Getting Out Of The Power Game


We can’t read the news these days without reflecting on power and how those who shamelessly abuse power are destroying the world we know. The way I see it when I enter meditative states and vision a future I’d want to leave to my daughter, humans have been playing power games for as long as we’ve existed. With the exception of perhaps a few uncorrupted Indigenous communities that did not get contaminated and traumatized by colonization and genocide, humans, at least those descended from colonizers and those who enslaved people and committed genocide, seem to think that the way to “win” in life is to grab power wherever you can and then double down in every way possible to hang onto it.

Power and privilege tend to overlap. For example, if someone has a cluster of privileges- being white, male, heterosexual, cis-gender, able-bodied, neurotypical, financially privileged, educated, attractive (tall if you’re a male-identifying or model thin and beautiful by advertising standards, if you’re female-identifying)- this gives you a lot of power in the world, much of which might be unearned.  Sure, there are some types of power you might earn, like having a job that requires a graduate degree or a making a living with a talent you’ve invested your 10,000 hours into. But even these kinds of power tend not to be pure meritocracies. I am very aware that, as someone with both a graduate degree and a talent I’ve invested 10,000+ hours into, many of the benefits I receive from that power are because of other unearned privileges, since the only main privileges I lack are that I’m not male or model skinny.

In other words, the very fact that I was able to pursue a graduate degree and had 10,000+ free hours to invest in a talent like writing is a mark of other privileges I did not earn but was born into. I am aware that if I had been born Black or Indigenous, female, queer, Muslim, financially underprivileged, and disabled, achieving a graduate education or becoming a New York Times bestselling author likely might have required an entirely different level of effort, luck, or nepotism.

I find this profoundly and disturbingly unfair, even as I benefit from the way the power game is set up.

Right now, I am writing this while I gaze at the Atlantic Ocean from a $1000/night luxury hotel in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, where I am not staying (I’m staying at the $105/night 2 star motor lodge). I came here to have a coffee, and I am aware that nobody will look askance at me or ask me to leave because I look like I belong here. If I had fewer privileges, that very well might not be the case. And that disturbs me, even as I benefit from it.

What I’ve been pondering is how the power game is a zero sum game, how nobody wins, not even the “winners,” how it is, perhaps, not only rigged; it is the wrong game altogether.

This zero sum game plays out in fractals. At it’s most interior, some of our parts bully and overpower other more vulnerable parts inside. Then you’ve got relationships based on power dynamics, such as the classic narcissist/ codependent pairing. Then you’ve got oppressive groups (white people, male gender, heterosexual people, etc) who oppress those who may be in marginalized groups. And so on…

According to the power game, I am a “winner.” So is the guy I’m dating, having climbed his way out of a chillingly abusive childhood to become a successful author, doctor, and Ivy League medical school professor. The people around me at this luxury hotel are other “winners.” And yet, as I look around me, there is a shocking lack of joy. I walked through the breakfast area and observed that everyone around me, including the children, looked pinched and contracted. I didn’t see a single smile- other than the plastered fake smiles put on by the largely African imported service staff. It’s as if they’ve become so entitled and numb to the overindulgence and hedonism that they’ve lost their ability to feel gratitude, wonder, and awe at the extreme natural beauty and unnatural luxury here.

Hedonic Adaptation

It brings to mind the idea of “hedonic adaptation” discussed by happiness researchers. Hedonic adaptation refers to the idea that getting what you want or having hedonistic desires fulfilled only delivers a very short lived, temporary bolus of happiness to human beings. We feel temporarily happier when we buy a new car, upgrade to a bigger, nicer house, or get a raise at work, but we quite quickly return to the same level of happiness we experienced prior to whatever upgrade we might have wanted. The desirable thing becomes our new normal and we don’t actually feel happier in the long haul, unless we go out of our way to engage in regular gratitude practices or meditate on the nature of impermanence as a way to actually feel the unspeakable joy of appreciating what we have not yet lost.

