Newsletter #2
April, 1995

The Forum is Expanding Rapidly
Questionnaire Shyness
Response to Prayer Questionnaire
Here are Three Letters of Comment
Editors' Corner
Contemplative Communities


Welcome to the second issue of the Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum Newsletter. For those of whom this is the first contact with the Forum, let us briefly explain what it is and how it functions. It is a network of people seriously interested in the life of prayer and contemplation who share their insights and experiences in order to help each other and to build up the foundations for today's renewal of Christian spirituality.

The Forum is for and by practitioners who seriously want to reflect about their practice.

Your written contributions to the Forum are used anonymously and with discretion. If you want to write the Forum, and don't want there to be even the possibility of your comments appearing in the Newsletter, mark them "strictly private."


The Forum is growing quickly with over 100 members who have sent in many fine contributions. Please keep up the good work of spreading the news about it.


A number of you have expressed reluctance about filling in the supplementary questionnaire that accompanied the first announcement of the Forum. We sympathize. It is very difficult to talk about our interior lives. They are both precious and hard to articulate, and the last thing we want is to feel that they have been objectified and   picked apart. No one should feel the slightest compulsion to disclose anything about his or her life of prayer.

On the other hand, we need to communicate with each other in order to share the gifts God has given us, to be encouraged to persevere and to help build the foundations for a renewed Christian spirituality. The old silence that reigned about the Christian interior life was no bargain either. How do we resolve this dilemma? We will have to ask ourselves what God is calling us to share.


The following contribution to the Forum and the correspondence it inspired is a fine example of the kind of exchanges we hope the Forum will foster.


1. Shikantaza (a form of Zen meditation) is the manner of meditation I use, and generally speaking the time for sitting in meditation is three hours daily. However, this may vary anywhere from two and a half hours to four or more. I meditate three times daily regularly although I sometimes slip in twenty-five minute sitting times here and there. The majority of prayer is done in the morning and it is interspersed with a fifteen minute Tibetan exercise session, Yoga (either Hatha or Kundalini), and time for bathing. At least one hour of zazen is done during this morning period (which usually begins at 6:30 am), but often it is more. I am presently in a kind of transition point as I am attempting to switch to practicing Kundalini from Hatha yoga. I sit again from three to four o'clock in the afternoon and then again before bedtime for a half hour. There are times when gardening is interspersed with zazen in the morning rather than yoga, but generally it is yoga. This is my usual manner then of meditation/ prayer during the week days, with a slight alteration during the week-ends which I will explain below.

2. In regard to missing meditation, since I have not missed very often it is difficult to say what the consequences would be. I do find a rather even flow however on the weekends if I miss the afternoon (three o'clock) zazen due to a different schedule. My morning period is often shorter on the week-ends, as well - all this due to the fact that I am married and my husband is home then and I find it efficacious to be flexible.

3 & 4. I find the effects of meditation to be stabilizing, calming, and bringing about a greater awareness or focusing during times outside of zazen. I have especially felt the fruits of zazen when sitting following something which is in some way upsetting to me. While at first it seems difficult to focus on the breathing, persevering brings about a great balance in the mind, heart and spirit resulting in the problem coming into proper perspective and the ability to find within myself the solution or simply allowing it to be.

While attempting to minimize my errand running times out of the house, I am, however, finding a greater awareness of the choices I have in regard to the manner in which I relate to others while out among them... the simple things one often overlooks such as opening a door for others, giving my shopping basket to another who is waiting to get one, not being critical but rather seeing others with an open heart, accepting everything, or simply sharing a bit of information.

Five years  ago my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer (but he is fine now), and throughout the processes which followed (chemo-therapy, etc.), I felt, increasingly, no sense of God's presence. Where upon before that I had a history of many holy moments of the presence of God, I became as one who was unable to feel or realize it and in fact reached the point where I was unable to utter words, for; they seemed to echo in the wells of my being, empty. Eventually this plunged me deeper and deeper into sitting meditation - it was all I could do and it was (and is) everything; Of late I have begun to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit now and then... gentle moments of deep inner joy of presence. This is not a regularly occurring experience, but it is 'experience.'

