Hall of Shame

What’s wrong with you?

Is there anything that you are hiding?

Anything that you have done, that you don’t want anyone to know about, not even (remember) yourself?

Shame is awkwardly familiar to most of us human beings, and actually surprisingly, it’s the root cause of feelings of unworthiness and anti-social behaviour. This blog is based on a training I taught and considers the question: what is shame and how can we deal with it effectively?

“We’re only as sick as our secrets.” 

12 steps AA

Shame is a self-conscious emotion that is related to a sense of something being wrong with who we are. Psychologists identify different types of shame, for example shame when we fail at something we should be good at. Shame when we make a mistake in front of others. Shame when we feel left out of the group, and internalised shame. Internalising the belief that here is something deeply wrong with who I am, or what my circumstances are.

Shame has a profound effect on psychological adjustment and interpersonal relationships, as it is typically characterized by withdrawing from social intercourse. Not wanting the other to see, know or acknowledge your shameful action or traits.
Shames isolates and motivates avoidant behaviour, yet stimulates also defensive, retaliative anger. Ending up in a beautiful downward spiral; psychological research shows a relationship between shame with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, subclinical sociopathy and low self-esteem (Thomas A. Fergus et.al, 2010 and Tangney & L. Dearing).

Please mark that shame is not the same as guilt. They both occur when we disobey moral, ethical or religious norms and criticize ourselves for it. Yet, guilt doesn’t imply that I am a wrong person, it implies that I take responsibility (fault) for something that ocurred, which makes me feel guilty for my actions and the impact. Not a bad person per se.

Just take a minute to notice how you shame yourself. What is wrong with you? What don’t you want anyone to know about you? And even, what are your secrets about the way you have behaved?
In our Western society we shame others. Sometimes publicly as we bring people to trial. Sometimes implicitly, as we mock our neighbours or people that seem different. How do we deal with people that did something ‘wrong’?

The Babemba Tribe in South Africa has a different approach to retaliation and peacebuilding. Understanding that shaming one will affect the whole tribe and could bring about even more societal disruptive symptoms such as depression, aggressive behaviour etc.  

As Jack Kornfield writes in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace:
“In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual.
Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the centre of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted.  All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and acts of kindness are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. In the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”

“True love and prayer are learned in the hour when love becomes impossible and the heart has turned to stone.”

Jack Kornfield

And so I took people on a workshop. Walking around, looking at each other. Starting to exhale saying ha-ha, adding a pointing finger at one point. I divided the group in half and let one half point and say hahaha to the other half. And vice versa. We stopped. Felt. Tears ran.
We have all experienced a feeling of being different, left out, or pointing at others for ‘how wrong they were’, avoiding feeling our own discomfort. We welcomed an open sharing, “what I don’t want you to know or see about me”. We welcomed a confession circle in which we shared what was wrong with us. And all the mistakes that we had made. Our secrets. With a deep long exhale and some Tantric sublimation techniques we sighed all together: ”You’ve been forgiven”, letting our tender hearts welcome the pain and suffering of our mistakes. And finally we welcomed every lost member back into the tribe. Physically noticing the imprint. Reminding them who they really were.

We welcomed a lot of insights in a sharing circle. Just some of these: understanding that shaming another hurts physically in the body of the one shaming. Shame is an opening to connection and compassion. As soon as the secret or shame is revealed, immediately a lot of compassion arose. And yes, in the end, we all want to include everyone back into the tribe.
Merel van Dijk describes her experience of the workshop Hall of Shame at the Awaken as Love Festival as follows:
“In the “Hall of Shame” workshop by Karlijn Kouwenhoven I experienced what it’s like to be laughed at, “shamed”. Experienced what it’s like to shame others. How much that hurts. And we do that a lot in our society. The antidote to shame is showing instead of hiding. In pairs we shared “What I don’t want you to know about me is….”. With clean tears I brought my most vulnerable soul emotions to the light, in the face of the other. And I received the most vulnerable soul stirrings from the other. Immediately my heart jumped open and there was a deep, moving connection with someone I barely “know”. We’re not that different.
Love flows in this totally broken state of being. My tears are now those of deep emotion and gratitude. You have to go through something, but then you also have something! Blissful eyegasms.”

Moving forward with shame sounds difficult but is actually easier than you think.
Ask your friends or beloveds what they are ashamed of, or reveal yourself.
Start with remembering what you have done ‘wrong’ and why you are unloveable, e.g. a wrong person. Now share. Talk to a stranger, your beloved or a friend about what you dislike about yourself. Ask if they can hold space and simply listen to you. Go slowly, feel as you speak. And notice, as you let your masks melt, that you might feel more open and compassionate towards yourself. Complete by asking for what you want, a hug, a word of acknowledgement or simply a reminder of the ‘good’ that you have brought to this world. Let’s get inspired by the Babemba tribe, and instead of creating a culture of retaliation and distance, cultivate one of (psychological) inclusion and compassion.

