In this issue ~~
One of the things we need to confront as we grow and develop ourselves and our work is an increasing sense of personal power. As we see ourselves blossoming, we begin to "feel our oats." We like who we are. We're producing work we're proud of. And yet we may feel we're treading a thin line between confidence and arrogance or conceit. The people who eagerly supported us through our tribulations may be showing ambivalence about our success. We may have mixed feelings about our newfound confidence.
It can be tempting to backslide to the less-confident person you were, but giving up your power is not the answer. We have a myth that artists and spiritual people should be poor and "humble." But power, like money, gives us the resources we need to bring our good work into the world. With power, we have the confidence and clout to let people know what we have to offer and to find those who will enjoy and benefit from our work.
We need to learn to wear our new mantle of power gracefully, with humility and love. I recently encountered a beautiful model for this in Susan Jeffers, PhD, author of the award-winning Embracing Uncertainty and the best-selling classic Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I had the pleasure of doing a workshop with Dr. Jeffers and later interviewing her for this article. I was impressed with how she owns the powerful impact of her work, and yet she's a warm and compassionate person who makes *you* feel important.
In beginning a discussion about power, we first need to define what it is. "People mistake power as when people throw their weight around," Dr. Jeffers told me. "That's not power to me. Power to me is knowing that you will handle whatever happens to you, so that you will take the risks to improve your life and to improve the world in any way you can."
It is by knowing that we make a difference that we build our power in a positive way. "I think that arrogant people really don't have the understanding that they do make a difference in the world," said Dr. Jeffers. "They are relatively insecure. I love Zig Ziglar's line, 'Every obnoxious act is a cry for help.' And I think arrogance is a cry for help. That you're not feeling secure enough in yourself, you're not understanding that you do make a difference."
Taking power at others' expense is not really power at all. When you know that your actions, positive or negative, affect people, you think twice about deliberately hurting others. In the film, Girl, Interrupted, the character Lisa does harmful things to other people to provoke a reaction from them in order to feel alive, to feel that she has some impact. But negative acts have negative consequences. When you know that you make a difference, that you can have positive impact on people, it is so much more exciting and gratifying than causing harm.
Jeffers concurs. "Oh, my gosh, yes. It brings you to tears of joy. 'My life makes a difference!' And when you see how people just ruin their lives or commit suicide or do ugly things, you know they don't know that they make a difference. . . . We come into the world totally helpless, and unless we take, we die. I think our job in life, if you want to call it that, is to become the givers, to become the adult, the true adult, and to help other people."
Jeffers feels strongly that we can give our children a sense of empowerment, not just by showering them with praise, but by giving them responsibilities that will enable them to feel good about their accomplishments and learn that they make a difference in other people's lives. Through volunteering, they see that their lives matter, rather than trying to get attention or feel a sense of power in destructive ways, such as bullying, drugs or violence.
Paradoxically, part of the process of becoming powerful is letting go of control. Jeffers explains why: "I think it's incredibly powerful to know you have no control. Because you then open your mind to a more powerful way of thinking. If you think that you can control everything, it's controlling you, because the agony that's associated with needing things to be a certain way is huge. We must do our homework. We must take the action. But then, at some point, you say, 'Okay, I've done my best, whatever happens happens.' That is so powerful.
"One of my most favorite affirmations is, 'Whatever happens, I'll handle it.' We say, 'I want this to happen,' and then add, 'or whatever is for my highest good.' And I think it's all for our highest good. That's an interesting way of looking at the world. It's all for our highest good – if (and there's the 'if') we take the responsibility for looking for the learning, for looking for the growing that can come from anything that happens in this world."
One aspect of learning and growing that is important in owning your power is moving from being the victim to taking responsibility for the choices you make. Unfortunately, we've been conditioned to associate responsibility with fault or blame. But owning your choices is very different from trying to avoid blame. It's a position of power. It's "response-ability," the ability to respond to whatever occurs in your life. If you have responsibility for your choices, you also have the power to change them. If you give away your power by blaming someone else or the circumstances, you're back in the victim role.
Jeffers had an awakening that led her from being the victim to taking responsibility for her life. "I looked into the mirror one day with my red eyes, and I said, 'Enough! There has to be a better way than this!' And that's when I started my own spiritual path." But that was only the beginning. Once she made that choice, there was still the journey of learning how to do it.
She became a "workshop addict" for many years, gathering and developing the material and tools to empower herself and later to teach to others. In her own workshops and books, Jeffers stresses the importance of having a set of tools you can call upon and the necessity of constant repetition in forming the new habits and thought patterns that will empower you.
"Because talk about having a bad habit," Jeffers adds. "I mean, negative thinking is a really bad habit, a habit that you've probably had from the minute you were born. And it's instilled in us by everything around us." The good news is, habits can be changed, using the tools and techniques that Jeffers and many others teach us.
