Consciousness Is a Room

I recently came to terms with the fact that I was unhappy and had been for days. Ignoring it was becoming too difficult and I was tired of feeling this way. I thought, “This is no way to live! What am I doing wrong?”

Next morning I broke from the past week’s routine. Where I normally would have, upon waking, stumbled over to my computer bleary eyed to check email and review my to-do list, I instead grabbed a book I’d been meaning to read and perched near an open window where I could feel the cool air and see the overcast sky; supportive weather for my desired mood.

The book was interesting, even profound at times. And as I tried meditating on a few passages that seemed especially meaningful the thought came to me, We have to be at the post office by noon. You still don’t even know which one is open Saturdays. Keep an eye on the time. We’ll need to leave soon. There might be a long line.

Argh! Here I was reading this great book and being confronted with grand ideas yet that was the predominate thought in my mind! Then it hit me: there was no room in my mind for the book and its ideas, or anything else. No room… that was it! Eureka!

Consciousness is a room, I suddenly felt. And my consciousness was full-up; filled with tasks, their statuses, contingency plans, etc. to the point that there was absolutely no space left for the other aspects of being. No room for enjoyable thoughts, for pleasant observations, for signals from my senses, for emotion itself. The only materials I was allowing into consciousness were those that pertained to getting stuff done — stuff of a narrow kind.

I’d been hijacked… by myself; by some part of me. A task-oriented part that has developed to deal with my project empire (a company, a non-profit, a land trust, writing projects, speaking gigs, real-estate, investing, travel logistics…). This part had set up command in consciousness and was mobilizing every ounce for its purposes; for it’s war against the obstacles that threaten to limit and subvert me. And this part was ignoring the rest of me.

The rest of me contains parts that do not resonate with such tasks; that do not share the same values or fears. These parts look upon that supposed war with boredom. How beside the point all that is! Happiness, life-satisfaction can be had right now, without all that tedious mess! In moments of animal warmth, in relationship with friends, in delightful smells, and the earth felt underfoot; in the sight of water, trees, and sky; in books that we find interesting and who cares why.

This, I think, is why the pursuit of happiness is so befuddling. Because we are made up, not of a single thread of intelligence, but of many intelligences, many parts, that each derive energy and enjoyment from different things — things that are sometimes incompatible and at odds. Negotiating a contract for land with favorable terms, for example, may appeal to one part of me. But to another part of me, only physical, sensual, psychic immersion in the actual land will do. And to this part, every minute spent in the tedium of land ownership (whatever that is) is a dessicant. Or how writing an article that draws thousands of website visits really appeal to a part of me, and does nothing whatsoever for the part of me that wants to stare into the eyes of someone I love. And who knows how many parts of me are marginalized when I’m on the computer too long.

You can’t make all of the people happy all of the time. Perhaps you can’t make all of the parts of a robust human being happy all the time either. The best you can do is let them take their turn.

When one part of me occupies consciousness exclusively, when it refuses to leave and denies others their turn, I will feel the dissatisfaction of the disenfranchised others. That dissatisfaction is right and good. It allows the others to lobby with increasing loudness for their place in consciousness; their visiting rights. Were I able to fully shield myself from that dissatisfaction who knows how one-sided and narrow I might let myself be.

After realizing all this I took my book and went for a walk and read and strolled and observed. I felt the energies in my mind rebalance. I felt at peace, which even remained with me later when I got back to that endless to-do list of things.

The lesson from this, the adjustment to make, is to leave more space in consciousness so the other aspects of myself can come and go; to see that some overdeveloped part of me doesn’t set up shop in consciousness and bar others from having their turn.

How? Practically speaking? Part of it may be that when I complete a task or a project, or am stalled by some factor that requires me to wait, that I not immediately load up another task or start another project to compensate. Leave that space open. Who knows who might visit. Maybe Intuition, with some valuable insight about our overall course? Maybe Lightheartedness with a load-lifting thought or experience to reduce our stress-level and leave us refreshed? The mind has many parts. Too often we befriend one or two favorites and shut out the rest.

Another thing may be to remember that my tasks and projects are probably not as important as I let myself believe. (I’m sure some of less often heard parts would wholeheartedly agree). Besides, if some activity is thwarted it will only be a short while before I find another way. If I am shut off entirely from avenues I meant to go down, I will surely discover roads I never knew about. For now, productivity seems to be my default stance. So be it. But it should be a stance I am ready to, waiting to, and expecting to relax, when some seemingly unproductive, inefficient, unreasonable, and perfectly indispensable emotion wants in.

If I don’t there will be consequences. So I might as well get good at this. Master this, a man once said, and your reward shall be an undivided self. A self, I suspect, free of at least one particular dissatisfaction that will otherwise form.