The Nature of Energy


Scientists and philosophers have forever danced with and been in love with energy. Studying, questioning, playing with, and general enthrallment with energy has been weaved as a constant thread throughout our human history.  The very nature of energy seems to be mysterious and has captivated us through our imaginations and wonder.  The movement, the play, and the very essence of it has delighted and taken hold of the artist, poet, wanderer, and thinker inside each of us. Even through all of this wonderment and study, the true nature of energy still seems to be unexplainable and immeasurable, always slipping through our fingers.

The word energy is used modernly to describe the use of electricity or power or in the context of a new age type of thinking. This is not the energy to be discussed in this paper, although these perspectives will give us our starting place in our exploration and understanding of the history and use of this word. In this paper I would like to explore energy and to ask essential questions as it may relate to our daily lives. I would like to begin to look at the nature and the history of energy; to perhaps begin to describe it and how it can be experienced, understood, and come into our awareness – from both a historical perspective and from a personal and internal standpoint. Additionally, I would like to investigate the idea of true, fundamental change in a person as it relates to society and our world, and how understanding and working with energy may be related to this fundamental change.

Aristotle first wrote about energy in the 4th century B.C. deriving it from the Greek word, energia, which comes from the root 'ergon' meaning work.  He speaks about pleasure and happiness being types of energy; pleasure is the energy of the body and happiness the energy of a human being a human. From a personal, or internal, point of looking at energy as pleasure and happiness we can, perhaps, see how these states of being have a movement to them and how they can be experienced through the bodily senses. For example, we know the difference between being sad and happy just as we know the difference between feeling pleasure and feeling pain. We are able to notice that one has a different quality and manifests differently in our body than the other, though this manifestation differs between individuals. The very concept of energy sprung out of the idea of vis viva which means living force. This supports the idea of these emotions of happiness or sadness as living and not stagnant or fixed qualities.

To look at energy from a second and mystical perspective, we turn to artist William Blake, an eighteenth century painter, poet, printmaker, and free-love advocate. He has been described as having a mystical emphasis on energy free from external restrictions and he described it as eternal delight. Following this mystical line of looking at energy we can see how The Theosophists, or 'those who know divine matters,' make use of the word energy when describing the Seven-Fold Constitution of Human Beings. According to them, some of these layers of the human being include the Etheric Double or Body, the Astral Body, and the Mental Body. These layers of the human body are understood to be accessed through understanding energy or (thought) vibrations. Again, this points to an internal looking to oneself to observe how, for example, different vibrations, energies, or emotions, may resonate in an individual.

A third perspective comes from the sciences of biology and chemistry. These approaches have described energy in various ways ranging from thermodynamics, to kinetic and potential energy, to metabolism. Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist of the 1900's wrote, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount.” This statement demonstrates the elusive nature of energy. This points to the idea we have developed thus far that energy is something to be experienced, observed and experimented with, not something we read in a textbook or learn from another. Biology describes energy as being stored by cells in the structures of molecules of substances such as carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. Chemistry sees it as an attribute of a substance based on its atomic, molecular, or aggregate structure. An increase or decrease of energy in these cases is based on what and where the energy is to begin with and what happens to it when a certain reaction or process occurs. This supports the idea of energy as a movement or something that can, perhaps, be observed coming, lingering, and going.

Finally, we can look to the natural world to observe energy and see how the raging storm harvests energy to create its momentum and sustain itself. We can see how trees and plants work with the water, soil, and sunlight available to them to sustain themselves.

One can observe both outwardly and inwardly to have a direct perception of energy. Additionally, it is clear, that one can look directly inward to observe this movement of energy.

Watch yourself throughout the day as your emotions, moods, and thoughts can change dramatically based on situational variables and on an interpretation of what is being perceived. We can see the pervasive nature of energy in this facet. One can observe a child spontaneously throwing a temper tantrum exhibiting endless amount of energy. We can watch in ourselves the persistency of a strong emotion (such as anger or sadness) and understand how it seemingly takes over us, affecting our mind, actions, and outlook on a particular situation or in our general outlook on life.

These examples point to the idea of an energy lingering or holding us in its patterns. If it is possible to see the nature of the energy in these situations, I wonder if the quality or experience of that energy can shift by that direct seeing.

How can one begin to observe themselves and their energy? Some people find that energy can be observed through an art form such as painting, playing music, practicing yoga, exercising, or writing. When these activities are enjoyed, some may argue that there is a different sense to the quality of mind and body. Perhaps there is a freeing, or loosening up, of energy when the body and mind are engaged in these ways. Think about the last time you lost yourself in an activity and how time seemingly stood still or did not exist. You may have felt a sensation of losing yourself and your ideas about yourself and how you must behave in this activity. In addition to watching our thoughts and emotions, this is a clue into one way energy can be observed.

It seems clear that people experience and use energy in different ways in their lives, based on age, experience, and the task at hand. We can ask if these seemingly different experiences or interpretations of energy actually come from different places. Why does one person interpret a situation or person differently from another person? How is it possible that two people can hold two different ideas about, perhaps, a similar energy? How do our thoughts and beliefs shine through and translate into action and energy in our daily lives? How does what we believe we are affect our energy? Can changing our thoughts and actions affect our energy, the energy we “give off” to others, and our lives?  These are, perhaps, a few essential questions one may have when looking at energy in relation to consciousness living or bringing about a fundamental change of who or what we believe ourselves to be.

