Many of us, especially women, are very uncomfortable with power. When we think of power, it is usually other people’s power. When we think of having power, we may think it’s an unattractive or unacceptable force that we must suppress, for it isn’t what we want, and it isn’t the way we want to be in the world, bullying others to get our way. Perhaps our life experience has taught us that power is brutal and dangerous. We want to be kind and compassionate.
That’s why we practice meditation, isn’t it? We want peace, tranquility, ease and kindness. So it may be surprising to learn that in Tibetan Buddhism there are three central deities that represent the desirable qualities of wisdom, compassion and power.
Yes, power. Even if we are too afraid or self-conscious to acknowledge our power, it is there. When we don’t acknowledge the power within us, it becomes subverted, perverted and unskillful. We stuff it down in the dungeon or try to kill it off, thus forcing it to become sneaky, underhanded and manipulative. We may develop passive-aggressive tendencies to get our needs met or become depressed, depleted from all the energy we are putting into tamping down and containing our innate power.
We are all experienced observers of human nature. We see how passive people get their needs met in convoluted ways, leaving them and all around them feeling worse. Think of someone you know who seems passive, perhaps even sweet, but whose life is a misery in one form or another – a constant whirlwind of problems, a bottomless pit of complaints or a fog of fading away, dependent on others to draw them out. We can notice how their behavior rises from past wounds. Their history is always present in the room when you are with them. They feel they have no power and are victims, but in fact they have the world cowed and suffering. Everyone who comes close gets sucked into the miasma of their misery or struggles to resist it. That is certainly a kind of power, to be able to make everyone suffer! But it’s not a beneficial power, to say the least.
This kind of power is shallow-rooted, based in fear. In relationship a person operating from such a fear-based shallow-rooted place, we do well to stay grounded in our own sense of presence and compassion, noticing our own emotions that arise in their presence.
If this description sounds like you, be compassionate without enabling these shallow-rooted habituated patterns. See if you can see the truth of the behavior that I’m talking about without feeling attacked as if this is who you are. This is not who you are! But neither are you a victim. Instead you are simply unaware of who you truly are. Your highest priority – no matter what is going on in your life and how pressing it seems -- needs to be to anchor yourself into the present moment through the body so that you can safely explore the inner conversation that validates your misuse of power. Guides on your journey in the form of therapists are available when needed and there is no shame in needing their help.
All of us at times see glimpses of our power, but when its in a compressed dungeon-esque state it isn’t something we want to have anything to do with, so we add yet another lock and pretend it isn’t there, creating a deeper denser shadow. (Remember from our discussion last week that the shadow is that part of ourselves that we find unacceptable so ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist.)
We align ourselves with the softer gentler side of life, choosing to notice nature’s sweet offerings of cute puppies, babies and bowers of flowers, while avoiding nature’s offerings of fiery volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. We feel we are aligning with life with these choices, but nature shows us life in its full cycle of birth, growth, aging, death, decay and renewal. We are afraid of the power of these naturally occurring events because we see the damage -- the cities flattened, the lives lost, the pain and grief of survivors and the challenge of getting back to normal. Where is the upside in all this? We see none, so we judge nature’s power as ruthless. If we personify God, we ask why he would allow such things to happen. And when we thrill at the sight of nature’s power, it may be accompanied by a sense of guilt or shame, knowing that for someone somewhere this awesome event is causing pain. This is just something to notice: How thoughts, judgments, fears come into our experience. We might also begin to notice that these thoughts, judgments and fears arise when we feel our own power wanting to be expressed, and how our fear rises up to push down the power, denying it expression.
When we push down the power, we create a compressed, dense and toxic power that is now dangerous in a way that our natural power, our unsuppressed power, is not. ‘Evil’ is not a word I use, and it’s not a word used in the Buddhist teachings I have studied. But since evil is a concept so intrinsically a part of our western culture and world view, it needs to be addressed. This suppressed power, compressed in fear that creates this inner rotten stink that has the capacity to act in convoluted destructive ways is certainly an accurate definition of evil.
We can see that by this definition, battling against evil is simply aligning ourselves with it, as our suppressed fear-based power gets tuned in and activated by coming into contact with the fear-based eruption of toxicity from others. Throughout history we see the misery that this has caused, more than any naturally occurring show of power in nature.
