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The word “energy” has been particularly relevant this year, in ways that continue to shake me. But how to talk about energy? I had presumed it simple enough. We all think we know what it means. Because of course we do, and of course we don’t. Because “energy” means everything.

Last night, I pored over Merriam-Webster to get my head around the word. The first couple points I read said that energy is:

Dynamic quality.
The capacity of acting or being active.
A (usually positive) spiritual force.

In physics, it is stated that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. We know, though, that it can be bolstered and it can be dampened. It is a thing that can be preserved, and a thing that can be altogether wasted.

The year 2017 changed my life in many areas. I was moving over to the other side of the world and had a book tour approaching and literary and legal deadlines. Although I was excited by all of this, life got busier, quickly. As I grappled with multiplying tasks throughout the year, it occurred to me that energy is also a thing we each have only so much of.

I traveled a great deal this year, and at the risk of sounding like a person who has recently spent a lot of time in California (many lovely sun-filled months), I quickly gained a stronger understanding of energy as life force. Energy as frequency. Energy as the thing that keeps you on your feet. Energy as thought and power, positive or negative, and how, when infused with intention or feeling, energy can become creation, invention, the birth of emotion, vigor, or the catalyst for change. It is the very thing we rely on. The thing that flows through us all.

Before recently, I might have rolled my eyes (privately) when someone spoke openly about “positive vibrations” or suddenly announced that they “weren’t feeling the energy in the room.” Having been brought up a religious but less spiritual dour British northerner who prided myself on the art of “pushing forward and getting on with things,” I may have shaken my head (privately) at people who expressed themselves in this way. These days, I sage my house and meditate daily. I listen to high-vibrational gong meditations in my living room. I have become one of those people.

Energy is everything. It is the reason why the answer to “can you do this?” is a yes or a no, and it’s why no is absolutely fine and perfectly valid.

I have been saying yes my whole life to things that I didn’t really want to do, expending my energy in the extreme. Extending, stretching way beyond my wishes and capabilities, expertly ignoring my own feelings under the guise of paying my dues or keeping other people happy. Which never works.

As we get older, as “adulting” becomes more pressing, more complex, the need to be constantly likable fast diminishes. Instead, the need to get things done and to support and care for those we love overrides general people-pleasing. The year 2017 was when I first began to see my energy as precious. After more than a few occasions of bursting into tears at airports and sleeping through important life events that I had double-highlighted in my calendar, I was forced to pay close attention to the fact that energy is, in fact, not infinite. That maybe I was overwhelmed. Maybe some things had to come off the table. Perhaps it was time to end some of these draining, one-sided friendships. Perhaps the fact that someone wants to offload on you or wants to be around you all the time does not mean they place value on you and your energy.

Ditto for someone who finds you attractive.

Ditto for someone who is hiring you.

I’m excited about this new understanding. It makes it easier, I think, to prioritize healthy support systems, love, and health. To realize the worth of our life force and the importance of conserving one’s own energy and being mindful and intentional regarding the individual and collective energies of those close to us, how they might affect us, or how we might affect them.

Also, if we “don’t like the energy in the room,” the importance of leaving.