The First Three Chakras and Christian Experience by Mary Fraser, Ph.D.
The Root Chakra and the Ground of Being
We begin attached to the body. Our body and our mother’s body are for all practical purposes one body. When we are conceived and in the womb, neither the baby nor the mother can live without the other unless some extraordinary outside force intervenes, such as a C-section that effectively removes the baby from its dependence on the mother. If a baby dies inside the woman, she will die also unless the fetus is removed. There is a unity in which we begin. Every root must live within a ground. The purpose of ground, of its many purposes, is to hold root.
We establish that in our beginning we are all attached to the body. When ours is just forming, we borrow from the mother. Then, when we are able to sustain our own internal systems separate from the mother, we launch into the world. However, forever we are attached to others. We depend on other people for food, shelter, clothing and emotional sustenance. In fact, it might be said, when looked at from the perspective of the body that we are always in necessary attachment to others and to the world around us. Rather than separate and individual, we are connected and held. Our individual and personal thoughts are designed to replenish and restore the greater whole of the world, beginning with the small circle we designate as family and including the vast system of the universe of which we are living constituents. Physically we all do our part: the farmers till the soil and grow the food, the weavers weave our clothes, the bankers exchange the goods through the symbol of money and the ministers of the Spiritual life gather the people to know the power of communal prayer and life.
Paul Tillich, one of the great Christian theologians of the 20th century, called God “the Ground of our Being.”He meant that the fundamental organizing structure of the universe, that intelligent Spiritual energy we name as God, is like to us in reality as the ground upon which we walk.Tillich’s work is often viewed through the intense intellectual lens of his brilliant mind, but the power of the image is the physicality of it.Ground holds us with deep and invisible forces that maintain us – without the mass of the earth and its gravity we would literally float off into space.Ground allows us to develop muscle mass and to move our physical bodies in ways that strengthen us and prolong our lives.The image Tillich offered is a very embodied one and suggests the real and necessary connection between mind and body for human development.We are here, on the earth, held in a place in time.
When we look at the Root Chakra, the first energy center of the Chakra system, we see that the energy is all about connection, survival and relationship to the body. Root Chakra energy is about feeling one has a place and home in one’s very being that is connected to the very real world in which one lives. Themes of food, security, safety, rest, physical growth and having a place in the world all belong to the Root Chakra.
The Chakra paradigm places Root energy at the base of the spine.Practitioners of energy work believe that energy flows downward into the energy of the earth and the energy of the physical planet flows upward into the body. The Root Chakra is our closest connection with the literal ground upon which we stand, sit, move and lie. The metaphor, like Tillich’s image of God being the Ground of Being, leads into images of rootedness, connection, survival and having one’s “feet on the ground.”
Important to remember while doing Chakra work, while we are working with the symbols in the paradigm, is to recognize that the symbolic world holds much power and potential in literal time and space. What we see through the symbol, that is, what the symbol suggests and points us to, is as real as our cognition allows. It is opening us to meanings that we then find in our physical life and being. For instance, if in working with the Root Chakra, we experience ourselves as anxious about whether we can trust ourselves to survive a profound emotional upheaval, such as in grief or trauma, we know that Root energy has been disrupted or activated. Questions of security and stability belong to the Root Chakra.Anodea Judith in her book, Eastern Mind, Western Body says that the Root Chakra energy is connected to the notion of Basic Trust in the paradigm of human development organized by Eric Erickson.So that which stirs up trouble for issues of trust often belong to the Root Chakra.
Theologically, everyone must pass through the energies of the Root Chakra to have an image of God that includes notions of holding, security, trust and liveliness.As a person makes the journey into these areas of life, so the projections we make to form an image of the Divine resonate with what we discover.I find I can trust and so I attribute trust to a Divine principle in the universe. I know I must survive, and so I see how God is holding the energies of life and death. Within me I must develop a consistent self structure, and as I imagine the nature of God I believe that God, too, has some sort of knowable intelligent self that I can communicate with. The Root Chakra develops the energy of connection with the Ground of Being in the basic I-Thou relationship that Martin Buber spoke of in his book of that name.
