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ON PIZZA, PAPASANS, AND PROGRAMMING

The subconscious mind, also known as the unconscious, concerns the part of the psyche which one is not fully aware but which influences one's actions and feelings. Often compared to a computer's hard drive, the subconscious is an emotionless database of stored programs. The function of these programs is to read environmental signals and engage in hardwired behaviors, without question or judgement. Our experiences in life are downloaded onto the hard drive of the subconscious mind, which then inform future actions. 

The behaviors governed by the unconscious are of the stimulus response type. You see or hear something, and you react to it, without thinking about it, sometimes without even being aware of what you're doing. A more powerful processor than those found on any computer, the subconscious observes both our surroundings, the external environment, as well as our body's internal awareness. It reads external cues and engages previously acquired behaviors without the help or even the awareness of the conscious mind. The conscious mind is a dot on a black screen. The unconscious is everything else. While we are focusing on a particular thing - say, the words on this page - the unconscious is perceiving the ambient noise, the way your bum feels on the chair, the kink in your shoulder, the gurgling of your stomach, and the anxiety you have about that errand you forgot to run, even though you don't even know you forgot about it. 

But the conscious mind is important too. It offers us free will, in other words to escape programming. For when habits or patterns ruling our lives come to the surface of consciousness, we are then able to change them if we wish. If I know that every time I pass a certain pizzeria I get a yearning for pizza that I cannot resist, I can choose to take another route, delay gratification until the craving passes, or give in to the calorie bomb and get 'em next time. The moment we become conscious of our hidden desires and reactive tendencies, we rise above being mere victims of programming. And we are all programmed to some degree or other. The subconscious mind, whose default setting is programmed, takes over the moment the conscious mind stops paying attention. 

The biggest obstacle to the realization of our dreams is not some lack of ability but programming, a consequence of years of systematic conditioning. Life's frustrations lie in our inability to break free from the subconscious. The subconscious mind, fearful of success because it has seen others rise only to fall, may prevent us from winning in the game of life even when we have the most talent and diligence. Of course if we were programmed exclusively with healthy behaviors then we could spend life on auto-pilot, just sleep walk through life and be assured of always doing the right thing. But few if any of us are so fortunate. There were rascals even at the famed Hogwarts school. 

So until we live in a world in which we are perfectly programmed supercomputers and can rely on our hard drives to always deliver the most appropriate responses to life's many and varied stimuli, here is a simple technique to expand your consciousness, in other words to bring the uncharted terrain of the subconscious under conscious control.

Lie down in a comfortable spot, like on your bed or couch. Or if like me you have access to a hammock or papasan, all the better. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Then start counting everything you hear. Notice the chirp of a bird, the rustle of leaves, the gardener's blower, the construction guy's hammer. Keep noticing until you get to 10 sounds. Then count ten sensations. The feeling of air in your lungs. The tickle in your throat. The feel of your pulse beating at your wrist. The warmth in your tummy. Get to ten. Then count the first ten thoughts that cross your mind. When you get to ten, you are done. 

In the span of 10 minutes or less you have just become aware of 30 stimuli which otherwise would have been noted only by your subconscious mind. You are instantly more aware. If one of the thoughts was to go for pizza, have a slice for me.

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