What does speaking of power in these two ways mean? What changes does this move call out of us? What will it take for us to stay present to the pain of what’s happening in our world as this change unfolds? Rather than denying or distancing ourselves from them, or swirling helplessly in them, how can we use the big emotions we experience as cues/clues to guide us? How might they become pointers in the discovery of what’s true for us, and what role is ours to play in the uncertainty we experience as the world turns? And what will support us in holding that vision of ‘higher ground’ while walking (and sometimes stumbling and falling) towards it?

Playing for Change's version of Higher Ground - and the commitment I and many of us have made to
Playing for Change’s version of Higher Ground – an apt anthem for the commitment many of us have made to “keep on trying ’till i (we) reach the higher ground”

I’ve been writing recently about power, and looking at it through a lens that might be different than most of us are used to.

In one piece I wrote about the 3 myths of scarcity that drive our impulse towards gaining ‘power over’:

“There’s not enough … so if you have more, there’ll be less for me … and since those who die with the most toys win, more is clearly better. This means I have to constantly be paying attention to getting more … that’s just the way it is!” And in light of this, the call to engage the journey of creating a legacy of enough, by shifting our attention to exploring sufficiency.

In another piece where I shared Lynne Twist’s words  “When the power of love replaces the love of power the world will flourish” I reflected on the responsibility we all have to support and honour the feminine in each of us to be more fully expressed. As this occurs, the resulting relief of pressure will create a space where the masculine parts in all of us can relax into a more natural rhythm. And in this shared experience of ‘power with’, we will all flourish.

For eons we’ve been living in a world where ‘power over’ has been the norm. In that system, those with the most power win. They get to chart the course of things, and we see them as having the power to make things better (or worse!)

So it’s not at all surprising that most of us have grown up with the assumption that those in power (initially our parents/caregivers, then later our teachers, leaders, bosses, and politicians) are responsible for making sure we’re safe and life is good. It’s just the water we’ve swum in, and we’ve believed their promises. We’ve trusted others to fulfill our needs, and in many ways we’ve become disconnected from our own power. In a sense we’ve given up (or trustingly handed over) our power to those in charge.

As adults, when our experience tells us this trust has been broken, this longing (which as children was an entirely appropriate need) to believe that others could, should and would look out for and after us has led to painful outcomes. We’ve wanted the pain to go away, for things to be comfortable again. For some the wish might be to ‘go back to the good old days’ when things seemed simpler and easier. For others, especially those who have believed that if we play by the rules and work hard, then we will be rewarded by gaining more ease, power, and influence, the moments we find ourselves disappointed and disillusioned yet again, have evoked fear, anger, and even outrage – sometimes all of these in quick succession.

And the sense of frustrated helplessness in those of us finding ourselves facing the reality that our familiar coping mechanisms (like avoiding or denying these painful feelings by staying busy, or focusing on working harder and piling up more and more accomplishments) just aren’t working anymore can be devastating.

Realizing that we cannot experience true power from a place of dependence,
OR from the illusion of superiority can be both painful and scary.

As adults, as painful as this experience is, it truly is an invitation to take our power back; but NOT in that old pattern way of engaging in power struggle – and reverting to our familiar experience of trying to be the one who has more ‘power over’!

So what’s the alternative? Dom Helder Camera, Brazilian Catholic Bishop said:

It is useless to dream of reforming society without
a corresponding deep change in our inner lives.

Though the shift to ‘power with’ isn’t an easy path, it IS a fiercely loving invitation for us to become engaged and to look squarely at how we’ve been living – individually and as a society. It calls us to recognize all the subtle and not so subtle ways this notion of ‘power over’ shows up in our lives.

The shift to ‘power with’ requires that we let go of believing that someone or something outside of us is to blame for our pain, or unhappiness; OR will bring us ease, safety, security, and happiness. In looking to someone or something outside of us we give our power away.

We need to acknowledge that looking for the solution to come from ‘out there’ (in whatever direction) compromises our ability to consistently create experiences and relationships based in ‘power with’ (or shared power).

‘Power with’ is not a spectator sport – it requires our active engagement.  

Though we may long for it, there’s no easy, quick fix for the old patterns that are so deeply engrained in the culture and conditioned in us. And as the bishop said, reform in the outer world will require deep change in our inner world. They go hand in hand.

Since I’m not a US citizen I’m not actively involved in the political system, so I’m not taking a political stance here. But when I saw this video it seemed a clear (almost caricature-like) example of responding to challengers through the two lenses of ‘power over’ and ‘power with’. Though it may be challenging or perhaps polarizing to watch, my invitation as you watch is to notice your inner response.

Clearly, this video represents only moments in the way each of these men deals with protestors. Still, it feels like a clear demonstration of some of the differences between ‘power over’ and ‘power with’ …

We need to be willing to value ourselves and our contribution enough to cultivate our capacity for being present to what’s happening now in our outer world; and also to what’s happening in our inner world in response to what’s happening ‘out there’. This is self-love in action. It begins with loving engagement in the only arena in which each of us has ‘power over’ – ourselves.

How do you be with yourself and what’s happening inside of you as you watch the video, or consider all that’s happening in our world? This practice of keeping our first (not our only but first!) attention on ourselves is one that I and those in the Realizing RICH Relationships community actively engage. As we’re in a stronger place in ourselves, we’re freer to make our contribution to the co-creation of ‘power with’ (or shared power) in our outer world.

Here are some other questions I hope might support you in engaging with your inner world:

  • When you pause and are quiet, what do you notice? In your body? In your thoughts, emotions and sensations flowing through you? And whatever you discover, can you allow that to be present and find ways to nurture yourself here?
  • What might it look like to respond with respect to what’s happening in your inner or outer worlds?
  • Given your degree of ease and presence right now, how much engagement (what degree of intimacy) with yourself and/or others feels called for and wise?
  • What would best nurture your connection with whatever name you give to the source of life within you? And how might doing so impact your courage to be you in our world?
  • How open are you to honouring the humanity that so clearly shows up in each of us when we don’t manage to live in or up to our best intentions?
  • And even from this space of apparent failure, what would it look like to reconnect with those deep desires in you to “keep on tryin’ till we reach the higher ground” and nurture yourself right here?

I’m reminded of the poet Rilke’s words:

“You must give birth to your images
They are the future waiting to be born
Fear not the strangeness that you feel
The future must enter you

Long before it happens.”

This is the kind of practice, and exploration those of us in the Realizing RICH Relationships community are committed to engaging. The commitment to inner and outer change is surely not for the faint of heart. But the sense of being connected – both to the deep desires inside us, and to a kindred-spirited community where the unique contributions of each one are respected and honoured – makes the journey SO worth it! If you feel drawn to join us, do be in touch.

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!