Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How Grace Grows Power

I have always liked the image of the leader who exercises his or her power by helping other people learn to lead themselves. Some of the greatest teachers I have had have also been the most humble. Thomas Berry, a great theologian, who I was fortunate enough to dialogue with when I was writing my first book, Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart impressed me with his grace and humility, which only fortified his wisdom and his impact on me. When a leader puts a graceful foot forward, his/her message is most easy to receive and digest. Sadly, we have too many examples of heavy handed leadership, and the kind of power that is traded in a zero sum game. In this model of power, if I have more power, you have less. If you take up the lead, I am threatened, because I move down the ladder on the food chain. Heavy handed leadership disempowers in the long run, and sometimes in the short run. When power is infused with grace, if I have more power, I can use it to put wind underneath your wings and help you fly. If you fly, I can celebrate your movement and direction. And whether I take joy in having been part of your movement or simply take myself out of the equation and celebrate YOU, there is more joy, energy, possibility and power with the graceful hand. Power with grace is also power with heart. The heart has enough space to see and embrace people for who they are, what they have to offer, with a soul deep lens rather than a critical judge. Hearts do not operate from the zero sum game model. Instead, power with heart only grows more power. Like a plant shooting of a tendril, which can be planted in a new garden spot to create more life. Heart power nourishes and fertilizes. Heart power enlivens and promotes growth. And heart power, when grounded knows no bounds in the best kind of way, while also respecting our own internal boundaries and the boundaries of others. The natural world offers many examples of power with grace. If you sit under a large tree in the summer, you can feel the solidity of its trunk and the expanse of its branches, and also bask in the protection it offers you from the summer sun. The tree is quiet and needs no compensation for being there with and for you. It just is there. The tree offers power through being. Rocks also provide power with grace. Whether you sit on one by the ocean or lean your back against one in the woods, the rock, like the tree, is just there, and offers power through being. If we can learn to recognize that power can the expression of life force and passion arising from within, naturally, when we are connected and move from our hearts and souls, we can be purveyors of graceful power--a power that empowers, instead of takes away. May we learn from the great wise ones, whose humility is as notable as their words and actions. May we strive to cultivate and nurture graceful power from the inside out. The world will be transformed to a much safer, more joyful and sustainable place. Copyright 2013 Linda Marks

Efemination: A Female Parallel to Emasculation

When I started interviewing men for my book Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship, one theme I heard frequently from the men I interviewed was how women, on the one hand, complained that men never talked or shared their feelings, yet on the other hand, if they did take the risk of talking, interrupted them, judged them, and got angry at them rather than just listening and honoring them for speaking. The issue of men feeling emasculated by the women in their lives surfaced as an important theme. Men need to be trusted and feel honored by the women in their lives. Men want to make women happy and they need clear targets to succeed in doing so. If rather than giving a man a clear sense of what will make her happy and then appreciating him when he does exactly what she asked, a woman just complains and focuses on all the things the man isn't doing right, the woman undermines the man's innate sense of power and masculinity. Recently, I have begun to realize that just as women can emasculate men--meaning, undermine the man's innate sense of power and masculinity, men can undermine a woman's innate sense of power and femininity as well. However, I have never encountered a word for this. So, I am choosing to coin one: "efemination." Just as a man needs to feel trusted and honored and appreciated for the ways he tries to make a woman happy, a woman needs to feel that a man is really there for and with her, making sure she is safe, and taken care of enough to surrender into her receptive feminine essence. David Deida writes about the masculine-feminine polarity--and to the degree a man embodies and acts from a rootedness in his sense of masculine energy, a woman can surrender into the softness and vulnerability of her feminine energy. If a man asks a woman to always take care of him, clean up his messes, and lead with her masculine side, there is no room for her to surrender into her feminine energy. This kind of behavior "effeminates" a woman. I can think of several experiences I have had repeatedly in my life where I have felt "efeminated" by the men around me: The simplest one is when a man says he will do something: call me, make a restaurant reservation or do a project, and then he "drops the ball," and does not keep his word, I am put in the position of being "the bitch" who has to hold him accountable, since he is not holding himself accountable. Having to remind a man that he did not keep his word or do what he said he would do is NOT fun to have to do. And the response, no matter how gently and graciously the message is given, is rarely positive. Men don't like to disappoint women. They don't want women "angry" at them. Yet, if a man does not keep his word and a woman follows up to ask what happened, it sets the woman up to be "disappointed" or perceived as "angry." Another example has happened on several occasions. Me and several other men need to drive a long distance to a meeting or conference. Somehow, my car is the one that is selected for the journey. And each of the three men driving with me comes up with a reason they cannot drive the long distance to the event. I remember vividly when I was driving 3 1/2 hours to a conference in NY more than 20 years ago, and had offered a ride to one male colleague. A second male colleague then asked to join us. And the organizer of the conference asked if I might also include a third male colleague, one who knew my other two colleagues, but who I did not know. I do not particularly enjoy driving on highways long distances. And at times in my life, I have even been "highway phobic"--getting panic attacks when driving on the highway too long, or with too many large trucks or speed demons on the road. I voiced my feelings about driving on highways long distances to my three males colleagues, and asked for some assistance. The responses were: "My back hurts. I can't drive," from the first colleague. "I'm sick. I don't feel well," from the second colleague. And I did not even know the third colleague. He was a total stranger. So, the whole situation felt very awkward indeed. We set out on the road with me driving the three male colleagues, feeling very badly about the situation. Why did their needs to be taken care of trump my vulnerability? What would have happened to these three men if I was not there to drive the car? Would they have not made it to the conference? Or would they have had to rise to the occasion and come up with another solution? I found myself feeling "efeminated." I was being asked to "take care of" these men. And they had little regard for my vulnerability or need, in spite of the fact that I stated that it really wasn't okay for me to be driving for 3 1/2 hours. In situations like these, when men just take for granted that a woman, in this case, me, will pick up the ball and take care of things, to push back is very uncomfortable and often does not end well. I have learned to set my boundaries. I can very gently say, "this is how I feel" or "this is what I need" or "it would be very helpful to me if you could ......" But if my listener misses the message, and just wants to hook up to what my friend Brenda many years ago called "the cosmic tit," my voice is not heard and my attempts to be considered are in vain. If I am fortunate enough to have a listener who believes relationships are a two way street, and mutuality and balance are key--including between men and women, the result is a much more comfortable solution. If in the driving situation, a man says, "I understand. Neither of us really like to do this. How about I drive one way and you drive the other?" I feel more space to surrender into my feminine core. If the men say, "You should not have to take on the burden of driving us. It is our job to help you too," there is even more space to surrender into my feminine essence. When women talk about men as "big babies," perhaps what they are saying at a deeper level is that they feel "efeminated" by the men in their lives. They do not feel the men are bringing masculine energy to them, and they feel forced to move into the masculine for things to get done. Being able to shift our consciousness as men and women and realize that no one wins if we emasculate men or effeminate women. And everyone wins when we are able to support both men and women in coming from their true essence and power. Copyright 2013 Linda Marks

