Universal maps of the body
By Kevin Niv Farrow
I used to see energy as a mental construct. That is, I thought about it. Not only mental and emotional energies but even physical energies for running and jumping, and also what I thought were special energies such as the fabled Chinese qi or the Indian prana. All that changed in 1973. My older brother invited me to participate in an experiment that he’d read about that was designed to allow you to feel energy. In the experiment, he pushed the pointy wooden end of a skipping rope handle into areas on the sole of my foot for about 45 minutes. It was moderately painful and not at all interesting at the time, but the aftermath changed my life. This was because for about 30 minutes afterward, I could feel out beyond my foot to where my brother’s hand was moving up to 40 centimeters away. Feeling the bioenergy changes us. The ancient Chinese Qi Gong masters used to say, ‘When the student feels the qi – then he becomes interested.’ This was certainly true for me. Within three weeks of the event I had imagined not only the possibility of healing the body using the bioelectricity but a way to do it. My revelation soon discouraged me, as I realised that to make this work I would have to learn and teach myself so much, that at the time it seemed impossible. I tried to buy books on the idea as I was convinced that someone else had written it all down. I found bits and pieces from acupuncture and shiatsu to psychic massage and books about chakras, but nothing that was in any way approaching a coherent system. So I started to play with it myself, a journey that has continued and still continues to this day, 44 years later.
There were many helpful lessons that came my way earlier on and made my path easier to follow. From the age of two years, I learnt things that would later come to influence my understanding of bioenergy. My mother was the assistant of a yoga teacher and I first developed my feeling sense though doing yoga classes four times a day for three days a week. At the age of four I was taught the basics of massage and from this I learnt both touch and that the mind was so linked to the body that I could calm down one with the other.
At sixteen, I woke up on the ceiling of my brothers flat (looking down at my body) and discovered that you could exist outside the confines of the flesh. At the time I was terrified as I had never heard of this and thought that I was dead. Thankfully the terror lasted for about two minutes and I was back in my body, shivering with fear and being assured (after waking up my brother) that I was just astral travelling and that it was ok.
But it was the experience of feeling from that simple experiment when I was nineteen years old, that caused me to spend my life playing with and attempting to understand the complex energy phenomenon of healing and of life itself. Soon after I went to University and discovered that the extra unit I was doing on oriental religions, actually had references to and made some sense of the energy system. As I wanted to have actual experiences instead of reading about them, I left University and went to India for the first time. There I met and talked with gurus and pranic healers and a lot of westerners who were also interested in energy. At the Rajneesh Ashram in Pune, I did a number of trainings in vague energy practices and saw a floatation tank for the first time. I came back to Australia in 1979 and thanks to some help from the John C. Lilly Institute in the USA, built a float tank where I spent three hours a day for about eighteen months. I learnt to relax my body and feel some of its energy movements in the float tank, but it didn’t help me with my feeling sense, my meditation or my understanding.
I started to play a lot with the feeling sense. I knew from experience that it could be very strong and not at all vague – even feeling an acupuncture point was easily as strong a physical sensation as a firm handshake. I grew disinterested in the texts people were writing about subtle feeling as I started to understand that this was just the inability to access the feeling sense properly. From experience I knew that feeling was not subtle but I was frustrated by my lack of ability to do easily what I knew was possible. I kept practicing and kept experimenting. I had friends walk softly around carpeted rooms and I tried to locate them in the room through feeling them (from a distance). I dunked my hands in ice water and then hot water to try and increase their sensitivity. My ability to feel was very haphazard and I would sometimes go for weeks or months without being able to turn the feeling sense on strongly. Then surprisingly, at times it would just be there.
It took me years to realize that the feeling sense was the sense of the heart and not the mind. After I realized this I started to be able to feel consistently and I was able to treat people. For me, healing had never been a matter of putting energy into a system but rather finding out where the blocks to the energy flow were and relieving them. Although I understood very little, I did understand that the system was structural and that you needed to understand the structure in order to restore the energy flow.
