– dancing (and sometimes stepping on toes) towards an ecology of shared power

[If you’ve not seen my original “Please Stop” Musing, you might want to check it out, it’ll give you the background and origin of the phrase. There I said I’d be exploring various nuances of creating ‘Please Stop’ as a shared agreement. This Musing is part of that series.]

For eons as humans, we’ve existed in an ecology where the use of ‘power over’ as a survival mechanism has been pervasive. In many ways it’s hard to even imagine an alternative, farless doing the work of co-creating one.

Samantha Sofia’s stark image of one of the uncomfortable truths of our times …

So to my mind those of us who say “yes” to the call of Life, and risk taking those first steps in the dance of harnessing our own Personal Power in service to co-creating an ecology where ‘power with’ is a viable alternative, are courageous pioneers.

And as we learn, even when (actually, especially when) we step on each other’s toes, it’s crucial that we be both gentle and generous in the way we hold each other.

Though completely understandable, shaming or blaming each other (or ourselves!), another of those deeply ingrained impulses, does not serve us. On the other hand, recognizing and acknowledging our missteps, apologizing, and exploring what it would take for us to make amends so that we can be more attentive and/or skillful next time, is crucial.

As we dance together, my beloved Bruce and I continue to experience the need to honour our own, and each other’s humanity in this way.

One day recently, we’d had a disagreement that left me feeling disconnected from him. As we got into bed that night, parts of me wanted to be open to receiving our nightly practice of tender face stroking from him, but recognized there were other parts of me that were closed and protected. I had a dilemma that called for a quick ‘internal family conference’!

It was late, we were both tired, so it was clear to me that any reopening then of discussion about our disagreement would be counterproductive. And my protector parts that were closed, recognized that my simply naming this unresolved piece and our agreeing to come back to it the next day would allow them to relax.

Dilemma solved – easy, elegant … cool!

Or so I thought …

The naming our earlier disagreement activated Bruce’s unsettled parts. Despite my ‘come back to it next day’ suggestion, he launched into the discussion, and … I joined him.

Well … it doesn’t take much imagination to know this wouldn’t go well.

Once my wise Self recognized what was happening, I pretty quickly said “Please Stop”. And to my surprise (and to the horror of the parts of me that had risked opening their hearts) instead of stopping, Bruce said “No, I have two more words to say!” and continued speaking.

In that moment, my righteous protectors (he’d just violated what for over 30 years had been the ‘sacred rule’ in my family!) were on full alert.

NO! Please STOP!” I repeated – with all the force that you might associate with those bolded caps!

This got his attention, AND riled his activated parts even more. He grabbed his pillow and left the room.

Truthfully, I was thankful. Had he not left, I’d have done the same thing. I knew I needed space to come back to me, and soothe all my activated parts.

Inside me there was lots of internal chatter. The indignant parts – How could he do that? He should know better! … The scared parts – What if he comes back in and starts talking again?! … The sad parts – I really wanted for us to feel heart connected, and now that’s not going to happen. … And the parts that blamed the other parts of me for engaging with him, rather that honouring our internal agreement to simply name the unresolved piece and come back to it next day. With the benefit of hindsight they were saying – you should have just said “Please Stop” as soon as he started talking!

One by one (and not in the order that they were speaking, or according to the volume of their comments!) my wise Self held them all – you’re not alone here, I’ve got you … soothed them – you’re safe, I can’t promise you what will happen, but we’ll figure this out … listened to their concerns that I shared above … affirmed how valid and understandable their perspectives were … and as they were ready to receive it, mentored them into what was more deeply true.

Once they were settled, I fell asleep.

 The challenging practice as we come together, of discovering and honouring the internal realities of each of us, and the external realities we co-create between us …

When we came back together the next morning, the first thing Bruce said to me was “I checked in with myself several times in the night to see whether it was time to come back to bed, and every time the answer was ‘no’.” My response was “That’s good, because if you had, I’d have gone out to the sofa!”

From there we began to each share our own internal realities, and together explore what had happened in the external reality between us. As I first heard Sandra Kim say – we run into trouble when we deny the validity of any one of these.

To be clear, that kind of exploration doesn’t always go smoothly either! Those eons of protective fight or flight instincts are deeply embedded. AND, they’re there for good reason – to keep us alive! – so I have no interest in trying to step over them, or shut them down.

At the same time, I’m deeply committed to creating new, more life-giving, RICHer relationships within myself, and with those around me, as together we step out of ‘power over’ as a default, and nurture an ecology of shared power or ‘power with’.

As powerful a tool as I’ve experienced “Please Stop” to be in many circumstances, using it skillfully in the building of more respectful connection entails much more than just saying the words.

Like any tool, as I’ve been practicing using it more consciously, I continue to discover more nuanced learnings. And (in service to what I hope will be an easier, more gentle experience for any of you who join me in this practice) I’d like to share with you some that came out of this experience between Bruce and me:

  • the importance of honouring our humanity when we have an experience where requesting ‘Please Stop’ doesn’t work. Invoking ‘Please Stop’ when there’s a ‘head of steam’ IS more challenging, especially when that’s the case for both the requester and the receiver. Remember, we’re working against eons of conditioning here!
  • being curious and holding both ourselves and others with as gentle care and in the most generous light that we can muster, especially, though not only, when we’re first establishing a shared ‘Please Stop’ agreement and there’s not an ‘instant’ stop
  • as we found here, a common reason for a ‘Please Stop’ request to not be honoured is that your shared agreement may not be clear. Take the opportunity to explore – maybe you don’t have a clear, in common understanding of what’s expected when the ‘Please Stop’ request is made. Communication between us humans is such a tricky thing!
  • the crucial nature of owning our Personal Power and taking responsibility for ourselves if it becomes clear to either person that the ‘Please Stop’ isn’t having the desired effect. Remember, though we’re asking the other person to ‘Stop’, the underlying intention is to create a safe space where we can come back home to ourselves.

I’m continuing to explore these ideas, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is such a potent time to be alive! The challenges and opportunities before us – as individuals and as a species – are enormous. At times, waves of fear, excitement, anger, frustration, overwhelm, determination and so much more, can wash over us faster and with greater intensity than we’d prefer.

Though it might sometimes feel safer and less complicated, this isn’t the time for being a lone wolf. Tuning into and turning towards the resources available to us are crucial. Having a community of support is key.

Will we step on each other’s toes as we move towards and ecology of shared power? Absolutely, without a doubt! And it’s exactly there that we have the opportunity to become more fluid in finding our way back home to ourselves, and each other.

If any of this feels resonant for you, and you’re looking for a way of creating (or perhaps deepening) connection with me and some of our Realizing RICH Relationships community, I hope you’ll consider joining us on Tuesday August 28, from 8-9 pm ET. It’s our usual 4th Tuesday of the month no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call – the EVENING version.

Remember, you only need to register once for these calls. If you’ve not yet done so and would like to, click here.

Image credits:

Abuse of power – Samantha Sofia on Unsplash

Shared power – rawpixel on Unsplash  

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
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