Mentorship in Energy Healing:
An Interim Report
(a candid self-interview with Jim Gilkeson from early 2014,
before the beginning of the 2014 Mentorship Program)
Jim, you started your energy healing mentorship program in 2011 and you’ve now had three six-month groups. How are you seeing the project now after having done it for three years?
It’s been an interesting three years for me as a teacher because this mentorship program began with me quitting my jobs at all four of the schools of bodywork where I had been teaching. That was at the end of 2010. I’d hit a wall with my teaching and I just wasn’t going with the underlying agenda of the schools. I saw the mentorship as a way to get into a new relationship with my vocation as a teacher. So I’m encouraged. I think I made a good decision.
What was your problem with the schools?
Well, I don’t want to sound like I’m putting down the schools for what they’re doing in providing students with some formal grounding in how to be professional massage therapists. There is nothing wrong with that. The best of these schools have a genuine commitment to helping people realize a career in bodywork. And I’m glad they're doing it.
It’s just that I began to question my role in all of that. I never met any resistance at the bodywork schools to what I was teaching. I got along great with the schools’ directors and was always given free rein to put my classes together the way I saw fit.
But something else creeps in when you get into teaching energy healing in massage schools. You see, things take a definite psycho-spiritual turn when you get into energy healing. And in the twenty-five or so years when I was associated with massage schools I came to seriously question whether these schools are the right setting for this. Something about the bodywork career context has always bothered me when it comes to energy healing, simply because there is a tendency to reduce what is taught to external skills and information that can be learned by rote and tested. That might work all right with entry-level massage or anatomy courses, but energy healing loses something essential when it gets reduced to a bunch of techniques that you can learn over a couple of weekends or read about in a book. When you do that, when you start with external techniques, you miss the connection to the personal development and inner path of the healer. I believe energy healing needs to be learned from the inside out.
But schools don’t have the luxury of working like that, do they? They have to meet state requirements and set curricula for massage and bodywork certification. And they only have so many hours in which to expose their students to the technicalities of the bodywork they study. So how do you get back to that connection to a person's development?
That’s exactly my point. Most schools of bodywork just aren’t set up for things that require a student to enter processes that take a lot of time, not to mention the discipline of a meditator and a certain kind of maturity and soul-searching. And just because various forms of energy healing are now standard fare in massage school curricula, and just because there are a lot of people now who come to these schools wanting to learn energy healing . . . none of this changes the fact that energywork practices throw a person into processes that are challenging and that can change your perspective in a profound way. Almost nobody knows this when they sign up for a weekend class in energy healing.
So, getting back to the connection to personal development . . . for one thing, you would have to open up the amount of time a person commits him- or herself to. If someone wants to work with me in a mentorship relationship I ask them to commit to a six-month period at least. That’s ‘way outside of the parameters of most schools.
What’s the difference between a class and a mentorship?
There’s a huge difference. Classes are typically focused on information and a body of knowledge and techniques to be mastered, while a mentorship is first and foremost a relationship. Of course, knowledge and information and techniques are passed on in that relationship. But the main thing you go into a mentorship for is to be in a relationship with someone who has been at it a long time and who embodies something of the spirit of whatever the discipline happens to be.
A mentorship in the sense we're talking about here should come after a person has learned some chops and has had some time out working with others. That way they have had some experiences, made some mistakes, gotten into situations that bring up their next set of questions. It’s not an entry-level thing. A relationship with an experienced practitioner—in whatever field— should be part of something like what the monastic people call "formation," and it should go on over a meaningful period of time. That's part of my motivation for offering a mentorship program.
Did you go through a mentorship in energy healing?
Not a formal one, but yes, definitely. I was in ongoing classes with Bob Moore in Ringkøbing, Denmark for nine years in the 1980s and the dominant focus there was on one's inner development which plays out in whatever you do. The healing work was all from the inside out. Which was fine with me; my pre-history was my nine years in a semi-monastic spiritual order, so I was mainly interested in meditative practices. I knew that some of the students there were using this energy stuff in various kinds of hands-on healing practices with clients, but I didn't see that for myself. For the first years, I was seeing this as a spiritual practice and didn't even particularly get the connection of these energy practices to hands-on healing.
