Close your eyes, take a deep breath and check in with the quality of your mind. What’s the mental environment like? Do your best just to notice without judging or changing anything. Like when you look out your window to notice the weather. Here you're checking in on the inner weather. Is it clear or muddled? Quiet or frantic? Dull or vibrant? Fixated or soft?
Now give yourself a massage of your temples and brow. Perhaps press those tender recesses behind the ears, where the jaw meets the skull. Maybe massage the occipital joint that protrudes out at the back of the skull. When you're ready, find your "third eye" with your finger. It's between the eyebrows and a bit up. Most folks have a little divot right there. Find a spot where your finger wants to rest. Put a bit of pressure there and take some deep breaths in and out of that space.
This is Chakra 6, the Third Eye. In Sanskrit it is called AJNA, which can be translated as “command center” or “center of perception.” These two meanings relate to Chakra Six’s two corresponding glands. (1) The pituitary gland--known as the "master" gland because it controls the functions of other glands in the endocrine system and (2) the pineal gland which secretes serotonin, regulates our circadian rhythms and connects us to the natural seasonal cycles. While acupressure on the front of the forehead stimulates the AJNA chakra, I recommend that you also experiment with feeling this sphere of energy vibrating at the center of the skull where those glands are located.
Chakra 6 is the SEER and PHILOSOPHER of the chakra system, well as the CAPTAIN. Like the pineal gland, CHAKRA 6 perceives our connection to the whole and like the pituitary gland it organizes the functioning of the other chakras in accordance with that perception. As Chakra 6 develops, one "sees" with more intelligence and one's worldview becomes increasingly coherent and aligned with truth. Someone in whom this center is strong will be able to gain perspective on any situation, to see the bigger picture, the far-reaching ramifications and how everything relates. Someone who has a strong Third Eye will come across as intelligent, logical, equanimous, unbiased and fair, calm and confident. To this person, truth and understanding are more important than personal gain. They are willing to examine and reexamine. They hold a relaxed authority on the subjects they know and an open humility in those they don’t. Lovers of wisdom (the meaning of the Greek word philosophy), they engage each moment with curiosity, wonder and playfulness.
This requires that this person be oriented in a cooperative, collaborative way. If, instead, we are oriented in a competitive, hierarchical way, then the AJNA chakra will overstep it bounds and lose the ability to properly work as a team with the other chakras. It, along with Chakra Five with all of its stories of "should," can treat the body like an inferior to be ceaselessly bossed around. It might start innocently--the micromanager, the meddling friend, the bossy older brother--but over time Chakra Six can become a real fascist asshole. When the lower chakras are not respected for all they bring to the system, they have to shout louder and fight harder to get their needs and offerings recognized. The upper chakras, meanwhile, insist on their authority with more violence and vehemence. When this happens the body and mind go to war and the heart becomes a battleground.
When Chakra Six is out of line, the exquisite balance of the chakra system gets thrown off completely. In order to address your energy being disturbed, wasted and entangled we better look more closely at an unhealthy Chakra Six. In excess, it can't stop perceiving, interpreting and commanding. It shows up as a busy mind, incessantly judging, reasoning, explaining, projecting, planning. Lacking that playfulness and wonder, truly learning new things is difficult, truly exploring the world and our perspectives is difficult. The worldview becomes hardened and the idea of possibly amending it feels too scary. So instead we have a tendency to believe whatever fits into our existing worldview and to reject anything that challenges it.
When Chakra Six is deficient, there is zero trust in one’s own perceptions or judgements. Your worldview give’s you a solid foundation to stand on and calibrated lenses to see through as you meet the world and interpret what it throws your way. With a deficient Chakra Six, your worldview never properly coheres. It is too flimsy, permeable and changeable to support a solid stance. It is too confused and variable to allow clear vision. Of course, this perpetuates itself, as the person fails again and again to get validation from their own disjointed, unreliable worldview. Such people might have immense difficulty making decisions or just live mostly in unconscious habit in order to avoid the pain of making decisions without the tools to do so. They will tend to look for an outer authority to tell them how to see and think and adopt whatever they say without critique. Here the mind might feel weak, easily distracted or anxious. But instead of projecting its certainty onto the world, like the excessive Chakra 6, the deficient one projects doubt. It's like trying to make your way through the woods while you keep rewriting the map.
