Talking About Esoteric Stuff (CT 1)
(This is part 1 of a series called "The Communication Task.")
The question often comes up in thoughtful energy healing practitioners who are launching a public practice: "How do I talk about what I do?" Let’s face it, there is quite a communication task when it comes to talking or writing about subtle energywork. Explaining anything “alternative” to a person for whom it is new can be challenging. It can be like trying to explain shoes to a snake, or the expression “clothing optional” to your great-aunt. It’s hard to know where (or if) you should even start. You always run into the weirdness factor, which is to say that you are trying to put into words something that lies outside everyday conversational subject material of most people who aren’t themselves an alternative practitioner, a meditator, yogi or student of the esoteric arts and sciences, or a Northern Californian.
Here is the first of a small series of reflections on the communication task when it comes to energywork. These are not going to be formulae for "what to say" so much as ways I have found to appreciate the challenge of building bridges to other people.
“Sometimes it is a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.”
I can remember getting quite agitated at a very famous, widely published spiritual teacher who was interviewed on the radio during a speaking tour that brought him to Kansas City. The interviewer, Walt Bodine, a crusty old veteran journalist and daily radio host, is a good old guy who speaks for the four-square, salt-of-the-earth common-sense Midwestern world of the “Show me” state of Missouri. Walt is very at home with the Mayor and City Commissioner of Kansas City, but doesn’t have much of an antenna for things that you can’t see or, indeed, for most anything that most people don’t agree on.
Walt asked this luminary of the health and spirituality world an everyday question: “How old are you?”
His guest answered, “I am infinite.”
“Spiritual people” fall into a nasty habit that might be called “up-leveling.” This is when you “trump” something said to you in normal conversation with an ultimate-sounding, but unsearchable (and usually irrelevant) truism. For example, an up-leveling of the query, “what time is it?” could be “time doesn’t exist.” It easily turns into the vehicle a kind of “more fully realized than thou” one-upsmanship. In its more virulent forms it is the derailment and death of any conversation.
Ram Dass told about a group of people living together in a house where they rotated the duty on household chores. When one of them had to confront a housemate who didn’t show up for his chores, he said, “It’s your turn to do the dishes, man.”
The other man responded by up-leveling, “It’s all Light, man.”
Since up-leveling was the norm in that household, the other person went to work to figure out how to up-level this very ultimate-sounding truism that everything is made of Light. Then it came to him what the next level up from that would be.
“It’s still your turn to do the dishes, man.”
As everyone in Kansas City with any sense knows, you don’t up-level Walt Bodine. This refusal by this spiritual teacher to come down off his cosmic high horse during his interview and connect with the person in front of him cost him the entire interview. Whatever good will Bodine might have had about interviewing this man about his work evaporated into an uneasy formality that was a pain to listen to. Since I am also involved in rather esoteric undertakings and take seriously the communication task, I decided then and there to do what I could to not fall into this trap.
In preparation for teaching classes, talking at book events or other times when I would be talking about energy healing or some aspect of my work, I started doing a communication exercise which I call the “Walt Bodine Exercise.” I have found that it is a workout for my Throat Center in the way it connects with that part of me that formulates and expresses ideas. I think the “Walt Bodine Exercise” has helped me to become more confident and sure of myself when it comes to talking in accessible language about subjects that aren’t everyday topics . . . like energy healing.
Here is the exercise:
Get honest with yourself about how you use language when you talk about energy stuff. To take the communication task seriously, you might have to begin by ditching your sense of how special your subject is. Not that it isn’t special. It is, but you may need to come down off whatever high horses you might be riding. You may need to abandon the way a special language keeps you up in an ivory tower, slightly separate from all the poor, uninitiated people who are not privy to your special knowledge. Sneak up on yourself and see if you are using esoteric language as a way of maintaining some kind of superiority.
Find a place where you can be alone and talk out loud. I do this a lot in my car. Another good place is in front of a mirror.
Bring your awareness to your Throat Center and allow that contact to deepen.
Imagine you are being interviewed by Walt Bodine, or somebody like him, about something you are involved with, something that is outside of the ordinary. You are free, of course, to choose another interviewer, but choose someone who is intelligent and interested, but who has no connection with what you do. Here are some suggestions:
Someone of your parents’ generation;
Someone much younger than you;
Someone outside of your “in-group” who does not share your group’s jargon;
Someone from another country whose first language is not yours;
Someone who is of a different race or ethnicity from you;
A being from another planet.
See yourself connecting with this interviewer, person to person.
Using your normal speaking voice, simply and succinctly explain your understanding of energy healing (or another esoteric subject) to this other person. Remember that you can’t expect your interviewer to go with anything real esoteric unless you first build a bridge into the subject, so you will need to reach out, find common ground and pick this person up where he or she is.
Challenge yourself to explain in clear language concepts that you and all your friends might take for granted. Anticipate the kinds of questions Walt Bodine or your great-aunt are likely to ask you in their attempt to find out what it is you do? What do you mean by “energy”? How would you answer them?
Be prepared to tell how you came to your insights about this subject. (Or are you just repeating a doctrine about something you haven’t really experienced yourself?)
Repeat this exercise several times over the course of a month and take note of your experience:
Where do you resort to special jargon or “energywork-insider” concepts instead of everyday language? Can you “translate” your more esoteric concepts into everyday language? (A small example: do use Sanskrit words like “chakra” when “energy center” will do?)
Where do you hear the gaps in the other person’s understanding? This is important because if you do not slow down and speak to those gaps, you will lose your audience.
How does your ability to express yourself and communicate about what you do change in the process of this exercise?
In my next blog entry, I will go into some ideas about the advantages of using generic terminology when you are communicating about energy healing.
GOING DEEPER: Resources for more context and discussion:
See the discussion of "mass mind" in A Pilgrim in Your Body: Energy Healing and Spiritual Process (pp. 9-13)
"Tin Can Telephone" illustration by Aimee Eldridge. Used with permission.
Copyright ©, 2017 by Jim Gilkeson. All rights reserved.