CuriosityCuriosity ConversationGet IFS therapyPracticeTechniquesWhat is IFS?

The beautiful slow awareness of Self energy in the field of all energies

The following conversation (available in audio format here and transcript below)

is between Joe Bielling, a certified Level 3 IFS Practitioner and licensed professional counseling associate and Dr Helen E. Lees, Editor of PARTS & SELF.

In Joe’s opinion IFS answers the question, “If I knew and experienced that I was actually not broken, who would I be?”

The conversation is about the value of energy for reaching such an aim. Given the obvious difficulty of defining “personal energy” we land, eventually, on the awareness of slow speed as a significant part of IFS, as a curiously energetic process of noticing and connecting with Parts. Also we note together the role of pausing and silent awareness – of Self energy as a presence that itself might be defined as “slow energy.”

Our conversation highlights the value of slowing down to access Self energy for free, without therapeutic costs or payments. It is suggested this act of deliberately engaging in a slowing down of self and self-awareness generates Self – in the IFS use of the word with its capital S  – for that form of who we are which, as Joe says, is us “not broken,” but whole and grounded in authenticity and honesty.

As such, the idea of the pause, and of the slow, in using IFS opens IFS benefits up to all who are interested, independent of financial means and directs IFS towards a profoundly important social justice and equality-of-access agenda. At PARTS & SELF we value this agenda above all others.

If we remember that energy is usually equated with “fast” then, in light of the dialogue below, we can re-question such a notion. To do so poses interesting ideas for those interested in IFS to consider, concerning the nature of Self within an energetic world and our relationship to Self as a healing entity. Self may need slow connection from us and respect for the slow, for it’s efficacious and fast response of healing power to flow into inner worlds and wounds.


Helen: Hi Joe – we’re going to talk about energy. But first, let me introduce you. So, you are Joe Beiling, an IFS level 3 certified practitioner, based in Austin, TX, USA.

My curiosity to talk with you is about energy, which is a word that gets banded around a lot and I’m hoping you’ve got a take on it which could allow us together to make a bit more sense of it: give it a bit more body! If that makes any sense?

So, what do you think of energy? That’s a vague question…

Joe: I love that you intuitively said the word “body” because for me the word energy means nothing. I’m more interested in what a person is actually experiencing. A felt sense. In their body, around their body, with them in some way. A lot of these meditation mindfulness practises often have us focus on our breath – air moving in and out of our bodies. Loch Kelly is amazing at this. Focusing attention on the air and then acting as if we’re riding the breath into our bodies and out of our bodies. And this idea that we can start to pay attention to what it actually feels like. What’s a felt sense of me noticing air in and out of my body?

So, energy, I could say, it’s as if there’s a spaciousness in my chest when I feel the air go into my lungs. Is that an energy of spaciousness? When I’m doing Tai Chi and the teacher has me do something with rubbing my hands together and we feel this kind of heat. This felt sense of heat that I can actually, tangibly, feel… Is that energy? I don’t know! But it’s a felt sense of heat, maybe pressure. I think what might be more valuable when we start talking about energy is we pause and we just start to question what’s the experience you are having? What’s the felt sense? and if you weren’t calling it energy, what would you call it?

So, I think energy can come in many different forms and it might be more valuable to focus on what are you actually experiencing?; How would you describe it?; What are you noticing?

Something like that.

Helen: Ok… yeah… but is that with a view to people being benefited? Because I can see a view, I can have a view [to look at at], but unless that view does something for me there is perhaps no point in me seeing the view? Same with energy? I can feel some heat in my hand, but what’s the point?

Joe: Absolutely. If I am a practitioner that truly believes that we all have energy in our hands and we can move it around and that’s not your experience, I agree, there is zero point in me trying to talk to you about this energy thing that I’m experiencing, if it’s not a shared experience. So, when people start talking about energy, I think it might be of more value to find out what is it your client perceives, thinks, experiences around this word energy. What does it mean to them?

