I haven’t been able to focus as much recently on sharing books here as I have in the past, but I wanted to share Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs from Dr. Michaela Haas, because I feel it is such an empowering book – for everyone, but particularly for trauma survivors, and that includes sexual trauma survivors, of which I know I have many who read this blog. Bouncing Forward is focused on the idea of post-traumatic growth – the ways in which it is actually possible for individuals to grow and develop in positive ways in the aftermath of trauma, not just ‘survive.’ A growing body of research is focused on what conditions help to make this possible, and how we might support ourselves and others in doing so.
The book takes its title from Maya Angelou, who when asked how she rose above the many hardships of her life – including being raped at the age of 8 – described her journey as “bouncing forward, going beyond what the naysayers said.” Ms. Angelou is one of many inspiring and fascinating individuals interviewed in the book, which also features jazz legend and Auschwitz survivor Coco Schumann, Brigadier General and first Iraq war prisoner Rhonda Cornum, animal behaviorist and autistic author Temple Grandin, co-founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Cindi Lamb, and several more.
These interviews are organized in such a way as to each highlight a particular trait or practice which has been shown in studies to contribute to post-traumatic growth. According to Dr. Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist focused on this field, many trauma survivors report growth in one or more of five key areas – personal strength, deeper relationships with others, new perspectives on life, appreciation for life, and spirituality. In addition to highlighting Dr. Tedeschi’s research and the interviews with survivors, Dr. Haas covers the work of other researchers focused on trauma, shares her own personal story of trauma and growth, and includes tools for building resilience within one’s own life. This makes the book a unique blend of social research, biography, memoir, and personal development guide, and for this reason I think it will be helpful and interesting to almost anyone – especially since almost all of us will experience trauma at some point in our lives, or will know someone who does.
When I first heard of the concept of post-traumatic growth I worried it was yet another way to make trauma survivors feel guilty for their pain, or to push them to ‘move on already.’ This is a message that sexual trauma survivors in particular often receive, in addition to the messages of “it’s your fault” and “stay silent.” Often survivors will stay silent for years, sharing their trauma with no one, while it eats away inside them contributing to emotional and physical problems. But Dr. Haas makes it clear that repression or forced positivity is not at all what post-traumatic growth is about, saying “Before we can overcome suffering, we need to go through it” and:
“When someone is drowning, they need a lifeline, not a swimming lesson. There are traumatic events where the mere suggestion that growth can result from it may seem naive or insulting. Often, time needs to pass before a survivor is open to the idea…But at some point, the survivor might feel the urge to learn to swim through the grief, and then these strategies become very helpful.”
She points out that in the West we compartmentalize suffering, designating it to hospitals, hospices and homeless shelters. This creates an environment in which we are so uncomfortable with both our own and others’ suffering that we do not know how to meet it when it arises. But it is of course always around us, “already here”, as she puts it. If this view sounds Buddhist that’s because the Buddhist approach to suffering does share many similarities to findings about resilience and post-traumatic growth. As a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, Dr. Haas highlights some of these similarities, and uses examples from her own meditation practice to describe how practices such as meditation can help someone move into a new relationship with suffering.
One of the main messages that shines through all of the interviews and the research featured in Bouncing Forward is how important it is for a trauma survivor to feel support and hope that happiness is possible again. While our increased understanding of PTSD and its treatments has been vital to helping many survivors through their ordeal, the focus on PTSD as the only possible outcome of trauma provides survivors a limited view of how their lives might unfold in the aftermath. It’s important to look at the whole picture:
“Depending on the circumstances, Dr. Tedeschi estimates that as many as 30 to 70 – in some instances even up to 90 – percent of survivors generally experience at least one aspect of postraumatic growth…Contrary to popular opinion, experiencing growth after trauma is far more common than PTSD. It is vital to look closely: while most people will suffer from posttraumatic stress in the aftermath of trauma, few will develop full-blown PTSD, and even of those, most will heal with therapy and time.”
This information is not meant to diminish the very real suffering of PTSD, but instead to empower individuals with the knowledge that moving beyond it is possible, that the ability to do so can be developed over time through specific methods, and that they may not only survive but thrive – as the individuals featured within this book are a testament too. It’s a message of hope, but of hope grounded in social research, personal stories, and backed up with specific suggestions for how to enable such growth.
In later chapters the book moves into a larger look at resilience, and the importance of focusing not only on suffering and helping people through the worst of it, but also on the human capacity for growth and change. Ann Masten, a researcher at the University of Minnesota focused on childhood abuse and its impact, puts it this way:
“We focused on the gloomy for such a long time. It really bothers me that when people hear about the evidence for trauma, child abuse, and in utero exposure to alcohol, they assume, ‘Oh, I must be totally damaged.’ People pick up on this idea, but there are many opportunities for reprogramming in the course of life. Resilience does not mean you don’t have any scars, but I am continuously amazed by the human ability to reinvent ourselves.”
In the Epilogue to Bouncing Forward, Dr. Haas features “Five Exercises for Cultivating Courage in the Face of Adversity”, which includes meditation. She offers simple instructions and research to back up the claims of each methods’ benefits.
Overall, I found this book both inspiring and informative, and if you are a trauma survivor, I think you will too. You can find it at Amazon here.
P.S. Dr. Haas is also the author of Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, which I also featured here, and which is another favorite of mine. If you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and/or women’s spiritual biographies, it’s a must read!
This innermost, core level of the chakras is really what chakra work is all about – this is where the light springs forth from. At the center of every chakra is a direct doorway to Source light, and when these doorways are open, this light flows through us as divine expressions of our highest aspects – pure love, compassion, wisdom, creativity, vision, power, and connectedness. Bringing forth this light is the essence of every spiritual practice aligned with spiritual awakening, whether the chakras are actually utilized or not. This light is our true nature, and as we attune our mind, physical bodies, and subtle bodies to its vibration, we transform from the inside into beings of pure light and awareness.
