This week I was invited to consider what it means to have the freedom of personal power as part of the #freedomtribe #freedomfriday challenge. I found the contemplation on this to be both challenging and enlightening, and realised I have more ‘personal power’ than I originally thought at the start of this exercise.
I sense the power. And I sense the spirit move
— Ian Anderson
Ever since reading @eaglespirit’s post on what this week’s #freedomfriday challenge was, I’ve been having some trouble working out what it means to me, and what I could possibly write about. The difficulty was mostly in questioning whether I had ever experienced ‘personal power’, and did I even have any in the first place?
What I realised was this is due to following other people’s ideas and expectations of what ‘personal power’ is. Everyone will measure it differently, and will present different ideas and examples it. I imagine that it shows up in different ways in different contexts. In considering what ‘personal power’ actually is, I came across an idea from ancient Chinese philosophy that helped me, and that is the notion of Dè.
Anyone who is remotely interested in Taoism would be familiar with 德 Dè, as it makes up the title of Lao Zi’s enigmatic text, the Dao De Jing. The concept pre-dates this, and is a major part of Confucius’ earlier philosophy, and is mentioned throughout the I Ching, a text even earlier even than Confucius.
It is always described in a very generalised manner, being something that could not be well defined. Sometimes translated as “Virtue” or “power”, it is a somewhat nebulous quality that humans simply either have or don’t have. In the Analects of Confucius, there are various passages where the philosopher explains that it’s a quality that taught or learned. In the following video, scholar Edward Slingerland provides a concise definition of Dè.
Know we need it.
We got to have it.
Know we want it.
Got to have it.
— James Brown
When I started to consider this in my own life, the idea of ‘personal power’ became more real, something I could relate to. I’ve come to understand my personal power is present when it’s not in fact ‘personal’, but when I’m in a state where something larger than me permeates my consciousness and courses through every cell that connects me to the Tao, or the Universe-at-large.
With this realisation, I was able to identify moments where I’ve experienced this state palpably and lucidly. It’s akin to something spiritual or mystical, but feels a lot more plain and everyday than what those words imply.
In those moments, challenges seem more like something to simply step over, requiring not much energy to deal with. Adapting to life’s everyday changes is effortless; work and chores flow, and I’m better able to manage multiple tasks, get them done, and do them well. It’s as if there is no friction in the air as I walk, and every step has a spring in it. I feel light, nimble and agile physically and mentally. Basically, everything feels effortless.
As well as my subjective experience, this is born out by tangible evidence from the outside world also. Synchronicity happens, communications with others are clear and concise, and I meet amazing individuals who I wouldn’t normally bump into. The traffic on the road seems easier, and it’s as if the outside world is also flowing along nicely.
Imagine watching a finely-tuned choreographed movement alongside a tight orchestra; everything in the outer world is in harmony, reflecting an internal experience of harmoniousness. It’s kind of like the boundaries between my inner world and the outer world are permeable.
I am disabled by fears concerning which course to take
— Dead Can Dance
In contrast, I have memories of times the opposite of this: where nothing flows. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and I feels as if I’m moving through a world made of treacle. Everything seems hard and challenging, and there is no connection between what’s happening internally and externally.
In those moments, I’ve noticed something starkly different: and that is I have to force everything to happen. There is a more concerted, active use of energy or power just to get anything done; whereas in the other state I feel as if I’m doing very little if at all, like the energy required is flowing through me, but not from me.
From all that I have read about Dè, that’s what this flow-state reminds me of. It’s like the ‘power’ has come from beyond me, and yet I’m able to harness it in a passive, effortless manner.
Know the difference
Once I recognised this, I wondered what it was that was different; what was I doing differently when I was entering into these ‘flow’ states?
What I’ve identified so far is that I am completely in my ease in those moments. My physiology is strong with an abundance of energy. My nervous system is relaxed, my mind is open and there is no sense of overwhelm. I feel inspired, and I’m not really making deliberate choices or analysing my next move. More importantly is that this sense of ease is not the result of receiving some kind of ‘divine’ power… rather, it is my state of ease which allows me to receive it.
It’s as if I am surrendering to something greater than me; and in that moment of surrender, I become connected with everything around me. To use another metaphor, I’m still navigating the vessel, but I’m no longer driving it. What comes with this sense of connectedness is the capacity to simply ‘know’ how to navigate through the world and everyone in it.
The pathways into this state in the past has come through looking after myself on all levels: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My diet is appropriate for my needs in that moment, my breathing is deep, and my body is fit and mobile. Most importantly, I’m feeling safe in my world, I know I have folk who have my back, and my internal conversations are loving and positive. In short, my “love tank is full” (see Gary Chapman’s work on the ‘love languages’).
My Higher Power
The world is spinnin’, but I’m not afraid
So I guess I link a sense of ‘personal power’ to something else, something I am connected to in my everyday life. I’m not certain I can turn it on and off at my will, however I do feel there are things I can do to ensure I am “in my ease” and dropping into such a wonderful state. And whilst I want to maximise my opportunities to wield this Dè, or personal power, I also recognise that trying to do this isn’t the answer either, paradoxically. It really is just about being the best version of myself as possible.
The power of love can open
Every heart in everyone
Minute by minute