Energy and Evolution
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
How did we begin?
Human beings are the primates who chose to stand— and from that awe-inspiring movement flows all that makes us unique in body and mind, culture and complaints. Our vertical spine freed our eyes to want the horizon, our hands to shape and carry technology, and our brains to develop unparalleled intelligence. Physically, no other animal enjoys such range of motion as we do. Our arms do not have to walk: we can handstand. Our long legs can extend on pointe, fold into padmasana, run marathons, or rest on the couch while we watch other humans do these things.
Our highly mobile spine also gives us the weaknesses that are our cross-cultural common complaints: low back ache, knee pain, arthritis and carpal tunnel from overuse of delicate hand and wrist joints. With intelligence and innovation, we work around our anatomy. Much of human history has been devoted to easing our physical lives. Since the Industrial Revolution, our lives have become increasingly automated, physically less demanding, which is exactly what we wanted: lives of comfort and delivery service.
Never did we predict that forgetting the body in pursuit of the mind would leave us vulnerable to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and feeling of disconnection.
This discontent and disconnection is not a modern problem— it is the root of all social rebellion, including yoga, which was developed at the dawn of civilization, when it was still possible for individuals to leave society and return to nature. Knowledge was not easily obtained in those ancient Indian journeys. Students left family, sought out teachers in remote places: mountains, remote villages, forest ashrams. Rather than books, it was the teachers who carried a lineage of practice knowledge within themselves, developing paths leading to the ultimate connection: human to cosmos, a state of living nirvana.
Times are harder now. Pandemic protocol restricts us to solitude and social media. For many of us, nature is a small park or a favorite memory, a future destination or a genre of documentary. And appropriately, yoga is more popular now than ever.
The 60s and 70s brought the ancient arts of meditation into the mainstream, opening a new cultural and commercial dialogue between Eastern gurus and Western seekers. The 80s brought on a strong celebration of the fit human body, and an explosion of techniques to achieve the lean, long limbed, looks-good-in-leotards human body.
The cultural evolution has split yoga into newly separate components, training the mind through meditation and the body through fitness. We are still living with the post-industrial divide of mind from body, the consumer-commercial commodification of well-being. But underlying the Wellness business is this truth: the yoga body is really a testament to the yoga-trained mind. Training one without the other enhances inner conflict; training mind and body in tandem enhances a sense of inner harmony, reduces energy of conflict, endows a holistic sense of vitality.
Where are we now?
Our current culture does not support the fullest expression of our humanity. Most of us have become accustomed to various limits on the extent to which our bodies can move freely and joyously, accepted the stressful conditions of our society as well as thee societally proved coping mechanisms. Health care has been outsourced, expert teachers are still difficult to discover, mediocre yoga its prolific, and many of us feel unequipped to elevate our own mind-body health to our own unique potential.
The questions we need to ask individually, and as a society is this: what mind can our modern bodies support? And more creatively: do we need to change our physical lives to better support our mental life?
Let us play a thought experiment. What if the body and mind were not one indivisible entity— what if the mind were a unique presence in the body? Would it have mastery, influence, say and sway over the actions of the body?
If no— if the mind were different from and unable to influence the body, then it would be a stranger in a moving home. The mind would act independently from the body, looking down onto torso and limbs as foreign, wanting the body to be some way or the other until eventually giving up or giving in. This idea is called, in psychology, learned helplessness: the knowing that we are unable to change our life conditions. It leads to depression.
If yes— if the mind were a unique presence in the body but able to exert influence, gain mastery over the movements and sensations arising from and within the body, then the mind has a responsibility. The mind has to ask the body: what are you capable of? And: what do you want? The mind has to ask itself as well, what am I capable of, and what do I want?
With those answers come the self-empowerment of intentional, concerted action.
When the mind is capable of sustaining attention, maintaining goal oriented focus, then the body is capable of anything. This is the work of yoga: training of the mind, often with the body as the focus. The extraordinary result is the realization that the mind is not, actually, different from the body. But before that, the mind operates as a solo agent, assessing the appearances of the body, the deeper feelings within the body, and then choosing whether to make temporary changes, long lasting changes, or act without concern for the body.
That choice depends on available energy. When we are full of liberal energy, or have been jolted by some awakening experience, then we have the energy for change.
How do we move forward?
Conscious living and daily yoga practices create a natural cycle that build a reservoir of vital energy that can be used towards focused work, compassion for others, and loving attention to the details of our lives.
In classical psychology, Maslow’s Pyramid expresses a human’s base needs for food and shelter, and towards the top of the pyramid is love and self-realization. Here is the energetic pyramid that I experience in my own yoga life, practice and teachings: Megna’s Pyramid.
Base: the lowest level of energy.
When we are living in this state, we feel dull, rely on habitual actions, move through the day with minimal effort, feeling insensitive, easily fatigued, and susceptible to illness.
Level up: increased kinetic energy.
Appears to be the same life lived at the base, but we experience happier, positive energy as we move through our daily routines with gusto. We may feel hopeful, excited, thinking of good things to come and good things that have passed— not present, but also not stressed.
Next level: clear perception.
With increased energy, we are able to broaden our awareness of our selves, our surroundings, and the results of our actions. With this heightened clarity, we realize that there are aspects of the present moment that feel good, and others that do not. At this stage, courage is needed to continue building energy rather than engaging in hiding or self destructive behavior, because often we feel more comfortable at the base levels of living in habitual pattens.
Higher: creative potential.
When we have clear vision and increased energy reserves, we experience the high vibrations of having seen what we do and do not desire, plus the energy to imagine how to move towards positive goals and away from negative states. The mind is engaged in learning from the past to work towards a future, while grounded in the potential of the present circumstances, which include physical health.
Highest level: manifesting creative potential.
With clarity, creativity, and sustained energy of focused effort, we are able to change habits, empower our work, deepen our experience of daily life, and enjoy insights into ourselves, our relationships, and the bigger questions of life. Even daily necessities and interactions are meaningful. Our actions are purposeful, we enjoy sensitivity and strength in mind and body. At this stage, we can overcome undesirable habits and liberate energy for the creative-to-manifesting cycle once again.
We are not all living at the highest levels of self fulfilled creative energy because we suffer from energy drains, and often do not invest the time/effort to rebuild energy reserves for healing then increasing available energy. But when we identify and reduce the energy drains in our individual lives, we can more easily uplift not only ourselves but also those around us. Energy is contagious.
Strss is the primary energy drain. Physical stress of illness or injury; negative, unexpressed, unprocessed emotions; mental rumination and delusions are all forms of stress. Other energy drains are confusion/ indecision, self-doubt, and incoming toxins like drugs/alcohol, low quality food/sleep, and negative relationships. Sometimes all of these things are entangled and difficult to see from the base level— we need to elevate our energy to a place of clear perception in order to see what holds us down.
The easiest way to lift ourselves to higher energy is to harness the largest energy field we live in: gravity. Come back soon for your next dive into the Conscious and Curious life: looking at gravity, the yoga body, and creative interpretations of classic yoga philosophy for a modern yogic lifestyle.