We all have a mind that we use to run our daily lives with. It can be very roughly divided into the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is home to thoughts and ideas, it possesses logical processing faculties and is home to our sense of identity. Everything we can grasp in terms of words and thoughts resides in the conscious mind. The subconscious mind runs most of the functions of the body without our conscious input, making sure we breathe, use our limbs, regulate our temperature etc. in a proper way. It has been proved in various studies that the subconscious mind makes use of the vast majority of our brain functions, whereas the conscious mind occupies a much smaller part of the brain.
There isn't one single region of consciousness, it is built up of connections between various parts of the brain, and we experience consciousness only when all of those regions communicate in certain ways. Recent brain studies of sleeping people have shown that the regions of the brain which scientists believe are active parts of our conscious mind remain active, to a degree, in sleep, but they cease to communicate with each other in the way they communicate when we are awake. Other kinds of communication continue even in sleep. In essence, this communication between them lies at the heart of our conscious mind.
Though no one has any clear figures, I doubt it'd be an exaggeration to say that our conscious mind uses maybe 20 % of our cognitive powers, whereas the subconscious mind uses the remaining 80 %.
What I really wanted to tell with this post is that our subconscious mind really runs the operative system of our mind. It makes most of our decisions. Recently, scientists have developed methods of predicting our decisions up to 6 seconds before we become aware of them. Though the tests they have developed so far are very simple - push one of two buttons - the mechanism is easy enough to extrapolate into more complex decision-making, and they have been able to predict which button the test person will press up to 6 seconds before the test person him/herself becomes aware of his/her decision. What this tells us is that the decision is made in the subconscious mind and only later enters our conscious mind.
Our conscious mind, on the other hand, has one extremely powerful feature. It deeply dislikes chaos and wants to have logical reasons for everything. This feature has in many people developed so strongly that their conscious mind creates an interpretation of a subconscious decision that the conscious mind keeps itself unaware of. In one test, people were hypnotised and then told to do various things, such as open a window. Then they were returned from hypnosis, and promptly proceeded to execute the command given to the subconscious mind. When asked why they opened the window, the conscious mind quickly threw up a rationalisation: "I felt hot", "I need more air" and so forth. The conscious mind often feels that it must have a rational explanation for our subconscious thought processes which it doesn't understand. In most people, this happens with such automatisation that they are nowhere near aware of this process. They believe that they are masters of their mind and make their decisions based on logic and rationality while in fact, most of their actions are run by their subconscious mind and whatever reasons they come up with are nothing more than rationalisations by their conscious mind of their subconscious processes.
This is why the OS that our subconscious mind runs is crucially important to how we live our lives. While philosophers and ideologists often come up with highly complex and well laid-out plans of their ideas using their conscious mind, they are not aware that their subconscious mind is running the OS, making them become interested in the things they are interested in, seeing things the way they see them and feeling about things the way they feel about them. They proceed to cover these subconscious processes with a layer of conscious rationalisations and believe that they create ideologies such as communism, democracy, anarchy, primitivism, theocracy and so forth. The driving force behind almost everything they do is, in fact, their subconscious OS. The reasons they give are their conscious rationalisations of them, just like the window-opener above.
To understand which OS we run in our subconscious mind, it is necessary to understand what makes up our subconscious mind. The brain comes into being during gestation and continues to grow for some years after birth. It retains remarkably high plasticity throughout most of our life. As soon as the first brain cells are formed, they begin to process all data they can collect. The younger our brain, the deeper the tracks left by whatever experiences the brain comes across. During gestation, the growing brain gathers a wealth of data from the conditions it grows in; the womb of the mother and the fluids providing the baby with nutrition are full of hormones and other chemicals giving plenty of information about the mother's mental state to the child, shaping its brain accordingly. It has been proved that babies react differently to different stimuli during gestation, and can at a few months of gestation recognise voices they have heard before. Scientists have also been able to scan their brain activity in the womb and shown that strong, sudden sounds for example create an alarm reaction in the brain of the growing baby, more so in some than in others. Scientists have been able to show that already during late pregnancy, some babies ract differently to strong stimuli such as strong, sudden sounds, with what is in essence an anxiety response; likely because their brains have already formed emotional reaction pathways modelled after the mother. Some babies do not react at all and remain perfectly calm, whatever reasonably tolerable sounds the scientists test them with (they obviously do not use dangerously high sounds). The brain is busy shaping itself based on its built-in growth program and the data it comes across in its surroundings.
