Unconscious, The

As a surgeon probes deeply into the human body to promote the healing of the physical body, we must come to understand the inner workings of our personal narrative and identity to heal the human psyche.
— Roy Charles Henry

Eckhart Tolle essentially defines unconsciousness as a reaction of the false self. “Unconscious means to be identified with some mental or emotional pattern. It implies a complete absence of the watcher.”[i]

Without the objectivity of the observer we are unable to respond to our life’s experience, to choose P-A as our narrative and our True self as our identity. This article will add to our awareness of what is involved in the process of awakening.

Robert Johnson reveals the content of the unconscious to be complex. “Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometimes come to consciousness: all this is the content of the unconscious.”[ii]

“Jung teaches us that the unconscious is the source: the primal matter from which our conscious minds and ego personalities have evolved. All the values, ideas, feelings, capacities, and attitudes that we have developed into functioning parts of our conscious personalities originated in the raw, primal material of the unconscious.”[iii]

Jung continues: “According to my view, the unconscious falls into two parts which should be sharply distinguished from one another. One of them is the personal unconscious; it includes all those psychic contents which have been forgotten during the course of the individual’s life. Traces of them are still preserved in the unconscious, even if all conscious memory of them has been lost. In addition, it contains all subliminal impressions or perceptions which have too little energy to reach consciousness. To these we must add unconscious combinations of ideas that are too feeble and to indistinct to cross over the threshold. Finally, the personal unconscious contains all psychic contents that are incompatible with the conscious attitude. This comprises a whole group of contents, chiefly those which appear morally, aesthetically, or intellectually inadmissible and are repressed on account of their incompatibility [the shadow]. A man cannot always think and feel the good, the true, and the beautiful, and in trying to keep up an ideal attitude everything that does not fit in with it is automatically repressed. If, as is nearly always the case in a differentiated person, one function, for instance thinking, is especially developed and dominates consciousness, then feeling is thrust into the background and largely falls into the unconscious.”[iv]

“But it would never do to foist our conscious psychology upon the unconscious. Its mentality is an instinctive one; it has no differentiated functions, and it does not ‘think’ as we understand ‘thinking.’ It simply creates an image that answers to the conscious situation. This image contains as much thought as feeling, and is anything rather than a product of rationalistic reflection. Such an image would be better described as an artist’s vision. Unconscious processes are constantly supplying us with contents which, if consciously recognized, would extend the range of consciousness. The unconscious appears as a field of unlimited extent. Because the unconscious is not just a reactive mirror-reflection, but an independent, productive activity, its realm of experience is a self-contained world, having its own reality, of which we can only say that it affects us as we affect it—precisely what we say about our experience of the outer world.”[v]

Pitirim A. Sorokin adds transcendence as the highest level of the unconscious. “The biological unconscious lies below the level of the conscious energies and the superconscious (genius, creative élan, the extra-sensory, the divine inspiration, supraconscious intuition, etc.) lies above the level of any conscious, rational and logical thought or energy.”[vi]

William Irwin Thompson makes the critical distinction between the unconscious and “being unconscious” which is the state of most of humankind. “The unconscious character experiences his or her fate as external to its consciousness and laments the seemingly external infliction of the events of its life.”[vii]  By learning to respond to life as it is, the truly conscious person is able to transcend both the influence of his unconscious and the illusions of world of form in which he is immersed.

The false self is an insidious and for most of us an irresistible influence in choosing self-destructive behavior. All religions have long recognized the unconscious and conscious negative sources of “sinful” human behavior. Gerald Heard describes the classic addictive drives of what he calls the ego and the ineffective remedy advocated by Christianity and in one form or another by all the world’s major religions. “They would loose themselves from the three ties which the ego weaves round the growing soul. Those three ties are: the addictions of appetite [sensation]; the possessiveness of ‘means,’ of money, of ‘goods’ [security]; and the pretentiousness of fame and reputation [power]. So they aimed at renouncing the ego by the triple vow of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience.”[viii]

We cannot over-learn about the three energy centers of the false-self survival strategy since they are the source of so much of our suffering, confusion and dissatisfaction with life.

The Sensation Center (affection and esteem)

The Sensation Center involves the mostly unconscious seeking of affection, esteem and sensations which can often lead to substance and process addictions.

