KUNDALINI’S DAUGHTER: INTRO
Lisa Streitfeld’s account of her own ever-evolving consciousness is not for the faint – or, for that matter, the hard – of heart. Streitfeld merges lived experience with apparently dreamed speculation to propose that we return to the spirit of the goddess – and, in true feminist fashion, makes the proposal by living it, by putting it in the first person singular and allowing it to radiate out to the third person plural. Streitfeld’s “official” role as an art critic in and around New York proves less strait jacket than springboard to her embrace of a visionary, even hallucinatory, melding of minds and symbols: she is as able to find portent and vital metaphor in her relationships with artists and art-world types as she is in her interactions with hippies, shamans, itinerants, and the indigenous people she encounters in her journeys. Daughter of a New Age seer, Streitfeld does not take her mission, much less her Weltanschauung, lightly; but she does take it exuberantly, and is not afraid to crash to the ground with as much energy as she launches herself into the heavens. Magic realism meets urban mysticism in Streitfeld’s recounting. Her fever is infectious.
Editor, THE magazine Los Angeles
Senior Curator, Riverside Art Museum
INTRODUCTION TO KUDALINI’S DAUGHTER
Lisa Paul Streitfeld
The word psyche is derived from psychein, meaning to breathe, to blow, and hence, to live. Her symbol is the butterfly emerging out of the chrysalis. Critical Trilogy was created during the cultural shift coinciding with the change of millennium. It took five years of gestation to find her form.
Yet, the origins of this book were much earlier, in a 1983 Kundalini awakening that gives this first volume its title. My father was pioneer in the Human Potential Movement of the early 1960’s who established Aureon, the east coast counterpart to Esalen, where I had my first encounter group at the age of five. Before I graduated high school, he became a disciple of Swami Muktananda, whom he introduced to the scientific community when the guru visited California in 1974.
I stayed at my father’s Kundalini Clinic in San Francisco during a college vacation in 1979, intrigued but not fully aware of the mysterious serpent power and its potential for genius or insanity. I was soon to find out, because at his funeral in 1983, I experienced the healing heads of Sister Denise, a guide to my father’s exploration of Raja Yoga. This remarkable woman was the most angelic being I have ever encountered in a life-long journey of meeting many sages, magicians and gurus. She was so light that she seemed to glide on air, and when she placed her hands on my crown chakra as I wept before my father’s coffin, I felt the sensation of the thousand petal lotus opening, the tingling on the crown of the head known as the Kundalini awakening.
Following this sublime experience, I lived through a decade of personal turmoil while running across three continents as a writer, with little else but my pen to attach me to the earth. Not until 1994, when I arrived back in my family home in Stamford, Connecticut, did I commit myself to the process of bringing this spirit fully into my physical body – and my body of writing. Typically, I thought it would take a few days, maybe a month; instead it took fifteen years. Along the way, I experienced the great paradox of my life as an Aquarian: in going inward, I found not only myself but a profession. Or I should say, criticism found me, for it gave me the ability to exorcise my daemon and reconcile persistent dreams of needing to relieve myself in public. How else could I work through the challenges of grounding a new myth — Kundalini pioneer’s daughter awakened over his coffin — when the lack of roadmaps was compounded with the necessity to earn a living?
Psyche was a mythical mortal who symbolically reflects our soul. You, dear reader, are already participating in her rebirth, simply by reading this introduction. An odyssey, compiled in three volumes, brings an intensive decade long process of relentlessly tracking the re-emergence of the sacred feminine in contemporary culture to an ending – and a new transformation.
Initially the journey was propelled by my own struggle to find Psyche in a tangible form. This evolved into a physical act of impromptu performance/installation art archived through traditional photography, later taking on an entirely new skin in The Alchemy of Love, a 2007 live multimedia production in the Lab Gallery of the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan.
Here you are with the outcome. The first volume of Critical Trilogy covers Psyche’s falling in love with Eros and ends with the beginning of her disenchantment with romantic love. Vol. II contains the character building that rewards Psyche with the profession of art critic under a gender-free label. Vol. III results in the transition from critic to curator as a means of introducing the public to an aesthetic reflecting a new cosmology.
In 1997, I met the author Margaret Starbird, who had written about her search for the “lost bride” of the gospels and was to later inspire Dan Brown’s writing of The Da Vinci Code. My passionate exchange with Margaret about the hieros gamos prompted me to begin a conscious and proactive journey to find evidence of the bride’s return in art.
