Chakras are psychic centers in the body that are active at all times, whether we are conscious of them or not. Energy moves through the chakras to produce different psychic states. Modern biological science explains this as the chemical changes produced by the endocrine glands, ductless glands whose secretions mis into the body's bloodstream directly and instantaneously.
- Harish Johari. (1)
We have already seen how evolution has preserved the development of consciousness in the very structure of our brains. In this chapter, we will see that our evolutionary history is preserved at an even more primitive level in a series of psychoid (to use Jung's term) structures that have been noted and recorded by virtually every culture throughout history. Though these structures appear to be truly psychoid--that is, both body and psyche--their locations in the body corresponds to the major glands of the body. The glands in turn are able to send messages throughout the entire body, including the brain. The connection between these structures and the world beyond the body seems to be through the process breathing, but not simply physical breathing. Cultures which have discovered these structures argue that when we breaths, we are also bringing in not only air, but also an energy which is omnipresent throughout the universe, This basic energy is they transformed in the body into a life energy, then further transformed by these psychoid structures into forms specific to our basic life needs. Since this entire model is ignored by Western science, we will come at it from several different directions in this chapter in an attempt to demonstrate that it is nevertheless worthy of our consideration.
The Breath of Life
This repeated filling and emptying of breath is the rhythm of the universe itself, sending waves to strike at the root-impulses of Kundalini. When Kundalini is struck, she awakens, uncoils and begins to rise upwards like a fiery serpent, breaking upon each chakra as she ascends, until the Sakti merges with the Siva in deep union, samadhi or enstasis. (2)
Many ancient traditions believe that the human body contains a life energy that concentrates at key parts of the body, each of which correspond to a specific level of human development. The Egyptians taught that there were thirty-six "subtle arteries" called metu which transported this energy to various parts of the body where it collects. The ancient Chinese had this energy entering the body through the crown of the head and moving to three energy centers located in the brow, heart and lower body. Tibetan Buddhism expanded the three centers to five: the brain, throat, heart, solar plexus and sexual organs. The Hindu philosophy has the system most known to the outer world, with chakras of energy located above the crown of the head, at the brow, throat, heart, solar plexus, spleen area above the sex organs, and the perineum at the bases of the body, between the anus and the sex organs. (3)
The Greeks were aware of a similar set of centers, probably from the Egyptians. Their knowledge, in turn, was passed on in Gnostic and later alchemical tradition. Similarly, Kabbalist tradition, Sufi tradition, and many African traditions from one end of the continent to the other, all have such centers of concentration of energy. The system which I learned from half-Irish, half-Cherokee medicine worker Harley Swiftdeer was adapted from several Native American systems, especially those of the Hopi and Mayans. It has a system of energy centers called wheels (and sometimes worlds) identical in location and general function to the Hindu chakras.
This energy system has been ignored in the Western scientific world, largely because the energy that drives this system does not correspond to any energy Western science believes to exist. In recent years, there has been a slight increase in openness to this tradition, at least to the extent of allowing acupuncture, which is based on this energy system, to be used as an adjunct to traditional methods for anesthesia and pain relief.
The word chakra from the Hindu tradition, means wheel in Sanscrit, just as the Hopi/Mayan word did. These traditions use the word wheel because they view these energy centers as constantly turning, constantly in a state of flux, at right angles to the spine, much like wheels on an axle. Of course, this picture of a turning wheel is only an analogy to the idea of energy constantly increasing and decreasing in three (or more) dimensions. But's it's a useful analogy. We might view the chakras as a series of interlocked wheels or gears, each turning constantly, each connected to the turning of wheels both above and below itself, forming a unified system throughout the body. If any wheel stops turning properly, it affects the harmony of the entire system. (4)
Most of us have been taught to look contemptuously on so-called spiritual healers. We watch fundamentalist preachers who heal "with the power of Jesus" by laying on of hands, and laugh at the credulity of the people who believe in such unscientific nonsense. Yet we probably also feel somewhat uneasy about the cures we see effected; we ask ourselves if they are all really phony? We prefer just not to have to think about such issues. Yet the tradition of healing with energy is an ancient one. And it's not very difficult to experience the same force yourself.