The American city symbolizing this energy center: Las Vegas

What happens to the individual seeking sensations relating to affection and esteem? In the words of Theodor Seifert, a Jungian analyst, “I reject being like them [others] and instead always want to be better and more beautiful. This isolation leads to loneliness, then to anxiety, and finally to the ever greater need to be better and more outstanding. This is a vicious circle that leads to the collapse of a healthy, natural community.”[ix]

“By this understanding, even pleasure is but gilded pain. ‘Earth’s sweetest joy is but disguised pain,’ as Drummond wrote, while Shelley speaks of ‘that unrest which men miscall delight.’”[x]

The sensation center is revealed at both the conscious levels and the unconscious levels by what Americans purchase. Some of the desires of Americans are also “secret” in that they take place in the hidden shadows of society. Eric Schlosser in his book Reefer Madness (2003), followed the money to reveal that the domestic harvest of marijuana made it America’s largest cash crop at close to $20 billion a year. What this reveals about our American culture is a hypocritical majority and a deeply repressed subconscious shadow.

The Security Center

The American city symbolizing this energy center:  New York City (Wall Street)

“Marketing analyst Victor Lebow wrote in 1950, ‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.’”[xi]

Wall Street symbolizes the American disease of affluenza. “Affluenza, a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”[xii]

“‘Greed is something that grows in us between the ages of 2 and 4. This happens before we’re old enough to understand the value of money,’ said Dr. Elisabeth Engelberg, who studies the psychology of money in attitudes, behavior and gender. Threatened by what we interpret as the absence of love, attention and affection [the sensation center], we can learn to compensate for this perceived lack by surrounding ourselves with material goods,’ she said.”[xiii]

“The average credit card debt of a graduating U.S. college student [is $20,402] combining education loan and credit-card balance. University administrators say they lose more students to credit-card debt than to academic failure.”[xiv]

The Power Center (power and control)

The illusion of power is sought by attempting to control people or situations promoting status, self-image, influence, accomplishment and approval seeking: it is promoting others’ dependence on us.

The American city symbolizing the power energy center:  Washington D.C.

The author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, David Myers, wrote about people’s fears, many of which are unconscious.  “We fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear. Human emotions were road-tested in the ‘Stone Age,’ he explains. ‘Yesterday’s risks prepare us to fear snakes, lizards and spiders, although all three combined now kill virtually no one in developed countries. Flying may be far safer than bicycling, but our biological past predisposes us to fear confinement and heights, and therefore flying.’”[xv]

“But in addition to the dramatic and unusual, Myers says, ‘We fear what we cannot control.’”[xvi]

The unconscious as we have described it may initially appear a hostile threat but that is not the case as Seth assures us. “You are not at the mercy of unconscious drives unless you consciously acquiesce to them.”[xvii] And, of course, that acquiescence occurs when we react to what is happening rather than respond.

Jung gives his explanation why humankind has thus far failed to understand the role played by the unconscious and our resistance to embracing our true identity. “Furthermore, the problem thus raised is very difficult for modern man to grasp; for to begin with he can understand the unconscious only as an essential and unreal appendage of the conscious mind, and not as a special sphere of experience with laws of its own until finally the right formula is found for the correlation of conscious and unconscious, and the personality is assigned its correct position between the two. Moreover, such a conflict cannot be solved by understanding, but only by experience. Every stage of the experience must be lived through. There is no feat of interpretation or any other trick by which to circumvent this difficulty, for the union of conscious and unconscious can be achieved only step by step.”[xviii]

“The resistance of the conscious mind to the unconscious and the depreciation of the latter were historical necessities in the development of the human psyche, for otherwise the conscious mind would never have been able to differentiate itself at all. But modern man’s consciousness has strayed rather too far from the fact of the unconscious. We have even forgotten that the psyche is by no means of our design, but is for the most part autonomous and unconscious. Consequently the approach of the unconscious induces a panic fear in civilized people, not least on account of the menacing analogy with insanity. The intellect has no objection to ‘analyzing’ the unconscious as a passive object; on the contrary such an activity would coincide with our rational expectations. But to let the unconscious go its own way and to experience it as a reality is something that exceeds the courage and capacity of the average European. He prefers simply not to understand this problem. For the spiritually weak-kneed this is the better course, since the thing is not without its dangers.”[xix]

