We have to be willing to die to who we have been, in order to be born to who we can be.
-Marianne Williamson

There are times during one’s life where it becomes crystal clear that certain themes are central to one’s learning curve. One major theme in my life involved power versus powerlessness. When a theme recurs over and over again during critical times in one’s life, the significance is undeniable. When a major and potentially chronic injury or illness is called in that can serve to bring the theme into a sharper focus, it is pretty clear that the theme is critical to one’s learning trajectory. In my opinion when there is a teaching on that level, one is bringing in the big guns. The urgency to integrate the teachings is registered–the intention unequivocal.

Every significant relationship in my life, and many less significant, reflected this recurring theme on one level or another. Many of the crossroads on my path have reflected choices between power and powerlessness. I spent a great amount of time in my life feeling disempowered. When such a theme has an early presentation, this is another indicator that it is likely an initiatory trial for the lifetime at the very least, or a core piece of work at most. One’s birth process is significant in imprinting the person for this deep of an undertaking. I find it extremely hopeful that the births happening now are much more empowering for the baby, for the mother, and for the whole family. My particular birth process involved some pretty significant challenges. I believe that during this time, births were wrought with a good deal of interference: general anesthesia, the casual use of Pitocin, unconscious behavior from the medical staff, lack of emotional resources or sophistication of the parents, etc. (The way I look at it, if I am here to work on power issues, it is necessary to imprint powerlessness. How else would one learn to overcome the challenge?)

With the onset of the illness came much insight into this theme of power/powerlessness. Many crossroads supplied choices between the two options and many times I was unable to choose the former. I don’t mean to portray this time in my life as tranquil; it was wrought with a lot of anxiety and downright terror. During much of my early adulthood, I’ve felt frozen in a state of inactivity due to fear of moving forward. The symptoms provided a much needed, yet unconscious catalyst to spring forward. I clearly understood that if I stayed immobilized I was going to die. Whether this knowing was overly dramatic, I’m not sure. It felt literal at the time and still feels that way. In retrospect, the scope of my life needed to be much larger than what I was living. If I am to be totally objective and somewhat dispassionate regarding this illness , I am grateful for the symptoms, the catalyst out of immobilization. This is a clear demonstration of power (movement) out of powerlessness (immobilization).

One relatively  recent example of this theme is when my last marriage dissolved. In many ways, I was overwhelmed with the circumstances of my daily life. David and I had just moved from Louisiana to Crestone and we had had an accident midway on the drive. In my wheelchair, I had fractured my femur and it required surgery. This complicated every level of my life. It affected my mobility as well as the level of caregiving required, which required more energy from David and created a lot more friction in the relationship. When over the months David appeared even more overwhelmed than I did, I began to feel emotionally immobilized. I could not imagine living on my own with this illness nor could I imagine that this relationship was anything but a life partnership. As the marriage progressed toward dissolution, I became more and more fearful and therefore hostile. I am not proud of this, but I have learned to have compassion and to forgive myself. Perfectionism is not something I aspire to nor do I revere this self-defeating emotional state.

At one point during this excruciating process, which felt like an amputation without anesthesia, I suddenly became clear and said to David, “if you are going to leave, then leave, you need to get out of my way because I have things I need to do.” Where this clarity came from I don’t know. At the time I remember that we were both surprised by this seeming non sequitur. In retrospect, I understand that this was coming from the part of me that was alive and well; the part of me that was already healed. It is almost as if both ego states, passivity or empowerment, can become operant at any moment. As we moved toward the separation only be powerless part of me seemed accessible as was the case throughout my early life–powerlessness was the dominant pattern. Once again, I was living the default setting when there was an excruciating wake-up call.

Now that I am nearly sixty years of age, I can look back at the precarious passages and see that I have survived and even thrived by meeting the Sacred teachings at each juncture. It is ironic to me that at this point in my life, when I am completely dependent on others for doing even the most insignificant daily living skills, I have more internal resources to powerfully effect my outer world and assist others than I have ever had in my life. Perhaps attributing a higher meaning to the challenges–as Victor Frankel proposes in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, made the difference. Perceiving my challenges as Sacred versus tragic represents a certain triumph over adversity.

When reading his seminal book in my thirties, I could not imagine framing his devastating experience in Auschwitz, watching his family die and not knowing each day whether he would survive to see another sunset, as an inspiration for accessing his life Work. Although it is impossible to know this, exploring powerlessness must have been a soul theme in his lifetime as well. I can now understand this teaching from the inside out. Although not everyone needs to delve as deeply into the human condition as I have, everyone has their version of these treacherous passages and profound personal triumphs. Perhaps we can celebrate our triumphs together.

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