Your brain is the most sophisticated super-computer in existence. Want proof? How about the fact that you learned to speak your native language between the ages of 3 and 5 years old without any formal education?
How many computers do you know who can do that? Oh yeah, you can't really "know" a computer can you. We are learning machines! From the moment we are born - some say even sooner - we begin experiencing and learning from the world around us. The brain is like a sponge during the first seven years of life...it craves input!
In order to understand how our brain works we need to introduce the terms "conscious" and "subconscious" mind... By the way, for simplicity I use the terms "mind" and "brain" interchangeably. Otherwise we would have to enter into a huge philosophical debate about what each term really means...in other words - no one really seems to know for sure. (The same goes for the terms "subconscious" and "unconscious".)
Conscious and Subconscious Mind
Now, if you think of your subconscious mind as the computer hard-drive and your conscious mind as the computer screen you would have a pretty good idea of the difference between the two.
The hard-drive is full of data - your personal history. Details of every significant emotional event is stored in there. There's an elaborate library, a highly sophisticated database, and a DVD video collection of your life stored on the hard-drive of your subconscious mind.
But all you can do consciously is see what happens to be on the screen at the time. In other words... you can direct your awareness from one place to another but not to the entire contents of the computer all at once...nor would you want to! Talk about an ADD moment!
Often times we don’t even exert the effort it takes to direct our awareness. We just let it float from one thing to another as if on auto-pilot... For instance, while watching movies or reading a good book we let the story capture our attention and guide our awareness.
Concentration and Awareness
Drifting off into a daydream is what happens when we relax and let go of our decision to concentrate our awareness... It's comparable to leaving the computer idle for a time until the screen-saver comes on and does it's thing.
Concentrating our awareness is a manual activity rather than automatic function...i.e., it is something we decide to do consciously. We must exert energy to direct our awareness consciously... which partially explains how and why we become mentally exhausted after a long day at the office or school.
Concentration takes more energy if we are not interested in what we are concentrating on. In fact, if we are passionately interested about what we are concentrating on we tend to become absorbed into the experience and feel energized rather than depleted.
Concentrating on things we have no interest in is like pushing uphill... Concentrating on what does interest us is like riding downhill. We'll talk more about this when we look at the brain and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD and ADHD).
Even when we do choose the option to purposefully direct our awareness, such as working on a website, we do not have complete control over it. Other thoughts tend to wander around in and out of our awareness.
We have the ability to direct our awareness wherever we choose, provided we are granted access by the "network administrator" - our subconscious mind.
Searching the Database of our Subconscious Mind
If I asked you to think of where you were and what you were doing on September 11th... your brain almost instantly accesses a significant emotional event that occurred in the fall of 2001 - complete with images, thoughts, sounds, and feelings from that day.
September 11th is an example of how quickly our brain can search the database of our subconscious mind and access requested information... it's also an example of how intensity can "burn" an explicit memory network into our database with only one experience.
Here's another example - think of your kindergarten or first grade teacher. Do you not...almost instantly...access memories of what the teacher looked like, what his/her name was, and even a few memories of you and the teacher interacting?
And when was the last time you had occasion to think of this person? That's right, usually it has been a very long time... Yet almost instantly upon request your brain did a database search and pulled up a profile of the teacher.
Very few middle-aged adults can remember much about their second grade teacher. The emotional significance of being in first grade was more intense than second grade. This is because the brain is efficient - Only the most significant emotional events, positive or negative, get stored in the database.
The Network Administrator - Your Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind performs an incredible number of functions on its own... and thank goodness for that! How would you like to have to decide - "What should I be doing with my pancreas right now"?
It even makes independent decisions about what to allow into your awareness and what not to allow, based upon its own perception of what is good for you. For example...if something traumatic happened to you before you developed the coping skills to deal with it, your subconscious mind would likely decide to repress it - block it out of your awareness - until it "decides" you can handle it.
Once you have developed the psychological equipment to cope with the event, your subconscious mind would then allow all or a portion of the memories to surface for processing. This ability of the mind is referred to as a defense mechanism called repression.
In my work with people I have found that when our subconscious mind perceives that we don’t want to know something, it will block it out for us regardless of our ability to face it. For example...when I hit an impasse with a client where they "can’t remember" what comes next they usually say "I don’t know"...almost always I ask - "Do you want to know?" - almost always they reply "nope!" or "not on your life!"
My client usually find it curious - even amusing sometimes that they are aware that they don’t want to be aware. This suggests that the subconscious mind knows when your conscious mind doesn’t want to know... and being your faithful servant...it makes an independent decision to block what ever it is out of your awareness.
Explore the following links to delve deeper into the workings of your very own super-computer: