How Do You Understand Power?

One of my core teachings is that power is the fundamental ingredient of the human experience. That's a profound mystical truth.

We could use the chakra system as a map, for example, and begin with how power is introduced into our lives in its most base form - the huge, physical dynamics of life itself. We have the big, the loud, the obviously powerful forms of military might and destruction as well as construction and so forth.

Here we encounter the power of nature, from the force of earthquakes and storms to the incomparable beauty of rainbows and sunsets. All of this type of power has this subtle question or challenge woven into it: How will I survive in a world that seems so vast and powerful?

As we ascend the chakra ladder, power transitions to different expressions. Stuff becomes power. The capacity to acquire seems to go along with safety, and to a great extent there is truth to that. We do need to acquire food, shelter, clothing, and resources.

We are not outdoor plants, after all. Having just visited Assisi, Italy, I was reminded of the extraordinary life of Francis of Assisi who, in beginning his remarkable ministry devoted to living as Jesus did, stripped off his clothing in front of his father in public in order to make the point that nothing worldly - including his family - had authority over him any more. He would rely only upon the benevolence of the Divine. And he did.

Francis and his followers, along with so many other renowned mystics, I would remind all of us, did not have families or mortgages and the like and they lived at a time when mystical dramas were somehow supported by the celestial realm in ways that our imagination can no longer comprehend. Yet the thread that continues from their era into ours is a push-pull between being owned by the stuff of the physical world - burdened by it - and free of needing it so much. Or feeling possessed by the fear that we need stuff in order to feel safe in the world. And that fear is a possession. Having wealth is not a problem; being possessed by the fear that without wealth you are nothing, is the problem.

"Having wealth is not a problem; being possessed by the fear that without wealth you are nothing, is the problem."

Our identification with power takes a turn as we ascend the chakras, from overtly physical to the far more subtle realms of how we interact in relationships. The power of symbolic language rises in the psyche and amazingly, so many people take little notice of the fact that the symbolic domain is the real battlefield of life.

Buddha noted with great brilliance that the physical realm was all an illusion - a truth that becomes strikingly clear the instant a person recognizes the authority of symbolic language and the symbolic meaning we give to objects, relationships, and goals that otherwise would have no meaning whatsoever.

As an example, let me suggest you offer to help someone clean out a basement full of his or her "stuff". I've done this and people have helped me as well. From your perspective, their stuff looks like, well, stuff even junk. You could strike a match to all of it and walk away. It has no meaning for you whatsoever, unless of course your friend happens to be a collector of fine art. But let's say we are dealing with the average person who has boxes of dusty personal history stored in the basement.

As you both review the items, you objectively see old books or old clothing. They see memories - and then they see the items. First, we walk through our symbols, our myths, our feelings - and then we hold the physical object in our hands. This is as true for an object as small as a book as it is for an "object" as big as a marriage or as difficult to hold as a career.

Everything we have ever touched, lived, encountered, held, wanted or experienced has contained or continues to contain in some way, our life breath. Everything is nothing until we weave ourselves into it. And if it has even one thread of our breath, that object or memory still holds a fragment of our power, for we once empowered that relationship or dream in order to make it come to life. Without our life force, it could not have existed at all. Like the book of Genesis reads, we take dust and breathe life into it and we give it animation for a temporary period of time. And then it returns to dust.

This truth could take your breath away for a moment, or you could hit your inner pause button in order to give yourself time to reflect on the essential design of life. We are always struggling with power - and why is that?

Because we are constantly living in the illusion between how powerful the outside world appears and how powerless we often feel, especially when it comes to our own survival.

Life is this continual tug-of-war between events happening around us and their impact upon us. I often speak about power in workshops and how all encompassing this element of life is, in part because it's so incomprehensible. Everything is a power calculation of some sort, from what we wear to the items we own and even where we sit on airplanes and in lectures. We can't stop doing power calculations. It's instinctive because it's part of our survival mechanism. If I could offer the medical world one useful item, it would be a Power Profile, a questionnaire to answer along with all the other paperwork needed at the time of a physical.

"If I could offer the medical world one useful item, it would be a Power Profile,"

In an ideal world, patients should be asked to describe the health of their psychic field along with their body. Shifting to a Higher Perspective As consciousness ascends in our chakras, our capacity to comprehend the nature of power makes a transition into the higher realms. Power becomes animated, interior grace that illuminates your consciousness. This isn't news to any of you by now. In fact, it's old news. You've heard the words before, no doubt. I've spoken them and I've written them. And unfortunately, the written word is incapable of communicating the experience I so want to transmit to you. Yet, that doesn't stop me from trying one more time. So let me go in through this door...

I have spent almost three decades now in the company of who knows how many wonderful people at countless workshops. I've shared endless conversations and cups of coffee and meals with people all over the world, listening to the personal stories of so many lovely individuals. Each time, I truly marvel at the life journey of each person - the challenges, the talents, the accomplishments, all the many wonders that make up the gift that is one human being.

Even if I spend one minute with someone, I consider it a blessing to have met yet another human being alive right now on this Earth. I find it thrilling.

