Looking at the subtitle of my book, Asking In, Six Empowering Questions Only You Can Answer, you might wonder about the word ’empowering’. So let me clarify: The questions I offer don’t give you power. They help you recognize the power you already have. The book guides you in how to use your power skillfully with awareness and compassion for yourself and all beings.
We all have power. And when we don’t know it, we blow it. Big time! If we feel powerless, we are a danger to ourselves and others. Thinking we don’t have power, we toss out words or actions as if they mean nothing. Little old me? Nothing I do or say matters. Many of the problems we have in the world stem from people thinking that what they do or say doesn’t matter, that nobody’s affected, that there are no ramifications. Some people feel powerless, yet crave to be seen, heard, admired, or even feared. They may want to have power over others, so use words and actions that cause harm to assure they exist.
When we think power is to be gained or bestowed on us by others, then we can get stuck waiting, complaining, begging, or manipulating to get it. Instead of living from the center of our own lives, we see ourselves as objects in someone else’s field of vision, completely subject to their power. That’s no way to live! If you agree but you aren’t feeling your own authentic power, here’s a simple example of the power we all have that we can all relate to: The grocery store checkout line.
We put our groceries on the counter or conveyor belt and now it’s our turn. What happens next? If we are caught up in the rush of our day, we may not give a second thought to the power we have in that moment. Because we’re not really in that moment. Our minds are full of thoughts that take us away in space and time, activating a variety of emotions. This is just one more thing on our to do list, and the sooner we can get out of here, the better. In this state, the exchange is purely transactional, any greeting just a nicety. If we’re having a rough time, we may be brusque or even rude to the checker.
Sound familiar? If not, good! Maybe. I say maybe, because there are other ways we can be unskillful at the checkout counter. Especially during stay-at-home orders, this might be one of the few human exchanges we have and we feel a little desperate for human contact. So we invest too intensely in this exchange, potentially leaving the checker feeling overwhelmed or drained.
Now imagine simply being present at the checkout stand. We may still have thoughts and emotions going on, but we can see them as patterns passing through our brain, perhaps including a litany of judgments, opinions, and complaints that crop up unbidden. When we set our intention to be present we begin to recognize our intrinsic interconnection with all life. When that happens, we are naturally plugged into the power of kindness, compassion, and the joy of being fully alive to behold and engage in it all.
So often we don’t recognize our power. We don’t recognize that our words and actions matter, that they create a ripple effect. We can’t imagine how they ricochet into the world around us, causing pain or joy at every turn. But it’s important that we do understand our own impact. We are not traveling through open space in a bubble. We are intrinsically interwoven with all life, and all life we come into contact with is affected by us in ripples of reactivity. The person whose spirits were lifted goes on to lift others, without even realizing it. That little bit of joy shared shines back on other customers and the customers, in turn, radiate it back, so that by the time the checker goes home they feel a sense of satisfaction and can bring that joy and ease to their family.
Family. Yes, this is where our thinking we have no power can cause intense harm. We toss out words that mean nothing to us, just letting off steam, just tossing out a casual comment, but our words or actions are taken to heart by our loved ones. Parents need to be especially aware of the power of words and actions, and how they are received and remembered by the children. Perhaps for the rest of their lives!!! Yikes! That’s a lot of power.
As adults, we may still be dealing with the painful words or actions of unskillful parents, or from the perceived lack of words or actions we needed from them. If so, it’s time to acknowledge the power we have to parent ourselves now. We have the power to give ourselves the compassion and approval we needed from them. We can recognize that they were saying and doing what had been said and done to them, and that they lacked self-awareness to recognize it as unskillful. Most likely, in all but extreme cases, the culture they lived in condoned and perhaps even promoted their behavior.
It’s time to take responsibility for the way we live in each moment, because each moment is a pivotal one, a personal point of power, where we can make a choice to keep mindlessly passing on the pain we received, or be the crucible of our own salvation. With the practice of meditation and insight into what’s arising, holding ourselves with compassion, we come home to the awareness of our place in the family of all life. Just by being born into this body, we are inherently empowered and have a ‘seat at the table’ of life. We don’t have to wait, beg, or maneuver. We only need to be present, to set a wise intention, to be aware of the power of our words and actions, and assure that they are authentic expressions of awareness and compassion.
Please don’t underestimate the power you have! Use it wisely. Later questions in my book offer guidance to use your unique gifts, talents, and interests to be of benefit. That’s empowering!
Discovering the power we already have and using it wisely, that’s our purpose. Recognizing and supporting others who are finding their voices and using them wisely is another way we all benefit. The following video was shared by one of my sangha sisters, and though I can’t guarantee that every woman in the video is wise, it is heartwarming to see so many women in positions of leadership. Enjoy!