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subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/25/10 11:01 PM
Hi,

I'd like to know from advanced meditators if you can access subconscious thought processes. And if you can, what shows up there, what is its nature, and how is it reflected in your life? I know that the common practice amongst insight practitioners is to not pay much attention to the dragons and demons and gnomes, but I want to know about that stuff. I mean it must have its place - why dragons? why fairys? - you know what I'm saying? Is it personal? Is it part of the the collective unconscious?

My understanding is that the subconscious or unconscious can only access it in dream sleep, hypnosis or meditation. In waking you can only see its effects by how you feel (ie. your emotions). In fact Milton Erickson reckons that all emotions come from the unconscious, and that the conscious mind has little power, apart from reasoning. He says our whole lives are directed by unconscious processes, and the conscious part of the mind just tries to put its stamp of ownership on things.

Since I want to change how I feel, I want to know more about the subconscious and specifically, whether it can be manipulated. For example, if you see a dragon in your meditation, and you kill it or make friends with it, does it change how you feel day-to-day?

Lots of questions here. Looking forward to your replies.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/26/10 2:19 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
Hello C C C,

A few thoughts before I jump into the rest of your post...

If one becomes aware of something which is "unconscious," does not that mean it is then "conscious;" meaning that all things were once conscious, and all unconscious things, if ever known about, will then be conscious again? Further, do you think that the rationale regarding the "unconscious" is a misnomer which actually points to either: "I forgot what made me feel this way" or affective-cognitive dissonance in action: "I am ignoring that it (a trigger) happened to the point of suppressing and ignoring that it (the trigger) happened, but have no choice but to feel the feelings because it (the trigger) did happen."

Your thoughts?

Trent

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/26/10 2:47 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
The following post is rather blunt because it would take me twice as many words to phrase it more nicely, and sugarcoating it like that would reduce the impact. If you aren't prepared to have beliefs challenged, which is quite understandable, please do not read this post.

What is "the subconscious mind" really? It's just all the processes that occur in the mind that are not consciously observed or attended to. Some of them can be seen by looking for them. For example, you may not normally notice a particular emotional reaction to people of a certain race, thus it's subconscious, but if you start noticing it, then it isn't subconscious anymore.

Some unconscious processing can't be directly experienced; it must be inferred. To continue with the race example, you might notice yourself treating people of a certain race differently than you treat people of other races. Even if you never consciously notice a reaction to people of that race, you can identify that something is going on unconsciously.

Thinking of these processes as constituting some entity called "the subconscious" is not a very accurate way of looking at things.

Different schools of thought have differing opinions on dreams. For Buddhist views, you can check out stuff like The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. For a popular view in modern psychology and neuroscience, check out the "activation-synthesis theory." But really, ideas based on the theories of Freud and Jung just don't produce good results according to the evidence.

Emotions arise dependent on both conscious and unconscious processes, though I'd lean more towards the unconscious ones because people as a whole tend to be poor at identifying the chain of events leading up to them feeling a particular emotion. If you want to affect your behaviors and emotions, then really it's not the psychology of the early 1900's that you need to look to. It's today's psychology and neuroscience, though I'm sure plenty of the ancient Buddhist advice is effective too. (See the teachings on Right Effort, for example. Abidhamma if you really want to go deep into Theravada Buddhist explanations for the mind and behaviors.)

If you want to change your emotions and behaviors, then you need to change aspects of your cognition -- your thinking. All types of thought, from verbal thoughts that constitute the inner voice, to unconscious associations (perhaps an association between Italian people and organized crime, if you lived in Chicago in the 1920's), to biases in the way you think, and everything else like that. Look into the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapies, especially some of the newer ones like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and similar styles which include an emphasis on mindfulness. Of course, you don't have to see a therapist to do that stuff, and you don't have to have any mental illnesses. There are plenty of books out there that explain the principles of modifying your own behaviors and reactions to what happens.

Simply put, you will get more effective results from behavioral and emotional interventions that are based on evidence than those which are based on Freud's cocaine-fueled self analysis or on reifying a person's habitual ways of perceiving and reacting to the world into an entity called "the subconscious."

