One morning I was listening to the classical music station. The announcer introducing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was lamenting how many words had been spoken trying to explain the meaning of this powerful piece of music. Finally he said, "It's Just Pure Energy! Pure Beethoven!" I burst out laughing as I realized that he was essentially urging people to get beyond their concepts and connect directly with the power of the music. Yes!
The world we perceive, conceptualize, and think we know is only a surface reality. Underneath it lies a magical realm, more elusive and yet more vivid. Every philosophical, spiritual, and religious tradition, every art form, in every corner of the globe, in every century of human existence, teaches about this deeper reality. In this book (The Five Wisdom Energies) we refer to it as the surprising and powerful force called energy. To move through the world without connecting to energy is like learning about being in love from reading romance novels. Just as we don't really know love until we love, so we are not truly in the world until we engage with it energetically.
The Vibrant Aspect of Being
Energy is the vibrant aspect of being -- the quality, texture, ambience, and tone of both the animate and the inanimate, the visible and the invisible. It is the basic vitality of our existence. It pervades our inner, psychological world as well as the outer, phenomenal world. It exists in what we see, smell, taste, touch, hear, and feel. People express their energy through attitudes, emotions, decisions, and actions. Furthermore, we each display energy in our own unique ways -- through body posture, facial expressions, mannerisms, word choices, the tone and tempo of our voice.
Energy is life force, our natural power or strength. It resides in our breathing. When our breathing changes, our emotions change, our movements change, and our perception of the world changes accordingly. When our vital energy is obscured by strong emotions, opinions, and concepts, our perspective narrows and our strength diminishes. When we are free of such blockages, our power is free and expansive.
From moment to moment our experience is made of bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. We string these myriad and constantly shifting elements together to create what we call "I" and "my experience" and "the world." For example, when we eat an apple, we see it, touch it, taste it, and then decide whether we like it. Altogether this is our "apple-eating experience."
When we are not bound by the solid sense of self that comes from building a story line or making our experiences into an identity, we can connect with our innate energy. Without the filters, the energetic quality of our existence is more fluid, fragmented, illusory, and shimmering. With no solid sense of "me" to block the flow, it is pleasurable to experience ourselves.
Energy and Karma
Energy is also a way of understanding karma, the Buddhist view of cause and result. The energetic makeup of a situation produces (causes) a corresponding energetic situation (result). Our thoughts, words, and actions have their inevitable outcome. Traditional Buddhism sees that these patterns follow us through lifetimes and so create our karma, good or bad. Working with ourselves, our energy, is the key to creating good karma.
The forces of nature are elemental energy in the raw. Earth is solid, firm, and trustworthy, a good foundation and a nourishing ground. Water is fluid, changeable: it can be forceful and flowing or still and reflective. Fire is playful and intense, quixotic and passionate, impossible to grasp. Air might manifest as a light, refreshing breeze, which seems harmonious, or as a harsh hurricane.
Elemental energy is harder to experience in cities, where we fortify ourselves against the elements by creating constructs, much as we fortify ourselves against energetic reality by creating story lines. We confine earth to potted plants and manicured gardens; water to sinks, bathtubs, and toilet bowls; fire to the fireplace and stove; and air to fans, vents, and air conditioners. There is nothing wrong with this, though domesticating the elements tends to distance us from their magic.
We can evoke energy through creative expression. For example, in an autobiographical dance theater piece, I moved through many different emotional states, focusing not on specific life events but on their emotional energy. In pounding a hanging duffel bag (as a boxer would) and repeating the line "Could, would, should, go do" until it became a screech, I evoked a masculine energy. The feelings I had about my mother's dying took the emotional energy of the query "Mother, why did you die on me?" and turned into a cry as I ran across the stage. The experience of the evoked energy had more impact than the words.
We can also see people as manifestations of different energies. Imagine for a moment that good friends walk into your living room. Instead of seeing them as the Jenny or Steve you "know" so well, erase your familiar picture of them and notice their energetic qualities. See a perky, fun-loving, fluidly moving Jenny. See a slow-moving Steve, with a soft smile and accommodating manner, who never gets ruffled. Both are expressing their particular energies -- their quality, tone, and rhythm; their dance; their song.
Most of the time we think of the physical world as composed of solid material, yet it also has an energetic aspect. A table is a "table." We rarely notice the energy the table radiates. A shiny, smooth table radiates a different energy than an old, beat-up table. The big thing in the yard that has roots, a trunk, branches, and leaves -- we call it a tree. We know a few things about tables and trees. Yet naming things and having concepts about them is different from experiencing them on an energetic level.
The Reality of Energy
In new environments we are more likely to be aware of the reality of energy because we have fewer preexisting ideas through which to filter our immediate perceptions. Awareness is heightened further if we are unfamiliar with the language, because we are less apt to get distracted by words. I once traveled by train through a long tunnel in the Alps that took us from German Switzerland into Italian Switzerland. Although at the time I didn't know what had changed, I felt the difference in my surroundings vividly and immediately after emerging from the tunnel. I knew with my whole being that I was in a different energy space, a different ambience. The air became soft and warm, colors were brighter, and my body relaxed. The freshness of my sense perceptions connected me with the people and the place.
