And you’re thinking…92? Seriously?
Okay, no. Not really. Just kidding.
Realistically, given how much I talk we’ll be lucky if we get through the first five possible points in this article before they cut me off.
I do apologize to those of you looking forward to an expansive novel on tactics for self-degradation here, as it’s not going to happen. I just figured I had to get your attention somehow, and 92 sounded both totally absurd and yet somewhat reasonable for a daily human experience in power loss. In truth I’d guess there have got to be millions of ways that we all lose a bit of our personal power each day, but writing ‘A million ways you give up your personal power every day’ seemed totally ridiculous.
Before we get into the details, I should define what it is that I think I’m talking to you about first. The concept of personal power means a whole bunch of different things from one person to the next, or, quite possibly, it doesn’t mean much to you at all. In my opinion, however, we all would benefit greatly from taking our individual experience of power into consideration, and here’s why:
Having personal power relates to your ability to determine your experience of life. This is not just the mature capacity to choose your thoughts so you’re not angry or sad or overwhelmed all the time, but the extent to which you feel you are an influencing force on your body, relationships, and global community. While in some ways this can relate to the power that you have over other people, I speak more of personal power in terms of how capable and competent you feel you are in addressing the uncomfortable or challenging situations in your own life.
There are a bunch of contemporary social, psychological and medical constructs (habits) that we likely all have bought into at some point or another, and these siphon off our potential for personal power and replace it with a horrifying helplessness, victimhood, or perpetual blame.
Worst. Deal. Ever.
But we can change. We can find incredible power and purpose in our life experiences, and this happens by first acknowledging where it is that this power drain is happening, and then choosing to alter our approach to life accordingly. The possibilities are rather endless, as we’re a pretty unconscious and powerless culture (let’s be honest), but for today let’s just look at a few and really sort them out.
I encourage you to think critically about these please, and respond accordingly, but from personal experience they have proven to be some of the really big hurdles for both myself and clients, and I just hope you’ll benefit from some commiserative collective reframing.
1. Blaming your parents.
We all do this, at some point or another. Our parents or caregivers are the main defining forces in our early lives, and are capable of passing their crazy neuroses and habits down to us pretty darn easily. It is, therefore, equally as easy to blame them for our unhappiness or lack of power as we get older, remaining stuck in the “I’m this way because my Mom did so-and-so” mentality.
The trade-off for this blame, in terms of personal power, is huge.
If you go through your entire life excusing yourself from living fully because you had a bad relationship with your mom, your dad wasn’t there for you consistently, or even that you experienced significant trauma in childhood, you will never fully step into full maturity and take responsibility for your life. It’s just not possible to live fully as a powerful adult while still remaining resentful for the areas of life where you feel your parents failed you.
I don’t mean to downplay the experience of trauma in the least—and mean this in the most compassionate way possible—but in order to truly heal from such histories, at some point we have to stop being defined by them. We have to take the power back from that situation and release resentment, anger and blame, accept that it happened, and that change will only come from altering our current mindset; from engaging our power to determine our current life experience.
This might be hard thing to comprehend at first, but to do this we all have to realize and accept that our parents did the best they knew how. Given that most likely their parents gave them an equally challenging upbringing, and their parents that came before that did as well, our parents did not treat us a particular way because they wanted to hurt us or make us into total goofballs, but acted the way they did because this was just all they knew; they were playing out the hurt and conditioning they too had experienced.
If mankind is to one day truly mature to a new level of understanding we’re going to have to break this inheritance cycle. We have, at each generational turn, the opportunity to look back at our heritage not in blame and resentment, but with acceptance and compassion; to surpass the maturity and understanding that has existed before, and really step into owning our life experience. In this way we prevent this history from repeating itself in our children, effectively healing countless generations of blame and pain, creating a new family story. It’s up to us to take that leap and grab the opportunity to mature, resisting our lazy or victimized mentalities that would rather we continue on blaming others for our inactivity or emotional damages.
And if we really want to push our own limits of understanding, we may even one day move into a place of gratitude, finding appreciation for the lessons and strength that our parents brought into our lives. It is entirely possible (and feels a lot better than living in persistent blame) to come to trust that we were born to them for a reason, that the experiences and challenges they presented were exactly what we needed in order to come to know ourselves fully.
