The word power gets weighed down with negative connotations – oppression, aggression, violence, war, succeeding at the expense of others. It’s understandable, reminders of those expressions of power fill our cultural landscape. Other forms of power don’t get much airtime.
One of my favorite earth/social activists and authors, Starhawk, lays out clear and insightful definitions of different kinds of power: power-over, power-with, and power-from-within. So when my coach, Rachel Cole, asked me what made me feel powerful, that framework helped me sort out the ways in which I feel powerful, or ways I’d like to feel powerful.
The negative connotations we have with power fit under part of the definition for this kind of power when it’s in the service of domination, oppression, control, and violence. We all at sometime or the other felt the urge toward that kind of power, perhaps even acted on it, but whatever momentary satisfaction we get isn’t worth the suffering we can cause to ourselves and others.
Ready to cross power-over off my list, when I remembered that control isn’t always a bad word. Starhawk gave the example of parents of a two-year old – to the extent that they can they control him and his environment to keep him safe. So, there’s one thing on my list that I want to do and that I know will make me feel powerful – take a self-defense class for women. Yes, I want the capacity to over-power anyone that might try to physically harm me – wearing this totally helps, but I need some moves to go with my undergarment power.
Starhawk describes this kind of power in a couple of ways: solidarity and influence.
Here’s a few things on my power-with list:
– Spending time with other women of like mind and heart.
– Using our collective influence to empower ourselves and others for the good – that’s beyond power and into a whole other realm. I’ve experienced this both online and off and I want more!
– Participating in groups that create together and learn from one another. Anything from writing and art to problem-solving and community building. Recently, I had a powerful experience in one of Kira Elliot’s Writing to Open Your Heart workshops. Through the process of writing together, sharing our writing so we could support and encourage each other, I wrote words that surprised and delighted me and got the opportunity to stand as witness as others shared their words and opened their hearts to possibility.
– Having time with people I love for good conversation, laughter, and celebration. Be warned, I love goofball humor – it happens to me spontaneously and is outside my control.
– Experiencing the power of empathy. It opens hearts, helps heal wounds and forms bonds of love both in the giving and in the receiving. In true compassion and empathy there’s no one up-one down.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” - Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
“Power from within is our creative power, the power of spirit, imagination, courage and will. [It’s] unlimited. [whatever I have the power to do] does not take that power away from you. Empowerment is another word we use for power-from-within.” Starhawk, Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery.
Some things on my power-from-within list:
– Body movement: dancing, hiking, hula-hooping, yoga – it all ignites my power. And when I see improvements, like getting to the top of that hill in the photo, it feels so darn good!
– Exercising my creative mojo. I like to define creativity broadly, living is a creative act. I’m creating when I’m speaking to someone or by the attitude I choose just as much as when I’m sketching and painting.
– Standing up for myself. Not long ago, I left a doctor’s office feeling ultra empowered because I spoke up for myself when the doctor spoke to me with disrespect. No aggression, no eff yous – just a simple statement “If you cannot respect me and my experience then I’m ending this appointment.” Which I did, because she wasn’t able to honor my boundary. Although, I confess that a part of me wanted to get two inches from her face and do the whole “really?-really?-are-you-effin’-kidding-me” thing. You know, righteous indignation. I’m glad I didn’t, I’m glad I gave myself dignity and respect.
Feeling powerful, feeling empowered can come from the help and support we get from others, but the last word is ours. We empower ourselves by our actions, our willingness to grow and change, by the situations we put ourselves in, and the biggest thing of all – by opening our hearts to connect with ourselves and others.
(And not knocking doctors out cold on the exam room floor.)
What makes you feel powerful?