Are you muttering a sarcastic comment as you read this quote from 19th century art critic John Ruskin? It’s undoubtedly true that life could be a lot pleasanter with wealth than without it. Money can buy comfort in a thousand forms, and fun in a million ways. It can even buy happiness sometimes, although that depends on what makes you happy and how long it keeps you satisfied. But buy life? That’s quite another story.
Where does life come from and where does it go when it disappears? Not only the physical life of birth and death, but the life energy that pulsates in us, resounds through us, and out of which we say “I feel good.” Or that eludes us when we complain “I feel sooooo tired!” Energy fires me up every morning, to a greater or lesser degree, no matter how tired I was the night before. It allows me to sympathize, love or get annoyed at you with all my juices. It also permits me to write a book, go running, build a bridge or study neuroscience.
Nobody really seems to know what energy actually is, although there are a lot of words to explain it. We do know through experience that we wake up every morning sometimes almost boundlessly energized, sometimes lost in the aftertaste of an unpleasant dream or tied up in anxiety about a problem that must be solved. And all through the day we experience ourselves either as able to meet whatever’s going on, or too tired to follow through, or too angry or discouraged to concentrate.
Somewhere in all this is a key to what really makes us tick. For whether I’m aware of it or not, the state of my energy—the quality of my secret inner love affair with each moment as I live it—determines how I feel. As energy plays through the world of my body, mind and feelings, I am offered the richness of my days and hours, the nourishment to feel good about myself, to decide, accept, and refuse. Or, on the contrary, my energy can vanish, leaving me impoverished, drained, unable to cope.
My state of energy also governs my decisions. At any given moment I must decide what I want and what I’m prepared to pay for it—a cup of coffee, a nap, a purchase on the stock market, or a game with a grandchild. Or it may insist that I give up all that and pay attention to the need for rest.
Our thoughts and imagination seem to run on forever, powered by an unknown jet fuel. They never seem to stop. But we can experience quite clearly how our physical energy peters out when we are unable to get through our tasks. In such moments, how we long for a new access of energy, a sense of ease and the ability to finish whatever we’re engaged in. Here’s a five-day course in how to begin.
Day One: Start paying more attention to your state of energy at any given moment. How energized did you feel when you got up this morning, for example? And how was your energy level after a shower or a cup of coffee? And right now? Start to track the subtle and not-so-subtle changes today. Write them down. Imagine that you are checking the temperature on a thermometer to see what the weather’s like outside. What’s your own inner weather right now? Let’s call it your Energy Thermometer or ET. Investigate it at various moments in the day
Day Two: Now that you’ve practiced noticing changes with your inner thermometer for a day, let’s change the game. This time, check your ET at specific times, like every two hours, or any time you go in and out of a particular room. Discover how often a shift takes place, sometimes major, sometimes minor.
Day Three: Today let’s add a new thermometer that registers how you feel. We’ll call it the EMT as in Emotional Mood Thermometer. Notice whenever your mood shifts. When do you feel sad, happy, bored, or excited? Follow both your ET and EMT throughout the day, as many times as you remember, noting down the time of day and a brief description of what’s going on.
Day Four: Now let’s put the two thermometers together. What relationship, if any, does your ET have with your EMT at different times and in different activities? How does either of them change after you get up off your chair and begin to move around, or when you have something to eat, or meet a friend? Find out which activities simultaneously engage mind and body and make notes on how their convergence influences both your energy level and your emotional mood.
Day Five: Finally, ask yourself often during the day what ET or EMT you would prefer to spend the time of your life in. Once that has been clarified, explore the cost—how much you are prepared to pay for the privilege of changing your state. The answer could change your life.