Enlightening the Power Lines

Our world is overrun, overloaded and overwhelmed by blatant abuses and betrayals of power. Needless to say, these have been part and parcel of the human experience throughout our short stint on this planet, but with the Internet and 24-hour news channels, they are now more glaring, ever-present and undeniable.

To wit: the Church sexual abuse scandals; corporate misconduct and unethical behavior, such as Enron and Lehman Brothers, and the ensuing global economic near-collapse; and politicians and televangelists spouting "family-values" then getting caught with their pants down -- Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, to name a few.

At a time when the old, fear-based, command and control, patriarchal ways of doing things are being revealed as no longer sustainable, and as the ensuing power struggle with new and emerging energies for change becomes increasingly evident, a compelling and necessary conversation about the nature of power is bubbling up in our collective consciousness. It is time to reassess and deepen our understanding about the nature of power.

There is much confusion in the world about power: what it is, who holds it, how it works. There are also many misconceptions about power: that only the wealthy, the famous or the politically connected wield it, or that it always corrupts, for example. Consequently, too many of us shy away from our own power. How many times have we sold out on ourselves and stuffed our own power in order to be accepted, for the illusion of safety, to not rock the boat, or out of fear of rejection?

Part of the reason we are so confused and conflicted about power is that we are actually thinking about different types.

Worldly power, or egoic power -- that stemming from the ego, lower mind or base human nature -- is based on externals: money, fame, class, political connections, social status. It achieves its goals by force, domination, control or manipulation and is often abusive, arrogant or self-aggrandizing. Egoic power always has an agenda, and is selfish or self-serving. It is fear-based, exclusive and hierarchical. It tends to squelch others or push them down in order to feel powerful.

In contrast, what we can call soulful or authentic power is humble, quiet and unassuming. Its source and energy are internal -- it comes from within. Spiritual power guides and inspires and is about authentic self-expression; it is about service and making a difference. It is love-based, inclusive, and is not threatened by others having power. It stands freely on its own. It simply is. And it is mighty.

Think of that iconic image of the young man stopping the menacing column of tanks in Tiananmen Square, with his mere presence. Or that unforgettable scene from the film "Gandhi" where row after row of Indians were pushed aside and beaten by British soldiers trying to impede their unstoppable march to the sea. One would get struck down -- without fighting -- and yet another would take his place. Using principles of nonviolence inspired by Jesus, Gandhi brought the British Empire to its knees.

So, why must we step into power consciously, with intention?

Because the way we embody and express power impacts every area of our lives -- interpersonal relationships, sex, work, politics, religion.

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