When I compare the hedonically adapted wealthy crowd at this luxury resort to the stunning heights of unbounded joy I observed among children and adults alike in the Q’eros tribe in the Andes of Peru when I was invited to live and study among them as part of my Sacred Medicine research, I feel flabbergasted and humbled.  I was struck when I was with the Q’ero people by how much the air rippled with peals of laughter and how men held hands with men, women held hands with women, and children clamored to climb me like a jungle gym. Yet I have spent two days writing here and have not seen two people hold hands here even once, not even among romantic couples. I have been paying attention and actively looking for signs of happiness, joy, and closeness. Yet these people seem shockingly impoverished when I compare them to what I observed in the Q’eros.

Not to fetishize an Indigenous community or exaggerate their joy- I also observed the Q’ero people experiencing great suffering- but I have to wonder.  What have we lost by playing a game where a very few people “win” and the majority of everyone else “loses” in this beleaguered country of mine?

It’s got me pondering the question, “Are we playing the wrong game altogether?”

Power Games

The game many of us in the US are taught to play from early childhood is the game of acquiring power and privileges we might be able to earn. Especially for those who identify as male, the programming around this is, no pun intended, powerful. But the pressure to acquire power is also strong for those who identify as female or non-binary. The kinds of power we seek might be different. Perhaps stereotypically, men acquire power through wealth, talent, career success, having a beautiful young woman on their arm, and maybe working out.  Traditionally, women tend to acquire power through beauty, being charming, compliant, and pleasing, developing socially acceptable talents, serving on a charity board or helping the community in a position of leadership in some way, or landing the right powerful husband, though certainly, modern women are just as likely to seek power the way men do, by acquiring wealth, getting ahead in their careers, or taking on leadership positions. Regardless of the kind of power men and women might seek, the tendency to grab for power in our culture is reinforced nearly everywhere.

How many of us grew up with parents who wanted us to be doctors or lawyers? How many of us grew up dreaming of being a doctor, lawyer, sports star, rock star, movie star, bestselling author, famous artist, or Olympian? If the way you win the game is to buy lots of houses, drive fancy European cars, score a good looking spouse, send your kids to expensive private schools, win a lot of social accolades by getting external validation in your career, or get rich enough to stay at a luxury hotel like the one I’m crashing today, why aren’t the “winners” happier?

One of my colleagues, a fellow author, told me that part of why I have attracted such vitriol on social media, especially during the beginning of the pandemic, is because I’m a “privilege traitor.” She said that when I so much as even acknowledge the ways I have gotten ahead in the game because of unearned privileges, I am committing a kind of heresy. She says those with unearned privileges are supposed to silently enjoy those privileges and support the status quo, so we can keep them and benefit from them, rather than calling them out and acknowledging them. The minute we start calling ourselves out, we become a threat to the status quo. How dare I say that Black Lives Matter or that Indigenous people matter or that queer people or trans people or disabled people or poor people or immigrant people or traumatized people or short people or overweight people or neurodiverse people or people who don’t meet the Western standards of beauty or people without much education matter.  (Anyone else I left out- you matter too!)

The power game is built, at its very foundation, upon the idea that some people matter more than others and are therefore entitled to things that those who matter less are not entitled to- things like human rights, respect, justice, feeling safe in the world, good health care, being treated with dignity, a sense of belonging, freedom to be yourself and speak your mind, getting your physical, material, and emotional needs met, a certain degree of comfort, ease, fun, and play, and the right to have your feelings and express them without being harmed, silenced, or attacked.

My similarly privileged colleague suggested that when I speak up about these things, I become dangerous to those who do not want to admit that they might have gotten ahead because of unearned privileges. They like to believe we live in a pure meritocracy, she said, and having someone who has won the power game call it out and question the whole shebang makes me a threat.

“It is easier to be an insider as an outsider than to be an outsider as an insider.”

Her comment made me think of Black South African comedian and author of Born A Crime author Trevor Noah, who said, “It is easier to be an insider as an outsider than to be an outsider as an insider…You will face more hate and ridicule and ostracism than you can even begin to fathom. People are willing to accept you if they see you as an outsider trying to assimilate into their world. But when they see you as a fellow tribe member attempting to disavow the tribe, that is something they will never forgive.”

