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Does Natural Energy Bring Enlightenment?

There is a strange notion going around about spiritual life. The notion is that by developing our natural energies, or qi in Chinese terms, we are developing spiritually. Qigong, yoga, energy healing of various kinds, these are powerful systems, and sometimes enthusiastically touted as paths to enlightenment in themselves.  It is an understandable thought- after all, our civilization spent millennia completely ignoring this side of reality, so rediscovering the potential of natural energy was bound to make us a little giddy.


The Role of Natural Energy Work

There is no doubt that energy work is a powerful level of personal development, a healing modality that affects the entire organism, a profound avenue for discovering our potential as human beings, and a foundational tool for spiritual life. Energy work can help us to clear mental and physical ailments and trauma that hold us back. It can clarify our powers of perception and our ability to align our lives with powerful universal principles. The experience of real energy work is often powerful and a profound revelation of our own potential. To experience the universe as energy and consciousness rather than matter is a transformative realisation for many.

But that energy is still, in the terminology of the hesychast tradition, created. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But Authentic Ancient Traditions recognise that there is a distinction between natural energy and divine or uncreated energy, the divine love. Only in the latter do we have contact with the Absolute. Even Taoism, of all traditions the most excited about energy work, acknowledged a distinction between natural and primordial energy, between natural energy work and spiritual cultivation. The good news is that that divine energy exists as potential within each of us.  The bad news is that unless we cultivate it, we risk becoming like a gardener who weeds and fertilizes and waters but doesn’t plant anything.



What we have here is in part a challenge of worldview or cosmology. Having rejected the Western view that God is outside of nature, what we call panextheism, many people default to some form of pantheism- God is nature in one way or another. But the third alternative, the alternative pointed to by the AATs, is panentheism- God is everywhere present throughout nature, but still distinct. We, and all of nature, are made to share in the energies of the Absolute and to be transformed by them.

Divine and natural energies are thus not unrelated. But we can’t just cultivate qi and expect to find enlightenment or deification. When the energy system of the human organism allows itself to make room for the divine energies, the energy system itself transforms. Created energy finds itself, aligns with its intended function, only in contact with divine love. Hesychasm calls this the process of deification, and it profoundly transforms the whole organism. Without this, natural energy ultimately cannot overcome its own corruption.


The Magic Pill

Our culture has a particular fascination with instant results.  Because the results of energy work are so immediately apparent, it is tempting to see energy work itself as the ultimate solution.  We’d like to believe that someone can have us on the table for twenty minutes and reconnect us once and for all with the Absolute.  It would certainly be more convenient.  But unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.  Energy work can help us a great deal, make it easier to do the work, but in the end it is we who have to make room in ourselves for the Absolute to act.


Conclusion- The Path and the Goal

Energy work is a potent and, in our culture especially, indispensable aid to spiritual life. But we should not mistake this important part of the path for the goal.  To stabilise our moment-to-moment contact with the divine love, to make room for it to abide in us and transform us, is an endeavour that requires not only energy work, not only prayer and meditation, but a conscious approach to every aspect of life.