Inner Power for Healing and New Life

May 5, 2023

I have a friend who planted a cedar row between her lawn and the wooded bush; she couldn’t make the bush look like her neat and tidy yard so she blocked it out. There is wisdom in her action. Wisdom is exercised to discern when one should accept what one cannot control and when one should act to control what one can.

Sometimes we only pray the first line of the 12-step Serenity prayer: “God grant me the Serenity to accept what I cannot change.” We have to find a way to live with things we cannot control. Some things we can set aside or block out, or in my son’s parlance, compartmentalize. But there is a practical mental health principle which applies to the second line of the 12-step prayer, “Grant me the courage to change the things I can.” 

My friend showed wisdom and “agency” in accepting what she could not control, and acting in what she could control. Accepting responsibility for what we can control is called personal “agency”.  “Agency is a philosophical term that refers to one’s ability to act in a given situation… Agency depends on both having the knowledge and having the means.” (1)

My husband says, “‘Agency’. That’s a dumb word that means nothing to me. Why can’t you use the word “‘empowerment?’” Someone who is empowered has agency; they stand in their own power.

We each have a life force within us that empowers us, as part of nature, to “green”, to grow, to blossom and spread seeds of new life in the world. We are empowered to imagine, envision, solve problems and to heal. But for various reasons there are times when we feel small, dull, lethargic and definitely not green or creative.

I can “do what I can for myself” by taking small pieces of a bigger goal. Sometimes my goal to walk more often looks like walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail. Today, doing what I am able about dust allergies meant vacuuming under the bed. I am well aware that “doing what I can for myself” can mean getting out of bed in the morning, or feeding the pet(s). “Doing what I can for myself” doesn’t mean doing everything, but taking control over an area of my life in which I had previously felt powerless. Sometimes being empowered means choosing not to do something.

These past twenty years the movement in mental health practice has been towards giving personal agency through short-term therapy.  In other words, a goal of counselling in short term therapy is to empower individuals with one new perspective, strategy or practice which they can use to help themselves with a present problem. (2)

As I age, I see a value in short-term therapy that I couldn’t see before. I begin to realize that our inner work is a life-long practice and is never finished. We all have vulnerabilities and handicaps which both hinder and support us in this business of living.  We will never be finished or perfect or perfectly whole, but there will be opportunities along the way to gain perspective, to bridge a wounded relationship, to ask for forgiveness, to forgive, to step away from an unhealthy situation and to accept responsibility for my circumstances.  

There is so much anxiety in the world today, and much of it has origins in feelings of having no control.  Standing in my own power, doing what I can for myself, in even a small area of my life can give a sense of control. We can feel good about our strength and capacity to accomplish something. We can feel good seeing the product of the time we have spent.

When my friend planted her row of cedar trees, as well as doing what she could for herself, she was exercising trust because planting a tree is an investment in hope for the future. This Spring I am reflecting on the greening power in me. Like the trees, flowers and grass, my spirit is stirring to birth life out of the cold and grayness of winter dormancy. As we recognize life’s greening power, may we have the courage to do what we can for ourselves, as an investment in our present and future wholeness.   

Gratitude Prompt – I give thanks for our inner “greening” power.

1. Understanding what is my personal power and what is another’s impacts relationship dynamics. This article explains the importance of personal agency in relationships.
https://philosophicaltherapist.com/2017/03/21/understanding-personal-agency/

2. This hope-note refers to short-term therapy because it is about enabling individual “agency” to recognize and do what one can, however small it seems. The choice of therapy is as individual as the person seeking help. At different times of peoples’ lives and for different reasons one kind of therapy may be more suited to one’s needs. Even the decision to seek therapy is a courageous act of personal agency. For a description of how one can benefit from  short-term therapy: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/cognitive-behavioural-therapy