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The Root Chakra and the Ground of Being by Mary Fraser, Ph.D.
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.