Start with someone who is willing to have you attempt to feel their chakras without laughing or making jokes at your expense--the process is subtle enough that discouragement can ruin it. It is possible to feel one's own chakras, but it's easier to feel someone else's.
Shake your hands vigorously while you move your arms up and down. Rub your hand together, then cup an imaginary ball of energy between your two palms until you can feel the ball of energy, ignoring whether it exists anywhere other than in your mind. Move your hands closer than farther apart, feeling the energy contract and expand like a rubber ball. Then cup your hands loosely and move them up the body of your helper. Don't touch her body, just keep your hands six to eight inches away. Be receptive to sensation in either or both hands, or between the two hands. You may feel heat or cold or tingling or something less easily describable. A personal method I use, which I haven't found elsewhere in the literature on chakras, is to hold one hand out from the body, loosely cupped and parallel to the floor. Now run the other hand over the helper's body (remembering not to touch it) and see if you can't feel something in your other hand. For me, I can make a more subtle judgement of the position and energy of the chakras this way than merely feeling with one or the other hand.
This experience is subtle and the ability to feel it comes and goes at first, but if you persevere you should actually feel the chakra energy. And you will find that they exist where the ancient systems say that they exist. If you find other centers, less pronounced, you will discover that there is a literature that also pinpoints those smaller centers as well. For example, you should be able to feel energy around the joints of the body. Doctor and alternative healer Brugh Joy says that 99% of the people he introduces to hand scanning (his term for feeling chakra energy) can feel chakras. Even discounting that Brugh Joy attracts the more sensitive, intuitive people to his seminars, probably most people, including you, can feel chakras, if they are open to the concept.
With the experience of feeling chakras to make this less academic, let's look at the connection between energy and breath from another angle. Traditionally the energy that flows through the body is viewed as connected with our breathing; sometimes it is literally called "the breath of life". But it isn't the physical breath that is being referred to; rather it is some more subtle force that enters and leaves the body with our respiration. This is breath as energy, as pneuma, prana, ch'i.
As we will see for ourselves in the next chapter on meditation, breathing stands at the junction between those functions which we consciously control and those controlled by our autonomic nervous system. In other words, it is under the control of both the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems of the body. Our body will automatically breathe if left to itself, but we can take conscious control over breathing and vary it if we like. Biofeedback training, for example, can be used to learn how to gain conscious control of not only breathing, but other normally automatic functions such as heart-beat and skin temperature, but breathing remains the most important such function which all of us regularly control.
Linkage between the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems of the body is regulated by the hypothalamus, a brain organ located in the limbic system (which you will recall is very ancient and which we earlier termed the reptile brain). Deep meditation, which we will discuss at length in the following chapter), can bring about a state where breathing nearly stops. At that point, since breathing forms a junction between these two systems, the hypothalamus brings both to a stop and all mental impulses cease. This creates the moment of oneness or spiritual union known under so many names in so many cultures. (5)
The hypothalamus in turn is closely connected with the pituitary gland, the master conductor of the glandular action of the body. At the point when the hypothalamus (in conjunction with the thalamus; we're simplifying things here) brings the nervous system to a halt, the pituitary gland sends messages to all the glands of the body, which in turn send messages to the entire body, bringing it into a state of non-being. (6)
Now, hardly surprisingly, we find that if we examine the locations of the glands, they are closely connected with the chakras, each chakra corresponding to one of the major glands of the body. But the esoteric traditions insist that none of these actions are the primary reason for the functioning of this energy. Their picture is that this energy is drawn in through the crown chakra at the top of the head, into a series of chambers of the brain called ventricles. There the energy takes the form of a "heavenly dew" called ros. It is ros which travels down through the body until it arrives at the base of the spine and awakens the basic energy force: the Kundalini. (7)
Before we turn to the Kundalini itself, let us examine this rather complicated series of actions again. Most major "occult" traditions visualize the life force as being drawn into the body through the crown of the head. That energy is translated into a form useable by the body. The body has developed a system of glands and connections between the sympathetic and para-sympathetic systems that correspond to the locations of the energy systems in these occult traditions. Through observation of and sometimes control of our breathing, we can regulate the limbic brain system, the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the other major glands, and from there the entire body.
Most of the traditions I've cited as identifying energy centers similar to the chakras, also have methods for awakening those energy centers. By "awakening", they mean developing them to the point where they function more fully; they function to some extent whether awakened or not. (8) Since energy is transformed depending on its container, the Kundalini is experienced differently, depending on which chakra is awakened. At a key point in my own personal development, I once had a dream that said that the 5th, 6th, and 7th chakras had just opened up.
Wheels of Energy/Worlds of Consciousness
Man is created perfect in the image of his Creator. Then after "closing the door," falling from grace" into the uninhibited expression of his own human will, he begins his slow climb back upward. Within him are several psychophysical centers. At each successive stage of his evolution one of these comes into predominant play. Also for each stage there is created a world body in the same order of development as his own body, for him to become manifest with.
- Frank Waters, The Book of the Hopi. (9)
Here I am going to stray from the Hindu names and descriptions of the chakras, and use the Native American version that I learned from Harley Swiftdeer. In this system, the chakras were called wheels because they are energy centers in our body, which can actually be physically experienced. But each wheel also corresponds to a level of development, both of individual consciousness and of the universe. As the latter, the chakras can be seen as worlds of consciousness.
The first chakra, the "Creation Wheel", corresponds to the boundless energy of the sun. It is the wheel of creation and especially of procreation. That is why it is experienced so often through sexuality, why Freud could think that it was the primal energy itself. But it's not; it is only the lowest level manifestation of that energy. It is located at the base of the spine. When you are sitting properly, it would point straight up from the ground into your spine. The Creation Wheel is concerned with the basic, primal energy, as yet unformed. Problems at this level involve unfocused energy and sexuality.
The chakras--as worlds--also correspond to the development of the entire universe. All parts of the universe are seen as containing the history of the universe's development up to and including themselves. Here we encounter again the concept of the unitary universe, the Unus Mundus, in which the microcosm and the macrocosm, the inside and the outside are one. At this universal level, the Creation Wheel represents the first concentration of matter and energy in the stellar systems, and before that, if the Big Bang is correct, in the primal explosion itself. This is the first point in evolution where any concentration, any order is apparent. More basic even than this state would be that of chaos, of non-differentiation, a state prior to the chakras.
Second is the "Path Wheel" (also called the "Crystal Wheel"), located between your genital area and your navel. At the universal level, this chakra marks the stage at which the stellar systems cooled further and planetary systems formed. Here energy is trapped into rigid, angled structures like a crystal. This chakra is concerned with choice and power (especially will-power).. Having experienced the primal energy through our sexuality, if we don't fall prey to the many problems presented by sexuality, that energy becomes available to us as will-power we can use to direct our actions. The most common problems are rigidity and abuse of power.
With the "Dream Wheel", the world of plants, energy takes a further leap. Now organic change is possible. Minerals incessantly repeat the same patterns; plants are able to grow and develop in fascinatingly variable patterns. In our lives, the primal energy can now be used to develop any frame of reference we desire, any point-of-view. This is the world as a dream, the world which can be anything we choose it to be. The Kundalini energy can get stuck at any stage as it advances upward. If it gets stuck at the Dream Wheel, it's because we can't accept change, because we have grown so accustomed to one particular view of life that the we are frightened by the possibilities available for our lives. This the is stage where we experience the existential fear of the new that is such a common twentieth-century disease. We feel this fear in the "pit of our stomach", where the Dream Wheel is located.
Fourth is the "Animal Wheel", located in the middle of the chest. While plants can grow and change in seemingly never-ending varieties, animals bring emotion and individuality and communion and much more into the picture. The Animal Wheel is concerned with heart-balance, the harmony of emotions so beautifully seen in animals. Here our energy is connected to the life around us. At best we can feel an animal among other animals, an integral part of all creation. At worst, we have no sense of ourselves as either higher or lower. But this is largely a centered place to which one can return in difficult times, or use as a base of operations. This is the chakra energized by most of the humanistic psychologies today.
