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    Something to Think About: Listen To The Conscience

a drawing of a person's head with colors representing inner reality, mental health, thinking and dreaming

Listen to the conscience, not just to the mind or the senses.

Dear friend,

Your entire repertoire of conscious experience comprises an integration of three inputs—sensory information from the world, sensory information from the body, and self-generated thoughts from the mind. At any instance, all of these inputs compete, and the information that is most salient (to survival value) becomes your present-moment experience. To simplify it further, in your entire life, your conscious present-moment experience will comprise either the input from the senses (external world or the body) or the thoughts generated by the mind.

Our five senses have no memory. They are passive conduits to the moment-by-moment flow of information. The mind uses the senses for safety, pleasure, and information.

The mind itself spontaneously churns countless thoughts and imaginations. These thoughts often project into a narrow time frame (usually yesterday, today, and tomorrow). The untrained mind mostly thinks thoughts related to self-worth, relationships, safety, and daily tasks.

If you live in a world where your physical safety is constantly threatened, external sensory input will likely dominate your conscious experience. This was the case for our ancestors, and it is true today in the war-torn or crime-prone areas. In the relatively safer parts of the world, where external dangers don’t require diligence, your attention is free to roam in your mind, in the company of your thoughts and imaginations. Whether you know it or not, if you live in one of the safer neighborhoods, very likely, you spend the bulk of your day with your mind wandering. I believe this has created a unique opportunity for us.

When your attention is freed from the external threats and can focus inward, you have a choice—you can let your attention travel with spontaneous thoughts or direct it deeper, where conscience resides.

Conscience is the inner light that illumines the truth, telling me right from wrong. Conscience helps me do the right thing when no one is looking. My conscience isn’t swayed by greed of pleasure or fear of pain. My conscience isn’t selfish. It is objective, true, pure, and dependable. Conscience knows we all share the same sun and have the same I.

There is one problem though. Although conscience always has an opinion, it speaks in a humble, low volume, easily drowned by the vortices of the mind and the senses. When the majority of the world muffles the voice of conscience, we become unkind to each other.

I should dial up the volume of my conscience. I should use conscience as my guiding light. A mind anchored in conscience still experiences senses and thoughts. However, these thoughts and senses serve a self that includes many others. They help and heal, freeing the mind so it can fly into the vast vistas of the truth.

My mind is trainable. I should tether it to conscience so it can harness the senses, thoughts, words, and actions to comfort the other minds that are caught in the whirlpool of suffering. In that effort I will find peace and freedom.

May your conscience speak more loudly than your senses and thoughts; may your ears listen to your conscience more than they listen to your desires.

Take care.


Dr. Sood 2

Read Listen To The Conscience and previous blog posts.

Also, follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.