What if everything we think we know about people is wrong? We tend to think of human energy as innate and constant; some people are born with more of it and others are not. But a text from the fourth century BC posits that energy is malleable and our expression of it changes every day. We are in control of it through practice and training, according to The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us about the Good Life.
We already do lots of ordinary things that make us feel more alive. The simplest of these is taking a deep breath. Though it has now been incorporated into Western medical treatments for anxiety and stress, deep breathing has roots in many ancient traditions. The Inward Training teaches that deep breaths are more than simple breaths; we breathe in energy that helps us to soothe ourselves, calm negative emotions, and relax. Imagine the impact of taking in that sort of energy through these deep, calming breaths all the time, not just during isolated moments in a yoga class or while meditating. We would not become so depleted of energy if we did this on a regular basis.
Or another example: exercise. When you go for a Saturday morning run, you’re gathering energy; in fact, you’re energizing yourself. Sure, your legs feel like jelly, and you are sweating up a storm. But you probably also feel ecstatic—you feel that “runner’s high.” What science says comes from a rush of brain chemicals called “endorphins,” the Inward Training envisions as refined energies or spirit flowing through you. When you feel that highly energized sensation, you see things more vividly, you feel things more keenly, and the walls between you and the rest of the world drop away.
Compare that postexercise exhilaration with the feeling of an exciting creative breakthrough at work. The rush is the same as that when you run: it’s a surge of wellbeing and vital energy coursing through your body. Or think about the feeling of incredible oneness with strangers around you when you are at a music concert or a sporting event. You feel the energy of the crowd pulsating through you; it sweeps you away.
All these energies are the very same thing: energies that heighten your feelings of vitality. Your face is flushed because you feel more alive, not just because you went running. You feel satisfied because you feel more alive, not just because you came up with a great idea for that presentation at work. A deeply fulfilling conversation with a friend doesn’t just make you feel more connected; it makes you feel more alive. Whether you’re doing something physical, mental, or social, that glowing excitement and oneness with the world are the very same physical feelings. The Inward Training says that everything we experience comes from energies called qi and that the most ethereal of these energies—the ones that give us that exhilarated, alive feeling—are the energies of divinity.