A comparison and merging of two fundamental concepts of how the East and the West view human nature, motivation, and development.
I was lying in bed the other day, and a random idea entered my head (as many do). It was this:
How does the transition of our personalities and physical, social, and psychological abilities as expressed by the Hierarchy of Needs compare or contrast with the maturation of our energy centers as expressed by Chakra Charts?
Where do the East and West agree? Where do they diverge?
How can we combine these two frameworks to gain more insight into humans?
I want to attempt to answer these questions.
Note: I’m not an expert on either of these concepts but I do have enough of an understanding to make this connection in the first place. Enjoy!
The Hierarchy of Needs
Most of you reading this will be familiar with the hierarchy of needs as proposed by Dr. Abraham Maslow in 1954 in his pivotal book, Motivation and Personality. If you need a refresher, here it is:
The main concept to take away here is that one must satiate a lower need before they reach higher levels on the hierarchy. It’s a fairly intuitive way of grasping human development, so I don’t think there’s much of a need to go super in depth here.
What I do want to dig into a little bit is the latest expansions added to the hierarchy of needs.
So I just found out that my sophomore year social psych professor was one of the main people responsible for expanding the hierarchy of needs! Check out the paper here.
The expansions change the top of the pyramid significantly. The first four levels stay the same, despite the shift in language used to describe them. After level four, things get biological. I personally think that this hierarchy of needs is more fit for animals instead of humans, as it tries to categorize humans as purely biologically driven creatures. I disagree with this view, as humans are shown to display many actions that defy biological rationality in services of a “higher purpose”. Sacrificial ceremonies, meditation, and unconditional giving of any kind come to my mind right away.
What do you think about this new pyramid? Leave a comment below 👇
Either way, the hierarchy of needs has been extremely influential in our understanding of the development of humans. As we age, we develop the ability to reach higher in the hierarchy, with self-actualization becoming enabled around high school.
Chakras and the Chakra Chart
Before I dive in: NO this is NOT astrology.
So what are Chakras exactly? Here’s a fantastic definition from chakras.info:
A chakra (pronounced “cha”-“kra” with a resounding “ch”) is a center of energy. Originating from Sanskrit, it literally means “wheel” by association with its function as a vortex of spinning energy interacting with various physiological and neurological systems in the body. Chakras are energy centers within the human body that help to regulate all its processes, from organ function to to the immune system and emotions. We can commonly count 7 chakras positioned throughout your body, from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. Each chakra has its own vibrational frequency, that is depicted through a specific chakra color, and governs specific functions that help make you, well, human.
I know this description probably lost you at “Vortex of spinning energy”, but we all radiate measurable electromagnetic signatures, so is it really that far of a step to say our energetic signatures are a compilation of different energy centers within the body? I think there’s a lot of merit to this way of looking at the mind, body, and spirit.
The chakra chart is simply a visualization of where each chakra is located and what roles it plays in our development (does that last part sound familiar?):
So the Chakras are like a more holistic hierarchy of needs, mapped to our bodies in the form of energy centers. A key difference is the depth to which chakras attempt to explain our existence. The theory behind chakras holds that the life force in these energy centers determines the correct functioning of bodily functions, behavior, and performance. So if an energy center isn’t properly balanced, the organs, behaviors, and thought patterns will go awry in someway.
Let’s look at the fourth chakra (the heart chakra) to turn this abstract to concrete. Since the fourth chakra is located around the heart and channels the energy we use to love, a deficiency of energy in this chakra can cause the following symptoms:
- Being withdrawn
- Heart and lung conditions
- Avoiding socializing, social interactions
- Being overly critical of others and oneself
- Lacking empathy
- Feeling isolated
On the other hand, too much energy flowing through the 4th chakra can manifest itself in these conditions:
- Being overly demanding of others, especially close family or partner
- Extending yourself to fulfill other people’s perceived needs to the cost of one’s own balance
- Tendency to feeling like a victim
- Losing sense of personal boundaries in a way that is detrimental to your well-being
Notice how the manifestations of chakras occur in the mind and body.
Do you know anyone showing these symptoms? They might be lacking love in their life. Try showing them love unconditionally, and see if it can heal them. Be aware of these behaviors in yourself. If you catch yourself displaying them, zoom in your attention to your chest area. Does it feel tight? Or overwhelmingly open? Or do you not notice anything? Play around with it.
Check out this awesome resource for a deep dive into the Chakras: https://www.livelifebetterwithyoga.com/7-chakras/
Connecting the two with Erikson’s Psychosocial stages
I bet you’ve seen some similarities between these two frameworks by just looking at the diagrams. I’m going to use Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages as an intermediate thought framework that will tie the two ways of thinking together.
These stages represent milestones of development framed by a ‘psychosocial crisis’ and a core value that is gained from proper development. For example, the first stage the crisis is Trust vs. Mistrust and the core value is hope. Read the descriptions of each stage in more depth here.
For brevity’s sake (you’re on medium, not trying to read a novel) I believe showing how these frameworks of human development relate is shown best in a diagram (homemade baby!):
One major difference between the hierarchy of needs and chakras is the depth to which they attempt to explain our behaviors and health. Chakras, as energy centers, determine the functionality of specific physical and mental aspects. The hierarchy of needs and Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development contemplate human development in a more mental and behavioral manner, with abstract references to “physiological needs” and “security of body”.
This more integrated approach taken by chakras denotes a higher awareness of the mind-body connection in eastern philosophies. Chakras are a manifestation of the connective thought patterns that lie in the culture they were produced by, and the hierarchy of needs and psychosocial stages a reflection of the more siloed reductionist methods prevalent in western philosophies. Intriguing popular science discovering the mind body connection exists i.e research of the microbiome, and nutritional psychiatry but doesn’t exactly rule popular opinion, and isn’t reflected in our medical practices (I’m looking at you, antibiotics).
Another major difference is the ‘height’ to which the hierarchy of needs goes. It’s been revised a few times unofficially to include self-transcendance, but wasn’t created with that ability in its scope. So the Chakra chart actually does a better job of including a wider range of people in their developmental trajectory.
That’s my take on connecting two separate schools of thinking — one from ancient eastern wisdom and another from conventional developmental psychology. They’re really quite similar when looked at on the essential level. They describe similar phenomena that occur during our development, finding security in life, ourselves, success, love, and spiritual fulfillment. Just with different vocabulary and frameworks of thought.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, feel free to give it a 👏 or ten 😉.
Which thought framework do you like best? Chakras, The Hierarchy of Needs, Or Erikson’s Psychosocial stages? I’d love to hear your opinion!
If you like this content, you might like my podcast, Applying awareness! Click on a link below to check it out! 👇
I always love to start a conversation! Leave your thoughts in the 💬 comment section (do it, it’ll be worth the 1-2 minutes).