Free of the confusions and craziness of the imaginary garden, and back in the ordinary - sometimes mistakenly called 'real' - world, it's time to stop and think for a while: look a bit more closely at what we saw there.
Imaginary though they all were, each of the characters in the garden would also have been recognisable - perhaps all too recognisable - in examples of people you know in your day-to-day world. In their own different ways, each of those characters - even the Mock Turtle - thought that they were being powerful: that what they were doing was the right way, or even the only way, in which they could get what they wanted in the world. A few of them - the Queen of Hearts especially - were playing on other people's fears, and probably thought that fear - other people's fear, at least - was 'power'. Some of the others - such as the White Knight, and the mad gardener whom we quietly avoided - were away in their own private worlds, with only a tenuous grasp on what was actually happening around them. And some - like those at the caucus-race, or around the Mad Hatter's table - had a kind of shared world, with mutually-agreed rules, but which in practice perhaps had even less of a grasp on reality. The results are chaotic: the same destructive patterns, the same habitual responses, repeated - with minor variations - over and over again. Round and round the garden...
Some people may - and evidently do - choose to be caught in loops like these: and if we're not careful, they'll often try to drag us in to join them. We don't have to join them: but sometimes it can seem that there's no choice - and often others will try very hard to make it seem that way. The way out of those loops is to recognise that they are loops in the weavings of the wyrd, and then notice the twists - like the flowers' advice - which open up hidden choices that allow us to move to alternative paths. But first we need to see that, no matter what it may look like, we do always have a choice: and to find this we need to understand more about power and fear, and the weird interactions between them.
A problem of power
What is power? Most people would say that they want it, that someone else has it, but don't ever seem to be able to say what it is. Power is apparently linked in some way with money, or with a supposed 'right' to bully others, or to offload work onto others; but then we come across some chance encounter which triggers what we could only call powerful changes in our lives, but which has little or nothing to do with money, or bullying, or anything other than the weirdness of the moment itself. Power is... something... but it's surprisingly difficult to pin down exactly what that something is.
Whatever definition of power we choose, it is still a choice - which means there's also a twist attached to that choice. As with all other definitions, how our choice of how we define 'power' also determines how we perceive it - and how we experience it.
For example, there's the so-called 'common-sense' notion that power is a kind of limited and rare commodity: some people have it, and most don't, but everybody wants it. If that's how power is perceived, all transactions between people are described in terms of a 'zero-sum' of power - the old Marxist concept that "it is in the nature of power that it is impossible for one to have more without others having less" - and hence all relationships are viewed in terms of 'win-lose'. If that's what I believe, then I'll also believe that the only way I can win is to make sure that you lose. So if you hold the same concept of power, we're set for a life-time of struggle... and even if you didn't hold it to start with, you probably would quite soon, because you'd get very annoyed, very quickly, at my constant attempts to prop myself up by putting you down.
The twist in 'win-lose' is that since everyone's energy is expended on struggling to be 'the winner' - and especially in trying to avoid being 'the loser' - nobody ever really 'wins': all that happens is that an increasing number of people spend ever-increasing amounts of energy going nowhere, 'round and round the garden'. Since one of the most popular means of gaining 'power' is to manufacture fear in one sense or another, it's all too true that "where there's fear, there's power; where there's power, there's fear". But the supposed 'winner's feeling of having gained power over others masks the reality that everyone loses - and in practice, even the most definite 'final victory' can be very short-lived...
Each concept of power is a thread of the wyrd: each has its own path, its own consequences, its own dénouément. So we can change our experience of power - and other people's experience of power, when in relationship with us - simply by changing the way we choose to perceive it. If we perceive power as a fixed commodity, that's what it'll be; if we treat every relationship as a 'zero-sum', that's what we'll have. And if, as the slogan for one of the 'Godfather' films put it, we base our life on the notion that "true power cannot be given - it must be taken", we will, in the usual weird way, find plenty of people who are willing to play: there'll be a few who'll accept it as their fate that they have to lose to us, but there'll be many, many more who are also trying to 'win' that much-prized feeling of power - and are all too willing to fight us for it... In a very real sense it is true that "life doesn't have to be struggle" - and that if it is a struggle for us, it's probable that our past and present choices have helped to make it so.
