This post is inspired by my contemplation of emails that have been exchanged with friends regarding their disappointment with my isolation tendencies associated with burnout. I've thought about their frustrations which led me to a deeper understanding of this and other anxiety related conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. It also has wider implications.
'I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves.' This is one of the final scenes from the Vietnam war movie, Platoon.
The martial arts often philosophically (and self righteously) suggest that the martial arts is designed to improve oneself by engaging in a battle with oneself. Not unlike many religions and philosophies.
Sun Tzu in The Art of War suggests that the odds of success in battle diminish depending on your knowledge of yourself and your enemy. Who is the enemy when you are battling yourself?
America prosecuted the war in Vietnam based on strategy developed during WWII in continental Europe. They did not know their enemy in Vietnam, hence, as Sun Tzu forecasted, they lost the war.
Who is your enemy when you are battling yourself? The understanding of your enemy is understood when the 'survival process model' I developed for my book is understood. Emotions are evolutionarily designed to override cognition. In fact, emotions evolved before cognition. Emotions are designed to promote survival. They are designed to do so without time consuming cognitive processes.
Emotions are designed to be an amoeba stimulus-response chain. No thought, just feel and act. Cognition is often involved in justifying the amoeba stimulus-response chain emotion, but that is just an attempt at justifying and amoeba stimulus-response reaction. There was no thought, there was just doing.
It is a battle between your recently evolved neocortex and your ancient amygdala. However, your ancient amygdala has an evolutionary advantage over your newly evolved neocortex. It is evolutionarily designed to override thought. This is the strategic assessment that needs to be understood in order to pursue success in this battle.
One of the aforementioned friends was quite disparaging of the benefits that 'book learning' provided. The suggestion was to 'just do.' This is not an uncommon attitude, particularly among the action oriented martial arts.
This attitude, unbeknown to these advisers, goes directly against Sun Tzu's advice. A constant theme throughout Tzu's work is to study. Know thy self, know thy enemy, know thy terrain, etc. To just do is a sign of immature strategy. America 'just did' in Vietnam. On the other hand, Ho Chi Minh studied the strategy and tactics of the Algerians who succeeded in ejecting the French colonial power from Algeria.
Experience is limited. It is limited by your experience. I do not bow exclusively to the altar of academia. However, I'm prepared to leverage my experience with the experience of others and 'see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.'
The war analogy is so useful in the martial arts and emotional disorder situations. The quote offered was that 'life is a war we cannot win.' How do you prosecute a war you cannot win? America is once again experiencing the same dilemma in Afghanistan and Iraq as it did in Vietnam in that they are wars they cannot win. Reference was made to the 'quality' of the fight. The Americans did not lose a battle in Vietnam, they just lost the war. Is Vietnam considered anything other than a failure?
I'm not criticising the advice offered by well meaning friends. I'm simply exploring the analogies because they are more telling then they could ever have imagined. The message here is that when we talk about fighting ourselves, we are often talking about our neocortex (cognition) fighting our amygdala (emotion). We have to appreciate the latter has an evolutionary advantage and develop our strategies accordingly. The Art of War has a lot to tell us in our battles with ourselves, but only when we correctly identify and understand our enemy.