Do you know you have a thing called agency? Do you know what it is? Do you use it?
Agency is our ability to sense, feel, think, consider, interact, create, play, respond.
Agency is the ability of any part within a self-organising system to freely function and operate according to it’s given role and inherent limits.
Life is built on self-organising systems in which the individual parts of the whole exercise their agency.
YOUR BODY KNOWS
Our human body is a great example of a self-organising ‘whole’ system.
Each of our body parts knows how to do it’s job. The toes have their function. The liver it’s. Our elbow, ear, colon and lungs all have their unique and specific jobs to perform to be part of a healthy human body.
And none of those parts are told how to ‘do’ it’s job from any other part. Instead, through innate knowing, the human body grows and develops it’s functionality according to the data held in our DNA. Just as the tree blooms from a seed.
However, the degree to how well a component (aka body part) can function within the whole is another matter. This depends on the feedback loops (information) and nourishment informing and fuelling each part according to it’s unique needs.
When beautiful music plays, the ears send the signal to the brain who transmits it to the rest of the body, from which dancing results. The stomach communicates hunger to the brain, which then scans with the eyes, and reaches for the apple with the hand.
And so it goes within systems in life: micro and macro, small and big. It’s just how life is programmed – to self-organise when the stimulus is provided.
Life is built upon the concept of free agents – at all levels, scales and forms. Life invites the individual parts of it’s melange of beautifully complex systems to express their agency. In nurtured, healthy and functional systems, the full expression of agency is more likely to occur.
THE CONUNDRUM OF HUMAN AGENCY
This is where it might get a little confusing. Humans seem to have a way of subverting the free agency of our species individuals; to control (and at times, limit) the information, stimulus and nutrition required for the person to be fully human.
Many humans find themselves in situations where they don’t really know who they are, what resources they have to work with, and what they want/need to do with their lives. Many people live without passion, purpose and direction. Many seem lost, complacent and apathetic. Culture has been watered-down and homogenised. Material consumption seems to have become a proxy for connection.
This seems to parallel in education systems, medical systems and political systems who tend to operate on linear, centralised and compartmentalised processes; providing gapping holes in meeting the needs of a functioning human. Some might even say these systems can over-ride the free agency of people.
In chronic doses, long-term slow-release self-destruction is administered by many upon themselves (think substance use, escapism and, at the extreme, suicide) where agency is not experienced or supported.
ACTIVATE YOUR AGENCY!
This conundrum can be confronting. It may even bring a sense of despair. And this response of confrontation and despair probably occur for people more than we realise.
Importantly though, there are plenty of counter-measures to assert one’s agency despite how distant it may seem.
Here is a humble yet powerful list of suggestions to cultivate your agency in the world.
Point One: Know yourself through observation.
Key to this is observing without reaction. Pay attention to what’s happening in your body, mind and emotions in different situations, like when you eat different types of food, watch a violent movie, walk in a forest for hours, talk to a certain type of person.
Be aware of how your body interacts with and responds to the world around it. Cultivate a sense of how different settings/food/people influence your state of well-being. Meditation is a powerful practice for cultivating observation; and it be can as simple as stop-and-feel.
Point Two: Honesty is vital.
With yourself, first and foremost. Honesty with self allows you acknowledge what your experiencing and what you’re in need of, and then to do something about it. Honesty with others helps them understand what you’re experiencing and why. This can support self-organisation quite naturally.
Point Three: Boundaries.
Know what your boundaries are and be willing to uphold them. This requires you to know yourself (point 1) and be honest about it (point 2), Boundaries require you to be aware of what you can live with, and what you can’t.
When you know your boundaries, you are then able to know when you consent to being exposed to actions/behaviours/words etc, and when you don’t. If you choose to expose yourself to something that doesn’t feel good, you may be giving your consent unwittingly.
This equally goes the other way in respecting other people's boundaries. When someone communicates their boundaries, it’s about them ensuring their needs can be met; and not necessarily anything personal to you.
Point Four. Needs.
Essentially, all humans are ever trying to do is meet our universal human needs. We all have them - every single human on the planet. They include things like air, food, water; as well as things like acceptance, respect, authenticity, contribution, and choice.
When needs aren’t being met, humans will consciously or unconsciously seek to have them be met. Having an awareness of universal human needs (find them here), you will be able to have more understanding on the motivation of your behaviour, and that of others. And then ultimately be more prepared to find solutions and strategies for meeting those needs.
Point Five. Nothing is personal.
Otherwise said as: “what other people think of me is none of my business”. In essence, this is autonomy.
We humans construct our understanding based on our individual lens on reality. There are many factors influencing ones perception e.g. past experiences and trauma, assumption, limited scope of understanding, and needs wanting to be met. Quite often we might not realise what’s influencing our perception of life, which is when we need to go back to point 1 – observation.
In the spirit of ‘agency’, we must work within the domain of what we can control, and when it comes to humans, that domain only extends to self, self and ... self!
Point Six. Love and trust.
Yes, love and trust might sound cliché but they’re also incredibly potent. When you can feel and express love and trust for yourself and others – especially unconditional love and trust – something happens that softens, opens, and transforms the quality of an experience.
Love and trust are incredibly disarming to tension and disharmony – they aren’t silver bullets, but deeply supportive and facilitating of deep integrity.
To help you in this practice, you may like to set a chime on your phone for every half hour or hour (here's the one I use), at which you can acknowledge your presence in that moment in unconditional love and unconditional trust. FEEL this in your body, know it to be true, and watch how it shifts your interactions with yourself, and with life. (Big credit to Michael Roads for this practice; from personal experience, I know this simple exercise to be a powerful one).
Simply knowing there is such a thing as agency, and that it’s available to you as a birth rite can be an important starting place to cultivating your agency.
Know that your ability to sense, feel, think, consider, interact, create, play, and respond is important, available, and ultimately your responsibility.
With that knowing, let’s weave a world of free agents within the self-organising system of life. One in which each part (that’s us!) are free to operate with awareness, honesty, boundaries, met needs, and autonomy; all supported by unconditional love and trust.
The choice is yours. Choose it.
These posts offer you insights & practical tools to support you to thrive for a better world!
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