AN ESSAY ON VIOLENCE BECOMES AN ESSAY ON LOVE

Where does violence come from? What is its origin? Is the origin of violence outside of the human mind or inside of the human mind? Does your answer to this question imply that you believe in a god? If you believe that violence begins somewhere beyond the people you see and the shapes of the things they make, do you propose a law that controls the beyond? A god-control law? A beyond-control law?

A beyond-god’s-control law?

I know where I think violence comes from: I think it comes from me. I think it also comes from you. I think it comes from us all. Where do we come from? We come from each other.

I want to see beyond the view “innocence” restricts us to. Yes we are innocent in that not one of us is alive because we chose to be born–someone else chose for us, or didn’t choose and ended up with us, or tried to prevent us and failed. So here we are, the results of successes and failures and choices and accidents. We make more of each other in the ways we ourselves were made.

If we could start to see ourselves as gods….sounds overwrought, maybe. It sounds so to me. But just as wrought might be the fact that I am basically going to repeat “If we could start to see ourselves as gods” in 35 more ways. If you can already see yourself this way, and you are able through ordinary experience, without entrancing yourself or trying to create anything special, to feel how it must be to want to kill 20 children, and then to kill 20 children, and you are not destroyed by this feeling–if it leads you to love and compassion for the immense suffering of one who feels this way–then please, stop reading and start teaching us to love.

We are all capable of killing and of creating. We do both as long as we live.

We are the only measures of “good” and “bad”. They are concepts and we have created them. We teach them to our children and they teach their children. We make more of each other in the ways we ourselves were made.

This seems basic, maybe. And I agree that preventing ourselves from buying weapons will restrict us to different sorts of violence. But preventing ourselves from buying weapons is not doing anything to the origin of violence. The origin of violence is with each of us from moment to moment in the ways we think about the most ordinary things.

Resisting what we don’t like and going after what we do–these are the basic things we do and these are the beginnings of violence.

I think that as soon as I start to believe that I am right in resisting something, and right in pursuing something, I am becoming violent.

Violence begins with belief.

What does it mean to believe in something? I think about this a lot. To believe in something might mean that you are willing to trust it. You might even be willing to go on trusting it when you find out that other people don’t trust it. The object of your belief is trustworthy to you and untrustworthy to other people. Maybe you stop believing in the people who don’t trust the object of your belief. Doing so might make it easier for you to believe in your belief.

What is the origin of belief? Where is it? Is it some far-off glistening? Is it where you will snow after you’ve been released from your body? Is it where truth/beauty/goodness accumulate? Is it something I conflate?

When I have looked for the origin of my beliefs, all I have been able to find are what I look with, my senses. Sight touch hearing taste touch and thought. (I think that thought is the mind sensing.)

(“I think that thought” — the mind sensing itself.)

Here is a possible original belief: a tickle in my throat. I begin to feel the tickle, and it seems that as soon as I begin to feel something, I begin to think about what I am feeling. I think about the tickling, and my attention shifts from the tickling to thinking about the tickling. No longer just feeling the tickling, I’m conceptualizing it–I think, I am getting sick. Sickness is a concept. I begin reacting to the concept of sickness. I remember other times I have been sick–my body remembers them and can still feel them. Instead of the tickle in my throat, I’m soon feeling sick. I am feeling a concept, which is to say this: I am thinking.

For some reason I don’t call in to work to say, “I am thinking today.”

(I go to the doctor and have her put a stick down my throat and scrape my throat with the stick and take what she’s scraped to a dish where she feeds what she has scraped in order to encourage more of it. More of what she’s scraped grows and now she can see it when she looks at it through a microscope. There is what she sees–the shapes and colors of little things–and then there are the concepts she has learned for what she sees. The shapes have a name: β-hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria. It has a known place in the doctor’s panoply of concepts. This makes her job a little bit easier. Imagine if there were yet no name for the little things my doctor scraped from my throat. Would I still be able to believe I was sick? I would have to “undergo tests,” probably, and one outcome of these might be to tell me what to believe.)

A belief originates as something sensed–a feeling. The feeling originates in the long span before the feeling–as far back as you want to trace existence.

“I am sick,” I tell a friend, believing what I am saying. This belief, I am sick–I want to trace it back to its beginning. So I sit down. I am like a detective who sits. This detective who I am like sits and tries to notice this sitting. What does sitting feel like? Sitting feels like my body right now, doing what I am doing. I feel pressure on my back and bottom, slight pressure in my feet where they are touching the rug. If I am also sick at the same time as I am focused on feeling what sitting is like, does being sick feel like sitting? While I am focused on feeling what sitting is like, am I still sick? Should I call my friend back and say, “I’m not sick anymore, I’m sitting”?

When I am not feeling what being sick is like, where is my sickness?

(This is getting into “if a tree falls in the forest” territory, but please bear with me. I need to see how violence comes from me):

When I am not feeling what being sick is like, when my focus is solely on the feelings in my body associated with sitting, including the concept of sitting (my mind can’t help but think, from time to time, I am sitting, and this thought is my mind’s way of sensing what’s happening)–when I am not feeling sick, I am not sick. In other words, I am not bothered by the concept “sick”.

(No longer being bothered by something that had been bothering me–to me this seems like a good measure of health.)

