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The Energy of Awakening

March 1, 2010
Dennis Lewis in Papago Park

Dennis Lewis

Though many of us are familiar with the traditional ideas of energy transformation, especially with regard to chakras, meridians, channels, and energy centers, few of us consciously experience the subtleties of our energies in our daily lives. Typically, we notice the state of our energy only when we are bubbling over with it, when we are exhausted, when we are meditating, or when we are doing some kind of intense work with our bodies. The rest of the time, which is most of the time for most of us, we are oblivious to the amount or quality of the energy we have or to how it moves through our bodies. Consequently, it most often gets spent mechanically in relation to whatever attracts us, repulses us,  or occupies our attention at the moment.

For the most part, we become aware of our energy through the awareness of our sensations. By allowing our inner attention to embrace our body in the midst of whatever we are doing–by listening, as it were, to the sensations in our skin, muscles, viscera, and so on as we function in the world–we can get a direct taste of the quantity and quality of our energy.

Those of us who make this effort of attention, however, will undoubtedly notice huge gaps in our experience–parts of ourselves that we cannot sense at all. We will also see that the word “sensation” has many different meanings, depending on the strength and fluidity of our attention.

Those who continue this work with attention in a serious way will eventually be able to distinguish several different levels of sensation, from the fragmentary sensation of our muscular tensions and contractions; to the uniform “prickly” sensation of our skin; to the sensation of temperature and movement; to the living, breathing sensation of our own internal organs, fluids, and bones; to the deep all-encompassing sensation of the life force moving through us.

The awareness of our energy thus starts with an overall sensation of the body, in which we take note of the body’s various configurations, movements, tensions, contractions, and so on. We will observe how some sensations consume energy, while others bring energy. The sensation of unnecessary muscular contraction, for example, consumes a great deal of energy, while the sensation of dynamic relaxation, of alert openness, brings energy.

Ideally, the overall sensation of the body becomes the backdrop for everything else that we experience. But for this to occur takes time and understanding. It depends on the realization that the body is not simply a solid object with a well-defined boundary, but is also a dynamic field of forces that can relate us, through a kind of expansive resonance, to everything in and around us–in fact, some traditions tell us, to the entire cosmos.

From even the most materialistic viewpoint, there is no final separation between our body and its environment. Energies are exchanged and transformed through various physical, chemical, and psychological processes. These exchanges have to do with the food, air, and impressions we take in from our environment and the various actions we take upon this environment through breathing, perceiving, moving, speaking, excreting, and so on.

Subtle Energies
What’s more, there is a great deal of experiential evidence (which you can verify for yourself) that in addition to the obvious physical energies of the organism itself we also consist of subtle energies that are not bounded by our skin, but rather radiate through and around us in the form of what various traditions call “energy bodies” or our “atmosphere.” The body and its environment are thus bound up in an intimate dance in which neither partner can be isolated from the other. It is the energy of this dance, of the transformations that are constantly taking place, that gives us the sensation of materiality and substance.

While many of the energy transformations that take place as part of this dance are beyond our power to influence in any meaningful way, there are others that can be influenced through a revolutionary change in attitude, what is called in the Christian Tradition metanoia, the very way we look at ourselves and the world. But this influence does not take place through our ego or will but rather through consciousness itself.

When we truly see our ego, our self-image, for what it is–an illusory or incomplete conception of ourselves–the energies that were bound up with maintaining (and defending) it are freed up for real transformation. This transformation, which includes our seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing, feeling, and thinking, brings us an expansive sense of wholeness and unity in the midst of whatever we are doing, thinking, sensing, and feeling.

Starting the Work
In the beginning work to become aware of our energy, it is enough to become sensitive to the ways in which it manifests in our bodies. As we learn how to sense ourselves not only in quiet moments, but also in the crush of our daily activities, we will see that there is very little economy in our use of energy. We not only spend enormous amounts of energy presenting and defending our self-image to ourselves and others, but we also waste our energy in preconceptions, expectations, and compulsive thinking. We even lose energy fretting about events over which we have no control: for example, the weather, how other people drive, and so on. What’s more, as a result of our identification with and slavery to various restrictive thoughts, emotions, and sensations, as well as of faulty physical education and posture, we waste huge amounts of energy through unnecessary tension and lack of economy in many of our actions.