Life and death have become consuming thoughts over the past five years, and death reaches out to me for understanding and entering into in whatever ways I can. A part of that process is the letting go of.. everything ... especially loved ones, but things, too. I am not always able to do so, but am gradually becoming more conscious of ways to do so, or even conscious of the fact that I am hanging on to someone or something. I believe all of these experiences to be graces from prayer/meditation, as well as from some kind of working knowledge of mine of Jungian psychology and using it for my own and others' healing.

5. To the best of my recollection the only negative coming out of meditation for me has been an experience I had about twelve years ago. While meditating I suddenly found myself standing on the edge of a black hole. I was immediately very frightened and withdrew from it to a state of open-eyed awareness. I did not know what the experience meant, and I was afraid to return to meditating until I could find some answers. No one I spoke with could offer much help until finally a priest familiar with the eastern rites and a meditator, himself, told me it is always safe to trust the Lord. So I was gradually able to return to my sitting practice, although it took a very long time for me to release the fear. Now I do not believe this was a negative experience, although at the time it did seem so to me.

6. For the past few months I have experienced a kind of crackling sound inside my head, it is like electricity zapping across from ear to ear or just in the head usually. This occurs mostly while meditating but also at other times. I also experience intense heat which at first I could not exactly locate but finally found that it seems to come from the gut center (or around the lower half of the trunk) and goes up through the chest to the head. My palms (which I have on my knees), also feel very hot. I think perhaps these sensations have to do with chakra centers opening or clearing ... ? Occasionally I experience muscle jerks and these are small movements - my hand or arm or sometimes my head will jerk from its position.

7. I have experienced locutions in the past before I was doing zazen. If you would like descriptions of these please let me know, but I can tell you the result of them was a deepening of my prayer life and on one occasion an instant healing from nicotine addiction.

8. My religious affiliation has been Roman Catholic since infant baptism. I became involved with the charismatic renewal in 1975 and was very active for about fifteen years, during which time my prayer life evolved and my life in effect changed, and this led me to begin praying meditatively, (starting with the Jesus Prayer) and eventually brought me to zazen. Insofar as the Church goes, I find myself somehow on the outside looking in - or in some sort of estrangement. The Eucharistic Christ has always been a very central focus for me and has kept me returning to regular Mass - which has brought a greater sense of community even though I feel much of what the Church is doing/teaching is somehow 'off the mark.' Much of my anger has been worked through as a result of meditation, so I can say that this, too, is growth.

9. I do have a spiritual director with whom I share much of what has been occurring in my life. Her Jungian orientation has been a wonderful gift - as well as her own prayerfulness. Encouraging me not to let Jesus go while I felt such confusion, working to help me understand dreams, mandalas, as well as the physical/emotional crisis of my husband's illness has been a tremendously great gift.

10. It has only been a little over a year that I have experienced this need to live a simpler, more prayerful lifestyle even though daily prayer has been a part of my life for many years. After raising five children together my husband and I have a rather unique working relationship. While he is working during the week I am able to maintain the above outlined meditative program to my heart's delight, and still prepare food (though we do eat out), keep a home in order with all that entails, garden and grocery shop. Our children are grown with families of their own and all but one lives out of state... this allows a free space for me time-wise. Usually, if health permits, my husband works out at the gym on the week-end and during the week nights, and this enables me to use that same time for yoga and meditation. I work out of my home as a spiritual director and art occupies my free time - drawing, painting and/or sculpturing which I find is a natural expression of life, death and prayer.

In our response we suggested she might like to explore the issue of the crackling electricity in the head and the black hole, and have two other Forum members comment. She agreed and replied:

Although my 'black hole' experience occurred a number of years ago (10 perhaps), I remain curious about it - and I wonder if the energy didn't get squelched then (after that experience I found it difficult to continue to sit out of fear the black hole was a negative sign of sorts). It took quite a while to resume my sitting practice, probably three years or so.. so any enlightenment on that would be appreciated.

Also I wonder about the electrical-like current noises I have heard in my head for a few months now but which have subsided greatly in this past month. What are they... blockages being cleared? or what? Is it a good sign they are ceasing - or not? And what are the jerky movements I experience while sitting? The electrical current noises were and are experienced in and out of sitting times but the jerking only while sitting. If these are symptoms of a kundalini awakening, what, if anything, should I do to 'assist' the process?

