Creating an Energetic Foundation for Human Development
The subtle body model described in Part 1 of this series suggests how human experience may be shaped by energy fields. It proposed that our consciousness is arrayed in energy fields in a bottom up fashion – that essentially we “grow up.” I am not the first to suggest (Judith, 1996; Seeman, 2001; Dale, 2009) that personality develops from infancy to maturity in a sequence of “growing up” the body chakra by chakra (each body zone has its central energy field or “chakra”).
This article considers how our subtle energy system develops in more detail, which aids in understanding its steering functions. It looks at the growing up of childhood development; at individuation, a self-reflective maturation process that descends into and integrates our earlier experience; and at spiritual processes that comprise a descent and return.
How Personality “Grows Up”
Let us begin at the beginning, with child development as a launching point for exploring development through the full flowering of individuation and beyond. Human experience tells us that each zone – head, heart and belly – has psychological characteristics. Our personality functioning forms through the interaction of nature (our inborn temperament and physical development) and experience. From earliest infancy until adulthood, these characteristics consolidate vertically, moving up the body. Evidence for this hypothesis is seen in the traditional psychological attributes of the chakras (wheels), the energy centers discerned by the seers of ancient India, which progress up the spine. In briefest summary, numbering the major chakras ascending from the base of the spine, their psychological attributes according to ancient yogic texts are: 1) survival and support; 2) sensuality and sexuality; 3) power, assertiveness, cooperation and confidence; 4) compassion; 5) trust, creativity and receptivity; 6) insight and wisdom; and 7) transcendence (Harrigan, 2000; Goswami, 1999).
Compare these attributes to those recognized by child development researchers. Again in briefest summary, Daniel Stern (1985) writes that we are born with a sense of self, the root chakra as support for the other chakras (Goswami, 1999), and then progressively differentiate our experience, starting with a somatic or bodily feeling self, then an emotional self, corresponding to the first three chakras, and a social self (third through fifth chakras), (Stern, 1985). Jean Piaget and Barbel Inhelder (2000) have shown how we develop concrete thinking (third chakra) at an earlier age than abstract thinking (sixth chakra). And Margaret Mahler and colleagues (1975) observed that empathy (fourth chakra) develops earlier than full verbal expression (fifth chakra).
What changes may occur in the aura with emotional growth? As one progresses through each developmental stage, one must encounter and reconcile many dualities, distinguishing self from other, comfort from discomfort, yes from no, etc. The dualities of embodied existence are encoded in the subtle body as energy fields with positive and negative poles and this marks the beginning of discernment. Young children freely move through intense emotions associated with life’s experiences and are less governed by emotion alone as they mature.
The usual difference in emotionality between children and adults has implications for psychological experience later in life. The encoding of energies in the aura functionally steers the personality and creates an energy signature that is as unique as each person’s life experiences. The unfettered emotionality of early childhood is later constrained by more sophisticated cognitive abilities shaped by experience. This duality can become most apparent with the experience of regression, where the activation of childhood scripts can overwhelm the adult personality.
Steering functions. The experiences we most remember and those that shape our behavior, whether adaptive or pathological, are ones encoded with intense emotion or vitality. The activation of energies low in the body is more likely to carry greater charge (voltage) because of the longer wavelength there (as discussed in Part 1, where I used the metaphor of a jump rope). Young children typically experience strong, relatively unregulated emotions and a passionate vitality. Thus even the routine behavioral scripts encoded in early life and held in the lower chakras would be encoded with higher voltage than later experience. These early experiences naturally exert a steering effect upon later learning through association, whether remembering prior sensory experience or accessing that experience through internal narration. Their field effects may also play a part in entraining (resonating with) later learning through their greater intensity compared to behavioral scripts encoded higher in the body.
The polarity of energy fields also appears to perform a steering function since this may be how attraction and aversion are encoded. Situations encoded aversively often trigger escape and avoidance and are thus dissociated. Activation of those fields at first brings the aspect with which we are most comfortable, for example, our sense of being “right” in an argument with another. But once the field is enlivened, one may become aware of the opposite pole of the conflict. If one is able to remain conscious in this process, exploring both sides of the issue promotes growth and maturation. The encounter with and healing of that conflict held in our energy field is an intense experience. Its intensity and its characteristic frequency signature can entrain scripts lower in the body. Conscious experiencing of such scripts connects higher chakra awareness with one’s passionate and somatic self, and the fields integrate, resolving conflict and releasing previously dissociated libido (life force) into the personality and merging previously separate fields into the larger aura. This phenomenon will be explored psychologically in the sections on regression and individuation that follow.
A man who considers himself a “reasonable guy” has been dating a woman for two months. Now every time she goes out with her friends, he feels overwhelmed by suspicion and jealous for the time she isn’t spending with him. He doesn’t like how he feels and wonders why this is happening.
