Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who's in Charge?

I had another one of those little revelations the other day – the kind that in some ways I already knew, but hadn’t looked at it from quite that angle before, and suddenly the world shifted and this little bit made more sense.

Of course the rest of humanity might well be enlightened in this matter already and be surprised I wasn’t aware of something so obvious. But it makes no difference whether I am one step ahead or 40 steps behind. What is important is how it allows me to contextualise my thoughts and feelings.

It’s about the hierarchy we assign to the body and mind.

For many thousands of years there has been the idea of a separation between mind and body. There are our thoughts, memories and ability to rationalise – which has a sort of ethereal, non-physical form - and then there is the body with its physical nature, which responds to the commands our mind gives it.

So strong is the idea of this separation between mind and body, that it is the cornerstone of many religious ideas. We can easily imagine our bodies changing and dying, but not our thoughts, which feel like our essential selves. And if this is the case, what happens when our body does die? Well then, surely our consciousness and personality must move on to some other realm.

This was thrown into some confusion, however, when Freud and others started on about there being influences on, and aspects to, our personalities that were bubbling beneath the conscious arena – a sub-conscious, full of desires and agendas our conscious mind is unaware of. In which case, our mind is not necessarily the all-powerful ruler we think it is – there are powers behind the throne.

But while this is all very well to debate over coffee or beer, on a day to day basis, we still tend to think of our thoughts as being our own – that we are our thoughts, memories and ideas. If I want to make a cup of tea, or put my shirt on backwards, then I just command my body to do so.

What doesn’t tend to occur to us is why we might want to make a cup of tea, or put our shirt on backwards.

We know that if we have bodily urges, such as wanting to eat or drink or go to the toilet, then we ignore them at our peril. We might be able to stave them off for a while, but these needs will make themselves felt more and more strongly until we reach a point where we can no longer deny them. They will obsess our every thought until we sate them.

And there are older, primal, pre-self-conscious parts of our brains where instincts and strong emotions reside. These can save our lives in extreme situations, but they feel like they get in the way when we are trying to be rational about things.

Very often our conscious thoughts follow after something triggered by another aspect of our selves. We feel hungry so then we start thinking about what we want to eat. We feel angry and then look for something, or someone, to be angry at. We want to be loved, and then we do or say things to attract approval from others.

So while we might think that who we are is primarily our conscious mind, and our body is just there for us to command, the reality is our conscious mind is only one part of the much larger whole. A useful part, no doubt, but by no means the ruling authority. Our bodily functions, instincts, primal emotions and subconscious desires are all equally a powerful part of who we are and driving our thoughts and behaviours.



What this understanding allows me to do now, is put my thoughts and moods in a wider context – to start listening to my body, emotions and subconscious to see what they are saying, rather than either blindly ignoring or over-ruling them.

If we can understand that each part of who we are needs to be heard, acknowledged and dealt with, then it's highly likely we will suffer from a great deal less internal conflicts, guilt and exhausting emotional overloads.
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17 comments:

hope said...

Very interesting. I'll admit at times I feel like I'm sitting inside a building (my body) and looking at the world through a window. At times like those, I'd like to step around to the other side and view me as others do. Does that make sense? Well, maybe to a photographer it does. :)

Bottom line? I like how colorful we become when we mix it all together. :)

Have a good week!

Theanne and Baron said...

Here I am on my blog whining cause I can't think of anything to write about and here you are writing the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything" (The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy). Your thoughts are interesting as Hope states AND impressive. Of course I've been impressed for several years with your photography and your thoughts. Well done!

Alice Lynn Alfred said...

Great post....very thought provoking...things that I have wondered often. It actually is amazing to me that more people do not ponder such things.....

TalesNTypos said...

:-)

Mimi and Tilly said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, Kim. Understanding what the motivation is behind my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual desires/needs is a complex balancing act for me. I spent a long time living from what I thought was a rational/logical mind orientated place, only to find my subconscious has been determining decisions and I was just completely unaware of that. Peeling back the layers feels like peeling an onion! Acknowledging that there is a complicated balancing act going on gives me the space to accept myself more. I like that feeling. Em x

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - whenever I see myself on video, I'm always amazed at how 2 dimensional I seem. I don't just mean the fact I'm on a TV screen, but there are none of the thoughts, moods, feelings and physical sensations accompanying the words or actions I seem to be performing. Our internal life is far more rich and complex than it appears from the outside.

Theanne & Baron - If you look at the labels, or "Find your favourite topics" over on the left of my blog, you'll find plenty of similar such ponderings under "philosophy", "reflections", and "trying to make sense of my existence in the universe" :)

Alice - if you're into thoughts about existence and the nature of reality, it's always a surprise to find that most people don't seem that bothered about it :)

Adila - :)

Emma - I spent so much of my life thinking my conscious mind was in charge, it's been quite interesting more recently to realise it's only one aspect to who we are, and not even the dominant one. I'm now trying to do a lot more in the way of mindfulness and awareness and quietening down the monkey chatter :)

MarkD60 said...

Very interesting post. I have thought about this also.
Everyone knows that our awareness is coming from the head, the brain, the smarts the control center.
But the brain is sitting in an environment controlled by the body. I have for years been trying to control anger, and to me anger is caused by my body squirting a little chemical into my brain soup, changing the way I feel. When the source of anger goes away, the chemical is still there, and I stay angry, till the chemical dissipates.
Just a theory.

katierobertsart said...

I really needed to read this today, thanks Kim. xx

Kim Ayres said...

Mark - I think you're right. The question is how to get the body and the mind to work together. Both want what's best for us, but the body doesn't have a voice and can only react by shooting different chemicals at us until we do something about it. And the longer we refuse to listen, the louder it gets

Katie - anytime :)

allencapoferri said...

I agree. Something about conscious and subconscious mind though. We know, or think we know when we are conscious. Do we know what the sub-conscious is? I loved the illustration...I had to laugh.

Pat said...

I can honestly say i relate more to the second picture.

Kim Ayres said...

Allen - I had fun creating it :)

Pat - you are far wiser than the rest of us :)

Carole said...

It always amazes me...the things you think.

What you say makes sense, but seriously, in my wildest dreams, I wouldn't have realized I should think about it and analize it.

Toyin O. said...

Great post,I like to think my mind is in charge.

Kim Ayres said...

Carole - it's one of those things I don't seem to have much control over. My brain is always coming up with new angles on things...

Toyin O - I think we all like to believe our mind is in charge, but as soon as you think a bit more deeply about it, you realise that most of it is an illusion and our thoughts are much more a reaction to different bodily or subsconscious states. At least knowing this allows us the chance to live a bit more harmoniously with these other aspects of our selves :)

Jessiemann said...

Found this blog post really rather interesting. Mindfulness is something I think we can all benefit from - at least until I have mastered its art I can blame chocolate consumption on my subconscious mind.

Jessica - cantshutitup.blogspot.com

Kim Ayres said...

Jessica - I've been finding mindfulness an extremely useful exercise. It hasn't stopped the chocolate cravings, but I can be in the moment more easily when I do eat it... :)