Is Power the Devil in Disguise? Reflections in Light and Shadow

I can clearly recall several instances in my life when professional colleagues have recoiled at the mere mention of power as if they beheld the devil incarnate. The first encounter was my partner, a psychologist in Discovery Engineering International, a business venture of professionals from the former Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. Another was the warning in October 2017 from an experienced French psychiatrist in Paris to disassociate my work from “the subject of power.” It appears that power, perhaps because of its manifold excesses in government and corporate life, has come to be associated in the public’s mind with greed, dominance, abuse, corruption, vanity, narcissism, and other unwholesome qualities. As the saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Even scientists are now weighing in. In studies spanning two decades, researchers found a strong correlation of power and dementia. According to these researchers, subjects under the influence of power acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view. Professor Dacher Keltner of the University of California states: “My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus, the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior.”

There is also strong historical precedent within the world’s wisdom traditions. The Yogic canon, for example, warns against the dangers of seeking certain Siddhic powers prematurely before the adept is fully prepared to advance to the next level of consciousness. The Yogic tradition reaffirms the cautionary words of the psychiatrists that power can be dangerous to your health… at least under some conditions and circumstances. Wikipedia article.

The Laughing Heart or Big Heart Intelligence (BHI) practice begins with the basic relationship every school kid learns in grade school physics: energy and power are expressions of one another: power is units of energy divided by time, comparable to the relationship of distance and velocity. units of power are watts; the units of energy are joules. A watt is one joule divided by one second. There is nothing inherently unwholesome about power from the perspective of physics.

In the context of Laughing Heart/BHI we are working with two special forms of energy and power—qi and love. The relationship of energy and power is value neutral.

It would be a great pity if those who are seeking to aid disempowered communities and the people in these communities themselves—often the poor, minorities, and the elderly– were to disable themselves further because of a mistrust of power. Indeed, here are five practical applications of the immediate and beneficial applications of power.

  • Going behind the mask. Most everyone wears a mask to hide parts of his or her psyche or to protect themselves. When we have a sense of inner power, we are not afraid to face and to explore parts of ourselves, and we are more attuned to picking up the subtle signs and signals revealing the character of others. This capacity to know oneself and to know the other is fundamental in all negotiations in private, business, and public life.
  • Seeing the Big Picture and risk assessment. As explained in this Laughing Heart Field Guide our Heart is a step-down and step-up transformer of energy and power. One of these advanced powers acquired over time is to “See the Big Picture;” in other words, simultaneously to perceive small and large details, connections, and patterns, including the past, present, and future.
  • This capacity has direct applications in risk assessment. We no longer fear to see the world just as it is. This means we can more easily identify limiting or obscuring biases and assumptions that impair our good judgement. The power of the Heart enables us to tolerate pain without catastrophizing, and to find new inner resources to accept the past or to anticipate the future with balance, courage, and resilience. In this sense power of the Heart is intimately connected with wisdom.
  • Discovery and invention. The Prologue of Shakespeare’s Henry V begins,

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend.
The brightest heaven of invention.

Fire is pure energy and Shakespeare of all writers understood the Promethean power that is released when the creative and inventive energies of the Mind and Heart combine.

  • Building strategic trust in collaborative relationships. Trust is the linchpin of all collaborative relationships. It is more easily achieved when all parties can rely upon the reality that their actions—essentially latent energy transformed into power–are motivated and guided by the wisdom, kindness, and compassion.
  • Power as a shared community asset. When power is infused with love, it becomes a collective community asset. There is no longer a need to dominate or control others. In fact, in this spirit the more power is shared, the more powerful it becomes. When the Heart joins with Mind, their combination becomes a force of convergence and integration for entire communities.

Personal Validation: Further Notes on Laughing Heart Move # 2—Finding Your Power.

We need not accept any of the above statements on faith. They are amenable to personal validation, replication, and third-party verification within a days and weeks. We begin with a new actor in this Laughing Heart Guide, the body’s enteric system in the western medical model, and what is called in Japan, “hara” (腹:) or in Chinese language, the “dantian” ( 丹田), the elixir field or sea of qi.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) or intrinsic nervous system is one of the main divisions of the autonomic nervous system and consists of a mesh-like system of neurons that governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract.  It is capable of acting independently of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, although it may be influenced by and in turn influence them. The enteric nervous system in humans consists of some 500 million neurons, one two-hundredth of the number of neurons in the brain, five times as many as the one hundred million neurons in the human spinal cord. Approximately 90% of the human bodys total serotonin is located in the enterochromaffin cells in the GI tract. The ENS has been called the second brain.

