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Understanding Personal Empowerment
New Perspective And Action Are The Means And Aim Of Higher Life

By Mark Lundegren © 2004

For the HumanaNatura community, the component of our health program we call natural living is the work of personal empowerment. 

Natural living is empowerment – defined as the attainment of consciously chosen and created life – that is guided and aided by a quest for higher levels of health and well-being in all aspects of our lives.  It is empowerment aimed at reconnecting us with natural human life, and all that is contained in this deceptively simple phrase and its important lessons for healthy, progressive, and fulfilled life today.

Beginning from our modern scientific exploration of nature and new understanding of the essential conditions for our health, natural living takes as its aim the creation of healthier, richer, and more vital lives for ourselves and those in our care.  To be truthful, natural living is real work, principally because the ideas of natural living and even our own empowerment are new human conceptions and often run counter to our existing social norms and conventional thinking. 

After all, our current norms and outlooks, like those of any time (including those in our original natural state), are evolved forms and not the work of conscious choice and deliberate creation.  Creative choice is a new human capacity that came only recently in our evolution and in many ways is just becoming possible now, in our time, with the rise of advanced society and a true scientific understanding of ourselves and the world. 

Like naturally evolved forms and phenomena in the broader environment, our social practices and personal habits may contain great wisdom and learning for us, but must also include aspects that are undesirable or improvable from an objective viewpoint.  All evolved phenomena are always correctly seen as intermediate conditions, conditions that inevitably present opportunities for progression, in our case toward more optimal, intelligent, and empowered human life. 

If natural living is work, requiring new exploration the world and ourselves, and new approaches and thinking that are counter-intuitive at times, it is joyful work too.  Health-oriented exploration, learning, and change naturally energizes us and build on itself to help us achieve the many important and often unappreciated benefits of healthier and more conscious life – especially greater personal fortitude and engagement, new awareness and creativity, and deeper satisfaction and meaning in our lives. 

Natural Health And Empowerment

As I said in my introduction, HumanaNatura starts with a new understanding of our health, both its origins and its limitations in wild nature, and the transformative effects certain natural health techniques and ideas can have in our modern lives. 

This new understanding of our natural health is of course a beginning only.  The real day-to-day realization of our full potential for health and well-being is far more personal and dynamic than this and encompasses the practice of natural living, the quest for health and more optimal conditions in all aspects of our lives.  Natural living is our ongoing pursuit of new personal and collective health in the priorities and structure of our lives, our uncovering of the true scope and potential of our lives and life choices.  This pursuit of health involves a new directness and candor, with oneself especially, and a commitment to continual learning and lifelong progress toward higher and more vital life.

From the perspective of someone just beginning the work of natural living, this prospect may seem interesting but also uncertain and even daunting, especially if we are in a condition of reduced health.  HumanaNatura offers help to improve our basic health through the relatively simple practices of natural diet and natural exercise.  Our experience is that such health improvement techniques create new energy for us, encourage progressive exploration of health in our lives, and thus enable the self-catalyzing practice that is natural living.  New and more natural levels of health provide the strength and commitment to pursue natural life and our own empowerment.  In fact, from the point of view of one experiencing more natural health, the work of natural living feels very different, far more like exploration – exciting, hopeful, and open-ended, as our feelings are at the beginning of any journey we know will change and broaden us, and even if we are not sure exactly how.

In addition to creating new momentum in our lives through natural health practices, there are also a number of important tools we can use to aid us in the iterative process of personal discovery and new growth that is at the heart of natural living.  There is no need for us to work at our health and empowerment in isolation and with our intuition alone.  We all have access to the many methods or aids for furthering our self-empowerment that modern psychological research and counseling practice has brought to the world in recent years.

HumanaNatura offers information on many of these empowerment tools as part of its library of articles.  These articles are, of course, written for use in the context of the practice of natural living, and thus form a new and important linkage between our health and contemporary ideas about empowerment.  HumanaNatura views empowerment efforts apart from the pursuit of greater health in our lives to be a less than ideal approach and less likely to help us achieve our full transformational potential.  That said, many of these modern empowerment tools are important in their own right and the result of commendable efforts of many people.  These psychologists and counselors, like us, seek to promote more conscious human life and self-transformation, even if our orientation toward natural health is new and we believe improves on these earlier efforts.

