Amid acts of terrorism being played out on a global scale it’s overwhelming for us all, this sorting out of position, of beliefs, or the assignation of blame since that’s often the knee-jerk reaction. As we consider how we should, or shouldn’t respond in defence from our living room foxholes, or as we watch how nations are reacting with the righteous plan they think will stop terror in its tracks, the sickening possibilities that loom large for the future can serve to fan the flames of our fear even more. We can easily get swept up in the what to do when what is most effective might well be something quite different from what’s been our norm, and what feels familiar.
Unwittingly, we’re shadow boxing with broken boogiemen, ones we continue to empower in our own minds. Our fear of them is gasoline in their tanks.
To get a feel for what to do about this age-old, them-versus-us pattern of terror, we might take a more refined look at the brush-ups we have with the terrorists we actually do know – the ones bobbing and weaving about in our own lives.
Admittedly, I’m not talking about the torso-taped bomb packers of the news-feed, nothing and no one that violent – just that random-seeming smattering of folks, harbingers of negative emotion that on some level seem to have the ability to terrorize our sense of well-being during the times our paths have to cross. Any negative emotion that’s evoked by these encounters has fear at its root and we can learn how to respond from a more conscious place when fear in its cavalcade of forms comes up, as it invariably does. On a really good day, we could even own our own stuff. And on an even better day we could realize that those who refuse to own their own are just notifying us like sand in the underwear of our lives, that we still have some work to do. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be so bugged by their stuff.
The terrorists we know aren’t the people we have small differences with here and there, especially if the goal is to work things out, no matter what. I’m talking about being up against the wall of the particular kind of terrorist cellular energy that is fundamentally impervious to the idea of healing anything, let alone is it inspired to find a workable solution. The energy at play appears impermeable, unable to be persuaded by reason, and it’s tough with a non-stick finish. It’s essence smacks of agenda-filled sidewinder ready to strike, protective of anything resembling vulnerability because that’s seen as weakness, a trait deathly feared by the weak. The one dimension that does beam unfalteringly although not brightly from these, our terrifying life enigmas, is righteousness and righteous indignation. Indignation here is prized as an achievement and maintaining the coveted state is guaranteed by fixating myopically on a view. That is, properly monitoring the fowl narrative of the thing being fixated on, those heavily armoured ducks lined up in a row so that in their immobility what once were wings, atrophy.
When there’s no talking it out, the only decent option is to disengage. We can walk off the battlefield because that makes us less fun to play with. Actually, it makes us no fun to play with at all.
When what’s being threatened isn’t life or death in the terrorists-we-know realm, their antics murder our joy slowly if we let them, while their suicide mission snuffs their own potential for joy too, just like it does for the more odious headline-makers. The thing that seems to have a life force of its own during these uncomfortable encounters is what’s jarred awake when the terrorists we know’s wounds bump up against our own. No matter how dedicated our practice of consciousness awakening, we can be sent hurtling back to square one on the awareness-o-meter as soon as any titration of negativity darkens our door.
Yet by practicing the posture of disengagement during times where we’re small-scale irritated, we develop the muscle to work the tool that lets the air out of terrorism’s tires once and for all. In this new posture of disengagement, we starve the ravenous psyche that longs for us to be off-centre and hungry for revenge, things on which terrorism’s existence depends. Most of us can never quite get enough practice at being non-reactionary. It’s not that we wouldn’t deeply mourn more senseless loss and more futility if it’s perpetuated, it’s that we’d be stopping in its tracks the vampire energy that follows – the one forever demanding more blood.
We hear the word fundamentalists used all the time for the personality types that gravitate to terrorist ideology. But if one extends the term, fundamentalism, to describe those impenetrable at a given point in time, sometimes terminally, to thinking any other way than the way they do, it’s more accurate. Fundamentalist behaviour is closed to possibility. It has no questions. It has only one perceived answer and running the audio of that one answer is an obsession. There’s a nervous tick that comes with its peculiar fixation and that’s all that it talks about. We don’t realize that along with terrorizing, the terrorist is also terrified and of course, no good can come from that, ever.
I’m calling fundamentalism, it, because of course, it’s not who we really are.
There’s no way to open a door that fundamentalism of any kind has taken great care to dead bolt and throw away the key. Be it a powder keg aunt around the perennial holiday table, or Shalah Abdeslam, the young man alleged to have played a key terrorist role in Paris recently – in the unlikely parallel between these potently different energies lies striking similarities. Buried within the similarities is the one tactic that quiets the acting out of the fundamentally wounded. In disengaging from the form of madness on which terrorism feeds, we deprive it of our attention, which it needs to survive. The need to retaliate then becomes an unnecessary case of over-kill. Seems simple enough, but apparently it’s not if you reflect on go-to counter-terrorism methods of the past which have always been about retaliation.
Disengaging just might be the one radical idea for which we’ve all been waiting.
There is no energy that can be wisely spent trying to shift what ‘they’ are doing, or saying, or how they are acting out, no matter how heinous. There’s no bombing of terrorist targets that won’t serve to simply scatter terrorist energy into its age-old survivalist caves like the re-emerging cockroach has taught us it will do after anything apocalyptic. There’s no safety to be found from withholding kindness and our humanity from innocent refugees, refusing them entry into our countries because our discernment between good and evil is so severely compromised by our own biases. There is no figuring it out, except to say that it’s wounded behaviour, it’s unconscious in its approach, and the complexity of how it came to be embedded in the first place is ancient and perplexing. And our role – our lack of balanced historical perspective and general ignorance, and our avoidance of taking any kind of responsibility, or attempting to understand why terrorism of any kind exists – well, there’s too much bog through which to conceivably wade towards what looks like sense on the other side. Terrorism is like an out of control two-year old. You can’t talk to a little one who’s lost it. What’s being called for is a global time-out.
Since we cannot sift through fundamentally impossible stories to deconstruct – ones shrouded in secret agendas and power plays beyond most of our abilities to imagine, disengaging from buying into the fear of terrorist acts both home and abroad seems prudent. The thing that keeps terrorism alive is our never-ending need to set perceived wrongs right as if we ever could when really, our only job is to recalibrate our misconceptions. It’s through disengaging from the cyclone that we will move towards re-engaging with calm rationality in the future. At least with this kind of response, we set up the possibility that saner heads will one day prevail. As it is we’re perpetual motion machines – the same results spat out time and time again – ones we insanely think will somehow be different from the last time. You’d think we’d learn, since we’re so fond of ‘evidence-based practice’, but alas the penny hasn’t yet dropped. We keep forgetting and some of us are yet to realize at all, that what we put our attention to grows. Relentless media posturing and opining about next steps to take in the war on terrorism is an energy expense that puts us over budget. It’s an expense we can no longer afford, not that we ever could.
I was on the subway once when an unkempt, wild-eyed man with an explosive grey mane erupting from the collar of his crumpled overcoat took a seat nearby. He had several Loblaws bags brimming with rather aromatic belongings to which he clung like they were prized Louis Vuittons. I glanced in his direction, empath’s smile at the ready, yet when our energies met he yelled, “Loblaws! No way!” I instinctively buried my face in my book, avoiding eye contact. He ranted rather concerningly about his views on Loblaws, the entire time at top decibel. There was nothing of the terrorist in him, admittedly, but I was wary just the same. Engaging with him in that state would not have been helpful. Sometimes you just naturally know what you have to do when nobody’s listening at the moment. You have to disengage.