Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought. Basho
People often ask me, “what are the chakras?” And rightly so, I do teach Chakradance.
In truth, probably like all ancient systems, the chakras just ain’t what they used to be. And for good reason, the world ain’t what it used to be. Any system worth its salt must be adaptable to change. Nothing stays still for thousands of years, particularly not whirling vortices of energy.
The more I read and learn about ancient systems, be it the Hindu chakra system, druidry or shamanism, the more I begin to understand that there is no one ‘standard system.’ These systems were highly localised and steeped in the culture and traditions of the people who developed them.
So where does that leave a woman of Irish descent, living in Australia, with an innate fascination for Indian mysticism?
Good question. Can you let me know when you figure it out?
The ancients created a profound system. We can now marry this wisdom with modern information about the natural world, the body, and the psyche, to create an even more effective system. Anodea Judith
Seriously though, it leaves me where most of us seekers are these days… Trying to find meaning in a world where culture has been stripped away, appropriated, and misrepresented. Most of us have not been raised in a lineage of a cultural spiritual tradition, some of our cultural traditions barely even exist anymore. Due to mass migration, many of us have been raised in lands far removed and alien to those of our ancestors.
Even though I have lived in this beautiful land all my life, I am not one of the First People and as such I am not privy to much of their sacred law. Nor should I be, I respect that. In addition to that, our education system has largely ignored indigenous history and wisdom, so what I could have been taught, I haven’t. I intend to remedy that now.
So, I find myself walking a fine line between research and direct experience. I keep an open mind, I read, I look out for interesting people with like-minds, I journey with spirit. And somehow, as I continue to follow the next obvious step on this path, I am guided to the things that illuminate my way.
Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth. David Suzuki
It’s a patchwork journey. A zigzag path. A bit of this, a bit of that. Sometimes I get lost in all the competing avenues of interest. This week in particular I have had moments of indecision paralysis because I have “homework” from my druidry course, my nature magic course, and my shamanic journeying course. What do I do first?
Then I remind myself, they’re just different pathways, the destination is the same. And I try to find pathways that are meaningful to me, that make sense together, for me, as a Western woman.
I just keep connecting, and trust that spirit will guide me.
And I see connections everywhere. The similarities between the druidic path and the shamanic path, and many ancient belief systems continue to astound me. The representation of spirit as something that can be mapped and worked with, appears across belief systems.
At the heart of most eastern philosophies lies an understanding of the mystical channels of energy that flow through our bodies. The word ‘chakra’ is an ancient Sanskrit word, which literally translated means ‘wheel’.
Just a quick note here on the use of the word ‘energy’. I refer to the subtle energy as described so well by physicist F David Peat:
Many of the biochemical processes within the body involve exchanges of physical energy, but these grosser forms of energy are not what I take the terms healing energy and subtle energy to mean. Rather, the latter are like the activity of a conductor of an orchestra or the choreographer of a ballet, that integrates and coordinates into one cohesive movement all the bio-chemical and energy processes of the body. F David Peat
The chakra system is a system of energy and information. The chakras are part of the subtle energy body, which means they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Some highly sensitive people can perceive the chakras, which is why the original information recorded by the earliest Indian mystics is still proving to be pretty accurate today. All people can learn to attune themselves to these subtle energy channels.
Here in this body are the sacred rivers, here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as the body. Saraha Doha
The chakras are part of the yoga tradition. Yoga meaning ‘yoke’ or union is the practice designed to yoke the mortal, physical self, to the divine nature of pure consciousness. Yoga and the early concepts of energy centres first appear in the Vedic texts of India from about 4,000 years ago. Following the Vedas were the texts of the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The idea of the subtle vital force (prana) and the channels along which it flows (nadis) appear in the earliest Upanishads. The heart was said to be the centre of the 72,000 nadis or subtle channels.
Within these Hindu scriptures, the chakra concept became a part of a complex set of ideas related to esoteric anatomy, or as Caroline Myss refers to it, the ‘anatomy of the spirit.’ What we may be learning to manage here then, is our soul.
Subtle energy is like the underlying meaning and coherence which remains implicate in the phenomenal world. Jason Kirkey
These texts mention varying numbers of chakras. Over time, one system of six or seven chakras along the body’s axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system originated in about the tenth century, and rapidly became widely popular. It is in this model where Kundalini – divine feminine shakti energy – is said to “rise” upward, piercing the various centres until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine Shiva energy.
