"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." –Carl Jung
Today is Tuesday, March 19, 2013, technically the last day of winter. It's cold and windy, but the sun is shining brightly and the snow we just had has melted. This morning the electricity went off just as I was making a cup of coffee, and realizing that I could not heat water in the microwave or the stove, I got dressed and headed to one of my favorite restaurants in Sioux Falls, Camille's Sidewalk Cafe. Of course, it's too cold to eat out on the sidewalk, but they make great coffee and fabulous food, and they have free wi-fi. As I opened my computer here, I realized that this is one of the images I had in my mind a few years ago when I contemplated retirement: sitting in a friendly, unpretentious restaurant and writing away on my laptop. That was the reason I opted for a laptop instead of a desk computer the last time I made a purchase. Of course, the reality is a little different from the picture I had in my mind. Today I forgot to go to the bank first, so I had only just enough money to pay for my lunch, with a few pennies left over. There's more in the bank, but the point is that I don't have money to do this very often. Another reality: I'm on the Weight Watchers diet, now, so I can't take advantage of the decadent desserts offered at Camille's. Such is life.
This picture I had in my mind is a great lead-in to my subject for today, the subconscious mind, because the subconscious mind stores and reacts to information primarily in the form of visual images, as well as in the form of emotions, tactile sensations, sounds, tastes, and smells. There seems to be a disconnect between our subconscious minds and language, which is the main thing that allows the conscious mind to effectively organize and recall information.
The subconscious mind is like a video recorder. It records not only all the sights and sounds of the events of our lives, but also information from our other senses, as well as the emotions that each event in our lives generates within us. It never shuts down, even while the body is sleeping. The trouble is that the information it contains cannot be accessed very easily, and this works to our disadvantage when we need to deal with a problem from our past in order to clear up an issue in the present.
The spiritual traditions that recognize the reality of past lives all know (although they don't express it in terms of modern psychology) that the subconscious mind is how Souls, who are eternal, record the the information from their various lives in physical incarnation. Modern scientists say that we only use about 10% of our brains. Well, duh! If you have hundreds of past lifetimes worth of information stored in your brain, you need someplace to store it so that you can process the information as you need it. The subconscious mind, then, provides the continuity for Soul from lifetime to lifetime. Eventually, I'm sure a lot of information gets downgraded to very low priority in the interest of saving space, so to speak. The illustration I chose for the top of this blog is a great representation of the subconscious mind (the part of the iceberg under water) versus the conscious mind (the part above the water.)
For those who don't believe in past lives, think about your early childhood. You probably don't have any first-person memories of trying to walk, saying your first word, etc. You probably don't even remember exactly how your first driving lesson went, for that mater. The fact is that you don't actually need real-time access to that information anymore, because you have internalized it. The learning (how to walk, talk, and drive) has stayed with you, even though you don't remember exactly how you went about learning to do these things. In the same manner, much of what happened to us in our past lives is unremarkable enough that we don't really need to remember it.
The problem, as I said earlier, is when there is some issue from the past – whether from our early childhood in the current lifetime or from a past life – that is affecting us today. Many stories have been told about how people learned to fear dogs, water, heights, thunderstorms, etc. because of negative events in early childhood. These days more and more stories are also told about how people were able to recall events in past lifetimes that triggered deep, but irrational, fears in this life. When we realize that we are Soul, and that we are truly eternal and immortal beings, we can release a lot of deep-seated fears, including our fear of death. A sense of deep peace and a reassurance that all is right with the world can result.
Back in the early 1960s, a plastic surgeon named Maxwell Maltz wrote about patients of his who insisted that nothing had changed after plastic surgery, even as they looked into the mirror and compared their image with photographs of themselves before surgery. Maltz discovered the power of the subconscious mind, and used imagery to help the patients heal negative self-images that held them back. Others in the field of personal development, such as Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins, have used Maltz' techniques to help their clients build positive self-images.
A photo quote going around on Facebook recently is by Zig Ziglar, who re-stated what Maltz found in his studies of the subconscious mind: "You cannot behave in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself." If you think you are a failure, then you will be a failure - your subconscious will see to it that you do, think, and say things that lead to failure.
When you factor in past lives, it gets even more complicated. Generally speaking, events from our past that generated very strong emotions – particularly strong negative emotions – are ones that tend to affect us in the current lifetime. One psychologist who does "past life therapy" wrote of a patient who was terrified of bees. It turned out that this woman had had a past life in which she was stung to death by bees, so of course her subconscious mind classified the information that she was to avoid bees as high-priority "survival" information. This sort of thing gets played out over and over in past life therapy, where clients discover that the manner of death in a particular lifetime (drowning, falling, being smothered, etc.) was especially unpleasant, and triggered anxieties in the current lifetime.
It's not just fears such as these that need to be worked out. Have you ever wondered why little kids 3, 4 and 5 years old will tell you what the "daddy" is supposed to do and what the "mommy" is supposed to do – even if their parents have a modern marriage in which they both earn money outside the home and both take responsibility for household responsibilities such as cooking and laundry? Where did they get this information? From past lives, of course, and not just one past life, but from many lives spent in times and places where the values that we label as "traditional" held sway. This is also where people get their ingrained ideas of how women should be treated and why marriage is better than being single. We carry forward a lot of ideas from one lifetime to another. This is why traditions are so hard to change, why they change so slowly.
When we are able to access certain events or beliefs from our subconscious mind, it is possible to understand why we behave as we do, and why we seem to be drawn like magnets to certain negative situations over and over. It has been said that when we can't explain how something works, we call it magic. When we figure it out, we call it science or technology. The same goes for our deep-seated beliefs (such as, "bees are bad and will lead to death") that are buried in our subconscious minds. As Jung said, when we can't explain why things happen to us, we call it fate. Once we look into our subconscious minds, we are able to bring to light deeply-buried beliefs that trigger events in our current lives. And when we are able to access our past-life memories, we are able to see how the Law of Karma works in our lives. An example, once again from the case files of a past-life regression therapist, illustrates this. A daughter was especially sensitive to her mother's controlling behavior, but a look at one of her past lives revealed that her mother in this life was her child, and that her subconscious belief, held over from that past life, was that she should be the one in charge.
The good news is that the subconscious mind is infinitely programmable, and negative beliefs can be erased and a more positive self-image substituted. In the case of the daughter above, all she had to do is realize that her situation with respect to her mother had changed, and the old belief was no longer valid. Further, if such a person recognizes the Law of Karma, she might realize upon extended reflection that she might have been overbearing in the past life, and was then given a lifetime in which she had to "drink her own medicine," so to speak, in order to balance the karma and learn that being overbearing towards anyone is not a good idea.
In my own case, I realized that for a very long time – certainly during the entire time I was married – I dreamed of myself as single, without a boyfriend, and living in my own place. When I started thee daydreams, I was a smoker, but in the daydreams I did not smoke. Sure enough, I am now a single woman with no boyfriend, living my myself – and I don't smoke. So I have created my own reality.
We all create our own reality, but as I said above, the good news is that we can alter that reality. It may not happen overnight, but it is clear from reading the stories of others that when we do this consciously, the time it takes to make changes is much shorter than when we allow our subconscious mind to just do its thing without any help.
So... was it my "fate" to be single? No, I created it. The question now is whether I want to change that, and if I do, then how to go about creating that change. :-)