Hide and Seek: Our Life's Journey Through the Chakras
He always hid in the same place: the linen closet just off the hallway, in the center of the house.
Some of my fondest memories of my son's early childhood revolve around his love for playing hide and seek.
“Where's Graham?” his mom and I would loudly ask each other, walking through the hall toward muffled giggles.
“I’m in HERE!” At 3, he didn’t fully understand the game, but he never got tired of being found.
“There he is!” we'd shout to his squeals of delight.
According to yoga scriptures, the Absolute plays the same game with us. They tell us there's a veil, or anava-mala, that conceals our unbounded true nature. They tell us that we “forget” who we are in order to exist as individuals in the world.
According to yoga philosophy, all of us hold this belief in separation to some extent. As a result, we feel we are incomplete, small, not good enough.
But why would the Unbounded conceal Itself? Perhaps for the same reason my son hid—always in the same place, in the center of our home, again and again—for the sheer joy and delight of being found.
The ecstasy of finding or “re-membering” our true nature, is the very goal of yoga, and it is perhaps most clearly illustrated by an understanding of the chakras.
A prism of consciousnessYou'll never see a chakra in a CAT scan. Our chakras exist at a subtler level than such tests can register. They are centers for the reception, storage and distribution of prana in the physical and subtle body.
The crown chakra, called the Thousand-Petaled Lotus, is located at the very top of the head. Think of it like a prism. When white light goes through a prism, a rainbow of colors shines through. Similarly, the light of consciousness pours down through the crown chakra and forms a rainbow of chakras arrayed from the crown down to the root of the body. In fact, the colors associated with the chakras correspond exactly with, and in the same order as, the colors of a rainbow.
According to the teachings of tantric yoga, this is the way that consciousness emerges as form in us, becoming everything, everywhere.
Each chakra has a corresponding element in addition to a color, and the elements progress from subtle to gross:
Notice that the elements associated with the chakras gradually get more and more dense from the seventh to the first. In fact, consciousness descends from light to sound, to air, to fire, to water, until finally at the first chakra, earth, the process of manifestation is complete.
Anodea Judith, author of Eastern Body, Western Mind, describes consciousness as a rainbow bridge, a column of energy that connects the divine to our manifest self through the core of each of us. In fact, the chakras are consciousness itself, and they precipitate down in what Judith calls the manifesting current. When we traverse that rainbow bridge and retrace our path back to our divine “home,” it is called the liberating current.
Each chakra is also associated with psychological functions and issues that correspond to the challenges and opportunities we face in life. Depending on our relationship with these issues, the chakras can either serve as gateways or as obstacles to our growth as we ascend from the earth chakra to the seat of liberation at the crown chakra.
Navigating your rainbow bridge
Deep within you is the map to navigating your rainbow bridge for a life of wholeness, harmony and Divine purpose; the practice of yoga holds the key to it.
To access that map, it is necessary to displace anava-mala with the light of your true nature. This cannot be done by merely affirming or believing the opposite. One must have the actual experience of that oneness of the true Self, and repeat it again and again.
Spiritual growth must be, in part, a physiological process, and the practice of asana can be a great help along the way. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has some advice on asana, saying that it should be steady and comfortable. Practiced in such a way, asana can help remove the contractions and obstacles in the physical and subtle bodies to support the ascending of the rainbow bridge.
A consistent effort to align one’s lifestyle with the ethical guidelines of yama and niyama, the first and second of the eight limbs of yoga, can also be helpful in nourishing the state of yoga and weakening the causes of suffering. But while these practices are useful, they are insufficient by themselves to help us reach the goal of yoga. There is a missing alchemical ingredient if we are to transmute the veil of anava-mala and ascend to the Thousand-Petaled Lotus, the crown chakra. That ingredient is the regular and consistent experience of pure consciousness, which is referred to throughout the yoga scriptures. Such an experience, while seemingly distant and elusive, is actually easily attained with the right method of meditation.
What is the best way to incorporate meditation into our lives? The teachings of yoga can offer some answers to that. In yoga, two distinct spiritual paths are described, each with a different set of practices: that of an enunciate and that of a householder. For both, the practice of meditation helps remove obstructions throughout the rainbow bridge.
Most of us are householders. Householders want to be grounded in the physical reality of the lower chakras, achieving and enjoying all aspects of outer life. But they also want to embrace inner spiritual fulfillment. Renunciates, on the other hand, want to leave the world behind and ascend to self-realization.
Closer is He than breathing; Nearer than hands and feet. —Alfred Lord TennysonWhile both paths involve meditation, there are distinct differences between the types of meditation they embody. For householders, being in the world is an important part of their sadhana; their yoga practice and meditation for householders provides clarity, discernment and momentum to successfully enter the world in a life-supporting way. It helps to stabilize the growth of consciousness gained through meditation, and in turn, meditation helps prepare for success in life.
For a truly progressive and optimal practice, personal, private initiation from a teacher steeped in the practice and transmission of meditation is usually needed.
Graham Fowler is founder and spiritual director of Peachtree Yoga. Contact him at [email protected]