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On Peering Deeper Into Ourselves and the Cosmos
Accepting and experiencing our subtle body and allowing ourselves to expand into it and, as a result, into the world around us.
The scientific method is founded in the effort to understand the Universe by observing it. Fundamental to the pursuits of science is the ability to measure various aspects of reality and to make assessments based on these measurements. Thus, one of the most important themes in modern science is the development of better and more precise measurement tools.
We see this pursuit of advancing measurement all across the history of science. We used to look at the Cosmos with our eyes - from these observations, we developed cosmologies and mythologies based upon what we saw. Then, the telescope came along and we gained additional information because our ability to observe the Cosmos was advanced by better tools of measurement.
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Today, scientists continue to develop telescopes that are yet more powerful, aiming to look all the way back to the beginning of our known Universe. The deeper into the Cosmos we can peer, the more that we are able to understand.
Thus, it is clear, that our ability to learn through the scientific method is limited by our tools of measurement. The more advanced our tools of measurement, the more we are able to advance our scientific findings.
Secondly, while we can develop the finest tools of measurement possible, we still need to analyze the data. Therefore, our science is also limited by the capabilities of our computational machines (i.e., our computers). We could take the most high-resolution image of the Universe possible, yet we still require a computer with the advanced capabilities of not only reading this photo, but of also making the contents of the photo intelligible for analysis.
I lay this out to say that building knowledge about reality is dependent on our abilities to measure phenomenon and then to analyze the data that we measure. While this is clear in the case of the Cosmos and telescopes, it extends to all pursuits of science. From neuroscience to geology to chemistry to physics, we learn about reality by measuring it and analyzing what we have measured.
It is, thus, so fascinating that it is us - human beings - who are so consumed by the desire to advance our tools of measurement and computation. Fascinating because there is no more complex measurement system and computational machine in the known Universe than the human brain and body.
Energy is flung at us constantly and our body not only absorbs it but is able to capture it and send it to our brains where we analyze and make sense of it in real-time. There is no man-made creation that can compete with the measuring and computational powers of our very own selves.
We, of course, cannot sense everything. There is the umwelt which represents the dimensions of reality around us that we can sense. We commonly know that we can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. We, however, don’t appear to have explicit sensors that can detect infrared radiation, microwaves, or UV light. So, clearly we do not appear to have the ability to sense of everything - at least not at the same clarity as the classically accepted ranges of energy.
What is also clear is that there is a range of energies and sensations we can “pick up” that are far more subtle than our five primary senses. Often, such energies come to us in the form of intuition, in that it is hard to place precisely where within ourselves the feeling we are experiencing arose. Many of us disregard the subtle sensations within our body altogether, drowning the quiet whispers of our intuition with a constant bombardment of media and sound - never providing ourselves the adequate silence to pick up the signals the Universe is constantly bombarding us with.
Most famously, the human relationship with the moon displays that our bodies have a complex relationship with subtle energies. For much of modern history, scientists would have shrugged off the idea that the moon cycles directly impact human beings as “lunacy” - yet, human history and biology paints a clear picture that our bodies are capable of syncing up with and being influenced by the lunar cycles.
Besides through sight, we cannot readily name the sensations we are picking up from the moon. Whether it truly has an impact upon us, we can readily observe (and if so motivated, calculate) that the moon’s gravitational impact on the Earth and us is constantly changing. The oceans are pulled towards the moon as it passes above it - there is little reason to think the water in our own bodies behaves any differently.
While the lunar connection with the body are too subtle to be readily tangible and described, the evidence of their existence is made clear in the human menstrual cycle - aptly named after the moon. Today, this relationship has been further obscured by both the commonplace use of medications to control the menstrual cycleand the fact that modern lighting generally means we are not exposed to the drastic differences in the night-time presence of the moon across the month.
To be clear here, I am not specifically trying to make some point about humans and the moon - I am just trying to articulate that there are subtle energies that we are able to sense that are difficult, if not impossible, to readily name. These subtle sensations likewise have subtle impacts on ourselves. They manifest in these Cosmic ways, but they appear constantly in our day-to-day lives. I could just as easily discuss how humans have a capacity to read one another’s energy - perhaps you have met (or are) an empathic person who can recognize how other people are feeling simply by being in the presence of them.
