First thoughts

Todays conversation with Dai Thomas, Educationalist was around the power of the mind, both as a force for the positive and the negative.

Emile Coue wrote a very thought provoking paper on the subject circa 1910 in which he suggests that inside each of us there is a conscious self and an unconscious self: essentially our will and our imagination.  Strangely, he posits that the unconscious is the stronger of the two, presiding as it does over the functions of our organism, but also over all our actions, whatever they are.  Proof of sorts can be seen if we compare the ease with which we might walk along a plank of wood on the ground, to the horror of doing the same thing two storeys up.  If we imagine that it is not possible to do the latter, then it is indeed impossible for us to do it.

Earlier this year I spent a fascinating ten days at a Vipassana meditation retreat where the initially frustrating task was to focus on your own breath moving in and out of your nose.  The task was frustrating because within moments of starting to focus, my mind wandered off to think about something else, either past or imagined.  I realised through the teaching that this is a common experience.  I also realised that I had experienced it before, as whenever I had to focus or read a textbook at school or college, I would find myself either thinking about something else, or falling asleep.

Both Coue and Vipassana agree that this difficulty in focusing on important tasks is essentially the unconscious exerting its authority over the conscious.  Both agree that it is a condition that is managable, one using autosuggestion, the other patiently acknowledging the lapse and bringing the focus back.  Again and patiently again until the subconscious learns to defer to the conscious.

In her book The Sound of Paper, Julia Cameron offers an inspirational guide to being creative but warns about carrying round an inner perfectionist (critic, cynic, skeptic or censor).  She has cleverly externalised hers as a thin-lipped, self-important critic called Nigel.  It is he, she claims, who derides her ability when she’s starting a new play and is afraid to finish, or send out, work for fear of it being judged.  Being aware of the relationship between conscious and unconscious is of great help, but externalising it shows a far greater understanding of the part it plays in stopping us from achieving our goals.

It is interesting that, in the same way that starting a task can be difficult, the closer we get to acheiving a goal, the more our resolve to complete it can ebb away.  I encountered this most vividly running a marathon when, for about the last two miles I had the strongest of continual urges to give up.

These urges to give up, or refrain from trying to achieve, our goals in life are purely a trick of our subconscious.  To combat them we need to first understand what is happening and then deal with it in a patient way.  The subconscious can be tamed and used as a positive powerhouse.  We cannot begin to imagine how limitless our bounderies are, but as Coue writes, ‘every thought entirely filling our mind becomes true for us and tends to transform itself into action’.

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