Being environmentally or socially conscious is often difficult. For example, as one contemplates throwing an empty cardboard toilet-paper roll into the bathroom trash container, there may be a fleeting thought of walking the roll to the kitchen recycling area or even placing it on the vanity counter to move later. The thought leaves and into the trash the roll goes. The challenge in making conscious decisions is being aware of underlying or unconscious thoughts during the moment of choice.
A good place to start is acknowledging the primary thought (‘I want to recycle.’ or ‘I’d love to volunteer.’) and then noticing what secondary feelings or thoughts come up immediately after thinking about doing the action (i.e. ‘You don’t have time,’ ‘You’re such a loser to want to recycle,’ or ‘You’re so lazy.’).
These secondary messages are usually out of our daily consciousness or awareness, yet, they have been accompanying our lives for decades. We have been hearing these statements for so long, either from external sources (originating most frequently from parents and other impacting situations) or now internally, that we come to believe these messages are ours.
Our true self wants to help the environment or make more socially responsible choices, yet unconsciously we receive conflicting messages, often nothing to do with the actual decision at hand. In this case, it may not be about walking the ten steps to the kitchen, rather, it may be related to feeling a similar ‘loser’ feeling from past experiences where we were doing something we truly believed in or wanted to do and were unsuccessful or emotionally wounded. We may even acknowledge our laziness and yet, unconsciously feeling perhaps a bit shameful or defensive about it, toss the roll into the garbage anyway.
The underlying messages may also be rooted in underlying cultural, societal, family-of-origin and even gender-role values deeply, unconsciously affecting our decisions and actions. For example, you may have been raised in a, ‘We don’t care about nature’ household or municipality.
A great exercise to do is to notice how many of these fleeting messages, often starting with ‘you’, enter into your awareness each day, whether while making environmental decisions or other activities. It is amazing to witness not only the number of, but also the negative tone of such statements. One soon begins to wonder, ‘Why would I ever speak to my Self in such negative and often hurtful ways?’
With certain exceptions aside, a person is not born with these negative messages and feelings. Uncovering the real source of these messages helps to separate them from our true Self and to see how they have influenced and continue to influence our lives. The work is subtle but occurs when one is deliberate, discerning and honestly goes deeper with the origins of the messages. One can begin by asking: What am I feeling? Where have I felt like this before? What repetitive messages about my Self are being heard? Who or where is the source of the critical finger pointing at me saying, ‘You are …,’ ‘You can’t …,’ or ‘You should or shouldn’t …’?
With practice, as one acknowledges and works with unconscious material, one is better able to get insights which allow more environmentally, socially and personally conscious decisions to be made. Well, time for a walk to the kitchen!