Studying the structures of energy was and is, a matter of both feeling and map reading. There are written and drawn maps from the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the early Kabbalists, the Taoists, the Hindus, the Sufis and the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists. None of them are very different in any major way but all of them are explained in different ways and to the untrained eye they look vastly different.
Part of the reason for this is that the human energy system is a complex and sophisticated universe. We only understand a part rather than the whole and so we see it from different sides. It’s a bit like the old story of the three blind men who all feel an elephant and can’t agree about its shape. This is because one is holding the trunk, another the tail and the third the sides of the animal.
Whether our understanding of the system has always had differences across cultures or whether we once we had a coherent unified understanding that has broken down over time is irrelevant. We have what we have.
I have been very fortunate in meeting kind and generous people from many cultures who have helped me piece together such understandings as I have. Rabbi Mendel Castell kindly taught me and talked me through the basics of kabbalah even after I informed him that many of the Jewish orthodox teachings were now wrongly interpreted or deliberately obscuring the truth. He decided to teach me because after listening to my theories for about ten minutes he said to me, ‘If you’re such a great healer and you know so much about kabbalah – then fix my foot.’ He explained that he had a pain in his heel for about two years and he was forced as an orthodox Rabbi, to walk on his sore foot to the Synagogue every Saturday. I (thankfully) removed the pain in his foot by treating his hand for about five minutes. He decided that I might know something and said he’d try and steer me through the labyrinth of kabbalah. He still didn’t believe my theories about kabbalah being a practical map of the body for quite a while. What I had explained to him was that the Taoist and Buddhist traditions still had some of the energy practices that related to the energy centres as mentioned in kabbalah. What these traditions lacked was the understandings of these that were so well explained in the Jewish texts. After several months of listening to my theories at our weekly meetings, he decided I was right. He said something along the lines of; ‘You’re right. I didn’t believe that you could have come up with this – because you’re not that smart – but then I realised that none of the kabbalah scholars study Taoism and I’m pretty sure that none of the Taoist scholars study kabbalah. You were just in the right place at the right time.’
What he was explaining was really the fact that all of the ancient traditions had very similar understandings of the human energy system. As one Taoist sage put it, ‘All true teachings are about the body.’
Another couple of friends who helped me a great deal with my understandings of energy were Tibetan Buddhist monks. One of them was Imila, already a very old man when I met him in India. He was one of the last of the Lamas that had walked out of Tibet after the Chinese occupation in 1953. He was the librarian of an ancient Monastery and he had 200 monks carry the entire library on foot across the Himalayas and into India. This monk was a librarian in the ancient tradition which meant that he didn’t just know how to catalogue texts, he had read and studied all the texts. He was very conversant with the ancient Tibetan maps of the energy systems of the body and I spent several days in earnest discussions with him, discussing the differences between the Jewish, Taoist and Tibetan mappings.
We met through a mutual friend and several days after our discussions we were wandering around the ancient temples of Ajanta. As he was old and frail I held onto his arm and guided him to make sure that he didn’t fall over on the broken ground. After several days of doing this I had a strong memory of an old connection. I said to him (through another Lama who translated for us); ‘You used to do this for me.’ He laughed out loud and smiled and nodded. Then he explained that I was just doing this for a few days whereas he had done this for me for many, many years. He actually said as he nodded repeatedly, ‘Years and years and years.’
In another life, when he was much younger and I was the old infirm monk, he had guided me around. This experience taught me about both reincarnation and aspects of the law of conservation of energy that we don’t consider. Energy isn’t created or destroyed but is transformed from one form into another and our personal energies likewise, aren’t lost or misplaced but just changed along with our life experiences.
