In Parts I, II, & III of this blog post series, we explored courage, compassion, and wisdom, acceptance, and curiosity as ways of relating to ourselves, other people and the world that reduce suffering – our own and that of others. In this final post of the series we will address empowerment, which is a belief in ones capacity to make choices.
Believing that we are helpless or that we have no influence fuels our afflictive emotions because it increases fear and uncertainty. Helplessness often arises from the misguided notion that we are at the mercy of things outside of us. This feeling of having no choice emerges from an external locus of control. However, when we start to realize how much is determined by what is inside of us, we become empowered. It is interesting to note that empowerment often naturally arises out of acceptance. This is because in order to become empowered, we must first awaken to and accept some important ideas.
One idea that can be very empowering to accept is that “reality” and “truth” are not fixed, universal and unchanging entities – nor are they capable of being possessed by any one person. Everyone, including our family members – even our own children – is experiencing the world through their own unique filter consisting of ideas, beliefs, preferences, motivations and much more. Because of this, everyone’s particular “truth” or “reality” is subjective. To assume or insist others should think and operate the same way we do is folly. It can be challenging to accept that there is no such thing as “should” outside our own minds and that “truth” – at least that which is understood within the confines of our limited human capabilities – is a matter of perception.
Another concept that can be empowering to accept is that anything can happen at any time, whether helpful or harmful, wanted or unwanted, regardless of how skillfully you or others in the world have acted. Practically speaking, this means that even if you do everything “right”, things may turn out “wrong” and vice versa. Sometimes we can find no thing and no one to blame, not even ourselves, for the way things wind up. Related to this is the understanding that all things come to an end or transform, so that even if things seem to turn out “right” or “wrong”, eventually the circumstances will change no matter what we do.
Accepting these concepts leads to a greater understanding of where true power lies – in our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We tend to act more skillfully when we look inside ourselves for empowerment, rather than feeling at the mercy of outside circumstances or the whim of other people. Ask yourself where you are empowered to make a difference; “May I:
be more mindful of my own thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations so that I can see things more clearly and respond with wisdom?”
remain curious and open, suspending judgment and just observing rather than reacting?”
allow myself to soften, welcome, and fully experience things that are already here, whether wanted or unwanted, pleasant or unpleasant?”
take another perspective? Are there other ways to look at this?”
be more compassionate with myself so that I will have the space to respond and act with wisdom?”
be more compassionate with and benefit others, creating space for them to be at their best should they be inclined to do so?”
release my attachment to things that no longer really serve me?”