“Is it possible… that Kundalini awakening could look like psychosis?”
After ditching university, Kara-Leah Grant spent her twenties traveling the world in search of adventure, creativity and a tribe of like-minded souls.
Sex, drugs, yoga and music festivals were simply part of the fun, until they weren’t.
Diagnosed as bipolar after leaping topless onto a moving logging truck in the wilderness of British Columbia, Kara-Leah returns to New Zealand to heal her soul, face her past, and uncover the deep truths of her innermost being.
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GUEST LINKS - KARA-LEAH GRANT
Sex, Drugs & (mostly) Yoga: Field Notes from a Kundalini Awakening by Kara-Leah Grant
HOST LINKS - SLADE ROBERSON
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I asked her how bad it got when it really wasn’t fun anymore...
That moment was waking up in a psych ward for the second time, so this is September 2004, and 4 weeks earlier I ended up in the psych ward as well. The second time I woke up, I remember so clearly I was in this single bed right beside the door and there were 4 beds to a room so it was me with other people.
I woke up knowing that my fiancé had broken up with me 5 or 6 days before. Knowing that because he'd broken up with me, I now didn't have anywhere to live. Knowing that I was essentially in debt and I didn't have a job. Knowing that I'd been diagnosed bipolar. That I was back in a psych ward. That I was potentially seen as crazy. That my whole life had imploded.
And knowing that, for the second time... The first time, it had been triggered by taking LSD and mushrooms and ecstasy and weed and all those things. But this time I hadn't taken any drugs.
So it's a sense of waking up going, I'm crazy again and I can't blame the drugs and I've been dumped by the person that was supposed to be here for me. And feeling like hell was gracing my heart but I was so afraid of being vulnerable that I couldn't express it even. There was nowhere to go because I was surrounded by people in the ward and the room and the sense of total implosion of life and nowhere to hide anymore. Just nowhere to hide.
It was a pretty painful moment in my life.
So what switch sort of flipped in you to make you think, you know what? I'm gonna share this story with everyone.
Well, I'd always been a writer and I had journalled my whole life. I had been working as a journalist in British Columbia where I was living. I was working as a waitress and as a journalist and as a go go dancer. And then I had quit waitressing because through writing full-time I'd written a screenplay that had won a national award.
But I was really struggling. I was struggling massively.
I wasn't able to pitch myself. I had a lot of stuff going on emotionally so even though I was theoretically freelancing as a writer, I wasn't making any money coming in.
So when I woke up in the psych ward, I had a journal with me fortunately that someone had brought in and gave to me. She was like this angel. She literally showed up and she was like, I know that you write. And I thought that you would appreciate having something to write in. I didn't even know her that well, like an acquaintance of mine.
So I had this journal that she dropped off for me maybe the first or second day I was in the psych ward. And I just remember writing in my journal and writing out everything that's happened.
And at the very end of writing that diary entry, there was like this surge of knowingness, like this energy. I actually talk about this in the book, this knowingness or this energy came through several times in my life since, and I just found myself writing down, The sun was shining in in my life. So real. And it was just this, almost rebellious, You know what? Fuck you. You can't keep me down. All this shit that's happened to me, I will find my way back to the light. Just you wait and see.
So that was me right at that moment. And I think that energy was what called me forth to find my way through. And I knew, even back then, that I would one day, that part of the journey was to share this story of mine with the public. Like it was really important to write about it because I was able to...
I mean, it was such a gift to experience psychosis from the inside. To really witness what the mind was like, and that experience. And then to be able to recall it. And then to be able to articulate it in a way that other people could understand.
So even then I had a sense of how important it was that I journal and write about my experiences of psychosis/awakening. It was though.
So is it possible that what we would call psychosis or mental illness could also be a kundalini awakening? Tell me about that connection. Other people may be experiencing one or the other and wondering.
Since then, my understanding from conversations I've had with different people and research that I've done, what can begin to happen for us is, especially if we're dabbling in a combination, as I was, of yoga practices and meditation practices and ecstatic dance practices combined with LSD or mushrooms or even weed, etc. All these plants' medicines, they're so powerful they really do impact our psyche and consciousness.
And if you combine them with things like yoga and meditation and you haven't done the grounding work and the building of the witness of the container, and you haven't cleared out the psychological patterns from childhood, basically it blows your circuits, is one way to put it. It just blows your circuits. You're not really able to handle the amount of pure light and the amount of energy, of kundalini, that can start to move through the system.
It's kind of like hooking up a regular old light bulb to 10,000 volts and expecting it to handle it. It just won't. You know, you've got to change your light bulb first. You've got to put in a 10,000 volt light bulb before you start channelling that much energy.
But I didn't know any better.
