In preparation for a teaching talk I’m giving later this morning, at a day of mindfulness my local sangha is hosting, I’ve drawn this elementary depiction of what I consider to be the two energy tanks we all have. An external tank, which consists of our physical selves, and our internal tank, consisting of our mental and emotional activities. The double sided arrow is to show that energy is exchanged back and forth between the two tanks. What affects one affects the other. The tanks aren’t separate. Mind and body are one.
My talk is about how when we think about expending energy we often think about physical output and movement and how we may not realize that we also use a great deal of energy internally based on our thoughts and emotions. Our external energy tanks are pretty simple to figure out. As humans, whenever we’re awake and active we’re using physical energy – energy is flowing out in everything that we do. But our internal energy tanks are more complex and challenging to figure out. Whenever we’re over-thinking, worrying, ruminating, complaining, judging, or caught up in anger, fear, anxiety, blame, or stress we’re exerting a great deal of energy as well. Energy is flowing out often at a rapid pace when we engage in these types of internal activities.
The good news is that just as energy can flow out of both tanks it can also flow back in. How we respond to what’s unfolding in the present moment determines whether our energy tanks are being depleted or replenished. When we’re fighting against what’s happening in the present moment energy is being depleted and when we’re embracing what’s happening energy is being restored.
Our external tank is filled back up with the basic necessities of life: food, sleep, rest. Our internal tank is filled back up with things like: mindfulness, patience, love, understanding, generosity, kindness, joy, acceptance, gratitude, and compassion. Here’s another part of my drawing (the downward facing arrow shows what depletes our internal energy tank and the upward arrow shows what fills it up):
When we get overwhelmed, stressed out, or burnt out it’s often because our energy tanks are being depleted faster then they can be restored. When we have more energy going out then coming back in eventually we’ll run out of steam. So in order to keep our tanks in balance we must use the practice of mindfulness to come into relationship with what fills us up and what empties us. Sometimes it won’t be easy to assess. Sometimes things will both fill us up and empty us. And it will change too. What fills us up one day may not fill us up the next day. This is why developing a relationship with our internal activities is important. We need to stay in continual contact with ourselves and how we’re thinking and feeling. We need to ask ourselves questions, check in, look deeply, and stay open.
Is what I’m investing my time into something that nourishes me? Does my environment make me feel good or drag me down? Does what I’m watching online or on tv support my intentions to live more happily? We need to ask ourselves these types of questions and then pause and listen for the answers.
Everything that happens affects us, either positively or negatively. Energy is flowing in and energy is flowing out all of the time. It’s part of life. It IS life. In order to nurture our well-being and come into harmonious balance we must learn how to direct our own sails so that we can move along the sea of life with joy and happiness.
There is nothing as important as coming into a relationship with ourselves. To cultivate awareness, understanding, and acceptance for who we are and what motivates us to think, feel and act the way we do is the greatest service we can offer to ourselves, our friends & family, and the world.
Update: If you’d like to listen to the talk I gave on this topic please go to: http://openway.org/content/energy-energy-out