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The Rebound Effect

Aggression, when we throw ourselves into it, may seem to be getting us somewhere in the first phase, but it INEVITABLY rebounds on us in the second phase. Initially, I appear to be gaining territory – and this of course feels great – but then the next thing that happens is that I lose it again, and that feels correspondingly bad. This is really just a mechanical kind of a thing – nothing more than this. It’s like the piston in a two-stroke engine where the compression phase always follows the expansion phase because that’s how the engine works. Or to give an even better example, it’s like a wheel spinning around. If we paint a little dot on the edge of the wheel then the dot will appear to be moving away from us half of the time, and moving towards us the other half of the time. But really it’s not two movements at all – it’s all the same movement. The wheel is just spinning around because that’s what wheels do.




Aggression – we might say – is ‘forced change’ – it is change that wouldn’t happen unless we made it happen. Less obviously, we could say that aggression is action that proceeds from a false basis. It’s action that proceeds from what seems to be but actually isn’t a basis. We could also say that aggression is ‘the action of the part against the whole’. Or taking a different tack again, we could say that it is ‘action that proceeds from a fixed point, a fixed centre’. All of these seemingly different definitions come down to the same thing, even though this may not be immediately apparent. When actions proceeds from a fixed point it never departs from that fixed point. We may think that it does, but it doesn’t. Really, any movement or change that proceeds from the basis of a fixed point is that fixed point. It never stops being that fixed point, it never goes beyond it, it never becomes something that isn’t it. If the action takes place on the basis of the fixed point, then clearly it can never depart from this basis. This basis remains the basis – the basis never stops being the basis, no matter what…




We can say that the ‘fixed point’ which is forming our basis is part of the whole picture, but that it is not the whole picture. Obviously it is not the whole picture because it is fixed! The fact that it is fixed means that it can only ever be what it is – it can never be what it isn’t. It’s pinned down, it’s nailed into place. This is what it means to be fixed – it means that you only are what you are defined as being, nothing more. To be fixed (or to be defined) means to be separate from, or distinct from everything else. It means to be isolated, abstracted, removed from the dynamic flux of reality. Talking about a ‘part’ isn’t quite right, therefore. Really, what we are talking about is an abstraction – anything that is separate or distinct from the whole is an abstraction. This gives us an improved way of defining what is meant by ‘aggression’ – we can now say that aggression is action that proceeds on the basis of an abstraction!




Action that proceeds on the basis of an abstraction may seem to be getting us somewhere in the first phase, but it inevitably proves to have got us nowhere in the second phase. Initially, there is the feeling that I have gained some territory and this feels good, but what happens then is that we lose it again and this feels bad to the same extent that it originally felt good. If the first phase of the aggressive action is sweet then the second phase is bitter! One phase gives us what we want, the other what we don’t want. Another way of putting this is simply to say that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor.




This is in one way a very clear and easy to understand principle. In another way however there is nothing clear or easy to understand about it at all!  It’s actually totally obscure. We don’t get it at all – we couldn’t be further from getting it! We’d understand nuclear physics or ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics quicker than we’d understand this! This is obviously the case because if we could understand that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor then we’d all give it up immediately. We’d stop thinking that aggression is the way to go. We’d give up the counter-productive, self-punishing habit of trying to force things to be the way that we want them to be and become peaceful instead!




There are two reasons that could be given as to why we don’t appreciate that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor. Reason [1] is that we don’t generally see it happening, and reason [2] is that we don’t really understand what aggression is. We can take the second point first: aggression – in the sense that we are using the term in this discussion – means ‘us trying to assert our will’. Aggression means control, in other words. It means ‘the exercise of power’. I have an idea of what I want to happen, then I do my level best to make it happen, in defiance of whatever factors might happen to be acting against me. The definition of an aggressive act is therefore that I only care about what I want, what I have in mind – anything else doesn’t matter! I am only interested in two things: the goal and how I might bring that goal about. Anything else – anything that doesn’t relate to ‘what I want’ and ‘how I can get it’ – is of no consequence to me. First I tell you what to do, and you do it. First I decide what is to happen, and then I make to happen…




