Is It Really Energy?
The word “energy” is ambiguous, used as a cover word to describe a set of experiences and sensations, which may not actually be energetic at all. It’s a convenient word used to conceptualize those experiences, but at the same time it’s a fuzzy word because the experiences that fall under the umbrella term “energy” may not have anything to do with energy. Part of where this ambiguity comes from is associating the word energy with Chi. There’s no direct translation of Chi into English and so energy has been used as the word that roughly describes what Chi may or may not be (Bonewits 2007, Yang 2003).
Recently, as I was doing a breathing exercise to help me work through what would be termed an “Energetic Blockage,” I realized that the term wasn’t accurate to what I was experiencing. There was a gap between the concept of the energetic blockage and the reality of the experience I was actively involved in. I realized that the term “Energetic Blockage” could be used to describe the experience, but it wasn’t really accurate to that experience.
The actual experience was an awareness of physical tension in my body that was linked to an emotional issue I’ve been working on for the last couple of months. As I did my breathing exercise, I consciously focused on the physical tension, and specifically on allowing myself to feel it and work through the resultant emotions and thoughts that came up as I felt it1. Eventually I was able to work through the tension to a point where it was no longer physically bothering me. The emotional tension had also died down. I’m by no means finished working through this issue, but for the moment the sensation was no longer prevalent.
The breathing exercise I used is a Taoist exercise for dissolving physical and psychological tension in a person’s body. Both breath and chi are utilized in the dissolving process, but that doesn’t mean energy is involved. In fact, what I felt was involved was a conscious effort to be present with the emotions and thoughts I felt, and a sense of movement in the tension itself. I feel that same movement anytime I’m doing breathing meditations and as such would characterize it as my experience of Chi. I’m not sure that awareness of movement would automatically mean that Chi equals energy however.
My point in bringing this up isn’t to be overly semantic, though it may seem like I am being just that. Rather, it’s to question carefully the words we use to describe the experiences we have. While energy is a convenient term to use, it’s also become an umbrella term to describe a wide variety of sensations and experiences. And whether we are using energy in the quantum physics sense of the word or using energy as a biological field of electromagnetism, or as the mysterious force of chi, when it becomes an umbrella term for all of those experiences and more, then it might be worth considering being more particular about how we use the word and also comparing that usage against the actual experiences we have.
The word energy is used in so many different settings that it’s not surprising some occultists are skeptical of the word. My own skepticism comes more from the conscious experience I mentioned above, which has prompted me to consider how the energy paradigm may be used as another way of fully being present with the body. If we can take sensations we feel and make them abstract by referring to them as energetic phenomenon, then we can also avoid being present in the body, and also being present with the emotions linked to those sensations, at least initially. And that may actually be beneficial, given that Western cultures, in particular, are body phobic. Having a word such as energy represent the sensations we feel might then make those sensations easier to deal with on a psychological level.
At the same time, when I feel a flush of heat stir in my hands because I’m doing a Taoist exercise that uses Chi, I recognize that a physiological reaction is occurring. The sensations of heat and movement that I’m aware of tell me I’m working with some kind of force or awareness that effects me on the physical as well as metaphysical level. When I do rituals, these same sensations can be felt and indicate that the ritual is occurring. And what I realize is this: Accepting that I feel these sensations in my body allows me to fully integrate my body into magical work. Instead of needing to use an abstract concept to explain what the sensations are, I can simply choose to be present with my awareness of those sensations and accept them as physiological expressions my body is sharing to indicate that all of me is present and focused on this ritual working I’m doing.
I do think the word energy has value in metaphysical discussions. I just question how we use the word, and if the use causes people to neglect or ignore an experience they could otherwise have. Taking a moment to just be in an experience without labeling it with a word or explaining it way or analyzing it can be the key to fully allowing a person to come face to face with the moment s/he is in. and welcome what s/he experiences for what it is.
- Bonewits, Isaac & Phaedra. (2007). Real energy: Systems, spirits. and substances to heal, change and grow. Franklin Lakes: New Page Books.
- Yang, Jwing-Ming (2003). Qigong meditation: Embryonic breathing. Boston: YMAA Publication Center.
- Quick Note of Clarification: It’s true that people feel tension or stress all the time, but we also get good at ignoring it. Consciously being aware of tension is inviting yourself to feel it and discover what the source of that tension is.
©2010 by Taylor Ellwood.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.