Do you ever wonder what it might be like if your life got easier? Or if you experienced more consistent moments of gratitude and alignment? These questions were on my heart for several years. I’ve experienced moments of seemingly miraculous, magical alignment and periods of feeling trapped in a self-sabotage spiral. I was seeking more consistency.
Enter 2020. Last year hit each of us differently, but I doubt it was an “easy” year for anyone. However, one positive outcome of quarantine for me, was that it forced me to spend time on the parts of myself I’d been avoiding. All sense of normalcy was out the window. Time felt warped as months passed while I mostly stayed inside and rode the emotional waves of all that unfolded. This disruption of normalcy positioned me in a different vantage point than I had been for the past few years. I realized early in the year, that not only was I in survival mode, but that if I opened myself up to it, 2020 could offer some of the most profound life lessons I’d learned yet. One of the ways I opened myself up to learning was through reading.
With the lack of events that used to fill my schedule, I started reading and re-reading all the self-help books I could get my hands on. Many were already on my bookshelves but I discovered new books as they came up on podcasts or my Instagram feed. Sidenote: a tip I took from Ramit Sethi is to have certain categories of things that you buy without guilt or question. Books are in this category for me. If a book is suggested to me and is $20 or less, I order it immediately without question. It’s led to some really great opportunities to learn from books I may have saved in my shopping cart for later or felt like I didn’t have room in my budget to buy.
I’m sharing all of this to establish the context for why I’ve decided to host an informal book club, write blogs, and invite conversations about books I’m currently reading. When I began integrating concepts or sharing quotes from books into my virtual Pilates sessions, I sensed and observed the value it was providing to my clients. As I’ve shifted away from “Pilates Instructor” to “Coach”, it has felt organic to create a space to share what I’m learning in books with clients. I don’t intend to offer a perfect summary or a comprehensive review of any of the books I choose, but simply offer an honest reaction and highlight what I found to be important or meaningful.
The first book I chose to share is Mastering Life’s Energies by Maria Nemeth, PhD. This book was actually a gift from my older sister and took me far too long to begin reading. Once I finally did, I can honestly say it changed my life (for the better). To be clear, any book I share, I do not claim to be the “truth”. Whenever I read a book I view it as simply a lens into the author’s perspective. I then decide which concepts I wish to implement into my own life and invite you to do the same. You have all your own answers.
Mastering Life’s Energies is a lofty title. At first the idea of “mastery” in general was a bit of a turn off to me, but I went with it. I mean, who doesn’t want to “master” life’s energies? The very first page in the book begins with proposing, “What is the question to which your life is the answer?” I began reading this book while working with a business coach, and was in the middle of trying to refine and re-refine who my “ideal client” would be and how I would best serve them. I was overwhelmed with trying to define myself in this way, and the question proposed by Nemeth sort of brought into focus what I was really trying to reveal for myself. “What is the question to which my life is the answer?” inspired my thoughts to move in a particular direction. Instead of thinking of all the things I could do, or might do, or would like to do in my life, this question inspired thought about what my life requires or mandates based on who I am at the core of my being. It’s harder to know what question our life is the answer to when we don’t know ourselves very well. I was confronted with what little I knew about myself, ontologically.
Who we are, ontologically, is not our thoughts, or our feelings, or our bodies, or our accomplishments. It’s who we are in essence, our spiritual being. Your ontological self is that which observes, your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This can become a little esoteric, but the basic idea is that we are not our thoughts and feelings. Yet often, our thoughts and feelings dictate our actions, and thus, the course of our life. Through our thoughts, we can convince ourselves almost anything is true if we want it to be and oftentimes not in our own favor. With our feelings, we can feel that the universe is telling us we’re not cut out for something we dream of, just because we have to navigate discomfort along the way. Surely whatever our life “is the answer to” should come to us easily if it is our “calling” after all. Right?
Nemeth describes our dreams and goals as existing in metaphysical reality, and when we seek to accomplish or attain them, we are bringing them into physical reality. She reminds us that the transition between metaphysical and physical reality will be charged for us and present certain obstacles. Those obstacles don’t mean we’re on the incorrect path, in fact, they actually indicate the opposite. Have you ever gone for something you didn’t really care about and it came super naturally, but then you went for something of equal challenge logistically, but attached to some of your deepest dreams and desires, and it was 10x harder? That has been true for me in so many ways. As soon as I go for a dream close to my heart, every single step feels like moving through wet concrete. Understanding exactly why this happens has changed the trajectory of my life in a dramatic way. The manifestation of the discomfort and obstacles at the transition from metaphysical to physical reality is different for every individual. For me it feels like moving through wet concrete, for you it may feel more like slipping on ice or treading water. In Mastering Life’s Energies, Nemeth offers tools for better understanding exactly what your brain does in the presence of discomfort and obstacles when making a dream or goal a reality and how you can focus your attention away from your thought patterns and towards your ontological self, who you are.
There are two main tools offered for seeing yourself ontologically.
“Life’s Inventory Checklist”:
Check in with what Nemeth calls “Life’s Inventory Checklist”. The list consists of “Life’s Intentions” such as “to be a creator of beauty”, “to be a successful business owner”, or “to be a loving family member”. The exercise provided in the book is to mark each intention on the inventory list from a 1-5 based on the importance level to you. In order to create a game worth playing for, you must first know what is important to you.
