Spring Waning Seed Moon
Agency. There’s been a lot written in psychology and history about agency. We have agency when we can affect the flow of events in our own lives or in the world around us. (No, I’m not going to get into the subtle no-free-will arguments floating around.) A lot of the historical work has concerned how those without agency–say women, slaves, workers–get it or why they don’t have it. In the case of the individual agency refers to our capacity to direct our own life.
A sense of agency underwrites our sense of self, or our sense of group identity. Note that our agency or our group’s agency can be positive or negative. A more negative sense of agency, that is, sensing that others or factors outside your control influence your life or your group, leads to a feeling of diminished capacity or is a feeling of diminished capacity. A positive sense of agency promotes a feeling of active and successful engagement with the world, the ability to act in ways congruent with your self-interest or your group’s self-interest.
Here’s where I’m going with this. In my regression back into the ministry after 8 or so years out I made the move because my writing career had not produced the hoped for results. I had lost a sense of agency in the work area of my life and moved backwards on my psychological journey to retrieve it. Going backwards to pick up something left behind is a key element of regression. Its flaw lies in a return to a previous reality no longer relevant. The ministy was what I had done, a minister what I had been. The experience of return to the ministry produced missteps and a low level of energy for the actual work.
Now, about ten years later, once again I have reached back into my past, this time even further, to retrieve a sense of agency, the ur-agency, for me, the political. This is the work with the Sierra Club. (hmmm. just realized I did the same thing two years back when I studied Paul Tillich. That was a return to life as a student, a potent form of agency for me.)
What the work with the Sierra Club, the study of Tillich and the ministry have in common is an attempt to regain a positive sense of self through a form of agency already well-established and presumably easily recaptured. None of these activities in themselves is a bad thing, but that is the lure, the seductive call of regression.
Back there, if only I could go back in time, and become the captain of the football team again. Prom queen. College radio jockey. The actor I became after college. My successful years as a bond trader or nurse or carpenter. Back there I was strong, able. I had a way with the world, a position of respect and self-confidence.
It’s not difficult to flip all this language and see what underlies regression. A lack of self-confidence. A dimished feeling of agency. True for me out side the family.
A slippery slope, a desire to find in a past activity a renewed confidence. Lash me to mast men, so I can hear the Siren but not respond. Easier said than done.
The journey does not lie in retreat, rather in moving forward, becoming who I am today, not who I was yesterday. The question then is how can I find and sustain a new sense of agency, one based on the person I have become rather one I have been.
The components of this new sense of agency are all around me, but I’m having trouble drawing them to me in an effective manner. The work of the docent at the MIA is a part. The permaculture, horticulture work at home is a part. The biggest part though is the path I began so long ago when I left the ministry, a path I have never abandoned, writing.
How though do I knit these things together to create a renewed sense of agency? How do I integrate these activities, really integrate them, into my new sense of self? This is the question I face now, have faced for over 12 years and one I have not answered.