The fifth chakra, the "Human Wheel", is located in your throat. It represents a stage where, with emotions in balance, we can be fully human. Here energy needs to find expression. I've found many people have actual physical problems related to their throat when they are stuck at this wheel. It is perhaps the most common area to be stuck in for those who enter therapy.
Sixth is the "Spirit Wheel" located in the middle of your forehead (the so-called "Third Eye" so often mentioned in occult literature). This is the first chakra past the present human stage of development: the world of the archetypes. Problems often involve arriving at this stage of development with insufficient grounding below, or sometimes with an inability to appreciate that there even is such a wheel.
Finally, there is the "Sacred Wheel", which is located slightly above the head, but which I think of through its entry into the body in the soft spot in middle of the top of the head. (10) This chakra represents the state of samadhi or satori. Interestingly, this is the "lowest" level of spiritual awakening in most traditions; more advanced states follow.
Chakras and Body Armor
We run into the same situation in our work of braking down the muscular armor. The individual muscular blocks do not follow the course of a muscle or a nerve; they are altogether independent of anatomical processes. . . . the muscular armor is arranged in segments. Biologically, this segmental arrangement is a much more primitive form of living functioning than is found in the highly developed animals. A conspicuous example of segmental functioning is that of ringed worms and the biological systems related to them.
- Wilhelm Reich. (11)
Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was, along with Alfred Adler (1870-1937) and C. G. Jung (1875-1961) one of Sigmund Freud's most significant disciples. In order to understand Reich's major discovery, we have to briefly consider his mentor Freud. Freud's work with his patients led him to discover an dynamic unconscious mind that was largely the repository of repressed sexual desires. Since he was a nineteenth century thinker, with the then cutting-edge mechanistic view of biology, he initially reduced the sex drive and sexual energy, libido, to a purely mechanistic process. As his ideas developed over his long working life, sexuality gradually evolved and came to mean practically anything that was creative, passionate, driven by the body rather than the mind. But somehow he was still stuck with the belief that his broadened sexuality could be reduced to the mechanics of intercourse. There was a conflict here that Freud never fully understood. If sexuality could be reduced to biology, it could not be all the things Freud wanted it to be. And is sexuality included art and spirituality and creativity and love and tenderness and much more, then it couldn't be the same as mere biological sexuality.
Reich was quite content to hold literally to Freud's biological beliefs, but made his own advance with the realization that biology wasn't a simple, mechanistic process, but an organic one. For Reich, body and mind had to be a unified system, and sexuality had to explain both sides of that system. He could never view sexuality as biological when that was convenient or metaphorically when the biological view wouldn't do. Nor could Reich view sexuality as a collection of mechanical parts: oral sexuality, anal sexuality, etc. There had to be one sexuality that could explain all these separate manifestations.
In the course of his own studies of patients, Reich discovered that they fell into basic character types. Because Reich's interest centered on the body as much, if not more, than the mind, he noticed that these character types has different "body armors", different ways that their bodies protected them from the world. Essentially he discovered the chakras from the outside in, by examining the body structure of people with various character types and psychological problems.
Since Reich wholly accepted the primacy of the sexual act in the etiology of mental and emotional problems, he dug deeply into the biological basis of the orgasm. In doing so, he came to discover the life energy which we have already seen as prana, ch'i, ki, mana, etc.; in his case, he called it orgone energy. His study of orgone energy was profound, but also one-sided, since he was so wed to the idea that it had to be at base the energy of the orgasm. The key fact for us to understand is that he found that the circulation of orgone energy and the achievement of a ful orgasmic response by the body was usually prevented by blockages at seven different segments of the body. The different character types he identified had blockages at one or more of these segments, and the segments correspond in function and position to the chakras (with a slight modification we'll discuss in a moment.) It appears that Reich was unaware of the chakras and the literature on chakras and life energy; he certainly didn't refer to them in his writing.
