By Nandini Murali October 2009 Taking back our power is one of the most crucial tasks that confront us on our way to selfhood. how can we ensure that no one can pull our strings and that we retain our right to self-determination? “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”– Marianne Williamson The speedboat cruised at Formula One speed along the placid backwaters of Muttukadu lagoon just outside Chennai. As it careened perpendicularly from side to side, I was swamped by an adrenalin high. Absorbed in the moment, my companions and I did not notice that the boat was being insidiously manoeuvred by the boatman. Who rocked our boat? The boatman, of course! Why? Because, we let him do so, not because he wrenched control from us. In effect, we handed over our power to him. But I was unaware of it then, my clouded mind submitting to the omnipotence of the boatman! In the centrestage of life, we are actors with infinite choices. Yet in life, as in the boat ride, we often abdicate our power to others either consciously or unconsciously. The speedboat ride was wrapped in a kernel of insight – if we do not create our reality, our reality will create us. Indeed, life and living is all about making conscious choices, not living on default or auto pilot mode. The power is within you Ironically, we are born with personal power. It is our birthright. Yet as we grow up, the dos and don’ts of social conditioning impel us to give away our power, although we often don’t realise it. Both women and men are equally vulnerable to loss of personal power. Who or what pulls our strings, makes a difference. Women, for example, may be more vulnerable to loss of power in relationships, while men are likely to feel victimised by their career and work. We learn our first lessons in power in infancy. As a baby, we learn that winsome behaviours such as smiling and being manageable are sure to win approval, while crying and other ‘offensive behaviours’ are likely to be resented. Gradually as we grow into adulthood, we all too often give away our power to many people and things – our parents, teachers, siblings, spouses, religion, fame, success … most important, we are prisoners of our limiting beliefs and fears. We do so because of our belief that it is a foolproof strategy to win approval and external validation. Indeed, many of us live life with an insatiable appetite for hunger and approval – a psychological bulimia. Devoid of self-worth we seek to fill our emptiness and neediness from the outside world – we become co-dependent in our relationships. The truth is that we own our power and therefore need to retain it. However, we lose sight of this as our awareness is submerged in the ocean of ignorance and non-mindfulness. Dr Sujatha Rita, Chennai-based HR consultant, says, “We need to own responsibility for ourselves. In its absence, we tend to blame people, and circumstances, and end up playing one of the following roles: rescuer, persecutor, or the victim. Reclaiming our power is all about polishing our awareness.” We give away our power when we make an external agency – a person, situation, or event, more important than us. We therefore need to own our power in our journey towards authentic living. “If you do not value who or what you are, you will seek to fill your emptiness from the outside world. All that you need is inside you. No one can know more about your path and purpose than you do, and the power you ascribe to external authorities eventually explodes in your face, leaving you even more defenceless and vulnerable,” writes Alan Cohen in his book, Taking Your Power Back. ‘If you do not value who or whatyou are, you will seek to fill youremptiness from the outside world.’ Using the metaphor of a leaking bucket, Cohen says that we first need to be aware that our bucket has holes through which our power is slipping away and then plug the holes. “You do not need to import power, for you were born with it; you just need to plug the holes in your bucket through which it is leaking. The quest is about peeling away the lies and illusions you have been told – and went on to tell yourself, that have kept you living smaller than you deserve,” he writes. Dr A Ramanathan, a well-known psychiatrist based in Trichy, says that clients have an inherent ability to discover solutions to their issues. “We (psychiatrists) are helpers, not law-enforcing authorities. The answers lie within the patient.” Dr Ramanathan quotes Antony De Mello, “When God wants to hide something from us, He keeps it right in front of us.”Taking back your powerAs the boat ride taught me by paradox, taking back our personal power does not mean that someone usurped it from us. Rather it means that we gave it away, often unknowingly. At the same time, not all view the strife to regain personal power kindly. People who dare to live life on their own terms are viewed as mavericks, rebels, eccentrics, or just plain selfish. Perhaps this explains the premium society places on ‘adjustment’ (especially in the case of women in developing countries) and following the crowd. The other reason why the process is viewed unfavourably is that people who own their power are no longer pushovers. They are uncomfortable to have around as they question authority, assert their self-respect, and do only what they consciously choose to do. Their awareful behaviour is uncomfortable for those who prefer to operate from the unconscious pulls of manipulation and need, especially if they are used to having control over the other person. The powerlessness of the victim feeds their warped sense of power. Thus, they resist and even sabotage any attempt by the victim to regain power. We need to regain our power both in enlightened self-interest and in the interests of the other, for power not only corrupts the persecutor, but also entrenches both the persecutor and victim in dysfunctionality. ‘If we play the victum role, we areusing our personal power to be helpless.’“ We far too often compromise…. Compromise… until we eventually lose the real ‘us’ and become a simulated version of us, looks like you and me, but isn’t,” writes Craig Harper in Take Back Your Personal Power. A well-known writer recalls her lopsided power equation with her mother. For years, she struggled with depression and precarious low self-esteem. As she said, she could be “whirled around like a twig by anyone who cared to”. “My focus, concentration, discipline, self-control were so poor that even executing the ordinary tasks of life were beyond me. My mother took care of my house, supervised the maid, organised the grocery and masalas and even cooked. My extreme dependency on her led to my giving away all my power to her. Although an extremely wonderful and noble woman by nature, the absolute power that she had over me corrupted her until she became used to dominating me, and telling me what to do, criticising me, even treating me with extreme contempt at one point,” says the writer. The key to reclaiming her power were several facilitative insights that emerged over time. The most important of them were awareness and acceptance – including embracing “some part of my extreme discomfort with myself and the situation. For me taking back my power means regaining my self-determination. It means I am under my own control and that all the strings that tied me to others and to circumstances are cut. I am therefore free to think what I think, and to strike out my own independent path through life without fear of constraint,” she reflects.Mumbai-based therapist Uma Ranganathan corroborates the writer’s experience of regaining her personal power. “All of us in a broad sense are victims of our conditioning, our past. This state of affairs is likely to continue until we recognise the fact we are victims and start to move beyond this feeling, into a state of independence. One is able to do this through self-awareness,” says Uma Ranganathan. From the perspective of the spiritual big picture, taking back our power involves shifting our consciousness to access the infinity of our Being. A key tool in this process is the concept of surrender consciousness.“Surrender consciousness is about harvesting the fruits of escaping victim consciousness and harnessing the ego. Surrender is not giving up and giving away power. It is learning to surrender with the flow of energy that is sustaining our being. Surrender consciousness is the doorway to accessing the true breadth of our inherent creativity and birthright,” says K Ferlic in Shifting Consciousness to Access the Infinity of Being. Katherine Keefer, US-based artist, writer, and sculptor, views the process of reclaiming one’s power as surrender to Source and thereby finding balance. “I would say that it has been an ongoing struggle to move from victim/wife/daughter/mother to balancing individual creativity with demands of life. I also think that for me, at this point, it is not so much reclaiming but surrender to the will of God. Surrender, faith, and trust that God is holding and leading me. I am no longer a wife, and my children are grown. My role is now of a daughter to an ageing mother. It seems to be, for me, about balance,” says Katherine Keefer.Candle in the windFor several years, or perhaps, more accurately, for several lifetimes, I had been the archetypal victim. I generously gave away my power, and blamed circumstances and people for “pulling my strings”. Like most people, I sleepwalked through life. It
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