We have all noticed how life has sped up. Our schedules are fuller than ever, whilst hours and days seem to be shrinking in size. If we ourselves are not saying it, we have heard at least one person commenting that they have no time or cannot get around to everything they want to do. More often than not we feel tired, drained or off balance in some way.
As a culture, we have become more susceptible to aches, colds, and illnesses. And the above plays a big role in this. If we are speeding around continually working at our limits then any resources we might have had are soon used. Typically, we first feel tired which leads to pit-stops at coffee shops so we can keep going. As we ignore this first alert the body grabs our attention by getting more tired, or feeling drained. We find ourselves grumbling as we start to make “silly” mistakes, forget things or just are too slow to keep up. But we still press on and then complain “this cold is the last thing I need”. Hopefully, it is the last and we finally hit the brakes and get that much needed energetic recharge.
But is this the best we can do? Wait until it is too late? Blame it on our fast paced society? Numb the pain and keep on pushing?
Taoist arts such as qigong or tai chi speak of two approaches: the fire method and the water method. The first is pretty much the above: you keep pushing. Under a good master, this approach can work to break through an energetic block that is limiting your capabilities. Yet playing with fire is not a game and you can easily burn yourself if you and/or your teacher cannot see the full picture throughout the entire process. Doing something at full capacity (100%) seems a good approach. But in retrospect, you may realize that you overstepped the 100%-boundary and went too far. Going at full-capacity there is no reserve available, so it is easy to overstep and deplete your energy, if not even hurting yourself.
Similarly, we commonly speak about burning through savings. I.e. at the end there is nothing left in case of an emergency. If we burn through all our own energy we start running on fumes and then an empty tank. A car will shut down when there is nothing left. Our body, however, knows to break down ever more important parts to find that extra ounce it needs. It strains to keep up. It stops feeling the “little” twinges to focus the energy it has on meeting our demands. People might inadvertently find themselves sapping energy from those around them, by starting arguments or playing the “poor me” card. Soon the “dis(-)ease” of energy depletion spreads like wild fire: more people being depleted, more pressure building up.
To forgo this development many Taoist have chosen a safer albeit slower route: Like water slowly molding the rock it flows over, they seek to practice by using the path of least resistance. By listening to the body they softly explore where there is a block, and stay well clear of that current limit that the block sets them. The rule of thumb is to not go beyond ⅔ of your capacity. If you have an injury or or similar restriction you even reduce to ⅓. Like this you stay well within your limits, allowing your body to finally relax and let go. As it lets go, blocks open up and disappear, which leads to the overall capacity growing and with it your ⅔-marker. This changes the game of must to the game of trust. There is no force on the body in any way, but rather an invitation to open up and heal. As the body realizes that we are not overlooking or even ignoring its signals, it will start to not only heal but rebuild its storage. The rule of thirds also ensures that we never overspend our energy.
We can apply this to our everyday life, too. Where possible take the foot of the gas and be honest with yourself that you need a break. Allowing yourself a power nap here, or a short walk in nature there will help you to recharge before you are running on an empty tank. This means that when you return to that project the problem seems much smaller now you are refreshed. Or you finish writing that text much quicker than you would if had forced yourself to stay at the keyboard coffee in hand and stifling yawns.
Rebuilding your energy storage
Let us face it, we do not always have the luxury to take a big enough break to recharge, as most of us no longer have a sufficient energetic reserve. But there is still a good amount of energy coursing through you or you would not be alive. So build on it with an energetic practice that speaks to you, using the water method approach. If you meditate, realize where your time-limit is (before you nod off or start to strain) and stay within two-thirds of it. I.e. if you can do 15 minutes of meditating, go for 10 minutes. If you practice yoga, qigong, tai chi or similar arts observe how your body is moving and reacting to the form. Where do you detect tension or pain as you move? Use that as your limit and reduce to ⅔ of the range of motion. Even if you enjoy walking or jogging, watch the signals your body gives and adjust accordingly. The same applies to household chores, hobbies and so on. Even simple things like bedtime: if you are fighting to stay awake you are already past your ⅔.
this might seem like a step back. But consider why you are doing these activities. To be proud of your achievements (despite what discomfort they might cause down the road)? Because a teacher or book told you an ideal number of repetitions, minutes or “correct” extent of motion for your practice? Or to build your health and improve your life?
Control the “how” to stop the “ow”
Start where you can control the “how much”, “how strong” and “how long”. If you step back and allow yourself to relax into whatever you are doing, you will be surprised how much energy you develop and unlock. Soon this step back turns into an energy vortex that can carry over into situations where you do not have full control of the “how”s. Before long the days of running on fumes become fewer until they vanish, as you rebuild and strengthen your energy storage. And if you suddenly do need your full capacity for an emergency you can do much more than before, either in solving or circumventing a challenge, healing yourself or helping another.