Before we discuss the process of personal empowerment more deeply, an important point needs to be made.  It concerns the idea of our transformation, which implies radical personal change.  It is true that many HumanaNatura community members and others using empowerment tools have made truly revolutionary changes in how they live and look at the world.  But, critically, such successful change rarely if ever comes overnight and without at least some dead-ends and learnings along the way.  If we return for a moment to the quite apt metaphor of a journey, all personal empowerment is a path of steps and often many of them. 

In our own quest for new empowerment, we are right to pursue and encourage large aims and ideas, but also small, progressive moves toward them at the same time.  In this way, those miscalculations and missteps we inevitably will make in our unique path to more empowered life will be small, and can allow us to learn about both our aims and the best ways to work toward them in our own lives (which are always unique circumstances and rarely yield well to formulaic approaches).  Importantly, since empowerment practices naturally build and compound, it is wise to start with small incremental steps and leave larger steps for later, when they can be better informed and built on successful change, and taken from the standpoint of new and clearer momentum in our lives. 

Continual and continually adjusting change, even if modest at any particular point, can result in the transformative changes we may seek and need in our lives, and likely in a way that leaves us happier, healthier, more confident, and more creative along the way.  This recursive process of gathering information, calculating and choosing, and then evaluating our impacts and gathering new information is roughly how our brain naturally works, how it naturally evolved, and offers us an important learning of how our empowerment efforts can and usually should be structured.

Key Steps In Personal Empowerment

In addition to introducing key ideas about natural living, our goal in this article is to familiarize you with general process of personal empowerment, as a companion topic to a series of HumanaNatura articles on using specific empowerment tools in the context of natural living.  In case you are not familiar with the tools modern psychology has produced to aid our own empowerment, let’s start with a bit of background. 

As outlined already, a number of complementary tools have been created and refined over the last few decades, as psychologists have worked at the complementary goals of empirically understanding the elements of human fulfillment and developing practical methods to aid people in optimizing their own life and enrichment.  Tools such as the wheel of life exercise, time mapping, goal setting, and experience sampling have emerged from this process and are normally fairly straightforward to use.  Most aim at helping us focus our attention on key aspects of our lives, identified by empirical research as critical to unlocking empowerment and fulfillment, and to have deeper conversations with ourselves and others, ideally leading to lasting insights and positive changes in our patterns of feeling, thought, and action. 

Assessment of positive change in our lives is partly objective and partly subjective.  We can look for progress in measurable quality of life indices, for example, as well as to personal satisfaction with our life and the changes we have made.  Importantly, we can also look to increases in our relative ability and willingness to pursue additional positive change, usually evidenced by our ability to articulate new tangible goals and gaps in our lives.  As I mentioned before, since positive change is always possible in the evolving entities that are our lives and circumstances, empowerment is inevitably an ongoing and open-ended process.  For this reason, increased preparedness for new change is a critical dimension of all positive change and the pursuit of higher states of health and personal empowerment.

Most empowerment tools are used with a coach or counselor experienced in their use, either individually or in groups, but many people have success using them on their own.  We need only look at the vast number of self-help books and programs available to us, and the many reports of their successful use, to suggest this is the case.  However we may approach these empowerment tools – on our own or in groups, or with or without assistance – they are normally effective only if we are willing to use them with patience and a genuine willingness to explore ourselves, and if we accept the possibility of unanticipated results and the need for changes not previously considered.  Often, this where a key benefit of using a counselor or working in groups lies: having others in our lives to hold our agenda for positive change and keep us accountable to ourselves in the way that we want to be.

Most empowerment tools help us do one or more of five important activities that together form the full process of personal empowerment and lead to more consciously chosen and created life:

1.      Examine our motivating values – more consciously chosen life begins with new understanding of what we want, of what our motives are or what motivates us in the first place.  Our motivating values are those feelings that underlie us or exist deep within us.  They are the emotions, priorities, and aspirations that are inseparable from us at any point in our lives.  Our values can change over time and inevitably reflect our personal development and spirituality at any time, but are often unchanging and simply seek new expression over time.  Some or all of our values may be innate and exist as deeper descriptions of who we are and what we are about as people in the world.  In seeking out our true values, often they can be separated from more outward ideas and imperatives by the feelings of intense respect, even awe that we can have for our values, and by the fact we cannot intentionally compromise or let go of our values without compromising or letting go of some essential part of ourselves.  Also unlike our ideas or aims, when asked why we hold a motivating value, we usually cannot explain why we value the value – we just do or can only explain the value with reference to a deeper value.  Our personal values are in truth judgments and facts about ourselves.  They are usually what carry us forward in our lives and often what inspire us to grow and be greater than we are today.  Because of the way we may be influenced as children and adults, our true motives or values can be repressed or obscured from full view by social and personal conventions and commitments.  Thus, our deeper motives may be unknown or unclear to us through the force of our circumstances, perhaps throughout our entire life, and yet we are unlikely to live in a fulfilled way if we are not acting on and working to fulfill our values in some way (since our values are us and the alternative is to live neglecting who we are). 

