I get asked this question occasionally in several different ways (most recently the other week), and so I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter.
The basic question here is: can we take others (meaning students/patients/clients) further than we have gone ourselves? There are also several related questions, such as: if we have not had a particular experience, can we work with that? as well as the different ways we can look at the first question (and if we are talking about experience, education, or consciousness overall)… such as can we bring someone past the point of our own consciousness level?
When I first started doing work with clients (beyond my experiences doing basic massage therapy at a spa-type setting) I took this question fairly literally. My response would have been “sure”, meaning that I saw that I got clients from many different walks of life and was able to provide what I felt was adequate care for them.
Most notably in this phase I worked with a lot of firefighters (my business was across the street from a fire station) and generally I get along with these sorts, likely because we both have a tendency towards dark or sarcastic humor (yes, I am generalizing, but it is a valid point). I have zero experience as a firefighter (and watched a house burn down last week and still can’t believe that there are people that willingly run into burning/smoking buildings for a living) but found that although I had not had the same direct experience, I could still listen, empathize, and care for others appropriately.
Although the question of If we have not had a similar experience, can we work with that? is somewhat clumsy, I found that the basic capacity to listen, to truly hear, and to be neutral (as in, open enough to not judge experiences and personally willing to hear about experiences dissimilar to my own without it creating inner chaos in myself that would pull me away from focusing on my patients/clients) is something fairly rare in our modern day culture… as is safe, neutral (non-sexual) touch. Just the act of having someone listen to you with compassion and non-judgment is incredibly healing.
We also feel unsafe sharing our experiences, or may simply feel unsafe as individuals due to our individual or collective history. Creating safety and a container for the sessions (a complicated topic that I won’t fully go into) so the person can realize your boundaries can allow for safety to be built. Clients (just using this as a general word) will continually test my boundaries… sometimes this is simply because they are entitled, or irritating, but mostly it is because they are attempting to find some semblance of safety… to know that I have boundaries and what definitively they are. We often balk at the creation of boundaries as healers, but those boundaries being consistently maintained are what creates good healing work and general safety in a session.
HOWEVER… What I will say about the whole “experience” thing is that those firefighters would have likely interacted much differently if there were scheduling an appointment with someone who was or used to be a firefighter, or had more knowledge of that world. This gets complicated, as what many of them may have been looking for was a reprieve from that, or safe touch from a female (even if they were not conscious of those needs). But there is an extremely high likelihood that they would have not only interacted differently but worked on different topics if I had experienced anything similar to what they did in their daily lives and work.
Being heard in community of peers is incredibly important. Having someone deeply know and understand your experience from the inside-out and having the above capacity to listen, hear, and create safety, boundaries, and neutrality, results in an automatic sense of deeper connection and safety. In shamanic work, the purpose of shamanic sickness and the wounded healer concept in general is that the individual will pass through their own healing crisis and come out the other side. This is one of the reasons why those truly called to spiritual work often come down with rather odd and sudden illnesses that they pass through (whether that takes hours or decades is the question, of course).
But even in a more “mundane” capacity, finding friends, support groups, and so forth of people who have had the same experiences that you have had, no matter what they are, allows for the person to move beyond the “I am the only person who has ever experienced this” type of mentality and harmful separation ideology into a profound space.
This is about an embodiment and energetic attuning process. What this means is that a system (and you know, the person attached) that has struggled with Lyme disease (for example) will not only have the intellectual understanding of what to look for in patients, will also have a history of what has worked for them and what hasn’t on their journey towards personal healing, and not only can deeply listen to others that are a “past mirror” or “former aspect of self” (all tendencies in client work), but that their system can show the client currently struggling what a healed (or more healed than the client is currently, hopefully) system is like.
This is typically on a rather subconscious level, by the way. There is a deep knowing on the part of the client (also very subconscious) about what they can share with their healer/clinician as well as this attuning process in which the energetic system of the healer shows the client a state of greater health or harmony than the client currently has.
So we get to the issue of consciousness here.
So I will basically say this: the openness and relative consciousness of the healer creates the container for the session.
This sounds complicated, but I will illustrate through a story. I was friends with a fellow Acupuncturist that ran a clinic nearby. She got fertility and pain patients primarily, while I got trauma, emotional and spiritual chief complaints (as well as headache/migraine people, but that is a different story). Clinicians of varying sorts often have specialities, so this wasn’t a terrific surprise.
What I realized after referring patients back and forth was that the same patient would come to me and start talking about wanting to heal their grief, or spiritual patterns and they would go to her and talk about infertility. I realized on a basic level that not only did I have no interest in fertility work, but that my mind was closed to people who wanted to spend a hundred thousand dollars on IVF (this is my issue, not theirs of course) and my thoughts as to overpopulation and effect on the world. So they wouldn’t bring it up.
When I got more comfortable with my own sensitivities and “shamanic/spiritual” path, I also started having clients show up who wanted this work. At this time I was an Acupuncturist, Craniosacral Therapist (etc. lets just say a lot of bodywork and mind-body-energy work type studies) and in no way on my website or in person did I talk about having sensitivities/perceptual/psychic abilities or that I did spiritual work. They just knew, and as I healed my own inner “stuff” surrounding the topic, the more that I healed the more that people came to me… and the greater service I could be to them.
I have had people say things to me occasionally like: “I never get clients like that” or “clients never bring things like this up” or even “nobody wants to work on that level” and what it is always an indicator of is the healer not having “healed” that within themselves to the point that they can create this container– this sacred space wherein the client feels safe and ready to tackle such healing work.