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 4:46 AM as a reply to Trent ..
Hi Trent and Adam,

My thoughts about the nature of the subconscious are stated in my original post: that they are thoughts inaccessible in ordinary waking consciousness. Obviously if you become aware of them (during dreams, hypnosis or meditation), then they are no longer unconscious. The common reason given for them being inaccessible in the waking state is to do with ego defense - ie. they are too threatening or painful to be made conscious. Pre-conscious thoughts are different - they are thoughts that are accessible just by turning ones attention to them in the waking state, eg. if I tune in to what I'm thinking during daily activities, in the 'background' chatter of my mind, there is always a song chorus running over and over. Unless I tune in, I'm unaware of it playing.
However, i think the subconsious is legitimate and accurate description of the way the mind is layered - different aspects available under different levels of consciousness. Conscious, pre-conscious, subconscious.

The race example is a good one. I'm very aware of my biases and prejudices against certain races, whereas i find most people vehemently deny they have any such biases. Such people I'd call totally unaware of even their most basic feelings and actions, because when I observe them its very easy for me to see that they are in many cases more prejudiced than I am. Aside from that its been proven scientifically that we are all racist and biased to some degree or other. The people who get most worked up about racism are usually those who selectively mix with only their own race. Point this out to such people and they will be dumbstruck. Where are all their Indian, Chinese, African and Spanish friends? But I'm getting off the point. If a person was biased, what thoughts are going on in the conscious mind? None. Pre-conscious? None. Subconscious? - that is where it's all going on, and that is my interest. You won't have the vaguest idea while you're awake.

I didn't find your post at all blunt adam. I'll look into those references you gave, thanks. By the way I do read a lot of new stuff about cognitive therapy. I just haven't found that it gives any lasting benefit.

But the original questions remain - has anyone accessed the subconscious, what did they find, how did it seem to affect their emotions and actions in daily life etc etc.

[a few small edits since the first post]

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 2:19 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
The research on what's being called "the new racism" or "modern racism," which you would probably call subconscious racism, is fascinating. It's true that it occurs via usually unconscious (and involuntary) processes -- I recall one study that demonstrated activation of racial stereotypes when people were exposed to a 30 millisecond image of a person of that race right before doing a task that measured the strength of that stereotype. 30 milliseconds is nowhere near long enough for a conscious visual image to form, much less for conscious thought to occur.

That said, I would say that since you have become aware of the racial biases that you have, as a result of being a human being, they are not entirely unconscious to you then. There is a difference between unconscious in the sense of "I can't directly watch it happening" and unconscious in the sense of "I don't know that it's happening at all," and I apologize if my being unclear about those two senses of the word contributed to any confusion in the discussion.

If you haven't had any benefit from looking into the more traditional types of cognitive therapy such as REBT and Beck's cognitive therapy with all the lists and homework, you stand a higher chance of finding some benefit from the newer ones like ACT because they incorporate the results of lots of behavioral research. Something doesn't deserve to be called "cognitive-behavioral therapy" if it's inconsistent with what we know about behavior!

I haven't personally accessed a whole lot of unconscious stuff through meditation, but there is one story you might find interesting. It was back when I was pretty new to vipassana. I can't recall whether it was in Cause and Effect, or early A&P stuff. I started to encounter the early stages of the A&P nana a good deal before I had an actual A&P event, so I'm not sure where I was at then.

Anyway, I was watching sensations of metta arise and pass when somebody made a loud noise outside my door. I observed that the first thing that happened was the simple sensory fact of hearing the sound, which was quickly overshadowed by a response of surprise and arousal/excitement. At that point, there was no vedena content; the sound was neutral and the positive vedena from the metta practice dominated. That is, until the arising of a totally nonverbal thought that essentially said, "That type of sound is irritating to people who are trying to meditate. I'm meditating. I'm supposed to be irritated at that." And with that, irritation started to arise until I consciously discarded the intention to get irritated. I consider that an example of accessing mental processes that are normally unconscious, as a result of meditating.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 5:57 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Hi,

I'm thinking that it would be more accurate and perhaps beneficial for discussion to refer to the "phenomena" in question as "subconscious identifications" or "subconscious beliefs," although the "subconscious" part is (as I said in my first post) seemingly a misnomer. I propose this because I am quite well aware of subconscious thought in myself (much of my day is completely quiet, and yet I am able to, for instance, make a bowl of cereal; which is to say: I was thinking without being consciously aware of the specific thoughts going on behind the scenes), and with this example in mind, it is just a functional, simple, unproblematic way the the intellect may operate. It may be subtle, but the difference in making this distinction vs not making it is significant (at least, it seems so to me).

