I often swing between two of my favorite quotes. Both are by powerful teachers and both are true yet they are not easy to take at once- like two flavors that seem at odds with each other. But we have to keep trying because when we are able to digest both these gems together, they have the potential to transform us.
The first is the famous quote by Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Now that's a quote I love! I breathe it in and its power puts me in touch with my own and pulls me out of my rut, inspiring me to act and to move forward.
But that is just one half of the story. The second favorite is by Elizabeth Lesser and here it is:
“Adversity is a natural part of being human. It is the height of arrogance to prescribe a moral code or health regime or spiritual practice as an amulet to keep things from falling apart. Things do fall apart. It is in their nature to do so. When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego's will to prevail. To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life--to stop fighting when things fall apart; when they don't go our away, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty and to wait".
Here the wisdom is definitely asking us to slow down and pause and to surrender.
One quote empowers the ego, the other seems to deflate it.
As I swing between these two favorites, I wonder what I am supposed to do....Step into my power, as Marianne is encouraging me to or slow down and embrace my powerlessness? Courage or Serenity? What is the way?
Marianne's words sound like the language of Hinduism that I grew up with. A spirituality that tells you that you, as a child of God are everything and your identity is consciousness. Elizabeth Lesser's words come from the depths of Buddhism that tells you, that you, as a creation from nothing, are nothing and there is nothing you can hold on to for an identity.
So what are we - all or nothing? Do we power through believing we are everything or do we retreat and surrender to life while it takes us, our plans and our dreams apart?
These are not the only conflicting messages around. There are more; consider this:
On the one hand, we are asked to take pride in ourselves, on the other, warned that "Pride comes before a fall"!
They say "Slow and steady wins the race" but then again, "Time and tide wait for no man".
I remember another one my mother often said: "A contented mind is a continual feast," but then also this one- "All Satisfaction is Death".
And I am sure there are more like these.
Again, which of these is true? Is it Pride or is it Humility? Act now or wait patiently? Contentment or Ambition? Courage or Serenity?
Although these messages seem to be conflicting, both sides are true and herein lies the paradox of our third chakra, home to our free will. As we go through the human experience, we live in two worlds simultaneously. One is the world of our spirit where we are indeed "powerful beyond measure," as Marianne says, and the other is the world of our human soul which has an earthly plan of its own. Both these voices are Divine and need to be regarded as such. Free will thus needs to work with the freedom to act on the one hand and the "inevitability of change and things falling apart," on the other.
Yet somehow along the way, the West worshipped one of these - courage and action and dropped the other. The East did the opposite: worshipped serenity and tolerance and ignored the other.
With the world now changing, these values need to be revisited. Since both come from the same Source they need to be honored and consciously integrated.
Combining these pieces of wisdom in each situation then, means that true courage is not the absence of fear but the serenity to work with it. Nor is true serenity the absence of action. As Edmund Burke reminds us: the only thing for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. So "good men" (and women, of course), need to serenely and courageously move forward.
It is through the amalgam of these two messages that confidence is kept from becoming arrogance and acceptance is kept from becoming defeatedness.
The best way for us to step into our power then, is to know that we are "powerful beyond measure" yet, "things do fall apart". We must act, yet also be patient. Aspire for more, yet practice gratitude for what is. Pursue our desires, yet remain unattached. The Intention to make a difference must be coupled with an awareness that action does not guarantee success. Proud of what we are able to do, humble about our limitations and so on....
Doing both these all the time is the Wisdom of the Serenity prayer and the Yoga that the Bhagavad Gita talks about- that subtle confluence of all and nothing.