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Spiritual Practice in the Kali Yuga – Working With Your Speeded Up Karma

September 12, 2011

“It’s not what you planned, but this is your life.”

That’s a quote from Jack Kornfield’s latest book A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times, which I’ll be reviewing at BellaOnline soon, and which also applies well to this blog. I’ve had a lot of plans for this blog – to port it to a new platform, incorporate it into a new website, change the name, the logo, you name it – and none have quite worked out as planned. Which is fine! It will happen in its own time. But for now, I am itching to blog again. So without further ado…

The Kali Yuga is the last of four stages of time in the cycle of yugas written about in ancient Indian scriptures, and it is the Yuga that most Hindu and Buddhist lineages place us in now (a notable exception was Swami Yogananda – founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship – and his teacher Sri Yukestwar, who placed us in the Dvapara Yuga instead.) I’ve written about the Kali Yuga from a Buddhist perspective before, and also included some thoughts on it in relation to current 2012 theories in an older post, so I am not going to repeat all that, but here’s the basics: In Indian scripture the Kali Yuga is a period of darkness and disintegration that lasts many thousands of years (some say 432,000) and prepares the world for a rebirth at the start of the next cycle. It is said to be a phase of gradually increased violence, greed, dishonesty, addiction and chaos. Spiritual light and experience become harder and harder to access, leading to an increase in religious conflict. Established social and economic structures break down, leading to an increase in social and political turmoil.

Needless to say, in our post-9/11, economically-challenged times, many people are seeing the connections. But it’s not actually that part of the descriptions of the Kali Yuga that interest me. Instead, it’s another aspect that is often mentioned – that in the Kali Yuga, time speeds up, or more precisely, karma speeds up. As Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, an American lineage holder in Tibetan Buddhism, says in her essay Vajrayana and the Kali Yuga:

“This time of Kaliyuga is extremely contracted. Karma is thick. It isn’t spread out and dispersed over a great, long field. Rather, it is drawn in. It is a time of contraction, and karma ripens much more quickly than it used to ripen…”

This speeding up is often given as the reason for the incredibly accelerated pace of technological change in the last century. It is like we are living closer to the center of a black hole – time is spiraling faster, and things come to fruition much faster. However, there is also more risk – the difference between driving a car at 100 mph vs. 25 mph. On the personal level, this has a lot of implications for spiritual practice, and it’s these that I find the most interesting, and wanted to share here. I think regardless of your religious beliefs, some themes here will resonate.

Embrace the Challenge

First of all, what does it mean that our karma ripens faster? It means any energy momentum present at any level of our being – whether initiated through action, thought, or emotion – in this life or a past one, is more likely to surface. This can make life feel very intense – it is not a ‘hang-out’ lifetime. You will be forced to confront yourself – especially if you are consciously a spiritual seeker, as that intent itself creates a karma that speeds everything up even more.

On the one hand, this can be tough, and I have seen a lot of people lose heart on their path over it. Especially in this age of law of attraction teachings, people can begin to feel like they are doing something wrong when life is challenging. But the truth is – and this is often mentioned in Vajrayana Buddhist writings in particular – this intensification makes this an exceptional time for spiritual practice, because the fruits of your practice are also sped up and magnified. If you are willing to confront yourself, if you are willing to face your shadows – and conversely your own gifts – you will move deeper into the light/Source/Tao/God (whatever words you wish to use.)

The key is embracing the challenge, and not losing heart. This is really the first level of advice for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – truly embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, not hindrances. That sounds very cliche – it is the theme of many, many spiritual books – but as we all know, in real life it is much harder to put into practice than we might think.

Update and Integrate

A second big implication of this type of karmic condensation and intensification, is that all of our thoughts, emotions, and even physical sensations are magnified. I think this is partly why law of attraction teachings have been so popular recently – we can sense this magnification. For those of you familiar with the chakras, it is like all our lower chakras are magnified – we are very consumed by our physical, emotional and mental energies (1st, 2nd and 3rd chakras.)

