I’ve come to discover an archetypal root that explains the difference between liberated, peaceful people and corrupt authoritarians. The root is self-determination. The start of self-determination is autonomy, so the individual must claim his autonomy and aim to grow his strength in acting on it. And others must respect his autonomy- making requests instead of demands, using conflict mediation instead of punishment, etc.
Self-determination involves 3 needs:
Autonomy – the agency to make decisions and own your life;
Interconnection – healthy supportive relationships; and
Competence – the skill and strength to do something really well.
All three of these mixed together creates liberation that many people can’t even comprehend, and even some of the few who have achieved it go around talking about parts of their journey that completely ignore self-determination, showing they are oblivious to it.
The real vicious truth here is that when a person lacks autonomy, and especially if they have been traumatized or damaged, they will strive for control to make up for the loss. It’s like trying to steal the autonomy of others, but many wannabe dictators don’t even realize this is the result of their actions. They just get blinded by the stress and trauma pushing them to try and make their environment clean, predictable, and in their power. It doesn’t work. Becoming intrinsically autonomous, self-determined, and skillful will give you the sense of liberation and inner peace to come to terms with the world around you, as it is.
When you don’t know where to start, observation is the universal action. Look around not to seek, but to see what already is. No thought or other action is needed here, observation is the beginning. If you want to make a decision, you have to know what is here, and how it works.
Very quickly, upon observation, ideas for actions will start popping up like popcorn. Try one out, mine as well see what happens then. It’s all a game, an experiment in a world with actions and reactions. Playing with it, you can learn more about how it works, and might come to realize your previous understanding was drastically limited. I’ve come to realize this many times over.
There are related skills and traits for a person who seeks to attain Self-Determination. These are the skills we will go through:
Openness to Outcome
Openness to Experience
The first one is often characterized as willingness to fail, but I’d go even further than that and call it “openness to outcome“. When you seek control, you have a desire for a certain outcome. If the result fits your desire, you see it as success. If not, it is failure of someone somewhere.
But when you are in a playful mode, such as a kid exploring something new, your goal is not to control, but to learn. Therefore, it is integral to the process that you be open and even curious about the outcome, allowing it to be whatever it will be. As you keep exploring and creating, you might have an idea of what will happen if you take certain actions, and can then take better actions. But getting attached to this prediction of outcome will lead you to suffer. Even if you get what you want, it will only reinforce the attachment, and a sense of lasting security that is just an illusion.
Thus we come to the next skill: Playfulness. To be playful is to enjoy what you are doing, and get lost in it completely. When a person is suffering and in a serious state, as opposed to playful, they often become drawn to the question: “Why is this happening?” Either they ask it about their situation, or they ask in general, about life, existence. They’ve come to a point where they’re miserable, suffering, and it seems there is no point to what is happening, it just keeps happening. You go to work, you eat, you sleep, you go to events, talk to friends. Things change, but it all becomes a cycle perpetuating itself- and I ask: Why?
This is a trick question. So you’ve discovered there is no point, and now you ask what’s the point? It’s contradictory. You never ask what the point is when you play, and enjoy what you experience. It’s just what is happening.
When you cling to control, you rob yourself of the opportunity to attain autonomy and therefore, self-determination. Desire for control beyond the minimal and ordinary is an illusion, it creates resistance internally that perpetuates chronic stress, fear, anger, disgust, and more that serves no purpose other than upholding the cycle, the illusion. If you resist the present reality longterm, you will lose the ability to enjoy and fully experience more and more of life until you become deeply unconscious. Many people experience this as depression.
Waking up is usually painful, because going to sleep was so damaging.
So then the next skill is: openness to experience. This includes willingness and flexibility to experience pain, pleasure, joy, fear, sadness, madness and all the other experiences we can have. This includes the willingness to experience what is boring, mundane, annoying, disappointing, and so on. Pay attention to boredom, it’s not so small as it seems, it can be devastating- a result of longterm hedonism, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.
Openness to experience is a struggle at first, and it can seem as if you suffer more and feel more pain, but the truth is you are just becoming aware of what was already happening, and it has an effect on you. You become aware of your own reactions. Over time, this observation will allow you to become more flexible, relaxed, and open intrinsically. This is inner peace, and is the essence of skillful autonomy. You do not have to be thrown around wildly by your emotions or reactions. You can simply look at them.
The last skill is improvisation. If you are leaving behind the illusion of control, striving to attain self-determination, you will have to surrender to the unpredictability and chaos of all life around you. It might seem like some people and events are cyclical and predictable, but it is never entirely predictable, and everything is always changing. The ground is shifting under you, becoming aware of it more deeply is contending with natural chaos. As you become more skillful in this path, your openness and playfulness can lead you to a state that is more relaxed, peaceful, and intrinsically strong to pursue liberation. Almost as a result, improvisation will become a skill as well. But you can also consciously pursue it and become rapidly more skillful and wise in dealing with chaos.
Take up a creative endeavor, in the arts or in any pursuit of the unknown. Put yourself in a new place knowing nothing of how to live, and explore it. Figure it out here and now. Observe your inner reactions. Control is an illusion, and only rewards us with the nihilistic desire to have a reason to live. In self-determination, whatever is experienced becomes reason enough, to keep playing the game.