“The experience of the unconscious is a personal secret communicable only to the very few, and that with difficulty; hence the isolating effect we noted above. The drawing of a spellbinding circle is an ancient magical device used by everyone who has a special or secret purpose in mind. He thereby protects himself from the ‘perils of the soul’ that threaten him from without and attack anyone who is isolated by a secret. The same procedure has also been used since olden times to set a place apart as holy and inviolable. He experienced an agreeable feeling or relief after this vision and—rightly, since he has succeeded in establishing a protected area where he will be able to meet the unconscious. His isolation, so uncanny before, is now endowed with meaning and purpose, and thus robbed of its terrors.”[xx]

“But what did Dionysus mean to Nietzsche? What he says about it must be taken seriously; what it did to him still more so. There can be no doubt that he knew, in the preliminary stages of his fatal illness, that the dismal fate of Zagreus was reserved for him. Dionysus is the abyss of impassioned dissolution, where all human distinctions are merged in the animal divinity of the primordial psyche—a blissful and terrible experience. Humanity, huddling behind the walls of its culture, believes it has escaped this experience, until it succeeds in letting loose another orgy of bloodshed. All well-meaning people are amazed when this happens and blame high finance, the armaments industry, the Jews, or the Freemasons.”[xxi]

“[The] conscious mind must now come to terms with the figures of the unknown woman (‘anima’), the unknown man (‘the shadow’), the wise old man (‘mana personality’), and the symbols of the self. ‘Mana personality’: archetype of the mighty man in the form of hero, chief, magician, medicine-man, saint, ruler of men and spirits, friend of God.”[xxii]

“It is predicted that investigation of the psyche is the science of the future, for the greatest danger to man is a psychic danger, particularly from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious accumulate and stifle the reasonableness of the conscious mind. To protect himself from war, it is concluded that man must not arm himself but must discover the psychic conditions under which the unconscious mind overwhelms the conscious mind.”[xxiii]

Jung’s viewpoint is revealing but not essential to a successful process of learning to live a satisfactory and peaceful life in the present moment free from the influences of the unconscious. John Ruskin in his book Emotional Clearing describes what we call The Point of Power Practice or “feeling” the experience of life, including the emergence of formerly unconscious content. “Simply surrender to your flow, stay with your experience as it is, be patient and trust in the guidance you are receiving. These insights will come spontaneously as a result of the integration that direct experience will bring. For now, just fully experience the feelings of the event. If you persist in trying to analyze, integration is inhibited.”[xxiv]

Another contribution made by Jung to what became known as depth psychology, was the existence of the collective unconscious. “As the name indicates, its contents are not personal but collective; that is, they do not belong to one individual alone but to a whole group of individuals, and generally to a whole nation, or even to the whole of mankind. These contents are not acquired during the individual’s lifetime but are products of innate forms and instincts. Although the child possesses no inborn ideas, it nevertheless has a highly developed brain which functions in a quite different way. This brain is inherited from its ancestors; it is a deposit of the psychic functioning of the whole human race. The child therefore brings with it an organ ready to function in the same way that it has functioned throughout human history. In the brain the instincts are preformed, and so are the primordial images which have always been the basis of man’s thinking—the whole treasure-house of mythological motifs.”[xxv]

We can also use the descriptive definition of the collective unconscious by Pascal: “Stories and feelings that consist entirely of elements and characteristics of the human species, the voice of uninfluenced primal Nature, filtering up to our human ego-awareness. They are not part of an individual’s personal development and history but rather of the development and history of the human species as a whole. Our ego-consciousness, when intensely and one-pointedly introspective, experiences certain patterns that emerge from these unknown depths of our being. We feel their effects very strongly as complexes (a word coined by Jung) and symptoms, as well as symbols and images that we experience in dreams, fantasies and visions of all kinds.”[xxvi]

The collective unconscious is important for our Self-realization, therefore an awareness of its existence is crucial. Jung called the collective unconscious “a source of wisdom, purpose, and meaning. Cut off from the collective unconscious, we become filled with anxiety and insecurity.”[xxvii]

Complexes are another of Jung’s “discoveries” and they are defined as “psychic entities which are outside the control of the conscious mind. They have been split off from consciousness and lead a separate existence in the dark realm of the unconscious, being at all times ready to hinder or reinforce conscious functioning.”[xxviii]  “When a complex surfaces, so do the conflictual opposites that compose it. For instance, we always see juxtaposed independence vs. dependency, worthiness vs. unworthiness, competence vs. incompetence, superiority vs. inferiority, assertiveness vs. passivity, graciousness vs. envy, self-confidence vs. insecurity. We usually discover that one of the polar opposites had been repressed and now resurfaces tormentingly.”[xxix]

We have just identified one of the major sources of our suffering.  We must develop an increasing awareness of complexes as we continue our process of awakening.

