Following your Energy: Some Thoughts

By Bennet Wong and Jock McKeen. Ben and Jock are the founders of The Haven. Their latest book The Illuminated Heart: Perspectives on East-West Psychology and Thought will be available from The Haven at the beginning of May 2012.

Haven’s word for 2012 is “energy.” For decades, many have been tempted by the popular and simplistic mantra “Follow your energy!” This raises some questions. Do you just go with any energy that arises, or is there some necessity for restraint?

We are leery of the one-size-fits-all reductiveness of this utterance, and we have often cautioned people not to blindly follow their energy. Certainly, mobilizing energy can be life-giving. But one can waste the resource without a broader perspective. Many people have used this statement as an excuse to avoid responsibility and become selfish. For example, a student who has an examination looming might not feel like studying. If he “follows his energy” and goes to a party because he desires it, he will not pass the examination.

When one follows a non-relational path, the energy often is used up in the moment, rather than re-invested in an ongoing development, which tends to occur more in dialogue situations. In gestalt terms, the energy of the cycle is lost without contact; in contrast, the gestalt cycle is regenerative in relationships.[3. We discuss the gestalt cycle in some detail in our upcoming book The Illuminated Heart. It is central to much of our thinking.]

So, we ask you, should you follow your energy? What do you think?

Our own view is that following your energy should be considered in light of where the energy is. Energy in different locations has different meanings. An inquisitive scholar might have energy focused primarily in his thinking brain. A lonely man might have an excess of energy concentrated in his pelvis. A food addict might have a preponderance of energy centred in the belly region. A compassionate mature person will have a developed energy centre from the heart. To us, the energy to follow is the energy from the heart, which is connecting. A relational path is rejuvenating. Everyone would do well to more follow their heart energy.

We say, “Follow your heart.” We paraphrase Confucius, who counselled, “Look straight into the heart and act from what you honestly see there, and you will make no mistake.” The section from the Great Learning (Da Xue) is a key text for this:

The great learning … takes root in clarifying the way wherein intelligence increases through the process of looking straight into one’s heart and acting on the results.—Confucius[1. Pound, Ezra (trans.). Confucius. New York, NY: New Directions, 1951, p. 27.]

Following the energy of the heart is a path of connection and relatedness, to friends, loved ones, society and the cosmos. Very few people understand this, especially at the beginning of their growth process. In the initial excitement of self-discovery, people often want to race ahead. But, the path is long and challenging, and should be walked patiently, with others.
There is much joy and sadness, pleasure and pain to be experienced, together. We are involved in a much bigger enterprise than we usually realize. The forces of the universe flow through us. We are, in our deepest imaginings, linked with each other, and the larger picture:

The earth turned to bring us closer,
it spun on itself and within us,
and finally joined us together in this dream.— Eugenio Montejo[2. Montejo, E. “The Earth Turned“.]

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