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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Autonomy?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Autonomy

Being Truly Autonomous

To be truly independent and autonomous, we need to be free from the concepts acquired from others as well as our own past experiences. Our minds hold on to concepts, memories, and stories. When we truly are ourselves and live in reality, we do not need concepts for support, we do not need memories to know who we are, and we do not need stories to be naturally at ease. We are who we are not because of what we believe, not because of what we remember, but because of what we are now and, ultimately, because of what we are truly.

Creating Contact with Our Internal and External Experience

Autonomy and personalness go together. This indicates the role of the Personal Essence – the aspect of the Pearl – in the functioning of the Diamond Guidance. Personal involvement, autonomy, and contact and are all qualities of the Personal Essence. In other words, the effect of the Pearly Diamond of the Diamond Guidance is to create contact with, a personal involvement with, our internal and external experience. And that translates into personal autonomy in inquiry. The Diamond Guidance guides the soul and its process of maturation and individuation. This process is the same as the movement towards the soul’s realization of the Personal Essence, and the Diamond Guidance will arise naturally to assist in this development.

Development of the Primary Autonomy of Ego Functions

Since the Personal Essence is the true individuality, it is closely related to the capacities of primary autonomy, which are usually referred to as the ego functions. We have seen that the development and integration of these capacities is intertwined with the development of object relations. Thus we might wonder what happens to these capacities when the object relations are finally metabolized. The answer is that they finally come into their own. They become more developed, more integrated and more synthesized into a harmonious whole, not dependent on a mental structure. Their true origin, the extent of their function and their real meaning become clear. In general, the presence of the Personal Essence brings about a radical expansion and individuation of autonomous functioning, indicating the greater development and integration of the apparatuses of autonomy. Its realization brings about an increasingly radical movement towards autonomy and individuation, leading to greater actualization of one’s potential. One becomes more creative, more productive, more original and more fulfilled in personal involvements.

Ego Autonomy is Ultimately a Prison

From the perspective of the man of spirit, however, one is actually a Being independent from mind, existing outside the field of memory. From this perspective, the accomplishment of ego autonomy is ultimately a prison. In identifying with the self-image constructed through the process of ego development, we cage ourselves. How can this be autonomy, this bondage which is the primary source of human suffering?

Personal Passion in Inquiry

In the context of the Diamond Guidance, autonomy means recognizing and developing this sense of personal involvement, this personal passion in inquiry. Autonomy means that we do our work of inquiry not because somebody told us to, not because we read about it in a book, not because we want to be good or enlightened, but because we are personally excited about it. If we have our own excitement about the process, then we’re autonomous. If remaining excited about our inquiry depends on a teacher or somebody else turning us on or inspiring us, then we are still dependent on others or on the circumstances.

Secondary Autonomy

The implication for our discussion is quite clear: As long as an ego structure is used for defense it acts as a barrier against the experience of the Personal Essence. This point brings us closer to understanding what might be the factor contributing to maturity. It has to do with the fact that when ego becomes more developed and rounded it becomes also less defensive. This process was seen by Hartmann, which led him to coin the concept of secondary autonomy. Blanck and Blanck describe the process as follows:

"As thought processes develop, involving delay of drive discharge, intelligence serves the ego by aiding the organization of percepts and memory traces, making meaningful action possible. This organization of the inner world—the world of internalizations—is the very process of structuralization. As this proceeds, certain forms of behavior change in function. A process which had originated as a defense—for example, the essential mechanism of reaction formation in toilet training—acquires adaptive autonomy when the purpose changes to maintenance of hygienic habits and orderliness. With change in function, the activity becomes pleasurable in its own right, whereas when it is still in its archaic defensive form it counteracts pleasure. The end result of change in function is attainment of secondary autonomy."

