This is Post 24 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
In order to understand meditation fully, an understanding of the way our psychology manifests somatically, or energetically in the field of the body, is essential. We especially need to understand the way in which female and male spiritual character manifests somatically. These are things that are extremely poorly understood, given their great importance as key factors that govern the level of harmony and fulfilment that we experience in sexual relationships. They appear to be difficult to consciously acknowledge and talk about, even though we are all very keenly aware of them.
This is perhaps partly because these phenomena are so difficult to conceptualise. The great Carl Jung, who developed a very sophisticated understanding of the way archetypal, or transpersonal, psychic forces shape male and female psychological character, also understood that the archetypal psychology of sexual difference manifests somatically – in the subtle energies of the body. He theorised that there was an energetic patterning of the body, or somatic unconscious, that shapes our psychology in a similar way to the archetypes of the collective psychic unconscious. Whereas the archetypes of the collective unconscious show themselves in our myths, stories, dreams, and movies, the energies of the somatic unconscious can be felt in the body as energetic dynamics and states.
Our ability to know ourselves, and to function with psychological freedom and integrity, is closely related to our capacity to fully acknowledge this bodily-felt dimension of the inner world. Our engagement with the somatic dimension takes us to the core of the human mystery – and to the core of how human beings embody Consciousness, or fail to do so.
The Qualia of Embodiment
In connection with the yellow Southern Quadrant of the mandala and the brahmavihāra of muditā, or Appreciative Joy, it is helpful to acknowledge the experience of ‘Embodiment’ that we have been addressing is a ‘qualia’. The qualia are the difficult-to-define subjectively experienced phenomena that occur in connection with Consciousness. As a way of finding alignment at the beginning of a meditation session, try just taking a few moments to notice your experience of ‘Embodiment’. You are likely to find that when you look in your experience for ‘Embodiment’, you will find yourself being pointed to the experience of Consciousness. You will have a similar experience when you look for the experience of ‘Being’, which names another key qualia.
I have talked previously about Embodiment and Being. They are the first two, of four key qualia that I find it useful to focus on in connection with the somatic field of the body: Being, Embodiment, Uncaused Happiness, and Life Energy. Each of these qualia is associated with one of the four functions of Consciousness (which Buddhist tradition speaks of in terms of the skandhas); with one the four brahmavihāras; and with one of the four surface bodies (more on these here and here). Like the brahmavihāras (which are also qualia) these four qualia are very subtle, and difficult to distinguish from each other, but can be extremely important qualities for the meditator to recognise.
The notion of ‘Embodiment’ draws our attention to the way that Sensation is felt to entirely pervade the Physical Body. I have been using the capitalised form of Sensation to indicate this broader conceptualisation of Sensation, as used by Carl Jung (and by the Buddhist tradition in the term vedanā) – Sensation as a function of Consciousness and as a category of the cognitive-perceptual data, and as a dimension of perception that is not limited to the sense organs and the sensory nervous system. Appreciative Joy and Embodiment arise together and are extremely closely connected – when recognising and familiarising ourselves either one, we also cultivate the other. Distinguishing them we can say that Appreciative Joy is more receptive, internal and introverted; Embodiment is more energetically expansive, active, extraverted and generous. They are like two sides of a coin, and they are both associated with that subtle body which is closest to the physical, and which we are most identified with – that which we can call, for want of a better term, the Physical Body.
Seven Subtle Bodies – including the Physical Body
I have been capitalising the words Physical Body in order to emphasise that I am talking about the first subtle body in the conventional Indian / Himalayan spiritual anatomy model, which sees the body as made up of seven subtle bodies (that I introduced in a previous post – here). In this model, which I am sure most readers will be familiar with, even the Physical Body is recognised as a subtle body – or at least as a body that behaves in some ways as if it is ‘subtle’ or energetic, rather than purely physical.