Now, what do complexes have to do with our propensity to avoid suffering? “Clinging to the complex is one way of avoiding psychic pain. It’s a false sort of logic: Better to see the enemy outside than to see it inside. If one sees it inside, then one might feel compelled to confront and grapple with it, and that would take an enormous amount of moral strength, which might be lacking. In short, gay bashing is really a transparent attempt to keep the closet door tightly closed on one’s own homoerotic complex. Ultimately this type of tactic to control one’s complex does not work since putting one polar opposite against another simply energizes the opposite that is suppressed. It will in the end surface with a vengeance. It is best to allow both poles of a complex to enjoy the light of consciousness, where they can come to terms with each other. Simple forgiveness toward oneself and others is more often than not the necessary antidote to such a conflictual dilemma. The ability to turn an unconscious complex which has one by the throat into an object of knowledge is an extremely important aspect for increasing consciousness.”[xxx]

We return as always to the simple teachings of the mystics who lived in the present moment: Love thyself, love thy neighbor and love Creation. When we practice responding which is love thyself in action, we are no longer at the mercy of our complexes and we have discovered authentic power over the unconscious. Nor do we need to surrender to our neuroses which are defined as any functional disorder of the mind or emotions involving anxiety, phobias, or other abnormal behavior symptoms.

Responding is how we bring the “light of consciousness” mentioned by Edward Edinger above into the present moment. Many people today would be empowered by that practice. “According to experts some 50 million people in this country suffer from phobias at some point in their lives, and millions more are diagnosed with other anxiety disorders. One reason is that we’ve lost touch with the actual experience of primal, natural fear. When fear is numbed, we learn little about what it’s for—its inherent usefulness as an alarm system that we ignore at our peril. Benumbed fear is especially dangerous when it becomes an unconscious source of vengeance, violence and other destructive acts. We see this acted out on the world stage as much as in the individual psyche.”[xxxi]

The false self (ego) is the human personality or identity acting unconsciously. “So if evolution is to go further, it has to transcend the ego—the personality when it learned all it needed [was] a selfless dedication to great tasks without the inducement of personal aggrandizement.”[xxxii]  All satisfying “great tasks” as Arthur Young calls them are conscious responses to life’s opportunities.

We have been using Freudian/Jungian terminology (ego, neurosis, complexes, collective unconscious, and phobias) and now we bring the superego front and center. Stan Grof makes it quite clear how important it is that we shine the light of consciousness on the superego. “War provides the opportunity to abandon psychological defenses that ordinarily keep the dangerous perinatal [occurring near the time of birth] tendencies in check. Freud’s superego, a psychological force that demands restraint and civilized behavior, is replaced by the “war superego”: we now receive praise for the same behaviors that are unacceptable or even criminal in peacetime—murder, indiscriminate destruction, and pillaging. Once war erupts, the destructive and self-destructive impulses can be given free rein. The most triumphant external victory does not deliver what the unconscious expected or hoped for: an inner sense of emotional liberation and spiritual rebirth.”[xxxiii]

Becoming conscious can involve “objectifying” the above elements of unconsciousness, that is, becoming aware that they are illusions. This is usually done through the process of meditation. Attaining an awareness of these elements, that is, shining the light of consciousness upon them will dissolve them as the sun dissolves the morning mist. What occurs either gradually or as a breakthrough will be an “insight” into the nature of reality and liberation or present moment awareness. The fruit of awareness is equanimity where one is able to respond to life rather than react. Reacting to life means remaining unconscious and in the grip of craving and aversion. Responding to life “as it is” means not resisting anything but choosing to see one’s life experience as perfect—not needing to be changed in any way. The Universe is then seen as friendly—and one has entered the Absolute. Although such a state is wordless, words such as serenity, peace, freedom, joy, happiness, liberation, tranquility and compassion all point to this state of being.

