“Theories are neither right nor wrong. They are attempts at explaining the inexplicable. It is not the theory that matters, but the way that it’s being tested. It is the testing of the theory that makes it fruitful. Experiment with any theory you like—if you are truly earnest and honest, the attainment of reality will be yours.”
- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Studying the chakras can be confusing. Go figure. The Indus Valley region has sprouted a huge amount of distinct but related spiritual lineages, and each one has its own little variations on the energy body map. If you expand your scope out, you will find many more energy maps from healing traditions all over the world which share some similarities with the Indic systems and, of course, reveal countless more contrasts.
Proponents of all systems seems to agree that there are channels and centers of energy in our body and that our health on every level depends on how these are maintained. But how do we account for the differences? As curious students of all these traditions and not a strict adherent to any particular one, what are we to do with all the contradictions? How do we know which one is the right one?
At some point in my journey I found myself overwhelmed by all the different maps, confused, frustrated and stuck. I had to pause, put down ALL the maps, take a deep breath and ask myself the ultimate clarifier: WHY? Why am I studying these in the first place? What is it that I’m really hoping to get out of this endeavor? Before I worry about which map I’m using, I should probably get clear on where, exactly, I am trying to go.
I want to take responsibiltiy for my own physical, emotional, mental and energetic health. And I want to help others do the same. Ok. That's a beginning.
I had an excellent education growing up, but in college it became clear that I had some gaping holes in terms of self-knowledge and self-care. I started studying Tai Chi at the college health center with an odd man who wore colorful suspenders over a big pot belly and talked about how his tiny wife harnessed her chi so effectively that she could throw him across the room. I read a book about Yoga and started doing this 10 minute routine each morning which, actually, had come from my dance instructor. I don’t even remember the sequence anymore but, ask anyone who knew me from age 19 to 27—I did it EVERY SINGLE DAY. I’m pretty sure it was just a few sun saltues and warrior poses but I treated it like a sacred thing.
This journey began because of a FEELING—I felt something shift inside through these practices and I knew that it was positive. If I did my morning routine I was more easeful and clear-headed through the day. If I did 5 minutes of tai chi in the stacks instead of ingesting yet another tall boy cup of coffee, I came back to a sense of focus without feeling strung out and toxic. Based on these intuitive, inner expereinces I had no doubt that these thigns were helping me. Curious to understand how it all worked and eager to increase the benefits, I sought out more and more information.
My study over the years has continued to be fairly hodge-podge taking in information via several formal trainings and certifications, through books, internet research, conversations, etc. But the most important “information” I received along the way came from inside. I knew, without a doubt, that the yoga and Tai Chi was helping me achieve my goals as a student and a human because of the way that I felt. No one could ever say, “Nope! You DON’T feel that way.” So there was a huge amount of confidence there.
I learned early that I could only “know” that a particular teaching or technique had efficacy, by experimenting with it, applying it to my own self, and observing the inner results. If something helped me heal, align or evolve in a way that felt positive, I integrated it into my own practices and felt empowered to share it with others. If it didn’t, I left it out.
Because I’m working this way there are no “easy” answers, aka, solutions that get handed to me from outside. I have to test everything myself. The good news is, that through this process I have come to trust myself. I have come to be the authority on my own spiritual practice. And it feels pretty awesome.
Welcome to the realm of Chakra Six. Ajna Chakra, in Sanskrit.
A recording of the opening talk and Q&A from the Chakra Six workshop at Prema Yoga, March 4, 2018.
Ajna has two meanings: “center of perception” and the “command center.” Qualities of a healthy Chakra Six actually come from a balance between these two functions: (1) to perceive and (2) to command. What makes us good at perceiving and good at commanding will tell us what makes a strong, healthy Chakra Six.
(1) To be good at PERCEIVING, we must be able to FOCUS, to take in new information, to STUDY and INQUIRE and to have the bravery and curiosity required to experience new things. We would want to be able to both see the BIG-PICTURE but also to be able to zoom in on DETAILS.
