The subconscious is a huge part of experience. One of the things it includes, which I want to focus on in this post, is the baseline assumptions of your experience.
These baseline assumptions cover a huge range of things that you have learned to trust to be true over the course of your lifetime. Some of the deepest assumptions are ideas about relationships. Things like how worthy you believe you are; how safe you believe the world is; how much you feel loved; or how much you trust yourself and others. All of these things are foundations that you then build your experience on top of. Every thought and feeling gets filtered through this underlying perception, which shapes everything you experience.
You have absorbed these structures of beliefs into your being over time, either from your direct experience or handed down from relationships or society. Absorbing these structures of beliefs into your system creates what you trust to be true in the world.
The important thing to recognise here is that this is happening whether you are aware of it or not.
When you aren’t aware of the way that experience is being interpreted below the surface of the conscious mind, it means that you are fused with the beliefs that are there and you don’t have the capacity to reflect on them, or assess whether they are correct or supportive. You don’t have the ability to work with the content.
It is not until you are in an environment where you feel you can open to these subconscious structures that you are able to see, feel and express them. Before this you are confined by the limits that the beliefs create on your experience.
The freedom that spirituality buys people is this freedom of truth. You don’t necessarily get to be free from pain or from the responsibility of showing up for your life, you get to be free from the inhibitions that stop you from freely being with and expressing the truth of what you experience, from a loving place.
There is a story where the Dalai Lama is asked about the best way to deal with self-hatred and he doesn’t even understand it as a concept – the environment where his subconscious beliefs were created never infused a sense of self-hatred into his being. His response was, ‘why would anyone hate themself?’
If someone was to enter a healthy monastery as a child or young person, and be taken care of with a lot of love and devotion, their environment and upbringing would form their subconscious beliefs about themselves.
When you have lived a normal life where you are embedded in relationships with other flawed humans and are connected with the world, subject to its difficulties, then your subconscious inevitably gets shaped in some ways to, for example, feel that you are not worthy or loved.
Contemplative practice needs to include the space to open up and explore these assumptions that people have about themselves, so that they can heal them and engage with the practice of experiencing the things in their conscious experience in a more loving, sincere way that comes from self-worth.
This work might happen in a more therapeutic space or it may be a practice space, but it’s important to recognise how the subconscious messages that are being given to people in these spaces matter.
This can all sound quite obvious when it’s laid out, but this level of understanding of the subconscious has only started to be developed over the last couple of hundred years, so any spiritual frameworks or practices that were created before this will omit this understanding.
It feels important to recognise this and to address any shortcomings or misunderstandings in spiritual teachings or religious frameworks.