Back in the 1970s, when spiritual topics seemed unavoidable, I’d picked up a passing awareness of the seven chakras, key aspects of the study and practice of esoteric Eastern religion. But, as an atheist and confirmed skeptic, I knew little beyond that—only that they were discreet energy clusters running up the spine, each with a meaning for human well-being. As to the significance of the third, I had no idea.


By Daniel Coleman


Like many such adventures, it started with a dream.

Mine was of my father, gone a quarter century from a painful assortment of ailments rooted in decades of cigarette smoking. In my dream, he was quite alive but lay in bed, vaguely suffering, on the third level of a hospital. I had long found that certain dreams arrive with a feeling of meaning, as if offering a glimpse through what Carl Jung called “the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul.”

This was such a dream.

I awoke with an inexplicable certainty that the third level of the hospital meant that some ailment afflicted my third chakra. Back in the 1970s, when spiritual topics seemed unavoidable, I’d picked up a passing awareness of the seven chakras, key aspects of the study and practice of esoteric Eastern religion. But, as an atheist and confirmed skeptic, I knew little beyond that—only that they were discreet energy clusters running up the spine, each with a meaning for human well-being. As to the significance of the third, I had no idea.

Unable to return to sleep, I made a cup of coffee, and opened the balcony door.

The song of the magpies rode in on the crisp morning breeze. At six AM, my little neighborhood was otherwise quiet and at peace. Curious about the dream, I woke the computer, turned to Google and read up on the third chakra, holding my skepticism in abeyance as I learned that this chakra was located at the solar plexus and was the center of energy flow, will power, and feelings of self-worth.

My sense of self-worth had suffered since I emigrated to Australia from the US several years earlier. I left behind a life of meaningful work, community and many friendships, replacing it with one of isolation, alienation and loneliness. These factors were made all the worse when my wife, whose job had brought us to Melbourne, and I were divorced. Suddenly, all that had long defined my life, my well-being, and my sense of self was stripped away.

After breakfast, my curiosity still piqued, I practiced the third chakra meditations my research suggested. Primarily involving deep breathing, these were not too different from mindfulness practices I’d done in the past. Keeping my focus on the rise and fall of my diaphragm, I was instructed to visualize a ball of yellow light swirling about my abdomen. It felt peaceful and relaxing but by no means profound. I then sat at my desk and worked productively on a chapter of my novel that had bedeviled me for weeks—one in which my protagonist grapples with profound grief.

Had my “energy flow” had been “unblocked” by the meditation? It was undeniable that the writing now came easily, the chapter completed by week’s end.

The following Saturday was a perfect spring day; the sun warm and the breeze just right. I walked down to Ormond Road, contemplating the experiences of the past week. I realized that I had effectively practiced what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Although Coleridge meant the term to apply to literature, it comes into play in various other realms.

Before the Enlightenment, belief in a range of mystical arts was commonplace. Alchemy, astrology and divination were all held in high regard even by those known for their scientific accomplishment, including Newton, Kepler, and Galileo. Today, despite the prevalence of horoscopes in daily newspapers, such beliefs are largely left to a New Age fringe.

But they are also the province of dabblers, those who willingly suspend disbelief and venture forth with an open mind to glean what they can from these practices. My own mind was curious, if not entirely open.

I arrived early at the café where I was to meet a friend and wandered over to Natural Forces, a New Age shop known for its incense and crystals. I looked around at the shelves of books, flower essences, and divinatory cards. The air smelled subtly of sage and frankincense. The proprietor glanced up from the counter and I asked if she had any books on the chakras.

Leading me over to a bookcase near the door, she pulled The Chakra Handbook off the shelf, saying it was recommended by a local woman who was teaching a chakra course starting in a few weeks. She handed me the woman’s card and, book in hand, I left the shop to meet my friend.

Later, I lay down on my sofa and reflected on the prospect of the chakra class. I had been thinking I needed something different, a change of pace, something to pull me out of my malaise into a more positive frame of mind. I opened The Chakra Handbook and, just a few pages in, read that “the majority of emotional knots are located in the solar plexus chakra,” seemingly confirming the relevance of my dream.

Following a URL on the card I’d brought home with me, I found the description of the upcoming class. A willing suspension of disbelief allowed me to contemplate engaging with “crystals, vibrational healing, essential oils, affirmations, and chakra psychology,” but my skepticism balked at the suggestion that these practices would “activate DNA memory.”

Nonetheless, setting aside the mumbo-jumbo, an experience that included gentle yoga, advanced breath work, self-reflection, and guided meditations sounded pleasant and might improve my state of mind.

