There’s a saying, “Environment is stronger than will”, is it?
When Ananda, a student of the Buddha, asked his teacher, ‘Master, is it true that half the battle is one’s associations?” to which the Buddha replied, “No, Ananda, this is incorrect, it is the whole battle.”
Modern research strongly supports the Buddha’s answer from thousands of years ago: we are greatly influenced by the people, places, and messages around us. So, what can we do if we are unable to be in that optimal environment? We must discipline the mind first, remember, we can only control our inner environment, which then affects how we respond to our outer environment.
Still The Mind
Meditation is a practice to help you begin to acquire control of your inner environment. If you can only reach a meditative state of mind in a quiet environment and in a comfortable position, how effective is your inner control? Not very.
If you cannot move the practice into your everyday life and into all that you do, then your meditation practice is little more than a “time out” (effective, but limited). You will still experience high peaks and low valleys in your emotional state. You will effectively be controlled by your environment.
Only a still mind, a disciplined mind, can be consciously controlled.
How do you apply this mental control? How do you make it practical and functional, so that you can experience more profound, life changing effects?
An interesting article was sent in by a senior student. The title is, “Unconscious will sways actions, desires, say researchers” by Eben Harrell.
The article says that we believe we are “rational individuals whose behavior is determined by conscious choices,” but that recent research “shows how deeply our decisions and behavior are influenced by unconscious thought, and how greatly the thoughts are swayed by stimuli beyond our immediate comprehension.”
Quoted in the article is a review of this research by Ruud Custers and Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Their review discusses the, “mounting evidence of the power of what they term the ‘unconscious will’.”
Custer had this to say, “people often act in order to realize desired outcomes, and they assume that consciousness drives that behavior.” He then adds, “Our actions are very often initiated even though we are unaware of what we are seeking or why.”
This last statement worth repeating:
“Our actions are very often initiated even though we are unaware of what we are seeking or why.”
That leads to a very scary thought: to believe we are in control of ourselves – but to not actually be. And even worse… to not even know it.
In one study discussed, the use of subliminal words were flashed on a screen along with puzzle – related words, “crosswords, jigsaw pieces, etc., the students who subliminally were flashed words with positive associations, such as beach, friend, or home… worked harder, for longer, and reported greater motivation to do puzzles” than those who were not.
The article also discusses how similar results have been attained by flashing drinking related words to get people to drink more, or “the names of their loved ones or occupations associated with caring like nurse” to get people to be more constructive with feedback to others.
“We are often not even consciously aware of why we want what we want,” is another statement made in the article, as well as mentioning how techniques like these have been used in advertising – and outlawed in many places.
I might add that it doesn’t have to be subliminal to be effective. The “Marlboro Man” and “Joe Cool” were very effective ad campaigns as customers related a rugged cowboy or being “cool” with smoking.
Can We Override Environmental Influence?
The question is: can we override these environmental unconscious influences? Yes, I believe we can.
Ironically, while I was working on this article, a neighbor challenged me by saying that it won’t be long before I am smoking. He said that he never thought he would become a smoker either, but due the environment we are in and once he got the taste for it, there was no turning back. I assured him that I have no desire whatsoever, to which he replied, “you will.” In most cases, he’d be right.
How do you resist smoking if you must spend every day surrounded by smokers? If you’re in a place where virtually everyone around you so craves it, so enjoys it, is so socially connected by it, and so often indulges – you might wonder, “am I missing something?” and feel “left out.”
However, if you have a clear image of yourself as healthy and strong – and for this smoking example, the role your lungs play in supporting that self image – there will be no resistance necessary. Your cravings will be more consistent with the healthy self-image and for things like: fresh clean air, food, and water.
You know that how you look and feel is a reflection of your thoughts and the choices you make, moment by moment. Choices that damage your system will make you look and feel lousy. So, if you prefer not to look and feel lousy it’s not such a difficult decision to make.
