“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~ Buddha
There’s something I need to get off my chest.
As much as I love yoga and meditation I just can’t get behind the concepts of the energetic subtle body and chakras. At least, I can’t wrap my head these things as real phenomena that actually effect me. Not metaphors, not concepts at the early stage of investigation, but accepted as truth; excused and heralded as being above the need for scientific scrutiny.
Does that piss you off? Change your opinion of me? Make me a bad yogi?
My fear of being seen as a bitch, judgemental and closed-minded has held me back from openly discussing my skepticism for years. I’ve reached a point though, after nearly a decade of yoga practice, where I feel it is a lie by omission NOT to state that I can’t stomach some of the woo woo new age stuff that is seen as part & parcel of the yoga scene.
I first tried yoga after a severe back injury left me unable to sit down, and a severe eating disorder was ravaging my body and mind. I loved then, and love now, how yoga helps me connect my body, mind and breath – drawing me into the present and calm. Over the years, my practice has helped me still my mind long enough to realise some hard truths, and let go of hefty emotional baggage. It has been an invaluable tool, a beautiful part of my life.
However, talk of the subtle body, the energetic system and the chakras as spinning colourful wheels of energy has always left me cold. In fact, it’s these supernatural phenomena, often presented as inexplicable and beyond scientific investigation (faith based, not fact based) that have held me back from committing myself wholeheartedly as a yogi. A gnawing scepticism in the pit of my stomach that wants answers to my questions, not wishy washy ‘just because’.
I’m not religious, for the same reason. Agnostic since my first day in Catholic school when I was told that I would go to hell if I didn’t believe in God (by a nun). Never atheist, because that term always implies (at least in my mind) a kind of arrogance and dogmatic belief of its own but agnostic – comfortable on the fence.
You might ask – well then, why not just agree that to each their own, and if it works for someone to align their chakras and believe in the law of attraction, so be it.
Well, sure, that has actually been my approach for years.
Thing is, when it comes to religion I’m totally fine with people saying that it’s a matter of faith. When it comes to ideas like the law of attraction, chakras, crystal healing, reiki and psychics, these are often presented to us as things that are to be accepted – not as a belief, but as fact. As if they are really provable and backed up by science. Which, they are not. No, really, they are not.
It’s something that makes me really uncomfortable. I actually find all of the above fascinating, and have read a lot about them. I think they are fantastic jumping off points for rigorous debate and investigation. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could one day provide testable theories as to why reiki helps people?? (Above and beyond the placebo effect)
I’m not writing this to offend or criticise, and I don’t mean to judge. Though I suppose I am in a way. My bad, and my apologies if this pisses you off. I’m just trying to be completely totally and utterly honest. That means coming clean – I’m a skeptic when it comes to all things supernatural and inexplicable. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to the possibility that they work, or that we will find out why some day.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this, I’ve already asked on Twitter. I’m asking for your honest opinions.
Earlier this year I confessed these thoughts to a far more experienced yogi than I. In an honest discussion I simply admitted that my brain can’t quite wrap itself around the idea that we have energy channels that are unseen and unable to be monitored. I was told (kindly) that the question I should be asking is (paraphrasing here). - why must everything be reduced to that which can be scientifically proved?
Is that the question I should be asking? Instead of asking for proof that Reiki works, should I instead be asking why I feel the need for evidence at all?
If that is indeed the case, is a belief that the chakras are real like a belief in God? Same for the belief that the Universe has a purpose and each of us a personal fate that we can shift with positive thought?
I love yoga, truly I do, but why do we need to explain the exquisite beauty of a regular practice in supernatural terms? Why can’t it simply be a method of rediscovering yourself and feeling at one and peaceful with the world & cosmos?
I believe it can, or at least it certainly is for me. I feel truly connected to all that is at times through yoga. I have experienced that same staggering feeling you can sometimes achieve by looking up at the stars, or out across a mountain range. I feel so amazingly at one with the universe – a being of the universe, a now-conscious collection of atoms that were once in the belly of a star. This mysterious wonder doesn’t need a supernatural element for it to be valid – no God, no energy that guides my life.
Life is brilliant in its reality – messy, chaotic, mind-bendingly complicated, largely unknown, wondrous and exciting.
I call this spirituality. My heart soars when I realise my small, humble place in the cosmos. Reading books like A Stroke of Insight, Wild, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Carl Sagan’s books and anything by Pema Chodron fills me with a sense of peace. I love the ideas of secular Buddhism, and I’m always fascinated by how human spirituality has evolved since ancient times. Equally fascinating is the question – where to from here?
Am I alone in the belief that the spiritual ideals and feelings of connection don’t need to be distinct and removed from scientific exploration and discovery?
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.” ~ Richard P. Feynman
Earlier today I read a great article about Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Parts of our cosmos that are currently theoretical, without hard evidence but full of possibility.
Could we see the ideas of the ancients in similar terms? Chakras and energy centres and chi – can we build on these ancient concepts with modern scientific knowledge and curiosity about the hows and whys?
People think that if you are a scientist you have to give up that joy of discovery, that passion, that sense of the great romance of life. I say that’s completely opposite of the truth. ~ Ann Druyan
There are some people who have already tried to integrate these fascinating ancient ideas with the knowledge we have acquired using the scientific method. Julian Walker’s ideas on chakras as metaphors for mind/body processes are definitely worth a read I also love the NPR blog 13.7 Cosmos & Culture.
Hand wavy assertions that there are things that are beyond knowing, to be felt (by our brains) but not explained, just doesn’t do it for me. It leaves me with oh-so-many questions!!
Is there a greater supernatural force in the world that dictates what happens in my life? Does this energy flow through my body and govern how my cells work?
If so, do crystals and reiki and certain yoga poses somehow interfere with this great and mysterious energy?
Is this energy the same as God – another unknowable supernatural force?
If you believe in one, do you automatically have to believe in the other?
If your rational mind can’t take the leap of faith required for either of these then does that make you a bad yogi who might as well do pilates?
Oh blogosphere, help me out here!
I would love to debate this with people who are as fascinated by these topics as I am. None of my close friends are yogis, they haven’t experienced some of the exquisite loveliness a practice can bring. They also don’t know enough about chakras or the subtle body have this debate.
I’m honestly asking if any of you are willing to step forward and chat about this – whether you agree with my concerns, or disagree completely.
What appeals with energetic healing? What convinces you?
Do you believe, or are you skeptical like me?
Is there room for science here, or will it always require a suspension of disbelief for the magic to work?