The Making of Jahmaya: A Transpersonal Tale

Many people ask how I got the unusual nickname I carry... It turns out the story has a way of telling you a lot about who I am as a person and my orientation to “transpersonal experiences.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, transpersonal can be broken down and understood as trans meaning “beyond” the personal (our sense of individual self).  It’s a neutral way of describing what could also be referred to as spiritual, existential, or religious experiences.  The beauty of using transpersonal instead of the other terms - is that we are simply saying we’ve experienced something that felt bigger than our personal ego/self - and it doesn’t assume any more than that.  

If you really knew me you would know that this story makes me feel a little vulnerable to share.  As I write this, I am 37, and a lot has changed in the 12 years since I had these things happen. In many ways I have evolved, matured, and grown more practical.  If you saw me then I was, a free-spirited hippie guy who dressed different, ate different, talked different, and had a lot to learn about the world. But despite a lot of the packaging changing, the roots of this experience are still very much coloring the lens I see the world with.  As I sat on the fence with sharing this, what I realized is that if I am asking you to share yourself with me, then I should be willing to do the same.

At the age of 25, I decided to celebrate my quarter century mile marker by spending a year on the island of Kauai - Hawaii's "Garden Isle."  I started with very little, a backpack, some money I'd saved, a few outfits, some trail mix, tent, sleeping bag, journal, and a water bottle.  Within a short time I learned to live on very little money by gathering fruits, avocados, and coconuts from places I learned about, filling my water from springs, and camping all over the island (can’t promise you they were always authorized campsites).  I worked various odd jobs on farms, gathering precious shells, and other one-time labor gigs through people I met, which easily kept my lifestyle afloat. What was remarkable was the ease in which so many things fell into place. And although this philosophy had been building for years, there was a pronounced sense that all my needs could be met through casting my intention.  If I thought hard enough about something I wanted or needed - usually there was an eerie way in which it would come about. Through practice, this feeling of being a co-creator to the world around me began to really sink in and yet I was reminded daily (particularly by the extraordinary beauty around me) that the world around me is also quite fixed and perfect the way it is. During that year I took 7 separate round trips hiking the Napali Coast Trail (picture below) in and out of the Kalalau Valley where I spent a collective of 3 months running around in a loin cloth, carrying a 5 gallon jug of water, eating foraged food, bathing naked under waterfalls, and feeling more alive than I ever had before.

As I spent time living in this way, I began to change.  What follows is terminology that best describes what happened to me - but what you should know is that I am aware that I will never quite know all the things that took place and will continue to digest them for the rest of my life.  Although the lifestyle had lots of positive impact upon my health and body, about 5 months into my trip I began to go through something I can only identify as some sort of energetic purge. In the Hindu tradition and within many branches of yoga there is a something called the awakening of “Kundalini.”   Kundalini is known as the “coiled one” referring to energy/shakti that lies waiting to be awakened at the base of the spine. Like I said earlier, I’ll never really know - but what I can say is that this was by far the closest terminology that describes the phenomena I experienced. Borrowing again from the Hindu tradition - there are what are known as energy centers in the body going up the spine known as “chakras.”  Chakra literally translates to “wheel” and are called such because they are thought to spin clockwise when all is working properly. If you want a rather great introduction to this system I highly recommend the book “Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self” by Anodea Judith

The best sense I could make of what started to happen is that I seemed to be having a profound lived experience of my Chakras...  The first experience wasn’t all that romantic…. In fact, it caught my attention but not in a way that was profound… I woke up and out of nowhere had a serious hemorrhoid (I later identified this as a root chakra experience).  It was so sore that I couldn't sit. Despite this pain, I sat on a pillow and meditated that night for a long time at my campsite, focusing on pulling energy up my spine.  Then miraculously, the next day - I woke to find it had completely cleared up as mysteriously as it had arrived.  The very next day though I was driving and suddenly felt a sudden cramp in my lower stomach (second chakra) with no apparent cause.  I got to my campsite and spent most of the night curled in a ball. Then, next day that was completely cleared up once again... The next week I was given a rather personal test of will (third chakra) that had to do with taking complete care of my family who came to visit who had nearly no camping skills of their own.  I was tasked with getting my mom and her boyfriend into Kalalau Valley and setting up their site. The reality of complete care of food, shelter, and survival for my “elders” was a major rite of passage into manhood for me. As they left an old friend came to visit leading to what I would call potentially the most "perfect romantic relationship" (heart chakra) I had had in my life up to that point.  I say "perfect" because it was the first romantic connection in my life that had an easy beginning, an effortless middle, and a clean bittersweet ending. It was passionate, easy, and when it ended we both knew we couldn’t hold onto any strings of commitment - so we just gazed deeply, kissed, and said: “Thank You.” A big theme of our journey together was perfecting our ability to authentically communicate (throat chakra).  In fact - there was a 5-hour conversation that lasted the entire length of the Napali Coast trail that was about this very topic.