And if I were to ask you, Helen, what’s your experience? How would you hold this idea of energy? What’s your awareness of it, definition of it? How does it sit with you?

Helen: Well, this is a bit off the hoof, but there is nothing like seeing something in action. Let me just ask myself, do I feel any energy around me? Hmmm. Well, there’s all this normal stuff that I’m used to which is I’m sitting on a chair and I’m in front of a computer. And we’re interacting. And there’s the normal emotions or…ooh!…now I’m starting to use the word “energy”…The energy of this kind of zoom interaction. There’s something energetic about that. We’ve never met before so there’s an energy of the new. But is any of it benefiting me? That’s not really the right question. Is there a kind of energy from your perspective, as someone who’s into wellness, into health and healing?

In particular, it’s interesting if it comes out of an IFS background of understanding, where you are dealing with energy in a really specific way to do with what people come to you for, which is resolution of trauma or moving forward in a more healthy way. How does energy manifest as health or healing power?

Because if I just sit here and I think about my energy and my energies, I just come up with I’m a little bit tired and I’m on a chair.

Joe: I agree with you, it’s less useful or maybe doesn’t get us anywhere, for me to ask you an open ended question and just leave it at that. What do you experience? What is your sense of energy? But of the things you listed, I might ask you, are any of those drawing your attention?

Do any of these experiences, felt sense, things you are calling energy, do any of them feel important to you? Or, do you want to focus on them? Or, are you curious about them? So, this IFS process that we do, I think can start from…. go ahead…

Helen: Well, it’s this curiosity side of things. In another interaction I had with somebody about money, we were talking about money as a presence and being curious about money, having a relationship to money, right? There’s something here which is to do with a curiosity about energy and a desire to have a relationship to energy. I haven’t got a clue what energy is. Most people don’t. You guys…you healing guys and gals…this is a gender neutral kind of thing, you work with the idea of energy all the time I imagine. You either manipulate it, or you notice it, or you enquire about it. This is part of your practice. It’s part of your profession. Whereas most people on the outside of your profession, they haven’t reflected on the meaning of energy very much. And they don’t probably know much about it on the whole, most people, right? They have heard the word a lot. Particularly when they get their electricity bill. So we are the amateurs and we are the ignorant, but I’m very curious to have some understanding, if you know anything, to how I can have a relationship to energy, whatever the hell it is.

Joe: Yeah. My suggestion is to maybe soften the label of “energy,” in that energy can be many expressions of things. When you talk about feelings, when you talk about having pain in your body, when you talk about feeling the weight of your body in the chair. I went for a run earlier today and I felt a lot of heat in my body. Is that all energy?

Some would argue, yes. Do I call that energy? It doesn’t matter. What matters is, does any of that experience that you’re having feel important to you? Are you interested in navigating, or understanding that more?

So, as you are asking me how to have an understanding of energy, I would point the person back to what are you actually experiencing? What are you feeling in your body, what are you noticing in and around you?

I’m more interested in what is the felt sense of what you are experiencing. Whether I call that energy or not is a little less important, but I would frame all of those experiences as some form of energy.

Helen: That is helpful, because it focuses one’s attention on the idea of energy being present. But the next question would be, what’s the point?  What does energy do for anyone?

Joe: Yes, so, working with energy within the context of IFS really only becomes important or significant when there is some process happening that involves a form of energy. If we’re talking about memories and you’re telling me the story of your past and then I ask you “What are you feeling in your body?”, I’m interested in understanding what’s the felt sense, the experience you are having as you tell me this story, as you reflect on these ideas, these memories?

The energetic component of the work that I’m doing is tracking or trying to understand the felt sense of your experience. How is it showing up right now as we are having this conversation, or one is in the process of IFS? So, the energy work that I’m doing is a tracking, a mapping, a noticing, a reflecting back to you what I’m hearing about this felt sense that you have.

