Itching for a Fight!

I keep returning to the centrality of the simple fact that all that we actually have is our attention.

The ramifications and repercussions of this realization are profound.

This continues to strike at our preoccupation with futures. Seen in this light these are just another set of behaviors that siphon our attention away from the only other thing we might be able to say we have, and that is this moment.

However our compulsions arose – without adding to all the time and attention we’ve all already wasted on this question – it should be clear that it is a major dysfunction.

*

All we have is our attention.

Where does violence touch us?

What do its perpetrator’s want?

Violence touches us by overwhelming our attention. It confronts our attention and demands we focus on its effects. Commanding our attention, it either destroys us, removing us and our attention as its perpetrators consider us a barrier to achieving their desires; or it dominates our attention, holding us in its thrall. Our response to violence is therefore divided between self-preservation and maintaining, or restoring, our own agency, restoring our intention’s ability to direct our attention.

Even self-preservation can be seen as a form of compulsion. While in moments of extremis we may find it fills our attention to useful purpose. However, we spend much of our time avoiding its call and acting in ways we know to be self-destructive. We do not accept self-preservation as a constant necessity. Sometimes we do, and often we do not, choose to bend our attention to its demands. This malleability in our attitude towards self-preservation shows us that it is no stretch for us to put its demands “on the table.” It is negotiable.

Beyond self-preservation, any diversion of our attention away from where it would otherwise go towards those who would do us violence is a surrender of all we have. If what threatens us holds our attention we have already lost. If we stay in that position we have already lost all.

Anger, revenge, anxiety, and prolonged fear are symptoms of our internalization of violence against us. We end up doing the bidding of those who seek to do us harm without the need for them to continue to attack us from outside.

Creatures in nature regain their centers quickly after passing through a moment of violence. We tend to consider this a sign of their lack of awareness.

What if it is something else?

What if it’s a more fully developed awareness, one we have lost, and are unable to reconcile with our present conditioning?

Attention is the medium of awareness, though we often confuse attention with intention and self-consciousness.

We confuse intention too.

Intention has an important, but limited role.

Intention is how we direct our attention, how we bring our will to bear on the matter of attention. Even when we let go of will, there is this little strand of it that gently tugs at our attention as it is buffeted and brings it back to center. The act of attending is not willed at these times, but it is served by will, an upending of our customary expectation.

*

As the title of this post came to me I stumbled upon this fragment of an essay. It struck me at how apropos it is. How it points at an equation at the center of questions concerning what we have and how we deal with our circumstances.

Violence, it could be said, is that which has the power to disturb our engagement with the present. In this way the concept of violence covers all forms of discontinuity from physical attack to the subtlest forms of coercion, either external or internalized. In this they all may fall into a rough equivalency. If our attention and engagement is destroyed, it matters little if we continue to physically exist, pace zombies and vampires….

The scrap of difference between continued life and its ending lies in the potential for change that continued existence offers us, though this is often overplayed. When it comes to a zombie we do understand that a hard “re-boot” is required… the infamous “double-tap.”

All of our talk of “change” translated off into some “future,” is futile. Talking about changing is a clear signal that change is off the table. When we actually change it is always now, never later.

All of this is an attempt to sound our way around questions of how to find new ways to look at and respond to violence. It is halting and awkward. We never seem to be able to address these questions without falling into stereotypical responses. Avoiding this requires a willingness to stumble about in unfamiliar surroundings. Questions of violence may be the ones we are least prepared to tackle from among all our awkward questions and gnarly predicaments!

The title of this post,“Itching for a Fight!” refers to our favorite method of avoiding these questions. It seems to have so much to offer. It takes a long view and a lot of practice to avoid its easy inducements.

Then, there is its polar opposite! “Oh No! Let’s not fight!” All sorts of strategies, many of them clearly passive aggressive – does this include Gandhian non-violence? After all, in our common understanding it is a strategy to achieve compulsion through other means. Pacifism is deeply within a way of navigating a series of means to achieve ends that were arrived at independently of the flow of existence. It is as dependent on duality as open aggression.

Let us remember that any polarity divides. No integration is ever achieved by remaining within polarization’s black and white arithmetic.

We have every precedent to return an act of violence with another. But isn’t this where our inheritance has brought us into the tightening grip of futility?

