Our energy cannot be measured in units like blood pressure or iron levels in blood. It is more of a personal feeling. If the doctor asks, ‘How do you rate your energy’, how do you answer that? 

A friend suggested that human energy ‘comes in spoonfuls, consumed during the day’. As you get older, you don’t have as many spoonfuls. It follows that you tire more as the day goes on. I can relate to this idea, as I feel motivated to write in the morning and rest in the afternoon and evening. But spoonfuls? Isn’t there a better way to measure energy, something that’s complicated and slippery to define?

Some people can’t find the energy to get out of bed. This can be mixed up with mental health issues. In some cases, a lack of energy can be medically linked, for example, to an underactive thyroid. 

It’s a pity to miss a treatable condition, but for the vast majority, when the tests come back normal, the patient might be told, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you’ or ‘It’s all in your head.’ 

In everyday life, as most of us realise, some days are better than others. But some strong-willed people seem to have boundless energy as they gallop through life. My father, a pioneering neurosurgeon was always busy, even in retirement. But in the last couple of years, before dying at age 96, he became increasingly bedbound, so I plucked up the courage and asked him how he felt. 

His honest vulnerability astonished me. ‘It’s not the fear of death, the limited mobility or even the pain that gets me down. It’s the absolute lack of energy that’s the worst thing’. So it’s back to square one. Human energy is real, more of an issue when lacking. What is energy, and where does it come from? 

 It cannot be measured scientifically, but the boundless spring of energy is more a province of youth.

As recently as 100 years ago, life expectancy was half what it is now. Hooray for vaccines, some of which spared us from fear of TB, smallpox, tetanus, measles, polio and diphtheria, allowing more of us to experience our natural lifespan. 

A new word, healthspan, addresses not just how long you live but the quality of life in those later years. Awareness of personal energy is pivotal to that sense of well-being. 

‘My life is measured out in coffee spoons,’ wrote TS Eliot in his later years, adding that “this is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” Eliot was pessimistic, but modern Westerners have access to ancient wisdom for a better healthspan. For instance, we have appropriated yoga (meaning union) from the Indian tradition and Qi-gong from old China (energy work). 

Still short of 96 runs, but following my father’s warning, I believe that energy work for gathering extra spoonfuls is worthwhile in later years. Is it scientific? The old masters show these methods in practical action. Cultural practices vary, but all share the same fundamentals of breathing, posture, and movement. 

When a Qi-Gong master was asked what is the best practice, he replied, ‘there is no good practice or bad practice, just practice or no practice’.  

In the movement and music at an Aboriginal Corroboree, I felt aware of those same connecting filaments of being human. It struck me that ancient as the cultures of India and China may be, the traditional Australian culture is older than both of them added together – by a long shot. 

I say Vote Yes. 

Dr David Miller

(Retired GP)

Brunswick Heads

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.