Your Physical and Spiritual Bodies in MeditationContext ·
Today we will look at models to help you understand your subtle or spiritual bodies of energy in meditation.
Models are useful tools to help understand what is going on in the world. They are also useful in meditation practice. Using maps or models inform you about what’s going on in your meditation. As your meditation experience grows, so you begin to navigate and know what is happening to you.
States of Consciousness
In some spaces of consciousness for example, you can be having a massive experience but not even know where, how or what got you to that space. Sometimes you may not even know you are having an experience. Cognising states of consciousness is an important aspect of meditation work. How you hold yourself in this state can be critical at times. What you also do in those states is also critical.
To think about your experience during your meditation is counter productive for example. That’s not meditating - that’s thinking. There’s always enough time to analyze your experiences after your meditation. It’s enough to acknowledge the experience and continue your meditation.
It’s also important to remember that a map or model is not the road but just an aid to help you understand where you are at. Your direct experience is what matters most. Your model will help to confirm the experience.
So in this post I introduce you to a model that helps explain your subtle bodies - your non-physical bodies of energy. Many spiritual traditions offer similar models to guide their students. This model was introduced to me by my teacher. It’s called the Fourfold Subtle Body Model as explained by Rudolf Steiner, one of the greatest mystics of the Western Esoteric Tradition. Similar models can be found in Taoism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. There are variations between each according to the emphasis of each esoteric tradition.
We have our body of course, made up of trillions of cells all working in unison, so that you may enjoy your life. These cells are upheld by atoms and bio-chemical, bio-electrical processes.
Your Etheric Body
Entwined with all these cells is your etheric life force that enlivens and enervates these cells. Your ‘Etheric Body’ is something that has been recognised through the ages and much effort is expended on healing by stimulating this life force. It is known by various names including, prana, chi, life force, the vital body, vitality and many others. It is non-physical of course. It is the first awareness of something beyond this physical world.
This is how your subtle bodies look in a stylised model:
Your Astral Body
The next level of your subtle bodies is the ‘astral body’ (‘manas maya kosha’ or ‘sheath made of illusion’). Your astral body is the layer of consciousness pertaining to thoughts and emotions. It holds memory and emotional imprints (‘samskaras’). It is in effect the mind. The word ‘astral’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘stars’. It was thought by the ancients that your astral body was made up of astral dust gathered as your soul began its incarnation on earth. Plato’s ‘Republic’ gives a good description of this process. Over the course of your life your astral body gathers more of this astral dust. Some illnesses like chronic fatigue are all about your astrality choking out your etheric body.
Most of the problems you experience in your life stem from the interface of your astral and etheric bodies. This astral-etheric interface is the source of disease, your persona (characters), emotional reactions, desires, most of the decisions you make in your life. Ultimately, death comes as the wearing out of your etheric of your astral body. Astrality sculpts your etheric and physical bodies, your view of the world and the life circumstances you find yourself in.
Not the Freudian concept of ego but the original meaning of Ego - the eternal part of yourself. The part of you that goes from lifetime to lifetime. The part of you that is constantly waiting for you to remember it. The part of you that empathises with others and loves. It is expressed as the bodily warmth you feel in your body and others. It is the ‘inner flame’ or the ‘divine flame’ inside and is reperesented by the glden trianglein the image above. Enthusiasm, a word stemming from the Greek ‘en-theos’ meaning ‘God inside’, is a quality of Ego and something that can be cultivated as part of your spiritual practice. Spiritual practice can be taken to mean raising the level fire i.e. Ego. Ego is fire. Consciousness is fire. Rituals are processes to engage and raise the level of fire in ourselves.
Differences in Spiritual Paths
There is some question about equivalencies between different spiritual and religious paths. For example, does the Vedantic anandamaya kosha subtle body truly correspond with the western esoteric Ego subtle body? The deeper you go in these issues, the more these paradoxes reveal themselves. Indeed, different spiritual paths all have different destinies and subtle models reflect those different destinies to some extent.
What happens when you go to sleep?
As you fall asleep your body and etheric body remain in your bed. Let’s call this ‘the lower complex’. A regeneration of your etheric body takes place as you sleep indicating how important it is to the human condition. Meanwhile the astral body and Ego (upper complex) travel off into astral and higher worlds. It‘s a secret life this part leads. You might get a taste of it when you wake up in the morning and you remember dreams that seem super alive. Or a sense of feeling revitalised that leaves you feeling totally amazing. Almost as if you feel every cell vibrating in your body.
When you drift off to sleep, a kind of dissipation of your consciousness takes place. You feel yourself spreading. This is, in part, the upper complex departing. When you wake up in the morning your upper complex docks with the lower complex and you become conscious again. If you faint, you can get a sense of something rushing out of you. This is the upper complex departing in a hurry. When you die, it’s the same process except you obviously don’t wake up. This is why in some spiritual circles, sleep is described as the sister of death.
Different traditions have slightly different takes on subtle bodies model. This table illustrates some of the differences.
Note the Hindu tradition of Vedanta (a prominent school of Hindu philosophy) and the Clairvision School, probably one of the most pre-eminent schools of meditation in the modern world today, both differentiate sub layers of the astral body. Vigyananamaya kosha (‘sheath of discernment’) or the superastral body are the intellect part of the mind. The part of the mind that has discernment. It has structured, rational thinking processes. It is the part of you that knows how to work a computer, drive a car or cook and serve a six course dinner for twenty people.
It is know-how and an aspect of our consciousness required to operate in the 21st century. This is an important point because it raises interesting questions on the nature of consciousness, the direction of humanity and also the effectiveness of some spiritual paths to achieve their acclaimed aims. That’s a big topic saved for a future article.
For now, this is a small introduction into subtle bodies. These different levels of our consciousness operate to make us who we are. It is indeed a miracle and one that contains many, many mysteries. Knowing yourself to the most profound level is one of the great treasures of engaging a spiritual practice. The more we know ourselves, the more we are able to stand up into the fullness and destiny of being a human being. That pathway begins with meditation.