January Reflections – The Right Use of Power

I met with a woman who came on a guided retreat. The night before she had a warrior appear in her dream who called her a fawn. We sat outside on the meadow cottage deck on a beautiful day. I heard dogs barking at a distance. A few moments later, their noise became louder and I spied two dogs at the bottom of the meadow chasing and closing in on a deer. Suddenly, I jumped up from my chair and ran down the field. For a split second, I considered the dogs might turn and attack me, but this thought did not stop my momentum. As I got nearer, I saw the dogs had surrounded the doe, ready to pounce. I gave this intense warrior cry that I didn’t know was in me: “Get away from her!” The dogs took off in a flash. I stood about five feet from the deer, feeling a deep connection to her as we looked into each other’s eyes. Time stood still. After our breathing calmed, we both started to slowly walk away. The woman’s dream of the warrior calling her a fawn dramatically appeared in real life that day. I became aware of a powerful side of me I hadn’t met before. And I marveled at how the incident cogently taught the retreatant the importance of developing strong inner power.

Ego-driven power is not real power

Most often we associate the word “power” with clout, control, aggression, dominance, force, coercion, and sometimes violence. Power also implies strength and skill, strong will and determination. You might appreciate a person’s power if they are in alignment with your own viewpoints, such as advocates for a cause you endorse. Still, this kind of power, which I call “external power” or “power-over” is ego-driven and requires effort. It’s often fueled by right/wrong or us/them thinking. No one likes to be dominated by others, but that doesn’t stop many from craving such control. Politicians and world leaders often ignore the hurt they create when exercising ego-driven power.

As effective as it may seem to be at times, ego-driven power is not real power. It’s just a pretense. Seeking control over others often masks a person’s insecurity. Still, a person may mistake this as the way to be successful in life.

Real power requires no effort

Real inner power requires no effort. Rather it arises from a deep place within—from your true self. It’s harmonious and supportive, making you confident and helping you achieve your true place in the world. Those in touch with their own inner power never seek to diminish others or make them feel weak. There’s no need for this behavior because they feel strong and secure in themselves. They treat others with kindness, love, and compassion. Not understanding the distinction between ego-driven and inner power creates unnecessary suffering, individually and collectively.

Inner power cannot be lost, but it can be ignored or remain elusive. You may have lost touch with your inner power when growing up, if others didn’t reflect your true self back to you; if they readily dismissed your thoughts and feelings. This caused you to react in one of two ways: passive or domineering. You may have been hurt by authoritarian parents, oppressive older siblings or playground bullies. You rightly rejected such power. But in doing so, you became passive and weak. Or maybe you went in the opposite direction and developed external power as a reaction to a weak parent, sibling or classmate. Both reactions—weakness or aggression—prevented you from connecting with your true power.

Strengthening the lower tan tien

How can you develop your inner power so as to avoid these false extremes? The Chinese tradition teaches about the tan tien—three focal points in the body that hold vital energy. The lower tan tien, located one-and-a-half inches below your navel, is the focal point of your personal power. Those engaged in the martial arts are taught to concentrate on this point as a way to increase their inner power. Test this yourself. Try opening a jar. Then try again concentrating on this spot. You’d be amazed at how much stronger you become when you focus on your lower tan tien.

Barbara Brennan in Emerging Light offers an exercise to help you connect with this power spot. Stand with your feet about three feet apart with bent knees. Then curve your fingers with nails touching and place them on your lower tan tien. Concentrate there for a few moments and notice what happens. You may begin to feel warmth or receive an image. Now, imagine a tap root going from this power spot into the earth’s core with its molten lava. Allow the power and heat emanating from the earth’s core to rise up and fill you. Repeating this practice each day increases your inner power. No one can topple you over when you stand firmly on the earth in this way.

People can sense your inner power or weakness

People sense whether or not you’re connected to your inner power. When I led a play group, I noticed how the toddlers would always pick on someone who felt weak that day. One of my Gestalt teachers—a small, slim woman—told the story of how she started to feel uncomfortable when she noticed a man following her down a street at dusk. She began to concentrate on her tan tien as she walked. He subsequently crossed the street and proceeded in a different direction. Another example is a minister friend who felt off-kilter one Easter. When giving the sermon, she noticed how the children were restless and the parents inattentive. The following Easter, she presented a similar sermon but now felt centered at her core. Not a pin dropped when she spoke. Similar to my play group observation, she realized that even children know the difference between individuals who are connected with their inner power and those who are not.

Other ways to cultivate your inner power

In addition to concentrating on your tan tien, how can you further cultivate your inner power? Being sincere and telling the truth are extremely important. Such behavior situates you in your own body and connects you to your true self from which your inner power comes. Taking responsibility for your actions also gives you inner power. You’re not putting blame elsewhere, but examining the part you play. This gives you the power to change your own behavior—the only behavior you can change. Facing and working with your fears, rather than cowering in the face of them, also gives you inner strength. You’re no longer ruled by them but act from your own inner volition.

Neither domination nor weakness serve you. You hurt others when exercising external power and yourself when emanating weakness. The middle way of developing your inner power keeps you safe, secure and in your truth, thus insuring a happier life.

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