I know that there are so many people that are experiencing that convergence of awakening practices with plant medicines of various kinds without necessarily having done the psychological work necessary to stabilize the system and build strong enough channels to hold the flow.
Mmm... That's a really great way of explaining it actually. I love that. And I mean, gee, what are the chances that we will play with magic if we run across it and don't know what we're doing?
Ohmygod. It's happening so often. All over the place!
People are doing ayahuasca...
Multiple times. And I don't necessarily have a follow up care yet... I don't necessarily have the constructs or the context to understand how one being works with what is revealed and what comes up in the unconscious. And so people are just left hanging so often, and they can dissolve. They can disintegrate. They can fall apart and not know how to navigate that territory.
So how did you figure out how to recover from that? Or to retro-engineer the proper container, as you call it. How did you fix the container?
So I was fortunate in that because I already did have the yoga and meditation practice, some part of me intuitively knew that what I'd experienced wasn't just psychosis and that I wasn't necessarily bipolar. That that was a western labelling.
It was just this knowingness. So I knew that yoga would help me to pop myself back together mentally, emotionally, and right from the get-go, I was in the psych ward and I would go out on the lawn and practice yoga. That was my rock.
That was the way that I built the container. Which is like the ability to witness oneself in action so that I was able to, rather than be identified with my thoughts and identified with my feelings, and identified with my body, and the sensations in my body, I was able to orientate to the witness that I am and still experience the thoughts and the feelings in the body but from a HELD place.
So that I wasn't overwhelmed by the thoughts, or overwhelmed by the feelings. I was able to hold myself while I felt what I needed to feel. And while I learned how to observe my thoughts and then trace back to what was giving rise to the thoughts, so that I can uninstall or unprogram myself from the constructs of a lifetime and beyond, really. Like all the programming from childhood, from family, from school, from society. All the stuff that is NOT who I truly am.
I just knew yoga was the way for me and I practice every single day. I was relentless in my practice of yoga.
So you were in British Columbia though when you were in the psych ward?
Yeah. I didn't know this at the time, but the experiences all happened during Lion's Gate, the astrological period of Lion's Gate that happens in August. And I was taken down to Lion's Gate hospital to keep at the psych ward at Lion's Gate hospital. It's interesting coincidences...
And what was even more intriguing was that it all got triggered when I was at Shambhala Music Festival and it was a Sunday morning. And I took acid that morning. Not a LOT, Maybe a quarter of a tab. I never took a lot. But I took acid and I went to the yoga class on acid and we went into lion's pose, which I've never done in my life before.
I remember quite distinctly doing 3 rounds of lion's pose with lion's breath, and THAT was the moment that something in me went into the awakening process. It was like an excavation and I literally stood up in the class. I kind of looked at the teacher and I do recall her looking at me strangely but I was just like, I'm done. I've got what I needed from this.
And I left the yoga class.
From that moment on, I started to go through the awakening that eventually devolved into the psychosis of the next 5 or 6 days. So it was like, from lion's pose to Lion's Gate to Lion's Gate.
Ooo... How long were you in that ward?
So the first time I was there for just 3 days. They basically sedated me and... Because I'd gone into the ward that time speaking some kind of ancient language and doing prostrations. My body was going into spontaneous prostrations to the Sun god Ra. I mean, I'd never been taught this but it's just coming through my system. Like I knew how to do these things spontaneously.
So the first doctor I saw, the psychiatrist, he was kind of onto it. Because he called it spiritual burglary. He's like, You've opened some doors you shouldn't have opened.
He gave me some medication. Don't do that again. Don't take any more drugs. And oh, by the way, you're bipolar. Take this medication and see you later. So I was only there for 3 days.
The second time which was exactly a month later on the new moon, both times, the second time, partly because it was my second time and there was no drugs that had precipitated it, I was there for 9 days. It took me longer to convince them I was sane enough to live out again in the community.
Mmm... So at that point, you travelled back home to New Zealand, right?
Yeah. I had no choice. I mean, I didn't have any money. I had nowhere to live. My fiancé had broken up with me. I needed to just come home. I didn't want to. I SO did not want to.
I was leaving... I had lived in British Columbia for 7 years. I love that place. I love the mountains. I love the land. And I have amazing friends. I felt connected and I felt good there. I felt like I could be me there.
Coming back to New Zealand, it was like slipping back into all the old constructs and all the old expectations and assumptions of who I was meant to be and how I was meant to act.
Yeah, I didn't want to come home.
Oh, I came home too. It took me a couple years from the time that I had my stroke to move back here. But I really did come home to just sort of survive, you know? To heal and to build back from square one.
But that's of course when I started Shift Your Spirits.
So we were experiencing that in parallel as well. I'm only just now realizing that. Because I didn't know you when all that was going on. I only know you as you started to build this online presence that you have and how we met.
But yeah, my 2004, 2005 was probably very similar to yours in many ways.
