We are well aware that people change their minds, sometimes in very marked degree. The alteration may be so great that we say: "He seems like a different person." Perhaps the ruling motives, purposes, and moral tone have undergone a radical reconstruction.
But can one have two minds at the same time? In another way and in a very important sense, yes. Though man is a unit, he is made up of unlike elements. He combines two kinds of mental activity which have a different office and method. While most intimately related, at times they seem to act quite independently of each other. They are classified as the conscious and the subconscious minds. It is of the highest importance that they should be cooperative, efficient, and harmonious.
We all are well acquainted with the conscious mind, for it is ever with us in the unending present. With it we reason, think, and note whatever takes place. While it is relatively upon the mere surface, it includes a state of awareness of its own continuous activity.
Turning to the subconscious mind (that which is under or below the conscious) perhaps we best may liken it to a great covered reservoir in which is stored up the total aggregation of past mental states and activities.
The conscious mind is so immediately before us that we cannot help watching its ever-flowing current. But the more silent subconscious counterpart, with its uses, opportunities, and educational methods, is far more hidden and mysterious. There has been much speculation among students of psychology regarding its scope, action, and significance, and naturally some disagreement. But as the mission of these suggestions is in the line of everyday utility and practicality, we shall confine ourselves to what all ought to know, and state it in as simple form as possible.
The subconscious department—called by some the subjective mind—is a growing and ever unfinished depository of thought, emotion, and experience. In proportion as its laws are understood, it is susceptible to discipline and improvement. It includes the sum total of past states of consciousness, which, though laid away, remain intact. Like any other accumulation of slow growth, its quality is subject only to gradual change. At special times, it or some part of it comes to the front, and for the time being seems like an independent personality. It may reason, hope, fear, love, hate, or will, all below the surface of the conscious mind, the latter being unaware of its special operations and conclusions.
This hidden partner acts automatically upon the physical organism, and subtly directs all that class of activities which we call involuntary. For instance, we breathe when we do not consciously think about it, but we may modify breathing either by putting the conscious mind upon it directly, or indirectly through the education of the subconscious faculty.
This submerged intelligence recognizes external facts, conditions, limitations, and even contagious, on its own account. One therefore may "take" a disease and be unaware of any exposure. The sub-consciousness, through the past influx of conscious thought, unwittingly has formed the habit of fearing and expecting it, and it is this receptive condition which admits the invader. The mere inert matter of the body is but an incidental and passive factor in the transaction. The bodily clay is never an actor, but always acted upon.
A cistern may have a stream of water constantly flowing in, and this may be clear and sparkling, or foul. The quality of the great body of water on hand depends upon the character of the stream it has been receiving, and therefore the former can be changed only by a different quality of in-flow.
In the same way the great accumulation of past impressions is constantly receiving new additions of conscious and current thought. What kind shall it be? Every product of the imaging faculty is deposited, and not one is lost. Each thought not only goes out in objective vibrations—like a message of wireless telegraphy—but it also subjectively registers and deposits itself in the subconscious storehouse. It may be covered and forgotten, but it cannot be destroyed. The little rill of conscious thought is always flowing in; and, as in a chemical compound each drop adds something of its own shade and quality, so it is with mental accumulation.
In the light of these unchanging principles, what a responsibility is wrapped up in simple thinking! Every mental image is like a photographic negative which stamps its impress—not upon paper, stone, or steel—but upon infinitely more durable material. There is a continuous creation, and its products are ever living and growing.
Nothing has been so lightly regarded as a thought, and yet we are thinking outwardly to the world and inwardly into a safe depository. The "every idle word" for which men shall be judged, when rightly interpreted, is both a startling and a scientific truth. The judgment is not a great arbitrary formality, but an inherent and close-fitting reality. Heavenly and hellish conditions are veritable products, and there is no way of escape through proxy or by means of a "scapegoat."1
We are now prepared to appreciate the tremendous value of the intelligent exercise of the law of auto-suggestion. It operates to change the quality of the subconscious mind. During the formation of thought habit, we can affirm ideals even if at first the exercise seems mechanical, for practice will finally make it spontaneous. The product will be the true, the good, and the beautiful, and they will go on deposit.
