The Background

puppet-master-yogaMost of the confusions, misunderstandings, conflicts, quarrels, clashes, misjudgements and disagreements in our lives are our own creation, and because of them we suffer.

But 99% of it is nothing we do on purpose.

I have a little funny example about this. I have a son that’s almost 6 years old. His name is David. But I find myself once in a while calling him Hugo. Hugo is my brother who’s two years younger than me.

The first time I called my son Hugo, I didn’t make anything of it, it was just a silly mistake. But then, after I did it a few more times, I started to think about what was going on. And of course, the reason I discovered was very simple. My son is somebody I am taking care of. He is my little treasure, my beautiful responsibility. And my brother, even if he is only a couple of years younger than me, he was also the person I was taking care of when we were kids. And I don’t know how, as it is nothing I have done—nothing ‘Carlos’ has done—but somehow the mind is associating a person I am taking care of now with a person I use to take care of in the past, and so I call my son Hugo. It is something that the mind is doing, on its own. And yes, it does make sense, because the way I am taking care of my son resembles, in a way, the way I was taking care of my brother, the way I was thinking about him: somebody smaller that I need to protect.

What I find so interesting is that as my mind—the unconscious mind, the background1—made the association of calling my son by my brother’s name, there must be millions of associations this background is continuously doing with things I don’t even notice. I call it the unconscious mind—the background—because it is obviously not ‘me’. To call my son Hugo is a very unconscious thing. What I call ‘me’, the consciousness, is the part that makes decisions. But the part that decided to call my son Hugo was obviously not me, because I KNOW that my son is not my brother. But the background doesn’t know.

We may meet a person and her smell, or the color of her hair, or the way she smiles, or the sound of her voice or who knows what reminds the mind—the background—of someone from childhood, for example, and it creates a connection, an association. And then the background starts to treat that person according to the association it created. In the case of my son and my brother that connection is based on love and it creates no problems or disturbances.

But it may not be so simple every time. And the problem with these associations is that ‘I’, the conscious person, doesn’t know about them. And because we don’t know, we really need to pay attention to two points:

1. We need to be more aware that the background is working in our minds all the time. And we need to know that it is actually this background the one that determines much of our decisions, plans, needs, concerns, aims and desires; that it is this background the one that decides most of our lives.

A large part of the psychological world is to try to discover these invisible associations we make – that are made – in our mind. To discover the background.

It’s interesting that we actually live in a time where a lot of information about the unconscious mind is available and, to a certain extent, the majority of people have information about it2 (at least in a country that’s more or less developed). Nothing of what I have written above is probably new to anybody reading it. But even if we ‘know about it’, we don’t really use that information, especially when the issues or difficulties we have with other people have no clear cause3.

So, instead of believing in a superficial cause—this person said or did something, or looks in a certain way or whatever—it is very good to try to go a bit deeper and find out what it is that actually creates these difficulties.
It is very important for us to see that the real reason we have a lot of problems with people is not rooted in the present (in what happens in the moment) but it actually comes from things we bring from our own past, from these associations that our unconscious mind makes based on past experiences.

2. It is my understanding that about 90% of these associations will never be found, no matter how many years we go to a psychologist or how many things we do. If we really dig deep in our psychology, what we will find is a very messy soup of experiences4. We will find a confused, complicated, ‘crazy’ psychology: we don’t really know why we say what we say, we don’t really know why we react the way we react, we don’t really know why we like this person but dislike that one, we don’t really know why we want to do this instead of that, etc, etc. We will realize we know almost nothing about our psychology. We can look at relationships—between husband and wife, parents and sons, friends, partners, etc.—and see how many problems we create without even wanting to, without even knowing why.
Basically, all these problems and disturbances are nothing but associations that the unconscious mind – the background – is continuously making.

And so, the second point is: when we see this mixed up soup that is our psychology, we need to forgive ourselves.
We need to forgive ourselves because we are not responsible for our confused psychology. It has been given to us, no different than the color of our hair or the size of our nose.

Of course this does not mean that we should not try to find out, to study, to investigate, to say ‘I’ m sorry’ if we make a mess and, in particular, to take responsibility for our actions. Quite the opposite. We need to keep doing whatever we need to do to clear up our psychology from the mess in which we find it. But at the same time we need, deep in our hearts, to keep returning to the understanding that there is a background that is constantly creating associations completely without our awareness, our permission, our control. And that it is the background, and not me, what creates the ‘mess’.