So, as alien and odd-feeling as it may seem, this toxic compressed fear, this ‘evil,’ needs to be met with awareness and compassion. Only the light of awareness and compassion can safely expose and release the tight fear-based core and dissipate its dense toxicity.
The Power of the Present Moment
When we can come fully into the present moment, the power that we feel is pure presence. This is the power that is the third admirable quality when added to awareness and compassion, and it is only through awareness and compassion that we can discover this power and acknowledge that it flows through us. It is universal energy that surges through all open channels equally. When we see we are intrinsically a part of all that is, then we can accept our natural place in the world, including our natural ability to be conductors of this bright loving energetic power that arises naturally through our intention to be present and compassionate.
Being present is the only access point to our natural power. This moment right here and now is the only point of power possible. We can’t affect the past. It’s history. We can rewrite it in our mind, but we can’t go back and change things. The future is a dream, a hope or a fear and, while what we do now will impact the present moment we experience later, the only real power we have is here and now in this place and time.
Be present and feel your power! We are always and forever in the exact right pivotal spot in life to make powerful choices. This very moment is full of doors leading in all directions, and in every moment we choose one door. Being fully present and aware of this powerful pivotal point, we are no longer mindlessly wandering about but actively choosing the door that opens us to wisdom, compassion and presence.
You chose that door this morning when you came to class, or when you decided to read this post. You listened to your most deeply-rooted powerful nature, your Buddha nature, and made this choice. You could have listened to more shallowly-rooted voices begging to stay a little longer in bed, a little longer over breakfast, or the one that says you have too many things to do today to fit meditation class or a quiet time of reading dharma into your schedule. At any point along the road to get here, you could have chosen to ignore your own inner wisdom. But you didn’t and you are here. You are powerful and acting from that power.
Now maybe you are thinking, ‘Well actually, I came because I knew I should. I don’t feel powerful at all.’ But that’s just your own discomfort with power speaking. If you are here, your inner wisdom brought you. Allow for the possibility that this is true. All the shallow-rooted thoughts habituated to denying power out of fear from having witnessed its abuse may be present and we make room for them in our awareness. But they are like wisps of fog that have been covering the mountain this morning off and on. The mountain is still there. And so is our inner wisdom, powerful beyond measure. This calls to mind the Marianne Williamson quote that is so inspiring that Nelson Mandela used it in his first inaugural speech. She says,
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
When Marianne Williamson talks about letting our own light shine, that brings to my mind one of my favorite songs: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” which speaks to allowing the power of our true nature, our Buddha nature, to shine through us. If this song speaks to you too, let it be the tune in your head that reminds you to let your light, your own access to power, shine through and express itself in creative ways.
Feeling fully present, sensing our connection to all that is, we feel empowered. The power is fresh and full of life-force. It is illuminated by clear-seeing of being present and aware. It is fueled by compassion. It is the nature of life actively loving itself.
We have over the past weeks been using the metaphor of the plant with its roots clinging tight around a rock instead of spreading deep in the rich nourishing soil. Here we are again, seeing how clinging to that rock of false identity, believing ourselves to be victims and powerless, constricts us and subverts our ability to be fully alive. When we root deeply in the nourishing soil of being, we can feel the power of aliveness. We don’t have to exhaust ourselves repressing our power, being afraid of our power or being ashamed of our power. We don’t have to see power as belonging to someone else and our role to be the victim or the compliant one that always acquiesces to the wishes of others, who never says no to any request because to do so would seem unkind. We can say no respectfully but without apology, and our ability to say no with such kindness and clarity can inspire others. The limited convoluted idea of who we are in the scheme of things no longer fits, not when we have discovered our sense of presence and connection. Yes, we align with life, with ALL of life – the puppies and the volcanoes!
Now we begin to see that how in our misinterpretation of what it is to be a kind, caring and compassionate human in the world, we may have denied the value of acknowledging power. In our experiences of witnessing misused power, we may have a fear-based view of the nature of power. So we have been tamping it down when it arises within us, calling it nasty names and subverting it so that it becomes shadow-power, that dense toxicity that causes harm to everyone who encounters it, thus reinforcing our fear of it.
Now it is time to own up to the power that is inherent in our nature! It’s time to accept and celebrate our access to this universal energy that expresses itself through us and empowers us to be fully ourselves, open-hearted, strong and alive.