THE UNCONSCIOUS


Sight Freud arrived at his concept of the unconscious by focusing on the discrepancy between thinking and being. As Fromm put it, "Most of us live in a world of self-deception in which we take our thoughts as representing reality." Appalled by the disparity between subconscious impulses and civilised behaviour, Freud formulated the programme of "turning id into ego", ie of bringing what is unconscious into consciousness. This turns out to be far harder than Freud imagined. In fact, from the standpoint of Jungian psychology, it isn't even possible. In the Jungian conception, the conscious mind is like a cork floating on the sea of the unconscious.

What is the unconscious? There are various models of the unconscious, both in Western psychology and Eastern philosophy. Having done some reading on this, I attempted to put together a synthesis of the models I have come across. Like any other model, it is just a map, not the territory. As such, it is a convenient fiction that aids analysis, classification and perhaps understanding. The model I came up with may be no more than a mish-mash of incompatible elements taken from six different schemas - Zen, Houston-Masters, Jung, Psychosynthesis, Tantra and my own. No doubt it does violence to all of them, and probably also falls into the trap of mixing incompatible levels of description.

The tentative model I came up with is as follows:

Personal Unconscious
        (1) Lower
        (2) Higher
Transpersonal Unconscious
        (3) Transcendental
        (4) The Archetypes
        (5) The Self

The personal unconscious is that part of your unconscious which belongs specifically to you. The tanspersonal part is the part that goes beyond the individual and, in some sense, belongs to all humanity.

Jung wrote: "The personal unconscious consists firstly of all those contents that became unconscious either because they lost their intensity and were forgotten or because consciousness was withdrawn from them (repression), and secondly of contents, some of them sense impressions, which never had sufficient intensity to reach consciousness but have somehow entered the psyche. The collective unconscious, however, as the ancestral heritage of possibilities of representation, is not individual but common to all men ... and is the true basis of the individual psyche."

The lower part of the personal unconscious comprises deeply held emotional programming and autonomic processes. This level contains deep-seated phobias, childhood traumas (such as rejection, abandonment or invasion), the personal anima/animus (as opposed to the archetype), deep attachments or desires, personal laws (e.g. "It's got to be hard") and limits (e.g. "I'm not good enough"). Jung calls these autonomous complexes, because they have a life of their own, often overriding our conscious wishes. In Jung's words, complexes are "psychic fragments which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain incompatible tendencies ... complexes behave like independent beings."

An alternative way of viewing this part of the unconscious was formulated by Fromm. He identified what he calls the filter of consciousness, a set of barriers that determine what reaches our awareness. Experience can only enter into awareness under the condition that it be perceived, related and ordered in terms of a conceptual system, cf "I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it." Experience can only enter awareness if it passes the filter arising out of limitations of language, our trying to see things logically, and social taboos that certain things are not only not done, but also not thought.

Other components of this level are the autonomic processes such as breathing, heart-rate and digestion. The intelligence of the body governs the myriad physical and chemical processes that take place inside us.

The second level contains material that is close to consciousness, but that is not directly accessible. It includes our store of experience (apparently nothing is ever forgotten), individual talents, skills, habits, our self-image, and the imagination.

The third level, the transcendental, encompasses things like: intuition, inspiration, transcendental experience, love, ecstasy, bliss, creativity, and psychic powers. This level is seen as transpersonal because it involves experiences that somehow go beyond the individual self.

More remote still, is the fourth level. The collective unconscious appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, which Jung called the archetypes. All of mythology is a sort of projection of the collective unconscious. Life situations that typically repeat themselves give rise to archetypes - age-old deposits in man's psyche. A few examples are: mother, wise old man, the saviour, the miraculous child, and the Self. Jung showed that many mythological symbols were common to cultures that had no contact with each other, as well as spontaneously appearing in the minds of individuals. The collective unconscious is the deposit of all human experience. It is the source of all instincts as well as of the creative impulse.

According to Jung, the Self "is an image of the goal of life spontaneously produced by the unconscious, irrespective of the wishes and fears of the conscious mind. It stands for the goal of the total man, for the realization of his wholeness and individuality with or without the consent of his will. The dynamic of this process is instinct, which ensures that everything which belongs to an individual's life shall enter into it." Jung equates the Self with the archetype of god in the collective unconscious. The religious need longs for wholeness, hence it fastens on the archetype of the Self that rises up from the unconscious. This explains Jung's answer to the question, "Do you believe in God?" He replied, "I believe in the psyche."

This fifth level is the one on which nirvana - oblivion or loss of self - is experienced. It is also the level of enlightenment or self-realisation. Another description is that this is the level of unity consciousness, where all duality vanishes. At this psychic level, one no longer has the feeling of being a separate self: there is only one Self. In Hinduism this is the level of Brahman, the underlying, formless reality beyond all the veils of maya.

Note that the conscious mind would lie between levels two and three. Thus to complete the picture, level 2.5 of the psyche is the conscious mind, comprising: consciousness itself, the intellect, the will, sensation and consciously available memories. To muddy the picture somewhat, a number of things cut across levels 1, 2 and 2.5. They are: emotion, likes/dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, habits, personal style, predispositions, desires, psychological needs, self-image, dreams.

Emotion cuts across levels 1 to 2.5 because its perception is obviously conscious, yet we know that it comes from deeper levels, including events great and small that are forgotten. A complex is unconscious even if we are more or less aware of its nature, because it continues to operate at a deep unconscious level, regardless of our understanding. The truth does not always set us free, sad to say. Attitudes have purely conscious (sometimes even rational!) components, as well as unconscious ones. For example, we sometimes wonder why a particular person annoys us so much. Similarly, we may be conscious of what our habits are, but they operate unconsciously. As for dreams, we are conscious during them, only it is a consciousness different to the waking one. We still have an ego, a will and the ability to reason, while we are dreaming. That the difference is one of degree is more evident in the states of reverie, just before waking from a dream, and lucid dreaming (when you are aware you are dreaming!)

I wrote this article in order to clarify my own understanding - with doubtful results. The truth of the matter is that no-one knows what the unconscious is, and even if they did, their understanding would not be expressible in words (unless the word happened to be "OM").

Tad Boniecki

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