(2) To be good at COMMANDING, or to be a good leader, means not just that you have the power to lead the whole system into an action, but that you have the WISDOM to know what the possible action is and to STRATEGIZE a way forward that benefits everyone involved. I believe that this is best accomplished by truly honoring what has been perceived (step 1 above) by way of good INTERPRETATION, UNDERSTANDING and INTEGRATION of what has been seen. Through these efforts a good commander becomes WISE and FAIR and CONFIDENT. We want the commander to be someone whom we TRUST completely.
As happens again and again in the realm of Chakra Six, what might seem separate at first glance, reveals itself to actually part of a single, lareger whole upon closer inspection. To PERCEIVE and to COMMAND are part of a single, cyclical process, like the water cycle. We’ll call it the AJNA cycle. Between perception and command, there is WISDOM.
When I PERCEIVE something revelatory, meaning a new aspect of my reality just became apparent to me, I have the potential for WISDOM. Most of the time our perceived experiences take some digestion, proecessing and integrating before we can experiene an increased WISDOM. By its nature, WISDOM inspires us toward actions harmonious with our wisdom.
And through harmonious action in the world, the world we PERCEIVE begins to look different. This is (A) Because the outer world HAS really changed. It’s always changing but also I am contributing to that change with my actions. And (B) because I am changed. Now that I have certain WISDOM, it’s as if my very vision has changed.
Once I started studying the energy body (PERCEIVE) and apply it to my own body, thus gaining UNDERSTANDING & WISDOM, I started PERCEIVE all kinds of information directly, just from looking at people’s bodies. Issues and solutions to those issues shouted to me from the posture of a guy at the deli. We call that INTUITION, which I really just consider a WISDOM so deep that your access to it is extremely quick. Communication lines have been opened in your consciousness and those stay open as long as your Chakra Six is in good repair.
(I also stopped seeing the ugly, dirty basement where I used to do bookkeeping because I had graduated from that and I was now spending my working hours in the sanctuary of yoga studios. So, the change is manifest both internally and externally, out in the world.)
So you can see the cycle here. Perceive—> receive new information —> process, come to understand, integrate the information —> gain wisdom—> decide what is the best thing to do (or not do), based on my wisdom—> perceive the world through wiser eyes —> receive new information with new awareness because of my development.
It's interesting to note that Chakra Six is related to not one, but two endocrine glands. The pituitary gland--known as the "master" gland because it controls the functions of other glands in the endocrine system. And the pineal gland which secretes seratonin, regulates our circadian rhythms and connects us to the natural seasonal cycles. One regulates the workings of our inner system. The other, the workings of our connection to the bigger systems that we’re plugged into. They’re right next to each other ostensibly for a reason. Partners, perhaps? In any case, I believe that a healthy Chakra Six allows us to perceive the world in all its nuance and diversity and live harmoniously.
BALANCED, EXCESSIVE or DEFICIENT
Someone with a healthy Chakra Six can gain perspective on any situation, to see the bigger picture, the far-reaching ramifications and how everything relates. Someone who is intelligent, logical, equanimous, unbiased and fair, calm and confident. To this person, truth and understanding are more important than personal gain. They are willing to examine and re-examine. They hold a relaxed authority on the subjects they know and an open humility in those they don’t. Lovers of wisdom (the meaning of the Greek word philosophy), they engage each moment with curiosity, wonder and playfulness.
This requires that this person be oriented in a cooperative, collaborative way. If, instead, we are oriented in a competitive, hierarchical way, then the AJNA chakra will overstep its bounds and lose the ability to properly work as a team with the other chakras. It might start innoncently--the micromanager, the meddling friend, the bossy older brother--but over time Chakra Six can become a real fascist asshole. When the lower chakras are not respected for all they bring to the system, they have to shout louder and fight harder to get their needs and offerings recognized. The upper chakras, meanwhile, insist on their authority with more violence and vehemence. When this happens the body and mind go to war and the heart becomes a battleground.
When Chakra Six is unhealthy, we've got a system that cannot take in new information, develop wisdom and/or command action in an effective way.
