Practice Instructions: Finding Authentic Power

Probably the main issue that “lurks in the background” in discussions about judgement, resentment, anger, and boundaries is power.

Many, many people are (understandably) confused about what personal power is, where it comes from, and how it is cultivated. It is probably one of the main areas that the wisdom traditions divert substantially from more conventional advice about how to feel more secure, boundaried and self-assured.

In the way we teach, there are a few key pieces to recovering/repairing our sense of power, of choice, of autonomy, of “no, I don’t want to,” or “yes, I do want to.” Here is the shortlist:

  1. We see the nature of the ego and its perceptual world-view clearly. The attributes of this world view include the sense that you are an isolated, separate fragment in an unresponsive, mechanical universe. There is also a pervasive sense of threat that comes from the fear of going out of existence, or having others close to you go out of existence. There is no real remedy for this at the level of the ego, because by its very nature the ego is not capable of true seeing. It is a closed system. On its own, it has no real idea what’s going on, or what decisions to make. If you put it in charge, it basically just produces a constant state of low-grade unease punctuated by various forms of crisis (samsara).

  2. Having seen the ego clearly, we vow to listen to presence-awareness instead. Instead of turning to the conditioned mind about what to do and how to live, we begin the process of referring all questions to presence. To help jumpstart this, we take up the practice of inquiry. We become skillful at formulating questions at many, many moments throughout the day and listening for the answer from awareness. Through practice, we become adept at distinguishing the conditioned “voices in the head” from the wisdom-voice/thoughts of clarity. We sometimes get confused but we simply persevere.

  3. As our internal guidance system awakens, we grow more confident in using it. We develop unshakable confidence in our basic nature and its ability to direct us. As we practice every day and in every situation, we witness first-hand the skillful qualities and activities that spontaneously emerge as the result of letting presence-awareness direct our responses and choices. Sometimes the results are astonishing to us. Sometimes it feels like we have stepped into a different lifetime altogether.

  4. As self-trust is repaired, we appear more grounded, attuned, centered and confident to others. Strangely, by fully admitting that we (as the ego) “didn’t know,” we were able to come in contact with the deeper part that “does know.” Thing is, the process feels more like a surrendering than some sort of accumulation of wisdom and power. That’s why there is so much love. We finally let true nature help us! That’s what wipes away the armor and the judgment. We’re finally able to receive. The outside may see self-mastery, but inside we’re just following, just listening. We’ve actually been truly been humbled! This is an enormously potent place from which to live.

With this as backdrop, we can look more closely at the recovery of power….

Rather than looking for your no, for your true boundaries, for your authentic power at the level of the (adolescent) ego structure, make it another invitation to rely completely on presence, on the directives of wisdom-mind. Even if it is still new. Even if it is still subtle. Make a vow to listen, and to carry out what you hear.

One startling result of this will be deeper insight into what the process of “selling out your no” really is. What the nature of self-betrayal really entails. Self-betrayal is not listening to presence! Not listening to the “still, small voice” that says “not this,” “not now.”

The conditioned voice (usually someone else’s) was louder! And convincing! It made excuses! And took positions! And rationalized in all sorts of ways! But all the inner argument turned out to be was a compensation for its doubt, for its insecurity, for the fact that it didn’t know.

See this. And forgive yourself for every shred of it. All we’re doing is learning. Blame is a distraction.

Finally, notice the attributes of the information you receive from presence. How you feel when you ask, and you receive, and you act. When you know exactly what you need from someone, or from a situation. Or you know exactly what you want, or don’t want. Or you see exactly what you are supposed to be doing, or not doing. Or you know that you’re just not supposed to know right now.

Notice how it feels to actually know any of these things in your bones. As the result of your listening practice, your surrendering to the heart of wisdom.

As Eckhart Tolle once said, the knowing that comes from this kind of listening is such that “the whole world and the Buddha himself could show up and tell you that you are wrong, and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.”

This is true confidence. But we don’t get there by enhancing the “me,” or armoring the self, or artificially compensating for our perceived weaknesses. We get there through vowing, again and again, to surrender.