There's always a choice, there's always a twist: we don't have much choice about the twists, but we do have choice about the choices. So we can choose, for example, to perceive power not as a finite commodity, but as something which is variable and volatile, something which is created - or destroyed - by us, or in the space between us. Power - or the lack of it - depends on us, and how we relate with each other. In this sense, when people relate with each other, there's a whole spectrum of power-transactions from 'win-win' to 'lose-lose'; in this sense, 'win-lose' is just an odd type of 'lose-lose', in which the illusion of gaining at one level masks an overall loss at another. The constant 'win-lose' battles for power-over and power-under - manipulation, deceit and so on - are replaced by stronger need for power with others to help us find, and share, a deeper and more personal kind of power-from-within. The struggles still exist, in a sense: but rather than being against others, they're more for understanding - especially understanding of ourselves, and of what our own power is.
This description also matches more closely with the physics definition of power, where 'power' - or, more accurately, 'potential' - is "the ability to do work". (In 'win-lose', by comparison, power often seems more like "the ability to avoid work" - which is probably why so little actually gets done!) That bald physics definition, though, applies mainly to machines, which work in only one way, and which have no choice in what they do. By the time we apply it to people, we'd have to expand that physics definition somewhat: we'd have to say that power is "the ability to do work, as an expression of choice"; and not only is the definition of 'work' entirely open, but there is also no distinction between 'work' and 'play'. This may take a bit of explaining...
First, power may be the ability to do work, but work itself is not power: without awareness, that mistake leads inevitably to the illusion that 'arbeit macht frei' ('work makes freedom') - the slogan over the gates at Auschwitz... If the work is not done by choice, there is no power: being forced to do someone else's work rarely feels like power, at any rate! In practice, that's what 'win-lose' is really about: people not so much searching for any real power, as trying desperately - at any cost, to anyone - to avoid the terrifying feeling of powerlessness.
Next, it's essential to understand that the meaning of 'work' is entirely open: for example, to dig a ditch, to solve a complex equation, to calm a fractious child, and to reclaim hope from despair are all work. In physics, 'work' is defined as "the rate at which energy is expended": energy is certainly expended in all those examples of work, so that definition would still apply! But they're different kinds of energy: physical effort, mental effort, emotional effort, and what would probably be called a spiritual effort - where 'spiritual', in this sense, has little to do with religion and the like, but is more 'a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of self and of that which is greater than self'. Even in physics, there are different types of energy - electromagnetic, gravity, weak nuclear, strong nuclear - which interact with each other and in some ways change into each other; in the same way, those different kinds of human energy interact with each other and in some ways change into each other - they change through us, as an expression of our choices. Our power exists through the work we choose to do, in whatever form we choose.
The last point is perhaps the hardest: the idea that, as far as power is concerned, there's no distinction between work and play. Children don't distinguish between them: a child's 'work' is play - and there's usually plenty of energy being expended! It's in children's play that they develop their many skills, and come to understand their own 'ability to do work, as an expression of choice'. But by the time we get to adulthood, somewhere the idea creeps in that work isn't supposed to be enjoyable, isn't supposed to be meaningful to us, whereas what we still call 'play-time' is: hence the common notion, as a friend put it to me the other day, that "work is what I do to pay for my play". If we're doing work that has no meaning to us, no purpose in itself, we're not exactly likely to feel powerful about it...
Yet in its own weird way this attitude to work is just as much of a choice as is the notion of 'win-lose' - and with much the same results. In terms of the wyrd, if we choose to view work as boring, disempowering, something we have to do in order to pay for what we really want to do... well, that's what we're likely to get, because that is what we choose. And just as with 'win-lose', we're likely to meet up with people who'll help to reinforce that choice. We can choose to view work in a different way: for example, as Joseph Campbell put it, we can choose to "follow our bliss", or as Castaneda's perhaps imaginary 'teacher' Don Juan put it, we can "choose a path that has heart" - though at times it can be far from easy to do. Yet if we do that, we'll find there are people who'll help to reinforce that choice, too. It's up to us: we always have that choice.
But the twist is that to make that change happen, we also have to change our choices about power, and about work. And to do that, we have to face the real issue behind all of this: an infamous four-letter word called 'fear'...
A problem of fear
Here we need to return to that idea that 'where there's fear, there's power'. When we're afraid, we lose our power - we lose our ability to do work, for the simple reason that we're too busy being afraid to do much of anything else...
Fear is a useful and natural tool: it always has something to tell us about the way we interact with the world, and we often do need to listen to what it has to say. But it can easily become a hindrance rather than a help, for a number of reasons: when we don't listen to it, for example - and hence get damaged; or when we pay too much attention to the feeling of fear itself, rather than listening to what it's trying to tell us; or when others set out to augment our natural fears, in the hope that this will allow them to 'take away' our power. The idea there seems to be that, if we lose our power to fear, then if we can be induced into feeling afraid, that power will be lying around - so to speak - for someone else to claim. Where there's fear, there's power; and I'll have it from you, thanks...
