The Nature of Power


In the 21st Century, power will not change the nature of women, women will change the nature of power. ~ Bella Abzug

Power is only a Word

Power is only a word, but it’s a word with a sordid past…and a very sordid present. It has a lot of baggage.

Power, as we know it today, dominates. Silences. Abuses.

Power is abused, too. At some point, power became power-over.

Somewhere, at some time, in the ‘rules’ of the human world, a rule was written about power, men and women. A rule was made that says, men have power over women. Somehow we, men and women, seem to believe in this story.

The recent, deeply disturbing, widely broadcast story of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani’s imminent death by stoning, once again, brought the tyrannical abuses of power-over into the bright light of our awareness.

A few days after the international outcry about both her death sentence and the method the Iranian government threatened to use, the archaic practice of stoning, I still couldn’t shake the visceral anger, sadness and powerlessness I felt. This was such blatant, abuse of power; power so egregious, that I shudder to contemplate just how often and how much this kind of sadistic power is used against those who are completely vulnerable to it.

In the swirl of these emotions, I felt a very real sensation of complete vulnerability as a woman. Here was this beautiful woman, waiting in an Iranian prison for a death sentence to be carried out in a most barbaric and painful way. And, here I was, sitting safely in my home, but acutely feeling an intense vulnerability, as if there was no separation between us.

Then it hit me, there is no separation between us. In a very real collective sense, what is done to any part of life, is done to us all. If we are aware of the deeper feelings that move through the human soul, we know this.

On this same level, we all feel the pain of abusive power, oppression and misogyny whether we are the abuser or victim.

As I sat with these feelings, I suddenly felt a tenderness open up that was deep. It was painful, vulnerable and raw. It filled every part of every thing.

I wrote about this tenderness, about a revolution of tenderness in the first post of this three-part series on Tenderness, Power and Grace.

Soft Power

I know many women who push their power away because the only power they’ve known has been used against them. I’m one of those women.

And yet, my power keeps pulling me to it. This is a different kind of power than power-over. It comes from deep in the bowels of my femaleness. It feels rooted to the earth. It feeds my soul. It nurtures my creativity. It is the source of my deep and abiding love for all of life.

There is an unwritten, unspoken, yet very palpable threat of violence against women if we do step fully into the power we know is contained within our beings.

I feel this threat of violence. Yet, this power must come to life, regardless. This is soft power, a tremendous tenderness toward all of life. It is a great compassionate love. It compels me to drop even more deeply into this place of fierce tenderness.

Of course we’re coming to the brink of extinction of so many forms of life, including our own – our way for so long has been to dominate, control and destroy the life principle, namely that of woman. She is the embodiment of the life principle.

What would life be like if power-over, once again, became simply power, the power to be able – to express, to create, to be, to act? I don’t know, but I do know it will have something to do with love. It will come from not rejecting anything, because what we reject and condemn in another, is the same as rejecting ourselves, and no peace can ever come from that.

The Power of Woman

This is the power of woman: to love everything, without exception. As the embodiment of the life principle, she holds it all, without division. This power can only come when she no longer believes she must be everything to everyone. It can only come when she comes home to herself, with love for all the beauty she is. When she sees the value of herself, she can know the fullest power that is available to her as woman.

How does woman do that when she faces the immensity of oppression, degradation and misogyny?

By turning to look at another woman, to look deeply in another woman’s heart, to see within her what she can’t see in herself. By turning to the earth, to look deeply in the earth’s heart.

By opening our hearts to earth, to feel the incredible suffering this beautiful, living, pulsing beauty is enduring, and at the same time seeing her strength, her capacity to heal, her desire to continue to provide a home for all of life.

Woman is tied to the earth more deeply than man. When we open to her power to heal and regenerate, we can know our own capacity to heal and regenerate.

Anne Baring speaks of women:

There is a danger that in seeking power and equality with men in order for her voice and her creative gifts to be recognised, woman may unconsciously reject the very foundation which gives, through her millennial experience as custodian of life, something of supreme importance to say.

Can we…

There is no question that women are changing the nature of power. We see it occurring everywhere. As we do…

Can we encourage each other to come forth into our power?

Can we hold each other in supreme love and compassion as we travel this sacred path together?

Can we stand firm in the knowledge that we are worthy of the sacred nature we know is at the core of our womanhood?

Can we love those parts of ourselves that feel so difficult to love?

Can we know, in our experience, that we are all mothers to all the world’s children?

Can we love others with the fierce tenderness that might melt the deepest darkest hate into the most brilliant light of love?

And, you?

I’d love to know your feelings and thoughts about power and women; about what is emerging through us; about your story with power.

This is the second post in a series of three on tenderness, power and grace. All three posts are part of the Summer of Love Invitational, where the lovely Mahala Mazerov has invited bloggers to write about loving kindness.