The complication is everyone else’s energies of this type are magnified too, and we are all one big web of energy. We are bound together to a greater degree than ever before, and just as the internet has led to an unprecedented level of global connectivity and changed the way history is playing out, so this level of energetic connectivity also has entirely changed our mode of being. It is extremely difficult to feel just yourself, your own energy being, without the impact of others. We are bombarded by energetic forces and stimuli, and we take on much of it.

What this means for spiritual practice is that some things that traditionally worked, might not work anymore. Contemplative practices in particular, especially those that rely on long periods of meditation and/or solitude, are an example. I have seen so many people give up on meditation for this reason – they feel that even after years of practice they are never achieving the ‘silent mind’ they have read about in classic texts.  Such experiences are a great gift when they happen, but insight can happen in a second – in less really. This is the gift of inquiry teachers such as Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, Gangaji, Adyashanti and others – communicating a new relationship to our mind that is not just about formal sitting meditation, prayer, or contemplation. I think meditation and inquiry work best in combination, and that everyone can benefit from a sitting practice, but releasing expectations around this is key.

So this is really the second big recommendation for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – update your practice, and integrate it with the realities of your daily life. Don’t rely exclusively on traditions and models from the past to motivate and drive you. It’s often said that ‘your life is your practice’, so really make this true – don’t keep thinking your life needs to be different, change your relationship to it instead. Every great spiritual tradition grew out of the realities of its time, and we are each part of creating this ourselves for this day and age.

Awaken and Use Your Subtle Sense

That being said, many classic Eastern traditions posit that formal chakra meditation and/or energy work is particularly helpful in the Kali Yuga – this is found in many kundalini yoga and Vajrayana Buddhist texts. This is because the energy intensification and connectivity of this period causes so many energies to become absorbed and trapped in our physical and energy bodies. We need to surface and release these energies partly for our own health, but also in order to get cleared out to the point where we are then just dealing with ourselves, and our own thoughts and emotions (which is more than enough.) Also, we need to work a little harder to move energy up out of our lower chakras into our heart and above – the chakras that allow us to connect with love, authenticity, expression, intuition and spiritual insight more deeply. Explicit energy work can do that.

As for what constitutes energy work, it is many of the practices that have gained in popularity in recent years – chakra meditation, reiki, acupuncture, energy healing modalities, Akashic record reading and karmic clearing, etc. Chanting meditation and sound harmonics are also good ways for working with ourselves on an energetic level, because they work directly with vibration. Yoga, tai-chi, qi-gong and other mind/body movement and exercise modalities that are founded on a knowledge of subtle anatomy are especially powerful and useful too.

Related to this is the need for just good old fashioned ‘clearing out’ – engaging in exercise and activities that release stress and related energies. Aerobic exercise always fits the bill in this regard, as does spending time in nature, and any contact with water (from a shower to meditating by a lake or ocean.) Of course, dietary cleansing routines can also be useful, although it’s important to do them in a healthy, balanced way.

So this is the third and final recommendation for spiritual practice in the Kali Yuga – find energy modalities you can work with to clear yourself out, release built-up energy ‘gunk’, and move energy up into your upper energy being. Don’t view energetic purity as your end-goal (an impossibility anyway, but nevertheless a trap some can fall into), but instead view this work as an integrated part of your overall lifestyle and practice.

There is so much more I could write on each of these, but for now that will have to do. Perhaps you can add your own thoughts – as always, I welcome questions, comments, and your own recommendations (and have missed them!)

Namaste-

19 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 12:36 am

    So nice to see you back at the blog, Lisa. I have missed you. You’re still on my Google Reader. Your writing is still as clear as ever. This high-speed, magnified, intensified time period that you say we are going through certainly helps explain why my summer was so fraught with difficulty. Thanks for this reminder to work on clearing my energy body. Solitude seems to help me do that. I like the idea that “Every great spiritual tradition grew out of the realities of its time, and we are each part of creating this ourselves for this day and age.” You are certainly doing your part. Will retweet.

  2. September 13, 2011 12:45 am

    It’s great to hear from your blog again! There are so many intriguing points to consider here, but what resonates the most is the idea of working with your life– as it is– to make of it a practice. Especially at a time when everything feels compressed, it’s a piece of advice that cuts through the noise and makes sense.

