Witches, Priests, and Everyday Spirituality

27 Sep 2021

This was written more than a year ago.

Today I’m thinking about childbirth, and fighting. There is something fundamental about these things, I think, to mammals at large, if not all, creatures. And in humans, this seems to be mostly but not entirely divided by sex. There is something fundamental about childbirth, to a woman. And there is something fundamental about fighting to most men. You can see how the preferences are revealed, with things in the digital realm. Because with games like computer games, for instance, the preferences are not as tied, or you would think they’re not as tied to the physical capacity of the body. So why were the early years of gaming (which focused on conflict based games) dominated by males? And why did the girls of that time and women prefer games that, say involved farming and relationships like in Harvest Moon, or you know, something like the Sims, which is a bit of a life simulator. I do think that it does have to do with some sort of difference- in terms of function.

I was reading on Twitter, about- a meditation expert- I would call her an expert on spirituality and meditation in general, about how after she had her baby (which was very recently), that the entire point of meditation seemed lost. Like, the prioritization, I think, that comes from having a child makes everything clear. So you don’t need to impose clarity on yourself with meditation. This is, in some sense, what she was born to do. The idea of detachment itself becomes perhaps kind of filthy. Those are not her words. Those are my impressions of what it may feel like. But the very idea of detaching from your child I’m sure is horrible to a mother. And if you’re trying to detach from everything in the way that it is commonly understood, in regards to meditation, then maybe meditation is kind of silly for a mom. However, I actually think that there’s something similar for men in fighting. When you’re in a fight, things are very clear. You know, there’s only really one goal, and that is to impose your will, on whoever you’re fighting, and to stop them from imposing their will on yours. This gets caught up in a lot of complication but at the end of the day, I think for a dude, there’s nothing more clear than when you’re being punched. You know what to do. You know what your goals are.
When I was in the military, I spent a lot of time on watch. And when you’re on watch, you’re just standing there, walking around, maybe lying down from time to time, in the prone position, not sleeping. But you know, watching. Of course, I would sleep sometimes, If anyone ever found out you were sleeping, you’d be in trouble. In a combat environment, you never want to do that. But the point is, you’re spending a lot of time seemingly doing nothing. And I actually think that it was very similar to meditation and indirectly set me on my path toward meditation. But why do you need to meditate, if you’re in a setting, where you have a clear job to do, and that job looks like a lot of doing nothing, you know, in the same way that with monks, they’re trying to do nothing when they’re sitting. To build that discipline. Here, you have a sort of a discipline, that’s very clear. You’re watching for the enemy, we’re watching for changes in the environment that will change the battlespace and that- and that encourages processes that look very similar to meditation.

Ultimately, I’d call meditation attention play. Various forms of playing with attention and attention control. That makes that part very easy. You have one goal: keep track of where you are, look out for the enemy, look out for changes in the environment that will change where you are in relation to the enemy, and where the enemy is in relation to you. This is, I think, something that comes more naturally to males. You can expend that energy, just looking, just watching, just waiting. But it’s not for some higher spiritual purpose, necessarily. It is for the purpose of knowing when to ambush your enemy, when to attack, when not to get ambushed and when not to be attacked. And so I think there’s a similarity there, with childbirth, where everything becomes really clear. Where now you know what your world is about, and it is about this child. About your son, about your daughter, about their survival.

So here’s the thing about detachment, that I think pure meditators- what I call pure meditators, people who go at meditation for the sake of spiritual enlightenment and so on, in a Western context. I think they actually misunderstand what is meant by detachment. There is this feeling- and I had this actually with stoicism when I was younger- there is this feeling that detachment meant that you are no longer caring unnecessarily about the thing. That it’s not just the outcomes that you don’t care about. That you don’t care about what happens. But I don’t think that’s true.

Definitely, from the perspective of fighting, when you are up against someone, it’s not that you don’t care what’s happening to your foot or your toe, you care very deeply, what’s happening to your foot or your toe or your wrist, your pectoral muscle when someone is choking you, it’s just that you have a priority. And that priority means that you are keeping everything in its place. If this sounds familiar, it should because it’s from Plato. Justice, right? We think of justice now as some sort of punitive thing like a punishment, like setting things right with the world. But I think the original, or at least the oldest version of justice is balance. It’s this unity among all the parts in a whole. And to have that unity, you can’t be attached to any single part.