Recently I have noticed a tingling sensation on the top of my head (more towards the front than the rear) - it is very subtle and doesn't occur at every sitting. Is this a part of the process?

Here are the three letters of comment:

1. It seems clear that what you have been experiencing are kundalini-like symptoms coming from an activation of that energy, for example, the electric-like currents and what could be called spontaneous asanas - the jerky movements, not to mention the tingling on the top of the head, which the Hindus would ascribe to the opening up of the upper most chakra. This kind of kundalini awakening seems best described as the physical counterpart to the awakening that takes place through Zen sitting. It is simply that in the Zen tradition much less attention is paid to these kinds of things, while the Hindus and the Tibetan Buddhists are much keener on developing the physical side. It is a more difficult question of whether and how to assist this process, and we will pass that one along.

As far as the black hole is concerned, it sounds like an abrupt perception of the emptiness of the ego that can be brought about by intensive sitting. In that case, especially if it happened suddenly rather than gradually, the ego itself can seem to have disappeared, and so it is like an experience of death or imminent death, since so much of ourselves has been wrapped up in our egos and their affective energies. This can be emotionally traumatic, but we think it ought to be understood in an affective way rather than a metaphysical one. By that we mean that from a Christian point of view the ego is not going to disintegrate or disappear, but the energy that animates it in the old way is going to be radically reconfigured. The difficulty when this process is going on is to avoid feeling that you are being extinguished, or dying.

2. The "electricity" experiences are common among people who have an intense, apophatic type of practice. This could be anything from an overly strained nervous system, or "kindling" experiences, or accelerated flows of pranic/chi energy (which ripple through the nadis and feel like electrical current). The tingling atop the head is sometimes associated with increased pranic activity in a higher chakra. What I have learned is that, no matter what the cause, the serenity/pain content of the experience is the best teacher. Some of these electricity experiences are enjoyable, and we reinforce them by paying attention to them; others are painful, and we wish they would just go away. I have them all day long and I don't think I could be rid of them even if I embarked on a full-scale effort to be free. I have learned to balance them a bit, and to back off of the more painful kinds.

You mentioned that you do your sitting with your hands resting on your knees. This helps to balance the energy but, in my experience, it draws the energy into the ears (don't ask me why). Perhaps if you would let the tip of your thumb rest between the tips of your 3rd and 4th fingers, you would get some relief (this builds the heart center more). Or, you might let your hands rest in your lap, right hand on left, palms upward (if you touch the tips of the thumbs, this, too, raises the energy). Another "mudra" that takes the pressure out of the ears is to lie on your back, raise your knees as much as you can, point your toes outward, raise your arms from the elbow up and imagine you're holding a bowl over your heart (palms upward). This builds the heart center nicely, and reduces pressure to the head and ears. I believe these mudras create an electromagnetic field that channels the flow of chi energy. As such these are in the interest of psycho-spiritual "hygiene," and have little to do with contemplation. I do bring an attitude of faith receptivity into these practices, and this helps.

The black hole experience is nicely discussed in the enclosed section from The Ego and the Dynamic Ground by Michael Washburn (a book I highly recommend). I could not resist these; they sucked me in, and like you, I wondered if it would turn out well. What I discovered was that at the "bottom" of the hole was the awareness and energy of the True Self. I wouldn't encourage going into it on your own, however. This is probably the tunnel people experience at death-a valley of darkness, to be sure. We need the Lord to walk with us through this one (Ps. 23).

Since you have been in charismatic renewal, do you experience glossalalia? I find spontaneous glossalalia an invaluable aid to ordering my energies. It's a kind of evolving mantra that vibrates the chakras according to the direction of the Holy Spirit. I don't think I'd make it without glossalalia and the Eucharist. All the other "techniques" leave me self-focused and ever-concerned about "fixing myself."

Are you familiar with the Kundalini Research Network? There are some good people who work with this. Let me know if you're interested.