Interested in diving deep into these topics yourself?
Check the CORE Training on stagnated emotions and limiting beliefs & the HEARTCORE Retreat on relating and intimacy.

Sources & more reads:
On the Intensity of Experiencing Feelings of Shame in Mental Disorders. Annette Kämmerer in Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik, Medizinische Psychologie, Vol. 60, No. 7, pages 262–270; July 2010.

Tracking the Trajectory of Shame, Guilt, and Pride across the Life Span. Ulrich Orth et al. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 99, No. 6, pages 1061–1071; December 2010.

Shame, Guilt, and Facial Emotion Processing: Initial Evidence for a Positive Relationship between Guilt-Proneness and Facial Emotion Recognition Ability. Matt S. Treeby et al. in Cognition and Emotion, Vol. 30, No. 8, pages 1504–1511; December 2016.

Shame and Guilt: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Video lecture by June Tangney. Presented by George Mason University and ResearchChannel: https://youtu.be/febgutDYP7w

Shake & Bake: Spontaneous Movements of the Body

My body shakes, what to do?

In my events I often get questions around shaking of the body.
People experience a jerk, a twitch, or a sudden movement. The movement seems to come from within, spontaneous, as if the body is doing it all by itself, without interference of the mind. Often surprising the body’s owner, and possibly bystanders.

Is this such an unusual thing though?

Actually, these shakes are one of the most primal and basic responses as a human being. As I asked after a Shaktipat: who has ever experienced a the convulsing? 95 % of the participants raised their hands…

Time to clear up some false beliefs. My thoughts on the subject…

In modern Psychology the shaking response is often referred to as neurogenic tremors.
The actual shaking or jerking comes from the limbic brain. The jerk is a signal that danger has passed and the fight-flight response can turn off. These tremors help to reduce over-activity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis the body’s complex neuroendocrine system that regulates our stress response. A jerk is literally a finish of the nervous system response, to release a more stressful or intense (traumatic) experience from the body.

In the animal world, animals “shake off” the freeze response caused by a life threat. When animals suffer trauma, it has been documented that they will literally shake it off, which helps the animal discharge the energy of the traumatic event. Animals often die if they are unable to shake off the trauma, but in humans, it may evolve into mental or physical illness. Humans also shake off trauma, but for some, the shake off response isn’t available thus the trauma is held in the body.

The problem comes when something prevents the nervous system from completing its natural, survival-based response. Any experience could become stored in the body, resulting in mental or physical illness or both. Impacted systems could be:
An overstimulated amygdala (part of the Mammalian brain). The amygdala is responsible for survival-related threat identification, plus tagging memories with emotion. After trauma, the amygdala can get caught up in a highly alert and activated loop during which it looks for and perceives threats everywhere. *
An underactive hippocampus  (part of the An increase in the stress hormone glucocorticoid kills cells in the hippocampus, which renders it less effective in making synaptic connections necessary for memory consolidation. This interruption keeps both the body and mind stimulated in reactive mode as neither element receives the message that an experience (or threat) has transformed into the past tense.

As Tantra entered my life around 2014, my body started to twitch. Intensely. I felt more spacious. And continued doing Tantric, shaking practices a few times a week, and continuously supported the release of energy by doing emotional release techniques: shaking, twisting my spine, hitting a pillow or (hand) screaming.
The shaking intensified. As I would allow more energy moving through my body, I could see and feel my body going into convulsions. Sometimes trembling for hours a day.
It felt like my physical body shook of layers of stories, stagnation, muscle tension, stress and patterns. It felt awkward at first, and as I got more and more comfortable with ‘my mind being out of control’, the shaking became easier to bear.
Over time the responses of my surroundings would change too, my parents would acknowledge that a shake, jerk or convulsion is part of who I am as my body is in pain. My lovers would welcome the release of my body, as I would experience more and more pleasure in allowing my body to untangle itself. My friends would understand that that was how my body responded to an emotional story they shared.
I moved tons of energy every day. With the result that I would feel lighter, clearer, softer, more loving, open and aware of myself and others.
More magic entered my experiences. Synchronicities took place constantly and my life force (Kundalini) took over. Showing me what to feel, say or where to go. Life became easy.