In excess, you might feel like you can't stop perceiving, interpreting, thinking, judging, explaining, projecting, planning or bossing around the world. If one's worldview becomes hardened and brittle, we beomome very afraid and then must spend all this time protecting our fragile stories about how the world works. We have a tendency to believe whatever fits into our existing worldview and to reject anything that challenges it.
When Chakra Six is deficient, there is zero trust in one’s own perceptions or judgements. A personal belief system never properly coheres. Ones concepts about the world are too flimsy, permeable and changeable to support a solid stance or a clear vision.
Of course, this perpetuates itself, as the person fails again and again to get validation from their own disjointed, unreliable worldview. Such pepole might have immense difficulty making decisions or just live mostly in unconscious habit in order to avoid the pain of making decisions without the tools to do so. They will tend to look for an outer authority to tell them how to see and think and adopt whatever they say without critique. Here the mind might feel weak, easily distracted or anxious. But instead of projecting its certainty onto the world, like the excessive Chakra 6, the deficient one projects doubt. It's like trying to make your way through the woods while you keep rewriting the map.
As is true with all of these chakras, most folks tend to go back in forth between excessive and deficient with their Chakra Six Energy. Below is a bit of pointed advice and a few exercises for bringing it back into balance.
EXPLORATIONS AND EXERCISES
BECOME A BETTER PERCEIVER / LEARNER
The best perceivers and learners that I know are children. So it's advisable to bring that beginner's mind, child mind into play as you learn about Chakra Six. Bring your questions, make no assumptions, use your imagination, make it into a game, have fun, be hungry to see things for yourself and don’t pretend to be satisfied with the explanations of others. Get curious and be willing to make a mess of it.
We balance this young, springy, available energy out with the commander energy, a very responsible, clear, purposeful, adult energy in between learning sessions. That's really important too. But this process works best if we give full permission for the perceiver energy to rein at certain points. If we're too afraid of making messes we cannot grow. So believe me when I say, you should just dive in! Your inner commander will clean it up later.
FEEL THE MIND
Find your "third eye" with your finger. It's between the eyebrows and a bit up. Most folks have a little divit right there. Put a little acupressure there and breathe, imagining that cool, clean air is moving in and out of the third eye center as well as your nostrils. In some systems, this front point is synonymous with Chakra Six itself. But in others, this is just the front door for Chakra Six…The energy center itself is considered located at the center of the skull. The back door would be the occipital joint, and the side doors would be the right and left temples. Explore these spaces if you like, repeating the exercise above. Bring your attention to the very center of the skull, the space to which all those various entrance points have been pointing. Breathe cool, clean air in and out of that space. Envision a bright light there.
DEVELOP CONCENTRATION, FOCUS and MEMORY
Anything that sharpens your ability to direct your attention is great. Here are a couple suggestions:
- Do a daily mindfulness practice: this is the most basic kind of meditation (known as dharana or shamata in Sanskrit). Focus your mind on one object and rest it there. When it wanders bring it back. A few minutes of this every day is far better than a huge long session every once in a while.
- Challenge yourself to use your own memory (instead of your phone or your computer's memory) more often. It works best if you memorize things feel resonant--a beloved poem, or maybe the names of the Chakras in Sanskrit.
REST THE MIND
The #1 thing that brings my meditation students to me is anxiety. Most of us have lost the ability to bring the space of AJNA chakra back into a restful place. It's natural state is that dark indigo, if it's not allowed to fall back into its natural state, we suffer. Find ways to soothe and quiet your mind while you’re awake everyday. This is the other primary aspect of meditation--besides focus. We need to also just be able to rest and be at peace.
Make sure that there are opportunities to put down on your knowing, soften your grip on all those things you memorized, trust that understanding has really set in and just fall back into the darkened space of the mind. Stop manufacturing reality for a few moments and let reality show up on its own. And I promise that reality will show up. In glittery constellation, in brilliant flashes, in ways that might feel surprising, if you can just make AJNA available, reality will be illuminated.
DEVELOP LOGIC, ANALYSIS, CRITICAL THINKING
- Spend time contemplating the nature of a subject that interests you and theorizing on it. Record voice memos, journal.
- Philosophize with a friend. Think of someone who you like to rap with and make a date.
