There is no force inherent in living matter, no vital force independent of and differing from the cosmic forces; the energy which living matter gives off is counterbalanced by the energy which it receives.
— William Thomas Councilman
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Tom Fisk (https://www.pexels.com/photo/waterfall-and-rocky-mountain-2892012/)
Field Note Audio
In this Field Note, I will focus on how we feel energeticallywithin as we go about our days in the world, and how we feel in terms of connection to the primal source of this energy, if indeed there is such. If this latter is not available you can use your wild imagination to conjure it up. I often hear from people about their lack of energy. Whatever you believe and don’t believe about this most primal energy there is little doubt in my mind that most everyone would like to have access to such energy in the service of knowing the most ultimate truths. Of course, as my father used to say ‘…be careful what you ask for. As you just might get it!’
For sure there are many questions, sacred and secular writings, proselytizers and naysayers about such energy; that is what we sometimes call cosmic or spiritual energy. I don’t think I will be able to resolve the question here, and hopefully I will give you some ways of working with that and thinking about some enhancement of the possibilities for you.
I have certainly found that as I age my physical stamina is not what it used to be, and parts of my body hurt in ways that were previously unknown. However, with cultivation of my vital energy in a multiplicity of ways, notwithstanding my diminishing stamina and somewhat reduced physical capacity, I seem to be able to continue to engage with what matters to me and pursue such: for example, my counselling practice, my relationships, learning to be a grandparent (Zaida,in Yiddish, x’s 2). Hence the kind of energy that I am talking about does not necessarily show up as a physical manifestation, although it may indeed accompany such physicality.
The energy to which I refer is known by many names. I think universal life force or vital force are two good terms. From my experience, this vital force powers our will to be and to know. This energy is perhaps the same energy that ‘directs’ a flower to reach towards the sun. It certainly seems that all living things have this urge and surge to expand towards some unknown destiny, powered by some enigmatic and ineffable energy, emanating from an unknown, even unknowable, source.
Before I make suggestions about the kinds of experiments and practices you may undertake for the cultivation of this life force or vital force let me offer you an example based on my own experience of this energy. Perhaps, in reading my account, you may be able to relate yours to mine in concrete ways.
With my attention turned inward I initially notice various physical sensations. This is very usual for me. My body sensation seems to be a frequent doorway to my deeper more primal energy. From experience I know that it does not matter what the nature of the feeling is. It can be pleasant or otherwise.
I notice a slight tightness in the centre and front area of my chest. This is a familiar feeling for me. It is my doorway in this moment, and indeed, on many days. What I have come to know is that this tightness is a part of my conditioned attempts to close down and, simultaneously, open the doors to and for my life energy. I have worked with this ‘closing down/opening up’ experience over many years. It is associated with a personal history of being told to quiet down, don’t be so intense, and don’t run around as “you will overheat and catch a cold.”
This continuous attempt to supress my energy from outside at some point, became translated into the message: “there is something wrong with you.” It was only in my late 30’s that I realized that there actually was something wrong, but in reality, I realized the wrongness was with the world around me that thought that I, and for that matter most with a lot of energy were problematic with all that energy. Thus, while my body still has the remnants of this habitual reactivity, my awareness almost immediately moves me to breathe a bit differently and recognize the remnants of my failed efforts to join the club of oppression that is against exuberance.
I am paying attention now, and l notice the vestigial tension is already releasing. I feel a rising heat and a vibration now in my chest, and as I pay attention to this, I feel the spread of this energy throughout my body. I begin to feel increasing experiences of what I am still working on and working with: my felt sense of connection to something beyond me that I am still dreaming about knowing much more and fully.
I am aware that at this moment I am focused on my writing and the allowing of the energy to express and ‘write’ without my ‘interference.’ The writing is happening, and I could say that the author is ‘it,’ and not me in terms of any solid sense of identity.
What I have described above is about dealing with the physical sensation and bits of memory that are constricting my life force energy and how to work with this to lighten the load. Essentially there are two main features to accessing life force energy and growing space for it. The first one is doing the inner work to discover aspects of your own personal history that impact this expression. I have talked about this in many of the previous field notes and I will give you a brief summary of possibilities with this just below.
