Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cobalt Blue: Book Review

There may be others, but Peggy Payne’s novel Cobalt Blue is the first fictional account of a kundalini awakening I’ve run across. And while its authenticity might be questioned — the author has not had a kundalini awakening — there are many fine elements, both in the writing and in the plotting of the story.
Peggy Payne

Upscale vacation communities like East Hampton, NY, Provincetown, MA, Carmel and Laguna Beach, CA, Honfleur on the Normandy Coast, and in this case, Pinehurst, NC have their pecking orders of artists living off the tourist economy. Andie Branson, the heroine, is one of them. And, like most artists that never challenge the big time — New York City, Paris, Los Angeles, where artist’s reputations are made — Andie is facing a mid-life crisis, questioning not only her ability as an artist, but her lifestyle and relationships as well. Her whole backstory is closing in on her when she starts experiencing a series of strange impulses.

Cutting to the chase, it’s probably no surprise to readers who’ve read the reviews that the impulses gripping Andie are triggered by a spontaneous kundalini rising. In order to understand how they affect Andie, it’s necessary to understand a little more about kundalini. How, when, and where it occurs. What effect it has on the subject.

Kundalini rising is the result of distilled sexual energy being channeled to the brain. The triggers are numerous and varied. Sometimes it’s the result of Yogic or meditation practices; sometimes it occurs when drugs are ingested; sometimes during sexual intercourse; sometimes it happens spontaneously, when an individual knows nothing about it and is not expecting it. This is Andie’s case.

How it affects each subject is also quite varied, the first symptom usually being ecstatic states of bliss, as the individual experiences the exaltation associated with super-consciousness. No self; no other.

Living with kundalini is quite challenging; the subject may experience a variety changes in consciousness, including the heightening of artistic skills. No matter what triggers it or what the subject experiences, sublimated sexual energy is always present, for kundalini is a biological activity, which, once activated, functions autonomically. The subject has no control over it. What is the purpose of kundalini? In a nutshell to help the subject overcome the conditioning the Ego imposes. Desires, longings, cravings, dissatisfactions, ambitions are all fruits of the Ego that the senses cook up for us. I must have it, I must belong, I must be recognized, I must be reckoned with, I must be obeyed. This is something I know about; I activated kundalini while practicing meditation in 1973 and have lived with it ever since. It has literally torn me apart and put me back together the right way.

Having no first hand experience with kundalini, the author chose her conceit cleverly. Because no one ever knows beforehand how kundalini will affect a given subject, the author was free to pick her own trigger and her own effects. So why not choose some that most people associated with kundalini have never heard of, or even dreamed of? Who knows? Anything is possible with kundalini; it could happen that way. Even though I — in my forty years of living and writing about kundalini — have never encountered the specific impulse Andie is stricken with, I have encountered an almost unlimited variety of impulses?

What about Andie’s impulses? You ask. Well, since kundalini is the conceit — the MacGuffin — driving the action forward, why not let the impulses Andie experiences be expressed as nymphomania? I am not using the term in a pejorative sense; I have no quarrel with the author on this count. She works it into the plot quite effectively. There’s no seduction, no preliminaries. I’m not even sure we should call it nymphomania because Andie is operating in a parallel universe; definitions we use in our universe don’t necessarily apply.

Andie simply lifts her dress, exposes her charms, and the encounter is on. Primitive matriarchal selection of a sexual partner, and, according to the author, it’s kundalini doing the driving, the only mandate being it must be performed instantly and on the spot. Who am I to say it’s not possible — that a given person could not be psychically, metabolically, and somatically endowed like Andie is?

“Cap’s hand brushed her hair the same second his lips found her other breast. “God!” rose up in her throat. Anyone could hear, in the store, on the street. But it didn’t matter; they all were her friends. A small typhoon was turning in her middle. She let Cap shuck her out of jeans and thong, and with his full weight, roll her out on the couch, smell of mildew puffing up from the cushion. Troy’s warmth still near, her face pressed against the side of his leg. She was swamped with love for him, for them both.”

My only question is: who’s doing the choosing? What neuro-biological dynamic pushes Andie to consummate wanton, random, one-time, sexual liaisons? Is it Andie, the ego-defined persona she was before kundalini? Is it the kundalini energy manifesting itself as Andie, the nympho? Or perhaps the kundalini has liberated her ego-bound, ego-delimited persona, allowing Andie to override social and moral inhibitions?