3. First, some comments on Kundalini experiences. You will find my K. experiences detailed in the other materials I sent. I was aware of the chakra opening potential of meditation from earlier reading, but was nonetheless startled when a loud "POP" occurred one day while meditating, as well as by subsequent extreme head pressures of various types. This, as described by various authors was the physical sign of the opening of the 6th Chakra (the so-called "Third Eye") in the center of the brain behind the eyes. Krishnamurti (in his Journals) frequently refers to his experience of this on a long-term basis. For some months to meditate was to have unusual, and steadily increasing pressure and head pain (to pray was to hurt, to hurt was to pray). This eventually culminated when a kind of SILENCE took over for a number of days. This silence was absolute (inside), immense and completely indescribable. Nowhere did I find any comments on this until a lovely book titled, A Joseph Campbell Companion came along. This consists mainly of notes taken of his talks and conversations by a Diane Osbon. While discussing Kundalini experiences he comes to the opening of the 7th one and says,

"Sahasrara, 'Thousand Petalled,' is the lotus at the crown of the head. At this chakra there is no person to be conscious of God. There is only undifferentiated consciousness: the silence. When you hit Chakra VII, you are inert. It is a catatonic knockout, you might say, and you are reduced simply to a thing."

Yes, that was it! In Letters on Yoga, Vol. II, Sri Aurobindo comments on your specific electrical crackling in the head. Quite likely the tingling on the top, front of your head is consistent with Aurobindo's comments. You might be looking forward soon to J. Campbell's "catatonic knockout," a good (great) event. This, he says, is the opening of the passageway between the 6th and 7th Chakras. I would suppose that once the "opening" has been satisfactorily accomplished the symptoms of that opening would disappear. Mine certainly did.

Regarding Kundalini in general I have several comments. Yes, there is undoubtedly a process that is initiated (at least in most cases) by meditation which involves physical changes. For me, it seems clear that these changes are closely related to the physical changes which take place when any type of intensive new use of, or demands upon the strengths of the body are carried out for a prolonged period.

I spend no time thinking about Kundalini, and did so while the symptoms of change were popping and paining only out of curiosity as to what on earth was happening. In other words for me, Kundalini is a byproduct of meditation and a facilitating process to enable the whole body to carry out meditation with full effectiveness. The only thing that interests me long-term in the form of a goal is total union with God. Isn't it long overdue though for Christian teachers of prayer to expand their awareness and understanding of meditative technology -- so long as they don't get overexcited in the process and begin to think that symptoms of the process of unification with the transcendent is the union itself.

Regarding your "black hole" experience. I would begin by saying beware of anyone who tells you they know exactly what the experience meant. Access to that understanding is, it seems to me, available to you alone. You may never fully understand it, and it doesn't make much difference whether you do or not!

According to John of the Cross, the beginning of infused contemplation is the beginning of the Dark Night of the Spirit.- The Dark Night of the Spirit is well named. It is certainly very, very dark as often as not, and it is certainly "of the spirit" as the most central and deepest parts of your being are, in one way or another, split open, scrubbed with a wire brush and left (for me) a long, long time baking and cracking in the sun.

I'd guess that your black hole was (perhaps/perhaps not) an aspect of this night. I haven't had any black holes, but have been pinned mute and motionless (internally) under an immensity of infinitely heavy nothingness which made the very thought of trying to think about perhaps trying to meditate an impossible task. To move my mind or spirit an inch was like carrying a Boeing 747 (filled with lead) up a vertical, ice-covered cliff.

Although not frightened away (quite the contrary as I knew this immensity to be God's presence) I was literally unable to do anything remotely resembling meditation (like you) for several years. Try as I might I would usually end up running from the room to escape the intense frustration. What saved me was the growing awareness that my faith (exercise of intense inner attention focused on God as darkness and nothingness in my center) was growing much stronger -- obviously (seen with hindsight) the reason for my "problem" existing. It was the great blessing of God to give me an intensive "faith-building" exercise routine. As I now know from intense experience, this kind of faith is, in literal fact Christ Himself praying in me.

Another thought tossed in the general Black Hole direction: at some point in your transformative journey we must, for the first time make an absolutely total gift of ourselves to God. This gift must then be endlessly repeated until we finally know ourselves to have been "unwrapped and opened" by God and made His permanently. This gift of ourselves includes, if ever asked for, stepping off into absolute nothingness with no visible means of safety, with complete confidence that as we cannot ever be let go of by God -- we, in fact won't be let go of.

