Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Discovering Energy
summer day in 1976, I was sitting in a friend's apartment in Boulder, Colorado,
where we were both assistant teaching at Naropa University, a school that
focuses on training in the
Buddhism, and contemplative psychotherapy. Naropa's founder, the Tibetan
meditation master Chögyam Trungpa, had written a book called
Through Spiritual Materialism,
I was reading. The following passage caught my eye: "In the Tantric
tradition energy is categorized in five basic qualities or Buddha Families:
Vajra, Ratna, Padma, Karma and Buddha. Each Buddha family has an emotion
associated with it which is transmuted into a particular 'wisdom' or aspect of
the awakened state of mind. The Buddha families are also associated with
colors, elements, landscapes, directions, seasons, with any aspect of the
those words aligned me with my world. It confirmed many feelings and
experiences that I had had in my life. Though I had not yet begun to practice
sitting meditation and knew almost nothing about contemplative traditions,
somehow I instinctively knew about the energies of which he wrote.
immediate connection came from my life as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher.
I was passionately interested in examining the dynamic qualities of expressive
movement. For example, I had choreographed a piece about animals called
"In Wildness," which explored how a prairie dog moves in contrast to
a deer, how the energy of a flock of birds contrasts with the feeling of a lion
coming in for the kill. In other dances I explored human emotions—the heat of
love, the strength of anger, the stiffness of pride, the sparkle of joy.
Chögyam Trungpa's words that day changed my life. It led me to a
contemplative tradition with an understanding of energy at its core that
acknowledged the inherent sanity and richness of my art discipline—and
life—while allowing me to step onto a meditative path. For the next few years,
the five Buddha families increasingly became part of my dance work. As they
did, my awareness of these energies began to color my perspective in other
aspects of my life, particularly my relationships with people. Why was it that
one man brought out my intellectual curiosity and another my physical desire?
Why did I feel at ease with one person and anxious with another? Why would I
feel powerful in one situation but inhibited and frustrated in another? What
was the energetic relationship between myself, these people, and these
years later I was able to begin working with the practice associated with the
five energies—that of taking postures in colored environments to heighten
their qualities. (See appendix B, "Maitri Programs.") At that time I
staffed a three-month program in which people practiced like this in depth.
Meanwhile, I had become the director of undergraduate dance and dance therapy
at Naropa. I was seeing dance students become extremely self-conscious about
their creative work when they began to practice meditation. It dawned on me
that to hear the message "Be who you are," which the five wisdom
energies work had brought home for me, might also be helpful for them.
Gradually I introduced energies work into the dance curriculum.
I realized that I had become more interested in my students as people than as
artists, I took a degree in contemplative psychotherapy and worked as a
therapist. As my work with the five energies evolved, I became more interested
in group dynamics and moved into organizational development work and education.
Today I train, consult, facilitate, and coach with the five energies work for
health professionals, leaders in organizations, educators in schools, artists,
and private clients. In writing this book, I drew from the teachings of
Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and from my own experience and
understanding, which is reflected in the examples, images, and exercises.
Five Wisdom Energies
five wisdom energies pervade our very being, our interactions with others, and
every aspect of the phenomenal world. They manifest in posture, emotional
tones, and personality types as well as in landscapes, seasons, and
environments. Each energy style expresses itself in some personality traits
that we commonly classify as dysfunctional or neurotic and in some that we
consider constructive or wise. Both troublesome emotions and pleasant ones
arise out of this energetic matrix.
energies are easily identified by their colors, which hold the essence of their
qualities. Just as light radiates, so does energy. The color of energy is like
colored light. The following descriptions of the five energy families capture
their colors as well as both their wisdom and their confusion:
a blue energy like a crystal-clear mirror. Vajra energy reflects what it sees
without bias; this is its wisdom quality. It also has a self-righteousness that
can harden into cold or hot anger; that is its confused quality.
a rich and earthy golden yellow energy that encompasses everything. The wisdom
quality of ratna energy is richness, equanimity, and satisfaction. But it can
also turn into greedy territoriality and puffed-up pride, which is its neurotic
with the vitality of red energy. Padma energy's passion is, at its best,
compassionate wisdom. At its neurotic worst, it manifests as grasping. In its
wisdom it is finely tuned in to what is happening, discriminating experience
without bias. However, when it is neurotic, it can cling obsessively to what
a green energy, swift and energetic like the wind. Karma energy is
all-accomplishing action for the benefit of others; this is its wisdom quality.
It can also become power-hungry, manipulative, competitive, and envious; that
is its confused quality.
radiates a white energy, spacious and peaceful. Buddha energy is an
all-pervasive, peaceful space; this is its wisdom quality. It can also be
solidly immobile with the density of ignoring or denying; that is its confused
five energies work we often talk as if people were one type or another. Thus I
refer to "vajra people" and "padma people." However,
although certain individuals may manifest a particular family vividly, it is
probably more accurate to say that Rebecca displays a lot of vajra energy than
to say that she's a vajra person. Although someone's style of behavior might
display one particular energy clearly, the
energies are always at play. It takes awareness, time, and practice to really
understand the full range of energies within ourselves. We are all very colorful.
in any good novel, the people and their circumstances in this book are
fictitious. Their stories are based on what I have observed, and sometimes I
have simplified them to make a point.