My Shaktipat teacher Bodhi Baba has been giving Shaktipats globally for over 40 years. I like what he says to the question: What are ‘kriyas’ or the spontaneous body movements that people experience since a Kundalini awakening? And “should I try to control them?”
He states: “The short answer is when Shaktipat happens a huge amount of prana or vital energy force floods into your physical and to be even more precise into your subtle bodies. Before I continue I should explain you actually have five bodies; they’re called the pancha koshas, and each one is more subtle than the other, yet they’re all interconnected, so if there’s an effect on one body, then they’re all influenced one way or another. The physical by the way is the least subtle of the pancha koshas. So, it goes without saying if your Kundalini say encounters a block and this manifests as a shock, jolt or tremor, in say your subtle or astral body then that’s quite likely to manifest on the physical level as well. However, it may not always take the form of a physical movement, it could manifest as internal sound (nadi), yogic breath repetition (pranayama), emotional release crying laughing etc. Depending on the person this could manifest subtlety such as rapid eye movement or REM or quite dramatically such as intense heavy breathing, dancing, singing, or rolling around on the floor. One woman at one of my rituals crawled like a snake on her belly all the way from the back of the room up to the front of the room where the puja or alter was.
As I’ve cautioned in other question and answer sessions. in most cases, you should not try to control them: as I frequently say, the Kundalini Shakti is far more wise & intelligent than you are and she also knows more about what she’s doing than you do, so it’s best not to try to control the Shakti at least for a while until you’re in better communication with her and even then it’s more like working in league with her rather than you controlling. Otherwise your ego and intellect/mind end up trying to control something that you’re Kundalini herself is far more capable of doing. Otherwise it’s like the inexperienced, uninformed student trying to instruct the wise
knowledgeable teacher.
Later on, as you advance, and learn to work with your pranic force fields such as; the apana, udana, samana, etc. or your pancha pranas can it (working with the Kundalini) be of any use to assist in her work but in the early stages I usually tell most people with very active Shakti or Kundalini’s to just, ‘sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.’

Shaking is not the end state of an awakening. It’s the adjustment of the body to the energy flowing.
Or, as Bud Barber mentions in his book “On the way to the Ocean”:
“In traditional Tantra as well as in yoga, it’s believed there are four different stages after ‘Shaktipat’ or the initial awakening of your Kundalini. So if we were to view the process most yogic traditions endorse, from start to finish the final merging in the Sahasrara or crown chakra, then the following four phases are generally what you will find. However keep in mind that just about every school of yoga has its own narrative of what essentially happens.

  1. Awakening stage (Arambha)
  2. Cleansing stage (Ghata)
  3. Absorption stage (Parichaya)
  4. Final stage (Nishpatti)

Awakening stage (Arambha): Technically speaking, the Kundalini is considered awakened when the so called ‘shell’ of the Kundalini is broken which allows the knot of the base chakra to begin unwinding, normally referred to as the ‘Brahma knot. This knot is located very close to the Kundalini centre. Most traditions also agree that this only occurs when the inner Guru seated in the Ajna chakra or the area of pineal gland is psycho energetically pierced, this sets in motion a series of events which results in the Kundalini’s’ awakening. Of course there are quite a few different opinions on this subject, none of which can be proven or disproven but based on the evidence that I and many others have witnessed after someone’s Kundalini has legitimately been activated this scenario seems to make the most sense, both logically and intuitively.   

Cleansing stage (Ghata): At this stage the knot at the base of the spine has usually already been awakened for a while and now the Kundalini energy opens the second big chakra knot at the heart or Anahata chakra. It’s called the Vishnu knot. Once activated the Kundalini energy can flow easier toward different parts of the body to perform a more thorough energetic cleansing of the nadis and raise your overall energy level to a higher frequency. This and sometimes the previous stage is the most common in which involuntary movements or what are called kriyas can occur.

Absorption stage (Pacihaya): At this stage, the superficial cleansing is complete in the various different body layers, and now the Kundalini Shakti retreats into the more subtle levels of your being as it continues cleansing, purifying and raising your energetic frequency.

Final stage (Nishpatti): When the Kundalini opens the third and last big chakra knot at the Ajna (third eye chakra), called the Rudra knot, the person is only one step away from getting the crown chakra opened. This is a highly subjective period in which the individual typically withdraws from worldly life. As the crown chakra opens, one will at last be able to achieve self-realization, cosmic realization, and then Yoga or union.”