    It has me thinking about approaching my hobby of photography as more of a practice. When I pick up the camera again after a time of being away from it, I realize that taking pictures helps me pay attention, take notice, and appreciate what’s around me. So the reason for carrying a camera is not just for the photos, it’s for the quality of attention it encourages.

    I appreciate the grounded way you introduce the ideas you’re mulling. It provides a helpful context for considering realms of thought that I’m not familiar with.

    I hope you are well.

  3. September 13, 2011 2:11 am

    Hi Brenda, thanks for the being the first comment on my return! I have missed you too. I am sorry to hear your summer was difficult, but glad this post helped frame it in a new context. Yes, solitude, especially in nature when it’s safe and feasible, is one of the best ways to clear out the gunk and find your own field of attention. And I do think the quote you picked out is so important. As you know, I love studying mystics and teachers of the past, and find so much inspiration in their writing, but it’s easy to fall into a pattern of romanticizing the past, and thinking that their realizations are not possible now. Which is BS of course. But we do need to find what works in this day and age.

  4. September 13, 2011 2:15 am

    Hi Susan, thanks for the comment and kind words. I love this – “the reason for carrying a camera is not just for the photos, it’s for the quality of attention it encourages.” Photography is definitely this for my husband – when we hike especially, that is his thing. And it’s part of his practice really, to pull himself back into the moment of the hike, not getting too caught up in the perfect picture but instead focusing on the ‘quality of attention’ as you put it. I always think of Carlos Castaneda in this context too, because he took constant notes when hiking and talking with his teacher Don Juan (at least as portrayed in the books), and at one point Don Juan tells him he lets him do it not because the notes really have any value, but because it helps engage his rational mind, so that the rest of him is free to explore. So I think that is another aspect of photography too….

  5. Trenton permalink
    September 13, 2011 4:13 am

    MommyMystic I thank you for these words. Although my physical body is 20 years old, my spirit is thousands of years older. Just recently I discovered what my purpose is for this world, and it is to heal. Energetic healing, physical healing, mental and emotional healing. As long as I am helping people and tending to their wounds, I am serving my purpose (I recently took up massage therapy to fulfill this).

    But even so, it is becoming increasingly hard to do so because of multiple factors. Extreme religious beliefs, corrupt morals, and other negative factors. These things are a hindrance to my spiritual growth, as well as others. Its also hard to keep my internal vibrations high during these turbulent times and is becoming increasingly hard to raise them up again to properly heal others (through massage and reiki).

    By reading your blog, it has given me hope and courage that I am doing the right thing and that I can change other people’s lives and help their spiritual growth as well. I thank you once again for this.

  6. September 13, 2011 4:25 am

    Trenton, the challenges you write about are very common for energy healers in this day and age, but the work you do is so valuable, and the fact that you are aware of how you are impacted, and of the vibration you need to heal, is heartening. Finding the routines and rituals that keep you clear enough to do your work without damaging yourself is so important, as well as establishing healthy boundaries. I highly recommend the writings and teachings of Cyndi Dale, a mentor of mine, on these topics, if you are seeking any new information in that regard. In any case, thanks for your encouragement, and good luck with your work. – Lisa

  7. September 13, 2011 8:26 am

    great to see you back here Lisa.

    ‘your life is your practice’- love love this because it’s something i have always walked. firstly out of not being drawn to ritual or specific practices, but later realising this is where it begins. no point being a super meditation expert and being unable to live the peace on a daily basis.
    i work on, “change your relationship to [your life] instead”, all the time. it has brought me tremendous peace, to stop fighting certain aspects or resenting others. motherhood really speeded up a lot of that acceptance and embracing for me.

    Releasing emotions, thoughts, and stress is a big one for me. Being an empath I used to hold onto an incredible amount. A damaging amount. I learnt the power of releasing.

    And doing this work within brings me to a more united place, the oneness connection.

  8. September 13, 2011 1:17 pm

    I was happy to open my email this morning and find your post. So beautifully written and timely, and I will refer to it in a blog post I am working on right now! You know, as a musician I am aware that pitch has been rising for hundreds of years. The notes that Mozart wrote, for example, are almost one whole step higher now than they were when he wrote. For singers, this is a big deal. It means that registration breaks and range need more finely-tuned skill to negotiate. The whole string family, from sitars to violins, must stretch their strings tighter to tune up. This is all part of the speeding up you mention. Anyway, thanks so much for the guidance and love that comes through your writing.

