Determination, Feeling More, and Playing With Energy

Four Women Standing Outside Wearing Masks
April 6, 2022

Shambhavi riffs on determination without urgency, slowing down to feel more, and playing with energy. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I was wondering if you could talk about determination and how it would be different from the more competitive or aggressive approach.

Well, it depends on what comes after the word determination. If you say, determination to be the best, I mean, that's such a silly thing, right?

In order to say I'm going to be the best, I'm determined to be the best at this or the best at that, you have to take a very limited field to compare yourself to. I'm going to get the best grade in my class, or I'm going to be the best at some particular thing. But most of the times when people say that someone is the best at something or I'm the best at something, it's completely meaningless.

There's no such thing as the best country or the best family or the best language or the best religion or the best anything, really. Those things are not measurables. They're not actually a thing.

But if we say I'm determined to do my best, that's a very different thing, or I'm determined to try to stay in the state of my practice as much as possible during the day. Not I'm determined to be a great yogi.

There was a boy I had a crush on when I was 14, and he was the first super smart person I'd ever met. I met him at the beach. He was a surfer, but he was also really smart. And he went to this special school in upstate New York where he lived for really smart kids. And I was very, very impressed by this. We actually met washing dishes in an Italian restaurant. We both had summer jobs doing that.

In any case, he had this idea that he wanted to be a surgeon. He would look at his hand and go, I think of it as the knife. And I knew he was being a complete jerk when he said this, because it's all about him. It wasn’t like, I want to help people. It’s like, I want to be the man with the knife.

So the difference is, how realistic is that determination?

Are you trying to just measure up, or measure against, or you're just trying to do something to express yourself, or do the best you can at something, or practice well, or be of as much use or as much help as you can. There's always got to be an open-endedness determination for it to be real.

There's no final accomplishment ever, really, not with anything worth doing.

I think it kind of arose just from feeling really tired of some of my patterns, and some of that is indulgent. Just kind of allowing things and not kind of tightening the ship a little bit and just feeling like determination as a sort of being a little bit fierce or being tired of yourself is also just another...

No, that's a very good sign if you're tired of yourself. [laughs] No. In the context of spiritual practice, when we get tired of ourselves, it's when we've noticed some karmic patterns and then we've gotten over the horror of that, and then we noticed the sheer humdrum boredom of the repetition of them.

And then we feel tired of ourselves. We’re just sick of ourselves. It's just so utterly banal. So we go from, like, I have to tell you what I noticed about myself. We think it's also very interesting and dramatic and wonderful, wonderfully horrible, like our favorite horror movie.

And then it's like, oh, my God, this is so boring [laughs] because we just can't get over it. The newness has worn off, [laughs] and then we just get sick of ourselves, and that's like a sign of things are going to change. That's like way past the midpoint.

Getting sick of yourself is past the midpoint of things changing. Always a good sign.

Can that being sick of yourself last for years?


What about the horror phase?

Well, it depends on how much attachment you have to being interesting [laughs] and how much you fool yourself thinking that your horror at yourself is interesting.

If that feeling of I'm so bored with myself, I am so over this does go on, there is a kind of recognition that it's not all up to you when things dissolve or go away or change, and that you're just going to have to collaborate with nature.

The effort that we put into trying not to just sort of lapse into something familiar and do it unconsciously, the effort that we put into being conscious about that and trying to tighten things up, as you said, a little bit, that effort is part of the whole mandala of how things change.

So it's not like we want to just make no effort, but we have to at some point recognize that we're not in charge. Right. Our effort is just one piece of it. It's a crucial piece, but there's also timing and just how things go.

It's different for each person. And the length that sometimes it takes for things to change can actually end up being relaxing in a certain way.

When we recognize that we're not really in control of all this and that this stuff could go on for years, there's a certain kind of like, okay, acquiescence to the whole situation. We stop struggling so much.

It's not like we stopped putting effort, but we stopped the struggle because we're being divested of the idea that we're in charge of it.

