Phases in Learning Energy Healing
(excerpted from A Pilgrim in Your Body: Energy Healing and Spiritual Process) Purchase A Pilgrim in Your Body
A calling likely to be present in many of the readers of this book is in the direction of energy healing. Like any calling, it has its own particular features and presents you with the need to cultivate specific qualities. Let’s look at the path that leads from an initial interest or attraction to energywork to a mastery of the skills of an energy healer, keeping in mind all that has gone before about how a calling and one’s spiritual gifts are nurtured.
Much of energy healing practice is self-taught, but not all of it. The learning of energy healing necessarily places a lot of emphasis on the experiential and non-traditional modes of gaining knowledge and experience. The education of a healer consists of input from many different sources, however, including traditional ones. Traditional learning comes from what has been handed down from past generations, from the accumulated lore and wisdom of our human culture. Each time you have learned something from another person, or taught someone something, you have engaged in tradition, and chances are that what is handed on to you today was most likely built upon the efforts and realizations of those who went before those who taught you.
In this day of online correspondence courses in which you might never lay eyes on your teacher, it is easy to forget that there was a time when the teacher-student relationship was regarded as the very vehicle for learning not only the external skills, but also the interior contours of a calling. Traditional paths of learning, in which an apprentice works directly with a master, continue to this day in many skilled trades.
Traditionally, a person entering a skilled trade spends years as an apprentice at the knee of a master, actually living in the master’s house, sometimes doing household chores in addition to the rigors of learning the trade. The apprentice lives in close proximity to the master and a bond forms between them. The idea was that there was something to be gained by being physically near the master, something that becomes invested, little by little, energetically, in the apprentice. The skill being imparted is not merely a transmission of information or technique, but of a certain virtue and state of consciousness, passed wordlessly from teacher to student. The student is exposed to all phases of the craft, from its spirit and origins to its technical nuts and bolts, secrets and tricks of the trade, and the business of doing business. When apprentices fall ill, or need to rest, some old traditions understood this as “the craft entering the apprentice’s body.” Mastery is not an overnight process and the notion of a student “getting it” in a two-week crash course is rather absurd. The master transmits to the student the tradition of a lineage to which he or she belongs, either formally or informally, along with personal variations and adaptations. Past teachers and practitioners who have labored in the same fields are invoked to help the student understand that she is partaking of a tradition, that she is part of a community.
At some point in the life of the apprentice—in some traditions after having produced an apprentice piece—a moment comes when the master says, “you are ready.” It is time to leave, or be kicked out of, the nest. Traditionally, the apprentice in this stage of development is called a journeyman. The student is no longer directly under the wing of the master. As the name implies, she takes off into the world and tries her wings, gains invaluable direct experience, hones her skills, makes all the necessary mistakes, sees where she is, and where she ain’t, in her own mastery. It is a time for ripening. The student is then admitted to the guild and becomes a full member of the lineage, sworn to uphold its tradition and rules. Traditionally, the way of becoming a master is to be acknowledged by others who have achieved mastery. It takes one to know one. Token of this step is a masterpiece.
We pass many times through phases of learning as we move into the mastery of any skill or the expression of a spiritual quality. A master of anything has all the phases of her learning wrapped up inside her like so many babooshka dolls. She remembers the joy of her early beginner’s luck, a time when she was so unaware of her incompetence that little successes just seemed to fall into her lap. She may have even told herself, “there’s really not all that much to this!” Then she remembers that, by and by, she began to encounter people who really knew what they were doing, and she still cringes sometimes at the memory of how very much she didn’t know.
That acute awareness of her incompetence, she recalls, was the very goad that made her seek instruction and actually undergo some discipline. By and by, she learned and grew and reached a point where she was competent—more than competent—and she knew it. Each move, each turn, each handhold, each step, was completely under her control.
But situations arose which challenged her little mastery. They didn’t fit the template she had worked so long to perfect. People began finding her whose needs demanded something beyond her competence. She remembers the tears and the sleepless nights as, little by little, she moved toward an invisible edge. She remembers the day she let go of all that she had scripted for herself. All the rudiments and scales she had practiced so assiduously fell away and for the first time in her life, she became the music. The steps she had meticulously choreographed mysteriously disappeared and she just danced. Her technical perfection and all the modalities she had learned gave way to the spirit of healing. She looks back now, and thinks to herself, that must have been when I got my wings. She is now as unconscious of her great competence as a flower is of its beauty. Her mastery is unique to her and exists as a gift to this world.
Learning energy healing takes us through similar stages and phases of growth. As with any other skill there are many levels of mastery in energy healing, as the techniques of your work give way to the art of being with another person in a healing and present way. Technical skills blend with the feeling you have for what you are doing and become part of your expression of your healing gift. Let’s look at four distinct phases of mastery that show up cyclically in healer education.
