Power struggles

In my last post, I talked about one of three powerful ideas that I took away from Deepak and Oprah’s most recent 21-day meditation experience: the value of letting yourself be awed. It’s so easy to look around at all the meanness, intolerance, and cruelty in the world and feel hopeless and sad. But the truth is this world is just as full of love, compassion, and beauty. It also has star-filled skies, blades of grass, dappled light, oceans and whales. To be awed by it all is to open yourself up to wonder and gratitude, and that is truly a life-altering state.

The second powerful idea I wanted to share concerns power itself, and the idea that almost everything we do either adds to or diminishes our power. Some behaviors quite obviously surrender power – not standing up for ourselves or our beliefs, auditioning for the love and acceptance of others, abandoning our dreams because they’re inconvenient or, worse, because they make other people uncomfortable. These are all crappy (and all things I’ve done), but I think we give up power in so many other insidious ways that are all the more damaging because we don’t realize we’re doing it.

For quite some time, I’ve been struggling with the outward, physical signs of my aging. I have age spots where once there were freckles, laugh lines that never go away, body parts that seem suddenly hell bent on heading south. It’s unnerving and I often avoid looking in mirrors because I just don’t want to be reminded all the time. It’s weighed more heavily on me than I’ve been willing to admit, until recently, when this idea of personal power has begun to take hold of me. When I think about power, the ways we seize it and the ways we give it away, it occurs to me that I’ve been unconsciously buying into a cultural narrative I didn’t create, the one that says women of a certain age stop being beautiful (desirable, interesting, relevant).

The irony is I don’t believe that at all. In my own life, I have so many women, my age and older, whom I admire and am inspired by. They are strong, articulate, and funny. They radiate beauty and wisdom in a way I doubt they were even capable of when they were twenty-somethings. They are warm and compassionate and generous, and they don’t suffer fools. They are exactly what I aspire to be, and they are stunningly beautiful.

So, WTF? Why the disconnect? Why am I dazzled by their totality, even as I fret about the wrinkled, sagging, graying details of me?

I think it’s because in this (and many other ways), I’ve relinquished the power I have to tell my own story, to define my own terms. Yesterday I met two very dear friends for coffee. One told me she’s turning 70 next year, and I was stunned. She is a true force of nature, fierce and thoughtful, always evolving herself and her art. She’s absolutely beautiful. That’s what I thought as I sat across from her at our little outside table sipping coffee in the warm spring sun. She owns her story, no doubt about it… and I wonder if there’s anything more beautiful – or more powerful – than that.

This age versus beauty story is just one example of my surrendering power. There are others, and I’m starting to notice them. I’m becoming aware of all the ways in which I’m conforming to the standard narratives of our time and the expectations of others. I’ve made assumptions that I know in my heart of hearts aren’t right for me, and now I’m calling bullshit on all that.

Or trying to. It’s a process. And, to be honest, it isn’t always easy. I’ve been feeling a little uneven lately. Sometimes I feel like an undeniable badass and other times I feel a little worn out. It’s hard work owning your own story, wrestling it free of all the people who’d tell it differently than you would.

Hard, but worth it.

As all the best things are.