(Part of a series on How to Awaken.)
Cultivating vitality is the process of empowering yourself and increasing your efficiency, so you can create more value with less energy. The experience of vitality is a sense of well-being; vitality feels good.
You might cultivate your car’s vitality by giving it a tune up, your tree’s vitality by pruning off dead wood, and your computer’s vitality by defragmenting its hard drive. At the level of business systems, vitality is known as productivity; if you’ve ever tried to improve your personal productivity, you’ve been cultivating vitality at the business level.
Why Vitality Matters
Here, our focus isn’t on producing—it’s on awakening—but vitality is still important. That’s because awakening requires surplus energy—energy that’s not tied up in other activities of daily life. Let’s say you have a job you don’t like, and you don’t have any surplus energy (in the form of time or money). Even though you don’t like your job, you’ll have a hard time leaving it, because all your available resources are tied up in your current pattern of living. However, with some surplus time or money, you can start cultivating other income sources; that makes it more likely that you’ll be able to leave your job eventually.
Awakening is similar. If you have no surplus energy, you’ll probably have a hard time awakening. That’s because awakening requries energy—energy is required to learn about awakening and to do the practices required to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, insight, and intuition. Cultivating vitality can help you create the surplus energy that’s required to get started on your spiritual path. Once you’ve gotten started, cultivating vitality helps you make more efficient progress on your path.
Awakening Cultivates Vitality
In my experience, as one develops mindfulness, compassion, insight, and intuition, one becomes both a more powerful collector and a more efficient transformer of energy. Eventually, one can reach a tipping point at which mindfulness, compassion, insight, and intuition start to liberate more energy than is required to cultivate them; at this point, awakening becomes a self-sustaining process, like a successful entrepreneurial venture or a tree you’ve planted that finally gets established.
So, in a broad sense, all the activities of awakening can be viewed as ways of cultivating vitality. However, in this article, I’m focusing on other ways of cultivating vitality (besides cultivating mindfulness, compassion, insight, and intuition). I’m talking about the basics here; this is about getting your body, mind, and life in shape for awakening.
Intentions for spiritual practice:
- Take care of yourself. Develop habits that support your well-being (exercise, healthful eating, and so forth) and let go of habits that don’t.
- Relax your body. Notice tension and allow it to be released.
- Heal emotional pain and trauma. Mindfully bring attention to difficult feelings and experiences. (A good psychotherapist can help with this.)
- Recognize the joy and bliss inherent in mindful experiencing. There is bliss available in ordinary everyday subjective experience; as you attend to this bliss, it grows stronger.
- Notice life energy. At times of heightened mindfulness, notice sensations that feel like energy moving in and around your body.
I used to dismiss the use of the word energy in spiritual practice. However, as my own practices deepened, I started noticing undeniable experiences that feel like energy moving in and around my body. I use the term energy simply because that’s what it feels like—not to imply that I understand it in terms of physics or biology (I don’t). I call it life energy to distinguish it from the energy of physics. Deepening my relationship to this “energy” is one of my current intentions for practice.
- Learn how to take care of your physical well-being. I’ve been following Berkeley Wellness for many years, and I trust their advice.
- If your emotional life is challenging, find a good psychotherapist.
- Yoga. Find a yoga class, or learn at home (like I did) through books and videos. I learned my yoga routine from Journey Into Power and Journey into Power: Power Vinyasa Yoga, Level 1 by Baron Baptiste, though these may be a bit dated by now.
- Qigong. I learned from Master Li Junfeng, and I’m sure there are many other good teachers out there, too.
- Ecstatic movement. I learned my practice from Shaking Medicine: The Healing Power of Ecstatic Movement and The Bushman Way of Tracking God: The Original Spirituality of the Kalahari People by Bradford Keeney.
- Breathwork. There are many varieties; I like Stanislav Grof’s version.
- Helpful instructions for cultivating joy and bliss in meditation: Instruction for Entering Jhana by Leigh Brasington.
In Other Frameworks
My concept of vitality is related to the concept of virya, viriya, energy, diligence, enthusiasm, or effort in Buddhism.
My concept of life energy is related to:
* the concept of qi or chi in qigong, traditional Chinese medicine, and Chinese martial arts;
* the concept of energy in energy medicine, energy therapy, energy healing, and spiritual healing.
(Read the next article in this series: How to Cultivate Mindfulness.)