by Chris Brannick
Let me say one word to you – ‘chakra’.
What’s your reaction?
Do your eyes roll at the thought of badly understood eastern philosophies being abused by shoddy western thinkers, or do you salivate at the thought of deep learning that can transform our materialistic society and bring about a new dawn for humanity?
Whichever it is – stop.
Think, instead, about how you react when faced with a difficult piece of news. Think about your gut reactions… your first instincts… your immediate first response.
Is it sensible? Not always. But let’s look at the concept of the chakras and – without getting into the deeper philosophy – see if it can help us to react better, react wiser and react more responsibly.
Understanding your reactions
Sometimes we react in a way that isn’t rational. Where do these often unhelpful responses come from? Perhaps if we can become more aware of our subconscious drivers, we can use them to boost our conscious decisions, not undermine them – a process that Carl Jung called “suprapersonal consciousness”.
Coaching encourages you to release yourself from self-limiting beliefs and to make positive, life-enhancing decisions based on an effective balance of rational and emotional triggers.
If we can find balance in ourselves, we can bring balance to our decision making and so take agency of our pathways.
The chakras – the word is taken from the Sanskrit word for wheel, circle or cycle – are 5 to 7 focal points (depending on the tradition) used in meditation practice. Carl Jung was an early adopter of many of the principles of chakras in his principles of psychology.
What are the chakras and why should I care?
Six major chakras are arranged along the body and there is a seventh energy point generally not regarded as a chakra, but useful to consider in a coaching context.
Let’s look at them individually.
- Root – muladhara. Based at the base of the spine or the coccyx. This chakra is focussed on the basics of survival.
- Sacral – svadhishthana. This is located in at the root of the sexual organ and can represent sexuality and emotions.
- Solar plexus – manipura. It’s more useful, from a coaching context, to think of this as ‘gut reactions’. Related to power, will.
- Heart – anahata (dharma). Forever linked to love and relationships.
- Throat – vishuddhi. As this controls speaking, it’s associated with communication.
- Third Eye – ajna. Intuition and imagination are brought together here.
- Crown – sahasrara. Not generally regarded as a chakra but a seventh energy centre. This highest state of awareness is placed at the crown of the head and can be seen as complete control of your thoughts and actions, leading to connection with your highest self.
Our first reactions are triggered by a combination of these instincts, starting with the most primeval and – ideally – combining to create our most aware responses.
Each of these responses is genuine and well-founded.
But not always helpful.
Our ingrained beliefs and experiences can filter these responses in unhelpful and negative ways. The ‘amygdala hijack’ kicks in under stress and we resort to whichever is our safest, least challenging reaction.
Our best possible response
Each of our instinctive responses is founded on social or evolutionary benefits but has a corresponding primary fear or self-limiting belief that can ‘block’ its positive rationale.
Coaching can help us to clarify those fears and beliefs in order that our instincts can flourish. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,
“our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room, but with experience we become expert at using our behaviour and our training to interpret – and decode – what lies behind our snap judgment and first impressions.”
So are our gut reactions always right?
Though our gut reactions might not be the truth of a situation, they contain a truth of that situation and should not be ignored.
The idea of the adaptive unconscious suggests that a lot of the immediate processing of our environment is done without us being aware of it. Sizing up risks, channelling our experiences and trusting our instincts is done without our conscious mind ever being aware of it.
Let me put it another way…
The pyramid of response
Let’s look at these chakras (and hence our pyramid of responses) from the most primal to the most sophisticated and how they might relate to a coaching session:
Survival: the positive survival reflex can be blocked by fear. We can become over-sensitised to the imagined fear rather than the actual fear and our risk perception is often flawed.
- Which of those fears are real and which imagined? What can you do to mitigate them?
- Can you let go of the fears? What benefit are these fears? How secure you feel on the Maslow hierarchy of needs can determine what risks you feel you can take.
The Maslow hierarchy of needs
Pleasure: who doesn’t want pleasure?! After the basic needs for survival have been met, the desire for pleasure is the next strongest driver in human behaviour. This wish for pleasure can be undermined by guilt and by unexamined moral codes that have been passed down to us.
- What do you feel guilt for? What do you blame yourself for?
- What is unhelpfully interfering with your pleasure response?
Willpower: many things stand in the way of harnessing our will power to be its most helpful response. Often past disappointments or “failures” hold us back… “it’s always been like that, why would it be different this time?”.
- Examining past behaviour and outcomes with your coach will help build perspective. Let your past be a map, not a template.
Love: love, as opposed to pleasure (lust?), is a reaching out. It needs an safe environment in which to grow. It is vulnerable and open and as such, is blocked by memories of when we have been let down by love. Grief, loss, sadness, bereavement only exist because of the love that was there in the first place.
- Continuing to take the risk of loving can be challenging and needs empathetic support. Revealing past losses takes courage and a non-judgemental setting.
Truth: “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy” —Warren W. Wiersbe
The truth, while it ought to be straightforward, can be complex.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” —Oscar Wilde
Facts are based on perception, which is itself based on the drivers that have been learned through experience and upbringing.
This 1986 advert for The Guardian newspaper played on facts being altered by preconceptions but what’s important here are our internal truths. These internal truths are blocked by the lies we tell ourselves.
What are your denials? What are you not accepting about yourself? What are your own truths based on and are they secure?
Insight: insight, that great ‘aha!’ moment we all look for, is blocked by illusion and prejudice.
- A trained coach will be practised in helping you to find clarity. Often the ‘right’ question can reveal the reality of your situation, and this can lead to new insights.
Control: here we have the assimilation of all the other six centres of response, ideally leading to complete control of thought and action. This is blocked by attachment to previously held beliefs and to any one of the component parts shouting louder than the others.
This is, you could say, the coaching chakra.
- Lay out all your responses, even the ‘unhelpful’ ones and talk them through with your coach. Sift the evidence, weight the facts but listen to your instincts.
Gut instinct or logic?
Both. And neither.
Just as success is based on innate talent plus hard work, so good decisions require instinct plus research.
But don’t neglect the role that instinct plays in those decisions. The choice of a life partner, of a career, of a sports team to support are all based on snap decisions that cannot be rationally explained.
All those six instinctive responses can be valuable if they are properly understood.
In another post I’ll look at ways to explore those reactions and to synthesise them to your best advantage.
“Being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience” —Malcolm Gladwell