The sixth chakra, called Ajna, is an energy center located between the eyebrows. It’s in the region that’s often referred to as the “third eye.” Even if you don’t know anything about chakras, you’re probably familiar with the notion of the third eye. You’ve seen it on pictures of various mythical creatures, numerous deities, and perhaps in the logo of the occasional head shop. Maybe you’ve even felt yours open a crack from time to time.
Several meditation philosophies emphasize focusing on the third eye zone to deepen in one’s practice, to enhance psychic abilities, or to expand perception. In Qigong, this area is the location of the upper dan tian (“elixir field”) – a focal point for the storage and transformation of vital energy in its most rarefied state. And many traditions regard the third eye as signifying the ability to see in a way that goes beyond what the physical eyes are capable of – spiritual vision.
While the other chakras are depicted as lotuses with numerous petals, this one has only two – a circle with petals on the right and left – which makes it resemble an eye. It occupies a functional place between the two eyes, between the extremes of dualistic thinking, and between the energetic channels (nadis) associated with the sun and moon. The first five chakras are associated with five elements, from the most material to the most ethereal – earth, water, fire, air, and space. The sixth chakra, which numerous classical sources consider the final one in the series of spinal centers, has no elemental association because it represents a state of transcendence – beyond all worldly conditions.
While the brow chakra isn’t associated with one of the traditional elements, Harish Johari says it has its own element, called Mahatattva, which means “the supreme or great element in which all other elements are present in their pure essence.” The seed mantra of this element (the primal sound that resonates with it) is AUM (also known as OM). Thus, every time we chant what’s probably the most common mantra in the world, we’re activating this chakra.
Although it’s not directly related to any of the physical elements, it has a special relationship with fire. Fire, after all, is the source of all light in the natural world – through burning stars and moons that reflect this fire – and light is a prerequisite for vision. Johari, who called Ajna, “the place of meditation,” explained that the energetic vessel (called sushumna) that runs through this chakra uses fire to burn up all the past impressions (samskaras) that are stored in the mind.
Aghori Vimalananda, the late mentor of writer Robert Svoboda, said, “A flame is in the form of an upward-pointing triangle. The flame converts all things into ash; all dualities become one reality when they are burned. We offer the fire duality – our offering material – and the fire transmutes it. The head of a human being also possesses an upward-pointing triangle: the three eyes. The lower two eyes see duality – the upper eye, nothing but unity.”
Modern sources refer to this chakra as the center of intuition; knowing and wisdom; and the light of consciousness and vision. The meaning of the Sanskrit word Ajna is “to perceive” or “to command.” Anodea Judith refers to it as the chakra of light, and she claims that it enables us “to form inner images through which we command our reality” by visualizing what we wish to manifest.
The Ajna chakra is also associated with the ability to practice detachment with regard to the inner and outer circumstances that tend to manipulate our perceptions and experience. To most humans, who have learned to equate attachment with love, the idea of detachment can feel cold or unloving. Indeed, it’s common to believe (perhaps subconsciously) that if someone cares about us they should feel angry when we feel angry and sad when we’re sad. But is that really love? Does it serve anyone?
There’s a difference between the healthy detachment that comes from expansion of vision versus the splintered detachment that comes from being mentally and emotionally closed off. When someone is practicing the latter, they’re intentionally trying to not feel and not care as a means of protecting themselves (it doesn’t work, by the way). This certainly feels cold to others, because they can perceive that the other’s heart is closed, that they’re not really present, or that they have one foot out the door.
The detachment that arises from an expansion of vision is altogether different. It’s more a matter of gaining perspective. The key difference is that this detachment arises from an intention of seeing more broadly – not from an intention of disconnecting oneself.
When we’re completely immersed in the thoughts and feelings associated with some situation, they become everything, and this can greatly narrow our “field of vision” so that perspective and detachment are impossible. All we perceive is the drama.
But as our vision expands, we see that this situation and these feelings are not everything. First we might notice that there’s a part of us that is watching and witnessing what the personality feels and does. We might notice even that this part of us is actually more consistent, more ever-present, and bigger than the mind/personality part. Eckhart Tolle has a wonderful question for reminding us of this perspective. Whatever is currently occupying your attention, try asking yourself, “Could I be the space for this?” By this, he means, can you stop resisting reality? Can you accept this moment? And can you allow yourself to experience what you are beyond the form? Beyond the people, places, issues, thoughts, and feelings, you are the space, the awareness itself. And that recognition changes everything.
While it’s natural to envision this chakra on or near the surface of the face, like the physical eyes, it’s more accurately located at the center of the head. If you could imagine a line drawn through the head from the top of one ear to the top of the other ear, and a second line running straight back into the head from the midpoint between the eyebrows, the chakra is located about where these two lines would intersect. Anatomically, this chakra is located approximately at the pineal gland, the part of the brain that registers and synchronizes us with variations in light. It also produces the sleep hormone melatonin (which, incidentally, is disrupted by exposure to light at night, especially when it’s in the blue range).
In my own practices over the years, I’ve found easier to perceive something at this point – either by crossing my closed eyes upward and to the center, or by bringing my focus back into the center of my head – than at any of the other chakras. I don’t know if that’s just an expression of my own personal configuration or more a quality of the chakra itself. In any case, I recommend you try tuning in to this area yourself. Close your eyes and focus on the point between your eyebrows. Then draw your focus back into the center of your head and see how long you can say there. If this makes your head feel “swimmy” or dizzy, try holding the tip of your tongue against your upper palate, just behind your front teeth and/or place the soles of your feet flat on the floor.
A visualization you might enjoy for this chakra, which I learned from Leslie Temple Thurston, is to imagine that the point in the center of your head is the tip of a huge upside-down cone of light that extends out into the universe.
This week, try to expand your vision. See beyond the conflict. Stretch your perspective. What happens when you do?
Dr. Peter Borten
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