We can also express this in terms of rules; we can say that in aggression there are two things – the rule, and the enactment of the rule. The enactment of the rule is taken for granted in the rule. It is taken for granted in the sense that no other possibility is permissible to it. Rules are by their nature purely aggressive, therefore. They say how things should be and that is the end of the story. They say how things should be and they are not open to argument (or negotiation) on the matter. Rules are not ‘open’ full stop. Everything is one way with a rule, just as everything is one way in an autocracy; the dictator tells the population what to do, the population does not tell the dictator what to do. It’s a one way street – the one-way street of control. We can also say – on a psychological level – that aggression is the fundamental modality of the egoic self because all the egoic self – by its very nature – cares about what is it wants, it doesn’t in the least bit care what anyone else wants. It has no other viewpoint available to it, no possibility of seeing things in any other way. The ego is like the classic idea of a psychopath in this regard therefore, in that nothing else exists for it other than itself.




Instead of talking about rules, we could also talk about definite statements. It all comes down to the same thing. When we make a definite statement, we are being controlling. When we make a definite statement, we’re performing an aggressive act. So what this means is that just about everything we do is aggressive, whether we appreciate it or not! Or if we wanted to qualify this a bit we could say that everything we do when we are in the ‘rational-purposeful mode’ is aggressive – all our purposeful activity is aggressive because purposeful activity is controlling, and all our rational activity is controlling because it’s based on conceptualizing or categorizing the world in terms of ‘definite statements’. When we’re acting out of the rational mind (as we almost always are) we’re ‘aggressive without knowing it’. Aggression is our basic modality.




This then is one reason why we can’t readily understand the principle that says ‘aggression always rebounds on the aggressor’ – we can’t understand it because we don’t even know that we’re being aggressive in the first place. We don’t have any insight in to the fact that we’re being aggressive. Our aggression seems normal to us – aggression is the ‘base-line’ for everything we think and everything we do. If I was being very angry or very crudely forceful in my attitude then I might have insight into the way in which this anger, this crude forcefulness is going to back-fire on me but aside from such extreme instances like this the suggestion that just about everything I do is aggressive and that it is for this reason inevitably going to rebound on me at a later date is going to be completely incomprehensible to me. I can’t even begin to get it. How could I get it – for me to do so would invalidate my whole modality of being.




The first reason that we gave for our difficulty in understanding the ‘rebound principle’ is that we just don’t see it. We just don’t make the connection between Phase One and Phase Two. We just don’t make the connection between the ‘gaining territory phase’ and the ‘losing territory phase’. We know that both exist but we don’t see that the one is the inevitable consequence of the other (just as the impression of there being a point on the edge of a wheel that is ‘going away’ and a point on the other side of that wheel that is ‘coming back’ are both inevitably consequences of the circular motion of that wheel). We don’t see the two phases as being connected – we see them as being separate or independent things and this fundamental lack of insight into the complementarily of the opposites results in a particular type of blindness: we’re simply too ‘blinkered’ by our rational (one-sided) outlook to understand the principle that aggression always rebounds on the aggressor.




This all sounds like very negative talk – it sounds like pessimism taken to the nth degree! What we’re essentially saying here is that there’s no such thing as ‘gaining territory’. We’re saying that it can’t ever be done – that it’s a pipe dream, a fantasy. We’re saying that it’s a complete and utter impossibility. It’s not going to happen. But seeing as how pretty much the only thing we ever want to do is ‘gain territory’ (and as much of it as we possibility can!) this comes across as a very negative sort of a message. It comes across as a real downer. What’s the point in anything if this is the case? The point we’re missing if we are thinking like this is that the whole idea of what we’re trying to do is completely ‘wrong-headed’, completely misguided, completely absurd in the first place. The whole enterprise is wrong-headed and misguided and absurd because the basis for it (the basis which we are taking completely for granted) isn’t real – it’s just an illusion, an artefact of our blinkered way of seeing things. The ‘basis’ in question is ‘the fixed point’, the ‘abstract position’ and so how can an abstraction be used as a basis for anything?  An abstract position isn’t exactly going to be a very productive place to start off from. It’s a ‘false basis’ – a basis that is no basis and so anything we do using this as a springboard is inevitably going to rebound on us. It can’t do anything else other than come back and smack us in the face.