Now that I have investigated sitting, I am like a detective who says, “Now that I have investigated sitting, let me investigate being sick.” So I do something to make my focus shift. It is like a maneuver in a dance or tai chi–a little mental gesture that performs “shifting focus”. And I feel this shift–it is a feeling in my mind. My focus shifts, and I am like a detective who says, “Now, what does being sick feel like?”

I move my attention through my body. Attention–it is a concept, it is linked with a feeling. You might try noticing with your own body what attention feels like. Maybe like a tingling in the place where you place your attention; or maybe you feel currents of air there, or your clothing against that place. Or you feel pressure where that part of your body is touching another person’s body or your chair. Attention is energy that lets you inhabit its object. And it’s also possible to inhabit attention itself–to just abide in the energy that moves according to what stimulates it.

Doing this, I quickly notice that I have no control over what catches my attention. The fridge clicks on and my attention goes to it. Then there’s a car honking outside and my attention shifts to it. Then a pain in my knee–there goes my attention. Then my phone buzzes; my attention shifts. The only thing I can control here is whether I resist whatever has captured my attention or pursue more of the feeling it gives me by trying to encourage it–something I have no control over–to keep happening. Trying to control what I have no control over quickly begins to feel frustrating.

Trying to control what you have no control over might frustrate you. If you get frustrated enough, you might get angry. If you get angry enough, violent.

Still being like a detective who says, “What does being sick feel like?” I move my attention through my body, looking for evidence of being sick. (Why don’t I look for evidence of being sick in the sounds I hear in my apartment? Why not the refrigerator’s click to tell me I am sick? Why not the tapping in the heater? Why not the sounds of my neighbors? Their muffled thumps could be indicating my condition. Or the colors of the clutter on my desk, or the way I can only see parts of things at a time, not the entirety all at once–isn’t this a sickness? But it seems that being confined to one place at one time has so far not entered into the definition of sickness. Somewhere I learned that sickness is an internal condition of a body, and so I search the one I feel inextricably connected with for sickness.)

When my attention gets to my throat, I feel that tickle again. It, I remember, was what I felt before I told my friend, “I am sick”; before I even believed I am sick. This tickle–this is it. It is a feeling, I can locate it, and I can, with my attention, touch its boundaries. I can feel that it does not extend into my head or into my stomach; my shoulders don’t tickle either. The feeling has maybe changed somewhat since I first noticed it, but it is still recognizable as the feeling that first encouraged me to believe I am sick.

I also notice that I have no control over this tickle. When my attention is on it, there is nothing I can do to make it go away. Trying to make it go away only frustrates me. (Maybe this is why I have named it “being sick”.) The concept is a way of acknowledging that I have no control over a process happening in my body. And part of the process named “being sick” is naming the process. It is like I have no control over whether I name what is happening in my body “being sick”. Just as soon as I have the physical feeling of the tickle, I have the mental feeling, I am sick. This is to say that feeling and naming (which I am treating as synonymous with conceptualizing) are part of the same process. And I mostly have no control over this process. Having learned a language, I am complicit in it.

(I think it would be useful to include frustration in our definition of sickness–that first feeling of “something isn’t right, I don’t like the way this is going, I’m not okay” should be a signal we respect since this feeling–I’m not alright–is what leads to so much suffering and violence (and buying). When I begin to feel that something is not right and I start to feel threatened, I should be able to say, “I am sick.” My mind is not at ease. My mind is dis-eased. It would sure be nice if we could respect this condition enough not to try to make it go away with drugs and distractions. It would be nice if we could all just sit down and say, “Why the hell do I feel like this?” and really, lovingly, look and see how our minds are doing.)

For the most part I have no control over the process that unfolds once one of my senses feels something. But what I can control in this process–this is what pertains to violence and the end of violence.

What I can choose is my reaction. I can learn to choose whether I resist or whether I go after more of what I feel. (I can learn this by just noticing my reactions–how they really feel and what they really lead to.) I can learn to choose whether I cut someone off in order to get the green light. I can learn to choose whether I push someone out of my way in order to get more of my way. I can learn to choose whether, when I notice that I’m feeling something I really don’t want to feel, I pull back into my inner dungeon, the place where I have stacked all sorts of mental distractions, loops of looped ideas, reruns of indulgences, images of past satisfactions, which dull my senses somewhat, and make me feel–not really okay, but as if I can control what I am feeling.

My dark little ineffectual command center of non-feeling. From there, from within its dullness, from where I resist what I can’t control, comes violence.

Violence also comes from wanting more of a feeling. Something tastes really good so I make little arrangements to have more of it, as much as I want, whenever I want it. People become instruments in my arrangements–they help me get more of what I want or they hinder my getting, so I have to arrange to make them go away. This maybe sounds simplistic, but try noticing what your mind is like when it’s gripped by wanting–notice whether it’s as simple as this.

Notice how simple it can get. We are all capable of this.

What takes some effort, at least for me, is being able to feel compassion for my own discomfort without hiding from it. Without trying to slide, via little mental dance moves, toward my inner dungeon. Or outwardly taking action to end whatever it is I believe is causing me to feel what I don’t want to feel.

(When really my mind is the only cause of my comfort and my discomfort.)

To abide in loneliness, sadness, physical pain, anger, resentment, frustration, with just as much ease and loving grace as I abide in happiness, ecstasy, comfort, love–I think love is the most difficult work of life and the most necessary.