In the end, it’s all about me

In a very real sense, it’s all in my own head.

However, as you’ll see if you follow me through this post, this isn’t a self-centric statement because when all’s said and done, what’s valid for me applies equally to you so if it makes you feel any better about the narrative, just think of the you that’s doing the reading as the me I keep referring to. It still works.

Every problem I’ve ever had whether overcome or not, every interaction whether good, bad or inane, only happened inside that part of me that I consider to be me. Everything that’s out there on that external reality that Western civilisation considers to be the real reality but which Eastern philosophical traditions know isn’t actually there at all is, in essence simply how my own mind has interpreted what its sensing equipment has relayed to it. That information is held, sifted prioritised and matched against other prior inputs in order to determine the most appropriate reaction for the preservation or procreation of that previously postulated multi-cellular collective that I’m currently strolling around in.

Strange as it may sound, I’m not reacting to the world outside at all. I’m reacting to the relative urgency of the combined sensory inputs received by the I that is me. I’m reacting to a lightning fast interpretation of the information, not the information itself. I’m two steps removed from what I like to think of as ‘everything that isn’t me’ and weirdly, sometimes everything that isn’t ‘me’ includes the body I’m inhabiting.

If you want to get proper bonkers, then this is the point where you start to debate how we actually know that whatever is out there is actually out there and not simply a metaphoric illusion created by the I that is me in order to manipulate whatever it might be that is the actual source of all that sensory information from ‘out there’. Or maybe even ‘in here’. My brain could just be making all this stuff up. Decidedly possible, considering everything I’ve written previously.

The jump after this, depending on your day job and whether you have a brother with the surname Wachowski, is to go on to create a ground breaking slo-mo camera technique known as bullet-time and surround-freeze the action in a film you decided to call The Matrix. Mind you, you’d need some old fashioned still-camera techniques like time-slice and a techno-creative brain in someone as skilled as John Gaeta to see the potential. So seeing as that’s already been done, at least it has in my reality perception, I’ll content myself with using it simply to illustrate the point rather than develop the teenage-level philosophising any further. I have no way of separating out whether a signal is actually coming from an outside source or is an internal illusion and if it is external, I have no way of proving what’s actually generating it. So without formulating a doom laden hero against machine future, what’s my point?

As it goes, in practical day to day terms none of this matters. Stuff happens. You react to it. It makes no difference whether the external stimuli are actually there, a representational metaphor or even an emergent property of all that is quantum in a world where everything has probability, nothing is certain and matter is just informational potential. Wherever it actually comes from, our bodies and minds develop their individual models of the appropriate way to react and behave based on experiences overlaid onto the preloaded evolutionary software hard-wired into you by the time of your birth. Some of this drives us in a positive direction of growth and some holds us back in a negative fog of limiting beliefs.

If reality, whatever the truth may actually be and as I’m choosing to blog let’s take it for granted that I fully accept the real world is indeed the real world, if it is all down to how I both consciously and unconsciously interpret all the stimuli that come flooding in every minute of every day, then all the control I could possibly need to affect my reaction to the world is inside my head and that’s quite a liberating stance to take. I needn’t rely at all on the outside for solutions because whether anything works or not is down entirely to how that fundamental me interprets it and assimilates it into my model of how to deal with the world. I’m in full control of how I choose to react to the world and all the good and bad it cares to throw at me.

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that.

You see, the I that I think of as me isn’t the full picture. There’s a lot of evidence that ninety per cent of the decision made by me are actually driven unconsciously and the I that I think of as me, residing in the conscious as it does, that emergent property of multi-cellular collectivism from earlier postings, remains completely unaware of them. My conscious decision-making is limited to how I react to the various aspects of my environment that my unconscious has let me become aware of after it’s done all the checks and balances about keeping me safe.

Now normally this is excellent. It means that if I’m getting stalked by a predatory wolf-pack, (see I told you that famous feline would be retired soon), my unconscious would put me on high alert before I’d consciously become aware of them. Equally, if there were a prospective partner in the vicinity, I’d start strutting around, preening myself in the manner of whatever the locally accepted traditions dictated before I’d actually registered who that he or she might be, setting all the village elders into a giggle of knowing looks and sideways glances at the prospective in-laws.

There is an issue in today’s society, a fly in the proverbial ointment of modernity. Well there must be mustn’t there because it keeps turning up as a recurring theme in these postings of mine. We don’t live in the environment we evolved for. So what’s the issue?