Fear is natural. What isn't 'natural' is the way in which so many people - especially those focussed on a 'win-lose' model of power - deliberately set out to make others frightened. In some ways our whole society is based on this: "do you have enough insurance?" asks a television advertisement; "shouldn't you be afraid of going out at night?" asks an apparently well-meaning relative. Often it's dressed up as 'for your own good' - "don't go near the dog! all dogs bite!" - but sometimes, as with the sales-manager's shouted demands for the strawberry special, there's not even an attempt at disguise: it's just plain ordinary bullying. "It is in the nature of power that it is impossible for some to have less without one having more, so the more powerless and afraid I can make others feel, the more powerful I'll be": that seems to be the idea, anyway.
Fear always exists, in all of us; no matter what may be claimed, no-one is ever truly without fear. (Even the 'common-sense' idea that men are naturally less fearful than women is wrong: in reality, most men are haunted by the fear of the abuse they'd get if they fail to simulate 'fearlessness'...) And there's a simple twist: if we face fear, it shrinks, though never quite disappears; but if we refuse to face it, it grows - and the wyrd, obliging as ever, keeps coming back with 'lessons' to remind us of the fact. So up comes another common notion: the idea that, rather than facing the fear ourselves, we can export it to someone else: then it's their problem, not ours. I'll take your power, and you can have my fear: that's a fair exchange, isn't it? That's part of what the desire for 'power' is really about: because if I'm truly 'powerful', I'll always be able to find someone whom I can force to face my fears for me... We've seen this already, for example, with the sales manager and his demands about the strawberry special: he exported the problem - and his unadmitted fears - by yelling at the supermarket manager, who 'passed the buck' to the supervisor. She in turn passed it on, quickly, to the junior, who 'solved' the problem for everyone by running away in a panic. We could note that nothing was actually done - no cake was displayed, because it didn't exist - so if power is 'the ability to do work', no-one was actually powerful. In this sense, it might be more accurate to say that "where there's fear, there isn't power"...
This idea that fear can be exported is so common, and so pervasive, that most people think it's natural, normal, just the way things are. But it's not: it's just another choice - another thread of the wyrd, with the usual weird twist in its tail. So we can choose to look at fear in a different way: a way which accepts that fear is normal, and a way which can be more empowering for everyone.
As usual, we can find that choice by watching for a twist of wyrdness hidden in the usual ways of looking at the world. The twist here comes from noticing that our fears - whatever those fears might be - often grow when we refuse to face them, and certainly do shrink when we do turn round to face them. Hence we arrive at the 'win-win' version of that phrase about "where there's fear, there's power": we find our power - both our own power-from-within, and the power-with that we share with others - by facing our own fears, and helping others to face theirs. Fear itself has its own weird power: and as we come to respect it within ourselves, we begin to find out more about what our own power is.
The weird power of fear
Trying to export fear to others often feels powerful, but isn't; facing fear means that we have to face the terrifying feeling of powerlessness, and yet it's one of the most empowering things we can do. Weird... wyrd...
In the same way that fear and power are closely interwoven, so too is fear deeply interwoven with the wyrd. Perhaps the most common feeling of fear is what we call 'panic' - everything comes together all at once, and there's a desperate need to be anywhere but here! Yet the 'pan-' prefix literally means 'everywhere': so what we're doing in panic is trying to run away from interweaving of everywhere, everyone, everywhen - running from Pan, running from the weavings of the sisters of wyrd. But there's nowhere to run, because everywhere is already here, and at the same moment 'here' is everything, everywhere. No boundaries, no limits: no 'I', just a swirling, chaotic sea of 'is'-ness, in which we're about to dissolve into nothing - that's what it feels like. No wonder it's frightening...
And yet 'I' is always here: 'I' is not that which changes, 'I' is that which chooses. So we always have the choice to stand our ground, to accept the fear, acknowledge the fear, but turn round and face it. And in the act of turning round, the act of choosing, the fear shrinks - and we find that we do have the power to face it. Fear itself changes into power, simply by turning round and facing it.
Fear isn't rational: it's a response to something - anything - that seems to be a threat to our sense of being. But then power isn't exactly rational either - and neither is the wyrd. Facing facts - acknowledging what's actually happening, rather than only what we think is happening - is an important part of facing fear, and of reclaiming our power, but that kind of rationality alone is not enough. We do need to accept that fear is weird, and that the wyrd itself brings its own fears - especially in our interweavings with others.
