would read a Scripture, I would think it about it a bit, and then I would just sit there quietly. The prayer of tongues came and went. It emerged spontaneously, and I allowed it to be, and it would clean something out. But it always seemed like when it healed something it would raise something deeper, and I couldnt always put a name to it. It was sometimes just general anxiety, fear. I had a real bad case of the angst, the existential dread. Except when I was in prayer. So I spent some time in prayer, and otherwise I was scared. I didnt know what I was scared of. Nothing was dangerous. So I had some deep emotional things coming up. Looking back now I would say I was dealing with what we call adult child issues, maybe some family of origin issues, I dont know. Like I said, there were no memories associated with it. They were just deep down feelings. So I spent a lot of 1975 the summer, the fall reading, and reading and reading. I read Jung. I read Maslow. I read philosophers of different kinds. I read theologians. I did a lot of writing in my journal. The real focusing question was what is the nature of this relationship between the person and God? I was beginning to feel in myself like there was no place that separated us, and yet there was the fear, and there was the fact of my willfulness that was still there, and sinfulness, and yet I was beginning to feel like maybe I had gotten myself into something that was way, way over my head with all of this prayer, and praying in tongues, and whatnot. Maybe I wasnt even in control of anything. Maybe it might not come out so well, either. Maybe I could go crazy with all of this. I stayed in that place from the spring of 75 until at least the summer of 76, at which time I was already dating my wife-to-be Lisa, but I still had that going on really badly. And it slowly began to lift by the spring of 76, and by the summer of 76 it had almost all together gone completely. The angst was not an ever-present reality. I wasnt walking around scared. While I had all this going on I was still doing my job and fulfilling my duties, and plugging away at my career and doing dissertation research, but I wasnt what you might call ambitious for that. I would just do what had to be done, go home, read, read, read, think, think, think, pray, pray, pray, take long walks next to the Mississippi River, and talk with the few friends that I had about it. Some of them were going through the same thing, so they werent much help at all. We would just kind of cry on each others shoulders about all of that.
But it began to lift by the summer of 76. I didnt have the old dreams, and I was still pretty much me, Phil. There was a sort of a continuity in my emotional memory. I was in touch with the person I always had been, but inside of me was where the big change was. That black hole where that fear seemed to be coming from, and the depression and a lot of things were coming from seemed to be closed for some reason. It wasnt a black hole anymore. It was a place where God and I were one. By that summer the situation was kind of like I felt God and I were one inside, so there was a union inside, and yet at the level of intellectual or conscious awareness I could be aware of that union. It was like an unconscious union that I was conscious of, but at the level of consciousness I was still very much the possibility and the fact of willfulness, desire and so forth, I now call that the spirit-centered ego, meaning that at the level of consciousness there was still a self-concept that I was working out of, but it was a Christian self-concept. I saw myself as a different person, and going through what I call a kind of a dark night experience from late fall 74, 75, 76, a dark night where self-concept changed and a surrender on an unconscious level was really, really happening there. So I had a Christian self-concept. I knew myself in terms of Christ as a Christian person, Christian goals, Christian self-judgment, Christian identification, wanting to be a minister, all of how I understood myself. I was feeling very strong inside myself, feeling inside of myself a real love that I just wanted to share with everybody. That was what was moving me to ministry. How can I give this away? What can I do to help people come to know what this is. So I got involved in retreat work. I felt that the best thing I could do was to lead others to that kind of experience, too, and let them take it into whatever realm of life they wanted to. I felt that was better than going out and, say, serving the poor, or doing something that didnt deal directly with conversion. For me ministry was about leading people to conversion, and then supporting them in the ongoing conversion process. In 75 when I was going through this dark night I remember feeling just the opposite: the last thing I wanted to do was to help other people become Christian because they would end up as miserable as I was, and the only reason I was miserable was because of Jesus. He was the One who was making me sick. And I remember just really identifying with Job and the others and thinking, "Lord, you just make me so sick." Then identifying with Teresa of Avila who talked about how sick Jesus made her at times, or she said, "Lord, why dont you have more friends?" And He said, "Those who are my friends I reprove and chastise." And she said, "Well, no wonder you dont have many friends." I could really identify with that. But then when I came out of it, I said this was good. This was a good thing I went through. I am not caught up in the world any more. I am not part of that world system. I am not influenced by that. I was really free. And so I did get involved in ministry. I was Campus Minister. I did retreats, some counseling, I began to make 8-day retreats as a sort of a yearly practice, if possible. We had small children by 78, so I was in a pretty good place after I came out of that dark night experience. Ministering, loving it, having a family, and still loving to read, growing very much in my mind. It looked very good. There was still speaking in tongues, and I was very faithful to morning prayer. My practice in those days was to get up early in the morning before anything else happened, quiet myself with a little walk outside, read a Scripture and think about it a bit, and then just be with God in quiet, and the quiet was deepened sometimes by the praying in tongues, and sometimes that didnt happen. But then feeling all the rest of the day like I was right with God. Inside of me there was real strength, a quiet kind of peace and joy that was always there. And when I missed that morning prayer, feeling really out of sorts, even nauseated at times as though my stomach was not relaxed. I figured I had some kind of addiction to prayer, but I was all right with that a positive addiction. So that was the way things were with prayer for years.
