Personal Sovereignty

Barbara Fagan
7 min readApr 6, 2021

In what ways does society historically and systemically take away our power? As employees? In marriage? As women? As people of color? In any way we show up as “other” through our preferences, identities, beliefs, ancestry, experiences, abilities, age, etc.?

I’ve been exploring the concept of personal sovereignty: the intrinsic authority and power of an individual to determine his or her own direction and destiny. It means not being controlled or manipulated by any person, group, or institution. It means having agency and autonomy over your life; being able to make your own decisions, choose who you are in relationship with and how much space to give them in your life. It is having the individual power to walk away from situations, people, and communities that don’t honor your sovereignty.

“Become sovereign in your own life, in your own spirit, in your own creativity so you can stand up and support everyone else’s right to be sovereign in theirs.” The Sovereignty Knot: A Woman’s Way to Freedom, Power, Love, and Magic by Marisa Goudy

Being sovereign does not mean disengaging or pulling back from our families, communities, governments, or responsibilities. It means knowing ourselves and having healthy boundaries so we can be fully present with the life we choose. There are many political angles to the concept of personal or individual sovereignty, but I’m focused here on the spiritual aspect of being a full and equal being.

It starts with questioning norms that are as old as the hills. Are financial and social decisions in your home shared? If not, are you really okay with that? If you have a desire to pursue something in your life, do you have the support and freedom to do that? At work, are you respected and supported for who you are? Are you able to take care of yourself and your loved ones on a consistent and holistic level?

According to Heather Plett, author of, The Art of Holding Space: A Practice of Love, Liberation, and Leadership, “The problem is that few of us have an embodied understanding of sovereignty because we have been socially conditioned by colonial systems. ‘Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components.’ (Wikipedia)

In a colonial system, everyone is impacted. Both the colonizers and the colonized become shaped by the imbalance of power and the lack of respect for boundaries and sovereignty. Some learn to take what’s not theirs and others learn that their rights are easily violated, and their resources easily taken. Most of us find ourselves somewhere at the intersections — having power in some relationships and no power in others.

In a colonial system, nobody walks away unscathed. Nobody ends up with a well-balanced understanding of what it means to hold sovereignty as a core value in a relationship.

As a result, we have a lot of people the world over who’ve grown up with a warped sense of how to be in relationships with each other, both on a small scale and a large scale, both in one-on-one relationships and in country-to-country or community-to-community relationships. We cross boundaries, we downplay our own rights to boundaries, we fail to communicate our expectations of how we want to be treated, we emotionally colonize, we manipulate, we are victimized, and we run away from conflict because we haven’t been adequately prepared for it.”

sovereign woman with arms stretched wide to her sides

When colonized people rise up to claim their sovereignty, it makes those in power nervous.

How do we decolonize ourselves and reclaim and honor sovereignty in our relationships and communities?

Plett proposes, “We have to do the hard work of dismantling our imbalanced systems of power. We have to practice negotiating and communicating better treaties/agreements in our personal relationships and we have to address the ways in which the colonizers in our countries have ignored and/or failed to negotiate or ratify treaties with other sovereign nations or people groups. We have to learn how to enter into conflict in more generative ways that help all parties emerge with their sovereignty intact. We have to practice having harder conversations and not running away whenever we feel attacked for violating another person’s sovereignty. We have to learn how to communicate expectations and boundaries and not be offended when other people communicate theirs. And we have to evolve the way we raise our children so that they will grow up with a better sense of their own sovereignty.”

In my research on sovereignty, I came across this poem and it spoke to me. I hope it speaks to you in its own mysterious and personal way.

The Wilderness
by Schuyler Brown

We’re learning emotional survival skills here.
Out in the wilderness,
Your best behavior is useless now.
Your goody-two-shoes, I got this, stiff upper lip, staunch Democrat or Republican, nighty-night, Oh, I’m fine, best behavior bullshit doesn’t fly here.
Incandescent like that flame you’ve been holding, keeping from going out, tending the fire, burning the midnight oil and so tired. Now, it’s out.
Don’t cry.
Because you, you’re on.

