Embodied Transformation & Evolution

A Global Course Correction ~ The Liberating Power of “I Can’t”

Posted by on Aug 21, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 0 comments

A Global Course Correction  ~ The Liberating Power of “I Can’t”

“We are coming down to earth, we will not arrive intact.”
-Bayo Akomolafe

A powerful and effective coach does not always encourage people to feel “I can.” This is not what real empowerment is. Our true power springs from a deeper place. It comes from our humility, and the courage we find to face our shadows and our limitations, as well as our gifts and our brilliance. When a client says to me, “I can’t do this by myself,” I feel my heart breathe a sigh of relief, as I say to them, “You are so right, you can’t. You need help and support in this place.” This can feel like weakness to a mind that has been imprinted with images about a certain kind of strength. How brittle that strength turns out to be, and how strong we are when we can reach out and find the help we need.

Sometimes people say to me, “I can’t go on like this.” Those words seem to activate a kind of prayer in my whole body that says, “I hope you are right, that you really cannot go on as you are now. I hope you are not just saying this, because you know, deep in your heart, that it’s time for a real change.”

Instead of encouraging people to get back up on their feet, sometimes we need to encourage them to sit quietly and feel their helplessness and their grief, their shame, their anger and their fear. These feelings can help us touch parts of ourselves we have left behind. They can allow us to see things we have not been able to face before.

One fixation in our western culture is our belief in the goodness of saying, “I can.” “I can” feels healthy, strong, positive and empowering. A lot of the time it is. But not all of the time. There are times when “I can’t” is the medicine of the moment, the truth we have been waiting for. To feel the energy and grounded truth of “I can’t” can be deeply healing. It can free us from the narrowness of our fixation on “I can.” At the right moment, sinking into the embodied truth of “I can’t” can be a doorway into a new level of our development.

Whenever we start to believe that one way is the only way, we are lost. If I cling to the idea that one particular response or attitude is always good, I lose touch with my innate intelligence. I can no longer respond to the complexity of life with what is appropriate right now. In psychological terms, this is called a “fixation.” Nothing is always good; there is not one way that will always be the best way to respond. We hide inside our fixations because beliefs and techniques and formulas feel much safer than opening ourselves to the wild, uncontrollable fluidity of life.


If I can give up my fixation, my attachment to “I can,” then the liberating power of what I have denied and avoided will start to flow into my life. I’ve noticed for a long time that “I can’t” is what actually allows people to reach out and make contact with me, or another therapist, teacher, healer or ally. The living truth of “I can’t do this on my own,” or the truth of “I can’t go on like this,” delivers them into a new and very unfamiliar moment, where they find the courage to reach out beyond themselves, to risk being vulnerable, naked and open.

“I can’t” often feels dense and heavy. It’s a solid energy to come up against, and the impact of that encounter often invites a major course correction in our lives. If I’ve been a very positive “can do” kind of person, then the part of me that holds the truth of “I can’t” may be exiled, standing in a corner all by herself/himself.

“I can’t” can sometimes feel like what they call in AA a “bottoming out.” How beautiful it can be to touch the bottom, to come down to earth. “I can” is the energy of ascent, of moving forward, of determination and focus and will. But that’s only half of life. The other half is the descent, the grounding, the coming down to earth, which often comes with the “I can’t”. This kind of grounding is not abstract. It’s not an idea; it’s an experience that touches us, deep in our cells. As Bayo acknowledges, it has the power to undo us: “we will not arrive intact.”

The truth of “I can’t” can bring me face to face with something in my life that is really not working. If I can’t face this, then I’m in trouble. If I can face it, I have entered a fresh field of possibilities-I can start making new choices:

When the master makes a mistake, she realizes it.
Having realized it, she admits it.
Having admitted it, she corrects it immediately.
~Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

“I can’t” is also intimately connected with the power and clarity of my ‘no.’ In the words of Caroline Myss, as she reconsiders the Serenity Prayer, “sometimes we need to change the things we can’t accept.” What I am talking about here is arising very powerfully in our collective experience right now. Millions of people all over the world are speaking very loudly and boldly about what they can’t accept, cannot go along with, any longer. It reminds me of that beautiful song from the Women’s March last year, “I can’t keep quiet.” Here is another liberating “I can’t,” another beautiful no. You can listen to it here: I can’t keep quiet

Perhaps we are getting ready for a major course correction in our world. If this happens, I believe it will only emerge from our power to make such course corrections in our inner worlds. At times this will require from us a deep surrender to “I can’t”, a willingness to bow down and touch the earth as we feel the beauty and truth of what we cannot do, and what we will not do, any longer.

I hope we will support each other in not keeping quiet.

with love,


Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

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