the bullsh*t of permission + the power principle
I went to hear Sir Ken Robinson give a talk at UCLA.
One of the things he mentions in his talk and new book (FINDING YOUR ELEMENT) is that
“the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of death in the world, affecting thirty percent of all adults….By some estimates, ‘clinical depression is ten times more likely to torment us than it did a century ago.’”
The antidote to this, according to Sir Ken? Find that sweetspot where your passion and talent come together and create real value in the world.
We have so many different words for it. Your purpose. Your Element. Your dharma. Your raison d’etre. Your soulprint. Your north star. Your voice. Your onlyness. It is, I think, variations on the same thing: an organizing principle for your life that gives it shape, energy and direction. It draws from the multiple levels of your personality, expresses itself through your gifts and hooks you up to a much bigger picture.
Being in your Element brings you joy, which Peggy Tabor Millin points out
“….is not an emotion but a physical sensation of wholeness.”
Instead of looking for a person to complete us – a dubious proposition at best – we should be hunting high and low for our Element. click to tweet
Most of us, according to Sir Ken, give up too soon. We sell ourselves short. We settle for too little. We live in a consumer culture that trains us to look for happiness in all the wrong places: a perfect body, a big white wedding, a midnight-blue Porsche and a house in the hills.
But I also blame the Power Principle.
The Power Principle is what writer and Jungian analyst Marion Woodman renamed patriarchy after too many people assumed that patriarchy automatically means men. It does not. Patriarchy refers to a system – supported and perpetuated by people of both genders – based on a power hierarchy that privileges so-called masculine values and attitudes over feminine values and attitudes. In order for someone to be in the up position, someone else has to be in the down position.
This means we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others.
This means we’re relying on external sources of validation to guide us.
There’s a lot of talk in the personal development world about asking for permission. In order for a woman – the person is usually understood to be a woman – to fulfill her destiny and reach for her potential, she has to give herself permission. Or understand that the universe has already given her permission. Or just quit waiting for permission in the first place.
Maybe what she – or he – really has to do is to reject the whole idea that permission exists.
When I was a teenager I fell in love with the fantasy movie LABYRINTH, starring David Bowie (Jareth) and a young Jennifer Connelly (Sarah). I was disappointed when Sarah spurns Jareth, the Goblin King, at the end of the movie. This was partly because Bowie injected the character with a wistful, yearning quality that I found romantic and hot. I was also caught up in my own version of the fairy-tale fantasy that Sarah learns to call out as bullshit.
In the final confrontation between them, Jareth tries to seduce Sarah into staying with him as his Queen. “Look, Sarah,” he tells her, “look what I’m offering. Your dreams!”
He goes on:
“….I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.”
But Sarah recognizes that, like any master narcissist, Jareth is working with smoke and mirrors. What he’s offering isn’t love. He’ll make her Queen (“you can have everything that you want”) for the price of her freedom (“do as I say”).
She would constantly have to ask for permission.
Instead, she realizes, You have no power over me, with a note of wonder in her voice. The reality that Jareth has created comes apart like a house of cards.
Watching this movie as an adult, I realized how the fairy-tale fantasy that still permeates this culture is not just about some rich dude on a white Mercedes galloping in to sweep you off your feet, whisk you away to a castle (in the hills, with a pool and a view) and love you happily ever after (once you’ve signed the prenup). It’s about the unspoken agreement that so many of us make with the Power Principle without even realizing we’re doing it. If we’re good, and perfect, and hot, and productive, and pleasing, if we fulfill the criteria set out for our gender (“do as you’re told”), then patriarchy will reward us with our dreams. We’ll get the relationship, the shiny career, the adorable kids who never misbehave in restaurants, the flat abs and fabulous shoes and lifelong security. Bad things will happen to other people – and we’ll feel sorry for them and tell them how strong they are – but not to us.
In return, all we have to do is keep checking in for permission, approval, validation; for all the signs that we’re playing the game exactly right.
Until, of course, something goes wrong, and the illusions are shown up for what they are. And we realize we no longer know who we are, or where our passions lie, or what we love. We traded our soul for an elaborate card trick.
But if we can say from the beginning, You have no power over me…..
Finding your Element requires you to tune out the worldly chorus and listen, instead, for the voice of your deep self, that nonverbal intelligence constantly communicating through dreams, images, physical symptoms and gut feelings.
It’s the voice of artists, rebels, lovers and visionaries.
Finding your Element is like falling in love, and love has a way of cutting across boundaries, ignoring taboos and challenging authority. Speak with that voice, and the world might suddenly be asking you for permission.