As is true with all of these chakras, most folks tend to go back in forth between excessive and deficient.
The color of Chakra Six is deep INDIGO like the night sky. This confused me when I first learned the colors of the chakras because my studies had taught that AJNA is associated with clarity and lucidity and, moreover, because I had directly experienced such a brightness in that space in meditation. How odd, I thought, that such a dark color represents such a light-filled space. The resolution to the seeming paradox came in a one deep meditation where I realized that it a dark space is a pre-requisite for clear illumination. Just like a quiet space is required for us to clearly hear distinct sounds.
In Brooklyn, on a clear night, you can see a few stars at best. Because there is not enough darkness it is impossible to register the presence of the many brilliant bodies. Now if there’s too much light pollution you can’t see the stars. But go out to the country and there’s more stars than you could possibly count. Your mind is like the city sky when it has too much clutter or pollution or noise. In those instances it is very hard to tell what is authentic illumination and what is artificial. If the mind is still and spacious indigo, then it is an available space for insight, intuition and understanding to shine forth.
In my experience ETHER is the best matched element for Chakra 6. ETHER is the fifth element, the quintessence, the most essential yet ephemeral of the elements. The word for the fifth element in Sanskrit is AKASHA, which means space. You could think of it as vastness, availability or emptiness. Ether does not have perceivable qualities but rather, it is the SPACE in which the other elements arise.
While almost everyone agrees on the elements associated with the lower chakras, that is not the case with chakras 4-7. Everything gets more subtle and nuanced as we work our way up. To navigate these areas without getting lost in confusion and doubt, we need a strong Sixth Chakra. This allows us to do our research, to be logical and discerning, to zoom in on different possibilities and try them on without attachment, to zoom out and see how the whole system works. And ultimately, it allows us to trust our own direct experiences and rest on our own authority.
The qualities most often associated with AJNA are INTUITION & WISDOM. These qualities are most highly esteemed in spiritual circles, but the means by which we might develop them are rarely broken down into achievable steps. By speaking of these qualities as transcendent and vague we can end up under the false impression that we must not have them at all. Like it's all or nothing--some people are born intuitive and the rest of us fall short. The pre-conceived notion that wisdom is inherited can be a huge road block in accessing your AJNA Chakra. The thing is, everyone has one! Therefore everyone has intuition and wisdom. In this blog post we'll get ways of developing these ephemeral-feeling qualities.
Here’s the clue I’ll give you right now: It begins with TRUST. In order to develop wisdom, you must first first develop TRUST IN YOUR OWN POWERS TO NOTICE AND INTERPRET. In order to develop intuition, you first must develop TRUST IN YOUR OWN DIRECT EXPERIENCE.
To explore how we come by this TRUST helpful to look to the iconography this is associated with CHAKRA 6 and the area it rules: the sword.
The sword represents REASON. At its best, reason cuts away the false and leave us with the true. It severs our attachments when theose attachments are causing suffering. It allows us to dissect relaity, and glimpse one part at a time, studying how each little piece functions. When we put it all back together, we are graced with a more coherent, complete and nuanced understanding of the reality. When we apply that new understanding we call it wisdom.
The thing is, a sword is useless if we don't pick it up, if we lack the strength or skill to use it or if we allow its blade to warp, rust or to grow dull. Worse still, the sword is deathly dangerous if we're not using it for the wrong reasons, if we’re not wielding it in the name of the greater good. If, instead of pruning away bad growth you attack things blindly you make a mess of your world, cut away your own resources and end up living in a chaotic wasteland. If you use the blade to cut apart your world but fail to lovingly put it all back together, you will end up living in a reality that feels disintegrated and disingenuous. If you abuse the blade for defending your attachments and preferences instead of truth and goodness, you are attacking your potential saviors and aiding the perpetrators of your own suffering.
Remain in this severed state long enough and your rational thinking begins to spin out, making you feel trapped in a whirling mind. This is how reason becomes a harsh authoritarian unable to interface with the wisdom of body and heart. This is why Manjushri, pictured in the photo at the top of the blog, has his sword raised with one hand, but holds the other on his heart. We must keep compassion and reason connected, we must keep all the chakras working together as a team to arrive at wisdom.
Here are the 3 steps for developing the AJNA Chakra, which we will continue to think of in terms of the sword.
