On my two-week vacation up north in a cabin, I often turn within. “What’s happening with me right now?” I try to listen to myself in a deeper way. To hear my journey from a deeper level then my ordinary, repeating stories and I often turn to writing. I pull out my Spriritual Journey- Journal Book and start writing. The book I turn to a lot is “Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest” by Christina Baldwin. It’s an old book, published in 1990. I often use it during transitions in my life. I worked yesterday with chapter 20, “Becoming Persons of Power.”
Baldwin begins her chapter by saying:
“Life is relationship: we are empowered and empowering all the time. Empowerment means to give others what they need, and to allow others to give us what we need. …. Empowerment is mutual.” P. 287
I think I began this time with this chapter because I just completed in early July a Zen Transmission Ceremony for one of my senior students who, through this ceremony, is now acknowledged as a Zen Teacher. It is an empowerment ceremony made 800 or more years ago (in Dogen’s time and parts of it before Dogen from China) and surprised me by its power and depth. What surprised me the most - I felt it as mutually empowering. I had to let go of all my personal stories of weakness and self-doubt, and become Vairochana Buddha sitting on the lotus seat and find the place in myself that can do this without doubt. This ceremony empowered me! It was mutual empowerment. As often is said, the student brings forth the teacher. Now, on my time alone, I am trying to digest what happened to me during this empowerment ceremony and integrate it into my historic self. So, during this self-reflective time, I am investigating and praying to let go of all the ways I disempowered myself, which has been a refrain of feedback over the years of my teaching life.
“When we take up the spiritual quest, we invite creative forces to interact with us and to impact our lives in ways we cannot predict and will not control. We find ourselves in a relationship with power, needing to become a person of power, not ego power, but spiritual power.
Spiritual empowerment is evidenced in our lives by our willingness to tell ourselves the truth, to listen to truth when it’s told to us, and to dispense truth as lovingly as possible when we feel compelled to talk from the heart.” P. 293
This is what I’ve found to be true. To become empowered, you have to let go. Ah, the paradox! We have to work with ourselves and with the outer forces as mutual partners and therefore things often go in ways we don’t imagine. I have learned to lead by going with the flow but also to listen to the small voice within. This is the voice I hear while journaling, and sometimes I have to stand up for this small voice’s point of view and its needs. Then the small voice becomes the big voice. We have to both be connected to the particulars of our life and our decisions and also merged with the large mind which is the dynamic system that is occurring all around us. This is Zen practice.
· The willingness to confront and be confronted
· To support and be supported
· To encourage and be encouraged
· To be sourced from love and concern P. 291
It is very hard to speak your truth from the heart or in reverse to listen when someone else is giving feedback. The cost of empowerment is social discomfort. That has been hard for me to live through and yet, it is a true gate to learning equanimity, patience and egolessness.
It is difficult to live through what we might call our obstacles. Especially in a sangha, or as the teacher, where our problems are often seen publicly. We sometimes let this humiliation or “failure”, disempower us. But Baldwin has wonderful words of encouragement or empowerment in those times:
“Empowerment within comes from the little voice of our own heart, and from our willingness
· To interpret events positively
· To keep realigning ourself to our visions
· With our deep acceptance
· With our trust in the relationship to the sacred
Empowerment within is like a gyroscope, righting our course and righting it again.
It is how we deal with our challenges that make us empowered.
We look at our role models and ask:
· Could we be as courageous?
· Could we take such a clear stand?
· Could we make this or that sacrifice?
· How could we handle such success? Such failure? Such tragedy?”
The next thing that Baldwin emphasizes is getting to know the boundaries of power and the boundaries of “helping.” Otherwise, we disrespect others and become exhausted from our attempts to manage others.
“Exchanging of empowerment give us what we need – but no more.
The empowerer doesn’t overstep the bounds and try to do for the other person what that person needs to do for him/herself. Empowerment does not rip off someone else’s challenges and do them ourselves because it makes us feel noble or powerful to “help”; empowerment isn’t a means of busily avoiding the harder challenges of our own lives; empowerment is saying and doing what we know in our hearts is right – and not letting the mind’s rationalizations goof up the fair exchange of power.” P. 289-291
In closing, I’d like to repeat myself- empowering myself often means letting go. And Baldwin concurs when she writes;
“There is a necessity of “volunteering to lose control” over many aspects of my life that I had previously assumed required my attempts to maintain control…. Over and over, I have to replace control with faith. To become a person of power is to become a person of faith.” P. 297