Many energy healers work intuitively, with a minimum of technical knowledge, and their lack of formal training presents no barrier to their effectiveness. For most of us who venture into this territory, however, the natural gifts we bring with us are often in need of schooling. I personally believe that, as NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts once said, “there’s something to be said for knowing something.” Many people can feel energy and its movement, for example, but most of us have to go through a phase of learning in order to sort out the various impressions we receive. Our sensorium needs to be trained to deliver information that can be acted on, even though "acting" on it often means simply paying attention, being present, being mindful.
Learning exercises and treatment forms is clearly part of a kind of tooling up phase. These include the necessary work of
* learning to sense the movement of energy and understand its language;
* learning to influence the energy field in a trustworthy and useful way;
* locating energy-active positions on and around the body and learning their particular traits;
* learning about energy phenomena, especially as they relate to healing, release, personal development and non-ordinary states of consciousness;
* learning protocolized treatment forms and how to use structure, as well as learning to work free-form;
* learning personal development practices. In addition to providing a means of participation in our inner growth, this is the best, and sometimes only, laboratory we have for learning about energy healing.
We don’t tool up only once. Tooling-up is pretty neat, pretty fascinating, and there is a big tendency in this phase to lust after more and more techniques. Some students get antsy at this stage and indulge in feeding frenzies, as if they have convinced themselves that if they only knew enough techniques, everything would be okay. So they go on binges, haunting esoteric bookstores and reading every book on healing, and attending workshops until they’re broke, trying to satisfy a seemingly endless hunger for information. As everyone finds out, however, you can go to school for years and come out heavy with knowledge, but the moment you start actually working with clients, you find out that more is needed.
Developing Your Own Approach
The tooling up phase sooner or later gives way to the need to work on an approach of some kind. This phase has to do with bundling together the tools you have mastered and skills you have learned and putting them to work in some purposeful way. Here is where you begin (if you haven’t done so up to now) to ask yourself, "Why am I doing this in the first place? What is all this good for?" We begin to see that there are many possible interpretations of what energy healing is all about. The skills and techniques that you acquire as you tool up will tend to organize themselves around the stories you are telling yourself, and what you most deeply believe, about what you are doing. Your approach will inevitably find its center near what you believe is important.
One of the truly nice things about energy healing is that it operates on a variety of levels. Many people, for example, will use their tools in the service of "fixing" the person they are working on, because they earnestly believe that this is what healing is all about. Other persons see energy healing as a means of entering into the psycho-emotional processes that underlie symptoms, and use these practices as a vehicle for healing traumatic past events, providing for release of old experience and the drawing in of new. Others see energywork predominately as a psycho-spiritual therapeutic discipline, and still others see it as a means to kick-start meditative experiences or help another person to enter altered states of consciousness, and then integrate their experiences with their everyday lives.
Energy healing integrates all the aspects of this continuum, from symptoms and problems to exploration to transcendental experiences without parking exclusively on any one aspect. I can tend to a client’s headache in a way that makes room for emotional release and inner exploration which may even flow into some transcendent experience and a re-entry into everyday life with a new feeling. It is all part of the same continuum.
Approach-building is just as fascinating as tooling up, and it often has more power to it. There comes a time when you have grooved in your basic set of techniques so that they become seamless and effortless, and your approach becomes a part of your approach to life in general. Then, marvelously, when you relax the need to tool up or build an approach of your own, the whole project takes a new turn.
When you work with another person, it can be said that healing work takes place in the zone between you and your partner, which Diane Tegtmeier, author of Relationships that Heal: Natural Ethics for Holistic Health Practitioners, calls “interspace.” As your need to gather more and more new tools and techniques relaxes, and as you evolve something of a personal approach to your work—in short, when you reach a level of confidence that allows you to relax with what you’re doing and be yourself—there comes a point when the healing relationship you have with your partner comes into the foreground. This expresses itself in bodywork in the unspoken, unseen negotiations between you. It shows in the way a new client will check you out—maybe completely unconsciously—before a word is ever said to see if they feel safe with you. When there is true subconscious cooperation between you and your client, the healing process takes on a certain spontaneity.
I occasionally work with individuals whose energy sensitivity is far more acute than mine. Their ability to take in impressions is both a blessing and a curse for them because, the more impressions they take in, the more they have to process somehow. These highly sensitive persons respond consciously to very small impulses, and they have taught me that nothing is insignificant in energywork.
Conventional bodywork can completely miss areas of need in highly sensitive persons if it ignores the energetic. They won’t feel served. Often it is enough to set the stage, create a trustworthy space for the person to be in, and their process will unfold with only minimal external intervention on your part. The establishment of this safe space or energetic kiva, is what provides them with an environment in which they can walk the three-fold spiritual path, slipping a bit more easily into other states of consciousness and then returning, ready to meet their world again. In many people, this ability is quite developed and all they need is that extra bit of energetic support. The container of the healing relationship between you and your partner is often where that can happen.
