The Refinement of Energy
Sublimation—An Inner Movement of Energy
Sublimation is a transformation in the nature or quality of energy. It represents the inner movement of energy through which that energy is refined or transformed into a superior form of energy with an elevated frequency. This movement of energy progresses either level by level (from one chakra to the next higher one, thus ascending progressively) or directly from a lower to a higher chakra. It might also happen at the level of the same chakra, in this case bringing a refinement and subtlety to that energy.
This process involves the modification of the frequency of the vibrations of the initial energy. For example, through sublimation, repressed sexual energy is directed to other non-sexual aspects of our being, such as our general vitality or into the psychological, mental, or spiritual domain.
Sublimation can be compared to what happens to the energy generated by an electrical power plant, which is later transported by wires and transformed via a wide range of phenomena and processes (heat, sound, light, magnetism, etc.). In the same way that high-tension lines transport electrical energy in order to be used according to need, sexual energy is transported to the different levels of our being through the nadis (energy channels).
Through the sublimation process, one type of energy is transformed into another type of energy with a different (usually higher) vibrational frequency. For example, the movement of sexual energy through the nadis generates many phenomena that correspond to our point of focus and intention during a sexual act. Thus, if we control our sexual energy during lovemaking and focus our attention on the Heart Center, we begin to feel an openness of the Heart, an immersion in Pure Love, a euphoric expansion, warmth in the chest area, a loss of the perception of body outline, and spanda (the Sacred Tremor of the Heart).
Therefore, the erotic-sexual impulse is sublimated and the resulting energy expresses instead on another, higher level of experience.
Sublimating Sexual Energy into Love
The sublimation of sexual energy does not necessarily require lovemaking. In the Philokalia, Saint Kalistus (one of the Desert Fathers) advises us to “curve the sexual energy into love.” This recommendation simply means to transform sexual energy into another form of energy through awareness, will, and aspiration. This act of sublimation thus releases any possible tension caused by the sexual energy and generates transformative effects.
Two Ways to Sublimate Energy
Energy can be sublimated either mechanically, through Hatha Yoga, or through awareness in the Heart.
- Hatha Yoga: techniques like uddiyana bandha, inverted asanas, etc. Even though this means of sublimation can bring a quick release of tension, without a systematic practice it will not bring an essential shift in consciousness. As long as energies or states of mind are not embraced in the radiance of Pure Presence, any transformation remains at the individual level and will be governed by lower, ego-based intentions. This type of change does not allow a vertical leap of spiritual growth such as the one from the sphere of the individual consciousness into Pure Presence.
- Self-Inquiry: through detaching from the identification with that energy and thus naturally sublimating it in spanda. When we embrace an emotion and welcome it with an attention free of mind patterns or personal reactivity, its energy is naturally transformed. Sublimation is fueled by the alchemic athanor (furnace) of the Heart. This is the most natural way to sublimate individual energies and emotions.
Abiding as the Pure “I”
In Hridaya Yoga, sublimation involves the awareness of the Spiritual Heart, of the pure “I,” both:
While the experience in itself continues (a kind of intuition of the stillness that remains in the background);
Unfolding naturally at the end of a thought, emotion, sensation etc. (Now the stillness is not just the background, but the very “content” of consciousness.)
As thoughts, emotions, or sensations appear, we accept whatever is there without rejecting, fighting or identifying with them, and keep an awareness of the background of the Spiritual Heart. Any control, any change, transformation, sublimation of energy, thought, emotion etc., if it is needed, will come without a personal struggle from the intimate impulse of the Spiritual Heart.
This may be a completely new attitude for us, and in the beginning, it may seem uncommon or difficult. Nevertheless, this is so not because it is unnatural, but because of our long conditioning to identify with an existence “on the surface”—a world of mere moods, thoughts, and emotions.
Sublimation and Transmutation
In Hridaya Yoga, defining the terms transmutation and sublimation is a way to better understand the inner transformations that appear in the practice of brahmacharya (spiritual abstinence or sexual continence) and in the Hatha Yoga practices in general.
In the yogic context, these terms have a slightly different connotation than when used in alchemy, psychology, or physics. When we refer to phenomena based on inner physical changes, we refer to “transmutation.” When we refer to energetic changes that are not caused by a physical, material transformation, we refer to “sublimation.”
An essential spiritual process that appears in Hridaya Yoga, especially through Self-Inquiry, is the sublimation of pain. It happens when we embrace sorrow not just from a personal perspective, but also from the Stillness of the Witness Consciousness.
The Sufi poet and master Rumi teaches that it is possible to use the intense energies of the soul (even sadness, sorrow, and anguish) to free ourselves from the identification with the ego and surrender fully to the Spiritual Heart. In fact, he describes this as the very essence of Sufism:
“A Sheikh was asked: ‘What is Sufism?’
He said: ‘To feel joy in the heart when sorrow appears.’”
There is Nothing Personal in Pain
In Hridaya Yoga, we develop an intimacy with “What Is,” without comparing it to “What there should be.” So, the emphasis is not on “correcting” some mistakes or fighting with “sins,” but on an intuitive awareness of our divine nature, of the Spiritual Heart.