I need to pause here for a moment.  Up until this point, I hadn’t put anything together in regards to what was going on with me.  It was the day this lovely soul left the island that I was talking with a friend of mine telling the story of the crazy month I was having.  My friend was mostly just listening and asking me questions… suddenly I remember having this epiphany as I saw the thread in the tale I was telling…  The hemorrhoids, the sickness in my lower belly, the test of will, the relationship… I remember having this flash as I put together my understanding of kundalini, chakras, and how it all fit together with the events that had taken place.  I remember just thinking… well… shit… I wonder how this thing is going to play out?

After that conversation, guided now by my awareness of something happening to me - I had the most profound week of following my inner voice (third eye chakra).  I spent entire days where I would only move where my inner voice directed me, and it always lead to the most extraordinary goosebump inducing results! I remember one particular day where I was directed very clearly to this one particular spot in front of a natural grocery store. As I was walking toward this spot I saw a friend of mine coming from another direction headed to the same spot.  Then from another direction another friend coming from a different direction. As the three of us all ended up at the same spot at the exact same time, another friend walked out of the store at as well. The four of us stood there and I simply said: “Well it kind of feels like the universe is telling us to hang out. Without getting too off track - we did and it was an amazing night that ended with a bonfire, a large party of people who joined us eventually, music making, and all around magic.  After that night I remember listening to my inner voice for guidance as I had been all week. Clear as day I heard a voice say: "Let's see how you do with a bad day." I remember feeling a little uncomfortable hearing this and kind of shrugged my shoulders thinking “Okay...” I carried on toward town and drove about another mile on the highway. Suddenly out of nowhere, I heard a loud explosion. My car died and I pulled over. Upon examination, I saw a smoking hole in my hood… opened the hood and saw that the engine of my car had literally exploded.  I still to this day don’t have any clue how this happened (nor did the mechanic I took it to days later - who laughed out loud while telling me the car was completely toasted). After this, I packed up my things and hitchhiked into the nearest town. I caught a ride within 15 minutes. As I sat in the car I began to feel dizzy... a headache began to grow. I noticed I was having great difficulty with small talk with the driver. I got to town and it was just getting worse… within an hour I could barely talk, walk, or function. I was blessed to run into an acquaintance of mine.  We knew each other but not all that well. I was utterly vulnerable though - so pride aside, in slurred words and squinting eyes I told him the symptoms I was experiencing and asked if I could stay with him. He agreed. He ran some errands and then he gave me a ride to his place up island a bit. What proceeded got scarier and scarier for me. As the headache grew - I excused myself and found a shady spot to lie down outside and curled into a ball. I didn't move from that spot for the rest of that day. My friend brought me water (which I took) and food (which I declined) but I couldn't do anything.  As I lay there with my head throbbing, I remember suddenly feeling like electricity was pouring into my body. There was this tingle in my teeth that I only associate with being shocked. I convulsed, shook, and pretty much just surrendered to this agonizing experience until I passed out that night. I woke up the next day and could barely think, the tingle in my teeth was still there, the headache was duller, but I could function, walk, and talk in short sentences. It felt like my brain had been literally fried. I actually grew worried that I had lost a lot of brain cells because of how difficult it was to articulate, think, converse, remember anything, or connect to anyone or anything in the ways I was used to.  It seemed that I had lost most of my personality, I had no sense of who I was, and it was terrifying.

My acquaintance's was seemingly ready to let me move on after having this dirty hippie kid laying outside his house all night.  He dropped me off in town and we parted ways. As someone who rarely asks for help - I knew I had no idea what was going on with me and that I needed to get some kind of healing, counseling, someone to guide me through what had just happened.  Admittedly I was scared to go to a hospital thinking it could lead to a psych hold of some kind. I can own that at this point I was quite dirty, stinky, still very groggy, and I was still struggling to make small talk so everything was difficult and all conversations were a bit awkward.  I tried to get acupuncture - no one could see me. I went to a local healing hub - one person agreed to see me later that day, then 3 hours later canceled and said she couldn't see me until sometime next week! I tried to find a counselor, which was difficult in my current state, but when I called three different people I got a weird impression from them, they seemed a little scared by what I was saying.  One of them couldn’t see me until next week, one of them seemed completely out of her element, and the other one told me to go to the hospital. Whether it was because of how I looked, sounded or because Kauai healing practitioners really were just booked solid - I couldn't find any professionals to help me. This in itself was a really impactful moment in regards to my life.

