We may have been blessed with tremendous upper chakra activations, and see the world through crystal-clear, awakened eyes. Our hearts may have been blasted open, and we may feel nothing but love for everyone and everything. Enlightenment and enlovenment are flowering, and we are filled with gratitude.
Many would conclude that this is it -- the journey is complete. Yet this is not the end of the story. How well are we able to live our realization? To what degree does our daily life express an integrated, full-bodied awakening that has become rooted in the lower chakras? How well are the masculine and feminine principles integrated within us?
Traditional paths of awakening have tended to center around cultivating either the clear, stainless mirror of enlightened mind, or the fervent, heart-opened states of God-realization. Because the body, along with earthly life itself, was viewed as an impediment to awakening, many paths advocated giving the physical form the bare minimum of food, sleep, and other requirements necessary for its sustenance. Any further comforts were viewed as a distraction from the real work of getting and staying awake.
Yet many of us hunger now for an integrated, full-bodied experience of awakening -- one that not only includes but actively celebrates physical embodiment. Thus, we are brought into the third dimension of awakening -- which, for lack of a better word, we call Enlifenment.
When, after years of stringent practices, austere schedules and demanding disciplines, spiritual life begins to feel arid, parched, and severe -- if not downright punishing -- enlifenment is needed. If our spiritual path has focused on the upper chakras, the spiritual ego may have convinced us that the human self, with its messy feelings and inconvenient needs, should be controlled, reined in, or transcended altogether. We may have judged ourselves for not being beyond unfinished emotional business, or labeled legitimate human needs as “not spiritual”. In our quest for the pure, rarified realms of spirit, the enlifenment aspects of awakening may have been neglected.
Enlifenment is about putting more life in our lives. When this aspect of ourselves is well-nourished, life feels juicy, delicious, and satisfying. Our bodies are well, our energy is sufficient for all that we want to experience, and our emotions are allowed to freely move through. When enlifenment is present, we feel as if we have “dropped in.” We’re not hovering somewhere above the ground in an overly ethereal, disembodied state. We’re here, in this dimension, actively engaged in physical-plane existence. We feel competent to do what needs to be done in our daily lives. And, most of the time, at least, we’re enjoying it here.
When life in the body feels like an endless round of suffering, it’s often because we’ve overlooked the enlifenment aspects of awakening. Perfectionism may have led to holding ourselves to impossibly high standards of spiritual mastery; we may have trouble forgiving our human selves for their imperfections and unresolved issues. The physical body may be shouting at us, through a variety of symptoms, to include it in our loving embrace.
Diving into En-life-enment
Deep within the belly, just below the navel lies the soul center known in various traditions as the hara or tan tien, the womb or egg, the abode of Divine Mother, or the home of shakti, or vital force. Here we can access the unified consciousness of life itself, the innate, omnisicent omnipresence that pervades all manifest forms. The prime purpose of this intelligent presence is to further life -- to see all of Creation flourish and become more abundant. As we become aware of this innate intelligence at the heart of form, we see it at play everywhere, within and without. Walking through a forest, we witness the symbiosis of the plants and animals that live within it. We watch a bee gather pollen for its hive, knowing it simultaneously pollinates the plants it visits, allowing them to flower, bear fruit and reproduce; this, in turn, feeds other forms of life, including humans. We marvel at the innate intelligence that tells migratory birds when to fly south for the winter, and the unerring guidance system that leads them to their destination. Who hasn’t experienced the sensations of hunger that signal it is time to eat, or the instant reaction that tells us to flee in the face of danger? We all know how to cuddle and stroke a frightened baby, and to sleep when the body needs rest.
We are born with this intelligence as part of our embodied being, our natural soul. Although it remains within us all our lives, our communion with it may diminish. Emotional and psychological traumas may lead us to judge, deny and separate from aspects of the psyche that might have helped us to stay in touch with the innate intelligence of life. In attempts to find the comfort that has become elusive, we may succumb to addictions and other life-damaging behaviors.
To reverse this process, the psyche must be healed and made whole by recovering the wounded aspects and bringing them back into conscious union with the soul. In the absence of this, the human expression will be distorted in some manner, no matter how fully the mental and spiritual dimensions are developed. We see this in some who have widely been considered “enlightened.” They may claim to be beyond all human illusion, while in fact they have been concealing a long-term relationship, their taste for luxury, a child born to a devotee, or other “shadow” or “belly” aspects of their lives.
Cultivating Belly Wisdom
Enlifenment has everything to do with “belly wisdom” -- that deep-down, gut feeling that lets us know what we need to know about something or someone. It’s our belly wisdom that, despite all evidence to the contrary, cautions us and protects our best interests, even while other parts of us may be ready to jump into a situation that would not be best for us at all.
When we are listening to our belly wisdom, we know how to care for our bodily temple. We know what to feed it, when it can handle an occasional indulgent treat, and when that might not be such a good idea. We care for the body and do what we can to make life pleasurable for this soul-vehicle, without overdoing that and losing touch with the other aspects of our totality. We respect our own particular life rhythms -- when the body needs rest, we rest. When a walk would feel good, we give that to ourselves.
Belly wisdom also helps us out emotionally. When it is strongly engaged, we know how to nurture ourselves in many more ways than just through food. We know how to be sweet to ourselves, so we don’t need to feed the body as many sugary treats. We actively cultivate ways to expand our self-nurturing repertoire, from admiring the beauty of nature to lighting a candle at dusk and basking in the quiet glow. As we develop true intimacy with our human self, it responds with an increasing sense of feeling at home and comfortable in its own skin. When it knows it is loved and cared for, our humanness relaxes and settles into itself, releasing the habits and addictions that were merely unsatisfying substitutes for an authentic sense of well-being.
In our spiritual quest, we may have become so fixated on enlightenment as the ultimate goal that we pursued this lofty state at the expense of our humanness. Years into the journey, we may receive a wake-up call -- in the form of illness or other imbalance -- that lets us know we’ve left our human selves lying in the dust, forgotten in the rush toward our image of the ultimate spiritual accomplishment. The degree to which we’ve pursued enlightenment through severely structured, “disembodied” spiritual practices and disciplines may turn out to directly correspond to our need to surrender to the complemetary aspect of wholeness, endarkenment.
Endarkenment asks us to drop down, to sink into the depths of being, to surrender all striving to remain “above it all.” This can take the form of a “dark night of the soul”, as St. John of the Cross termed the experience of finding that even one’s most cherished spiritual ideals and truths suddenly seem empty, devoid of meaning or substance. We may feel shattered, taken apart; with our carefully-constructed edifice dismantled, we suddenly seem utterly confused, clueless, and lost.
Much has been written about the Dark Night experience, so we won’t go into it too deeply here. Suffice it to say that all that we have been avoiding typically comes flooding into our consciousness and experience. We can no longer evade or rise above it -- now, our task is to accept, allow, and acknowledge every last bit of it. Eventually, through Grace, we find we can even love it all. As a loving embrace replaces hatred, resistance, and denial, the intensity recedes and we are carried into the next phase of our journey.
Another kind of endarkenment can follow years of holding in or pushing down a lifetime of feelings and traumatic memories. So much emotional and even physical pain may have accumulated in the belly that, when it is finally allowed to move, it erupts with volcanic intensity. We may find ourselves “blowing up” at people, situations, or ourselves. Beneath the rage lie deeper layers of emotional pain -- the tears, the grief, the fears that were never acknowledged. Through allowing it all to be what it is, we gradually master a third way of dealing with emotions, between the extremes of venting and holding in -- simply being with and feeling whatever arises.
It’s important to note that endarkenment is not necessarily a painful experience. Diving into the depths of our being can be revelatory in ways we had not imagined were possible to experience. Many who make the descent find themselves melting into a velvety darkness, enfolded in rich, moist nurturance. Some access the infinitely deep Source of all fecundity, which modern physicists call the black holes out of which all matter and light are extruded. It is now becoming well-accepted that the universe is filled with dark matter. This discovery coincides with the increasingly widespread metaphysical realization that it is just as important to access the darkness as the light. Through our inner explorations into the realms of both light and darkness, we come to embody the realization expressed in the yin-yang symbol, in which light and dark eternally spiral, each containing a bit of the other. Just as light could not exist without the darkness and vice versa, nothing in manifest Creation would be present without the infinitely mysterious union of these fundamental aspects of the One.