Reich felt that we live through our bodies, that everything we think, feel, or do is reflected eventually in our bodies. Our emotions are expressed in characteristic body positions and movements. Even thought has emotional overtones that the body mirrors. There is nothing we can do independently of our bodies, and nothing that our bodies don't record. Reich recognized both mind and body, but for him the body would always be supreme. Little wonder that using Freud's basic premises, he ultimately came to different conclusions.
It is a commonplace to realize that emotions are expressed in characteristic ways: sadness leads to tears, joy to smiles, fear leads to a knot in the pit of our stomach, and so forth. But those are only the simplest manifestations; actually our emotions are expressed in the body by incredibly complex strings of operations of which we have little awareness. I remember when I had to have my gall bladder removed. The pain that led me to check into the hospital was so intense that I was literally beating my head against the wall to try and forget the pain. I experienced the pan throughout my entire abdomen, even though the gall bladder is located about the middle of the right side of the body. When I asked the surgeon why I felt the pain in my stomach, he explained that the internal organs were a very primitive part of the body, a part that we shared with creatures that developed many millions of years ago. They had very little need for nerve endings as they were not yet conscious enough to experience the messages the nerves would send. So most of the nerve endings for the trunk and internal organs are concentrated in the abdomen.
The point is that we have very little awareness of much of our body. Most of our awareness is restricted to the body's outer surface. It is at that vague interface that the outer world, our internal physical world, and even the internal psychic world of our thoughts and feelings meet and consciousness exists. Of course, I'm talking of a very primitive level of consciousness here. In this view, consciousness is a boundary condition. Boundaries are limits which separate the world into distinguishable pieces. But we would do well to remember that the pieces are distinguishable as separate only because of the boundary between them; otherwise each merges into the other indistinguishably.
We are each composed of many such boundaries. Every body organ is a separation from the rest of the body and, hence, a possible site of consciousness (in the limited sense of the word that I'm using here.) The body's outer surface is our major boundary, the boundary between self and environment. Hence consciousness exists at this boundary, and boundary we share with every animal down to the simplest amoeba, and, perhaps beyond that to plants and rocks and sub-atomic particles. This diffuse "boundary condition" consciousness is an important part of our total consciousness and one we largely ignore.
In looking for the trail that emotional problems left in the body, Reich found to his initial surprise that the body stored these problems in segments, rather than continuously. Muscles, nerves, etc. are connected in endless chains that have no true beginning nor end. When we walk, we don't walk with our legs alone; our whole body walks. But Reich's body segments were separate and discrete, connected by function more than anatomy. As he said: "an armor segment comprises those organs and muscle groups which have a functional contact with one another and which are capable of accompanying each other in the emotional expressive movement." (12)
He discovered that the life energy flowed up and down the body (just as the Kundalini energy flows up and down the spine). Muscles and nerves, however, "armored" themselves horizontally, at right angles to this flow, to form body segments. The armor is like a ring around our body, fully protecting it from all sides, at specific points. Obviously, this is reminiscent of chakras, which we have already seen are described by a variety of cultures as wheels of energy that form at right angles to the flow of Kundalini energy.
Reich realized that such segmented structure is characteristic of much simpler creatures like ringed worms. In the higher vertebrates, only the segmental structure of the spine, its corresponding nerve ending, and the corresponding ganglia of the nervous system still have that structure. Paul McLean's triune brain starts where this structure, which he calls the "neural chassis" ends. So Reich had discovered that our higher life, which begins with the rigid emotions of the reptile brain, continues with the softer emotions of the mammal brain, and culminates in the rationality of the human brain, is all stored in this much more primitive bodily structure! Hence the character armor segments, rather than seeming anomalous, are merely reflections of the fact that our body, brain and mind developed our of simpler ancestors.
