Humans, well, we have a strong drive towards survival.
We look for strategies to support our needs, ways to stay defended and functional in the continuing fight that is life in this world.
Awareness is an important part of these strategies, having a sharp sense of what you need to focus on.
Ignorance is an important part of these strategies, knowing what you can safely ignore so you can focus on other things.
Nobody can walk totally naked in the world all the time. We need some kind of protection, some kind of safety, some kind of context that keeps us bouncing back to face another challenge, to take another blow.
Awareness is double edged sword.
Being highly aware of everything around us allows us to see patterns, make connections, and create a deep understanding of the world. Awareness is the basis of creativity, of quickly seeing nuance and challenges, of having options and challenges unfold before you. It is beautiful.
Being highly aware of everything around us makes us very susceptible to over stimulation, to analysis paralysis, to exhaustion and frustration. Awareness is the basis of avoidance, based on an understanding that engaging everything in an open and sensitive manner is costly and wearing.
In psychology, this challenge is described by phenomenon of Latent Inhibition, a measure of how quickly the mind starts responding to stimuli as expected.
Very high amounts of latent inhibition, quickly starting to ignore detail and nuance, creates a person who can have trouble seeing difference, finding new strategies, adapting to change. Understandings, once made, are hard to change.
Very low amounts of latent inhibition, always being aware of small differences and nuances, creates a person who can have trouble being extremely sensitive to difference, always looking for patterns and connections. Always scanning to change understandings can create analysis paralysis, be draining and exhausting.
Like any other way people see the world there are costs and benefits that come up. Awareness supports creativity, while strong fixed understandings support engaging routine.
There is no perfect blend of sensitivity and routine, even for an individual. We need to be both open and fixed, to both be aware of detail and to let detail pass into expectations.
I am a person with low levels of latent inhibition. Awareness of nuance, of change, of connection is where I live.
My mind is wired that way, leaning towards the creative more than towards the routine, but I have also been trained to be a very sensitive person.
Growing up in my family, hyper-vigilance seemed to be required. My Aspergers parents were not good at managing emotions, living with low latent inhibition and easily able to be over stimulated and, especially for my mother, easily ready to lash out and spread her pain over those around her.
The strategies I learned to survive that family experience, using my big brain to be always scanning, always on alert for tiny vibrational shifts in the force, were the strategies I used throughout my life.
Many transpeople create a bubble to hold their trans nature, building some assumptions and expectations, then using those strategies to hold open a place in the world.
I, on the other hand, used my highly tuned receptors to be aware of what was around me, processing and reprocessing the situation in high resolution and with high frequency. I could sense change and integrate that knowledge into my strategies extremely quickly.
This skill can be highly valuable to the group. For shamans, the walls that many see as fixed are revealed as illusions, as aspects of belief and expectation, figments of high levels of latent inhibition, rather than being real. Connections pop out as we manage our state of awareness with ritual, learning, drugs and more. Awareness begets new understanding and that begets creativity.
This skill can also be very costly. There are good reasons why not every human is a shaman. We very much need people who love routine, who express the conventional.
For those who have this guru gift, this awareness, we often choose to turn away from it, retreating to routine rather than sensitivity which can swamp them. We have to work to compartmentalize our own empathic nature, isolating ourselves from those who could overwhelm us and make us less functional in the routine challenges of our everyday life.
Strategies for survival always require some balance of routine and awareness. Usually, this balance is held in a group, where creative people and operations people come together to hold a balance between them.
For those of us who are too queer to easily be integrated into a group, outsiders who have to move beyond convention to find our own nature, life is a very individual journey. We are very much on our own.
This means that we have to find our personal balance on our own. That’s very hard, especially for creative types who have ended up basing their survival strategies on awareness, on being sensitive. It is easy for us to use up our reserves, to feel over stimulated, to want the crap of everyday life to stop.
Giving up awareness for routine, well it just feels bad. We have always been observers, living in the liminal space on the fringes, vividly seeing the things beyond what most people take for granted, living in a world of ghosts and alternate possibilities which are invisible to those who aren’t as distractable and sensitive.
“Why do you talk to me?” Jaye asks of the animal objects that bedevil her in “Wonderfalls.” “Because you listen,” is their simple response, acknowledging her open and receptive awareness of what most people ignore, their own expectations and beliefs making it invisible to them.
I am aware that I go to places of awareness that most people never risk engaging. Instead, they hold onto their understandings using the kind of high levels of latent inhibition that a go, go, enormously stimulus filled culture requires of them. We are building a society where people have to turn down their awareness, to cope with crushing amounts of stimuli and demand in each moment.
Humans used to live slower lives with more room for wonder, vastly fewer changes to notice, so sensitivity wasn’t such a burden, so routine wasn’t so demanded, and sensation wasn’t just a quick fix.
We each need survival strategies in the world. That means balancing creativity and routine, awareness and assumption.
I know that I fall on the low latent inhibition side of those strategies, using receptive, feminine awareness and creativity to try and keep a deep and fresh understanding of the world around me. Like many seekers, I learned to use practice to temper my sensitive, visceral responses, using discipline, theological context and æsthetic denial to stay upright and functional.
This blend was how I could do what I did, from caring for my parents to writing so strongly literally everyday. It was why I could easily enter another persons world but almost no one could enter mine.
I live in the question, in the köan, which makes my writing hard to digest for people looking for answers. Rather than preaching to the choir, affirming what you already believe but need new words for, I question everything in a very uncomfortable way.
I also know that strategy has costs, especially over a lifetime as a queer person, without many support structures. People find me challenging, demanding, and wearing. I am skint.
Learning other strategies, though, is not easy. Some people use drugs to turn down the awareness, take the edge off, limit their sensitivity and raise their tolerance, increasing their latent inhibition. Those who resist their own awareness often believe these kind of drugs make people more “normal.”
While medications can help support changing your mind, finding new strategies which more effectively balance ego with id, expectations with awareness, they are never a solution in themselves.
They often say that time changes things,
but actually you have to change them yourself.
— Andy Warhol
Surviving requires change.
Change requires awareness and creativity.
Change requires routine and habit.
And that takes hard, hard strategies.