a good friend just asked me to explain a chakra, and the best answer i could think of had nothing to do with sacred imagery, esoteric magic theories, or even bioenergeitcs. although the concept of a chakra, like any other concept, can be approached from all manner of perspectives, tonight’s aim was purely practical.
for a little background, the word ‘chakra’ is sanskrit for ‘wheel’. the indian (yoga and ayurveda) system identifies seven distinct centers along the spinal column where the two main energy channels meet and cross. these two channels (nadi) originate at the lower extreme of the spine, near the tip of the coccyx (tailbone). each is said to represent the two halves of the primary division we all experience in waking reality; pingala nadi represents all things masculine (yang), and ida nadi all things feminine (yin). these two forces oppose and compliment every action, thought, and experience in nature. existing in opposition, they create balance and harmony. once this balance is attained, a third channel (shushumna) is activated, freeing the individual from the trap of dualistic, polar, judgemental living. once shushumna is cleared, and our latent power (kundalini) is awakened, we start to live in a new way where all reality is accepted and embraced. this third, balanced, perspective is a state where life simply flows, all our needs are met without effort or struggle, and we realize our own divinity. this is one definition of the word yoga (union).
each one of these crossing points (chakras) represents a significant part of the human psyche – a portion of life common to all that we must develop to reach maturity. they are commonly depicted as circles of light colored in the same sequence as the rainbow. like the rainbow, when refraction is eliminated, all 7 colors combine to form a unified whole of white light (enlightenment, yeah?). the concept first appeared as yogis deep in meditation became aware of these centers, and later compared notes with others who’d experienced the same phenomenon… voila, the convention of the chakra system was born. this system has lots of imagery, but my favorite is the caduceus you find in western hospitals (pictured above). next time you’re in the doc’s office, ask them about the ancient mesopotamian, indian, and later greek symbol that they’re wearing. should be good for a laugh:)
whew… that’s the esoteric story, and it could go on for pages of explanation. but i started to tell you about a practical, no bull way to view these wheels. here goes:
the chakras are stages of development. mastering and fully expressing one opens the door to an honest expression of the next in line. so…
-by mastering the root (muladhara) we accept our place in this world of form. we feel secure and all basic survival needs are met. we are able to grow strong in body. through proper nutrition, our muscles, bones, and tissues develop integrity. we find a place in the world and all the resources we need. this foundation must be sound for any further growth to occur.
-upon this foundation is built the sensual/emotional intelligence of the second chakra (swadistana). body awareness is key here. the body is continually giving us feedback in the form of feeling. from the simple empty feeling of hunger to more complex feelings like humor, these signals are conveyed as feelings. the movement of energy (emotion) in response to thoughts or situations must be allowed to express in a constructive way. anger, fear, joy, et al are totally valid, and we’ve all felt them. learning to allow, express and move past emotions without attachment is essential to balance and integrated well-being.
-once we’ve found peace with our bodies, and our feelings, we’re ready to develop the logical mind and discipline of the third chakra (manipura). it is here that we form identity as a separate being (ego), and the will to shape our environment. ego gets a bad rap in our culture. it is much maligned as a source of greed, arrogance, etc. but this type of ego only develops in a person who’s not done the work on chakras one and two. ego is the individual sense of self…period. if your sense of self is based on wisdom, this empowers the individual to interact powerfully with the environment. with right orientation, the mind develops as a powerful servant to the will.
-the heart is the home of the fourth chakra (anahata). this is where we express compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love. having grown to respect and nourish our selves, the heart is open to give, to share without thought of return. at this stage, we know ourselves well enough that we can transcend the ego altogether without fear of losing anything. we are secure. we are in tune. we are confident. and now, we are selfless love.
-the fifth stage (vishuddha) is all about creation. located at our throat center, this is where speech is formed. thoughts from the mind, tempered by the heart, find expression through words. our words are often the first observable stage of any creative process. when this chakra is fully awakened, and fueled by four open wheels below, we can create anything. music, art, philosphy, poetry, philanthropy… these are the hallmarks of true creative expansion allowed to come forth into our world.
-the third eye (ajna chakra) is a common image in eastern esoteric lore. this eye is the witness of totality in a fragmented world. it is the eye of wisdom that views our world from a neutral 3rd point. once awakened, our perception is forever changed. at this stage, we cannot choose sides in a conflict. for someone has to lose for someone else to win. the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has dissolved. the third eye sees the whole sequence of consequence that flows from any action. it sees the whole while aware of each part. it is the eye of the objective witness.
-the final stage is the realization that we are the creator of our experience. the 7th chakra (sahasrara) is normally represented as a lotus flower, blossoming to reveal the spark of divinity within all of us. as westerners, many of us find hubris in the thought that we are, in fact, god. not god in the fairy-tale sense of the word. but a subjective experience of god within that is common to those who practice stillness. to the yogi, god within is simple truth. true meditation is a state beyond the mind… a place where when we sit quite still, god begins to whisper in our ear… sometimes we forget whether we are the one who is listening or he that is speaking. once this threshold is crossed, a shift in consciousness occurs where trust becomes our way of being. our eyes see a new world, and all is colored with love. there have been many teachers along the way that point to this truth. it is something available to all who seek with pure intention.
while the chakra system can be viewed in terms of physical structures, or energy points, it is sometimes more practical to think of them in terms of growth. when we take the time to develop each facet of our character, we mature into our true nature. when the chakras lack balance, we are beset by obstacles, out of synch, and our spirit suffers. however, once we’ve awakened our consciousness at each level, we are free to express our minds, pursue our dreams, and live with integrity.