In any case, Andie begins to realize it’s not possible to operate that way in society. In developing the struggle Andie faces to control her impulses, the author has intuited an authentic aspect of the kundalini energy at work, namely the feeling that normalcy is not the way life ought to be lived, that there is a new being inside impatient to express itself, guided by a power that has no use for social convention.

An alien force is guiding Andie, and that also rings true; kundalini feels like an alien force has taken the subject over. Andie lets the energy guide her. In her art, in her dealings with people, in her choices about life, in her random couplings. It takes her art to a higher level, lets her realize that the limits she’d operated under previously were ego imposed. The real Andie is being born. True, she has to master the impulses, and she finally does.

All this against a background of interesting characters, the main plot point being a commission Andie is handed to paint the portrait of North Carolina’s right-wing US Senator, Billy Sylvester, a character probably based on long time NC Senator, Jesse Helms. What’s gratifying about the author’s portrayal of their relationship (Billy is one of the few male characters Andie doesn’t fornicate with) is both: 1) how she refuses to depict Billy in black and white terms, as an all negative character, and 2) how the power in the relationship shifts from Billy to Andie, as she asserts her new kundalini-infused persona.

Her nipple had a nice sore feeling, alive and sensitive. She could dispense with her brushes, with fingers even, and paint with that nipple, dip it into a puddle of color, the cool of the oils pulling the flesh to a point. Then she’d touch it to the canvas, holding the breast with her hand or drawing with only the motion of her body, breasts, belly, hair…

Billy had walked away; his back turned to her still, he’d stopped in front of a window. When he turned, she could barely see him, the sunlight at his back. His face, as much as she could see, still blank.

Andie, I’ll need you to leave this here, so I can show it to the committee.

His voice was flat. He hated it and he wasn’t going to tell her face to face.
I can’t do that.

Her throat was tight now with panic; she’d stood here indulging fantasies and putting herself in danger: was she mad?
This still needs a lot of filling-in, she tried to speak slowly, low-pitched, with confidence.
Final notes:
  1. I never was able to connect the title, Cobalt Blue to the story.
  2. As the topic gathers critical mass, I'm sure we'll see more kundalini novels in the near future

Stars: ****°


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  2. Many thanks for this interesting review. Despite repeated searches, I’ve been unable to find recent fiction on the theme of kundalini – when I’ve looked for novels on ‘spiritual awakening’ they’ve seemed to be more general, & aimed at the spiritual seeker rather than the literary reader. Hats off to Peggy Payne for what appears to be a sexed-up, highly imaginative work of commercial fiction. The only novel explicitly dealing with kundalini that I’d ever read, The Serpent Rising (1988) by Mary Garden – about a vulnerable young woman’s hellish exploitation by an unscrupulous guru in ’70s India – has since been republished (2003) as the harrowing autobiographical account that it is. For some reason, anything kundalini-related seems to get grouped with new-age/spiritual or, conversely, mental illness titles, which as far as I can see renders the phenomenon more or less invisible in any mainstream literary context. I suppose this is also somewhat true of the theme of out-of-body &/or near-death experiences (outside of the fantasy or horror genres); though with regard to films, Clint Eastwood’s excellent & perhaps covertly political Hereafter strikes me as an exception. One person indirectly involved in triggering my own journey of awakening, a teacher of yogic practices, used to read sci-fi & watch fantasy movies – to find, I assume, analogies for his own, atypical experience of reality. I wonder if you have any thoughts as to what might account for the seeming invisibility of kundalini-related fiction?

    1. Why read fictional accounts of Kundalini by persons who have never experienced it when there are so many excellent real life non-fiction accounts?

    2. A good question, & one reason why I wouldn’t choose to read Cobalt Blue. But much fiction is written by authors who’ve researched their topics experientially – so the real distinction between fiction & non-fiction often comes down to marketing considerations, rather than what’s implied by the categories. For instance, ‘fiction’ can allow an author the freedom to treat material that might need to be suppressed in a non-fiction context for legal reasons. And although many more women than men read it, fiction – be it classic literature or blockbuster – occupies a prominent place in mainstream discourse & the popular imagination. People read books for reasons other than simply to learn about what’s known, or purportedly known. And non-fiction can serve the need for escapism just as well as can fiction. So perhaps one aspect of fiction’s value has to do with a need or desire to speculate? Also, fiction can give readers the opportunity to encounter mind-expanding ideas that they wouldn’t specifically seek to explore – which might, for instance, assist them in letting go of fears or prejudices &/or spark their interest in doing some research.