“….it’s those who can surf the waves of their own experience who can be the sustained agents of change in this complex world. They don’t just collapse when things get hard. They can stay focused on the challenges and obstacles using their whole body, heart and mind to guide them….”
by Greg Heffron
When we talk about ‘inner power’ what do we mean? We don’t always have worldly power. When you get hit by a ‘tsunami of life,’ you might have no power for a period of time. Just ask someone in a coma. Even great figures like Buddha or Jesus faced difficult circumstances, and weren’t able to ‘snap their fingers’ and make the challenge go away. Brave and powerful resistance fighters battling Hitler in WWII sometimes ended up prisoners. Kind people working to rescue others get swept away in floods.
To a lesser degree this even happens when life is basically overwhelming — like when we’re struggling every week to pay for food and rent while those around us have free time, get to rest, be creative, get to express their preferences and pursue their agendas… Sometimes life leaves us in harsh circumstances. There’s no denying it.
Life — like a tsunami — can simply be bigger and more powerful than we are.
But there is an entirely different form of power that’s available. I want to talk about the unconditional power of connecting to our living human experience. We’re not Gods, but us being human is an incredibly powerful thing. Unconditionally powerful. If only we can understand our real human opportunities to be awake and alive.
Many things push us towards shutting down. But every time, it’s us who decides whether to turn away from our experience. To go numb. To lash out in rage. To drop into destructive addictions. This happens because we lack confidence in our experience as being “basically good.” We’ve decided our human tenderness, vulnerability, anxiety and fear as a kind of “betrayal.” We’ve decided some of our most basic human experience is “unacceptable.”
We begin to say, sometimes out loud, “This is bad… This is really bad…”
Of course, we could be “right.” Things could be “really bad.” Life includes shocking and painful moments. But while that’s true, we’re not usually just talking to ourselves about circumstances. We when say bad, we’re often saying, really: “me having this human experience right now is really bad.”
This is a kind of subtle/unintended side effect: a confusion between the reality of our pain in the moment and attacking our own fundamental ability to experience life. None of us tries to do this. Life is happening quickly, and since we haven’t trained our minds to notice the difference, the two ‘fuse’ into one thing.
This is bad gets turns into being alive right now is bad.
Here, we just made a painful situation worse. As if the moment wasn’t challenging enough. (Which is real.) We’ve now created the unconscious generalization that pain and challenge are ‘invalid experiences.’ This makes the moment much harder and more confusing.
We often don’t know what to do with this wild energy.
“What do I do when I’m not allowed to have the experience I’m having???”
So we begin to create a little storyline. A little “container” to put this energy into:
“It must be me that’s bad — that’s why this pain is happening.”
This is the first moment that deepens our crisis.
Why do we do this? Why torture ourselves? Somehow, we prefer having a story to having no story, and so we’re willing to throw ourselves onto our own fire just so we can “know what’s going on.”
Is this what’s really going on? Are we really “bad?” Absolutely not. And yet the pain of this imaginary storyline is exactly why we flee from it into even more shutdown states. States where we essentially “yank the cables out” so that we can no longer perceive our pain — or anything — accurately. This is how we humans unintentionally create the negative behaviors in our world.
In contrast to this, consider a mind that understands basic truths and has trained properly to see what’s real:
- that every human life includes pain (shock, surprise, disappointment, etc);
- that we are so interdependent with others that our lives are inextricably tied together (i.e. you affecting me is a natural process);
- that even painful experiences deliver real truth (which can build our compassion for ourselves and others and also our understanding of how the world works).
- that our deepest challenge isn’t avoiding all painful situations — which is nearly impossible — but learning to ride the waves of our own basic experience, so that we become ‘expert surfers.’
The power of this ability is insurmountable. When we gain an unshakable connection with ourselves, no outside force can take it from us. No oppressive regime can ‘outlaw’ us having our experience. You could be put into prison and commanded to disconnect with yourself. But regardless, you could still do it — if you had the confidence that your experience was 100% valid.
Not that it would be easy. Living can be hard. Sometimes extremely hard. But that’s the thing. Being ourselves is not easy. It’s never easy. It’s just easier than disconnecting from ourselves — which will always result in even more suffering, and also affects those around us.
And trusting ourselves feels good, even under harsh circumstances. One thinks of great figures like Nobel Peace Prize Winners Nelson Mandela, Rigobeta Menchu, Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama or many others who’ve survived oppression, heartbreak and suffering and came out with brave, smiling faces, working tirelessly to make the world a better place for all of us. These humans reflect our real human heritage. We do have power. And this power is important for ourselves, our communities and for our future.
Ironically, it’s those who can surf the waves of their own experience who can be the sustained agents of change in this complex world. They don’t just collapse when things get hard. They can stay focused on the challenges and obstacles using their whole body, heart and mind to guide them. Staying open and awake, they can wait for the right opportunities to make positive interventions, considering the totality of what is going on, and who is being affected. Far from wallowing in painful experience (one flavor of shut down) they connect to their experience as it’s happening, and use it like a kind of “morning star” to guide them on the long and poignant journey that is life.
With the right perspective and the some dedicated training, we can do the same. How are you training? What wisdom are you seeking out on your journey? Find the best you can. Train hard. It matters. You matter. We’re all in this world together.