Free Energy


As we prepare for the birth of a new issue, I share one of my favorite quotes from The Unknown:  “Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries,” Theodore Roethke.

The spiritual path leads to vulnerability, to opening to mystery.  It is not clinging for dear life to a set of propositions or stories about who we are or who others are or how life is supposed to be.  But before we can be vulnerable to mystery we must be vulnerable to ourselves.  As I blogged about awhile back, life dealt me a shock recently, forcing me to come face to the raw power of my emotional defenses, my capacity for fear, hurt, and rage against loss.  I like to forget about this and imagine I’m wise, but it’s like imagining a volcano is dead when it is just dormant.  Just when I thought awakening may really be possible, it turns out there are enormous underground sources of emotional energy just waiting to serve the dark lord.

Watching myself freak out from time to time in the past month, I came to understand a little more deeply the meaning of the Buddha facing the terrifying armies sent by the demon Mara to unseat him.  To awaken, to penetrate the truth beyond selfish illusion, the Buddha had to face his own fear and hurt and rage.  It dawned on me that the Buddha had very powerful emotional reactions to move through.  After all, he was human—and the greater the potential, the greater the resistance.

Time and again, the Buddha stressed the need for energy (viriya), the crucial ingredient behind wise effort.   The very same energy that pours out of us (or me) when we are hurt—that fuels our sometimes violent reactions to the threat of loss is the very same energy that can go into generosity, compassion—into being free from suffering.  Awakening requires the liberation of our energy.   Awakening may actually be a process of liberating our energy.   Instead of being tossed this way and that by our dark and stormy reactions to life, our lives may slowly become instruments of truth.

The other day, I took a long walk and gently asked myself why I was still so upset about what I took to be a betrayal by a trusted friend.  I like to imagine myself a woman of the world, a student of human nature.  Why did the revelation of a deception upset me so?    As I walked along, looking at the beautiful changing leaves, not repressing the upset, not expressing it, just holding it in accepting awareness, a deeper truth bubbled up:  a powerful human tendency to cling:  “It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our effort to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness.”

– Pema Chödrön, “The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human”


The illusion of certainty was pulled out from under me.  And out came the troops in their scarred and dented armor of old hurts, old disappointments.  But as the dust settles, I see that we may use our energy, our precious life force in a new way, we may become brides married to amazement, to mystery:


When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

– Mary Oliver

9 thoughts on “Free Energy

  1. When I come to a bump in the road like you describe, what can help me channel my energy into a line of thought or action that will align with my desire to Be, to live?

    There is usually then a lot of energy churning through my thinking and feeling parts. You have written often about the need to be in contact with the body in order to be able to be.

    I find it so easy to just drift along and sink into my hurts, sadness, my separation from everything. Indeed I rarely notice I’ve hit a bump until quite a while after the fact.

    What can call me in the moment of my fear/depression/loathing/whatever to expand my awareness beyond my immediate reaction, to lift my head from its ‘sad’ gesture and sense the whole of myself?

    Maybe I should say how does one cultivate “vulnerability” rather than armoring myself against change?

    1. Hi Bruce,

      I really appreciate this carefully written description of the experience of hitting a bump in the road. What a good question: How can we cultivate vulnerability? On the beach in Florida, there are signs that describe what to do if you are caught in a deadly ripe tide (or current). These currents can exhaust and drown people. The way to be free of them is not to fight the current, but to swim with it. Eventually it grows less powerful and you can swim away. With a rip tide of very powerful feelings of hurt, fear, etc., I find that I can sit with them, walk with them, hold them in loving, nonjudgemental awareness. Think of holding a crying child–you just hold them, accept them, surround them with caring attention. You don’t argue with them. And as Madame de Salzmann says, judgement ends a moment of really seeing. I find that in those moments when I can just hold the feelings (and a meaning of to suffer means to hold, so this is voluntary suffering)–I often drop into vulnerability. In that dropping, opening, settling down, deeper feelings and insights sometimes appear. Under my recent upset is the “revelation” of my insecurity. And I realize there may be a blessing in it. Below is an amazing quote about the wisdom of insecurity:

      Indeterminacy means, literally: not fixed, not settled, uncertain, indefinite. It means that you don’t know where you are. How can it be otherwise, say the Buddhist teachings, since you have no fixed or inherent identity and are ceaselessly
      in process?
      …Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to us all. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.
      …there’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when the path appears.

      –Kay Larson, “Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists,” (The Penguin Press, New York, 2012.), p. 19-20.

  2. You’ve raised questions for me Tracy.

    First of all you’ve reminded me of resistance and how we normally deal with it in contrast to how it can be dealt with. Gurdjieff spoke of the evil god of self calming. This “going with the flow” IMO mechanically denies the conscious experience of resistance. A great deal of new age philosophy and practice IMO seems to support self calming. If that is what a person wants, it is fine and can lead to a satisfying life. My admiration is for those rare ones, the Simones of the world, who defy the evil god of self calming and intentionally experience resistance with detachment and conscious attention so as to be free of conditioned imagination.

    I think that the Buddha’s experience with ultimate resistance fueled by the great wave, is really our personal Armageddon:

    “Mara in the Buddhist tradition can be best understood as Satan, who always tried to dissuade the Buddha or any one from the righteous path. He is also called ‘Namuchi’ as none can escape him (Namuci iti Maro); and ‘Vasavatti’ as he rules all (Maro nama Vassavati sabbesam upari vasam vattati).
    When Gotama renounced the world and passed through the city gates on his horse Kanthaka, Mara appeared before him and tempted him by the offer to make him a universal monarch in seven days, if he was to change his mind. Siddhattha, however, did not pay any attention to him.”

    Notice how similar this is to Jesus’ temptation by the Devil

    Matthew 4:

    8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

    In both cases the temptation matched the conscious quality of their being so they were capable of “choice.” This inner freedom made them capable of ruling the world or serving the will of something I can only know of as “Source.”

    You raised an essential question Tracy that IMO is all too often avoided so as not to disturb inner peace. Yet it does seem that those in search of truth must be willing to consciously disturb the peace so as to receive the benefits of consciousness and the experience of human meaning and purpose.

  3. The idea of trying to put ground under our feet-that is a wonderful way of expressing our desire to control the world and people. And when we have that ground torn from under us as you say, we have to decide what to do. I love your descriotions of why we feel the way we do and how we should approach those times in our lives when death and loss visit us and throw us ‘off our game.” I truly enjoyed reading this.

  4. I am worn out from the health issues that have tossed me about like an old rag for months. In some respects I feel I have become stupider now than I have ever been, and I find I need to turn to those who experience the same thing to rename for myself what I already know. Thank you for this.

  5. May you find the practice of forgiveness and compassion of your friend’s mistake brings you also to forgiveness and compassion for your own. May your friend read your post and open a healing communication.

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