American poet, author, and spoken word artist Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote these words in a “Letter To a Young Activist During Troubled Times:”
One of the most calming and powerful actions
you can do to intervene in a stormy world
is to stand up and show your soul.
Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.
The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires…
causes proper matters to catch fire.
To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these –
to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both –
are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls
who are fully lit and willing to show it.
If you would help to calm the tumult,
this is one of the strongest things you can do.
A man came to talk. We were meeting for the first time. He was a man of accomplishment, yet right now he was clearly feeling shaken. Within the first few minutes, he said, “I feel like the ground underneath my feet is shifting. There is no firm place to stand; nothing feels secure; nothing feels predictable and safe.” He looked down in silence. For a first conversation, we were already in deep.
After a few moments, I asked, “How does that feel? What’s happening inside of you?”
“It’s not exactly scary,” he responded hesitantly. “And ‘afraid’ is not the right word. It feels uncertain and uneasy.” He paused for a moment, and then added, “And somehow it’s also OK. It surprises me to say that, but as I sit here right now, somehow it feels OK.”
“What makes it OK?”
Again, silence. Then, after a deep and long breath, he said, “I think it’s OK because, in the last few days, I’m starting to realize that, deep inside, I am who I am, no matter what’s happening around me.”
There was a palpable shift in the energy in the room. The air was charged with the kind of powerful tension that comes when something big is happening – something is breaking open. We both could feel it, yet there was also an incredible stillness. We were hardly breathing.
“So who are you, deep inside, no matter what is happening around you?”
There was another long silence, yet I realized that he wasn’t searching for an answer. Instead, he was gathering the courage to actually say what he knew out loud. The air in the room became even more charged as his vulnerability gave way to power and strength – the kind of authentic power and strength that can only come when we are willing to be open and real at the same time.
He stood and crossed the room to look out the window. “I know that I’m here for a reason. I have an ability to meet groups of people where they are. I’m able to find the best in them, even when they can’t. Somehow, I can see them in their greatest strength and can even help them to see that strength in themselves.”
He continued gazing out the window. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s as if something happens in the space in between us. Safety. Confidence. Assurance. It’s like something bigger than we are is holding us. And in that moment we touch something deep inside of ourselves. It’s like, just for a moment, we meet on the soul level.” He paused, and then added cautiously, as if speaking only to himself, “Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”
It was as if time had stopped. All the tension and electricity in the room had suddenly been replaced by a deep and profound stillness. There was an unspoken acknowledgement that we were touching the power and resilience of the human spirit – the force inside of us that gives us life and breath – the source of being.
He crossed back to the center of the room, taking in what he had just said. “I can’t believe that I’m saying all of this. I never knew that saying those words out loud to someone else could be so powerful and such a relief. I was taught that leaders didn’t say things like that – that it made you look soft and sentimental – and that’s not who I was supposed to be if I wanted to be a respected and effective leader. But you know what, that kind of leader that I was taught to be – it never felt like who I was.”
“Yes, I can be strong and decisive and create strategies and get people to do big things and accomplish big stuff – I can do all of that.”
“Yet right now I’m feeling more powerful than I’ve ever felt in my life. And I’m realizing that my real power doesn’t come from all those things I can do. It comes from the space I create for people to thrive.”
He came back to his chair. “Nothing has changed on the outside, but everything has changed on the inside. And I’ve touched a power and a force within me that I can never not know again.”
After another long silence, he continued quietly, “The ground is still shifting. And it’s going to keep shifting. Nothing in my life and work is stable right now, nor is it going to be any time soon. And that’s OK. I know now that nothing can touch me at my center. I know that I am safe inside of me, no matter what happens on the outside. I’ve never claimed this for myself before. And when I create that space for others, they can find their safety inside, too.”
“Who I am at my center is bigger than my circumstance – bigger than anything that can happen to me. And that’s true for all of the people around me, too. And that’s the most important thing that I have to offer as a leader. I can create a space that encourages all of us to be our best and to recognize that, together, from the essence of who we are, we are bigger than what is happening around us. I can create a space that opens up possibilities. I can create a space that helps people feel and sense that we’re all in this together. That’s my job.”
He stood, picked up his jacket, and crossed back to gaze out the window once more. After a few moments, he looked at me and said, “We’re all in this together. The ground is shifting underneath all of our feet. And if we take care of each other, we’re all going to be OK. Thanks.”
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