Form vs. Spirit in Energy Medicine

David Feinstein, Ph.D. ©2005

From a talk delivered at one of Donna Eden’s Basic Energy Medicine Intensives, Miami, August 7, 2005 (transcribed and edited for the Energy Medicine Institute’s Handout Bank):

Teachers of any discipline—whether a healing art, a spiritual practice, an artistic endeavor, or an athletic pursuit—need to convey both the form (knowledge base, attitudes, and behaviors that must be learned to succeed in the discipline) and the spirit (the ability to creatively respond at any moment in a manner that goes beyond the form) of that discipline. Mastery then becomes the ability to allow the spirit to shine through the form. This requires the cultivation of intuition, wisdom, and a perception that transcends the physical senses. While it is easier to teach a discipline’s form than spirit, great teachers help their students develop both. Nonetheless, even superb teachers who have passed their work to their students have faltered on this issue. As the system survives them, it retains the form but loses the spirit, the dimension that cannot easily be quantified yet which fuels and empowers the form.

With Donna, it has been a little different. People love to study with her because she so exudes the spirit of her work that they are able to absorb that spirit. Our challenge has been to get it into enough form that the behaviors and routine decision points can be taught in a coherent, systematic manner. In the early days of Donna’s career, her students were full of enthusiasm for energy work, but it was much more difficult for them to learn the systems that would allow them to replicate it her approach. Over the past decade, we have worked very hard to put the approach into a format that people could internalize, starting with the book, Energy Medicine. Now we have it pretty well spelled out in the book and a series of videotaped classes that constitute a more or less systematic Energy Medicine curriculum.

However, the pendulum swings. As a result of having systematized the work, we are now feeling the more universal challenge of keeping the spirit in the form. Ironically, this is getting to be a trickier issue for us as our organization becomes more advanced and sophisticated. We’re at the point now where our students, our top practitioners, are teaching classes. They have learned the form, there is no question about that. But can they imbue it with the spirit that Donna brings to her work? Or more correctly, can they imbue it with their own spirit and wisdom so that the form becomes a vehicle for the deeper work that is true healing, rather than a substitute for it? That has been one of the big questions with which we have wrestled, and one of our concerns about teaching and certifying practitioners. It is much easier to test whether they have mastered the knowledge base and the techniques than whether they can apply them in a manner that transcends technique and goes to the heart of healing.

This was tested in March of 2005 when we held our first major event where Donna was not present. It was a Practicum in Houston which brought together six of our top instructors and nearly a dozen teaching assistants to create a learning experience where about 80 students practiced the methods taught in a 5-Day Basic class. Our experience in the past, repeated over and over, was that when organizations invited Donna to give a presentation and we said “Her schedule does not allow it, but may we recommend one of our most advanced students,” they were virtually never interested. So we were concerned that, in bringing people to an event where Donna was not present, would the work fall flat? Was Donna’s spirit the essential element that caused people to consistently report such wonderful experiences in her classes, or have we cultivated a group of practitioners who are also able to convey that spirit? Just teaching the “form” was not going to lead to an enthusiastic response, that much we knew. Would our staff be able to carry the spirit of the work as well?

The Practicum was going to put this to a test. We systematically collect written feedback at the end of our classes. We did expect people to be generally satisfied with the Practicum, but the feedback showed it to be off the charts. The ratings on Donna’s classes average almost all 4’s and 5’s on our 5-point scale. The ratings of the Practicum were right up there with the ratings of Donna’s classes, including several comments along the lines of “Well, I’ve been to several Donna classes, but this was definitely the best class I’ve been to.” People loved the Practicum.

This event helped to convince us that we have been successful in cultivating an advanced group that is able to teach the form and the spirit of Energy Medicine. Of course, as we’re looking at more advanced teaching by our students, “Form vs. Spirit” remains an issue. And it remains a tough one.

