In this interview with John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, a student learns a potent self-maintenance technique.
Q: I'm a social worker and I find the job very demanding. For instance, I'm currently helping a blind person and it takes all my energy. I arrive home at night exhausted.
A: It’s very good that you see that. Many people would just say, ‘I’m bushed,’ and think no more about it. You feel yourself drained of psychic energy—your life energy. It runs out of you like a hole in a bucket. What's worse, you feel you're not being sincere or doing your job unless you are giving all you have.
Q: I do.
A: But that's not really helping or giving at all. It's an automatic reaction that depletes you. If you really want to help the person, you need to be there for them in the right way. You need your substance, presence, attention. Then you can see what the person needs from your substance, your fullness. But, for that, you first need to be there—contained.
Q: But it all goes out.
A: Yes. Life is always sucking us out. In other words, draining us of our attention. Everything does it. A loud noise, a nasty look, petty fears and agitations. We identify with everything. Particularly with churning automatic thoughts. We try to fix everything with our heads. But it doesn't work because thoughts are just one third of us. To really address the situation, we need to BE there—body mind and feelings together. Then we are contained. Impregnable. We perceive the situation completely, then simply do what is necessary and no more. No wasted energy. What is necessary is the first rule of morality.
A: No. because no one ever teaches us how. Our parents don't know how. Our teachers don't know how. Religions tell us what to do but the 'how' they once knew has been forgotten centuries ago. So when you see that everything sucks life energy out of you—in other words, takes your attention—the remedy is clear.
Q: It is?
A: If life continually sucks us out, the antidote is to continually draw in. To contain ourselves. Self-maintenance. Conserve your substance, attention. You see it?
Q: And how does one do that?
A: There are many ways. But one I'd recommend for someone who has never tried these techniques before is this. Try to be aware of your skin.
Q: My skin?
A: Yes. Your skin is the envelope of your body and it separates you from the exterior world. You're in it but never know it. In fact, you're a little beyond it because it's attached to an atmosphere—an energy field around you. And it's that energy field that is depleted when you identify with things. It stretches in the direction of your attention and diminishes your natural protective field.
Q: So how to stop that?
A: Try to be aware—mindful—of your skin. Don't think about it. Don't tense. Simply be thoughtlessly aware of it—of the sensation of it. Can you try that now?
Q: I'm trying.
A: Now see if it can soften, become more pore-ous, permeable. Wordlessly. Visualizing the process. No sub-vocalisation. Keep your head out of it. Are you trying it?
A: What do you find?
Q: I have a vague all-round sensation of my skin. It's like a soundless hum.
A: Good. Now try to remember it as you talk, move, act. We're very rigid, tense. Life is always making us tense. So the remedy is to be always softening. And it starts with the skin. Then it can go deeper into the body. Ice melts from the outside. Are you trying it now?
Q: It helps me feel more here somehow.
A: Because you are. We need to relate to life with the whole of ourselves, not just our heads. Paying wordless attention to the skin uses different cells in the brain. And the random thoughts calm down because I'm attentive, for once, not just thinking. Attention is not your thoughts. The correct use of the mind is to be attentive—not to think. And when the attention contacts the body like this, I am already two-thirds awake. More present. More here. I'm no longer just a conditioned reaction. I begin to live—not merely exist.
Q: It certainly feels different.
A: Now let this greater sensation of yourself move inward. You need to become a container—more able to contain your energy. You see?
Q: Just then, I started to think about it and it went.
A: So come back to it again. The softening, conserving of your atmosphere, consolidating inward. You can always begin again. And the first step is the last step. Try it particularly when you meet someone. Don't change anything on the outside but be aware of yourself at the time. You—in front of another. It's difficult because every moment is a challenge. But it's also tremendously important for your life, for others and your future. To have both 'the eye of time and the eye of eternity open together' as Jacob Boehme put it. To have a foot in both camps. In fact to live in two worlds. To thicken your life. To live twice. You really live then.
You can find John's book The Wisdom of Being on the Buzzword site.