V. 7. Nobody Is Just a Mother


In the process of deconstructing the working mechanism of our attention there’s a crucial question relating it to every aspect of our behavior: what determines the direction of our focus in the stretch of a certain amount of time? We constantly swap the objects of our attention; switch from the outer world to our inner self; change the degree of concentration. What logic does this ceaseless broken line follow?

The very notion of human nature being driven by its perception of reality (chapter I.1.) is based on the idea of our awareness of the facts about and around us (chapter II.2.). But humans are not computers; they simply don’t have the capacity to be occupied all the time with all the facts that concern them. In order to be able to process the incredible amount of information from within and outside of us our mind is constructed to work selectively based on the moment, i.e. it chooses the accordant level of our inner and outer hierarchies to reckon with.

A mother might love her child more than anything in the world; she easily might be ready to sacrifice her life for him. Yet after having put him to sleep in the other room she might as easily forget about being a mother, giving herself up to, let’s say the latest fashion trends in the new magazine. At this point she is far from acting upon her fundamental priorities. Her current behavior is constructed in accordance to low-key inner and outer circumstances – her need to indulge in the dream world of celebrities, and the quiet, peaceful environment that makes it possible.
How do we choose exactly which circumstances to build our current behavior on? What determines the pursued accordance between our self-perception and perception of the environment? If we are aware of our top inner and outer circumstances, why don’t we steadily organize our every activity around those circumstances? As complex as the answer of these fundamental questions might be, it has a simple starting point – the level of accordance depends on the amount of information one needs on a moment-to-moment basis to keep the balance between her self-perception and her perception of the environment. Once the baby is asleep the mother has overcome a significant outer circumstance – her baby’s needs – whose importance in her perception of the environment was determined by a leading inner circumstance – her maternal drive. It has been her self-perception of being first and foremost a mother that has made her meet first and foremost this exact challenge coming from the environment. But now she is tired. She allows this information (or fact) about herself to become a driving circumstance of her self-perception for the time being, since the environment no longer asks her to act as a mother. This creates a new imbalance with her perception of the environment. Her following actions are directed toward regaining her harmonious status quo with her surroundings, i.e. her comfort zone.

By eliminating the newly irrelevant outer circumstances she works on establishing a new level of accordance. She moves away from the door to her baby’s room and goes into the living room, where she turns off the home phone and puts her cell phone on vibration; then she opens the window slightly and turns on the small lamp next to the sofa; finally she pours herself a glass of juice, sits down and reaches for her magazine. The balance is restored.
Our self-perception is a dynamic combination of two dialectically related drives: our self-projection and our self-preservation. Each of them is built of circumstances arranged in a hierarchy of importance regarding our behavior. Both hierarchies constantly compete to become a driving force in our self-perception by catapulting at least one of their circumstances higher than any of the circumstances of its rival (chapter II.2.). The only way an inner circumstance can emerge out of its latent state and begin ruling over our behavior is to connect with a fact from our environment and establish a level of accordance. Even though being a mother could occupy the highest position in someone’s self-perception, once there is no outer fact this inner circumstance can relate to (since the baby is asleep in the other room), this someone would immediately be directed by another inner circumstance – say, that she is tired. This circumstance might not be as strong as its predecessor, the baby’s needs, and could relinquish its strength within a second: the mother would jump up from the couch at the very moment she hears the baby crying. Yet if the baby continues sleeping silently, her fatigue would easily find a partner fact (or facts) from the outside world: “There isn’t much to do, and I have a place to rest, and I have my magazine.” Therefore she can lie down, relax and browse through the articles and the photographs.

With the baby out of the picture the top circumstance of the mother’s self-projection drive loses its partner circumstance coming from the environment. Now her self-preservation drive takes a turn: it reminds her of how exhausted she actually is. But this is not necessarily the norm. What could have followed was her self-perception to be won over by another self-projection circumstance: were she not so tired she could have taken out the textbook for her upcoming classes in Spanish, for example. This act would be a further display of her self-projection. But for the time being it is her self-preservation that is stronger. Its power allows it to find a partner fact from the environment, establishing a new level of accordance. This way it rules her self-perception and determines her behavior.

How do both of our drives find outer facts? We are being bombarded by them ceaselessly throughout our lives; we don’t even walk among them – we swim in them. What our inner drives do is send our outer attention in search of relevant facts, the facts that can relate to them and help them establish a level of accordance. Further on, those facts already found by our outer attention shine through the windows of our senses (chapter V.2.) and illuminate our perception of reality, with our self-perception being the first to meet the light. Depending on the nature of the fact that gleams the brightest and the longest, it is either our self-projection or our self-preservation that, through our inner attention, turns it into a circumstance of our perception of the environment, connects with it, and thus starts influencing our behavior. Essentially this is a power battle between both drives, because whichever manages to engage an outer fact to build a level of accordance with one of its circumstances, and not the competitor’s, would take control over our behavior.