In fact, it is possible to see the process of psychotherapy as partially that of attaining secondary autonomy. Processes and structures that started as defense, which created emotional conflicts, can change functions toward adaptation, through the process of therapy. This contributes to ego strength and development, which leads to maturity. ......... Most people do not show signs of real maturity with the passage of time partly because the secondary autonomy does not develop well. Increasing rigidity and stereotyped behavior patterns indicate an entrenchment in the defensive position.

The Autonomy of Being

Now, we can understand in a deeper way the autonomy of Being. From the perspective of Being, what we are is not determined by either the past or the present situation. We are not a reaction; we simply are, an essential existence, totally free from the past. Our nature, our identity, cannot be influenced by situations. The main difference between Being and ego—which is that Being is just being-as-such and ego a reaction from the past—makes Being the true autonomy, and ego autonomy a delusion.

The Autonomy of the Ego is a Sham

When one does have the experience of ceasing to identify with the self-image and simply being, it is clear that the autonomy of ego is a sham, since the ego personality is perceived not only as ephemeral, a kind of surface phenomenon which is in the nature of an idea, but also as reactive, responding automatically to the world. From Being, which is felt as the true and solid reality, ego’s individuality is seen as simply a dark network composed of beliefs in the mind and patterns of tension in the body.Thus the supposed autonomy of ego is, from this perspective, nothing but the feeling that accompanies an image in its relation to another image. It is striking that this is exactly what object relations theory states: that autonomy is based on the establishment of a self-image. We wonder how one can know that what he believes he is, is simply an image, and stop at that, without feeling that something is not right? The answer, of course, is that as long as one identifies with the self-image, the implications of the theory are not suspected, or if they are suspected they cannot be clearly seen without an experience of Being. One must go through a very deep process of inner transformation to see the profound implications of this apparently simple understanding of ego identity.

The Capacity to be the Personal Essence

Autonomy is simply the capacity to be the Personal Essence, one's fullness of Being. The sense of freedom, independence, autonomy and individuation is experienced at such times as a very clear, precise and certain fact. There is no vagueness or uncertainty about autonomy when one recognizes the Personal Essence as one's true being.

The Situation of Apparent Autonomy

The findings of object relations theory, however, show that these phenomena which are taken by society to indicate autonomy may only be skin deep. These findings identified a more basic level of autonomy, that of emotional independence, as the core of actual autonomy. Thus some individuals who may appear autonomous, because they are successful, productive people, may lack the intrapsychic achievement of independence and therefore lack a true inner core of autonomy. In these cases, it is well known, the individual lives a life of emptiness and emotional desolation. This situation of apparent autonomy without its real emotional support is regarded as characteristic of certain character pathologies, especially those of the narcissistic personality and the borderline conditions, and sometimes even the schizoid character. These personalities have not accomplished the tasks of the separation-individuation process, and thus the sense of self is not formed cohesively. It is fragile and vulnerable, very dependent on external achievements and praise, and largely defensive.

True Autonomy Can be Recognized to be the Fullness of the Presence of Being in the Present

It is ironic that object relations theory first describes so competently the way in which ego is structured from past object relations between inner images and, therefore, is compulsively reacting to situations in conditioned patterns, and then goes on to describe this same entity as autonomous! How can this set of reactions from the past be said to be autonomous, when true autonomy can be recognized to be the fullness of the presence of Being in the present? Again this understanding will be difficult for those who have no direct experience of what Being is; but actually almost everyone has had some experience of some deeper aspects of experience which are not completely dominated by ego activity. Here it is a matter of seeing these experiences for what they are, for their great significance. The Personal Essence is the personal experience of Being, and is therefore the true individual autonomy, undetermined by anything except one’s true and essential nature.

When Autonomy Ceases to be an Issue

Ironically, however, when we realize the Personal Essence, that is, when it is a permanent attainment rather than simply an experience, we no longer feel the desire for that coveted autonomy. It simply ceases to be an issue, and falls away, leaving us with no need or desire for autonomy, nor any conflicts around autonomy. We are, and in our Being we are absolutely autonomous.

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