Q. In your nonfiction book, you write that Coleridge represents our "thinking mind" and Keats our "feeling mind." Does that mean that Coleridge is our conscious mind, and Keats our unconscious?

A. This is a bit confusing, so let's start with the human brain. It represents about 2% of our body weight, yet it consumes 20 to 25 percent of our calories when we're at rest. For that reason the mind is often referred to as a "cognitive miser," meaning that we use mental shortcuts rather than thoughtful analysis to make most of life's decisions. In fact, our unconscious mind is running our show more than 90% of the time.

And where did our unconscious mind get its script? From our director, our conscious mind! For example, let's say we desire to play the piano. We take lessons using our conscious mind, and eventually our unconscious mind "knows" how to play the piano. The same with tying our shoes or driving a car. Our conscious experiences, with the world and with others, condition our unconscious mind.. and then we go on autopilot and follow the script.

"Thinking" or "reasoning" (artificial distinctions) occurs at both levels of consciousness. It's how our mind sees patterns, makes meaning and creates belief, all in a primitive attempt to keep us safe and "in control." Let's say someone asks if you'll give a speech to a group of people. Your conditioned "feelings" immediately kick in and are then rationalized and amplified by your thinking mind, below your own level of awareness.

So are those "feelings" Keats, as described in the book? Not necessarily. Those feeling may be a response to Coleridge's conditioning, his desire for certainty, control and comfort. Keats's feelings are not conditioned by anxiety and fear. They're turned on by curiosity, compassion and creativity.

Think of it like this. When we're born, everyone around us starts handing us sticks. These sticks represent their ideas about the world, especially how to be acceptable to others, and stay safe and secure. The sticks defined what was good and bad, right and wrong, "how to" sticks, "how not to" sticks, etc. 

Over time the sticks become too heavy to consciously hold onto, and so we collapse under the weight and turn it over to our unconscious. And our perceptions, our life, become darker and darker, as the sticks continued to pile higher and higher. Sure, some of the sticks were valuable, like the idea called "how to read." But most were spurious, like "you can't do that" or "you shouldn't do that."

The sticks are strange. First, you hate them. Then you get used to them. Enough time passes and you find yourself depending on them. Like a house, they shelter you from the realities of life.

The quiet voice of Keats is still alive, but it's buried under a mass of sticks. To live fully and passionately, we have to put Keats in control and have him direct Coleridge to move the sticks. We need to use our conscious mind to remove the limiting ideas, so we can see the beautiful blue sky of potential again.

 

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