In most cases, when someone talks about opening or aligning the chakras, they are referring to one or both of the first two levels – the physical or psychological levels. Working at the first level involves aligning our physical vibration with chakra vibrations using our senses – sight, sounds, foods etc. aligned with each chakra. Working at the second level involves clearing and working through our limiting emotional patterns – the subtle body blocks that distort the light as it comes through us.
Working at the core third level is an entirely different approach – we seek to pull the light through us by going directly to each doorway and throwing it open. As the light makes its way through our subtle body, we are changed – our physical and psychological blocks are washed away like debris in a flood. Sometimes this is a beautiful release. Sometimes it is a little more complicated, as we aren’t quite ready to let go of certain parts of ourselves, or encounter other forms of inner resistance. But either way, it’s tremendously powerful!
Work at this inner level is explicitly spiritual. While working at the first chakra level is really a form of energy healing, and working at the second level is about personal/psychological growth, this third level is about enlightenment. Of course, someone might work on all three levels, and in fact, in spiritual traditions in which chakra meditation is integral, they usually are. Working on only this third level can lead to disassociation or escapist tendencies, as the blisses released when this inner doorway of the chakras is open can be very captivating. It’s possible to get addicted to these blisses, and avoid the physical and psychological healing and growth required to truly awaken. Working holistically on all three levels is a way of assuring balanced growth towards true liberation.
The most well-known spiritual traditions that incorporate this type of work are kundalini-based, and include meditations, exercises, and transmissions specifically designed to awaken the kundalini. What the kundalini essentially does is throw open each chakra’s doorway. While this is usually described as a linear process – one chakra at a time from bottom to top – that’s really just a theoretical model. In fact, any chakra may be opened at any time, and each chakra has different levels of opening too, so we often spiral back and forth throughout our lifetimes between chakras, working intensely on the themes and vibrations of one, and then on another. The kundalini and our daily lives interact in a beautiful dance; the choices we make influence where the kundalini moves to – where we are open and where we need to unblock – and visa versa.
Although not all spiritual traditions explicitly involve chakra or kundalini work, the mystic arms of most include practices that throw open our subtle body doorways in some way. Whether it’s Sufi whirling, Hindu mantra recitations, Buddhist mandala visualizations, Christian chanting or Jewish Hitbodedut meditation, the emphasis is on shifts in awareness and states of being. Practitioners describe whole body experiences of waves of light, love, power and more. The common theme is the feeling of a greater power coming through, not from, oneself. While I would never want to conflate all religions, even the mystic arms, it’s clear that there is a core process of energetic transformation that mystics across all religions have undergone. How experiences are processed and interpreted in the mind may be quite different, but in the subtle body, a lot of the process is the same.
However, different traditions do emphasize distinct energies and divine aspects, seeking to bring forth one or more which they consider the core of the spiritual journey. If we were to look at these aspects from a chakra perspective, we can map them to each of the seven traditional chakras along these lines:
Crown/7th – Union, Surrender
Third Eye/6th – Pure Vision, Imagination
Throat/5th – Divine Expression, Sacred Communication
Heart/4th – Unconditional Love, Compassion
Navel/3rd – Service to Others, Divine Power
Sacral/2nd – Inspiration, Sacred Passion
Root/1st – Connection to Nature, Elemental Energies
Most spiritual practices and rituals are designed to immerse us in one or more of these energies/states, and through that immersion to awaken the felt-sense of them within us. That felt sense is the associated chakra door opening, and releasing this vibration into us directly from Source. This may happen in little releases, or in giant bursts – epiphanies or ecstatic experiences. The pacing is individual, and doesn’t matter all that much. In the eyes of the universe we have all the time in the world to realize who we really are. Or you could also say, it’s already done! So how it unfolds on this relative plane of our life and practice is somewhat mysterious, and part of the beautiful play of existence.
Working at this level is very personal, it is about your personal relationship with spirit/the universe/Source/God/enlightenment/Tao – whatever word you choose to use. As these doorways open within you, you come to know yourself as pure light, love, power and more. While working at the middle, psychological level is also personal, it is on the ego level – our personality, emotional patterns, and mental habits. At this inner level we truly experience ourselves as a conduit for something larger, and as this happens, we realize this is true of everyone else as well. We are all beings of light. Five minutes of truly experiencing this can transform you faster than years of working through your issues.
As for ways of calling forth this level, it is not something that can be described in a blog post, or put into a recorded meditation, although reading or hearing something at the right moment may trigger an opening within you. As I mentioned above, the mystic spiritual practices of every religion that I know of contain some methods for opening these doors. And contact with a teacher or guide who has themselves brought this forth will help you to do so too. But there is also an element of grace, of surprise, and we simply have to make ourselves open to these moments, and not let them pass us by when they arise. Pay attention! When you feel in the presence of the divine, embrace it, and take a moment to truly feel how this arises from within you, how it is your very core, even if it seems as if it has come from outside you.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Chakra Series, and that it enriches your own path of healing, empowerment, and awakening in some way. May it contribute to the unfoldment of light within you! Below I’ve included links to the other articles in this series, as well as to the Chakras and Women’s Energetics Resources pages:
All Chakra Articles (including links to Kundalini series)
Women’s Energetics Articles (including articles on Kundalini and phases of life)
Our emotions are one of our most powerful doorways into our subtle body, and to working with it on the second level of the model I’m using – what I’m calling the psychological or mind level. By ‘mind’ I don’t mean only our thoughts, but our entire field of awareness, including our emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, and subtle senses. This level really encompasses the full spectrum of our awareness, from our darkest moments to our highest. Most of the time we live somewhere in between, swinging between the emotions and thoughts triggered by our everyday lives. Working at this second level of the chakras involves engaging with our thoughts and emotions in a new way – as a link to our subtle body.
While both emotions and thoughts are energy, for most of us it’s easiest to connect with our emotions as energy. To experience this for yourself, try the following 2 simple visualizations:
- Close your eyes and remember the last time you were frustrated or angry. Replay just enough of the scenario to re-trigger the felt sense of that emotion – don’t go into the entire scenario. Where do you feel this frustration or anger in your body? How would you describe it as an energy?