I can relate to what Trevor Noah says. I’ve been an insider in the world of conventional medicine, and when I blew the whistle on the shocking corruption I observed and experienced inside that world, it made me quite unpopular with a lot of people who did not want the underbelly of conventional medicine exposed by a doctor from inside the system.

Now I guess I’m doing it again. As an insider in the privileged “white world of wellness,” my blogs and social media posts during the pandemic and my book Sacred Medicine pretty much blew the whistle on that industry too, which was not my intention when I set out to write that book.  But it felt like the only way I could write about what I learned honestly, transparently, and with some modicum of integrity.

So I guess it’s probably true. I’m a traitor to my privilege, a fellow tribe member of people like the ones at this luxury hotel or those in the “white world of wellness” who went off on me during the pandemic when I towed the line of “Follow public health measures” and validated that we need to single out “Black Lives Matter” because I know my white life matters. My Black sister, on the other hand, needs to have that validated because the world has not shown her that she and her Black son matter as much as I do.

What I’ve observed is that if people like me suggest that maybe we should be rethinking our unearned privileges and efforting to create a more just world, some people feel as if I’m disavowing the tribe of those with unearned privilege that I’ve benefitted from growing up in. And I get that. Why would anyone want to change a world in which you get to benefit from a lot of things you didn’t earn but were just born into?

It seems to me that a lot of pushback comes from those who are not financially privileged, but are maybe privileged in other ways one does not earn (being white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) And I understand that if you’re poor and struggling to make ends meet, it might feel unfair and inaccurate to be labelled as privileged and to have someone like me suggest that perhaps some of that unearned privilege should be questioned and maybe even taken away.

Confessions Of A White Man

I remember feeling very touched when I participated in a ritual ceremony during the last solar eclipse by an elderly German man who immigrated to the United States in his early twenties. He confessed that, over the course of his lifetime, he’d been stripped of the advantages of many unearned privileges that benefitted him when he was young. Over the years, he explained, women had risen in the ranks and taken away some of his privilege. Living in California, immigrants had taken some of his business away from him, since he couldn’t compete with the price they were willing to work for. The increase in civil rights for Black Americans had further demoted him, he felt, and then, living in San Francisco, his heterosexuality no longer elevated him with regard to his LGBTQIA+ neighbors.

He admitted that when he went home to his small village in Germany and discovered that it had been largely repopulated by displaced Syrian refugees, he noticed resistance inside of himself, wishing his village could stay the way he remembered it. He felt ashamed by his racism and his triggers around how many privileges he had lost. He was the first to admit it wasn’t fair to begin with that he enjoyed the benefits of those unearned privileges, but he also wanted to speak about the grief he was feeling from all that loss. He wanted to acknowledge that he’s uncomfortably aware that many people never had those unearned privileges to begin with, so they have nothing to lose and much to gain as social justice causes move the needle of the zeitgeist.

It got me thinking…who is winning here? Who is losing? And is that even the right language? It seems to me that what many of us lose because of the social injustices and unfairness of unearned privilege is intimacy- intimacy with each other, intimacy with nature, intimacy with ourselves, intimacy with whatever you might call God. What even the winners of the power game lose is too precious, priceless, and beautiful to sacrifice. We trade the benefits of unearned privilege for the intimacy we don’t even realize we’re missing, and it’s a bad trade.

What Makes People Happy?

When you look at the six categories happiness researchers track in the World Happiness Report, for example, you see that when they measure the happiest countries in the world, what they’re tracking is gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make your own life choices, generosity of the general population, and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels. The happiest countries in the world are usually the Scandinavian countries, the countries populated primarily by the whitest of white people.

Given those measures of happiness, it’s no wonder the United States doesn’t rank very high in the World Happiness Report, and it’s maybe not so surprising that these people at a luxury resort don’t look very happy, given the level of corruption that is often needed to get ahead in the power game and the lack of social support the power game elicits.

