The power of love versus the love of power! Upon first glance, it seems that power has historically been experienced as “power over,” as strength that enables control or domination. While this view certainly finds evidence in many major historical turns and in our current public discourse, an alternative view of power, “power with” (See Mary Parker Follett) may be seen when we look closely and from below. Buddhist Abbess, Pema Chödron, asserts that in the simplest ways, our lives are knit together in a web of interdependent kindness. For example, driving to the supermarket is possible due to the dedication of the construction workers, road maintenance, electricity grid and creative and sustainable transformation of natural resources. On a more profound level, power with is love in action. It is compassion, respect and care for self and others, greeting the world based on common goodness.
Coming from a place of integrity, honesty and positive intention, power becomes an element of transformation, healing, goodwill and peace. However, power misused can be an agent of breakdown, separation, harm, discord or war. At a historical moment dense with fear of the ascendance of power over, a call to renew the power of love in our relationships with ourselves, others, and in our public life is paramount!
With so many forces encouraging power over, how might we strengthen the power of love — power with — in our lives and communities? Dr. Richard Davidson, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin Madison, applies neuroscience to explore — and ultimately affirm — the effectiveness of mindfulness, meditation and other contemplative practices in revealing and strengthening the inherent goodness in humanity. For instance, studies conducted at Yale and at Max Planck Institute in Germany highlight that human and chimpanzee toddlers are oriented toward altruistic adults and toward creating altruistic relationships with others. Dr. Davidson suggests that these findings affirm our basic goodness, and he suggests engaging in practices to strengthen our mind’s capacity for compassion, kindness and positivity.
In moments of stillness and silence, the interdependence of our ability to meet our own failures, mistakes and embarrassments with love that nurtures and transforms and our ability to employ the power of love in our external relationships becomes clear. So, moving forward into 2017, into the month of love, into a new presidential term, take a moment to strengthen your own internal resources of goodwill and transformation:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit.
- Bring your attention to your breath. Let it naturally become deep and slow.
- As you inhale, send love to all parts of your body — to your toes, to your internal organs, all the way to the cells lining your blood vessels.
- As you exhale, send love to others near you — to your pet, to your spouse, to your colleague.
- Breathe in love for all parts of your self — body, mind, heart, spirit.
- Breathe out love for those slightly farther from you — to your workplace, to your town, to our new government, to those in parts of the world you have never seen.
- Accept any resistance or judgment, and let it go. Send places of resistance your compassion, and allow tightness to release.
Follow your own intuition. This heart-strengthening meditation can be as long or as brief as feels right for you. You might do it in the waiting room, in line at the grocery store, in the moment when someone says something you disagree with and your chest tightens with irritation. Step by step, this simple practice takes us back to our innate capacity to love and to let love be our guiding power.
We are blessed with the gift of choice. In each moment, we may choose the love of power wherein we allow our ego to rule, where we lose sight of authentic respect and care for ourselves, others and our planet. Or, we may choose the power of love, wherein we walk our diverse paths empowered by the energy of dignity, honesty, compassion and concern for the well-being of ourselves and others.