Unconscious of What?
The unconscious is sometimes referred to as ‘the shadow’, as if it contains only our bad boogey, our dark side. For this, we can thank Sigmund Freud, who made the unconscious popular – and generally gave it a bad name. He included it in his model of human personality as the container of repressed feelings of pain, anxiety and conflict that would trip us up as we seek to go about our daily lives. Although narrowly based on abnormal psychology and his 19th century Viennese psychiatric practice, Freud’s description of our unconsciousness was on the right track – in part, at least!
The truth of our unconscious is more interesting, more complex and even more significant than Freud could have imagined! Over the past 100 years, massive expansions in psychology, humanistic psychotherapy, sociology, and neuroscience have found that the unconscious is where the mind does most of its work – out of sight and out of our awareness. It does this in us individually and also collectively – in humanity and society as a whole.
Carl Jung, Freud’s student, described the unconscious as including many functions of our physical bodies and personalities not requiring our continuous conscious attention – not wasting our conscious processing power on background activities. He also proposed ‘the collective unconscious’ as holding racial, cultural and national patterns of belief and behaviour. If you look at cultural and societal norms, or places of world conflict, in this light, you can see the collective unconscious of ancient feelings and behaviours perpetuated from generation to generation.
All of our social and cultural norms, behaviours and institutions are based in the collective unconscious. In ecology, food production, resource sustainability, energy utilization, environment, social structures, international affairs, etc., we are at a turning point of human consciousness. We must shed our outmoded and unconscious thought patterns, clear the residual negative [mostly unconscious] energies of the last few thousand years, and allow the higher light of our consciousness guide us to a better world that regenerates from its current downward slides.
“This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung
As each of us manifests this collective unconscious, with its outmoded beliefs and behaviour patterns, we can each bring into the light those parts which no longer serve us, humanity and the planet. This is how we can both contribute to successful change in society, at the same time healing ourselves and clearing our reincarnating self to keep pace with planetary and human evolution in future lives.
As part of the collective unconscious, Jung also gave us the concept of archetypes which are expressed in stories, myths, rituals, etc. by people collectively or artists individually who have brought them into consciousness to some degree. Most, if not all, people have several of his twelve primary archetypes expressed through their personality. However, one archetype tends to dominate the personality in general. Exploring and knowing which archetypes are expressed in yourself and others, especially loved ones, friends and co-workers, gives personal insight into behaviours and motivations.
Academic psychology has studied how fleeting perceptions register in our unconscious long before we are aware of them. We may record what we see and what we hear, but not know it at the time, but only recall it later – or not! We react, make judgments and decisions in our unconscious, then think about them consciously afterwards, often concocting the reasons for what our unconscious has told us.
When we meet someone for the first time, for example, we react to their appearance, voice, presence, race, gender, etc, forming an almost instant opinion, good or bad, warm or fearful. These opinions are based on our unconscious feelings, beliefs and memories – including values passed on to us through our childhood conditioning by parents, carers, society and culture.
Your unconscious is the repository of memories, automatic skills [eg, riding a bike, typing, swimming, talking, etc.], the origin of our dreams, and our prime processor of information. Memories and learned skills are stored in the unconscious until needed in daily life. In IT terms, it is the operating system and primary memory of our being, without which we could not perform any simple function without thinking it out and learning it again. What matters is that we become aware of our programming – of why we believe or do things – and change them, if they no longer serve us, humanity and the planet.
Meanwhile, our unconscious manages all of our basic physical functions (breathing, heart rate, hormones, immune system, etc.) and is the key protector of our physical body – of its survival. It will adapt to save us from anything that appears to threaten that survival. The unconscious remains alert, even though you are not aware of it, protecting you by learning from each experience.
For example, if you have a bad experience with an attacking dog, your unconscious may store that experience of threat, fear and pain, and produce anxiety whenever you see a dog, so [rightly or wrongly] to provoke your fight/flight response and to ensure your survival. Or it may just quietly steer you away from walking past the front fence of where the dog lives – without you even realising you are avoiding a threatening situation.
Your unconscious decides which, where and how your memories are stored. It may hide memories of strong negative emotions (such as traumas) until you are mature enough to process them consciously. When it senses that you are ready (whether you consciously think you are or not!), it will bring them up so you can deal with them. This explains how many people only recall bad events of their childhood, war service or catastrophes later in life. If they do not heal these memories and stored patterns, they can cause mental breakdown, physical illness and death.
When your unconscious is a source of hidden beliefs, fears, and attitudes that interfere with your everyday life, it is important to bring into conscious awareness these hidden and often painful hindrances – so that you can examine them and choose how to deal with them – to choose how to live your life. There is no doubt in my mind that we are all experiencing an increasing call from our unconscious to pay attention to our own consciousness and, in turn, to our collective consciousness, for the sake of humanity.
“Everything that does not rise into consciousness comes back as destiny.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung
But it is important to remember all of the story. If you do well in school or sports, or have happy family times, your unconscious will remember those feelings of belonging, achievement and recognition, and energize you to repeat these things in your life. Such unconscious positive memories and beliefs form a definitive part of our personalities, give us strength and courage, and provide positive patterns and interpretive frameworks for our lives.
We can define ‘unconscious’ as ‘the part of us of which we are not aware’ – in effect, a part of our human consciousness, our self, our being. There are many theories about the unconscious in psychological, philosophical and spiritual circles – and even more about consciousness itself. The truth is that it’s hard to prove any of these theories, as we are using our consciousness to research itself, with only a minimal reliance on our five senses that science uses.
However, the accumulated knowledge from thousands of years of spiritual practice in consciousness tells that us we can grow our consciousness to take in all that we are, while at the same time transcending our identity, becoming aware/conscious of our being part of everything.
Our unconscious stores some of our own wisdom that we should respect, and can access. In recent times, some people have promoted the unconscious mind as a tool they can use to get what they want [for themselves]. They attempt to condition the unconscious with repeated affirmations, as if they were teaching a cockatoo to speak – then wonder why they don’t work. The unconscious is not an automaton, but functions in its own intelligent ways.
We can work with the unconscious rather than trying to browbeat it into submission or ignoring it. Meditation and mindfulness are practices that develop the skill of shining the light of our consciousness into our darker corners and discovering who we truly are. The more we practice, the more of our unconscious we can access, and the more we become truly ourselves.
 Dr Sigmund Freud [1856-1939], a Jewish, Austrian neuropathologist and founder of psychoanalysis
 Abnormal psychology deals with the psychology of unusual behaviour, emotions and thought in a clinical setting
 Dr Carl Gustav Jung [1875-1961], a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology
 The Innocent, The Orphan [regular guy/gal], The Hero, The Caregiver, The Explore, The Rebel, The Lover, The Creator, The Jester, The Sage, The Magician, The Ruler.
 Note well: This is where the comparison with computers begins and ends. Consciousness is not a by-product of our brain and neither of them works like a computer!