Monday, January 5, 2015

JJ Semple Interviews Peggy Payne, author of Cobalt Blue

    I read Cobalt Blue after author Peggy Payne and I reached out to each other in an attempt to define the similarities and differences between Kundalini fiction and non-fiction. Today, non-fiction outweighs and outsells the fiction category, but that may change as more and more authors investigate Kundalini, either by experiencing it or by reading about it. 

   Before Christmas, Peggy and I agreed that I would send her questions about how she was able to work the Kundalini theme into Cobalt Blue. Here is the Q&A:

   JJS: There’s kundalini and kundalini. The strip mall kind and the Gopi Krishna kind. Are you’re at all familiar with the differences? To what degree? 

   PP: I feel strongly about making no judgment on anyone’s spiritual experience.
Cobalt Blue Front Cover

Certainly I’ve read the literature: Gopi Krishna, Lee Sannella, Irina Tweedie, Stanislav and Christina Grof, Muktananda, your own work, JJ Semple, and many others. Also, early Christian mystics who described similar experiences.

As for “strip mall kundalini,” I once attended a workshop where I was informed that we had all had our kundalini raised (I didn’t believe that for a second.) So I know what you mean if you’re talking about glib bandying of the term.

However, much more important to me than making any such distinction is to respect each person as the expert on his or her own experience.

JJS: In which category do you place Andie?

PP: Andie’s experience rocks her to the bottom of her soul. At the time of her first experience, she has never heard the word kundalini. She doesn’t know until near the end of the story what has happened to her. For most of the story, she is in the midst of an enormously disruptive ordeal that unmoors her from everything she thought she knew about herself. And to make things much worse, she is fighting it.

JJS: Unless I’ve misunderstood your background, it seems that you don’t have direct experience with energy cultivation techniques like kundalini meditation. How did you become interested in kundalini as a subject for Cobalt Blue?

PP: I’ve studied reiki, done some kundalini yoga as well as other kinds in India and the U.S., attended various workshops on energy, and been a meditator for many years.

But when I finished my early drafts of Cobalt Blue, I, like Andie, didn’t even know the word kundalini. I had overheard it used once at a party in a two sentence exchange behind me. Noted it, but didn’t know what it meant and didn’t look it up.

Then years later, I thought I’d finished my novel and was sitting out on my porch by myself one night listening to the rain. A thought popped into my head: “It’s kundalini.” The next day I did a little research, and I found that this force fit the story that I’d already written, that it was roughly comparable to experience others have had. This gave me a new understanding of what this woman — and, vicariously, I — had been dealing with. (It was a ferocious hard novel for me to write.)

I don’t claim anything as dramatic as a kundalini awakening for myself. Only twinges. I found this in a journal I kept years earlier in India doing research for my previous novel, Sister India:

“Throughout the morning I keep noticing a sensation I have felt here before, a small physical thrill that I cannot explain. It comes from simply looking around me. It's like an electric pulse, made of molten color, the brilliance of all the silk saris at once; and it pushes past my fatigue and travels along the wire that hooks together body and soul. Jet-lagged and short of sleep though I am, that jolt keeps pushing through. I welcome it. It’s somehow part of what I’ve come here for."
JJS: I found Cobalt Blue an easy and fun read. You write very well. I especially liked the way you developed Andie’s place in her artist community and her relations with others. Talk about your approach.

PP: Thanks, JJ. Her place in her artist community came naturally to me. I’ve been in the same weekly writers group for 32 years. And I share office space with a dear friend; other writers and artists also rent in the building from time to time. I’m part of a close-knit group of supportive fellow artists. It’s a great thing. I’d hate to try to do this work without it. 

JJS: Kundalini entails a repurposing of sexual energy by preventing it from flowing out through masturbation or intercourse, and instead, diverting it up the spine to the brain. If this is an accurate analysis of how sexual sublimation works — and documented experiences from ancient Indian and Chinese to modern practitioners says it is — what made you think that Andie might go on a sexual rampage when conservation of sexual energy is the only way to avoid deleterious effects associated with the loss of sexual energy (prana)? Or, to put it another way: after awakening, heretofore unused functions in the brain become active and warn male and female kundalini adepts (by sending biological signals) about the harmful effects ejaculation has on the body. Do you think someone could go against the biological changes in brain function that kundalini induces and actually waste large quantities of prana?

PP: Andie is no adept. Her awakening happens in jolts and ragged pieces at a time when she is depressed and her life is already in disarray. Its genesis is the meditative practice of painting, even doing work she considers routine. She thinks she’s ill and her biological signals are utterly swamped by confusion, emotional uproar, and the powerful sexual sensations that so many people experience in kundalini awakening. But without a teacher or any kind of guidance or knowledge, she finds herself compulsively acting on the mad sexual impulses. That’s very upsetting and frightening to her.

Yes, the sexual energy should be transmuted. But for a long time, Andie is in the throes  of a “wrong rising” and an effort to suppress what is happening.

Finally, however, a valuable spiritual development comes about through the sex as she begins to regain some control.  It gives her a body-and-soul recognition of the passion to merge with others, to know herself as one with other people, to give up, if briefly, her separateness.

JJS: Nevertheless, even if my take on the triggers and effects of kundalini don’t jibe with Andie’s actions, I found your hypothesis very interesting to the degree that I cannot positively say that the effects she manifests (her sexual behavior) could never happen as a result of a kundalini awakening. Have you thought about that? About the subconscious urgings that caused you to take her in that direction?

PP: I didn’t feel I had any more control of her than she did of herself. As so often happens with novels, the story and the character had their own life to live.

I do feel strongly that sex and spirituality are vitally intertwined. Sex and spirituality are central to my other novels as well and I write a blog on the subject.

And subconscious urgings? Well, having been a teenager in the years of the frustrating sexual Double Standard, I was perhaps due to erupt in some way. (I’m 65 now, BTW)

JJS: What’s more, if a person did go on a sexual rampage like Andie’s, she would probably act in much the same way. Who’s to say?

PP: Exactly. I think our imaginations know things that our minds and bodies are still catching onto.


  1. "and warn male and female kundalini adepts (by sending biological signals) about the harmful effects ejaculation has on the body. " reminds me of the story told by Rev. Jerry (Gerry?) Judd: a little boy who had been told that masturbation would make him lose his eyesight asked his parent adult "Can I do it just until I need glasses?"

  2. by the way, once Presbyopia caught up with me I do wear eye glasses.