Healing Energy: Nature’s Way
When I teach energy work, I start by saying that nothing that I teach will be hypothetical, metaphorical, esoteric, imaginary or faith-based. I also say that all of energy work methods I teach are based on my own personal experience. By personal experience, I don’t mean my thoughts, ideas, beliefs, or fantasies, and I don’t mean ideas or techniques that I’ve learned from someone else – I mean that I will only teach those things that I have experienced directly through my own physical senses.
There is a commonly held assumption that arises in our minds when a massage or bodywork therapist starts talking about healing energy. We assume that they must be talking about a magical, invisible force that they imagine comes flowing out of their hands and into their clients’ bodies. The assumption that healing energy has magical, supernatural qualities is so widespread that when I first tell my students that I will not be talking about any of that, I can see the looks of wonder come across their faces. If energy work isn’t some cosmic New Age idea, then what is it?
Everything in the universe is always becoming something else. There is absolutely no object, large or small, that isn’t in a constant state of transformation. Things that seem to be standing still are just changing slowly compared to us, but there is no exception to this rule: Everything in the universe is always changing.
Consider all of the things in the room with you right now. Someday, all of these things will disappear. These words, the chair you are sitting on, the building that you are in – at first they didn’t exist, and then someone made them. Now they are slowly decaying, and someday, they will crumble, to become something else. Your body, every rock, every planet and every galaxy comes into being out of something else, and then gradually becomes something else. Everything is like this, without a single exception. All you have to do to know this without a doubt is to watch the world and think about it for a few minutes. It is an indisputable fact.
Not only is every object in the physical world constantly arising, changing, and then ceasing, so is every thought and concept that arises in your mind. Thoughts arise and cease in your mind like smoke rises from incense and then disperses into space. No thought lasts for long. Emotions are the same, coming and going in waves like the tides. If you don’t like an emotion, just wait, it will change. Physical sensations run through your body as quickly as a river flows down a riverbed, a constant stream of sensations. Everything that we can be aware of, in our minds, in our bodies, and in the world that surrounds us, is in a constant state of motion and transformation.
This universal movement and transformation gives rise to what we call life. Life is an interesting form of universal movement, because living things do not transform in the same ways as dead things. A dead body immediately begins a process of organic decay, and undergoes rapid transformations that we can see progress much more quickly than in living bodies, until all signs of life are gone, and we are left with dirt and water, heat and wind.
Living bodies will eventually die, but from the moment of conception, they transform in ways that prolong their own life processes. Living organisms maintain their organization longer than would the non-living components they are made of if those components weren’t organized in a living way. Our cells die, and are replaced by new, living cells, but the organism as a whole maintains a remarkable state of continuity throughout its “life.” In this way, living beings move and transform differently than non-living things.
Noticing this marked difference between the movement and transformations of living organisms compared to non-living objects, human beings throughout history have naturally come up with the idea of life force, or energy. The story goes something like this: As long as there is life force, or energy, living organisms move and transform like living organisms. When the life energy of an organism decreases, it gets sick, it moves more slowly, and it approaches death. When the life energy is gone, the organism is dead, and then it moves and transforms in the manner of all non-living things. This story corresponds very accurately with what we can see happening all the time in the world around us.
Or we could describe it a little bit differently and say that all living organisms need to ingest and transform the stored energy of the sun – plus a little dirt and water – to maintain our life energy. First, plants take in the energy of the sun and transform it with the help of air, water, and nutrients made of the dead bodies of other organisms and non-organic compounds found in the soil. In this way, plants capture the energy of the sun, and become food for animals and other plants. Animals eat plants and other animals, and so we eat the stored energy of the sun.
When it comes down to it, we all eat sunlight, and the heat that we produce as a result of ingesting and releasing that stored energy is the heat of life. When we eat enough sunlight, we get enough energy, and then we have the energy we need to move about to get more sun/food. If we don’t eat enough food, then we get less energy, and find it harder to move about. If we don’t eat at all, soon we cannot move, and when we cannot move, we cannot get food, so we run out of energy and die. Even if we get enough food and water and air all the time, our aging cells will still eventually begin to fail to maintain life. No matter what, we will die. We will become dirt and water, heat and wind. The sunlight warmth of our life energy will disperse into space.
The entire universe is always moving and organizing itself into life, and then disorganizing that life back into dirt, water, heat and wind. While there are some differences in the movements and transformations of living beings versus non-living things, it is the whole movement of the universe that ultimately gives rise to life. Life is made of non-living things. In this way, we can understand what people mean when they say that all things – living and non-living – are moved and organized by life force. This concept of universal life force describes how non-living things become living things. All human cultures have stories, myths, and healing traditions based on the idea of universal life force.