I gave up the search and went for a walk…  I ran into this older man I had seen around town named Bob who usually lived out of his van (which was painted with wild colors and decorated with Hindu statues and tapestries).  Bob asked how I was doing and I let it spill out as best I could in small sentences. He seemed concerned, offered a kind space of listening and asking questions, and then generously offered to let me stay up at a place he was house sitting for the night.  Then he got some boiling water, and a washcloth and laid it on my head and told me to breathe in the steam. This felt so good.  The headache began to recede that night, and finally, the tingle in my teeth stopped.  I was still feeling rough and wary, but Bob had done what no one was willing to do and his kindness will be forever remembered.  I will never forget that vulnerable feeling though, feeling like I was an awkward mess genuinely seeking help - and no one was willing except for a guy who literally, lives in a van down by the river.  Upon reflection, this was the experience that officially made me decide that the world needed more helping professionals and led to my career as one.

After Bob’s healing session, I was still sorting out my identity but could think clearer.  I sorted out my car by the road, got some groceries, and was blessed to run into a friend who was taking a trip off the island for couple weeks, heard I lost my car, and excitedly offered me his van for the time he was gone!  Upon making this exchange, I got some groceries and instantly knew I wanted to get myself to a place on the island that was far away from people where I could reflect on things that had just happened. Clear in my mind was a place called Poli Hali.  It's at the end of the road when you head south on Kauai. It's an 8-mile long beach with long dunes you can set up camp in and not be seen for days. Many have called it a "gateway to another realm." The Dalai Lama supposedly came to visit the island secretly and went to this spot specifically.  I have a lot of stories about this place, but to the point - it was a sacred place. So I went, I set up camp, I sat and collected myself. I brought a bunch of water and fasted (but had plenty of food), wrote in my journal, hiked the beach, and spent much of my time in meditation. That night as I sat at my camp, I remember suddenly calling out to the stars above me: "Who am I?"  As often happens when I ask an open ended question, an answer implanted into my mind that was unexpected: "Jahmaya."  I felt a chill and a tingle reminding me of the shock I had felt a couple days before. I wrote the name down and as I spelled it out I instantly understood it's meaning as I broke it into its entomological roots that I could understand.  "J" was the seed of my old name to remind me that I am still that old person who will never be erased. "Ah" is a widely used syllable in relation to the divine. And in Hinduism "maya" is sometimes depicted as a goddess, but also considered the Divine's creative power, the fabric of reality and illusion.  The way I understood it all put together: God, the dreamer, and Maya the Dreamed. The dreamer and the dreamed - the way this succinctly digested and summarized my beliefs and perspectives I had gained on Kauai gave me goosebumps. As someone who never really thought I’d take a different name (and resisted and debated who I would share the name with) - over the years I have embraced it.  What I can appreciate is that it serves as a powerful anchor to the experiences and lessons from that time of my life. My power and and perspective shifts immediately when I balance the perspectives of being able to give creative input to the world around me, while at the same time learning to surrender and give rapt attention to creation as is.

If you’re reading this and have never experienced anything like what I’m talking about - I imagine you might be thinking: "This guy is really out there and should probably see a therapist himself.”  You should know that I have indeed done that. But perhaps you have a similar tale of your own, one that you can’t explain… I suppose what I want you to take away from this story is that I'm not going to be shocked by whatever unique beliefs or tale you bring to the table.  I include this as part of our human experience. And it’s been my experience that unless you have some rapport with this kind of thing, many people quickly label the whole thing as a delusional. Whether you have or you haven’t - you should know that my job isn't to fit what happens to you into my worldview - my goal is to help you make sense of your life and experiences.  This story had an arc for me, I am able to hold it in a box that brings meaning for me, and it enriches me as hold onto it in the midst of going about my life with kids, a day job, going shopping at the grocery store, getting my oil changed.  Jack Kornfield once wrote a book called "After the Ecstasy, The Laundry."

This has very much been my experience...  For those of you out there who have had spiritual experiences, big dreams, life changing moments and are looking to make them concrete in your life - I would love to connect with you and hear your tale.  Whoever you are - I hope you enjoyed some part of this account. Whether it’s catalogued in your mind as “I really don’t know but that’s interesting” or perhaps we may feel closer in some way - either way I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!  

James KesslerComment