E is for Energy (and experiences and ethics)


I first learned to consciously perceive and move energy in the feminist self-defense workshops (Wen-Do) I took in my late teens and early twenties.

Among other things, the exercises we did made me realize that I can actually pick up on someone’s intent to attack me before they’re even near my personal space, even when they explicitly try to appear harmless. That realization, together with a general belief that women deserved as much space as men, started off a long series of informal social experiments where I tried to influence men to make room for me on the streets or on public transport. For example, I tried to project my intention to walk straight ahead and not move out of the way to make room for some guy when I walked along the street. Interestingly, men in suits were the ones least likely to react to that by adjusting their own paths, and some of them even hissed angrily at me “Can’t you give way?!” after they had bumped into me (Yes, I can, but I prefer not to – just like you). I imagine they simply had no room in their mental world for a young punk-looking woman who did not agree that she was supposed to bow to their “importance.”

But despite the suit-guys, I was surprised how easy it often was to successfully use intent and energy that way, and that it was even possible in the first place. Once I had a guy practically throw himself into a hedge to make room for me on a narrow sidewalk. That was when I decided to adjust my “output” a little to what seemed reasonable for a street encounter between two hierarchally similar men. So the issue of ethics came up pretty soon as I wondered how much space I had the right to claim without taking away unfairly from another, and what other hierarchies came into play in any given interaction. For example, in an encounter between a guy of color and a white woman, does my insistence on spatial (or other) gender equality read as such to him, or as yet another attempt of a white person to dominate over a person of color, or as both at the same time?

"Reception" by Sue O'Kieffe

Back then, I didn’t think of any of that as spiritual. But after I had experienced it to work myself, I definitely believed in this “energy thing.”

Around the same time, I also discovered the Darkover fantasy novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley and found her description of  laran (a bundle of psychic/telepathic/telekinetic skills) completely fascinating. My best friend and I discovered we could cure other people’s hiccups by “thinking” them away. We could do it on our own, but we were more successful when we did it together. I remember being both amazed whenever it worked, and completely accepting that it did. To this day, I experience the same “Wow!/So what?” reaction about things that can’t be easily explained by contemporary Western science. I might not be able to explain why something works but if it does, who cares about the reason?

My frame of reference for these things was much influenced by my sense of (sub)cultural belonging and my politics (punk, feminism, and radical leftist ideas). For example, when I felt in need of protection I usually imagined a gang of urban Amazon warriors accompanying me (or one of them sitting next to me on the bus) instead of an egg of white light surrounding me because a bunch of “imaginary” fierce women just seemed so much more suited for that job than an abstract immaterial shape that didn’t actually mean anything to me. Looking back I actually think it’s a good thing that I learned these things in a rather unstructured way because it forced me to find the way that worked for me instead of repeating what someone else did without question. It required that I actually do things and experience how they felt to find out if they worked for me instead of only reading about them.

A couple of years later (in the late 1990s), I discovered the writings of Patrick Califia, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (aka Catherine A. Liszt), and many other authors who contributed to lesbian/queer anthologies about BDSM and/or sex. I was blown away by the way these people managed to merge radical sex-positivity with a conscious way to deal with “energy” (and often outright pagan spirituality) in a seamless way. “Energy” was used consciously to direct sensations during sex (in the broadest sense of the word), story characters had deeply romantic out-of-body experiences during BDSM sessions, goddesses were worshipped by way of sexual-spilled-over-into-spiritual ecstasy, and so on. Major light bulbs went on in my head. Now that was an understanding of energy work and spirituality that I could get behind! And then of course there were my own experiences in these realms. I “energetically” grew new body parts and shapeshifted the ones I had during sex, spaces between me and others were bridged by “energetic” connections, and I found that I could physically feel another person’s “energy-only” body parts very well indeed. This most definitely went way beyond mere visualization!

So, yeah, sexuality (again, in the broadest sense of the word) is still a major frame of reference for me when I think about energy and consciously and deliberately perceiving and moving it. For me, approaching “energy” in the context of sexuality and feminism made it very easy for me to also think about it in terms of ethics. Right from the beginning, “energy work” (and play) was tied to issues of consent, striving to be aware of the possible consequences of an action (or inaction), questions about dealing with power imbalances, and the fact that not everyone regarded the same things as pleasant and beneficial. While this may have prevented me from lightheartedly experimenting more, I mostly believe this also prevented me from many very shortsighted and potentially harmful things I otherwise could have done in that area. Nevertheless, I think I’ll go back to learning some more basics about handling “energy” because it’s still something that intrigues me. Maybe there is a way I can approach this playfully without turning it into something that wasn’t serious.


5 responses »

  1. Awesome post! That is something I could never do – control this kind of energy. Not that I expect it to work like Harry Potter magic, but I could never perceive any results in my attempts to do that. So reading about your experience is interesting to me, specially as you talk about the many ways (and occasions) this energy can be used an manipulated.

    I specially liked the part about NOT imagining a white egg of light. Never worked for me either, not even as psychological comfort! :p

    I loved some of the Darkover books, I’ve been wanting to re-read the Ages of Chaos books (Hawkmistress! and Stormqueen! – both books about women with powerful laran).

  2. I don’t get the white-egg-thing, either, so thanks for sharing your visualizing Amazons! A band of warriors says “protection” more strongly to me than the colour white!

  3. @ Marina:
    Now I’m wondering if I misrepresented my abilities… Because I certainly haven’t been able to make just anybody step out of my way just because I wanted them to. And I’ve never even started exploring things like Tantra or Reiki or whatever other energy work techniques there are. So I have a rough idea of all the things I don’t know and can’t do, even if I focused here on the things I DO have some personal experience with.

    Yes, “Hawkmistress!” is indeed one of the Darkover novels that stood out most for me, and also one I recently re-read. It was quite interesting to take a second look at Zimmer Bradley’s concept of “laran” so many years later and with a lot more knowledge about the reality of psychic abilities (even if I don’t experience them myself).

    @ harzgeist (and Marina again):
    I believe that your visualizations need to work for you. It doesn’t matter if a gazillion people find the white-light egg does the job wonderfully – if it doesn’t work for you, pick something else. Find an image that makes sense to you, that signifies the kind of protection you need in a given situation and use that. The gang of Amazons may be great for walking along the street and not feeling like anyone’s victim, but I wouldn’t take them into a situation where I needed to be mostly “invisible,” or one where I needed a “neutral” protection that just helped in letting things by which I don’t want to be affected slide off me as if from Teflon (e.g. as protection from everyone else’s feelings in a crowded subway on days when I don’t feel well anyway).

    That said, if anyone can tell me why we should all use one specific image over another, I’d be happy to learn more!

  4. I love this post!! I don’t have a great handle on energy work but I try very hard to make sure my own energy doesn’t spill over into others’ spaces.

    I work nights at a mental institution w/ the criminally insane, not the safest place. But I feel pretty safe because I have found a way to visualize a warrior having my back when I walk the halls for checks. I send Fox out invisibly ahead of me and have 2 Amazon warriors behind me. Ive worked there for almost 6 months and have never had an issue.


  5. How fascinating that you also visualize Amazons to accompany you in potentially unsafe territory! Glad to hear it works so well for you.

    Thank you for also mentioning the idea of keeping our energy/emotions within our own space. Especially since I just realized a few days ago that I’d do well to learn to better shield myself, in exactly this sense of keeping my energy/emotions more to myself in certain contexts. Because being read as easily as I usually am isn’t always a good thing, and neither is just throwing out my stuff at whoever is present without their consent.

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