The other day I was writing at Vesta Coffee Roasters. Two artists – perhaps performance artists or painters – were engaged in conversation at a table near me. I’ll admit it, they were cool, and I might have eavesdropped on their conversation about the Las Vegas arts scene, imagining we were all best friends.
The more coffee they drank, the grander the vision they created together. Las Vegas has a unique perspective in the world, they said. Paris, New York, L.A and us. We are an international, urban hub, they said. There are so many artists living here and doing great work. It’s happening. It’s building, they said.
Eventually it was as though there were three people at the table – the two artists and the picture they painted together.
I was captivated by their shared imagination because not everyone can do that. Not everyone can riff off each other and sling ideas like jazz musicians improvising music.
But the other cool thing was the energy dynamic between them. It was like they were volleying ideas back and forth with intensity and energy.
Which leads me to the subject of this post: Energy. My coffee shop story is a long, wind-up introduction to the idea of the energy we embody, the energy we create with others, and the energy we cultivate in our environments.
Energy isn’t something that we consciously notice or speak about very often. In fact, it sounds pretty woo-woo to lots of people because it’s not a thing that can be calibrated and measured. (I mean, why not toss in crystals and astrology, too, because that’s where it feels like we’re headed?!)
So, what, exactly, are we talking about? Hang with it. It’s super cool.
Energy is the way we show up in the world. A person’s energy is a secret sauce made up of past experiences, mindsets, values and beliefs, culture, and a bunch of other stuff tossed in like spices. Some people might say “energy” is a person’s “essence,” though I think generally we define essence as intrinsic to a person, whereas energy is in flux. It can shift and change.
There’s value in learning how to tune into, or read, energy, but not very many of us are taught how. And yet learning to read it is an important step into figuring out how to shape it.
An easy way to begin the discovery is by thinking about different sports. You don’t have to know much about them to get it, either – just the basics.
For example, think about the energy of a basketball team. The court is small and the game is fast. You can feel each player is highly collaborative and hyper present. It’s almost like the team functions as a single organism gliding back and forth across the court.
In contrast, think about a marathon runner who must take a deep dive into the solo zone to stay focused for hours. To me, it’s as if distance runners slip into an outer-body experience. Finally, imagine tango dancers, responsive in muscle and mind to their partner’s moves and the music. It’s like they are capable of responding to ambiant direction with their entire being.
Three very different kinds of energy – highly collaborative, solo, and partnered. From these examples, you can start to get the sense of how it works.
But not all energy has to be athletic or effervescent to be powerful. Some energy is like a coiled slinky – focused and intentional.
We can even bring energy to disappointment, loss, or struggle. It’s he way we maintain a mindset of hope or endurance in the face of struggle. Accepting what you feel, or what someone else feels, rather than feebly attempting to transform or deny it is energy of a person who embodies a safety and wholeness.
You picking it up?
Here’s some other examples of how energy shows up between people:
Imagine a classroom before class begins. The kids are messing around, talking and laughing, and then the teacher walks in. You can actually see the energy organize from free-flowing to focused.
You’re in the doctor’s office with a sinus infection. The doctor says, “You must feel pretty bad. I’ll write you a prescription.” Suddenly, the pain and exhaustion lift a little, even though you don’t have medicine yet.
You come home from a bad day at work. All you want is a hug and a yummy dinner. Instead, you walk in the door and your significant other confronts you with late fees on the credit card bill: “You forgot to pay this last month.” Your energy closes down and turns inward.
In a coaching relationship, you begin to pay closer attention to your own energy, understanding what it’s telling you about your path or deepest desires.
But it takes practice to improve your intuition and skill at understanding it. But you can get better with practice. A great way to begin is with observation exercises. I like to do it at a coffee shop, or someplace where lots of new people come in, engage and interact, and where you can people watch without seeming like too much of a weirdo.
Here’s the exercise: Spend some time noticing the energy of the strangers around you. Use your whole self to read it – like the tango dancer. What do the people embody? How are they interacting with each other? What are they creating between them?
Here’s a tip. Reading energy isn’t about getting the narrative right. It’s not mind-reading or fortune telling. So, for example, you might intuit that someone’s energy is high or low, focused on a problem or carefree, etc., but you won’t know why, and you don’t have to be right, either. It’s about hunches.
Great things can happen when you begin to understand the flow of energy. It can improve your communication and relationships. You become a more intuitive leader, parent, or partner. And you can begin to make clearer, more confident decisions for your life.
I’m Stephanie. I’m a writer, coach, and facilitator. I work with individuals, teams and leaders in creative, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit fields to improve communication, find a true purpose, and deepen connection and meaning. If you enjoyed this post, share it with a friend! And I’d love it if you would subscribe to my email list, below.