About 15 years ago, I read Healing and the Mind, by the journalist Bill Moyers. The book documents interviews Moyers conducted with over a dozen practitioners and researchers. One section included an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical school professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Kabat-Zinn asserted some intriguing and compelling medical benefits that come from meditation, and though I was perfectly healthy, I began to investigate meditation techniques and ultimately became a daily practitioner.
A few years later, I moved to a new condominium development, and our clubhouse offered weekly meditation. In these classes, I learned chakra meditation, which requires the practitioner to concentrate in sequence on seven energy centers, or chakras, in the body. No empirical consensus appears to exist with regard to chakras, though some physicians and researchers acknowledge them as centers of subtle energy, an important concept in integral physiology. Candidly, I must say that I found the concept of chakras to come across as a little new-agey, and I still do not subscribe to the chakra paradigm in a scientific manner. The idea of chakras, however, has taken on profound symbolic meaning for me, and I have now practiced chakra meditation for ten years.
The Sanskrit word chakra means “circle,” and we will hear people refer to the seven chakras as spinning disks. For my own practice, I merely bring my mind to the location of each chakra, concentrating on the energy that I feel there. I inhale and exhale eight times for each, and as I move from one chakra to the next, I always recall the chant of that meditation teacher, which she said told of the kundalini energy rising in us.
The seven chakras as I learned them are the Root Chakra (Muladhara), just inside the rectum; the Sacral Chakra (Swadhisthana), at the tailbone; the Solar-Plexus Chakra (Manipura), which my teacher placed at the navel; the Heart Chakra (Anahata); the Throat Chakra (Vishuddha); the Third-Eye Chakra (Ajna), on the forehead; and the Crown Chakra (Sahasrara), at the top of the scalp.
And though the science is not conclusive about whether these chakras are truly the energy centers that spiritual tradition would assert, I have had experiences since childhood unrelated to meditation that involved powerful sensations where the sacral and crown chakras are said to be. Only when I learned to meditate did I suspect there might be some significance.
As for the benefits of meditation as a daily practice, I do not know what it does for everyone else. I simply understand that it has changed my manner of thinking significantly, perhaps expanding my considerations and broadening them. I also find myself less disposed to volatile emotions and much more mindful of what other people feel and experience. Perhaps most beneficially, I seem to want or to long after fewer things.
Of course, I have also learned a deeper truth about meditation: that I should pursue it for its own sake, not for anything it should give to me. I expressed that in a poem I wrote last year. The poem appears below.
When I closed my eyes some years ago
And saw in the darkness a presence I knew
From my earliest memory as an infant,
I felt as if I had returned to something.
And sacred books then told me
To visit that realm every chance I had,
That there I would find the Way
That the workaday world would conceal from me.
So with faith and hope I returned always
To pay my breath and forsake my longings.
Yet never have the oppressors relented,
In the land of open eyes and daily cares.
The transaction has now broken down,
And all I have left is my devotion
To an entity I once thought owed me peace,
But to which I now know I owe everything.