In his Mount Analogue, René Daumal describes explorers who, having successfully arrived at the base of the mountain, become distracted by preparations. They discuss their impending journey, buy supplies, draw maps, wait for better weather and the time passes and passes. They do not begin to climb, their plans remain plans. Eventually a crisis is reached. Only then is the gulf between theory and practice bridged.
What delays us from beginning our climb? perhaps it is a question of energy - focused attention requires much energy. And so the whole notion of energy becomes an important one - how it is generated and spent, how it might relate to the mystery of consciousness.
The body accumulates a finite amount of energy through food and sleep. This energy is expended in our daily activities, both those of the body and those of the mind. But on a closer look, it seems we use far more energy than these tasks alone require, we enjoy no surplus energy even when our physical labours are minimal.
So where is this extra energy going? If I am observant I may notice that my body is almost never relaxed. My jaw is tensed or I hold the muscles in my face. I may fidget, wiggle my toes or furrow my brow. I continually use more force than is needed - gripping the steering wheel of a car or tensing my upper body when walking. Most of the time I am completely unaware of this. I pour a huge amount of energy into these unconscious tensions all the time. This is the first way that I unconsciously expend my stored energy.
If I go deeper into this question, I may notice that my emotions and thoughts consume almost as much energy as the body. Particularly negative emotions - everyone has felt how exhaustion always follows outbursts of anger or fits of tears, these are the extreme examples. But anxiety and depression, obsessions and compulsions, also consume large amounts of energy. Conversely, it seems that some positive emotions create energy in us - this could be an illusion.
One only has to stop one's thoughts for a few minutes - by meditation, contemplation, listening to silence, or by other means - to experience the contrast in the amount of energy used. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a connection between nondirected thought and tensions in the body. When the mind is wandering the body becomes mechanically tense - consciously directing attention to the body relaxes it again.
We use our energy, then, to carry out our daily activities and, also, for the mechanical, wholly unconscious habits of the body, emotions and mind. And, as a result of these 'leaks', we do not have the requisite energy to put our ideas into practice. Without a more economical use of energy it is likely that our question about consciousness will remain theory only - we will stand at the base of the mountain and never attempt the ascent.
Perhaps there are ways of increasing energy levels - but perhaps this question is unnecessary. We waste so much force each day through unconscious muscle tensions, the expression of negative emotions, through nondirected thought, through uncontrolled speaking and so on, that simply reducing these 'leaks' will effectively give us more energy. And we need this energy to begin to unfold the question of consciousness - because this is not an abstract question but a practical one.
It is valueless to simply accumulate data about consciousness - this must be understood, lived. We have to know, to feel, when we are just automatically articulating data we have collected about something. When we speak from real understanding it has a different quality - quieter, calmer. We must learn to to cultivate silence in ourselves - silence of the body, silence of the mind and the emotions. Then we are no longer like colanders, pouring out our energy unconsciously. We become instead like coiled springs - the body is relaxed and the attention focused - our energy held in reserve for conscious tasks rather than unconscious ones. Wild animals have this quality about them - humans usually don't.
I propose the following methods by which one can try to stem the unconscious use of energy, there are probably many more I've not thought of:
1. bringing attention to the body through daily meditation, contemplation or sensing exercises (possibly also through tai chi or martial arts, yoga)
2. reducing the unnecessary force used for physical tasks as well as unconscious physical habits
3. attempting to consciously control the expression of negative emotions
4. attempting to rise above the stream of nondirected thought and to limit the expression of that stream in words
5. bringing as much silence into our lives as possible - actively seeking out silence.
There is a time for planning and a time for climbing the mountain. To begin to climb requires courage, honesty and strength - all these things require energy. Where will our extra energy come from?