To clarify a bit further, the reason for significance is that this changes the "culprit" from the intellect (thought) to the self (identifications / beliefs / emotion backed thoughts). The self, for normal people, is typically completely subconscious, and only small portions or traces of it are present at any given time, and which the triggering of is based upon a set condition such as seeing the race of a person (and it is the neurotic denial (suppression / repression) or ignorance of this trigger existing that is potentially problematic from an every day point of view). And with this in mind (and to get back to the OP): it is entirely possible to not only access these but to eliminate them entirely. [ The best method 'I' found for doing so was: http://actualfreedom.com.au/richard/articles/thismomentofbeingalive.htm ] Lastly, the dragons, fairies, etc are likely cultural and are probably somehow significant to your upbringing (they represent something to you), just like religious visions for a born-and-raised Buddhist will star the Buddha and religious visions for a born-and-raised Christian will star Jesus. Is it, perchance, that you worship dragons and fairies?

Thoughts?

Trent

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 8:50 PM as a reply to Trent ..
Adam, I can see some potential benefit in a more behavioural approach (for myself anyway). I'm going to look at my values a bit more closely today, as per ACT.

Trent, I guess what it is I really want to understand is the sudden waking in fear every night. The more I try to relax, let go and surrender, the worse it is (and no, there's no dragons, that was for illustrating my point). The fear has no 'content' that would allow me to say "that fear is about ... xyz". It's just fear. I want to know what causes it. If I meditate, the fear gets to a level I would call dangerous levels, where I feel like I might lose it, so I'm not willing to go there.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 9:50 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
CCC,

I often found, when investigating feelings that seemed "free floating" in this way, that the best thing I could do was simply ask myself "why am I feeling this way." The trick is to listen honestly and sincerely, and perhaps be willing to dialogue and dig deeper with the response you get. This may seem like a really obvious approach, but I mention this because there were issues 'I' had (and a lot of them) that were solved this way because I decided to stop ignoring the response I got from the question. The response may not even make any sense at all (for example: perhaps the identification was "programmed" by the five year old CCC), and it may just repeat in your head like an annoying cricket that you've been ignoring for years. This will work though, if done in the way described, because the feeling (fear in this case) is a direct result of a trigger (identification), and by inquiring about the feeling, you may then trace it back to the trigger. By using questions, your subconscious intellect will fill in a lot of the gaps and I mention this in case you're thinking "I have no idea how to trace the feeling to the trigger" or something of the like.

Another alternative is that the fear is always there, perhaps just at a very low level...is that the case? Speaking about 'me,' 'I' was always in a low-level of paranoia because 'I' was severely distrustful of people, my 'self,' and the world in general (for a variety of reasons). That fear did not subside until 'I' came to terms with the reasoning for its' (literal) self-justified existence and decided to sincerely do away with it.

Best,
Trent

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/27/10 10:06 PM as a reply to Trent ..
Thanks trent for your practical reply. I will do that. And yes, it is there at a lower level all the time.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 3:29 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
CCC,

A technique much like trent describes is called "Focusing." You can get the book "Focusing" by Eugene Gendlin (it's really cheap) and take a look.

Trent is this an allusion to AF? Did your fear really only ended when you got rid of the "feeler"?

Bruno

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 8:53 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
http://www.hiddenbrain.org/primary-research

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 11:38 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
I guess what it is I really want to understand is the sudden waking in fear every night. The more I try to relax, let go and surrender, the worse it is .... The fear has no 'content' that would allow me to say "that fear is about ... xyz". It's just fear. I want to know what causes it. If I meditate, the fear gets to a level I would call dangerous levels, where I feel like I might lose it, so I'm not willing to go there.