The other piece of energy that I think comes to play in IFS oftentimes – at different points in time in the model – the unburdening process for sure – there can be a felt sense, as if you are sending beliefs or negative energy, or the weight of the impact of a trauma – you’re sending something out of your body. There could be a real felt sense that you are releasing something. That could be seen as energy work.

I think that the idea of energy plays into the process at different points in time, with different kinds of capacities, so we are just paying attention to the felt sense and the experience that the individual is having, if that makes sense.

Helen: Is that the same thing…if you pay attention to someone’s energy…is that the same thing as paying attention to someone? Because a therapist, a therapeutic practitioner of any kind, is being engaged to pay attention to an individual and whatever they manifest or present with. So, is paying attention to their energy another aspect of paying attention to that person?

Joe: Yes. I’m paying attention to the sound of your voice. I’m paying attention to your body language. I’m paying attention to your mood and your affect. Are all of those some kind of energy? Yeah! I think so.

Helen: That kind of makes sense because [] earlier you and I had an experience where I was annoyed by some noises in the background and the energy that came up from that was a kind of energy of the noise and it was quite powerful. The desire to stop the noise and the energy that came with that – to make sure that that stopped. I can see that as energy. And anyone who has ever been angry, or sad, or very energetic – that they want to get things done or stuff…These things don’t they happen to us? You guys and gals are supposed to be manipulating these energies for us, or we going to manipulate our own energies and how do we learn to do that? Small questions!

Joe: Ok. Yeah. So, I would say my role is more of a mirror. As you share something with me about your experience, I’m trying to help you see it, help you, the one noticing, be in contact, in relationship to; be the one noticing what you’re sharing. I’m creating a space, and an intention to build a relationship between you, the one who’s noticing things and the felt sense of these experiences. A memory. Something in your body. A story that has a belief. A rule that you live by. I’m helping you come into relationship with those things. So, the way I could be seen as manipulating energy might be more that I’m creating a space and a container, in the hopes that you will come into relationship to what you’re expressing. I’m hoping that made some sense.

Helen: Well, it does, but let’s imagine somebody with a really extreme trauma experience who comes to a therapeutic setting, to hopefully heal that trauma, and in IFS terms unburden and release the energy of it – and you mentioned yourself as a kind of a mirror. I can get that concept that you are mirroring what’s happening, so that people can name it and maybe get a witnessing of it, rather than being blended with it but then, at the same time, if there is this thing called energy that manifests in a traumatic release then people in the therapeutic role, then their job is to make a safe space so that the energy doesn’t consume the individual who is releasing it or encountering it – maybe for the first time in a long time if it’s an exile – so there’s something about energy which is requiring safety? Is that right?

Joe:  Yes. In an unburdening process you’re right, there is a shift in my role which is to create a container, but the safety comes from the client having a relationship with the felt sense, the exile, the Part, the experience. There’s still the conscious present awareness online. The client doesn’t become a child in pain and agony. The client is witnessing: I see the child, she’s crying, I’m with her, imagining she’s sending this energy to some element. There is a witnessing, a companionship. A way that my role is to help create, not just the container, but help the client stay in relationship to this Part of them that is having this experience. How the energy and experience of unburdening feels safe is this availability of the client to witness themselves or witness a Part of themselves.

Helen:  Shouldn’t we mention Self energy?

Joe: Self is the one witnessing, the presence, the open-hearted companionship, the Self energy. I’m using all those interchangeably.

Helen: Yeah, because we don’t know what the Self is, as such. But there is that very strong idea in IFS that Self has a very particular kind of containing energy. You – or who ever it might be as the IFS practitioner – is modelling Self energy – or mirroring as you said before. Enabling somebody to access their own Self energy. That’s a different concept isn’t it, from what we’ve been talking about so far, which is a client’s energy? Being annoyed about the noises is a Part? I have a Part that gets annoyed about people making noises in the background of a recorded video? Or there’s an energy in me of annoyance that interacts with this physical noise-making that is out of my control? There are so many different ways we could talk about it. But when we mention Self energy it all kind of changes. We can’t interchange our words for Parts and energy anymore because Self Energy isn’t a Part – it doesn’t have Parts. It’s just energy, isn’t it? This is really difficult.

