Julie woke up with a start. The first thoughts that came to her mind were, “Where am I? Why is it so light in here? I always wake up in the dark in the morning — not when it is light. Crap, I’m late! I was supposed to be at work early!”
Next she went through her morning routine, but instead of putting both of her contacts in, one decided to go missing. She searched all over the bathroom counter and sink and came up with exactly nothing. But, she was encouraged that she would still have time to make herself coffee. She went to the kitchen opened the cabinet and realized with a jolt of anger — NO MORE COFFEE LEFT! Finally, she just decided she should leave or she wouldn’t make her first meeting. Walking outside to her driveway she realized that her driveway entrance was blocked by a neighbor’s tree removal company truck. She yelled — more than a little angry at this point — for the company to move their truck if they valued their life. A few minutes later, a man slowly walked up to the truck (at least it seemed very slow to her) and moved it just enough for her to get out of the driveway. She sped off, cutting people off on her way to work, cursing everyone’s slowness and stupidity and generally making herself and everyone she came into contact with madder by the second.
When Julie finally walked in the door at work she was greeted by her closest colleague, “Good morning!” She snapped back, “No, it isn’t!” and walked away.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you have awakened in the morning, felt as though a cloud was hanging over your head and had a day that just went downhill from there. One thing didn’t go your way and it all just seemed to build uncontrollably, like dominoes toppling. Maybe it felt like you had no control over it all, as if you were an innocent bystander in the game of life, getting the crap beat out of you at every turn – or at least it seemed that way. Thankfully, however, things are not always as they seem.
Illusions Come in Many Forms
When we are having a challenging day, we tend to get stressed and we step into what I call “Threat Mode”. We easily become aggressive towards others and ourselves. That tends to make us overreact to situations that we wouldn’t otherwise think twice about. Being aggressive when we are stressed seems normal, but it’s not – it’s just being aggressive. It’s a fake kind of power that is set in motion as we try to overcome the illusions that stress creates for us. These illusions convince us that life is happening to us and all of these uncontrollable bad things are someone else’s fault.
When we blame others for our challenges, we are trying to give away our responsibility for our own lives. This is a tactic that was taught to us when we were growing up, but it is not helpful to us. The fact is no one else is responsible for us. We can never give away our responsibilities for our own life and what happens in it no matter what the situation. The reality is that events happen. We choose how we are going to view, experience and ultimately respond to the events. That makes us responsible.
There are other illusions that accompany stress and one of those is feeling powerful when we are aggressive. However, when we are aggressive we are not powerful, we are powerless. If we were truly powerful, we wouldn’t need to yell at, demean or harm others in any way.
If we look deeper at our own aggression when we are using it as a tool of power, it is easy to see that aggression used in this manner is destructive at the very least and is based in fear. There is no real justification for being aggressive toward ourselves or others unless we are being attacked by more than just thoughts. And for most of us, our thoughts are the only things that do attack us. In the end, all that is really going on is that we feel powerless against events that we perceive as happening to us. As we feel powerless, we perceive the event as negative or contradictory to us and this creates more stress. We react with more aggression. Can you see how this easily escalates into a cycle of destruction?
Are we powerless? Not in the least. It’s just our training for life that we received that makes us feel that way, but there is no truth in it. The good news is we don’t have to keep looking at life through these filters of misperception and illusion. We have the power to create an easier life for ourselves that is more peaceful.
Peace Brings a Calm in the Storm and an Unexpected Power
When we think of power, we have been taught to think of it in the context of uncompromising, forceful, hard-lined and often destructive aggression. In fact, we don’t have to look further than our dictionary to see this notion in action. See the noun and verb forms of the word “power” below:
noun. might – force – strength – potency – authority – energy
verb. actuate – operate
When you combine the noun and verb form of the word power, it would seem as though being powerful means being strong, forceful, having authority and doing something. That sounds like a lot of work. But is this true power? No. This is only what we have been taught. True power comes not in the form of aggression, but in the form of peace. There are numerous examples throughout history of people who were powerful through peaceful means.
- The Dalai Lama
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Mother Teresa
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Joan Baez
- Bishop Desmond Tutu
It is easy to think of these people as being special or doing things we could never do. We put them on a pedestal or make excuses that they are one in a million. We don’t see ourselves as being equal to them or meant for that level of greatness using peace as our tool. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Each one of these people are human (or were human) just like each one of us. We all have the same capacity for aggression and peace. It just depends on what you want to devote your life to — what energy you want to feed. Each one of us can move mountains with peace. It doesn’t matter if it is on a small scale or on a large scale. All that matters is that we are each doing our part moving mountains in our corner of the planet. This is true power.