Some conditions are not conducive to life. Living organisms need the right amount of air, water, heat, food, and movement in order to stay healthy. Living organisms can be damaged, so that the organism as a whole has a more difficult time maintaining its life force. Stress, injuries, diseases, and poor nutrition all have this effect.
Beautifully, all living organisms have the ability to self-heal as part of their natural function. The ability to self-heal is an indispensible aspect of the life process. In fact, the ability to self-heal is the characteristic of life that makes life possible. As soon as an organism loses its ability to self-heal, it begins dying. We call the organized universal movement and transformation that creates the self-healing activities of life “healing energy.”
The concept of healing energy describes the capacity of living organisms to continuously transform and organize non-living things into forms and structures that sustain their life. Our cells die, but our remaining living cells replicate just as quickly. Our tissues are damaged and deteriorate, but our living cells make new tissues. Our organs filter and transform nutrients and eliminate toxins, to make life energy available for our cells. To accomplish their healing work, our cells consume life-force-sunlight-food, mix it with air and water, and turn it into new cells and tissues. This self-healing is called cellular catabolism and anabolism – the processes of breaking down food and then recombining its components to form new tissues, sugars, and fats. Self-healing is also clearly seen in the processes of inflammation – the process of building new tissue when old tissue is damaged or deteriorated.
When you cut your finger, your finger self-heals. When you get a flu virus that disrupts the functionality of your cells and organs, your body destroys the virus and repairs its damaged cells and organs. If you don’t eat enough protein, your body metabolizes its own protein to use as energy for continued cellular life and function. Your body does all kinds of things to keep itself alive and functioning well. Science has a name for this: it’s called homeostasis. Homeostasis means, “stays the same.” Living organisms have many ways that they move and transform the elements in order maintain the balanced state conducive to life, and we call those movements and transformations “healing.”
Human beings are unique among living organisms in that we need a great deal of physical contact with other humans in order to maintain homeostasis. Newborn babies left untouched quickly perish, even if they are given proper nourishment. The bones, muscles, and nervous systems of newborn human beings are not fully formed, and require the stimulation of touch and movement in order to develop properly. We are born without the ability to walk or talk, and require direct contact with other people in order to properly form the physical structures that will ultimately allow us to walk and talk. We form our bodies and our minds in response to the world around us – and specifically in response to our contact with other people.
Once we are viable on our own, our need for physical contact diminishes, but never disappears. A perfect example of our continued need for touch is found in the delightful sigh of relief that washes through us when another person touches us in a comforting way. There is just something about being touched in a comforting way that makes it easier to relax. I believe that this phenomenon harkens back to our primate ancestry. Monkeys only groom each other when they feel safe. So, when humans engage in similar kinds of touch, it indicates to the primate-like aspect of our central nervous system that we are safe. This sense of safety de-activates our fight-or-flight response and activates our rest-and-recover state. This shift from fight-or-flight, or sympathetic dominance, to rest-and-recover, or parasympathetic dominance, is the primary reason that all healing modalities work.
Whether a therapist calls their service Healing Chi Kung, or Polarity Therapy, or Reiki, or God’s love, or whatever, in most cases the room is warm and quiet, the client is comfortable, the tone of the therapist’s voice is soothing, their movements are measured and predictable, their touch is skilled and changes in response changes in the client’s state, and it isn’t likely that fast-moving, loud and unpredictable people are going to come bursting into the room. In other words, it is a safe time to engage in some primate grooming. Ahh…
The beneficial effects of this shift into parasympathetic dominance are widespread, and at times, awe-inspiring. An hour or two of skilled touch by a sensitive energy worker can relax muscles, change hormone production, move stagnant fluid, change thought patterns, change movement patterns, change our very sense of self, and transform our habitual responses to stimulation from the outside world. In the state of parasympathetic dominance, the efficiency of cellular metabolism increases, tissue repair happens more quickly and produces less scar tissue, and organ function improves body-wide. In other words, skilled touch directly supports and enhances life’s capacity to self-heal, and that is certainly energy work.
In a larger sense, a therapist who is “doing energy work” is fulfilling their natural role as a social organism, and allowing himself or herself to become part of the naturally perfect and life-creating movement of the entire universe. We are nature being nature, life being life, form being form. The universe is always moving in ways that support life and healing, and we are part of that universe. This is why so many energy work modalities guide people into understanding that there is really nothing to do. Life heals. That’s it. And for some reason, human life heals better in the company of other human life – especially under the effects of caring touch in a safe space.
