METHODS IN CONTEMPLATIVE INQUIRY: PART 2
In my last post I talked about the ritual patterning of my morning practice and, in my understanding, the Sophian values it enacts. Here I discuss what happens in the main body of the practice. This begins with a set of physical and breath related exercises, which I originally learned in a Tantric setting. They draw on a kundalini yoga tradition (1) and to an extent on Chinese energy arts. I call them ‘rejuvenation exercises’ and I do them because I like them and find them beneficial.
I do not have a strong view of subtle energy or deep experience of energetic healing. But I do feel charged by this work and I go on to a contemplative engagement with the chakra system. This system is now widely use and has been described as “part of a common, New Age esotericism in the West, entering from pan-Hindu use of the six or seven chakras in Yoga to indicate centres of power within the body and specifically arranged along the central axis of the trunk. Within Indian medicine this central axis became identified with the spinal column, and there are … fusions of Western anatomy with Indian esoteric anatomy (2)”. Druids and Pagans use this system too, and are therefore to my mind a sub-set of the ‘New Age’ in this regard. For me, the main value of this work is that it offers a for of practice that is both contemplative and embodied.
Historically, “the Tantric body is encoded in tradition-specific and text-specific ways. The practitioner inscribes the body through ritual and forms of interiority or asceticism, and so writes the tradition onto the body. Such transformative practices are intended to create the body as divine. This inscribing of the body is also a reading of text and tradition … Any distinctions between knowing and acting, mind and body, are disrupted by the Tantric body in the sense that what might be called imagination becomes a kind of action in tantric ritual and the forms that the body takes in ritual are a kind of knowing”. The description describes an Indian spiritual culture, transgressive in certain respects, but quite typical of medieval (and to a degree modern) cultures in creating practices where first person, subjective experience is moulded by reference to authoritative texts. Tantric teachers took care to write their works in Sanskrit, no longer spoken but still the holy language of their cultural zone.
I’m aware of being from a different culture in both time and place. For me the chakra rainbow works because it creates the body as more fully human, rather than ‘divine’. For this very reason it suits me better, I now find, than the Kabbalistic middle pillar system which I have sometimes used as an alternative. I begin this section of my morning practice by raising my arms and holding them up with the palms of my hands pressed together just above the crown of my head. Then I move down the chakra positions, using gesture, sound, and colour to inscribe and energize them:
At crown level, palms in prayer position, syllable nngg as in sing, colour violet-flecked white.
At 3rd eye level, index fingers touching brow, syllable mmm as at end of Om, colour indigo.
At throat level, hand cupped below my throat, syllable eee, colour bright blue.
At heart centre level, hands crossed over my heart centre, syllable ayy as in play, colour green.
A little above my navel, hands clasped together, syllable ahh as in father, colour yellow.
At the pelvic level, hands in a diamond mudra, syllable oooo as in rule, colour orange
Bent down, each hand on a foot, syllable ohh as in road, colour red.
From here, I turn my attention around and move slowly up again, elaborating meanings, and noticing my responses – sensations, feelings, thoughts. The following is an example of how I can work in a session, here using affirmations. I check out my congruence in using the chosen words: how fully do I stand behind them? Do I experience any promptings to change them? I also check out the ‘demons’ present at each level and ways in they test the affirmations.
Feet: earth/body/senses: ‘I am a child of the Earth. I am welcome here.’ [Demon: Fear]
Sexual/Sacral: water/desire/sexuality/feelings: ‘I embrace sensory pleasure’ [Demon: Guilt]
Belly: fire/will/power/self-sense: ‘I celebrate my personal power’ [Demon: Shame]
Heart: air/thinking/social sense: ‘I love and am available for love’ [Demon: Grief]
Throat: sound/resonance/creativity/expression: ‘I speak my truth’ [Demon: Lies]
Brow: light/imagination/vision: ‘I am guided by the Light of Sophia’ [Demon: Illusion]
Crown: awareness/capacity: ‘Empty awareness, holding the world’ [Demon: Attachment]
I have to say that there is indeed a text behind this practice, and a tradition. The text is Eastern Body: Western Mind by Anodea Judith, and I picked it up and worked with it easily because I already shared certain cultural features – some background in ‘New Age’ Tantra, more extensive background in humanistic/transpersonal and in particular Jungian psychology and therapeutics, and a knowledge of developmental psychology. This presentation of the chakras draws attention to the human life course. The upward hierarchy is aligned to the developmental tasks of different age groups – root, pre-birth to one year; sexual/sacral six months to two years; belly two to four years; heart four to seven years; throat, seven to twelve years; brow, adolescence; crown, adult. The practice is made powerful by the reality that ideal development is not normal, and most of us live with some level of wounding at more than one developmental stage. Our younger selves, and their needs, continue to live within us.
Contemplative chakra work reinforces my commitment to the human side of human spirituality. The stresses and distresses of the human body/mind are part of contemplative work in my view and this work is a direct challenge to ‘bypassing’ – the flight into love and light as a means of escape from aspects of life experienced as negative or distasteful. I don’t treat Judith’s work as gospel and I have customised her framework in important respects. But in what I hope is an authentic and creative way, I freely acknowledge being text and tradition based in my use of chakras, happily using conventional frameworks and understandings to the extent that I find them useful.
In my next post I will discuss the forms I meditation I currently use and why I have chosen them for this stage of my inquiry.
(1) Swami Satyananda Saraswati Kundalini Tantra Munger, Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust, 1984
(2) Gavin Flood The Tantric body: the secret tradition of Hindu religion London & New York: I.B. Taurus, 2006
(3) Anodea Judith Eastern body: Western mind: psychology and the chakra system a a path to the self Berkeley, CA, 2004 (rev. ed.)