Power is a word I've been afraid of for most of my life. When I hear it, what comes to my mind is a large, intimidating and forceful presence. It's an "I win and you lose" mentality that's about control and ruling by fear. It's a person who makes decisions to benefit themselves. Needless to say, it's not something that I've wanted to be associated with.
Growing up, I witnessed how people with influence and authority often misused their power to take advantage of and even harm others. I learned to associate the word power with what our culture considers masculine traits: assertive, strong, getting your way. As a result, I never aspired to be "a powerful woman." After all, are powerful women the ones that people like? Do powerful women get the man? Are they respected by their peers and colleagues? Are truly powerful women admired in our culture? I'm not so sure.
Mostly what I've seen in the media and in my own life is that the "powerful" woman is singled out. She is alone and visible in a way that can turn into an open invitation for criticism, jealousy, body-shaming, slut-shaming and general nastiness from both women and men. The risk is to be labeled a cold bitch, an ambitious social climber, a man-killer, a killjoy, shrill, bossy, overbearing, a bad mother...the list goes on. Just a quick glance at the way Hillary Clinton and Serena Williams are treated as public figures gives you a sense of what can be expected when a woman chooses to stand up in this way.
How did we get here?
When I first started to investigate what power could mean in my life as a woman, I was immediately confronted with a legacy of hundreds, if not thousands of years of oppression of women and the feminine. Women around the world have been persecuted and killed for the crimes of speaking their minds, following their hearts and generally asserting themselves as worthy human beings. In Europe, women who acted as healers, midwives and wisdom keepers for their communities were slaughtered. It is estimated that 200,000 or more witches were tortured, burnt or hanged in the Western world from 1500 until around 1800. (I highly recommend watching The Burning Times and reading Witches, Midwives and Nurses for more in-depth information about this.)
In America today, women earn less than men for the same work, women's reproductive rights are being challenged by our elected officials, we face an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and our sitting president has been directly quoted as saying extremely derogatory things about women, including a prominent female journalist. It's a culture that's not very conducive to empowerment. And it's no wonder that women often face doubt and fear when stepping into positions of power, voicing their truth or asserting more control over their own lives, bodies and decisions.
But does it have to be like this? What is power anyway?
What I realized as I learned more about myself and my own conditioning is that I mistook power for the abuse of power that is so common in our culture. In reality, powerful people shouldn't need to hurt others or make a show of their strength. True power lies in the deep knowing of who you are, what you love and what you're willing to stand up for. When you know yourself, it's impossible to be controlled by others or be seduced by your own ego. You become an ally of life, a compassionate warrior, a truth-teller, an agent of love. You become a person who makes decisions not only for your personal benefit but for the benefit of your community as a whole.
I'm so glad that things are changing and that there are amazing women who model feminine leadership and power by walking in service, integrity and respect. In addition to inspiring public figures like Michelle Obama, Brené Brown, Bree Newsom and Malala Yousafzai, there are countless grandmothers, mothers, aunts, local government officials, social workers, teachers, gardeners and community activists transforming lives each day with their version of power.
So the way that I'm now choosing to redefine power for myself is this: Power is alignment. Alignment to source, your guides, nature, love itself. Power is not something you can hold on to or collect. It's a vibration that moves through you. You can have access to power but it's not yours to keep. Power is a gift. Power flows, it feeds you and those around you. Have you ever felt so good just by being in the same room with someone? That's real power.
This kind of power is sourced from life. It doesn't destroy needlessly and it cannot be depleted. It's the power to serve what you love, sometimes gently, sometimes fiercely.
Here's what I believe: You have the power to speak the truth even when you know it won't please everyone. You have the power to sing a song to your own heart when it feels bruised. You have the power to believe in the dawn when all you can see is darkness. You have the power to hug someone who is suffering, offer your gratitude to the rain, pray for the land and surrender to the unknown. You have the power to love everything around you back to life again. And that power is true power because it cannot be taken away. It's the power in which "I win, you win, we all win."
May it be so.