So it's kind of like the anti-Buddhism in a way, because, of course, Buddhist traditions, at least at a certain level of teaching, are always telling us, you're going to die soon. You only have so much time to live. You better get on with it, get a move on. Use every minute of the time that you have here, because time is short.

Really, at some point you realize time actually isn't short. I mean, this life is short, but the thing goes on. So I found a sense of urgency really diminishes.

I'm wondering how to discern between slowing down so that I don't break down versus [...]

Well, I'll start with a story, which you might have heard me tell before, when I first met my friend Liu Ming, a Daoist teacher who lived in Oakland. I went over to his loft in downtown Oakland a few times. He had a lot of older students, and I think half of them were lying down asleep during the whole teaching.

I was just like, incensed. And how can this be? Why does he let this continue? This is terrible. And I mentioned it to him. Why are all these people sleeping? Why don't you tell them to wake up? He's like, they're tired. That was the whole answer. [laughs]

And he had this thing that he would sometimes advise people to do, which was to go on a sleep retreat, to go to a hotel or somewhere and just sleep, except for eating and peeing and showering, I guess. Sleep as many hours a day as you possibly could until you got rested.

I don't know if that's possible. You sort of never knew in some instances if what he was saying was like, for real or not. [laughs] There was always a little question mark there at certain points. I always wondered about that, going on one of these sleep retreats. I don't know if I could do it, but it sounds like it'd be marvelous if it actually worked.

So there's actually three ways of slowing down.

One is you just get kind of slowed down because you're so exhausted, and then, as you say, you've pushed through doing the minimum. But the rest of the time you're kind of like numbing out or shutting down or whatever.

And this is the kind of slow down when you refuse to rest properly, when you refuse to acknowledge that you have to change things in a radical way, at least temporarily, to get some rest.

Then theres slowing down, as you said, because you can't do anymore. You're slowing down kind of like a truck running out of gas, and you just keep like [makes sounds with hands] down the highway like laboriously, occasionally pulling off to the side and like [makes tired sound].

That's a big indication that you need more rest. So maybe you could try the Ming thing and just come to satsang and sleep through the whole thing. I was very impressed by that answer that he gave me, “they’re tired,” that kind of went right into me, and I realized all my ridiculous fixations about that.

And so I would have no objection if you wanted to come to satsang and just sleep [laughs].

But the third thing is when you have some energy and you are more rested and this is really what time medicine is about. Time medicine is about feeling and connecting. So when you have more energy, then you can slow down to feel more, to connect more.

For instance, if I just [looks at a flower] oh, nice, with this flower, I don't really felt much. But if I go and I slow down and I feel it and I contemplate it, then I have all these sensations and textures and temperature and all these other sensory inputs that are coming to me.

So when we slow down and we have the energy that our channels can open, then we can feel more texture, we can hear more nuance, we can taste more subtly, we can notice more. We can just feel more. And that's what it's about. But we have to have energy to be able to do that.

Yeah, that's perfect. Rest sounds good right now.

Yeah. I mean, our whole culture is rest phobic. We're always supposed to be just producing and our sense of worth is so tied up into being productive all day long.

Could you talk about time medicine, where one is fast, rather than slow. So to break the pattern of slowness, you would rather use time medicine, to be fast.

If we're going too fast, we might be exhausted, or we eventually will be exhausted, but we also aren't connecting or feeling much, or we're feeling in a very monolithic way.

For instance, if we're in a speeding car with all the windows open, we're having an intense experience of wind blowing on us. And it's pleasurable, but we're not experiencing any nuances of the landscape that we're traversing through.

The wind is just hitting us very, very fast. That's all we're experiencing. We're not really seeing much. Everything's a blur. The smells that are on the roadside are all sort of smushed into one smell.

We don't have any sense of the different smells and the different textures and the different temperatures because the wind's cold and it's just blowing on us.

So that's the experience of too fast. It's a fun thing, sometimes, fast, but if you live your whole life like that, you end up missing 90% of life.

If we are stagnant and going too slow because wind element is too low and we have stagnancy, and then water becomes stagnant also, and then fire becomes—everything becomes stagnant. Eventually, if wind element is not expressing well, then we also have an ability to feel enough and we have to get energy moving in order to open our channels. So our channels just start to kind of narrow and clog.