Biblical notions of the Root Chakra are held in many places, notably in the Psalms and in any origin story. Psalm 139 for instance describes the power and majesty of the universe. Within Psalm 139 is also the right balanced relationship between human and God, particularly the relationship with a constant presence, e.g., if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall hold me, thy rod find me.”God is imagined as ever present in care and love but also in maintaining survival – wherever I go, God will be there watching out for me.Many Psalms tell a similar message, even and perhaps especially, the songs that describe God saving the Temple (I was glad when they said unto me, Let us Go into the House of the Lord – Psalm 122) or remembering the exiles. In these instances the Root Energy of being grounded in a home or homeland, to be a tribe, that is represented by the Temple bears the energy of place, survival as a people and connection to Divine forces that preserve life.
In the Nativity story found in Luke (Lk. 1: 39f), in which Mary and Elizabeth exchange support and feel their babies moving in their wombs also highlights Root energy in the physicality of support: in this story the life of the babies and the lives of the women coordinate in trusting that within the unusual and precarious circumstances of their pregnancies, God’s plan, that is God’s ground, is firm and trustworthy. While other energies can be located in some of these same Psalms or Biblical stories, the Root is there, just as it lives as energy in a person who also has other energies as well. The Root is always and simply that: the foremost energy of survival that drives our mind, body and spiritual system and which allows balance and harmony within the self.Root plants often look like long fingers snaking into the earth or like tubular plants ready like cocoons underground to sprout life. Such images help remind us that the energy we are describing has a gripping task, a design to hold us steady in the midst of life’s ebb and flow, of many kinds of experience, in different kinds of relationship.
When we consider how God must have unlimited stores of such energetic balance, we can, with Tillich, affirm that God is indeed the Ground of our Being.
The Sacral Chakra:How do I feel Near to You?
Dr. Mary L. Fraser, Ph.D.
Intimacy and the ability to draw near to another person define the major energies of the second chakra. Located in the pelvic region, the sacral chakra is physically governed by the lower entrances to the inner body, which, of course, also allow for output from the inner body.The emotional experiences are intimate like that, private and yet universal, what the Apostle Paul described in the Book of Corinthians as, the “honor given to what is lowest.”We deem the energy of intimacy within such a physical region because intimacy involves not just the content of love, light, grace and joy, but also crasser and more difficult emotions such as anger, abandonment, despair or rage. Mature intimacy begins with the ability to bond and moves toward the capacity to feel great swathes of emotion, identify those feelings and make appropriate, relational decisions in their expression.
From the first chakra the tools of trust and rootedness allow for the energies of the second chakra to flow naturally and freely. Trust is necessary for intimacy and is a basic form of attachment. From trust, a person learns to exchange feelings and ideas with another and within a small circle of people. Family emerges as a basic premise of larger culture. What sometimes is forgotten in contemporary American life is the close relationship between intimacy and culture: the breakdown of cultural norms often reflects problems occurring in smaller entities within the larger culture with attachment, loyalty, bonding, all of which are basic building blocks to strong vibrant communities. In such groups of people, collective anxiety is minimized by the intimate relations of the family, and by the physical relationships of sexuality of the bonded adults.However, a reciprocal relationship sometimes emerges in which anxiety produced by the intensity of a closed family system finds relief and respite as the wider social culture offers new ways of perceiving and behaving.
The Sacral Chakra is a primary spiritual force that unites body and mind.The energies that evoke sexual desire as well as the energies that create feelings of bonding and love tie us both to the body and to the emotional and spiritual field of care and concern.Most of this energy initially is decided by environmental nurture and the genetic material native to human beings to be relational and in community.When we are little, our parents teach us what it means to be close and whether it is safe and satisfying to depend on them as care providers. We take our first lessons in intimacy from our parental figures. That is widened into relationships with family members and again, in every enlarging circles, into community, country and the world. We learn to attach and bond from personal experience and then extrapolate that into larger systems that hold us. Similarly, we are endowed with genetic material that, governed by our hormones, encourages us to begin practicing for intimate life as teens, find a partner with whom to dance the steps of intimacy and nurture, birth children with, and care about as we age and proceed through the life cycle.
It is worth wondering whether problems with aggression, anger and despair also emerge initially in problems with attachment to others in ways that provide comfort, hope and a sense of being loved.As peoples of the world become more transient, and wars and violence increase on a global plane, a question emerges as to how children will receive a sense of security and bonding that allows for the healthy emergence of human relationship on deeply personal strains. How is love compromised by the rampant, unchecked trauma facing people in poverty, war, dislocation, long periods in refugee camps, and natural disasters that uproot families from each other and a sense of security?
