Power Traps

Let’s talk about power.  And powerlessness.    I found myself a wee bit triggered the other day, seeing another Woman Warrior offering land in my digitally enhanced attention stream.   The online course called on women to feel into your inner warrior, to stand in your truth, increase your confidence, find your voice and access deeper courage.   Warrior as a kind of soul stamina – to be your true self and have the clarity and strength to manifest your desire in the world.

This is attractive to many women.   I call this flirtation with the feeling of inner power.  There is a titillating quality, like pink fuzzy handcuffs in the bedroom.  This is an attractive story of power, the me that feels empowered on the inside, that feels she can face whatever she needs to face and keep that warm, clear inner feeling of big authentic self, a badass.  And I think the belief below this story line is that if I just feel this clearly enough, then others will feel this difference in me and respect me.  Maybe.  I have seen my share of women supporting each other for undergoing this kind of inner warrior journey.  There is something in my gut that always feels – something is off here. 

It’s a kind of Wishful thinking Warrior – a Warrior Princess whose first move is to go inside herself.  She busies herself, making all of the right alignments, attunements, all of the changes inside her heart that will make her the kind of precious, valuable and worthwhile woman in the eyes of others.   I am powerful because I am deeply connected, deeply conscious, deeply centered. This feel right. My personal gut niggle is that it also feels like only part of the story.

Where is the power located in that story?  This kind warrior may feel like a True Sourced Diamond but it still is a jewel that can be locked into a treasure chest.   This feels like a variation of the journey to become a Perfect Princess – if I just work on myself enough, I will be perfect and perfectly acceptable to others.   Smells like a power trap. 

I hate feeling powerless – a lot of my life has been developing my resources to avoid the moment when I feel like there is nothing I can do. I recently went to pick up a friend from the airport – I love my friend but he doesn’t believe in cell phones as a valuable tool for communication. I waited for an hour – no friend. The flight number he gave me didn’t match any of the incoming flights. I checked in with the partner airline and wasn’t able to get any information. I had to come to the place of powerlessness – there was nothing I could do. As I was leaving a message on his home phone (because I was committed to doing something even though it was not in any way helpful), my friend walked through the gate – held up in the line at customs. I had a disproportionate emotional reaction – a kind of upset usually reserved for lost puppies. I hate feeling powerless.

I am all for inner courage – I fully uphold the inner battle to find my way to feel confident, to stand up for my ideas, my rights, my values.   The courage to represent myself clearly and effectively.   To take credit for my contribution and the difference I make as a woman, as a worker, as a loved/loving one.   I am also in for soul-sourced, Spirit-connected integrity.  The path that increasingly surrenders my ego-conditioned self to my self as a part of the Whole.

This inner feeling of courage, of inner resiliency and strength is important, necessary.  But it is not enough to actually be powerful.  Or to avoid feeling powerless here in the world. Volunteering at a children’s aikido class, I worked with a group of some of the smallest girls in the class in an activity called, The Whirling Towel of Death.  Basically after teaching principles to maintaining a calm sense of self inside, the test was to walk through a rope with a towel tied to the end, keeping calm and timing their walk to avoid being hit by the rope.  For many, trying to avoid getting hit tends to increase the changes of contact.  A rubber meeting the road, or the rope moment. A very sweet girl, breathed in a big breath, screwed her blue eyes shut and started to walk blindly through the rope.  I stopped her and said, “Open your eyes.   You need to deal with the danger.”

The power trap of this inner work-only approach to cultivate your warrior self is that it only engages the dangers on the inside.   This feeling of security is fragile when confronted by conditions outside of ourselves that trigger our body systems.  The thinking/feeling story of strength and security is usurped by our sensory systems.  This warrior can flee or become frozen when she feels overwhelmed.   She can become traumatized or re-live trauma when she becomes immobilized by a threat, even the prospect of a threat.  This experience can be held as feedback, learning what will stop me and learning how that edge can change over time.  But more often, someone doing an internal approach to warrior-ship will take this feedback as failure, and may keep repeating the process to come back inside, to criticize herself for not doing it well enough, long enough to be a real bad-ass.

It is poor preparation for real life outside challenges – asking for a promotion, standing up to a difficult family member, defending a personal boundary.  Starting a project, starting a family, starting a movement.  There is something to be said for learning how to be in a challenging interaction, a difficult situation and stay functional.  It is not comfortable.  And important, initially to find places and communities that are safe enough to experience the discomfort.   To stay in the emotionally charged conversation with a co-worker and stay present – to your feelings, your reactions and what they are saying, doing.  How you respond and how that feels.  To take your place, your space at a meeting, at the dinner table.  To take on a challenge that stretches you.  And to stumble, to be flawed, to feel what is flabby, what is shaky, where you don’t feel solid.   To fall and get up again.  Real strength, real power comes from coming through challenges, from dealing with the difficulty. 

Using personal power takes practice.  Practice failing.  Practice missing the goal in a way you feel good about.  Practice in using power poorly.  The equivalent of kids wrestling – not every move is going to work.  Sometimes you end up pinned and have to tap out.   Without the work to gain a thicker skin, to learn how far you can go, the limits of your power and how you feel about the moments of powerlessness, you do not know how powerful you can be.  Let me repeat that.  You do not know how powerful you can be. 

When you have some inner and outer power practice behind you – things change.  You can accept the experience of someone prevailing with more focused, more practiced power over you as just that – a difference in power that does not immediately transport you to identify with your inner victim.  You know your own resourcefulness in a different way – finding the ways you can work with your limits.  Shifting the ways that you can’t to how it is that you can.  I talked recently with a friend from school who exclaimed her feeling of helplessness over how to effectively take the notes in a program that engages in hours of body-based study.  She appealed for help.  I didn’t know what would help her but shared one way I took notes – to write some version of a log after teaching a practice session before going to sleep. 

My strategy comes directly from my personal limit. I struggle to retain some details of body-based exercises so find my richest retention is supported by capturing some kind of account within the day that it happened.  In reflecting on that tactic, I realized how helpful it was to accept the limit of what I can’t do, stay curious about how that capacity changes in the process of learning and mobilize an approach that works well enough.  Refine it from there.  Other people in my class have far superior abilities to retain sequence of movements in their memory and knowledge of the body and how it functions.  Compared to them, I am relatively weak in this cluster of competencies.  Doing nothing and feeling badly about it doesn’t support progress. 

There is no shame in seeking support.  I am blessed to learn in a community of people who model curiosity, resilience, care and honesty in the process of learning.  One thing that can happen when you internally put attention to your inner sense of limits and externally seek out support is you keep your self limited.  Your self-image, your sense of your self, your story of who you are is re-published, re-posted in the light of this limit.  This story of Weak Woman will not be replaced by a story of Warrior Woman, however you work to renovate it within yourself.  Your story needs to be acted out in real time, real places, with real characters.  A Warrior Woman comes into being when you bring real attention to the you who is coming to this moment.  No projections, no story – just you doing what needs doing.

So do the inner Warrior work if it calls to you, if deepening your alignment and accessing deeper courage feels essential to your growth.  Can you also find some way to work your inner Warrior into your everyday self?  To find some small front line, some edge to test your limit?  I am coming to learn that it really does not matter if that edge is speaking up when part of your lunch order is forgotten or public speaking in front of 200 people.  If it is your edge, it matters for your growth.  Then it is not the idea or the story of courage – it is the practice of courage.   That is a practice that leads to real power.

What is it? Kind Power…

Photo credit: Kahuna from Hui Ho’olana Retreat Centre, Molokai

When starting a full time business, time flies by – the daily work in the business and on the business keeps my dance card pretty full – always hopping.

So this blog takes a self-indulgent and necessary pause to reflect on what Kind Power means to me after working on this vision for 2 years.  What I most want is for kind people to be more powerful.  It feels needed.

Kind Power is so much more than being nice.  Or being loudly nice.   In my work with clients, Kind Power begins most often as cultivating a grounded sensitivity – a grounding to provide support, safety, security within so we can open to our own pain, and the sufferings of others.  I support developing kindness, not to reinforce a self-image of woundness but to open up the possibility of healing and the capacity to connect to the injustices in the world without shutting down through a sense of overwhelm.  I support developing a sense of power, not to add more scar tissue to an already established defensive callousness, sometimes paired with a rationalized impotence that says, “What can I do?”     “What can I do?” asks from a place of helplessness, from a settled despair that the world is just that way.   From a place of kind power, “What can I do?” can be asked from an intent of contribution, from a sense of connection to my world, not distanced from the world.  “What can I do?”  Here, now.

We tend to want to make a hero or heroine out of people we see as powerful – powerful survivors, powerful leaders who exercise control over others, powerful skills – a larger than life characterization of a potent person.   Inspiring yes.  But useful – maybe? 

