A place for people interested in introspection, self awareness, mindfulness, meditation and training the mind to abide in a state that is free from the constant flow of meaningless chatter, mind theatrics, and discursive thought.

The Subconscious Mind

The Subconscious Mind

Our subconscious is not something we were born with any more than is our Ego. They developed hand in hand, starting from our early childhood. When we were born, we had no frame of reference to base our likes, dislikes, wants, don't wants, safe, unsafe, nor any other mental concepts. As our awareness of the environment began to develop, so too did our ability to judge that environment. Learning to judge and discern our environment allowed us to discern things we liked from things that could bring us harm. The volume of those judgements were too numerous to retain in our conscious awareness, and so we had to commit them to memory in a way that allowed them to resurface when we needed them most.

This repository of judgements is our subconscious. It is also the source of our Ego. Our Ego is really nothing more than a collection of thoughts and judgements we have formed about ourselves, about who we think we are, about how we think we fit into our environment and how we think others perceive us. Since all of these things are constantly changing and evolving, they really have very little to do with who we really are.

As we proceed through life, we continue to deposit judgement after judgement into this repository, and because this special form of memory is intended to help us discern our environment, we are in turn subjected to a constant barrage of prejudgements, resurfacing from the subconscious, to steer us away from harm and toward that which we prefer. It operates like a feedback loop.

The problem we run into is that we are constantly feeding new instructions into this feedback loop system on an ongoing basis, by constantly judging, and re-judging, and we never do anything to empty it out. When these feedback loops, designed to keep us safe, run unchecked, they can quickly spiral out of control and lead to  problems like irrational fears, anxieties, and a whole range of unwanted emotions.

Because these judgements are constantly being heaped upon, and allowed to fester and grow without any sort of checks and balances or controls in place, our subconscious can be thought of as a cesspool of mental activity just waiting to bubble up into our consciousness. This is the source of our constant flow of thoughts that seem to continuously pervade the mind. We have allowed it to grow so extensively that it has little choice but to free flow into our consciousness.

While this egoic level of subconscious activity was essential for our early development, discerning right from wrong and safe from harmful, it is not essential in adult life and can even prove harmful. As adults, we know what we like and don't like, what is safe and what is harmful, what we want and don't want. We no longer require a constant onslaught of discursive thought to remind us.

The only way to clean out this cesspool is to create space through quieting the conscious mind, and then allowing this cesspool to bubble forth into consciousness without further adding to it. This is the Self Awareness practice of watching our thoughts. We simply allow the thoughts to surface, see them for what they are, and allow them to pass into oblivion by not indulging them to see where they lead.

When we do not indulge our thoughts and do not judge them, they do not re-enter the feedback loop system. When we stop feeding them, they stop growing, and will eventually shrivel and die. Since this is the source of Ego, the Ego will also shrivel and die, so long as Self Awareness is practised with sufficient diligence. The most important part of this practice  is to NEVER JUDGE our thoughts since judgement is the gateway back into the feedback loop system.

Michael L. Fournier

Developing Self Awareness, The Bug in the Jar

The Bug In The Jar

Many people go through life nearly oblivious to the constant flow of discursive thoughts running through their heads. They are often just as oblivious to the content of those thoughts, and how those thoughts can create an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and various forms of self inflicted suffering. It has been estimated that the average number of thoughts a person has in a day ranges from 60,000 to 90,000.

Occasionally, one may become aware that their mind never seems to shut off. Often this is observed as one tries to fall asleep at night. This simple observance may actually be a blessing in disguise, a sort of wake up call. Being aware of the excess activity of the mind occurs at a level outside of, rather than from within thought itself. Cultivating that awareness is a critical first step in learning to quiet the mind and free it from excess discursive activity. Meditation is the best place to practice learning to become aware of thought.

As one learns to become aware of thought, the Bug in the Jar method of observing thought can be a very useful technique. Start off the meditation session with a very strong intention to observe and catch yourself when you have drifted into discursive thought. The stronger the intention, the greater the success. As soon as you are aware that you have drifted into thought, capture that thought in a sort of freeze frame, like catching a bug in a jar. Now examine the thought for its content. What purpose does this thought actually have in THIS moment? Is it based on past events or is it a fantasy projection of the future? What feelings, emotions and further thoughts is it leading to? If acted upon, are these thoughts potentially harmful to me or anyone else? Will they lead to any level of REAL happiness for me or anyone else? When you have finished examining the thought, simply let it go, just like the bug in the jar, and wait for the next one to come along and catch it in the same way.

Examining thoughts in this way can be very enlightening. Most of our thoughts are not based in anything that produces happiness, and are often based in flawed egotistical interpretations of how we see the world or would like the world to be. We quickly see that we tend to make our self (Ego) the centre of every one of these thoughts, either as a hero, martyr, victim, or perhaps even a villain. We are always the main character in our own play. We may also notice that paths to potential suffering or hurt for someone, either our self or another can nearly always be found.

