The Signal vs. the Noise

There are lots of things that try to grab our attention that simply do not need it.

Such things are collectively referred to as the noise. The signal, on the other hand, is what is worthy of attention.

The last few days I’ve had a lot of practice with distinguishing between the signal and the noise via running in bug-infested woods. To be specific, these are bugs that like to bite.

While I’m running I don’t see the bugs much, if at all. I hear them buzz around me, I feel them land on me, and of course I can feel when they bite me. But I largely do not see them. I just hear them and feel them on my body.

What I’ve found, however, are that my bodily sensations are not always accurate. I’ll feel an itch, sting, cringe, or some other sort of irritation on a part of my body, move my hand there, and find no bugs whatsoever.

In fact, this is the case more often than not.

After a little while of this I suspected that I was psychologically and subconsciously creating these sensations. They weren’t the result of any physical event. I certainly did get actual bug bites, but the sensations from those last for only a few seconds (and because they’re from deer flies, there is no itch that remains).

Essentially what I was doing was turning my expectations into reality. I expected bugs to be all over my body, biting me, and so I created the sensations of this happening (remember, I can’t see them because I’m looking straight ahead).

I created my own bug bites. I conjured up a war.

Even more is that sometimes I’ve felt itches and stings just thinking about the bugs, while physically being in a place where there are none (such as indoors).

Here’s the key. I’ve experienced that when I expect, prepare for, scratch, and swat at imaginary bug bites, I end up getting more real ones. On the other hand, when I don’t think much about the bugs and just focus on running, the bugs will buzz around me and hang out on me, but they bite far less often.

In short, I experienced the reality I expected.


Dropping the Defense

People have said that animals can smell fear. While they may not smell it per se, I think almost all animals can sense it. And if they don’t, reality sure does.

Conflict can occur only when one side is feeling fearful. If neither side feels threatened in any way, why would they see any need to fight?

The thing is, in a conflict, each side sees themselves as being the defender, while the other side is the attacker. Of course, if I say that I’m on the defense against you, and meanwhile you say that you’re on the defense against me, then who’s right?

I considered this through my runs with the bugs. I’ve always taken for granted that bugs are attackers—that they come after me for food, for sport, or something else. As far as deer flies go, I don’t really know what they want. They don’t seem to take blood or skin, yet they bite.

The idea sounded strange, but I had to play with it. What if the deer flies somehow perceive that they are protecting themselves against me?

If that was true, then it would make sense that I got bit more often the more I scratched and slapped my skin and swatted the air. It appeared, to them, that I was going to hurt them.

Being as small and fearful (in that moment) as they are, they don’t have perspective enough to see that biting me is futile, since aside from a few seconds of pain it basically leaves me unfazed. So they try to protect themselves from me in the best way they know how, which is to bite me.

 A lot of us are like that when we’re scared. We flail around, hoping to affect things through sheer force, unable to see that our actions are useless.

So the deer flies and I played a back-and-forth game of Defender. I thought I was innocently defending myself when I slapped them and threw them off me. They perceived they were only defending themselves when they bit me.

Obviously a situation like this will never be resolved if it continues as it is. Someone has to change their mind about it.

Clearly, the one to change their mind would have to be me. I couldn’t tell the bugs to think differently. Even if they were humans I could easily communicate with, that would be silly to do. Why would anyone listen to me while I still don’t trust them?

If I want a relationship to mature, and move past conflict, then I have to be the mature one.

When you defend, you set yourself up to be attacked. What other use is there for defense? You get what you ask for.

As such, there was only one sensible thing I could do. I would have to remove my armor, and stop defending. I would have to be the first one to step forward with trust.

I quite literally removed my armor, to an extent, by running without a shirt on (relax, you pervert—I’m still in a sports bra). You would think the situation is rather linear—the more skin that is exposed, the more that bugs will bite it. However, I didn’t seem to get bit any more while shirtless than I did with a shirt on (and I’ve run in some of the same places multiple times, both with and without a shirt).

The only way to know if you can trust is by trusting. You have to take the leap. Otherwise, the world will forever be at odds with you.


The Conflict is All Noise

In my runs with the bugs, noise has been at the seat of our conflict. As I said earlier, I conjured up a war. I fell into paranoia, got tricked by the noise, and did battle with it. That turned into real battle, with the bugs.

How often do we set ourselves up to fail before we even start? How many times have we gotten tricked by, even made up, the noise? How often we do we let the noise stop us?

The noise tries to portray itself as being meaningful. But, it is pure distraction. If you do battle with the noise, such a battle will yield no fruit. There is nothing to be gained here. Yet, you can lose everything—time, energy, sanity.

What if there is no war? What if it really is all made up, by you? What if you could stop fighting—right now, even? Would you? Or have you become addicted to fighting noise?

Fighting the noise truly is an addiction. Think of all the things you put your attention on that don’t need it. There are a lot, a LOT of such things. Every sniveling fear and petty conflict you’ve ever had; every time wasting habit; every worry.

It’s all a waste—a sham. Yet we grow addicted to the sham because it’s familiar. It’s easy. Fighting is easy. You don’t have to be deliberate about it at all. You just yell things and swing your arms around like an idiot.

There’s nothing honorable about fighting. Even a dunce can do it.


Beyond the Noise

Perhaps the conflicts you’ve been having are the product of your own expectations and anticipatory fears. You’ve gotten so caught up in the story of your own defense, you haven’t stopped to consider that maybe you don’t really have to do that.

Instead you can trust the other side, and trust life, and see what happens. Because if you don’t choose love and peace, who will? If you don’t make that choice now, then when will those things come?

You’ll have to nip your fear-based expectations in the bud. The more automatic they arise, the more difficult it will be to separate yourself from them. But it can be done. Focus on feeding love, and stop giving your attention to fear. You’ll get there.

You can stop this game. You don’t have to fight. You really don’t. You can ignore the noise. You can disregard that it exists.

The way to win an argument is to decline to participate. You don’t have to be a fighter. You have nothing to defend. You can stand above the situation, and get back to what matters—to putting your attention on the signal.

What will happen if you do that? Well, you’ll get to find out what lies beyond suffering.

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