In the 1970’s, the king of Bhutan proposed the idea of the Gross National Happiness index as an alternative to the gross domestic product. The Gross National Happiness index is based on four pillars; good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. By these measures, the United States would measure abysmally. But beautiful Bhutan doesn’t rank very high in the World Happiness Report, in spite of its reputation for being the land of happy, contented Buddhists.

Is Entitlement The Enemy Of Joy?

I look around me at the stunning lack of joy at this beautiful luxury resort and it makes me think that maybe those with a lot of unearned privileges are at grave risk of trading awe, wonder, joy, gratitude, and intimacy for a world of bloated entitlement, ennui, boredom, and the extremes of hedonism we don’t even appreciate. I just observed a teenage boy who looks like the stereotypical New England prep school type have a tantrum because the claws on the lobster from his seafood tower lunch plate were too puny. I can’t help wondering how many people in the world have never once had the opportunity to eat Maine lobster. How sad that he’s not feeling awestruck with wonder and gratitude for how blessed he is to eat lobster in the first place, much less how lucky he is to be here at this beautiful resort or go to prep school.

What I keep seeing in my meditations and dreams is that as long as we play the game in which some people are in “power over” roles and others are in “power under” roles, we enter the zero sum power game. As surely as there could be no winners in the Cold War, the power game is mutual assured annihilation. Nobody wins. Surely, the “losers” lose the most- no doubt- but as I look around me at the “winners,” and as I talk to the guy I’m dating, who is a psychiatrist at a hospital that caters to many privileged people with mental illness, I can’t help thinking that the winners are losing too.

I mean, look at the “winners” out there. I’ve met a lot of the “winners” in the world of conventional medicine, the wellness industry, the spiritual self help and mind body medicine world, and the terrain of New York Times bestselling authors. You think Christiane Northrup, with all her conspiracy theories and Covid disinformation, is happy with her wins? You think the Oprah-endorsed spiritual teachers and gurus have it all and are basking in happiness, fulfillment, and unabashed delight? I’ve met many of them and spent time with them personally, and all I’ll say, because it’s not my calling to be a professional whistleblower, is that what I’ve witnessed and observed behind closed doors might shock you. It certainly shocked my naive, innocent, idealistic child-like parts that wanted to pedestalize some of these people but ultimately realized that they- like me- are just traumatized human beings, full of gifts and full of flaws.

Sure, they might be rich and famous, but my exposure to that world of doctors, The Secret teachers, gurus, wellness influencers, and New York Times bestselling authors is that many “winners” struggle with the crushing trauma symptoms associated with personality disorders, mental illness, addiction, dissociative disorders, malignant narcissism, destructive relationships, and sometimes physical pain.

They’re not the only obviously unhappy “winners.” Look at Trump. Putin. Harvey Weinstein. Keith Raniere. Jeffrey Epstein. Elizabeth Holmes. John “of God.” They’ve all gone down or are going down in disgrace. When you’re up on a “power over” pedestal, the only place to go is down.

That’s not to say that others with less power have not suffered far more because of these people- or that these people going down in disgrace don’t deserve their fall from the top of the power game. I’m only making a case that if even the winners of the “accumulate power and privilege game” are losing, we might be playing the wrong game.

What Else Is There Besides The Relentless Pursuit of Power?

So what’s the alternative to the power over/power under game upon which the “American dream” is built? If the goal is not to accumulate power, wealth, influence, property, fame, graduate degrees, sexual favors, or “success,” what is the other dream of what makes a life worth living?

What I vision is a “power with” culture, one that would require some people with unearned power and privilege to sacrifice some of their power and privilege so those with less could be uplifted and life could become more fair and equal for more human beings. Why would anyone want to give up power and privilege for the sake of justice and equity? Because doing so would benefit not only the ones being lifted up; it would benefit the ones stepping down from the heights of unearned power and privilege too.

When I talk about this idea in privileged company, some resonate. Others have a hard time letting go of the idea that a strong work ethic and a merit-based way to climb the power and privilege ladder justly rewards the hard-working and fairly disadvantages those who might be judged as lazy but are usually just burdened with trauma, too frozen to be optimally productive. This kind of “American dream” meritocracy mindset ignores crucial issues, like how severely traumatized individuals with fewer privileges might have a hard time being equally productive if their nervous systems are living perpetually outside what Dan Siegel calls your “window of tolerance.” It also begs the question of why some people feel entitled to own ten Ferrari’s (and pollute the planet accordingly), while others go hungry, lack the resources to pay for shelter for their families or health care, or live in unsafe conditions.

