(Spoiler: You’re both!)
When I first started to take part in discussions in Pagan communities, I was astonished at the number of stories about people “feeling” things outside of their being. Whether it was empathic abilities or sensing someone’s energy field, I didn’t have a personal point of reference. I didn’t feel other people or energies inside my body. I have pretty keen social skills, and I can read a room or someone’s body language and discern basic emotions, but the idea of just “knowing” it or viscerally feeling it was completely alien to me.
Throughout my life, I had never been a very “receptive” person. Sure, I was open to new ideas, and some other mundane-world definitions of receptive, but energetically, I was not. I was almost always doing something. I put more time and effort into the vast majority of my friendships than I ever got in return. I rarely relinquished control of a situation to just “go with the flow.” I had a horrible time trying to “clear my mind” for meditation. And I never, ever, surrendered to anything. Until very recently, I put out WAY more energy than I took in from the world.
Not all of this was necessarily “good” energy, either. I have really big, overwhelming emotions, and I’ve had them all my life. If I feel something, I feel ALL of it. If I’m happy, I am overjoyed. If I’m sad, I am devastated. If I’m angry, I am livid. I also wear my heart on my sleeve, so anyone around me can tell what I am feeling at any point it time. I have absolutely no poker face. According to my Pagan friends, this is true of me energetically as well. I broadcast my emotions in waves radiating off of my body. Sometimes I can feel it, but the majority of the time, I cannot.
All of my emotions are very visceral, too. When I am happy, I feel this lightness in my chest and it feels like bubbles are coursing through my veins. When I am angry, I feel the blazing inferno in my solar plexus. When I am sad, my heart literally aches. I think most people feel emotions somewhere in their body, even if it is only a little sensation. My sensations were so overwhelming that they completely hijacked my brain. This was a bit of a disaster with negative emotions, to the misfortune of whomever made me sad or angry. Many years of therapy later, I have a bit more control over my emotions, and I know how to consciously keep from broadcasting them to the world (at least most of the time).
Projection was my default state until I was about 25 years old. It wasn’t always about emotions, and there were many good aspects to it as well. My projection made me a captivating performer, an enthusiastic public speaker, an engaging educator, a skilled social butterfly, and pretty good at doing magick. However, always being projective meant that I had a lot of difficulty receiving messages from the Divine, which began to be a much more important part of my spiritual practice around that time.
I didn’t start to be able to receive communication from the Divine until I reigned in my emotions and energy projections. After that, things slowly started to open up. I was much more in touch with my intuition, I could hear Aphrodite more clearly, and I also began to pick up on external energies more easily.
One of the messages that Aphrodite had for me (and required for me) was to be able to surrender. My OCD and anxiety had turned me into quite the control freak, and I didn’t want to let go of anything. I could barely surrender my thoughts during meditation. Through a series of events, it became very clear that I had to surrender – to Her and to the flow of life. I had to surrender my fear of letting go (along with lots of other fears). I had to allow things to happen – not make them happen, which had been my default for so many years.
I did not like it one bit! It jettisoned me far from my comfort zone and into an alien land. The best I could do most of the time was to throw my hands in the air and say “Well, here goes nothing!” This surrender was also intimately tied to overcoming my OCD and anxiety, which added whole another layer of complexity to things. It was rough going for a while. I felt completely energetically spent at the end of each day for several months. It took much more effort for me to let go than it did for me to control. It was an exhausting lesson to learn, but it was important.
After a few months, it became easier. It no longer required as much effort to surrender. I trusted Aphrodite and the world a bit more. I could receive things a lot more easily – be that a Divine message or kindness from a friend. Meditation became almost effortless, and I even started unintentionally slipping into a meditative state sometimes. My sensations of outside energies got stronger. I was able to receive, both spiritually and in the mundane world.
I believe that everyone has projective and receptive abilities. For some, one will be much stronger than the other, and that’s okay. It just means you will have to work a little harder to develop the other skill. I also don’t believe that being projective and being receptive are mutually exclusive. While it’s true that for me to find my receptive self, I had to tone down my naturally projective state, I have since had moments of both big receptivity and projection. A good example of this would be receiving energy from Aphrodite, combining it with my own, and projecting that energy during a ritual or magickal working.
Everyone’s process for reception and projection is different. I can tell you what worked for me (therapy and Divine intervention, mostly, but also following a few tips from my empathic friends). Recognizing which category each of your actions falls into is a great place to start. This can give you some idea as to what your primary mode might be, or if you tend to be ambidextrous.
After you determine your “default state,” explore activities that encourage the opposite mode. Some receptive activities include meditation, deep listening, empathy, sensing energy, divination, and pretty much any activity involving surrender of some kind. Some projective activities are raising energy, dancing, public speaking, planning an activity, going completely into your emotions, and doing things for others.
As you do things outside of your comfort zone, you will discover new capacities for using and sensing energy. Try combining two different activities of the same type to see how they feel, and two activities of the opposite type. As you develop your personal and magickal capabilities, you will be able to simultaneously hold projective and receptive energies. This was revolutionary to my spiritual practice. I hope it is positively transformative for you, as well!