Regression. What I’ve just described is regression, where an adult suddenly finds himself thinking, feeling, and sometimes unfortunately acting childish. The process of self-discovery can be enriched when previously repressed (excluded from consciousness) emotions rise into consciousness and disrupt a rigid personality. When adults become very activated, whether upset or elated, the intensity of their emotions entrains (attunes and resonates) with early emotional states so that for a time, emotional reactivity overtakes them. The pioneering psychiatrist, C. G. Jung (1960), referred to this reactivation of earlier behavioral scripts as the “constellation of complexes.” If one can remain conscious and reflective even if intensely activated, the contents of the complex become integrated with the larger personality. I see this as an energetic phenomenon, a merging of fields (the field of the complex into the larger aura) as what was formerly forgotten or conflictual is now remembered and becomes part of one’s conscious behavioral repertoire. 1
The stresses of living encode harmony and disharmony in our thinking and emotional selves. If regression is not consciously experienced and used for growth, early responses take over without being integrated with the wisdom of more developed brain and abilities. Psychopathology can then remain in place and even be reinforced. Then psychological conflict may impede the free flow of energy through the subtle body and be experienced as disharmony of thought and emotion and disruptions in awareness. 2
Often people with addictions experience such disruptions of awareness that are further reinforced by the actions of drugs or behaviors that create intensely pleasurable experiences and shut off parts of the brain to lift inhibitions. The pleasure-seeking, regressive response is separated by intensity and quality from the suffering that follows, thus they remain split in consciousness. This is reflected in the following example from the prologue to this series:
A woman struggles with the compelling strength of an addiction that suddenly takes over, despite her resolution to quit.
In contrast, healthy development allows life force to flow freely, resulting in stable identity and a generally positive emotional tone so that pleasurable experiences aren’t reinforced by an escape from underlying pain and the decreased functioning of the intoxicated state. Unfortunately, some people are genetically predisposed toward addictive responses to certain substances, so healthy development may not be entirely preventative. But even with addiction, all may not be lost. The suffering of an addiction or other unwanted behavior may be disturbing enough for a person to seek to heal disparate aspects of themselves that block personal fulfillment.
Individuation as Descent and Return
The psychological growth of individuation occurs by growing downward, from making mental connections (head), to speaking about them (throat), empathizing with them (heart), and feeling powerful or powerless (solar plexus), desire or aversion (belly), and security or annihilation anxiety (perineum or root chakra). Jung (1996) intuited this type of downward growth when exploring the mid-life crisis and its working through, which he called “individuation.” This process begins when a person’s customary adaptations are no longer satisfying. They find themselves intuitively (top of head) starting a descent from the person they thought they were (brow) into a re-examination of their love relationships (heart), vocation (head, throat, heart, solar plexus), passions (belly) and sense of identity (all centers cooperatively integrated throughout the body, including the root chakra).
Jung (1980) discovered that the individuation process is also symbolized in dreams and myth as a descent to the underworld, a dangerous enterprise where one may be overwhelmed by the unconscious or return transformed. The result of that return can be an integrated personality at peace with itself or more. He also noticed that over time, people grow in a spiral, circling back to the same issues (Jung, 1980). This may occur because the descents and returns of personality growth enliven related themes in different bodily zones, with their characteristic issues.
Jung could not logically formulate individuation eventuating in an experience of mystical union with the divine Source (nonduality). He thought that infinite expansion of consciousness must annihilate individual consciousness (Jung, 1959). 3 Thus the ultimate return reported by mystics throughout history transcends his individuation construct (Seeman, 2001). The idea of spiritual return to the Source as symbolized by ancient traditions is offered here for interested readers.
Return to the Source
In Kundalini Yoga 4 and Jewish mysticism, incarnation begins when a fragment of divinity descends into the material world. That divine spark eventually returns from the root of the spine to the crown of the head and beyond to reunite with the Source (Halevi, 1979; Seeman, 2001). The Christian Bible also tells us of divine descent into the world and return to the Source through the example of Jesus and his teachings. In these three traditions and others, this ultimate transformation is symbolized as a death of self-centeredness, transubstantiation, 5 and spiritual rebirth.
Kundalini Yoga describes this process energetically while considering it universal, not confined to that tradition alone. Kundalini Shakti, 6 the embodied Divine essence, reaches the upper brow and starts a physical, psychological and energetic renovation and restoration process (Harrigan, 2000). Kundalini Shakti then reworks brain centers corresponding with the chakras in ascending order. This is experienced as an ascent through the chakras although it is actually occurring in the brain (Chandrasekharanand, 2003). It evolves the personality and energy channels to integrate feelings and thoughts with transpersonal perception, motivation and activity. For example, people undergoing this process may find themselves developing deeper stillness and insight and a strengthening vocation that helps others. Kundalini Shakti then breaks through the top of the head to achieve mystical union and promote further self-realization. I am told by advanced practitioners that this is an ongoing process.
