Monday 25 March 2024

Battling with my Subconscious Mind (In which Mini considers the mind monsters that plague her…)

Consciousness. There’s been a lot of debate about what consciousness is. I’m with Anil Seth, that having consciousness is having something that it feels like to be you.  I think consciousness is a really useful invention for animals, and minds are part of bodies.

But what about the Subconsciousness?

What is down there in the dark unknown zones of the Subconsciousness?

I discovered in the fantastic book Sentient by Jackie Higgins: we have way more senses than we’re aware of – for example, proprioception, which is the sense that tells the body where it is in space: nerves in our muscles are sending this information to our brains all the time, but luckily we’re blissfully unaware of all this data-sharing going on. But senses of space and time are all part of our subconscious, bound up with our idea of what will be coming up in the future.

The Subconscious is trying to keep us safe: it is doing its own safety calculation and summoning up the feelings for the action it has worked out is necessary. But what it has pulled up is fear, anxiety, dread and a thousand other uncomfortable feelings that it is horrible to sit with.

 So the Subconscious is trying to help but causing chaos: unease, panic attacks, a roller coaster of adrenalin rushes, immobilizing wells of rumination. My subconscious is a drama queen, a catastrophizer, an over-reacter.

 Thanks for that, Subconscious Mind. The upcoming event was challenging enough, but now you’ve summoned up the Monkey of Dread to sit on my chest at four in the morning. Really helpful.

It could be that back when we were hunter gatherers before farming caught on, the threats we’d face would be short-lived and real, and needing a swift and definite response for survival, so this super-reactive subconscious was useful to us. But in our world now, so much is long term, complicated and imaginary, so the subconscious’s response can be way more mental anguish than must be good for us.

The writer Daisy Goodwin, on Radio 4’s Saturday Live, said: “I think all creative artists are to some extent depressives, they write to get out of that slough of despond.”

But I wonder if the over-active imaginations that dream up worlds also fuel over-powerful anxieties.

It might be that book-makers, who spend so much time living in their own minds inventing stories – could be prone to the roller-coaster rides conjured up by an over-active imagination. So it’s important to escape sometimes.

This is how I escape, when I can.

If I can, I go running first thing in the morning. (If you can run or walk it is win-win-win in so many way: exercise, endorphins, sunlight, changing nature, and more.)

Then I go down the bottom of the garden, and think about my Nine Things.

I adapted my Nine Things from Jon Kabat Zinn’s 9 attitudes. Thank you Jon. It's an attempt to reframe my day, and to shift from being immersed in my feelings or worries ( like a fish in water who can't see the water), to being an interested observer of what's going on in me today.

Mini’s Nine Things:

Patience How can I bring patience to what may be happening today? It could be patience about what needs to be done, and where I am in getting it done; patience with my own feelings; patience to remake things that need to be remade.

Acceptance How can I bring acceptance: to be OK with things taking longer than I thought they would, to shake hands with an uncomfortable feeling and let it sit next to me.

Trust I can have trust: I can trust myownself that’s had a lifetime of looking after me, I can trust the skills I’ve used a million times, I can trust in my people, the world, the Protector of all Small Things, the Universe.

Letting Go/Letting Be Things do not need to be resolved right now, they can hang and wait, like a pot on a wheel. (Sorry about that simile.) Things can be fine just as they are. Don’t just do something, stand there…

Everything’s an Offer Today is the present – with all it offers. Accept the offers and do what you can with them. And when the offer is something you don’t want – sometimes that’s the offer you can learn most of all from.

I Change My Mind, I Follow My Skis My first ski instructor, Jeff, said this. I think it means: Jeff has been skiing so long that all his body understands how to ski and he can just follow his body’s well-experienced decisions.

Gratitude Thank you!!! For today! For my family, my friends, for having a house, for living in this good place…Thank you, overactive brain, for trying to keep me safe…

Generosity What or who can I bring generosity too? Can I pay more attention to my family? Can I bring some generosity to myself…?

Beginner’s Mind This is about looking at the world as if you were seeing it for the first time. Often we see the familiar and we see what we are expecting to see. With the truly unfamiliar, really new things, we have no expectations and what we see can be surprising.

With beginner’s mind – you can escape “the anaesthetic of familiarity” (Richard Dawkins) – and discover that everything is interesting, nothing is ordinary, nothing is ‘obvious’. That we are sentient and alive on a living planet for a brief window of time is vanishingly rare and extraordinary.

Mini's latest book is The Greatest Show on Earth, published by Puffin.