On owning your true authority

August 28, 2014   |   3 Comments

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I’ve written 5 books and edited 3, given countless public talks, and taught many workshops. I still struggle with self-confidence and like many who do, choose one of the two main coping mechanisms: downplaying myself and what I know and situating myself as one of many voices on the topic. (The other is overplaying and claiming complete authority while attempting to damn all others as pretenders.)

For most of my life, I thought these were the only two choices. You were either humble, open, and likable…or arrogant, offensive, and insulting. I chose to err on the gentler side of the equation, I suppose, because of how much personal pain I’ve experienced at the hands of the aggressive side, from grade school teachers to bosses to (ex) colleagues. As one who grew up feeling continuously misunderstood by those in authority, I vowed never to create such circumstances for my own students.

When you abdicate your own authority because you don’t want to threaten anyone you also abdicate the possibility of helping, leading, or healing. As a teacher, people come to you because they want to know what you think and suggest. When you hem and haw overly, they drift away. Similarly, when you lay down the law too vociferously, some may experience the momentary charm of being overwhelmed, but eventually they too drift away. When you offer what you know with confidence and kindness, your students go one better than learning something from you. They discover something about themselves and in so doing unearth their inner teacher.There is some magical sweet spot that is neither pal nor boss, companion nor guru. That spot is called “teacher.”

In my Shambhala Buddhist lineage, we often use the phrase “to take one’s seat.” Meditation practice quite literally begins by taking your seat. When you do so with a sense of firmness and commitment, it informs your practice. When you do so tentatively, that has equal bearing. The same applies whether you are taking your seat around a conference table to discuss a new idea, at the dinner table with your family, or alone at your writing desk.

The truth is, we each possess wisdom and confusion. As teachers, some of us are too afraid to own what we know because then we will claim authority and become some kind of target. We cling to our confusion without acknowledging our wisdom. In this way, we deprive our students of the power within the teachings. Others of us are too afraid to admit vulnerability and over-stake the claim to authority. We cling to our wisdom without acknowledging our confusion. Thus, we deprive our students of the chance to make their own connection to the teachings.

“To take your seat” means to own your particular spot with neither false humbleness nor false pride. True humbleness and true pride look the same. They look like genuineness. They look like an invitation. They look exactly like you. When you take your seat in full unabashed possession of both your wisdom and your confusion, the teaching channel opens in a most interesting way.

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  • Posted by:  Erin Melugin Davis

    “True humbleness and true pride look the same. They look like genuineness.” Incredible. This one is going in the ‘Keep-Forever-Read-Over-and-Over’ file. 🙂 I am finding it difficult to expound on how/why this message is so important to me, but suffice it to say that it really struck me. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Like! And keep me posted as you contemplate what it means to you.

  • Posted by:  Melanie Messner

    Had to bookmark and share this with my friends.

    A good and wise friend already advised me on this a few weeks ago, but your post made it even more clear and brought the importance of it closer to me.

    Thank you for this post! And all the others of course. 🙂

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