The chakras of Kundalini Yoga very closely correspond with aspects of divine embodiment in the Kabalistic Tree of Life of ancient Jewish mysticism (Halevi, 1979). Oral wisdom traditions that teach actual practices for realizing the spark of immanent divinity and guiding its return do not reveal their methods openly because these methods openly because these methods are very potent and must be tailored to the character and subtle body of the individual practitioner (J. S. Harrigan, personal telephone communication, May 7, 2001; R. Devenish, personal communication, Denman Island, B. C., Canada, circa August, 2007).
Energetic Underpinnings of Individuality
What I’ve just described is a lifelong process of growth, struggle and change, which is different for each of us. I believe that the nature of energy fields, themselves, predisposes us to an even more distinctive uniqueness, an energy signature that is our own and affects our sense of self and our relationships. As a prelude to the next article in this series, I’ll very briefly describe how this uniqueness may be energetically encoded.
The energetic properties of each chakra can be understood in isolation but in reality energy fields throughout the body must affect each other because of their proximity and form a more complex, individuated field, just as the sounds of the instruments in an orchestra combine to form a larger impression. In addition to the fundamental frequency of each chakra, there are complex variations within its energy field, just as a single radio frequency carries the complex signal we hear as transmitted sound and music. Emotions, for instance, may have their own energetic signatures (Clynes, 1977). The subtle fields also interrelate with rhythmic biological functions, from our breathing, to our heartbeats, digestion and other functions, as is known in acupuncture, one of the subtle energy disciplines. 7
The Individual in Relationship
In this paper I have suggested ways to understand the impact of human development on the subtle field of an individual. This provides a good starting point for understanding the aura and the steering functions of its encoded energies. But we cannot develop without caregivers, and we are interdependent with others around us. The next paper in this series will explore the effects of human interactions on our individual and relational subtle fields.
To schedule a first appointment please select this link. Although experienced with emergencies, that is not my practice focus. I work with people who can reliably cope, are not at risk or in crisis, do not have thoughts of self-harm, and are seeking to grow.
1. Psychoanalyst Ernst Kris (2000) recognized this phenomenon and called it “regression in service of the ego,” where ego is a sense of conscious self and agency. Jungian psychologists, hypothesizing a guiding force beyond the consciousness and agency of ego call this growth process “regression in service of the self” (Satinover, 1986).
2. These ideas are the basis for bioenergetic therapies. There is also a rich tradition in psychoanalysis of the mutual influence of client and analyst on each other’s subjective experience.
3. Jung had trouble formulating what happens in mystical union. My sense of this is that the individual entrains to (resonates with) the Absolute, an experience that is not remembered because it is so intense it overwhelms the brain’s ability to record memories, yet the person is not unconscious but has more intensified consciousness. The person thus overcome re-enters ordinary consciousness by first falling into a state of non-meditation in which everyday life is experienced without attachment or thinking. Then ordinary consciousness gradually returns. But being so blessed by the Source yields aftereffects that include a different kind of faith – a knowing instead of hopeful belief – and some reworking of the subtle body to sustain such non-dual consciousness longer and progressively overcome impediments to expanded consciousness.
4. “Kundalini” means “the coiled one” as this highest energy source in the body when dormant coils 3½ times around the base of the spine. “Yoga” means to yoke or harness in Sanskrit and refers to spiritual practices developed in India (Feuerstein, 1990).
5. Transubstantiation (transformation of one’s very substance) is symbolized in alchemical texts, east and west, as absorption of the grosser elements into the next subtlest element until one returns to the Source, which is beyond all attributes. I.e., earth is absorbed by water, then by fire, by air, by ether, and beyond to immortality. These are subjective experiences documented in the teachings of ancient spiritual traditions such as Layayoga, (the yoga of absorption into the divine) that are built on case histories integrated with methods revealed through oral instruction (Goswami, 1999).
6. “Shakti” is power, “the dynamic or creative principle of existence, envisioned as being feminine and personified as … the divine consort of Shiva,” who personifies “the transcendental static principle” (Feuerstein, 2000).According to Joan Shivarpita Harrigan (2000), “Kundalini is the Sanskrit word for the spiritual power that dwells within us all.” It transcends the space/time concept of energy and is considered a power. In Jung’s terms, its actions would be considered synchronistic (Seeman, 2001). When released, Kundalini acts intelligently to activate and guide spiritual transformation.
7. Acupuncturists detect rhythmic energetic changes as alternating peaks and valleys in meridian flow at opposite ends of the day. The acupuncture tradition also confirms the chakra locations and properties of yoga (Raheem, 1984). And acupuncture meridians are being measured instrumentally (Motoyama, 1981).
Chandrasekharanand Saraswati, personal communication, October 2003, Knoxville, TN.
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