Physical ailments that emerge in the Sacral Chakra include disorders of sexual desire and function, difficult menstrual cycles, problems in the reproductive organs, and more elusive yet problematic syndromes such as fibromyalgia and lupus.
The spiritual issues of intimacy are discussed in stories such as Abraham and Sara, where Sara finds her womb opened after the two agree to set out on God’s journey.There is the sense of being bound together as husband and wife as well as within the covenant of God. The pregnancy becomes a sign of the life of the covenant, the promise of intimate life within the community of faith.Also, the spiritual issues of the Sacral Chakra emerge again with Abraham and Isaac at the bush, when the father receives word from God not to sacrifice the son, that God preserves the bonding of parent and child.In most of the Hebrew Bible, the image of husband and wife suggests the relationship between Human and God, and in the New Testament, Jesus picks up on the image of parent – child. The themes of faithfulness and intimacy with the divine are suggested to be like those of husband and wife, and where there is betrayal, the infidelity is like that of husband and wife – searing, bitter, and physically painful. Or the relationship is as a parent and child where covenant emerges by the rights of birth, of existence itself.
One of the issues that is sometimes lifted up concerning intimacy and the New Testament is that Jesus is never described as having a wife. The Apostle Paul speaks openly about refraining from marriage unless absolutely necessary. We also know that other figures in the New Testament were married and some of the early disciples were couples such as Aquila and Priscilla.In the story of spirituality and the sacral energies with the New Testament, however, intimacy is described most fundamentally as closeness and connection to God. Jesus calls God, “Abba,” or most closely translated, “Daddy,” a term of intimacy and endearment. Jesus and those who follow Jesus are physically connected to the power and transforming energy of the Holy Spirit as described by the Transfiguration, the raising of Lazarus, the resurrection of Jesus, the power of Pentecost, and the extraordinary energy of healing bestowed upon the disciples after the Resurrection as they travelled about healing and preaching.
In the New Testament, intimacy and the body is taken to a new level, that of being connected with divinity itself. The deeper the intimacy, the greater the ability to heal and transform self and others. The more powerful the intimacy, the more extensive the ability to withstand persecution, create relationships of justice and mercy and live in a way that creates family not from genetic arrangements but from the capacity to love neighbor as self.
Energy from the Sacral Chakra continues in personal and physical ways the practices of trust and bonding that occurred in the root chakra. The issues in this charka now speak of personal connection between self and other, and how individuals begin to organize themselves into family and cultural groups. The spirituality of the Sacral Chakra concerns our deepest understandings of how to connect with other and God in personal and physical ways. To the extent we honor that, we honor the place of God within ourselves and the place of God in the center of others.
The Solar Plexus:I choose, I hold, I will, I act
Dr. Mary Fraser, Ph.D.
The third chakra is the solar plexus, located in the stomach area. Here the energy of digestion and purification occurs through the functions of the intestines, kidneys, bladder, and liver. All process nutrients in and out of the body, into the blood stream and transform one kind of energy into another.In some ways the energies in the solar plexus, are the most deeply connected to the process of actual transformation from one tangible form, say food or water, into calories or physical energy that propels the body. This chakra is associated with issues of retention and release, in the sense of emotional, psychological and mental processes, just as in the physical arena, the bodily processes are ones of utilization and elimination.
In the stomach region, medical science now knows that changes in body fat, whether stored or utilized, causes flux in hormones and other chemicals that affect how a person feels, and, in some instances, longevity of life.We have as a culture underestimated the powerful relationship between what we ingest and how we think and feel.Often when people have trouble in the area of the solar plexus, we are aware of the physical pain and discomfort, treating that accordingly. We are aware of the life threatening potential of disease or malfunction in the organs or tissues within the stomach region. What we sometimes miss is the relationship between distress in the solar plexus and the distress in the mind or emotional field.
