“Knowing others is perspective, but knowing one’s own self is enlightened; conquering others shows strength, but conquering one’s self shows true power.” Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
This is why we do the work. Why I do the work: Power.
That’s right: not for ethical, moral, or some other socially acceptable reasons – that is, not first and foremost. Call it selfish if you want. Call it narcissistic. And it may very well be in the beginning – even if it is not so, in the end. But also call it what it is: natural and intelligent.
I need power to get by in life and make sure my needs are met; and a bit more to boot, if I am to flourish. We all know this; we are part of Nature, so even if we didn’t ‘know’ it, we would still live it. Instinctively we have an appetite for power.
The immature appetite – and by ‘immature’ I mean the non-judgmental descriptive: developed, but not fully developed, mature or evolved – believes I have and gain power by having and gaining control over what exists outside me: people, events, circumstances, situations, objects – especially mine! It believes that power lies in having power over what is not me. The usual suspects as good and effective means of acquiring this kind of power are: money, prestige, affluence/reach, emotional (or other) blackmail, dominance of any kind – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, sexual, you name it!
It doesn’t work – although it’s true, it often seems to work; and this seeming success retards our education and growth. Often it can look like we’ve arrested our development completely: still stuck on the idea that having power means having power over ‘you!’ – whatever the object of our thought, or more likely, of our insecurity, is at the moment.
Our appetite, and pursuit, of power matures when it finally stops trying to overlook the fact that: at the end of the day, we cannot control, nor do we have power over, anything outside of ourselves. Regardless of what it looks like – because sure, it often looks like she has power over him, and him over her, but I also know that it can only be because they have given it to each other in the first place – we have power over nothing but ourselves.
If we’ve lived long enough we know that. It is why we feel insecure and afraid of life the entire time after we’ve had the realization (minus maybe 5 hours total amassed over the course of our lifetime when we have genuinely forgotten that nothing is certain, nothing lasts, and we’re not in control). And we are exceedingly anxious because the one thing we could actually have some success in controlling, ourselves, we often don’t. So we are left with absolutely no real power, and thereby security, in life at all.
Arrested in our development, we desperately and compulsively try to gain and assert power and control over the wave instead of exerting it over ourselves so that we might be able to ride it like this guy:
As my beloved Caroline Myss would say, there’s an eau de toilette, and a perfume version of power, (and everything in between). Trying to control and have power over the waves is eau de toilette; having the power over yourself to remain this relaxed and in control of yourself as you are moved by forces this powerful outside your control is perfume.
The power of self-mastery, which includes everything from self-knowledge and discipline to compassion and self-love, is not a platitude. It’s not some airy-fairy ‘all good and well but totally naive and childish’ nothing-to-do-with-reality idea, despite the fact that it can also look like this:
Self-mastery is power. Totally applicable, concrete, you are powerful and in control of your life kind of power. You-have-the-resources-to-do-what-you-want-and-make-what-you-want-happen-in-your-life-power. Even more: the power to be unmoved and unfazed by everything that has heretofore brought you to your knees. Like I said: real power.
Don’t opt, or stop, for a 2nd or 3rd best version: external currency in whatever form (money, muscle, guilt). While the eau de toilette version is something, it is still, comparatively, pretty short-lived and crap. Go for the perfume. There are dozens of free ways to get started, and dozens more than cost under $30. I’ll list 5:
1. Meditate. You’ve heard it before for good reason. It’s super-horrendous and annoying when you begin, depending on where you’re coming from. Too bad, it’s an amazingly transformative and empowering practice.
2. Journaling. Another potentially tiresome and annoying practice when you begin. And another: ‘Tough sh*t, it’s super good for you!’
3. Make a promise to yourself – big or small, preferably small – and keep your word. Do it again! And then again. And then 500 more times. Learning you have a word to keep, and how to keep it, is tremendously empowering.
4. Have an empowering conversation about power. In fact have any conversation about power. But you’re better off having it with someone who will encourage you to increase yours; instead of feeling anxious and uncomfortable at the thought of you not needing them, or what they need, anymore. So choose your partners with discernment. You can check out my vignettes here if you want me to be a part of the conversation; or my resources page for other recommendations.
5. Make a practice of observing your own thoughts, reactions and behavior. Investigate with genuine childlike curiosity. No judgment, no agenda; just the objective, detached eye of a keen observer. Learn something about yourself. Yeah, yeah, I know we think we know it all – or way too much – about ourselves already; but we don’t. And what stays in the shadows of the dark has power over us. We can take that power back by bringing it into the light (of consciousness and awareness).
Don’t waste your energy amassing bandaids that won’t even stop a leak from the first rain fall. Start cultivating some “bulletproof” sh*t. You can’t get bulletproof by manipulating the outside world – you have to go in(wards). That’s not bad news – it’s good. It means you don’t have to buy anything or need anyone to get it. Rejoice. Then do the work.
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