- Study complete systems (like the chakras!), dissect things, ask questions then put them back together. Be curious, thorough and scientific.
- Apply logic to your spiritual practice. Develop a deeper understanding of why you do the practices that you do! Refuse to pretend. Notice when you abuse logic in order to favor a personal opinion.
- Apply systematic thinking to your spiritual practice. Develop a deeper understanding of how your many pieces all work together. Design your life around this understanding. Curate your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly spiritual practices based on this understanding.
Whatever SYSTEM you choose to study, they will all teach you one thing: There is one whole, comprised of several distinct, interdependent parts. If you want to get better at seeing the BIG PICTURE and the DETAILS, studying any system is useful.
When you study yourself via an energy system, it becomes clear that YOU ARE ONE WHOLE, COMPRISED OF SEVERAL, DISTINCT, INTERDEPENDENT PARTS. The parts need the whole and the whole needs the parts. Our parts are all valuable, they are all useful, they all need to work in harmony with the others. This simple truth is profound and bears repeating, reaffirming and reinforcing in one’s consciousness.
Chakra Six is the “Seer.” Through dreams and divining, a powerful chakra six might see what is to come. Some with a strong “third eye” see the shapes, colors and movements of the subtle body. Even if you aren’t naturally inclined that way, you can develop the ability to see subtle energy using the gateway of imagination and vision-work.
- Note your dreams
- Take in visual art and visual beauty; make visual art and beautiful scenes
- Study maps of places you think are interesting, or diagrams of systems you think are interest
The color of Chakra Six is deep INDIGO like the night sky. This confused me when I first learned the colors of the chakras because my studies had taught that AJNA is associated with clarity and lucidity and, moreover, because I had directly experienced such a brightness in that space in meditation. How odd, I thought, that such a dark color represents such a light-filled space. The resolution to the seeming paradox came in a one deep meditation where I realized that a dark space is a pre-requisite for clear illumination. Just like a quiet space is required for us to clearly hear distinct sounds.
In Brooklyn, on a clear night, you can see a few stars at best. Because there is not enough darkness it is impossible to register the presence of the many brilliant bodies. But go out to the country and there’s more stars than you could possibly count. Your mind is like the city sky when it has too much clutter or pollution or noise. In those instances it is very hard to tell what is authentic illumination and what is artificial. If the mind is still and spacious indigo, then it is an available space for insight, intuition and understanding to shine forth.
Work with the rainbow colors of the chakras, from bottom to top. It turns out that not all systems use the rainbow spectrum as designated colors for the chakras. But this resonates with me, so it’s what I practice and teach. If you’re curious about the significances of the colors explore it!
SEVEN CHAKRAS SCAN
When we can break down the parts of ourselves we then gain the ability to scan through them, do our own diagnostic work and address issues on our own lives.
Go through your chakras one at a time. You can bring attention to it any way that you like, either working with the physical home of the chakra in the body, it color, mantra, element and/or the qualities that you associate with each one. Keep it simple at first. Don’t worry about getting all the knowledge right. Just spend some time building a relationship with that chakra.
With your attention on that chakra, begin to, humbly and with gratitude, ask for wisdom. “Dear chakra, is there anything that I need to know? Please reveal to me a truth that will be helpful for me in helping you and the whole energy system.” Use your own language. But you get the idea.
FOUR BODIES SCAN
If the Chakras still feel too complicated, let’s make it really simple. Work with a more basic, intuitive outline for yousrelf:
- physical body / lower chakras / earth, water, fire
- emotional body / heart / breath / bridge bewteen matter and consciounsess / air
- mental body / upper chakras / thought / ether / culture, language, tools
- spiritual body: in my deepest understanding, the spiritual flows through, around, under, above and beyond ALL of this…
Take a moment to scan through these bodies and just notice what is happening in each
BECOME A BETTER COMMANDER / LEADER
A good commander knows that she is no more important than those she leads. She listens well for information from all parties. She is respectful of everyone but most reverent of the shared goal/vision of the group.
