In the hero’s journey described by Joseph Campbell, the protagonist (that’s you!) experiences several stages and trials on the path toward transformation.
First, they begin in their ordinary reality. We might call that the top-side-up world.
They repeatedly refuse the call to adventure into an unknown reality—let’s call it the underworld—until they can no longer ignore the call. Their tentative venture into the underworld is often accompanied by mentors or guides.
In the underworld, our protagonist encounters shapeshifters, challenges, and tremendous pains. Just when all seems lost, they earn an important gift or lesson that they then must decide whether to take back to the top-side-up world.
In the top-side-up world of mortals, pain and death are things to avoid. That which we call “privilege” is often, in a nutshell, the ability to avoid pain.
But in the underworld of gods, pain is often our initiation into our truest power. A kind of ego death is necessary even to gain access into this rich space, where it becomes a privilege to have been through the pain and have gained the unique medicine waiting for us in the journey.
Such a journey describes how our bodies and systems compost painful past experiences that are locked up within our own internal underworlds. There is a hint of magic, and a large dose of the unknown, in surrendering to the process of transforming this pain back into the love, truth, and power that we source from.
People come to core energetics to get through blocks that we sense are keeping us at a distance from our fullest, truest selves. We might have hit a wall with purely conversational counseling or bodywork, and we know there are further depths to probe within ourselves.
Core energetics offers maps and guides to our individual underworlds, to help us be with both the mortal and divine in each of us. Because your underworld is unique to you, no practitioner can guarantee you safety in your travels. What we can do, though, is equip you with tools, some guidance for terrains and weather patterns similar to what we’ve seen before, and deep trust that the gifts recovered in your personal journeys are always worth the effort.
Core energetics as a practice continues to evolve through the lived experiences of practitioners and participants. It’s a process of becoming aware of how our bodies hold on to patterns of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs, and a journey of releasing and transforming these patterns through awareness, expression, and movement.
Core energetics can help us deepen our self-awareness, emotional perception, embodied pleasure, and responsibility with our power. It’s a powerful, transformative process that can help us metabolize our traumas into gifts for ourselves and others. This not only supports us in living more fulfilling and connected lives, but also helps us access deeper meaning and trust in our living family.
integrating our parts
Many of us have parts hidden and suppressed within us.
What happens when you try to make an “unwanted” part of yourself go away?
First, it won’t go away, so now you’re fighting yourself. A recipe for self-loathing.
Second, much like holding a balloon underwater, the energy you put into suppressing it actually gives it more power, diverting energy from living your life.
Third, you’ve made it so that you can’t see it. It runs you in the background, affecting your behavior without your conscious awareness.
Fourth, in order not to feel this part of you, you must subconsciously hold tension in your body. Now you’re separated from your pleasure.
Fifth, you lose the essence of why that part is here. Instead, when you let yourself experience this part or feeling, even exaggerating it, it’s able to push out from its contraction. Over time, even the most “unwelcome” parts of ourselves can settle into the comfortable space, boundary, and connection that they had wanted to be all along.
We can’t disappear our problems by negating them, because our bodies and worlds don’t balance out like math equations. Linear problem-solving attempts quickly spiral one problem out to infinity, rippling and ricocheting through our collective body, when we try to suppress what’s simply already here.
Instead, when we allow “problems” to breathe, they naturally grow, evolve, and dissipate to make way for new experiences.
To integrate is to bring parts together into a whole. The parts are always here. To “integrate” isn’t to effortfully change anything, but rather to expand our ability to be with the complexity of our whole selves. As we grow in this skill, we support the natural processes of life and death within us. That changes everything.
masks, withheld energy, and essence
We don’t have to show all of ourselves all the time. We get to choose what, when, how, and with whom. But often, we become identified with some parts of us, thinking of them as our personality.
Core energetics calls these patterns we present to the world our masks.
Underneath the mask are the parts that we don’t want to see, whose power has been built up by our very desire to suppress them. These parts are full of blame and judgment of others for forcing us to be who we have to be. Core energetics typically calls these parts the “lower self”. Because of how entangled the words “higher” and “lower” are with societal constructs of classism and desirability, I prefer to call it our withheld energy, to be clear that it is something that we want to presence, witness, and integrate as important and wise parts of ourselves.
