There are seven basic chakras (energy centers) in every human being, and each of these chakras is a direct link to Higher Energy or God. They are located in various areas of the body; for instance, there’s a chakra at the center of the forehead, and there are others in the throat, heart, below the navel, the sexual area, the base of the spine, and the crown of the head. I often tell my students that the proper use of meditation will strengthen their chakra systems and help them to become masters of themselves.

The question always arises: what do we have to master? The answer is simple: a chaotic mind, emotions that are like quicksand, sexuality that transforms us into horny or repressed children who can’t deal with an energy so intense it wreaks havoc in our daily lives. I tell them that meditation is not a religion or a cult— it’s simply a technique we learn that helps us transform our tension into spiritual energy. First, we have to learn to master the energy of mind, emotion, and sexuality and put an end to the war that has run unabated within us from the time of our birth— a war that doesn’t allow us to enjoy a single peaceful day.

If meditation is a craft, then like any other craft, it has tools, and in this case, they are the mind and the breath. When you’ve learn to master these tools and use them to open and strengthen the chakra system, we take major steps in the process of activating kundalini. The first step is to build an inner foundation and balance, to strengthen what the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese call qi or chi to know that our center of balance is located in the chakra just below the navel. Then we must use the tools of meditation to gain inner balance, harmony, and a strong foundation. The mind is like a surgical instrument. When it’s focused on the third chakra, it cuts through thick layers of tension that often create serious physical, emotional, and mental blocks. It gets us in touch with our center of balance, opens it, and transforms the third chakra into a lotus-like base similar to the bases on which sculpted or painted Buddhas often sit.

Then we must learn to breathe into the third chakra; we must learn that the power of breath will expand and strengthen that area and make it possible for us to live consciously in the world. Enlightenment is not just a matter of releasing dormant kundalini energy, because, when kundalini awakens, it could easily tip sanity’s balance. I’ve been told there are thousands of people living in mental institutions who have had strong kundalini awakenings. In fact, drugs like marijuana and LSD will activate kundalini in people who haven’t enough inner strength to support the intensity of the experience. Enlightenment is a matter of building a chakra system capable of handling kundalini— a chakra system developed gradually over a long period of time— and an inner life that has a strong foundation and a quiet mind, an inner life that makes it possible for us to live every moment with an open heart.

In a world where a fast-food mentality creeps into and dominates spiritual practice, in a world where people haven’t the patience to sustain a spiritual practice over a long period of time, there are thousands of teachers of thousands of different methods. Each teacher charges hefty fees to heal us emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, and each path offers different guidelines for enlightenment. The problem isn’t that there are so many paths; the problem is the promiscuous nature of the people who follow them. People skip from seminar to seminar, from lecture to lecture, from spiritual practice to spiritual practice, rarely, if ever, extracting the full benefits of any one path. They don’t have the time and patience to use whatever practice they have chosen to follow to achieve mastery over self, instead all too often worshipping at the shrine of fast-food spirituality.

I meet many people who talk about the great kundalini experiences they had twenty or thirty years ago, but today they are often dried out, aging, unhealthy people who live in the haze of memory instead of the creative and vital expression of the moment. Without a steady diet of inner work, without a step-by-step building of the chakra system— from a strong foundation to clarity of mind and an open heart— without joy and love and the ability to sustain the highest levels of our own humanity, without forgiveness and compassion, patience and wisdom, kundalini is nothing more than a powerful force that could turn the inner life of a human being to ash.

The awakening of kundalini can’t be an isolated experience fed by a need for something cosmic. It is part of a healthy spiritual evolution of consciousness if it coincides with the awakening of the deepest elements of our own humanity. If it’s the end result of an organic, day-by-day development of one’s chakra system, kundalini becomes a vehicle for the human soul to connect with the divine.