Foundational practices tend to be where we start when learning anything. And yet when we return to them after more experience, we often find they are more complex than they initially seemed.
Some of the questions people usually ask when I’m teaching Reiki or leading a group might be “are there different types of energy? Is everything reiki? How do you know if it’s reiki or something else?” These are great questions, ones we really should explore for ourselves in any energy practice (whether personal or professional).
There’s simple, shorter answers to these questions, and there are more complete answers that usually lead to more questions. Short answers are not really my thing, so let’s unpack shall we? 😅
What is energy?
Energy in a spiritual sense might described as a vibration, or a frequency that animates what would perhaps be inanimate without it. I’m not entirely sure anymore what constitutes a fundamentally “inanimate” object, but some materials hold energy and some do not (or less so), and we might say the presence of energy makes something more vibrant and alive. For example your body may be in perfect physical condition, but without the electromagnetic fields of your heart and brain you are not “alive.” You are simply matter. But we could also say in that case that your body is not alive in a human sense, but there is still energy in the form of other organisms within the body such as bacteria. There is also potential energy in the form of the body’s muscles and flesh, that another organism could utilize, it would transform and become a part of other life forms.
Or consider a rock, I would say spiritually that a rock to me is animate, but does is hold and move energy the same way that a person, animal or plant might? Indeed any sort of rock has origins as a “life form” but the way it holds or moves energy has changed. Does that change make it less alive? Doesn’t it still have some form of energy?
Reiki is roughly translated as universal or lifeforce energy, and in this concept that quality that makes something alive is Reiki; the basic premise is that if you increased the amount of that energy, it would be conducive to healing. Other words that describe this type of energy might be Chi or Qi, Dana, Prana, or Spirit. On the surface “aliveness” helps us to begin to define universal energy, but maybe we could describe it better through the coherent nature of this energy that supports a certain version of life that we experience on this earth. It has distinct qualities that make it highly compatible and nourishing for earthy life forms.
From a scientific perspective, energy is a force which can cause things to move or change, and it’s either in the form of potential or kinetic energy. Potential energy is not in use but could be, and kinetic energy the transferring of energy from one substance to another. Energy takes many forms, such as light, heat, sound, chemical and atomic process, carbon/plant alchemy, and perhaps even emotional and mental forms of energy. Taking another cue from mainstream physics, when it comes to an energy practice, Reiki or universal energy moves, behaves, and can be observed in all the same ways that “physical energy” can be. This is how we arrive at the ideas that reiki energy is not bound by time and space, that energy tends to stay in motion unless interrupted (removing a “block” would naturally increase flow), and that energy cannot be created or destroyed (only transformed).
The elements are a good way of observing energy in its many qualities and iterations. Its speed, temperature, ability to build or dissipate, how much energy it holds and for how long, degree of movement, and even the more emotional or human context ideas of that energy can be represented in the many forms of the elements.
Energy has certain ways of behaving here on earth, and it also can behave somewhat differently outside of that context. Indeed when we expand our awareness towards quantum energy we encounter yet more mysteries.
Is everything reiki? Is some energy “bad?”
When energy is not embodied in a more human or “life form” sense, it is neutral in nature. It is not good or bad, it simply holds different qualities. A tornado is “destructive” for a life form that wished to go on living in its current state and is in the direct path of a cyclone of energy, but outside that context it’s simply a way that wind/air spins around and moves matter in its path.
A parasite is a life form that wants to go on living, it is not inherently bad or holding an evil agenda, but if you’re the host and it’s draining your vital resources then we could say it’s negative for you. Some energy has the quality of drafting off of other sources of energy, which is also something we typically experience as negative on the personal level.
It’s anyone’s prerogative to want to ease their own pain, be “healthy,” and experience a sense of flow that is conducive to their life as they see it. And with that we have ideas about how energy should be moving and its qualities as it relates to our personal energy, and we may want to focus on working with life-affirming or universal energy as a result.
As we connect with and channel universal or even quantum energy through our bodies, minds, and emotional realms we become more aware of the state of our personal energy. The meeting point of personal and universal is where much of an energy practice takes place. Many of the sensations we feel are where our personal energy meets this universal flow, we may feel vibrations, tingling, warmth, movement, tension, flight of ideas, trance states, oneness, connection to the past or future, and many other sensations.
