I was holding my pregnant belly, watching the swallows above
the river again, and thinking about birth. Specifically the pushing part, the
part I felt lost in last time.
I had handled the contractions fairly “well.” Riding them out meant relaxing, opening, letting myself slip
up and over the peak of each wave, sliding down to recover for a minute, or
increasingly, a few seconds. It
was about letting the process happen, allowing some mysterious force within my
body act on me without fighting back.
Opening to grace, you might say, even if it felt nothing like
grace. I’m good at endurance
sports, at patience, when I put my mind to it.
But when the nurse pronounced the magic number of 10–10
centimeters dilated, the magic size, the magic circle–I was fumbled and
lost. “Push if you want, but no
hurry,” she said. Contrary to
everything I’d heard, I had no desire to push. But the purgatory where that left me, 19 hours into labor,
was a non-choice. So I pushed here
and there but didn’t feel committed.
I was logjammed: didn’t want to go forward, couldn’t go back. This was surreal limbo. The moment
called for a sea change from letting power act on me to being the power
generator; from a profoundly internal state to a raw external focus. This- after all my classes and yoga and
breathing- I was unprepared for.
As I thought about this the other night, the placidness of
the evening gathering around me, my pushing anxiety unexpectedly shifted to an
anticipation of power. I could feel the will of this baby’s personality in the
pulse of the river, and I could feel the strength in my power of pushing him
into the world. Lucidly and
quickly, the power of this feeling poured into the rest of my life. For a moment I lived in a place where I
could act with a beautiful force to materialize my dreams, and my life shifted
shape and tone right there.
I found a couple Webster definitions of power:
to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.
possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy; power over men’s minds.
Tracing back through my life, I realize my contempt for
power- power of the second kind- led me to eschew power, to become a “power
unic.” In suspecting power
generally I had lost access to the thalweg of my own power to do or act, to
accomplish. I absorb, observe,
critique, judge. But I am
uncomfortable wielding that within myself that can do or accomplish with
meaningful and fabulous trajectory.
I want to shed this chameleon skin, quit wrestling
tofu. I desire the power to not
solely be acted on by the world, but to act in it; to reject subduction into
cynicism, irony or inaction paralysis.
Daily I strive for grace and beauty, but I am seeing that my
inability to harness my own power keeps me from grace, a deep contentedness in
the world. Into this vacuum,
ironically, I have seen the second definition of power seep in and act in petty
and ego-driven ways, to exert power over small things or loved ones to fill the
void of my own soul power. The right power is a tricky thing. It is the power, for example, to overcome overwhelmedness
and harness anger about the Gulf oil spill(ing), to hold those accountable to
the fire, to aid the clean-up effort however possible. But it is also about
holding ourselves accountable as consumers, and about finding ways to act in
the world to produce other results, other modes of production. It is about
Thomas Merton in Care of the Soul writes about the
soul and power:
In the soul, power doesn’t work
the same way as it does in the ego and will. When we want to accomplish something egoistically, we gather
our strength, develop a strategy, and apply every effort. This is the kind of behavior James
Hillman describes as heroic or Herculean. He means the word in the bad sense:
using brute strength and narrow, rationalistic vision. The power of the soul, in contrast, is
more like a great reservoir or, in traditional imagery, like the force of water
in a fast-rushing river. It is natural, not manipulated, and stems from an
unknown source. Our role with this kind of power is to be an attentive observer
noticing how the soul wants to thrust itself into life. It is also our task to
find artful means of articulating and structuring that power, taking full
responsibility for it, but trusting too that the soul has intentions and
necessities that we may understand only partially.
I like these words, but I am still learning how to embody
this mystery, to step into the power of my soul, the force of action. To be-
sometimes- the one who sets the tone.
When I was sixteen, I sat on a rock on an island in
Penobscot Bay, Maine, watching the sun set over the sea, lonely on a four-day
solo. As I watched the smooth surface of the ocean swelling beneath a deepening
pink sky, my loneliness transformed into a vast and immense awareness of the power
and potential in myself. I have
remained true to this feeling, which has led me to places contrary to
traditional wayposts, and I have never questioned this path. But the power to not only choose a
different route, but to lead down it, remains unfulfilled.
Merton writes, “Neither ego-centered will on the one hand
nor pure passivity on the other serve the soul. Soul work requires both much
reflection and also hard work.” Where
have I seen this marriage of doing and being?
It seems rather off-track, but the image of The Organic
Watermelon Hands comes to mind. I am twenty-five and watching a farmer cut
watermelon slices at the High Sierra Music Festival. His hands are large and strong, and I am awed by their
purposeful confidence and the brilliant red flesh he releases with strong care.
Why has this image stuck in the agar of my vision over the years? Power is not just a stroke, an effected
strategy towards a goal, but is manifest like suspended dust in a sunray. It is
a way of living in the world. I want to ‘articulate and structure my power
artfully’- to sculpt it into my daily life.
Thinking about pushing this baby out the other night, I stepped
into power, the strength and charge of it, and felt the delicious surge of
action. I’ll continue to search
for this elusive bond of wisdom and action- to step into my right power,
to match my choice of being with the confidence of doing, settling deeper into
my soul. And I’ll be pushing with
all of my power.