The Iceberg Mind: Stress and The Unconscious

I just finished a book titled, Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow. The premise of the book is that our behavior is governed by our unconscious mind. We may THINK we know why we do what we do, but more often than not, we haven’t a clue. Consider these interesting facts highlighted in the book: People give bigger tips at lunch to restaurant servers when the sun is shining, than when it’s cloudy. People will order a higher priced entrée if the server touches the shoulder of the customer compared to no physical contact. Colors and music in various stores can make people linger longer (and, of course buy more things). Humm! In the 1960’s a major shift occurred—from studying the dynamics of the unconscious mind toward the study of pharmaceuticals and brain chemistry. All that lurked below the surface of the iceberg was (once again) ignored. After the invention of the Functional MRI (fMRI) there became this HUGE fascination with brain physiology particularly when it’s engaged in a whole host of activities, from drinking Coke or Pepsi to (I kid you not) what brain activity looks like during orgasm (I’m just the messenger). It should be made clear that there are two schools of thought about the mind. The first suggests that the mind is a consequence of brain physiology. The second suggests that the mind acts independently from the brain (e.g., near death and out of body experiences), but uses the brain, as it’s primary organ of choice. The author of Subliminalresides in the first camp, yet he does agree that the unconscious mind indeed rules behavior. This goes well beyond Coke, Pepsi and orgasms to how we deal with stress.
Stress Tip for the Day
Regardless of what “mind camp” you reside in, for better or worse, your unconscious mind plays a huge role in how you cope with stress. Research in meditation (yup, that too, has been looked at with fMRIs) shows that the act of meditation not only calms your thought processes, but shifts the brain waves from Alpha (highly active) to Theta (highly conscious, but very relaxed). Mystics remind us that meditation is a way to “domesticate the ego” so that we can respond, not react to our problems. Although fMRI research has not located the ego in the brain (but the Amygdala could be good starting point), they have located a portion of the brain associated with mystical experiences (now called the God part of the brain), which by the way, does not appear to be active during periods of intense stress!) Meditation, it is said, helps to make the unconscious mind conscious. This is truly a good thing, because it allows you to navigate your life journey by avoiding the shoals that can cause metaphorical shipwrecks. Psychologist Carl Jung spent his whole career studying the unconscious mind. His advice is as sound today as it was many decades ago; learn to speak the language of the unconscious mind: colors, metaphors, symbols, stories, archetypes and dream fragments. By doing so you become whole. If you don’t meditate…today is a great day to start. Find a quiet place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. If your mind wanders, that’s OK. Just focus your attention back to your breathing. Try to do this for 5-10 mins.. then tomorrow … the same thing.
Links, Books and/or Movies Worth Noting:
Here are some links to some interesting fMRI studies, the first with a video:
http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2012/02/14/a-study-of-peoples-ability-to-love/
http://www.news.wisc.edu/14944
The book, Subliminal, has a lot of interesting data from current fMRI studies, even some new  data from interesting classic psychology studies on human behavior, but I would recommend books by the current leading expert in the field of psychology on the unconscious mind, Eldon Taylor, including Choices and Illusions.
By the way, the use of subliminal messages in advertising is illegal, BUT there is no penalty for it… so draw your own conclusions on this (smile).
Quote for the Day:
“Modern man is sick because he is not whole.” —Carl G. Jung
“The unconscious mind of man sees clearly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent.” — Carl G. Jung
Photo For the Day
When I was in Greenland in 2009 filming Earth Songs, I had the great fortune to photograph/film many (huge) Icebergs. True to form, the majority of each berg is below the surface, much like the mind. Here is one of my favorite images. Enjoy!
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

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