It is not enough, however, just to notice this waste. We must actively observe the way in which various parts of our body tense up in relation to various physical habits; thoughts and feelings of anger, fear, insecurity; changes in environment; and so on. Places to which we need to give special attention include the face, eyes, throat, hands, shoulders, abdomen, and pelvis. It takes energy to have a tense mouth or to hold our shoulders up or our stomach in. Yet that is what many of us do when we are angry, anxious, irritated, or fearful about something. It is no wonder that so many of us complain about not having enough energy to do the things we say we’d really like to do, or about being exhausted before we even get out of bed in the morning. Our bodies are living under constant, often unnecessary, tension in response to physical and psychological pressures from our inner and outer environments, and our energy is being consumed by this tension.

Through the work of self-sensing, however, it is possible to begin to notice the tension earlier and earlier as it develops. In fact, through self-sensing we can actually see the tension developing before our energy is consumed by it. In this moment of awareness, what is sometimes called presence, we may realize that although we may not be able to stop the tension that is occurring we are nevertheless free not to identify ourselves with it, as well as with the stories we automatically create to explain it. Instead of saying “I am tense,” one finds oneself saying “tension is occurring.” And instead of saying “I am tense because so and so did or said such and such,” one finds oneself simply noticing the various thoughts and emotions that arise automatically in the midst of the tension.

The Struggle Between Identification and Consciousness
If we stay with this presence, observing the struggle that begins to take place between identification with the tension and its supposed causes on the one side and consciousness of them on the other, the energies that would have been wasted will instead begin to feed presence itself.

As we take sides with consciousness, not allowing ourselves to become identified with or attached to our automatic reactions to whatever is happening, impressions, both from the inside and the outside, will come to life with new intensity and meaning as a kind of food for the soul. Our energy will become lighter and more sensitive, and we will begin to sense it throughout the organism as an expansive field of perception that connects us with our inner and outer worlds in a more direct and real way. As we allow our attention to stay with this more-global sensation, no matter what else is happening, we will find ourselves opening to the energy of consciousness itself. It is this energy that is needed for the work of self-transformation and awakening.

Copyright 2008-2010 by Dennis Lewis.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 11:58 pm

    Excellent article, but I presume the concept is from Vippasana meditation. Good work to enlighten many people and bring back to the fold.

    • March 3, 2010 7:15 am

      Chris, thank you. The article, though, arises out of my direct experience over several decades in several traditions, none of which was Vippasana meditation. I wrote it not to bring people “back to the fold,” but rather to explore another aspect of “presence” and what it means to live in wholeness.

  2. jan permalink
    March 19, 2010 10:04 pm

    Hello Dennis, I bought your book The Tao of Natural Breathing a couple of years ago in Dutch translation and yesterday I read your article about standing meditation on the empty vessel website.

    Good to meet you here

    greetings from the netherlands


    • March 20, 2010 7:00 am

      Hi Jan, good to meet you too. I hope you found the book and article helpful.

      Do you have some thoughts about “The Energy of Awakening”?

  3. jan permalink
    March 20, 2010 3:42 pm

    Hi Dennis,

    The last two years I kept myself busy seeing through the advaita knowledge. In spite of some awakening-experiences during that period my search ended with a simple phrase, spoken by John Sherman, ‘ You are always present, it’s impossible not to be present, good things happen, bad things happen, but you are always present.’
    Then, I realised how strong my self-identification was. I seeked for a way to unfasten this identifiation and restarted my qigong practise. I fell in love with the Zhan Zhuang practise because it opens the door to becoming natural. Just standing, observing what is happening inside the body without interfering, opens up the body for a free flow of the universal energie to show that this is you. This standing meditation kinda teaches to let the dualities of this world stream like a river through you and you are the space in which everything takes place.

    Well …something like that!

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