So, let us get back to some most common questions.
– Is it dangerous? The shaking can feel scary to you yes. Holding on to past experience can be easier than entering a more unfamiliair physical, mental or emotional state. If you can and are worried about hurting yourself, you might want to place yourself in a comfortable soft space.
– Can I control it? Yes you could. Imagine that you are shaking and your boss walks in. Your mind could actually, in case of a perceived threat, overwrite your physical experience of safety. Your nervous system will immediately switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic which will inhibit release. The body will focus on protecting itself (fight or flight) instead of relaxing and calming down (in which shaking can occur).
– Is it similar to an epileptic attack? I don’t know enough about the medical definition of epilepsy to answer this correctly. I will do my research and get back to you on this.
– I don’t shake or twitch…what’s wrong (normal) with me? Is my Kundalini awakened?
Yes, sit back relax. Kundalini awakening can have many shapes, forms and expressions. A shake does not equal an awakening, or vice versa. It is just a visible adjustment of the body to the amount of energy flowing through. The same amount of energy can flow through regardless and more detailed physical sensations can be noticed.

– Create time and space to do your emotional release. Want to speed up the process? Hit a pillow, put on some music and shake your body, practise squeeze & breathe (a practice taught at the CORE Training which includes exhaling fully and suddenly inhaling to your maximum.
– Create environments in which you feel safe to shake. This might not be as you do that difficult presentation at work, or at your family brunch, but rather at an ecstatic dance, a yoga class, or in soft and nourishing space in your living or bed room.
– Start a Tantric Kriya Yoga or regular Yoga practise to gently open your nadis and work with your Kundalini energy. This will soften the shaking and supports a smooth and constant flow of energy.
– Get out of the way. If your body twitches and jerks, let is happen. Shake & bake 🙂

I would like to conclude by saying that shaking, jerking is one of the most natural responses one can have to energy flowing, to pleasure, to being alive.

I wish for you to celebrate the release of your own body and that of those around you. Notice what changes as you consider that it is a blessing to be out of control, and surrender to the wisdom of your primal body.
Well done for being brave.

A yummie playlist to shake to:

Recommended further reads:
– Why Zebras don’t get ulcers, Robert Zapolsky
– On the way to the ocean, Bud Barber

– On the way to the Ocean, Bud Barber
– https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-the-body/201910/when-trauma-gets-stuck-in-the-body
– https://www.pacesconnection.com/blog/therapeutic-tremoring-shake-off-stress-and-trauma

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The One Leading the Shaktipat

Who was Nityananda actually?

Monthly at the Full Moon, Kabira presents a Shaktipat Ceremony. The ceremony is devoted to Bhagavan Nityananda, who’s picture is presented at the altar.

During the ritual we welcome his wisdom, guidance and support into the space.

But, who was this Bhagavan (litt. Lord or Blessed One) actually?

Details about the early childhood of Nityananda are relatively unknown.
Most likely he was born around 1897 in Kerala. He was found as an abandoned baby in a basket in the farm fields, some say with snakes coiling around him. He was adopted by a farming couple, the Nairs, who took him in alongside 5 other siblings and called him Raman. Even in childhood, Bhagawan Nityananda seemed to be in an unusually advanced spiritual state, which rendered him the name Nityananda – He who is always in Bliss.

When both his foster parents passed away at age 3 and 6, he lived with their employer, a wealthy lawyer called Ishwara Iyer. Iyer was an enlightened yogi who had mastered austerities. Nityanda’s disciple Muktananda would later proclaim that Iyer was his first guru. Nityananda lived in his house, would wash the dishes, and sweep the floor. At his passing away in Nityananda’s teenage years, , he started traveling and became a wandering yogi, studying scriptures.  

He travelled by foot, lived in solitude and story goes that he performed miracles along the way, which he actually never took ownership of. Some say Nityananda lived in the Himalayas in a tree top for 6 years, others say that he has roamed through India.

Most stories tell that he appeared back as a young man in southern India, in a place called Guruvan (trs. guru’s forest), near Kanhangad, Kerala. Which would later become a pilgrims location.  

Nityananda arrived to the Tansa valley in Maharastra around 1923. He built resthouses, a clinic, a school, a well and restored the hot springs around Vajreshwari and Akloli. Supporting the local Indian tribe Adivasis, who were despised by most of the population.

As Nityananda arrived to Ghaneshpuri in 1936, he went into the Shiva Temple, asking for a simple hut to rest his head. The family running the temple welcomed him in. And as he received more visitors, the hut transformed into an ashram.

He spent the last 25 – 30 years of his life in Ganeshpuri, close to Vajreshwari and Alkloli. Supporting local community by providing food, schools and building the first hospital in Ghanespuri.