The book you are holding is the refined product of this search. In bringing together a vision of Psyche with a written chronicle of the journey of Her emergence, it reflects an authentic quest: to restore the image of the lost bride to psychic life through the passionate expression of a newly emerging face of the feminine.
The obstacle facing the culture at the turn of the millennium was this: how do we penetrate beyond post-modern cynicism and feminist repression to a new eroticism that contains the full expression of the divine feminine in union with her male consort? On a personal level, I embarked on a contemporary remaking of a 20th century urban myth reflected in the title of the second volume, Psyche on 79th Street: the “underground” descent of the uptown New Yorker to an earthiness embodied in the downtown artist community. By becoming fully engaged in developing a Codex of this process, I confronted the challenge facing all art disciplines today: how to create an elastic form that is alive, yet timeless, contemporary, yet rooted in the past. Above all, this new art form must tell the truth about the joys and sorrows of being alive at this crucial point of history.
The abyss we are staring into, declared by 20th century critics as the End of Art, holds the potential for our transformation. It is the paradigm leap we all face — the point where past and future converge into present, the collapse of the Quantum Wave, is where the new archetype is born. It is precisely in this undefined space that Kundalini’s Daughter lives and breathes the fresh air of creative freedom — no matter if she is uptown, downtown or anywhere in between! Once it became obvious that the serpent power was pushing me to creating a new form, my path was obvious: to establish myself as a leader in a new avant-garde.
How did I get to that place from my refuge in Connecticut? In 2001, I plunged into a job as the weekly newspaper critic for Southern Connecticut Newspapers. I began writing about visual art and eventually expanded into dance and theater. Over a span of five years, I published nearly 250 reviews and articles. At every possible opportunity, I chronicled the return of the authentic feminine repressed by both the corporate media and academia with its institutionalized feminism. Some of these reviews and articles appear in this volume while others will appear in future volumes.
Paradoxically, the content and rhythm of this book are composed of the serpent’s shedding of the real life experiences required to write it. Yet, beyond an immersion into the collective consciousness, my daemon required surrendering to the universal unconscious – a new version of the myth of Psyche and Eros. There are aspects of the original Greek narrative that are missing, as the myth was being lived through a contemporary woman who had been schooled by a father whose core identity through all his transformations was unshakeable: participant and observer rolled into one. In this respect, the virgin in the myth was being newly invented as the solitary female intellectual who betrays her own mind, as Eros betrays Psyche, in order to confront her veiled desire for an authentic connection to another human being. In breaking through both this myth of the solitary genius, and narrowly escaping the trap of narcissism, she overcomes the illusions of romance to learn about a love that is real. To succeed in this quest, she must develop her character through discrimination, courage and containment of spirit. This growth leads to a new relationship between Eros and Beauty. But wouldn’t a critic with a pioneering spirit embracing such an evolution imply the discovery of a new aesthetic?
Yet, to do so meant betraying my professionalism. This was the paradox that I chose to face, rather than repress, and the trilogy is filled with the tension of risk. Ironically, just before we went to press with this book, I was sent a piece of my father’s published writing that gives me solace:
A point that Muktananda keeps making…is the necessity of having direct, personal experience with higher states of consciousness and spiritual energy. This may seem obvious but it is easy to forget this simple truth. Again and again, he exhorts the scientist to study himself, the healer to heal himself, the psychologist to witness his own mind. The pressures to achieve and perform in these fields before one has gone very far into one’s own Self are very great in America. Muktananda says that the journey into the Self can only make one into a better therapist, a better minister, a better researcher. Nothing will be lost; much will be gained. That is what he told me when I first met him. From direct personal experience I have found he was speaking the truth. *
My father raised his progeny to undertake his own spirit of scientific inquiry in pursuit of the Self, breaking through any boundary standing in the way — whether in the body, society or profession. I never doubted that to understand art on the cutting edge, I had to follow my father’s path, and balance the tension between the opposites to become both observer and participant. The suspense was high but triumph lay on the other side of the tightrope: a new language to interpret innovative art forms for the 21st century.