We are now thinking about a Certification Program. Will that get mired in the fine points of technique and information and lose sight of the spirit of the work? Can we devise ways to certify not only that a person has mastered the methods but is able to apply them in a manner that transcends method? As Enya says, “Who knows, only time.” But I am articulating the issue to affirm our personal and organizational commitment to continuing to teach the spirit of the work as well as its form.

A little microcosm of the dilemma just occurred in this class. When you were in pairs working on your partner’s chakras, you were following the form we taught you: counter-clockwise circles over the chakra, followed by clockwise. We had instructed our teaching assistants to be vigilant and correct anyone who wasn’t doing the technique as we’d taught it. We used to be loose about this, but as Energy Medicine is becoming part of the culture, more and more of our students have studied chakra work with other teachers and they often will do the chakra work according to the form they’ve already learned. While we believe there are many ways to approach any of the body’s energy systems, our position is that our students are in the class to learn Donna’s approach, so we ask them to set aside the other technique for a moment and learn this one. Then they can decide what to take home with them, how to integrate the two, et cetera. And if you don’t know a different form, learn this form well. Then let your intuition take over, go in different directions with the form. That is great! That is how we want you to learn. Get the form, then go with your heart. But get the form first. So our teaching staff was instructed to guide people to adhere to the form.

During the practice session, Donna was walking through the room observing. She saw it happen in several different instances that a very sensitive, intuitive person was totally into the experience, almost in an altered state, with the hand that was circling no longer circling, but accurately following the energy of the chakra, perhaps not even resembling the form we’d just taught. It was not like they were following a different system than they were being taught; they were following the energy itself. That is exactly how Donna “invented” her own system, and it brought her joy to see such attunement. But then, along came a teaching assistant who dutifully interrupted the person with instruction on how to do it “correctly,” bringing the person out of the reverie and into confusion and frustration.

So there was Donna, watching the teaching staff do exactly what we told them to do, gently tapping the person on the shoulder and demonstrating how to do it according to the form, interrupting a beautiful process. The person’s hand was in the moment inventing exactly the perfect technique for the recipient at that point in time. It was an energy healing version of the proverbial hospital practice of waking up the patient to administer a sleeping pill. Here we have the Form vs. Spirit dilemma in our face.

There has to be a dance. I’m speaking now to our teaching staff as well as to the rest of you– taking back what we told the teaching staff. If someone is following the form of a different method than what we are teaching, yes, this is not the time for practicing that method and we do want to encourage everyone to learn Donna’s approach. But we remove you from the responsibility of making sure that people do it exactly according to the form.

Jeff Harris handled this very well at Omega last year. It was also during a chakra session. He was watching a couple working together. The wife was working on the husband in what appeared to be a very "freeform" manner, unrelated to Donna's how-to instructions. He went over to the table, watched for a moment, then asked if the wife was feeling and moving with the energy. She stated that she was. He pointed out that this wasn't the way Donna taught, that he hoped she understood what had been taught, and that he understands that Donna also teaches always to honor the energy and the personal experience over the theory. He then left them alone.

Based on this, and the fact that we do want people to learn a consistent method, it seems appropriate for a teaching assistant to observe, ask to clarify the practitioner's understanding, and then "let it be." We need to know both that our students learn and understand a reproducible method and that they understand that energy doesn't always follow the rules that can be stated. If the technique is the form, the energy is the spirit, and it is as important to learn about one as the other.

What we suggest as you are learning the work is that you stay with the form, and if your intuition, or the “feel” of the energy, takes you somewhere else, yes, go with that. Then, when that inspiration passes, come back to the form. This is a very tricky issue in learning a complex system. What do you learn first? While we do generally still feel, “learn the form first and then let your intuition move you once you have learned it,” if your intuition moves you while you’re learning the form, by all means let it guide you. You will be developing the most important muscle in your healing body. No matter how much becomes scientifically established about the dynamics of energy and energy healing, the work will always be as much art as it is science.

EverettForm vs. Spirit in Energy Medicine