The Chakra System and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Where the Spiritual Meets the Psychological

I tumbled down a bit of a rabbit hole when I read Lenny‘s most recent newsletter.

In it, actress Betty Gilpin discusses how pushing herself beyond her physical, emotional, and psychological boundaries caused her to erupt in inexplicable chorea-like spasms for a period of six days. Western medical doctors couldn’t diagnose her and her physical therapist couldn’t help. It wasn’t until a witch gave her a massage and guided her to connect to the needs of her nine-year-old self that her spasms completely vanished (take note, people. The craft is no joke).

Gilpin’s story got me thinking about a topic I’ve oft visited but still haven’t fully explored–the physical manifestations of psychological illness. As far as I know, Western medicine’s on board with the concept that prolonged periods of the active stress response can severely weaken the immune system, but it doesn’t really concern itself with the connection between physical and psychological health.

Yet psychologists such as Abraham Maslow have long considered the connection between the physical and the psychological. To describe his theory of the hierarchy of needs, Maslow uses the pyramid structure to illustrate the levels of human needs from the most basic to the most elevated. At the bottom level of the pyramid, we have physiological needs–food, shelter, sex, water, rest, etc. Next up are safety needs–security, comfort, and the knowledge that we’re protected from potential threats to our livelihood. Above that is the belonging/love level–strong and caring bonds between ourselves and our families, friends, and lovers. Above that are our esteem needs–feeling pride in our work and a sense of meaning and accomplishment. And at the upper-most level we reach self-actualization–a realization of our full potential as an individual (for more information about Maslow and his pyramid, click here).

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs rendered by yours truly

Here’s the rub: we must meet the needs of the lower levels before we move up to the higher ones, and meeting lower-level needs automatically introduces higher-level needs to our consciousness.

For example, if you’re hungry, your main concern will be finding food, and it will remain your main concern until you’re not hungry anymore. If you’re well-rested and well-fed, however, you’ll become more concerned with securing your safety and so on. Maslow claims that the structure isn’t nearly as rigid as it appears; what individuals value varies, and so the quest to meet needs will be unique to each person. However, it does suggest that if basic needs aren’t being met (such as in the case of Gilpin) while higher needs are being pursued, physical and psycho-spiritual crisis is but a step away.

Since I just brought a brand new book of shadows into my orbit (and I really, really want to do it up right this time), I was moved to create my own diagram based on Maslow’s pyramid so I could include it in my reference section. As I painted the levels and wrote the descriptions, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the chakra system–from the bottom up structure to the color-codes and descriptions, the parallels are uncanny. Here’s the absolute best chart I could find to illustrate the chakra system and its various correspondences (I looked all over to trace the original source to credit the image, but I couldn’t find it).

Chakra System

Notice how the root, sacral, and heart chakra mirror Maslow’s three bottom-level basic needs (such as sex, security, love relationships, a sense of being grounded and safe in the actual)? Likewise, notice how the navel and throat chakras strongly correspond with Maslow’s esteem needs, and how the conceptual aspects of the crown and third eye chakras are mirrored in Maslow’s utmost level of self-actualization?

When we say a chakra is blocked, then, what we’re speaking to is an unmet need, one that may very well have arisen in childhood and carried over into adulthood in the form of a shadow. If we feel anxious (a physical manifestation of a psychological condition) and unsafe, it’s going to be difficult for us to trust others and so enter into intimate relationships. If we don’t feel grounded and supported in the physical plane, it’ll be difficult for us to feel pride, self-love, and to become the best selves we can be.

Gilpin mentions a series of alter egos or “a brain full of women who take the wheel” depending on what energies need to be channeled. She gives a name to each of these women, and also gives the name to a woman self she doesn’t possess. She describes this self as the woman who “transcribes your other brainwomen’s poems and prayers into concrete plans.” Yet, after the session with the witch and having a week’s worth of seriously challenging conversations, she claims that she gained that missing self she needed–the self that takes care of things, the self that manifests dreams into reality.

Like Gilpin, we can establish a connection to that self if we’re willing to look at the hard stuff, to reconnect with our forgotten child, to take a serious look at which of our needs aren’t being met and to tackle those needs through the timeless wisdom of structures like the chakra system and useful representations like that of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And we needn’t subscribe to any particular spirituality in order to make use of these systems–they exist for us regardless of belief, class, or culture.

As a wise band once said, “If it looks like it works and it feels like it works, than it works.” Free your ego from the preconceived notions of who you are and what you should believe so you, too can find what works for you.

So Much Love,

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Want to explore these themes further? Consider working with me.

 

 

 

 

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