If we're going too fast, things are too intense, and that's creating a monolithic kind of sensation, monoculture perceptions. If we're going too slow, our channels are clogging and sensation can't get in.

So in that case, we have to do what's called shake the channels. And this is a yogic thing, and it can be done in many, many different ways on all kinds of different levels. And there are some suggestions on there.

One of them is getting more movement and adding more unstructured movement into our day, jumping up and down, flailing around, rolling around, stuff like that.

And then having more variety in our life, having more things unexpected and more variety, more variety of tastes, more variety of experiences and doing pranayama, more vigorous pranayama, anything that's going to open our channels so we can get more movement and start to feel more.

But both of those extremes, too fast and too slow, result in a loss of perceptual nuance. It's just caused by a different thing. And of course, during the pandemic, many of us have gotten stagnant, and that's one of the reasons why people are tired.

Stagnancy causes tiredness. And the stagnancy isn't just about not getting as much movement as we normally do, but it's also about not having new experiences or variety in who we're hanging out with or not going to a wonderful concert or something like that.

Having that radical cut down on variety also causes stagnation and tiredness.

I'm beginning to feel like my body is a container, but then I'm also feeling the limits of the container in a way, but I'm still having a lot of pleasure in just that experience of my body. And I'm just wondering there seems like there's a limitation in that as well. And I'm just wondering whether you might be able to speak about that pleasure and that tension.

Are you talking about sexual pleasure?

No, the pleasure I have in my practice, the feeling of energy moving...

Yeah, it is a limitation if you are not feeling that sense of presence. But it's it's definitely a wonderful stage of practice. You don't have to do anything to fix it. It'll just evolve on its own, playing around with one's energy and enjoying one's energy. Gosh, I did that for a long time. I don't think there's a problem there.

It is a limitation. I think the bigger limitation is one you don't have because you have me as a teacher. The bigger limitation is when teachers teach people that Tantra is about energy and the control of energy, that is a gross limitation.

And then students get stuck with exactly what you're talking about, enjoying their energy, manipulating their energy, whatever they're doing with their energy, that just becomes a big dead end.

But as a natural stage of practice where you're waking up to your own energy and your experience of it is becoming more subtle and you're playing with it, in a sense, and doing different sadhanas related to your own experience of energy, and all of that stuff is fantastic. You should just keep doing it, and then eventually you'll realize more about it.

One of the things that happened to me was—I did these energy practices and fiddled with my own energy and drew energy from my teacher—did all these things for decades.

Actually, I started playing around with energy when I was 15. I didn't have a teacher until I was 27, but I had a therapist who worked with energy, and she was also kind of a mystic, and she taught me to play with my own energy in certain ways.

It wasn't any kind of like formal kriya practice or anything, but it was definitely engaging.

I thought it was really cool and then I had teachers who liked to play a lot with energy and chakras and moving things around and visualizing things and I thought that was really cool and then I had another teacher who was super into controlling one's energy and all these more formal kriyas and stuff, but all of that was just part of developing more capacity, more sensitivity, more understanding.

As long as you don't get stuck there, it doesn't matter.

But one day, I'd been doing kriya yoga for ages, and I was doing something in the central channel around then and I just realized, oh, this energy is actually the mind of God. This is like the mind of Shiva, this energy.

And it completely changed my practice and took it out of the realm of my energy and what I'm doing with my energy and all this stuff. And eventually you just start to feel like that energy body is just awareness and aliveness and it's much, much bigger than your skin.

That you're basically in an ocean of that energy that you think is your energy, an infinite ocean of that. But all of this takes years and years, maybe decades and decades or maybe even lifetimes to develop, who knows?

I know I was practicing—something in this collection was practicing in other lifetimes I know that for sure. So who knows how many lifetimes I spent not knowing this stuff and just playing around with stuff? Who knows?

It'll take whatever time it takes but this is definitely a fine, fine place to be. No problem whatsoever.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.