Providing the right ambient energy for a situation can enhance it. A language school in Minnesota exemplifies this by creating different "villages" for each language taught there. Each village is a miniature replica of a country, with the appropriate architecture, food, and so forth. People learn more easily because the language is evoked by the energy of the surroundings.
To illustrate: I spent my early childhood years in Turkey. When I was eight and my sister was ten, we took a two-year sabbatical in the States. Upon returning to Turkey on the boat, my sister and I realized we had completely forgotten our Turkish. Dad's lessons on deck made no impact. The end of our journey came; the boat neared the port of Istanbul. It eased up to the dock, and the walkway was placed. Our Turkish friends came running up to us, crying out warm greetings. And down we ran to them, answering in perfectly fluent Turkish, completely oblivious to the fact that our language memories had returned!
All world cultures have found ways to explore, celebrate, and express energetic reality in their religions, art, and philosophical traditions. In Greek and Roman mythology as well as in Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shinto, different deities symbolize different energies. In vajrayana Buddhism the five wisdom energies are traditionally presented as the five Buddha families and are personified as symbolic deities. As such they have been around for over a thousand years. Native Americans recognize elemental energies as spirits. Buddhists and Hindus evoke particular energies by chanting mantras, repetitions of certain sounds or words. African and Australian peoples use ritual dance to call up energies or spirits.
The World of Energy
Novelists, musicians, painters, dancers, and poets all tune in to the world of energy in their art. Music expresses a full range of energies, from the pizzicato of violins to the rhythm of drums to the driving beat of a rock guitar. Classical ballet, European folk dance, and slam dancing each evoke a unique energy. In visual art the impressionistic canvases of Monet and van Gogh display an energy quite different from the abstractions of Mondrian or Klee. The works of art that come to be considered classic are often those that most gracefully and powerfully evoke the universal energies and communicate them to their audience.
Sciences like acupuncture and feng shui and body disciplines like martial arts and hatha yoga work specifically with energy as a medium of healing. These disciplines are based on working with the meridians, or energy channels of the body. The basic principle is that our energy moves along certain lines, but in the course of life, particularly when we are ill, the energy becomes blocked. Acupuncture or postures that work with energy are ways to unblock this energy. Psychology has noted the importance of energy in body-centered therapies like bioenergetics. Cognitive science and the study of perception bring the physical and psychological worlds together through theories about energy.
Energy can be used to enhance function, as athletes and dancers know well. Watch the swings, falls, jumps of a gymnast and see how they align with energy. As a dancer, I often found that if I focused only on the technical aspects of a movement -- lifting my leg above my head, turning on one leg with my body arched back, leaping across the room -- the move was difficult. When I connected with the energy of what I was doing, the movement was easier and more enjoyable. I would use an image -- reaching my leg to the sky, rooting my supporting leg in the earth as I threw my body into the turn, and then experiencing myself as weightless as air on the jump.
The Energy of Feelings
Feeling is a word that we use for both physical and mental experiences. Feeling joins body and mind. It is more complex than the physical pain we get from banging our knee. It is more subtle than an emotion like anger, or thoughts about what we have to do tomorrow. Feeling is like a sixth sense, the ability to tune in intuitively to what is happening. It joins intellect and intuition, heart and mind. It is the way we experience energy.
A colloquial language acknowledging the power of energy has grown up since the 1960s, when we might have heard people talk about energy as vibrations, as in "picking up the vibes" of a person or place. The verb grok came into being; it means to understand the full situation intuitively. When we "grok" something, we pick up the "vibe" in a way that transcends concepts. Nowadays we might say that a person has "presence" or a place has "atmosphere." An event might be characterized as "intense" or a person as "mellow." These terms simply acknowledge that each person and situation has a perceivable energy.
Working with energy plugs us into our experience in a way that reveals its illusory nature as well as the illusory nature of the world around us. We see that the world is not as solid as it seems; it is made up of energies constantly in flux. There is nothing, yet there is something. For instance, a favorite view in a natural setting is infinitely changeable, depending on the time of day, the seasons, the weather. There is no one view. We could hardly say it is the same place in February as it is in August. And so it is with our bodies, the elements of which have come together in a form that we call "human," which will dissolve when we die.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Shambhala Publications. ©2002.
The Five Wisdom Energies: A Buddhist Way of Understanding Personalities, Emotions, and Relationships
by Irini Rockwell, M.A.
This book invites us to celebrate our strengths and work with our weaknesses by learning to identify and utilize five basic personal styles or energies. Written in a playful and accessible way, this is the first general-audience book on a Tibetan Buddhist system known as "the five buddha families"—an insightful way of understanding human behavior and promoting personal growth.
Info/Order this paperback book or purchase the Kindle edition.
About the Author
Irini Rockwell, M.A., director of the Five Wisdoms Institute, has a background in dance, creative process, psychotherapy, Buddhism, and leadership training. She was director of undergraduate dance and dance therapy at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and directed her own dance company in the San Francisco Bay area. She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala International community and a founding member of Maitri Council International. She travels internationally to teach workshops on the five wisdoms. Find out more about Irini on her website.
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