Once the child is born, this process goes into hyperspeed, pulling in zillions of impulses from the child's environment and creating brain pathways to deal with them. The baby's brain forms pathways to deal with various parts of the body and their movements, to breastfeed, to learn to crawl, then walk, make sounds, use the eyes and a wealth of other things. But the brain also develops to deal with the emotional environment that the baby grows in. What happens in essence during gestation and early childhood is the programming of our subconscious OS. This is Bill Gates writing bleepy Windows. This OS will run our subconscious mind for the rest of our lives. And because the subconscious mind uses the vast majority of our cognitive capabilities, this OS-writing essentially defines us. Our conscious mind, which is re-shaped a lot more through our later life experiences than our subconscious mind is, is little more than a rationalisation organ for all the decisions made in our real, subconscious OS. We think that we re-shape our ideas of the world as we grow older and get new ideas, that we develop radically different worldviews and so forth; yet all these changes in the conscious mind are little more than a thin blanket covering most of our mind, our real OS.
This is why I always look beyond people's rationalisations for what they do, and explore whatever signs of their subconscious processes that I can detect, to understand why they really do what they do. Most of all, I explore myself in this way. What we like and don't like, our deepest behavioural patterns which we are not aware of all go back to our early conditioning, they all reside in our subconscious OS.
It is relatively easy to change the conscious mind. You can come across new ideas, you can change your entire take on life, you can develop vastly different ideas about reality. It is, relatively speaking, more difficult to change the subconscious mind. First of all, we are dealing with much deeper tracks in our brain, much broader brain pathways, and we are not conscious of most of them. We don't detect them, we can't see them. On top of this, virtually everyone of us carries deeply suppressed, emotional pain from our earliest childhood, because of the emotionally impaired way virtually all children are brought up today, by emotionally impaired parents. This can begin with the growing baby picking up signals of emotional distress in its mother in the womb and continue as the shaping of its emotional processing apparatus and reactions in the earliest childhood.
A human baby is, above all, a survivor, and it will do whatever it takes to survive in the conditions that prevail. If there is too much emotional pain to deal with for the undeveloped cognitive faculties of the baby, it has a highly efficient suppression mechanism which stores those painful emotional experiences in deep, subconscious parts of the mind, well below any awareness. The conscious mind can aid in this job, creating rationalisations of painful experiences in ways that make it easier for us to live with them. It can create a rosy picture of a childhood with serious emotional shortcomings, and it can conjure up a multitude of explanations as to why any early experiences don't really matter.
It is possible to change the subconscious mind as well, in a number of ways. I have only begun exploring a few of them so my experience and understanding are very limited so far. I am mostly familiar with contemplative techniques as they appeal to me on an instinctive level, but there are a huge number of both active and contemplative techniques which can access the subconscious mind directly. If a technique requires conscious cognitive processing such as words and conscious thoughts, it is my understanding that its ability to access the subconscious mind is very limited. This is a huge limitation on most traditional mental therapies which rely heavily on speech. While I am aware of a number of non-verbal, apparently simplistic techniques to access the subconscious mind such as EFT, drugs, bodywork therapies (Rosen therapy among others) etc., I have not practiced or studied them in any detail. Apparently, they can sometimes be highly effective.
What I personally do is explore my subconscious mind by clearing my conscious mind of all noise. It seems to me that what I then gain access to is the subconscious mind. I do this by simple meditation - observing my mind, not pulling, not pushing, simply observing. In my experience, when I do this for long enough, I find that at some point, all thoughts subside, and in my mind, I am in a thoughtless, timeless and spaceless place where I become less aware of my body (I have occasionally felt myself "floating in space" and "expanding into a larger space than my body") and more aware of what I believe is my subconscious mind. It is hard to describe since the experience is a thoughtless and wordless one (using thoughts or words activates the conscious mind and pulls me out of the subconscious), but what typically happens is a sleep-like state of quiet and peace where I lose track of time, and once I "wake up", what usually happens within the next day or two is, I begin to notice processes that I was not aware of previously. Emotions I had not felt before, thoughts I was not aware of before.
Quite often, solutions to problems I could not solve before simply appear as if from nowhere. It is my belief that the contemplative technique I practice allows the subconscious mind to deal with the matter at hand without interference from the conscious mind, producing surprisingly effective solutions seemingly without any effort. In my case, this also often gives rise to cristallisations of my experiences in the shape of poetry and songs. The words that form these poems and songs appear after contemplation without any conscious effort on my part, and usually arrange themselves after a specific melody or rhythm that appears in my mind. Obviously my mind cannot have access to words that it has not come across through reading or listening, so only verbal material that I have "fed" to my mind through reading and listening can be re-arranged into whatever my subconscious mind produces. In other words, I do not write poetry in Chinese. It is also known that many brilliant ideas and inventions have happened in a similar way, when the conscious mind cannot solve something and the scientist or inventor stops trying, accidentally or on purpose empties his/her mind (by taking a walk, fishing, smoking, listening to/playing music etc.) whereupon the solution as if miraculously presents itself, seemingly out of nowhere.