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Moving Beyond Relationship Duress

A colleague of mine recommended a powerful new book that shed great light on why we are struggling so greatly in relationships today. The book, Sex 3.0 by JJ Roberts, traces the evolution of human relationships from our pre-industrial days when nature guided human behavior, to our modern world, where a long list of societal rules and expectations demand what is "normal"and "acceptable" in relationship behavior. Roberts points out that what is "natural" and what is "normal" are not necessarily the same thing. Those things defined by nature are "natural." Those things that are defined by society are "normal" and often they are NOT "natural." In some cases, they are truly not healthy. When we are "forced" into following social norms, so that we are perceived as "normal" and "acceptable," we find ourselves experiencing "relationship duress." Relationship duress is when people in a relationship feel unspoken or spoken pressure to build a "fence" around a relationship because they are SUPPOSED to do so. For example, if a couple has been dating for a couple of years, they may feel internal and external pressure to get married. While marriage is a perfectly good thing, when two people define what marriage means to them personally and make a decision to get married because it has personal meaning to them, that is a completely different situation than the many couples I have worked with who got married because they and/or their families thought they "should." The phrase "make me an honest woman" or "make me an honest man" in reference to getting married versus continuing to have a loving, sexual relationship but not be married, illustrates the societal pressures to sculpt a relationship into a form to be "normal" and "acceptable," rather than because it has inherent meaning to the two people in the relationship. Marriage is just one example of a societally expected "fence" that we "should" put around a relationship. Some people feel "obligated" to have children, whether or not they truly wish or have the skills to parent young human beings from birth to adulthood. Getting a corporate job may be the result of societal pressure, rather than a personal journey to define right livelihood. We "fence" ourselves in many ways without deep thought, and often, without the consciousness that there is another way to take life's journey. All forms of relationship evolved at a time in our history where they made sense. Once upon a time what we call "traditional gender roles," were necessary for our survival. Men needed to hunt and farm. Women needed to tend to the home and hearth and raise the children. As our world evolved to the 1950's model of relationship, the man was the "breadwinner" and the woman was the "homemaker." This distribution of labor helped a family unit have its practical and domestic needs met. In 2012, the models that evolved out of previous eras may need to be updated so that we do not feel trapped under the weight of relationship duress. Men and women both work. Men and women both earn money. Men and women both have parenting gifts to provide to their children. Couples need not be just men and women, but men and men and women and women. And for some people, gender does not fit neatly in a "male" or "female" box. Trying to fit ourselves into societally defined boxes creates relationship duress, including with our relationship with self! Roberts feels that a healthy basis of relationship is "mutual reward," regardless of its force. If two people feel a connection and can contribute to one another's lives in mutually rewarding ways, then there is a healthy basis for the relationship. Roberts notes, "In life, the most valid choices are the ones you truly choose." So, if we remove the pressure to box or fence or overly define our emotional and spiritual connections with loved ones, and instead focus on what resonates, what makes us happy, what brings us joy and what feeds our souls, we are likely to invest in relationships because they are healthy, rather than because we feel societal pressure to do so. I believe people will naturally take responsibility for their connections, make commitments that assure safety and respect for themselves and those that they love if they are given the space to build relationship on a foundation of love, connection and authenticity. If you enjoy someone's company, why would you not want to spend more time with them? If you and a loved one develop skills to work through differences and ride the rapids of life, why would you leave someone who you have been building a history with? Giving ourselves and our relationships the space to be build on love, connection and true choice, following their own trajectory with their own unique timing, can move us beyond relational duress and into a space of helping one another be the best and happiest people we can be. Copyright 2012 Linda Marks