The counterpart of the enteric nervous system in Eastern practice is the hara. The hara is conceived as the root or primary reservoir of qi. It is energetically linked with the Triple Burner, (san jiao) which practitioners of acupuncture and other Eastern healing arts deem both a Radiant Circuit and the connecting point to all the meridians.  The Triple Burner is thought to govern the sympathetic nervous system’s “flight-fight-freeze” response. When the Triple Burner is out of balance, we experience various emotional symptoms commonly associated with stress, such as mood instability, anxiety, hypervigilance, difficulties in relaxing and sleeping, chronic muscle tension, difficulty relaxing, and a sense of being overwhelmed. These symptoms are also closely related to burnout, a $ 300 billion global unsolved problem that is especially acute among health care professionals and uncompensated caregivers.

In sum, in both Western and Eastern practice the enteric system and hara/dantian are intimately connected in complex ways with energy and power; and they are significantly mediated in both systems by emotional states that they influence, and also, especially when ungoverned, exert a significant influence upon them.

The Importance of Heart in Balancing, Toning, and Guiding the Power of the Enteric and the Hara/Dantian Systems.

In both Western and Eastern traditions excess or unmanaged stress can imbalance and impair the enteric and hara/dantian systems. When stress activates the “fight or flight” response in the central nervous system, blood flow in the enteric system is impeded, intestinal contractions are impaired, production of digestive enzymes decreases, gastrointestinal inflammation develops, and the esophagus can go into spasm.* Similarly, dantian qi constricts, becomes stagnant and murky, and its flow is impaired.

The Heart holds the secret to countervailing the effects of stress through its re-balancing influence on the emotions. When we practice Quieting the Heart in Move # 1, several things happen simultaneously. The Mind in a matter of seconds quiets down and equilibrates. Perception begins subtly to deepen and to expand. When we open the Heart, our focus also opens and we begin to See the Big Picture. At the same time something interesting starts to happen in the gut. As Chinese tradition suggests the dantian following the shades of the Heart becomes “quiet as the moon, clear like water, and bright like a mirror.” Without impedance qi in the dantian begins to flow naturally. We have a deep sense of connection to our power source and we may begin to experience (for the first time!) our gut as peaceful and “happy.”

This process also provides the key to a solution of the conundrum of power. Power becomes pathological when it is unmediated and unbalanced by the influence of the Heart. If the Heart is small and selfish, while physical, financial, or political power is great, power becomes a self-destructive force that can turn against society. But when we feel deeply connected to ourselves, our community, and the natural world, and when the Heart is great and generous, joy becomes power’s guide for all manner of beneficial works.

This is why “paying forward” in the spirit of love, as described in Moves # 8–# 10 is essential. It prevents blockages and stagnation and moves qi and love outward to benefit all levels of society. When we connect to our community and the natural world in this way, we can experience an increase in synchronicities, in other words, extraordinary, seemingly non-causal encounters of chance, that suggest a dynamic feedback process between ourselves, society, and the greater universe.

Validating the Power of Heart

It is easy to test the proposition of whether power necessarily corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Simply run the following experiment over the course of several weeks using the attached Practice Notes. As described, the Notes enable you to track and to assign a score following your progress in balancing power with the mediated influence of the Heart. There are three situations: 1. Winning—increasing power with balance 2. Falling Off–Seeking out and cultivating power as a goal in itself without any reference to love or wisdom and 3. Recovery—Falling off, but then realizing what is happening, changing course, and returning to the cultivation of Laughing Heart. The last may be the core skill. Everyone, no matter how experienced, falls off at some time. It is natural. The key is to embrace our errors and to be curious about being wrong. This is largely a matter of choice. Our errors are springboards for discovery and new learning. The cultivation of Heart builds such resilience.