Kundalini’s Daughter goes beyond the struggle to cope with my father’s legacy as death-defying explorer of the forbidden realm of dark matter. It is also the attempt to make good on his unconventional teachings, particularly in regards to non-attachment. The value propelling the narrative forward is not at all apparent in a consumer addicted culture. And this is what makes the constant vigor of my Reichian trained psychologist father’s tireless breakdown of energies blocked in the body relegated, even today, to the avant-garde. As a critic, I followed in his footsteps by interpreting impediments within the body of the artist’s work – as well as the art world and celebrity obsessed culture. These dead zones harbor outworn archetypes and patriarchal myths that need be reinvented for a new age of gender equality.
In turning my Third Eye inward, I had to apply this same rigor to my writing. To break through the shadow threatening the critic — who can profess to see everything, it would seem, except their own backside — requires the creativity and imagination of the novel, along with the rigorous adherence to truth required by journalism. In combining both forms, Critical Trilogy makes a mythical millennial journey filtered through the collective consciousness a living and breathing reality for our time.
In retrospect, it seems that such an unbearable task of bringing heaven down to earth was essential to drive the narrative forward. Yet, confronting the seemingly impossible at every new turn was Psyche’s challenge in the Greek myth as well. Coming upon the insurmountable obstacle, she didn’t simply whine as so many artists do about the state of things; instead, she fully surrendered. In giving up her life to a higher power, the universe came to her aid in unpredictable ways. This was also true of my journey.
But what about Critical Trilogy, that also took on a life of its own? How did it evolve from lunar diary to e-mail novel to her present hybrid form? A writer friend, Mary Lee Grisanti, could see the narrative in an evolution of e-mails I dared describe as a novel (well, it certainly was novel!), and suggested making it a unique book of fiction integrating my articles and reviews into the text while adding fantasy elements to portray the unfolding of the ancient myth defining romance. I had all sorts of doubts and anxieties regarding such a breakdown of boundaries between my professions. Could I possibly exist as an astrologer, reporter, psychic, healer, novelist, lover, daughter and budding art critic in blood stained pages between two covers? Yet, the creative urge took over. I rewrote the e-mail novel into prose, with voices established through tapes made of initial encounters and interviews with cultural figures.
The integral process of weaving it all together required connecting seemingly unrelated events through my instinctual attraction to symbol, encapsulated by the images guiding the reader into each chapter, with titles doubling as captions. Since my awakening, I was propelled towards such signposts in the collective unconscious as if by an underground stream. When I became a critic, I had many years of experimental creative writing from the unconscious behind me, and this foundation allowed me to process material very rapidly for a review. Moreover, as I started to write in this manner of following my instinctual attraction to opposites, I quickly gravitated to artists on a similar path. They weren’t difficult to locate, as the few seeking an authentic connection between the Self and their material stood out among the many who “make art about art.” Symbolism had been neglected in art in the last half of the 20th century. Yet, in the art of these 21st century icon makers, I discovered personal narratives reflecting a shifting cosmology.
There are no traditional models for incorporating psychic material — or human emotions — into journalism. An instinctual reaction to art is at odds to the claim to objectivity required by the profession. Yet, as the media became more corporate at the close of the 20th century, I felt blessed to have found outlets where I could express what was needed, without overt censorship or more subtle repression, such as the apathy to the authentic rampant in the increasingly market driven art world of the time. I quickly learned that I had a much wider berth to create a new dialectic in the daily newspaper with a sophisticated readership than the “artspeak” publications.
Ramped up by the Kundalini, my critical eye was constantly on the lookout for truth tellers directly addressing the thorny problem of the Uncertainty Principle, where the observer cannot be separated from the experiment. Even now they are rare, though the number of artists has multiplied. If criticism is in crisis, it is because a devotion to experimentation has been lost in the rise of professionalism among both artists and curators — all operating, in the well-rounded view of my father, at a loss to the Self.
For these reasons, there is a general failure to reconfigure the relationship between artist, critic and audience following the demise of postmodernism. The corporate-dominated and celebrity-obsessed 24-hour media environment seemed to determine the need for the rebellion of Kundalini’s Daughter as it was being written.
Yet, what we need to ask of ourselves today is this: can cultural institutions continue to permit such an omission in the authentic connections that have sustained art through human history? Fueled by Kundalini, I was able to surmount this challenge by inventing a new role for the critic as interpreter between the collective consciousness and the collective unconscious. For years I struggled to do so in newspapers, where the boundaries between writer and subject are fairly clear, but now that pathway is no longer open to me. Today, I am ecstatic to evolve the breakthrough of Critical Trilogy through a blog (https://blackmadonna2009.wordpress.com), where I can rely on an internal structure developed over many years of writing to maintain a critical detachment, and fewer years of performing to embrace the Uncertainty Principle.
