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October 2, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Get Empowered: Three Ways to Lead from the Inside

A couple months ago, I took a trip to Omega Institute for Holistic Studies for their tenth annual Women and Power Conference. I had pretty high hopes for this retreat, as it was being led by a group of brilliant thinkers at the helm of many health and wellness movements we here at Whole Living promote. The teachers included author and life coach Martha Beck, novelist Sapphire, and international human rights activists Mallika Dutt and Gretchen Steidle Wallace. Besides the joy I found in being barefoot and eating fresh foods at every meal, I was tremendously energized by the honest, empowering lectures and exercises.

The weekend centered on how to live authentically—how to remain faithful to your own inner voice—in a world so relentlessly dependent upon activity and outward approval and recognition that it can be hard to think straight, much less initiate any sort of change for which you see a need. Here are three of my most valuable takeaways from the weekend:

Notice when and where you feel weak. To quote Martha Beck, “your body is an incredible barometer of your real mission in life.” To prove this to us, she recruited a handful of participants from the audience and employed a kinesiology trick to help get to the root of their feelings of frustration and overall unhappiness. One by one, Martha instructed each woman to firmly hold out her arm and first say a truth statement, such as “I like fresh air,” or “I am thirty years old.” Then, she asked each to state the thought that kept her in an unhealthy marriage, or an unsatisfying job, or some other “stuck” situation—for example, “if I leave my job, I’ll have no money.” When Martha tried mightily to push down their arms during the truth statements, not one woman budged. When stating the more entrapping thought, though, every woman’s muscles went limp. The body responds truthfully, I learned, to what you intuitively know is true. Even if what is true means big changes for you. Ever since, I’ve been listening to my body’s signals more intently, and observing what situations give me headaches or turn my stomach.

Kindle a wo-mance. A major theme of the weekend was forging and/or nurturing same-sex friendships within which you can share your big ideas and inspirations—because these kinds of things are more likely to die out unless buoyed by encouragement from like minds. Though it can be hard to admit your deepest desires—even to trusted friends—try it out. I felt so great after sharing mine that I contemplated writing each of my new girlfriends a thank you note.

Question your criticisms. We all have people in our lives who tick us off, or strongly offend us just by being who they are. This person might be an object of rumination for you—one with whom you carry on mental debates or over whom you find yourself obsessing. If prompted, you could write an essay about why and how this person should be different, better, stronger, or more just. Well, myself and my fellow workshoppers were prompted in this way—and my essay included “indecisive,” “weak,” and “controlling” as among my adversary’s qualities. Through a series of exercises, I came to see that these are some of the qualities I most fear or loathe in myself. What’s most empowering about this is that I’m no longer as frazzled by this person, and every time I find myself thinking critically about anyone, I can ask myself how I’m exhibiting that tendency in my own life–and (try to) STOP.

Diana Castaldini is Whole Living’s editorial assistant.

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