There is one more aspect of energy work that needs mentioning. It has to do with the fact that we are no longer monkeys. We have become storytellers. The human mind, with its capacity to form mental concepts and images, has developed the ability to create worlds of ideas that seem very real to our primate bodies. With our storytelling minds, we create conceptualized mental imagery that we label as “VERY IMPORTANT!” With these thoughts and images, we constantly trick our bodies into thinking that something actually important is happening – even when most of the time, nothing of much significance is happening at all. Keeping this job is very important. Staying in this relationship is very important. Looking this way is very important. Likewise, we create stories about things that are “VERY BAD.” Losing this job is very bad. Losing this relationship is very bad. Looking this way is very bad. In all cases, our bodies believe our minds.
Movies are amazing examples of how strongly our bodies believe stories and images. We sit in the theater and flood our senses with lights, sounds, and stories, and our bodies respond as if what is happening on the screen is really happening. We get happy, sad, scared, and even fall in love. Whenever we tell our bodies that something wonderful and exciting is happening, or that something terrible and frightening is happening, our bodies obediently respond with joy or fear, or whatever we tell them to feel. We don’t need movies to do this. We do it all the time in the silent solitude of our own imaginations.
I’ll tell you a story from my own life that nicely illustrates the point. For some reason, although I am of average build, I have always thought of myself as being short. Once, while standing inside a bus in India, I had to stoop down so that my head wouldn’t hit the ceiling. Looking around, I noticed that I was the only person on the bus who was having this problem. Everyone else could stand up straight without hitting their heads. I immediately felt very tall! In fact, I felt tall and happy for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful feeling. I felt relieved of the low-grade stress about the mental self-image of shortness that I had created and then carried with me for many years! All of it, from feeling short to feeling tall, was completely made up in my mind. While nothing at all had changed in the world, my body got very excited about the new story I created in my mind.
The human body believes our mentally fabricated stories about what is good and bad – like self image and the importance of owning objects – and responds to those stories in exactly the same way that it responds to real good and bad things – like healthy food and physical pain. The body responds to our so-called “good” stories with reward responses. Yes! I got the job! And it activates the fight-or-flight response when presented with so-called “bad” stories. Damn! I lost the job! In most cases, our good stories are about getting pleasant stimulation and positive social recognition, and our bad stories are about losing pleasant stimulation and getting negative social recognition. Feeding off of the neurochemistry of reward and loss, human societies have organized themselves primarily around stories about objects and ideas, and secondarily around actual physical reality and relationships.
When it comes down to it, we need only adequate nutrition, water, exercise and shelter to stay physically healthy, and we need only caring touch and positive social engagement to stay mentally and emotionally happy, but due to our incredible storytelling abilities, and the phenomena that our bodies believe the stories we tell ourselves, we have built up massive societies and economies that deal more in stories about the imaginary value of ideas and objects than in real healthy food, healthy families, and healthy work. Most of the stress that is widespread in human societies today is stress about our ideas and concepts. From a purely physical perspective, modern humans in developed countries like ours should be experiencing very little stress. Most of us have plenty of food, good shelter, and tons of social interaction. And yet stress is the hallmark of our modern civilizations, and most of it is in response to stories made up in our minds.
Stories about keeping what we have, not liking what we get, and wanting what we don’t have all produce stress. It is unfortunate that human beings have become so fixated on telling ourselves these kinds of stories, since it is obvious that in a universe of constant motion and change, we will never keep what we have, and we can only get what our actions and our circumstances provide. In contrast, stories about accepting loss and serendipity as unavoidable and even valuable aspects of existence reduce stress, since they counteract our stories about keeping and wanting things.
We use positive kinds of stories as part of our energy healing work. When both therapist and client think that healing energy is flowing in from a benevolent universal source, our bodies believe this story, and respond accordingly. For millennia, human storytellers have seen the powerful healing effects of caring touch, and have made up many wonderful stories about how it works. This essay is one such story – one of many. We need not argue amongst ourselves about what is real or not real. From the perspective our bodies, what we think and what we sense are exactly the same. So listen reverently to our stories about healing – be they about healing energy, life force, Chi, Qi, Mana, Prana, Polarity, Reiki, angels, cellular metabolism, or spirit guides. Let your mind give these stories to your body as precious gifts, and feel your body respond by healing itself.