Cultivating Inner Authority

Martha Graham, a world famous dancer and choreographer, once said that her first dance lesson came from her father when he told her that bodies don't lie. We intuitively know the deep wisdom of that statement, but how many of us realize that our bodies are the best and closest advisors we have? Not only can we sense what we can trust from outside ourselves, but we can also access what is authentic and true for each of us individually. Once we know what is authentic for us, can we act on our own authority?

These are not easy questions. Most of us have been educated, trained, and disciplined to shut out the feelings and sensations that can guide us to use our inner resources and authority. We have lost the ability to feel and to sense as children do naturally. So how do we begin to cultivate and nurture what we have forgotten?

We begin by observing the most fundamental life practice: breathing. Where is your breath usually located? In today's fast-pace, constantly striving for success, busy world, most of us breathe high in the chest. As young girls, we were taught to hold in our bellies, stand tall, and be nice. What does this produce for us?

Our lungs are shaped with their fullest part at the bottom, located in the middle to lower part of our torso. So when we breathe high in the chest, our breath is "shallow", using only a small fraction of the lungs' capacity. Breathing this way, we are not oxygenating ourselves to the extent our bodies are designed for. Shallow breathing produces stress and anxiety, if continued over long periods.

Try this to see what happens. First bring your awareness to your belly. Then take a deep breath filling your lungs from the bottom and keeping your chest and shoulders completely relaxed. As you inhale, let your ribs expand as your lungs fill with breath, and as you exhale, let your ribs come back. Notice what happens to any anxiety you were feeling before this deeper breathing. And what about your thoughts? Is it easier now to remember what you deeply care about? And what's really important? Your most precious cares and commitments are what inform the authority of your actions. Let me give you some examples.

Let me give you some examples of what's possible when we have access to inner authority. One of my clients was on a fast track in her company. She had lots of opportunities to take on even more responsibility, managing larger departments and divisions, until she finally stopped advancing because her work was taking time from what she could spend with her teenage daughter. She convinced herself that advancing at work would only take more away from her family, and she wanted balance and time for her daughter more than anything else. She became more conflicted and anxious until we started working on deep breathing, centering, and reflection. As a result of continuing to deepen her commitment to what she cared about, she changed direction and went from leading a service line of 7 managers and 175 consultants to managing "hot" projects, reporting directly to the President of her organization and other top executives. Her new role provided plenty of visibility and access to the networks that she wanted to play in, without compromising her commitment to be fully in her daughter's life as well.

Another client was offered the promotion of her dreams, where she would have the opportunity to demonstrate a new style of management that could become a model throughout an organization that was beginning to atrophy with the traditional hierarchical style that was no longer working. However the person she would be reporting to was one of the old-style managers that she felt would not understand what she was attempting to accomplish. After much consideration and centered reflection, she turned down the promotion. That was a shocking move, but prompted by her inner authority, she could not go into a situation that she felt she could not succeed in. What happened next was amazing. Everyone else who was offered the position also turned it down, and finally the person running this line of business reorganized the management structure and re-offered the promotion to my client. She took the job and is once again flourishing, led by her inner authority.

Take time to breathe, center, and reflect. Respect your inner wisdom. Cultivate your inner authority to help you design a balanced, satisfying, and fulfilling life.

Suzanne Zeman, MSC