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Why Spirituality (Sometimes) Fails

You live within an amazing transformative machine. It’s called the body. It has two very different functions. I would guess that 99 per cent of people use it for only for the first, which is to eat, sleep, excrete, reproduce, have a variety of pleasant, painful, and interesting experiences, and die. The second function usually remains as a hidden potential, not secreted away by any particular rule of law, but put out of sight through culture, time, and humanity’s intense predilection for fixating on the external phantasmagoria that fills our stumbling consciousness. The causes of this slumber do not concern us here. But the readers of this article already know that the human form that we inhabit is the vehicle for transforming the entire fabric of our being. Side by side with the intricate machinery of sinews, molecular reactions, nerve transmission, miles of circulatory tubing, and cellular biochemistry, lies an alternative, even more complex system of bioenergy. It is capable of uncoiling the very atomic structure of the body, turning it into a luminous egg, a light body made of energy fields of an as-yet-unidentified nature, a perfect vehicle for expanded consciousness.

Turning on this secondary system is not as easy as flicking a switch. But fortunately the methods for accessing and using this alternative bio-system that lives within each of us have been investigated and researched for many thousands of years by “scientists of the invisible.” Scattered across time and culture, they discovered methods of inner change that have been refined and even perfected, adapted to suit a wide range of epochs and societies. These methods are always hidden in plain sight, often buried deep within widely accepted religious structures, populated by priests, shamans, Daoists, Buddhists, Sufis, and the like from Egypt, Greece, Africa, Hawaii, Mongolia, Tibet, and the Americas. With this fantastic wealth of information, the accumulation of the ages available in the spiritual marketplace of 2021, everything should be “hunky-dory.” But there are as many obstacles as there are paths. And one of the greatest stumbling blocks is one that is not easy to see, and not often spoken of: to accomplish progress toward the great goal of personal evolution takes resources. Even though we are moving from the world of solid objects and chemical soup to one of subtle energies, vibrating fields and biophotons, resources are required. Yes, at some point we may tap into inconceivable fields of power and unlimited energy, but that is on the distant shore. To make the journey we need to build the boat and stock it with ample supplies and prepare for every kind of weather. 

Like the creatures great and small that share this planet, our form is primarily designed for the first function, mundane living. Then our extremely busy and full lives take pretty much every ounce of the biological and bioenergetic forces that we manufacture day to day. Food, water, air, energies, and sensory impressions, all of these types of nourishment are part of a chain of transformations that maintains life in all its functions. But there is simply not enough left over for our level-two functioning. For that we need to borrow from our daily expenditure, to apportion as much as we can to this secondary possibility. Every spiritual path has techniques to generate, condense, gather, and store energy within the body-mind. But that is a story for another day. Here we will first observe the mountainous landscape of life force wasted on purposeless or meaningless activity.

Image courtesy of the author


It is safe to say that the average person never relaxes their body fully, completely. It is an art that must be cultivated. We won’t acquire it by modeling parents, teachers, celebrities, or even athletes. You may see it in skilled martial artists or long-time meditators or experienced body-workers, dancers, or actors, who have made it part of their craft. There is a fluidity, balance, yet economy of movement in such individuals, who are “cat-like” in their grace. However, tension is more than skin deep. The jaw, diaphragm, stomach, and inner organs are places of massive amounts of stored emotional charge with resulting contraction. Hans Selye was the first to research the biochemical and physiological effects of stress, and since then its contributions to disease and suffering have been well established. But we don’t need specialized studies to see the bizarre amounts of tension in ourselves or others. Just stop what you are doing at any point in the day and observe how tight various areas of “resting” muscles are. Or watch almost anyone walking or jogging. The asymmetries and strains are painfully obvious, so much so that the first- and third-most common reasons for visits to the doctor’s office are joint pain and back pain. For the spiritual practitioner, learning to change layers of chronic tension and habitual responses to stress is essential to acquiring the energy to change our atomic structure. Even when, in Buddhism, Daoism, or yoga, there are exercises that require strong muscular movements, even they are done in the context of a relaxed rest-of-the-body and a mind of calm and open clarity. 


It is a tough contest between who is the greatest energy and time waster in our lives. In terms of the body and voice, it is a close race. Of the 10 traditional negative actions of Buddhist philosophy, four are attributed to speech. So while we are busy with the karma that arises from slander, lying, idle talk, and harsh words, we are also looking at energy inadvertently spilling out of the storage tanks. The physical act of excess talking demands the force of the lungs, diaphragm, circulatory system, heart, and mostly everything else! In tantric physiology, speech is driven by the upana wind that rises up all the way from the belly. Since it also has a major role in body detoxification, memory, creativity, and overall strength, depleting this wind (pranachi, or loong) has serious consequences. Excess and dysfunctional use of the voice apparatus siphons off valuable resources that can be used for spiritual breath work, mantras, and the demanding internal sequence of light body transformation. Going into silence for some days is an excellent way to perceive how addicted we are to prattling speech while being unfamiliar with inner quiet. By the way, Facebook, Twitter, and email are just other forms of talk, even though they do not engage the vocal cords. It is similarly exhausting of vital reserves and needed inner resources.