In 1980 I left Campus Ministry. Our ministry situation at LSU changed. The Bishop ordered some people out, and some new people came in, and eventually we all got swept out. I got into the field of substance abuse counseling, mainly because I needed a job, and a friend of mine offered me a job with the state of Louisiana in substance abuse counseling. I was doing some writing then and thought I would be able to minister more through my writing, but substance abuse counseling seemed to be a good way to do things. It is the one kind of counseling that really makes use of spirituality to help people recover from addiction. I was able to get out and do a lot of talks before the public. It was a job, but it still gave me some outlet for this incredible desire that I had to bring people onto the spiritual journey in some way. Drugs were a problem. When you are working for the State you cant lead people to Christ, but you can take them right to the door by talking about spirituality. That was OK. Just so you didnt get specific with church or something. During that time in working for the State in 1980-85 a lot of our training was very good for me. I had experienced some healing from some emotional things during that dark night experience, but in our training we went through a lot of group therapy, and I found myself on the hot seat quite a few times with some of the groups I was in, getting confronted about some of my attitudes and how I communicated, and how I came across, and learning a lot about myself. This was something I had not experienced in Church, that deepening of interpersonal relationships that comes from a total emotional honesty. I was very attracted to that, and 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon and interpersonal relationships that come from a total emotional honesty. I was very attracted to the genuine community that seems to come out of that. I really grew from that and began to see how some of my relationships were, in fact, hurting because of some of my ways of communicating, and how even though I was very much a minister and very much wanting to serve God in my life, well, sometimes I really wasnt very patient with people, or accepting them where they were, willing to let them have their journey, discovered some controlling things about myself. There were some things there that I probably never have become aware of in campus ministry because I was able to isolate from that kind of emotional honesty. So it was a hard time. There was some stripping that was going on, not on an unconscious level, it was more conscious attitudes and relational patterns. The ego, I guess you would say, was taking a beating from some of that. So I worked with the State from 80 to 85 and did that kind of growing, and during those years I was finally successful in getting some books published, the first one On Becoming a New Person, on using the 12 steps as a conversion process to the Christian journey; Catholic Answers to Fundamentalist Questions which met a need. It was a book that came out at the right time and just began to sell and sell and sell. Praying the Daily Gospels which uses the daily Gospel reading at Mass as a daily reflection. Those three books came out in 84 and were doing well. Then I began to think, well, working with the State has been good, but this program is getting its budget cut every year, and our hands were being tied more and more. It wasnt as satisfying an outlet for ministry. Why dont I just go out on my own, do retreats around the country, and counsel part-time with a treatment center, continue to write books. So I played around with that idea for a year. My wife was working, our children were in school. So I figured, all right, lets do a mid-life thing. I knew enough about mid-life, and the psychologies that go with that to say, "On my 35th birthday I will start this new career." (laughs) So I resigned from the State early enough to make all the transitions, and on Sept. 30th, 1985 I was on my own. I operated a little organization I set up called Personal Growth Services. I didnt have much business, but I figured it would take a year or two to get it going. I had my retirement money from the State refunded, had royalties coming in regularly, the books looked like they would be steady, I had more books I was writing and the publishers were interested. I put out some brochures and sent them out to retreat centers and started to wait for a response that I was certain would come. Well, it didnt come. (laughs) Or else they would schedule me for two years down the road because they were booked that year. So, OK. I would offer some workshops in this area, and surely people would come. And they didnt. I would barely break even. I would barely make publicity costs. Nevertheless I hung in there with it and continued. I could always to counseling, and I did a lot of free-lance counseling. We lived like that for five years. We discovered almost right away after I went into business for myself that we were pregnant again, and that meant that my wife would have to stop working full-time, and maybe not work at all for a year or so, or at least very much part-time, and it was going to be difficult to have a nice, quiet house to concentrate and do some writing. So that was a little tension that was introduced about that time. And it was around that time that what I now call an awakening of kundalini began to happen. Shortly after that break with the State in October of 85