Once established, the level of accordance has its outcome. It represents a new conglomerate of outer facts (chapter V.6. ), eligible for the hunt performed by our two inner drives. In a plausible scenario the mother could fall asleep, and shortly afterwards be woken up by the baby’s crying. Depending on her self-perception there are two major choices she can make. She could rush into the kid’s room and do her best to comfort her son. In this case it would be her self-projection to promote the new outer fact into an outer circumstance, and begin determining her behavior. Yet in this emerging level of accordance her perception of the environment wouldn’t be the only affected party. The sudden crying has become a major outer circumstance, so it inevitably would exercise its reverse power over the mother’s self-perception. Since she has left her baby unattended, she would decide that she is a lousy mother, which would become the illuminated (or active) part of the way she sees herself at the moment. In another version she could as easily be a lousy mother, and let the baby cry, putting on her earplugs to not be disturbed any more. This version would be driven by her self-preservation, which would keep intact the established level of accordance between her exhaustion and the chance to rest in the living room. The new fact – the unrest of the baby, would not become a significant circumstance, and wouldn’t change the mother’s self-perception. In both options the fact coming from the environment strives to cause an impact (reverse power) on the mother’s self-perception. The strength of this impact depends on the degree to which the self-perception connects with the fact, or in other words, the strength and sustainability of the level of accordance the fact builds with one of the two inner drives.

The rationally and willfully chosen level of accordance lies in the very basis of our consistency. Let’s roll the mother’s evening back to the last minutes she is spending with her sleepy son. What if, no matter how strongly she thinks of herself first and foremost as a mother, she suddenly starts worrying about her husband being late from work, or today’s argument about the neighbor’s loud dog, or her broken nail. Her level of accordance would be irrelevant to what she is doing at the moment. The probability of her failing in her present activity would multiply by the minute. Her only weapon against it would be her attention – not only towards the baby’s needs, but to the processes going on within her as well.

Like outer attention, our inner attention also operates within three major circles: small, medium (useful) and large (harmful) (chapter V.1.). The small inner circle is as flickering a light as the small circle of our outer attention. It too flies from object to object, trying to make a connection between them. The only difference here is that our inner small circle operates with circumstances, not with material objects. The same comparison is valid for the useful and the harmful circles. Used in our outer attention they are spatial categories, while if applied to inner attention they deal with non-material entities called situations.

In the process of building and sustaining the pursued level of accordance the useful circle of our inner attention is actually the spot of light which the chosen, relevant facts from the outside world throw onto our perception system. We don’t allow an irrelevant outer occurrence or phenomenon from the harmful circle to muddle its boundaries. This is why we focus on each separate fact already passed through the stage of prehension, and direct the small circle of our inner attention to explore it and find its right place in the right hierarchy of circumstances. Only then our current level of accordance includes just the inner and outer circumstances it is supposed to be formed of, and is stable and resilient against any kind of distraction. As a result, we develop a behavior that not only reflects and expresses our self-perception, but is also capable of improvising: adequately assimilating all the new, unexpected facts appearing from our surroundings. Once her belated husband comes home, and the mother intends to comfort him, she has not only to redirect her outer attention from the baby to her man. She also has to stop viewing herself as a mother and become a friend and a lover. There is no way she can change her self-perception. However, once having focused on the things she likes and loves about her husband she would rather let them illuminate her inner necessity to feel like a real woman, her urge to be a subject of adoration, and her sexual drive. If she manages to keep these outer and inner circumstances the only occupants of her useful inner circle of attention she would achieve the desired level of accordance. Remaining steady in her overall priorities she would be completely immersed, happy and successful in following just one of them.

The method of deconstruction we apply in explaining the way we act works only if supported by the awareness of the polyphonic structure of human behavior. Isolating a separate path of events for the sake of clarity should go hand in hand with the notion that there are multiple other inner and outer processes developing simultaneously. The important point here is that all of them follow one and the same general logic, which is built on the struggle between our self-projection and self-protection drives, and the level of accordance their circumstances set up with the outer facts able to reach and illuminate them. This principle regards the level of extensive, horizontal development of our behavior. But it is equally valid on the intensive level. Our general perception of reality operates on numerous scales. The higher position a circumstance occupies in our inner or outer hierarchies, the stronger or the longer the impact by a fact coming from the environment should be in order to displace it. The changes our perception systems experience on a daily basis have little effect, if any at all, on our top inner or outer circumstances. We follow the broken line continuously, even if it often goes against our super priorities. This phenomenon doesn’t undermine these priorities. Sometimes it even injects them with additional power.

No surprise. Its name is Life.

© 2010 Peter Budevski

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