A Practice for Westerners
the early 1970s Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche introduced a way of approaching
the five wisdom energies, traditionally known as the five Buddha families, that
made them accessible to non-Buddhists. His great friend and spiritual colleague
Zen teacher Shunryo Suzuki Roshi was involved with the initial idea. The two of
them observed that some people, especially those who were emotionally disturbed
or confused, found traditional Buddhist sitting meditation difficult. They
thought of creating a community where such people could live together and
practice. The question was, what practice would they do? Unfortunately Suzuki
Roshi died before the seeds of their discussion could bear fruit. But something
was soon to happen to Trungpa Rinpoche that gave him an idea for putting their
original inspiration into practice.
teaching a residential program in a hotel, Trungpa attended a party one night
in someone's room. One person was creating a scene—singing and dancing, trying
to get everyone else to join in. As the energy became more and more intense,
Rinpoche felt the room becoming claustrophobic. Suddenly he realized that, in
fact, they were in a box—four walls, ceiling, floor—and that the box was
becoming colored by a particular energy. It reminded him of a traditional
Tibetan Buddhist retreat practice using a small room in total darkness.
after that evening Rinpoche started drawing diagrams of rooms. Eventually he
designed five rooms, each with its own color and window shape. In each room the
student would lie in a specific posture. The combination of space, color, and
posture evoked and intensified one of the five basic energy patterns. The
process of taking a specific posture in a specific room would allow the student
to work through that particular neurosis and find the wisdom and sanity
inherent in that energy.
Maitri Space Awareness
for short—was born. The word
Sanskrit means openness and friendliness. Space refers to the total
environment—not just of the room but also of the world at large. Space is the
totality of experience. It includes everything in our sphere: what we think,
see, feel, hear, touch. Awareness is our attentiveness to what is happening in
was part of Trungpa Rinpoche's genius to present esoteric tantric teachings in
an immediate and direct way that was accessible to anyone. With Maitri Space
Awareness practice, anyone can experience and transform the energies of the
five Buddha families. So although this practice is presented as a contemplative
discipline, it is not presented in a traditional Buddhist format. (For further
information see appendix B, "Maitri Programs," and appendix C,
"Places to Practice Meditation and Maitri.")
we begin to become aware of the energies, we see how our patterns of behavior,
emotions, intellect, and temperament correspond to one or more of the five
families. This awareness can become the foundation for developing a practical
way of working with ourselves, others, and the phenomenal world. It's not that
we'll filter every minute of our day through the perspective of the five
colors. However, we will find that some situations become clear and workable
only when we connect to their energetic dynamic.
children, Julian and Chandra, have been brought up on the five wisdom energies.
As a result they better understand many aspects of their lives: their own
style, their relationships with others, where they feel at home. They talk
about the energies of their friends, teachers, and work colleagues. They also
enjoy observing people's styles in movies and books. They are attuned to
environments and how they react to them: earthy, more ratna Chandra loves to
live in the country and care for animals; fun-loving, speedy padma/karma Julian
loves cities. His padma passion dramas over the years have given us occasion
for many a conversation about the energetic patterns of relationships.
importance of developing a sense of loving-kindness—maitri—toward ourselves
plays a big part in working with the five wisdom energies. It is a universal
truth that we all want to love and be loved. Yet what we often miss in
desperately seeking love from others or loving blindly without reserve is that
what we most need is to love ourselves. It is only when we love ourselves that
we can love others; it is through loving ourselves that we become lovable. No
matter how many times we hear it or from whom, this message is all too easy to
ourselves has to do with accepting, relaxing, opening, and feeling warmth. Even
as I write and remember this, I feel the tension in my body unwinding; I feel
gentler toward myself. As I open to myself, I feel gentler toward others as
well. The space provided by relaxing my body allows me to open to my sense
perceptions. Looking out my window, I see that it is a beautiful day; I almost
missed it. Gentleness toward myself feels peaceful. I notice that I breathe
more deeply and easily. I am no longer struggling against myself or what's
around me. I feel comforted by the openness of my own heart. This nourishment
is coming from within. This is maitri.
with maitri in the context of the five energies is a way of tuning in to the
energetic quality of life. When we experience loving-kindness, we allow
ourselves to feel the energies without holding back; we have the potential to
be brilliantly sane. With maitri we see that we and the world are fundamentally
good. Maitri allows us to make friends with ourselves and our world.
energies work is based on the premise that fundamentally we are good, sane,
intelligent people. When we experience a sense of well-being, we know that,
however bad we sometimes feel about ourselves, our sanity is intrinsic,
fundamental. We discover that we accept more fully who we are and engage
genuinely with every aspect of our lives. The unconditional friendliness of
maitri is the key to the most powerful aspect of working with the five
energies: transforming neurosis into wisdom.
a frequent flier, I never cease to be amazed that up there, above the clouds,
the sun is always shining—twenty-four hours a day. Too often we forget this,
see only the clouds, and become convinced that they are real. We make the
clouds solid and identify with them. However, with maitri we can begin to see
the clouds as transparent and illusory. In fact, we can fly right through them,
though the ride might get a little bumpy. When we identity with the sun, we are
touching our intrinsic sanity. It is characterized by openness, clarity, and
what the five energies are is only the beginning. To experience their
transformative power, you need to tune in to them daily, refining your
sensitivity and understanding. Direct experience speaks louder than words. So,
please, jump in. This book requires your input, your engagement. Working with
the five wisdom energies is not academic; it's experiential. The approaches
offered here are intended to guide your experience, drawing it out as well as
elucidating it. They encompass three stages: learning, contemplating, and
embodying. In the learning stage, the five energies and ideas around them
remain somewhat conceptual. In the contemplating stage, you start to feel
affinity with the energies as part of who you are and spontaneously use them as
a reference point. At the embodying stage, they become both psychologically and
physically integrated, and there is no separation between what you understand
intellectually and how you live.