Well, first let me back up and say that in order to make that final leap I made an 8-day retreat in the summer of 85 and there experienced in that retreat another bout with fear that I had not anticipated. I had been pretty much relieved of deep down fears except for occasional episodes. Since 75, 76 I had not had much problem with fear or anxiety, and I went to this retreat to discern should I get out of this job, or should I stay in. I was going to use Ignatian principles and go through this process and all that stuff with the director. It was almost as if the Lord wasnt interested in the least bit with that. Every time I tried to bring the focus into Option A vs. Option B, and to see what my levels of detachment were, the issue turned out to be fear and trust. Almost as if the Lord was saying, "I dont care what you do. You can do it if you want, and if you dont, thats all right. What I would really like to talk to you about, Phil, is trust, control, things like that." I remember shaking so badly in bed one night in that retreat. I remember laughing to myself, and saying, look how scared I am, and I dont know what I am afraid of. Why am I so afraid? There was all this fear, and yet there was a serenity, too, like this was necessary. Just sit with this and sit in it. So I would go and sit before the Blessed Sacrament and just have that serenity and be in Gods presence, and still have all this fear. I said it was just fear about getting into this new life. Will my family make it or not? Will we be able to do it? It could have been about that, but I think it was just fear, fear that is there because of some alienation we have from God within, and that was being surrendered and transformed in this retreat. But after this retreat was over and getting into this new time in life, I said, well, I am going to follow up this retreat by taking up a regular time of prayer, longer than I had been used to. My custom was to take about 30 minutes, so I said I would extend it for a hour, which was no problem. I had the time. On the retreat I was spending 5 to 6 hours a day in quiet prayer, and I didnt see where one a day would be all that different. And it wasnt a problem. I enjoyed the time. I had for years been able to just sit in quiet in Gods presence, feeling a sense of inner communion with God, but after a few months of that something began to happen that was totally unanticipated, that in the resting in the quiet, by December of 85 and certainly by the spring of 86 there would come a time in sitting in the quiet when my breath would seem to stop completely. My breathing would become very shallow. The ability to be present to God as Other seemed to break down. It seemed like everything would stop: thinking, breathing, moving, with the eyes closed, everything would come to a complete total stop.
Jim: Phil is the Associate Director for Lay Leadership and Development for the Spiritual Life Center, one of the newest and most carefully planned retreat centers in the country. Here he helps direct a wide variety of programs, as well as give retreats and workshops, and in this modern setting Philip told us how he encountered the ancient serpent power, or kundalini, of India.
Phil: It looked like everything would stop, everything except the awareness that I was. Thats all. The awareness that in this moment I am. Thats all that there was. Just that. And in my journal I called that Point Zero, picking up a phrase from D.T. Suzuki whom I had read, his correspondence with Merton and so forth. It is probably not what Suzuki meant when he used Point Zero. He uses zero = infinity. But I felt I was collapsing in some way into the now, that there was no movement, and so I was coming fully into the now. There was nothing there but me. So naturally I wondered where God might be. (laughs) Where was God in this process? I was very accustomed to having a sense of Gods presence within, a God to whom I prayed. Where was God when I collapsed into the now? It didnt feel like I was running away from God. It was very peaceful. That would happen on occasion, and then through the spring of 86 it would happen more and more. It would happen almost every time. Shortly into the time of prayer I would have the shortening of breath, the breath stoppage, and then with the eyes closed I began to see a yellowish kind of light. The visual background would move from black to yellow, and in simply observing this light it was a very beautiful kind of light that was appearing. There was the ability to watch it without thinking about it. The light seemed to be training attention to a way of being without thinking. There was very little breathing and there was this light, and it felt like I was somehow lost in that, like I was just watching this light. I could draw back from it, but it was like I was one with it. In watching it it deepened that kind of experience of disappearing into the now that was happening.
