In instructing him on the ways of men and the world, wise Merlin told the future King Arthur (when he was a boy) that an entire banquet is contained in the first taste, and every subsequent mouthful struggles to live up to the memory of the first. This is is a very romantic notion, but to the 'conscious' it is an outright lie. Consciousness is purposeful and is a deliberate way of living; it is the ability to remain in the present moment, accepting all experiences as both new and timeless; it allows us to savor each mouthful as if it were the first by remaining in the now.
Many of us assume we are free because we labor under the misconception that we are free to make our own choices. Were we to examine the reflexive nature of most of our choices we would realize that, not only are we not as free as we think we are, we are in fact actually programmed and are slaves to other people's opinions, prejudices and ideas, learned over the course of a life.
What is worse, because we are already programmed, we are that much easier to further program, and skillfull marketing and advertising gurus know this and take advantage of it in the name of profit. Allowing ourselves to be part of the established order robs us of our individuality, strips us of true freedom and shackles our mind; the opposite of conformity is not anarchy, it is consciousness.
Some background science:
As social beings, we spend most of our lives in a sort of 'playback' mode, where everything we experience is 'filtered' through either our memory of similar events experienced, or through the opinions of others whose opinions we respect for one reason or another. We tag 'present reality' through this filter and label the current experience as either good or bad, for or against, and make our choices based on these tags. This behavior becomes a life pattern that is actively encouraged through media, fashion, trends and peer pressure, and naturally progresses to us applying broad brush strokes to all things perceived familiar; a frightening encounter with a vicious dog during childhood makes us distrust all dogs as grown ups.
This is where most phobias come from (as in ALL dogs are out to get me), and part of the work of therapy is to find the moment when the frightening event became a memory of helplessness and work to undo it over time by furthering the 'bad' memory to a desirable outcome.
Like most people, I have 'fears' held over from my childhood that still exert some power over me and influence decisions I make as a grown up. Even when I can clearly see the irrationality of my feelings as being just fear, I still have little or no control over my conditioned response. This applies to prejudices and other negative social behaviors as well, and these too need work to learn a new response if changing one's patterns or becoming conscious is the desired result.
Now, in some instances this ability can be a good or even life saving thing, because words like fire, earthquake, gun, shark, or snake should trigger an alertness, while the smell of smoke, a loud explosion, or a menacing growl should trigger a flight response. Where time is critical and leisure of thought not affordable, a reliable reflex is imperative for survival.
Where this works against us though, by removing childlike wonder from our skill set, we tend to experience the world superficially on a 'call and respond' surface level and spend less time in conscious contemplation; this robs us of much new discovery and the inherent pleasure contained within.
If we were to observe ourselves in a shopping environment where we have the power to exercise choice it would be most clear. Do we wander aimlessly looking at everything? Or do we gravitate to certain things, brands, sizes and prices? Ever found yourself stuck between choosing something you know and something you want to try for a particular reason you could not put your finger on, yet you were stuck for choice?
Advertisers know this particular conundrum well, and exploit it to their benefit with 'price point promotion' (people tend to give a ridiculously cheap item a try as they see themselves as having nothing to lose), sampling, offers, new and improved or banded promotions (where they strap something you normally wouldn't buy to something you would). In a conscious view of the world you would make choice based on merit and standards as well as how you are feeling at that time, and not on memory or effective marketing techniques.
This knowledge can be extrapolated to include all choices, be it desirable qualities in a mate to who we perceive as leadership candidates at election times. The process remains the same, and you are encouraged to experiment by asking yourself why do you make the choices you make. Your own answers may startle you.
The good news:
It IS possible to undo this 'unconscious' pattern of living in most cases, and you DO have the power to 'change' your mind. You can relearn new behavior so that you are more awake and present and less in a 'decision already made' stupor. Past conditioning may be a powerful shackle, but its effects can be diluted through practice and understanding. All one needs is the will to change and the discipline to follow through and the results will be both unexpected and extraordinary.
Therapy is helpful in finding 'drivers' or sticking points, and there are many self help books available that are both fun reading and very helpful for the journey. Don't fret too much about rules and guides as you will quickly develop the ability to choose the right path for you, or to quote the Buddha - "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear".
While this writing makes the whole thing sound simple, it requires some heavy lifting to effect noticeable change and one should not expect instantaneous results. If one were willing to invest the time and effort however, the rewards would be more than worth it.
Life was never meant to be experienced in a dull haze and a fog, but is, as Khalil Gibran so eloquently said - "...a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even as the hand hews the stone or tends to the loom."
Free your mind...