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Split Impulses

July 18, 2016

Have we talked before about how much I love books?  Because I love books.  I love to read. To wrap up in words, like a sweet blanket of another person’s thoughts and stories.


I got a good one over the past week that’s given some great perspective on training the brain. It’s called “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.  I’ve read his stuff before, and even talked about another of his works back in “Sangha of an Open Heart” (remember all that science behind the power of community?).


Knowing how things work is really interesting to me – especially bodies and brains.  I spend a decent chunk of my life dedicated to learning the human body (and helping others to learn their own – yay, my job is awesome).  But of course, since the body is only the exterior — I’m also really interested in what lies within.  Since I’m not enlightened yet, the conscious mind is what I’m focused on.


Except, after having read “Blink”, I’m interested in the subconscious mind, too.  We have a capacity to respond to things before we can even think about it.  Even before we remember that we should be having a positive attitude, an open mind, and a calm, even approach to the world, our subconscious will kick in.  And that damn subconscious will have us freaking out, making judgements, and saying “I can’t” before we even realize the thought is there.


First impressions make a huge impact, right?  So, even if we’re “smart enough” to pause and coach ourselves through how to deal with the situation the “right way”… does the first impression still matter?  I think it does (and most social scientists will back me up on that one).  


If the first thought you have is “I can’t” or “that person looks like trouble”, how much time and energy is wasted convincing yourself that you should have an open mind?  Usually quite a lot. The impulsive first thought comes up before you can even respond to it, within the first second.  


Then, there’s the cognitive response and negotiating with your subconscious (and the subconscious is a stubborn bugger, let me tell you), the repetition of the thoughts that you know you should be having, perhaps deliberately visualizing a better approach to the situation. But all of that secondary stuff took several seconds afterward.


Imagine if you’re driving 70 mph down a freeway and when you see the upcoming exit you automatically turn off after the car in front of you.  I don’t drive anymore but I used to do this all the time, it drove me crazy (no pun intended).  Because what happens once you realize you made a wrong turn?  You have to slow down to surface road speeds, usually stop at a handful of stop signs or traffic lights, make a couple of turns to find the entrance, read a bunch of signs to make sure you’re still going to be going in the right direction, and by the time you make it back on the freeway you just lost 5 minutes or so of real drive time.


We’re losing real drive time in our lives by working around improperly conditioned responses.   So, let’s try to redirect the autopilot response that keeps bringing us to wrong turns.


In “Blink”, Gladwell notes that participants in a word association test, measuring the timed response of categorizing words with races (primarily white and black), determines our conditioned prejudices with regards to race with surprising intimacy with regards to our subconscious.  Participants will score poorly the longer they take to respond, showing that they’re not relying on their impulsive associations.  People retake this test over and over again, trying to show that they aren’t racially biased and in fact very fair minded, but they will do no better at all because it’s their conscious mind that is fair, and their conditioned subconscious that has developed prejudice that comes before their preferred response.


Well, let me re-state that.  People retaking the test do no better except when they spend a few moments before the test looking at pictures of individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr.  By surrounding ourselves with reminders of how our conditioning is wrong, we can change our conditioned responses, even in the span of a few minutes.


The way to break away from conditioned responses of judgement and doubt is to create an environment of stimuli that prove the opposite.


So let’s continue to focus on positivity, on compassion, on belief in the ideas that we can change our minds and our bodies.  Remind yourself daily that you (and others!) are capable of more than you can even imagine.  Especially if your imagination is stuck in the aforementioned doubt and judgement trap.


By the way, if environment creates conditioning, and you’re changing yourself and your responses, you’re essentially changing part of the environment of the people around you.  This has the potential for a ripple effect — passing on the powers of compassion for ourselves and for others, it could become just as contagious as a smile.


Check out the video – do the meditation with me – move through those ideas and see how it affects your practice.  Then, go out and read “Blink”.  And tell me what you think about all of this.  Do you agree? Disagree?  Have you seen an example of this reconditioning and have a cool story to share?  Let’s connect!


Cheers, yo!

-*- Namaste -*-








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