To shift from negative to positive thinking also takes courage. We're taught to look for our faults and criticize ourselves constantly. Our society cheers the underdogs, but tries to knock them down a peg when they become successful. In order to bring our gifts to a world that very much needs them, we need to own our power and value ourselves enough to stand up to the criticism that comes our way. And we need to not take it all so seriously.
"I think once again, it's a matter of training and habit," Jeffers comments. "We are so self-critical. I could do that myself very easily. I could have gone an entire day helping people, giving to them, and I might have said one thing that I would have said differently. And I could punish myself for that, instead of saying, 'Wow, 99.99% was really okay, and I'm sure it helped people.' Instead, let's focus on that one little thing. Then, I start laughing at myself."
While most of us claim fear of failure, it is actually more frightening to face the extent of our power, talents and abilities – what many spiritual teachers call our magnificence. This is the touch of greatness that is in each one of us. We tend to play down our strengths and deny or concur shyly when someone compliments us. Perhaps we fear being rejected if our friends perceive us as being arrogant and conceited. Perhaps we feel inadequate to live up to the label.
But, Jeffers says, "Owning your magnificence is so, so important. And we get that from acting magnificently." This does not mean playing the star or pushing yourself on people. True magnificence goes hand in hand with humility. Think of someone who's a good magnificence model for you. For me, it's someone like Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama. These are people who own their power and magnificence, who act magnificently, and yet they're the most humble people you'll ever meet. Knowing your magnificence is knowing that everyone else – and I mean everyone – is also magnificent. It's not about being better than other people, but about seeing the greatness in everyone, including yourself.
Finding our way there doesn't happen overnight. It's trial and error, and we may not always do it elegantly. "Sometimes, as we're gaining our power," Jeffers explains, "we really become obnoxious. Sometimes, we see that so clearly in teenagers. In their attempt to separate from parents and to become adults, they become truly obnoxious. And hopefully, as life goes on, you learn that you really are powerful, that you have so much to give. And then, you come into the area of appropriate, which is to be loving and powerful. (By the way, I don't think that true power exists without love. If you see power without love, it's not power at all.)"
It's important to be aware that once you come into that area of appropriate, you will not stay there 100% of the time. There are times when you will slip. Even accomplished teachers like Jeffers have their days: "Nobody has it forever. I pointed that out with the line (in 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway'): 'Even the Buddhas have their days.' And I'm not a Buddha.
"We are working on a pathway toward a sense of power and love, and sometimes we go off the path. And then we say, 'Whoops, off path. Let's go back again to the path of power and love.' And that's what life is about. It's teaching us lessons. Even those who are very, very evolved and very conscious – still, they get stuck."
As an example, Jeffers told me of one of her heroes, the spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, a vigorous, active man who suffered a stroke at the age of 65. As a result, this helper became dependent on the help of others. At first, he became fearful, but eventually found his way back to his yoga and meditation practices and began to take an active part in his own healing. He survived his worst fears about getting old and continued to do his work. Despite severely impaired speech, he began teaching again and being with his students in a different way. A friend told him that the stroke has made him more human.
Jeffers continues, "So, I think even those who make their life one of increasing spirituality, something new hits, something out of the blue, and bang, the Lower Self comes in. But that's okay! As long as we understand the tools that can pull us out of that Lower Self into the best of who we are, then we are okay. It's when we don't have these tools that we become, in our own minds, the victim."
Jeffers and I heartily agree that the bottom line is to see life as a journey and an adventure. "And, by the way," she adds, "it's a wonderful journey. I've had a wonderful time along the way. . . . We can't take it all so seriously. I think this is really, really key. We have to laugh at ourselves, laugh at our predicament. Ram Dass, even with his stroke, he's laughing about it all."
In going through the process of owning and managing our power, we can support each other in remembering to use our tools to stay focused on the positive. We don't have to have all the answers; we can learn together. Jeffers concludes: "We don't know what's right. We don't know what is wrong. We don't know how the outcome will be. And there's the adventure again. Let's wonder, let's watch it all unfold. If we have friends to do this with, it's very, very powerful. . . . It's spectacular, because you have a great time along the way."
Owning your power means acknowledging your strengths and talents. List at least 10 strengths and talents that you possess. If this is uncomfortable for you, stay with the feeling and do it anyway. Review the list periodically to become more and more comfortable with it. Add to the list as you own and discover more strengths and talents.
"The difference between the way we operate in this world when we know we count and when we don't know we count is staggering."
"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
"When you become detached mentally from yourself and concentrate on helping other people with their difficulties, you will be able to cope with your own more effectively. Somehow, the act of self-giving is a personal power-releasing factor."
"If we just worry about the big picture, we are powerless. So my secret is to start right away doing whatever little work I can do. I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon. . . . That is the secret. Start right now."
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