2.      Evaluate our values – if this seems like a circular statement, it is, but it is a circularity that is resolved in practice.  To proceed in the process of empowerment, after we first work to unearth and actively examine our motivating values and what they compel us to do, to be true to ourselves in our lives, it is helpful to decide which values are most important and central to us, even if this order may change over time.  Such deciding or valuing our values helps us better know our values and ourselves, and can lead to new insights into how and how well we are acting on them and their underlying priority in us.  In this process, we may come to understand how some of our deepest personal values can become subordinated to other and perhaps slightly less important values – for example the value of loyalty superseding truthfulness.  This can happen from the immediacy and demands of daily life, or by routinized and habituated living and thinking, or by other constraining forces in our lives and by unexamined life more generally.  Our reaching and then judging our deepest motives is the foundation of greater self-knowledge and empowerment, since the judging of values reveals both their interconnectedness and hierarchy, and the judging and choosing center of our self that is the gateway to higher and more universal forms of living (human life lived consciously from our choosing self and its essential values).  Most of our values are shared by people, but are always organized in an individualized manner and often with different hierarchies.  Our values are of course evolved feelings, ones that make human life possible and our own lives meaningful, even as we may value and re-value our values, and express them in new ways and with new aims, over time.  HumanaNatura of course uses the lens of our health and well-being as a way to help us illuminate and discriminate our innermost values, and to better inform the central, creatively choosing part of our self. 

3.      Clarify our objectives and goals – we all have objectives and goals (objectives defined as our general aims and goals as our planned steps to reach these aims).  It is hard to be alive and not have things we want to do with and in our life.  But we often do not carefully examine our objectives and goals, or develop clear and realistic plans for their realization.  When we do more carefully examine our objectives and goals, often we find they are not linked to and express our deepest values, perhaps simply because we had never clarified our values before.  Often, in fact, we find that our objectives and goals have been given to us by others (whether by school or work, by our family and friends, or by society more broadly) or are simply generalized aims coming from our biological or personal imperatives (to find shelter, to have sex, to gain status).  In both of these cases, our aims and actions may be desirable and may hold up under examination, but we cannot truly say they have been selected by us and align with our values, until we have examined them.  As we uncover and evaluate our deeper motives, we often begin to have new perspectives on the objectives and goals in our lives, however articulated or amorphous they may be.  Similarly, by examining and prioritizing the objectives and goals imbedded in our actions and plans today, we often can gain insights into and have new judgments about our underlying values and how they may contrast with our current plans and actions.  Often, we find we are already acting on some or all of our deeper motivating values, but perhaps not consciously or optimally (in a general sense of both these words).  We may in fact find that we are acting contrary to our values in one or more areas of our lives.  In the end, if we are to become more empowered in our lives, we will have to examine and actively create our objectives and goals, and in a way that is in harmony with our values and their healthy expression.

4.      Consider our beliefs and models – in addition to examining our values, the tools of personal empowerment can also help us examine our personal beliefs and operating models (our often unconscious patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting) and their impacts in the world (our actual versus intended results).  Personal beliefs and models are the inevitable short cuts and semi-automatic processes we use to deal with the complexity of life.  Some beliefs and models may be deeply rooted in our psyche and even in our earlier life in nature, while others developed from learning in our culture and individual lives.  Many beliefs and models and can provide a great deal of value to us, but almost all can limit us too, since they are always generalized responses to specific circumstances.  As an example, we might interpret a low growl in the bushes as a threat and act on it as a threat without deliberation, perhaps saving our life but also perhaps missing an opportunity to aid an injured animal or at least to learn more about the circumstance (a frequent consequence of automatic life in modern times).  By examining our operating models – by subjecting our patterned feelings, beliefs, inferences, and actions to conscious involvement – we see them in new ways.  We often find them lacking and can then actively work to select superior approaches for interpreting and acting in the world around us, especially by living in more conscious ways that are specific to and intentionally re-patterned to better meet the demands of key circumstances.

