Stations along the Way

This morning I read a few sentences about the body’s “energy centers” (also called the “cakras”), which line up along the front of the body like stations on a train line: head, throat, heart and belly). As often happens when I’m reading something that I can’t readily absorb or make sense of, I was swept away on an imaginary journey. In this case I was on a train travelling without known purpose or destination.

I could call this a story, or a metaphor, but it differed from my usual fantasies. Instead of being swept along until the momentum ran out, I paused in the midst of this story to wonder if there was some reason for me imagining myself in it. After that brief impulse to reflect, I was once again swept up in a new scene where I was explaining to others what my first imagining meant.

I have to wonder if the process of getting swept up in story-after-story is a necessary prelude to those times when I pause and notice something pertinent to my life. Since this is such an inefficient process, I have to also ask whether I could arrive more directly at the recognition that my mind has something it wants to share with me.

This seems a good time to pause–in this lull between gusts of seemingly unending narrative—and allow the steam engine to stop at a station; as I imagined doing in my first fantasy; where I stepped out onto the platform and looked around. In my second fantasy, I clearly wished that I could understand the meaning of that first fantasy (of being on a journey and then standing on the platform at a train station).

In the second fantasy I seemed to hope that I could make sense of the first one. However, imagining myself holding forth to others seems a poor way to gather true understanding. The motivation for this imagining feels more like a desire for attention than an inquiry into purpose. But at least I was asking questions: Why was I on a train journey? Why was I getting out and looking around at a station? Why did I want to make sense of my life? Why—in the second story—was I trying to devise a cogent, coherent interpretation for an imagined audience?

Then I remembered that I had been reading a passage which must have been what set me off on this journey of imagined exploration: being on a train journey; stepping out at a station; standing on the platform during a stop; wondering if I was only seeing other people who were themselves traveling or working for the railway, or could I catch a glimpse of people who lived in this town and its surrounding area (driving a tractor, driving a kid to school, etc . . .).

So, what was the passage that set me off on these sweeping narratives and images?

This ‘energy pattern’ is like a mandala, an originating center or zero point from which energy flows in all directions. Within this pattern are energy ‘centers’ that act as ‘terminals’ for these energies as they radiate and circulate throughout the body.” Kum Nye, Tarthang Tulku.

I think what caught my attention in these sentences, if at first only subliminally, was that–in a passage that was describing ‘energy terminals’, it identified a free-wheeling energy more fundamental than its manifestation in individual “energy centers”; rather a flowing throughout the body with no prior commitment to anything specific or any dedication to particular skills, aspirations or meanings. This energy simply enables us to live and breathe.

Meanwhile, individual energy centers each have their qualities and roles to play:

The Head center is the home of clarity and inspirational wisdom;
The Throat center is the home of communication;
The Heart center is the home of caring;
The Belly center is the home of courage.

It is not difficult to see that these centers can contribute to a fulfilling life most fully when they work in harmony with one another; just as—in our lives in the world—our own diverse qualities and interests are most fully present when we play our part in shared endeavors with others.

However, it adds a fresh perspective to the familiar notions of embodiment, collaboration, and diversity to ponder how all these specific manifestations and faculties are like ‘terminals’, which derive their characteristic energies from an inner presence; from a flowing, radiating presence that is not itself defined, contained, or committed to any particular way of manifesting.

This morning I am feeling appreciation for my mind’s capacity to take flight in fantasy, even though most flights crash land and expire in a swampland after going nowhere. Without them, I would probably keep banging my head against the same brick walls of incomprehension—or worse—adopt an illusory belief that I already understand. To navigate these unguided imaginings, I just need to slow down enough to notice that sometimes seemingly meaningless elaborations catch something worth pondering in their net.

What a concept: Flowing through this realm of embodiment there is a fundamental energy that makes all else possible. There are also important waystations along the way. But those waystations could not come into being without this flowing energy; miraculously present in our capacities for clarity, communication, caring and courage.

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