The State of ‘Duh’


People get upset with me. I have a somewhat sociopathic disorder in certain life situations, where I find it very easy to walk away from or turn my back on close family/friend relationships and situations. Unfortunately, I haven’t always felt a great deal of guilt in doing so, even though I‘ve been able to see the difficult effects and consequences that I’ve left in my wake.

While a part of me regrets what I am about to do, I do it anyway. Understandably, friends and family who have been exposed to my behavior get frustrated with me and very upset at times.

I’ve had this behavior for as long as I can remember. I don’t always give into it. These days I can typically overcome it. I’m older now. But I am talking about the times when I can’t beat it. When an overwhelming flight or fight mechanism kicks in. At times like that, when things stack up on me, I get to a certain tipping point when there is no fight left, Instead, it’s time to panic and run. So I do.

Accompanying my flight is a simple justification: if I stay, I die. If I run, I survive. It’s basic, and, in a sense, simple to spot and diagnose. But, it’s also primordial. Not easily ignored or contained.

We all have our various forms of dysfunctions. In my experience, I have learned that everything, even dysfunctional behavior, has a center. Within the context of martial arts, the word ‘center’ has deep, multi-contextual significance. But we can also frame that word quite simply, in the sense of balance or equilibrium.

So, along the way I slowly became aware that dysfunction resides along an axis. While this observation seems obvious, it’s not in the least obvious when you’re in the thick of a battle that always defeats you.

I also learned that there is a center point between what we term dysfunctional and functional behavior. In other words, go one direction with a particular behavior and we call it dysfunctional. But move, sometimes ever so slightly, in another direction and we call arrive in a spot we call functional. Just as there are degrees of dysfunction, function itself lives also resides along a continuum. This suggests the possibility that some functional people may actually be excessively functional, the point being that both dysfunction and functionality vary and are relative.

Anyway, it’s easy enough to imagine that somewhere along the way I discovered that my dysfunctional behavior also had a functional side. In this example, the functional behavioral aspect encompassed my mind learning to become still and expressionless, setting aside thoughts and emotions. But in the dysfunctional state, nothing seemed positive other than the primitive will to survive.

My teacher once frustratingly referred to this dysfunctional state as “some kind of null set.” In this particular instance, he had been verbally and mentally pressing me, not in a physical way but in hard, direct, unrelenting, probing conversation. I felt overwhelmed. I was under bombardment, and became mute and unresponsive. His questions, increasingly confrontational, elicited a simple reaction: I became highly defensive. At the time, I had no idea that my behavior in this particular setting would ultimately illuminate a far better state of mind.

The Labyrinth Game of Skill, Dexterity and Coordination

Over time, I learned how to overcome what I ended up calling a ‘blank stare of Duh.” This so-called null-set became, with some tweaking and realization, a quiet spot, an inner calmness.

What I am trying to convey is that dysfunction, for all of the pain and troubles it causes, can actually be tilted in a different direction. And in my case when it did tilt, it led me in the direction of mushin, or empty-mind — what I sometimes refer to as the Nothingness. And from that tilt, I encountered some genuinely life-altering realizations.

Nothingness or mushin is not the same as being in the ‘blank state of Duh.’ The State of Duh takes us in the wrong direction, relative to mushin. The State of Duh, and dysfunctions similar to those that I suffer from, take us in the direction of panic, anxiety, stress, anger and fear. Or what we sometimes refer to in the martial arts as “being in a lock”. Being paralyzed.

Nevertheless, there is a practice of sorts that is occurring in The State of Duh. A kind of tickler or reminder that we are trying to get to a particular point of acceptance and relaxing.

The State of Duh takes us in one direction along a continuum. But if we adjust, something different can emerge. So, in one direction I was dysfunctional. But once I understood I was in a multidirectional tilt game, then it simply became a matter of finding the correct axis, the one that would get the marble to roll to the right point and avoid all the holes and pitfalls.



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Mark Walter

Construction worker and philosopher: “When I forget my ways, I am in The Way”