In my experience, what you are looking for - the root of this fear - will only be found if you can investigate your experience as mind and body - not just mind. Most people experience themselves as a mind with a dead body sort of hanging beneath it. We tune out what is going on down there - there is aversion. Fear is imprinted in the body as patterns of tension. As you mention in the above quote - the more you relax into it, the stronger it gets. By relaxing into it, you become more aware of it at a sensate level. In order to work through it, you need to go into it. Try to tune into the actual sensate experience and not the compounded experience of 'fear'. To do that, open up to the whole body and pay attention to the actual properties of the fear sensations - things like heat, solidity, shaking, etc. Look for how it is put together. For example, when you are feeling the fear - put your attention on say your arm - is it fearful? If not, then what do you feel there? Shift to another part and repeat. Explore the whole body in this fashion looking for the sensate pattern that becomes 'fear'. If you have fear about opening up to this then investigate that fear in the same way. Fear is compounded - take it apart. The sense of fear - as you investigate it - will tend to fall apart with greater concentration (being able to continuously stay with the bare sensate experience) and arise when you lose your concentration - this can be a sort of concentration feedback sensor for you. Pay attention to the interaction of tension/relaxation in the body and how this alters your experience. Once you are able to stay with the more elemental qualities - they will eventually burn off or break up as they are impermanent, not self, etc. Understanding this process you will know lots about the unconscious, emotions, thoughts, pain, etc.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 2:19 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Great Topic!

On the subject of fear and nighttime, I had an interesting experience last night that was new to me, and seems relevant.

(Current self-identified stage of cutting-edge progress: Dark Night)

I was laying in bed, eyes closed, trying to get to sleep, and I noticed a certain discomfort in my spine, like it 'needed to move' in a certain way. I intentionally changed the position of my spine by tilting my pelvis forward (roughly speaking) and immediately felt a sensation of tingling, relief and relaxation in my lower back. Within a few seconds or less, I noticed a funny sensation on both sides of my lower back (I guess this was in the region of kidneys/adrenal glands; nb-- I don't think I have ever specifically felt my kidneys before except for that time I had a kidney stone, ha), and then felt a surge of 'awakeness' type energy (awakeness in the sense of feeling less sleepy).

Up through this point in the experience, I was processing sensations in a vipassana way, roughly speaking, out of habit from recent meditation. The interesting thing is that the sensations were very intense, and I believe they were sensations I would have previously interpreted as a 'sudden wave of fear'. However, since I was so interested and 'tuned-in' to the individual sensations, it came across as sort of exhilarating and not really so unpleasant in the way that 'fear' would be.

My eyes remained closed during this. The next thing I noticed was that the nature of the closed-eye visual experience had dramatically changed. The 'view' still looked quite dark, black, and inky; but there was a 3-dimensional quality to my visual field that I have not previously experience with closed eyes. At first it seemed like I was seeing my room through my eyelids... then it seemed like I was looking at a bunch of dark black palm fronds, all waving around.

...Then, I started seeing visual images of a bunch of dark insectoid-type forms with large mouths, opening and shutting their mouths and looking quite creepy.

At this point, I got unsettled by the whole experience and opened my eyes and tried to wake my self up and snap out of it. And that worked, I guess. Even at the time I thought 'ok this is probably just a typical fear-infused Dark Night makyo experience and the correct procedure is just deconstruct it 3-characteristics style'. However I was hesitant to let these visuals continue.

If these questions are sufficiently on-topic to this thread, I am wondering:

--Am I correct in thinking that the most productive approach would have been to try and 'vipassana through' the experience, even if that made it seem more intense for awhile?

--I have made the mistake recently of reading some forum posts about 'entity attacks' and so forth... can people offer reassurance that the practice of concentration & insight meditation in itself is highly unlikely to lead to any actual sanity-threatening changes? Or is there a 'buyer beware' element here?


And back more to the topic of the thread, I am interested to hear more comments from everyone on the topic of 'unconsciously stored fear'. It seems as if night and sleeping encourage the body/mind to do a little 'janitorial work' and kind of 'shake off' accumulated emotions. Is that a useful/correct view... or is it perhaps even better just to think of it as some kind of natural bio-energetic cycling rather than 'suppressed stuff'? Maybe there wasn't any psychological reason for feeling fear... maybe my adrenal glands were just overfull and had something akin to a nocturnal adrenal emission (heh)... Know what I'm saying?

