Right Use of Power: Ethics as Soul Work

Ethics as Soul Work

I slept and dreamt that life was joy;
I awoke and saw that life was service;
I acted and behold, service was joy.

–Rabindranath Tagore

I appreciate your interest in using your personal and professional power with wisdom and compassion. I think of ethics as right use of power. In fact, right use of power and influence is the biggest container for ethics since it includes social consciousness and personal development. In this greatest context, it is about reverence for life, treating all people with respect, and acting honorably. It requires a high level of consciousness development and understanding of both harm and empowerment.

This context for ethics includes and honors the value of prescribed codes and guidelines and goes beyond into the realm of repairing harm, restoring relationships, and promoting well-being. Ethical behavior in this framework requires a high level of consciousness development and understanding of both harm and empowerment.

This is the first of a series of articles devoted to exploring issues of power in our personal and professional lives. Expect a new column every 4-6 weeks.

In working with ethical sensitivity from a soul deep point of view, I think there are a number of things that are asked of us as healers and as human beings.

  1. Ongoing personal and spiritual work
  2. An ability to be authentic, and at the same time, be in service to others.
  3. The humility to know and take responsibility when we’ve made a mistake or inadvertently caused harm.
  4. A level of transcendence in which we can put our own needs aside in order to be of service.
  5. An ability to foster independence even when we’re being depended upon for our helpfulness.
  6. Thorough knowledge of Self and an ability to use our strengths as resources and minimize the impact of our vulnerabilities.
  7. A capacity to be in the presence of suffering and woundedness with compassion, without dissociating, numbing, or getting overwhelmed.
  8. A call to “make real” our gifts and intentions.
  9. A willingness to use power and influence.

Being in service to others can be draining. How can we nourish our own souls when engaged in realms of service to others?

Here are four essential resources to cultivate:

  1. Gratitude. Gratitude clears out stress and focuses our attention on the goodness around us.
  2. Honoring the grief we feel about the suffering of others. We can do this by taking the grief directly and momentarily into our hearts and then send it on. This allows us to move it through our bodies and souls so we don’t have to respond by either getting numb or feeling traumatized.
  3. Having a practice of contemplation or prayer. This keeps our hearts and right brain hemispheres open to information beyond our sensory signals. This information comes from the medium that connects us all.
  4. Linking power and heart. When the generativity and responsiveness of our power is guided by loving concern for the well-being of all, we will have an ethical and sustainable world.

“Pain and suffering, they are a mystery. Kindness and love, they are a mystery. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering.” –Barbara Kingsolver

© Copyright 2008 by Cedar Barstow. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sam


    January 10th, 2008 at 11:19 AM

    This blog entry was very interesting. Obviously, Cedar has done a lot of work herself in regards to introspection. A therapist who does not consider these truths and engage in these practices does indeed hold power that can cause further damage to our clients. If we as therapists do not take the time to center ourselves so that we can acknowledge what we are truly feeling and then deal with those feelings, we will be unable to help those who seek it from us. Allowing yourself time to do these things is truly a gift to your clients.



    January 10th, 2008 at 11:22 AM

    I don’t know…I found some of the blog to be a bit trite and “PC.” It was very much speaking of what is popular at the moment. Not that there weren’t truths in the blog. But, I would like to see something a little more original. Maybe taking some of these concepts and giving real life applications would be helpful. I do, however, appreciate the general, overall message of the blog. We do need to recognize the tremendous power we have and use it responsibly and with great and deliberate thought.

  • Meg


    January 10th, 2008 at 11:27 AM

    The hardest part of me in this blog is honoring grief and then letting it go. I tend to want to take on the pain of others rather than letting it go. I do find that meditation does tremendously well for this issue. But, I wonder if someone else has tried something that either augments meditation or even replaces it.

  • Rob


    January 10th, 2008 at 11:29 AM

    I find that exercise helps me deal with the issues of letting go of others’ grief so that I can be fully present for that client as well as my others. I guess exercise can be a form of meditation if it is done alone and without many other distractions. I enjoy trail running, so I have an element of calming nature thrown in as well. When I stretch after running, I make sure to do deep, cleansing breaths so that I am able to further let go of what is troubling me in the world of my clients.

  • Donna


    April 29th, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    Like the poem says, service is joy. This goes back to a previous blog that I read just today which talks of the healing properties that altruism can give. It feels so good to give back to others and to make this a part of that ongoing inner growth and renewal.

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