We are all aware of the concept of energy efficiency, particularly when it concerns technology. Why not also when it comes to humans? Earth’s energy sources are not infinite-for the most part-and need to be stewarded wisely. I guess the same can be said of us.
It takes a great deal of energy to sustain a human life. Many people succumb to death simply because they have run out of energy to keep on living. Whether it is disease or despair that has sapped their strength, the energy needed to fight for life just seems to drain away.
But if we are not among those who give up on life, we need to address the problem of how and where to find the energy to sustain it. So, let’s first consider the source of our energy and the things that drain it.
Energy, or lack of it, comes from one of four sources: the body, the emotions, the mind and the spirit. Let’s consider them one by one, along with what depletes or resources them.
The most obvious energy source is the body. Physical strength is a priceless commodity, which tends to dissipate as the years go by, as you may have noticed. Illness, overwork, sports injuries, repetitive strain, viral infections, pregnancy and other hazards of life all take their toll, leaving us physically drained. Addressing this area is a priority. Since conserving physical health and strength becomes more important as time passes, it makes sense to consider ways in which we can slow up the depletion and stoke the body’s fire.
Here are some positive changes you might like to consider:
- Reduce food intake, particularly of sugars and saturated fats (obesity saps energy)
- Quit smoking (you know it makes sense!)
- Reduce alcohol intake to below the ‘recommended levels’ – which may be too generous, especially for women
- Steer clear of recreational drugs and exercise caution with respect to medicinal drugs (many people experience negative side-effects from medicinal drugs because they have been overprescribed or have overdosed on these)
- Aim at an appropriate amount of sleep at night (John Wesley’s prescription of six hours for a man, seven hours for a woman and eight hours for a fool only works if you get at least one hour of it before midnight, in my opinion). Too little and too much sleep are both related to poor energy levels and, incidentally, to weight gain
- Boost vitamin intake, and take supplements if necessary (busy people tend to eat fast food, low in vitamins)
- Walk more. Regular, moderate exercise, especially in the open air, is more beneficial and sustainable in the long term than short bursts of intense gymnastic exercise indoors. Exercise not only gives you a burst of energy, but also a degree of euphoria as well
Physical fitness has an effect on our emotional health. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. When we feel low in spirits, energy simply drains away. Depression is an exhausting experience. We feel tired and listless, and in that state we tend to overeat, especially sugars, chocolate and starchy foods, in a futile quest for energy and a sense of well-being (and we are back to the problem of those excess pounds again!). But how can we increase our emotional energy? Our attitudes towards other people and ourselves are key. If you are a person who draws strength from others, relationships can hugely energise you or catastrophically lay you low. The wonderfully heroic, stoic model of manhood put forward by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘If’ (voted Britain’s favourite poem some years back) has no problem in this area.
‘If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you / If all men count with you, but none too much …’
We may not be able to concur with that sentiment, but we can all moderate our expectations and raise the bar of our tolerance towards and forgiveness of others.
We also need to recognise our need of emotional healing for the many painful experiences of our lives. Relationship break-up, divorce, bereavement, betrayal, all cause enormous emotional pain and stress. So can lesser relational stresses – misunderstandings, disappointments, criticism. We need to recognise hurt when we feel it and allow ourselves space to recover. Some losses take years to get over, and may always be a part of our lives and our psyche. But in recognising that, we need to guard against falling into a pit.
When nursing our wounds becomes a wallowing in self-righteousness or self-pity, we are in danger of becoming emotionally paralysed. Only firm action with ourselves will get us out of that pit. A favourite news-clipping of mine is one from the Los Angeles Times a few years back, when the film Titanic was at its weepy height. The sight of teary-eyed people emerging in droves from his local cinema prompted one resident to order in a large batch of t-shirts printed with the simple but telling slogan ‘It sank. Get over it!’ He then proceeded to sell them outside the cinema. They sold like hot cakes.
