One objective of Dynamic Living is to be able to accept and respond appropriately to any and all changes in circumstances. Ideally, confronted with change, we simply nod sagely, make a mental note of the adjustments we need to make, and proceed unphased on our new path.
In reality, however, we can all experience a sudden sense of powerlessness in the face of some event. It could be a massive snowfall, a war with Iraq, or something much nearer home, like an unfair remark from a parent or spouse. Somehow it knocks us back and we start to show the passivity born of frustration and inadequacy.
“Speak up!” I encourage my clients, putting aside the many times I’ve kept my own mouth tightly shut. “What’s the point?” they reply, “It won’t change anything.”
We know this isn’t scientifically true. Any action changes something, even if it’s not in obvious ways or ones we intended. So what makes us believe in and persist with our own powerlessness?
To try to shed some light on this I’ve assembled the following 9 Qualities of Power. The number is totally arbitrary: you may come up with more or less and next time I look at them I might do the same.
However, I hope they have a reasonable measure of truth and will also have a valuable practical application for you.
Quality 1: Power is applied through action.
Conversely, any action is an assertion of power. This action may be physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual in nature.
Reviewing this quality, we can see that the choice of non-action – not ‘speaking up’ – is an action and therefore an assertion of power in itself. So when we apparently do nothing, we are actually putting our power behind that which we claim to dislike and feel powerless to stop.
Sufficient awareness of this fact is a great motivator for shedding passivity!
Quality 2. Exercise of power increases power.
This is a wonderfully exciting reality that can be demonstrated in the physical realm by exact measurement. For example, in February of 2002 my rowing machine reported that my power output was 155.9 watts while ‘rowing’ 2,000 meters. I have practiced regularly ever since and in January of this year I generated 194.6 watts over the same distance.
Similar increases in power in the emotional, intellectual and spiritual realms occur as the result of practice. This fact provides the strongest refutation of the “It won’t change anything” argument for maintaining silence.
As evidence, if we push with all our strength against a hard object like the floor, we do not move the floor. We do, however, build power in our upper body. Similarly, when we speak up against those who hurt us, we may not move them but we build our own strength and conviction. These attributes will lead to greater assertions of power – like having the courage to leave a painful situation – sometime in the future.
Quality 3. Power can be exercised for or against our own well-being.
Power itself is neutral. We can literally bring all our powers to bear on our own perpetuation and growth or on our own destruction. As an example, if we focus our emotional and intellectual efforts on convincing ourselves that we are worthless or that our lives are without value, we will do ourselves harm even unto death.
Addictions, eating disorders, financial greed, and many other forms of behavior such as depression and suicide are examples of tremendous power being applied in a self-destructive way.
This may seem discouraging, but the fact that there is a psycho-mechanical element to the behavior means that self-destruction can be reversed. The process may be lengthy and complex, but it can be done.
Quality 4. Power must be exercised in accordance with our true selves to be maximally effective.
Simply put, this means that if we operate from a basis of inner conflict we are likely to diminish our own effectiveness. We must always bear in mind that each of us is unique. Accordingly, power exercised in accordance with others’ ideas is likely to be in conflict with our own to a greater or lesser extent.
As an example, we’ve all heard variations on this theme: “I’m following [this famous person’s] regimen to the letter but I must be doing something wrong because it doesn’t work for me.”
Of course it doesn’t. We are physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually totally different from each another. It would actually be amazing if something that did work for someone else worked equally well for you.
Obviously, at a high enough level of abstraction we all do the same things: breathe, eat, exercise etc. But when it comes down to the detail of the moment it is essential that we match our efforts to our uniqueness. Your aerobic exercise, musical performance or spiritual practice may contain little or no benefit for me.
Find your own path through trial and discovery and don’t be diverted from it.
Quality 5: Comparisons sap power
To maximize our own power output we must manifest our own uniqueness and that means we are not subject to meaningful comparison. Who or what is there to compare our unique selves to, other than ourselves?
Comparing our application of power to others’ is a dangerous exercise if it leads us to behave in inauthentic ways. I can race against another rower as part of a mutual agreement to help each other improve our performance. But if s/he beats me and I adopt his or her training methods I run the risk of harming myself.
