In our culture, when the word “mind” is used, we generally equate it with thoughts and emotions and have a sense that mind is in our head and is generated by our brain. In Asian and other non-Western psychological systems, the concept of mind is not so confined. For instance, the East Indian psychology of kundalini recognizes that a human being has seven psychic energy centers located in ascending order in the regions of the spine and head that denote differing states of consciousness, or what could be understood as types of mind, which become activated as the energy of consciousness is focused through them. These centers begin at the perineum, or lowest level of the trunk, and move upward, through the anatomical regions of the sacrum, the abdomen, the chest, the throat, the forehead, and the crown of the head. The practice of kundalini yoga is to gain skill and subtlety in recognizing these various states of consciousness and how our experience and relationship with the world is shaped as we focus awareness through these levels.
I am not a formal practitioner or an expert in kundalini yoga, but over the years I have developed an intuitive sense of the differing states of consciousness which result from focusing awareness through the various centers and how this can lead to a profound expansion of one’s understanding of mind, consciousness, and the varying levels at which life can be experienced and lived. I draw upon an eclectic practice of consciousness-energy meditations which combines the chi-awareness of Chinese/Japanese cultures along with Native American and Kundalini systems and have discovered that when studying consciousness through these mind/body/energy meditative techniques, we experience that we live as both physical beings and spiritual or consciousness beings in a cosmos which likewise expresses itself as both physical and consciousness energy, a duality that is in fact, a unity.
The matter/consciousness energy of the Universe (One Source) generates all forms into existence, including us humans, and my mind/body/energy practice recognizes this sense of impersonal, universal consciousness-energy that focuses and projects itself into the dualistic world through the form that is me. I am both this individual AND the Universe expressing and connecting with itself. While all our Western sciences are based in the study of energy systems which interact to generate the physical world, in this past century, upon entering into the quantum realm, amazing discoveries have been made concerning conscious interaction of subatomic particles, implying consciousness at the very substratum of the physical world. This ought to be standing our sciences and our societies on their heads, but quite amazingly, our deep conditioning into form-consciousness/duality seems to have us continuing to overlook in our cosmological understanding the very consciousness that allows the scientific study of the material universe which has led to these discoveries.
Just as our bodies are made up of cells and organs and appendages and untold numbers of bacteria and discreet processes which unify into the one body, so the Universe is likewise all its components in a balanced unity. Separate forms are all held together, connected, and function within the mysterious force that gives rise to and energizes the parts and the entirety. Mystical traditions have called this force spirit, and that’s fine, but with science discovering consciousness at the subatomic level of all matter, perhaps the time has arrived in the evolution of human understanding to bring science and religion together into a new cosmology, to acknowledge, as has been said in a variety of ways, that we are conscious beings through which a conscious universe is expressing and experiencing itself.
What institutional science seemingly fears to acknowledge, spiritual traditions and nature-based cultures have explored for millennia and may well provide roadmaps for future reformation of the physical and psychological sciences. Just as physical energy focuses into varying levels of density to form into the solids, liquids, and gasses we know as the world about us creating seemingly discreet and separate phenomena, consciousness energy serves to make connections which can be followed with applied focused awareness. Upon deep meditative examination, our self-as-consciousness reveals its ultimate state in unity-with-all, manifesting through varying degrees of density, as does the realm of matter-energy.
