Understanding the Mind

What is this thing called ‘mind’?

Unlike the brain, it’s not a physical thing. It’s an activity. If you opened up your head you would not be able to find it, because it can’t be seen or weighed. But we know it’s there: we are aware of it and can observe it in action.

Crucially, there is more than one level of awareness within the human mind. At any moment, there are things you are aware of, things you could bring to mind if you wanted (such as a memory of what you did yesterday), and things which lie much deeper, such as childhood memories. We can group these into various categories or levels of consciousness.

The Conscious Mind

The conscious mind is the part of the mind that we are aware right now. It is a stream of thoughts, like a never ending conversation in our heads. The conscious mind functions only when we are awake.

Conscious ‘thinking’ is little more than talking to ourselves.

The conscious mind gathers information through the five senses, processes it according to our previous learning and beliefs, then passes it through to the unconscious for long term processing and storage. It is intelligent, but it can only deal with one thing at a time. Trying to concentrate on more than one is a strain. For instance, if we are reading while someone else is talking, we either have to break off from reading or ignore the other person – the conscious mind cannot handle both.

This is, on the whole, fortunate. It means that we don’t have to consciously remind our heart to beat, our lungs to absorb oxygen or the digestive system to function. Nor is our attention cluttered with information that we don’t need at that moment – that is all stored in the unconscious memory banks.

The Unconscious Mind

We are only ever aware of a small percentage (less than 5%, probably much less) of our mental activity. The remainder (more than 95%) lies beneath the threshold of awareness in the unconscious. It is often compared to the mass of an iceberg which floats below the surface, out of sight but exerting a considerable influence on our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

  • The capacity of the unconscious is virtually unlimited.
  • It works continually, even when we are asleep.
  • Unlike the conscious, it deals with ‘wholes’, not minutiae.
  • It can come to conclusions without going through analytical thought processes.

We call it the unconscious, but this doesn’t mean that we are never aware of it: all unconscious material can be brought into consciousness, and as long as we have the conscious ability to reason and to think, we can influence it.

When unconscious material comes to the surface in the form of a pleasant memory, it can bring a feeling of harmony and contentment; but it can also disturb, bringing feelings of discomfort or, at worst, psychological problems of one sort or another.

There are many sides to the unconscious:

The subconscious contains material which lingers just below the surface and is capable of being accessed whenever we need it, such as an address, a date, route or set of instructions we have not used for a while. We can normally handle up to nine pieces of information at a time, which is why most telephone numbers are less than nine digits, especially if they do not require intense concentration. For example, we can talk on the telephone and sign a letter at the same time, but would not be able to work out a difficult algebraic equation or plan a major project.

The conditioned unconscious is a storehouse of memories, instincts and drives – a library of knowledge, dreams, experiences and emotions. Much of this material is imprinted in childhood. It’s the part of the mind, for example, that reminds us of what we believe we can and can’t do.

Some of this material can be accessed without involving the conscious mind, for example, when we learned to use a keyboard. At first, we used all our conscious faculties to remember which key was which. Then, with practice, the unconscious took control – an experienced typist can easily type a document accurately and hold a conversation at the same time. The same applies when we learn to ride a bicycle, drive a car, play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, or knit, and so on.

The unconscious also contains a kind of goal-seeking mechanism which seeks out whatever we consistently place our attention on.  Once a desire is planted in the unconscious, the mind tries to help bring it to fruition. This is a vital and invaluable function of the unconscious.

The unconscious can’t think for itself; it just processes whatever information is fed into it and carries out instructions given (deliberately or accidentally) by the conscious. Once an idea takes root there, it is extremely difficult to shift. Used correctly, it can help to take us where we most want to go; but it can also unknowingly keep us bound to destructive habits and beliefs.

You can learn how to get the conditioned unconscious on your side, so it works for you instead of against you.

The body’s automatic regulation system: the unconscious also regulates the physical operations of the body, including the healing and immune systems, heartbeat and circulation, breathing and oxygen absorption, digestion, waste disposal and the Autonomic Nervous System.

The Superconscious

‘Superconscious’ is an inclusive term for those aspects of mind that transcends the physical and go beyond what we can be explained through our bio-chemistry. It includes the intuition, often referred to as the ‘sixth sense’ or ‘gut feel’, and the ‘Spiritual’ or ‘Higher Self’.

Higher Consciousness

Science recognizes that the basic building block of the universe is a field of energy and information which permeates all things, including us. We live in, and are an integral part of, an ocean of intelligence and consciousness. Much of goes on around us cannot be understood by the human mind with all its preoccupations, fears and misconceptions. This is a fascinating area of research.

Understanding how the mind works is a vital part of self-awareness, which is vital for happiness, confidence and spiritual and self-development.

©David Lawrence Preston, 1.3.2016

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