Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey


Listening to my unconscious: a riff inspired by authors R. Kurzban and J. Lehrer and V. Woolf

Terry and Salomé Take a Trip to Monterey on the coast of California

In the previous post I gave an example of listening to my unconscious - or what I might call my "key tracking mind app" in that particular case, if I am to draw upon Robert Kurzban's multiple minds theory (Why Everyone [Else] is a Hypocrite).

Another interesting incident of unconscious watching occurred last December.

I arrived home one evening and pulled pork chops out of the freezer, defrosted them in the microwave, located a casserole dish, filled it with milk and sliced yellow onions, placed the pork chops on top, sprinkled all with black pepper, baked it, heated peas, opened a can of apple sauce, and sat down a bit later at my kitchen table to eat the meal of scalloped pork chops and green peas.

What was so unusual about this? For one thing, I am pretty much a vegetarian; I can’t remember the last time I cooked pork chops or even had them in my house. For another thing, I seldom make a complete meal when I am by myself, and especially not on a week night when I arrive home exhausted from my job at the college. I am more likely to eat a peanut butter sandwich, or a plateful of fruits and vegetables. And scalloped pork chops are an unusual meal for me.

It was not until I took my first bite of pork and potato that the truth struck me: it was my sister’s birthday. Until that moment, I had not been consciously aware of the date at all. That was relevant because scalloped pork chops was her favorite meal when we were kids. That is the meal she always requested of our mother for her birthday dinner. My sister and I do not live in the same city. I had sent a birthday gift to her weeks before. Like I said, on that particular day, it had not even occurred to me that it was her birthday, partly I supposed because I had already mailed her gift, and partly because she was on the road, so I had not planned to call her on that particular birthday.

When the realization dawned on me, I was deeply aware that it was my unconscious that had been thinking of my sister (she was also going through some life trials at the time, so had been not far from my conscious thoughts for some time). Had I not been in my unconscious watching mode, however, I undoubtedly would have made and eaten the dinner with little or no thought about the unconscious meaning behind it. I might have thought something about it being her favorite meal, but had no conscious awareness of the fact that it was her birthday and that my unconscious, preoccupied and concerned about her, had determined to make that meal in her honor. The fact that my unconscious had been working on this for some time was evidenced by the fact that earlier I had actually purchased pork chops at the market and frozen them – apparently for this occasion.

I was in this unconscious watching mode when I began the book by Robert Kurzban, Why Everyone [Else] is a Hypocrite, while still riffing about Lehrer's Proust Was A Neuroscientist. I was attempting to live my life “superconsciously,” and analyzing what that would be like. I had found it to be quite rewarding, as in the case of my sister’s birthday, but also quite exhausting.

(note: I just made up the word "superconsciously"; it seems a perfect descriptor here; I'll have to look around to see if it has been used by anyone else, especially to describe a habit of attempting to be in touch with one's unconscious(es).)

It reminded me of another period in my life when I made a point of remembering and analyzing my dreams on a regular basis. It made for an amazingly insightful existence – but was also quite exhausting.  It takes a great deal of energy to draw dreams into the conscious when one awakens, just as it does to listen to and pull into awareness the unconscious. Kurzban, with his mind app metaphors, would undoubtedly think of my unconscious sister birthday tracker as a mind app that my conscious narrating app did not have direct communication with, rather than simply as my “unconscious.” I imagine he also would think that I had forged a link to that mind app on the birthday evening when I came to my realization.

This all does beg the question, however: why is it so important to listen to the unconscious? Why is the unconscious, or one of my mind apps, pondering my sister in this behind the scene sort of manner anyway? Was there really some useful purpose to me making a birthday dinner that was her favorite? Was there a value in my realizing what I had unconsciously done?

This unconscious watching feels important, and I do it a lot, but, yes, it is exhausting, and I am really not sure of the specific value of it yet. When I am creating, yes (and I will talk about that later), but in tracking the minutia of my everyday existence, I am not certain. Sometimes I need a vacation from the intensity of it. That is what the pictures above are about: I traveled to Monterey two weeks ago. The Monterey peninsula is the most restful and peaceful place I know. I walk in the woods. I walk on the beach. I walk along the bay. The air is clean. The seals are barking. The pine needles crunch crunch crunch under my feet. . . .

I live in an urban world on the cutting edge of technology and creativity. In Monterey I can turn off my conscious and ignore my unconscious. I can listen to my breath and nothing else.

Recently I learned that there is now a name for this: mindful meditation. I found some web sites about it. On one of them, there was an audio meditation that instructed me to think of someone who always brought a smile to my lips when he or she came to mind. The only one I could think of at that moment was my cat, and sure enough, the thought of her made me smile right then. Ever since I did that mindful meditation, I have used the mindful conjuring of an image of my cat, Salomé, to make myself feel better in difficult situations.

That was part of the reason I decided to take Salomé to Monterey with me. It seemed crazy at first. We travel with dogs, but seldom do you see anyone outside of their home with a cat. As it turned out, Salomé made a wonderful traveling companion, and I was able to give her a glimpse of Monterey flora and fauna that I believe she will dream about for some time to come. (more about dreaming I am sure, later, too). In Monterey she added red-headed woodpeckers, blue jays and squirrels to her repertoire of exciting species to observe. And by bringing her along, I had the little furry buddy who always brings a smile to my lips right there with me, rather than waiting at home alone for me and causing me concern throughout what was supposed to be my worry-free holiday.

will continue . . . .



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