Sunday, January 26, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Anahata

The fourth chakra, called Anahata, is deemed most important in many yoga traditions. It's the center of feeling, the source of caring, the fountain of compassion and the engine of love that drives our spiritual connection to this physical illusion. When it's open and nurtured, we feel connections and empathy towards the world. When it's closed, we feel isolated and alone.

Now, interestingly enough, I don't think too much about this particular chakra but I pay attention to it all the time. For me, it's the center of the system and the gate to processing what the other chakras are radiating. It's like a window into your current spiritual being and if you pause and listen you give yourself a chance to act instead of react. If you have a chest clenching rush of fear, you should be able to pause, sit in the emotion and analyze if your body is actually in physical danger. If you take a hit to the ego and the third chakra wilts away for a moment, you can stop and decide whether or not to take what was said or done personally and allow it to affect you. When Anahata is open, you have time to feel the connections and understand more fully the emotional content of any given situation and act accordingly rather than reacting badly.

But that's a lot of responsibility, isn't it? To consciously act rather than react? It removes the "I just wasn't thinking" excuse from the the table and you must accept that your actions have consequence especially when you act consciously.  Reacting is easy and gets easier as Anahata shuts down and you lose those connections and that empathy that links you to the world.

It's those connections that make the world real. Many would argue the point but the way I see it, without Anahata, we exist, but we are not "here". With the first chakra, I can eat, run and survive. With the second chakra I can procreate. With the third chakra I can make my space and protect it. But with the fourth chakra, we connect. We plug in. We empathize and relate our base experience with the experiences of others and suddenly we are "here". We are in this reality and we are together.

So the joys and sorrows that each level of experience can bring manifests in the heart.  Imagine the warm fuzzy feeling a full pantry or a full tank of gas brings. That's a first chakra glow that manifests in your chest. How about the blessed ache that the sight of a beautiful woman brings, that little knot of nervous energy that happens right behind your sternum. Second chakra chiming in. How about the chest puffing glow that you get from a compliment that feeds energy straight to the third chakra?

It all happens in the chest, in the flower of Anahata. And being open and connected allows us to be here and now and fully in the moment which is the goal of almost all the spiritual disciplines.

But let's talk about love for just a moment since most sources will take this chakra and the sense of connection, call it "love" and be done with it.

Some would call me a cynic. I think of myself as a realist. I'll answer to either tag so I don't see that it matters. But full disclosure is in order for me to state that the word "love" is over used.

It's a marketing ploy and little else. It's a word that has some crazy generalized associations that is abused by manipulators and greeting card companies to get what they want. The word has so many associations and so many levels and layers that it is very possible that no two people could give you an accurate description, much less a definition.

"But that's what makes it magical," someone will say.

No, that's what makes it useless. Words have definitions. Words have meanings. When one word has so many levels of meanings, it becomes diluted.

If someone uses the word "love", what do they mean? If you let the love flow, what is flowing?  Which kind of love are we talking about? Is it the love a man feels for a woman? Well if everyone feels that for everyone, this is going to get kinky quick. How about the love a parent feels for a child? That love is crazy powerful and you don't realize how powerful until you feel it but it is very focused. How about the love for a medium rare steak and bourbon over ice? Hell, I'd marry it. But is it love? I might die for the love of a woman. I will die the love a child. I'm not that worried about a good steak served with alcohol no matter how much I love it.

But cynicism/realism aside, this comes down to a shifting point of reference and everyone stands on a different point when referring to love and that point is formed by life experiences, both past and present.

So is it possible to have a universal point of reference?

I don't know.

But I read a book on lucid dreaming once called The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between Worldsand it described  mystics who had seen things and understood those things as only mystics can. But when they tried to explain, they could only sit and cry because there were no words to describe just how beautifully connected everything is.

That's a pretty interesting reference point.  Love is the moment where words fail.

So I guess it's alright to use the word "love" and acknowledge the degrees and shifting points of reference while realizing that language is not powerful enough to address the possibilities. But I still think "connection" is a more accurate description and the connection can be cultivated in Anahata without confusing it with marketing ploys.

And the more we cultivate, the closer we get to that moment where words cannot explain the oneness of the universe.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Manipura

So we've worked our way up from Muladhara to Swadhistana and now we come to Manipura. The basics are out of the way. We survive and thrive and seek creation through means both subtle and overt and so we can begin to actually develop a sense of self. We can worry with an ego and the baggage that it brings.  We survive, we thrive and we discover our boundaries.

Manipura is located behind the solar plexus and is associated the element of fire. So we've moved up from the earth (Muladhara) to water (Swadhistana) and now we have the fire. I find this chakra particularly interesting since this is the one a lot of the martial art traditions point to as a source of energy and power. It's fascinating study of cross cultural references to the same thing. Yoga has prana and the various martial arts of china and japan have chi. It's the same stuff and although the methods of manipulation of this energy vary, a lot of the philosophy is remarkably similar.

And it's not surprising that some of the martial arts traditions consider this a source of power since that's basically what Manipura is all about: Power. But not power in the traditional western sense. This is the power of the self, the structure of the ego. This is the force of will and the sense of individualism.

But let's begin by looking at the idea of "power". In the West, when someone says "power", it is assumed that they are referring to power over something or someone. It's an external thing mostly. A measure of someone's mark on the world or the extent of their influence. But power can mean something else especially if approached from an eastern or shamanic viewpoint. In this version, power is internal and personal. In the West power is measured by lines on a map. The power we speak of here is more like fires in the furnace.

It's more about the sense of self that can lead to your level of influence on the material world. The ego is a fluid and dangerous thing, inflating and deflating on the whims of fate. Some people fill up a room with their ego, their personal power. Some huddle in the corner and hide since their egos are like flickering candle flames in a breezy room. To a large degree, it's all about how we see ourselves in relation to the world but it's also how we think others see us as well.

It just couldn't be simple, could it?  But one should notice that the story gets more complicated the higher we move up the chakra ladder. Survival is a pretty basic concept. Sex is definitely more complicated that survival. But we have to add a layer of identity over the survival and sex and now we have a bit of a mess since all the chakras reflect aspects of the others. That's a mistake a lot of students of the chakra system make almost immediately. They isolate the chakras from the others and study them individually, eventually forgetting how much they influence each other.

As an example, let's return to the analogy of the third chakra being the flaming furnace of ego. The brighter the furnace burns the more confidence we feel and the more secure we feel with our place in the world. In a sense, we can say that the other chakras can fuel or feed from this furnace. So if we feel secure in the first chakra and we feel comfortable in our physical environment as in all our needs are met, the ego is fine. It may be bolstered even. I have food. Shelter. I must be doing something right! The furnace is fed. On the contrary, a lack of resources and the onset of hunger can mess with one's mind and seriously dampen the fires of confidence.

Same thing goes for the second chakra. Sex is gasoline to the furnace of the third chakra. If someone has sex with us we must be all right in someone's book and that feeds the furnace. Confidence is bolstered (usually) and we feel better about our place in the world especially in relation to the creative vibe of the second chakra. Rejection and the denial of sensuality can suppress the ego and suddenly we question not only our value but also how others value and perceive us.

Security in the physical world is an underlying theme of the first three chakras. Basic needs directing our place in the world on many levels. Consider how the lack of security on any of those levels can drive behaviors and provide motivations.

From here on up is the path of the spirit, the emotions and feelings and connections to higher consciousness. But we can not deny the anchor of the first three chakras that work to give us presence in this physical world. We came here for a reason, to be in these body and experience the reality of the physical and learning how the needs and desires and the furnace of the ego dance together and make life happen is a sure path to self discovery.