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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Spiritual Anatomy

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

A new phrase, the Higher Self, imported into our country from India in the 1960s, was not simply a romantic allusion akin to the longings of someone singing “I'm searching for a higher love,” or a better love. The term “Higher Self” was actually a translation of the Sanskrit term “Param Atman,” something within us that is our direct portal to the infinite intelligence of the universe. What it actually is and how it functions can best be understood within its native context of the ancient spiritual tradition of India: the Sanatana Dharma, the Perennial Law, i.e., the universal spiritual principles that govern our universe. 

The essential wisdom of the Sanatana Dharma dates back thousands of years and was carried forward in time through India's various Hindu traditions. Strip away the religious and cultural trappings, however, and what remains is a highly symbolic spiritual description of reality that is still quite relevant today.

This timeless wisdom was appropriately illuminated by the Rishes (the yogic sages of India) in the ancient language of Sanskrit, which according to myth was called “the language of the gods,” for it was said that all things came into being through its generative sound vibrations, or mantras. It was the Rishes’ way of saying, in pre-scientific language, that the substrate of our phenomenal world is a vital conscious energy.

The Rishes explained this by declaring that everything is an expression of Brahman, the undifferentiated supreme Godhead, which manifests to us in all of its diversity through the erotic dance of the divine couple: Shiva and his consort Shakti. Shiva symbolizes the masculine principle of the infinite potentiality of consciousness and Shakti, the female principle of primordial energy—or, on its simplest terms, the subjective and objective poles of our reality.

The practical implications of Shiva/consciousness and Shakti/energy are very far-ranging; their dynamic relationship represents profound overarching principles that manifest at every level of both our personal and phenomenal worlds. 

For we humans are the living embodiments of these principles; we reflect their paired, vital, conscious energies in the very makeup of our being, on three levels: 1) our obvious gross physical body, which we can see and touch; 2) our subtle energetic body, which we know through our vitality and emotions and how we feel; and 3) our even more subtle mental or causal body, which embodies our consciousness. To help envision how the same vital conscious energy of Shiva and Shakti can manifest in three different forms, consider water, which appears to us as ice, liquid, and vapor.

As to the phenomenal world, perhaps it would be more fitting to conceive of Shiva-consciousness as the organizing principles that governed Shakti energy, which manifests on a concrete material level as the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. These same five elements, in their subtle energetic form, manifest in our nonmaterial subtle body as our seven chakras, or conscious energy centers. They are as follows:

  • The first (earth) chakra (Muladarha) is located at the base of our spine and governs our concrete and practical survival instincts.
  • The second (water) chakra (Svadnisthana), located between our genitals and our navel, governs what we like and don’t like and is the locus of our sexuality and our need to procreate.
  • The third (fire) chakra (Manipura) is behind our navel. It manifests as our will to power, so that we have the strength and focus to move through our world.
  • The fourth (air) chakra (Anahata), located at our heart center, is the seat of our Jiva Attman, our personal self that relates to the phenomenal world through our five senses. This chakra inclines us be gregarious and to enrich ourselves through our interactions with others.
  • The fifth (space) chakra (Vishuddha), located at our throat, governs our need to communicate and express ourselves.
  • The sixth chakra (Ajna), located above our eyebrows, is the integrative command center of the five lower chakras and is our gateway to the seventh or crown chakra. It enables us to have an intuitive and integrated understanding of the world in which we live and thus provides the context in which we can discern meaning.
  • The seventh chakra (Sahasrara), located at the top of our head, is the seat of our Param Atman—what we now refer to as our Higher Self. The seventh chakra enables us to connect to a super-intelligent transpersonal vital force that lies beyond our personal range.

As you can imagine, it would be ideal if all of our psychic energy centers functioned in a balanced way. More often than not, however, systemic problems arise when they become blocked or out of balance—particularly the heart chakra.

The symbol of the fourth (heart) chakra is two powder-blue triangles—one facing upwards and the other face down, together resembling the six-pointed Star of David. This symbolizes the integration of the three upper and lower chakras, which are the facets of our higher and lower selves. It is through the balanced integration of all of our psychic energy centers that our heart chakra naturally feels love and caring. And it is natural to care about others because we have a sixth-chakra intuitive understanding that all things are interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.

Having some understanding of our spiritual anatomy and physiology gives us insight into our potential and how we can identify and correct some of our shortcomings. How all of this shakes out in real life is this: if we’re not in touch with our Higher Self, we can really make a mess of things. Because even if there is smooth sailing for us, there is a good chance that we have left a lot of problems for others in our wake.

Absent the support of the higher-order processing ability of our Higher Self, our personal Lower Self—that is, our ego—can become overwhelmed and damaged through negative experiences and misunderstandings. Instead of love, therefore, our wounded Personal Self can become defensive and express its corrupted energy in a self-absorbed, willful way that disregards the welfare of others.

Of course we know better. Our own understanding comes about as a result of deep listening that connects us to the infinite intelligence of the universe. Being receptive to the influence of our Higher Self puts into play our creative, integrative, intuitive skills, which naturally predispose us to view matters from a more holistic perspective. And by doing so we try to do the right things for the right reasons and hopefully enrich the lives of those around us in the process. 

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