Again, smoking is just an example. The same can be said for drinking, using recreational drugs, poor eating habits, lack of proper exercise, poor sleeping habits, or any abuse of your body and mind.
It’s easy to look and feel lousy regularly. The opposite takes some effort.
You must get clear on your “why’s” so that you are better able to choose “what” actions to take and “how” you take these chosen actions, regardless of “where” you are or “who” you are with. It’s the deeply rooted “why’s” that can reprogram, and therefore, most influence, your unconscious will.
Discovery and Destruction of the Ego
First you must “discover the ego” – who you think you are; your life – long programming (so much of which most people are completely unaware of. This can be accomplished through consistent proper practice over time.
Once the ego is discovered you can begin to lay it to rest (destruction of the ego). Only than can you grow beyond it, if that’s what you choose. You cannot change that of which you are unaware.
With awareness you can use your conscious will moment by moment to make decisions that are consistent with who you’d like to be or what you’d prefer to be like. This may seem difficult in the beginning as you struggle with old patterns while striving to develop new ones. Repetition over time is the only way.
This is where affirmations (what you say to yourself) along with visualizations (how you see yourself) can be handy tools to use in your pursuit of personal and spiritual development.
By effectively and (most importantly) consciously re-programming your unconscious beliefs (about yourself and the world), you can knowingly choose your own path – from your heart – and begin to see your actions and desires becoming more and more in line with what you have chosen for yourself.
The Self – Image and Not the Unconscious Will
Using the smoking example once again, if you see yourself clearly as a non-smoker your decision not to smoke at any given time, regardless of the environment you’re in, will never be difficult. There is no confusion when you follow the inner message – you simply have to know, program, or write that message so it says what you want it to. Create your own unconscious will, so to speak.
However, if you leave this message undefined or unclear in any way then it is fully open and accessible to any and all outside influence ( see below “mindful or mindless”).
There are many ways to write your own inner message. If you see yourself as a healthy, strong, and confident individual, you will automatically live your life in a way that supports that self-image. The longer and more consistently you live that way the more your unconscious will is directed by that way.
When this becomes the programming, or your inner message, even when you don’t feel like eating right or exercising, for example, you’ll do it anyway, most of the time. The alternative doesn’t agree with your self image.
If you see yourself as a martial artist, what does that image convey to you? Do you see a martial artist as lazy, out of shape, in poor health, undisciplined, easily intimidated, and unaware of his or her surroundings? I doubt it.
More than likely, that image conveys the opposite: healthy strong, disciplined, confident, centered and aware. So, to live in a way that is consistent with that image, even on days when you don’t feel like practicing or don’t think you have the time, you’ll find yourself creating the opportunity and getting started anyway. You’ll find yourself centering, watching the breath, and going into and out of a meditative mind state throughout your day. Its just who you are and what you do.
Keep in mind, it’s what you do most of the time that determines the results you get. Your average diet, exercise program, or other actions you take daily are what are most influenced by the unconscious will – which is more automatic and less influenced by the conscious will. It’s like running on autopilot. Therefore, the time and effort invested in re-programming your inner message to say what you want it to say is crucial to getting a grip on your life.
Mindful or Mindless?
Would you choose to mindlessly go through your life not knowing how or why you do what you do, as the research suggests, and therefore, get what you get with little, if any conscious influence?
Also consider how easily this research can be used to influence the masses. How and what to buy; what you think you need; who you vote for; your judgments’ and labels of right and wrong; your perception of beauty and attractiveness; your behavior; etc. Versions of what this research has discussed has been used for decades, if not centuries, and it is only becoming more refined.
It is clear, our feelings, choices, actions, and desires are being influenced. The only question is: how much of this influence is coming from the outside, and how much of this influence is coming from the inside?
You owe it to yourself to take the time and do the work that it takes to remain in the driver’s seat of your life. You owe it to yourself to figure out what message you want to write for yourself and start creating your own conscious will.