In a continuation of the intro of this series Awareness Colour Code, The Nervous System & Mental Health, I will be discussing the first stage of the awareness colour code, White, from both a practical self-defence perspective but also a nervous system and mental health perspective. (See Part 1 here)
White is when your mind and nervous system are totally calm. You are relaxed and feel safe. You are in a state of total nirvana and loving life. Great isn’t it? Well, it can be, there are lots of times when you want to be in White and lots of times when you do not.
When it comes to self-defence specifically, the only time you want to be in a mental state of White is when you are somewhere you are completely safe; alone in a secure place, or surrounded by people who you trust and who you do not expect any drama or threats from. For many this is at home with family, for some, it is at a friend’s house, it really depends on your life circumstances. A good test to see if where you are feeling safe, both consciously and subconsciously, is to go to sleep. Speaking for myself, if I am at home I can pass out without a care in the world. However, if I am somewhere new or somewhere I don’t feel 100% safe, like backpack camping out in the middle of nowhere, my sleep is not continuous and rested, as I will wake up from every little thing.
Jeff Cooper, the creator of the system notes the example that White can be witnessed in sleepy cats. Normally cats are only partially asleep, as can be indicated by the movement of their ears as you walk by (Yellow). They are paying attention even when asleep. Except when they are not. If you have ever startled a cat when they were truly asleep and in White, they wake up with such abruptness and panic to overcompensate for the fact they weren’t ready at all. This can be quite comical, but I am sure very jarring for some of the world’s best predators to be caught with their boots off…
This occurs because when you (or a cat) do not feel 100% safe your nervous system is kicking in primal survival mechanisms, for if you are totally in White your reactions will be slow if any danger were to strike. The thing is with White, no matter how much you train, no matter how much you know, even Bruce Lee would be quickly overwhelmed by a surprise attack if his system was in White. That is because your body is basically saying “I feel safe and relaxed and I don’t need to spring to action, so I am going to rest so that I do not have to burn out, or run hot wasting precious energy.”
A very famous example of someone who died because they were too relaxed was escape artist Harry Houdini who was killed by a series of blows to the stomach. Now, this may seem strange, but Houdini was proud of his abdominal strength and often challenged people to punch him. However, one time it would be his last. An individual punched him several times, hard, before he had time to prepare his muscles, which resulted in Houdini’s untimely demise. He must have been totally relaxed while talking to this individual, and though he was talking about his ability to take punches, his nervous system and muscles were clearly caught off guard and unable to properly defend against the blows.
A more modern example of White from a self-defence perspective is those people you see walking down the street with their face in their phone and earbuds in their ears. From a tactical and awareness perspective you are completely unaware of your surroundings. While this may not be a true White, it can still be considered as such since they are oblivious and will be completely caught off guard by any would-be attacker. The weird thing about this scenario is that, even if in a tactical and awareness perspective you are in White, your mind and nervous system may actually not be in White. You see, social media can be extremely arousing for your nervous system and although you are totally oblivious and not present in your current space, that troll you hate on Facebook may be trash talking you again, causing you to be enraged. Now not only are you tactically in White, but your nervous system is overwhelmed with a perceived (digital) threat that really isn’t a threat, and now you can be completely caught off guard if someone were to attack in the real world.
This brings us to the mental health aspect of White. Unfortunately for some people, due to Chronic Stress, an angry household, or a traumatic event, their nervous systems can never calm down enough to be in White due to real or perceived chronic threats. If this continues long enough the nervous system’s new “normal” will probably be somewhere between Yellow and Orange, or worse. Prolonged durations in these enhanced states, with no rest time in White, can lead to various mental difficulties ranging from anxiety and depression, to the inability to focus and general stress accumulation, among a host of other things. In turn, this can then permanently alter the physical state of your brain; changing your biochemistry, making it even harder to learn to go into White and be relaxed.
Things like mindfulness practices, meditation, etc. are tools to help individuals learn to calm their mind. While this may work for many in the middle of the bell curve, from a stress or nervous system perspective, for many (like myself) who have treatment resistance issues, it may require a more targeted approach, from the biochemical perspective. That is changing the literal biochemistry of your brain so that it can understand “calm” and allow you to learn coping skills or to actually restructure it permanently. Traditionally, SSRIs or similar pharmaceuticals are used, but as we advance our understanding of medicine and explore options, more places, like Johns Hopkins University, are branching out into other substances that may (probably do) help in a more meaningful manner. Unfortunately, it usually takes decades for change to happen in the medical community, which means if you are an individual who never experiences White (relaxed) you may need to be your own mental health advocate and start doing the work now. (Do so with the consultation of medical professionals, but know that their knowledge or advice is often limited by complicated legal structures.)
The reality is even though White is not optimal for self-defence, in order to be the most optimal version of yourself you must learn to be in White sometimes. If you do not have a home in which you feel safe, it is very likely time to make some serious life changes, whatever form that may take. If you are able to sort it out on your own, awesome, but many of you may need help from a mental health professional to work through this process.
So, mental colour code White, bad for self defense and situational awareness, but good to be a optimally functioning human. It is important to have places where you can experience White both consciously and subconsciously, at the primal nervous systems level. Don’t demand others create “safe spaces” for you, as this is bullying, driven by your mental health issues, rather you must create a life, and an environment around you that fosters healthier mental states ( whatever that may be for you).
I hope this has helped you understand this colour code for self-defence but also for mental health, as indicated in the first of this series it is important to bridge any knowledge you have so that in can apply it to all areas of your life. The mental colour code, though it was created for combat situations, is elegant in that it can also apply to your mental health. So learn to be in White when you can, for your mental health, but know that if you are out and about in an unfamiliar or chaotic place, or otherwise unsure of your safety, then this is not where you want to be for self-defence. That’s where the next colour comes in, Yellow. But that’s for the next post.
Written by Jonathan Fader