We’ve all heard the phrase “the devil made me do it.” The idea being, of course, that some unknown, hidden part of self, caused us to misbehave.
There have been many recent scientific studies on the “subconscious” and whether or not it rules our actions while our “conscious” mind takes credit. This phenomenon was defined in an article by Dennis Overbye of The New York Times: “conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.”
Many people feel this way and that feeling leads them to the conclusion that “free will” is an illusion. How can there be free will if my subconscious controls what I do and, even worse, I don’t know what it’s thinking at any given moment?
First of all, where did the term “subconscious” come from? Most think of Freud but “subconscious” was not a term Freud invented and as a matter of fact, he abhorred it. In Freud’s world there was “unconscious” – that which was once conscious but has been repressed and “preconscious” – that which is still unknown but will eventually bubble up to the surface of consciousness.
The term “subconscious” was coined in order to put both of those things in the same mishmash pot so that now when people talk about the subconscious, they are speaking both of repressed conscious awareness and untapped consciousness.
These days, I think “subconscious” is often used as an excuse for bad behavior or a reason one hasn’t reached their full potential. It’s not my fault – I just need to figure out what my “subconscious” blocks are and everything will flow to me. It’s a nice idea and a piece of blue sky that has been sold to many believers in many workshops. I don’t mean to poo-poo workshops that allow the participants to discover another layer of self and tap into hidden potential, but to tell someone that the subconscious is the factor deciding our fate seems a little simplistic to me.
The question is not whether we have free will (we do) – the question is whether or not we have awareness. And this is where meditation comes in. Meditation raises our perception. I have written about the ability to be so fully in the present moment that one is able to tap into the thoughts and intentions of another – this ability grows from the inside out. When we sit in meditation, we drop to the level of Pure Consciousness. This allows us access to both preconscious awareness and unconscious, suppressed knowledge. Meditation is the experience of consciousness at all levels. The practitioner gains knowledge and insight from the experience of meditation. (As opposed to knowledge gained from intellectual concept.)
If we think of the subconscious as the darkest shadows in the dim room of our mind, then the experience of Pure Consciousness is like walking into that dim room, full of shadows, and turning on the light switch. The shadows literally disappear and we can see each detail of our mind. Nothing is hidden. Where before we moved through the room, one hand out, hoping not to rap our knee on an end table, now we move freely, choosing our path with grace.
Is the subconscious a tiger running wild and your conscious mind merely a monkey holding tight and jabbering away? Is it the devil? Or is it all simply shadow and light? It doesn’t matter.
You, post-meditation, informed by unconscious and preconscious desires, are in control of the next step.