In exploring the kundalini system, we encounter the mysterious phenomena of chakras, or energy centers that are explained roughly analogously to transformers in an electric power grid, where electrical energy is modulated to voltage levels for particular uses. In kundalini meditation, when awareness is focused into the lowest point of the torso, we discover our energy connects with the massive grounding form-energy of the Earth, and the quality of the consciousness-energy is likewise somewhat dense, and serves to root or ground us in the practical needs of our physical existence. When awareness is focused into the 2nd, or sacral chakra, there arises creativity, playful, sensual, and sexual consciousness, less dense than 1st chakra, but still earth and body bound. In the abdominal solar plexus region, we find ourselves sitting in our earthly interpersonal realm, associated with emotion as it relates to interpersonal stability and security and it is not uncommon for a person who is deeply wounded in their interpersonal life, is driven to achieve, or is insecure and anxious to have disorders of the abdomen and stomach. In Chinese energy systems, the abdominal area of the body is known as the lower “dantien,” or energy center, and to focus awareness in this region is to bring ourselves to the center of our earthly existence. From here energy flows out into and through the limbs and then in projection and reception of life-force energy in the world. Because of this flowing connectedness, this center plays an important part in intuition, having a “gut feeling” about people and what is happening. For physical, mental, and spiritual health, it is important to have good conscious connection with this area, so Eastern health systems emphasize having a strong sense of centered balance, breathing into the abdomen and the dynamic energy that flows through and out from it.
As awareness moves upward, we find consciousness transforming from Earth-bound form-identification energy to increasingly spiritual, pure consciousness energy, and so we come to the very important heart center, the place midway between our root and crown chakras. Here, consciousness-energy takes on equally the qualities of both form and spiritual energy and is our center of compassion and love, where we also experience the vulnerability, the confusion and pain, that comes with human identification with our form existence which manifests as psychological ego. In heart-consciousness, we can see deeper than form and separateness to realize our connection with all of life, and thus, Buddhism emphasizes its cultivation. This seeing has both an emotional and an intuitive-mind dimension and so resonates as love, compassion, and as wisdom, and is equated with an enlightened mind, called bodhicitta.
The next chakra center is the throat and mouth, where form-consciousness energy abstracts and lightens into speech and vocalization and we want to bring awareness here for the development of skillful verbal communication and confidence in asserting oneself. Then to the forehead and the forebrain where consciousness-energy manifests as thought and emotion, where the idea of “me” generates ego. Here, we engage the intellect, our ego’s positive capacity for linear logic, for figuring things out, and failing to develop logic, we can get lost in confusion and magical thinking, believing an idea to be true because it conforms to an over-empowered egoic agenda rather than reality, with our strongest delusion being the idea of the separate and struggling “me.” Whether our identification and motivation are spiritual or egoic will then generate thoughts, emotions, and actions which bring correspondingly loving connection into our interactions and inner mind-scape, which then activates the heart chakra, or the divisive and manipulative, neurotic, even paranoid and violent thoughts, emotions, and actions which generate from a dysfunctional self-absorbed ego, operating out of the lower centers. In esoteric Eastern systems, at the front and middle of the forehead is what is called the third eye. This is an energy center which brings the mind into psychic connection beyond the range of the physical senses, sometimes called extra-sensory-perception and the possibility for manifesting psychic phenomena, again for good spiritual purposes or questionable, even dangerous egoic purposes.
And finally, at the very crown of the head, consciousness-energy is now pure and connects us with the consciousness-energy of the Universe, with Eternity, with the Cosmos, and the pure spiritual experience. As is sometimes said, we are the Universe peering into itself, and when we develop the capacity to clear away the noise of the lower centers and focus awareness completely into the crown chakra, we have the ability to peer silently back, exploring our ultimate source and destiny as conscious beings, as channels for the One Being that is our source, and egoic separateness falls away.
With applied consciousness-energy meditation, we discover that how and where we focus awareness through our mind/body very much determines our experience and actions, our degree of skill and compassion in the world, and so Buddhism emphasizes development of the heart chakra, the center of compassionate connection with the world in good balance with the higher and lower centers. So – yes, there is mind in the head – but it is the mind which tends to create the experience of separation, of “me” in here, while all else is out there, a recipe for confusion and conflict, and in Buddhism intellect is not discouraged, but rather to be experienced as a faculty to be trained in good logic balanced by the intuitive capacities of the heart and gut. As Zen recognizes that we are first of all consciousness-energy entering into the world, it teaches it is best to consider oneself as “nobody,” or the energy of consciousness that HAS a somebody to manifest through and encourages a practice which trains us in the balance of all levels of mind centered around a strong heart that loves fearlessly, developing ourselves as wise, skillful, and compassionate beings.