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Soulful Power for Our Times

There is much confusion in the world about power: what it is, who holds it, how it works. We have a conflicted relationship to power: both fearing and coveting it. We suspect that we might abuse it, feel guilty about times when we have, and have been told that it will corrupt us. That is just one of our misconceptions. That only the wealthy, the famous or the politically connected wield it is another. For women in particular, there is another layer of obstacles, such as the belief that power is not feminine, or that all men are threatened by powerful women. Consequently, too many people — especially, but certainly not exclusively, women — shy away from their own power.

To a great extent, this confusion arises because there are basically two kinds of power. In contrast to worldly (or egoic) power, soulful (or spiritual) power guides and inspires rather than dominates, controls or manipulates. It is humble, quiet and unassuming, not abusive, arrogant or self-aggrandizing. Soulful power derives its energy and vitality from internal sources, unlike worldly power, which is fueled by external forces, such as fame and money. It is about authentic self-expression, service and making a difference, while egoic power is agenda-driven, selfish and self-serving. Though all humans have access to both expressions of power, one is traditionally associated with feminine energies, while the other is considered more masculine in its approach. Worldly power is about power over; soulful power is about power with.

Humanity is at a crossroads. We are stuck in tribal consciousness and fear of The Other. In interpersonal relations we walk around in a state of mistrust, guardedness and protection, and as a result feel isolated and alone. What are we protecting against–the possibility of feeling hurt again? We can only be hurt by another’s words and actions if we give them the power to do so. With a strong sense of self we can live in an open — and empowered — state of vulnerability, with nothing and no need to defend.

The choice is now clear. Perhaps it has never been clearer. The times demand a fresh approach and new way of expressing and relating to power. In the complex, hyper-militarized and shrinking world in which we live, no longer can we afford to to lead by overwhelming force rather than by inspiration, negotiation and collaboration.

Will we choose more of the same in international relations? More macho, cowboy mentality? More I’m right/You’re wrong, black/white, inflexible, self-righteous thinking? More attack first, ask questions later…if at all? More reactive and impulsive policies? More of the theological pissing contest: My God is bigger than yours? Will we continue to place countless lives at risk and to squander billions of dollars on war and destruction? Or will we choose more measured, nuanced, proactive strategies? Will we choose violence only as a last resort — after negotiations have been attempted and the possibility of productive dialogue exhausted? Will we find a way to reclaim and re-channel some of those exorbitant resources into feeding and educating ourselves, towards reversing the damage we have inflicted on our environment?

We are currently witnessing a tectonic shift in the power structure of the world, nothing less than symptoms of imploding patriarchal systems. My college friend Michelle once shared her grand gender theory of New York architecture: The Empire State is feminine: elegant, refined, with graceful lines. The World Trade Center she described as masculine: solid, angular, a symbol of strength and power, a global center for finance and commerce. And the Chrysler? A beautiful, flamboyant, over-the-top drag queen!

From this perspective, it is interesting that it was the WTC that was attacked and destroyed by Al Qaeda operatives — as was the Pentagon, also a masculine symbol of strength and worldly power. It is also worth noting that our response was to attack Afghanistan, whose Taliban leadership operated the single system most oppressive of women in the world. Witness the patriarchy taking itself down.

Please don’t for one minute think that soulful power is wimpy. Simply consider some of its exemplars and practitioners throughout history: Jesus, Gandhi, Dr. King, Mother Theresa. The effect these “community organizers” have had on the world is immeasurable.

Soulful power is love-based rather than fear-based, inclusive rather than hierarchical. Not needing to exert itself over others, it stands freely on its own. It simply is. And it is mighty.

Will we choose the path of fear, arrogance and violence, or will we choose more soulful — and powerful — responses appropriate to the needs of our times, responses that reflect an increasingly multilateral and interconnected world, responses that consider the complex and often contradicting needs of one human family?

The Universe awaits humanity’s choice with hope, and perhaps, with baited breath.

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