Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Below the surface

In a funny way it was quite a relief when the doctor told me that I was suffering from brain trauma.  This explained the constant buzzing in my head and the frequent exhaustion.
It was trauma, the doctor explained, brought on by the fracture to my skull.  My brain, it appeared, had suffered a severe shock and would take several months to recover . . . in the meantime I needed to treat it gently.

It's strange, isn't it, you don't normally think of being gentle with your brain.  Yes, you acknowledge that the body gets tired, but the brain is supposed to  be inexhaustible and uncomplaining.  Thanks to my foolish fall, I've learned the fallacy of that belief!

But there's something else that I've learned this week, something that has a bearing on the brain and the process of thought.  It was a talk given by Craig Hamilton, and I found it fascinating.

I appears that over ninety per cent of our consciousness resides in the sub-conscious.  Like human icebergs, the major part of our vast operating system remains submerged.  Our conscious minds barely appear above the surface.

Just consider that thought for a moment . . . it makes sense.
When did you consciously pump your heart . . . or operate your gastric juices . . . or stimulate your saliva?  And even when we do pay attention to our breathing, it's all too easy to interfere with the natural rhythm and quickly become breathless.

Tell me, do you consciously think which muscles to employ before rising to your feet?  Or how to close your eyelids when you blink?
Come to that, were I to consciously assess the complexity of each finger's movement as I type this letter, it's quite certain that you'd never receive it!

But the picture is more comprehensive than that.
Our subconscious is not restricted to the realm of the physical.  Look at the way our minds still carry the programming of our distant forebears, people who lived in a very different world to ours.  Yet, taken by surprise, modern man will all too easily respond with the inappropriate reaction of fight or flight.

In contemporary terminology, our subconscious carries the software installed by our ancestors, our culture and our background.  Not only that, we each of us add to this programming by stowing away complex patterns of personal behaviour, ideas, habits, prejudices and enthusiasms.
The outcome?  Our reactions to events are largely prompted by our well-stocked and highly active subconscious, and it's truly sobering to realise how little of our daily lives is fresh and new and, as one might say, uncontaminated.

As Craig Hamilton explained, " . . . we're essentially running an outdated operating system.  And it's blocking the highest possibilities we could fulfill and the leaps we want to make, personally and collectively."

My traumatised brain has given me graphic proof of this programming.  Should there be bad news on the television or in the daily paper, I feel my fight or flight mechanism spring into action and tensions set up in the body.  Anxious thoughts, thoughts that have no basis in reality, enter and dominate my mind.

On the other hand, if Chloe makes me laugh, if there's uplifting music to enjoy, or if I gaze upwards into the unlimited potential of the open sky . . . then the body relaxes, the endorphins flow,  the buzzing in my head diminishes, and subconscious anxieties loosen their grip.

All of which, as I'm sure you've realised, leaves us with an important question.
If we accept the proposition that ninety per cent of our consciousness lurks out of sight and out of contact with the conscious mind, what then of that small percentage of awareness that succeeds in remaining above the surface?

The power-house of the subconscious is essential for our daily functioning, that's indisputable.  But surely it should be the perceptive awareness, the region above the water-line, that navigates the iceberg?  If that's true, and we want to be in charge, how do we locate this elusive region?

The answer, it would seem, is quite simple.   It lives in the 'now', in the present moment.

Impossible to describe, but instantly recognisable, it's that  precious quality of awareness that gives rise to surprise . . . and awe . . . and joy.
That moment when, instead of groping for preconceptions from an out-dated filing system, instead of pausing to think, ponder or cogitate, we open ourselves to the moment . . . and allow the light to shine in.

Let's give the final word on this subject to Carl Jung:
"Until you make the unconscious conscious," he wrote, "it will direct your life, and you will call it fate."