This post is dedicated to the memory of Marg and Mal Brierley, two dear friends of my family, who were on Thursday 15th February 2018 tragically killed in a car accident. No words can express how large a hole has been left in our worlds. The words I have written were hugely inspired by their love and support over all of my 36 years.
One of the greatest things happened to me 18 months ago… I became an auntie. An auntie to a little ball of pure, untarnished energy. I really had no idea how much this addition to my world would effect me as a human being, inspire me, remind me of things missing from my life, bring me joy. This small being fascinates me as I watch her grow, experience, learn. As I see her ‘become’ … she becomes frustrated when she is unable to express herself, she becomes delighted as she conquers a new word … and, of course, because she is one of my kin, I think - wow - she is so advanced - she is so clever - she has so much potential!
It is this idea of unbridled potential that has monopolised both my thinking and my asana practice over these last few months. I have been grateful to be able to return to my yogic explorations as ‘experiment’ rather than ‘lifejacket’. I have been laying foundations here in Myanmar, allowing my theoretical projects to begin to take shape, to be planned - ready to be actioned - they sit now - poised with potential.
But as I have been planning and plotting, as I have been meeting new colleagues and laying pathways to change - my head has been full of an obsession of what potential actually is and whether some of us are ‘born’ with more than others, which in turn helps some of us seem to ‘achieve’ more than others in life or is potential something that is purely ours to control?
In the west we are obsessed with ‘fulfilling our potential’ ‘achieving’ ‘striving’. From schools to offices, and even now within mainstream commercialised ‘spirituality’ we are encouraged to ‘break free’; to live our passions; to do what matters to us (and I am all for encouraging that!).
The dictionary definition of potential is ‘possible’ (as opposed to actual); capable of becoming; a latent excellence of ability that may or may not develop. The concept of ‘potentiality’, refers to any ‘possibility’ of a given thing and was first talked about by Aristotle. He believed not all possibilities are the same and that actuality, in contrast to potentiality, is the motion, activity or change i.e. the energetic transmutation that represents the fulfilment of a possibility.
Science terms potential energy as the energy that an object has due to its position in a force field. For example; gravitational potential energy is dependant on an object’s vertical position and mass; elastic potential energy as found in an extended spring. These energies are potential as they will be converted into another form of energy, such as kinetic (energy in action). Then there is chemical potential energy, which is a product related to the structural arrangement of atoms or molecules. In a chemical reaction, the chemical energy of a substance is transformed to another form of energy, for example when a fuel is burned, the chemical energy is converted to heat. In digestion, food is metabolized in a biological organism.
Science has proved that the basis of the ancient Chinese medicinal theories (e.g. acupuncture, acupressure etc.) work with bioelectromagnetics. All living cells possess attributes which are normally associated with electronic circuits, electric potential energy. Not only do all living cells produce and radiate energetic oscillations of very high frequencies, they also receive and respond to oscillations imposed upon them from the outside world. Biophotons are described as the energy communication medium between life forms. What science has also now confirmed is that biophotons emitted by the human body can be realised through mental intention thus our cells take their signal from our beliefs altering cellular energetic frequency and communication. So the stress of living controlled by our ‘ego’ through time based thought, alters our cells energetic vibrancy, thus affecting our potentiality.
But still for me it is unclear as to why certain people seem to hold more potential than others? Looking back to the ancient Chinese practices again…. they believed that one is born with a finite amount of Jing which is an elusive type of energy stored in the kidneys and is the most dense physical matter within the body. Jing is said to be the material basis for the physical body and is yin in nature, which means it nourishes, fuels, and cools the body. Jing is found throughout your entire body holding you together, regulating growth and also the flow of chi and production of ching… potential. Jing is burned up during daily living and as the jing throughout the body is used up you begin to draw on the emergency stores in the kidneys. They say when all your reserves have been used the body will start to deteriorate. Abusing the body with drug use, high stress etc. will deplete the jing faster while using spiritual practices, tantric methods, or other specific etheric exercises can strengthen it and make it last much longer. So what determines our store house of Jing? Karma? Past life experiences?
And then what determines how a person uses their Jing or their potential energy to the best of their ability to ‘achieve’. What is it that is shaping a persons achievement? We all know people who have been given all the resources in life possible… financial security, the best education, love from both parents and still those people have ended up with addiction or suffered from mental health issues. We all know people in life who have struggled and suffered no end but who have turned things around for themselves and are some of the biggest ‘achievers' in our world. So how much of achievement is in fact down to fulfilment? purpose rather than potential?
I remember school reports when I was a kid that talked about me having potential. I remember my agent when I was in the world of performance telling me a casting director thought I had potential…. but there becomes a point when having potential starts to become an insult as it suggests you can’t actualise your purpose. You already know that you are not doing all you can do but at the same time you feel that you couldn't do any more and still you are not getting the results you wanted.
