Directing Your Energy

“For people who do not know where they want to go, there is no favorable wind”.
– Seneca quote

Last month I had the pleasure of mentoring some new interior design students who were eager to take away (in a few hours!) any and all information, advice and warnings that might help them in their future careers. I knew that some pearls of wisdom would take years, maybe even decades, of experience, success and failure to understand – they did for me. But there are times when something is made so crystal clear it shortcuts right to the point.


I recently came across the following quote by the poet Marianne Moore that provides one of those shortcuts to understanding some common, and complex, human behavior:

“Excess is the common substitute for energy”

Ding, ding, ding!! This is one of those simple, succinct observations that cuts to such truth that it doesn’t take decades to decode. In seven little words, it reflects back to us how we circumvent our energy from things that need our attention and time to energy zapping things that don’t. Have you ever eaten as a form of distraction from sadness or stress? Taken on an irrelevant small task when a larger one was looming? Checked emails when a project deadline neared? Put more on your “to do” list to avoid the fear of boredom? Most of us have used these tactics from time to time when the job at hand seemed daunting. But too much substituting or redirecting of energy can leave us buried under the excess of our own avoidance.

The word energy is one that we see everywhere, from sports drinks to vitamin pills. But the context, as it’s used in Ms. Moore’s quote, may not be fully understood. To me, the concept of energy is equal to the concept of power. Not the destructive, subjugating kind of power wielded by megalomaniacs, but the internal power we have to manifest who and what surrounds us. Understanding this energy, that we and every other living and non-living thing possess, is indeed one of those crystal clear shortcuts that makes attaining a beautiful, balanced life possible. Simply said, it is what drives our life force.

Like a car that needs a driver to get anywhere, energy too needs our input to direct it. The unbridled, unfocused releasing of our precious energy can leave us in a virtual ditch – exhausted and surrounded by situations, people and things that get us nowhere. This also happens when we focus on satisfying our artificial needs and not our authentic ones. Indeed, we can wind up with an excess of stuff, drama, frustration and suffering if our energies are not directed with mindful intent.

In the home, I see this misdirection appear in the way of poor layout, clutter, disorganization and disconnection between home and occupant. Often, the concentration, time and finances needed to really dig in and address fixing underlying core problems is diverted to the purchase of meaningless bric-a-brac and décor, which usually compounds or amplifies a problem rather than solves it. I’m reminded of a woman who contacted me years ago to redecorate her first floor. It was evident when I arrived that the clutter would need to be addressed before anything could be done. I told her I’d be back in 3 weeks, a timeframe she decided was enough to get things in order. When I returned I was saddened to see the house in the same dismal state, with the exception of a cleared out kitchen pantry closet. Rather than direct her energy toward the big issues that needed her attention, focus and decision-making, she chose to direct her energies on something that had no impact on making a change. Sadly, I could be of no help.

The direction of our individual energy, or life force, is something that we have control over. Energy is needed to solve or create problems, to bring attention to a matter or stay in denial. It can propel us forward to explore new ideas or keep us stuck. How we choose to use it is up to our free will. Understanding that we have the power to direct it anywhere we want leaves us impervious to victimhood and hollows all of our excuses.

Whether in our homes or in our lives, learning to harness and set intention frees us from the burden of excess and puts us on a road that actually takes us somewhere worthwhile.