I was of course wondering what that all meant, too. There was an intellectual kind of awareness that could be awake even in that Point Zero experience that would say, well, I wonder what this all means. Nevertheless, here I am. And that was a curious thing to me, too, because I began to wonder just how in the world are we put together? This intellectual part of me that is capable of watching everything, and even that part that is capable of jumping into the surrender process at times, and so I began to write more and more about that in my journal and pay close attention to how this was effecting me outside of prayer. The effect seemed to be very good. I was becoming more light-hearted, I was becoming more peaceful, more patient, much more able to be here now outside of prayer, much less preoccupied, much less wondering about the future and how I ought to be preparing myself for it like I was constantly doing before, always caught up a lot in the future. So I guess I began to expect this Point Zero experience to be a part of my prayer, and it began to be part of my prayer every day.
The light coloration began to form circles that I called mandalas, round. I didnt know what they were. I thought that they probably had something to do with the way the brain was perceiving the change in energy inside of me, and thats not a bad insight to this day. I began to realize its not the physical eyes that see, its the brain that sees that even the physical eyes take information into the brain where it is decoded and the brain sees out of the visual center. I was seeing this change of energy that was happening as a result of the change in the breathing and just resting fully in the now. I talked it over with some friends who were trained in spiritual direction, and told them about it, and one of the said, "Thats OK. You are just resting in the center." Whatever that meant. I asked him if he might point me towards some literature on that, and he was unable to suggest anything.
I was going to daily Mass during this time. When I started to work for myself in 85 I started to go to Mass daily, and made a commitment to that. But as soon as these different things started happening I wanted to be sure I stayed close to the Eucharist, and to be reassured that I had this contact with Christ in that way, and that continued to this day.
By the summer of 86 in addition to that, all through the day I began to have these incredible insights popping into my head, these short little pithy phrases, so full of meaning that seemed to summarize so much of my reading through the years and even began to give answers to so many of the questions that I was having. I began to write them down, and I filled one notebook, and then filled another and then another, and this still goes on: notebooks and notebooks full of these little proverb-type things. Sometimes they are prayers, and sometimes they are philosophical, metaphysical kinds of insights that are happening. Very frequently they are just practical advice At first they seemed to come spontaneously. I never knew when these insights would come. I would be walking along, just doing my days work, and all of a sudden I began to realize things. I would begin to have these insights, and I would run to write them down because I didnt want to forget them they were so good. Then I began to discover that I could be in dialogue in some way with that by posing a question, holding on to the question and waiting for the answer to come. My interpretation of that was that somehow then the intuitive channel there was in contact with either a higher realm of the self, or soul, or perhaps our guardian angel, or Christ Himself. I dont know, but it was obviously not coming out of any kind of discursive activity on my part. I wasnt generating this stuff. I was very much aware that I was being given guidance. Ill give you an example of one of them, the one that continues to be the most meaningful to me. "Get into the now of life. Believing you are loved by God, alert for loves invitations, willing to let go of your way." Just simple little stuff like that. Thats all. Thats it. Right there. That one little phrase there. Or "God is your joy ever and ever." "God is now." "Your joy is now." That word now, now, now. All these little phrases were about allow this thing to happen, allow your attention to be molded into the now. I began to wonder if that might be what eternal life is about just being here now all the time. Like thats what God is always here now. Maybe if I were here now I would experience something of eternal life.
I began to discover how so much of attention was in the past, or projecting into the future. That was narrowing more and more into now. But there was a part of me that was very resistant to that. If I let go of the past, I might not know who I am. And if I dont think about the future, I might become some sort of a shiftless bum. These were all very neat little tricks of the false self that were being introduced, but they certainly kept me from making some sort of a complete surrender for quite some time. But now. Be here now in love. It is here now. Just be here. Just let go. All day long this stuff is coming at me, and it looked like even when I opened the Scriptures it was saying that. Like I had never really gotten it. The way it came to me another time was, lets say you were an Elvis Presley fan, and you discovered that he was coming into the Holiday Inn in Baton Rouge where I loved at the time. Wouldnt you go to where Elvis was to see him, to be with him, to have a contact with him? Well, I probably would if I were an Elvis fan. I would go to the right place at the right time to see Elvis. Well, good. Come into the now and youll know God. Thats where God is. If you are somewhere else you are in the wrong place. Again and again, you have to go to the right place and be there at the right time.