But when it comes to a mentorship, it was with Bob but, in a way, actually more with my wife at the time. She was, and is, an exceptionally gifted energy healer. She'd gotten her wings long before we ever met. At the time Ursula and I met, she was assisting a village doctor in southern Germany, working as a combination of healer and medical intuitive, long before that term came into widespread use. Through her, I started going to Bob's classes and, besides an in-depth approach to inner work, he helped me along personally with things I was dealing with in my life. So, between the two of them I would say I had my mentorship.
With Ursula, she would invite me into the healing room to assist her in the sessions she was doing, even before I had ever done anything like this. I guess she saw some talent in me that I was unaware of; I was completely clueless and a lot of it for me at first consisted of mirroring what she was doing. There came a time when we did most sessions in tandem, and in that time I absorbed a lot about things like energetic connection and release phenomena and where to sit within yourself when you are working as a healer, all from being around her when she was doing sessions. Stuff would happen that it's hard to imagine in a regular massage school class—there were lots of trials by fire in which I felt like I was being tossed into situations I had never been in before and had to land on my feet somehow. It was intense, but that's how you learn some of this stuff.
Like what, for example?
For example, I had never seen people completely fall apart the way they did in some of those sessions. They'd fall apart and go through some kind of inner knothole and then re-assemble and come out of the session calm and still, all within an hour or so. Just amazing! Of course, it wasn't always loud and noisy, sometimes it was very inward. But I had never seen that kind of thing before. Ursula was the first person I ever met who knew how to be with a person in a state like that. It was just extraordinary and it made a huge impression on me. It seems I have a knack for that, too, but I didn't know that until I was around someone who had mastered it. It's some of what I think a mentorship can provide, if there is the right chemistry.
I guess the bottom line is that there are many things in energy healing that you just can't get from reading about it. But you really do learn a lot by watching and emulating someone like that. It's how children learn.
Couldn’t schools be set up to include mentorships?
I suppose they could. I think there is place for all this stuff in a school, but it would take a school with a different kind of vision than being mainly a career institute. Mentorships like what I'm talking about would run up the costs if schools included them. Perhaps a school could have a certification and career component AND a way for students to get some depth. But a school like that would also have to find students who are interested in something more than getting in and getting out with a certification of some sort so they can get a job as soon as they can.
How about the private mentorship people you have worked with?
I’ve had an exceptional bunch of people in the program, both in the individual mentorships and the small group ones. But it’s hard to point to common features because they have been so diverse. In one group there was a chi gong teacher, an insurance administrator who took some earlier classes with me, an artist/healer, a man with shamanic gifts who was dealing with health challenges, a teacher of bodywork and a veterinarian. That’s pretty diverse. Some were relatively new at what they were doing, some very homemade about their approach, some with a great deal of professional experience, but they were each ready for something new in their lives.
Would you like to do anything different in the 2014 Mentorship Progam?
Well, there are some things I think about including which I haven't done before, like working with family systems. And I always want to see how to do the teleconferences better. But again, a mentorship is a relationship and not a class per se and a lot of it happens between the official sessions. In a class, you say, "Here's the lesson for today. Do this, learn that." In a mentorship, students are finding out about their paths as persons and healers and so what comes up might take the form of technique building on one day, dealing with a personal healing issue on the next, and delving into something that happened with a client the next. It's all grist for the mill, and my job, the way I see it, is to meet what the student brings, and meet it from a more experienced perspective. So it's improvisation a lot of the time, but it's improvisation based on universal principles of healing work. People learn from that.
As far as the 2014 Mentorship Program is concerned, I'm currently in a preparatory phase. Part of that entails reviewing what went on in past groups. I do have a small list of core things that I think everyone who goes through a mentorship with me should be exposed to and so there are always details of that which I want to sharpen up. Beyond that, it depends very much on the interests and needs of the participants. Things seem to kick into gear for me when I get an idea of who is going to be in the program. Then my thoughts start to take shape as to what to offer.
Thanks, Jim, for your reflections on mentorship in energy healing.
Thank you for your questions.