So a good commander totally honors whatever information may have come in during the perception stage. In your own work, make sure that you acknowledge and integrate what you have learned in a sincere and respectful way. Integrate it back into your personal belief system, let it inform the way you look at the world.
When we develop our skills of perceptivity, we gain direct, personal experience. This is the best beginning for stepping into our own authority. When I haven’t seen it for myself, some part of me will fail to trust. That makes me vulnerable for being taken in by false outer authorities.
Explore what you know and what you don't know. But when the time comes to act, stand in what you believe, TRUST yourself, dedicate your action to the greater good, and act unflinchingly.
Wisdom ties together the theme of perception and the theme of commanding. To have a "command" of a language means to be fluent in it, to have a deep and comprehensive knowledge base that you are working from.
Meanwhile, the root for "vision" and "wisdom" are the same. have the same root. When we have seen something for ourselves we TRUST it. And then we can use that knowledge to inform future actions.
Wisdom that we work with so deeply that it has openend us up to sublter realms of perception is called INTUITION.
It begins with learning to TRUST YOUR OWN DIRECT EXPERIENCE.
Let energy and information from the lower chakras reach the upper chakras. Do not denigrate your heart or your body. Respect them, communicate with them, ask for help from them, and they will give you all the information that you need.
BELIEF SYSTEM & WORLDVIEW
The onus is on you to inspect your belief system and your worldview.
It might seem like a paradox. But both of these things are true. (A) YES! You must do your best, come up with the most coherent and mature and helpful personal belief system possible. And (B) It will never be the whole truth, the entire picture, the final word. The universe is vast, complex, constantly evolving, and ever-expanding. A healthy Chakra Six allows your worldview can account for all of that.
LET GO OF DOGMA
I think it’s perfect that no one can quite agree about these energy systems. The nature of reality CAN’T ever be pinned by our labels. Our catalogues and theories do their best to describe the miracles of reality, but the truth simply EXISTS and it won’t ever fit nicely into a human made model, no matter how precise, well-researched or eloquent.
This is great! It takes away the impossible expectations that we have about our ability to understand and systematize reality. It teaches us to let go of our dogma.
Dogmatism is how Ajna fools itself that it is wise and authoritative when in fact it has stepped out of integrity. So choose what you study intuitively. It should call to you. If you are doing any of this work because you are "supposed to" or because you think it will impress someone else then it’ll feel like drudgery or showmanship. And doing anything to appease an outer authority weakens Chakra 6 in the long run.
It’s perfect that Ajna Chakra insists we ask lots of questions as we study it. While getting the “right” answer might allow AJNA to command with more conviction, it can be terrible in terms of its ability to perceive—to take in fresh information. We learn that asking questions cleanses and strengthens Ajna chakra. It never wants to stop asking. Not as a means to an end. But as a way of being. Getting the “right” answer isn’t actually what’s important. What matters more is that we feel empowered, equipped, and enabled to ASK. To be an explorer. Ajna is hungry for a deeper understanding of reality. It is nourished, cleansed and strengthened through learning, exploring, investigating.
When you get stuck, ask yourself, WHY? Why am I doing all of this? What's it all about. Keep asking why, why, why til you get to the most fundamental truth you can. A truth that you just can't imagine NOT being true.
Then, fully take a stand for that. All great things begin this way. Whatever you have to say about the follow-through, the founders of this country built everything upon their deepest why: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal. that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
They achieved this clear statement through the collaboration of their hearts and minds. Since, their logic deduced, all of us equally have a reasoning faculty, we are all equally capable of self-government.
The way that I've come to understand it, a meditation practice is really a form of personal self-governance. So what truths are sturdy enough to hold up your practice, your relationships, your life? Discover them, articulate them and dedicate yourself to them.
But also know that there will likely come a time where, if your practice is succeeding, you have to go back down to the foundations and refine. Because if we are succeeding we are growing and evolving.
For instance, I might amend the above: "That all people are created equal," instead of "men." But we had to start somewhere.
INTEGRATE MIND & BODY IN YOGA CLASS
In your asana practice you can envision the different colors of the rainbow moving in the body. Or just see/feel light extending through your body. Keep bringing yourself to the most central and subtle aspect of yourself that you can.