The Spiritual Heart is the expression or the “dimension” of Perfection of our being, of existence in general.
This is the significance of sublimation in Hridaya Yoga. Thus, the transformation occurs spontaneously because it is supported by the power, wisdom, and light of the Infinite inside of us.
Speaking about the nature of human pain and the right attitude towards it, in which we free ourselves from personal reactions, Eckhart Tolle said:
“There is nothing personal in human pain. It is simply an intense pressure or an intense energy you feel somewhere in the body… See what happens when you just allow a feeling to be.”
Again, the key is the awareness of the Spiritual Heart, the awareness of who we really are:
“When you are unaware of that inner essence, in the end, you always create misery. It’s as simple as that. When you don’t know who you are, you create a mind-made self as a substitute for your beautiful, divine being and cling to that fearful and needy self. Protecting and enhancing that false sense of self then becomes your primary motivating force.” –Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks, New World Library, 2003. pp. 106-107, p. 48
When we maintain our awareness in the Spiritual Heart, our individual transformations will synchronize with cosmic transformations.
Thus, we move from out of the “phase changes” in our psyche and mind and into “synchronized transformations.” We come to feel the pulsation of cosmic rhythms in our being.
Celebration of the Creative Flow of Life
Speaking about the significance of sublimation, Daniel Odier said:
“To physical yoga we must add a yoga of the unending accompaniment of all emergences back to their source. This is perhaps the most important part of our work. It is founded on the perception that everything emerges from tranquility and returns to it after a sensory, emotional, and mental journey.” –Daniel Odier, Yoga Spandakarika, Inner Traditions, 2005, page 141
Thus, we discover a different attitude in which the awareness of the Spiritual Heart accompanies any energy, sensation, or mental state. They are all experienced against the background of stillness inherent to the Spiritual Heart. This is the tranquility and purity of spanda. In common experiences, we ignore this background, remaining always at the surface of a continuous agitation of mental states, thoughts, moods, feelings, emotions, sensations, etc.
As we internalize this attitude, we become more and more aware of spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Spiritual Heart. By the revelatory power of this Sacred Tremor we become aware that our being is flooded by divine energies. They are all pure expressions of our ultimate essence, atman.
This profound understanding is naturally followed by the aspiration to express and celebrate, in freedom and joy, the creative flow of life through our yoga practice and in our entire life thereafter.
Thus, both meditations for the revelation of the Spiritual Heart and the Hatha Yoga sessions become a consecrated offering of our individual consciousness and of our energies to the universal divine love and beauty of the Spirit.
Transformations of the Energy of Emotions
Through sublimation, fear is alchemically transformed into confidence or courage, and sadness into joy or compassion. This happens without any effort—just as a consequence of the awareness of the Heart.
Anything can flow naturally and most of the time there are no preset patterns. For example, it is not necessary that fear should be sublimated to courage. It may be sublimated in a sense of release or joy as well. To sum it up, the most important thing is not the “positive” content of the consciousness, but the continuous awareness of the background of Stillness—of the Spiritual Heart.
Sublimation itself is a process in which the transformed, sublimated energy arises as a result of the vector forces of our tendencies and echoes of intimate life experiences. Sometimes—as a result of the Witness Consciousness attitude—the energy of emotions, sensations, or thoughts gets absorbed into itself as a pure energy. It dissolves into an energy “without an object,” into the Sacred Tremor, or spanda.
The “Heart’s Flames” and Sublimation
When an emotion is expressed and then returns to the stillness of the Heart, it no longer leaves the usual trails and residues behind, which form samskaras. It is only the personal reaction of attraction or repulsion that generates subconscious residues in the mind following the expression of an emotion.
As an effect of this neutrality, an expansion of consciousness occurs. It is a spiritual expansion in which the sacred vibration of the Heart, the “Heart’s flames,” process that particular sensation or emotion and bring it, metaphorically speaking, to a state of “incandescence.” After that, the sensation or feeling, in its individual form, is dissolved into a pure, non-personal energy and then into the infinite space of the Spiritual Heart, pure Consciousness.
Just as in a sacrificial fire, spanda dissolves all the gifts it receives into the infinite stillness of Pure Consciousness.
This alchemical process is the practical way in which we pass from duality to Oneness. Advaita (non-duality) is not just a theoretical philosophy, it is a view that can be lived. Non-duality is “practiced” each time we realize how a thought, emotion, sensation, feeling, etc. is dissolved into stillness.
For this to happen, there is in fact nothing to “do.” We simply remain aware of the Spiritual Heart, the background Reality which radiates love and gratitude. Spanda is that which remains after personal intention, ego-based control, and the desire to control or obtain a feeling or experience are seen as simply useless, inefficient strategies, and they are thus abandoned. They are replaced by the unchanging radiant flame of Open Attention, free of any reactivity.
To open to the pure vibration of spanda means to stop focusing exclusively on any object in particular and personally reacting to it. With the awareness of spanda, it is as if desire, sensation, and thinking (any psychic and mental activity) suddenly have no object or form. They exist only as vibration. The respective energy—desire, for instance—becomes Open Attention itself and thus merges in the stillness of the Spiritual Heart.
Learn more about sublimation in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive.