Chakras in Self and Society: The World and Body Mirror One Another
Many people accept the notion that chakras, or energy centers, exist throughout the body and possess particular functions. Excesses or deficiencies in any of these energy centers show up in our physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral patterns.
If you have read my other posts, you know that I prefer to view the world through the lens of interconnectedness. From this vantage point, it follows to wonder whether the world — just like the bodies that inhabit it — also contains chakra centers, and whether the world’s “symptoms” reflect the deficiencies of its constituent inhabitants. In other words, we should be asking, what is the relationship between the symptoms of the world and the collection of human chakras within it?
First, a little bit about the chakra system.
The chakra system originated over four thousand years ago in India, mainly written about and practiced in yogic traditions. The first chakra (“muladhara” in Sanskrit) originates at the base of the spine; the second (“svadhishthana”) below the naval; the third (“manipura”) in the solar plexus; the fourth (“anahata”) in the heart area; the fifth (“vishuddha”) in the throat area; the sixth (“ajna”) at the third eye; and the seventh (“sahasrara”) at the crown of the head.
At a basic and simplistic level, each chakra is associated with a particular function. For example, the root (first) chakra is associated with survival, while the heart (fourth) chakra is associated with love and connection. Ancient teachings suggest that certain personalities, behaviors, and symptoms are due to specific chakras being excessive, depleted, and/or out of balance with the rest of the system. For example, someone with an excessive solar plexus (third) chakra might be overly driven, aggressive, and have certain gastrointestinal issues; while someone with a depleted heart (fourth) chakra may have difficulty opening up to others or establishing connections. The unique balance of these energies across the whole system contributes to one’s individual identity and health. The system relies upon both the upward flow of energy (i.e., towards the mental and spiritual realms) and the downward flow of energy (i.e., towards the earth and physical world around us). Importantly, a healthy system is one that is able to integrate these opposite flows of energy (Judith, 2004). Thus, we can see how the body itself is constructed in a way that balances the opposites: upward and downward energy; left side and right side; positive and negative ions; oxygen in, oxygen out; taking in nutrients and expelling them; and so on. Balancing of the opposites is an important archetypal theme that will be frequently revisited throughout this book. The important point to recognize, for now, is that the body needs balance — a yin and yang. When we are out of balance, we have problems.
Chakras in the World
Is it possible that if the chakras in our individual bodies are becoming more unbalanced, this same destabilization reflects in the external world? Conversely, does the energetic balance of the world affect the health of our bodies? If we borrow from the Eastern philosophies, there might be some plausibility to this. Anodea Judith, in a brilliant synthesis of the chakras and Western thought, edifies us in her book Eastern Body, Western Mind, “…only by recovering the body can we begin to heal the world itself…Healing the split between mind and body is a necessary step in the healing of us all. It heals our home, our foundation, and the base upon which all else is built” (Judith, 2004, pg. 56). Even if we stick to a literal, reductionist view of our physical reality, can we agree that a group of individuals whose physiology is unbalanced will behave in way that creates a world in this same image? The point is that we can better understand the pathology of the world by examining the pathology of our bodies, and vice versa.
Let’s look at the fifth chakra, for example, whose overarching task it is to enhance the resonance between our body and the external environment. On an individual level, this chakra is involved in communication, listening, creativity, and speaking the truth. How might you imagine a disordered collective fifth chakra? Lies, deceit, suppression of the truth, the inability to listen to others, and a lack of interpersonal communication (versus electronic communication) are a few things that come to my mind. These are phenomena that are occurring on the collective level and individual level. If our politicians are lying to us, if children are kept from speaking their truth, if we can’t listen to another group’s ideas and beliefs, if we our voices are limited to a keyboard and not vocal expression, than of course our fifth chakras are going to be harmed. Our fifth chakras assaulted, they then might produce symptoms to be observed physically: thyroid diseases, acid reflux, extreme shyness, loud mouths. Do you see how individual and society are continuously mirror and shaping one another? There may or may not be a direct relationship between one’s individual symptoms and the degree to which they personally encounter these assaults in the world; however, in my view, the magnitude of individual symptoms added together is directly proportional to the magnitude in which they also symbolically appear in the world. We have to take the larger view that we are all connected and, unfortunately, each of us may be expressions of something that we don’t own individually, but do have a responsibility to care for collectively. This is what forces us to realize that we must play as a team.
Let’s move to the fourth chakra — the heart charka — as another example. What happens in the collective if our individual hearts are closing down? How does the heart energy of the collective affect our individual hearts? It is not difficult to see the growing shadow being cast over the heart of society: increasing economic greed and selfishness; closing the door to a crisis of refugees in desperate need; growing chasms between religious and political groups; the lack of respect for the environment. All the while, heart disease remains the number one killer of adults. Of course we can look at all the physical causes: poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, family history. Is the way we grow, process, and distribute our food not also a failure of heart? The marketing of cigarettes? The way that we beat ourselves up because we eat too much or don’t exercise enough? Is there not the heart acting in here, too? There are also psychological factors known to contribute to heart disease, such as anger, and social risk factors, such as loneliness and isolation. “Heart” as we use the term colloquially is implicated here as well. These colloquial terms we use, however, such as a “cold,” “broken,” or “shut down” heart are more than just empty words: they stem from a wellspring of deeper wisdom, one that harnesses the symbolism of language to convey underlying truths of the body. Many of the metaphors we use contain more truth than we grant them. Somewhere in our hearts we know that “heart” is not just a bundle of tissue, but a spirit, or essence, within ourselves that we borrowed from the world itself.
The world and body mirror one another.
As within, so without.
*This post was excerpted from my upcoming book, “Symptoms of the World: Interconnectedness and the Re-Imagination of Illness, From Cell to Society.”
Matthew S. Goodman, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY32423) and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. He hosts “The Middle Way” podcast. Learn more here: http://matthewgoodmanphd.com
Judith, A. (2004). Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self. New York, NY: Random House.