- Now let go of that visual and imagine a person or being you have great affection for right in front of you, at arm’s length. This might be a family member, child, friend or pet. Imagine you would like to hug this person to you, to your chest, in a wave of affection and warmth. Where do you feel this affection in your body? How would you describe it as an energy?
Most of us will have a strong felt sense of where these emotions are ‘located’ in our bodies, and the energies we experience in each visualization will be very different from each other. But where are they located really? If you begin to focus in more deeply on either of these energies, you will find they don’t exactly feel in your physical body, in the sense of being precisely located in a muscle or organ, although we use our physical anatomy as a reference point. You might say our physical body is the vehicle through which we experience these energies, but they are not exactly physical energies.
This somatic or felt-sense of emotion as energy is such a powerful thing! It provides us a bridge for moving between the first and second levels of our subtle body – from the physical to the psychological. For this reason, locating emotions in our body is the starting point for many somatically based therapy forms, healing techniques, and shamanic methods. When we are working with difficult emotions and emotional patterns – our wounds, fears, insecurities, and angers – feeling them in our body provides a link to the deeper obscurations in our subtle body. This is important because then we can work with the underlaying patterns, as opposed to individual arising emotions. Our subtle body is like a map of our subconscious – every pattern that generates difficult emotions and obscures our true nature of love, light, and happiness is reflected there.
Think back to the prism metaphor from the first article in this series: Pure Source light shines in the back of the prism, and is refracted out the front as a beautiful rainbow of colors. But if any side of the prism is dirty, the color refracted from that side will be dimmed. Emotional patterns of fear, anger, unworthiness, shame, etc. are written in our psyche and our subtle body and block our expression of our natural enlightenment. We can work on clearing these through either traditional psychological means such as therapy, or through energy work (linked to the chakras or other modalities), or even better – through both!
Every chakra is associated with certain emotional and mental states, and these mappings serve as the starting point for working with our chakras to clear these obscurations. Although we rarely feel anything that is sourced from just one chakra, this map provides a good way of understanding the base energies involved, from which all our states form:
|Chakra||Psyche Area||Obscured States||Clear States|
|1st/Root||Physical Body, Psyche Foundation||Fearful
|2nd/Sacral||Emotional Body, Sexuality||Stuck
|3rd/Navel||Mental Structures, Sense of Self, Personal Power||Passive
In the flow
|4th/Heart||Relationships, Connection to Source||Resentful/Angry
|5th/Throat||Communication, Presentation of Self||Disingenous
|6th/Third Eye||Subtle Senses/Mind, Vision||Busy Mind
|7th/Crown||Connection to Spirit, Purpose/Meaning||Personality-based
Chakra-based energy work (whether you call it energy psychology or energy healing or something else) is really very simple – you are trying to bring forth more of the clear states and let go of the obscurations. You work this from both directions – on the one hand, you work to clear your obscurations through release work, energy line cutting or clearing work, or methods that help you inquire into your emotional patterns and release them. On the other hand, you try to experience more of the clear, empowered states through meditations and other methods designed to specifically cultivate them.
It’s very important to work from both angles. If you only focus on your obscurations – your issues – you get buried in them. You may become unable to feel anything else – the door closes to feeling the enlightened expression that can come through. On the other hand, if you only focus on feeling the clear states, you can fall prey to spiritual bypassing – your chakra and spiritual work simply becomes a way of bolstering your ego, experiencing pleasure, and avoiding pain, rather than growing and transforming.
A very simple way to begin to work with any obscuration is simply to tune into how a difficult emotion feels in your body, and to describe it to yourself. When you are angry, see if you can take a time out and locate exactly where you feel it in your body. Explore the edges of this energy with your awareness. Then try to describe for yourself how that energy feels – is it small, large, ephemeral, dense, warm, cold? Over time, even this simple approach will actually start to loosen the hold these emotions have over you – the light of your self-awareness begins to dissolve the obscuration. This is why focusing in this way (or something similar) is the starting point for so many mind-body emotional healing techniques, including Somatic Experiencing, Mindful Healing, tapping approaches like Emotional Freedom Technique, and one I use myself, Feeding Your Demons.
A simple way to begin to empower your ability to feel the clear or enlightened expression of any chakra energy is through affirmations in which you really strive to feel the state and vibration you are affirming. It is not enough to simply say ‘I am grounded’ or ‘I am loving’ – to really open up your subtle body, you need to cultivate the felt-sense of that emotion or state. You can do this through visualizations that trigger it (as in the simple example above) or any method that really creates a felt-sense (the chakra meditations I feature online are all geared around this.)
For all of you law of attraction fans, a felt-sense is really the heart of affirmations from a manifestation perspective – it’s not the words. You need to feel and experience the vibration of a state (joy, love, security) to attract more of it into your life. This is why solely focusing on your blocks can backfire (although again, not focusing on your obscurtions at all can lead to problematic states of denial and repression.)
So explore and experiment! What are your obscurations – the energies and emotional patterns that block you? What chakras are they associated with? Can you feel them in your subtle body? Can you bring the light of your awareness to them? Then what are your gifts – the clear states that you most easily feel? What chakras are they associated with? Can you cultivate more of these feelings and attract from them?
The awakening process is one of vibrationally transforming ourselves moment by moment in this way. Every moment you are reflecting a certain combination of energies, a reflection of your emotional and mental patterns – the state of your own prism, your subtle body. And the good news is, you can change it! Moment by moment you can clean your prism and become a clear and unique expression of light in the world.
Next post I’ll talk more about this process and working with the inner third layer of the chakras – the direct doorway to the Source of this light.
Other posts in this series:
This is the second post in my series on Working with Chakra Levels, in which I’ll cover how to work with the first, physically-linked level. My goal in this series is to outline ways anyone might work with each chakra level on their own, so the techniques I’m offering are basic and accessible, but along the way I’ll try to provide book and website suggestions for those who would like more depth. On the other hand, I am assuming a basic knowledge of the chakras already, so if you don’t have that, you may want to check out my Chakra page first to get you started.
