Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Notes on the Chakras: Muladhara

I've studied the chakras for most of my life, long before I began practicing yoga for no other reason than the system makes sense to me. For the uninitiated, the chakras are the energy centers of the body located at various points along the spine, each associated with a nerve cluster or a set of glands. Energy or prana flows through these centers and manifests in many ways both psychologically, emotionally and even physically. Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi and other systems manage these energy centers and encourage an open flow that generates vitality and health. Should the energy become blocked and stagnant, it is said that sickness and unease will arise.

I discovered Anodea Judith's Wheels of Life: A User's Guide to the Chakra System many years ago and the book is thick and packed full of everything you would ever need to know about the chakras and the traditions and history surrounding them. Anyone looking for more information should probably start there. She keeps things pretty straight forward and down to earth while offering tools to explore a very complex, very ancient system without glossing it over with the sugary sweetness that a lot of modern spiritual texts get bogged down in.

In my mind the chakra system is the software to the body's hardware, programs that run and can be altered and improved and that's what fascinates me. Think of the body as a machine and think of having access to the source code that runs the machine. Then consider that you not only have access to your own programming but can open your system to the network and tap into a greater consciousness. Or you could leave that alone and just optimize your own code and just feel better both physically, mentally and emotionally.

And that's an important point. You can actually take a step back from the philosophy of the chakra system and explore just the psychological level of the system and learn a lot. Each of the seven chakras has a element of the human condition that can be explored on several levels. Dive in a deep as you like but even if you only wade in ankle deep you will still discover things about your self with even the most modest of meditations.

So what follows are my notes and considerations of the chakras. I'll devote a post to each as I explore and articulate my experiences and thoughts of each one as a part of my journal-work for my immersion class. I state that this is mostly for me as I try to nail down some ideas and concepts that may be very subjective and I do not apologize for that. Read along if you like but just remember that nothing I say on this blog is true.

So. Chakra one. It's called Muladhara (root-support) in Sanskrit and it's located at the very base of the spine. It's associated with the element of earth and the adrenal glands which gives us the energy for our fight-or-flight response because that's what this chakra is all about. It is the anchor to this reality as we fight for survival in the physical world.

That's doesn't sound pretty, does it? Fighting for survival. We live in a civilized society, right? We don't have to fight for survival. We have grocery stores and fast food joints that cater to our hungers before we are even hungry. We are at the top of the food chain. Our paved roads and round bellies prove it. Right? No survival needed here. Just live, eat and die in your sleep. Safe and sound.

The problem is that your evolutionary consciousness hasn't caught up with our sense of civilization yet. Muladhara is the survival instinct bore of a million years of dark nights, frantic chases and desperate hunts. It the source of primal fear of many things but especially the dark and hunger. But that's only the down side. The up side is that Muladhara is also the source of our will to survive and our desire to make things better and more secure. But in the balance, we are just trying to survive.

And I'm fascinated by survival. When I was young, I read a book called My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George which is about a teenager who moves to the mountains to live off the land. I wouldn't recommend it as a treatise on how to survive in the wilderness but it caught the imagination of an insecure boy who desperately wanted to be secure. I wasn't naive enough to believe I could actually move to the mountains and live on berries and venison while befriending hawks and weathering winters in hollowed out trees but it did send me looking for survival manuals so that I could learn how to survive if it ever came to that. Survival manuals lead to some rather spartan camping trips to test the theories. And it was on one of those trips when I couldn't get a fire started on wet wood and a cold front was moving in that I had a primal realization that nature could kill me. That was an epiphany. A taste of mortality. Here I was doing my best to survive and nature had the audacity to try and kill me anyway.

It was a sobering and I realized that night that man is not necessarily at the top of the food chain. As a matter of fact, the food chain is rather flexible and twists back on itself sometimes. Human arrogance will state otherwise but I would point out that if you drop the average human naked in the middle of the savanna, the natural order according to humans gets jumbled up pretty quick. See that pride of lions over there? You can preach to them all day about your superior intellect and opposable thumbs but all they really care about is your soft underbelly and the fact that, compared to a zebra or a water buffalo, you're pretty easy to take down and probably a bit easier to chew.

