When I was very young, my grandmother used to talk to me about a schism she saw coming in what she felt would be my future. This was back in the early ’50’s, when she essentially became my first spiritual teacher. She talked about a time when people would be faced with a choice that would color their quality of life. One option was to live as if everyone were interdependent, connected, all emerging from the same life as she and I were. The other option focused on self-interest, self-will, and all things related to the promoting the good of separate individuals.
As I watch what is unfolding across the globe, with seemingly ever-diverging expressions of these two perspectives – interdependence and individual benefit – it also reminds me of something I teach in the Somatic Experiencing (SE) trainings. It’s not SE, per se, but something I learned from the person who was my SE teacher, Diane Heller. She taught about what we call ‘victim-perpetrator’ dynamics, where there are only two positions: power over and over-powered. Imagine an egg-shaped form with power over at the top and overpowered at the bottom. Only one person, perspective, or group can have power and, if their power is threatened, the only place to go is into powerlessness, into being the ones without power.
As we move from living within a context of these power over/overpowered dynamics, we have an opportunity to experience ‘mutual empowerment.’ For this one, imagine an egg-shaped form lying on its side. Within it are many small circles representing many people with their own power. What this image says is that my power doesn’t take away any of yours and your power doesn’t take away mine. Everyone can be empowered without threatening the empowerment of anyone else.
This week’s experiment invites you to notice and track which power dynamics are most familiar and easy for you to express in your everyday life and activities. You may have a mix of both dynamics – power over and mutual empowerment. The opportunity here is to notice when you drop into power over/overpowered dynamics and play with what it would be like to shift to a mutual empowerment model, where you can explore what it would be like if everyone’s power were respected and promoted, without loss to you or anyone else.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we need to meet situations or people with a fight or flight response, where we may need to establish a boundary or exert our power position in order not to be hurt or disempowered in hurtful ways by someone, or by some institution. That is always a possibility. What this particular experiment asks you to pay attention to, though, is how you move through *your* everyday life and to notice the quality of your inner and outer life, relative to these power dynamics.
If you find that you have a tendency to fall into power-over/overpowered kinds of dynamics, play with what it’s like to stop yourself and to imagine what it would be like, in any given situation, to meet that circumstance or person from a stance of mutual empowerment. As you do so, be sure to have curiosity as your constant companion and to give yourself permission not to take any judgments you may have too seriously. Most of us have been exposed to a lifetime of power over/overpowering dynamics and many of us have only learned to inhabit mutual empowerment later in life, sometimes through hard experience and sometimes because we were lucky enough to run into someone who could teach and model it for us.
As with all these experiments, the invitation here is to become increasingly aware of how you move through the world, and how your actions, beliefs, self-talk, and general perspective on the world affects your quality of life.