The nature of the self is that it wants to be happy. The nature of the ego is that it wants to protect us from every possible form of hurt or discomfort by thinking about ways to deal with what it may perceive as painful or threatening scenarios. The ego has developed itself into to a dominant position of trying to be on duty 24 hours a day, thinking it is protecting one from harm or suffering and thus taking priority over happiness. 

When one begins to learn to observe thought in the manner described, the logical part of the mind begins to realize that the discursive thought producing ego is actually causing more unhappiness and harm than it is protecting oneself from. Since happiness is a priority, the mind becomes more complacent in the process of quieting itself and actually becomes a willing partner in quieting the mind.

Quieting the mind is not an impossible task. It just takes some practice and retraining.

Michael L. Fournier

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is Futile

If you are a Star Trek fan, you will be familiar with the quote " Resistance is Futile". Start Trek aside, there is actually a great deal of wisdom  in that saying.

When we learn to examine our thought patterns, one pattern we may frequently notice is resistance. We all have a tendency to resist things that are not the way we would like them to be. This internal resistance sets us up for a great deal of suffering that we may not even be aware of unless we are paying attention.

We mentally resist many activities even though we know we still have to move through that activity. The alarm goes off in the morning, we may not want to get up, or we don't want to go to work. We don't feel like doing household chores. We don't want to deal with some problem in our life. Throughout the day we are constantly faced with tasks that we may find unpleasant or stressful or simply don't want to perform. 

What we may find unpleasant, some one else may actually enjoy, or perhaps feel completely neutral about. The task is simply just a task. It is entirely our own perception based on our own individual life conditioning that decides if it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The only real stress surrounding any activity is actually a product of our own mental construct. 

When we practice self awareness, we see the self created stresses we are placing on ourselves. We observe how we paint a whole picture in our mind of how bad it will be, or of how different we would like it to be. Not only are we envisioning the situation to be unpleasant in our mind, we are also inadvertently creating our own reality. By envisioning it as an unpleasant task, we invoke unpleasant emotions thereby causing it to feel unpleasant. Our thoughts become our reality. The greater the internal resistance, the more difficult the task becomes.

When we learn to recognize that we are mentally making a mountain out of a mole hill, we can learn to let go of what we are thinking and feeling about the task. Without the mental activity, it is simply a task. The task does not have to be viewed as pleasant or unpleasant or neutral. It is simply a task. 

A great deal of energy can be spent in bringing forth negative emotions as well as wasting time thinking about it. When we let go of the mental formations, and thus let go of the wasted energy spent on resisting the task, we are left with more energy to apply to the task. By acceptance rather than resistance, the task can actually be performed with much greater ease and skill allowing us to move through it quicker.

Michael L. Fournier

Understanding the "Middle Way"

 Understanding the "Middle Way"


Understanding the "Middle Way" properly begins with understanding dualistic thinking. Whether we realize it or not, most of our thought patterns are based in an environment of polar opposites. We tend to think in terms of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, likes vs. dislikes, wants vs. don't wants, etc..

Such modalities of thinking can cause us to identify with and migrate toward one pole or the other, ultimately causing division between groups of peoples. This is Ego in action. This polar opposite way of thinking even translates into the way society as a whole functions, such as with politics (left wing vs. right wing), religion (religious groups proclaiming that their way is the right way over all others), capitalism vs. environmentalism, and even territorial disputes (such as one country vs. another or one neighbourhood vs. another).

The greatest danger in this polarized way of thinking comes when our Egos, either individual or collectively, tend to identify very strongly with one pole or the other. Such strong polarization leads to radical extremist views and behaviours. Extremist views are characterized by a closed mind, one that can not entertain an opposing view point without an argument or trying to convince the other that they are wrong. When we identify that strongly with these views, we become willing to fight and even kill for them.

These opposing view points can be thought of as similar to a see saw (or teeter totter). The opposing view points exist at the outer edges. The further away from the centre, the greater the opposing up/down movements. When one end is up the other is down. There will be a constant swinging up and down between the two opposites as they continue to battle for the higher position. A see saw with very long boards (extreme view points) will be subjected to greater opposing movements.

The middle way is a movement toward the centre of the see saw. The closer we get to the centre, the less movement.  The further out from the centre, the greater the opposing forces. The very centre is the point of greatest stillness.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." This can only be accomplished with an open mind and a willingness to stay centered in stillness.

When the desire to express a strong opinion, or oppose another persons viewpoint is challenged from within and held in stillness, peace emerges rather than conflict. Wisdom therefore, becomes a byproduct of the stillness. This is the middle way.

Michael L. Fournier