It may be a blow to our egos to think that we often go about our days as unconscious as slugs, slithering across a sidewalk, of the foot about to descend. We operate out of habit, rather than being conscious moment to moment. As long as something, a habit, behavior or a way of thinking is unexamined, it rules you. When you become conscious of your thoughts and actions, you notice if they serve you. If they don’t, then in that moment of awareness something changes. You wake up.
I’ve noticed some patterns in myself and others that are surprisingly unconscious and are only recognized fleetingly, in the after effect rather than in the moment. If you ever get this inner message, “I shouldn’t be doing this,” in the middle of taking an action, then don’t do it. You can actually stop the action and not, in the famous words of Laurel and Hardy, reflect after the fact, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” Being conscious in advance of making the choice and engaging in the behavior can correct these “messes”. But you can’t change what you are blind to.
The first step to change an unconscious way of being is to become conscious of it.
What are your unconscious syndromes? A syndrome is a characteristic combination of behaviors. The word syndrome comes from the Greek word sundrome … sun means together plus dramein means to run. To become conscious you may have to break apart certain behaviors that currently run together, like catsup and French fries! Think about any behaviors that are unmindfully joined like eating out and drinking, working and going out to lunch, 5:00 and happy hour, bread and butter, friends and gossip, unhappiness and shopping, impatience and anger, conflict and avoidance, making a mistake and getting defensive, making a point and endless talking, or getting excited and announcing a new plan!
I’ve identified two syndromes that I think are important areas to examine if you want to live more consciously.
1. The Impulsive Syndrome: I see this one often. Before you think through costs or benefits, you say yes to a new course of action, or to someone’s request (a waiter, a friend, a business associate), and you find yourself agreeing to something that doesn’t serve you. Then after the fact you think about what you could have done differently. This syndrome manifests when you say yes to a request, an idea or a goal, before it is well structured. This is fire before you’re ready and before you aim! If you impulsively say yes, a revolutionary idea is to start saying no to everything until you come into balance and can hesitate before committing. In this way you can slow down the process of saying yes. You can sleep on a decision. I always have more questions in the morning that illuminate an idea, a request, or a choice to be made.
Going slow benefits your thoughts, words, and actions. You’ll have less to clean up or complete.
Sometimes this impulsive syndrome also manifests as a need to talk endlessly about a subject. Have you ever noticed people that get on a roll with their monologue, and you decide there’s no point in interrupting them or attempting to have a conversation? I’ve learned to notice this and just be with them.
If it’s you that’s doing all the talking, observe the impact on your intimate relationships, customers, or friends. Sometimes you need to get something off your chest or make a point! No problem. But if you notice that it’s most of the time, then more likely than not, it comes across as if the only ideas or concerns that are important to you, are your ideas or daily dramas. When you become conscious that you’re doing all the talking, stop. In the space that follows, examine your intention; observe your thoughts, and your relationship with silence.
One final note on this impulsive syndrome, when someone asks you a question, you don’t have to answer. Give yourself time to consider their request for information rather than giving a partial or hasty response. To be conscious that you don’t know is a gateway to knowing.
Becoming conscious does not mean you’re avoiding conversations, requests or questions, but instead you’re being present to speak and respond authentically in the moment.
2. Make It Wrong Syndrome: This happens when whatever is taking place is not good enough. Whether it’s yourself, events of the day, business, politics, people, or your past; this kind of diatribe consistently looks for what is or was wrong about you, others, or the situation! If anyone has ever told you to stop being so negative, you may be suffering from this syndrome, and be unconscious of how it impacts your relationships and your inner state of joy.
Many “negative” people just say they are realists. Not exactly! A realist has a handle on the facts of a situation. Negativity is a spin on the facts. See if you can stop using any adverbs in your conversations or thoughts. An adverb is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies a thought, expressing an interpretation. It’s what you add to the facts. An interpretation can also be positive. I could call this the “making it wrong or wonderful” syndrome! If the only response you give is “great, fabulous, or wonderful” then you may be making what’s unconscious palatable, so you can continue in the unconscious behavior. Making everything all right can prevent you from seeing things as they are.
When you’re stripped of the interpretation (positive or negative) you’re left with what is or what happened. You bring awareness to what you say and do. Blame slips away, no longer desired or needed. You’re left with the space to just be with what is taking place. Even as I write this I notice my shoulders relaxing, my breathing slowing down and softening, and a feeling of room around my heart expanding.
Letting go of an interpretation gives you room to discover something unseen.
The practice this week is to be aware of engaging in either of these syndromes and stop. Do nothing. Just observe and notice what, if anything, changes through the simple act of noticing where you’re unconscious.
MAKE IT A CONSCIOUS DAY!
My love goes with you as you work with this uplifting moment.