So if we upset the idea that power and privilege are entirely merit based and therefore fair, and if we can get on board with the idea that “power with” is a better, more ethical, more just way to live in community with each other than having some people exert “power over” and others living in “power under” dynamics, how would we even begin to move the needle in a shared power/ power with direction?

Maybe there’s another way, but the only way I can figure out the math is to settle on the idea that some people are going to have to sacrifice some of their power and privilege in order to create a more equitable world that lifts others up. I look around at this luxury resort and can’t help thinking that such a small percentage of us hold so much more unearned power and privilege than is fair, while the vast majority of humans on this earth aren’t getting basic needs met- and by basic needs, I’m including not only food, shelter, health care, clean water, and safe living conditions, but other essential needs all humans deserve, like good cutting edge trauma therapy, loving community, and spiritual nourishment (which is why I’ve started the non-profit Heal At Last, which is being created and funded by a few powerful, privileged, trauma-informed individuals who share my social justice mission.)

I’ve talked about this notion with other powerful, privileged friends and colleagues who are in the financially privileged social class who disagree with me about this. Some of my friends and colleagues say that those of us sticking our necks out to take a stand for social justice, cutting edge healing for all, health equity, public health measures during Covid, ending white-bodied supremacy, speaking out against the myth of American exceptionalism, and other polarizing issues that get us lambasted and hated by white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, Trump Republicans, and Covid denialists deserve a higher degree of luxury than those who don’t, that we need extra self care and extra privileged indulgences to support us while we support others, but even that sounds like a rationalization to me. Do I really need to be at this fancy luxury resort or pay $250 for a massage at the spa here or order myself a $20 glass of wine in order to care for myself while writing a blog like this? Isn’t it enough to take myself for a walk on the beach or in the redwoods or to ask my wonderful friends to help co-regulate me when my nervous system gets activated because of the haters on social media who turn on privilege traitors?

Clearly, I’m actively wrestling with these questions as I watch the sun set from this beautiful spot on Cape Cod, and I don’t have the answers I seek. But I think we need to ponder these kinds of questions, to discuss them together, to notice any emotions that arise when we discuss such topics, to check in with our bodies and see how our bodies are reacting. (I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands and The Quaking of America for somatic exercises and self-inquiries you can do at home regarding these kinds of issues, especially if you hold a certain degree of unearned power or privilege, such as being white.)

I can’t help thinking that if I had accepted the invitation I was given to move in with the Q’ero people in Peru, maybe me and others like me wouldn’t be so easily seduced by shallow luxuries like the ones at this high end resort. If my needs for loving community, natural beauty, spiritual nourishment, personal intimacy, ritual ceremonies, and meaning were more fully met, would I need to get away to places like this to try to feel fulfilled, happy, joyous, connected, and satiated? If more humans on this planet had not only basic survival needs met but also these kind of intimate relational, healing, and spiritual needs met, would the 1% be so tormented with the constant need for more, more, more?

Again, I don’t mean to fetishize or glorify any of the Indigenous tribes I was blessed to be exposed to during my research for my book Sacred Medicine. It’s also true that some of these people don’t have basic safety and survival needs met, and the neonatal and infant mortality rate is high, as I witnessed, when the Chief of the Q’eros’ wife gave birth while I was there, and the baby died in childbirth. I’m not trying to promote some idealized vision of smiling, happy natives. I also met people in the Q’eros, some of them babies, who were crying, suffering, and in physical and emotional pain. But I couldn’t help coming away from the whole experience thinking that the descendants of the colonizers of the world are impoverished in ways these people are not, even though the Q’eros are impoverished in ways the colonizers might not be.

