2016: Enlightened Power

Earlier this year I wrote that 2016 would be the year in which we would all come into our personal power. By that I do not mean power as a title, position, money, or social context – but power as the ability to stand firmly in your truth in the face of obstacles, the ability to influence without force, to adhere to dignity. Meanwhile, so many have felt the opposite – vulnerable, tired, frustrated and depressed. But that is exactly how we come into contact with our own power. In order to find it we are forced to look inwards, and few of us are blessed to not find it hiding under layers of delusions, denied truths and preconceptions. The process of becoming a powerful human being requires reviewing, revising and letting go of beliefs that do not serve our greatest sense of self. It is about examining our relationships on every level; our relationship to our past, to others, to values, to events, to knowledge. It is about asking ourselves; “what is integral to my life, to my being?”

Integral means “whole” or “undamaged.” It is also mother of the word Integrity. And this year has certainly been about integrity. Not only in the sense of honesty and authenticity, but ever more so in its wider meaning of sustainability. 2016 has no doubt shone light on the integrity of every level of business and political interactions – the integrity of political systems, the integrity of the EU, the integrity of nation states, the integrity of agreements, corporate integrity, financial market integrity, ecosystem integrity, data integrity, and to say the least the integrity of presidential candidates. Here too, the question that needs to be asked is “what is sustainable?”

Every empire in history has come to an end. I think we are seeing the beginning of the end of power structures as we have known them through our lifetime. What will unfold to replace them is much up to the responsibility we as people are willing to take in holding our political leaders accountable for making decisions on our behalf.

Julian Assange says ”Our greatest enemy is ignorance.” You can’t place responsibility on someone for something outside of their awareness. However, once enlightened, they can be held accountable for the stance they take.

So, as much as integrity relates to all of the above, it also relates to our own inner system of beliefs and relations. Feeling whole is a way of being where there is no lack nor a need for excess, and therein no way of manipulation, deception, destruction or depression. It is a sustained sense of inner peace.

A true leader leads from this integral sense of self, and it is a true leaders job to facilitate the evolution toward wholeness in others. A true leader does not want to take your power away; a true leader wants you to find your power.

Let me now investigate false leadership along the same lines. Who feeds off of your imbalance? Politicians who need to push a hidden agenda? The producers of the goods you buy to feel better about yourself? Anyone who wants to move on a decision that needs your consent – voiced or silent?

Perhaps you have noticed that slowly but surely we are no longer buying into common rhetoric. And slowly but surely, truths are being revealed that make us question our established beliefs. And this is causing many of us to feel like we are losing ourselves. I say we are finally finding ourselves. That is, those of us who choose to. The world is indeed undergoing radical change. If you are not able to stand firmly in the midst of that change you will eventually crumble.

So if you feel like the world is going under, ask yourself ”What is sustainable?” ”What truth wants to come out of me?” and ”What truth is awaiting me?” If all layers of my world fell apart, what would be at the core?” Because only integrity can prevail.

Apocalypse, in fact, means “uncovering.” It signifies a disclosure of knowledge, a lifting of a veil or revelation. In religious contexts it is usually described as a disclosure of something hidden, “a vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities,” in the words of Bart D. Ehrman. And enlightenment begins with the Dark Night of the Soul.

The more graceful your acceptance of pain, the greater your capacity for joy

How do we get to that state of wholeness? To get to our most integral self, we have to heal any distortions in our relationship to the world, which are deceptions, denial and delusions, anchored deep in our unconscious. These come in many forms, but the most common ones are guilt and shame.

Guilt is the belief that “I have done something wrong,” or “I haven’t done enough.” Shame in essence is the belief that “I am wrong,” or “I am not good enough.” This is a deep feeling of unworthiness.

Guilt can be constructive, as it guides us to act with morals for ourselves and others. But the way it has been institutionalized has made a heavy burden of an otherwise healthy conscience. My clients often joke about the imprints of their cultures, educational institutions or most commonly religious influence on their chronic experiences of guilt – The Catholic Guilt, the Jewish Guilt, or the Lutheran Guilt.

Shame, on the other hand, serves little constructive purpose on an individual level. The way we cope with shame, most often completely unconsciously, does little but spread or amplify it.

In order to feel better about their shame, some people will strike out at others in the hopes that they will be lifted up by bringing others down. Striking out is not always overt behavior; gossiping or spreading rumors is a subtle form of striking out.

Another way of coping with shame is to seek position or social power, which makes us feel more valuable. Further, to avoid future shame we may aim for perfection, seeking to prevent or avoid any detection of flaws in ourselves by others. Or we can resort to diverting blame of our faults onto others. A further coping strategy for shame is to be exceptionally nice and self-sacrificing to please everyone else in order to prove our worth. Another strategy to ease shame is to withdraw from the real world to avoid the upsets our shame may trigger. All of these behaviors may produce short-term relief from shame, but doesn’t heal it, and in the long term only strengthens it.

Shame and it’s many associated behaviors are reinforced on a massive scale on all levels of society; our consumer economy depends on it, the finance industry feeds off of it, political establishments are driven by it.

Why should we come into our personal power? Because we can no longer rely on others to dictate how we should think or feel about ourselves and the world. How much of your life is dictated by someone or something else guiding you how to think, what to do, where to live, and what to wear?

