Power is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture. In ancient times people knew that power was in the thunder and the lightning, in earthquakes that move us to the core, in the setting sun and in the beauty of animals. When power presented itself it was often an opportunity for awe or ceremony. In the natural world power is not personal, it just is, and we must align with it to maintain our balance.
Most of us have faced trauma and shock through human mis-uses of power we call having power over… Because of association with abuse, we spend our entire lives avoiding the feelings of power. As a result of this dis-owned power, when bullies and tyrants present themselves in the world or in our lives, we are once again shocked and diminish our own power. This diminishment of our power is a creative adjustment to communicate to the other to back off, go gentle, but its impact is not that. It takes the willingness to shine to communicate a request for respect.
Turning on our own power is best expressed by an old teacher of mine who claimed he overcame many obstacles in his life through recalling the words his mother always said to him: Let it shine. A first nations elder once demonstrated to me power by taking me in a darkened room and switching on the light. Power on he said. Then he turned the light down and said: Power off. For many of us, in fear of abusing others, our inner light is dimmed or off. We have most power when we are children — it is then we naturally shine, just being ourselves, until a part of our shining leads to loss of love, victimization, or criticism and judgment. The light of that part is extinguished or diminished so that we are able to belong. The Hopi have an ancient philosophy called the “one to the many” which says that only through the unique shining of each new baby born will society evolve and grow. The potential within each child’s life and its impact on the world came in with that shining, although few of us have been lucky enough to make our shining into our life paths.
I tell my students that charisma is a measure of our ability to tolerate being seen and looked at. You can do a charisma measure of yourself by wondering if you are being looked at and see if you can breathe it in. At the GIT students in Year 3 sit on a chair in the front of the room while the whole class looks at them with curiousity and absorption, and they work at reducing their protective tension, work on their breathing, to allow the experience to be felt. After they master this they can sit in their own seat in a large group and each one feel the same. In this way each of us is leading through our natural self.
Without a sense of being empowered, which means knowing we make a difference just by being in the space, we turn our power against ourselves. We call this form of power control. Control is a fear of the unknown, a mistrust of our own ability to meet anything that comes to us in our own life and make use of each new situation as a next step into our own future. Having Control is an illusion. Just assess the difficult times in our lives to see we have never been able to control any other human being or situation, but were able to control one aspect of life – our own emotions. To this end we have abused our own body-self, holding back tears, holding breath, tightening our neck, our muscles, freezing our legs – legacies of the days we thought to protect ourselves from the control of others by stopping our own freedom. Why do we still feel loss of control more than any other experience?
Fear of weakness and surrender dominate our culture. These are aspects that are culturally associated with the feminine which has no power, and are laid at the doorstep of every inability to acknowledge mistakes, to feel responsible for harm, to admit when our resources have run out. We may know that in one of our most powerful experiences we call intimacy, yielding is the greatest power. In grief it is the healing agent. The dance of yielding and dominating is a beautiful dance of life when we are co-equals, in which each is nourished. Yet the greatest harm is done to self and others when we are unable to yield with power.
Many of us who have been bullied have given up our birthright to take space. We have not received the reassurance that the world is large enough for both you and I to take our own space. We have not received the training to know when my space is ready and open for you and when yours is with me. Finding space enough to be ourselves is negotiated with others. When we believe there will not be enough time and space we rush and push ourselves through – this is when the victim becomes the unawares bully. Our need to be seen and heard requires a supportive space. We may need to start by returning to nature, going outside in a thunderstorm and thundering our voice.
If we practice my old teachers Let it shine, we may create a more spacious world for the variety of human life in it.