Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kurt Barstow - The extended you: body, mind, and spirit

Cool new article from Kurt at the LA Examiner. See more of his articles here.

The extended you: body, mind, and spirit

Integral States and Bodies Diagram

Just as psychological wholeness is about realizing a Self greater than the one delimited by the defensive and ambitious ego, we might say that somatic wholeness (which should perhaps be seen as a vital component of psychological wholeness) is about realizing that the body is really a much more extensive thing than just the physical unit that has skin as its boundary and weight as its measure. As extraordinary as that physical unit is, with its five trillion cells, all of which have independent intelligence, and its complexly interacting and interdependent systems, the physical does not just operate on its own, separate from the other characteristics that make us human. Rather an extended sense of the body is really about the intricate connections among body (matter), mind, and spirit. What follows are the outlines of body maps from various cultures and traditions that represent this expanded body as well as its energetic systems.

We might begin with a contemporary scheme that simplifies the extended body into those aspects that correspond to our major states of consciousness--Integral Institute’s 3-bodies. Here the three bodies are gross (or physical), subtle, and causal and correspond to the states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. While awake we are most aware of ourselves as flesh and blood, the physical body. While sleeping our body operates under different laws. It can fly and skip around through time and space, for example. And in deep sleep we return to our primordial nature, plugging into the source, at one with all that is.

The Five Koshas

Vedanta (Hindu philosophy) goes further than this, discussing five sheaths (or koshas) of the body. Annamaya kosha is the physical body. Anna means food. Pranamaya kosha is the energy body. Prana means life force or vital force, it is related to breath and that which animates the body. Manamaya kosha is the mental body, or mind. Vijnanamaya kosha is the wisdom body. This sheath is underneath the thinking, processing mind and discriminates between things. Finally, Anandamaya kosha is the bliss body. This is the peace, joy and love that exist beyond the mind. To go beyond these is to find atman, the never born, never dying center of consciousness that is the goal of meditation.

Ten Bodies of Kundalini

In Kundalini Yoga there are ten separate, interrelated bodies. all of which--except for the physical body--are made of light energy. The first body is known as the Soul, the infinite life living within. The second body is the Mental Negative, or negative mind, which protects you by revealing danger, aversion, or loss. The third body is the Mental Positive, or positive mind, which aids you by telling you what is to be gained in a situation or what you are drawn toward. The fourth body is the Mental Neutral, or neutral mind, which listens to the above two, weighs the merits of each, and then lets you know which way to act. The fifth body is the Physical Body. The sixth body is the Arc Line, which extends from earlobe to earlobe and pertains to focus, meditation, and manifestation. The seventh body is the Aura, a protective sphere of electromagnetic energy that can extend up to nine feet from the physical body. The eighth body is the Pranic, which is in charge of the breath and takes in prana or chi, the universe’s vital energy. The ninth body is the Subtle. This carries the soul when it leaves the physical body. The tenth body is the Radiant, which is a radiant sphere of light that can heal others. Finally, there is the Command Center, the place from which one controls the ten bodies.

The Seven Chakras

In the Indian system there are seven energy vortices that ascend along the craniosacral system up the spine, from the sacrum to the crown of the head. The first chakra is located at the rectum and is concerned with security and survival. The second chakra is located at the sex organs and pertains to sex, money, and creativity. The third chakra is at the navel point and is related to our identity in the world, our ego or self-image. The fourth chakra is located in the center of the chest, our “heart center.” This chakra is involved with our capacity for kindness and compassion. The fifth chakra is located at the throat and controls communication, the ability to speak your truth. The sixth chakra, or third-eye point, is positioned at the center of the forehead. From this point we gain our sense of intuition and connect to infinite wisdom. Finally, the seventh chakra, or crown chakra, is located at the top of the head. This is the chakra of Enlightenment, or where one has a sense of union with the universe. Although either varying in number or called something different, the Tibetan and Chinese systems of subtle energy also include chakras. And besides the major seven chakras that run along the spine, the Indian system contains minor chakras and also numerous nadis, or energy pathways, that run throughout the body. Along these energy pathways, which may be compared to the meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine, are marmi points, which may be compared to the acupuncture points of TCM.

Acupuncture Man, showing the Liver Meridian

The basic elements of the Taoist energetic system are first, yin and yang, the two elemental opposite forces that make up all of creation, and second, chi or qi (life force, energy, or prana). The major energetic channels that run throughout the body in Traditional Chinese Medicine revolve around six yin organs (lungs, spleen, heart, kidney, pericardium, and liver) and six yang organs (large intestine, stomach, small intestine, bladder, triple heater--this is unique to the Chinese system--and gall bladder). Chi itself is discriminated into various kinds of chi in TCM. There is, for example, Yuan Qi, also known as prenatal qi because we inherit it from our parents. After that there is the qi we receive from our environment, through the air (Kong Qi) and through food (Gu Qi). Together these create Zong Qi, which along with Yuan Qi (prenatal), makes up Zheng Qi, or normal qi. It is this which flows through the various internal organs and their energetic pathways, although there it functions according to the jobs of each organ and becomes Liver Qi or Heart Qi or Stomach Qi, for example. And treatment in TCM is based partly on whether the qi is deficient, sinking, stagnant, or rebellious. The various acupuncture points along the meridians, when stimulated by themselves or in tandem, have the ability to relieve various symptoms. This hardly does the whole extensive system justice, but is meant rather to give an idea of just how intricately mapped out can be the energetic component of the body.