This ‘rebounding business’ is therefore simply a manifestation of the falseness or unreality of our starting-off point. Any action that proceeds from the basis of an unreal starting-off point is bound to be every bit as unreal as that unreal starting-off point, and this unreality is demonstrated by its impeccably ‘self-cancelling’ nature. Any change that occurs, any movement that occurs, is only ever going to be apparently real – it is going to be apparently real in a ‘good’ way during the first phase and apparently real in a ‘bad’ way during the second (self-cancelling) phase. The type of change or movement that proceeds from a basis that isn’t actually there is split therefore into two parts: ‘the part we like’ and ‘the part we don’t like’. We don’t like the second part to the exact same extent as we liked the first part and so our ‘emotional response’ to the self-cancelling event is self-cancelling too! Add the euphoric peak to the dysphoric trough and the result is always exactly zero…




It is therefore the abstract nature of our starting-off point that guarantees that the step forward will be matched by a ‘mirror image’ step backwards. We can therefore say that the self-cancelling nature of all action that proceeds from the basis of an abstract position is thus a sequential ‘mapping out’ (or ‘restatement’) of the original unreal position. The unreality has been turned into an oscillation via the introduction of linear time, in other words. Take the linear time away again and the ‘sequence’ collapses into a pair of superimposed opposites! The abstract position then becomes visible as a flat paradox, where previously the inescapable paradoxicality had been disguised by its ‘separation in time’.




All fixed points, all rules, all definite statements are paradoxical. We may not be able to see it but our blindness in this respect doesn’t change anything – we are bound to ‘act out’ the paradox just the same. We act out the paradox every time we engage in an aggressive act – first a step forwards, then a mirror-image step back again!




Ultimately, what we’re trying to do when we engage in aggressive action, is that we’re trying to force change upon reality. In a certain sort of a way (a subjective way), reality does have a bit of ‘give’ in it – like a wall made out of rubber, we might say. It doesn’t really have any give in it but it seems to, in a curious kind of a way. This subjective ‘give’ provides us with the leeway we need to play our games of control! If we could see things clearly, we would see that our games only are games. If we were to clearly see that we can’t control reality this could be very frustrating (if we happen to be invested in controlling it) but it if we weren’t so invested, we would see that the situation we find ourselves in is actually highly amusing. As Longchenpa says –


Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.


Longchenpa also says –


In the universal womb that is boundless space
all forms of matter and energy occur
as flux of the four elements,
but all are empty forms, absent in reality:
all phenomena, arising in pure mind, are like that.

just as dream is a part of sleep,
unreal in its arising,
so all and everything is pure mind,
never separated from it,
and without substance or attribute.

experience is neither mind nor anything but mind;
it is a vivid display of emptiness, like magical illusion,
in the very moment inconceivable and unutterable.
all experience arising in the mind,
at its inception, know it as emptiness!



When we are being aggressive, what we are really fighting against is this ‘emptiness’ that Longchenpa speaks of. We are trying to replace it with something solid, something fixed. Our aggression towards emptiness is our fear of emptiness – we wish to repress or block out its endless possibilities, its infinite openness. Looking at this the other way around, we could also say that the ‘solidity’ that we wish to create in the world is the solidity of the self. All of our aggression, therefore (without exception), is directed to this ultimate aim – the creation of the self.









Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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