Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chutes and Ladders

Trapped with me at a restaurant in Sri Lanka with slow service and no books or playing cards, my daughters agreed to listen to my short talk on the Hindu chakras without too much eye-rolling. I’m sure I’m oversimplifying an elaborate and eloquent spiritual science, but my “Chakras for Dummies” interpretation helps me understand a bit better how this world actually works. Not stuck at a table waiting for food, you, the reader, have the option to click off and I will never know. But bear with me for a moment—you might find something interesting.

The short version is that we have seven energy centers that ascend up the spine. I’ll skip the fancy terminology, associated colors and other details, but suffice it to say that the first three are located below the belt, as it were, and in ascending order have to so with food, sex and power. They’re hardwired into our system, require no energy to access and were as active for Gandhi, Einstein and Mother Teresa as they are for Donald Trump, Brittney Spears and Chuck Norris. They are our instinctual life, the things we need for physical survival that we share in common (with our own weird permutations) with all animal life. They are given to us for free.

The next four require some effort and directed will to cultivate and develop. The Heart Chakra is our capacity to feel emotion and aim it towards empathy, compassion, caring and affection. “All you need is love” and “My religion is kindness” are Heart chakra mission statements. The Throat Chakra is our ability to express ourselves with articulation and eloquence, particular through the voice in poetry, good conversation, song and music. The sword of the raw power chakra is now the pen, the like-totally-awesome or #%$&&@ piece of #% crude language is elevated to the precision of the poet or eloquence of the orator. The Brow Chakra or Third Eye, is the place of insight and intuition, the shift from studying about the world to studying the self. “Know thyself” is a good mantra for this Chakra. And finally, the Crown Chakra is the seat of all consciousness and the place where we identify with all sentient beings and merge with all things. “No thyself” is the motto of this endgame chakra.

Remember the game Chutes and Ladders? The whole deal is that to grow into the promise of our humanity or yet higher into our spiritual nature is an ascending process that requires constant effort and will. All the elevators and escalators are shut down, you have to walk up those stairs by yourself. “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” is one of many images of that journey. But being who we are, we constantly slip and slide back down the chutes and then have to renew the climb. My childhood game Chutes and Ladders really came from an older Indian one called Snakes and Ladders that was depicting the journey of reincarnation and the attempt to get off of that wheel by arriving at that last square at the top (the crown chakra).

“So what’s the point here, Doug?” I imagine the impatient reader wondering. “What does this have to do with your time in Singapore?” Only this. Tonight, left to myself after an inspiring day of working with the music teachers of the Singapore American School and two wonderful classes of kids, I set out from the hotel to see what’s out there on Orchard Road. And though I expected what I found, it was more unsettling after the time in India and Sri Lanka. A combination of Las Vegas, Times Square and Disneyland, the Malls are enormous and relentless. Where there were once coconut palms and the stars above, there is mega-store after mega-store with all the big brand names selling food, clothes, electronics and what-have-you. Without the presence of animals to charm us, the human body becomes the focus and after the downplay of sexuality I found in India and Sri Lanka, now the pants are tight, the skirts are short, the lace is frilly—not to mention the constant alluring imagery to sell products and the actual adult sex shops. Very bad and very loud Western pop music is pumped everywhere, lights are bright and blaring and the people are—well, eating, displaying themselves, shopping. Food. Sex. Power.

Nothing new. I get it. I live in it. But having been away from it all for two weeks, I feel how much energy is pumped into keeping us low on the consciousness scale, magnifying these chakras a thousand-fold with super-sizes and mega-volume, feeding our lower instincts, keeping culture—whose job it is to raise us higher—down at the bottom of the board until that is what defines us, what we identify with. It keeps us addicted to consumption, obsessed with our looks and weight, fascinated with the lives of the “stars” and far from the possibilities of our own promise. I see Justin Beiber’s book in Borders, a guy already giving us his life story at 16-years old because of pop culture’s insatiable hunger for the next superstar to distract us from our own beauty.

Meanwhile, I go to school each day and no matter where the school or what the names of the kids or teachers are, do my little part to show them the miracle they are and the joy of sharing a community of miraculous beings through our efforts to express ourselves eloquently, imaginatively and joyfully. Working with the kids today felt like rolling a six to get up the ladder. Walking in the Mall, I landed on that long slide down.

But tomorrow is another day.


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