I am just a beginner and make very slow progress so far, but I am fascinated by what I gain access to when I am able to let go of everything and just observe. A year ago, I was experiencing a deep longing to never have existed; I felt that I didn't choose life, it was forced on me. This was one of the most profound emotional experiences I've had in my life, a truly deeply rooted longing not to be in this world. Not so much to end my life, although I felt some of that too, but to never have come into this space in the first place. Although I am still not aware of why exactly I felt this, I do now know that my mother did not really want me (or most of my 8 siblings) and this could be a deeply stored emotional response to a subconscious emotional signal from my mother to the baby me saying, essentially, that "you should not exist". It took me a couple of months to progress through the emotion - to be able to just observe it, without becoming attached to it or trying to push it away - but after a few months, it began to subside, and hasn't returned since.
In some cases, there was enough emotional instability, perhaps coupled with organic (anatomical) features of the brain, that the person always remains aware of not functioning "normally" in mental terms. Some of us carry so much from our past that it simply can't be completely hidden in the subconscious mind, which most of us after all are capable of. Some with the strongest chaotic patterns we call mentally ill, the rest we tend to use other names of. In my work, I regularly come across individuals who feel so strong anxiety in their everyday life, that they cannot function normally. They cannot, for example, walk to a shop full of people, or stay alone, or maybe talk to their parents. Their anxiety levels are so high that if they stopped and began contemplating, trying to clear their mind of the mind chatter and access their subconscious mind, they would become completely overwhelmed by the anxiety and suppressed emotions. Without going into details, I have come across accounts of highly emotionally unstable people using techniques to release subconscious suppressed emotions through non-verbal means and facing so strong emotions that they ended their lives, could not deal with it.
It is my experience, shared by at least some, that a diet of raw fruits and vegetables enhances our awareness of our subconscious mind, which can sometimes have far-reaching consequences for our life. It would seem that the diet in itself removes layers of protective numbness from between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind, bringing up experiences, emotions and realisations that we have been carrying around in our subconscious mind but not become aware of consciously. I could say that a HCRV diet at least sometimes contributes to a thinner layer of fog between the conscious and the subconscious mind. I explore this a bit here.
The mind of the child suppresses the emotions for a reason; because it lacks the capability to deal with them. As adults, I believe that everyone does have the capability to deal with whatever we carry within, but in some cases, it may require strong assistance in many ways, helping us to feel secure and safe while looking our inner demons in the eye, so to speak. A good example of the amount of anxiety many people live with is the restlessness you can observe if they have to spend some time with themselves only. If you travel and find yourself in a space where people are waiting, the vast majority will be busy with keeping their mind busy with activities, such as moving around, listening to music, reading, watching a movie, talking and so forth. Many of them would experience highly uncomfortable anxiety if they had to sit still and observe their mind, such as I understand happens in vipassana retreats (never been to one). This is natural, given the early emotional experiences stored in them. I believe we can all overcome these, though the road may be bumpier and longer for some than for others.
While we humans tend to like rationalisations and think that we run our lives with our conscious, rational minds, it is, in fact, our subconscious OS that pretty much runs our life. We simply keep ourselves unconscious of it by coming up with rationalisations to our subconscious decisions. This process is more automatised and faster in some than in others. No doubt some of you reading this will completely deny the validity of what I write, your conscious mind struggling with the idea that it doesn't run the show. To me, the fact that scientists can predict the decision of a person by scanning his brain up to 6 seconds before the person him/herself becomes aware of the decision is a powerful sign that it is our subconscious mind that runs the show. The conscious mind is mostly busy with coming up with rational explanations to our subconscious behavioural patterns. Granted, there are situations which call for more logical processing than others, being more mathematical in nature, but most of the time, in the way we talk and respond to others, make choices in our lives and enjoy or don't enjoy people, activities and ideologies, it is our earliest conditioning that runs the show while we are happily unaware of it. If you haven't spent some serious time reshaping your earliest and deepest brain pathways through whatever therapy or method that appeals to you, your childhood OS is still running your life.