Here in the wilderness we speak trees.
We build bonfires out of that flame.
We teleport from one state to the next without protection, without the safety devices in place.
Here, we let it all hang out.
We eat it raw, with the juice dripping, thighs already greasy.
It’s too late for napkins.
Here, we’re way out beyond the perimeter. Way, way out.
The air is rarified like deep space, like pure oxygen. Nothing stains us.
There’s no stopping us now. The gravity cannot hold, the old ways do not apply. No controlling the volume on the dial. No putting a cap on it.
Here, we consider the turbulence fun.
Here, we smoke cigarettes when we pray.
And laughter…is straight up currency.
We touch the mountaintop, but we do not linger for the views.
There are valleys yet to explore, caves, too.
And deep waters where we swim, wrapped in seaweed,
Not caring, nothing to get stuck on.
Here, we touch the depths and the mud sucks…
Everything sucks, but we are long past resisting that discomfort.
We rest in that cosmic kiss, full tongue, full throat, full gullet and stomach, on through.
Digested. Digest it.
Until there is only sensation left. Without meaning, without stories — supplies of energy moving through the pieces of what we once considered self.
Yes, we are wracked. We are had. We are chewed up and spit out over and over again here.
But, there is something like dancing in the writhing. And there is something like ecstasy in the agony. There is something like clarity here where there was once confusion.
And though it may hurt, it’s worth it.
There is no other way.
This training is not for everyone.
You enlisted long ago before there was such a thing as time.
Be glad. Rejoice.

If you ever wanted out, this is the key, the map, and the journey home.
Who else will walk it for you?
Now, that laughter isn’t mine.
And those tears, they could fill a river. Might as well…
What a curiosity! The heaving is the same in either case.
The source, no longer relevant.
Your pain is not so precious as you think. Make an offering of it.
We accept that as currency, too.
Now the emotions are really more like the weather,
And we are no longer touching the mountain top because we are the mountain.
And the water.
Now, we are the sensation even as we are beyond it. That non dual…non dual…beyond it.
Spiral staircase. Mind free. Navigating like a pro now. Without a care in the world. Look, Ma, no hands.
I mean actually no hands. No face. No body.
This is the meeting we’ve been waiting for. This is the meeting of bliss and emptiness. The reunion of what will be with what always was.
Undulating, tumbling.
We are not afraid of the dark here.
When the lights go out, we have other ways of seeing.
It’s not for nothing you took the leap.
You will find that practice pays and your knife skills are now quite good. Nothing tethers.
And nothing severs this connection we have to the essence of experience, the marrow of the old, old bones of life.

And now — as it turns out — we can teach.
At the base of an old oak tree we set up shop.
At the edge of the wilderness we intercept the intrepid.
An apothecary for the wayward.
An altar, an offering.
We sweep the place clean.
And the students, they arrive before we’ve even hung up our shingle.
They come before the grand opening, before the bells are rung.
Turns out they’ve been waiting. All this time.
Waiting for us to show up.
And you shake your head because…
Well, because it’s been a Silk Road kind of adventure for you…a falling off the flat earth, walking into native territory, back from the dead, one giant step for mankind, kind of journey.
Something beyond words and eternally worthwhile.
Oh, and when the students are gone and the work is done we fly.
Feel that lift off?
Feel those feet way off the ground?
Horizontal already.
A new kind of wilderness not of this earth.
A glow like antigravity around the periphery. All of it no longer matter,
but light.
And the sounds, sounds that constellate things. Rich and fertile sounds.
The Word.
Here there is only heartbeat and breath. Bass and treble.
The sound of eyes opening and the dark receding.
A whisper comes from your lips, but they don’t move.
A note comes from your eyes as they glimmer.
Your eyes watching me. My eyes watching you.
The seer and the seen…our gaze…

Wishing you the freedom and power to walk your chosen path in peace and love,

Barbara Fagan-Smith
Chief Catalyst, Living ROI



Barbara Fagan

Founder and CEO of ROI Communication and the Chief Catalyst for Living ROI. She is committed to helping people and organizations bring their best to the world.