I listen most carefully when people describe their struggles - their times of disempowerment - because this is a path we all have in common. Details may change, but the path is identical. It is archetypal. I note why and how they have or are losing their power. I note what symbolically has power for them and I can easily recognize archetypal patterns in their psyche.

Then comes the tug-of-war moment when I am asked, "What should I do to heal?" Or, "What should I do to get out of this?"

I can so easily recall one gracious middle-aged man telling me about his position at work. He kept apologizing for how his boss was neglecting him, commenting that his boss was really very thoughtful, it was just that his boss was going through a difficult time and this man was the object of the stress his boss was feeling. Nevertheless, did I think he should speak to his boss? And did I think his high blood pressure was just a coincidence or related to job stress? The man was terrified and his intuition was telling him that pressure was being put on him to resign. They wanted a younger man in the position and the company did not want him to reach the age of major benefits and retirement. He did not want to face that truth directly. Few do, of course.

Powerlessness can diminish a person's health as fast as poison.

I wonder all the time what it would be like to say to someone, "Get out of there. You know what your intuition is telling you. Listen to it. Trust your gut instincts and create a next passage for yourself. Your intuition always animates at exactly the right time. Your next step in life may not look like what you are doing. In fact, it probably won't. Don't look to recreate what you have been doing. Just act on your intuitive guidance in the moment. Stay fearless."

But it's rare that I can actually offer a message like that, one that encourages a person to trust his or her inner power over the illusions of power in the external world. Those are powerful illusions. I mean, you can't exactly tell a landlord that the rent is an illusion. And feeding kids is hardly an illusion, so there is a lot to be said about being practical. On the other hand, there's even more to be said about understanding the nature of power and the fundamental difference between external power and your interior empowered self. After all, the great spiritual teachings are meant to instruct all of us through the difficulties of life.

Among the most consistent teaching common to the sacred traditions is to learn to discern illusions. Again and again, spiritual masters have offered instructions to their students to not be blinded by the belief that the outside world has more authority than the power you have within you to shift directions. First, the student must detach from the illusion and then the direction changes immediately.

Many traditions speak about undergoing initiation rituals, which, granted, are not commonplace in our everyday lives. But perhaps we should re-introduce that word in order to recognize that on rare occasions, one of our life experiences may be just that. A life crisis, a major transition, may well be a modern day initiation into a different consciousness of power. And if you had such a perspective in mind while undergoing a difficult life change, would that change the quality of choices you made? Would that not give you a sense that what you are experiencing had purpose and meaning and wasn't just a company firing you because you were too old?

Mystics were considered illuminated masters because they underwent an initiation between worlds.

The purpose of such a profound experience was to force the individual into winning that game of tug-of-war with external power. That is, the soul of the mystic was forced through rigorous circumstances to become more powerful than outside obstacles.

Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi Tree for forty days, for example, waiting for enlightenment. He was determined, so the story goes, to detach from the hold the outside world had on his body and mind. Whether it was forty days or ten is irrelevant. He won that tug-of-war.

Healing a serious illness is a tug-of-war between what science and medicine believes to be true about an illness and how empowered you believe you can become from within. That requires the capacity to detach, like Buddha, from the illusions that challenge your belief that you can heal. Getting to such a clear inner faith requires an initiation into an empowered level of consciousness. You can't read about it. You can't think your way into empowerment. You have to consciously detach from the illusions of the world that have power over you.

"You have to consciously detach from the illusions of the world that have power over you."

Your Turn:

Everyone gets into a few good tug-of-war games every day. We get into power plays, financial fears, traffic jams, or whatever. We live in a constant environment of power interplays. Let me suggest that you heighten your awareness of where, why, and how you are losing your power. I would also encourage you to connect any insight to your physical health, especially if you are actively involved with a health-related matter.

Who do you have a tug-of-war battle going on with and why?

  • Pay attention to how much power is drained from you and what your weaknesses (illusions) are. Buddha would say that it is up to you and only you to deal with your illusions. They have nothing to do with the person with whom you are doing battle. Were it not that person, it would be someone else. Losing power is losing health. Remember that.
  • Review tug-of-war power issues with your past. Just as an interesting note, people actively seeking employment should review any and all attachments to their past image of what they did, earned, titles, benefits, and all that. Such strings have to be cut in order for a new creative path to open up.
  • Review tug-of-war issues with your present relationship in order to reboot it - aka heal it - or to find a new relationship.

I will close by reminding you again that power is your fundamental ingredient. Every word your say is a power tool. Every thought, every emotion, every idea, and every decision you make (or decide not to make) is ultimately a power maneuver. A wise choice is to learn the highest order of power and detach from the authority of the lowlands.

Grace is the highest power we have available to us. Utilize the graces that run through your soul. Don't just think about them every now and again. Dwell in them. Breathe them in like air. When you are losing power to something, close your eyes and pray for the grace to retrieve your spirit from a bad decision or an external fear, or a negative power play. Don't wait for illness to wake you up. Think like a mystic out of a monastery.

"Don't wait for illness to wake you up"

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