Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"What is this thing you call..."

Started this post on the way back from Tim's funeral. Time to end it now.

It will be three days on the road in a few hours. Everyone is sleep-deprived, not because of travel but because every time we settle down, we start talking and we don't stop.

Edwin put something into words. He studies systems, among other things, and is very good about making sure we define terms. So what is self-defense?

I like T. Rose's definition: "Self defense is not having your life changed for you." It implies a lot of things, like that there can be emotional and identity damage as well as physical harm. That on many levels we are not defending ourselves from physical damage and thus few people call a seat belt self-defense but everyone recognizes boundary setting as a basic self-defense skill.

But that is totally wrong. Our self changes all the time and has all of our lives.
We are, I hope, constantly learning. But all new knowledge changes you slightly. I type shittier when I'm tired and really don't care much about humans when I'm dehydrated. Puberty changed you far more than a near-death experience will. This thing we call 'self' doesn't have a solid existence. It is, at best, a fluidity.

One of the frustrating things with naive martial artists is that when you boil it down, they want to be able to survive something completely outside of their experience, an incident where all of their preconceptions about human behavior and what they will do if and when will be shattered. They don't only want to survive the ohnomoment, but they expect that they will survive it with all of their illusions intact. All of their beliefs confirmed. That at the end of it, they will be who they always imagined they would be.

Sure. That happens. (Do I need a sarcasm icon?) And the even weirder part is that no matter how many times people say it won't be like that or that the things they fantasize at the best are more like driving a garbage truck than riding a white horse (at the worse they toy with blindness and paralysis and death and colostomy bags and the sure and certain knowledge of failure)... it doesn't matter. Their eyes still get shiny. They still cling to comforting lies.

But it's not just comforting lies about their skills. Who we are is rarely more than a comforting lie. There's a meditation exercise where you think of who you are and then take things away and ask if you are still you. Blind? Crippled? Loss of family or status? How much intelligence loss? Memory? (that's the one for me, I don't think I would be me under extreme dementia, but then I look at all the events of my life that I have already forgotten and wonder...) Your dignity? Happiness? If the gods decided on a bet to torment you so that you never had a happy moment again, it would still be you being miserable. If your pain was taken away?

So where is the 'self' in self-defense?

The ego is just as much of the self as the body, maybe more. Yet like everyone else, I caution against fighting for ego. Probably because it is just an illusion anyway. Maybe. Maybe because all of the changes of life can be managed, can be recovered, if you are alive to do it. You die with your self-image intact, then that self-image fades to nothing as the oxygen leaves your brain. You survive with your self-image shattered and you have the opportunity to build a new one.


Anonymous said...

I've been looking at "game theory" lately. I think that is where we all really operate, we look out for number 1 all the time, even when we kid ourselves that we are looking out for others, it's just a buzz that we get from thinking we are looking out for others..."self" is a funny thing as well, I used to wonder about that a lot, I don't now I just get on with it, if I enjoy stuff I do it and don't question.....one of the cleverest men I knew died of brain cancer, his father and mother who idolised him had to look after him in his final days as his wife cheated on him with another guy, she liked his gold credit cards.but not the dieing scientist....heck if you want to look for sadness you can find it anywhere..........karma, bad life choices .....who knows?

Charles James said...

We all go to the negative naturally. It is a part of our survival instincts.

So are the "stories." We do that cause life is hard and reality bites so we make up illusions that make us feel safe and comfortable.

Isn't this part of what we try to do in practice if we truly want to learn it, take the time to see past our illusions and accept our frailty, our prejudices, all the crap that causes us pain and suffering?

I still don't know for sure but I just had to ask the question.

Maija said...

Humans are relational creatures - not just with other humans, but with everything. Self means nothing if there is no 'outside', or 'other' that one can relate to.
If you relate with some spooky shit in your life, or live a life of soul crushing tedium, it will change you, no doubt about it, but most of us remain recognizably 'ourselves', if we can regain our equilibrium with our environment - people, core values, identity etc. It is in those relationships that we feel differences in ourselves, and others see change in us.
Now, memory is the accumulation of past experiences - relational experiences, so it would make sense that losing memory would change 'self' profoundly - especially from the view point of those that also partook in the same memories.
The people that I have personally known that have become truly 'different people', all had brain damage, either through dementia, stroke, drugs or accident. They were not the same people they were before, at least in relationship to me - not sure what it seemed like to them looking out ....
So perhaps 'self defense' is the defense of the anchor, or perhaps better, the rudder that steers us on our path through duality ..?
I sense a relationship with a moral and ethical code somewhere here too ...

