This is Post 17 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found here.
The Mental Body entirely pervades, and extends slightly beyond, the physical body, but the felt experience of the Mental Body is most keenly felt in the lower belly three or four finger widths below the naval. Throughout the cultures of the East, from India to Japan, this point or area is widely understood to have a close association with mental stability, physical vitality, and with the sort of mental focus that supports high-level feats of physical coordination.
The Swadhisthāna Chakra – a Place of Rest and Beneficial Alignment
The same understanding is found in the Western tradition of Classical Ballet, and elsewhere in the West, but in the East, with its traditions of meditation and self-inquiry, its intuitive and energetic approaches to medicine, and its deep and subtle martial arts, this understanding has gone very deep. In Indian tradition this area of the belly is called the swadhiṣṭhāna chakra, while in Japanese tradition it is called the hara, or ‘belly’. If we wanted to be culture-free we could simply call it the second chakra, but I find the Japanese word hara to have wide recognition.
The entomology of the Sanskrit word swadhiṣṭhāna is worth acknowledging. The prefix swa denotes ‘my’ and adhiṣṭhāna expresses the idea of a resting place, or seat, or base, or dwelling place, especially a place from which it is possible to have an overview. I am not a Sanskrit scholar, but there are associations with this word that convey the idea of a position of benevolent and protective authority, or an objective point of view – and an empowerment or blessing that is not personal, but comes from the Divine. All this speaks volumes about the experience of allowing the Mental Body to rest as Consciousness, and the felt experience of being centred in the swadhiṣṭhāna chakra or hara. This alignment and empowerment ultimately requires that the other bodies are also allowed to rest as Consciousness, preferably at the same time – but this is a very good place to start.
The Chakras – Points of Focus in the Boundless Field of Consciousness
We cannot go far in meditation without taking on board the fact that the felt quality of each of the subtle bodies is most keenly experienced in the traditional chakra locations – and the acknowledgement of the importance of the hara centre is particularly foundational. When we look for Consciousness, we sense that it is boundless, and we are forced to recognise that it is not personal and cannot be located. Awareness of the chakras is of great practical value therefore, partly because it provides a counterpoint to this boundless, non-locatable, field phenomena – and directly relates it to our bodily-felt experience. We experience the chakras as points of focus in the personal field of the body that are felt to resonate with the qualities of the transpersonal field of Consciousness.
Although many people have some familiarity with the chakras, relatively few are aware of the subtle bodies, and of the intimate relationship between these two aspects of our psycho-physical anatomy. It is of great value however, to recognise that the subtle bodies are in some ways the more fundamental of the two, and that the importance of the chakras is that they are the points where the subtle bodies are most keenly felt – in, and by, the physical nervous system.
The Hara and the Mental Body in Men
In men, the hara is experienced as a point in the body where there is a natural drawing in of vitalising energy that brings a sense of focus and power to the physical body; a sense of imperturbable stability to the thinking mind; and a sense of Being. Men frequently characterise this state as ‘empty’ and clear, as if mental conflict or worry can be washed away by focusing attention on this centre – especially if this is practised while simultaneously resting as, and opening to, the boundless field of Consciousness.
It is very helpful for male meditators to realise that the cleansing of the Mental Body by resting as Consciousness, involves an attitude of receptivity that can be felt in the whole of that subtle body. This is a fundamental understanding, and some men are resistant to it because receptivity is an archetypal feminine quality. Paradoxically however, the qualities of presence, self-possession, and objectivity that are archetypally masculine, spring directly from this receptive resting of the Mental Body in Consciousness. A male meditator opens himself to a distinctively masculine journey of Being and transformative power, when he recognises and embraces the fact that the hara is yin (or feminine) in men.
The Hara and the Mental Body in Women
When the hara is activated, Men experience a vital pulling in – an increase in the tone and stability of the abdominal muscles. Women, on the other hand, more often experience the state of being centred in the hara as a fullness and an expansiveness – a positive and creative out-flowing of life energy and Being, rather than a receptive drawing in.