I was one of those children who had many interests. Too many interests some might say. I always struggled to understand which path I should take, I was good at lots of things, lucky me. But I always struggled to identify a specific career path as I wanted to do it all… I loved music and geography, art and literature, biology and creative writing… having many interests doesn’t fit with western societies narrow focus on life. We are asked from a very early age ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ - in the UK we are made to choose GCSEs which lay the ground work for our future decisions when we are 13 or 14 years old. It is impressed on us that we should have a path and stick to it…. and if we don’t people think there is something wrong with us. I have no doubt that this pressure from society to fit into a box has affected my ability to actualise my potential.
What happened to the renaissance? What happened to celebrating being a multipotentialite (a term coined by life coach Emilie Wapnick)? What happened to being good at many things, or having your fingers in lots of pies? Emilie talks about the need for multipotentialite’s in modern society. That those of us with lots of skills and lots of interests are adaptable and embrace change more quickly than others. We need this as the world is changing so fast. We are able to innovate at the intersections. We are able to apply knowledge from one field to another.
So it is clear that potential doesn’t automatically move you in the direction of your destiny? That is, unless you can understand how to harness your potential… and that is where the practices that celebrate the body and the spirit (that electromagnetic body) come in.
Our bodies are containers and by moving our bodies through certain postures in certain ways we affect the potential, the prana (pure air in Ayurvedic terms or life force some say), held within that container. Every asana posture either blocks or supports our energy; stopping it or allowing it to flow. Every asana either closes off certain areas of the body forcing attention, prana, potential to move to available locations or in particular directions. Hence, it is vital that you undertake a practice that supports your potential. It is vital that you be aware of the shapes that you create in your practice so that they support our goals.
In Ayurveda, an objective way to look at the world, we are made up of the five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. We need to balance the elements so that prana (potential) can flow according to our needs at that present moment. We can manipulate the movement of prana through our channels on purpose choosing what asana to take or what variation of asana. Ask yourself do I need to flex my foot or not? Do I need to spread my fingers or not? Do I need to take a bind or not? Prana and air are only effective under pressure - and we use the asana to reorganise the air. If we don’t it will leave through all the holes in the body - if it can leave it will!
You need to become sensitive to your practice and the effects it has on your body (physical/energetic/mental). You need to observe the effects. No one else can do it for you. You need to understand the energetic possibility ‘potential’ of each choice you make. The only way to experience something is to give yourself limits, to experiment with these possibilities. Mix it up, play. Circular thinking leads to habitual living. Ask yourself repeatedly… does this serve my identity? Is this what I need?
Many of my teachers have warned me about spiritual arrogance in yoga. Identifying with form over function and so, with that in mind, I try to also encourage my students to employ a deep listening to their present need. As the ancient Chinese believed… we are born with a finite amount of Jing, similarly down the Hindu line our ‘dharma’ is an acknowledgement that we are born a certain way, and our unconscious choices are often a reflection of our construction. But, we must recognise we are spirit, we are electricity, we are potential and we must take responsibility for that. We must trust our intuition whilst at the same time we should not identify with it.
To Practice: Ask yourself the questions? How does this feel? What effect does that choice have? What do I need, truly? Why? … and park the ego at the door. There is great power in understanding our motives - be clear about why you are asking the question. Express what you need to through mudra (hand gestures), through exhalation, through pranayama techniques, through an additional backbend or twist. Know that whatever you do not express you will remain. In the same realm know that whatever you take into your body also becomes your tissues. Become aware of how you inhale…why are you inhaling like that? what type of air? what capacity of your lungs do you fill? Where do you send your breath? Knowing your ‘why’ is the key to fulfilling your potential. If there is pain during practice, identify it… call it out… name it. What is pain but something blocked or stagnant?….if you want things to move employ a practice relating to the air element, flow. If you want to change something employ a practice relating to the fire element, burn. If you feel sensitive or vulnerable, energy leaves the body, so employ a practice that pulls that prana, that potential, back in, ground.
Embrace your inner wiring. Follow your curiosity - explore your intersections.
This invisible ‘why’ is the life-force energy within the seed, the energy that holds your potential for growth.
Make each decision conscious so you have choices, options, potential.
Tune into that subtle energy that in Sanskrit is called shri - best translated as ‘auspiciousness’ and that energy, that prana, that potential will come forth in your speech and actions.
Prana is relative to consciousness and consciousness is attracted to prana.
Inquire - why? - bring your shit to light.
Go all in.
Potential is relative to your purpose - relative to your acceptance of yourself, of your limits, of your past, of the judgments you lie against yourself, of your fear of failure, or the process.
Potential is real it is tangible, it is electric, it is esoteric.
Potential is emotion … E - motion - energy in motion. Emotion is the ultimate resource. Explore your web - the needs, the beliefs, the emotions controlling you.
Knowing what you need, you are armed with wisdom and knowledge - ready for something new to begin.
And give - that will fill you up.
The spirit needs to give - if you have something to give - something to contribute beyond yourself - you must grow.
You fulfil your potential.
Infinite possibilities are real - energetic transmutation is real - and creating a life where you fulfil your potential opens up when you inquire why?
Embark on your deep internal journey and listen to the continuous energetic communication.
Make visible the subtle energies that can transform your internal and then your external world.
Are you getting a sense of the power you hold?
Allow yourself to be poised with potential.
Then go actualise it.