The first level of each chakra is the outermost, surface layer, the layer most directly linked to our physical body. Usually, when someone talks about an aura, they are talking about this level of the energy body, and the combined colors and energies present within it (although there are also aura systems in which there are multiple levels.) Most chakra and aura ‘cleaning’ or ‘balancing’ products available – sounds CDs, crystals, aromatherapy, color therapy etc. – impact this level of our energy body. Ideally, the energetic vibration of the sound, color, smell, stone etc. matches the empowered state of a particular chakra, and so by connecting with the object, we are strengthening that vibration within our own energy body.
Working with this level of our chakras involves engaging our senses. Our physical sense organs are the bridge to our subtle sense, the means through which we can begin to sense vibration and energy differences. Normally, we are only aware of our mind’s reaction to a sensation (a sound, sight, smell, etc.) – the process of recognizing it, naming it, judging it, perhaps emotionally responding. But part of this process occurs at our subtle body level too – our subtle body reacts energetically to the sound, sight etc. Most of us are only conditioned to tune into our mind’s reaction to sensations, but we can train ourselves to tune into the vibrational level too. Doing this through the senses is one of the fastest and most effective ways of learning to sense chakra vibrations, because we have something ‘real’ – in the form of the phenomena we are sensing – as a reference point.
Here are some of the most well-known examples of items we can map to the chakras related to each physical sense:
Sight – colors, yantras
Sound – mantras, specific tones/musical notes on chimes/bowls/bells
Smell – essential oils, aromatherapy
Taste – foods, herbs
Touch – stones/crystals, elements
In each case, there are systems for mapping each chakra to a variation; so for example in the case of color, red is mapped to the root/first chakra, orange to the second/sacral chakra etc. Note that just as there are multiple chakra mappings, there are multiple color, mantra, scent etc. mappings, each specific to different energy medicine or spiritual traditions that utilize the chakras. There is a lot of crossover, but in general, it’s most useful to stick to one system in the case of each sense, so that whatever items you are using are compatible with each other – one scent/chakra mapping for example, or one color/chakra mapping.
With this kind of work, we are trying to empower a particular chakra’s energy by engaging our sense(s) with phenomena that best reflect the vibration of that chakra’s empowered state in the physical world.
In my experience three conditions are required for this to work effectively:
1) The object we are using has to be a pure expression of the corresponding chakra’s energy.
If the vibration is not refined enough, it won’t do much good. I made a decision a long time ago not to endorse specific products on this blog (beyond book mentions), so you will need to feel this out on your own. I think the question to ask yourself when considering a chakra related item is, ‘Does this feel refined? Does it feel pure?’ Then notice the reaction in your body. Does your body reach for the product or pull back? Our body knows all! It can take time to learn to tune in in this way, but the only way to get there is to practice.
Of course, another thing to consider is that you don’t need any products at all – nature is an excellent resource. Simply contemplating a flower associated with the color of a chakra, or spending time in or around the element associated with a chakra, can be an amazing way to help bring forth that chakra’s energies, because the purity is guaranteed.
2) We have to mindfully connect with the object.
Some people would dispute this, but I find it’s essential to actually focus on the object we’re using. Simply placing a crystal on your navel or wearing yellow while watching television or even reading a book, won’t do much for you, as your mind is connected to what you are watching or reading, as opposed to the vibration of the crystal or color. We need to make an effort to connect our intuition, our subtle body sense, to the vibration we are seeking to empower, especially when working at this first, physical level.
As I mentioned, working with this level is largely about engaging our senses, and that means engaging both our sense organs and our consciousness. Think about it – at any given moment there are hundreds of sounds, smells, sights around us. The vibrations of all of those are hitting our sense organs – our nose, eyes, ears, etc. But we will only become aware of a small percentage of these sensations – our mind filters out the rest. While we may be impacted on some level by all of these vibrations, we are most impacted by those with which we consciously connect. The same is true for subtle sensations – we will be most impacted by those vibrations with which we make a conscious effort to connect.
This means that whether or not a particular method will work for us depends at least partly on how developed our subtle sense is. The more we develop our ability to sense vibrational differences, the more effectively we can use these kinds of chakra methods on our own. So it isn’t only about the item we are using, but also about our ability to connect. Part of the service a good energy healer or worker provides is a boost to your own ability to connect in this way – he/she is actually bolstering your connection with his/her own awareness. That’s not meant to discourage you, as I really believe in the ability and benefit of anyone working on their own in this way. But it may take practice and time.
3) We also have to focus on the physical focal point for the chakra.
We need to focus on the physical focal point for the chakra while engaging our senses. This is another point that not everyone will agree with, but I think it’s vital when working at this first, physical level of the chakras (not so much with the other 2 levels.) So for example, if you are trying to empower your root chakra by chanting a specific mantra or inhaling a particular scent, it is most effective when you are also focusing on your tailbone, the focal point for the root chakra, at the same time (or legs or feet might be effective too.) It isn’t always possible to do this the entire time your senses are engaged, especially if, for example, you are taking a bath (connecting to water) to empower your sacral chakra. But it’s helpful if you do it at least at the beginning and end of the work you are doing, because this outermost level of the chakras is most directly connected to our physical body, and so these physical intersections of chakra and body are the most relevant when working in this way.
So what is the value of working with the chakras at this outermost, physical level? On its own, working at this level can really shift your vibration and therefore your present state of awareness. To use it effectively in this way, you do have to understand what states of awareness and psychological states are linked to each chakra (I’ll get into that a bit more in the next post, but for a quick reference check my Chakra Legend or books from my Chakra Booklist.)
For example, if you are feeling spacy or ungrounded, working to empower your root chakra at this level will help. If you have to power through a difficult situation on a particular day, empowering your third or navel chakra will help. If you have a big speech or presentation, you might empower your throat chakra.
This level can also be helpful as an augment to treatment for minor physical ailments. If you are feeling fatigued, you can stimulate your adrenals, which are linked to the root chakra, by stimulating that chakra through color, sound etc. If you are experiencing digestive issues, you might empower your navel chakra. If you are feeling mentally dull or drowsy, you might stimulate your third eye.
I say ‘minor physical ailments’ because it gets tricky to really work with the chakras in this way without a fairly sophisticated understanding of how the chakras work together. For example, if you have a headache, it’s rarely a good idea to focus on your third eye, as very often the issue is tension, and stimulating your third eye might actually exacerbate that. You might be better helped by a heart focus for soothing, or a navel focus for boundaries. If the problem is a cough, focusing on your heart chakra (which is linked to the lungs) will rarely help; boosting your immune function through root and navel empowerment might though. A physical ailment is almost never linked to only one chakra – the subtle body needs to be viewed holistically. Also, personally I never advocate chakra energy work as the main way of addressing a physical issue – it is a good complement to medical treatment (whether traditional Western medicine, Chinese medicine, or homeopathic care) but rarely effective on its own.
The limits of working with the chakras solely at this level is something I mentioned in the first post of this series – the work is really surface level and does not get to the root of the problem. So for example, if you are feeling chronically fatigued, and want to augment medical care for this with chakra work, you most likely need to work at the second, psychological level, to identify any blocks or drains to your root chakra that might be impacting your ability to fully activate it. Work at this outermost chakra level provides a temporary vibrational shift, but on its own it rarely releases blocks held at the second psychological/karmic level, and therefore rarely brings about long term change or personal growth. Combining work on multiple levels of the chakras, however, can be life-changing.
Another limitation of working at this level is that it is mostly about activating or empowering a particular chakra’s energy. It is not so effective at quieting an overactive chakra, or at balancing the energies between chakras. Often work of this type is marketed as ‘balancing’ the chakras, but a better word might be ‘tuning’ – at it’s best, this kind of work attunes each chakra to its optimal vibration, which overall does balance your outermost subtle body level. But again in general, it won’t release deeper blocks, and won’t bring about a deeper, long term state of equilibrium or balance.
There are so many different chakra mappings for this kind of work, and as I said I don’t want to get into endorsing specific products here, but in the table below I’ve outlined some of my favorite ways to work. Here’s a guide to what each sense system in this table represents:
Sight – Color: This is using the standard ROYGBIV/chakra mapping that many Westerners are familiar with (however, there are other color mappings.)
Sound – Tone: These are the tones mapped to the chakras in one form of Tibetan Bowl work. Most bowls/chimes actually produce multiple tones – there are apps available for testing yours if you want (google it!)
Smell – Scent: Various essential oils and incense blends are tied to the chakras – here I’ve combined some Ayurvedic recommendations with some of my own favorites.
Taste – Food: These food/chakra correspondances are not only about taste but also about how they impact the organs and physical systems associated with each chakra, but working with them at the taste level is also very helpful.
Touch – Element: These are the nature elements associated with each chakra (as with every other mapping here, there are multiple versions of this, these are the elements I like to work with.)
|Chakra||Sight (Color)||Sound (Tone)||Smell (Scent)||Taste (Food)||Touch (Element)|
|1st/Root||Red||B Minor||Patchouli, Cinnamon||Protein, Root Vegetables||Earth|
|2nd/Sacral||Orange||E Minor||Orange, Sandalwood||Seafood, Tropical Fruits||Water|
|3rd/Navel||Yellow||F Sharp||Lemon, Geranium||Whole Grains||Fire|
|4th/Heart||Green||C||Rose, Lavendar||Leafy Greens||Air|
|5th/Throat||Blue||G||Chamomile, Eucalyptus||Melons, Pure juices, Soups||Ether/Vibration|
|6th/Third Eye||Indigo/Purple||D||Juniper, Rosemary||Berries, Tea, Spices||Light|
While there are a lot of methods for working with these and the chakras, you don’t need a complicated approach to doing so. To experiment in a simple way, keep in mind the three recommendations I made above: 1) Select a pure, refined example of each, 2) Mindfully connect, 3) Focus on the physical focal point for the chakra as you do so. And again, for more correspondences, check out my Chakra Legend series, and for more in depth info, check out my Chakra book list or other Chakra articles.
Have fun and trust your intuition! Next week I’ll focus on working with the second, psychological level of the chakras, which is where block-releasing really occurs. Namaste-
Other posts in this series:
Note: This is the first post in a series, for links to the rest of the series, please see the bottom of this one. In this post I explain what I mean by chakra levels, and the model I’m using, and then each of the remaining posts I detail a level and how to work with it.
Many modern chakra teachings focus on methods for ‘opening’ or ‘clearing’ the chakras, and while this can be very useful, it really provides just a glimpse of the many ways we might work with our subtle body. Chakra systems map the intersection between body, mind, and spirit – they allow us to navigate the flow of energies between these levels of our being. These mappings provide guideposts for our subtle sense – the aspect of our intuitive mind we use to work with our chakras.
Although there are different models for the levels of the chakras, the basic model that I find very helpful is the following:
1st level – the outermost layer, linked to our physical body
2nd level – the middle level, where our emotional and mental patterns are stored, linked to mind
3rd level – the core, a direct doorway to Source, linked to spirit
These layers are not really separate from each other – each chakra is actually a spectrum, just as our entire subtle body is a spectrum. But just as it’s helpful to work with the chakras as distinct points within the spectrum of our subtle body, so it’s helpful to work with the levels of our chakras as distinct. Each chakra level provides a different point of entry into connecting with our subtle body.
Energy medicine traditions typically use the first level as the point of entry, focusing on balancing, releasing, and healing at this level in conjunction with other medical treatments (alternative or conventional.) Spiritual traditions focus on activating the third, innermost layer, but recognize the shifts that have to occur on the other two levels – the psychospiritual middle level in particular – as part of growth. Therapists who work with the chakras as a model for the psyche use the second, ‘mind’ level as their point of entry.
The first level is where chakra energies are linked to various body parts, organs, and glands. Foods, colors, sound vibrations – anything physical, related to our senses – most directly impacts this level. This is the level that is most often impacted by ‘opening’ or ‘clearing’ chakra techniques. These provide a kind of surface level cleaning, which lasts for a bit, and might even feel good, but doesn’t usually bring about any long term shifts in our subtle body.
