In a nutshell – everything you need to know about the mind

Knowing how our own mind works is crucial for a truly happy and productive life. So what is the mind? Is it not just another word for ‘brain’?

No. The mind is not a physical thing like the brain. It is an activity which extends into every cell in the body and the energy field surrounding it. It contains the imprints that form your personality, including your habits, interests, memories, ideas and beliefs. It is shaped by your learning and the environment, and ultimately fashions the way you live.

The mind operates at many levels, some of which we are aware and others we are not. These levels of awareness include:

  • The conscious mind
  • The subconscious mind
  • The Collective Unconscious
  • The Superconscious

Each influences the others as information constantly flows between them. However, the deeper, subconscious levels are many times more powerful. The deeper we go into the mind, the closer we get to our spiritual core. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion until we reveal the innate Intelligence that lies at the centre.

Understanding the mind how its various levels interact with each other is important because it enables us to become more effective in our daily lives.

The Conscious Mind

The mind has often been compared to an iceberg, with a small portion floating above the water level and a bulky mass hidden beneath. The conscious mind is the ‘visible’ part. It is the small fraction of mental activity of which we are aware in any moment, and includes the facility of reasoning also known as the intellect.

We know the conscious mind as an ongoing conversation in our heads, one thought following another, and another. When we pay repeated attention to a thought it filters through to the subconscious and produces record-like grooves which play over and over again until the thought becomes a habit.

The conscious mind has only a fraction of the capacity of the subconscious, but it plays a major role in our lives. We can consciously feed new patterns into the subconscious, creating new habits, weakening old habits and replacing them with new. Similarly, we can weaken old habits by withdrawing our attention from them until.

The intellect

The intellect is the reasoning part of the conscious mind. It gathers, sorts and uses information, calculates, decides, analyses and makes judgements.

The intellect is a powerful resource, but is greatly influenced by childhood programming and cultural conditioning. Thinking habits we learned as children do not always serve us well in adulthood. We must be careful: wisdom cannot always be deduced by logic.

The subconscious mind

A vast number of mental activities take place below our threshold of awareness. These include:

  • Regulating bodily functions such as body temperature, absorbing oxygen and nutrients into the bloodstream, waste disposal, the endocrine system (which monitors and controls the hormones), maintaining the immune system and healing. The subconscious normally acts separately from the conscious mind when carrying out these activities.
  • The subconscious has vast data storage and handling facilities which record everything we perceive, do, think, say and dream.
  • An instinctive goal-seeking apparatus, like a kind of automatic pilot which guides us in the direction of the predominant thoughts and mental images. This is the mechanism behind the so-called ‘Law’ of Attraction.

The subconscious prevents the conscious mind from suffocating in its own thoughts. Can you imagine continually being aware of every memory you ever had, or having to remind yourself to digest your food? Life would be intolerable, wouldn’t it?

All the material in the subconscious is capable of being brought into consciousness. For example, when we dream, the barriers between the conscious and subconscious open and subconscious material drifts into consciousness. It also opens up when we are daydreaming or in an altered state such as hypnosis.

The subconscious mind is responsive to the will of the conscious and has no capacity to think independently. Self-talk acts as a form of instruction to the subconscious, and like a faithful servant, it follows its instructions precisely.

The conditioned mind

The term ‘conditioned mind’ describes those mental activities, both conscious and subconscious, which are the result of previous learning, including the patterns which were programmed into us as children. If we allow the conditioned mind to dominate our thinking, we find it impossible to break away from old thinking patterns and behaviours.

Replacing harmful conditioning with new, positive thoughts is vital for personal growth. Once you know the technique, with practice you can eliminate any unwanted habit from your thinking and behaviour.

The Collective Unconscious

Individual minds appear to be part of a ‘group mind,’ a pool of knowledge and wisdom passed down the generations through our genes and cultural conditioning. This is the Collective Unconscious, a term coined by the great psychologist, Dr Carl Gustav Jung.

There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence for this. Throughout history, societies from around the globe who had no physical contact with each other made leaps of progress at about the same time. There is also evidence of this in the animal kingdom. Leading naturalists believe this is evidence of a psychic force connecting them.

There is little doubt that one mind is able to communicate with others. We don’t understand how this works, but it has been investigated and verified many times.

The Superconscious Mind

The Superconscious is the intuitive part of the mind. It taps into a source of knowing and inspiration beyond the world of the five senses. It is not restricted by logical thinking, nor is it subject to the same perceptual errors, nor is it bound by past experiences or cultural conditioning. No known limit can be placed on its activities.


How do all these levels of awareness related to each other and a better life?

  • Take charge of the conscious mind by being aware of your thoughts and deliberately changing negative to positive with intent.
  • Your empowering new thought patterns then permeate the subconscious mind, which reflects back in your conscious thinking and behaviour.
  • You’ll also be able to examine the impact of the conditioned mind and collective unconscious on you and use your intellect to accept or reject ideas you like or dislike.
  • You’ll also learn how to subdue or silence interference from the conscious and subconscious minds to allow the Superconscious to make itself known.

Big stuff! It takes practice, but once you’re mastered it your life will never be the same again!

©David Lawrence Preston, 2.11.2016

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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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