Recently I had a massage at a health spa that went a little sideways. The worker who was doing the massage was a very good masseuse, she was also empathic and a really poorly trained energy worker. To make it even worse, she had learned Yoga from people who ignored the spiritual aspects of it, so she had unlocked a whole lot of tools she had no idea how to use, and doors she had no idea how to close. Being a dear sweet little thing, she wanted really hard to open herself to others and use her energy for healing. Awesome. Live among the most privileged in our society who have lived their entire existence pampered and sheltered and you will only have to worry about the true predators who stalk those reaches. However, there are a fair number of us other folk who will scare the spots off you for various reasons.
Some of us are veterans either of military or police who cannot shut off their situational awareness, their focus, and the constant threat assessment of their surroundings. We radiate like predators because we never really turn off that part of us that is always seeking, evaluating and prioritizing threats in our environment, and preparing contingency plans, more or less reflexively for dealing with them.
There are those who are in physical pain, whose bodies when you touch them are alive with the energy of pain on a level that to us is simply the chronic pain background noise, about 3-4 out of ten, if we have to think about it, but largely ignored outside the first few minutes after waking. If you have not suffered serious injury or disease states that leave you in agony that will never, ever stop, you can’t help but be overwhelmed when you touch pain like that. If however, it goes on long enough, you really can get used to anything, and we do. We will be aware of the pain as you work each center, and even as the pain spikes we feel the relief that the massage is bringing and react positively even as you feel the pain increase (well yes, but only when you are working it, in your wake it is much better).
There are those who suffer PTSD from serious trauma. Some again are veterans, some are sexual assault victims, some are survivors of serious physical trauma or long debilitating/humiliating disease. There are wounds that leave scars in the mind, stains and twisting in the energies. These are marks of the survivors and the reality of the coping mechanisms that got us through, and may or may not be great for functioning at the moment. Life is a work in progress, healing a journey that actually ends in death not wellness, as you never really finish from some wounds. Step by step, day by day you get better, and hopefully you are still doing it when you die.
OK, so that is the set of problems, so, what is the solution. Training. OK, here is your quick and dirty training for how to work among the scary. I don’t mean just people who intimidate you, I mean how to remain positive and focused, around people whose condition, energy, emotion and physical pain levels cause you to panic, withdraw, or take actual harm.
Starting with the assumption you are in a therapeutic situation and you are not simply willing to use your shields to shut yourself down, cut yourself off from the awareness of others. Let us assume you actually wish to keep your empathic senses open, and use your energy to interact with and theoretically help someone whose own state or nature disturbs you. We are going to review Grounding, Centering and Shielding inside the specific context of therapeutic interactions.
I generally center first, relying on myself more than any external anchor, but for those who are not used to dealing with hostile, frightening, or painful energies it might be helpful to start with grounding, so there I will begin.
Grounding: My tradition and training uses Yggdrasil, the world tree. The tree visualization does not actually require you to believe in Yggdrasil, nor understand the nine worlds in the structure of Heathen traditions, you simply have to know what a tree looks like, how it is basically structured, and that it roots in the ground. If you have seen a tree, then you know enough for this to work for you.
Lightning strikes the earth, the sun lashes it, the ice claws at it, but the earth is vast beyond useful measure and these energies literally ground in her without effect. The scope of the earth is such that the most terrible energies can be released into her with no measurable effect. We ground in the earth like rivers do in the sea, she received from us that which we cannot hold, even as she anchors us firmly in place.
See the tree in your mind, feel your hands as branches, your skin as bark and leaf. You feel the energies absorbed by your leaves, buffeting your branches. Take in the energy, let it flow down through you to your roots. Sink those roots deep into the earth, feel the calm quiet dark of the earth. Feel the slumbering life within it. Let the energies wash over you and release them into the earth. The earth is vast beyond comprehension, and the energies that are too much for you pass almost unnoticed through your roots and into the living earth. You feel the energy bleed into the earth, even as you feel your roots sink deep into her firmness, locking and anchoring you in place. You are grounded, anchored, and able to weather the storm of energies you may encounter without fear.
Centering is next. You can center in yourself if you do not wish to involve external aid or powers. If you choose to do so, take the time to breathe in slowly and deeply, focusing on your internal power, your awareness of yourself. Let the external world become less important and reach deep within your own awareness of yourself. With each breath in feel your power flowing along your limbs. Feel it flow outward from your chest through each limb, up your neck to your crown, flowing through your body and into your feet. Feel that energy defining you, your core self, core awareness. This is you, only you. Hold that in your mind, know yourself, and prepare to deal with energies that are not self, awareness of other. Do so from the strong foundation in your self. If you are spiritual or religious in practice, as many of us are, a secondary part of any healing work, be it counselling, or physical healing, is the Call.
If you seek the aid of other powers, however you define them, be it the earth itself, your ancestors, your gods (or God if you are of that persuasion) it is time now for you to Call. The act of opening yourself by intent is not the same as a simple prayer. This is a working. This is a job. A task. You are making of yourself a tool to do a specific job. When you Call, you are not asking for a generalized blessing, you are actually asking for a very specific aspect, that part or aspect of your god, your spirit, your ancestral guide, or higher power however you define them, that most corresponds to the work you want to do here. Intent isn’t everything, but if you get it wrong, the rest seldom goes well. Be clear and be honest about what you are asking for. If you feel you are in danger of being overwhelmed, you open yourself to your god with the specific and clear intention of allowing their essence to fill you, to anchor you, so that you may work without fear or harm, to allow you to open fully without being overwhelmed by energies more powerful or simply of alien nature to your own. Self care is critical in any and all healing work, get that wrong, and you have added to the injured, rather than healed anyone. When you have Called, prayed, invoked or simply focused your awareness on your connection to the divine, you are ready for the next step.
