August 31st, 2017 / Jake White
Authentic Power comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. When I think about authenticity, I am taken back to a memory of playing soccer with a group of young men. I remember in one instance playing with a guy that carried himself with palpable confidence and power; he exhibited many of the qualities that I tried to emulate. He was a leader, which was how I always wanted to portray myself to other people. While playing with this guy I got the opportunity to learn a lot about myself at this time in my life. Looking back now, I can see this one event taught me how to come from an authentic place inside of myself. Authentic power arises when we no longer deny what is actually present inside of us, and when we can clearly see how judgments and perceptions are the ways in which we disconnect from authenticity. Perceptions are tied to how we want people to see us, how we want to portray ourselves in the world; it is how we structure our identity based on what we think will get us approval and ultimately peace, joy, and happiness. Perception starts with how we judge ourselves and what parts of ourselves we feel are not of value to other people. Judgment leads to denial, and denial leads to a sense of frustration, anger, and hatred based on a feeling of not fitting in, of being dissatisfied with how we are. Finding out how to accept and nurture ourselves is the key to healthy and positive relationships and it starts by being willing to investigate what it is about ourselves that we reject. Sometimes our most painful memories can be our source of liberation once we finally let go of the self-judgment that keeps us trapped and comfortably restrained.
I can remember being on the soccer field, at first admiring the other young man that I saw as a strong, confident leader. It is one thing to admire someone’s aggression and authority from a distance, and it is another to experience it first hand. On one occasion, while receiving the soccer ball, this guy slammed into my back and I toppled over onto the ground. In the moment of impact my hips lurched forward and I felt a pain shoot through my groin muscle. Lying face down on the ground, I felt the agony of my injury and the unquestionable emotional pain and vulnerability, which at that time I labeled as weakness. I felt in that moment that compared to this guy, I was soft, weak, and sensitive. During this moment I did not want the other men on the soccer field to see my vulnerability. I wanted them to see me as confident and secure, so I quickly rose up off the ground and played through my pain.
I can see now that I never felt satisfied while playing soccer. I loved soccer with all of my heart and soul but this story epitomizes where I derived power from when I interacted with the sport. I always played with a desire to overcome my own weaknesses and to show people that I was good enough, confident enough, and strong enough to be a great player. I was deriving power from an unauthentic place and it resulted in consistently feeling inadequate. This is what happens when we use self-judgment and perception as our source of power: it always leads to feeling less than other people and a need to prove ourselves. In my case, the perception that I needed to be tough and confident stood at odds with the vulnerability that I felt as I was laying face down on the ground in pain.
So how do we change our negative perceptions and come from an authentic place? Authenticity comes from a consistent practice of first identifying the self judgments that we have used in order to generate power; second, looking deeper into the positive reasons why we have utilized negative identifications. To use my story as an example, portraying myself as self confident helped me fit in with the other soccer players, helped protect me from being hurt physically and emotionally by them, and at the time gave me a sense of satisfaction when I received the praise, approval, and recognition that I was searching for. Identifying the positive aspects of the negative judgments leads to a sense of understanding and compassion. It brings us to a place where we fully have a grasp of the reasons why we separate from our feelings and how it has protected us. In a sense, negative identifications have to play out until we are ready to look at them, define them, and eventually let them go.
The third step in bringing forth authenticity is to see the negative repercussions of generating power from negative place within us. My resistance to my vulnerability led to disliking an aspect of myself, which resulted in feelings of pain, frustration, and anger. It also led to interactions with other men that reflected my own disapproval of myself. I frequently found myself in moments of abuse similar to the impact that I experienced on the soccer field when my feeling of weakness was reinforced by other men’s comments or aggression. I constantly found myself re-experiencing the vulnerability that I attempted to hide.
The fourth step that we must take in order to come from authenticity is to let go of our negative identifications. The way that we do this is by no longer giving them the power they once had by acknowledging our feelings, especially in the moments when we are in a reactive place. In my case, it means connecting with myself when I am hurt and vulnerable, coming into my feelings, and silencing my mind for a moment or two. It is helpful to know that letting go is a simple practice of feeling and allowing the negative thoughts to finally be silent. The power that is given to our beliefs comes from the physical feeling that backs them up. These feelings can be hurt, pain, disappointment, dissatisfaction, sadness, or resignation. These are the feelings that we protect, guard, and separate from in order to feel a sense of safety and comfort. When we come into our feelings, we let go of the shell that has protected us for a long time.
By identifying self-judgments, seeing the positive reasons we use them, understanding the negative repercussions, and finally letting them go by being silent with our deeper feelings, we ready ourselves to be authentic in our life.
Authentic power is what we develop from the above practice. For me, this meant being completely honest with how I protected myself and how this led to an unauthentic stance in my life, searching for love and approval outside of myself. Authentic power came from developing practices that helped me find love and compassion for myself. When I was lying injured on the soccer field, it meant being able to allow myself to feel completely, even if I was risking other people seeing me as vulnerable. Strength is developed when we stay open, even at the risk of being fully seen. It taught me over time that being open to feeling allows me to finally see who I truly am and to let go of my perceptions of what I think I should be. It forced me to create a new definition of what it means to be strong and powerful. Through practice, I began to see my sensitivity as a source of unimaginable strength. I found that caring about myself was far more superior to any sense of false confidence I could create through pushing myself to overcome my pain. I learned that my previously perceived weakness is actually a source of strength when I create practices around being present for myself. I have learned that exploring authentic power is a journey of finding the practices that help me continue to stay honest, open, and flow through my life. If we can decide to be open and vulnerable, then we can finally find power in wholeness and permanently let go of the stories that wrongly define us.