Heros, Super-heroines keep power our there – a symbol of what we want and what we don’t have. 

And we miss, maybe even criticize the kind of power from a person that stays in relationship even after receiving hurts and harms from another for love’s sake.   Who holds off his exercise of power to see if there is another way to create a positive outcome.  We can leap to talking about setting up strong boundaries and miss the subtler lesson of the kind of power it takes to love someone whose acts bring us harm.  Ask anyone who has loved an addict to death.  A parent how loves a young person who harms others while discovering their own power.   This kind of power comes from integrity, a structural, character strength that is often dismissed as weakness.  From this kind of power, there are battles more important than winning, more important than looking good in the eyes of others.

Before my own skillful means were developed (still in that life classroom), I was often called Pollyanna – a naïve optimist who believed in the good, true and beautiful I could see in people.  My first husband was a card-carrying black sheep so received this feedback a lot.  What I know from a more grounded, more sensitive and discerning awareness now is the courage to risk cultivating kindness in the middle of a control drama, in response to manipulation, to meet defensiveness with my own spacious sense of what is happening.  

What I know now is the discipline of cultivating power without a drive to use it for power’s sake.   The yin and yang of cultivating power so I can receive softly, without needing to be right or better or to win in some imagined way when interacting with someone else who consciously or often unconsciously is working hard to have this moment conform to the reality they need to feel secure.

In this election time, I talked with someone who I respect and their desire for the kind of strength that is needed in political leadership.  And I wondered about and debated the strength of leadership that uses fear and simplistic ideas to justify exercising power over others – that the need to feel secure in a strong leader who is taking care of things is more important than their ethics, their moral courage to do the right, difficult thing, is more important than their insensitivity to everyone who they decide is not like them.    It is just not enough for me – this kind of power.  Literally not good enough – the willingness to exercise power over others without any sense of care for the other.  Or a highly conditional kindness that insists that you conform to what I expect you to be before I can extend even basic kindness.    I always feel that below the surface is a twisted meritocracy of belonging that says, “You have to earn the right to receive my benevolence, my approval, my protection.  Because I hold the power, you have to contort yourself until I feel comfortable.”     Power exercised as privilege.

This is not a rant at one side of the political spectrum – it applies across the spectrum when people come from a defended, brittle worldview.   I know it feels like power but it is the kind of power that relies on finding security among the “us” that I can identify with, it relies on winning through the volume of the message without much listening, except to refute, except to argue with, except to look for ways to win an opinion battle.   Power that rests upon a de-humanizing of the other, whether the other holds a conservative worldview or a liberal one or, more likely some kind of cluster of ideas that span a spectrum of perspectives.

I wanted to share some examples of kind power in the world – and I would love to hear about others (please share by contacting me at Cheryl@kindpower.ca).

Martyn and Justine Joseph: Let Yourself Trust Foundation


Reaching out with grassroots projects and small scale funding, Martyn uses his hard-working role as a musician for the people to bring light to people doing good work that makes a differences.   He has connected with people and projects around the world and uses his power to create heart-breaking and heart-filling connections to kind people who care about supporting people around the world.

Greg Kemp and Heather Knox, Project Somos https://projectsomos.org

Greg and Heather every day are creating a wholistic response to support children to escape the cycle of poverty in Guatemala. Through an eco-sustainable community and innovative programs, they educate and empower children and provide capacity building to the children’s mamas.

Malikah https://www.malikah.org/

Rana Abdelhamid offers a kind power story – starting a self-defense movement that starts with what you know, starts with who you know and works from joy.  She started reacting to her experience of hate-based harassment and found joy in building community so women could find and define their sense of safety and security.

Each day, as I work away on this Kind Power vision and the business activity that supports it, I ask myself, “What can I do?”    A daily challenge, a path and a passion.  If you choose to take up a personal Kind Power challenge, what can you do to show up in kinder, more powerful ways? 

What can you do to connect with someone you meet from the power of joy?  The power of care and compassion?  Can you find a way to share your own vulnerability (does anyone even read these blogs?) to create a more powerful connection?  Do you do any practice that supports you to feel aware and awake in yourself, to feel the power you have within your body?  What can you do?  Dare to discover what you can do.

Peace out with Martyn Joseph’s Let Yourself – “I want you brave, I need you brave, I want you strong, sing along….you are so beautiful and I’m not wrong.”