ENERGY DEFENDED AGAINST ITS DEVOTEES AND ITS DETRACTORS

Andrew Taylor Still contemplating the femur.
Andrew Taylor Still contemplating the femur.

I have no problem using the word “energy” when it refers to experience. Take bones, for example. When we look at the femur, it is describable with its varied shapes: trochanters, neck and head, shaft, condyles and epicondyles. This is structural anatomy and lives comfortably in science and objectivity.

On the other hand, there is the experience of the femur. Like many bones, we may say “I just feel it in my bones” – meaning I know that in the deepest part of me. We may, through the femur, feel more grounded, supported, sensual, secure, etc. This is “energetic” anatomy and lives comfortably in the realm of feeling, psyche, art, and subjective experience.

Every culture has attempted to describe energetic anatomy using various languages (chakras, élan vital, chi, bioenergetics, etc.) all of which capture some of the important truth of how experience is organized, but perhaps none of which descriptions are objectively verifiable, just as poetry is not.

People seeking healthcare mostly want to FEEL better. Science helps us understand and explain the anatomical and physiological roots of illness and health, even of feeling. The subjective view helps us understand and empathize with the person and the existential roots of their actual experience.

Both science-minded and metaphysical bodyworkers make each in their own way the same mistake. The energy workers assume that their meaning of energy is physically provable. The evidence-based want the same proof, but then, lacking that evidence, declare “energy” to be a myth.

Both sides are to blame for this tragic dichotomy. Tragic because science can help explain the objective anatomy and physiology giving rise to the experience of energy and, on the other hand, energetic thinking can imaginatively explore the depths and honor the irreducibility of actual experience.

Tragic because it is with a unitary vision, which includes both energy and structure, that we can then best understand and help the person.

Really there are no sides to be taken any more than body, emotion, mind and spirit live in different locations. As William Blake said, “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.”

It is more complex to hold both models. It is more challenging to really be clear with our language and not overreach with wacky claims when talking about energy. It is more challenging to admit that subjective experience may not be evidence-based but is inherently anecdotal. We have our facts and we have our stories.

But, hey, that’s life! And bodywork is life work. And if we heal this rift in our culture, our profession, ourselves and our clients – seeing and supporting the unity in human life of body, mind, feeling – we will make history.