Like I said, very sobering. But sometimes it's sobering thoughts like that that kick open that first chakra and stir up that will to survive, the will to carry on, the will to feel the fear and act accordingly. That's the balance. Feeling the fear and acting anyway.

Fear is not the enemy. Fear is the response to a dangerous situation and that's what we've forgotten in our well lit houses and comfy beds. Fear is not pleasant and it's not suppose to be. Fear is suppose to spur us into action that will lead to self preservation or help us avoid the situation all together. It's an evolutionary tool that serves us well if we let it.

But in this modern age, fears are much more abstract than ever before and we let fear become irrational fears that haunt us, control us and make us suffer but have no bearing on our actual survival. This comes from the fact that fear is really a sense of a lack of security and such a state will make humans do strange things to find that security again.

But what do we really need to survive? And what was the first thought that popped into your head when you read that question? I've heard a myriad of answers and most make a certain amount of sense when you follow the line of reasoning.  For instance, a working man might say "my truck" which makes sense when you realize that he works out of his truck and it's his transportation to the job sites. So, to survive, to get a paycheck, he needs his truck.

But do you see the abstraction? What do you really need to survive?

Another interesting answer is "my phone". Spoken by a modern teenager. Does that make sense? Well, in a way it does. To survive socially, he needs his phone. To remain a part of the group, the tribe, where it's safe and secure, he needs his phone.

Once again a layer of abstraction can be peeled away to reveal a core fear. And we could go on and on with the examples but they all lead back to the same conclusion.

What do we really need to survive? It's actually only three things: food, water and shelter. Some may scream about the missing social component and some may rail against the idea that you can live without love but those folks need to turn off the Disney channel and sit back down. We are talking about survival as in what does it take to live and persist. Not thrive and establish. Just live and persist. If we boil it down to basics, sometimes those abstractions melt away and life becomes extremely simple after your realize just how little you need to survive.

So what are you afraid of? Can you make a list and can you justify every entry on that list as a reasonable fear that actually threatens your survival? Can you edit the list in the light of day and weed out the abstractions and unreasonable fears by tracing them back to the source? Can you mitigate the fear by addressing the issue with logical solutions that provide a sense of security instead?  If you are afraid of the dark, buy a nightlight. If you worry about dark alleys, take a self-defense course (although most self-defense course would tell you to just avoid the dark alley). If you are afraid of spiders, make it a point to learn all you can about spiders. You might discover that the more you know the less you have to fear.

 Fear is the tool that keeps us safe but only if we respond and make ourselves safer. Otherwise we sit in fear and it begins to color our world and we begin to react instead of acting and that usually leads to bad places.

So there's a lot going on in this lowly chakra. Lots of energy moving in and out on a day to day basis as various situations may trip our fear response regardless of the levels of abstraction. Personally, I think this chakra is where most people stay most of the time on a psychological level. Just trying to get by is all this chakra cares about. It's also why I call it the "cha-ching" chakra because a paycheck in the hand will settle it right down with a warm fuzzy feeling deep in the gut while an empty bank account will stir it right up with that empty sinking feeling of dread.

It's all about security.

And it's interesting that as we travel up the spine one chakra at a time, this chakra may chime in at unexpected moments as other issues manifest while exploring those other energy centers. But the point is to listen and be aware, not control or ignore. This first chakra doesn't discriminate and to a certain degree it only has two states: secure and insecure. How you react to the information it provides is completely up to you.

And keep in mind that this is just the first step in a journey of self discovery so it pays to answer the most base questions as honestly as you can and deal with the darkness now. Fear is not pleasant but realizing that it's a tool to be used paves the way for higher orders of understanding and forges new paths through the tangle of consciousness that experience brings. It can be a very deep and revealing process but it begins with the question that must be asked over and over until we have a sense of security that gives us the foundation for further exploration.

What are your really afraid of?

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