In Tom Robbins’ novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, there is a mad mystic who scrawls on the wall of a cave, “I believe in everything, nothing is sacred, I believe in nothing, everything is sacred.”

This notion transcends the dichotomy of belief and disbelief that concerned Coleridge. It implies an openness to whatever beauty or inspiration or truth may come our way. Recalling these words of Robbins’, I decided I would take the class with an open mind, but certainly with no expectations. As best as I could manage, I would set aside my many preconceived judgements.

By the end of the day, I had contact Michelle, the course organiser, and enrolled with a down-payment. The class would begin three weeks later and run for seven weeks, one session for each chakra.

The breakthrough came, surprisingly, not with the third chakra class, but the week before, with the second. This, the sacral chakra, represents affection, creativity and community. As with the other six classes, Michelle presented a lecture and then led us into a guided meditation. She circled the room, placing a few drops of bergamot oil in our palms. We rubbed the oil into our hands and on our feet. We breathed deeply, inhaling the rich aroma. Lying on a thin mat atop the hardwood floor, I closed my eyes and followed along through a standard relaxation process. Then, Michelle led us to visualize a path through a forest to the clear waters of a small river.

There, a wonderfully carved wooden boat awaited me. On its side, I saw my name painted in bright orange letters. Stepping into the boat, I pushed it from shore, trusting the river to guide me downstream. As the small craft picked up speed, I heard splashing against the hull and felt a cool breeze on my face. These waters, I was told, are the river of life, of my life.

After a while, I came to a lush, brightly colored garden, festooned with spectacular flowers. A crystal-covered beach glistened along the river bank. Tropical birds flitted about.

“This is your own healing sanctuary,” Michelle said in her soft, soothing voice. “It is filled with an abundance of creative energy. Sit comfortably. Someone is approaching. This is your sacral chakra guide, here for you in this moment. What message is he bringing?”

As the figure drew close, he was immediately recognizable.

It was my older brother, Fred, who had died unexpectedly fifteen years earlier. He wore the blue denim shirt and jeans in which I had last seen him. His curly hair was flecked with gray. His beard was full, his eyes bright. It made sense for him to be there. In his lifetime, had I been familiar with the chakras, I would have viewed Fred’s warm, optimistic, and engaging personality as the embodiment of the sacral chakra virtues.

There was no one I could be happier to see, and he beamed at me as if the feeling were mutual. It was uncanny that I met Fred in that garden but, given the many ways he’d served as my guide during his lifetime, not entirely surprising.

“Do you have a message for me?” I asked.

Fred’s smile grew broader. His eyes sparkled in the spring sunshine.

“You have chosen the wrong affirmation,” he said. “Choose another.”

Earlier in the class, Michelle had presented us with a list of 13 affirmations from which to choose one. Affirmations are a New Age practice I consider to be fairly sketchy. Yet, within the context of my brother’s seeming presence, I took his words at face value. Initially, I’d selected “I attract like-minded people who love and support me.”

The better choice, I now realized, was “Creativity flows through me. I radiate joy and passion.”

The difference between the two was unmistakable. In the first, I sought to bring the energy of others to myself, to take from them for my own well-being. In the second, I would express positive emotions and unleash my creative spark, the very qualities that would paradoxically attract the love and support the first affirmation called for.

As I took this in, Michelle said, “Thank your guide, give your guide a hug, and express the hope that you will meet again.” As I thanked and hugged Fred, I broke down in tears, knowing that, in this lifetime, we would not meet again. I muffled my sobs so as not to disturb the others, even as powerful feelings of grief ripped me out of the guided journey.

While the other participants continued the visualization, focusing now on a ball of brilliant orange light in their lower abdomen, I could only weep. A deep gong rang out and, to the sound of Tibetan singing bowls, I pulled myself together as the class was instructed to slowly return to bodily consciousness, opening our eyes to the world around us.

The emotions felt in the sacral chakra garden were as if I’d truly been in the presence of my brother. The tears were wet. The sobs shook through my body. There was no suspension of disbelief required as my grief overcame me. It was the feeling I’d had the day my brother died and that had returned to me from time to time ever since.

At the start of the visualization, I had surrendered myself to Michelle’s guidance, setting aside rational analysis in favor of whatever experience might come my way. But I never expected the powerful emotions that flooded over me that evening, nor that they would be accompanied by what felt like such deep and essential wisdom. I left the class, shaken and inspired, with much to contemplate.

Read part two tomorrow


Daniel Coleman is an American-Australian writer living in Melbourne. A former political columnist, his diverse interests range from fiction to essays to poetry. He is the author of Ecopolitics: Building a Green Society and of The Anarchist: A Novel. Currently, he is a contributing political columnist at




Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall


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