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?”
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.