She responded to the third letter:

Your comments on Kundalini experiences proved helpful and I would like to read Krishnamurti's account which you mentioned, especially regarding the opening of the 6th chakra. I have been having some discomfort in the third eye area, sometimes pressure, which isn't bad, but also intense itching/stinging sensations - it became easy for me to irritate the area by scratching and soon it was very irritated and red. I decided to take extra B vitamins for a while (good for nerves/nerve endings) and to avoid, if I could, scratching it or even touching the area. This seems to be helping somewhat.

Keeping the Kundalini experiences in a position of simply being a by-product of meditation and facilitating bodily process (toward the goal of union) has been a very helpful attitude for me to adopt. It is easy, (at least for me), to pay attention to the experiences and in so doing loose sight of the intended goal. Thanks for that, too, as it has helped me to maintain balance.

Nothing new has occurred on the black hole experience, however, I found your comment on it to enable me to simply release the experience and move on. Also, I now have greater confidence that no matter what happens God will not let me go. You said 'I may never fully understand it, and it doesn't make much difference whether I do or not!' Great!!! Nonetheless, I would like to share a dream with you that I had a few years ago which has taken on new meaning in light of the Forum and the resulting communications. At the time of the dream it was vivid enough that I drew several pictures of it in order to attempt integration. The dream begins with me watching a swirling mass of colors off in the distance, which gradually moves closer to where I am standing until it is where I am. The swirling colors have a black center point, (hole), and I am being pulled, (like a magnetic pull), into/toward the center. I am, however, not facing the center but am facing away from it as though fighting the pull...

You wrote that at some point in our journey, -we must make an absolutely total gift of ourselves to God and this must be endlessly repeated - until we know ourselves to have been unwrapped and opened by God. This seems like a good place and time to begin doing that. Some of the dream work I have done with the swirling colors dream has been to use active imagination and turn around to face the center and not fight the 'pull.' Your notes made some reference to how we often do just that, fight the pull of God.

Your material also mentions that you experienced an 'inner furnace' - and I was immediately delighted to pursue that topic and see what you had experienced. Although your experiences differ somewhat from mine, I felt somehow better to know that this experience of heat is part of the process. Your 'inner furnace' seemed to remain 'lit' throughout the day and I wonder if it started out that way too. I first noticed the heat sensation while sitting (in meditation) about a year and a half ago, and it would usually begin early into my prayer time. At first the heat would be so intense that I would stop and take off a layer of clothing, thinking that I had simply dressed too warmly. Gradually I decided not to move but to watch and wait and see what happened - and sure enough, after what seemed like a few moments of the heat surging about the trunk, neck and head area, it would cease as suddenly as it began. I had not read/heard anything about this so it was comforting to hear about your 'inner furnace' experiences. I even thank God for it now and I have come to realize, after reading/viewing your materials, that I need to really let go and trust God in everything that occurs.


While this exchange of letters focused on two particular issues, it also has wider implications. The very fact that the participants in it are Christians is an indication of how deeply Eastern forms of meditation are effecting a growing number of Christian practitioners. We need to develop a Christian understanding and expertise in these matters. Our Forum member was reading Philip St. Romain's Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality at the beginning of this correspondence, which is a book that pioneered a Christian understanding of kundalini, and the kind of practical issues discussed here build on that beginning.

Black hole experiences might be more common than we realize, and might come, as well, in different varieties. In psychological work, for example, the ego ceases to be the center of the personality, and a new center in terms of the self begins to emerge. This is reflected in the dream of the colors and the black hole. In Eastern disciplines the phenomenal ego is seen as affectively disappearing in relationship to emptiness or the void, and in the Christian perspective the ego and the forms of praying connected with it are seen to give way to contemplation rooted in the center of the soul. Just what kinds of black hole experiences are people having? This is an area that deserves more attention than it has gotten, and we encourage Forum members to address themselves to it. The common ingredient in these various kinds of black hole experiences is the ego giving way to a deeper center, but just how does this happen to people in practice?

