“José started to hum, then to sing, a simple repetitive song.
Maya found herself drawn into the melody in an almost hypnotic way, her body starting to sway gently in time to its rhythm. Gradually she became aware of small balls of light floating in the darkness in front of her, then strands of light connecting across the room like a web. She blinked hard and looked again into the darkness – they were still there. ‘Wow, that’s beautiful’, she thought, vaguely wondering if what she was seeing was real or a trick of the eye. Luminous green, worm-like shapes appeared too, and swam across her field of vision, weaving their way through the strands of light. She began to feel a little dizzy at the shifting perspective…
As she stepped outside the next morning to breathe in the air, something felt different. It was a fresh newness that filled her with a sense of anticipation mixed with excitement… like a new beginning…”
(adapted from ‘A Heart to Share‘ by Freya Watson)
Peak experiences are ‘sexy.’ They are the moments that let us know we’re on the ‘right’ path, the inspiration to continue on our journey. Like falling in love, they re-anchor us to the wonder and mystery of life, opening us up to ourselves and others. Through them, we have the opportunity to find our power and inspiration again. And every path has a different way of reaching them.
The Shamanic traditions use hallucinogenic plant medicines. Yogic paths have meditative techniques. And then there are tools which have made their way more commonly into psychotherapy practices, such as Gestalt, Holotropic Breathwork and Hypnotherapy. All ways of supporting us in accessing the altered states of consciousness that can stimulate deep release and healing, as well as profound shifts in understanding.
These peak experiences and altered states become the tales we tell we each other when we gather at classes and workshops. ‘Hey, wait til I tell you about my Ayahuasca session last week’ or ‘Man, did you see those orbs floating around during meditation?’
It can even become slightly competitive, in a ‘my vision was bigger than yours’ kind of way, resulting in feelings of inadequacy among those who aren’t particularly visual or who are only starting out on spiritual path. Almost likeThe Emperor’s New Clothes, those on the fringes of these ‘how big was your experience’ conversations are afraid to speak up for fear it might reveal a lack on their part.
The original purpose of meditation and altered state journeying can become lost with this emphasis on the experience itself, and they become instead ends in their own right rather than a means to an end (which might have been greater clarity, perhaps, or healing). The path can be reduced to an endless chasing of bigger, better and more intense experiences, to the point of obsession at times.
Although addiction is normally something that’s discussed in the context of drugs, alcohol and sex, I’ve seen addictive behavior exhibited around spiritual practices too—over-emphasis on fasting, meditation and plant medicines to the detriment of general health and joy.
It’s just less sexy.
After all, how fascinating is it to have a conversation about ‘I managed not to nit-pick at my partner today’ or ‘I stepped away from that gossipy lunchtime chat.’ It doesn’t really have the same pulling power as stories of shape-shifting, star beings and astral travel.
For me, there is a very simple question that needs to be kept back of mind on any path—how is this helpful to me? And I mean helpful in the sense of whether the experiences I’m having are helping to bring more happiness, peace and/or fulfillment into my life in the long term. I’m adding ‘the long term’ here because many experiences are pleasurable at the time but not all bring about lasting benefits.
If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then bingo—we’ve found something that is useful for us! If the answer is ‘no,’ then either the practice or the experience may not be what suits us best—or, more commonly, we’re struggling to ground the shift in perspective offered by the practice.
Whatever about making an effort in the hope of having a peak moment or big breakthrough, it is so much harder to put the effort into the moment by moment practice of choosing our thoughts and actions more carefully; yet, this is where the lasting change comes.
As the old saying goes ‘Before enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water—after enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water.’ Although we may choose to make substantial changes to the way in which we socialize, around our careers and in terms of the lovers we connect with, the daily reality of needing to keep ourselves healthy, sheltered and able to deal with others still remains.
How often I have seen clients and friends struggle with this daily effort, expecting somehow that it will become effortless after a breakthrough or a deep session. The peak experiences are there to help us connect with a source of power greater than our own ego—with an energy that can help to free us and nourish us. But we are creatures of habit too, physically and emotionally.
It’s only by following up on our peak experiences, through making a conscious effort to create change, that our breakthroughs become permanent. Once they become ingrained, though, the effort disappears—they are the new habits which form the basis for our new way of life.
The journey down the chakras is the journey of bringing a renewed awareness into everyday life.
It’s how we engage our mental skills in a new way—becoming aware of old habits of thought and language we have had and deliberately choosing to shift towards those that are more supportive and positive of ourselves and others.
It’s how we continue to be lovingly open even away from the place of peak experience—watchful of when we start to shut down again and what the triggers may be so that we can gently start to encourage ourselves to stay open.
It’s how we engage our willpower in a way that is helpful for our deeper truths—using it channel our energy in directions that will bring fulfillment. It’s how we notice old patterns of behavior we may have been carrying that now need our conscious effort to change and patiently putting in the effort to change them, little by little.
And it’s how we use our creative and sexual energies in ways that are empowering rather than draining—because it is in these lower chakras that we harness our life energy.
I don’t believe personal growth is either linear or necessarily gradual. It can happen in fits and starts, with periods of intense and rapid growth, significant leaps of understanding and little time for integration. There are times in our lives when some parts of our life and psyche are highlighted for growth, while other periods are times of consolidation.
It’s not always as neat as working our way up and down the chakras; but the symbolism of this chakra circuit is important—that journey from daily reality to broader consciousness and back again, blending the energies of earth and spirit.
By remembering that this is the total path it helps to keep us balanced, even in the midst of the most intense peak experiences and despite the struggles that daily life may throw at us. We find a middle place that we can live from, without succumbing to the pull of old habits on the one hand and without being overly-distracted by the intensity of peak experiences on the other.
We all need the buzz of sexy from time to time, but we all need good old solid ground too.
(Originally published on Elephant Journal)