Tackling the Self

What do I do now? Oops!

In my country, there is still bullfighting. Unlike our neighbours in Spain, bulls are not chased to death; even though there are some similarities, and obviously some things were clearly inspired, there is one thing that is quite different: at some point during the fight, a group of a few forcados will tackle the bull, head on, without any weapons except for their arms and hands — and the skill.

Now picture this: a bull driven to frenzy by an audience of humans shouting and yelling, inside an unfamiliar environment. He’s not happy. He doesn’t know what is going to happen later. All he sees is a group of puny, weak humans taunting him. So he charges — hundreds of kilos of pure primordial force stampeding over the arena, straight into the group of forcados. The rule of the game is simple: they just have to make the bull stop, by whatever means they can, so long as they only use their bodies. The bull, of course, is not bound to any rules — he’ll try to kill a few forcados or at least seriously maim them.

You might be shocked either by the barbarism, the crazyness of the forcados, or, well, about the way animals are still mistreated in this corner of the world. I’ll leave that discussion for the comments, if you wish; I’m pretty neutral to the whole spectacle. The tradition of stopping a bull in their charge is ancient; there have been some written recordings dating it to at least the Romans, but some historians believe it’s a much older, coming-of-age tradition, where men had to prove their worth and courage by doing an insane act of bravery (these days, there are women forcados, too). In Portugal, young bulls are released in the middle of towns for special occasions, and everybody can have their fun playing at being a forcado too (the young bulls will be nowhere as dangerous as a fully adult one, which is only tackled by experts, of course). So there is a tradition behind this which may go back 2,000 or even 10,000 years, depending on what you choose to believe; it’s still harming animals, but at least the animals have a good chance to fight back and get some revenge 🙂 (In reality, the number of accidents is suprisingly low — most likely because only the people who have some experience will actually tackle the bull, while others will just watch.)

The analogy is mostly what comes to mind when dealing with what we conventionally call the “self”. When we start analysing very deeply what this “self” is, or where it is, it seems to elude us, like a bull avoiding the forcados. But if you start being more aggressive, and insist on looking at the “self” and figuring out what it is, then the “self” fights back. It becomes aggressive in return. It will kick and scream and attempt to defeat any attempts at being so closely scrutinised. And the closer you get, the more it will kick and scream, so our natural reaction is to get scared and give up the attempt.

But like the forcados can train and learn to defeat their own fear of a charging bull, and tackle it,