The Dan Tiens

The Dan Tien is the area about two finger’s width below the navel, which is considered the center of vital energy in the Taoist system and is the body’s center of gravity. (It is the area that expands when we take full belly breaths). This area corresponds to the Third Chakra. Although this navel area is the most famous Dan Tien, it is actually the Lower Dan Tien, for there are two more: the Middle Dan Tien, which is at the heart center or Fourth Chakra, and the Upper Dan Tien, which is at the Third-Eye Point or Sixth Chakra. These are energetic areas that are emphasized, for example, along with the crown of the head (the Du 20 acupuncture point), in Qi Gong. The cross-cultural similarities between the Taoist and Yogic centers should not really come as a surprise since, particularly the Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan cultures have been investigating the body’s energy systems and experimenting in clinical practice for thousands of years. There is, we might say, a certain reality to the body’s subtle energy centers that is confirmed among various cultures.

The Sefirot as the Body's Energy Centers

Lest we think of this phenomenon as confined to Asia, we might take a look at the ten energetic areas of the body in the Kabbalistic system. The ten sefirot (channels of divine energy) represent the stages of creation in which God generated all the created realms. In terms of the body, four sefirot are deployed along the central axis from crown of head to feet and six are deployed along the sides. The order of progression is from top to bottom, infinite to finite, when considered from the point of view of Creation. At top is the sefirah of Keter (Crown), which corresponds to the superconscious. To the left of this is Binah (Understanding) and to the right Chochmah (Wisdom). This first triplet is concerned with the mind. Below Keter, at the heart level, is Tiferet (Beauty) with Gevurah (Might) to the left and Chesed (Loving-Kindness) to the right. This triplet represents the inner emotive powers of the heart. Below this is Yesod (Foundation) with Hod (Acknowledgment) to the left and Netzach (Victory) to the right. This triplet is about emotions that turn into actions or behavior. Finally, at bottom, near the feet, is Malchut (Kingdom), which involves the power to express one’s thoughts or emotions to others. There are very close affinities to the Chakra system, especially in the three triplets, which move from the more physical at bottom to emotional at center to mental at top.

Sufi Energy Centers

Sufis also point to energy centers in the body, which are important elements within the meditative tradition. Although different traditions count slightly different numbers, these centers are known as lata’if, which means subtle layers. Each vibrates at a specific frequency the maintenance of which is important to bodily health, just as with the chakras. Particularly important in the Sufi tradition are the several energy centers around the heart. In one tradition, in fact, the energy center that resides in the heart is referred to as the “Source of Life.” The diagram at right shows the energy centers according to the MTO Shahmaghsoudi® school of Islamic Sufism. Here, besides in the heart, they are located at the coccyx, the solar plexus, the three nodes of the heart, the thymus, the throat center, the third ventricle of the brain, the brain stem, the third eye, the fontanel, and the grey layer of the brain. The force that energizes all these points is love, the power which holds the universe together. Meditating on these points generates energy and attracts energy that vibrates in the same frequency from the universal field of cosmic energy, uniting the human body with the larger order. Again, many of the lata’if may be related to the chakra and Kabbalistic systems.

The Three Buddha Bodies

Turning back, as we started, to the basic differentiated aspects of body and consciousness, we might also remind ourselves that the Buddha was considered to have three bodies or kayas: Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. The explanations and descriptions of these bodies, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, can be quite involved. But, in a nutshell, Dharmakaya or Dharma Body is the body of absolute truth, the Buddha at the center of the universe, the unmanifest, formless, and eternal, ever-available body. Sambhogakaya is something like the Bliss Body or Body of Perfect Enjoyment. It represents the Buddha as a transcendent, celestial being, and is also eternal, although it has form. Finally, Nirmanakaya is the Manifestation Body, or the body of the historical Buddha. These three bodies are not separate but interrelated, existing together as three aspects of the same thing, much as do the gross, subtle, and causal bodies outlined by the Integral scheme above, which is obviously derived from a synthesis of various cultural traditions.

The Trinity (El Greco)

It is interesting in this vein to look at the Christian mystery of the Trinity, which describes God in three aspects that are different but cannot be separated in the understanding of God. Here we have God the Father, the unmanifest absolute ground of being, The Son, God’s incarnation in the flesh, the historical Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, which corresponds to a more subtle, non-physical form. It is difficult not to think of the triad Body-Mind-Spirit or gross-subtle-causal. In as much as these schemes of the extended body attempt to account in a complete way for all the major aspects of reality that we experience, it makes sense that a paradoxical scheme for describing God, or the mystery of absolute reality, would be related to these three basic categories of body.

One of the exciting things about living in this era is that we suddenly have available to us the totality of the world’s cultures’ insights into the nature of reality, which can be compared and mapped out together. One important component of that synthetic work is the cumulative view of the human body as something that deeply reflects an integral reality in which we are more than just a physical machine run by a mind and, in fact, comprise within ourselves the order of the Kosmos.

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