Well, it was happening sort of like at the level of thinking I was getting all of these messages, and at the level of energy I seemed to be moving in that direction, too. There was nothing to do except to let the experience unfold. The only other choice would have been to not pray at all because by the fall of 86 there was no way to take prayer time without this happening within the first few minutes. It was almost a drudgery by then to read the Scriptures. It was like my mind was not interested in what the Scripture had to say. It was not wanting to reflect on that, to get meaning out of that. I was hardly able any more to put myself into a Gospel scene and interact with Jesus. I did it anyway, and then it was sort of like this higher part of me was saying, "Well, thank God you are finally finished with that. Now shut up, and just be here and how and love. Just please, will you put that journal down, and sit down and be quiet." And I would. And the lights would come, and the breathing would become very short and shallow. It was just a very beautiful time. I began to feel that I was somehow fading away during this time, like I really didnt have much of a sense of myself anymore, like the more I came into the now, the less I was of any kind of a solid self that I could call me. I began, too, to lose during that time what I would call my emotional memory. I began to lose a sense of emotional continuity with my past. I didnt lose my memory. I could remember something that happened, but I couldnt remember what I felt like at that time. Before, I could remember, lets say, going hunting in the fall with my dad, and I could kind of feel what it felt like. There was an emotional continuity. Now I could just remember what we did and how we did things, and so forth. It was sort of an emptied memory, but I couldnt feel that person alive anymore, and so I began to wonder what that meant. I figured maybe there was some kind of healing of memory that was happening, and the whole memory had to be taken away before a new one could be given back, but at any rate I didnt have a sense of self. But I was still all right. I was doing counseling, I was parenting a little kid by then we had Paul in the summer of 86 I was still writing. I was doing some good work, but I just didnt know who I was, and the odd part about it was that was OK. I could do everything I had always done without knowing who I was. The problem would come if I said, "Not knowing who you are is a bad thing. You must be sick or something." Then I would begin to feel some panic feelings. So I began to notice that as soon as I introduced the judgment about that situation I began to be in bad shape. I began to say, "Well, maybe I dont even need to say if this is bad or good. It just is. I dont need to say if I am sick or healthy. I just am. Whatever it is, it is out of my hands to replace it or not.
About that time I came across the writings of Bernadette Roberts and her books about no-self. And how I cam upon those books is a story. I would see them advertised in book catalogs and things, but I said I dont need to read that. Why should I read about that? There was something about those books, and there was something inside of me that kept saying, "You need to read what she has to say." So by the spring of 87 I was at a religious education conference in New Orleans and I had a booth, and I was trying to sell books and trying to get myself invited to do retreats and workshops. There was a booth by Alverno Bookstore there, and I remember finding myself walking toward it, nervous, feeling really nervous. What if they didnt have that book on no-self? What am I going to do? (laughs) So I asked the woman at the counter, "Do you have those books on no-self?" And she looked at me and said, "You mean those books by Bernadette Roberts?" I said, "I guess." She said, "No." And my heart just sunk, and I was amazed at my reaction to all this. She asked, "Would you like me to order them for you?" And I hardly even heard her saying that. Finally I ordered them, and was really crushed that they werent there. I didnt even know what they were about. Well, the first one came a few weeks later, The Path to No-Self, and I read it in two nights. There was a lot of it I didnt understand, and some that I still dont. Nevertheless it seemed to me that one of the things she was saying was that everything we could call a self, which did include the affective memory and intentionality and so forth could pass away, and that could be part of the Catholic spiritual journey. That could even be a very good thing. It could be a way of entering into a deeper kind of union with God, and so as a result of that book I was very much encouraged to let go into what was wanting to happen. I said as long as I dont sin, Ill let what happens, as long as I dont feel drawn to let go of my responsibilities to my family and at one point I even wrote those down just in case I might forget one day my memory might go completely nuts I wrote them down just so I would have them there (laughs) cook breakfast, wash dishes, cut grass once a week stuff like that. My memory was really getting a real working over there, and I wasnt quite sure how it would turn out. As long as I didnt sin, and as long as I did my responsibilities, I would let whatever was happening to happen. That seemed a fair deal to me, and I would go to Mass every day, and continue just to be sure I had that kind of contact with Jesus, and that He in some way would be involved in this, whether it was a natural process or a supernatural I didnt know. The more it went, the less there was of me, and the less there was of me, the less there was of God, which was kind of strange, too. So I began to wonder not only where I was, but where God was. Where was this loving other that I had known for so many years as a living presence within me, about me, and between me and others. That was gone. Now there was just now, this big old now.