Grounded in the earth, centered in yourself, your connection to the divine, if you use it, already established with the specific intent of your working you are now ready for shielding.
Shielding in the healing process is different from regular defensive shielding. Rather than simply deflecting or protecting yourself, you seek something a little more complex, nuanced, and ambitious. Rather than blocking all the dangerous energies, you want to simply keep them from damaging you, while allowing you to experience them, to know them, draw them out, and where appropriate and safe, use your established channels to ground safely any dangerous excesses that are released by your work.
Shielding in the healing context. The visualization that is most useful to you will depend on your Call, or your centering technique. One that I found useful was to extend the tree imagery. I let my shields, my rejection of Not-Self flow over me like bark on the tree. Flowing from my center, augmented by grounding in the far greater presence of the divine that I have opened myself to, my shields are a hard skin of bark against which the energies I touch in the person I work with will be felt. I can feel what touches the bark, but it is my choice what I allow to pass inward, to feel, to experience, and yes, to channel downward and ground in the earth, or channel inward to the aspect of my god I have invoked to aid me in my work.
I am good at pain, so I tend to allow the awareness of pain to be drawn into me, because I am better at processing it, and by doing that I can free up the person I am working with to process and deal with actual change or healing, as the simple handling of pain is a massive energy drain unassisted. It is not my pain, and will not root in me, but can be channeled with little effort into the earth, or offered to my god. Odin works well for ordeals, including healing ones, so pain is a coin that will buy healing in certain contexts. If you are not good at pain, allow the pain to flow down your shields and ground it through your roots into the earth. The earth is so vast it can drink all the pain that ever was and be unchanged. You do not need to experience it if that will interfere with your ability to do your job. Be aware of it, be aware of the shape and intensity of it, the changes in it. You must always and ever be sensitive to spikes in pain and/or fear because you cannot know what changes inside a person’s mind and body will be made by even the simplest alteration of the balance of stresses under which they live. You don’t have to understand their internal landscape, just sense when what you are doing is causing distress, and be able to avoid pushing at those fault lines.
Standard shields will allow you to cut yourself off from the awareness of the other person’s will, their pain, their emotions. In a healing context, you will often find the need to open yourself to those very things to an extent to follow the most important dictate in any healing process “DO NO HARM”. You cannot ensure you are doing no harm, if you are shielding yourself from all the effects you are having on your person, for this reason, you must actually use your sensitivity to a degree.
Center in yourself, shield yourself so that you can be aware but not harmed by the energies that are under your fingers. Remain centered in yourself, go as slow as you need to, but you must always and ever remain centered in yourself, with clear understanding of what is coming from you, and what is coming from them. Ground deep in the earth, bleeding off not only excess and dangerous energies from them, but those energies that will snap up in you in response. Do not be ashamed of fear, shame, anger, or other emotional responses to the energies of another’s pain. Own those responses that are yours, ground out the energies that are harmful with every single exhalation, give them up to the earth, but be aware of where the response came from in you, and be prepared to deal with the emotional consequences later, preferably with help from those who share your tradition and practice.
I am not going to give you instruction at how to work with someone else’s energy. That is something you really need to seek a far wiser teacher for, and you had best have developed specific and real skill sets before you attempt it. I will say two important things; do not ever work with someone else’s energy, pain, or emotions without their express permission. That means INFORMED consent. If they don’t know that they are naked in front of your eyes, you are violating their reasonable expectations of privacy and you are actually in a position to do much harm through the violation of trust. Second, what we can do for others is help them deal with effects, free up their energies to deal with causes. We can’t make wounds go away, we can’t undo damage. Don’t ever trivialize people’s wounds by thinking you can simply magic them away. That is not what we can do. What we can do is useful and important. We can reduce the negative effects of their burdens on them, and make easier their efforts to remodel their own bodies, mind and emotions on a gradual step by step basis. If you make someone feel better, that is not a problem gone, that is a blessed moment of relief that may enable them to make steps toward meaningful and lasting change, but do not pretend you can “fix people”. It insults them, trivializes their trauma, and makes mockery of the real and lasting good you can actually do.
You don’t have to shut yourself off from people whose energies and intensity is disturbing to you. To be empathic, to be able to share another’s pain is an immensely useful tool in making real and positive differences in their experience. The twin principals of “do no harm” to them, and “self care” for you are best served by only opening yourself to intense or dangerous energies, or powerful personalities in a therapeutic setting after you have grounded, centered and shielded yourself in such a way you can work safely, respectfully, and honestly with whoever you are working with.
There are lots of people out there who are apparently getting their abilities unlocked by those with no spiritual awareness at all. This is dangerous. It is blind people telling you how to find the sun, and telling you how wonderful it feels on your face. Those with sight are perfectly prepared to endanger themselves, and utterly unprepared for the really simple steps in working with sunlight safely. If you happen to be, or know one such person, pass this along. If you are one of these people and require instruction, there are lots of really gifted practitioners, I am not one of them, but I can and will put you in touch with them for further instruction. I am just another working stiff, struggling to get my own training up to snuff for the jobs I already do.