I used to say, “I don’t have time for that.” But let’s be real. I don’t even have kids. I have time. I just don’t always have energy. And I’ve always had time. You’ve got time too. But energy? Now that’s something different.
I used to think that if I was tired, I needed to rest. That was true sometimes. But most of the time, I wasn’t genuinely fatigued. I was just low on energy. And I was low on energy because emotional energy is something we create in our interactions with each other.
What creates emotional energy? In a word, rituals. And I do not mean religion, although religion certainly relies on rituals. I mean actions that are supposed to build up to a sort of climax, where everyone kind of knows their roles, and everybody plays their part.
Here is a simple example of a ritual. Shaking hands when you meet someone. In some cultures that I’m a part of, we bow. In others, we clap hands and embrace. The important and interesting thing is that there are roles each person plays, a physical set of actions, a build-up and a release.
So that’s a simple ritual.
A more complex ritual is a pastor preaching and the audience responds, building up the tension as the sermon progresses. Or when dancers get together in a circle and take turns entering the center, building up energy. Live music performances, where there is a clear lead performer who is the focus, and everyone else participates.
These kinds of activities build up energy. At least when they succeed.
You can have failed emotional rituals, too. Those are pretty uncomfortable. And they sap your energy.
Most of the day-to-day rituals that create emotional energy involve laughter, telling stories, exercise, singing or dance. I am convinced that in our modern, “advanced” society, a big part of the reason we have so much unhappiness is that people don’t do the sort of basic rituals like telling stories and dancing socially that are so central to supposedly more “primitive” cultures.
And because we are starved for the emotional energy that we should be getting in these small rituals, we have to seek more and more of it in big, gaudy events. The problem with those mass gatherings, though, is that the roles we can play are so limited. You are pretty much either the center of attention or just a minor participant. So if something goes wrong with the person at the center, the whole thing collapses.
Things get even worse if we don’t get the energy from mass entertainment. That’s how people get entirely stuck in their own heads, trying to create a sort of shadow emotional energy by replaying rituals in their fantasy or memory. It’s survival. It’s better than nothing. But it leads most people who live that way into depression or antagonism towards real human society generally.
It’s better, more sustainable, to have a multitude of small rituals that you participate in every day, where you play a variety of roles. Even the way you greet a shop-owner or barista is a ritual, and provides some small amount of energy. When you rehash your favorite stories with your friends or kiss your partner, those are small but necessary rituals.
In our daily lives we can create more energy for ourselves by making our interactions more exciting, so that there is more of a buildup. We can do that, for instance, with costumes, with intentional role-playing. I’ve thought, so many times, that most of the people I know would be much happier, filled with more positive energy, if we celebrated a Halloween-like holiday every few weeks.
It’s also important for me to embrace whatever role I’m in at the moment, and let go of the role I just played. What I mean is that, for instance, I play a certain role in my office. But when I physically leave that office, I don’t carry my role with me. That person stays in the office, along with all my concerns and cares about the workplace.
When I come home, and interact with my housemates, I play a totally different role. And when I am in that role, I am just in that role. I don’t let the person I am in my office enter my home.
Knowing what role you play makes it easier to gain emotional energy from the rituals you are a part of. And one of the great benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone, meeting new people, and encountering new cultures is that you can have access to more emotional energy.
However! It does not work to just be a tourist. That will leave you depleted from having too many failed interactions. You have to stick around long enough to learn how things go. How the rituals proceed. What your role in the ritual is.
The key to having endless energy (other than the obvious stuff like exercise, getting enough sleep so that you don’t have to set an alarm clock any more, eating right, etc.) is to have a variety of rituals that you constantly participate in, and that you have participated in for years.
That means there is no shortcut.
You have to be a part of groups for long enough that the rituals become meaningful for you. You have to get to know individual people well enough that your greetings, your conversations, your stories become powerful.
It is a slow process, but I am here to tell you: there really is such a thing as endless emotional energy. It really is possible to get to the point that, whenever you are tired, it is just physical fatigue. You just need rest.
And it is a wonderful place to be.