Fight or Flight

Hawaiian Fern

 

For eons, the human organism has been honed and perfected to respond effectively and appropriately to any perceived sense of threat or attack. In modern language, this effective and appropriate response is called the ‘fight or flight response.’ In lay terms, this means that when we feel threatened or attacked, our first line of defense is generally to either fight back, or run. We have likely experienced this at some time in our lives. Our fight response, however, may be hampered by the conditioning of our upbringing and our society. Having been taught that fighting is wrong, we may get frustrated, angry or irritable. We may fight in subtle ways such as passive aggressive behaviors or in not so subtle ways by throwing out language meant to hurt and harm the other person. There can be many ways to fight back. The flight response is often more common, safer, and many times considered the wiser. When a child is bullied in school, prevailing wisdom suggests the child leave, which is, essentially, the flight response.

The fight or flight response can happen quickly. But, there is another initial and very immediate response which is a precursor to the fight or flight response and that is the freeze response. At the very instant of a perceived threat or attack, there is a moment, or sometimes longer, in which we are frozen; in a mild and temporary state of shock. Like the proverbial deer in the headlights, we are immobilized. It is only after that initial freezing of thought and action that we then take up the fight or flight response. It is during the transition from this momentary freezing to the fight or flight response that we decide which course of action to take, either to fight back, in any number of ways, overtly or covertly, or to escape, to run, to flee, to take flight. During that ever so brief moment of decision making, a tremendous amount of calculation takes place. A complex set of equations and cost benefit analysis takes place determining which course of action would yield the most useful and productive result given the resources and capacities available at the time.

Fight or flight is a rather primitive response to a perceived threat or attack. Its effectiveness, however, cannot be argued since that very response has served to perpetuate the species through all kinds of dangers through the ages. There is another, more advanced, more evolved, response to a perceived, or actual, threat or attack, called Fusion. Fusion is actually the de-fusing of a threat or an attack by joining forces with it, by united with it, by fusing with it. One of the key ingredients in a perceived threat or attack is opposing forces. There must be an attacker and a victim, a hunter and prey. But, what if the victim vanishes, or the prey becomes invisible? What if the bully all of a sudden finds there is nobody there? This becomes kin to the Zen koan ‘what is the hand of one hand clapping?’ If there could be a way of eliminating this perceived sense of opposition, of duality, of conflict, then any sense of threat or attack would evaporate like ice turning into steam and merging with atmosphere.

The critical factor in fusion is perception. If, as is often said, perception is reality, then fusion comes about by the perception of a reality in which the self is not at all threatened. And, the question then must arise, what is the self that it can, or cannot, itself, be threatened. It is the asking, and answering, of this question which makes fusion a more advanced, more evolved, response to a perceived threat or attack. It requires an understanding of self as a conception, a fabrication, a mental construct, with not substantial foundation. The self is built up entirely through interactions and has no independent status it can call its own. And, that which has no independent status, that which requires interaction and relationship for its very basis, cannot be threatened or attacked, no more than interaction and relationship in general can be destroyed. Granted, this is a somewhat philosophical, metaphysical and, perhaps even spiritual, orientation. But, then so is fusion as a response to a perceived threat or attack. And, how does one apply this response? Poets and mystics have expressed the idea often…..though simplicity itself, perhaps the most difficult to achieve…the being at one with the situation, the merging of the individual with the whole, the surrender of the self to the universal…..the fusion of the I into the We.

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