I’ve had the great fortune of lucking into practices that don’t have much to do with the mind and everything to do with the body. I say “fortune,” I say “lucking into” because it’s not like I chose them after much deliberation and weighing of options. On the contrary: Something felt right and I dove in and, after not long at all, the force took hold and I was swept up, not having to effort much to stay with the practice.
Not that these things aren’t rife with challenges in terms of what they bring up. My part, however, is the showing up. The lion’s share of the work is done by the powers that be.
Powers. Power. It’s something I’ve been thinking about of late – as in, it’s finally risen to my word-brain and concepts have been coming together. It’s been swirling around in my system for a lot longer than that. Here’s what I’ve come to understand.
Power is life force. It’s energy that moves through our bodies in a contained flow—ideally. Ideally it brings with it information from life, from the divine, from the intelligence that moves all things.
It doesn’t look like this for most of us. There are plenty of people whose life force is strong and magnetic, but the information carried therein is cluttered with debris in the form of old hurts or completely disconnected from anything larger than their own closed system. (Hi Donald Trump.) Or someone who’s like way in touch with the universe, man, but whose physical presence is so dim that none of that wisdom has any hope of making its home here on earth. Most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
Power has nothing to do with other people. There’s no such thing as power sharing, balance of power, having power over another. All we’re doing when we orient this way is playing in a sandbox; knocking over each other’s castles, throwing and burying, taking each other’s toys. Moving around a bunch of dirt that neither increases or decreases in volume; that in quality remains dirt. Getting nowhere, though we’re encouraged every time our pile gets bigger, devastated when we’re crunching a few grains along the bare boards of our playspace.
Nor is power saying “fuck everyone, I’m doing what I want.” That is anger. That is outrage. Not that this isn’t useful: for many, this is an in-road to power. The realization that you have given your life force away, for a second or for your whole life, is infuriating. The rage that comes from that is the priming of the pump. It allows us to feel pure, useful energy flowing through us in a jet-propelled whoosh. A danger is getting stuck here – there are many people who delight in being outraged, devote themselves to it, even make livings from it it, forgetting (or not realizing) that it’s merely a stepping stone to real power.
Power doesn’t increase with a multitude of bodies amassed in a shared interest. That’s force. Unless that mass is wide awake and shares a divine directive, they’re just working together to plow the sand until everything else is buried.
Power is being unaffected by others’ experiences. Not in the sense of closing off our hearts. Compassion is vital. Rather, it’s being able to act independent of how others might react. Everyone’s on their own trip – it’s your job to focus on your own.
This is not something to theorize about. You can do it somatically. Feel your body vibrating. Feel the center of it. Jettison what isn’t yours. Become full of yourself, your own energy. It’s not arrogant; it’s essential. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. On the contrary, you can’t truly care – have compassion, make a difference, any of that – until you are in contact with yourself.
We hear pieces of this, all the time, in many contexts. For example, “Don’t worry what anyone else thinks.” Right. Sure. But without an alternate place to put our attention, we stay focused on those very others we’re trying to disregard. There’s no hope of even understanding what that means, let alone putting it into action.
Or, “oh, just tune in, you’ll feel what’s right.” Again, wonderful in theory, but tuning in isn’t a decision, it’s a skill – one that, if we were raised in the west, we very likely weren’t taught.
This is where practice comes in. We need to cultivate our ability to feel into what’s happening for us. It’s only when we notice what we’re doing with our energy that we can change it.
No doubt you’ll be flabbergasted by my next statement: aikido is one phenomenal way to build this sensitivity. By moving and interacting the way we do, we become aware of our habitual patterns of attention and relationship. We learn to decipher what is ours and what is others, how to stay grounded and steady in the face of challenge, and to move in harmony with the greater guiding forces in the universe.
A concrete example of this is a ki test. When a partner pushes on us and we take that energy and channel it down through our center and into the ground, our out through the tips of our fingers and into the next town, we are accessing the channel of pure, clean energy running through us and connecting us to everything. We become conduits of our own highest selves. As practice advances, the harder we’re pushed, the more we are in contact with our own source – our power. We learn to pay attention to this source, not what others are trying to put in our space, or take from it.
We can prattle and theorize and educate ourselves and build muscles and audiences. We can read and diet and meditate and become CEOs. We can do all this and never come into contact with our power or hope to affect anything. We need practices—challenging ones—that physically show us our life force and help us cultivate it. What is yours?