Let's take his segments in turn. The first armor ring is the Ocular, which controls the muscles of the eyeballs, the eyelids, the forehead, the lachrymal gland, etc. When the armor is on, a person wears a mask that prevents the expression of fear or sorrow. Reich loosened the armor by having the patient open their eye wide, as if in fright. A proof of the segmental nature of the armor was that muscle actions in this segment don't carry over into the next segment, the Oral. If you open your eyelids wide, you can move all your muscles down to the upper cheeks, but you can't effect the biting impulses which mark a blockage in the Oral segment. Armoring the Oral segment leads to a look of grim bulldog determination that cuts off crying, yelling, biting, sucking. Now, of course, the Oral segment is connected with the Ocular segment above and the Neck segment below. Otherwise there would be no free flow of energy in a healthy individual. But the blockages are localized leading to independent problems.
In summary, there are seven segments: "the ocular segment, which includes the eyes, ears, and central brain structures. The next is the oral, centered on the mouth; a cervical segment, covering throat and neck; a thoracic segment in the region of the chest and arms; a diaphragmatic segment in the area of the solar plexus; an abdominal segment, and a pelvic segment, which includes the legs." (13)
The lower five segments correspond exactly in location to the chakras. The Ocular seems to correspond to the Spirit Wheel, but there is no muscle segment that corresponds to the Sacred Wheel and no chakra that matches the Oral segment in location. It's sensible that there is no muscle equivalent for the Sacred Wheel since it is located in a space above the body. In many systems, it is seen as corresponding to the body's aura.
I would speculate that perhaps the Oral segment is a further evolutionary development of a chakra intermediate between the Human Wheel and the Spirit Wheel. I know that in hand scanning the chakras, I frequently experience energy around the mouth and nasal passages. I had previously regarded this as energy trapped between the chakras, but perhaps a new chakra is emerging. If I'm correct is this assumption. then Reich's segments perfectly correspond to the chakras, yet they were discovered by observing the musculature of the body.
Moving "Down the Chakras" to Resolve Emotional Problems
The concept of "armor stratification" opened many possibilities for clinical work.
- Wilhelm Reich. (14)
Love, work and knowledge are the well-springs of our life. They should also govern it.
- Wilhelm Reich. (15)
One important discovery of Reich's that isn't known in the chakra literature is that blockages in the segments (and hence in the chakras) have to be dealt with from the top down. It is useless to deal with a blockage at a lower level when one still exists at a higher segment. The implications are that the chakras develop from the bottom up, both historically and in an individual. Yet problems which are reflected in blockages of energy and muscle armor need to be dealt with from the top down. Reichian therapists actually work on the body itself, loosening the body's armor, releasing hidden emotions in the process. In an unusual memoir of his time in Reichian analysis, actor Orson Bean describes this experience:
Suddenly he began gouging at the sore, knotted muscle again and he didn't stop, and then I really hit the bed. I began pounding hard with both fists, lying there on my stomach, yelling and screaming and biting and having a tantrum. I tried to beat my way through the bed to get away from his hands. I sobbed uncontrollably. I cried harder than I ever had before. Then [the therapist] let me alone and I just lay there, sobbing deeply. Every time I took a breath, it felt like it went right down to the base of my spine and then I'd cry again--wracking, convulsive sobs. I cried for about five minutes and then I lay there with my face in the sheet for another five, involuntarily breathing those deep, deep breaths. Finally, I recovered and turned over on my back. (16)
In working with patients in a more traditional psychotherapy, I also found that I ended up working down the chakras in order to resolve emotional issues. Let me talk at some length about an actual case history in order to illustrate this. It is a commonplace in therapy to say that depression is a cover for repressed anger, but actually anger is often itself a cover for deeper issues. A patient came to me once suffering from an acute phase of depression. His life was in a shamble: his wife had left him, he'd lost one job and was afraid he'd lose the new one. Life had no purpose: everything was covered with the gray, sticky feeling of emptiness that characterizes depression. Let's call him Bob. (In this account, the client's name and some particulars have been changed.)
