In the west, we’re brought up with a conceptual model of ourselves as physical beings who think and have emotions. Mind and feelings are typically seen as effects of physical functions. We are the side effects of a machine, victims of our biology as Bruce Lipton would put it.
However, if you do any internal exploration, you quickly discover that such a model doesn’t work very well. For example, your thoughts dictate your action and you experience having free will. How could this arise from effects? Soon it becomes apparent that the model is inside out.
When if you do any browsing for better models of life closer to your experience, you find various models of mind, energy, and spirit. A disjoined jumble of ideas like chakras, kundalini, auras, and astral travel. Not much to build a sense of reality on.
The most important thing to understand is that we are what observes. This is far more important than what we experience. What we experience arises from who we are, so that is the key. Knowing the container is better than knowing the content. But unless our experiences makes some sense, we’re much less likely to relax into observation of how we experience and seeing who we are.
Our Energetic System
“It is from prana (life force) that everything proceeds.”
– Chandogya Upanishad
Life force, prana or chi is the energy that drives our expression. That causes our form to become. On the surface we know this as breath, electro-chemical nervous system impulses and our heart. Tha-thump. More subtly, this is a movement of subtle energy. More subtly still, a movement of light. And yet more subtly, it is the flow of lively intention, the movement of attention. In other words, prana is the flow of consciousness. Including your very breath.
Our subtle energy moves through a fundamental structure that is the same for all beings. It begins with intention. We are intended. Intention has the form of direction, what mathematicians would call a line. In ancient Vedic texts, it’s known as a sutra or thread. A perfectly straight white thread.
On this thread are 7 energy vortexes, essentially 7 values or qualities. Same energy, different functions. These energy vortexes are typically called chakras, a term that means wheels. The main channel between them is known as the sushumna.
If you are unfamiliar, the 7 chakras are:
|7||Crown of the head (fontanella)||Sahasrara|
|6||Third eye – between the 2 eyes and slightly up||Anja|
|4||Heart (central chest)||Anahata|
|3||Just above the Navel||Manipura|
|2||Top of sex organs||Svadisthana|
|1||Root of the spine||Muladhara|
There are 2 secondary channels that run alongside the sushumna, looping up the spine and intersecting at the 7 centers. One is called the Pingala and is associated with male and left brain. The Ida is feminine, right brain.
The Ida and Pingala are often portrayed as entwined serpents. The Caduceus of Hermes symbol used in western Medicine (originally Egyptian) illustrates this. Because they loop through the chakras, a correct illustration has 7 points of contact, including the tails and heads. The Sushumna, Pingala and Ida are the 3 primary nadis or tubes.
The energy that flows in these channels is called kundalini. Kundalini is a blend of pranas, not a separate thing as is often portrayed. It’s also worth noting that Chakra energy is not prana. Chakra is the divine flow into expression, prana is the flow of nature. Kind of the male and female sides. I’ll touch on this more shortly.
Some refer to the Pingala as the basis of the parasympathetic and the Ida, the sympathetic nervous system. The Sushumna is the basis of the central nervous system.
From these primary nadis, a whole series of other channels branch out. The nadis are said to be formed by the flow of energy or prana. At key points of intersection, secondary chakras form – shoulders, elbows, hands, feet, and so forth.
“Among all these nadis, 72 thousand are important. Of these, 100 are principle. And of these, three are particularly significant. Of these three, the most important is the sushumna, which extends from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.”
– Swami Muktananda
Nadi’s are what the Chinese call meridians, although they focus on them slightly differently.
In western medicine, when nerves, arteries or veins interlace with each other, that point is called a Plexus. Almost a hundred such plexuses have been named in the human body, but the four primary nerve plexuses are the cervical, brachial, lumbar, and the sacral plexus, reflecting the chakras. These are also associated with the endocrine or ductless glands. These physical plexuses have their foundation in the subtle energy system or nadis. The nervous system does not mirror the nadi system, but rather the energy of the nadis (prana) creates channels that guide the formation of the entire physical body.
Some of the most misleading information around chakras is all the stylized art work you see around. Typically, you’ll see each chakra a single tidy colour in a progressive rainbow, with the heart green in the middle.
This is not what the chakras are like. They are whirling vortexes of multicoloured light, just like some aura pictures you may have seen. The thread extends up through the chakras and out the top of the head.
They are also equidistant and in a straight line, irrespective of the position of your body. Remember, we’re not talking about physical objects.
Another way people describe chakras is as flowers with each center having a progressively larger number of petals, the crown having a thousand. The chakras can be seen as 3 level. The center is the vortex we’ve been describing. Slightly forward is a very flower-like expression that opens with giving attention. Outward flowing.
Behind the vortex is a similar structure, but flatter. Like a disc. It balances the flower, connecting to the flow, almost like a root.
We can also see various other aspects, like a vertical donut around the heart, a descending cone around the 2nd, crusts or caps on the tops of restricted centers, and so forth.
It’s worth further noting that there is only one set of 7 chakras in our universe. We all share the same 7 centers. Including all other life forms like plants, insects, etc. Each individual is just a personality, a variation on the single expression. I’ve described how we see our lives collapse into the moment and how all beings can collapse into the same. This is shifting to the more divine view where all is concurrent and timeless.
“If one could reach the subtle vibrations, one could see that the whole universe is composed of subtle vibrations; the whole universe is seen as an ocean of thought. In the ocean of thought, we exist as whirlpools of individual thought.”
– Charlie Lutes
Next, we’ll explore the pranas and purushas.