Additionally, being a healer is a constant evolution. It involves not only the embodied experience of having many different clients over the years, and what you learn from that, but it should be an internal process of healing to offer more of yourself to your clients (as well as further education and practices to do so in the elusive “spare time” healers have)
We have complicating variables with this, as sometimes a modality has incredibly high “consciousness” but the individuals who practice the modality may not. I am a passionate advocate of CranioSacral therapy. To me it resets the nervous system and allows for a physical-energetic-mental-emotional-spiritual continuum of healing that is one of the most profound things that I have found out there (and I have done a lot of healing work/exploration of different modalities). It has truly effected incredible healing personally for me.
This modality has a wonderful and expanded “consciousness” that focuses on things like neutrality and creating a safe place for people to explore, whatever that exploration may need to be. However, individual therapists do not have such consciousness (and I am not picking on CST practitioners, this happens with every single healing modality out there. Try finding an Acupuncturist these days who is spiritually minded. It is difficult).
Partially this is experience. Ida Rolf used to say something like that she wished people (post her 2-4 year training in the matter) wouldn’t call themselves “Rolfers” (a bodywork modality focusing on the fascia or how the structure organizes around gravity) before they had five years of experience (full time, one would assume, singularly focused on Rolfing) because what they are doing is not Rolfing yet. This consideration has a lot of ramifications for healing modalities that may have a beginner course that is a single weekend, or someone who has not yet seen enough clients to move past barriers that clients will inevitably bring up in them (if they are willing to look/grow in reaction to that, that is)
A lot of people get stuck in this. If we are uncomfortable in ourselves, or have not healed a specific topic within ourselves, we will either shut up the client (redirecting or ignoring what we cannot handle), or more likely, they will simply not bring it up. In the CST community, there is a similar and unfortunate “new-age” capacity to deal with emotions… which is not at all… and the belief that anger needs to turn into hugs, or that the end stage of healing must include forgiveness, a hug, and love all around.
While some of this mentality drops away after solid experience (and hearing about what clients have gone through the idea of suggesting that they imagine hugging whomever to heal seems ludicrous), our own consciousness and comfort level with a particular topic creates this level of restraint in a session, often to the detriment of the client.
I had a client who I suggested work on his inner violence. He was someone who felt a surge of power when being violent, and was having trouble navigating the fact that a part of him really enjoyed this primal, instinctual energy and the power and “masculine/machismo” that it created when it came out. He got noticed, he got seen, and he got more respect in certain ways. He had incredible difficulty in finding anyone that not only he felt comfortable talking about such a thing with, but who was able to move away from their own fear and ideologies enough to help him to understand that this primal instinct did not need to become love and light, or anything other than what it was. It simply needed to have an appropriate outlet. He eventually found this through martial arts (specifically Aikido) but not through Craniosacral therapy, which was the perfect modality for him…. except he couldn’t find a therapist who had worked through enough of their stuff to take him where he needed to go.
When we talk about this in regards to spiritual teaching and work I will say that the answer here is typically also that we can only teach or take others as far as we have gone. Where the limits are of a spiritual teacher in terms of their consciousness and experience level (including embodied experience as well as, quite frankly, education, as anti-intellectualism in spiritual circles is a huge constraining factor) always restricts their students.
However… (yes, this is another however) in spiritual work I often people show people doorways, or they go through initiations, that take them into what I either have experienced and cannot describe (or will not, so they just don’t take on my cosmology/belief system/experiences verbatim… another huge difficulty in the “spiritual teacher” arena) or they will actually utilize that experience to fuel them to go beyond where I have been with that particular topic.
So the answer is a sort of “yes” here… meaning that on the spiritual path what the individual student does with the information that I offer, whatever that may be, can take them far beyond where/what I have experienced and “expand their consciousness” beyond my current thoughts or realizations about that situation, or in general.
I will say that I am the sort of teacher that loves when a student comes into their own, when I see them move beyond their own barriers, and especially those willing to move beyond the sort of surface layer type b.s. that is so readily perpetuated by so many in the “spiritual” realm. Some teachers are not like that, however many are.
I always warn people to look out for teachers that are static in their understandings. It is a difficulty that once in “teacher” mode that someone may close down any of their personal expansion. This means that students will often outgrow that teacher. These static understandings also may come from an organization or teacher further up who is creating a rather rigid container for them to teach under, however (and unfortunately). This turns into a bad game of “Telephone” and lacks the embodied experience and essence that a truly fantastic teacher will relate.
I will say, as a last aside, that the difficulty with spiritual teaching is that you always hope that students will move beyond your consciousness level– that they will grow and contribute to the world in amazing ways. Ideally the path of “awakening” is to bring as many others with you along the way as are willing or able. I once didn’t understand how teachers could not teach the totality of what they knew. But when you get into things like how to curse (and you teach that to students… which I do not) and so forth, there is a reason for that holding back, and it is because inevitably a student will erupt in some sort of chaos, and despite all the seeing and divination and barriers you put up to ensure that such things don’t occur, they will. And you will have to deal with it. So it is a difficult thought process that guides many teachers who may be holding back information.
So the basic thought here is that in general… no, you cannot take students, clients, and so forth beyond your current consciousness level or your current and basic internal capacity to deal with a subject. But you can, in some cases, show people the door, and they may walk through in an entirely different way than you did, moving far beyond what you taught them. And that is a wonderful sight to behold.