Now that I’m retired, I’ve been thinking a lot about the subconscious. Well, I mean I have –I’m not sure if it’s doing the same. But I guess that’s just it in a briefcase: I’m not at all certain where I begin and it stops. Everything is shell-game and shadows really, isn’t it? People talk about it as if it were the brains of the office –it does everything important and then humours us with bits of information from time to time as if it were feeding a pet. I sometimes feel like I’m just a car being driven along a road somewhere.
I just wish it were a little more open about things. Why all this cloak and dagger stuff anyway? Doesn’t it trust me after all these years? Haven’t I proven a worthy shill?
Actually, that’s unfair; I realize I’m being a little ungrateful to my subconscious. In a way, it’s my business manager and it’s got way more to do than me; it runs the company while I lallygag around the body finding fault and pretending to be the boss. It probably has the best apps.
But it got me wondering the other day as I sat in the usual table by the wall in Starbucks that it always makes me choose. What if I tried an experimental takeover –but maybe just a few small steps here and there to test the waters before I attempted anything major? I realized I had to be very careful, though, because it is watching my every move. I decided to use a clever tactic: I would make a list of some of the things it does and see how much I could influence them. I have to confess that I was on pretty shaky ground here –I didn’t really know what stuff to put on the list- but, pretty soon a few items just kind of popped into my head from nowhere, so I wrote them down on one of those little brown paper napkins.
Let’s see, a little voice inside me whispered -how about ‘breathing’? That should be easy enough, I thought. So I wrote it down. ‘Heart rate’, surfaced next, so down it went. Then there was a long pause before ‘digestion’ occurred to me. I thought about that for a moment and then I crossed it off and substituted ‘saliva’. I figured I should probably start small and maybe in an easier to monitor area.
“What are you writing?” a louder voice suddenly said in my ear, accompanied by a scraping chair noise and a sudden jiggling of the table. Brien is always like that, though. He’s a large man and sitting anywhere requires a certain amount of adjustment of his front parts.
“Oh, just making a list,” I said, hastily reaching for the napkin to wipe my mouth.
But, despite his girth, Brien has quick hands and he beat me to it. “Breathing? Heart? Saliva?” He smiled and glanced at me. “You taking up meditation or something?”
I tried to think quickly; he wouldn’t understand. “Yes,” I replied, before my conscience took over. “In a way…” it added, and I blushed –a sure give away.
His eyes have a way of retracting way into his skull when he needs to think about something in private. Suddenly, they darted out again like cuckoos announcing the hour from those German clocks. “In what way?”
Damn him; my mind went blank for a moment, but then, just as I was about to answer with a shrug, a little voice whispered from inside somewhere: ‘tell him it’s a Buddhist exercise, for god’s sake!’ “I, uhmm, I read somewhere that you can control all sorts of things with meditation…”
He leaned forward on his chair and rested his arms on the table. Only his coffee spilled, fortunately, and he used my napkin to wipe it up. “Yeah, I read about that, too,” he said, proudly. I could see that he was surprised that we’d read the same article. “People Magazine, right…?” he thought about it for a few seconds. “No, it was probably National Enquirer…” he hesitated to give it his final seal of approval. “Anyway, it was one of those magazines you see at the supermarket checkout counters, eh?” He smiled conspiratorially, as if I had been outed at last. “I just look for the good stuff and skim through it while I’m waiting.” He had a quick sip of what remained of his coffee. “Can’t remember now who they said was using it for their blood pressure, but it seemed to be working.” His eyes darted out again and fluttered around my head. “At any rate, I think they said he hadn’t had another stroke yet.”
“I hadn’t thought of blood pressure,” I admitted, making a mental note to add it to a new list.
Brien sat up straighter in his chair –a sure sign he was about to tell me something important. “I’ve been trying it since I read that article,” he said with authority. “I figured it’d save me a bundle on pills… And,” he told his eyes to stand firmly on my cheeks. “…And I realized I could start eating ice cream and desserts again.” He smiled with evident satisfaction at how things could work out for him.
Perfect, I thought, secretly planning my own small takeover plot. “Did it work?”
He cocked his head and stared at me as if I’d missed something important in the discussion. “You can’t just expect something as multifactorial as blood pressure to simply disappear overnight!”
His italics grated, but I have to admit I was impressed with his use of the word ‘multifactorial’. I don’t think he got that from the magazine. “So…?”
“So I’m working on it.” He leaned on the table again, but his face no longer looked as confident as when he was talking about the desserts. “The meditation’s the hard part, though.” He sighed and fingered the cardboard coffee cup as if it had something written on it in Braille. “You know how you’re supposed to close your eyes and clear all thoughts from your mind, breathe deeply, relax… That kind of thing?”
I nodded, but actually I hadn’t got that far in my research yet.
“Well, when I try, it’s like I’m watching a crowd go by from a window, and I’m seeing people I know.” He shrugged and sat back again. “I think of food, of an itch on my leg, of what programs I’m missing on TV…” He shook his head slowly. “I’ve found meditation seems to work better after a big meal, though. I sit in a comfortable chair, lean my head back, close my eyes…” He closed his eyes to show me how he did it. “And when I wake up, I feel a lot better, you know. It seems to me I’m getting the hang of it, eh?”
I found myself smiling at his success. “And is your pressure going down?”
He nodded, his face all happy. “My doctor thinks it’s her pills, and I haven’t the heart to disappoint her. I know she means well.”
“Are you still taking them?”
He stared at me, nodded carefully, and then a wry smile slowly usurped the happy one. “But, I’m cutting down on them.” He hesitated for a moment, uncertain whether to disclose the full extent of his scheme. “I’m taking each of them an hour or two later than it says on the directions.” A mischievous expression soon appeared. “And I’m thinking of upping it to three hours…” he added, “Even if I have to get up in the middle of the night,” he whispered, obviously proud of his clever trickery.
I thought about his blood pressure that night, and I realized I didn’t really need to go that far. In fact, I figured my office manager seemed to be doing a pretty good job behind the scenes without me. Brien obviously hadn’t vetted his staff all that well. No, I rationalized, I’m retired now, and I probably shouldn’t take on too much more at this stage. And besides, I wouldn’t do a very good job with digestion -I’ve never much liked having to deal with my bowels unless I’m feeling a bit logy.