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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on April 11, 2001 16:15:44 UTC

I just had a new sewer line put in at my house. When they dug up the old line and found the break, the area was covered with cockroaches. I think those cockroaches survived pretty well considering their circumstances and I sincerely doubt they had a spiritual vision to guide them. Are we less capable of handling our lives then cockroaches?

There are aspects of our behavior which are not directly under our conscious control: feelings, needs, reactions etc. It is my presumption that millions of years of survival has produced a mechanism which does a pretty good job of handling those aspects as well as possible. As behavior itself is usually thought of as driven by the mind and I have little if any conscious control, I usually refer to this mental giant (it is far quicker and more capable of solving problems than I am on a conscious level) as my subconscious.

How do I handle life? I just give my subconscious free reign and I feel pretty darn safe and happy. When I was 15, I saw a note in the News Paper which said, "Live every day as if it were both your first and last on this earth!" and that is exactly what I have done. Any time in my life, when it came to a conscious decision, I always considered those two issues. What would I do if I knew I was going to die tomorrow and what would I do if today were actually the very first day of my life, i.e., none of the mistakes (or successes)of my past had any bearing on the question. I only did what was consistent with both positions and I sleep quite well.

On the other hand, I make as few conscious decisions as possible; I let my subconscious make most all the decisions. I think this is what most people are referring to as "going with my heart". You can and should consciously override your subconscious sometimes (not eating when you are on a diet or not partying when you have work to do) but, for the most part, I think you have very little control over subconscious and you shouldn't try.

Most of the time you haven't even an inkling of what your subconscious is doing. Watch a basketball player dribble down the floor, dribble behind his back when pressed by an opponent, suddenly stop, jump and pop a shot right through touching nothing but the net. Then ask him if he thought about any of that. If he is honest he will say "no, I just did it!" You can't use your conscious mind to make decisions like that, you have to "feel" the right decision or you will lose every time. Trying to control your behavior consciously never works; I think it is one of the biggest mistakes people make.

So, am I saying you shouldn't try to control your behavior? No, I am not saying that, I am saying that you should think carefully about the consequences of your actions. I am of the opinion that your subconscious doesn't like being unhappy and it can be influenced by your conscious thoughts.

Am I right or am I wrong? I really don't care. I long ago recognized the fact that I "know" very little about what "should" be done and I strongly suspect that neither does anyone else. I have an old phrase I often use: "God save me from people who know the right answer!"

I have noticed that most people have a very difficult time saying "I don't know" particularly if the question is very relevant to their lives. They seem to be driven by an overwhelming desire to think they know what they are doing: the issue is so important to them that they would rather have an illogical answer than no answer at all. I find that life is full of points where decisions must be made without adequate information. My wife and I just flip a coin whenever it happens. (If you are unhappy with the result than go the other way, your subconscious has solved the problem for you!) We always say, "let God decide!" I think you would be astonished as to how often that act upsets religious people!

So I find no more need for religion than I do for Santa Claus. Exactly what purpose to you propose for religion?

Looking to hear from you -- Dick

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