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 5:35 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Bruno Loff:

Trent is this an allusion to AF? Did your fear really only ended when you got rid of the "feeler"?


The techniques I used were discovered on the AFTrust website and then modified to my situation, and they lead to an AF for this body. Hence why I linked to the site.

Yes, 'I' was paranoid until the very end (despite knowing precisely the source, 'I' was unable to talk 'myself' out of it and stopped trying because 'I' knew it would all be gone soon anyway, regardless of whether or not 'I' fixed it before throwing it out). This is likely idiosyncratic in the specifics, by the way (not everyone would have such a paranoid identity). With that said, though, fear and desire are almost always present in some capacity in a feeling human, and they are two sides of the same coin (the 'me' coin), which means that a person can only ever get rid of fear (and other feelings) when the 'feeler' is exterminated. Answering that question directly would look circular, because the 'feeler' is the 'feelings' and the 'feelings' are 'him.' Said another way: if there is a 'feeler' then there are 'feelings' and if there are 'feelings' there is a 'feeler.'

Best,
Trent

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/28/10 7:15 PM as a reply to Graeme M..
Graeme M.:
The interesting thing is that the sensations were very intense, and I believe they were sensations I would have previously interpreted as a 'sudden wave of fear'. However, since I was so interested and 'tuned-in' to the individual sensations, it came across as sort of exhilarating and not really so unpleasant in the way that 'fear' would be.

Yes, I have found this to be true also.

--Am I correct in thinking that the most productive approach would have been to try and 'vipassana through' the experience, even if that made it seem more intense for awhile?

Seems reasonable. You could optionally try to morph them into something else (maybe a bunny or something). If it works you will understand something about these things - if it doesn't I think I would just go for waking up.

--I have made the mistake recently of reading some forum posts about 'entity attacks' and so forth... can people offer reassurance that the practice of concentration & insight meditation in itself is highly unlikely to lead to any actual sanity-threatening changes? Or is there a 'buyer beware' element here?

If you are successful you will probably realise that everyone out there is completely mad. Which amounts to almost the same thing. But I don't know anyone that has gone through it that wished to return to their previous madness. There is a buyer beware element - yes. No matter what you think it is or how you imagine it - that isn't it - kind of a bait and switch in a way but we do it to ourselves.

I am interested to hear more comments from everyone on the topic of 'unconsciously stored fear'. It seems as if night and sleeping encourage the body/mind to do a little 'janitorial work' and kind of 'shake off' accumulated emotions. Is that a useful/correct view... or is it perhaps even better just to think of it as some kind of natural bio-energetic cycling rather than 'suppressed stuff'?


I think during the day, we cling tight to thoughts and emotions - that is, we construct a strong sense of self around them which tends to kind of lock them in and keep the body stuff out of sight/out of mind so to speak. At night, things come up more to the surface to be explored. Personally, I like thinking of them as emergent qualities more than as suppressed stuff. For example: If fear is coming up, then if you are willing to open up to it as we have been speaking about then the emergent quality is fearlessness. Thinking of it as 'natural bio-energetic cycling' won't lead you to de-construct it or investigate it at a deeper level.

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/29/10 12:19 AM as a reply to Trent ..
Thanks for everyone's input.

So far the best things seem to be:

1. Before sleep, trying to get some energy away from my upper chakras by meditating on my feet or root chakra.
2. Paying attention to the fear sensation without layering judgements and resistance - this is actually very hard when you think you're dying, but I persist because I see value there. The intensity of the feeling can be enough at times to cause my entire body to spasm and lift off the bed in one huge jolt.
3. Looking at what I value and making some life changes - this is going to be the hardest of all. (a la ACT).
4. getting some feedback from people here.


Last night, after it happened I meditated on my feet immediately. I lasted about 2 seconds when i noticed that the black space which you see when your eyes are closed, started to wobble like a plate of jelly (jello, whatever). Is that anything?

RE: subconscious thoughts
Answer
5/30/10 2:33 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
I've always considered that "vibrations" in the visual field. Tends to be strongest at A&P and Dissolution, or any time other than Mind and Body when concentration is strong.