But it was like, oh, I'm back here?? Back to square one?
Did you feel like that a little bit?
Ohmygod. It was awful. I felt like I left the excitement and the adventure and the awesomeness and the aliveness of life, and I was back in this dead place where nothing was happening. And I was nobody and there was nothing. And it was like... My mom had moved so we lived in Dunedin when I was a teenager, which is like a university town of about 100,000 in the South Island.
She's moved to this small mountain town of 400 people in the interim. So when I came back home, I was coming back to a place where I had no... It was completely different. It was a different house. It was a different town.
In that respect it was actually amazing because the mountains and the lake, the nature was so beautiful, so powerful. And it was that landscape that really helped me to heal. Being in the mountains again of Queenstown, New Zealand is extraordinary, but yeah, I didn't want to be there.
Did not want to be there.
I credit the mountains with bringing me back as well. I came back to the Appalachians where I grew up and very, very powerful... One of the oldest geological features in the world, I have since learned. So they're very ancient mountains that have been worn down for just millennia, so there's layers and layers of magic here. The smokey mountains is how they're commonly known.
So I had something similar going on where I almost had to choose to reconnect to the landscape and let go of whatever attachments that I used to have to it, and sort of re-define it in a new way and kind of romance this whole place I didn't want to be in but here I am, so how can I love it?
Did you do something similar? Did you re-invent yourself in that way?
Yeah. I just remember I was sleeping every day 'til like 2:00 in the afternoon. I was just trying to numb myself out as much as I could. And the only thing I had to numb out with was sleep really, because I wasn't taking any drugs or anything like that anymore. And I wasn't distracting myself with internet or movies.
But I just remember having this sense of, I need to move. And so I started forcing myself... There's a trail around a lagoon. So I was like, right, I just have to get out. I've got to run for a hundred metres. And every day, there were these orange markers at 50m every interval around the lagoon. So I would run one more marker each day.
And that was my way of forcing myself to be present and to kind of exist in the track of life again. And I remember really, really clearly that the day that I finally ran the whole way around. It was probably only 2km, maybe 3. It wasn't very far.
But I was so ecstatic about the fact that I'd done it that I turned around and ran back around the whole way and did a double loop on that same day. That commitment to being in the landscape and running and walking the landscape was part of what helped me begin to heal. That and the yoga. But there's something about the physical movement, getting the endorphins and the serotonin going in the brain again, that really helped me begin that journey of healing.
Oh yes! Thank you for saying that. I am very late to the game in discovering my athleticism. I didn't start working out until I was 41 and that was when I stopped smoking. I chose yoga as a replacement therapy for smoking.
And so my connection and discovery of yoga is, I was trying to think, with a habit especially an addiction, what are you gonna put in that hole if you take it out? There's gotta be something else to go there. Some kind of replacement behaviour and I tried to think of what was the thing that was symbolically connected to smoking but that can somehow be healthy?
So I came to the conclusion that it was the breath. And I just had this intuition. I'd done yoga before, as a smoker. It never stuck. But I instinctively knew, Oh yes! That's the thing. That's the thing that'll heal me and ground me in my body in a new way, and I was just passionately into it for maybe 4 years or so, doing it 5 days a week.
I really do credit that with changing my relationship with my breath. It's crazy to think that I was still writing all the things that I write, and doing spiritual work and so I don't want people to think, like, Oh, you have to be perfect to be doing this kind of work. You don't. You just have to be on a journey of improving yourself.
If you've got one plan to get to one orange marker around the lake, then you're ok. You're on the path.
That was it. Having that sense of change every day, of aiming for something, achieving something, it gave me an anchor. Something to get out of bed for in a way.
Well the whole idea that you said about the container and the metaphor of the lightbulb being plugged into too much energy is really cool because I actually have this thing called an energy reboot because so many of my clients will come to me really frazzled. They're spending so much time in their upper chakras. They're like always in the third eye, always trying to get that divine crown open.
They're just way up here. If you could see me, I'm waving my hands above my head. It's a very top-heavy kind of energy. And they come in sort of burnt out and all over the place and I always say, you need to unplug and plug back in. And start at the bottom. And light yourself up from the root back up.
To me, the way that I do that is through athleticism. Through really, really basic stuff like walking meditation. Even if you can't run around the lake, you can sure as hell walk around the lake. You know what I mean?
Yeah it was a big part of my journey as well, realizing that I had just blown wide open through my heart and third eye and through the crown. All of that. And I was so blocked through first, second, third chakras and so that was a big part of why I went from awakening, feeling the oneness, the bliss, understanding life in such a deep way, into psychosis and right back into conditioned mind.
And now it literally felt like going from being in heaven to going to hell.