In core energetics, we connect with our bodies through breathing and movement exercises, and notice what arises. Whatever emotions, memories, or thoughts surface, we let them breathe, thrive, and express themselves—especially the unwanted hateful parts. This is how we surface the withheld energy within us.
In the core energetics mental model, our truest essence (what core energetics often calls the “higher self”) is often suffocating underneath all of these other energies and pretenses. What we can experience again and again in session, and then in life, is the transformation that begins when we penetrate our false selves, and allow our withheld energy to surface.
In coming to life, our withheld energy evolves and dissipates in a natural flow, much as a storm cloud always eventually runs out of rain. In the blue sky that’s left behind, more of our authentic selves emerge, taking in life and sharing life out, in a rhythm as innate as breathing.
limitations of core energetics
Below are some limitations I’ve experienced with core energetics, and how I incorporate this awareness into my practice:
limited societal lens
Core energetics partly descends from Wilhelm Reich, himself a student of Sigmund Freud. Reich was deeply interested in the interrelationship between patriarchal oppression within families and fascism in societies, but he focused his practice on developmental wounds suffered in childhood.
Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, two white men in the United States, adapted Reich’s work into movement-based exercises. They de-emphasized Reich’s antifascist and communist perspective, while continuing to focus on childhood developmental wounds.
The core energetics framework offers a wealth of wisdom around an important societal oppression—adultism. But in focusing on childhood, the core energetics framework misses some important truths about co-existing in an oppressive society.
Through my experience of core energetics, I’ve come to agree wholeheartedly with Nanci Luna Jiménez, who names adultism as the training ground for all other oppression. I align with her goals in dissolving internalized adultism as a gateway to dissolving other systemic oppressions. I believe that humans comfortable and familiar with composting our own pains are far less likely to radiate or outsource our pains onto other beings without subsequent grief, accountability, and repair.
The traditional core energetics model emphasizes how we are shaped by our childhood experiences. I prefer the view that generative somatics takes, of Sites of Shaping and Change. We shape, and are shaped, in circles that ripple outward from the individual, to our intimate network, to community, institution, history, and spirit/landscape.
Counter to popular belief, research suggests that mindfulness practices can in fact increase individualistic choices in people who identify as, or even simply are primed by their context to be, more focused on their individual selves than as members of groups and collectives. It is only when we are primed to think of ourselves in a group context that mindfulness has demonstrably increased prosocial behavior. My Chinese American immigrant experience has culturally primed me for both orientations, and I value holding the complexity of both. This influences how I hold space for clients.
Further, core energetics is heavily influenced by colonial therapeutic models that position the practitioner as the expert, and that remain unaware of systemic influences in who accesses and chooses to work with the practitioner. This has perpetuated the core energetics practitioner community as a largely white, able-bodied, cisnormative, and heteronormative space. In my practice, I aim to remain aware of how little I truly know, and to support the opening of energy and expression in clients in ways that might surprise and humble me.
Finally, much of my work prior to training as a core energetics practitioner has been around healing the flow of money and access to financial security in our very knotted-up collective body. I orient my practice towards a gift economy in a nod to my Eastern spiritual lineage and to the value I place in practicing on our collective body and system, not only individuated bodies and systems.
reliance on a spiritual framework
The second explicit lineage of core energetics is a series of spiritually channeled teachings by Eva Pierrakos, called the Pathwork. I say “explicit lineage” because it is very likely that core energetics is also influenced by non-European spiritual traditions that have not been credited in its official history.
Spirituality is always limited by the level of consciousness of those who attempt to translate the infinite into form and words. The Pathwork is no exception. Many aspects of the Pathwork teachings reflect the limitations of the medium and audience in the 1950s–70s.
In addition to perpetuating systemic biases, these teachings can also alienate those who’ve experienced some trauma around institutionalized spirituality or anti-spirituality.
As someone from a scientific family, and later re-immersed in the Daoist lineage of my ancestors, I don’t resonate with literal interpretations of the Pathwork that take its concepts of life path, soul purpose, or essence to be absolute. Rather, I approach them as metaphors, helpful scaffolds that map to something about the human experience far beyond the bounds of words.
Core energetics is not yet a science-backed modality, but it checks out in my lived experience and in those of others I’ve seen in this journey. That is what I take to be compelling enough a reason to invest my energy into evolving this practice to resonate with more people than it historically has.