The hara, like most of the chakras (all except the first and seventh), is usually understood to be not a single point but an axis that runs through the body emerging from the field of the body at the front and back, and having the same polarity at both ends. In women, this hara axis passes through the uterus or womb. Not surprisingly therefore, the experience of a woman, as a deepening alignment with Consciousness occurs, is that the hara is sometimes associated with a ‘womb energy’ in women, and with a distinctively feminine spiritual creativity, that is not necessarily associated with physical gestation and birth of a child – but can be.
When a woman consistently rests as Consciousness, she enters into a process of empowerment where the energy of her Mental Body becomes expansive – and expresses itself as confidence and creative power. An important dimension of her new self-assurance, is an objectivity or non-reactivity – personal qualities that reflect the Equanimity of the objective and collective Consciousness. As she learns to rest as Consciousness, she finds that to a much greater degree than before, her opinions are not ‘received’ opinions or merely reactions, but instead are arising from a generous mental creativity and wisdom that arises naturally in her as the Mental Body is brought into alignment with, and purified by, Consciousness.
Gender Polarity of the Mental Body – for Clarity and Well-being
Our understanding of how meditation works, and the effectiveness of our practice, is enormously enhanced by an awareness of the gendered nature of the subtle bodies and chakras. Meditators who have previously been aware of the subtle bodies and chakras only as ideas, will find themselves connecting with them experientially in a whole new way, once they have incorporated this understanding.
The deepening relationship between the Mental Body and Consciousness, that this enhanced understanding of the hara centre brings, serves as a protection against falling into identification with psychological parts, and from taking the points of view of our psychological parts as our own points of view. This capacity for reflection shows itself not only in our thoughts and communication, but also in a bodily-felt way. For more on this foundational idea of psychological parts, please see my previous post that briefly explores this theme – here.
Because of the close relationship of the Mental Body with the Physical Body, and the other subtle bodies, the energetic alignment of the Mental Body with Consciousness is experienced as enhanced vitality and well-being. In time, the Mental Body becomes more still, calm and peaceful – reflecting the nature of the primordial space of Consciousness. In future posts I shall be talking about the very important and mutually supportive polar relationship between the Mental Body and the Emotional Body – the east-west axis of the mandala.
Being with – the Brahmavihāras as Relational Principles
The meditation-cycle of the Buddha’s brahmavihāras practice, (which I introduced in a previous post – here) is powerfully transformative because it systematically aligns each of the four surface bodies with Consciousness, and in doing so achieves the healing of the negative energetic pattering , which Buddhist tradition talks of in terms of the kleshas. The awareness that I am advocating, regarding the gendered and polarised nature of the subtle bodies and chakras may at first seem complex, but it is extremely supportive of this process. I hope it will become clear once all of the surface bodies have been addressed.
Although I shall be reflecting on each of the brahmavihāras in turn in these articles, I would like to again strongly advocate for the value of learning to do all four of the practices together as a meditation cycle – so that you experience how they mutually enhance and reinforce each other. In recent posts I have been focusing on Equanimity and mental clarity, which are qualities that arise over time as we learn to rest as Consciousness in relation to the activity of Thinking function and the Mental Body. The other brahmavihāras: Appreciative Joy (muditā), Loving Kindness (mettā), and Compassion (karunā), are more obviously relational qualities, but I would like to emphasise the fact that the Equanimity (upekshā) practice is also powerfully relational because it cultivates presence – presence in the sense of the ability to be with other people, and to be with our experience.
Mindfulness as Being With
Equanimity is an aspect of Consciousness that brings with it a much greater capacity to be with the psychological parts that arise in us as thoughts and moods – rather than identifying with those thoughts and moods. By allowing ourselves to identify with Consciousness, we allow ourselves to dis-identify from our thoughts, and to recognise our points of view for what they are – merely points of view. Resting as Consciousness is not a state of detachment – rather it is a place of relationship. It gives us a place of objectivity and equanimity from which we can function with full awareness in relation to our experience and in relation to people.
The ability to be unconditionally present with all that arises in Consciousness, is the essence of the Buddha’s ‘remembering’ practice that has come to be called ‘Mindfulness’ (which I have talked about previously – here). By being with our experience, rather than merely identifying with our experience, we embark on a mysterious and wonderful path of spiritual freedom; spiritual transformation; and spiritual power.