Our Forum member indicated that she had turned to Zen after her normal way of praying no longer gave her the satisfaction it did before. There was no longer a sense of God's presence. She is not alone in having done this. Other examples have come to our attention in which Christians have reached the same kind of dead-end and turned to Zen. But this fact implies that it is difficult to discover an answer to this critical juncture in the life of prayer within the context of the Western Christian tradition. John of the Cross does talk about this transition in detail, but the thrust of his writings is that it is a movement from meditation (that is, all the kinds of prayer we can do ourselves) to the experience of infused contemplation, which is a free gift of God. While he admits that many people arrive at this inability to pray as they did before, and even that many of them do not go on to contemplation, he doesn't really talk about what they should do if infused contemplation is not the outcome of this dark night of sense. Does anyone have an answer to this question of what to do in the dark night of sense when infused contemplation is not given?

All these matters lead us to an even more basic issue. Our Forum member, for example, speaks of "the presence of the Holy Spirit now and then," and in the letters of comment we find phrases like "as such these are in the interest of psycho-spiritual hygiene, and have little to do with contemplation," and "the only thing that interests me long term is total union with God." These remarks hint at the deeper issue of how Christian contemplation is ultimately going to be related to Eastern forms of enlightenment. If this relationship could be clarified, then it would be easier for Christians to practice Eastern forms of meditation and vice versa. (While there are many Christians practicing Eastern forms of meditation, some examples are now appearing of Eastern practitioners with Christian roots rediscovering some kind of Christian practice.) This very difficult issue deserves our attention.


Let's take a break from all this serious stuff and we will tell you about where this Newsletter comes from. Our address reads Chiloquin, Oregon, and that little town of 700 is where we pick up our mail every week or two. But that is civilization! Why, there might be even 8 or 9 people at the post office all at once. From Chiloquin we drive 15 miles and leave our car, and then the trip really begins. Even though spring has come the snow is too deep for any wheeled vehicle to reach our forest home, so we snowmobile, often pulling a sled with books, mail and groceries, along old logging roads for 7 miles to reach our little hill top covered with pines and firs. We are the only people in 100 square miles of forest, and for company we have to make due with Misha, the cat, and our gray and stellar jays. But we are warm and well-fed, baking our middle Eastern pita bread, and have plenty of time to call our own, and have been typing this Newsletter with the electricity from our solar panels. When we do get out again we like to run around and work on different projects. The latest one is a video on cheap and ecologically sane alternative housing. Recently we visited the Cob Cottage group that makes delightful little houses out of cob, or adobe-like earth sculptured into beautiful forms.


Have you ever dreamed of living in a contemplative community? If you have, you have quite a bit of company - people like Asha and Russill Paul D'Silva, disciples of Bede Griffiths, and Sunder Wells and her companions in The New Monk Community, and no doubt many others. Our own fantasy goes like this:

1. five or six households of 15 to 25 people married, single, religious, priests, no matter who all have a serious interest in the life of prayer and contemplation who are open to other spiritual traditions, willing to work at psychological growth, and desiring a simpler life, more in tune with nature.

2. Each household would have its own house and land, as well as share common fields, ponds, guest house, community center, garage, workshop, etc.

3. Each household would build its own home with the help of the community using the best of alternative building techniques that have the capacity to create inexpensive and ecologically sane dwellings.

4. The community would start on a sound economic foundation, buying inexpensive land outright, and building all they need to avoid the burdens of lifelong mortgages. With this financial foundation in place each household would manage its own finances within a common framework of sharing and avoiding the needless duplication of material goods.

5. Each household would create its own schedule centered around distinctive inner journeys and particular kinds of work.

The goal of such a structure is to blend a maximum of freedom and responsibility with a warm and supporting community. What are the obstacles that stand in the way of such a community? We tend to think first of the economic problems involved, but while they demand careful attention, there are more vital issues. Do we really share the same vision with the people we want to live close to? Do we really have a handle on the psychological differences of our would-be community members?

Well, that's the bare bones of our fantasy. Now it is your turn. What kind of mixed contemplative communities already exist? What are being planned? What are your own fantasies?

Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum Newsletter Copyright 1995