This kind of opening or clearing is a bit like getting a massage to deal with your stress. You will feel less stressed out after a massage, as some of the impacts of the stress that have been stored within your body have been released. But if you don’t address the underlying issues causing your stress – and your reaction to it – the effect of the massage won’t last long.
It’s the same with chakra work – yes, you can use techniques to temporarily balance or open one or more chakras, and it will feel good. But the real work is more long term – shifting deeper patterns stored within your subtle body – emotional patterns, and psychological work. Working with the first outer level of the chakras can be a very powerful part of this kind of deeper shifting, but working solely at this level has limited benefit.
Which brings us to the second level – the psychological, or psychospiritual, linked to mind. There are in fact many psychological models of the chakras, initially fueled by psychologist Carl Jung, who considered them a symbolic map for working with the psyche. He, and later psychologists interested in the chakras, didn’t actually work with the chakras as energy fields, or as access points for subtle vibrations. Instead they mapped emotions and personal growth phases to the chakras.
Often when working with the chakras at this level, the focus is on emotional blocks or limitations. If you are working on intimacy issues, you might work with energies locked up in the heart or sacral chakras. If you are working on being too passive in your life, you might be working with the navel and throat chakras. The work might be visual, focused on visualizing releasing blocks in those areas, or it might be more somatic, focused on felt senses in the body (in which case, it’s a great example of working with more than one layer of the chakras at once.)
Chakra trauma healing work is a great example of how the first and second levels of the chakras are linked, and how someone might begin working at either level and migrate into working with the other. A sexual trauma survivor might have patterns of disassociating from her body, especially her lower body and lower chakra energies. She might first begin to reconnect with her body through a physical activity such as yoga or dance, which activate the lower chakra energies at the first, physical level. This work will often enable a connection with the lower chakra energies that then opens up the possibility of facing emotional blocks on the psychological level. Or the opposite might occur – someone might be more comfortable with traditional talk therapy, working at understanding her emotional blocks mentally first. As she gets more comfortable with the psychological aspects related to her lower chakras, a more grounded connection to her body arises, enabling physical work.
This middle, second level of the chakras can be thought of as a storage level, where our emotional and mental patterns generated by our past experiences and conditioning are written. Whether you view these patterns as only from this life or as energies coming in from past lives doesn’t really matter. The point is that they are obstructions – they are limiting your true expression of the energy represented by that chakra. Of course there are also gifts associated with each chakra – ways in which we each uniquely bring through the highest expression of each chakra’s energy, and our work might also focus on empowering those, but usually this involves releasing blocks first.
Which brings us to the third level of the chakras, the spiritual or Source level. At this level, the innermost jewel of each chakra is a direct expression of Source. One of my favorite metaphors for our subtle body is that of a prism, with white light streaming in the back and refracted out the front as each of the rainbow colors. At the innermost level of each chakra is a doorway directly to Source. In its purest expression, each chakra is a refraction of this light as a unique worldly aspect. In the case of our heart chakra this is pure love, in the case of our navel chakra it is pure power, etc. These are not emotions in the usual, human sense – they are vibrational fields, pure expressions of the highest universal energies.
Seen this way, the emotional patterns and mental conditioning we hold at the second level of our chakras limit our ability to access our full expression of Source. They are like dirt on our prism, blocking the light’s refraction outwards. When we have cleared these – really cleared them, not simply temporarily ‘cleaned’ them by working at only the first level of our chakras – we become a pure conduit for the light of Source. We are a pure prism, best able to express our unique refraction of light, at all three levels of our being – body, mind, and spirit.
Kundalini activations and meditation seek to activate this third, innermost level of our chakras directly. When the kundalini is activated, it pulls Source light through directly from this level within each chakra. This is very powerful, because the kundalini is like a river of light that pushes through any blocks present at the other two levels, forcing them to the surface of our consciousness to be dealt with immediately. Sometimes these manifest as inner challenges (including health or psychological issues, i.e. issues at the other two levels of the chakras) or sometimes as external situations. Either way, the call of the kundalini is urgent – grow or else!
When it comes to blocks, we can work from either the second or third levels. Working at the second level is a little like untying a complex knot. We painstakingly untie one thread after another of our emotional blocks, through insight and personal development, until eventually the knot is released, and the light can shine through. Working at the third level is more like cutting through the knot with a knife. The kundalini pushes through the block from the inside, often providing us with an amazing and inspiring glimpse of what a pure expression of that chakra might be, but then we usually have some ‘cleaning up’ to do afterwards, in the form of the remnants remaining from the knot’s sudden destruction.
For most of us, a mixture of working at each level of the chakras is the most helpful, although we may have a propensity for one level or the other. It’s important to remember these levels aren’t actually separate, we are just using this map to help us navigate through our subtle body. A map is never the actual place. In the future posts of this series I’ll focus on each level one at a time, with more details about how to approach chakra work at that level.
Questions welcome! Namaste-
Remaining posts in this series:
Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. – Herman Hesse
Solstice is coming up, a time of spiritual retreat across many traditions. As I head out on my own retreat, I thought it was a great time to share some thoughts on how to prepare and engage in a spiritual retreat of your own. A retreat can be anywhere from a day to months in length (in some traditions years), and can be done in your own home or away. Of course there are organized spiritual retreats at centers around the world, or you can combine retreat with pilgrimage, drawing upon the energies of a natural or religious destination as part of your journey.
Even if you stay home, a retreat is always a journey – a journey outside of your usual daily routine and mind. The purpose of retreat is to clear the decks of your mind, allowing yourself to discover a layer of your being that is difficult to access within the busyness of your daily life and routine. Sometimes you might also be seeking healing or clarity on a particular life issue, or striving to break through a spiritual plateau or dark night. Whatever your intentions, it’s important to trust your own intuition about what you need, and to take your retreat time seriously. This doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy your retreat time – hopefully you will – but sometimes growth is difficult and when we are alone with ourselves, all of our shadows emerge. So it’s important to walk the line between moving outside your comfort zone and feeling supported and safe.