As it happens you’ve all met them. You might even be one of them. Even if you are, everything here applies just the same and the particular effect of the modern environment you experience is this one and yes I realise that I’ve not actually said what it is yet. The issue is, of course, that well-worn phrase, ‘It’s health and safety gone mad’.

Our unconscious safety mechanism is the inner jobs-worth of the soul. It forces you to behave in a way that is socially counter-productive because rules written years ago, for a bygone age, are still the rules. And you know what happens then. Rules is rules, mate. You gotta follow them. They were written for a purpose and if you don’t follow them there’ll be hell to pay. And there’s the rub, as that erstwhile playwright of many centuries past was wont to say.

If you don’t follow the rules, it all goes wrong according to your unconscious, so it forces you to follow the rules before you’ve even realised. Phobia, Stress and Anxiety enter stage left, to continue the theatrical theme. And before you know it, you’re living in your own conscious hell because your unconscious health and safety executive was doing its utmost to stop you breaking a rule which would have put you in danger. Thousands of years ago.

Now, it would be evolutionary suicide to encode specific rules applicable to every situation because this would mean you wouldn’t be able to react appropriately and stay alive in any new situation. So our human evolution-solution was to be able to learn. To assist this process, we all are born with various fundamental ‘programmes’ encoded in our brains. Hard-wired into the very neurons of our brains. Here’s some of them

  • You behave in way that makes your parents keep you safe when you’re too young to defend yourself.
  • Adults are programmed to find a small body, large head and large eyes inexplicably cute.
  • Adults are programmed to be unable to ignore anything that sounds like a baby’s cry. (Co-incidentally, this is why many adults would rather sit next to another animal’s young on a long trip than a human baby. Think about it. If you had the choice of sitting next to a kitten or a baby on an airplane, which would you choose?)
  • When something sudden happens, we jump and flood our bodies with adrenaline and other hormones which get us ready to run, fight or freeze. And your immune system is temporarily boosted to help fight infection from injury. Really.

So our hard-wired programmes give us a basic set of instructions and we overlay our local versions of reality onto it and our unconscious learns from what happens as you grow from baby to child to adult. It writes sub-routines which keep us safe. The difficulty is it lays almost all of these down when you are very small and just don’t understand your complex modern social environment and it uses massively out of date programming language. It’s like trying to fly the Euro-fighter, which needs four computers just to keep it airborne, with a Sega Megadrive.

This where we link back to the beginning.

The fact that it’s all in your head, (and body, don’t forget the mind-body connection), means that you have all the resources inside you that you need to deal with any situation where these sub-routines aren’t working. You can’t change the main ones, they’re properly hard-wired. But you can change any sub-routine.

Sometimes, you’ll find that it’s enough simply to become aware that you’re reacting the wrong way. If you’re lucky, the wrong way hasn’t been too tough. I listened to Geoff Thompson speaking yesterday. If you’d like to know what it was like when these things go properly wrong, he’s a great example. He also had enough courage and strength to put himself back on the right track. You could tell by the weight of his BAFTA that he had recovered somewhat. Gritty? More like being buried under rubble.

Most of us don’t find ourselves in that place with enough strength or resolve to change. Often all we see is that we’re unhappy with life. Sometimes extremely unhappy.

There are many potential routes to help you deal with and manage that unhappiness. To help you get back to a state of normality.

I’m beginning to find, as I near graduation from this course, that much of what I’ve learned helps to re-frame those unhelpful health and safety rules that our unconscious makes us follow with the best of its intentions. The people I’ve worked with as clients, (who kindly volunteered to help me practice my new skills), are getting better. It’s affected how they see and react to the world, they’re beginning to get that sense of well-being that we yearn for. Not only that, they’re experiencing reduced pain, better sleep, fewer migraines, one of them even no longer has hayfever. All because they looked at how the unconscious had framed prior learning experiences and then re-framing those same experiences from an objectively adult perspective. They rewrote their own rules.

So if you want to get that internal health and safety department working to rules of your own choosing, you might find that you’re be beginning to get an idea of what to do about it. That you have everything you need already.

Sometimes it helps to have someone to show you which buttons to push.

Isn’t it finished yet?
© Tony Burkinshaw 2012

4 thoughts on “In the end, it’s all about me

  1. Interesting topic! This post reminded me of a quote attributed to Carl Jung, that is: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

    • Absolutely! Our unconscious primes us to look for evidence that proves what it is trying to get us to do and ignore evidence to the contrary. That’s partly why I’m loving Cognitive Hypnotherapy.
      All the best

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