Keeping your attention on anything at all (it doesn’t have to be a visualization) is great for developing the qualities of FOCUS and MENTAL CLARITY.
Keep returning to CURIOSITY and WONDER about how this whole things works. Nerd out about anatomy or the energy body or just the feelings inside. Keep saying “Hmmmmmm…..”
Work with DRISHTI in general & 3RD EYE GAZE in particular. DRISTHTI is the mode of the eyes. Pay more attention to it when you move through your asanas. Do your best to have the eyes on a clear, single point without moving them as much as possible. But bring in an easeful, restful quality as well. You’ll get a headache if you try to bug out the eyes or otherwise send aggressive energy through your eye attachments.
3RD EYE GAZE can be up toward the front entrance of AJNA, up on the lower forehead. Of the eyes can roll back toward the center of the skull. Be wary as you try these. Follow the advice to be easeful, as with any DRISHTI. This should give you a zipped-up, clear feeling in the mind.
Engaging the BANDHAS sends energy up through SHASHUMNA NADHI which ends up being clarifying for the whole system. Work with these.
If you really want to see results, do a better job paying attention. Take a few notes after every yoga session. Be specific about what you’re working on and methodical in your pursuit of wisdom around these things. Set goals for youself and respect your own authority.
REGARD THE MIND AS A POWERFUL TOOL (WILL IT BE USED TO HEAL OR TO HARM?)
While almost everyone agrees on the elements associated with the lower chakras, things get more subtle and nuanced as we work our way up. I am taking a potentialy controversial stance right here and now, and leaning into associating Chakra Six with any manmade tool. In particular, we'll think of it here as a SWORD>
In Tarot, the realm of the mind is represented by the sword. In Buddhist and yogic iconography, REASON and LOGIC and the ability to DECIDE is represented by the sword. A sword can cut through the delusions and allow us to perceive what is more real and true. A sword in the hands of a commander helps point the way forward.
Same thing with a sharp, well-trained mind. It can sever our attachments when those attachments are causing suffering. It allows us to dissect reality, and glimpse one part at a time, studying how each little piece functions. When we put it all back together, we are graced with a more coherent, complete and nuanced understanding of the reality. When we apply that new understanding we call it wisdom.
The thing is, a sword is useless if we don't pick it up, if we lack the strength or skill to use it or if we allow its blade to warp, rust or to grow dull. Worse still, the sword is deathly dangerous if we're using it for the wrong reasons, if we’re not wielding it in the name of the greater good. If, instead of pruning away bad growth you attack things blindly you make a mess of your world, cut away your own resources and end up living in a chaotic wasteland. If you use the blade to cut apart your world but fail to lovingly put it all back together, you will end up living in a reality that feels disintegrated and disingenuous. If you abuse the blade for defending your attachments and preferences instead of truth and goodness, you are attacking your potential saviors and aiding the perpetrators of your own suffering.
Remain in this severed state long enough and your rational thinking begins to spin out, making you feel trapped in a whirling mind. This is how reason becomes a harsh authoritarian unable to interface with the wisdom of body and heart. This is why Manjushri, pictured in the photo above, has his sword raised with one hand, but holds the other on his heart. We must keep compassion and reason connected, we must keep all the chakras working together as a team to arrive at wisdom.
- Don't dull your reason by applying it to surface things, noise. Let all that go.
- Don't cheapen your intelligence by using it to defend things that you don't really believe.
- Don't use your "logic" to cut yourself off from your own best resources, severing connections between yourself and others.
- When you do use that sword to cut everything apart, seeking understanding, don't forget to put everything back together when you're done. Bring everything back to wholeness.
- Use your trained swordsmanship when it matters most--to promote goodness and truth, to defend your highest values.
- Cut away what is no longer serving you. Next time that you are suffering ask yourself what is the real cause of this suffering. Ask, “What is the truest thing I know right now?" Let potential answers flow in. As each one arrives, kindly assess it and, if it doesn't feel like the truest thing you know, cleanly slice away and await the next. What are you left with? Write it down. Return to it next time you feel lost.