While every retreat is different, here’s some general guidelines that you can adapt for your own purposes:
- Prepare to disconnect. Make schedules and plans and contact lists for whomever will be handling your usual responsibilities – coworkers, babysitters, spouses, house sitters. Think of everything that could possibly come up, everything they could possibly want to contact you about, and write it down. Walk through all of it with them. This isn’t just for them, it’s for you – going through this process will help you to let go once you are gone. You will know you have done all you can to assure things will run smoothly while you are away, so then you can simply surrender to fate. Whatever happens that you didn’t predict will be taken care of – without you, by someone else – and that’s ok. Even if you are simply doing a day retreat, preparing in this way can be very helpful.
Letting go of control is really one of the most important aspects of retreat. You need to create space in your mind and being, space for new understanding to arise. If you are away and your mind is cluttered with everything that might be going on at home, you won’t have that space.
- If you are in contact, make it intentional. If you are going to be in contact with the ‘outside world’ during your retreat, make it substantive. If all of the logistics are covered beforehand, when you do make contact with work or family, you can make it purposeful and/or heartfelt, focused on connecting briefly rather than re-engaging over details that will only pull you back into your regular life. However, really question how much contact you need, how much of the urge to connect might be a fear of letting go, or even a way of holding yourself back from shifts that deep down you know you would like to make. Often we are of two minds when it comes to retreat – we engage in it because we want to change, but then when confronted with change, old fears arise. The comfort of the known begins to take precedence, and staying in contact with ‘home’ maintains our link with that known. If you need to make contact, it’s also best to try to establish when that contact will be before you leave, so you (and those you are communicating with) are not spending time worrying about when or how you might connect.
- Do the same with media, email etc. Be very intentional about what your mind comes into contact with during your retreat. Turn your phone and all other devices off for your retreat (except for the few times you’ve prescheduled to make contact, if you are indeed making contact.) Truly be alone with yourself. Even refraining from music or reading can be useful, although if you are intentional about what you listen to or read, this might also enhance your retreat, so you can follow your intuition on this.
- Establish a schedule for your retreat. If you are attending an organized retreat, of course this part is taken care of for you. But if you are conducting your own retreat, it’s usually best to plan beforehand what your days may look like. If you are engaging in spiritual practice, when and for how long? What other activities will you engage in (hiking, journaling, etc?) Because of the fear factor, without a plan it’s easy for a retreat to slip into vacation mode. Your structure and rituals are your container for your retreat – they provide the framework within which you can let go.
- Set your retreat intentions. Of course all this outer planning is really just preparation for your inner work. Why are you going on retreat in the first place? Be honest with yourself about this. What is your driving force? What are you hoping for? Contemplating this before you go will help you cut through any projections or expectations you may have, freeing you up to just let things unfold once you are there.
- Ritualize your entry into retreat. When you leave home – or if you are retreating at home, once you start your retreat schedule for the day – do so in an intentional way. Perhaps say a blessing for your home, and ask for guidance on your retreat. Express your gratitude for being able to retreat, including thanking those inwardly who are making it possible (see first bullet point!) Mark the official entry into your retreat time with intention.
- Be honest. Once on retreat, be honest with yourself. Where is your mind really? Are you narrating your retreat to others as it occurs? Daydreaming about how great you will feel at the end? Worrying about what’s going on at home? Years ago when boom boxes (for those too young to remember, these were giant portable radios) were all the rage, I remember going to a beach filled with competing boxes, playing music so loudly it wasn’t possible to even hear the surf a few feet away. Thinking of home or mentally talking to others while on retreat is like bringing a boom box to the beach. Leave it!
There are a lot of different kinds of retreats, so it’s hard to give specific advice on how to handle inner challenges that may arise. This is more personal, and somewhat guided by the spiritual tradition and/or teacher or guide that you relate to. But there usually are challenges – we rarely shift to a new understanding without first encountering a block. So when they do come up, know it’s ok. Just be honest about what’s arising. If it’s too much for you to handle, of course reach out to your own spiritual support guide or network. But also entertain the possibility that you can just let it be, just watch what’s going on within you and it may move through on its own. Let go.
- Ritualize your exit too. Don’t judge a retreat. Just like meditation, sometimes you can’t really tell how it’s impacted you immediately after the fact. Big experiences and insights aren’t always the point. So simply express your gratitude, and prepare for your re-entry into your regular life. Set some intentions for what you’d like to take back into your life with you from retreat, and expect some bumps. You may need time to process, to integrate, and that’s all ok.
I hope you are able to make some time for retreat for yourself in the next few weeks, even if for just a day. Peace and blessings to you as you do so-
The time feels right to add to my Historical Women Mystics series, and what a joy it has been to research the woman I am profiling this time – Jarena Lee, a pioneering 19th century African American preacher whose powerful conversion experience inspired her to travel the country, overcoming both the gender and racial barriers of the time. She was also the first African American woman to publish an autobiography, an eloquent account of her spiritual and preaching experiences (the picture of Jarena to the left was painted for the cover of her autobiography.)
I came to Jarena in a roundabout way: I knew that I wanted to feature a woman preacher from the Second Great Awakening of the United States. Spanning from about 1790 through the 1830’s, this period was characterized by large Protestant revival gatherings at which many thousands of individuals converted to existing Protestant faiths or joined new ones that were born at this time. These revivals birthed evangelical Christianity in the U.S., and had a wide-ranging impact on our history. For one thing, women converted in much greater numbers then men, and took an active role in religious life in a way they had not done so before, expanding their role for the first time outside of the domestic sphere and into the public domain. In later decades, this would evolve into women’s social action groups, most of which were originally grounded in religion, fueling both the abolitionist and suffragist movements.
There are many interesting things to say about this phase of history, and how the seeds planted then are still at work in the spiritual and social movements of today, but my interest in this series is more personal – how have individual women throughout history and from varying cultural and religious backgrounds, experienced spirit? Jarena’s own words are a goldmine from this perspective. As with the stories of the other women featured in this series, if we pull back from the specific language of the time (common to most conversion narratives of the period) and look at her actual experience, we find so many similarities to the spiritual experiences of other mystics from other times and traditions (and perhaps also to our own experiences.)