This is not just a physical disempowerment. By focusing on ‘the other’ I also cease to enjoy the process. My beautiful and gentle path forward becomes a desperate attempt at catching up. In effect, I surrender my power to the co-improver who has now become my opponent.
I may improve my performance – my physical power – but I have sacrificed my individuality and therefore reduced my emotional power. And I will find that there is always someone bigger, stronger and faster than me; or better looking; or richer; or . . . something.
Quality 6. Feeling powerful is not necessarily being powerful.
This quality is self-evident and yet we all fall into its seductive trap at some time or another. As an obvious example, a soldier is likely to feel powerful. However, his or her subordination to the desires of others means that s/he is in reality almost powerless on his or her own behalf, like a power tool in a woodworker‘s toolbox.
Similarly, a young mother can feel very powerful as she wheels her baby in its pram, catching the admiring glances of other women and men alike. She can feel the power of having another human life dependent on herself.
Yet unless she actively empowers herself by acting responsibly – generating an income, studying parenting, creating a healthy environment and teaching her child to be a responsible member of society – she is also powerless. Her feeling of power is dependent on the appearance rather than the reality of power.
Feeling powerful by conforming to the desires of the more powerful, by associating with the powerful, or by performing jobs which have powerful effects, is a highly appealing distraction from the discomforting reality of having to build true personal power. However, a tyrant’s chancellor, a millionaire’s wife, a newspaper’s editor can all have their apparent power stripped from them overnight.
Not so the person who has built their own power by developing their own qualities.
Quality 7. Power is contextual.
Your singing power is of little value if you’re trying to solve a mathematical problem.
This quality helps to explain why physical behaviors such as disordered eating and intellectual behaviors such as over-rationalization ultimately fail to resolve emotional problems. They simply have no power over them and can only be used to compensate.
Similarly, and more commonly, a spouse’s financial power (a form of physical power) is no help in trying to resolve an emotional impasse; and a nation’s military power is no help in trying to solve an ideological conflict.
That’s why wars and physical force are largely ineffective methods of problem-solving. You cannot, quite literally, knock sense into someone else, be they your child, your spouse or the leader of another country. It is not a question of morality, but of possibility.
Also, the use of physical force, other than in a clearly-defined physical conflict like a boxing match or in engineering projects, is a fear-dependent strategy. Fear is a powerful but almost always self-destructive motivator: it leads to inhibited behavior rather than life-expanding and creative responses.
Quality 8. Power implies intention.
When we exercise power we take action: we cannot take action without some sense of a desired outcome.
We cannot ‘just’ save a penny, for example, without reason. However, we might save a penny to satisfy our innate meanness, or to put toward a specific purchase, or as a safeguard for the future.
Similarly, we don’t ‘just go upstairs’, or ‘just get drunk’ or ‘just have sex’. There is meaning and intent in all these things for us. Most of all, we don’t do things because we ‘just feel like it’, no matter how many times we say we do.
This is a very valuable quality because if it’s true it means we can assess everything we do in the light of whether it is good for us or not. So the next time you hear yourself using the ‘just’ word or phrase, examine what your real motivation is. Or at least register the fact that you don’t want to know . . .
Quality 9. Power is exercised in a universal context.
This simple observation makes our choices of action relatively easy. Just as we cannot act without intention, so our actions have ramifications which extend throughout the universe. The impact of any one action may be infinitesimal, but so is an atom. Both, however, are intrinsically woven into our world and essential to it.
This puts a real responsibility on us to behave in ways that are aligned not only with our own well-being but with infinite well-being. Lest this responsibility seem overwhelming, I suggest that we ask ourselves three questions with regard to any potential action:
- Does it promote physical health?
- Does it spring from love?
- Does it support truth?
If the answer to these is ‘yes’, as far as we can judge, we are unlikely to commit too many grievous mistakes.
This formula is really helpful in overcoming our own inner barriers to taking action. Very often, one reason for not acting is because we doubt our own motivation. If we’re reasonably sure that we’re motivated by health, love and truth we’re unlikely to be too inhibited.
In conclusion, if these qualities hold true we are never powerless. Indeed, we are always taking some sort of action. So I would encourage you, the next time you’re feeling powerless, to ask yourself: “What is making me deny the reality of my power?”
On all our behalves, please be unapologetic in asserting your own uniqueness with as much power as you can develop. Universal benefit derives from a synthesis of all our powers, maximally developed and applied.