5.      Act on our plans and optimize our actions – in the end, the tools of personal empowerment can not only deepen our understanding of our values, aims, and cognitive models, they can also help us to improve the way we act relative to these things.  Empowerment tools can make us more attentive and progressive in our attitudes and conduct, specifically allowing us to examine our actions and their impacts, and thus help us to better realize our conscious values and aims.   Examining our behavior and its consequences is a last, sometimes difficult and far-reaching step in self-empowerment, often an extension of analyzing our beliefs and operating models.  While a final step, like full process of conscious empowerment, it is also an ongoing process, one that is essential to empowerment and more optimal and conscious choices in our lives.  Without examining and improving our behavior, looking at our actions from the perspective of both our intent and our impact, the previous steps we have discussed are simply mental activity.  Our actions and behavior can include small nuances of the way we act in different settings or large patterns of conduct in our lives.  By assessing both our specific actions and our patterns of action, we often uncover additional beliefs and operating models, or unconscious objectives and goals, or implicit or unexamined values, which we might not see simply by looking at our feelings and thoughts alone.  We are also very likely to uncover unintended behaviors or consequences we were unaware of, ones that do not help us to realize our underlying values.  This is frequently the case when we assess and examine our behavior against the goal of natural living and continually increasing well-being in our lives.

Together, these five activities and the modern empowerment tools that enable them work to promote self-examination and conscious and creative choice, choice that has been said to make us both more aware and more authentic as people.  Awareness here refers to the process of becoming more conscious of ourselves, our thoughts and emotional processes, our pre-scripted and consciously chosen behaviors, and our opportunity each moment for more conscious and creative choice.  The term authenticity means acting in ways that are more directly aligned to and empowering our innermost and truest personal values, or alternatively, our true and choosing selves (our selves when we are less bounded by undesirable personal, cultural, and biological biases and limitations).

As an example of this process in action, let’s say we determine that we deeply value sensitivity and compassion in our dealings with others, that this value is one of our most important judgments or facts about ourselves.  We might then spend time examining how we both enable and limit sensitivity and compassion, first in our objectives and goals, and then in our relationships with others.  We might examine our ideas about these values and perhaps pick several people and reflect on our recent interactions with them, and what went right and wrong against our value, aims, beliefs, and intended result.  This process might compel us to clarifying what the words sensitivity and compassion mean – a key part of moving to greater awareness, perhaps leading still deeper underlying words and values.  Our goal of empowerment might involve speaking with the people we have chosen and gaining their perspective on our interactions – an example of moving to greater authenticity and candor in our lives.  And it might lead us to examine and then experiment with changes in our beliefs and behaviors that do not seem well aligned with our values or that do not reliably engender the impacts we want to crate in the world.

A life made more aware and more authentic in this way is inevitably a more vital and powerful life, not just one that naturally fosters goodwill in others and creates new opportunities, but one more open to the power of new choices and to choices more connected to heartfelt emotion.  To be empowered by and acting effectively on a clear and deeply felt connection to our true, inner self and our fundamental values is to be alive in a deeper and freer way, in a way that many people are not today, and in a way that makes less reliant on external circumstances for our fulfillment (yet another source or perspective on personal power).  To focus our attention and actions on those that really count – to those that express and fulfill our truest selves and our highest aspirations in the clearest way possible – is to live a more potent and fulfilling life, whatever our circumstances, a life that is self-valuing, self-creating, and thus inherently self-affirming.

Empowerment And Our Health Revisited

As mentioned earlier in our discussion, HumanaNatura believes the process and tools of personal empowerment are greatly enhanced, and even made more naturally optimizing, when pursued in the context of natural living – when the tools and focus of empowerment aids the search for enhanced health and well-being in all aspects of our lives.

HumanaNatura views our health as the optimization of life itself.  By this we mean not just the optimization of our physiological fitness, but also the health of the way we live and what we live for.  Though secular and scientifically-based in approach, the process of uncovering our potential for natural health and new well-being nevertheless connects us to important and often unexpressed or inhibited dimensions of our humanity, and can rightly be called a spiritual practice in outcome.  Natural health leads us to look anew at our deepest and truest self, and in this looking, allows us the chance to re-imagine ourselves today and in more profound ways for the future.

HumanaNatura’s library contains many articles on personal empowerment and the exploration of our natural health as part of the work of natural living.  Included are specific articles on using modern empowerment tools in this context.  In making use of these tools, on our own or with others, you too may find that the challenge of natural living can enrich and inform not only our individual and collective lives, it can have an equally enriching impact on the modern process and tools of our empowerment.

 

Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.

 

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