Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 2

In my previous post I tried to clearly show that the path to peace is to embrace powerlessness. I showed that we have very little power over most of the things we care most deeply about. The question is how do we actually embrace powerlessness? The answer is as common as it is profound: by acting powerless.

Gestalt Therapy uses a technique called “acting as if.” This is where the therapist tells the client to act as if he/she is already the person he/she wishes to be. If he struggles to speak to women, he should act for a while like men act who do not struggle to speak to women. If she struggles with confidence, she should act like women who have confidence. This is what is often called, “fake it ’til you make it.”

If what I wrote yesterday is true, and we actually are powerless over a great deal of our lives, then the sooner we embrace this the better. And the way we embrace powerlessness is by acting powerless. I meditate regularly in order to practice powerlessness. In meditation, I cease all activity. Not only do I stop moving and working, but I also stop ruminating. I intentionally try to stop all the things which I normally define as myself, because it is that self that thinks it is powerful and in control. I intentionally stop trying to solve problems, “make an impact,” “fix” things and people, and change my corner of the world. For twenty to forty minutes a day, I live in awareness of the reality that I actually have precious little power (you might prefer the word “control”).

Meditating is like every other discipline. It is a practice that allows you to become what you cannot become by effort alone. For example, you can sit for 40 minutes a day saying, “I am powerless, I am powerless, I am powerless,” but it will not work like meditating will work. Why? Because in saying this to yourself, you are exercising the power of persuasion. You cannot become convinced that you cannot and don’t have to change the world while working so hard to change your little corner of it. In order to learn powerlessness, you must become powerless for a time. In meditation you simply stop trying to do all of these things and you learn the limits of your own power. You learn how well the world goes on without you (which brings greater humility). You learn how many of your fears, words, actions, and emotions are in vain; how meaningless is so much of your running around frantically trying to fix things.

Just like you do not practice piano in order to become a great practicer, but rather a great player, in the same way you do not practice meditation in order to become a great meditator. You practice meditation because it equips you to respond peacefully in situations where you cannot now respond peacefully. And the reason you cannot do it now is because on a very primal level you still believe that with just a little more arm-twisting (yours, or someone else’s — it hardly matters) you will be able to fix things. If you will ever rid yourself of this belief, you must start “acting as if” you already believe it. That means being still and being quiet — willingly giving up the exercise of power for set periods of time.

Behavior must proceed out of stillness and peace in order to be non-neurotic. When behavior proceeds out of anxiety, fear, anger, etc., we are actually just trying to make the world according to our liking. Of course this is impossible, but still we try. To act non-neurotically we must learn to do everything we do simply because it is good and brings us joy, not out of our own needs for approval, validation, acceptance, power, love, or anything else.

As we learn to embrace our powerlessness, we discover the true power that we have, and it is both far superior to, and much scarier than, any power we could ever have to change the world or other people. I will explore our real power in my next post.