A fascinating illustration of the workings of healing relationship is in Nicholas Evan’s book, The Horse Whisperer, in the description of the healing space that grows between Tom Booker, a healer of horses, and Pilgrim, an aptly named horse that has been savagely injured. There is a scene, rendered wonderfully in the Robert Redford film, which contains all the elements of the creation of healing space. In this scene, Pilgrim gets spooked and bolts, and the horse whisperer takes off after him, following but never forcing himself on the frightened animal. Little by little, he skirts the horse’s visual field, keeping a respectful distance. Day turns to evening as the horse whisperer crouches, patient as a tree, across an open meadow from Pilgrim, their eyes trained on each other. A palpable energy moves in the space between them. They wordlessly negotiate their space and, by and by, fear subsides. The zone between them opens and the horse approaches. Finally, Pilgrim is standing in front of the horse whisperer, less than an arm’s length away. Still, the man does nothing until finally, the horse nudges him with his snout. Only then does the horse whisperer reach out and slip the rope over his head and lead him back to the corral where the healing work can continue.
Like the best bodyworkers and healers I know, the horse whisperer moves in a dance between being and doing. His mastery of technique is so seamless that you don’t even notice it. His approach so uncomplicated as to be virtually invisible, but through it all it is his empathy and ability to be unflinchingly present with Pilgrim that stitches man and horse together into a unified fabric.
There is more than one healing relationship going on when you work with another person. The obvious one is the healing relationship between you and your partner. The other, less obvious one is the relationship both you and your partner have with the wisdom residing deep within each of you. Your effectiveness as a healer depends on the interaction between the healing qualities active in you and that same area of quality that is latent in your partner. This does not happen through words. In fact, it doesn’t even happen between you and your partner without first happening between you and yourself in your own personal inner work. Facilitating a healing process in another, if it is to go beyond a merely technical level, begins with you.
As the healing relationship grows between you and your own inner world, the healing qualities set free in the process transmit wordlessly to others and stimulate similar qualities in them. They sense it, and they respond spontaneously. If I were to give a name to what makes this possible, it would be compassion, your feeling for the other person. The reason is simple: Whatever you feel your calling to be, its expression into this world involves your Heart Center, and it is the nature of the Heart to reach out and set up an energetic exchange between you and other people and the world around you. When compassion—a feeling for the other person—expresses through your Heart and the way it touches others, it acts as a vehicle for your deeper qualities, the ones associated with your calling, to move outward, into the world. The compassion that fills the space between you and your healing partner is what makes it a healing relationship.
Dancing with God
We have been examining phases of learning energy healing, but in truth, these phases can be found in the learning of practically any discipline, since the mastery of one phase tends to segue naturally into something beyond itself. These stages repeat themselves; we never stop learning. Only novices in a discipline delude themselves with the notion that they’ve “got it.” Masters, on the other hand, regardless of the discipline, are humbled by how much they don’t know. In healing work, you can have all kinds of tools and skills at your disposal, and you can have evolved your own approach to using them, but the techniques and approaches by themselves can get pretty boring if they are not in the service of the fundamental healing relationship between you and your partner. And yet, even the healing relationship will ask for something more, something beyond itself.
Approaches are bigger than individual techniques and tools, and the healing relationship with another person is larger than any particular approach, but what is larger than the healing relationship you have with your client? To get at a real answer, we need to clear out our limited categories of thinking and understand that each of us is part of a greater whole. When we give a treatment, for example, we are not only treating an individual, but we are touching a part of a far greater body. The person we lay hands on is a cell in the body of their family, their group, society and nation, the human race, the living planet, indeed the person you touch is a cell in the greater body of all sentient beings and all creation. Only the limitation of our hearts and our imaginations prevents us from experiencing this.
Your ability to be conscious that you are touching into this hidden wholeness as you do your work—both in your inner work with yourself and in healing work with others—opens the door to the fundamental spirituality of energywork. Healing work, with its multitude of techniques and methods and the special partnership that develops between you and your partner, can become a connection to the universal principles that guide Creation, the unseen give and take of energy and life-force, the operation of Love on a grand scale, a dance with the Source of Life.
In moving toward a practice and teaching of energy-active bodywork, we need to provide educational settings in which these four phases can be honored. Students of bodywork will not stop needing solid fundamentals of anatomy and physiology, therapeutic massage and bodywork, business and an ethics of truly skilled healing relationship. But those who are attracted to energy-oriented bodywork and therapy are in need of an education that prepares them for spiritual process as well. This is because the tools of energywork are derived from age-old spiritual practices, the ancient technology of consciousness, aimed toward nothing less than receiving what Joseph Campbell called "the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos," something which has implications far grander than even our contemporary notions of “optimum health.”