Watching the Unconscious Mind
If we understand how our distractions form, we can better ‘guard our doors’ and experience the world clearly. To meditate is to watch some aspect of ourselves without trying to consciously influence it. By doing this we free the unconscious mind to remain in control of all habitual processes as we consciously observe.
The first thing we usually notice is that the unconscious mind is a lot better at habitual processes like breathing, walking and dancing than we are. When we ‘follow our breath’, our breath usually slows and deepens. If we try to ‘slow our breathing’ we often eventually become short of breath. This revelation creates an awareness of an almost magical part of us that we are not in verbal contact with. (I suppose that is why they call it the unconscious mind!)
As we develop this ability to ‘watch and not interfere with the unconscious’, we can achieve these ‘optimized states’ more easily. We may notice that after a few breaths we are better at going out on a dance floor or giving a lecture. We may find that we tend to not ‘trip over’ the harmony of unconscious activity with our conscious mind.
Meditation in Psychiatry
Meditation plays an important role in psychiatry. In fact, meditation that focuses on breathing is just the beginning. It helps us to recognize the state in clearly observable actions (breathing). It also helps us recognize this state when we are involved in other activities. First sitting with your eyes closed, then with our eyes open. Then we begin to practice walking meditation. When we read Thich Nhat Hanh’s "Peace is every Step", we are practicing living in meditation.
Another method is called ‘guarding our doors’. We expand upon and connect to what we experience within us. We can follow movements and, one by one, we can follow each sense. As we do, each one of our senses ‘goes from black and white into color’ and with practice, each sense develops its richness and connection to our awareness. Over time, this awareness of each of our senses begins to deepen our awareness of the dance between our vessel and the relationships of our life. As we build our awareness of this dance, we build our unconscious ability to remain optimized in each aspect of our life’s dance.
The next step, although none of this is linear, is to move to a greater awareness of our conscious running thoughts. We watch as the thoughts run along, then over time, they slow and deepen, just as with our breath. There becomes increasing purposefulness to our mental activity and we are eventually able to reach this level of purposeful thinking more easily. Over time we learn to recognize the purposefulness that guides our thinking. With practice we can avoid habitual internal distractions, even in times of stress, allowing us to maintain our intent when life calls.
Results and Benefits of Meditation
As you can see, meditation and psychiatry complement one another nicely. Through meditation, we follow the thoughts that seem ‘to come out of nowhere’. ‘Nowhere’ is the vast storehouse of the unconscious mind. It is very alive and always dancing with life. It makes connections from a thousand points of information no longer available to the conscious mind. The unconscious mind likes, and dislikes. It looks at others and knows, it uses all of our senses in its determinations, and it wants to avoid pain and seek out pleasure. As we meditate on these unexpected thoughts, we come to experience the greatest part of ourselves. This is where all motivations are initiated. Again, with time, we begin to notice a pattern to the nowhere that these thoughts flow from.
Adding to our awareness of this dance, another meditation calls for us to watch as the unconscious mind guides our eyes. In another meditation we listen as the unconscious mind guides our ears. What does it like? What does it fear? What is it noticing? And, what question is it asking us? Please know, the unconscious mind is always asking a question.
It may seem strange that something with this kind of information available should ever need to ask our conscious mind anything. But if we think for a moment, it frequently does. When we are driving in a car, thinking about our destination, our unconscious mind often notices things we would have missed. It wakes us from our thoughts with urgency and demands us to ‘look to the right’. It is not sure what is there but something doesn’t feel right to it. As we consciously look, we see a baby running close to the road. Maybe we notice that the baby’s parent has the baby firmly by the hand. And we say to our unconscious mind, ‘It’s okay.’ We relax and drive on.
The unconscious mind is connected to what happens in each moment. It always calls on each sense, and every thought. It functions optimally when we consciously pay gentle attention to the now. When we are practicing through meditation, we are able to practice this gentle attention. The unconscious mind has a world of information available, but its availability to us muddies if we reach into its waters without appropriate and practiced respect. It likes the gentle attention of the unconscious mind but it also likes to lead. With practice, our conscious mind readies, deepens, and attends to our surroundings. We become more clearly connected to the voice of our unconscious thoughts. It no longer needs to ‘wake us up’ from our reverie to see what is happening around us. We are then able to remain calm, see the moment more clearly, and communicate our intent more effectively.