If we look at the history of human relations throughout time, we will see that things have always been ‘crazy’, and they will continue to be so. One of the most important things I have found for myself is to keep returning to this forgiveness of myself and of others. When I find myself or others creating drama, the real cause of it is most probably deeply hidden in the unconscious, which means I am not doing it on purpose, nor are the others doing it on purpose. And because of this, I can forgive. I can forgive myself, others and the situation. I can embrace what is happening, and come back anew. Whatever mess I made or is made by others, whatever difficulty I have, whatever suffering comes up, I need to do whatever needs to be done in order to repair that situation but also, I need to keep returning to this forgiveness, to this embracement. Which is to say I need to return to love.




1. This idea of the background is a very large and complex idea and I am just introducing here a little touch of it.

2. What I refer to as the background is subtler than our minds and so it cannot be known directly. It can only be recognized from its manifestations, just like a sickness may be recognized by eruptions on the skin; but the eruptions are not the sickness, only one recognizable form that the sickness may take. In the case of the background, according to the form that it takes, it is known at different times by different names: the shadow, the pain body, the causal body, the unconscious and/or subconscious, system 1, chief feature, the jack of centers, etc. All these names, and many more, refer to (are different aspects, different manifestations of) what I call the background.

3. We are very good at finding causes even when they are really not there. I remember hearing about a study in which researches put people under hypnosis and gave them the post-hypnotic suggestion to untie their shoelaces when they heard a particular word. After hypnosis, and while talking to them, they slipped this word into the conversation. At that moment, the subject would bent over and untie his/her shoes. Then the researches would ask why he/she did that, and the person would ALWAYS GIVE A REASONABLE ANSWER. That is why instead of saying something like: I don’t like this person because of the way she dresses or the way she smiles or the way she talks or whatever, I need to go a bit deeper and actually ask myself: really, what is in me that does not allow me to like this person?

4. We can go to a psychologist to investigate what happened to us when we were kids. Or we can go to a healer to see what happen at the moment of our conception or to an astrologer to see the positions of the stars the moment of our birth. Or we can go to a shaman to learn about our past lifetimes. (About past lives, there are several theories. Some say we have nine lifetimes. Other say we have hundreds. Others still say we have thousands. So a shaman may help us see what happened in our seventh life, or in our 37th life, or in our 237th life). Or we may pray to alleviate the weight of our karma, or… And this ‘or…’ is the point. All these things are possibilities to discover and reduce the background. So we can do any or all of these things. And if we feel attracted to any, we should definitely go for it. But this background is such a huge mix of possible experiences that it is practically impossible to actually figure it out, to understand it.



Categories: Reflections

There are 5 comments

  1. Carlos

    An after thought:
    The understanding that we actually have an unconscious mind and that it is the one that decides many things in our life is not so difficult to get. A little bit of study, of investigation will take us easily to that conclusion. But to put that knowledge into practice and to actually be able to forgive ourselves and others, we need a special mind. Not special in a sense of unique or rare or exclusive, but special in the sense that it needs some very particular traits. A mind that is too busy with problems, too worried, too distracted, too lost on its past and future is simply not able to do it because it does not have the space necessary to remember what it knows.

    To forgive—to love—we need a quiet mind. We need a mind that has the necessary inner space to see behind and beyond the superficial levels of life. A mind that is able to recollect its higher understandings. (For more in depth information about how to get a quiet mind, please see this note:

  2. Concha

    Thank u carlos for sharing ur thoughts. I always feel renewed after reading u. If i could read a post of you every morning before geting out of bed, days would be much happier!

  3. Cristina Stefania

    I was always relating what you call Background to our Subconsciousness and another thing that can trigger many unconscious re-actions, such as the one in your example, can be that what Carl Jung called “collective unconscious” – referring to structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species. ..Or we all heard about the “collective memory”
    Ex – Men’s instinct to protect or provide for women…Or women’s maternal instincts.
    Many of us do not realize these should not be real concerns and others consciously accept “what is” and focus on what they can control…
    Still, that collective unconscious bursts out when you least expect it and the best thing you can do is, as you said, forgive yourself and everyone else and think of what you love about your life…or would love
    PS – It’s always a pleasure to read your reflections 🙂

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