I was having coffee outside and I saw ants crawling on my feet so I moved to another table.
Then I rewound my stream of consciousness about 30 seconds and I was able to recall that in fact there was a little more going on than that. I was daydreaming while sipping my coffee and I felt ticklishness on my toes and ankles. That made me look down and that’s when I saw the ants.
Now the fact that I had to rewind to remember all of this says something interesting. Had I looked down and not seen ants, i.e. if it turned out it was just the precious Singapore wind blowing on my cozy bare feet, then this episode would never have penetrated my conscious mind. I would have gone on daydreaming without distraction.
The subconscious mind pays attention to a million things outside of our main line of being and only when it detects something worth paying attention to does it intervene in some way. There are two very common interventions. One is to react at a subconscious level. I.e. shooing a fly while I go on daydreaming. Another is to commandeer consciousness and force a reaction. I.e. pay attention to an attractive potential mate passing by.
Both of these involve the subconscious mind making a decisive call as to what is going on, what is its level of significance, and how to dispense with it. It’s all or nothing: let the conscious mind go on without interruption or completely usurp conscious attention.
But the ant episode exemplifies a third type. My subconscious mind effectively said something like this :”I am not sure what is going on here, but I have a feeling that its something that we need to pay attention to. But to figure that out I need the expertise and private information available only to conscious visual attention and deliberation. I am not telling you what to do because I don’t know, I am just saying you should check this out.”
And so a tiny slice of consciousness gets peeled off to attend to that and only on the basis of what it sees is it decided whether the rest has to be distracted too.