Born in New Jersey in 1783, Jarena was not a slave, but was placed in a home as a servant girl at the young age of 7. She had no formal religious instruction from her parents, but learned about religion from her co-workers, and at 21 went with a friend to a Presbyterian meeting, during which she began to feel the ‘weight of her sins.’ In the coming days, she became consumed with the idea that she was a ‘wretched sinner’, eventually becoming suicidal, and walking to a river with the intention to kill herself. She doesn’t go through with it, and feels that spirit played a role in saving her from this fate, but afterwards still does not know how to go about releasing herself from what she still believes to be her essentially sinful state.
This kind of obsession with sin and self-judgment is always difficult for me to read about in historical Christian spiritual narratives, but in the context of the time and tradition, within Jarena’s story it really signals the birth of her self-awareness, and I think it is a phase of the spiritual journey to which many of us can relate. Often we embark upon a deep spiritual quest for one of two reasons: Either we have suffered a great loss or tragedy which has shaken our worldview, or something in our life has triggered an acute self-awareness, in which we are suddenly aware of the self-centeredness and superficiality of our dominant thoughts and emotions, and feel there must be more to life and ourselves. It is the latter really, that seemed to trigger Jarena’s search and subsequent experiences.
Whatever it was, after several months of suffering in this way, Jarena eventually found herself at Richard Allen’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In a sermon there, she felt herself touched in a new way by spirit:
“The text was barely pronounced, which was ‘I perceive thy heart is not right in the sight of God,’ when there appeared to my view, in the centre of the heart, one sin; and this was malice against one particular individual, who had strove deeply to injure me, which I resented. At this discovery I said, Lord I forgive every creature. That instant, it appeared to me as if a garment, which had entirely enveloped my whole person, even to my fingers’ ends, split at the crown of my head, and was stripped away from me, passing like a shadow from my sight – when the glory of God seemed to cover me in its stead.”
Ah, the power of letting go, of forgiveness! This sudden experience catapults her into alternating states of bliss and despair. In the coming weeks, she at times feels a oneness with spirit that transports her, and at other times feels entirely separate and unworthy. She describes weeks of crying spells and prayer, fervently trying to find her way back to this sense of peace and union. She begins to doubt her initial experience, and sees acutely her “pride, anger and self-will.” She vows to devote herself to praying until this feeling returns to her. One day after hours of prayer and contemplation, she is ready to give up when she hears a voice say ‘Ask for sanctification.’ Once she does so, she describes her next experience:
“…spirit said, ‘Bow down for the witness – I received it – thou art sanctified !’ The first I knew of myself after that, I was standing in the yard with my hands spread out, and looking with my face toward heaven…I now ran into the house and told them what had happened to me, when, as it were a new rush of the same exstacy came upon me, and caused me to feel as if I were in an ocean of light and bliss…During this, I stood perfectly still, the tears rolling in a flood from my eyes. So great was the joy, that it is past description.“
From this point forward, her doubts were dispelled, although she acknowledged the need for vigilance throughout her spiritual life (something she preached of often.) Her conversion brought her an amazing fearlessness – fearlessness in the face of the established church hierarchy, who initially told her women could not preach, and fearlessness in the face of danger on the road, once she began traveling to revivals. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that her conversion brought her an amazing level of trust, because her fearlessness was born of a certainty that she would be taken care of no matter what, if she followed spirit.
What spirit eventually asked her to do was preach:
“…to my utter surprise there seemed to sound a voice which I thought I distinctly heard, and most certainly understood, which said to me, “Go preach the Gospel!” I immediately replied aloud, “No one will believe me.” Again I listened and again the same voice seemed to say “Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth and will turn your enemies to become your friends.“
Initially, Reverend Allen rejected her request to preach. However, eventually the drive for her to do so rose up so strongly that she found herself bursting forth during a service, speaking from her heart words that afterwards she could barely remember. Whatever she said, it was so inspiring to those present, including Allen, that he blessed her efforts, and from that point forward became one of her staunchest supporters.
As an African-American woman preacher, Jarena was defying both the gender and race restrictions of the time. Often traveling alone or with another woman through remote countryside from revival to revival, she faced the very real danger of attack. At revivals, she preached to racially mixed gatherings (another reason the revivals are considered so historically relevant, and why many believed they were an important part of the lead up to the abolitionist movement.) Often there was resistance to her speaking, although always once she spoke, this seemed to dissolve. One can only imagine what a powerful and inspiring presence she must have been for this to have been the case.
In her autobiography, Jarena says she “traveled two thousand three hundred and twenty-five miles, and preached one hundred and seventy-eight sermons” during one period, including in Maryland, a slave state. She describes slaves who walked 20-30 miles to hear her preach, knowing they would have to walk the entire way back before dawn. Jarena was pioneering in the content of her preaching too, making biblical arguments against slavery, and in her own way predicting the Civil War, or at the very least great conflict over this ‘greatest of sins.’
In her personal life, Jarena faced struggles typical of women mystics throughout the ages: She married but her husband did not approve of her preaching and so she stopped for a time, returning to preaching after her husband died six years into their union. She bore a daughter and often had to leave her daughter with friends while she traveled. Although conflicted about this, she felt her work was not about her, and that ultimately this sacrifice was necessary.
In her autobiography, she tells many touching stories of individuals she encountered in her preaching travels, and how they were impacted. Here’s a link to excerpts from her autobiography:
Or for the full version try:
Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women’s Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century, edited by William L. Andrews
I have not found a history of the Great Awakenings that I can recommend, mostly because the ones available are centered solely on their role in the development of Christianity, but if you are interested in mystic traditions of all types that have shaped the development of spirituality in America (including the three ‘Great Awakening’ periods), try:
Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation, by Mitch Horowitz
Many blessings to you, and may Jarena’ story, and the story of other seekers throughout the ages, inspire and empower you to follow your own path with trust and hope.