2. “Catching a Cold”
So it’s October or November, and the predictable yearly bout of sickness is beginning to pass through your office. Like last year, you wait like a sitting duck until you too, somewhat inevitably (you think) ‘catch cold’ like most of your colleagues. You then spend the next couple weeks feeling terrible and bemoaning the wee bacterial bastards who did this to you.
A place of power? Not so much.
There’s no denying that the presence of tiny little invading organisms is at the root of our infectious diseases, but we’ve all come to believe in this concept, this ‘Germ Theory’ far more than we should. We have relinquished our power to maintain health because we think it’s out of our hands; that catching a cold is just what happens come the fall and winter seasons, strictly due to the proliferation of these nasty little bugs, and nothing at all to do with our personal choices or lifestyles.
But what about those couple people in your office who don’t seem to get sick like the rest? The ones who take vitamin D, exercise often, keep their stress levels down, drink lots of liquid and stay off the processed food? Surely they too were exposed to the bugs supposedly responsible for your illness, yet didn’t fall victim to them. How is that possible if these organisms are supposed to be the primary causal factor in falling ill?
Bacteria, fungi, viruses—these pathogenic organisms we blame for our sicknesses—are opportunists. In a body system that has a weakened immune system, decreased circulation or compromised function in total, they will throw a party quite happily. And if the body is healthy and balanced? They likely just can’t make a decent home.
And we are exposed to them ALL the time.
We are literally swimming in a sea of bugs and bacteria, many of them even exist in our bodies quite regularly, and only at times when our immunity is compromised will they make us sick. When the weather turns cold and we spend more time indoors and less time exercising, our immunity decreases, allowing them to invade and multiply, thus resulting in the yearly cycle of illness during winter months.
So are they then really responsible for our illness, or are we giving up power and responsibility by blaming them, excusing our inactivity or unhealthy behaviors?
If you take care of yourself you will rarely get sick, I promise. If you don’t give these little things a friendly, unhealthy place to hang out in, they will likely not bother you.
And who knows, maybe even like you reframed your parental experience at some point you may come to realize that these organisms are not out to get you at all, but instead supply feedback and the potential for growth through pointing out to you when your system is run down. If life is approached as a meaningful experience in which all things are potentially contributing to growth and power, illness becomes an experience that occurs to tell you when your body is tired or your stress levels have gone too high, not as punishment from invisible enemies for unknown crimes.
3. Thinking it’s genetic
The discovery and exploration of the human genome has been an exciting and yet ultimately somewhat fruitless experience. $100 billion and more than a decade later, we have more questions regarding what determines health and the functioning of our bodies and minds than we did at the start.
The scientific community walked into this project—aimed at sequencing and cataloguing the genetic basis of human life—confident that they would discover the fundamental roots of nearly all diseases, allowing us the ability to manipulate particular genes in the future to predict, prevent, or delay disease. As a culture we bought into this idea before the project was even finished, assuming that the cause of our obesity or diabetes or cancer was all due to intricate ladder-like components of our cells that are totally out of our control.
This belief has resulted in a loss of power like nothing we’ve experienced before.
Such apparent absolute lack of control over the outcome of our lives allows us to have a go-to blame at all times, releasing us from taking responsibility or care with our bodies because, well, these diseases just run in our families. We can’t escape them, we think. This is just our destiny. Instead of looking at what we may be doing or how we are living that could contribute to developing these conditions, we release ourselves from both responsibility and the potential of power by blaming our familial inheritance.
It is known that only 5% of breast cancer cases are due to an inherited BCRA gene defect, the section of our genetic code that has been touted as being ‘responsible’ for creating breast cancer. If my most excellent math skills are correct, that would leave 95% of cases as having little to no genetic basis whatsoever, right? Rather the opposite reality to what we were all expecting would come out of this project, and hence there’s now massive disappointment and confusion surrounding the concept of how genes affect health at all.
And so what really determines the outcome of those 95%?
