The Great Subconscious

Yesterday’s post had to do with dragging oneself to write those pesky fieldnotes during anthropological fieldwork, because no matter how insignificant they seem, they often contain pearls of  wisdom.

And speaking of pearls of wisdom and fieldnotes, if there’s one thing I believe in (without having a clue how it works), it’s the power of the subconscious.  

I know I’m starting to sound a little crazy, but hang with me here.

For instance, I find that despite the feverish writing I do after an exciting fieldwork encounter, and the myriad of details I cram into that thick description, there’s always a bunch of a-ha moments that pop up on the horizon a few days later.

I’ll be in the shower the next morning, and I’ll think I’ve figured out some great cultural misunderstanding, I’ll be chattering away to my husband about some meaningless detail, or lying in my bed at night, and suddenly I’ve got to grab my notebook for fear that my million-dollar thoughts desert me!

And that’s how our subconscious works.  It seems that if we just give things time, our brain starts to mull through things on its own in a way that’s not only far more effortless, but usually a lot more insightful than the muscling-it-through alternatives.

Getting the subconscious engaged is why psychologists and physicians recommend musing on problems you want to solve as you fall asleep, and it’s also why when I find myself stymied with writer’s block before a big due date, often the counterintuitive, yet sure bet is to set aside whatever I’m tearing my hair out over and let things ruminate, germinate, and come together in that all too mysterious, subconscious.

It’s a totally disarming thing, perhaps particularly for we folks in academia, to consider that our minds already have the answers, and that we merely need to let go to tap into them.  It sounds a bit like the TED talk I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert give on creative genius, and the ancient belief that creativity was mostly a gift of the gods, that geniuses were not people, but kind of like spirits that blessed us with not only our good, but also our mediocre ideas.

And it’s kind of like faith, too, if you really think about it.  Or at least the part of faith with which I struggle the most–the need to rely not on my own abilities, my own ideas, my own timing, but to trust that there is something greater out there than me, and that what is good and true in this life is connecting with others and with God enough to trust my greatest work, my grandest hopes and dreams to someone other than myself.

I imagine that in our subconscious a lot of those fears and anxieties fall by the wayside, and so we enter into an open-minded (pun intended), childlike state, where we wrestle with things for what they are, and where we know no better than to trust both ourselves and others.  Scientists say when we are children, even before we can speak, our mind is soaking up the world around us in inexplicable, but important ways.

So I’m hoping to do a little more trusting in the universe, in God, and my subconscious the next time I run up against writer’s block, self-doubt, or hard-to-write fieldnotes.

But that’s my conscious mind rambling again.

I wonder what my subconscious will have to say about all this…

4 thoughts on “The Great Subconscious

  1. I definitely believe in the power of the sub-conscious – and believe even the conscious choices you make are part of a sub-conscious and preprogrammed path. You don’t sound crazy at all – following my sub-conscious thoughts is one of the reasons I ended up studying Anthropology. Or perhaps we’re both crazy 🙂

  2. I don’t know if it matters what we call it, but there’s definitely a part of my mind that is hard to access but good at problem solving. When I run into something I don’t know how to deal with, I routinely describe the problem as well as I can and then tell that other piece of my mind, “Okay, come back when you work this out.” Almost always, sometime in the next few hours or days, I have one of those “Oh, yeah, here it is” moments, and an answer to my question floats into awareness. It never struck me as a sign of craziness – just a useful tool.


    1. Definitely sounds like you’ve got your brain working overtime for you! Wish I could say I’ve been as successful with this whole subconscious project, but I’m still definitely a believer!

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