Many years ago, it had been my assumption that Qi Gong masters, yogis and traditional Tibetan Yoga practitioners totally understood what they were doing. Many confusing conversations with Qi Gong masters and yogis had caused me to wonder about this but a Tibetan monk, who was a Rimpoche in the Black Hat tradition finally got rid of my assumption. He had been my guest several times and had politely listened to my understandings of the energy body. He then kindly offered to teach me some of the secret Tibetan energy practices. I was very happy with his offer as I had read about several of these many years earlier in Evans-Wentz’s 1935 text ‘Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines’ and had spent some time trying to work out what it was that they were actually doing. Studying these practices first hand was enlightening in many ways. I learnt the traditional way during the day with a group of lamas and went home and worked out what exactly was happening at night. In the morning I would talk to him and demonstrate my simple version of the teaching. At one point one of the lamas asked him to clarify a point and he referred them to me. The lama was unhappy and said that it was the Rimpoche’s explanation they wanted and not mine. The Rimpoche explained that the Indian Buddhist yogi Padmasambhava came to Tibet 1500 years ago when the Tibetans were dirt farmers and nomads. He said to them, do this and they did it. They didn’t ask why and they didn’t understand how the practices worked. He continued that Tibetans were still the same. He told the lama that he could teach him the practice but if he wanted to know how it worked he should ask me. This answered my assumption and also made for an uncomfortable morning tea break.
Another teacher that I studied with was the Chinese Buddhist Abbot Shan Fo. He was a delightful man who was generous in teaching the Mahayana Buddhist Qi Gong traditional practices. He was the first person that I met that really demonstrated the way of movement as a way of learning. Since then I have learnt more of this through archery from my friend Joop in the Netherlands. Joop was a junior in the Dutch national team when he read the classic ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Eugene Herrigal. He quit the national team and retrained himself for several years according to the philosophy of the book. Then he started competing again and represented the Netherlands many times in international competitions. I had read the book in my early twenties and thought that I understood the teaching. I didn’t but with Joop’s kind help I made a little headway into becoming one with the movement and the target.
I have come to the realization that understanding the energy structures and patterns of the body are universal and not confined to the body. The same laws that relate to the physical body also relate to the wider universe. As Hermes Trismagistus wrote, ‘As above-so below.
Many years ago I taught the CFO of an international finance company how to apply Chinese five element theory to organizational change. She was given a professorship in economics for the idea not because it was clever but because it was brilliantly practical in the real world. Why? Because energy isn’t random. It works in structured patterns across all the fields of our endeavors because all the things we do are subject to natural laws. The understanding of natural laws helps us to not only understand ourselves but all that we create and all that we do. The understandings of flow and function in the health of the body are also applicable to business and to sport and to dance and music.
It’s easy to understand some of this when you consider the simple act of moving your arm. What moves and what is moving it? Our bodies replace 96 million cells a minute so your arm is made of stuff that a comparatively short while ago was in the ground. The stuff in your arm could just as easily have become part of a tree or a cow. The question is what is it in the stuff in your arm that makes it smart enough to be able to move? The answer is nothing – just as calcium cells don’t have parties and decide to make bones. Cells have an individual intelligence but it is confined to replication, bonding and their own health.
The bioelectrical field energies are the energies that cause movement and function and dictate form. They contain the embryological and then homeostatic patterns of life and they grow us and maintain us because of the flow and function of energy. The physical cells that create the arm are just the useful things that get moved. The way we can think, the way we can feel and the way we can move is all due to energy providing both the raw power, the architecture and the biological software that governs all that we do.
These same patterning structures of energy create and apply to everything from our architectural theories, our economic theories, our social cohesion and our sporting games.
Energy is the basis of everything and understanding this is hopefully the direction of where we are all heading. I’m not sure how long it will take – decades or hundreds of years – but we can’t deny forever the true nature and influence of the bioelectrical forces.
The better that we can understand how energy creates and flows and destroys and rebuilds the better we can understand our world.
Kevin Niv Farrow is a unique healer, meditation teacher and expert in bio-electrical medicine. He has practiced and studied meditation and the energetic system for more than 40 years. The modality he founded almost 20 years ago (acuenergetics.com) is now taught in Australia, Asia, USA, the UK and Europe.
He is the author of The Psychology of the Body, Meditation as Medicine, The Wellness Balance Book and Enlighten: Practices for the modern mystic. Kevin lives and works in Sydney, Australia.