1. You're an astrologer; you've even published other books about astrology (including Astrology & Relationships and Mapping Your Romantic Relationships). When did you become interested in the chakras?
My interest in astrology and the chakras grew out of the same period of time for me. It was at the end of the '60s and start of the '70s. I was trying to find my way in all the traditional ways and was diligently working on becoming a teacher, yet something was missing. At this time my sister Lucy, a well-known astrologer in Seattle, did my first astrology reading, and I found an incredible tool to explore my inner world. From that launching I found Ram Dass's book, Be Here Now, and in the back section there is a yoga series; the first time I tried it I said to myself, "I'll be doing this the rest of my life." This is a prophecy that has held true. This led me to the chakras, and again, as with astrology, I found a healthy model for exploring consciousness. I have studied quite a bit of psychology and see its value, but it does tend toward a pathological model of exploring human consciousness. That is why I love both the chakras and astrology as healthy maps for understanding the complexity that we are.
2. What exactly is the chakra system? For something we can't see, why is it so important?
The chakra system is essential in how we receive universal life energy and make it available for all of the various human functions. We are energy, as all of life is energy, and the universal life force flows through us as it does all of life. The chakra system is our connection to this universal life force; it is how we receive this universal energy, how we store it, and ultimately express it back out into the universe. Each of the seven chakras governs a different aspect of the total human experience. The lower three deal with personal security, taste, and ambitions, while the upper three deal with spiritual and universal issues and our connections to them, with the fourth chakra being where they meet at the heart. It is so helpful to spend some time learning the various attributes of each of the chakras; it is not overly difficult (there are only seven). Then, when a problem or difficulty arises, you will recognize which chakra is out of balance and can learn what to do to bring it back into balance within yourself.
3. Your new book, The Pursuit of Happiness, approaches each chakra as a level of happiness. Why do we need to integrate our chakras for personal satisfaction?
In The Pursuit of Happiness, the chakra model is background information and key to why we talk about seven levels of happiness, but the book isn't about the chakras; it is about life and is rather inspired by the chakras. Integration comes into play because each chakra is part of the greater system and each is interdependent on and influenced by each other. If there are challenges in one, it skews the entire system. We are all multidimensional beings, experiencing life simultaneously at the physical, emotional, power, heart, expression, mental, and spiritual levels. When we're balanced, energy flows effortlessly through the system animating all of the many aspects of our life. When we are unbalanced at any level, events happen at this level forcing attention and activity and skewing the system towards the imbalance. By learning how to balance at each level, we learn how to live a full and happy life.
4. You discuss an "energy first" approach in The Pursuit of Happiness, saying that we must deal with the energy of an event rather than dwell on the event itself. Why is this important?
With an energy first approach to life's situations, you reclaim your power. Here is an example. Let's imagine I say, "I am frustrated." There is energy in frustration; negative energy to be sure, but energy none the less. Now where is the source of the power in the statement, "I am frustrated because of what he said?" In this example, the power is given away: the source of power is in what the other person, he, said. In an energy first approach you let go of all labels and screens and deal with the energy directly. Then, it is your experience, so you have regained your power. The book teaches breath and visualization exercises for liberating the energy from its negative polarity and transforming it into creative drive, but first you have to own the experience or you have no power over it. Thus, we deal with the energy of the event and not just the event itself.
5. How do I know if one of my happiness levels is off-kilter? What do I need to do to center myself again?
One of the nice things about this system is that it is absolutely self-referencing, so you learn how to monitor yourself. Your question is important, because without this ability to self-monitor, there wouldn't be the awareness necessary to make any adjustments. We call this ability to self-monitor the Observer, and its role is essential for the work. This is the place within you that is able to observe the self in action, sometimes called the witness, or the third eye, or the detached observer. We simply call it the Observer level of consciousness that can observe, without judgment, what is going on, so it is the place within you that knows whether or not you are happy. By learning the seven levels you can zero on what level is calling for attention. Say you are dissatisfied at work; from your Observer, you could tell if it was a security issue (first level), or an ambition issue (third level), or a creative issue (fifth level). You would then be directed to balancing activities suggested for each of the levels.
6. How long does the process of chakra integration take? Is it something I need to do on a regular basis?
I would emphasize the word process in your question; it begins immediately and is a life-long process of sustaining balance. When you are happy and fulfilled for no reason, you are there. We all get glimpses of these moments of integration and simply "being there." The chakras aren't something that you "do," but as a background understanding of the many levels of life, regardless of your life path, it is an incredible tool, like an energy blueprint that shows you where you are and other places you could be. So this process of chakra integration is a life-long process that adds awareness to everything else you are doing in your life.
7. How can I tell once my chakras have been integrated? Will I instantly feel happier?
Your question is the answer: yes, happiness is the measure of balanced and integrated chakras. When we are living in harmony and our life works, happiness naturally happens. It is important to understand that effort isn't required for the experience of happiness. It is like a barometer and lets you know when your life is integrated. The work is restoring the balance that is already there, more than applying more effort to make it happen.
8. Many people speak of the proverbial "pursuit of happiness" as the chase of an unattainable goal. Do we need to change our mindset before we can be truly happy?
I think there is merit to this perspective in that the pursuit of anything holds it outside of self and keeps it unattainable. I think "pursuit" is a fine way to phrase the journey, as long as it includes the completion of the goal. When I say, "I'm going to the store," it is understood that I will get there and not spend the rest of my days trying to get the elusive store.