Weakness, disorder, fear, envy, anger, and every negative or evil thing, never can burst forth and come into expression unless it has been stored up previously within. When fleshly coverings and limitations are removed we shall be like a ship which has a manifest nailed up, that plainly shows the composition of the cargo.
As the body is automatically responsive to the dominant subconscious quality, we should constantly suggest and affirm to ourselves the most wholesome physical as well as spiritual ideals. Faith, hope, and harmony must be created through constant aspiration. Think higher and yet higher. As rapidly as humanity, collectively, can do this, sin, sickness and in harmony will be swept from the fair face of the earth. Thinking is capital at interest, and pays in its own coin. It will be well to become a capitalist of this kind.
The cumulative energy of the hidden man, while automatically exact, is but very lightly appreciated. It is outside of, or rather deeper than, the reach of education, conventionally so called. But evolutionary ripeness is approaching.
Each high and positive thought is like a brick in a great edifice which finally towers up with intelligent design and beautiful proportion. With scientific accuracy, one may make himself what he will by thinking his thoughts into the right form, and continuing the process until they solidify and take outward correspondence. But careless and lawless mentation sets in motion forces which pull in opposite directions, and rending and discord are the result.
If we stand upon the shore of a lake we see only that insignificant portion which is upon the surface. Hidden beneath is perhaps ninety-nine hundredths of its volume beyond observation. In like manner the mind stuff which is out of notice contains layer upon layer and deep below deep.
If we meet a friend whom we have not seen for twenty years we can recognize him only by a comparison of his form with his mental picture which we have carried for the whole period. We simply call this memory, but how much is included!
As occasion offers, we are able to plunge in and bring a collection of pictures to the surface, but these, all included, comprise but a mere fraction of the contents of the great hidden mental storehouse. At very rare times, however, some great emergency—perhaps most often observed in a drowning experience—draws back the subconscious curtain, and the conscious mind gains a quick panoramic view of the thoughts and transactions of a lifetime. This phenomenon, though unusual, is very significant. It proves that no mental impression has been obliterated. They are only temporarily out of sight.
We are led to conclude that the hidden counterpart is a compound of former wisdom and foolishness, logic and nonsense, and these work in a personal and independent way. It is a great unstable force to be dealt with. It often refuses cooperation with its lesser but more active and wise companion. It is very "set," and will change its opinions only by slow degrees. The conscious mind may be quickly and perhaps correctly convinced of some truth today, but by tomorrow the hidden man has rallied, reasserted its control, and things are as they were before. His momentum is very great. Often present conviction, be it never so well founded, is no match for it. Only by persistent repetition can the latter build a barrier that will hold. Win by logic some new departure, but soon the traditionary subconscious prejudice in favor of the old party, sect, or system, will regain its control. Early peculiarities often supposedly outgrown will again forge to the front in declining years.
The lazy and unresponsive hidden partner can only be brought up to the standard of the wiser and more alert conscious mind by continual concentration and self-suggestion.
The thought material which is created for deposit must be better and higher than the old accumulation. The power of accomplishment is thereby invigorated and increased.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
Higher than all else, the conscious mind must learn to pour in a continual sense of the presence of the Universal Spirit of Wholeness (theologically called the Holy Spirit), and this will surely quicken, cleanse, and level up the hidden and lagging lower selfhood.
- In the mystic symbolism of The Revelation of "St. John the Divine," it is written: "And books were opened, and another hook was opened which is the book of life." And again: "And they were judged every man according to his works." The idea that this refers to a great dramatic judgment at some future fixed time is passing, hut the sub-conscious constitution of man makes the truth clear. The divine tribunal is set up in man, and not in a great spectacular amphitheater outside of him. A scientific interpretation of Oriental symbolism can be made only in the light of human psychology. The solemnity of a real judgment is not lost but brought home. Every man, or rather the divine element in him, is rendering a continuous and unending verdict. The sheep are passing to the right hand and the goats to the left. Every man contains and retains all he has been with growing emphasis.