The Disease of Hoarding

Sometimes I wonder if much of the disparity and inequity in the world boils down to unhealthy degrees of entitlement and the tendency for colonizing cultures to hoard resources. I remember feeling so moved when the female Chief of the displaced Winnemem Wintu Native American tribe in the Bay Area, who were pushed off their land and never even given reservation land, said this prayer before marching in protest against the disruption of the salmon spawning caused by the Shasta dam: “Great Spirit, please cure the white man of his disease of hoarding.”

Think about that for a minute. Please cure the white man of his disease of hoarding.

I think back to the beginning of the pandemic, when so many scared people hoarded N95 masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, apparently not caring that front line doctors and nurses and other essential workers really needed those masks and hand sanitizers- and that all of us like having something soft to wipe our asses with. And I think, yes, it is a disease, this disease of hoarding. Nobody needs even one Ferrari, much less ten of them. Nobody needs a luxury resort like this flagrant show of excess. Nobody needs more than one home and nobody needs more than two or three pairs of shoes. But so many people are absolutely deprived when it comes to emotional intimacy, spiritual nourishment, and safe, supportive community. I can see that deprivation in the glazed eyes of the people sitting at outdoor tables with everyone at the table glued to their iPhone and nobody even looking at each other, much less having meaningful conversations about social justice, activism, the fall of democracy in our country, the unfairness of the income disparities that have only gotten more extreme during the pandemic.

I know that many people with unearned power and privilege lack financial privilege, and this makes conversations about privilege confusing for someone who might be white, male, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, and barely able to make ends meet. “How can you call me privileged?” they might cry, without an understanding of the deep nuance around unearned privileges that go deeper than money or luxury or getting your basic safety and survival needs met. Those same people might call me too “woke” for comfort, and I can understand how triggering that might be for someone who has never had the privilege to step foot in the kind of resort I’m writing from, much less rent a room in a place like that.

It’s my belief that this deep sense of rage and frustration is fueling the white nationalist movement in my country right now- because loads of people who have every privilege except maybe financial privilege are angry right now, and Trump rallies energize them to hate anyone who might take away some of their unearned privilege or even call out unearned privilege.

Sadly, some of these people are influencers in the mind-body-spirit wellness industry, and many of those influencers have financial privilege on top of all the other privileges, and they apparently want to keep it that way. People like the holistic doctor who wrote the foreword to my first book 14 years ago have gone off the deep end into Trumpian conspiracy theories, flagrant racism and anti-Semitism, anti-vax lies and propaganda, and QAnon cultism. It’s shocking to me still, although I understand it better now through a trauma-informed lens.

Perhaps this degree of unhealthy entitlement lies at the root of the countless conspiracy theories floating around in the zeitgeist right now. Part of what makes conspiracy theories so believable to some people is that they are often rooted in something partially true.  While I don’t believe in some diabolically evil, secret cabal of elites out to control and destroy the masses, it is categorically true that a very small percent of the population is hoarding the majority of the world’s wealth and power, and that gives a very few elites undue influence over the way the planet is governed, the way resources are allocated, and the way power is distributed, and sadly, many of those elites seem to be corrupt and lacking in ethics, values, and any kind of demonstrable morality that would, at the very least, care about leaving their own grandchildren an inhabitable planet.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that vulnerable people might be tempted to think there’s a concerted effort by this small number of elite individuals to dominate and control the rest of us “sheeple.” As we’re discovering more and more every day, it turns out there’s been a very real team of co-conspirators who have systematically lied to and attempted to defraud the American people, undermining our democracy in a coup attempt to turn our country over to a resource-hoarding, power-hungry authoritarian dictator who feels entitled to defy the will of the people. As we watch lying criminals and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones go down in disgrace in the court systems, and as we watch the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol reveal the depths of the real conspiracy that culminated in the coup attempt on our government, we can only hope that others who are spreading lies- including the conspiracy theory-touting wellness influencers and spiritual teachers who have Covid blood on their hands- are held accountable financially, and when possible, legally and criminally.