Joe:  So, as you talk through that experience of the annoyance and the way you feel it in your body and the dialogue in IFS is we would keep slowing that down and helping you start to notice and pay attention – “Oh, there’s a feeling in my body! There’s a thought of wanting that thing to stop!” – There are several things happening at once.

What we’re doing in IFS is we’re trying to slow those things down, have us pause, and then you are the one noticing these different things. So, bringing Self online – this awareness – this spacious container of curiosity. That’s the one that we try to cultivate.

You’re the one noticing these things. You’re the one curious about “What does that mean? What does it have to tell me?” You’re paying attention to different aspects of yourself, or different experiences that you are having. So, yes, you’re right, we are trying to bring Self online – the one that is noticing. To have this relationship to the things that you’re aware of.

Helen: Now what you said just there connects up to so many other things that you said about energy. You talk about controlling the speed. If we look at meditation or mindfulness – the use of  these kinds of practices – those are speed control mechanisms of “energy.”

In an IFS context you have the energy of the person who is traumatised, talking about it, bringing it up, etc. These are going quite fast. That energy is probably quite fast if we are going to use speed language and then the practitioner in the therapeutic role is to enable a slowing down. That’s your language, ok?

Jo: Hmm

Helen: So, that would suggest – if we’ve gotten anything about our foray into curiosity about energy –  we have this, which is that we can identify it quite easy as having speed that can be controlled – there’s like a dial on it, if you know how to turn the dial. That’s true: breath work, tai chi, meditation, mindfulness – which I just mentioned – IFS in therapeutic settings and interaction – all of these things are speed control mechanisms, don’t you think?

Jo: Yes, I think you’re right. There’s a lot of things happening. Yes, our nervous system, senses, our capacity to be aware of all those things is probably broader than we are conscious of, but this idea of slowing things down, noticing the thoughts that are online, the sensations in my body, the felt sense of vulnerability, of pain, or grief, or sadness, the emotional content – if we slow these things down and let them kind of work independently and notice them independently, then we become the one noticing them into presence, Self energy, compassion, open-heartedness – whatever we want [of] that Self energy experience – we come into relationship with these different things that are happening. That’s the special sauce of IFS, I think.

Helen: Speed control?

Jo: Yes. Slowing it down. Speed control.

Helen: Then that brings us to asking ourselves, if we fancy doing so, does Self have speed? I would suggest not, which is curious. What do you think?

Jo: I would agree with you in that when I have a felt sense of what I would call Self energy for me, it feels like a pause, a spaciousness. If it has a speed, it’s extremely slow. So, I would agree with you – it feels almost as if it’s a pause.

Helen: The pause is a very interesting thing. You don’t know this, because I never told you, but in a previous life I researched very specifically and quite extensively silence, and I became particularly interested in the pause – this was in the context of education – because there was a school that I came across where they deliberately used the pause in lessons. If I reflect on it, and we use the language of energy, the energy of a classroom with all those children in, it can get quite hectic, so the teacher would maybe ring a bell or something “ding, ding, ding” and all the children knew – because it was the ethos of the school – that what that meant was they were all going to pause. They didn’t meditate, they didn’t have a minute’s silence, they just paused for, say, 5 seconds – I really don’t know how long – but she told me that this pause in the midst of the busyness of the classroom caused the most tremendous well-being for not just the education to hand, but the children and the interactions to hand. She only did it when she felt the energy was too hectic. It was a useful tool and she said she couldn’t do without it. So, perhaps it was “ding, ding, ding” Self energy manifests because everybody co-operates and knows that there’s something they can invite in. And perhaps that was Self energy? Well that’s a very curious concept in that perhaps everyone’s got a speed dial?

