Recently, I attended the Advanced Teacher Training in Right Use of Power, with Cedar Barstow. As part of our work together, she asked us to write up our understanding of the core teachings. Of course it's impossible to cover all that is included in this enormous body of work, but I did respond and I thought readers might be interested, especially as we are studying the Right Use of Power in the current Foundations course. Here's what I wrote:
Core Teachings of Right Use of Power
Power is the capacity to have an influence, effect a change, or transform situations.
A common misunderstanding associates power with unwanted oppression, control, and violence. However, power can also be expressed as wanted and enabling responsibility, guidance, support, empowerment of others, and care. It can reflect core values of compassion, wisdom, clarity, and connection.
Like any form of energy, power can be used skillfully, consciously, responsibly, and with care, or carelessly selfishly, and destructively.
We are often ignorant of our own power or unskillful in its use because we have not been taught how to use it appropriately. We are also suffering from experiencing or witnessing abuses of power, large and small. This makes us afraid of power, or alternatively, grasping of it.
We can learn how to use our power skillfully and appropriately. We can learn to meet the power of others skillfully and appropriately. In situations involving power dynamics, we can cultivate more humane and intelligent power relations in the service of the larger good.
Our clarity around the use of power is often complicated by special, overwhelming mind states, including non-ordinary states and shame. (I would add terror and scarcity to this list of overwhelming mind states.) These mind-states prevent us from accessing either our own wisdom and self-care or the supportive resources around us. They create barriers to connection and care and cloud our judgment. We all need skillful, compassionate help from others when we are captured by such mind states.
Feedback is a critical component of learning to use our power skillfully and with heart. Without it, we are generally blind to our impact on others. We need to learn how to request feedback, how to integrate it, and how to provide it for others in ways that nourish and support their learning. The capacity to deal appropriately with shame is essential to this work.
Mistakes in the use of our power or our response to others’ power are inevitable and unavoidable. Fortunately, these mistakes can afford an opportunity for us to deepen trust in the relationship and foster honesty and intimacy through skillful repair. Our mistakes are humbling, but the skills for repair can be learned.
Our lives as social beings mean that the dynamics of power will always be part of our human experience. We have the power of creativity, courage, compassion, connection, care, wisdom, clarity, energy, generosity, vision, and their opposites. The unskillful uses of power have been abundantly demonstrated over millennia, with each other, with other species, and with our planet. We are in our infancy in studying the appropriate uses of our human power. We have the capacity to evolve more mature and wise uses of power that support all life on the planet and provide care for all beings. But time is running out. We need to learn faster and more comprehensively how to use our human power in globally beneficial ways. We are the seeds of this evolution.