It’s been alarming to me to witness so many in the alternative medicine, spirituality, and wellness circles get hooked into these conspiracy theories, although when I unpack how that might have happened (and compare it to the origins of Nazi Germany), it makes a certain kind of sense. After all, people seeking healing and spiritual seekers in search of the truth are often trauma survivors seeking relief from their pain. They’re also sometimes power-hungry. After all, whether they’re searching for “being saved,” “enlightenment,” the “great awakening,” being part of some kind of “chosen people” who are special and better than others, driven by a missionary’s zeal for converting the unconverted, or trying to attain some kind of spiritual superpowers, or “siddhis,” as the yogis call them, spirituality and healing are often tangled up with the thirst for power.

In spiritual circles, you’ll see even the most rich, famous, successful, power-hungry people tempted to give their power away to someone they deem “enlightened” or supernaturally gifted in some way, as Oprah demonstrated in her fascination with and promotion of mobster, rapist, and “healer” John “of God” or as the Beatles did with the corrupt Maharishi.  I wonder sometimes if people who are “winners” in the power game still have a very human tendency to want to go “one down” in the power game, giving their power away to someone they deem spiritual advanced or spiritually powerful in ways that make even the most high functioning humans vulnerable to corrupt spiritual leaders or healers.

Redistributing Power & Privilege

So what could we do as a culture to change the game, we might ask? How could we change the culture into one in which more people get to be genuinely happier? Well, according to those happiness researchers, we’d need to redistribute power and privilege such that the gross national product per capita was more equal. We’d have to create structures and policies that offer more social support, so people aren’t so isolated, lonely, and unsupported. We’d have to completely reform the American health care system to address health care inequities and social determinants of health so we could improve life expectancy for more people. We’d have to save democracy from the corrupt assholes who are trying to power grab in every possible way so people feel like they have more freedom to make their own life choices and the right to vote in free elections, including the ability to vote for policies that protect those freedoms. We’d have to ensure that people are getting their basic survival and safety needs met so they could be more generous with one another. And we’d have to start holding our corrupt leaders accountable for the flagrantly immoral and often criminally illegal behavior that drives the power game, so people’s perceptions of internal and external corruption levels could shift without delusion or denial.

That might mean that instead of hoarding resources, those with more power and privilege might feel inspired to go the route of philanthropy, as some generous philanthropists are doing to fund my non-profit Heal At Last, as part of addressing the health equity and access issue to bring cutting edge trauma healing and spiritual healing resources to anyone who wants it. But asking those who have hoarded resources to share some of their money is only a first step towards making reparations for the consequences of unearned privilege and the hoarding that has accompanied it.

To get more granular about such things, I recommend reading Kerri Kelly’s American Detox and Valarie Kaur’s See No Stranger. And read Black trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem’s The Quaking of America to prepare your body to be a somatically resilient part of the resistance.

Kerri, Valarie, and Resmaa are all writers and teachers I admire and learn a great deal from. I resonate with Kerri in particular because, as a fellow “white woman of wellness” and yoga teacher, she is modeling for us how those of us with more unearned power and privilege are morally obliged to do our part to repair the inequities in our world, and if our spirituality and quest for wellness doesn’t include social justice activism and healthy confrontation of corruption, abuses of power, and injustice, it probably needs to just get tossed on the trash heap.

This is not easy or fun or comfortable work. It’s much harder than taking a yoga class, chanting in a kirtan, sitting in meditation, doing ecstatic dance, or participating in a ritual ceremony or a spiritual workshop. Not that we shouldn’t do those things to bolus ourselves with life force so we can get back to the hard, feet on the ground labor of love that activism requires. As Valarie Kaur says, “” “The future is dark. But is this the darkness of the tomb – or the darkness of the womb?” She encourages us to “Breathe, then push,” the way a laboring mother would.

It is my deepest prayer that in this time of darkness, we will see the harm caused by playing the power game and feel inspired to do what it takes to change the game, moving the needle towards more equity, more intimacy, more “revolutionary love,” as Valarie Kaur calls it. The power game is killing the world, and our children are watching to see if we care enough to do something about it, if not for ourselves, for them.

If you read all the way to the end here, first, thank you for your attention. And second, please share your thoughts, wisdom, feedback, and constructive critique. I’d really love to hear from you all about this.