Mac said...

The root of our 'selves' exist between the last moment of a dream and the first moment before you realize 'you' are awake. This 'seat of the self' is different from the 'point of self-perception.' The former is fixed, the latter fluid, developing, a process, affected by the world. The 'seated self' is genetic and determines with which brain (rational, emotional or survival) we are most likely to process internal and external input from. The 'fluid' self has two components: upbringing (nuture) and self-decision. Nuture can support or warp the seated self and that affects the decisions we make in life and whether those decisions lead to success, failure or something in between.

Nick Lo said...

I thought I'd already posted this comment but it seems to have disappeared so if I'm double posting please delete one or the other.

Somewhat off the topic of this post, but I have to recommended, as a compliment to your writing Rory, a book I found in a reduced price pile in a local bookstore (ie I don't work for the publisher or anything): The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why.

It echoed similar psychological and physiological reactions to disasters to those mentioned in your writing. It also discusses the advantages of similar preparation such as being aware of the freeze, combat breathing, scenario training, etc. Worth a read and if anyone has read it I'd be interested in any thoughts.

Josh Kruschke said...

I would do this thing when I was young and in school where I would try to remember what it was like before I new a thing.
Say I learned the deference between an acid and a base. I would try to remember what it was like before I new it. When I didn't even know I didn't know it. I would wonder if I was still the me of then. I new I wasn't and that the only way to stay the me of now was to never learn.
So this led my to wonder who I would be the next time I learned something, and I've been on a journey to meet this person ever-since.

Josh Kruschke said...

I also remember have a conversation with my dad and asking him how old he was, and he in formed me he was 36. I thought wow what would it he like when I was that old.

I just realized I now know as I'm 37.

Hmmm... not quite what I imagined.

Master Plan said...

Huh. And here I'd been thinking about this recently from the other angle. Wondering if...
Self-defense = protecting yourself from violent assault and\or other criminal victimization, is a solved problem.

'Tween you, Marc, Bill, Peyton, and a few of the other notable authors\thinkers out there is there really much left to cover as far as the basics of it go?

If it's expanded to include mental anguish and such...then it gets real broad, but still seems almost solved. To me at least.

Or are there situations or examples of "self-defense" (in any context) where there are no currently known workable solutions?

Jeff said...

Great post. Only thing I can say for sure is that as myself, my friends, and my parents grow older, I am less sure what constitutes "self". Rory talks often of the story bubble getting popped after a violent encounter-mine just keeps slowly unraveling

Kai Jones said...

What if your self, or some aspect of it, isn't worth defending? I change my self with intent all the time.

"Self-defense" is, I think, shorthand for defense of agency. I want to pretend that I am the only one with the power to change myself.

I know, I know--too metaphysical, not aimed at MA. :)

Josh Kruschke said...

I think it's how we deal with what life drops on us that determines if we are a victim or survivor. Yes, we will be changed, but will it be for the worse or better?


Kasey said...

"SELF" defense, meaning defending who I think I am. Wow, great blog. I got into a "debate" with some people over training tactics on the internet recently. With out tooting my own horn I rutinely face high risk violent situations in my job. I have become accostumed to it. So I was amazed when I was having an adrenal response to what the people were writting. Just writting not pointing guns at me. Afterward I realized with their writting they were "attacking" who I like to think I am. The persona I have built and work hard to maintain. I am not accustomed to that type of "attack" and my body responded like I was facing a threat to my physical well being....weird

Today I am working on 3 hours sleep. I'm sure the me that I am today is just a joy to be around (where did that sarcasim icon go?)

Flinthart said...

On the topic of memory: if by chance you haven't seen the film 'Memento' (Director Christopher Nolan, Guy Pearce in the lead role) then you certainly ought to. I won't go into it too much, because I'd guess you've seen it already. But if you haven't -- Memento is one of the most interesting investigations into the nature of memory and identity that I've ever seen. And a very good movie as a result.