  9. September 13, 2011 2:26 pm

    Hooray! You came back! I hope my little nomination for the Versatile Blogger Award stimulated you to blog again! I was so psyched to see the email with your post and then to devour your newest post! Well done and much needed right now in our universal reality~
    Rock on girlfriend!
    xoxoxoxo
    A/s

  10. September 13, 2011 4:51 pm

    Mon, thanks for the welcome back:-) I now this ‘your life is your practice’ thing gets a lot of play these days, but it has a lot of depth to it when you really start to look at it. I know I still see ways I divide things into ‘practice’ and ‘regular life’. It really requires a great deal of openness and acceptance to experience it moment by moment as both…something I am still working on…and as you know, releasing is key for me too, and I think in this day and age, it is critical to everyone…I see a lot of people, especially living in an urban area like I do, that take on so much of other’s fear and anxiety, and so it is difficult for them to get to a place where they are just working on their own…

  11. September 13, 2011 4:52 pm

    Cate – wow, thanks for sharing, that is fascinating about pitch shifting! I had never heard of that, and am still not quite sure I understand it rationally, but it makes sense on another level. I would love to learn more about it…

  12. September 13, 2011 4:55 pm

    Alphasiren, thanks so much for the award, I actually didn’t know about it until you posted here, sorry if I missed a note. I am glad this resonated for you, and will head off to visit you now…

  13. September 14, 2011 2:48 pm

    I’m with the Yukteswar / Yogananda camp. In fact, Yogananda himself said: “Contrary to appearances, the earth is in an ascending cycle, and good will triumph.” Still, many challenges remain.

    Here’s a quote that may help your readers:

    “One characteristic of this particular dark age is that we are becoming more and more clever. But we also are constantly changing our minds. We all have the potential to be very strong and centered in ourselves, but when we live our life with speed and distraction, our energy becomes scattered….

    According to the teachings, the mind can only do one thing at a time. In this age we want to do many things at once, which weakens the mind. When we gather the mind and come back to the breath, the mind is becoming stronger and more present. The whole point of meditation is to be relaxed, and as we relax, our inner strength comes out. As soon as we feel that strength we become more confident in it. If we are so busy that we do not even have a feeling for our mind, meditation is the first step toward developing that feeling.”

    — Sakyong Mipham

  14. September 14, 2011 4:29 pm

    Pamir, great passage and thanks for visiting. In a way, I think the yuga structure is helpful as a philosophical model, but I don’t necessarily think it captures the whole picture. I can see aspects of both yugas – I do see so many signs of us being in an ascending cycle, but then I can also see the darkening. What this indicates to me is that we are at a choice-point, and I think that is why 2012 theories have captured so many people’s attention. There is a strong sense that we are at a big crossroads as a species. The aspect of the Kali Yuga descriptions that I do strongly relate to is that of the quickening karmas – as an energy worker, I feel like I have seen this gradual escalation in energies (both good and bad, physical to non-physical, the whole spectrum) coming to fruition faster. I am wondering if you see this too in your reiki work? Anyway, always interesting to ponder… – Lisa

  15. September 21, 2011 9:42 pm

    Great to see you back, Lisa! I have not seen any posts from you in a while. Welcome back and great stuff here! I can finally say that I now actually HAVE a meditation practice and it has made a big difference. I was just talking about you the other day to a friend of mine who wanted some guest speakers for a meditation course that she is doing. Her name is Julie Geigle. Let me know if you are interested in hooking up with her! Congratulations on all your changes. It would be fun to catch up!

  16. September 26, 2011 9:30 pm

    Hi Amy, good to hear from you, and even better to hear that you have a found meditation practice that works for you:-) I’d love to talk to your friend, I will email you…

  17. October 13, 2011 10:46 am

    OMG you’re back! Fantastic.

  18. October 13, 2011 6:05 pm

    hi suzanne, thanks. it feels good to be back:-)

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