Lifestyle. Personal choices. The extent to which an individual empowers themselves in determining the outcomes of their life.
There’s no denying that genes may predispose an individual to a physical condition or mental/emotional imbalance, but the greatest influencing force is the environment: we turn our genes on and off through dietary choices, exercise, stress, exposure to toxins, our emotional states. These are all things we have some control over, some power within.
Genes are this beautiful and intricate blue print that can be read in a million different ways, resulting in a million potentially different physical and mental outcomes. They are not the predetermined fate we have assumed. The real power to determine health or illness is almost entirely in our hands, made manifest through our life choices, and we only have to step out of a sense of genetic victimization in order to claim it. In doing so we claim another piece of the power puzzle, trading in the promise of genetic reasoning for the truth of personal responsibility, and finding incredible power in the exchange.
4. Not allowing for personal evolution
We all likely know a senior citizen who embodies the opposite of this point.
You know the ones I’m talking about—those cheerful, open-minded grandparents who seem to retain their mental and emotional resiliency even as their physical bodies change and life dramatically shifts around them. They keep their minds and senses open throughout life, refusing to cling to a past time when their bodies were younger, their minds were clearer, and maybe when more people actually smiled at each other on the street. They have accepted the reality that life is in constant change, and that cementing their outlook or perception of self in an attempt to control their experience does nothing but create grief and frustration. They have found and employed their power.
Life is a process, and one that cannot be stopped, no matter what those crazy plastic surgeons tell us. The extent to which we cling to past experiences in the absurd hope that we can make something last forever is the extent to which we will give up our power in the current moment, because we just can’t hold onto life. Our bodies will get old and wrinkly—we all know this—and yet the more we attempt to avoid or delay this, the more power we lose. In a culture obsessed with anti-aging this is a big power sink.
But this applies to clinging to mental constructs or belief systems as well. The most powerful outlook on life combines the ultimate awareness and responsibility of an adult with the openness and curiosity of a child, allowing you to form perceptions of the world while still remaining fluid within your experience. Who knows when your mind might be changed, or when what you thought was true will be challenged and overturned? Leaving yourself open to the possibility of evolution keeps your definition and experience of life equally open and powerful, negating the possibility of losing energy and meaning by holding on to something that no longer works or exists.
And this leads us perfectly into the fifth and final point for this post:
5. Forgetting to play
Nearly every species on the planet retains some ability to play throughout their lifetimes, and it is often only in old age that they reduce their playful physical output in exchange for the serenity of seniority. Look at our dogs and cats, the birds around us: they play constantly.
We humans are so concerned with getting things done and creating a ‘well-lived life” that we often forget why it is that we’re even doing it, or to ask ourselves whether there is even much pleasure involved in our daily experience. We take ourselves so incredibly seriously that the joy and lightness of life—a significant source of power—can’t squeeze its way in, leading us to early aging, strained relationships, and overall diminished life vitality. We fall victim to the belief that life should be challenging, and that in order to be a good human we must become serious and entirely release the experiences of childhood.
This is total nonsense.
Playing is key. Finding pleasure in life is key. To remind yourself that you are capable of having pleasure and keeping this lovely curious, explorative mind of yours in a constant open, childlike state while at the same time taking responsibility for the processes of your life is to find a huge understanding of power.
Just because we grow up doesn’t mean life becomes dull and pointless. We can experience both of these states of mind in order to find both responsibility and joy in everyday life—they’re not mutually exclusive—and in fact they both feed into a greater and greater experience of each other: joy will lead you to power, just as power will lead you back again to even greater joy. We have only to choose to inject either of these life experiences into our daily experiences in order to get the ball rolling.
So that’s it, at least for now. There are still at least 87 more to explore, but we’ll save that for another time. They are all pointing to the same realization, however: that the possibility of personal power is within us, and always has been, tucked away within the parameters by which we limit and define ourselves and our experience of life. By exploring these with curiosity, questioning the limitations and expectations we have regarding our health, our relationships, and our life enjoyment—rather than just accepting blame and victimhood as fact and reality—we can release and access this power to bring ease, fluidity and pleasure like never before.
Until next time...
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