Science, as an institution, tends to distance itself from matters of reality that are not readily measurable. This is why science has had such a terrible time grappling with the human condition - the body itself is subject to both tangible and subtle energies, yet scientific measurement tools are largely only able to pinpoint these tangible energies. When it comes to matters of our spirit, soul, and internal life - modern science has offered very little of true value,instead opting to focus on what is tangible, like the structure of our brains or the presence of various compounds in our blood.
Whereas our modern society has largely minimized the reality of the subtle body, far more ancient traditions have developed complex systems for engaging with, understanding, and controlling the subtle body. We see the subtle body across Eastern religions and Western mysticism. In Hinduism and Buddhism there is the chakra system, in traditional Chinese medicine we have the meridian system and qi, and in Western mysticism we have the body of light or astral body.
For many of us, we were raised to think of these subtle energy systems as being archaic and non-scientific. This would make some sense if we replaced these understandings with something that better captured the subtle body, yet our modern science and medicine has, instead, largely disregarded the reality of the subtle body, given our inability to measure it.
I, myself, used to find the concepts of chakras and meridian lines bizarre and hokey. But, over time it dawned on me that our nervous system is quite literally an electrical system that is wired throughout our entire body. We are animated by lightning!
For whatever reason, simply acknowledging that there is a vast and complex electrical grid inside our body that controls our sensations and movements radically changed how I understood the subtle sensations of my own body. As a society, we don’t actively engage with this aspect of our bodies - when we go to the doctor, they run tests on our blood, on our organs, on our muscles, and on our skeletons. Yet, there is little mention or acknowledgment of the electrical system that is central to our very being - for our consciousness is housed in the electricity animating us!
The closest we get to this electrical system in modern medicine are indicators that can be measured in our blood that are understood to impact the workings of our brain. Various neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are measured and, depending on the the levels, we are offered medications that seek to regulate their presence in our body. We struggle to understand, diagnose, and treat diseases related to the degeneration of our nervous system.
I am no expert on chakras or the meridian system or any other art of deciphering the subtle body. Yet, once I understood its reality, I became a conscious actor in engaging with it. Throughout my life, anxiety and depression have manifested as an intense physical sensation in my chest. I found these sensations to be excruciating and debilitating.
Yet, what could I tell a doctor? What could a doctor find? What could a doctor measure? We are all accustomed to refrains like “it’s all in your head” - but, no, this feeling in my chest is as real as real gets. It is a feeling that arises in the subtle body and becomes so loud that I have no choice but to hear it.
As I gave myself permission to accept the reality of my own subtle body and the aspects of it that cannot be readily measured, I began to notice that I had not only the ability to notice my own subtle body, but I began to notice that all of my emotions and feelings seemed to arise from the subtle body.
When I find myself manic, I realized that there is an intensity between my ears, as though a swarm of bees is making a great cacophony in my brain. Action and movement (tell-tale signs of mania) were the only things that would distract me from the discomfort present. One day I let myself just sit - and it was deeply unpleasant to just sit - and experience this feeling inside of my head. Obviously, it was a real feeling, invisible as it was. It occurred to me to suggest to my partner, “I think the chakra-thingy in my head is overactive right now.”
I cannot tell you what is causing the feeling inside my head or inside my chest. Many of us may have similar experiences, perhaps there are portions of your body where you hold immense amounts of “tightness” - in that your nervous system is so active in that region that the muscles they control have been contracted for all your life.
We have a subtle body. I don’t think that it is something that can readily be captured in a literal system. I am coming to understand, though, that by creating a system of awareness, such as chakras or the astral body, we gain the ability to work with our subtle body instead of being controlled by it. These systems were not just, like, made-up for fun. These systems were developed by people, across generations, trying to grapple with and understand their own experiences of their own subtle body. These systems are deeply valuable - not in that they are literal (the way we expect scientific knowledge to be anyway), but because they empower us to understand, witness, and not be controlled by the reality of our subtle body.
In our society, so many of us are struggling in many physical and mental ways. We are a highly medicated people and we are, largely, unwell to a variety of degrees. Thus, conversations of the subtle body are largely related to healing. We are offered the chakra (yoga) and meridian (acupuncture) systems, among others (such as Reiki), through the lens of alternative medicine. And, yes, these systems have been historically applied to the practice of healing - but, we often don’t engage with the matter of strengthening our subtle body when it is healthy.