Naturally, mind is at the center of energy conservation. We must decide to use speech wisely and to break the cycle of body tension and to apportion our limited energy. Even before that, we have to accept the reality of our situation. And while we said that energy maintenance was the first major problem, there is yet an additional obstacle that we face. The myth of infinite energy, freely available to us, that we can just tap into is a dead-end belief system that sabotages real personal evolution. With this kind of fantasy thinking in place, why make the effort or strive for something we already have? Automatic light body, automatic ascension, automatic enlightenment are not new ideas as humans have been looking for salvation from above for a very long time. Yet samsara is samsara, and thinking that this realm will turn into a pure realm suddenly makes little sense. Pure realms are here already, but up doesn’t become down and blue become red. Caterpillars become butterflies, but not elephants. Order persists and there is nothing in nature or in our daily experience that mirrors this wishful thinking. The first functional system of our body follows the laws of thermodynamics, and although there is a kind of “unlimited” energy in the universe, and in our atoms, it is simply not available to us right now. We still need sleep, water, and food. And breaking free of karma, DNA, habitual tendency, and psychological layers all require massive amounts of energy. Thoughts that babble on and emotions that constantly percolate at a high rate are tremendous leaks in our energetic grid. They often leave us exhausted and, as the great Western mystic G. I. Gurdjieff noted, one angry outburst can cause an explosion in our inner spiritual factory that can destroy weeks of inner work.

Like our speech patterns and body tensions, most of our mental functions are reactive. They are stimulus-response, robotic, pre-programmed. Our day-to-day, highly depleting negative emotions are learned, not biological or inherent. And those that are hardwired are manipulated and exploited non-stop by advertising, media, politics, corporations and chemical, food, and medical conglomerates, to name a few. These are reinforced by the actions and beliefs of the whole of the conformed group-think of the society that surrounds us. But we know by example that there are those who maintain clarity and equanimity in the midst of such storms. Some may be gifted with this quality of a dispassionate-yet-open mind. But if it is possible for one, then it is something any human can achieve. It is all about learning to work with the energies that we call thinking, feeling, sensing, and perceiving. 


We are social animals, more or less. Being with compatible others can be uplifting, educational, fun, nourishing, relaxing. Yet many times, through work, family, or happenstance, we find ourselves with those who are draining, demanding, boring, irritating, or even energy vampires. There are circumstances we can choose and there are those that are thrust upon us, or just come with the territory. The first thing to do is to be much more aware of our situation and to make decisions—and take actions—accordingly. This doesn’t mean being guided solely by our likes or dislikes or comfort in the situation. We can be much more precise and proactive if we act in line with our understanding of energetics. Will this situation demand a lot of my (limited) energy? Will it leave me exhausted for the day? Can I hold my center and keep my energy from being siphoned away? Or is it possible that this may be empowering and leave me more in touch with my energetic foundation? Simply, is it worth it to be here and with these people for what I wish to give and what they may wish to share? It is a dance to be sure, especially for those in the helping profession, or with family or friends who need our assistance in a variety of ways. Keeping energy in mind, and that fact that emotions are energy, will give us better tools to work with. 

Guarding the core

We have touched on some key ways that we lose or waste energy, priceless energy that we need for inner transformation. But we have not said much about the solutions to these thorny issues. The transformation process is not mandatory, not a given, and is, in fact, the rare—the very rare—exception. Our lives are driven by careers, family, hopes and dreams, ambitions and fears. For most, the inner call is a very distant one, an echo heard in silence. The traditions of enlightenment, light body formation, union with the unborn, have largely remained esoteric, hidden, secret. And our internal transformational system is also hidden in the recesses of normal body function, a potential waiting to be realized. And so it is only appropriate that our practice be kept in a safe place. The tradition of the “secret yogi” is a valuable safeguard to prying eyes and to our own tendency to give away what we have managed to coddle together in our sacred, innermost core. We will talk about energy conservation methods next month, but there couldn’t be a better way to start than by guarding our biological, psychological, and bioenergetic resources for the long journey through unseen territory in the manner of the sangwa’i naljor or “secret yogi.”


Benson, Herbert. 1975. The Relaxation Response. New York: Harper Collins.

Karthar Rinpoche, Khenpo. 2005. Karma Chakme’s Mountain Dharma, Vol. 1–4. Woodstock: KTD Publications.

Ouspensky, P. D. 1949. In Search of the Miraculous. New York: Harvest Books.

Kalu Rinpoche. 1995. Secret Buddhism: Vajrayana Practices. San Francisco: Clearpoint Press.

Ray, Reginald A. 2001. Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala Press.

Selye, Hans. 1976. Stress in Health and Disease. Boston: Butterworth.

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Dr. Asa Hershoff
Asa Hershoff

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