It was the tantra tradition that moved from the dualistic worldview of the ancient Hindu texts, of matter and spirit as distinct things, that earthly desires should be renounced in the pursuit of enlightenment, to a non-dual idea of integration of body and spirit, to be in the world, not apart from it, a weaving together of the previous traditions, that included the chakras, and saw the body as a sacred temple for spirit.
The practice of tantra is about inner-transformation. The energy involved in the process of tantric transformation is the energy of our own bliss. Prana Gogia
In the tantric texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, the chakras are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, a spiritual energy which flows through the crown and gradually becomes denser, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara, or base, chakra. Another text, the Gorakshashatakam gives specific instructions for meditating on the chakras.
The word tantra, which has a dubious reputation in the West as predominantly sexual practices, actually means ‘loom’ and denotes this weaving together of the principles of yoga, the kundalini energy, and deity worship, including practices for mastering our spiritual energy.
The soul… is the primary organizing, sustaining, and guiding principle of a living being. Thomas Berry
The chakra system was popularised in the West by Sir John Woodroffe (writing as Arthur Avalon), in his book, The Serpent Power, which was an English translation of these tantric texts.
Theosphists Charles Leadbeater and Alice Bailey investigated the connections they saw between the chakras and the biology of the human body – associating each chakra with particular endocrine glands and nerve ganglions or plexii in the sympathetic nervous system. According to their clairvoyant perception, the chakras were seen as energy vortexes in the each of the subtle bodies – or layers of the aura. This is quite different to the Indian traditions, where the chakras are subtle centres of consciousness, but have no independent energy status.
Carl Jung and Rudolph Steiner further integrated Eastern spiritual concepts with the evolving theories of Western psychological development. They believed the chakras develop from conception as we age physically, emotionally, and spiritually, starting with the base chakra and moving up into our individual energy expressions and finally up to our connection with the source energy. Jung saw the chakras as an analogy for the progression towards individuation.
To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else. Bernadette Devlin
Many New Age writers, such as Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, and Caroline Myss in her book, Energy Anatomy, have written about their experiences with the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their functions and associations.
Anodea Judith points out that the associations of the spectrum colours to chakras is a Western addition, attributed to Christopher Hills who published a book entitled Nuclear Evolution in the early 1970’s. The addition of the rainbow colours has hugely influenced Western thinking about the chakras.
According to the Eastern texts, the chakras are formed at the junctions of three connected energy channels, or nadis, that ascend the spine, one on each side, and spiralling around, the central channel, the Shushumna. The two lesser channels of energy – the Pingala on the right and Ida on the left – run parallel to the spinal cord. Chakras both take up and collect prana (life force energy) and transform and pass on energy. This system can be seen as a road map for energy transmission and organisation throughout the subtle energy body.
Chakras are organizing centres within the body for the receiving, processing, and distributing of life energies. Anodea Judith
In the Western approach, which is less esoteric, and more holistic, than the traditional Hindu concept of the chakra system, each chakra is associated with a certain part of the body, and a certain organs and endocrine glands. The endocrine system is a collection of hormone-producing glands, which act as the body’s chemical messengers, and instruct the body in the bodily functions attributed to each chakra.
In the West the chakras are often seen as analogous to ‘computer software’ programmes which relate to our safety, sexuality, power, love, communication, intuition and self-realisation. They have the power to affect our health, emotions, thoughts and behaviours in a positive or negative way.
This is seen as the energy exchange of the mind-body-spirit interaction, and as every organ in the human body has its equivalent on the mental and spiritual level, so too every chakra corresponds to a specific aspect of human behaviour and development.
The lower chakras are associated with fundamental emotions and needs, for the energy here vibrates at a lower frequency and is therefore denser in nature. The finer energies of the upper chakras corresponds to our higher mental and spiritual aspirations and faculties.
Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Chief Seattle
Chakradance incorporates the concepts of the chakras as interpreted by Western thinkers, particularly influenced by Carl Jung, Arthur Avalon, and Anodea Judith. These writers extensively studied the Hindu texts, and then incorporated them into a conceptual framework that was meaningful to the Western mind.
The chakras regulate a field of energy called the aura – a dynamic, energetic matrix, which includes the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being.
Whereas the original Indian texts associated sounds – mantras – and deities with each chakra, a practice followed by Anodea Judith and Chakradance, Jung presented the chakras as a system of psycho-spiritual awakening, and used developmental stages of the psyche and archetypes to convey this system.