Spending time at this intersection helps us to better identify our own energy signature, and distinguish that from universal energy AND the presence of energies we might describe as “low vibrational” or drafting-type energy forms.
When practitioners are learning to channel energy (such as Reiki training), the attunement process is intended to clear out space for that energy to move freely, and without “mixing” with your personal energy. Though it’s not necessary for a personal practice to cultivate channeling ability, I think it’s extremely beneficial. When we are in that more neutral flow, we can’t help but encounter the more complex existential questions about the nature of life over time. With this comes great conflict and great relief.
Energy is life (what is life??)
With practice we can feel into how energy never really disappears, therefore even as we may be quite attached to this life, this version, or personality, or “defining” characteristics, our spirit endures even as our life changes and our body “dies.” When we learn to channel energy in a more neutral form, we becomes students of different energies.
When we channel and exchange with the energy of trees we open up into lifetimes (long) and movement (slow) at scales that are far beyond when we can normally experience. In connecting with elemental energy, we become students of dynamic movement and transformation where one form of energy actually becomes another. Through connecting with animals we may tune into highly developed senses and forms of communication that are outside our current range. And when we are tuning into mycelium we can challenge our ideas of what the mind and thought can be. Just to give a few examples!
We then open up into awareness of the spirit world, for if energy endures then it is still present in some form— if energy is not bound by time, then this “consciousness” can be present in more than one time and more than one place simultaneously. As we can grow our capacity to extend our energy outside the physical body, letting our consciousness travel (as in astral projection and dreamwork) we continue to encounter all kinds of realities and versions of ourselves.
Again, while energy itself is neutral, it’s not all to our personal benefit nor should it be. To know and feel this expands our ability to empathize, and grapple with some of the deep existential questions of pain and suffering. Void and liminal spaces that we encounter as we practice teach us how to hold these understandings alongside a desire for collective liberation. Conscious awareness of our energy, where it is in space and how to direct its movement, allows us to navigate the energetic world with more safety and direction.
Like a toddler that starts to understand that they can control their limbs and soon becomes able to travel more easily, complete tasks that used to baffle them, and develop unconscious awareness of what their body is doing— with energy practice we are opened up to a whole new world where we can collaborate more effectively with the energy around us.
How does one develop an “energy practice?”
I’m still learning about energy all the time, I am a student of it not a teacher. We continue that learning through practice. I like to say that “reiki is a lifestyle” and indeed I have fundamentally restructured my life to prioritize my relationship with energy. I do this professionally, but also personally. Energetic awareness is not only about helping humans and pets, or healing yourself, it is about engaging in reciprocity with the earth and unseen realms.
I fear I may have succeeded more in mystifying the practice of energy here, but it’s such a natural thing— to remember that you are energetic.
An energy practice is about connection, and most of what you’ve just read is pretty abstract on the level of Mind. Connection begins with awareness, and awareness must also be held in the body. Awakening your energetic senses starts easily enough: by tuning into your physical senses and opening your mind to how they are interpreting forms of energy.
Lying in the sun at the beach, you can feel the heat on your skin (solar energy and light), and the surface of the sand under your back or belly (tiny ground stones, crystal and earth). You can hear the waves (sound energy, emanating from water being moved by the moon), perhaps you can hear seagulls and people nearby. You can smell and taste the salt (minerals dissolved by the water, churned by its waves, and carried through the air).
Using your conscious awareness of the energetic nature of what you’re sensing, you create a connection between your energy and the energy around you. You can intentionally allow this energy to blend, or not. You can feel the distinct meeting points between you and not you, or be curious about how much that distinction is real vs a belief of separateness. Maybe you can be aware of how all of these core elements exist within your own body: water, salt, air, sound, electrical energy.
Some prompts for deeper exploration:
How do you relate to or feel your own energy?
To what extent do your bring awareness to the energy around you? How do you feel it?
How are you affected by the energy of your environment? What about relationships?
Are there elements or even archetypes that you feel naturally connected to? How could you deepen that relationship?
Are there types of energy that you avoid, why?
What could a deeper connection with energy offer you? Are there any challenges or obstacles you would meet alongside it?