Julie got into her car as usual and drove the five miles to her workplace. Along the way she was playing out in her mind a conversation she’d had the day before with a friend. She then started planning the evening meal and where she would stop to get some shopping on her way home. A myriad of other things went through her mind and soon she pulled up in her work car park and pulled into a space.
With her conscious mind totally occupied she had driven along busy roads, a dual-carriageway, and through several sets of traffic lights. She signalled properly and drove safely at all times. Once she had pulled up in the car park she came to her senses and realised that she couldn’t remember a single thing about her journey. She asked herself, “How could I drive this far and not remember anything about getting here? Where was my mind? Who was driving while I was daydreaming?” But this had happened many times before so she didn’t give it much thought.
Later, during her lunch break, she watched a colleague go into a rage because someone had left the milk out on the side instead of putting it back in the fridge. Julie was astonished at his behaviour. She wondered what had come over him because his behaviour was well out of proportion with the issue.
Later, when her colleague reflected on his behaviour he felt embarrassed and realised he would have to apologise. He asked himself, “Where did that behaviour come from? I don’t know what came over me.” He realised that the anger came from a place that had nothing to do with someone leaving the milk out. But where did it come from? He didn’t know, so after apologising, he didn’t give it much thought.
We all feel the presence of the unconscious in our lives, during the ebb and flow of everyday life. We experience the unconscious as it acts in us and through us, working alongside the conscious mind. It will take over the control of our car when our conscious mind wanders off someplace else. We’ve all felt that experience of being on ‘autopilot’. The conscious mind drifts off and the unconscious mind simply takes over whatever we are doing. It stops us at red lights, puts the indicator on, brakes, and gets us to our destination. It keeps us safe until the conscious mind comes back to the here-and-now. It may not be the safest way to drive but it is a good safety net, a built-in back-up system that we all take for granted.
I remember many times sitting in class at university with my unconscious mind keeping me sitting there and looking like I was paying attention while my conscious mind wandered off for a walk through the woods. My conscious mind would suddenly be brought back to attention when the lecturer said my name, and I would feel very embarrassed if it was obvious I hadn’t heard a word they had said.
Sometimes the unconscious invades our conscious mind in an attempt to express itself – through the imagination and the use of symbol charged images. We also experience the unconscious through a sudden charge of emotion – such as irrational anger or a feeling of euphoria – that suddenly invades the conscious mind and takes it over. This flood of emotion makes no sense to the conscious mind because that’s not where it originated from. Julie’s work colleague for example, couldn’t explain where his anger came from. He felt that it came from somewhere outside him, that he wasn’t ‘himself’ for a few moments. But this uncontrolled anger did come from within him, a place within that he couldn’t visualise with his conscious mind. It came from his unconscious.
The unconscious is an incredible place, a universe of unseen energies, forces, forms, even distinct personalities that live within us. It has a complete life of its own running in parallel to our ordinary everyday lives. It is the secret source of much of our thought, feeling, and behaviour. It influences us in ways that are all the more powerful because they are unsuspected. We all have had the experience of doing something unconsciously when our minds were ‘someplace else,’ then being surprised at what we had done. Sometimes it startles us, “Where did that come from?!” we ask ourselves.
As we develop more understanding and become more sensitive to the surges of energy from the unconscious, we learn to ask, “What part of me believes that?” and “What was it that made me behave in that way?” We can also ask “Why does this subject set off such an intense reaction in that unseen part of myself?”
So, next time you think “I just wasn’t being myself” understand that “myself” also includes your unconscious. We all have hidden parts of ourselves that have strong feelings and want to express them. Unless we choose to do inner work and try to understand them they will stay hidden from our conscious view.
Sometimes these hidden personalities are not very likeable and can embarrass us when they show themselves. At other times we wake up to strengths and qualities within ourselves that we never knew were there. We sometimes draw on hidden resources we didn’t know we had, and find talents and qualities that we didn’t know we were capable of. We still have the startled reaction, “I am a different person than I thought I was. I have qualities, both positive and negative, that I didn’t realise were a part of “Me.”
We are all so much more than the “I” of whom we are aware.
Our conscious minds can focus only on a small part of our total being at any one time. Despite our attempts to understand ourselves better, only a tiny portion of the huge energy system can be incorporated into the conscious mind or function at the conscious level.
Therefore we have to learn how to go to the unconscious and become receptive to its messages: It is the only way to find the unknown parts of ourselves.
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung.
I will look deeper into this in the next few posts, looking particularly at symbols and active imagination and how they can be utilised to help us understand our unconscious better.