By the fall of 87 there was still the light and the short breathing and so forth. I began to experience some physical sensation of an energy running along the sides of my face, just an incredible compulsion to shut my eyes tightly so tightly I thought they would burst, of a fizzling on the top of my head in the crown region, like fizzling like carbonation like in a soft drink that was fizzling up, and then fizzling up and going beyond. And with those sensations there was a sense of being really cleansed and opened in some new ways. As that began to happen more and more I found that this was going on through the day, while riding around in the truck, the prickly pain and sizzling sensation would go on, the sense of energy running down the side of my cheek and causing the muscles to retract in certain ways, that that was continuing, that I could induce that pain, in fact not that pain, that prickly pain, but it was pleasant, too, painful but pleasant. I could induce that by grimacing in a certain way, that by moving my ears and eyes back a certain way I could make it stronger, and that by moving my intentional expression another way I could just about stop it. When I would make it stop, I would begin to feel a real build-up of pressure at the base of my neck, and along the area around the ears. So I would allow it to happen, and it was pleasant enough and it seemed to keep me pretty clear-headed. There was no real negative consequence, and I didnt know what it was. All along I had been reading more of the old Catholic mystical literature, and some of the extraordinary phenomenon sometimes evidenced. Yeah, well I had some of that going on, but I dont know what it means, but I think thats what these lights and things are all about, just some extraordinary phenomenon associated with prayer. But when the fizzling and all of that started I couldnt find a thing anymore the closing of the eyes, the energy running along the sides of the cheeks, and things like that. The only way to stop all this, I guess, was to stop praying, and I am not sure that would have done it.
By this point this process was really very much in gear. It was awake. The energy process was awake by then. So thats what was going on in the fall of 87. By the spring of 88 there was no longer a sense of the old Phil, and was really grieving that. I was really sad. I can see now that I had to really grieve that. This person that I had put together, even the Christian self that I was, it was gone. And in its place there was this head-sizzling kind of thing, and this ability to be here now, but there was very little affect. I could do my job and project some kind of warmth, but inside of me I didnt feel any sense of life, of joy or peace. It just felt like I was dead. I was just there. No dead. Not alive. Just here I am. Thats all. Just there. I wasnt quite so sure it was a very good deal to have no self if thats what I had. I wasnt so sure it was a very good thing I was into. I wondered if something very bad had not happened. Those were thoughts I had. I could never penetrate the deeper core, and they were never allowed to really disturb me, but they were there. And at the deeper emotional levels the grief was there, the sense of the person is gone. And granted that person was always changing anyway, but there was still something about that person, that there was a continuity, probably from the age of two years old, about that person. There had been an ongoing development of that person that was one stage of development. You might call it the ego project, whatever, I dont know. It was now gone, and I was very sad about that, and about that time I started waking in the night, and crying and crying and crying, and I wouldnt know what I was crying about. But the grief would feel a little better at the end of that.
And the prayer began to change in the spring of 88. The sizzling sensations were there, the energy was there, the lights were there, but in addition there was more weeping, just a real crying. Sometimes in morning prayer, or in evening prayer, a lot of tears associated with that, but always at the end of it a feeling of being relieved of something. It wasnt just tears of misery. It was tears of healing. That grieving went on through the summer of 88, and about that time, too, the thing on the top of my head began to hurt. There wasnt any sense of relief happening, and there was energy going there, and a real tightness there. It was as though the energy was wanting to get through something, and that something was closed. I would sit there, and I remember I would sit in prayer, and it was as though everything within a few minutes would be centered on the top of my head every ounce of my energy and attention would be there. I could not stop it from going there, unless, of course, I wouldnt pray. Thats where it would go, and it would feel like all of me was just right there.
During that summer as I was grieving, and struggling with this thing on the top of my head, I was having to spend lots and lots of time in quiet. It was a slow time for work, but my books were doing well, we had a nice royalty check on the way, so I wasnt panicking about that, my wife was going to be able to go back to work, so I wasnt panicking about money, and I would take 3, 4, 5 hours a day just to sit in my little office on my little prayer stool and let myself just feel drawn to the top of my head. That would go on at night, too. I would be awakened at night and feel like I just had to sit like that. My head would feel so hot, the top of my head was burning hot, and then, 20 minutes, 30 minutes after a prayer it would feel ice cold. By the end of that summer in one of my times of prayer I remember feeling like, my God, the top of my head is going to be torn open. My brains are going to fly out. And I had some kind of an image form in my mind, like some kind of a little opening that was finally opening, like some kind of a little sphincter muscle that was finally opening, beginning to open, and felt like there was a cool breeze that was moving from the top of my head into me. There was a cool breeze that was going throughout my system from that. Then there were some prayer experiences by the end of that summer where I was just able to stop, and rest, and be, and just feel it would open very naturally, and the energy would go out and come back in. Something on the top had opened. I didnt know a thing about chakras, or kundalini energy, or any of that stuff. Looking back now I would say that the fizzling that went on was the beginning of the energy clearing the lower chakras, the throat, and the inner eye chakra, and finally beginning to energize the crown chakra, and then by the summer of 88 there was some serious work being done on opening that crown chakra. By the end of that summer it was open, it was open.