This is a message of beauty to me. There is no reason to feel anger or fear or pity or sadness at anyone else's actions, whatever they may be; they are simply perpetuating the subconscious behavioural patterns that they learned early in their life, during the pre-verbal stage and gestation. Of course, this does not mean that I condone any and all actions and smile at idiocy and bullies; some actions need to be met with enough force to stop them. But I have no reason to blame the person perpetuating these dysfunctional behavioural patterns for anything. S/he simply received a dysfunctional childhood OS which s/he hasn't reshaped, which is true for almost every single human being. Understanding this gives rise to compassion.
"Hun, you should've told that to the couple who wrote the firmware"
"All right guys, I'm taking off a year or two to upgrade my OS - see you in 2013"
"I did? I'm sure it's just a bug - I'll check with the tech guys"
"Sorry, I'm just a beta version! You should've known you signed up to be a beta tester"
"You'll have to wait, that feature should be added in v0.97"
Saving this file to my own OS ;)
Very buddhistic thoughts.
I appreciate every rise to compassion I can get. So interesting to figure out how our minds work. And how to teach our children to deal with their minds and emotions, it's a nice challenge.
You never know what people struggle with, deep within. I have many, many people with dysfunctional childhood OS's around me. Most of all my friends actually. It is easy to judge and get frustrated with them. Unfortunately I tend to avoid conflicts instead of dealing with them, this text is a nice reminder of how people work and how you can understand and then reprogram your own mind to work better with others.
I, too, try to just observe my emotions and not get carried away in them, uncontrollably.
Thanks, Jack. <3
I have usually few problems understanding the subconscious forces moving people, and feeling compassion for them. However now that I'm rather unwillingly spending some time where I grew up, I notice how much more difficult it is for me to feel compassion for my parents. I can see why they act the way they do, but it doesn't stop the pain. For now, distance is a necessity; one day perhaps it will not be.
I am reminded not to overestimate my abilities, and to remember to heal myself above all. Gladly, I will be gone soon, and not back in a long time.
I can completely relate. It is much easier to have compassion for friends or acquaintances, but with family members, I have an incredibly difficult time remaining unattached to their words/actions without suppressing emotions and the same time. It is a challenge indeed
Generally speaking, disconnecting others isn't worth the effort if you're struggling to fully connect yourself. Once you are fully connected yourself and living your life fully true to your true self, the change you can contribute to will happen. Your best contribution to their progress now is to focus fully on yourself. Those who are ready to receive will receive what they can, others will glide away. You may or may not reconnect at some point later in life. This may bring pain, and going through what we experience as betraying the will and trust of others often feels painful. Yet the only body and mind we can control are ours, and I at least experience life as first and foremost an obligation to be brutally honest to my true self.
There is a Buddhist story which illustrates this. I don't remember the exact wording, so this is from memory:
"The Buddha once told this story.
There was an old man and a young boy who went from village to village, performing acrobatics and asking people to donate money as tokens of gratefulness for their show. The old man would stand on the ground and the boy would balance on the old man's head, balancing himself a straw on his forehead, and an apple on the straw.
One day, as the old man and the boy were resting, the old man said to the boy:
- Let us concentrate on each other, so that we may perform even more difficult tricks and earn more money; I look after you, and you look after me, so that we thus may gain better stability.
The boy responded:
- No, master; let us each focus on his own. You focus on standing still, concentrating on every muscle in your body, so that you may remain perfectly still, and never let your concentration wander away from your body. I will likewise focus on every muscle in my body, so that I may remain perfectly still on top of your head, and the straw on top of my head, and the apple on the straw; if I let my focus wander away from my body, surely I will stumble and fall, and we will have no food. Each focusing fully on his own, we will perform our acrobatics skillfully and people will show their appreciation and we will have food to eat.
The Buddha smiled and said:
- The young boy was right."
You can reboot, but it usually doesn't happen overnight. My OS is wildly different from what it was a few years ago, though very much still remains to be done. One of the key things in my progress has been to stay away from people who oppose my change (close relatives when I was leaving the church for example, as they would have exerted significant pressure to have me remain). It has been by far my greatest challenge to put enough distance between me and my wife, as that also includes distancing myself from my children, but in the end, I really didn't have a choice anymore.
For me, my resistance and unwillingness to take the time I need for myself, regardless of how it may affect others, has created so much trouble of all sorts in my life that the mess my life has become over the years has really only left the option of going far, far away completely alone, for as long as it takes. In the end, our practical circumstances came to a point where my wife realised I cannot stay. While I do not wish that others need to go through the same, I believe that this happened so that I can heal on my own, as I have been unable to do so (all the way) while with my wife and children. Only once I no longer could guarantee my family food on the table and a roof over their head did I admit to myself that I must, indeed, go. Not knowing what is to come, not knowing when or how I will return, not knowing anything else except where I need to be and what I need to do. The rest will reveal itself in due time.