When I was in my late 40s, I started having extremely uncomfortable sensations of hot electricity-like energy running up and down my body.
Unlike the hot flashes of menopause, these sensations did not come on in waves, building up to a release of perspiration. They were instead more like hot stabs of electricity that would last for several hours before they departed, leaving me exhausted and drained.
“Menopause. Menopause. Menopause.” That’s what all the doctors said it was while shaking their heads, so sorry that they were unable to give me anything that would give me relief.
On my own, I tried allopathic medicine (I was out of balance); naturopathic medicine (I was vitamin deficient), Chinese energy work, herbal remedies and acupuncture (I either had too much or too little chi).
You name it. I tried it. Nothing helped.
One night in particular, when I was beside myself with anxiety, fear, heat and energy, I went into the closet in my bedroom, closed the door, and screamed and screamed and screamed, in an effort to scream the heat away.
What was wrong with me?
During this period in my life, I happened to be scheduled to attend a 10-day meditation retreat that was being conducted at a monastery near my house in Tucson. Not thinking in the least about my so-called menopausal symptoms, I decided to go.
Soon, after the start of the retreat however, I wished I had thought of them because episodes of electricity-like energy continuously exploded inside me during my periods of sitting. I felt like I could have heated up the entire meditation hall.
During one of my private sessions with the retreat master, she asked me what “distractions” I was having and I told her none—uh, other than the constant, painful experience of hot energy pulsing through my body.
“Hot energy,” she said. “What ‘hot energy’? Tell me about it.”
She wanted to know how long it had been going on, when it started, what time of day it came on, virtually everything about it that I could tell her.
“You are not having menopausal symptoms,” the teacher finally said. “You are having a Kundalini awakening. Don’t resist it,” she added. “Welcome it and honor it. It will change you.”
Had I actually been having a Kundalini awakening? Could it be in fact, that what everybody in the medical world called “menopausal symptoms” were actually what my meditation teacher called a Kundalini awakening? Was what she said true? I was filled with questions.
What was really happening to me and what should I call it?
I didn’t know the answers to any of my questions. What I did know, however, was that for the first time in over a year, over the course of the retreat, I had a complete abatement of symptoms.
I left the retreat concluding that in re-labeling the electricity-like episodes of burning energy that were racing up and down my body as something positive—that is, in labeling them a Kundalini awakening instead of labeling them menopausal symptoms—a profound change had occurred.
To me, it seemed that by simply changing the name of my experience, I was no longer a woman who was a victim of some unknown medical condition, but was instead a woman who was undergoing a spiritual re-birth, a woman who moving from an old self to a new self. To me, it suddenly made perfect sense that such movement would be accompanied by physical symptoms.
I was overcome with the realization of just how important labels were and that next year, when I was retreating again with the same retreat master I couldn’t wait to tell her.
“Kundalini awakening?” she said, querulously.
“Yes,” I reminded her. “Kundalini awakening.”
She seemed to have forgotten entirely what had been, for me, such a life changing event.
“Do you remember?” I asked.
“I don’t remember,” she said. “What it is called means nothing.”
She went on to tell me that what mattered was that my symptoms had gone away. What mattered was that in fact, I didn’t have those symptoms that very day as I was sitting there talking to her.
“That is what matters,” she said. “Today, and what is happening today is what matters.”
She was telling me that why my symptoms went away or how they went away or what they were called had no significance. She was turning my thinking inside out and along the way, was telling me that it didn’t matter whether I was merely having menopausal symptoms on the one hand or having a so-called great spiritual awakening on the other.
“Labels are a distraction,” she concluded, and nodded her head to indicate that our session was over.
I bowed, got up from my cushion and left the room.
It has now been over two decades since I studied so fervently with this particular retreat master and her lesson about the futility of labels has stayed with me. All these years later, it seems to me that in general, the labeling of people, groups, beliefs and illnesses has become more widely used. “Conservative.” “Liberal.” “Vegan.” “Christian.” “ADHD.” All labels that, while they may have a purpose, also divide us or give us shields to hide behind or serve to root us even more firmly in our own particular ego-identity.
I am aware of the obvious smaller good that labeling serves, but I doubt what greater good, in the end, it might serve. I am fairly sure, were I to bring these various labels up to my retreat master today, she would respond in much the same way.
It does not matter what something is called she would say. Today is what matters.
“Labels are a distraction.”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Darla Hueske/Flickr