Then there was no more sense of the old Phil. (laughs) He was gone. He hasnt been around since, but by then I was through enough of the grieving to say, well, we have a new situation here, and maybe something different will happen emotionally, eventually, but come to think of it, that old person that weve done away with was, well, wasnt all that great anyway. There was some shame, some fear, some arrogance, there were things about that old character that caused a lot of trouble. But what in the world was this new person? Bernadette Roberts didnt help much. She said it was a no-self, or that which remains when self is gone, I guess shes saying Christ is what is left. But I felt it was just a new developmental stage in my life. I would just have to wait and see. In the meantime the thing that was my responsibility was not figuring that out. It was doing my daily duties, not sinning, meeting my familys responsibilities, and being here now in love. Thats all I had to do, to keep walking faithfully that way and allowing the growth to happen that was going to happen that was out of my hands anyway.
By the fall of 88 I had learned some things about chakras. I had taught some classes on prayer and meditation, and had been introduced by some of my students to this, and so I began to read some of the Hindu literature and began to see where maybe some of what I had been through was the opening of chakras in a kundalini process. I really didnt have much literature on it. I had read a few things by Ram Dass, and I wanted some more literature. I remember in the spring of 89 I finally came upon some literature while I was doing a workshop in Orlando, Florida, and one of the first books I had was one put out by the Theosophical Society, and it was this old guy Ledbetter who wrote a lot for them around the turn of the century. One of the things he promised in this book was that those who managed to awaken kundalini but did not understand it could be assured of either death or insanity. I was having a rough time with all this at this time in Orlando, and that was one of the first books on kundalini that I read, and I knew that I had come close to insanity. If I had introduced panic thoughts into the process, I could have really been in very bad shape. If I would have gotten stuck in some judgment about what was happening, it could have been a mess. My saving grace through the whole thing was to just step out of the way and let it happen without saying this is good or bad. It seems to be good fruit. I dont know where it is going, but just continue to let it happen. (After reading Ledbetter) I remember going back to my room and saying, my God, what in the world have I gotten myself into? Not having much of a sense of a God to pray to, but nevertheless continuing to say, Lord Jesus, help me to see how to walk with this, or if I need to get out of it, show me how to get out of this. I am literally possessed by this process. It has really taken over. And just really feeling like a higher guidance would come and say, dont worry. Thats the worst thing you can do. Dont worry about it. You are doing fine. Just mind your own business and live life. The only time you make yourself miserable is when you try to start figuring out who you are and what it all means, and what it is going to do. Just drop all that stuff and enjoy it, for heavens sake. Well, that was pretty good advice, and I still think its pretty good advice. So I did more and more of that. I continued to read the literature to learn what I could about it, and I learned some things that helped me. I learned some things about posture, about diet that were helpful. I learned some things about stretches, and clearing energy out, and sexuality issues that were part of this, that had been helpful, but by and large I hadnt learned anything about controlling it. That still seems to be out of my hands.
So by the spring of 88 I was into the literature on kundalini, and trying at the same time to just honor the process, letting it happen, without being negative or judgmental about it. Just letting it do whatever it is going to do, but trying to learn, I guess in a way an adolescent would learn about adolescence. I am in this thing called adolescence, and I cant do very much about what is happening to me, but it is still nice to know what is happening to me, what does it mean that my voice is changing, and I am having new ways of knowing and understanding. I think adolescence is a good analogy to the kundalini process. It is a whole transformation process, organic and otherwise, that kicks in, and it is good to be able to know about it (laughs) if it is going on in your body, in your life.