As he prepared himself for his mahasamaddhi (passing of the body) in 1961, he said:

“Everyone comes here for money and only money.
The more they are given, the more they seek; there is no end to their greed.
When they come they are pedestrians sometimes without a proper dwelling place; and when they get the necessities, then comforts and luxuries are demanded: a car, a bungalow, and so on.
When earlier prayers are granted in the hope that contentment would follow and that they would then seek higher values, another demand is placed in a never-ending series of wants and desires.
Not much point in allowing this body to continue— hence samadhi tomorrow.”

Nityananda: The Divine Presence Paperback – October 1, 1990. by M. U. Hatengdi  (Author)

He was famous for his love for children (whom he would give free meals in the morning). He would eat simple food and speak very little, mostly mumble.
He was most years surrounded by people meditating and in silence. He would wear a simple loincloth, and enjoy walking around for hours. He never looked at people directly, but gazed inward, eyes half open.
He wouldn’t pay much attention to the gifts he received, or acts of worship. When people would come and sit next to him to start a conversation, he would often just turnover and snortingly fall asleep. At times he would lose his temper, especially when he believed people were not serious in their spiritual practice or would have ulterior motives. When his disciple Muktananda visited him proclaiming: “I Surrender to You”, he simply said: “Go way”. A breakthrough for his successor Muktananda.
When seekers told him to write books he said: “What the poet-saints Nrada, Mira, Kabir, Tulsidas, and others have said is just what I have said. It is not necessary for me to say any more.”

He suffered from rheumatic arthritis in his hands and feet. Just a few moments before he left his body, his fingers and hands completely stretched out, as in peaceful relaxation.

“I am Everything,
Everything is in me”

Sages define 3 types of siddhi’s, paranormal powers.  One is acquiring impure powers through unclean vows and incantations. The second are mantra siddhi’s, acquired by saying a mantra under certain conditions to a particular deity, leading to miracles (e.g. manifesting or moving objects). The third are true siddhi’s as described in scriptures. These powers are acquired by practising the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga through concentration, abstinence, physical practise and rigorous discipline.

Beyond al three there is a supreme power, mahasiddhi, which is not acquired by one’s own effort, but is received as a gift from god. The gift is always presence, a divine presence. These powers do not require you to perform austerities, engage in rituals or make vows. You might not even realize you have them. They manifest in their own accord and perform service to the people around you.

There is a powerful tradition of guru’s called the Siddha Yoga Tradition. The master can touch a disciple or just point a finger at him, and thereby set in motion the process of Siddha Yoga. In Siddha yoga you don’t have to do yoga, it happens spontaneously within. This yoga that happens by itself is called Siddha Yoga. Japa (repetition of a mantra), discipline, Pranayama (breath exercise) and asanas (practising postures) are automatically included. Nityananda was part of this tradition.

Most people would come and meditate with Nityananda, sitting silently, receiving darshan (descent of grace), through his presence. He would not speak much.
Over the years, one of his students wrote down his teachings in a book called the Chidakash Gita.

Nityananda would not preach or lecture, but the brief messages, or instructions (e.g. reciting of mantras) he gave in person and in dreams were full of power. Most people would miraculously receive the answers to their questions already before visiting, or issues would automatically be resolved while in his presence.

He would recommend different paths to different seekers, depending on their temperament and capacity. “You can finish your journey like this – within a fraction of a second.” Yet, he did treat everybody equally and said: “Have the same feeling of love for everyone, as you have for your own self”.

He would welcome the world as a divine play of consciousness. “The universe is infinite, and it is your own self. See the world as a form of the inner self. The world is not separate from the world. This is Vedanta, this is devotion, and this is worship. Dwelling right within you is your own lord.”
When people asked him to show God to them, he would say: Yes, he is within you. Go there.” Or, “Just look around. Everyone is god. Everyone is god.”

“O soul, you should see the inner beauty.
It is so sweet, so fascinating, so joyous.
Not even a drop of that inner ocean can be found on the outside.
Therefore, turn within.
Meditate. Meditate, meditate!”

Bhagavan Nityananda

With meditation, and calming the mind, at the core. “Search inside of yourself.” “God is the witness of your mind.” “When the mind is there, the person is an ordinary human being. When the mind has been transcendent, a person becomes a great being, a saint”                                                                                                                                

In short, the teaching can be captured in essence through a simple phrase:
“The heart is the hub of all sacred places, go there and roam.”
An understanding that most people experienced in the Shaktipat.

Muktananda, Swami (1996). “Bhagawan NItyananda of Ganeshpuri.” (2nd recised e.d.). Siddha Yoga Publications, 1996
Life of Bhagawan Nityananda & Chidakasha Geeta, by Deepa Kodikal Publisher Surendra Kalyanpur, Mumbai, 2007