As long as we’re in a state of confusion, overwhelmed by the three conflicting emotions, trapped in cyclic existence, we’re not happy and we can’t benefit sentient beings. Even though we think we might be benefitting them, ultimately we’re not. Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje
The chakras are often described in the West as energetic ‘gateways’, which connect the various layers of the aura. They move like wheels and open like petals of a flower, allowing the subtle energies to flow freely. Each chakra was believed to vibrate to a certain sound frequency, as well as, in the modern Western concept, a certain colour frequency.
The founder of Chakradance, Natalie Southgate, came upon the practice intuitively when she was studying Jungian psychology and ancient and shamanic dance practice.
She describes her experience. As she allowed herself to dance freely in the dark of her living room, music filled the darkness and her intuitive movements started to guide her into the inner power ignited within her chakras. She began to notice certain music carried a unique resonance with different chakra centres. Free flowing movements born in spontaneity brought her home into her inner dance of her true self.
Chakradance awakens each chakra, starting with the base chakra and flowing effortlessly from one to the other, up to the crown chakra, with unique musical vibrations. The combination of music, movement, and guided imagery allows the dancer to journey through the chakras, focusing attention on a particular chakra, allowing the centre to open, and releasing any blockages.
Emotional, spiritual and physical energies are released. Natalie Southgate describes dancing the seven chakras as like dancing through seven different worlds, each with its own lessons, meaning, and stories.
Chakradance draws on many ancient systems from around the world to find the common elements of those culture’s dances with the chakra system or its equivalent. Dance has long been used in shamanic cultures to connect to our spiritual source, to commune with our gods, to find healing and answers about life.
Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of society. I was just curious. Jim Morrison
In Hinduism, many of the great epics are taught through dance, whilst in Sufism, the whirling dervishes surrender their individuality and dance into spiritual “oneness”. One of the oldest recorded references made to religious dancing comes to us from the Old Testament -“Let them praise His name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre” (Psalms 149:3).
Chakradance combines the elements of this spiritual journeying process through dance and rhythm, with the rich exploration of the chakra system.
To Carl Jung the study of chakras was a study of symbols encountered as we develop our individuality and awareness of the unconscious. Jung likened this individuation process to a spiritual quest or journey, with the aim being to achieve ‘wholeness’.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. Edgar Allan Poe
Natalie Southgate describes the process of individuation as a series of phases and manifestations, which include: encountering the unconscious (inner unknown life), insight into our shadow (reclaiming parts of ourselves we reject), encountering anima and animus (inner feminine and masculine), experiences of the Self (glimpses of our total being). During this process, we begin to integrate the opposites within us (flesh and spirit, reason and emotion, extravert and introvert, saint and sinner). What is not integrated is projected out, so we perceive the unconscious parts of ourselves in others rather then recognising them in ourselves.
In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature… there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. Carl Jung
From a Jungian perspective, when we enter the chakras through dance we enter not only our individual selves but also a collective experience passed through the ages, culture to culture.
Another Jungian technique used in Chakradance is what he called ‘active imagination’, which feels a bit like a waking dream. In active imagining, we use self-expression – be it drawing, writing, or dancing – with the aim of assimilating and integrating our unconscious.
In Chakradance, we use the chakras to journey into our different aspects of consciousness, using specific music and creative visualisations relevant to each of the chakras such as physical elements, colours, or archetypes. This triggers a chain of associated images, ideas, sensations, feelings, or insights to rise from deep within us to the surface of our consciousness. The process of ‘active imagination’ sets up a line of communication between consciousness and the unconscious.
Chakradance is a beautiful example of a sacred dance practice, which uses ancient and modern wisdom to connect our spirit with the divine, both within ourselves and with the universe. The intention of Chakradance is to bring all seven chakras into harmony and balance.
Each of us is born with a treasure, an essence, a seed of quiescent potential, secreted for safekeeping in the center of our being. This treasure, this personal quality, power, talent, or gift (or set of such qualities), is ours to develop, embody, and offer to our communities in acts of service—our contributions to a more diverse, vital, and evolved world. Our personal destiny is to become that treasure through our actions. Bill Plotkin
This week I got to thinking about sacred knowledge and cultural appropriation.
I went to a rally to protest the closures of the aboriginal communtities in Western Australia. Thousands of people sat in the city centre, outside the main train station at Flinders St, in the middle of Friday night peak hour. There was a fire and the sacred leaves were burnt, creating a smoke that smudged the entire gathering. My friend and I, both pale redheads, are never going to pass as indigenous to this land, and yet we are passionate about standing beside our indigenous brothers and sisters as they fight to stay on their lands.