If I was too attached to what happened to my ankle, I might leave my neck open. If I’m too attached to what is happening to my neck, I might leave the space below my armpits open. This is how someone hooks under your arms. If someone gets underhooks, if someone gets that area, it’s a lot easier to control you. So what I do, a lot of times when I’m grappling, is I actually give up my neck. Knowing that the focus, the fixation on getting my neck, on choking me, will make my opponent ignore what I’m doing with that space underneath my armpits, which usually I’m going to clear their hands from that area, their arms. And that gives me freedom of movement. But I can’t do that if I’m overly attached to what’s happening to my neck. I couldn’t do that if I was overly attached to what’s happening to my ankle.

Similarly, in the military, in a unit, if you are overly attached to any of your men, or any of the people in your unit, you might favor them for certain things and not favor them for other things in such a way that the rest of the people in your unit do not believe you care about them. And a fundamental way to get people focused on a purpose, even in the case of a clear purpose, like the military has, in terms of, of you know, it’s just finding the other person. That’s as clear as it gets. You need to make sure that your entire unit is cared for. And the only way you do that is by detaching from any single specific person, so that the whole is favored over the parts. And I think this is sort of well-known explicitly, but like many things that are explicitly known, it is often lost in feeling right? The distance between when I begin to think a thought symbolically, like- an example is believing in hard determinism- that there is no free will, as such, and feeling it right in my gut. That distance is sometimes years, decades, months, and so on.

So I feel like people have not incorporated the fact that detachment- detachment does not mean not caring, it means caring deeply about everything, instead of caring specifically about one thing.

And that’s really clear in fighting. I’m guessing that when you are a mother, it is specifically about a few things- your children. And that intensity is only balanced by the fact that possibly women (to begin with) care about everything at once, I think, or find it easier to care about everything at once more than men do.

Which is why you get a lot of men who have specific hobbies, or have specialties in very microscopic fields. Math being the classic example. If you’re focused on math for all your life, you’re generally not paying attention to all the people around you. Not to say that there aren’t mathematicians who do that, and sure some of the best mathematicians do, and so on. But there’s still a sort of narrowed, selective attention that I think comes more easily to males. So perhaps, what having a child does, is, it gives mothers that extra boost of selective attention, but it is centered on the child. And I’m sure that the same goes for men. When they have a child, though, perhaps not as strongly.

Ultimately, with both those things, there is a relationship to the world that is brought to a razor sharp focus, that I think would not be there without them. Without childbirth or fighting, you may need to put a lot of effort to build a strong, purposeful relationship with the world. And to do that, you might go to all these meditation classes and make everything about meditation and so on. But because everything is interdependent, that kind of focus can come from focusing on anything. Though, that anything might be specific to each specific person. So that for you, you might focus on cars. And if you focus on cars enough, you can see the entire world through the frame, through the lens, through the map, of cars.

Childbirth and fighting are very rich spaces for this. Being a mother, or being a fighter exposes you to more of the environment, perhaps through that specific relationship you have either with being a mother or being a fighter, to the rest of the environment, and gives you that focus that you might need a monastery or, you know, five retreats a year, to get if you did not have that- that specific relationship with either being a mom or being a fighter.

When I look at status, the status of people with themselves and the rest of the world, it does also seem like historically, and in most cultures, there is something Other about being a woman who does not have children or being a man who does not fight. You know, from the latter, we get our priests, and from the former we get our witches, right, which are valuable parts of society, but Others nonetheless. You know, in the same way that a goalkeeper in a soccer team is kind of Other from all the other positions in a soccer team. She is kind of out there, at her goalposts, protecting the net alone, or seemingly alone. Though, of course, she’s a key part of the team. So similarly, I think not having children as a woman, and not fighting as a man produces both those things, though, those groups strongly shaped us.

I would say we now have an overproduction of priests and witches. Not over in that they should not be producing at that level. It’s just that with this many priests and witches, this many childless women, and this many men who don’t fight, you have a culture that might not be able to take the next big shock as well as one that might have more of those things.