Growing up, we never got a lesson on what the conscious or sub-conscious was. Despite the heavy spiritual core of my culture as a Hindu, I never crossed the borders of religion and the several practices that came along with it.
These days, all I am surrounded by, is spirituality. First, there is the concept of mindfulness that is going on around the world, harnessing its share of believers and non-believers. And then there is the whole conscious, sub-conscious thingie where we are being told that we are so much more than who we think we are.
So what is all this stuff called the sub-conscious?
I have explored the answer to this question by trying to understand the several different versions that have been going around right through the ages. The explanation for the sub-conscious varies from the proposed theory of the ancient “atman” which means soul or self, to something as simple and yet, as confusing as “the sub-conscious is what makes you, you.”
Some people say that the subconscious is the best version of ourselves and refers to the God within. When people say this, all I can think of is this man called Hitler and his God within. Since it is the outward, external conscious of what we learn, that teaches us to differentiate between the right and the wrong, I shudder to think of someone like Hitler who cast aside his learning, and instead began to focus on listening only to himself, aka, his sub-conscious.
And then there is the “sub-conscious is humbug” theory. I would have loved to fall in line with this theory. It is simple, and couldn’t sound more fulfilling, except for the one point that hit me as I was analyzing unnecessary ideas like the purpose of life, and similar such things.
And the point that hit me was – we are all pre-programed to die.
The sub-conscious is what we are pre-programed to do
Every living being on this planet is also tuned to death the very moment it is created. If we look at things this way, life is nothing but a journey towards death.
Since death, as we know it, is not a conscious program, it has to be a part of what we call the sub-conscious. At the same time, we have no control over our birth either, thereby bringing birth as another part of the sub-conscious.
Putting it together and into one simple meaning, the sub-conscious is that part of us, which is pre-programed to do certain things.
Now what is it that the sub-conscious is pre-programed to do?
We might think that it is only birth and death that the sub-conscious is pre-programed to work out. But there are a whole lot of other things that this part of “us” also does.
Genetics is the first thing that the sub-conscious reaches into. We not only resemble our parents and relatives, we also tend to behave like them, without being aware of the fact that we are behaving like them. For instance, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and his son – the three of them sometimes sit on the chair with their legs up. Apart from the fact that it is really weird, it is also not a conscious act, because I know for a fact that my husband’s nephew would not want to be caught sitting in that position, ever.
Then there is the impossible stubborn-arse behavior that connects my father-in-law to my husband and my son. They simply refuse to listen to reason. I know that you are feeling quite sorry for me since I am the one who has to put up with all three, but please don’t be. I have my ways and means to cope, and if I cast aside my emotions, these people make for interesting behavior analysis subjects.
The point is, when we trace certain behavior patterns, we will realize that it runs in the family tree, and no one deliberately passes them on.
But genetics does not stop with behavior patterns. It also has a lot to do with our complete well-being, because it can both boost our health and pull the plug on it at the same time. These multiple non-conscious, pre-programed actions make our genetics the biggest part of the sub-conscious.
The second aspect of the sub-conscious is the brain. Many aspects of the brain’s anatomy are heritable, automatically making the brain itself pre-programmed to function in certain ways that is not under our control. And that is why we have no control over our thoughts. This means, a part of what makes our imagination and our curiosity, is already pre-programed to flow in a certain direction. If you are wondering why we have no control over our dreams, then this is the answer. There is no conscious presence to channelize the sub-conscious in the way we want it to move.
All of this brings us to the point of how to deal with the sub-conscious
The sub-conscious, on account of its predisposition, flows through every cell of our body, calling out to us both through the way in which the individual body functions, and also through how our mind works. That is why it is very, very possible to become aware of our sub-conscious just by listening to our body and mind. For it is when we listen to our sub-conscious that we will be able to figure out how we work.
Why should I figure out how I work?
Sometimes, we feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction in the way life is turning itself out for us. At other times, we simply don’t know what to do, and can feel quite lost in this journey. During these times, we need to login to ourselves to figure out what the next step is.
Nature has timed us to tune into our subconscious. This happens during the “selfish” and turbulent pre-adolescent and adolescent years when we begin thinking more about ourselves, and feel that the rest of the world is ought to get us. What we are doing, is getting in touch with our sub-conscious, to figure out what to do. We also get second chances during our middle ages, as is being experienced and written about by yours truly.
When we become aware of how we work, we also become aware of what is currently working right and wrong for us. And from hereon, we can either follow a certain pattern, or consciously change the way we have been sub-consciously programmed to function.
Is it possible to change unhelpful patterns of the sub-conscious?
If it is possible to correct genetic mutations, then it is also possible to correct unhelpful patterns written into the sub-conscious. At the same time, we need to understand that there is no one thing without the other, and that neither the Buddha, nor Gandhi were un-flawed people. It is the measure of our flaws, that matters.
While the brain is plastic and can be molded through conscious habit creation, there are still the underlying functionalities that cannot be broken into, or messed with either. It pays to keep in mind that it can also be down-right dangerous to mess with our internal wiring.
So, what works right through life is the development and sustenance of a fine balance between actions of the conscious and that of the sub-conscious. It works like how mixing work with vacation works. It works like how combining career life and personal life works. The fine balance between actions of the conscious and that of the sub-conscious works like how juggling works. While we cannot keep the balls in the air all the time, we can also pick them up when they fall down, and start all over again.
Here’s to understanding your pre-programmed self, and here’s to working with your sub-conscious!
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