The second key aspect is the cultivation of the energy. Shortly I will give some ideas of practice about this cultivation. It’s important to realize that the two ways of working are intrinsically connected. Just working on cultivation while having some effect at times means that you are not preparing the ground well and at times that ground that is not well attended to will swallow you again, and again, and again.
Now, I turn my attention to you, and offer you some possibilities. Here is a proposal—an experiment you can conduct on yourself. Sit (or stand, walk around) somewhere and conduct a quick “inner scan”: how and what do you feel, energetically? Notice this, and then think of something, a person, or an experience that greatly pleases you, brings joy to you, elates you, and so on. Just note again how you feel energetically. Do you feel more energetic, feeling uplifted and charged, after experiencing the jubilant feelings (and thoughts)? If you are able to ‘rouse’ up this energy, be with your wondering, your curiosity as to where this energy comes from?
Here is a further experiment: imagine or remember an experience where you had little or no words and felt as if you were a part of all and everything, expansive, and in a place of knowing that did not have words. If you cannot do this, another alternative is to imagine a great teacher or leader and see them in your inner world. It doesn’t matter that you might think of this as your imagination. Your imagination is a great, powerful. and perhaps underdeveloped part of yourself. Play with it. Remember, what you imagine comes from your own consciousness.
As you see, I am not suggesting that we go down the ‘scientific’ inquiry road. That’s not where we are going—at least, not in this writing. My interest is to support you to notice what is happening in your sensing, feeling, inner environment, and in your own capacity for knowing the ineffable. Once you can notice and note, then you can look for it in your everyday experience. However—I am repeating myself here—this first step of noticing and noting is challenging for many people precisely because the practice of turning their attention inward is not so familiar, and there is confusion as to what counts as something to notice. This is at least in part an outcome of the outwardly focused cultural environment in which we live. Well, even noticing your confusion, should you have such, is a noticing, a moment of awareness.
When you can begin to explore the details of how these phenomena happen, and what can happen when you notice them, you can then increasingly invite the phenomenon to readily happen. In doing so, you can work with the elements that make up this experience. In other words, you can nurture and cultivate this energy in the service of your health and living a life as fully and optimally as possible. Crucial in my view is the cultivation and ongoing fine-tuning of your in-the-moment awareness. Your ability to notice what is experientially and verifiably there, and in an increasingly nuanced and sensing way, is very central to your ability to notice your own life force energy and to cultivate and support its emergence and expression.
As well, as I have written about previously, you can also notice what arises that occludes the experience. And let me reiterate an important point: when something arises that blocks or diminishes your life energy, rather than trying to throw these experiences out as useless garbage, you can take advantage of these arisings and do the inner work to help these parts of yourself to develop and be part of your inner life and community and be in support of your experience of that which is beyond so-called normal consensus reality.
Practice possibilities for energy cultivation:
1) Use your wildest imagination that is available to re—member any experience that you have had, seen, any person that represents what we are talking about here, and so on.
2) Do a free form meditation; sit, stand, walk, run, take your pick and allow changes between these possibilities as you are moved to do so and as time goes on. Have your eyes open or closed or shift intermittently as you feel to do so. Allow movements and sounds to emerge. To the best of your ability allow whatever emerges to emerge. Notice the state you get into. ‘Practice’ and study the state. ‘Memorize’ the state and practice reproducing it wherever and whenever you wish.
3) Practice any forms of breathwork with which you are familiar. Hyperventilating is a strongly possible way to change your state.
4) Many other practices are also usable and helpful potentially. For example, yoga, running, martial arts, dance, mindful meditation, intense and meaningful dialogue, and so on. Note that sacred plants often open the doors of perception and show what is possible. These experiences of the possible are available beyond the use of the substances and in fact eventually do not require the substances. The substances provide some possible insight as to what the state is, or at least some pathway to the state.
5) Think in terms of following yourself and following nature. Cultivate your ability to notice even the smallest instances of these experiences, and letting them ‘lead’ you. Many think of ‘not thinking’ as being the goal. I would suggest that ‘being out of your mind,’ that is literally finding the place beyond the usual forms and formations, and thoughts, and not as conventionally understood as ‘crazy,’ is a good way of framing this consciousness we are exploring here.
I will end this Field Note with a wish and an encouragement that you continue your own inner search and research for this vital force and your connection to its source and that is surging within you Please do share your own discoveries in the service of helping others with their own search and research.
Many thanks as always to Heesoon for her stellar support with this note.