I could have done that better.
There it is. The thought that most of us have had at some or other time. Showing how we continue on our journey of our discovery towards what it means to be human.
“Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.””*
Philip Newell is using the words of poet Mary Oliver as he reflects on power, how those who have power need others not to have power:
‘Those who cling to power for their own sake, or for the sake of their chosen communities and their special interest groups, do not want everyone to shine.’**
Implicitly or explicitly, our educational, business, political, entertainment, and religious systems support and exploit this. I found myself reading a blog from marketer and writer Seth Godin next.
In his experience of marketing, Godin identifies three forms of power:
‘Every brand gets to make this choice, pick one of three:
- We have the power over you
- You have the power over your choices and your competitors
- Our products and services give everyone power’^
After this, I read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, just where Harari is outlining of Hernán Cortés’ conquest of the Mayan and Aztec empires. Cortés definitely choose the first option identified by Godin. 550 Spaniards with their technology against millions of Mayans and Aztecs without. The indigenous people of these lands had power – they could have snuffed out the hundreds with their millions but it seems they believed in the power of these invaders before their own.
After reading a couple of pages of Sapiens, I went on to read Rebecca Solnit’s description of the pilgrimage destination of Chimayó in New Mexico, from which pilgrims would take home holy soil rather than holy water:
‘The curative properties of the earth were already known in 1813 – a pinch of it in the fire was said to abate storms.’^^
Solnit continues, reflecting on the pilgrim and power:
‘Their secular powerlessness may be compensated for by a sacred power, however – the power of the weak, derived on the one hand from the resurgence of nature when structural power is removed, and on the other from the reception of sacred knowledge. Much of what has been bound by social structure is liberated, notably the sense of comradeship and communion, or communitas.’^^
Here’s a mixture of magical power – do something here with earth on the fire and the storm will calm down – and something real – the power of liminality and communitas for those who enter into it.
We know there’s more and we’re trying to discover it.
There is, I believe, a power within each of us which is about curiosity, imagination, and creativity, that involves compassion and generosity. It’s identified here in part by Hugh Macleod:
‘The hunger will give you everything. And it will take from you everything. It will cost you your life, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. But knowing this, of course, is what ultimately sets you free.’*^
There’s something we want to do more than anything else and that is where we find our power. It consumes us and keeps us going at the same time. It feels like Tom Hodgkinson attests to this power when he writes:
‘I will never retire. I will continue reading and writing till the day I die.’^*
Here is something about power those seeking to always have more do not understand: it seems: power exists in both receiving and giving. The power from within is courageous, generous, and wise. Any other kind of power isn’t worth having.
Peter Sense writes about the learning disability of “the enemy is out there.” Needing to overcome this enemy in order to take away its power blinds us to the “in here.” (The knock-on learning disability, says Senge, is “the illusion of taking charge.”)⁺
For power, look within.
(*Mary Oliver, quoted in Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog Marketing about power and with power.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From Hugh Macleod’s Evil Plans.)
(^*From Tom Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians.)
(⁺See Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)