Why would we not come into our power? Because it is quite comfortable to live in a way that you know others will approve. It is comfortable to have limits around your decisions, or not to have to make your own decisions at all. Because that way you keep the shame under control. But what if the shame wasn’t there?

Guilt and shame alone can cause such pain that they can block us completely from feeling love, belonging, and worthiness. Hence, we resort to fleeting pleasures for a temporary high; entertainment, consumption or debauchery, at the expense of inner freedom. Many of us human beings have never known any more sustainable form of happiness.

Pain needs to be acknowledged to be dissolved. In every moment you have a choice: to move toward your own truth and destiny, facing whatever pain of realizing that your reality to date was not exactly what you thought, opening to the possibility that a new reality may in fact be better. Or you can move backward into the comfort of what you have always known, accepting any pain that comes with the package.

Let me tell you now, you’ve never done anything that can’t be undone. I do not mean that you can change an event in the past, but you can at any point take responsibility for your own capacity in creating what could have been the better scenario and act on it. By doing so, you create a space that allows for a new relationship to begin. Even if it only involves your own relationship to the event. This may be a long process, but often it is as easy as the words of acknowledgement; “I’m sorry.” The other greatest cure for guilt is to forgive yourself for taking on responsibility that was not yours.

Befriend the darkness and shine some light

Some of our best-honed skills are coping strategies. If Vincent Van Gogh had been deliriously happy throughout his life, would he have produced the works of art he did? Remember our beloved comedian Robin Williams? The insanely hilarious bundle of jokes that followed the fate of Van Gogh and committed suicide last year. If he instead had let his guard down, and shared his dark side with us, perhaps he would have humbled the world with a glimpse into the source of his immense sense of humor, and perhaps he would have found an even greater life purpose in teaching us how lightness of heart can lift a spirit.

But the greatest pressure on us as human beings is the pressure we put on ourselves to appear with such brightness to the world that we spend enormous amounts of energy hiding our dark side.

And our shadow gets in our way of having healthy relationships. We want our partners to mirror an aspect of ourselves that we are missing. Or we assign to them the parts of ourselves that we do not like. Projection is the most common way we avoid responsibility for our own wholeness. Even on the most extreme level, here is no way a human being would commit or allow gross violence against another human being if they truly accepted and loved themselves.

The world is indeed about to present some universal truths

It is a great irony that we carry so much shame that we do not deserve and that can be easily fixed, when what we really should feel ashamed about is allowing ourselves to be deceived and manipulated on masse at the devastating cost of millions. Humanity let Hitler get away with it. Milosevic too… There are some current leaders worth mentioning. Are we going to keep letting these things happen?

Most of us by now would agree that the oil industry is behind much of the west’s involvement in the middle east, and that very little of the extreme wealth of oil has benefitted the people who live off the land that gets ravaged by crude extraction. At the time of the US invasion, 60 percent of Iraqis were under 18. Eight years on, at the height of the Iraqi oil boom I was in Erbil listening to foreign investors bragging about lucrative oil deals but none of them had a clue about the debilitated educational system or the fact that only roughly 20% of children had access to education. This is much to blame for the growth of militias and most notably the Islamic State.

Lets face it, if the members of IS or Al Qaeda had been given an empowering education and opportunities to thrive, those fundamentalist movements would not exist. And that is more sustainable than perpetuating a war of paradigms.

Two years ago I was driving with a friend through villages near Mosul, right before IS took over the area. These villages stank of gas and burned oil, and smoke blurred the houses and the road ahead of us. According to my friend, these villages had turned into oil exploration sites without the inhabitants’ consent.

I remembered a party 10 years ago in South Hampton, New York, hosted by David Koch of Koch Industries. It was a generous feast flooded by US power and wealth and the guest of honor Prince Albert of Monaco. I had a delightful dinner conversation with Mr. Koch and proceeded to dance with the Prince into the night. In complete ignorance. Had I attended that party today, I would have asked Mr. Koch, “what drives you?” And I would have asked if, in any of his vast political lobbying for the oil industry’s interests, there was an intent to secure the basic human rights of the people affected by the oil trade.

And back to the question, “Is it sustainable?” Aside all the human and environmental damage, making money on oil is shortsighted. Oil is a finite resource. And where there is scarcity there is demand. And where there is demand there is a market. And markets can be manipulated. No wonder alternative energy technologies are being undermined by the wealth of the fossil fuel industry. But in every iteration of the scripture, Goliath eventually falls.

We are living in a time when the influence of movements can be greater than that of established power structures, and aligning yourself with a higher cause can actually make a significant difference. What started out in 2012 as a movement of college students asking their school administrations to withdraw its endowment investments in fossil fuel companies, has grown to include investors controlling over 5 trillion US dollars in assets, spread over 76 countries, committing to divest from the fossile fuel industry.

So I invite you to ask yourselves, “Once I have found my power, what will I do with it?” “When I am free of the shackles of deception, denial and delusion, what greater force will pull me forward?”

Will you let the veils fall as they are meant to, and will you contribute your power in creating something new? I believe you were meant to thrive in this life as a whole unique being. And one thing I know to be true; when you heal yourself you heal the people around you. And we need those willing to take the step in the right direction more than ever. As David Hawkens says, “We change the world not by what we say or do, but by what we have become.”

I wish you sustained joy, power and peace in 2017 and beyond,

Katinka Nicou