Certain things we come into the world with, and certain things we don’t.
For all that doesn’t come naturally, we need a method to help get us there.
Tantra means to expand, and to move beyond all limitations. It also translates as “to weave.” The weaving in this case relates to bringing together the disparate parts of ourselves and shoring up the aspects of our consciousness that we experience or believe to be fractured. Tantra is a philosophy rooted in the idea that the Sacred is inherent in all existence. It is also a collection of methodologies used to refine our perception, so that we can see, sense, and feel the Sacred in all things. Tantra is the paint, the paintbrush, and the painting all at once. For the reader who hears the word Tantra and only thinks about either tantric sex or Sting’s mythical staying power, I’m happy we’ve crossed paths. Please, read on.
The tradition’s aim is to unlock, amplify, and expand the fullness of our being, and return us to our most essential nature. The teachings suggest that in the fulfillment of having our hearts touched so deeply, what remains is an undeniable sense of awe for what a gift it is to be alive. Tantra is the lived experience of wonder, and the methods used to invoke it. The teachings are not intended to be taken at face value. Instead the ask is that we put them to the test through practice, and from that direct experience discover for ourselves what’s true.
I practiced and taught yoga for nearly two decades before discovering the full range of Tantra. At the time I was plenty fulfilled and felt I was on a surefooted path of self-study, and to a certain extent I was. I had come far in what was a life long struggle with anxiety. It was an anxiety born from a deeply embedded fear of loss. That fear led me to accumulate the unique brand of emotional pain that comes with feeling love for someone, while relentlessly doing everything possible to push them away. That included my relationship to myself. This simultaneous push and pull became a behavioral pattern hardwired into my psyche and stuck on playback. It was like a song playing that I couldn’t take off repeat. But the intersection that occurred for me with my tantric teacher in 2016 was an ignition so profound, it has since changed everything. And it is some of those teachings that I want to, at the very least, introduce to you now.
So it is that we are here now in the artful conversation around the pivotal and powerful center of the heart—the Anahata chakra. And when it comes to finding a method with enough power and knowledge to reveal the full radiance of Anahata’s undifferentiated intelligence, I can think of no better vehicle than Tantra.
Anahata translates as unbroken, and the space of the unstuck sound. On the surface, it’s common knowledge that the heart center is associated with love and compassion. In balance, the prevailing consciousness of the heart chakra is empathic, peaceful, and loving. Out of balance, the manifestations of the obstructed consciousness can show up as intolerance, isolation, loneliness, and judgment.
Supporting this idea with empirical evidence, the HeartMath Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals to access their intuitive insight and heart intelligence. HeartMath research has shown that patterns of heart activity that accompany different emotional states have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, the heart rhythm pattern becomes chaotic and erratic, which in turn inhibits higher cognitive functions. It becomes harder to think clearly, reason, and make effective decisions. Conversely, during positive emotional states, the pattern of the heart’s input to the brain is more coherent and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. Connecting this back to the map of the subtle body, Tantra suggests that the heart center can hold 1000x more power (shakti) than the lower three energy centers combined. So whether it is the physical heart or the energetic heart center, the power of this domain in the body is well established.
Anahata is also associated with the air (vayu) element. The alchemy of how air interacts with the fluctuations of change in the manifest world is uniquely different than earth or water, the elements associated with the first two lower chakras. Consider the density of earth vs. air and we gain some insight into how and why the substantive transformation of the first chakra is such a different experience than that of the heart chakra
The Tantric Hatha approach to opening the heart chakra starts at the navel center. Focus is placed on building heat and increasing the energetic power in the abdomen.
THE BODY AS VESSEL
The tantric yoga method first asks us to orient to the body as a vessel. A vessel for what? Our breath, energy, and intelligence among other things. If left unattended, the vessel can become leaky and a less than optimal container for its sacred contents. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we hold countless tensions in our mind. That mental stress changes the way energy moves throughout our body and with enough time those energy blocks manifest in the body. The method then suggests a breath centered approach to yoga. The postures, while still having utility, are secondary to breath and attention. Long slow breaths are used to build space in the body; concentrated focal points harness the power of our energy and apply it.
The Tantric Hatha approach to opening the heart chakra specifically, starts at the naval center. Focus is placed on building heat and increasing the energetic power in the abdomen. That heat in turn initiates a purification of the lower energy centers. In the same way that compressed carbon exposed to enough heat creates a diamond, the subtle viscera where our mind and body meet respond with a similar inner alchemy. As the blockages break apart and the amplitude of the lower three centers revitalizes and expands, that power rises and subsumes the heart. Ultimately this is experienced as the dawning of higher perception, insight, and an increasingly stable sense of being.
A REVELATORY HORIZON
The burden of the heart chakra is grief. The Mayan use a term that vividly articulates the state of the heart chakra if grief goes unmet, denied, or unprocessed for too long: solidified tears. The solidification occurs when grief anchors in the circuitry of the heart center. But like water running under ice, somewhere in the unconscious mind the deeper feelings that lead to the freezing in the first place still flow.
My father died when I was eight years old. And while the loss of a parent at such a young age was brutal, it was the nature of his demise that acted as a locus point of pain in my heart. Only I didn’t know that at the time. The hardwired pattern, that fearful grasp in relationships and that fierce pushing away, created loss after loss and perpetuated my grief. Grief felt like home, yet I couldn’t see that clearly enough to break out of the pattern and choose otherwise. The ice was too thick for me to see the running water below. As I went deeper in the practices of purifying the lower energy centers and learning to calm and quiet the mind in meditation, I was ultimately able to bring my awareness into the contents of The Anahata chakra. It was there in the running water below that I discovered I had inadvertently entered into my own addiction. Only my addiction wasn’t to alcohol, it was to grief.
In the summer of 2018, I was on day seven of a nine day Tantra training, and had just spent four of the most grueling days allowing a lifetime of grief to simply be and be felt. It was 11:30pm on a Thursday night, and having dwelled in an ocean of grief, a fire exploded in my navel center. It felt like the culmination of twenty years of dedication and practice combusting in one moment. While I could write a book about what happened that night, I’ll just say this: my addiction to grief died that night, and nothing has been the same since. The next day, we were guided into a carefully curated meditation that brought us into “the cave of the heart.” And as if for the first time, I felt those fractured pieces of my heart coherent, synthesized, and whole. I was at the unobstructed threshold of the Soul. But even those words fall short.
We can point to the heart center and define what’s in and around it. We can speak to its coherent pulsation as love, unity, empathy, while holding the space for its capacity to freeze and isolate if repressed long enough. Yet at its essence, beneath even the most subtle threads of the psyche, the Anahata chakra is beyond all words that might possibly describe it. At the innermost reaches of consciousness in the heart center is a frequency that can be transmitted but it cannot be known, because anything known cannot be it.
It’s the wordless word, and the soundless sound. The Anahata chakra is the space of the silent un-struck sound. The Anahata chakra is the pathless path to the Soul.
Kevin Courtney is the founder of INSIGHT, a system designed to ignite the power and potential of the awakened individual. A lifelong student of yoga, meditation, and the contemplative arts, he lives in Brooklyn, NY.
@kevinjcourtney / kevinjcourtney.com