Aug 2011: The Holes in Your Bucket

by Brad on August 1, 2011

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”      – Yogi Berra 

If you listen carefully to others (or to yourself, for that matter), you may hear all manner of stories about why life doesn’t work or why things don’t go as desired. Not enough time, too many things to do, others not doing their part, worry about what others think, not enough money, no choice in the matter, etc. We’re very good at telling stories, largely because we come from a long line of storytellers. Story has been the carrier of human culture for as long as there has been human culture, predating written language by thousands of years. In the ancient past, however, story opened people to possibility, to the mystery of life, to the deep connection we all share with each other and with nature. Today’s story, however, has become a third-class replacement. More often than not, today’s stories limit the very possibility we long for, whether at home, at work, in our relationships, or in dreaming our life dreams.

In previous issues, I suggested the importance of finding your personal story, the deepest essence that makes you the unique person you are. This month, I want to view all these stories through the lens of energy. If there’s anything with limited supply in our lives, it’s energy. Although we’re quick to blame time, you have the same 168 hours each week as did all of life’s masters – Gandhi, Mozart, Mother Teresa, etc., so something other than time must make the difference. Because we’re so busy telling our ‘life doesn’t work’ stories, and more often than not, blaming time in the process, we rarely consider energy as a factor. Here’s an analogy to depict this idea. Envision your energy as water in a bucket. As you do things during the day, you use energy, so the water level drops. Eating replenishes energy, but at the end of the day, you’re tired; the bucket is empty. Sleeping replenishes energy, too, so by morning, you’re ready to start a new day with a full bucket. (OK, some days, you feel as if you start half empty.)

Here’s where your power comes in. The great masters were great because they (1) knew what mattered, their intention (May newsletter) and (2) through awareness, chose exactly how to use energy to get there (this month). They ‘poured’ energy just where they wanted it to go; none wasted. Without intention and awareness, however, energy goes to all the stuff that doesn’t matter, leaving little to pour onto what does. It’s as if your bucket were full of holes, with your daily supply of energy leaking out onto a bunch of distractions instead of being available for what mattered. The antidote: First, know what you want to have happen each day. Second, get to know where your energy is going, both desired (intention) and not desired (leaks). Third, using these ways of knowing, you can then make new choices.

Exercise #1: Know what matters: For the “big picture” of your entire life, see May’s newsletter and exercises. For life’s “smaller pictures” (each day, a project, a relationship, a job, a vacation, even a conversation), start by envisioning what you want that picture to look like. Especially for important things, it’s often helpful to write down how you’d like to see it go. As a minimum, start each day by naming what you want this day to be like. Do the same for projects, meetings, your relationships, etc. At first, you’ll find that the result may not match your vision. That’s not failure; it’s part of building momentum. Soon, results begin to match rather closely. You don’t force yourself to change; change happens naturally and effortlessly as a result of practice. Practice creates new habits; be patient.

Exercise #2: Know your energy drains: Stop what you’re doing several times a day. During these moments of quiet reflection, replay in your mind what’s happened since the last time you stopped, as if a movie with you as audience. Listen to what this tells you. Don’t try to change anything. Just notice. Then, for each thing you notice, ask yourself how your energy was used. Where and how did your energy go to what you wanted to have happen (what you’d envisioned in exercise #1)? Where and how did your energy leak out into distractions, the not-so-important, the counterproductive? Make two lists; label one intention and the other leaks. Keep the lists going daily for the month. Stop every several days and review the emerging lists. See what you’re learning about yourself. The more aware you are of where your energy is expended, the more your energy will go toward what matters, naturally, without “effort.”


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

Over the 20 years or so that I’ve led nature tours, I’ve been fascinated by nature’s energy equation. I’d long known that nothing is wasted in nature, so I’ve become accustomed to noticing (often this means figuring out) how and why things make sense in nature, especially from an energy point of view. Some things appear to be wasteful, but on closer inspection, are not. A river’s meandering is a lower energy path to the sea than a straight line. (We’ll skip the physics of why this is so.) Polar bears play and spar during times of scarce food supply, yet the energy expended is paid back in the form of strength and agility required for catching seals from under the sea ice. Creosote bushes often show up in a near-perfect matrix, almost as if planted. Although a bit tougher to figure out, this, too, shows no energy is wasted. That layout provides maximum accessibility to the desert’s scarce underground moisture supply; another plant in between would starve. 

We’re all familiar with the “tree line,” the not-so-straight line that runs across North America, Europe and Asia marking the most northerly extent of trees. Above the tree line lies Arctic tundra. Tundra supports a wide variety of plant life, but none with woody stems or trunks. Why? The standard answer, even in some “science” articles, is that it’s too cold for trees to grow any farther north. Not so. Trees could grow on the North Pole if there were land there to support them. Even more interesting, it’s actually colder in the boreal forest to the south than it is in much of the tundra. The true limiting factor shows up as an energy equation. Trees put energy first into growing and sustaining roots, next into leaves or needles, and last into flowers and seeds. Above the tree line, the growing season is simply too short for trees to produce seeds. 

Curious, nature doesn’t give up, however, even with summers too short for reproduction by seeds. The hardiest of northern trees is a species of spruce, so its range often delineates the tree line. Spruce have developed the capability to reproduce vegetatively; branches reach back to the ground and root themselves, from which another tree grows. When you see a stand-alone clump of spruce trees near (or sometimes above) the tree line, it’s often a lone straggler from centuries past, with its “offspring” genetically identical; it’s all one tree. Nature is always creating. And it’s all about energy. 

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