For example, if we involve ourselves in personal growth, exploring our personal power, we're likely to find that some of those around us - perhaps even those closest to us - become noticeably nervous about what we're doing. And they may well indulge in power-over or power-under - usually mild at first, but sometimes definitely not - to try to stop us: because as we make different choices, their world suddenly becomes uncertain, and feels unsafe. In other words, they're afraid. Making different choices brings up others' fear - not from something we do, but simply from who we are. That can make life difficult at times...
Another part of the weirdness is that we can find ourselves in a kind of unconscious connection with others - resonating with their wyrd, if you like. Without knowing it, we'll find ourselves doing exactly what others most fear, or most desire; or without knowing it, they'll be doing exactly what we most fear, or most desire. It can feel so uncanny - so weird - that some people even imagine that we must have some kind of strange powers, to make this happen to them. We don't: all we have is an accidental weaving of the wyrd, working in its own weird if entirely normal way. But when people are confused about that kind of power, they either hope that we'll be able magically to take away all their fears - the old 'guru-game', described in Christian terms as 'the one who dies to take away our sins' - or else drift off into the old habitual 'win-lose' thinking. Afraid that because we seem to have some kind of strange power that they don't understand - can't rationalise - we must therefore be aiming to have power over them, they start to attack us for what are actually the results of their fears. That's not exactly fun either...
Power is weird; and one of the key sources of our power is through the wyrd itself, our connection with everyone. Our fears block our access to that power: when we face the fears - and the weirdnesses with which and through which they interweave - we start to discover that we do have a very real power, a real 'ability to do work' as an expression of what we choose.
But here we run into an even stranger problem: once we begin to grasp the weird nature of power, we discover that most people have an even weirder fear of power itself - even though it's the one thing they keep saying they want. Something doesn't quite make sense here... something else we need to understand before we can move on.
The weird fear of power
Power is the ability to do work, as an expression of choice. So at first it'd seem obvious that when someone says "I want to be powerful", or "I want you to be powerful", what they want is to express their choices in action, or for us to do so. But it doesn't quite work that way... what they're more likely to mean is that they don't want to feel powerless - which is not the same thing at all. Given the usual fears about 'win-lose' - and the assumption that someone who's finding their power will inevitably strive for power-over others - relationships can become strangely strained whenever one person starts to change: "he always used to be able to talk", said a friend, "but in the past year it's almost as if he's afraid of what I've been learning and trying to express, while because of this fear, or criticism, or whatever, I've become less willing to express it, particularly when I've found understanding elsewhere". End of relationship - very quickly, in some cases - unless both parties come to realise that someone's succumbed to the weird fear of power: and need to work to find their power-with each other to create their relationship anew.
We're afraid of other people's power; we're even afraid of our own power. A colleague asked a group of business-people to describe their greatest fears: 'fear of making a mistake' came at or near the top of the list for every one of them. If no-one's willing to make a move, for fear of making a mistake, is anyone actually being powerful? No-one's 'taken' anyone else's power - but where has it gone? Into thin air, apparently... or back into the wyrd?
And, equally common, there's even a weird fear of success: even if we do get right, it still feels wrong... Or we're told by others that we ought to feel wrong about it: because they don't like anyone else having a 'power' that they won't let themselves have...
It's not just other people's put-downs that are the problem - though it'd always be easy to blame them for everything! What we're more likely to be afraid of is blame itself: and since most people confuse responsibility and blame, most are afraid - if not terrified - of the sense of responsibility that inevitably accompanies 'getting it right'. "Round and round in the usual old game - I take the credit and you take the blame": everyone wants the credit of having done something - whatever it is - but no-one wants to face the risk of getting the blame if it doesn't work out as intended. And since the wyrd all but guarantees that nothing ever quite works as intended, the possibility for blame is always present - especially if someone else can grab the credit by doing so...
That's the way that those loops of wyrd get formed: by placating others, rebelling against others, avoiding responsibility, or trying to cover up for our own fears or someone else's, everyone gets dragged into some kind of 'game', seemingly trapped into going 'round and round the garden'. The way out is to notice those 'lessons' that come weaving back on the wyrd. But first we do have to notice them: and that usually needs an almost childlike awareness of the weavings of the world. Yet a childish evasion of responsibility is the source of most of the problems in the first place: 'danger - children at play'! So before we can move on, we need a much better understanding of the difference between childish and childlike - and that's what we'd better look at next.