When so much is broken, if we are not to remain in denial or fall into despair, then why not take this moment’s clarity: that so much is broken, as an opportunity?

We hear of opportunity coupled with calamity and collapse and we immediately think of the shadiest forms of opportunism and abuse. This is only an apparent alternative if we remain mired in the assumptions that got us here. This is not the kind of opportunity that presents itself with any sincerity or with any actuality as an alternative.

Mired as we are in a tangle of confusion, of bankrupt institutions, of a catastrophically overdrawn account on this world’s ability to thrive; we remain within the attitudes that created this situation and brought us to this point. As hard as it is to let go of its remnants now, how much harder was it to have walked away from them before their bankruptcy and dangers were as obvious as they are today? This cold comfort is one of the few things we have going for us!

Tired of falling for the same traps over and over again?

A good place to start is to realize that the urge to itch for a fight is a great place to begin to learn to suspend our reactions and cultivate a capacity to remain within the question. This is at the heart of a quite simple and straightforward, and necessary, hygiene.

I use the term hygiene pointedly. Hygiene refers to habits developed and maintained regarding matters we accept as personal responsibilities to safeguard our own health by guarding those around us from possible infection. It is at the intersection of the private and the social. It is considered a fundamental minimum effort made to signify willingness and ability to be a part of society.

Each age, each culture, has tended to look at differences in hygienic practices of its predecessors or neighbors as signs of their inability to see the demands upon the individual within society clearly. Each age, each culture, congratulates itself on its own arrangements concerning hygiene.

A bankrupt culture such as our own needs to begin by questioning its assumptions around hygiene.

This is where these questions arrayed around the ways in which we deal with our own conditioning and the reactions it generates within us can be looked at most clearly. In our interactions we need to be able to adapt our expectations and conventions surrounding what is hygienic to include our need to be aware of and responsible for our emotional proprioception.

This amounts to a new form, as big a breakthrough as “germ theory.” It points out a mode for, and the vectors of, a type of infection that strikes at the very heart of our existence.

Looking at questions of violence in this way removes us from the hyperventilated dramas surrounding notions of “fate,” or “the human condition.” Recognizing an itch for a fight as a sign of a lack of personal hygiene takes all the steam out of our compulsions! It allows us to find a way to modify habits and interact within a hygienic condition that allows us to stay with the questions provoking our ire instead of jumping to fatally flawed conclusions.

Try this the next time someone “provokes you.”

“My emotional reactions are my own. No one ‘makes’ me angry but myself.”

“I am embarrassed for that person, that group!”

They are crippled by a lack of personal hygiene. Treating it as such changes my expectations of how I might respond. I am confronted with a new unknown.

“How will I respond?”

First I might ask,

“Is this confrontation necessary?”

“Really?”

If my answer is no,

“It’s not.” Then, I will avoid it.

“Most confrontations are neither necessary nor inevitable.”

I find that as with other questions of hygiene,

“Ostracism is a time-tested remedy for dealing with the unhygienic.”

If I cannot avoid confrontation, then I ask of myself,

“Let me maintain my own hygiene as I respond.”

As tempting as it is to get wrapped up in righteous indignation and feel justified in our desire to itch for a fight, how often does this justification hold up?

How often is there any question that remaining within the realm of conflict will only lead to futility?

Considering the depth and enormity of our plight, what are we ultimately risking by resisting these urges and suspending our reactions?

Our will is not the most important thing in the universe, no matter how much our Ego insists we believe this to be true!

Letting go of this habit liberates us and provides a space in which we can participate in what is available to us. We are given the gift of our own attention and of the present moment. We are freed of this compulsion to throw all of that away for the illusion of certainty in some future.

As “bargains” go, this one seems pretty straightforward. Unless you cannot resist that itch for a fight!

But let one thing be for certain. If you cannot show me your commitment to this hygiene then you have lost my trust.

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6 thoughts on “Itching for a Fight!

  1. Tony,

    I was tuning a guitar last night. It hadn’t been strung for a couple of years. It was quiet and inert for all that time. As I tensioned up the strings I realized that it slowly was coming to life. What was once a toneless wooden box slowly found itself and became musical once more. As I got it slowly up to a proper pitch, an idea came to me.