The psycho-emotional field of the solar plexus is that of choice, decision, and action.Within this region lives the functional relationship between the body and its world in terms of what is done, what actions are carried out. Other words to describe this are will, intent, decision making, effort and action.People who have trouble making decisions often have issues related to the solar plexus, because in the chakra model, this region of the body commands the transformation of energies from supply to use, from need to action, and from hanging on to letting go.People who carry extra weight in the gut tend to be people who hold emotion and stress, whether not processing it in an efficient way, or accumulating more than can be processed. For example, perhaps someone who has a great deal of grief and loss in their life begins to either overeat or under eat, thereby using the digestive system, organized in the area of the solar plexus, to deal with their emotional and psychological world. Medical science now knows well the relationship between stress and inflammation, and how that is often played out in gastro-intestinal disorders, problems with the pancreas and situations such as kidney stones and bladder infections.
As the energy of the solar plexus indicates matters of will and emotional thoughts, it still must be noted that the paradigm is not exact. That is, a person may develop physical maladies that are unrelated to stress or an emotional condition. But what the chakra paradigm would say is that when a physical illness or dysfunction occurs in the region of the stomach, the psychological and emotional energy around that belongs in the energy of the solar plexus.So, to summarize: stress or emotion may create problems in the solar plexus when those are not processed well, but when an illness occurs in the region that is not related to stress or emotion, it still remains that the energy around those aliments is in the province of the solar plexus.
In the region of the solar plexus energies from the root charka and the sacral chakra energy, sites of trust, connection and intimacy, move forward to meld with a wider environmental factor: how do I convey into the world and larger community my grounding and knowledge of familial life, that is the nearness that is foundational to advancing maturity. And, secondly, how do I receive and hold that which comes from other people and from my larger community, my context. How do I process those events psychologically, emotionally and spiritually?
The spiritual and theological issues of the solar plexus energies are central to many facets of organized religious systems.In Christianity, the themes of self service and care taking of others and the world emerge from notions of human connection based in emotional and psychological categories of love and will. Who do I love and thus how shall I act?All the great instructions of Jesus with regard to relationship move along the principle of love as a form of decision making and action. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others and you would have done to you,” “whoever treats one of the least of these in these ways (acts mercifully), treats me in this way also.”Central to the practice of Christianity is the belief that my decisions on how I act and my feelings about what I will into the world carry significant spiritual value.
Great Biblical stories that involve the energies of the solar plexus include the parable of the Good Samaritan, a study in appropriate emotional, psychological and physical response within a theological framework. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the religious professionals do not extend themselves to help a person in profound need. Instead, a person belonging to a marginalized group, the Samaritans, takes action in all three spheres: he feels empathy, he makes a decision to extend assistance, and he transports the person to a care facility. This trilogy of action, in the chakra paradigm, belongs to the energies designated within the solar plexus.I feel. I decide. I act.
In a spiritual sense, the reason behind the direction of the feeling, decision making and action is connected to belief and experiences of divinity.For Christians, either the direct experience of Christ or the belief in Christ creates mandates for feeling empathy, deciding on certain kinds of behavior and acting in ways that go a certain direction. Those mandates are determined largely by interpretations of the New Testament, teaching from religious authorities and experiences of spiritual life and love within a context that affirms the positive value of love as an activity,
It might be noticed that the Pharisees did not fair so well in the New Testament as depicting appropriate religious sentiment.Their actions which related to judgment and law were seen as harsh and unproductive to fostering the life and love that Jesus represents. Thus, a counter-indicator to positive energies of action and will as displayed by the Good Samaritan is the depiction of the Pharisee, a person whose actions and thoughts are governed not by love and life, but by judgment and rule. The “bent over woman” who is judged by her culture or the lepers, who are ostracized by the religious community, are examples of the way the negative actions of the solar plexus energy become acted out physically whether in an individual or a community of people.
An exercise one might try in order to get in touch with solar plexus energy is to place the hands gently on one’s stomach, and press while breathing deeply. As a person does this, thought should be directed to the solar plexus with questions such as, “what am I holding?,”“what do I need?,”“what needs to be released?,”“what do I long to gather in?”Then, in the aftermath of this exercise, the person is invited to ask what God might hold, what God might need, what God wants to release for that person, and “what God longs for with regard to that person.”
The Solar Plexus is the top of the triad of the first three chakras, known as the lower chakras. In this sense the spiritual journey parallels the journey of human development that describes growth as beginning with trust and rootedness, moving to the ability to attach and experience family and intimacy and then growing into decision making and the externalization of those decisions into actions and will. The Solar Plexus organizes the energies of fundamental ethics as defined in the Christian tradition as the ability to act in ways that increase positive relationships and hopeful feelings of love and concern for self and neighbor.