“Standards of Integrity”
To see yourself ontologically, create a list of your “Standards of Integrity”. The process for generating this list involves a systematic approach including writing down names of people you admire and listing the qualities demonstrated by each person on your list. When a word comes up for more than one person, you put a checkmark next to the word. What you’re likely to discover in doing this exercise, is that many of the people you admire exhibit the same traits and characteristics. When you look over the list of words, by choosing 8-10 that “warm you heart” you will have created your list of “Standards of Integrity”. The words are yours, “because you see them in others”. They are you, ontologically. It may feel like a stretch at first, as if the words are more what you aspire to be, not that you are them. Trust me, I felt the same way, but I promise, it’ll be worth the discomfort if you just trust that the list demonstrates who are ontologically. Any doubts that show up are just psychological chatter, not your truth.
Once you have the tools for turning your attention to your ontological self, you’re equipped to shift attention away from any psychological chatter that shows up when you’re bringing your metaphysical goals into physical reality. If you’ve ever been stuck in a negative thought pattern, I bet I could guess that telling yourself to “stop thinking the thoughts” didn’t help. There was a really dark period of my life when I was struggling with depression and my psychotherapist told me I just had to “stop” my repetitive thought cycles over and over again. I felt that it was impossible. It seemed too exhausting and completely unsustainable. When I worked with a somatic therapist, I was able to find new pathways to hop on instead of trying to stop the old ones in their tracks. It’s the reason I became a somatic coach, myself. I experienced the power of somatic healing as a means to mental healing. My main point is that our brain doesn’t really understand the word “don’t” so it’s better to find a different solution to thought patterns or cycles that aren't serving us.
The thoughts that don’t serve us are often stemming from the part in our brain that is trying to protect us from danger and risk. It is a very instinctual part of our being, which is why it can be so convincing. It’s just trying to keep us safe. However, the steps involved in making our dreams reality are not always perceived as “safe” by this ancient part of our brain, even though the steps are taking us towards what we really want. It’s a bit of a conundrum. This is when it is important to be able to differentiate your “Voice of Wisdom” from your “[Chatter] Mind”. Your “[Chatter] Mind” is often loud, insistent, urgent, etc., while your “Voice of Wisdom” evokes a feeling of spaciousness, and knowing that “all is well”. When you are right at the precipice of bringing your dreams from metaphysical into physical reality, your “[Chatter] Mind will likely be at its highest volume. It’ll likely tell you to turn back. It’s easy to mistake this as your “Voice of Wisdom” at times, but in your heart (if you listen), you’ll know the difference.
Bringing your dreams into physical reality will require different types of energy and that energy will be met with certain conditions (the conditions of physical reality). According to Nemeht, in order to have what you truly want in life, you have to focus six kinds of energy (time, money, physical vitality, creativity, enjoyment, and relationships) towards your goal, all while navigating the conditions of physical reality (density, unpredictability, and impermanence). Learning to expect density, unpredictability, and impermanence has been a complete game changer for me. By no means does it mean “expecting things to go wrong”, however, it leaves room for the reality of physical reality which is that it is dense, is unpredictable, and is always changing. If you’ve ever dreamt up a creative project and then after going to Michael’s to buy all the supplies no longer wanted to actually make the project… then you know what this is about. Ideas are usually much more glamorous and easy to execute in our mind (in metaphysical reality). It usually takes much more effort to execute than we anticipated. This can sometimes cause less enjoyment because we had anticipated a different experience. This was an important lesson for me.
In my life, it’s seemed that time and money seem to be the most important kinds of energy to get what you want, yet if you have either, you might feel guilty about it. Nemeth explains that we each have different lessons to learn about different kinds of energy. If you have no worries about money, then there may be another kind of energy that needs your attention. How we interact with one kind of energy may give us clues into how we’re interacting with others. Shifting my attention to all six kinds of energy (time, money, physical vitality, creativity, enjoyment, and relationships) has given me a greater sense of clarity as I go for my goals. I definitely was neglecting certain kinds of energy and am experiencing a greater flow in all kinds by paying attention to all of them at once, rather than obsessing over one in particular. It’s been helpful for me to not judge psychologically which energies I’m more skillful with and why, but just take actions to improve my relationship with each of them one small step at a time.
The biggest lesson I can share from Mastering Life’s Energies is the act of “being willing”, even if it’s just to take one small step at a time. I think that anyone who picks up a book titled Mastering Life’s Energies, is seeking some level of guidance on their life’s path. This shows a level of care in wanting to get it right. We are all on a “hero’s journey” and we have all our own answers, as long as we are willing. By being willing, we automatically energize ourselves to take action and go farther towards our goals than we normally would. If you’d made it this far into this blog post I invite you to try an exercise from Mastering Life’s Energies. Take out a notecard or small piece of paper and write the phrase “Nevertheless, I am willing.” Carry it with you for the next three days. When you are grounded in what matters to you most and you are following the intentions of your heart, regardless of density, impermanence, unpredictability or “[Chatter] Mind” thoughts that come your way, if you are “nevertheless, willing” you will have everything you need to take the next small, sweet step forward on your life’s (hero’s) journey.