By Swami Chetanananda

One of the things that the ancient Shaivas observed, which is really simple and easy to grasp, is that if something is breathing, it’s alive, and if it’s not, it’s dead. They came to realize that the entire universe is alive with respiratory process. Everything, on every scale, is breathing. This universal respiratory process is what they call kundalini.


Kundalini exists in three levels: the physical level, the mental and emotional level, and the level of infinite spaciousness. The Shaivas understood that the universe was a self-organizing, dynamic system, and that its fundamental quality is “freedom,” often translated as “autonomy.”

What’s a dynamic system? It is a pattern of energy. It is patterned, there is movement within the pattern, and this pattern exists as a self-organizing expression that is constantly adapting to its ever-changing circumstance. If I were going to define consciousness, I would say it is the capacity to adapt. Because there is constant feedback, there is constant adaptation, and within that adaptation, the potential is infinite. The world itself, the whole universe, is one dynamic system that is fueled by respiratory process. That respiratory process is constantly manifesting itself as turbulence.

The universe, because of its “livingness”, its “aliveness,” through respiratory process is generating turbulence on an infinite number of scales. Turbulence on an infinite number of scales gives expression to all living forms of life that we are aware of and experience and also forms of life that completely exceed our own limited sensory capacity. There are forms of life that are tiny beyond our ability to see, and forms of life that are large beyond our ability to recognize. All of this is expressed and sustained by respiratory process, which is turbulence.

This fundamental dynamism of the Shaiva Shakta universe, this respiratory process, manifests in a human being as the Breath of Life. It is a subtle pulse, within the cerebral spinal fluid, that powers our physical breathing and our three-phase circulatory system. In other words, the highest and finest, most refined cosmic principle is available to us in the simplest expression of our individual lives: our breath. Turning our attention to our breath, cultivating our awareness of our breath, we can find, within ourselves, an abundance that dissolves the tensions and the traumas of our past experience, internalizes that experience as nourishment and as benefit, and makes available to us the resource, the energy, the inspiration if you will, to engage in transformation.

Turbulence becomes available to us as a positive force as we become familiar with ourselves as energetic beings instead of things. We have to be able, first, to feel the energy moving in us, and to facilitate the organization of that energy into a flow. Learning that internally, then, allows us to start to become aware of the energy, the turbulence in our environment and bring our attention to that turbulence so that it becomes a self-organizing pathway to some kind of accomplishment.

I think the brilliance of the Shakta Shaiva model is that it’s based on the simplest demonstration of life within us. That demonstration of life is an experience that powers us, an experience that transcends our mind and our emotions, and all of the limitations of our body. It is an experience that has endless healing capacity on every level. It has Unimaginable Possibility and ultimately a joy that makes our lives integral and meaningful.