Power. It’s a challenging word that has some negative connotations for some of us, especially those in recovery or exploring a path of surrender. It’s a word that conjures thoughts of control, domination, forcefulness, or unchecked ambition. It can connote the haughtiness, greed, or aggression that many of us, especially those who are spiritually inclined, tend to avoid. But we also don’t want to “give our power away.” We feel shame over the ways we have felt powerless, and bookstores and online programs sell empowerment as the next cure-all for whatever ails us. Politically, we see power belonging to those who misuse it, and some say that if more good people felt empowered, we could truly change the status quo.
So what to do? How do we reconcile our desire for personal empowerment with so many ethical and spiritual directives towards humbleness, sacrifice, and self-deprecation? And what is power anyway?
Since I work with women’s empowerment groups and often speak with clients and students about this concept, I want to know what our perceptions of power really are. What are we really seeking? What does it look and feel like to have this power we’re not sure we should even want?
In the spirit of this exploration, here are positive ideas and around power that I have discovered. To my mind, these descriptions are completely compatible with humbleness and totally workable within a framework of conscious, evolving spirituality. Power and humbleness (or surrender) are not at odds at all.
~ Power has nothing to prove, nothing to fear, and nothing to hide. It is authentic, transparent, and self-evident, independent of anyone’s approval or permission. For this reason, power does not depend on having dominion over someone or something else. It stands on its own, helping us to be authentically ourselves.
~ Power is not a weapon. Weapons are made and used out of fear. Power sees fear simply for what it is and takes the high road instead. Power may defend herself when necessary, but avoids the fight at every opportunity.
~ Power maintains good boundaries, understanding that they are necessary containers for relationship and a way to conserve one’s energy for what matters most. Power isn’t afraid of other people’s boundaries, because they aren’t insults or threats to self-worth. Power knows that boundaries allow us to know and love each other and work together in a deeper way.
~ Because it isn’t about control, power welcomes freedom, pleasure, flexibility, spaciousness, and surprises. Power can change course when necessary.
~ Power has uninhibited fun and is completely ready to belly laugh or dance without a second thought. Power is playful and un-self-conscious.
~ Power is deciding your priorities– in life, work, and relationships– and acting accordingly. When your intentions and behaviors align, you are in your power.
~ Power is the ability to choose where you put your energy – thoughts, words, and actions – from moment to moment (perhaps towards those priorities rather than distraction, habit, or needless drama).
~ Power is accepting pain and struggle and still knowing that you will be okay no matter what. It is accepting that sometimes life is hard, and not taking that fact personally or allowing it to turn you into a victim.
~Power is the acceptance of one’s needs, desires, and limitations. Power can ask for help, guidance, and witnessing, without the need to justify or defend the request, or manipulate others’ reactions.
~ Power comes from accepting and learning from everything exactly as it is, including the bruised and ignorant parts of ourselves, including mistakes and misfires. Holding flaws and foibles with compassion rather than judgment allows for whatever growth or healing might be possible. Where fearful judgment shuns shadow, power integrates it.
~Power recognizes and celebrates the power in others, in Nature, and in one’s notion of the Divine, and desires collaboration. Because of this, relationship takes precedence over self-interest, and process over product. The dialogue here becomes, “I am in my power, and so are you, and together we can find a win-win.”
~ No one can take power from you, though they may convince you that you don’t have any of your own. We are all born with equal power, which we choose to use (or not). Our circumstances may dictate the available courses of action, but that is not a barometer of our value in the world or the degree of power we possess.
~Power is a gift that we are given, our birthright, one that is sometimes buried deeply in our psyches under layers of mixed messages, bad habits, and trauma. The process of uncovering and claiming that gift is what healing and self-development are all about.
Practicing with power can be scary. That’s why so many of us relinquish it so easily. It can be frightening to stand up for ourselves and our needs and boundaries, challenging to voice our principles or to walk away from dysfunction. Power creates change and takes us out of our comfort zone. When we accept responsibility for our choices, as any good sovereign would do, we have no one else to blame anymore.
By accepting our sovereignty, our right to our own energy, we open the door to more service, connection, and mission. In this way, embracing our power actually leads us into deeper, more humble and intimate alliance with Spirit. Empowerment lets others off the hook for creating our happiness, or our failures, which means we can have more authentic relationships.
With power, we are no longer subject to the whims of circumstance, no longer reliant on any external system of approval, because we approve of ourselves unconditionally and trust in the Love within. Power walks hand in hand with courage, authenticity, and the unique expression of who we are and how we relate to the world.
Approving of our own power, we approve of the power of others. Holding ourselves with compassion, we hold others accordingly. Claiming and practicing with our personal power, we begin to cultivate that divine gift within others, from close relations to total strangers. I can think of few spiritual endeavors more worthy than that.