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22 Replies to “The Nature of Power”

  1. You said: “I still couldn’t shake the visceral anger, sadness and powerlessness I felt”.

    This sentence really jumped out at me because I wouldn’t have been aware of the story of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani had it not been for your mentions on Twitter. I think I retweeted some of your tweets. I then saw the story mentioned on the BBC news website.

    It’s definitely not powerlessness. I took notice of what you said because it’s you, because I trust what you write about and believe has importance. You created awareness.

    Power is often that tiny butterfly wing flapping on one side of the world that has an effect on the other side. Real power has much to do with love and integrity. And you have that.

    1. Nicola, Yes, what you write is true. Our circles are powerful. I felt power rush through my veins as i took action. AND, I also felt powerless…a both/and. I’m so glad you shared with me that you became aware through the posting I did. It’s a reflection of the power of circles and conscious action.

  2. Your ideas so resonate with me. What you said about there being no separation seems very clear, and it seems to be what feeds the ability to love everything unconditionally. I love what you have to say about opening our hearts to the earth…. It doesn’t seem possible to look deeply into the earth’s heart without looking deeply into our own hearts, with tenderness and compassion, at the same time.

    1. Kimberly, Thank you for sharing your perceptions here with us. I doesn’t seem possible, does it? Women are so tied to the earth. We feel her presence and her pain…if we’re willing to open our hearts to her and to our own experience of suffering. That’s our doorway in, though. Through the beauty of the heart. Blessings.

  3. my darlingest julie, it occurs to me as i read this post for the 5th consecutive time, that we are all afraid of the same thing, aren’t we?

    back up just a minute here and let me say that i am quite reluctant to use words like “we” and “all” and even “women” because i feel i can only speak for me, for myself (or my self, depending). is that because i have been smacked down so many times for daring to speak on behalf of, for daring to be inclusive in my remarks and observations? yes, in part. it is also because i know that my beliefs, my experiences, my feelings and knowings are not necessarily the same as everybody else’s. for me, that’s one major distinction of patriarchy: it embodies the my-way-or-the-highway mentality while i have a natural leaning towards inclusivity – with respect for differences, of course.

    and so i have veered off into murky waters that i can feel but not yet articulate, so i’ll leave that now and go back to my original thought, and i will speak for myself, attaching the disclaimers that are not only for purposes of self-protection but, as i have also learned, are as necessary as my thick, most-jovial southern accent as a tool for (hoping to) be heard.

    seems to me that i am afraid of my power because of how it might change my life. it also seems to me that others are quite possibly afraid of my power because of how it might shake and rattle their comfortable way of being.

    so if we’re both afraid of the same thing . . . . . . . .

    as you so rightly say, power is just a word – just 5 little letters that in any other combination create laughter or generic conversation or thank you notes.

    you know, my grandmother made biscuits from scratch 3 times a day. she’d put the same ingredients in the same wooden bowl, mix them together, then knead the dough. as she kneaded, the dough would stick to her hands, and she’d have to keep pushing it off each individual finger and mash it back into the dough. but an ample coating of flour on both her hands and the lump of dough kept the dough to itself so she could work with it. “power” is like that, isn’t it? without a sound coating of flour – without looking at it as just a word made of 5 letters – it sticks to us, preventing the open conversations that will eventually lead to a new definition, to a makeover.

    okay, in the middle of typing out the analogy of grandmother’s biscuits, i got a phone call, and now i struggle to come back to that place where the passion – the power – was flowing freely from my fingertips. i should probably have enough sense to delete that whole paragraph since i now can’t even finish applying the analogy, but i don’t. not today.

    1. Dear Jeanne, “seems to me that i am afraid of my power because of how it might change my life. it also seems to me that others are quite possibly afraid of my power because of how it might shake and rattle their comfortable way of being.” yes. patriarchy keeps things in this status quo. don’t rattle things. don’t change things. Patriarchy is all about control. Change is about chaos. not good bedfellows. conversations of change most certainly could be messy. very messy. perhaps that coating of flour is needed. hmmm…..

  4. I stand before the reality of my power and tremble — for I have cast it aside for so
    long — I’ve given it away, sold it for security, traded it for comfort — and
    yet like a pilot light, it’s kept on burning. And then, I’ve misused it, coming on too strong or sneaking it out in passive aggression or bitchiness. I’ve felt guilty when I’ve used it and resentful when I’ve denied it, shut it down, shut it up, shut it off. Could it be that it is only tenderness toward that flickering flame called power that can allow this awesome force to come out from the places its been hiding and light my path? heal my soul? embolden my very life so that I can channel its warmth and light and heat and energy with courage and boldness? Is it possible that tender power and the power of tenderness are already dancing within my depths, aching to work together to show me how to live this next part of my life? Ah — I hold each — my power and my tenderness — with reverence…..and ask them, “How do you want me to live–authentically, courageously, boldly, lovingly– with you?”

    1. Renae, YES WE CAN. I am grateful to be surrounded by you, and the many beautiful souls who know we can change the nature of power.