As I started to explain in a previous post (here), the subtle bodies have opposite polarities in men and women – an understanding that is extremely valuable for the meditator. The Physical Body is the most obvious and easy to remember in this regard, since the polarity of this subtle body is usually the same as the gender of the person – that is yin in women, and yang in men. Although the difference between male and female styles of embodiment are a familiar reality, it is valuable for us to start to consciously acknowledge the experiential implications of this for our practice of meditation.
Feminine and Masculine Styles of Embodied Consciousness
The Physical Body in a man has a yang or expansive polarity. This means that when a man rests as Consciousness, he typically experiences that embodiment of Consciousness in what may be characterised as an archetypal masculine way – as an expansiveness, and as a fullness, a solidity, and a generosity in his physical presence. Like the experience of Embodiment, the experience of ‘masculine embodiment’ is a qualia, and therefore entirely subjective and very difficult to define – so I am suggesting these ideas only very tentatively, for the reader to test in their own experience.
Interestingly, women experience somewhat similar qualities of expansiveness, solidity, and fullness of presence in connection with the energetically adjacent Mental Body (which is most keenly felt in the second chakra, or hara, just below the navel) – which coincides with the Physical Body, but is very slightly larger. When, on the other hand, a man rests the Mental Body as Consciousness, he experiences that state as having a receptive (and therefore archetypally feminine), or yin, character. I have talked about this previously here.
When resting the Physical Body as Consciousness, a man may have a heightened awareness of his effectiveness and capabilities – also in a distinctively masculine way. It is not generally appreciated, that the grounded, expansively embodied, and practically engaged qualities that are commonly associated with masculinity, are archetypal qualities that come from a masculine style of embodiment of Consciousness. Neither is it recognised that this archetypally masculine qualia, which I am choosing to call Embodiment, is an energetic reflection of the more ‘feminine’ quality of Sympathetic Joy. The implication of this is that the fuller state of Embodiment, which many are seeking in the modern world, requires the attitude of muditā, or Appreciative Joy, which we have been exploring – an appreciative engagement with the material world that includes, at least subliminally, an appreciative embrace of the somatic, or bodily-felt, experience of embodied Consciousness, and a subtle spiritual capacity to ‘enjoy life’ that springs from that.
The Physical Body of a woman, on the other hand, has a yin, or receptive, polarity. This means that when a woman rests as Consciousness, she typically experiences a heightened sense of a style of embodiment that is different from that of a man, and can be characterised as having an archetypal feminine character. Asked to describe her bodily experience she notices somewhat different qualities – perhaps an indefinable sense of lightness, softness, openness, and receptivity – once again I am only tentative suggesting these qualities as a starting point to invite you into this important aspect of self-enquiry. There can be no value judgements or expectations attached to these differences – only an invitation to appreciatively notice and reflect upon, the way in which a woman’s embodiment of Consciousness has a distinctively receptive character, and the way her movements and mannerisms tend to reflect this.
In association with this physical embodiment of Consciousness, a woman may also experience a confidence and self-assurance in regard to her gifts and skills and the appreciation they will receive. In terms of the brahmavihāras, we can say that when she rests her Physical Body as Consciousness she experiences Sympathetic Joy, and recognises her feminine nature as a blessing, and is confidently aware of the inherent abundance of human life. She may even, either consciously or unconsciously, recognise that she embodies Consciousness in a way that is reflection of the goddesses in the mythic and religious imagination of our ancestors. Others may have the same impression – the men in her life especially.
The Base Chakra – Muladara – ‘root support’
The felt quality of each subtle body is most keenly felt in the chakra associated with that energy body. The chakra associated with the Physical Body is the Base Chakra, the chakra that is located in the perineum – so this is the region of the body where the energetic polarity of this subtle body is most keenly felt. It is important to remember however, that the whole of each of the subtle bodies has a yin or yang polarity – not just the chakras.
In Indian tradition, the Base Chakra is referred to as the muladhara chakra – a word made up of the word mula which means ‘root’ and the word dhara which means ‘support’. Hence muladhara means ‘root support’ and has the positive connotations that we associate with embodied Consciousness and with Sympathetic Joy: confidence, security, stability, grace, and relaxation; and on a deeper level, a recognition of the way in which Consciousness pervades and supports all physical life. The negative counterparts associated with the unconscious egoic identifications that inhibit our embodiment of Consciousness are the opposite of these – anxiety; an inability to trust others and ask for support; and fear, especially fear of lack, or of loss of control.