For example, if you strain or injure a muscle, you ideally take the time to recuperate and heal the muscle. Now, when the muscle is finally healed, you can resume life as normal. It turns out, however, that after you injure a muscle and provide it the rest and healing it needs that that muscle is typically weaker than when you injured it. As such, after healing there is a whole process of strengthening that can be done. One can strengthen a muscle to return to its former strength and, if so desired, one can work that muscle to make it even stronger.
I’m not suggesting that the subtle body operates on identical principles as our muscles - just that when it comes to muscles we understand that there are healing processes and there are strengthening processes. When it comes to the subtle body, we largely engage with it and the arts related to it when we are in need of healing. Once we have gained a certain benefit, we tend to discard these practices. However, once we start to become cognizant of our subtle body, we can strengthen it. We can give our attention to it when we are healthy and we are able to move into a deeper, closer connection with our body!
As we allow ourselves to accept the sensations of the subtle body, we empower our essence, our soul stuff, to expand into the subtle body. We are able to gain a deeper awareness of our own body and, thus, a deeper mastery of our own body. Without awareness and control over our subtle body, we are unable to walk the path of self-actualization.
There is a Druidic triad on the three journeys of learning: mastery over the self; mastery over the world; mastery over the unknown. When our senses are limited to the traditional five senses, we are only able to bear witness to a narrow band of reality. The energies and sensations that do not conform to these senses are treated as non-existent or “in our heads”.
When we gain greater mastery over our subtle body, we are also refining our ability to utilize the subtle senses innate to us. Like scientists designing more advanced telescopes, we to can undergo a process of refinement - we can expand our sight and we can bear witness to these more subtle energies. When we expand into our subtle body and strengthen it, our umwelt expands with it - what we can sense and perceive expands as well.
Now, I started this essay by talking about scientific measurement and analysis. Science has become our centralized system for knowledge-building and it is a system that relies on our ability to measure and analyze data. Yet, there is no more advanced machine for sensing and analyzing than our own body and brain. The complex nature of our internal system is able to collect a vast array of energies, ranging from the brightest to the most subtle and our brain is capable of analyzing all of this data in real-time.
This means that when we learn to fully accept the sensations of our body, we are able to step into an immensely rich rendering of reality. There are many aspects of reality that are inaccessible to our modern methods of science - both within our own internal microcosm and in the external world.
There is an immense depth to reality that we only have access to through ourselves - that we must come to for ourselves. Our subtle body is the vehicle through which we can access this richness. In mastery over the self, we open the path towards mastery of the world and mastery of the unknown.
This is why so many esoteric traditions have arisen to explain the complex nature of both our internal world and our shared external reality. Today, most of us are navigating a world in which this realm of the subtle body and of the subtle Universe is not treated as being real. As a result, we are alienated from ourselves and forced to navigate our lives handicapped by this false illusion.
Further, alienated from our subtle body, we are made subject to its sensations. We are prescribed medications and therapies aimed at healing these sensations and these protocols act to alienate us from ourselves even further.When our subtle body is sending us painful signals, it is painful to listen to it - yet, it is by listening to it that we are able to address the pain we are experiencing and feeling.
And, upon healing, we are able to embark on the journey of discovering our subtle body and of experiencing the world and the unknown through it. We can experience no richer picture of ourselves, of the world, and of the Universe than the one we can receive through our subtle body.
A prayer to conclude: May we trust and listen to the sensations that arise in our own body. Even when we cannot seem to capture these sensations with our words and our intellect, may we accept them as real - for if they were not, we would not be experiencing them. May we learn to navigate and experience our subtle bodies so that we may learn to navigate and experience the world through them. May our lives be made richer through this opening and acceptance of ourselves.
For example, we can certainly detect the presence of UV light - it burns our skin.
To be clear, I am simply saying that such medications work to obscure the relationship between menstrual cycles and the moon - I am not passing any judgment on the use of such medications. These are choices that each person ought to make for themselves.
I am a decently well-published public health researcher - I have not read all of the literature, but feel I am a fairly reliable source to discuss the limitations of human subjects science.
This is not to demonize medications and therapies - it is to point out that, while they may heal symptoms and while they may offer us a certain form of grounding, they do not inherently bring us back to our bodies.