Lately, I've been thinking a lot about power. How we assign it. How we meet it. How we merge with it. And also how we judge it, fear it and run from it. I'm not talking about social power or financial power or physical power. I'm talking about personal power. The pure force that resides in us all that comes from being created/creative entities. The trajectory of the energy that comprises us... into something that exists in the world. The outward and visible sign of who we are.
To me, this is the place where most people are stuck. In the last few years I've connected with thousands of new people because of the memoir I wrote -- in emails, social media, radio, television and in person. When you write from your most vulnerable and honest place, people feel like they know you. They tell you things. Deep things that you might not even share with your own mother. It's a high honor for me. It's also precious data in the study of the human condition... because as a writer, I'm two things by nature: curious and empathetic. I want to understand what makes people tick. I want to write my way through humanity's suffering and shine a light on powerful ways to be a person in this world. That's what I want to create with the energy that is me and the power that I harness and translate into action. I believe that it all begins in our most pure place. Not outside us, as society would have us believe And for a lot of people, that is a great and terrifying wilderness.
Here's what I've learned: People feel alone. People feel scared. People feel powerless. And they long for someone to witness them and even to tell them that they are enough, just the way they are, no matter what's going on in their lives. I'm happy to do so, though I have no business giving advice (nor do I try). I simply believe that our power lies within and I feel compelled to share that message with people, in hopes that it will help. It's helped me immeasurably. It's reframed the way I think and how I relate with the world. And I try to practice this belief, whether I'm in my bed or standing at a podium in front of hundreds of people. My power is inside me. I am enough. "I give myself permission to be exactly who I am," I often say privately before I enter a social setting. Three deep breaths.
Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it isn't. So I decided to take it a step further. Last year, I started leading writing retreats here in gorgeous NW Montana. I wanted to help people climb into their power on the page in hopes that it might inspire a new relationship with their self-expression and themselves in general. I have witnessed major breakthroughs on both accounts and it's one of the most profound privileges of my life. While I love the navel-gazing of the writing life, and the deliberate act of creation which has propelled my life for so long, I have found that I also adore plugging into other people's energy and potentially helping them find their power. My mission is this: I want to be a champion for creativity and personal growth and I want to help to change the tortured artist paradigm to the empowered artist reality.
In doing this work, I have found a prominent common thread that stuns me every time and I think it merits some attention: When people take the stand for themselves to not just consider coming all the way to the Rocky Mountains for a writing retreat, but to actually pull it off with work, finances, family, personal blocks etc., they arrive high and usually a bit terrified too. They come from all over the world, often having taken at least two airplanes to land in our wee valley, surrounded on all sides by the peaks of Glacier National Park, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, Flathead Lake and our ski mountain at the top. The valley is veined with rivers and farmland, and small towns that endure long winters and stunning summers and people who fight to stay here despite the economical challenges. There are wide open wildlife migration corridors here, where grizzly bears and mountain lions, elk and caribou roam free of fences and roads. Suffice it to say: There is a spirit here. And my retreaters arrive intoxicated by it, but more by the fact that they have actually given themselves this gift in their busy, stressful lives. If their eyes could talk, they'd be screaming, I cannot believe I actually freaking pulled this off! And if their arms and legs could talk they'd be whispering, I'm so terrified I could puke.
In the course of the three days, things happen. Big things. Breakthroughs, tears, laughter, camaraderie. It's my job to keep it safe and nurturing and creatively inspiring and to offer opportunities for people to climb into situations, both physically and creatively, that they might not grant themselves at home. My hope is for them to return with new practices and awareness that will help them stay inspired in their daily lives, creatively and otherwise. My hope is that they will have tapped into their sacred power and found haven there.
But there are always blocks in the realm of creativity. I have found that it's the blocks which are our best teachers... and they can run deep. It blows me away. Here are these amazingly vibrant, brave people, far from home... splaying themselves in the field of their self-expression... yet they rarely see how powerful they are. I hear it over and over again. "I don't even know why I'm here. I'm not even a writer Everyone is so talented. I haven't written anything since college except my Christmas letter." Even the people who have brought works-in-progress to workshop, at some point over the retreat sort of collapse a little and say, "I feel so stuck. I'll never get published. It's impossible to navigate the publishing world. It's no use. Who am I to write a book anyway?"
And I share with them how I feel: "I got a book published. If that's what you want, you can too. Does that mean I'm not quietly terrified I'll never publish another book? No. But my job is to just keep doing the work. That's what matters. I take that stand for my creativity every day -- even when I feel desperate and dashed, and so can you. You've just got to show up. Same as you did when you got yourself here to Montana for this retreat. Same as you did when you learned to walk."
Still, they don't quite look convinced. And I think, What does it take to really feel confident in our power? Does anyone ever really feel successful? Even the famous award-winning authors I've met and befriended out on the publicity and speaking circuit lament to the tune of, "Yeah, well fine -- maybe I won a National Book Award. But it wasn't a Pulitzer." Or, "Whatever. My book was only on the New York Times best-seller list for two weeks. It doesn't count." And on and on.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we get in our own way often to the point of self-torture? Why is our inner critic so ruthless? Why is it that we assign power to other people and strip ourselves of that gift? Over and over we give it all away and then perpetuate the story that we're simply not enough. But we are enough. Because when it comes right down to it... there isn't any such thing as enough. Or not enough. We simply just... are. We're balls of energy. Created energy. Creative energy. And it's how we move that energy around that counts -- that makes us powerful. I choose to do that by writing. And I love to help people find their way along that trajectory. To hell with the inner critic. It's just a scared little kid that dwells inside us anyway. Give it a cookie and tell it to go home. Or hug it into submission and absorb it ... so that it can only say to you, "Create in love. Be love." That's what I want us to hear in our minds.
Ultimately, I think it's important to look at just who really deems us powerful or not powerful. It's not other people or society. It's us. So why not call ourselves enough. Powerful. Rather than less than or powerless. Whatever it is that we're creating from our most pure place... is... enough. Because we're perpetuating the life force that connects us all. In small and big corners. That act is brave.
Sometimes I wish I could wrap up these people who come to my retreats in blankets, and even my book readings or speaking engagements and say, "Do you know how proud you should be of yourselves for getting out of bed this morning and getting yourselves here? Taking the stand for self-growth. Think of all the people who thought of it and opted to talk themselves out of it. Not that they're wrong and you're right. But I will say that I think you are brave. You inspire me. Thank you for reminding me that we can take a stand for ourselves even when we are feeling powerless. Thank you for reminding me that bravery can look a lot like overt fear. Thank you for getting on the plane this morning. That freeway, that subway. Thank you for showing up."
So to all of you who might be feeling dashed as you read this, wherever you are in whatever matters to you in the field of passion-play: remember... you are not alone. And remember to give yourself permission to be exactly who you are. And also that if you want to... if your heart longs for it... you have the power to take a stand for your creativity, and in-so-doing, your self. If I can, you can. I promise.