    Our lives NEED tension. It is absolutely necessary. If the proper tension is there we can find the harmonics, the magnitude, the frequency, the vibrancy, the nuance, the duration and the energy.

    With the proper tension, we can set our lives into a state of continual creativity. With thoughtful impetus, we can be the plectrum to bring our lives together wondrously, or be comfortable quietly alone in our thoughts and the music of our own heartbeats.

    John

  2. Many good points! I hope you will develop the idea of hygiene further; I am intrigued.

    “Let us remember that any polarity divides. No integration is ever achieved by remaining within polarization’s black and white arithmetic.”

    Here, I must point out that creativity often begins with division and polarity, as in Genesis where God begins by separating light from darkness (creating day and night), land from sea (creating a habitable earth), and so on. I think that wholeness/division is not a good/bad polarity but rather… both sides are necessary. Wholeness spawns division and division furthers wholeness.

    It is when false division is imposed by manipulation (as in “divide and conquer”) that it creates problems. Or so it seems to me at the moment. :-)

    • The essay is great. But I feel a little conceited saying this because from this particular ape’s vantage point it’s uncannily my own damn essay. It’s like running into a mirror. And finding this essay today is wonderfully apropos, because I’ve just been having a “debate” with some gun lovers in my hillbilly home town. I’m trying to make observations about the futility of any rebellion based on the Need for guns, based on the belief that “bad guys” are easily separated from the good ones. I’m just trying to point out the futility of looking at the world through cross-hair-tinged scopes. My friends think I’m advocating gun control, but I’m just making observations, not only because I’m extremely lazy and can’t bother with solutions, but because solutions are part of the problem. Gun control is useless, because it’s just another weapon. A weapon against weaponry. So it’s either reinforcing or at least symptomatic of the underlying division in consciousness that is war – the compulsion of the fight/flight reflex, and the futility of trying to flee or resist fight/flight. Humanity is puzzling itself to death over a Chinese puzzle toy, or whatever they’re called.

      It’s as if every move we make is on the same horizontal plane. We can’t seem to discover a movement that is at the still point — vertical. It’s beautiful to realize that the horizontal plane of effort (which is division, war) stretches infinitely. Every peacenik action is inevitably opposed to something – opposed to the “war mongers” for instance. And this unnoticed fight reflex (in creating an opposition) extends the tear in the fabric of the mind, which reinforces the belief in war. This Chinese torture puzzle is beautiful to behold. Because beholding it is the first vertical movement off the axis of reaction. To confront escape without escaping.

      It’s interesting that everything infinite is also limited. The horizontal plane of opposition may never end. We can continue opposing one another (itching for a fight) for ever and ever. There are always new ways of fighting and flying. History is always unique in its repetitiveness, having taken place almost exclusively on this plane.

      We get lost in the content of our solutions, images, goals, knowledge (which are stuck in past/future), and lose sight of the physical movement of fight/flight now. For all the reasons you so clearly outlined. And just as in a Chinese torture puzzle, there is no way out of this trap other than in noticing the futility of the movement. Then a change occurs in our understanding. And that’s something vertical – a movement arising without force, a change in mind arising when one doesn’t move from the fact (into fight/flight).

      I’ll be reading!

      • Thanks for this!

        Yes, the Chinese Finger Trap, I think that’s what you’re alluding to. It’s an excellent example of this sort of conceptual trap of binary vision. And also a great example of how we escape it by “doing no-thing!”

  3. You’ve got a new reader not only in me, but in a small community of family, friends and acquaintances who have been pondering all this together in various ways for many years now — because I’ve been spreading news of your site. It’s like hitting the mother lode. Comically enough I’ve recently discovered Terence Mckenna, not so much for the wisdom, which is hit and miss, but for the poetry of his speech. So it’s influenced me to imagine mycelial strands of dialogue and pondering (more like humble pie, recognizing the error of the moment) winding their way across the substrate of the planet, meeting and suggesting the potential of a fruiting body. But agin, it’s more humble than, perhaps, than so flowerly. Alright, I’m going to stop blabbering and start reading.

    • I’m so glad you’re finding worth here! And also that you take the time to comment.

      I agree, there are mycelial threads of dialogue taking place. The hard part is finding the connections. Mycelial is an apt metaphor since this too seems to happen out of sight.

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