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?
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.