We now turn to Seth for “his” extraordinary insights. “You must stop believing that the inner self is a dungeon of unsavory repressed emotion. It also contains great intuition, knowledge, and the answers to all of your questions.”[xxxiv]

“In your society therefore the black race has represented what you think of as the chaotic, primitive, spontaneous, savage, unconscious portions of the self, the underside of the ‘proper American citizen.’ The blacks were to be oppressed then on the one hand and yet treated indulgently as children on the other. There was always a great fear that the blacks as a race would escape their bonds—given an inch they would take a yard—simply because the whites so greatly feared the nature of the inner self, and recognized the power that they tried so desperately to strangle within themselves.”[xxxv]

Changing our beliefs about the nature of reality, our identity and what healthy human behavior is, is essential to integrating our collective and individual unconsciousness aspects into our present-moment awareness. Laurens Van der Post, a Jungian analyst, describes Jung’s own struggles with his unconscious. “Its negative aspect dwindled into insignificance beside his revelation of its positive objective nature and its own vital involvement in the enlargement of consciousness in man. The trouble started only when the part of the human personality which was conscious behaved as if it were the whole of the man.”[xxxvi]

We are healthier and more powerful than we can imagine if we can only embrace the life we have been given as it is without fear. Simple Reality provides the context and practice for doing that.

Unconscious, The

[i]       Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. Novato, California: New World Library, 1999, p. 33.

[ii]       Johnson, Robert and Ruhl, Jerry M. Contentment. New York: Harper, 1999, p. 39.

[iii]      Johnson, Robert. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love. New York: Harper, 1983, p 3.

[iv]      Campbell, Joseph. Creative Mythology. New York: Viking, 1968, p. 652.

[v]       Jung, C. G. The Portable Jung. New York: Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 133-135.

[vi]      LeShan, Lawrence. How to Meditate. New York: Bantam, p. 146.

[vii]     Thompson, William Irwin. Coming Into Being. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996, p. 64.

[viii]     Heard, Gerald. Training for the Life of the Spirit. Blauvelt, New York: Steinerbooks, 1975, p. 64.

[ix]      Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man. New York: Harper, 1958, p. 95.

[x]       Borysenko, Joan. Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson. New York: Warner, 1990, p. 110.

[xi]      Wann, David. “Waste makes haste.” The Denver Post. August 3, 2003, p. 1E.

[xii]     Ibid., p. 1L.

[xiii]     Hadnot, Ira J. “Mind games of money exact high price in human behavior.” The Denver Post. January 5, 2003, p. 3K.

[xiv]     Reuteman, Rob. “Statistics sum up our past, augur our future.” The Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, September 27, 2003, p. 2C.

[xv]     Cox, Jack. “‘The End Is Near!’ Why Americans are obsessed with apocalyptic anxieties.” The Denver Post, November 12, 2003, p. 1F.

[xvi]     Ibid., p. 16F.

[xvii]    Roberts, Jane. The Nature of Personal Reality. New York: Bantam, 1974, p. xix.

[xviii]   Jung, Portable Jung, op. cit., pp. 332-337.

[xix]     Ibid.

[xx]      Ibid.

[xxi]     Ibid., pp. 357-358.

[xxii]    Ibid.

[xxiii]    Jung, C. G. Abstracts of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Rockville, Maryland: NIMH, 1978, p. 128.

[xxiv]    Ruskan, John. Emotional Clearing. New York: Broadway Books, 2000, p. 166.

[xxv]     Campbell, op. cit., pp. 652-653.

[xxvi]   Pascal, Eugene. Jung to Live By. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1992, p. 59.

[xxvii]   Johnson, Contentment, op. cit., pp. 10-11.

[xxviii]   Pascal, op. cit., p. 60.

[xxix]    Ibid., p. 71.

[xxx]    Edinger, Edward. The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for Modern Man. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1984, p. 38.

[xxxi]   Greenspan, Miriam. “The Wisdom in the Dark Emotions.” Shambhala Sun. Boulder, Colorado, January 2003, p. 58.

[xxxii]   Young, Arthur. The Reflexive Universe. Cambria, California: Anados Foundation, 1976, p. 199.

[xxxiii]   Grof, Stanislov. The Holotropic Mind. New York: Harper, 1993, p. 216.

[xxxiv]   Roberts, op. cit., p. 81.

[xxxv]    Ibid., pp. 266-267.

[xxxvi]   Van der Post, Laurens. Jung and the Story of our Time. New York: Random House, 1975, pp. 208-209.

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