Several months ago, I discovered my understanding of the energetic process underlying enlightenment was flawed and incomplete. While it corresponded to a number of traditions, it did not address how everyone experienced the process. This article in 3 parts reviews the exploration and results. More is yet to be unfolded. -D
Understanding Kundalini and Shakti in Awakening
Our physical existence is dependent on much subtler energetic interactions which are in turn dependent on virtual fluctuations in a vacuum. This is a physics perspective. Our bodies are composed of complex fields and structures that interplay to form our apparent physical body. Those on a spiritual journey and/or who are unfolding subtle perception are more likely to experience these finer energy values directly. Most prominently, we notice the energy nodes (minor and primary chakras) and the main channels (nadis).
The Vedas explored this subject thousands of years ago and have given us much more detail. Our body is built up in progressive inter-penetrating layers described as koshas or sheaths. You’ve probably heard of the etheric, astral and causal “bodies” but that’s a little misleading. It’s not separate entities but rather a series of progressively denser fields.
The 5 commonly understood koshas are:
Annamaya – literally “food” sheath, the physical and etheric
Pranamaya – prana or energy sheath, called vital, emotional or astral
Manonmaya – lower mind, mental
Vijnanamaya – higher mind, intellect
Anandamaya – bliss, vibration, causal
Another way of modelling this sequence is vibration/sound, subtle geometry, subtle fields, gross fields, physical.
Some further describe 2 more koshas. In early stages of awakening, these may not be recognized as sheaths. Atman, for example, is seen as boundless. However, it later becomes apparent that it too can be transcended. These are non-individual or shared layers:
Chittamaya – modified consciousness [Updated]
Atmamaya – Atman or cosmic Self
Including these correctly maps the 1 into 3 into 7 progression seen as a principle in this creation. (similarly there are 7 senses and elements but the highest 2 are largely virtual.)
These koshas are driven by a set of primary chakras, from which a network of channels run out, supporting the nervous, circulatory and limbic systems of our physiology. Chakra means wheel, in this case a wheel of vibrating, spinning, & circulating energy (prana, vayu or chi). We’ve all seen those images of 7 chakras in a tidy rainbow of specific colours but that’s largely symbolic. Kundalini operates more subtly than in the colour spectrum of human sight. And each chakra tends to be a blend of colours, unique to each person.
Keep in mind that chakras are not physical things and so their appearance depends more on how they’re being observed. Some count just the primary 7 chakras and some include other secondary nodes like the feet. Some count fewer as main ones. Some will see further chakras above the head and some will see those same chakras as folded over the original 7 in subtler form. Thus, some describe higher stages above the head after kundalini rises and some see those same stages during a descent. I’ll come back to this shortly.
Irrespective of the apparent physical body and its position, the chakras run in a perfect line, equally spaced. This is because they’re not individual chakras inside your body but rather a common set used by all beings in this universe.
Where we experience them arising in our body, bottom to top:
Root of the spine, lower belly (2” below navel), solar plexus, heart, throat, forehead (third eye), and crown of the head. The crown isn’t a chakra wheel but rather a centre that directs the lower chakras, often depicted as a thousand-petaled lotus flower.
These chakras drive the physiology and power the koshas. We can thus see a correspondence between the koshas, chakras, elements, senses and layer of existence.
|Anandamaya||throat||space||hearing||bliss, celestial, causal|
Note however that these are a relationship, not a one-to-one correspondence. It’s more the chakras provide the energy qualities which are structured by the rules of each progressive layer of form. And they build in layers to full expression on grosser levels.
For most people, the energy system is plugged up with a kind of waxiness that restricts the flow of prana (energy). This is not unlike a subtler version of the buildup of plaques in the blood system. Granthi’s or knots that block the main paths are also common. These bigger blocks create more significant experiences and changes when they open.
In the root chakra at the base of the spine is a potent form of energy called Kundalini. Kundalini means coiled. Once it uncoils and begins to rise, it is Shakti though many still call it kundalini. Shakti is the divine power or energy or flow of That. Shakti is seen as feminine as she is the creative and motive force behind all experience. She is the Mother of creation, also experienced as pure love. She originates in the fundamental liveliness of That.