I didn’t bring a flag or even my click sticks, it just didn’t feel appropriate. I was standing in solidarity, not trying to be a token aboriginal. I haven’t had their experience, I don’t have their songlines and dreamings in my psyche and DNA, and it would be shallow of me to pretend I do.
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau
What I do have is a deepening connection to this land, and a greater respect and understanding for the continuous cultural traditions that have been maintained here over the last 50,000 years.
As I do with shamanism and druidry and the Hindu chakra system. I respect this wisdom.
I didn’t have the privilege of growing up in a cultural tradition like that. As many people these days, even our indigenous peoples, do not. This is, in part, my passion for this protest. Believing as I do in the interconnectedness of land and people, I cannot abide the idea that in this day and age we would still force our First peoples from their land. Enough damage has been done, I cannot stand by and watch more.
I absolutely believe to the core of my being that these land-based traditions hold the key for our sustainability as a human race. Not that we need to revert to the past, but we do need to acknowledge wisdom that has stood the test of time, that works.
There is no reason why ancient tradition and science and technology cannot support each other, cannot be mutually enhanced by interacting with each other.
Jason Kirkey writes in his wonderful book on the ecology of Celtic spirituality, The Salmon in the Spring, of the need for integration. We know our technological life is inherently lacking in spirit, and yet who of us wants to live without electricity and running water – only a small few.
The goal then is to integrate our technological advances with a renewed spiritual connection with the wilderness. Intrinsic to our soul is a deep need for this connection and only by honouring this can we bring the vision of a truly modern world – one that respects science, technology, nature and spirit – into being. Kirkey argues that evolution is the key, we cannot go backwards to a more primitive life, nor should we.
Our evolution and continued viability as a life-enhancing species on this planet requires our ecological integration into the cosmos. The human being is at its most creative wholeness when it freely and effortlessly mediates its own realized wildness into the world. Jason Kirkey
The mantle bestowed on humans in collective evolution is our ability for self-reflective awareness. This is not ‘our’ intelligence per se, but rather the evolutionary process has blessed us with this capacity to be a “particular expression of an intelligence and subjectivity” present in the cosmos from the beginning. In the scheme of things, of nature, humans got the job of self-reflection.
Our purpose now is to integrate this reflective consciousness into a mode of living that is in harmony with the evolutionary functions of all life – and not contrary to it.
So, I am wondering, I am thinking aloud. How do we honour and respect traditional cultures, allow them to operate according to the sacred traditions, accept that some knowledge will never be ours because of tribal law, and yet be thankful for the knowledge that can be shared to further our development? Can we defer to the experience and wisdom of our First peoples, without the typical modern Western arrogant demand for proof and evidence first? (As if 50,000 years of practical experience isn’t enough evidence.)
Sure, let’s invite science in to learn more about why these practices work, but let’s not wait for science, but rather accept that there is a demonstrated body of evidence already to the veracity and power of indigenous wisdom.
Western civilisation needs a complete overhaul or it will fall apart one day or another. It has realised the most complete perversion of any rational order of things. Reign of matter, of gold, of machine, of number, it no longer possesses breath, or liberty, or light… As long as we only talk about economic classes, profit, salaries, and production, and as long as we believe that real human progress is determined by a particular system of distribution of wealth and goods, then we are not even close to what is essential. Julius Evola
And for those of us who long for a framework within which to practice, can we incorporate the core principles of ancient wisdom, the ones that is is appropriate to share outside of strict tribal restrictions, into a synthesised practice, one that acknowledges both the traditions and the reality of the modern world?
I too must be an estuary of confluent tides—
this earth-body of antlered thoughts,
the decay of leaves: my branching mind.
Tumbling with stones and salmon toward the sea,
the rivers of the Earth move through me. Jason Kirkey
Yes. I think we can. It’s already happening. It’s time to change the channel. To recognise that the money economy is only one possible construct of a limitless number under which we could live. And if it doesn’t work, we get to choose another.
Affirmations for the chakras:
I am grounded and connected with Mother Earth
I am in the flow of sensory experiences
I am taking up my rightful space in the world
I am open to love
I am expressing myself authentically
I am clear sighted and intuitive
I am experiencing my divinity and the divinity of all life
Images by RebelBam on deviantart
Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith