The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Simplest Way to Control Consciousness

I remember fairly clearly the day when, while trying to choose what to read in a bookstore, I realized that what I was choosing is who would control my consciousness — my mind — for a couple hours.

It wasn’t a thought I’d never had before; after all when we watch TV or a movie, or read a book, we want our consciousness to be changed for a while, but the “I’m letting the author’s mind control me” epiphany was direct, vivid, and somewhat alarming.

We think of ourselves as our bodies and thoughts, and as everything else as “outside” us, but that’s wrong. We never experience anything but ourselves, we experience nothing but our own consciousness. It is literally impossible to experience anything that isn’t yourself, including these words.

This is true regardless of your metaphysics. The material world may well exist, but what of it? At best, you experience it as a representation in your consciousness.

Because I’m slow, it took me about year to apply the “mind control” understanding to my environment. Every room I’m in, every vista I see, every road I walk, and every person I see or hear or talk to is in my mind. The environment — cars, people, walls, buildings — controls and forms my consciousness.

There isn’t any question that this effects me, what I think, what mood I’m in. There’s vast research literature on something as simple as the what mood different colors cause.

So my environment, my day to day environment, where I live, work, eat, sleep and walk, what I read or watch, and who I talk to or hug — that’s my consciousness.

Now I meditate, and I have more control over the emotional tone of my consciousness and the thoughts I think than a lot of people, but still, the environment is a huge influence. If I see people fighting, or I’m threatened, yeah, I can influence my emotional reaction, but I have to and sometimes I can’t. If, on the other hand, I interact with friendly, even loving people, it’s a lot easier.

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Likewise if I’m walking through some slum, full of despair, that changes my consciousness. If I’m in a beautiful room full of plants or pictures, I feel better than if I’m in a room of crumbling concrete, stained and stinking, because my consciousness changes to be like wherever I am. My consciousness IS my environment.

So the simplest way to control consciousness isn’t meditation (much as I have benefited from meditation) it’s to control your environment — the rooms you live in, sleep in, and work in. Your neighbourhood, if  you can. The people you interact with, to the extent  you can.

If something’s bad in your environment and you can change it to something better, you’re directly changing your consciousness for the better.

And even the most self-controlled, disciplined mind, is affected by environment. If you’re in an awful environment (and the most important part of an environment is the people), you have to constantly manage that; it’s a stress.

So beware of the environment you live in, please, and don’t assume you’re some Buddha who can just shrug it off (which, even he didn’t — and couldn’t — before he was the Buddha).



Environment: Politics Series Chapter VI


Open Thread


  1. Steve Ruis

    Current research shows what William James suggested, that emotions are interpretations, not drivers of action. We experience something and have a bodily reaction, then we “feel” the emotion as an interpretation. For a long time we thought the event caused the emotional reaction, which then drove our physical reaction. Your realization that everything that you encounter has to enter your mind to be “real to you” (not real absolutely as so many now mistakenly state, e. g. we create reality) now helps you understand what is going on in your mind. The more the learn, the better off we are in navigating these lives we possess.

  2. Mark Pontin

    ‘Wherever you go, there you are,’ on the other hand.

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