There is no reason to shun or to disassociate ourselves from power. Indeed, when the great majority of the world’s populations are increasingly disempowered and being manipulated by financial and other gigantic forces far beyond their control, the need for the wise and compassionate cultivation of power would seem ever more evident and urgent. In this awakening the role of the Heart as the principal mediator between the other major power centers, the Mind and the ENS/hara/dantian, is crucial. The conscious and steady development of this core capability has profound implications for the training of a next generation of leaders in all spheres of governmental, corporate, and civic life.



*There is some evidence that meditative practices such as qigong, especially when enhanced with probiotics, affect tryptophan production, and thereby serotonin production in the gut. Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts into serotonin – the happy neurotransmitter. The vast majority of serotonin (around 90%) is synthesized in the gut and its production is regulated by the gut flora.  Tryptophan is an amino acid that converts into serotonin – the “happy neurotransmitter.”

One commentator notes: “Within mammalian species, central nervous system serotonergic signaling influences both behavioral and physiological determinants of energy balance. Within the gastrointestinal tract, serotonin mediates diverse sensory, motor, and secretory functions. Further examinations of serotonergic influences on peripheral organ systems are likely to uncover novel functions consistent with an apparently pervasive association between serotonergic signaling and physiological substrates of energy balance.”

Obesity, weight gain, and sedentary lifestyles are one of the primary causes of declining energy levels. The beneficial gut microbes help reduce the extra pound of flesh over the belly. Obesity has been associated with an imbalance in the microbial gut flora. In addition, it is observed that individuals with a flabby body have inflammation going on at the microscopic level. Probiotics ameliorate inflammation, restore the disturbed harmony of the gut flora, and accelerate weight loss.

Practice Notes–Move # 2 –Finding Your Power 

Combining Quieting the Heart (Move #1) and Finding Your Power (Move # 2)

  • Moves # 1–# 2 are complementary and are designed to be practiced together. When you Quiet the Heart, your qi naturally returns and settles in the dantian. You can retain this basic state of clarity and equilibrium even as you develop your energetic powers. Li Junfeng’s video “Awakening the Heart.” (at the bottom of Move # 1. is a useful guide if you want to go deeper.

Recommended Sequence in practicing Move # 2

  • Imaginative Power: Please read the story of O-Nami; then watch the Great Waves of Kanagawa video, opening your heart to listen and truly hear the drum (heart) beats of the waves.
  • Now practice the horse stance. In the beginning try for one minute, then scale when you feel you are ready up to 5 minutes over the course of the next 10 sessions. Focus on gathering (sensing and feeling) your power, as illustrated. This is a wonderful practice to learn how to think of nothing. In Japanese martial arts, this state of “no mind” is called mushin (無心)You can practice this state of no-mind in any situation that requires your power of concentration.
  • Next, imagine you are the Happy Buddha (Hotei) and practice cupping qi in the palms of your hands from the universe, just as he is, for 1-5 minutes. You are gathering raindrops of pure qi and there is the faint scent of apricot blossoms in the air (or any flower you like).
  • Finally, try this. Send your qi and love from your heart energy field outward…outward… connecting your heart energy field to the farthest reaches of the universe. Whoosh! Just relax, and watch what happens. See if you can detect a distinctive flavor of connecting to the universe, with your heart. No expectations. Nothing special! Just explore.



Practice Move/Big Heart Intelligence™: Combining Moves # 1- # 2


Goal/Metric: Open the Heart: Find and Balance Your Power (~10% improvement in one week!) with Joy; Explore and Translate Your Power into Beneficial Action



3 times this week I discovered how to combine power, balance, wisdom, and other attributes of BHI, and the result.


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3 times this week I discovered how to combine power, balance, wisdom, and other attributes of BHI, and the result.


Comments and Discoveries:

3 times this week I discovered how to combine power, balance, wisdom, and other attributes of BHI, and the result.


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Falling off

3 times this week I focused only on power and the result.


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3 times this week I focused only on power and the result.


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3 times this week I focused only on power and the result.


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3 times this week I retreated into small heart, became conscious and recovered Big Heart, and the result.


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3 times this week I retreated into small heart, became conscious and recovered Big Heart, and the result.


Comments and Discoveries:

3 times this week I retreated into small heart, became conscious and recovered Big Heart, and the result.


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© Copyright Julian Gresser/Big Heart Technologies, December 2017, All Rights Reserved



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