Woven among multiple genres in this book is a diary. All of the characters in the diary, including the narrator, are real. For those who are not professional artists, I used only first names. With professional artists, I used the full name, as these associations were born out of public dialogue. The urge for Critical Trilogy to be transparent in every aspect and stage of the writing was both impetus and outgrowth of the Zen practice of scrubbing my mirror clean of projections every day through incessant scribbling into a reporter’s notebook as well as personal journal. Attempts to free myself of detachment were acts of survival that necessitated crossing boundaries between forms. If publishing this account of my journey puts me at professional risk – well that certainly is the intension! My intention to embrace the Uncertainty Principle so publicly, in an era of social networking on the web, makes the outcome all the more exciting.
Holly Crawford, publisher of A.C. Institute, is committed to the evolution of consciousness through interactive collaborations. In 2005, she suggested we publish the memoir in volumes, inviting a feedback loop between releases, an approach which appears even more relevant today with the advancement in digital publishing and growing popularity of social networking sites on the Internet. If the copies we published didn’t move, we will be unburdened from publishing additional volumes.
The initial decision, to publish this trilogy in a collaborative and incremental manner, arose out of evolutionary concerns as well as economic necessity. At the time, I was still writing newspaper criticism; publishing this book would have staked, not only my reputation, but my livelihood, on an unknown as I made a public leap over boundaries forbidden by my profession. But the leap was necessary, even if it was the Kundalini that gave me energy to drill down into the collective unconscious with my pen to deliver the ever-present origin of critical knowledge to readers old and new. Perhaps the prospect of facing this unknown realm while seeking publicity for my dangerous game was the reason why the project was dropped for three years, and resurrected when the times seem to demand it.
In retrospect, it is apparent that the leap I made in writing this book led me to new vistas as a participant/observer, prompted perhaps by an inability to publish through conventional avenues, until completing the cycle of the self-devouring Uroboros at this writing. In January 2007, my publisher — a scholar, poet and artist who had considerably more experience crossing boundaries – leapt with me into the calcinatio for a five-day performance, The Alchemy of Love: Fire at the Lab Gallery, in which I invented a new form, the blogel (blog novel).
Is the book you are holding fiction or nonfiction? We believe it is both, for fiction can create the forces that stir up archetypes that nonfiction cannot, in its alleged adherence to “objective truth.” Perhaps in giving the hybrid voice of Critical Trilogy the opportunity to be heard, we are helping to heal the fissure caused by an ongoing literary debate. Postmodernism sought definition through erasing the hand of the author to the point of utter banality; now is the time for a declaration of the author’s fated hand to embrace a new spirit of ominism gathering beyond the darkening cloud of consumerist categorization and labels. We understand this publication establishes a newly emerging form of literature for a post-consumer culture. If “literary” publishing denies such a hybrid form, it is because participants cannot embrace their own shadow of commercialism that effectively smothers the revolutionary.
Perhaps this struggle for an ominist evolution encompassing past, present and future is the ultimate reason why you are holding the first volume of the journey. Like its namesake, the Kundalini, it permits a feedback loop in an upward spiral. In this manner, the occult will become known through the collaborative process integrating the artist’s gift with an awaiting recipient. In this novel exchange, Kundalini’s Daughter acts as transparent messenger of the universal consciousness, reflecting an inevitable collapse of boundaries between observer and experiment in art. Today, the work seems less transgressive as literature than telling of a new world of social networking media embracing the authenticity of the Self by facilitating its passage into the collective consciousness.
Lisa Paul Streitfeld
August 31, 2009
* Streitfeld, Harold S. “Introduction.” In the Company of a Siddha: Interviews and Conversations with Swami Muktanada; ed. Karen (Kalyani) Alboher, (Oakland, California: S.Y.D.A. Foundation, Streitfeld, Harold S. “Introduction.” In the Company of a Siddha: Interviews and Conversations with Swami Muktanada; ed. Karen (Kalyani) Alboher, (Oakland, California: S.Y.D.A. Foundation, 1978): 17