The Thing About Energy
Last night I had what would objectively be called a rough night – I was out in the forest, sleeping on the ground with just a thin tarp beneath me and just my robes for warmth. I fell asleep late and tossed and turned until the break of dawn when I packed my gear and departed.
Yet the thing that is hard to anticipate when one is living in a warm, padded shelter, is how I felt when I awoke. The night was long but the sounds of the forest were enchanting. The air was cool but after months of oppressive heat and humidity it was invigorating. And though I tossed and turned my body felt loose and awake as I stretched and got to packing. Some people pay hundreds of dollars for a personal massage to work the kinks out of their muscles. The roots and pebbles gave me the same treatment for free.
Out beyond the Five Precepts, which are basic standards for human conduct, we have three more precepts often referred to as ‘renunciant precepts’. They limit our intake of food, our indulgence in entertainments, our attempts to beautify the body and hide its realities, and the pleasure to be gained from sleep. From the outside these precepts must seem like attempts to make us more stoic and less attached to the world. But curiously, once we get to living this life, we find quite the opposite. Nobody enjoys a shower more than the person who has been in the woods for five days straight. Nobody tastes their food like the person who gets one meal per day. And nobody sleeps as soundly as the person of consummate virtue who can lay down anywhere and sleep – because they are actually tired.
When we get down to the business of investigating Energy, we find that it works almost precisely opposite of how we think. The worldly idea is that Energy is like gas in a tank – you fill the tank with gas and then can run until the gas is depleted. But there is no gas for the mind. There is only an idea that says, “Actions have costs.” This and so many ideas slow us down when we are trying to apply ourselves. Reclaiming our Energy is not a process of obtaining some elusive power supply. It’s more a matter of removing the ideas and obstructions between us and doing what we intend to do. When the factor of Energy is fulfilled we never have the thought that we can’t do anything we apply ourselves to.
Deep down, there is some thought that we need some external condition to be happy. To grow in Energy is to understand that the more we apply ourselves, the easier applying ourselves become. Energy is not a gas tank – we need to use Energy to have Energy. It’s just like the muscles in our body. If we use them they become strong; if we don’t use them they become weak. And if we habitually do some activity long enough the activity becomes part of our definition of who we are. It takes no Energy at all.
If anyone finds themselves confused or listless as to what to do in their lives, I might say wait to eat their next meal until they are hungry. When we are hungry there is no question: we work to find food. When we are truly tired there is no question: we rest. It’s that simple.
Part of the spiritual path is playing with these basic motiviations and realities, the ones that can otherwise consume all of our energy and mental activity. What we do with that freed up Energy depends on our level of suffering and our amount of hunger for freedom. Do we want to be Happy, or do we want to be Comfortable? For those out there who aren’t sure what that question means, go out into the woods, put down a blanket, and lay down. You might be surprised the things that bring up Energy in the mind.