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The Fire and the Pool: Finding Your Energy Source
by Bret Lyon, PhD

Imagine you are lost in the forest in the middle of winter. There is snow on the ground and it's getting dark. The cold starts to sap all your strength. With trembling hands and using all your energy, you manage to make a small fire and huddle before it. As you sit there, barely keeping from freezing, you notice something not too far away. Like a light wisp of steam. With trepidation, you build the fire up a little — hoping it will still be going to guide you back — and head towards what looks like steam. It is dark now and you have to move carefully. Trees and bushes keep you from following a straight path. And there is the snow. Fortunately, it's not too deep.

Suddenly, you feel a trace of warmth in the air. You move more quickly now. There is something. And there it is. Steam rising from a thermal pool. Your whole body shudders with relief.

Connecting with Source

It may seem very unlikely, stumbling on a thermal pool in the midst of a forest while in dire need of heat. But actually the thermal pool is inside of each of us. It is the energy center of our body, called the dan tien or the hara, the center of chi. It exists within the body and it can be found by tuning into the sensations in the body. And just as an actual thermal pool is connected through vents in the earth to the source of heat in the center of the earth — and to all the other thermal pools that ultimately draw their heat from that center, so our source within is connected to the ultimate source and to all of life.

Though it is within us, sometimes our thermal pool seems very far away. In fact, our society actually seems determined to convince us that it isn't there at all, that it is only by doing — striving, achieving, accomplishing, keeping busy — that we survive. But we are human beings, not human doings. Our task in life is first to be. When we do, we discharge energy. When we do and do and do, without connection with our source, we eventually have no energy left. The process of Being restores our energy, just like that thermal pool keeps us warm.

Building a fire is survival. It takes a lot of doing. It is a particularly human accomplishment — and an incredibly valuable one. Finding a pool is a miracle, a gift. It is also our birthright. Most of us are incredibly busy trying to stay warm when we have this tremendous source of warmth inside us. If we find a thermal pool, we don't have to do anymore. Survival is no longer an issue. We can just be. Some people might be so nervous and preoccupied with survival and building the fire that they never look up and see the steam. Some might not believe what they see, or not want to take the risk of leaving the fire. But for those who locate the thermal pool, life suddenly gets much easier. (Self-Improvement can be like that: we can busy ourselves frantically building the fire and trying to keep it going, or we can find the thermal pool.)

Aligning Ourselves to Surrender to Energy Flow

Once we are by the pool, our needs change. Survival is no longer the issue. We can relax. For many people, this is difficult. Society has geared us to survive in the freezing cold, not enjoy ourselves by the pool. When we are by the pool, we begin a very different type of journey from the outer journey we were on initially. This journey is a journey of allowing and acceptance, rather than one of striving and accomplishments. It is not being simply passive, however. We have to intend to work with the heat instead of fight against it — to let ourselves go where it is leading us. It is a journey of allowing ourselves to expand and soften with the heat. We can feel ourselves getting bigger, seeing a bigger picture. We feel our muscles soften and our set beliefs, thoughts and attitudes let go as the heat penetrates all through us. This journey also can be difficult, it also has its dangers. We need to surrender to the energy and let it flow through us, let it move us and shape us. Many who thrive on the outer journey and face it bravely, may find themselves feeling daunted by following this new path. There seems nothing to hold onto. In fact, holding on just gets in the way. The more we do, the less we allow the flow.

Venturing into the journey of being, our purpose now can change, from merely keeping ourselves alive to getting the most possible joy and expansion out of life. Not only can the practice of opening and relaxing let us take in all the pleasure we can get from this warm, wonderful heat, it can also rejuvenate us, giving us the resources to meet the next challenge, when it comes. We can call this "resourcing." The pool becomes a resource, helping us store up energy for the rest of our trip.

Maintaining Our Connection

When morning comes, it may be time to leave the pool and go on with our journey — refreshed and rejeuvenated. (Some might argue that we don't need to leave the pool at all. I believe that we need both: the accomplishment of building a fire and the pleasure of sitting by the pool.) Yet even here there is a danger. Even though the pool is inside of us and we carry it with us, we can too easily lose touch with it when faced with difficulty and struggle. In the cold light of day, the time by the pool may begin to seem like a hallucination, a fantasy. "I must have been delirious." Or even if we do remember, the pleasure of the pool may become a distant memory. We may think it was only important at that moment, not realizing how much value we would get by experiencing the pool on a regular basis. Finally, we may remember the pool, realize how valuable it was, and still not be able to find our way back. After we've stumbled around the woods for a while, looking for the pool, we may give up, doubting that we can ever find it again.

There is a process, however, a very simple, natural process which can consistently lead us to the pool of energy, help us get maximal benefit from it, and then lead us back to it again and again. That process is full, free breathing.

Remembering to Breathe, Breathing to Remember

Breathing is our birthright. Babies breathe fully and freely. They don't work at it or think about it, they just do it. And breathing connects us with all living beings. Breathing is a quality of all animate life — indeed the word "animate" means "with breath." Breathing also connects with the entire universe — each inhale is a taking in or receiving, each exhale a giving out. When we breathe fully and freely, we make a connection with the thermal pool deep in our center. We are aligned with what's inside us. The energy which fills us is natural, effortless.

The process of being by the pool has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is finding the pool and settling into the right spot. The middle is relaxing enough to let the heat (energy) from the pool build and flow through our body. And the end is knowing when it is time to move away — either to take a greater distance or to leave the pool for now. At different times, we may experience different temperatures. Sometimes the experience will be one of complete joy and pleasure. Other times, there may be more heat, and we may find our course more difficult. But each time we come away rejeuvenated, with new energy.

And the process is musical. There is a rhythm to it — a build, a cresting, a rest, another build, another rest — until the process is complete and the person has taken in and moved with all the energy he can assimilate for now. The person is relaxed, expanded — and softer, more flexible. He or she may be energized or drowsy — or both at the same time.

The more we experience the pool, the easier it becomes to access it with regularity. We begin to take it with us. We learn to stay in contact with it even as we are engaged in surviving, achieving and accomplishing. We begin to live with a sense of flow, pleasure and well-being — until even in the darkest times, we sense the light. And even in the cold, we sense the heat of our own wondrous, inner pool of life energy.

My Role as Guide

I have spent many years helping people breathe more fully. I have read much about this and even written a book, but there is something in me that still doesn't understand how such a simple process produces such powerful changes. Yesterday, a student asked me the same question. Coming up with the metaphor of the fire and the pool actually helps me explain it to myself — and perhaps to others. I help people to find the pool — and then keep them in the best spot to get optimum heat. As they feel the heat (energy) I give them room to find the best way to let it flow through their body — so they can fully receive the gift that is being given. I point out to them, with gentle touch and gentle words when they are allowing the heat to flow through and when they could allow even more. I help them to stay in their body where the flow actually takes place and to stay with the bodily sensations involved. I stay with them so that they don't get too much heat. And I help them find their way back to the pool, time after time.

I am always struck by how effortless and pleasurable my work is. Sometimes I feel guilty that I get paid for it. Now I realize that is because the pool does the work of giving, the student does the work of receiving. I merely serve as a guide, providing reassurance and direction — and company. I track them closely, as a loving companion — walking the path with them, just a little bit behind. I stay with them every moment, mesmerized by the heat and the musical rhythms of the process. I watch the energy flow and help them move it through any blocked places. And when they receive and bathe and open in the heat of the pool, so do I.


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