Thursday, November 29, 2018


As a child I was indignant over the injustice of being told to "go to sleep" when that was out of my control.  Nor did I wake up because I intended to.   Even adults can't always go to sleep just because they want to.  More than ninety per cent of what goes on in a body is not conscious, or is unconscious until we think about it -- like breathing.  Blood circulates, the lumps that are organs do their stuff, nerves and muscles, a little more agreeable, mostly respond to commands, but bones are factories as well as structure. Guts are sometimes called a "second brain" because they are made from the same origin cells as the brain and react to every thought.

So one of the main concepts for managing the subconscious is understanding that it is the whole body that thinks.  The next step is that it "thinks" in concerted interaction with the environment.  Lakoff is careful to suggest that the interaction of metaphorical thought is predicated on the "frame" or context.  "Fire" means one thing at dinnertime and another at the rifle range.  A white bear means one thing at the Arctic and another in the zoo.  But both are conscious thoughts.  What's important is realizing that this context also matters to the subconscious and may be interacting without your knowledge.  Perhaps PTSD is a little too dramatic an example.

The point is that the subconscious/involuntary can be managed by consciously arranging the context.  If one is lying still in a safe place without much light or sound, sleep comes more easily.  Keying into this is habituation.  If one wears the same thing at about the usual time of day goes to a known familiar place, and if this is a repetitious act, the body soon accepts and even asks for it.  Good writers learn that building habits gets one's butt in the chair and fingers on the keys -- a big part of success.  At least there will be print to work with.

Particular postures, gestures, places, words are also part of prayer as a discipline.  If others are joining in, that makes the act more powerful.  The moral content or focus of address is less important.  Lighting a candle, steepling fingers, burning incense, kneeling on a prayer mat, can all be the means of habituation.  The content is conscious and sometimes contradictory in the strange algebra of reasoning:  “When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised God doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and prayed for forgiveness” -Banksy

The means of subconscious functioning cannot be called "thought" because it is "felt" but not "really" in concepts and words  -- it is really what CAUSES conscious or semi-conscious awareness of something -- is hard to understand when it comes to "thinking" because it is not something that happens in an organ like a purple slippery liver or a pink foaming lung, but rather something that happens WITHIN a cell.  The brain just looks like gray mush except for the white sheathing of fat insulation we call myelin to separate the electrochemical functioning between cells.  It can secrete, it can connect to other cells with filaments, it can accept and send messages.

Within each cell is a capacity to respond to something in or out of the body.  We know by experiment that rat cells can detect blindly and without touching whether the animal is next to a wall or a drop-off.  We know about human empathy in which seeing another human doing something, our brain faintly reproduces that movement in both brain and muscle, the striated kind that we normally use to dance.  But "smooth" or "involuntary" muscle is managed by the unconscious so that empathic emotion, which is usually felt and created by the involuntary muscles, can also be passed through watching or thought, often through the medium of story -- knowing what someone else is doing or feeling, what's happening to them.

Religious institutions supply both habituations -- coming to church on Sunday morning, pointing one's head towards a sacred spot, singing with others perhaps with lyrics that enforce dogma or story, supplying objects with major implications, impressive architecture -- and empathic morality.  But the same phenomena are supplied by environment and should best be echoed in the institutions in that place.

That is, those who have no closely held environment that is part of the habituation of their bodies to existence, are not as responsive to liturgy.  To those who have always lived in the forest, it is the mandala of looking upwards through branches to a glimpse of sky that has meaning.  To those who have always lived on the prairie with the sky all around and ever-shifting, this is the setting that strikes the chord of holiness.

And yet, quite apart from the known and familiar, it is the mysterious, dangerous, unpredictable unknown that also puts our unconscious into a state of alertness, both a hardening of known resources, and the possible learning of something unexpected.  This must be what drew ancient people deep into caves, accessed only by squeezing through apertures that might crumble closed, that might trap one in rising water.  The approach of death can make us vividly alive.  Or not.  If the cells are not strong enough to make the molecular awareness kindle, then we are numb.

What are we not managing through the subconscious/unconscious/
underconsciousness?  Freud discovered that the boundaries that keep thoughts under a lid will weaken as we transition from the unconsciousness of sleep to the consciousness of waking.  Children have loose and permeable boundaries.  Hippies rediscovered that impacting cells with foreign molecules of various kinds will bring in the previously unfelt and also reconfigure what was thought to be known.  LSD seems particularly effective in restructuring what was taken for granted, even if it was safety and confidence.

So there ARE ways of controlling the unconscious but we don't think of them.  A school of thought directs us to think of what assumptions will structure some things that in the process open up others.  Bars make spaces between.  What are the uses of spaces?  Walls create gates between binaries when they were intended to only preserve a unity without any alternatives.  Evil makes good in opposition.  Violence is often intended to be a wall.

Bodies work between guard rails or stream banks called illness or even death.  Too much water vs. too little water/too much food vs. starvation and so on, are the dangerous edges.  Subtly, molecularly, unconsciously, the unworded inchoate only pushes up conscious awareness when some action is needed.

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