We have seemingly come to the end of our journey through the chakras. But in a sense, everything up til now has just been preparation, and with Chakra Seven, the real adventure begins.
Chakra Seven is located at the crown of the head. In many traditions it is associated with the color violet, the final color on the spectrum available to ordinary human sight. Sometimes you'll see it linked to white. Its name in Sanskrit is sahasrara, the "Thousand-Petaled Lotus." Its key theme is spirituality and its teachings evoke the highest goals of any spiritual practice in any tradition:
- the mysterious
- the unknown
- the invisible
- the beyond
- the eternal
- the absolute
- the ultimate
Recording of the opening meditation, talk and Q&A from the Chakra Seven workshop at Prema Yoga, Brooklyn, April 8, 2018.
Who is the most most enlightened being you can bring to mind? Let this be your model for someone with a vibrant, open, healthy sahasrara chakra. While writing this post I have had some of my favorite teachers in mind: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sri Anandamayi Ma, Sri Ramana Maharishi and my teacher, Adyashanti. They are highly evolved, fearless, endlessly giving, and wise to such an extent that they may even seem omniscient. These beings don't fret over second-hand knowledge because they have had direct personal experience of their own highest nature and they harbor no doubt about what they really are. They are able to identify as the vastness and the glory and the mystery of the whole cosmos. Yet there is no egoic attachment, for this cosmic identity includes everyone and everything else in the universe. So this being will never put him or herself above OR below another.
When the energy at Chakra Seven is just a bit underdeveloped--which is normal and healthy in younger people who are still maturing--we may simply shy away from anything mysterious or unknown. But as we grow develop it is important to expand our awareness. If we refuse to do this Chakra Seven becomes blocked which makes us feel stuck and uninspired and unable to evolve, otherwise fear begins eroding and clogging the entire energy system. The natural flow of evolution wants to take us upwards and outwards toward new realms of consciousness but in this case we begin trying to resist this natural flow. We find ourselves anxious, depressed and exhausted as we expend all our resources in attempts to swim against the inevitable tide.
In many systems the seventh chakra is the final major energy center. But in some systems there are less. Like in Daoism where you focus on the 3 major dantian. In other traditions there are additional chakras above and beyond seven. And this is helpful to remember as we explore the far-out themes of Chakra Seven. The chakra system is fantastic because it includes all the various aspects of human experience. The final aspect of which is cannot be contained within the system itself, for it brings us to truths which transcend the system altogether. One of the primary lessons we learn in this territory is that nothing in this vast, complicated and ever-expanding universe can ever be neatly or completely tamed by a human seeker. Anything worth studying will ultimately refuse to fit into human-made categories.
Chakra Seven is the doorway to having your own direct, personal experiences of the great beyond. These expereinces are your birthright and I very much encourage you to pursue them. I just want to underline here that (a) you don't want to do "spiritual bypass" and skip over the work required at the lower chakras, that (b) you dedicate time and resources to integrating the more expansive experiences that you have had, and (c) that you embrace the support of guides and/or a like-minded community to hold you through your spiritual evolution. Read on to understand why.
If there are blockages in any of the lower chakras it will be difficult to achieve the higher state of consciousness associated with Chakra Seven. Though there are always exceptions to the rule, the most common path of development works from chakra 1 up. Most folks find that, before they can explore other realms of being, they must trust that the body is sheltered and nourished. Once basic bodily needs are met, we naturally begin to focus on cultivating a healthy emotional life, developing a strong and authentic sense of self-in-the-world, and establishing our most appropriate place in the social sphere. Once these things are satsified we have the requisite energetic foundations for acheiving higher states of consciousness. We will encounter far less obstacles in our pursuit and we will have ample tools to cope with obstacles when they do arise. If you get the basics in order, the opening of Chakra Seven will quite likely begin happening all of its own accord.
Another good reason to stay humble and continue one's work on the lower chakras is that in the event that Chakra Seven does fully open without being balanced by a robust health in the other chakras, funky ramifications can follow. Most of us have experienced the milder (and often humorous!) forms of this unbalance, like being so blissed-out that you put on another person's shoes as you leave the yoga studio. But there is also potential for far greater difficulty. Expansive experiences bring us beyond what is familiar, and if you don't have a way to contextualize it, this can be majorly disorienting. If you're doing really intense practices without proper context or recieving energy downloads (like shaktipat) from powerful beings without being prepared you may end up with energy that your system can't properly process. Sometimes called kundalini disorder, this can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable feelings, emotions, thoughts and visions.
EGO: THE BRAKES ON SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION
The main obstacle to an open Chakra Seven is the ego. Let's get clear on what I mean by EGO, because it has various definitions depending on who you're talking to. In my definition, the ego is an aspect of one's self which:
- attaches to a single identity to the exclusion of others
- sees this identity as its own "self," something separate than the "other"
- sees its "self" as more valuable and valid than the "other"
- believes that everything that is "other" is either competition or a resource for personal profit
- seeks to enlarge or propel the "self" by means of overcoming, denegrating, controling or manipulating or "other"
Now, there is a time and place for a little bit of ego--otherwise Universe wouldn't have given us one! To function in this particular world it is helpful to have access to a healthy sense of separateness--this develops boundaries, a sense of personal responsibility and the ability to compare and analyze--and a healthy sense of competitiveness--this develops the drive to progress along our path. All great!
But if the ego gets too inflated or hardened or attached, things get extremely out of balance. It is a part of you that was meant to SERVE the journey in various ways, but never LEAD the journey. If the ego makes its way into the captain's seat it will inevitably perceive the ship, the crew, the cargo--as well as the sea and the sky and the stars!--as potential resources for its own personal profit. If we can't put a wiser aspect of self in the driver's seat, the ego knows no better than to steer us all towards disaster.
The ego can attach anywhere along the spectrum. And wherever it does, our energy gets stuck and suffering ensues. If I believe that all my value (or lack thereof!) comes from my physique or my monetary wealth, I might be attached at Chakra One. But I can also be attached at Chakra Four, stuck in limited ideas about what it means to be loving and kind, keeping poor boundaries and getting majorly confused and disappointed every time I feel negative emotions. If I am fixated on how clever my ideas are and how advanced my worldview, then I might be attached at Chakra Six.
Egoic attachment at Chakra Seven is happening when I feel superior to another person because of how "woke" I am. Or when I get all in a tizzy because some situation or environment isn't "pure" or sattvic enough. Or when I spend the whole trip back from meditation retreat irritated or disappointed that I have to leave all that peace and quiet behind. But for the person who has been truly freed by Chakra Seven, everyone is divine, every place is a home for spirit, every moment is an opportunity for being blissfully present. The peace and the quiet lives inside.
What is spirituality actually? Chakra Seven gives us access to states which are truly beyond words. So it's natural that working through these words brings about confusion or surprise. Hopefully it will also bring about some revelation!
What do YOU mean when you use this word? You are reading this so I reason that you are interested in spirituality in some capacity. If so, it would be good to contemplate this question for yourself. And to listen deeply when you hear others using this word and consider, "What are we really talking about here?" As long as you are just repeating phrases without looking deeper, your relationship to what matters most will remain second-hand.
What do I mean when I use this word? I have come to define "spirit" as anything that I deeply trust to be real and valuable, yet I cannot see. It is the aspect of reality which pervades all things, yet is not really a "thing" because it is impossible to perceive, measure or point to in ordinary ways.
VISUALIZATION: THE LOTUS BLOSSOMS
Here's really simple visualization for beginning to feel into the presence of Chakra Seven, its supportive lower chakras, and the energy "stem" which connects them.
Envision a blossom with many petals blooming out of the crown of your head. Feel how the energy of this center expands out past your the limitations of your physical shape. It is a doorway through which energy can enter and exit--feel how your own sacred essence radiates up and out, effecting the air, the heavens and everything around you; likewise the cosmic energy is allowed in through that door.
Envision the stem of this flower as the central channel, shashumna nadhi, which travels down through all of the lower chakras, along the front of your spine. And then, of course, muladhara, our "root support" of Chakra One, can be envisioned plugging down into the earth.
MYSTERY / INVISIBLE / UNKNOWN / BEYOND
To honor that which is mysterious, invisible and yet-unknown, is a way to honor spirit. To relate to whatever is beyond your understand is to begin to court a relationship with the divine. How do you relate to all that is right here with you, but too small or too subtle to see--from the bacteria in your belly to your own thoughts and values, to the chakras themselves? How do you relate to things that exist well beyond our human accessibility--in outer space, in the depths of the sea?
There are various ways of interacting with the things that we cannot see and I encourage you to explore those that speak to you. Meditation enhances our perception; spending time with enlightened beings allows their expanded consciousness to influence our own; math, science and technology extend our understanding of the unseen; entheogens, dreamwork and sacred ritual expand our awareness into other realms. Choose one of these avenues (or one of countless others!) and go see if you can learn more about the invisible, the unknown.
As you explore you will likely take some things out of the "unknown" category and put them into the category of the "known." But be sure to treat the known with respect as well. To truly touch one small thing intimately, is be connected to the infinite.
CONTEMPLATION: MASTER OF THE UNKNOWN
How do you act when you don't know something? Do you puff yourself up and pretend? Do you deflate yourself or beat yourself up? Guess who's acting in either case. Yup! The ego. Think of someone who's really great at evolving, at learning new things. (Any small child will do!) They are likely learning without attachment, meaning that they don't get stuck. Can you bring some of those qualities into the environment next time that you are in the space of the unknown?
TRANSCENDANCE / TRANSFORMATION / EXPANSION / EVOLUTION
Everyone wants to transcend their suffering, to transform into a better version of themselves, to expand beyond whatever it is that feels stuck and limited inside. In other words, everyone I know craves positive change. Each person has their own concept of the ideal toward which they are striving. But I haven't met anyone who doesn't want to make some kind of progress in one area of their life or another.
So why is it that so few of us seem to actually manage to evolve in the way we desire? Why do we feel like satisfaction consistently alludes us while our persistent problems follow us around? How is it possible to want something sincerely, to put in lots of work, and yet fail to actually evolve?
These questions deserve to be explored more deeply than I am able to here, but I will present one simple answer: we are under the delusion that we are stuck. This is made worse by the fact that, with the exception of weddings, childbirth and funerals, our mainstream culture doesn't grant most of us proper rites of passage.
A rite of passage is a on outer expression that demarcates an inner transition. When you graduated from middle school you became a high schooler. Everyone agreed that you had learned everything there was to know in middle school and that you were ready to learn high school stuff. In this transition we don't just shift gears academically, of course. Hopefully our personal and social maturity also transitions--we stop being interested in kid's stuff and begin looking toward adulthood. You stepped bravely into the unknown of high school/teenagerhood, at least partly, because you were held by that ceremony and you trusted its significance. It doesn't hurt that every older role model in your culture had also passed through those gates. It worked for them, you believe that it will work for you too. And so...it does!
But when was the last time that you "graduated?" What do you do to indicate: I am done with the past and fully ready for the future? I am satisfied with the known and prepared to bravely face the unknown? Perhaps it's time for you to conduct you own rite of passage.
CEREMONY: RITE OF PASSAGE
First ask yourself the following questions: (A) What am I ready to leave behind? What old pattern or story or belief or habit? And (B) What am I ready to step into? What new pattern, story, belief or habit?
Find or make an object which will carry the energy of what you are leaving behind. It could be a piece of paper with the words on it or anything else (but, of course, be mindful of the environmental impact because you will be leaving this object to rest somewhere.) Blow the energy of what you are leaving behind into the object.
Then find a place of crossing to conduct your ceremony. A bridge is a nice one. But in a pinch it could be a literal line in the sand or dirt, or a piece of rope you lay down on the floor. What matters most is your the sincerity of your desire to transform.
Stand on one side of the bridge and pause. Connect to the earth, to your heart and to the heavens. Call in whatever energies or dieties or gurus or allies that you want to support you. Pull out your object and say thank you. "Thank you for getting me this far. Now we part ways." Put the object down on that side of the bridge and stride across. Just before you step to the other shore, pause. Envision and, better yet, FEEL what it is going to be like to have graduated to the next level of you life.
Once you've got the feeling, take the step.
It can be helpful to have others support such ceremonies. Reach out if you need help.
SAMADHI / ENLIGHTENMENT / AWAKENING / LIBERATION
In ancient texts, several stages of samadhi are spoken of. At each one we see ourselves in a more truthful way than we did before. Really any time that you "wake up" from a delusion, every time that "graduate" should be considered a little enlightenment. See, in that moment you liberate yourself from the restricting bonds of limiting. You say, "Aha!" So that's how it is. Not just right now, but how it's always been.
Samadhi is also sometimes called yoga or union because, in any true awakening moment we connect the dots--we understand that what seemed separate is actually related, united, part of one whole.
Samadhi is also the name for the 3rd stage of meditation as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Now, meditation is the ultimate Chakra Seven exercise. If you want support I work with people one-on-one and lead group meditation experiences. If you're just beginning you might be most comfortable starting with the first stage, dharana, which means concentration. This is where you choose one mental touchstone--by "touchstone" I mean a phrase that you repeat silently (mantra) or an image outside or inside of the mind or a physical sensation in the body, like the feeling of breath in your nostrils--and you keep your attention on that touchstone for a while. This will help bring the mind into single-focus and deal with the distracted way the mind usually works.
In the second stage, dhyana, the connection to the touchstone is smooth and effortless. This describes the state of being in meditation and merging with the touchstone. But it also describes the experience of being fluent with that touchstone in our waking life. Example: say someone bumps into you and then flicks you off. In the past you would have gotten enraged but you've been meditating. So instead, perhaps to your own surprise, you take a deep breath and begin to repeat your mantra, feeling the uncomfortable energy of that exchange move through your system until it's all clear and you feel ok again. In stage one the touchstone was a tool that you had to intentionally pick up and earnestly (perhaps awkwardly) attempt to practice. But now it is now a reflexive, engrained habit.
In the final stage, samadhi, we don't need any tools at all. We are beyond technique, we are just letting everything be as it is. On the cushion and out in life, all is well all the time.
Sit for just a minute or two every single day for 21 days (the regularity is this is the most important part!) Do a dharana practice, focusing on a single, simple object in your mind. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the object or touchstone.
AWARENESS / CONSCIOUSNESS / WITNESS
We have many aspects as a human being. If you stand in any of the other chakras you can identify as the physical body, the emotional body, the personality, the thoughts, etc. But what about the part of you which PERCEIVES the physical, emotional or mental? What about the watcher, listener, feeler, the witness? That must be a part of you too. In fact, whereas all the thoughts and feelings come and go, the aspect of self which experiences all those comings and goings is ever-present. While the body is changing constantly, your the awareness of the body is steadfast.
Chakra Seven gives us the opportunity to identify as awareness or consciousness. We have some neat names for this aspect of self, but really it is not a "thing" or a "self" in the ordinary sense. You might say that it is what experiences things and selves, making it the common denominator in every single experience that you have ever had.
MEDITATION: LET IT BE
The truest meditation is also the simplest. Just sit still, breathe and let everything be exactly as it is. If this feels impossible, find a stepping stone phrase, like: "I accept it." "It's like this now." "I give you permission to be exactly as you are." Or, simply, "YES." Then try to FEEL the acceptance, embody the yes.
EMPTINESS / NO-SELF / NOTHINGNESS
In Buddhism and Advaita Vednata, and all non-dualist schools, the most important samadhi is to realize our own "emptiness." This means waking up to your nature as awareness which is formless, outside of the limitations of time and space, a no-self or a no-thing. Often people dump their pre-conceived notions into these terms, loading them up with negative qualities. But, in this context, "nothing" doesn't mean a value-less, crummy or tiny thing. It means something more akin to spaciousness, potential or availability. A no-self or a no-thing is an aspect of reality that is quantitatively different than a self or a thing.
We will use a metaphor. Look around you. Notice all the stuff first. The walls of the room, the objects or beings inside the room. Things and selves--that's what we normally pay attention to. So we're pretty good at that!
Now, notice what is here but normally not acknowledged: the space inside room, the space around and inside of all the stuff. That space is far from valueless--it is absolutely essential! Imagine the room full of self and empty of space. If the room was wall-to-wall furniture and people you would probably want to get out of there fast!
The same is true of YOUR nothingness. If you didn't have space inside your consciousness where could your experiences take place? If you didn't have space inside your mind where could new knowledge take root? If you didn't have space inside your heart, where could love live?
Physicists have shown that 99.99999% of an atom is actually empty space. Because we're all made up of atoms, this means that even the "solid" stuff we see is mostly space, not material. Astronomers posit that 96% of the universe is "dark matter," a mysterious substance that, thus far, we have not been able see, detect or even slightly comprehend. So, here we are. The mysteries that scientists explore out in the world are the same mysteries that the meditator explores inside her own self. Or, lets say, inside her no-self.
MEDITATION: BE THE SPACE
Feel into the space all around and within you. If your attention starts attaching itself to thoughts, try to be the space around the thoughts. If your attention starts attaching to a feeling in the body, try to be the space around the feeling.
THE ETERNAL / THE ABSOLUTE / HEAVEN / BLISS
The experience of oneself as empty consciousness is totally liberating. It feels good! Why?
Well, once you experience the part of you which is spacious awareness you realize that this aspect of you which is ever-present absolutely cannot be harmed and certainly cannot be killed. Again we'll go to metaphor. If you throw a ball through the air, do you worry about hurting the air? (Nope!) Your awareness is like this: It is not subject to time or space, therefore it needs no protecting. (What a relief!)
As long as we are attached to limited identities we are always experiencing fear and ego attachment to some degree or another. If you believe that you are, in essence, something changeable, harmable and mortal, then everything coming at you is a potential threat. But if what you really are is a spacious capacity to perceive? Then any given experience can do no more harm to you than a flying ball can do to the air.
From here we start to experience ourselves as the eternal, the absolute, brahaman. We realize that we are already living in heaven, right here in a human body.
MEDITATION: BECOME THE ABSOLUTE
Sit. Breathe. Feel the outer edges of your skin. Soften so that you can feel more deeply. Then expand your attention to include the space just around the outside of the skin. Work with this for a few minutes, until your thoughts feel less distracted and your body more calm. Then zoom your attention way out, to include the room you're in, the building, the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the hemisphere, the earth and out and out and out until you arrive at the edges of the universe. These edges are expanding infinitely in all directions. Let your attention move with them, embracing the unknown, which is a part of you as well. When you're ready, retrace your steps, find yourself back inside this human form. Put your hand on your heart and express gratitude for what you are: something, everything and nothing all at once.
I hope that you enjoyed this series and that the exercises are helpful. Please post below if you have questions and consider joining me for future retreats or workshops, or working with me one-on-one.