About that time you and I, Jim, were doing some correspondence about that, and trying to make some distinctions, and through you, also, I was introduced to some helpful writers Gopi Krisna being one and some others that were helpful. In 89 also I started to do some writing about the process, writing that eventually became published in the book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. There have been some things that have happened since then, but essentially after that crown chakra was open, that was the last really significant event in the process. Since then it has been more and more of integrating that has been going on, of allowing the new attentional state to become the normal state, of learning what I can and cant do in daily life, learning how to walk with the process. There is less discomfort for me now, here in the summer of 1991. Since the summer of 88 the process has become progressively less painful, which is not to say that I am out of the woods by any means. If I get too out of balance in my life, there are painful consequences that are there for me. Eat too much of the wrong kind of food, not enough quiet time, not enough sleep, all very, very much connected with the proper care of the body. One of the most painful consequences has to do with the ears. It seems that the energy comes up the side of the neck and has to make some kind of turn around the ears before it goes to the third eye area, and then from there on up to the crown and out, and some of it back down into the belly area. When I have been doing too much concentration of the discursive kind, especially when I am trying to put all this stuff down into some kind of conceptual framework, then I really constrict myself in the throat area, and the energy just cant get into the head, and I have these terrible headaches and pains in the ears. Thats the most painful, but there are some very beautiful ongoing things. There is forever with me a pleasant chirping, buzzing, ringing sound in the ears, maybe as the OM noise that they talk about in the East. It is very restful just to stop and tune my attention into the sounds. There has been, too, since the summer of 88 a growing sense of a feeling person, a reintegration with the feeling self. Its not the old feeling self. Its not the emotional memory of the old Phil, but I am in touch with feelings that I had a long time ago. Id call them soul feelings. All the other times in my life when I have been awake on a kind of a soul level, full level, or an ecstatic level, I can feel that. Im in touch with those old feelings, the God experiences, or whatever we want to call them. So there is now a new sense of emotional continuity, but not with the old ego kind of self. There is also this beautiful experience of the third eye, of the sense of not just seeing with the two eyes, but out of the forehead, of attention somehow also working out of the forehead that allows me to just be here now and see without getting caught up in interpreting whats happening. Just to see it and be with it, and to be one with it in some way in a kind of detached way. That is a very beautiful thing.
And then what has happened in the last six months is a kind of a new awakening on a heart level, that the heart, itself, is becoming more awake, and really feeling a deep love that is somehow in the midst of all of this. It is a love that in my own experience seems to be of God. It is a love that I find myself wanting to say, "Thank you, Lord," or "Praise you, Lord." Its that kind of love. It is not a romantic kind of love, or a friendship kind of love. It is a deep sense of cosmic love. So there are days when all of these things are clicking mighty well the third eye open, and the energy cycling back through. It is hardly even perceptible. When all is well you can hardly even experience this energy. You only experience it when there are blocks or pushing into some new area. With the heart open it is beautiful, incredibly beautiful. I would now say where is all the pain tat I have been through about it? So it has come out quite nicely. It has made even a big difference in the marriage. It has deepened my love for my wife, a new patience with my children, a real love for nature.
The biggest change, I guess, has been my ability to do lots of reading. When in 75, 76 I would read and read and read, I now have great difficulty reading even a little bit of stuff that is a reflection on the spiritual journey. It is almost as though when I read a little bit of theological or philosophical reflection, or metaphysical reflection, I get all confused, all preoccupied about whether I understand things right, I get all our of sorts when I read. I wish I knew everything that the book was saying. I have no problem talking with a person about what is in a book. If someone were to bring me a book and say, "Youve got to read this," and Id read it, Id get all screwed up. But if I said, "Tell me what you like about that book. Tell me what you really got turned on about," and we would talk, it would be fine. No problem. So thats a strange thing. The inability any longer to do that kind of reading that is about conceptualization on the journey. It is as though it has me try to reflect on my union with God which I am not even aware of, which, unlike the past where I used to be able to say, "Well, its inside of me. It is a union that is within me that I can be aware of. It is nondual in the unconscious, but it is dual conscious to unconscious." Now I say I dont know where it is. It is somewhere. I am, and God is, and we are. Thats all there is to it. Its not within. There is no longer even a sense of interiority. It is as though I am in God, and God is in me, too, but when I try to reflect on that, it has me out of sorts from sometimes 3 to 5 days after I read just a little bitty old thing. Ive got all these wonderful books that people keep sending me, and I wish I knew what was in them. When I dont read, I understand everything Im supposed to understand. I know what I need to know. (laughs) And so where it has taken me is a very beautiful place where there is no fear, no shame, no guilt, no resentment, incredible peace and a growing sense of a deep, deep cosmic love that I am sure must be about God in some way.
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