Prepare your blade and train yourself to use it so you're ready when it counts
Sharpen the blade > do work with concentration, focus and memory.
- mindfulness practice: this is the most basic kind of meditation (known as dharana or shamata in Sanskrit). Focus your mind on one object and rest it there. When it wanders bring it back.
- Challenge yourself to use your own memory (instead of your phone or your computer's) more often. It works best if you memorize things feel resonant--a beloved poem, or maybe the names of the Chakras in Sanskrit.
Make yourself stronger and more adept with your instrument > develop skills of reasoning, logic, analysis, critical thinking, study in general
- Study complete systems (like the chakras!), dissect things, ask questions then put them back together. Be curious and scientific.
- Spend time contemplating the nature of a subject that interestes you and theorizing on it. Record voice memos, journal.
- Philosophize with a friend. Think of someone who you like to rap with and make a date.
Develop big picture thinking >
- Take in visual art and visual beauty; make visual art and beautiful scenes
- Study maps of places you think are interesting, or diagrams of systems you think are interest
NOTE: Remember that it’s not so much WHAT you study. It’s the effect on AJNA chakra, so don't cling too much to the literal content. When we become too obsessed with the content, and forget how it fits into the bigger picture. When we forget WHY we end up falling into dogmatism. This is how Chakra Six can fool itself that it is wise and authoritative when in fact it has stepped out of integrity. It should call to you. If you are doing it to impress someone else then it’ll feel like drudgery. And doing anything to appease an outer authority weakens chakra 6 in the long run. So choose what you study intuitively and let it bring you joy.
Use your trained swordsmanship when it matters most--to promote goodness and truth, to defend your highest values.
Connect to your values and make them your touchstone > When we worked with the heart we got in touch with our deepest values. Now take a look at all the spiritual work you're doing and contemplate how what you do/say/think connects back to those values.
Apply logic to your spiritual practice > Develop a deeper understanding of why you do the practices that you do!
Apply systematic thinking to your spiritual practice > You are a complex organism. Study yourself systematically. Develop a deeper understanding of how your many pieces all work together. Design you life around this understanding. Curate your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly spiritual practices based on this understanding.
Use your sword to cut away what is no longer serving you > Next time that you are suffering ask yourself what is the real cause of this suffering? Ask, "What is the truest thing I know right now?" Let potential answers flow in. As each one arrives, kindly assess it and, if it doesn't feel like the truest thing you know, cleanly slice away and await the next. What are you left with? Write it down. Return to it next time you feel lost.
Integrate the wisdom of the body and the heart > To ensure that the wisdom of the body is recognized by the mind we have to dedicate time to cultivating that dialogue. Make time every week to let your body lead.
Refuse to pretend anymore > Be honest when you are acting from something other than Chakra Six. It's ok to do things that aren't logical! But don't pick up your sword and try to bring logic into it if you're just acting out of desire, whimsy, attachment or unconscious conditioning.
Live in integrity > When you know something to be right, act on it unflinchingly.
This can be the hardest part and the most important part. The natural state of Ajna Chakra is dark indigo--it's a restful and available place. If you don't make time for it to return there, you will suffer.
Quiet your mind while you’re awake > Learn how to meditate. Do it everyday.
Trust your not knowing > Socrates said that real wisdom is knowing how little you know. I have found this to be true--the wisest people I know are also the most comfortable asking saying, "I don't know!" They seem to actually relish it not knowing, perhaps because they LOVE learning and growing so much.
Next time you're really struggling, pause, take a breath say, "I don't know" or "I don't understand." Ask your Third Eye to soften and become quiet and receptive. Perhaps even repeat "I don't know," as a mantra. Notice what happens next.
Trust your knowing> When you really "get" something, it's yours. You don't have to go around clutching it, proclaiming it, waving it around for all to see. That will harden and exhaust the Third Eye--not to mention the people all around you. Practice feeling so confident in what you know that you can relax your grip on it.
Put down on your knowing, soften your grip on all those things you memorized, trust that understanding has really set in and just fall back into the darkened space of the mind. Stop manufacturing reality for a few moments and let reality show up on its own. And I promise that reality will show up. In glittery constellation, in brilliant flashes, in ways that might feel surprising, if you can just make AJNA available, reality will be illuminated.