At first, it was hard for Bob to even admit certain things, to say them out loud, even to himself, much less to his wife and others. Gradually, as he came to trust me and the process of therapy, he shared them with me. Like most such hidden issues, they weren't anything awful, just the sort of thing you and I conceal out of fear of humiliation. Once they were said out loud, the anger came. For a while, there was a lot of anger. Then it started to alternate with feelings of love and tenderness. By this time he was talking with his wife as well, sharing these unspoken issues, these sometimes harsh, sometimes caring emotions. She came back to him and his job situation improved. At this point, just as things were looking up for him, he started to have a lot of fear. He needed more comforting from me at this stage than he did at the start of therapy. I could already sense that there was a firm direction in this progression, but it was only later that I was able to see that it corresponded to the chakras.
I came to understand that Bob was moving down the chakras, resolving unfinished areas in his development. After the fear, he fell into an arrogant period where he was almost unbearable. Happily, I had enough experience of such "inflation" (to use a term from Jungian psychology) in my own behavior to know how to bring him back down to earth without destroying his newly-won self-esteem. Finally he started bringing up sexual issues, and we seemed to have reached bottom. But that wasn't bottom either. At that point, he felt the need for creative expression in art. Since, however, Bob wasn't really an artist, that slowly diminished and he simply found himself once more whole and satisfied with his life.
Bob illustrated just how patients get stuck on developmental issues at a chakra, normally one of the lower chakras. As they pass on in their development to another chakra, they have to make adjustments for the issues left unresolved at the previous, lower chakra. That in turn causes problems at the next level, and this process continues up the chakra system. And, or course, development also presents unique problems at each stage of development unrelated to previous chakras. Every variety of situation is possible. One may have to move down the chakras one-at-a-time to get at a problem much lower, or the only problem might be just one level deeper than the presenting problem. Or perhaps a problem at one level doesn't have much effect on the next chakra, so that you skip a level as you move down the chakras in therapy. Or, as is most likely, there is no single problem, but multiple problems at multiple levels, to deal with. But the pattern of cure remains the same: start at the top and move down the chakras.
Let's look at Bob's situation in more depth. Depression is a problem of the sixth chakra, the Spirit Wheel, located at the site of the "third eye" in the middle of the brow. This chakra can be the site of a new vision, a new way of seeing reality. At its deepest level, it is the stage where one realizes experientially that there is nothing but psyche. We come to realize that all we can ever experience of the world is our own inner world, yet paradoxically that world extends beyond our own individual experience. This is the land of satori, samadhi, of the mystical unions that all meditators dream of, secretly or openly.
But entering that boundless land without the proper preparation can be a terrible experience. First one needs to have already developed a strong, healthy sense of self through numerous struggle with both inner and outer realities. Legends and myths tell us that, in addition, we also have to have some special gifts from the gods as well. Every hero in every fairy tale must eventually receive a gift from someone with more "magic" that he himself possesses. In Christian theology, this gift is more simply presented as "grace."
All the deeper disturbances of the psyche lie in this chakra. This is where schizophrenics find their strange worlds, their voices. This is where the manic personality finds the god-like entities that take over his or her personality and ride him like a cowboy rides his horse. Even paranoia peeks into this work, though much of its roots like in lower chakras. And this is the dividing region where so-called "normal", "neurotic", and "psychotic" can all meet in depression. Bob's depression was centered in this chakra, but wasn't the issue in itself, just the presenting problem.
The next chakra is the Human Wheel which centers on the uniquely human world of communication, of words (with apologies to ape, chimp and dolphin researchers if I'm wrong in saying this is unique to humans). This is the stage where words allow reality to be stored abstractly within our psyches. Though the debate will probably never end, it is at least arguable that thought and speech are contemporaneous developments, and perhaps even one and the same thing. Bob had to think the unthinkable, say the unsayable, to pass this point. He had to grasp that the problems he faced were his own, not merely visited upon him by outside forces. One he understood that he was responsible for these problems, then he could cure them; he didn't have to simply lay down abjectly in the drooping posture of depression.