It was doing the hard work of recognizing, in order for me to experience that degree of openness and connection and bliss again, I had to clear out the lower chakras. I had to face my humanness and do the work of learning how to be with and meet reality as it was moment to moment.
So let's fast forward a little bit and come into the present, fast forward this journey where you've taken all this to. Now you are primarily a retreat leader, correct?
Yeah. I write books and I run retreats and I work with people online with mentoring programs and awakening programs.
My primary thing is working with people in some way, supporting them on that journey, that emergence from, I kind of call it coming out of the matrix in some way. It's when people begin to wake up and things really begin to shift and change for them and they don't know.
They need context. They need framework. They need tools in order to navigate that journey of emerging into a new way of being with reality.
What are the patterns that you see people who are coming to you for this kind of assistance, support, what kind of patterns are you noticing in your clients? What are they bringing in?
Hmm... Often what will happen is that people will begin to experience life in a new way. So they'll begin to become more aware of things but those things are still occurring. Like they'll begin to notice or become aware that, for example, that they're a people pleaser. Or that they let people treat them like a doormat.
So there's a greater awareness of themselves in action. But they're not able to shift it or change it.
And with that greater awareness, so often that comes usually judgement and shame and guilt and fear. So they come to me because they're starting to wake up and it feels awful because the judgement the guilt and the shame, and all those things get triggered.
So a big part of what I'm doing with people is I talk a lot about anchoring into love and truth. Where I hold a space or a field of unconditional love in such a way that, however they show up, whatever they're experiencing, is completely okay. So that when they can feel that coming from me, they're able to start to feel that for themselves and they start to recognize that so much of their suffering is not because what's happening in their lives. Or not because what's happening inside of them, but it's because of how they are perceiving and how they are judging themselves.
So once they feel me being an unconditional loving space for them, they can, it's almost like feel the imprint of that? So they can begin to feel their own unconditional sense of love for themselves as they are, with whatever is going on inside of them.
Mmm... So for somebody listening right now, who's not in New Zealand, are you able to do this kind of work with people over the phone or over Skype or wherever they might be?
Yeah, I work on Zoom, so I do a lot of work in session. I meet with people in the States, Canada. And I also do a retreat every year in Mexico, which of course is for mainly Canadian and American friends so that they can come.
I didn't realize that you did them so close!
I do! I do one in Mexico.
And it's amazing because when people come on retreat with me, what I'm doing is I am very clear about setting up a super strong container on the energy and emotional and mental realm because what I've realized is that the stronger the container, the more held and supported and safe that people feel, it's like it activates them and it supports them to be able to let go, surrender and dissolve that which no longer suits them.
It's almost as if, I mean I don't even do anything. Sometimes it feels like I don't DO anything on a retreat but of course what I'm doing is holding that strong container. And I set up a framework of basically explaining reality from a different perspective than most people perceive it.
And they get it. They're like, Ohmygod. That makes so much sense.
So then on the retreat, they begin to explore interacting with reality from that new framework. And they begin to see the benefits and feel the benefits of being in that new way. So it gives them an opportunity to step into and to be with themselves and be with reality in a different way so that, my intention is when they go back to their ordinary life, that they're able to bring that new way of being into their ordinary life.
So it's not the kind of retreat where you just go away and you just chill out and then you go home again. It's actually about creating a new way of being from the inside out that you can take with you.
What do you hope that you can contribute to the greater conversation about spirituality and personal development?
My intention is to really help people learn how to be with the darkness and the shadow and the fears. Because what I was saying a lot especially in spiritual and new age circles is there can be this escape into the upper chakras. And this fear or unwillingness to be with the heavier, darker so-called negative things.
And yet, the only way through into a very grounded heart-connected clear way of being is to get super comfortable with feeling the guilt, the shame, the fear, the anxiety, the depression, all those things, being able to BE with it so that you can move through it.
So that's my intention, is to give people the framework and the tools so they know how to be with the challenging stuff for themselves. Which then means they can actually be with other people who are going through challenging stuff, and simply hold space for other people, so other people can then be with the challenging stuff.
And so there's like a chain reaction of human beings being able to be with the hard stuff and be okay.
The book is called Sex, Drugs & (Mostly) Yoga, Field Notes from a Kundalini Awakening by Kara-Leah Grant. Tell everybody where they can find you online and find out about your work and your retreats and all your stuff.
So the best place to find me is on my website, which is KaraLeah.com. There's no hyphen. Even though my name has a hyphen, the website doesn't. So KaraLeah.com.
And if you google me, you'll find me on Amazon. I've got a couple of other books and I'm on YouTube and I'm on Facebook. I'm on Instagram. And I'm blessed with a unique name. I've never found anyone with my name so it's pretty easy to find me online if you google my name.
That was great, Kara-Leah. Thank you for coming on the show.
My pleasure, Slade. Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about all this stuff.