So here are my emotional resolutions for the New Year:
- I will count my blessings and appreciate my family and colleagues more
- I will say the words ‘I love you’ at least once a week – or more if I have children at home
- I will allow painful wounds to heal, perhaps with the help of a true friend
- I will dig myself out of the self-pity pit, and remind myself that life is for living and that many people need my undemanding love
- I will release my enemies from my resentment and anger, and cut myself free from harmful remembrances of them
- I will be happy! That’s the best gift I can give myself, and those around me
From physical and emotional energy stores, we now turn to the area of the mind.
‘O the mind – mind has mountains;
Cliffs of fall.
Frightful, sheer no-man-fathomed. hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there …’
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ description of the mind reminds us that mountaineering is an exhausting, if exhilarating business! But the topography of the mind has other features as well as mountains and cliffs you can fall off. What about the bottomless pools of introspection? What about the futile maze of worry and speculation that traps you for hours, then spits you out again right where you started? What about the brooding valleys of rehearsed grievances or fears? Fear is particularly energy-sapping. It can grip the mind and hold it captive so that it is hard to think straight about anything. It needs to be tackled head-on or it will become a tyrant. Whether the fear is rational or irrational, it can help to do a realistic risk-assessment of the thing you fear and to take appropriate action. Our mental landscape can be a jungle. It will need taming if we are ever to have enough energy to think creative thoughts!
A friend’s husband was trying to help her pull herself together when her thinking was all over the place. ‘You’re trying to turn a wood into a park!’ she protested. ‘No, I’m trying to stop it becoming a jungle!’ was his retort. How will we tame this jungle? Lists are a start, putting your thoughts, your aims and your need-to-do things in some kind of order. Then appoint yourself a ‘worry hour’ or even a ‘worry day’ when you will think about these things specifically with the lists in front of you. When your ‘worry time’ is up, jot down any decisions you have made, and finally turn your attention towards today’s tasks.
Here are some mental resolutions:
- I will put limits on introspection, curtailing thoughts which circle endlessly around myself
- I will seek to face my fears in a rational manner and see if any action is called for
- I will start two lists today – one of things that are worrying me, and one of things I must do over the next month
- I will schedule in a ‘worry hour’ each week, to review the lists and write down any action needed or possibly beneficial
- I will carry out the action as soon as possible
In the process of ordering your mind, you may have to battle with guilt – guilt for all the things you have not done or can’t find time to do. There may be deeper streams of guilt emerging too, perhaps concerning past behaviour, or relationships. You may even be living with consequences that daily emphasise your guilt.
Guilt never just ‘goes away’, nor is it possible to bury it indefinitely. It is better to allow it to surface and acknowledge it. ‘I acted wrongly there’, ‘I am responsible for this situation’ is the beginning of dealing with guilt and releasing our conscience from its oppression. The next step is asking for forgiveness, where applicable. This may not be a fruitful exercise where other people are concerned, because they may no longer be around or they may reject your olive branch.
I have always found it helpful that when Jesus said we should forgive others, the New Testament Greek word used means literally ‘release’. We are asked not to hang on to others, demanding that they be punished, but to release them and their sins against us. When we hang on, we become prisoners ourselves, but in releasing (forgiving) others we can walk free of the burden of it all. We are not excusing the conduct of those who have hurt us; we are simply releasing them to the judgement or mercy of others and/or of God. In releasing this excess baggage we find the strength to love again.
If you believe in a personal God who forgives sins, then there is always a place where you can find peace and know you are forgiven.
Prayer is a powerful source not only of peace, but of energy. When things have gone wrong for me, many times I have picked myself up, dusted myself down, spent some time in prayer and gone on my way, strengthened and with fresh hope.
So here are my priority New Year spiritual resolutions:
- I will deal courageously with guilt and its effect on my life
- I will forgive the people who have harmed and hurt me
- I will take time every day to meditate in my spirit and to pray strength, truth and love into my life and relationships
‘A life unreflected on is not worth living’, Said Socrates.
As we reflect on our lives and make resolutions for this year, may we find our lives wonderfully worth living!
Photographs Courtesy of Salon Canada, Stylist: Eve Parr.