Embracing Powerlessness

In a recent session I had with my new counselor Eleanor, she said to me, "Mike, it sounds like embracing powerlessness is something that would benefit you right now."  When she said this, a chill went down my spine and my body tightened up.  "What do you mean, 'embrace powerlessness'?'" I asked.  "Why would I want to do that?"

Powerlessness seems almost like a dirty word to me, at least to my ego for sure.  Priding myself on being a "powerful person" and in the business of "empowering" others, I couldn't imagine what embracing powerlessness even meant, let alone see the value in doing it myself.

Even with my fear and resistance, I continued to listen to what Eleanor had to say about this.  She went on to say, "Allowing yourself to feel powerless doesn't mean you are powerless.  In fact, the more willing you are to embrace the feeling of powerlessness when it shows up, the more authentic power you'll be able to access."

She then taught me a simple meditation/visualization technique to embrace the feeling of powerlessness (for specifics about this technique, click here to listen to my audio podcast where I explain it in detail).  I’ve been using this technique for the past few weeks and talking about it with people close to me.  It has been incredibly liberating.

Through this process, I’ve realized that in many of the areas of my life where I’ve struggled and suffered most, one of the key factors has been my inability to acknowledge, express, or embrace my feelings of powerlessness. Instead of embracing powerlessness, I often end up erroneously attempting to force outcomes or results in the name of being “responsible” or “powerful,” when what is usually really driving me is fear and control (hence the struggling/suffering).  Can you relate in any way?

I recently heard the author, speaker, entrepreneur Chip Conley give a presentation at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco.  He opened with the serenity prayer, which I appreciated and heard in a new way – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I’ve always had a bit of a reaction to this prayer and its underlying wisdom – not wanting to fully acknowledge the idea that there are actually things I cannotchange.  However, this prayer is all about consciously embracing our own powerlessness and there’s true brilliance in its simplicity and insight.

What if we stopped pushing against, resisting, and fighting with the things we think need to be changed about life, others, and ourselves – especially those things that are out of our control?  What if we were able to bring a deeper level of acceptance and serenity to the difficulties and challenges in our lives, instead of piling onto them (as well as ourselves and others) with loads of judgment, pressure, expectation, and more?

It’s incredibly liberating when we’re able to acknowledge and express our true emotions, even the ones we may not like, such as powerlessness.  We tend to have lots of stories, beliefs, and real hierarchy when it comes to emotions – deciding that some are “good” and others are “bad.”  The reality is that emotions are positive when we express them in a healthy way and negative when we suppress them, hold them back, or pretend we’re not feeling them.

We’ve all had lots of positive experiences in life when we’ve had the courage to express our fear, sadness, anger, and more (i.e. the “bad” ones).  We’ve also had negative and painful experiences when we’ve withheld or suppressed our love, excitement, passion, gratitude, and others (i.e. the “good” ones).  Maybe it’s less about the emotion itself and more about our willingness and ability to express it in a healthy and authentic way.

It’s also important to remember that human emotions aren’t sustainable.  They are meant to be felt and expressed.  Once they are felt and expressed, however, they pass through us beautifully.  This is why we often feel much better after a good cry (see my post on “The Benefit of Tears”).  The more conscious we are about our emotions and the more willing we are to express them authentically – the happier, healthier, and more alive we become.

As I’ve been allowing myself to embrace and express my own feelings of powerlessness, even though it has been a bit scary and uncomfortable, especially at first, I’ve been experiencing a deeper level of peace and power in regards to some very stressful and uncertain circumstances I'm currently facing in my life.  And, embracing powerlessness in general has started to shift my entire outlook and is liberating me from a great deal of undue pressure and expectation that I’ve been placing on myself for many years (i.e. most of my life.)

Mike Robbins

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