Learning Empowerment – part 2

A forty-five year old man sits in front of his father, feeling like an errant student in front of the principal, waiting for a scolding for breaking the rules. Does this sound at all familiar? I had arrived in the UK; freshly divorced; armed with my new girlfriend; a successful senior executive in an advertising firm, yet a summons from my father caused this collapse into the personality of a nine –year old. At the time, now almost twenty years ago, I had no idea what had occurred. I consoled my self with the fact that he was over eighty and the last thing that he needed was to be upset by me. However, I had never explored or got in touch with the feelings that had made me so uncomfortable, nor the reasons why I had become so disempowered when confronted by my father.
Recently I began to understand what had transpired. It started with a mundane visit to a repair shop to pick up my recently repaired Macintosh Computer. It was pouring with rain and my parking angel found me a spot right across the street from the store. When I went to pick up the computer, the technician advised me that it was fixed but there may be something else wrong. “Take it home and if it doesn’t boot up bring it back.” Immediately I noticed I felt disconnected from my centre. I tried to ask an intelligent question to throw some light on this ominous news but he kind of brushed me off and then disconcerted me by asking me where my car was. When I told him it was across the road, he immediately suggested I drive it over to the back of the store before taking the computer. Ignoring the voice of common sense that suggested this was not a good idea, I compliantly took the proffered parking pass and did as I was told.
From this point on things deteriorated rapidly. First I backed into the car behind me, then there was no parking where he had suggested, thirdly when I returned to the store the person I was dealing with had disappeared as had my computer and finally to add insult to injury the walk back to my car was further and wetter than it would have been to my original spot. Feeling thoroughly disconsolate I drove home to find they had kept my power cord. At this point I decided a walk in the rain would do me good to return my sense of balance so I returned to the store feeling somewhat puzzled by my experience.
The next morning during my “morning pages” I wrote about and developed some curiosity around the meaning of the experience. My world-view suggests that my soul creates experiences for my higher good. Just what was the lesson I was being given. Nothing immediately occurred to me so I prepared to throw the I Ching to seek advice. (The I Ching is a Chinese divination tool that using a random system to create a relevant reading.) I sat and posed the question and threw the coins six times to create the requisite hexagram. I sat and recoiled slightly when I read the reading that was selected: “work on that which has been spoiled.” It suggested that there was an old problem to be addressed, likely connected to family tradition and that I should spend three days contemplating the issue. I resigned myself to the journey and decided to start by identifying other times in my life when I could recall similar feelings. There were a surprising number, often not connected with overt authority figures. I had encountered previous lessons around my conflict with authority through rebellion and confrontation. This felt quite different. It was when I seemed to get trapped in a child state feeling totally disempowered and submissive. I made a list: with car salesman, my gas fireplace repairman, vehicle repair shops, with my ex wife; it went on and on. I tried to find an early example when I was at a vulnerable age but nothing came. I felt a little disappointed as I sensed it was critical to identify when I may have formed this pattern but decided to let it go.
It was a couple of days later when the “eureka” moment occurred; there was no specific occasion when I was a child because my early years had been lived under this kind of submissive regime to my father’s authority. As children we had always been taught to conform to his wishes: be quiet when he is the house, attend morning prayers, go to church, no dancing, no movies, no TV. There was no questioning of his absolute authority. I had learned to be submissive to survive and as an adult it had become an ongoing default mechanism in certain situations, particularly when I was unprepared.
James Hollis in his wonderful book What Matters Most suggests that much of our lives we are often unconsciously governed by complexes that develop in our childhood. He talks abut “these energy charged clusters of our history…. (that) write our biographies, frame our futures and circumscribe our freedoms.”  Finally I could understand the forty-five year old’s feelings in his confrontation with his ailing father.
And once we understand and throw light on why we feel a certain way; it opens up the door to healing. Now when I observe this feeling of disempowerment, I will be able to see the image of a child who could do little in the face of such a power imbalance; and console him. Only then will I feel empowered to respond from the adult and take another road.

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