There is one essential limiting factor in the practice of self-awareness: the amount of energy at one’s disposal to practice witnessing. We can supply only as much free energy for an intended purpose as we have in our possession.
The energy that comes from food, breathing, and new experiences is spent partly on autoregulatory body functions (heartbeat, digestion, etc.), while the excess is used at our discretion. We spend the latter carelessly, like children. It leaks off through unconscious tension in the body, outbursts of negative and positive emotions, and generation of desires followed shortly by worries about them. Thus, each of the lower bodies requires energy to function. Further, when we are not preoccupied by life’s problems and don’t have many issues to cope with, we invest all of the free energy we have into avid pleasure seeking.
Having pleasure entails spending energy, but this process is not unambiguously bad, as pro-austerity advocates argue. Drinking alcoholic beverages, dancing till you drop, having sex, identifying with movie characters, getting together with friends, playing soccer, going to a restaurant... All of these activities give us new impressions—albeit not always the ones we need—in exchange for our energy. We need fresh impressions as much as we need fresh bread, but the mind, equipped with its habits’ power, reduces our pursuit of pleasure to a mechanical and useless action. As a result, the impressions that we obtain turn stale and cease to satiate us. Things that once were enjoyable become something similar to wistfulness, yet the mind goes on trying to reproduce the original experience and pushes us down the well-worn path again and again.
Hence, all of the energy not yet consumed by worries and fixing critical life problems is flushed down the channel that feeds our customary pleasures.
Cultivating self-awareness requires making efforts to redirect our energy flow. If we are interested in expanding the field of our awareness to include the physical body, emotions, and the mind, the best time to start is the morning hours right after we wake up, when our energy is still vibrant and abundant.
If you are up for the challenge, as soon as you roll out of bed, observe the things you are doing, together with any mental and emotional events that arise in the meantime. Whether you are washing your face, brushing your teeth, or having breakfast—your routine is escorted by a stream of thoughts and feelings, such as ‘That’s fun’, ‘I don’t like it’, or ‘I don’t care’. Your task is not to “fall asleep”, i.e., not to identify with your thoughts and sensations and forget about the observation. This task will be a real challenge if you have no prior experience with passive practices. Still, even if you do, remaining in awareness is no easy thing. Any stimulus from outside can distract you, so that you revert to daydreaming and lose awareness.
Either way, as soon as you begin to run short on energy, you will become distracted and fall into identification. You will spend the rest of your day as you always do—by being absent in the actions and decisions that you make. The energy will flow into familiar channels of unconscious suffering and pleasure-seeking, and then tomorrow, you can start all over again.