[reprinted from my former site How to Tune a Human, March 28, 2010]
In another article (‘What is the Unconscious Mind?‘), I described how the so-called Unconscious Mind consists entirely of things learned by habit or happenstance, and which then sunk below what we call consciousness, so as to operate automatically to promote our survival.
There are many things which our culture believes are automatic and unknowing processes — such as regulating our blood pressure, remembering to breathe, regulating the salinity of our blood and the acidity of our stomach acid — and that these processes are built into the body, are automatic, and cannot be controlled.
Yet we know by observation that there are yogis who have in fact taken control of many of these processes, and so we know it can be done. But why don’t you and me have awareness of these things?
I personally suspect that, as an infant, even as an infant or fetus in utero, we were dimly conscious of many of these things. Why not? Might not have we had some dim awareness of beating our heart? We had no language, we didn’t even have a completely grown brain. But why wouldn’t we have felt the beating of our heart?
What better a thing for a growing brain to choose as a beginning project than to beat your heart? Perhaps to begin to regulate blood pressure? Perhaps to begin to learn to regulate salinity of the blood?
Some things it didn’t need to learn, perhaps. The mother’s body is regulating the blood pressure as her blood entered the umbilical tube.
The child in the womb didn’t need to learn how to operate lungs, or to digest food.
But at birth it learned how to operate those lungs, real quick.
And soon after, at the breast, it learned how to suckle, and then how to digest food.
Why would we think, just because the infant has no language, cannot speak or use a computer to write an email, that the infant isn’t learning these things? Why would we *assume* that it just knows them?
After all, it learns everything else. Why would these things be so different?
The learning would be stored in the mind, but it wouldn’t be stored in a form readily accessible to later memory. In a similar manner, you might learn how to do a triple-gainer off the high diving board, but when you access it in your memory, it’s probably a memory of sensation rather than some clear visual picture.
We Learn to Focus
In the earlier article, I discussed how we learn things, and these repeated things become what we now call habits, and what that means is that they’ve been relegated to the ‘Unconscious’ part of the mind.
But is that how it happens?
Let’s consider a different view …
I submit that at some point in our lives, starting in infancy, we learn to ‘focus’ the attention. In contrast to the dim and vague warbling of the baby in the crib, as arms and legs twitch aimlessly and the eyes wander, the child learns to focus attention. Perhaps onto being wet or hungry. Perhaps the child learns to stare at the plastic ducky hanging over the crib.
As the child focuses its attention on the yellow ducky, what happens to all the other awareness?
It goes away from consciousness. The child is not ‘attending’ to it. It’s still there: blood being pumped, lungs breathing air, food being digested. But it is not in ‘consciousness.’
I say that the other side of Focus is the creation of the Unconscious.
It’s still the one mind. A single unified mind.
But as we become skilled at focusing attention, more and more and more gets shoved below what we call consciousness. We pretty much have to do it this way in order to get along.
And along the way, we learn to do the same thing with traumatic events. We learn that our pain will subside if we turn the attention away, we place the focus elsewhere, and the traumatic memory now becomes a resident of the so-called Unconscious mind.
The practice of focusing attention is how we create unawareness of the vast majority of the thoughts and processes constantly undulating in the sea of the single, unified mind.
It’s the classical two-edged sword.
Focus is completely necessary to survival. And Focus is what creates ‘Unconsciousness.’
Now here’s something funny.
In many ways, the so-called Unconscious is way more conscious and cognizant of far more than our feeble ‘Conscious’ mind can handle.
Julian Jaynes, in “The Evolution of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind”, provided a brilliant analogy. Each of us is like a person in a completely dark, huge room. On our head we have a helmet with a miner’s lamp. Everywhere we look, we see.
Because we are constantly looking, we constantly see *something*. We think we are being ‘conscious’ of the things around us.
And yet, no matter where we happen to be looking, all around us — above, below, to the right and to the left, and behind us — we are completely unaware. We are blind to 98% of what’s there, because we’re focussing on the 2% that falls within our limited attention, the limited 2% illuminated by the dim wattage of our so-called conscious mind.
Seems to me that the Unconscious mind — attending to a thousand things at once — is actually more conscious than our so-called conscious mind.
Make a friend of your Unconscious mind. It’s probably the best friend you’ve got.