  5. Julie, I read your post here, attracted by your words SOFT POWER at twitter. Wondering what you will say about it. As I read, I notice how caught I am, tense from pressures outside myself, situations I am allowing to have power over me. Simple day to day things that have escalated in my consciousness and my body without my noticing.

    I breath deeply, center myself, and reclaim my soft power. I remember John O’Donohue’s writing of welcoming all parts of the Self, of being hospitable to the self. We wombn have that power, to welcome all parts of ourselves, because we know there is no separation. Yet we do this alone at our peril. We must have a circle of women to hold one another. Our soft power is in our Circle, not our solitude.

    Thank you for the reminder, Julie. I will take my troubles to my circle, to give and receive of the medicine.

    1. Dear Carla, What a delight it is to see you here! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Those things seem to find their way in without noticing, until something alerts us and we breath, center and drop back into the body. It is so important to welcome all parts of the self, because a division within is so painful. And, so it is without, too. The divisions we feel are killing us in so many ways. I love your reminder of circles. In my initial post about power, I mentioned that. And, here you bring me back full-circle. Thank you. Blessings.

  6. Really beautiful post. 🙂 I’ve been working to recover myself in this area, too. It reminds me of a Dalai Lama quote which I can’t remember in its entirety now, but which basically says: Compassion is not just loving your friends and family, and it’s not a form of pity; it’s a genuine concern for your fellow living being and a desire for them to transcend suffering and find happiness. This is a type of soft power.

    By the way, your new blog theme makes everything go off the left side of my browser a little bit 🙁 (Safari for Mac)

    1. Meg, Yes, compassion is soft power. These human ways are so powerful, even though the cultural paradigm would tell us otherwise. We can feel the power of them, within. Thank you for sharing here. And, thanks for the heads-up about the theme issue…have passed it on to my web goddess.

  7. Hi Julie,

    One of my favorite topics. I took my power back. It started out slow at first, then it gained momentum. I realized how we all – men and women – give our real power away out of fear of losing something. The irony is that you lose yourself unless you take it back.

    It doesn’t mean you transform into some egomaniac. Those folks don’t have power or they wouldn’t need to try and hold on so tightly to it. They’re scared as well.

    Taking back your power means you stand up for yourself. It means you question everything before agreeing to anything. It means you go after your life instead of waiting passively for it to happen.

    I found it beyond liberating. It boosted my confidence, compassion, and caring. It made it o.k. to be human and flawed and wonderful and crazy and hilarious and out of control!

    We are way more powerful than we realize. Many horrors in the world happen because folks feel powerless and act accordingly.

    Thanks, Giulietta

    1. Welcome, Giulietta. I’m glad you’re here. It is ironic, isn’t it! Thank you for sharing all the pieces of taking back your power. You’ve written some wise words here, sister. Blessings.

  8. Interesting post and conversation. Yes, many fear their own power, fear taking responsibility in that way and then being willing to face the inevitable changes it brings. Yet, that is where the fullness of life resides, so best to embrace rather than avoid it.

    I recommend Power Versus Force by Hawkins, a book that speaks to these issues and more.

    My thought is that the willingness to take full personal responsibility for our choices is what opens the door to our neglected and denied power. And pretending to be powerless victims is a truly massive misuse of power, when you stop and think about it. Any mistakes in learning to use power wisely will be far less than the damage to ourselves and those around us caused by never using it at all.

    1. Lexi, “Any mistakes in learning to use power wisely will be far less than the damage to ourselves and those around us caused by never using it at all.” I think this is such a wise statement. We only learn by doing… Thank you.

  9. Nothing like singing this chant with a bunch of women… “When I was young, they all told me it was wrong to be strong. But now I’m older, and I tell them, I’ve been givin away my power for too long. I’m takin it back. I’m takin it back. I’m takin it back back back because its mine.” Much better with the melody, but I can’t find it to link to. I have sung that song alone, remembering the feeling of singing it with a group of women, many a time when I’ve needed it… on my way to work, when I’m submitting some writing, etc. It occurs to me that this post is like that— women collectively taking back our power that is rooted in the earth, connected to all beings… power that is really wisdom. We need each other to do it, to remember it. Thank you for opening the space for this so masterfully with your wisdom.

    1. Along with the singing… action. I give to Madre, which I believe is an excellent grass roots org. that works to stop violence against women. Writing and painting are actions too– any, all and every form of action is needed. It doesn’t always save lives, but it does sometimes.

  10. Julie, This piece on feminine power is beautiful. Please find additional ways to get this out into the world! particularly the part that starts “I know many women…through the Power of Women. I’ll quote and link in my blog (I’m still getting it up and going as we are in the midst of so much!)
    Love your blog. Thanks for this fine work.

    1. Karen,
      Thank you for your enthusiasm and encouragement to get this out. I appreciate your linking to your blog. I’ll see where else this might want to go!

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