Jo: Yeah. I would also extend what you’re saying in that, in that moment, the focus of attention for every child and the teacher became almost like a focus on the pause – I’m not exactly sure how to say this other than there’s a pause to activity, maybe even a pause to what they’ve been thinking about and then there’s certain focus into what’s happening right now, or a pause as a listening, as a curiosity, as an openness to…yes…step into some awareness of a space, of an emptiness. I’m interested to know what is it that they actually became aware of when they paused, right? What is this felt sense of a sudden “I’m aware of this moment”?

Helen: I would suggest that they became aware of nothing and in that sense if we imagine that the pause enabled the community of the classroom to access some kind of Self energy – if we suggest it has no speed – and there was no content, it’s just the pause and of course it’s a silent pause. What is in this silent pause with no speed as such? Nothing. And so that leads us to another curiosity, which is “does that mean that the Self is nothing and that’s good?”

Jo: The beauty of this experience of a pause, to me feels as though it’s an emptiness and a nothingness that provides access to a potential of something new. For example, if I pause and just take notice of what’s here, there’s some potential of me coming into connection with something I wasn’t aware of before. So, yeah, a pause, the emptiness, can be almost like a gateway into something new. So maybe the emptiness is a birthplace of potential.

Helen: That’s exactly what she said, if I remember rightly. She said that, in the pause, the lesson might go off in new directions. The unexpected.

Jo: Oh wow!

Helen: Even having this conversation with our dodgy internet connection…

Joe: And I think in IFS, when we cultivate Self energy, presence….yeah…

Helen: Well, we’re doing a lot of pausing because we are noticing that the internet connection isn’t stable, so we are pausing to try and get the dialogue to happen in tune with each other and the effect of these pauses that are occurring – you’re very good at it, by the way – it’s slowing down this dialogue and that itself is fruitful. Because we didn’t expect this to be what we’re getting right now. Did you expect this conversation to happen this way?

Joe: (internet problems) It is. Sure. (back on line) Absolutely not! And the beauty of it is – I’m actually feeling a lot of heat in my body. Maybe that’s energy. I don’t know what you want to call it. Sitting in this pause of potential, I think is a very powerful thing.

Helen: We didn’t even do any IFS stuff. We just allowed the concept of methods and modalities that turn the speed down to a slower pace – to enable us to access a slower energy. Now, I’m sure there are people who know about this who would say a slower energy, it’s a religious thing, a spiritual thing, it’s a well-being thing. You’re a well-being expert: is a slower energy something that helps people?

Joe: So, someone might call what we are doing mindfulness. They might call it cultivating presence. They might it pausing, and noticing, and creating space. We might call it cultivating Self energy. But it’s all pointing to this experience we’re having right now.

Helen: I don’t know very much about it but I do know that it does feel good. […] It’s just to do with connection which, as we know, is this Self energy thing. I feel able to connect to you in our slowness.

Joe: Yes, and I think that in IFS, when we cultivate this presence, slow, pause, Self energy place, and we become aware of whatever’s activated, whatever stories have been online, whatever Parts of us, dimensions of us, that want our attention – the me that is in the pause – I’m the one listening, I’m the one noticing, I’m the one paying attention and slowing all those things down and doing some kind of process where I come into relationship to those different aspects of me, or Parts of me – it is kind of the fundamental process of IFS, so… the pause, the slowing down, the noticing…

You know, we didn’t technically do an IFS process, but, you could say that we cultivated Self energy just by slowing things down.

Helen: Well, it was really easy and it was free of charge! Hey! These are good things. Thank you so much.

Joe: It was, That’s awesome. That’s true. Thank you so much Helen, I really appreciate our time together today.

Helen: Me too. Thank you.

You may also like

Leave a reply

Author´s Bio


  • Helen E. Lees

    Helen E. Lees, PhD is the former Editor of PARTS & SELF.

    View all posts
  • Joe Bielling

    JOE BIELLING is a Certified Level 3 IFS Practitioner and licensed professional counseling associate, specialising in psychedelic assisted therapy integration.

    View all posts