The yang polarity of the Physical Body in men means that in general the male experience of Embodiment is of an expansiveness or outward flow of energy in the whole body, and there is a sense of energetic connection with materiality and with the earth, or a ‘groundedness’ in the legs, which reflects this and is a further reflection of the ‘root support’ principle. In women, the experience of embodiment and ‘supportedness’ associated with the Physical Body is generally significantly different – a receptivity, in which the flow of energy is into the body and experienced as nourishing and supportive. And while women are in general no less or more ‘grounded’ than men, the energetic quality of that subjective experience of ‘groundedness’ is more likely to be characterised as receptive – a relational rapport with the material world in which there is a receiving of energy from the ground and from Nature.
Once again I want to emphasise that there should be no expectation in making these observations – they are only offered as a possible focus of attention in self-enquiry, so that we can become aware of the ways in which Consciousness can most easily support our integration and our energetic well-being.
Meditation is different for Women and Men
These ‘subtle body’ energies of the auras of the Physical Body are, of course, closely associated with sexuality. Indeed, the richness of human sexuality can only be fully understood with reference to the energetic polarities of the subtle bodies – and not just those of the Base Chakra and the Physical Body. Clearly self-inquiry and meditation are a very valuable foundation and support for much deeper sexual relationships – and for relaxed and blissful sexual intimacy. I would like to return to this important theme in future posts.
The way in which male and female spiritual character is reflected differently in the seven subtle bodies, is a key piece of information that we need if we are to fully understand meditation and teach it well. It is particularly important, in my view, that we understand the way in which the polarity of the seven bodies alternates – and alternates in the opposite way in the two sexes. This is especially relevant in the context of the meditation-cycle of four brahmavihāras, because it explains why men and women experience the brahmavihāras differently, and provides important insights about the differences in somatic inner life of men and women – differences that are reflected in the differing emotional life of women and men.
I have already addressed this very briefly in a previous post (here) – one which focused on the Mental Body, which is experienced as yin in men and yang in women. The idea that the polarity of the subtle bodies (and their corresponding chakras) alternates, and alternates in the opposite way in women and men, may seem complicated at first, but it is actually a very simple idea, and one that completely fits our experience when we investigate it.
The Alternating Polarities of the Subtle Bodies
I will be returning to address the implications of this information in more detail in future posts, but I would like to provide a brief list the alternating polarities below, for the benefit of those who would like to start exploring this.
In women the Physical Body (Base Chakra) is yin; the Mental Body (Hara Chakra) is yang; the Emotional Body (Solar Plexus Chakra) is yin; and Volitional Body (Heart Chakra) is yang.
In men the Physical Body (Base Chakra) is yang; the Mental Body (Hara Chakra) is yin; the Emotional Body (Solar Plexus Chakra) is yang; and Volitional Body (Heart Chakra) is yin.
The four subtle bodies listed above, are the all-important surface bodies, that correspond to the four functions of Consciousness; to the four quadrants of the mandala; and, most importantly, to the four brahmavihāras – Appreciative Joy (Physical Body – Base Chakra); Equanimity (Mental Body – Hara Chakra); Loving Kindness (Emotional Body – Solar Plexus Chakra); and Compassion (Volitional Body – Heart Chakra).
I look forward to being able to set out a much more comprehensive explanation of this somatic dimension of the mandala in later articles in this series, but I also need to address each of the brahmavihāras in sufficient detail – as each one is extraordinarily rich with meaning and significance. In my next article, I will be moving on clockwise round the mandala to the red Western Quadrant of the mandala, and to the brahmavihāra of mettā, or Loving Kindness, which is associated with the Emotional Body and the Solar Plexus Chakra.
These articles are best read in sequence. To go to the next article in the series just click the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the page. For an overview of the whole sequence of articles, with short summaries of each one, click here.