Empowerment is a terribly obvious concept that becomes painfully elusive when a definitive explanation is required. The easy way out is to say it is a deeply personal and therefore entirely subjective notion. But that cannot be true when it is something that is apparent to everyone when they are in the presence of it. So, it is not good shoes. Or a Black Amex. Or being physically intimidating through size or aesthetic. It is not a style or something learned, picked up from the celeb du jour. It is not exactly some higher consciousness or enlightened state. (Though I would be remiss to suggest that none of these things contribute to empowerment.) In the simplest of terms, the only measure of empowerment that I could settle on is eye contact. In every context, manifestation, or situation that I could consider, the greatest equalizer of status, position, persona, and character has always been eye contact.
A while back I was asked to contribute a few words (ha – a few – well, I tried…) to a publication I have been fortunate enough to contribute to a few times on how I would describe empowerment. My contribution is above. But since then, I’ve been thinking about it more. I am lucky, as I have never really felt absent personal power. This is not to say that I have not been in situations and circumstances where I did not have the power I imagined, or that I always effectively exploited my prowess, but at the very least I have felt worthy of being empowered.
When I first was discussing the prompt with the lovely Ginger, editor of the magazine, we were trying to succinctly – as much as one can over cocktails – to get at the heart of empowerment. We tossed a series of ideas back and forth; what were the times we felt empowered, how did we recognize this in others, how did one achieve it… It was delectable food for thought.
- Empowerment to me means being able to look someone in the eye no matter how they are treating you.
- Empowerment to me means looking into the eye of those who most people would choose to ignore.
- Empowerment to me means having the courage to stand up for what you believe in without having to demean others for holding different priorities.
- Empowerment to me means having the wisdom to know that some people are dangerous, be it physically, psychologically, or emotionally, and you are not weak to walk away.
- Empowerment to me means recognizing that some people will never hear you or see you or acknowledge you in a way that makes you feel good, and you have to let that go.
- Empowerment to me means owning your thoughts and actions and knowing you are the only one who has control over them.
- Empowerment to me means seeing the potential in people.
- Empowerment to me means understanding that kindness is not weakness,
- Empowerment to me means keeping your head up when people lay their shit on you, and knowing that it will always, eventually, make its way back to them, and you have no role to play in that reality.
- Empowerment to me is seeing the students I teach stand up for what is right – and most importantly stand up for themselves.
- Empowerment to me is knowing that my height, my shoes, my situation, have nothing to do with the presence I can wield…
- Empowerment to me is knowing which droids are the ones you are looking for.
- Empowerment to me is understanding that we are all in this together, and those who choose to ignore that fact will eventually realize they were wrong.
- Empowerment to me is having the courage to be authentic.
- Empowerment to me is this 11-year-old boy taking down ignorant racists with grace and calm.
- Empowerment to me is one of my 15-year-old students standing up on a stage all by herself and belting out a classic:
And sitting with all these thoughts on the yoga mat today moving from prasarita padottanasana to sirsasana – my favorite asana for gaining perspective – I thought about how lucky I am to be able to look people in the eyes, something that the shifty, the shady, the less than honest, the insecure, the big talkers with no walk… are unable to do. At the end of my practice sitting in agnistambhasana, I thought about the traditional Hindu/Indian salutation of namaste. It means ‘I bow to you’ in the most literal sense, but in a larger context it suggests the spirit that is me sees the spirit that is you.
That is empowering.
And so are my girls right here… check out the spirit in Kheyaira, Kara & Lud.
Own your shit and look people in the eye… not bad rules to live by.