Tribal cultures and insulated indigenous groups exemplify consciousness focused at the belly soul center. The realization of the Self that occurs from this focus is expressed in shamanistic traditions in which capacities such as earth magic, shapeshifting and interspecies communication manifest. A strong connection with the Earth and her animate and inanimate beings is central to such traditions.
Taoism is another path of self-realization with a strong focus in the belly soul center; taoist practices such as martial arts, tai chi and chi kung aim at unifying body, mind, and spirit. Some tantric lineages also focus here. A wide variety of contemporary paths and practices facilitate getting in touch with spirit or soul through body awareness and movement. Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythms work is known worldwide, while Tantric Dance of the Divine Feminine, Soul Motion, and Kundalini Temple Dance are other modalities that exemplify this growing trend.
Many feminine spirituality groups focus on creating a safe, sacred container -- an energetic womb-space -- in which participants can get in touch with “belly wisdom” and other feminine ways of knowing. Women and men also gather to create ceremony and ritual to honor one another, the Goddess in her various forms, and Life itself. In the hundreds of books written about the newly emerging feminine spirituality, a ubiquitous unifying thread is the emphasis on nurturing and celebrating the rich diversity of Life in all its forms.
The White Light and the Dark Light
While the head soul center is the locus of the white light, in the hara we tap into the lumiunous “dark light”, the primordial substance that gives birth to all of life. The dark light provides the yin complement to the yang nature of the white light. It is only when the two are in balance that a human being flourishes.
Three primary energy channels, called nadis, travel up the center of the body. The pingala nadi, or white light channel, is balanced by the ida nadi, which carries the dark light. As the nadis spiral upward, they cross at seven locations, thus generating the chakras. When the white and dark light nadis are fully open and balanced, the central channel or shushumna nadi opens, and the kundalini or shakti force ascends the spine; as it exits the crown of the head, illumination occurs.
The vitally important point here is that the balance of the white and dark light is the key to awakening. Many people have concluded that increasing the stimulation of the higher centers -- through more and more energetic transmissions, for instance -- will quicken awakening. Others believe that if they only give attention to the higher centers, their emotional issues will somehow go away on their own. In truth, going after more and more white light and ascending spirit energy will only lead to greater imbalance, which can actually slow the spiritual evolution of the soul.
The Limits of En-Life-enment
Conversely, if we put too much focus on the hara center alone, we are apt to lose touch with the transcendent aspects of being, and the eternal nature of the soul. The bulk of our energy might be poured into preparing meals, decorating our home, and planning gatherings; our primary focus might rest within 3-D to the exclusion of other levels of reality and consciousness. Consequently, we might feel trapped within the minutiae of daily life, overwhelmed with the endless details to be dealt with on the physical plane. We may feel bogged down within matter, hungry for uplifting reminders that there is a realm beyond third-dimensional concerns.
When the belly soul center is overemphasized, we may find ourselves pursuing sensual and sexual practices that are expressed without a corresponding level of heart-centering. The many current distortions of ancient trantric practices marketed as “tantra” exemplify this overemphasis on the belly center. Ultimately, we may feel emotionally empty after a series of encounters that overemphasize the belly center at the expense of head and heart.
Another manifestation of belly center overemphasis occurs among those who are fascinated by, and possibly addicted to, the realm of the emotions. Relationships become the ground of being for such belly-centered people. They may spend hours dissecting every nuance of an encounter, probing the inner workings of everyone involved, and reliving or anticipating important events. Without the detached clarity of an awakened head center and the calm wisdom of the heart soul center, things can seem very muddled indeed.
An overemphasis on the belly soul center can also manifest as attachment to and identification with the human level of existence. As in tribal groups historically, awareness may remain embedded in the consciousness of the Great Mother, while differentiation and individualization are sacrificed to group cohesion. This is akin to what happens to those who never leave home and depend on their families the rest of their lives; they may never fully mature into complete human beings. At the spiritual level, in this ouroboric merging, the love and oneness that form the underlying truth of all existence are not known, much less the absolute experience that everything is, after all, a fleeting dream in the mind of God.