Your Feminist Chakras
One of the interesting things about the chakra system is the way its rendering reflects culture – both its origin culture and our own. Like all of the best systems for understanding the self, it’s a flexible, open system with many interpretations. This is a feminist interpretation, one with great implications for somatically oriented practitioners.
The chakras are envisioned as whirling centers of energy that reflect and govern parts of the body and reflect abstract qualities and life events – essentially generating and reflecting all aspects of life, from the physical to the cosmic.
The first chakra starts at the ground, like roots, and it relates most to the part of us that is earth and concrete matter and, in particular, the legs and pelvis. But in the Western sense, it implies the whole anatomical body, the one Western science has deemed purely concrete. From there, the chakras become less earthy, until the 7th chakra at the top of the skull is like a satellite dish to the cosmos.
A side note: It’s evident, though, that when we talk about “body”, the self isn’t equivalent to the body. The self is not equivalent to the static body, but includes many dimensions, most notably the body’s movement – not to mention the spark that animates it:
- Blood circulation, with its metaphors of rushing rivers and pumped water.
- Qi. The collagen molecule is a crystal and, therefore, a semiconductor, and that may be why Qi is associated with the flow of energy around the body, e.g. in the subcutaneous fascia, in the tissue surrounding all the tissues of the body, and even in the fibrous “skeleton” of the cell.
- Prana. This could be considered as essentially the same as the Qi. But interestingly, one tends to see it compared to, and expressed in, the breath.
- Electrical conduction through the nervous system
- Lymph, more like the slow fluid movement in the salt marsh or rainforest, where nutrients are breaking down and flowing to the place where they will be recycled.
Theorists of the chakras describe them as animating the body and transcending it.
What I want to look at today is the feminist implications of what is called the “ascent” and “descent” pathways of human development. A common chakra-oriented way of seeing the progress through life is that, ideally, you move from the gross, concrete self to a ‘higher’ self that’s associated with the higher parts of the body. As you move through the chakras and their thematic dimensions, you go more and more into abstraction – “pure” (note the word and its implications) consciousness, detachment from the body, enlightenment, in which – through the care of the mind/spirit – which includes the word light in both senses of the word. The descent path is associated more with what’s called in American chakra rhetoric “manifestation” or “care of the body”.
I’ll have more to say in another article about the American tendency to view meditative states and energetic connections as ways to manipulate the real world for things like wealth, status, and power over phenomena like aging. But in this article, I want to focus on what’s sometimes called “the descent v. ascent paths”.
I view this dialectic as parallel to the modern physics way of understanding everything in the universe, and thus everything about beings, to be simultaneously energy (“higher self” or care of the mind) and matter (“manifestations, but also care of the body”). It’s just a matter (see what I did there?) of point of view. I think, though, that the higher self has gotten the upper (see what I did there?) hand, and the lower chakras have been denigrated. I propose another reading of the relationship.
I believe that the ascent path and its states of consciousness have come to be associated more with a mental discipline leading to spiritual ascendance and detachment from the body, whereas the descent path is viewed as a body path, concrete, earthbound, and more primitive (note that this is crucially important in cultural perceptions of somatic practices).
The descent path, though, is also the compassion path, and as such, it is as important in healing and wholeness as the ascent path. It’s not just that ‘higher’ consciousness leads to perfect health (top-down), it’s also that care of the physical self, its accomplishment, suffering, and need for food, water, and shelter, lead to balance, spirituality, and enlightenment (bottom-up). Note that bottom-up practices tend to be associated more with “women’s work”, and body-based care systems.
It’s interesting to note that when allopathic medicine approaches the body, the method is abstract. Often a practitioner won’t touch your body, and they and their exam by running light through your body and interpreting its abstracted image. The musculoskeletal care, when it happens, is delegated to “lower” status practitioners who nonetheless must follow the abstractly derived directives of the doctor, who “knows” best.
Many people whom I refer for surgery for their neuromusculoskeletal problems tell me the same thing: In their procedures and hospital stays, their doctors (traditionally, men and the mental/ascent path, which its subsequent and bizarre detachment and distaste for encountering and touching the suffering body) did a great job in technologically reconfiguration their parts. But they say the bulk of their healing was effectuated by nurses (traditionally, women via the compassion path) who touch and see the suffering body. In The Dream Of A Common Language, Adrienne Rich – among other things, a feminist poet – wrote about gender politics and women’s relations to traditional men in the 1960s. She describes the “man’s” detachment from, and stepping back from the person suffering – and their wounded body – is
a passivity we mistake
—in the desperation of our search—
But gentleness is active
gentleness swabs the crusted stump
invents more merciful instruments
to touch the wound beyond the wound
does not faint with disgust
will not be driven off
keeps bearing witness calmly
against the predator, the parasite.
Bodywork falls (see what I did there?) primarily in the descent path. The pathway to spirituality lies in the compassionate willingness to touch the hurt and reawaken health. This is not more important than the ascent pathway, but it’s important to notice that the descent pathway doesn’t come about strictly as the result of mental and abstract thought – building by following the instructions on the blueprint for health – but through an identification with the real-life prevailing realities of the ailing human being.
Somatic Practitioner are engaged in a practice that takes people into and through physical experience into mental, physical, outerworldly effectiveness, activity and spiritual/mental wellness. I view this as a feminist activity.