A quote which points to this question in a very soft, but clear way can begin to crack open the question of: “Who am I?”  Krishnamurti writes in his book titled, The Collected Works Volume VI, on page 362, chapter called Individual and Society...

“What the individual is, the society is. What you are matters infinitely. That is not a mere slogan, but, if you go into it really deeply, you will discover how significant your actions are, how what you are affects the world in which you live, which is the world of your relationships, however small, however limited. And, if we can fundamentally alter, bring about a radical revolution in ourselves, inwardly, then there is a possibility of creating a different world, a different set of values.”

This quote suggests that the world in which we live is only based on what we are, inwardly. It says that what we are, meaning what YOU are, creates the society, and hence creates the world in which we live and experience. Krishnamurti suggests that by looking at every aspect of the way in which one lives, one can begin to see the significance of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs. This is a very basic way to begin to experience and become aware of energy, and hence, yourself. He goes on to describe a potentially different way of living and thus seeing or interpreting the reality in which we operate.

To do this, there is no formula and there is no reasoning for any final product that may come out of watching your own actions and thoughts. If we investigate Krishnamurti's quote further, when the individual changes, the society changes. This proposal alone suggests that our energy is not necessarily our own, as we may believe it to be. In fact, he may be pointing to the idea that energy exists and it is through the body, through our perception of our selves, that we notice, and therefore interpret and experience, this energy. If we continue with this line of thought, I wonder if when the society we live in changes, based on us changing when seeing this energy, if our world or consciousness changes? To say this in another way, is it possible for a change in consciousness, either in the individual or in the society, to come about simply from observing ones own energy? Furthermore, is fundamental change possible in our selves, our society, or our consciousness? No matter what you think society ought to be or what should change specifically, it seems clear that one must look to her or his own life and in themselves to begin to understand anything outwardly.

The idea of a fundamental change in an individual and possibly in society points to the idea of a change in consciousness. How does this relate to the idea of meditation? How can we understand the word and idea of meditation, or our consciousness, in relation to energy? A second quote from Krishnamurti, “(T)rue meditation is the gathering of energy,” suggests that understanding energy may clue us into how to operate and perceive ourselves, our world, and thus our consciousness in a new way. I would like to explore what this might mean in terms of what we have discovered about energy thus far. We asked the question in the beginning of the paper of how understanding energy may bring about a change in a person. We can play with this idea by incorporating meditation into our conversation on energy. A common modern day idea of meditation may involve sitting in a certain seated position, moving through specific exercises, or implementing daily breathing practices into one’s routine. Krishnamurti, in this quote, is suggesting that none of this is necessary for true meditation. He suggests that meditation is not any of these things, but is something else. It is something we may miss if we are not observing our selves. Furthermore, the quote suggests that true meditation, or fundamental change in an individual, occurs when no energy is lost.

Another way of saying this is that true change may occur when we see 'what is', and perhaps understanding how our own perceptions and interpretations of a situation, person, or energy, is distorting what is actually taking place.

It is important now to understand how or why energy may be lost. We have looked at energy as a movement that exists and moves entirely on its own, but it could be useful to consider that if something interrupts it, energy could become stagnated and begin to build up, where it would not normally build up, linger, or stay. We can also understand, through our conversation about observing our own energies that the human being may bring about a build up of this energy that exists when we perceive it differently than what it actually is or when we wish to change it. So, if our intention is to gather energy, we want to become aware of how we are dispelling it. Energy is dispelled or moved about when something interferes with it.

I wonder if it is possible to simply see an energy for what it is, and being with, or simply being, that energy is what Krishnamurti may have been pointing to. Is this precisely what he means when he says, '(T)rue meditation is the gathering of energy?’' Questions such as, “What does it mean to gather energy,” and “Can I observe (in) myself when there is no, or low, energy?” now arise.

Now that we have looked at energy as it relates to consciousness and meditation we can revisit some of our original questions. I wonder if it is possible to have a direct perception that everything that is present in the world, or the universe, is simply energy? Is it possible for us to see this same essential energy as being what we actually are? Finally, can this perception create a shift in consciousness within ourselves?

There are other questions that spring from what we have observed about energy. Is the world, or are we, always in constant meditation? If it is possible for us to free energy inwardly from any form of stagnation or resistance by observing it within ourselves, would that freeing of energy bring about a constant and true meditation? The challenge here is to be able to observe the movement or stagnation of energy within ourselves and through that direct 'seeing' to bring about a deeper understanding of how energy plays a role in how we meet life in each moment.

We investigated the idea of energy through many different lenses as a way to understand how it can be experienced and understood. Through direct observation of ourselves in our daily reactions, movements, interactions, and perceptions of 'what is', we may begin to notice a shift inwardly in how energy plays a role in our perceptions. Perhaps through this inward observation, which may be the essence of meditation, we can bring about an outward shift in our relationships, in our society, and in how we meet life.

Francesca Michelle Gold