At the Animal Wheel, the anger that I've already said is often viewed as the underlying root depression, appeared. Having said what he had been so afraid to say, Bob now could feel the emotions that he had always covered up before. And hot anger was the result. A great deal of anger had to come out before anger yielded to first sadness, then love and tenderness. The Animal Wheel is where we have moved beyond our purely inner world and now experience our feelings in the outer world as well; and the outer world is far too important to be blotted out by denial or fantasy.
Then we arrive at the Dream Wheel, where we learn that we have to change, to transform, in order to survive the variety of the experiences presented us by the world. That is a scary experience for all of us. It probably starts when we're babies and we're hungry and there is no lovely, tummy-filling milk. Fear grows and we cry and then there is a bottle or a breast and the world is right again. But sometimes we cry and no milk appears, no matter how hard we cry. That is when we learn fear, when we realize that the world is complex, filled with shadings, and somehow we have to adapt to all those shadings. I had to give Bob a lot of loving at this stage.
Now we are down to the last two chakras. At the Path Wheel, we are barely human. Here we are lost in childhood's dreams of omnipotence; here that omnipotent feeling has to accept limitation. This is the world were we learn to make choices. We can feel our power, but the world is limitless and choices must be made. The baby here still thinks it controls the world since all it has to do is cry to receive milk. Here we divide things quickly into good and bad, right and wrong, with no grays in between. People suffering from bipolar disorder can never seem to advance past this chakra. Bob got "inflated", but since I was there to "ground" him in the realities of his situation, couple with warm praise for all he had accomplished, he didn't stay inflated very long.
Finally, at the Creation Wheel, Bob arrived at the primal energy which he experienced as sexual desire. Remember how I experienced my gall bladder pain in my stomach? When we arrive at the raw, undifferentiated energy of the Creation Wheel, we don't have many experiences to categorize such energy, so most often it is felt as sexual desire. But for others, it might be experienced as a spiritual awakening, or an outburst of creativity. When Bob reached this stage and started having strong sexual desires, it didn't turn out to be the central issue, as Freud (or Reich) would have guessed. In actuality, the stage of sexual desire soon gave way to the need for artistic creativity, and that in turn soon gave way to a general satisfaction as he integrated this new energy into his life.
I hope that the above case history gives the reader an idea of how, at a stage of our life where we become stuck (often in depression), we need to move down the chakras, dealing with developmental issues in reverse order of how they originally occurred in our lives. Bob's case is a real one (though as I've presented it, it is general enough that it could fit almost anyone) and an especially clear illustration of moving down the chakras in order to resolve problems. Other people suffering from emotional issues may have more complex trips down the chakras, but they still fit this model. And it is important to stress that at any major point of transition in our life, we will normally have to go through such a restructuring of our total personality. These aren't just issues for others, but for all of us.
In the next chapter, we'll look at some tools and techniques we can use to develop psychic muscles, with a goal of ultimately being "trained practitioners" of the psyche.
1. Harish Johari Chakras: Energy Centers of Transformation (Vermont: Destiny Books, 1987), p. 1.
2. Ajit Mookerjee, Kundalini: The Arousal of Inner Energy (New York: Destiny Books, 1982), p. 24.
3. Benjamin Walker, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, the Esoteric, and the Supernatural (New York: Scarborough Book, Stein & Day, 1980), pp. 218-22.
4. I'm indebted to Harley Swift Deer for this metaphor.
5. Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training, pp. 47-52.
6. Steven Rose, The Conscious Brain, pp. 273-7, 332-6.
7. Benjamin Walker, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, the Esoteric, and the Supernatural.
8. Gopi Krishna, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man (Boulder: Shambhala, 1971).
9. Frank Waters, The Book of the Hopi (New York: Viking Press, 1963 ), p. 26.
10. This is the place where some traditions have drilled holes. This process, called trepination, is claimed to open the person to mystical insight.
11. Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, 3rd Ed. (New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 1972), pp. 368-9.
12. Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, p. 370.
13. Ralph Metzner, Know Your Type: Maps of Identity (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1979), p. 166.
14. Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 1973), p. 144.
15. Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm, quotation before Table of Contents.
16. Orson Bean, Me and the Orgone (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971), pp. 45-6.
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