Over 20 years in healthcare, I heard and witnessed many stories of subtle senses: dying people who felt the presence of their ancestors; staff who had an intuition, premonition or “feeling” about their patients, later confirmed; visitors who sensed the presence of an “energy” in a room; “miraculous” healings through prayer or hands-on methods...
In my integrated counselling and energy healing practice I work a lot with my subtle senses. For example – intuition, empathetic resonance felt as an emotion or physical sensation, inner visual images, and using my hands as energetic tools to assess and treat. In my way of understanding, subtle senses are a natural technology within our human system that receives and communicates information more subtle or energetic than physical. Like physical senses, they work without conscious awareness – and they can be trained and developed for more clear and conscious use.
Subtle senses are fine-tuned to the interconnected web of life. And to the magic of life. By magic I don’t mean illusion or manipulation, but what is more wonderous and complex, non-linear, multidimensional, and intelligent than what my rational mind can map.
When I was young, I loved to hear stories about subtle senses and the magical worlds they revealed. Stories about relationships between humans and their relatives “on the other side,” or with angelic or nature spirits; stories about telepathic / non-local communication among various species. I was also increasingly aware that these stories were not part of the “real” world I was being taught to live in. I was careful about with whom, and how, I spoke about them – and about my own sense that life was more magical than I was being taught.
I eventually went into religious studies in university, a “real-world” sanctioned institution where it seemed I could more safely explore these stories. But I found exploration was confined mostly to rational thinking and debating about them, and being graded on that. The stories themselves led me to go and be with people who were actually telling them, and living them. I found myself training to become a spiritual health practitioner (formerly “chaplain”), going into hospitals, into mental health, acute and end of life care.
Over 20 years in healthcare, I heard and witnessed many stories of subtle senses: dying people who felt the presence of their ancestors; staff who had an intuition, premonition or “feeling” about their patients, later confirmed; visitors who sensed the presence of an “energy” in a room; “miraculous” healings through prayer or hands-on methods.
Over those years, I also saw subtle senses largely dismissed and kept outside the model of healthcare by what I came to understand as colonial norms and biases: e.g. human-centricity, racism, individualism, materialism, scientism, rationalism, commodification of nature, disconnection from ancestry. Even many generations-long established and researched systems of knowledge and practice with subtle senses, often called “complementary and alternative” or “traditional” medicines, were excluded. I saw this in the treatment of Indigenous and cultural systems, and of people carrying them.
Because of those colonial norms and biases, many of these stories shared with me in hospitals were done so quietly, cautiously. I met people on psychiatric units whose stories had been interpreted as a sign of mental illness. Lacking support and mentorship for positive understanding, and safe ways of working with their subtle sensitivity, some experienced it as confusing, overwhelming, shameful, fearful. And I met some people who’d had sudden, big openings of their subtle-senses through use of plant medicines or psychedelics, whose need for support and mentorship was further challenged by the taboo and stigma around “substance” use.
I see a huge need for safe, healing spaces, and communities of practice, for normalizing, exploring and developing subtle senses.
This is a big intention underlying how I work with people in my energy healing and counselling practice, in support of re-storying and embodying a more whole, relational, multidimensional and magical way of life.
I’ve found a number of common core practices across a variety of subtle sense trainings, which I carry forward:
deepening self awareness, compassion and appreciation
unwinding patterns of tension, and relaxing
shifting attention from rational, linear thinking to multifaceted, sensory ways of knowing
patient, quiet ‘listening’, or receiving with different senses
nurturing imagination and creativity
opening to heart-centered relationship
holding clear and respectful boundaries
For an inspiring, encouraging story about subtle senses: I highly recommend the documentary The Animal Communicator (52 mins). This can be found on Anna Breytenbach’s website, on the “Media & Articles” page: www.animalspirit.org/media-articles
About the Author: My name is Marnie Roper and I am of Gaelic, Germanic and Nordic ancestry. I practice counselling and energy healing with Ancient Origins Medicinals on the traditional, unceded territory of the Quw’utsun First Nation.