Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd
Most psychologies and psychotherapies are interested just in the personality. It is only in recent years that a variety known as "transpersonal psychology" has emerged, that combines, or perhaps re-integrates, psychology and the personality with theology and the soul - two disciplines and two concepts that have been firmly separated in our materialistic Western world, but that used to go hand in hand. For instance in early Christianity there was a collection of books by different authors under the general name of Philokalia, describing the psychology of mystical enlightenment, and this knowledge was the basis of Gnosis, itself the source of many of Gurdjieff's ideas. (Freud himself actually wrote about the psyche in terms of the "soul", but his German was misguidedly translated into medical "scientific" terms for the Anglo-American audience).
In "Psychosynthesis", that Assagioli developed in the 1930s, it is said that a person has a personality and is a soul. However, personalities in the world are obvious to us all; souls are only present for those with eyes to see. Assagioli's view of synthesis is of becoming more and more aware of soul, not only in oneself but also in others. His view, and the view of most spiritual disciplines, is that soul is basic and enduring, and that personality, though necessary for being in the world , is relatively superficial and changeable.
The soul is the context, the home, the "unmoved mover", the uncreated source of life; the personality is full of content, learned responses, and is dynamic.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before Freud, and with the values of the Enlightenment and the idea of progress, it was assumed that the human being was becoming more and more rational and fully civilized. It was this assumption that Freud questioned, with his ability to discern the unconscious processes in people. He saw the significance of dreams as a communication of the unconscious to the conscious; slips of the tongue, mistakes, painful emotions, irrational behavior and illnesses manifested in ordinary living began to be acknowledged as effects of processes going on beyond our consciousness. Many hitherto unexplained phenomena came to be seen as symptoms of the conflict between the strong "libido" (sexual) forces of the "id" (the drive or life force of the core Self) and the "Superego" (the acquired conscience), as perceived by the "ego" ( that part of the id that detaches early in development to form an independent personality - the "face to the world").
There are five main parts of our total psyche: Higher consciousness - that which is aware of being aware; Normal consciousness - awareness in the everyday world - being, perceiving, relating; and of the inner world - of thoughts, concepts, attitudes, decisions, images, memories, emotions, sensations and feelings. And the domains that lie below normal consciousness: the Preconscious - an interface of the conscious mind that, when it is evoked by interest and emotional commitment, goes searching for relevant data in the Subconscious; the Subconscious - contains the powerful drives of love and fear, and the programs by which motives are decided and actions are carried out; and the Unconscious - the core Self that contains a record of everything one has felt and sensed since conception and of the evolutionary genetic-line before that. It also consists of genetic programming, which empowers the deepest drives for survival, attachment and expression common to mankind, which transmits the energy of emotions, which controls the stream of libido energies and the efforts involved in moving and perceiving with the physical body.
- Higher consciousness is the essential self, the Higher Self. It is our personal center of awareness, which is developed through self-knowledge. The Higher Self is the "awareness of awareness" of which the mental (ego) "I" is a pale reflection. There has been an acknowledgement throughout human history that a higher awareness, beyond the normal conscious experience, is possible for the individual, recognized through dreams, religious and psychic experience, insights and creativity of every kind. It is usually frustratingly brief and infrequent but it is clear that with appropriate efforts and study, people can change and grow in awareness, whereby the field of consciousness becomes more and more observed by the Higher Self who is no longer asleep; then behavior is no longer determined only by conditioning. The Being is aware of the difference between his own motivation and that which is learned, acquired or installed in him, genetically or by conditioning; he knows what he is doing as he does it. The energy and attention tied up in the knots of unconsciousness become conscious and freely available, as truth is validated and the false discarded.
- The second aspect of the psyche, Normal consciousness, is our everyday reality, internally and externally - the incessant flow of sensations, images, thoughts, feelings, desires and impulses that we can observe, analyze and judge. The less aware a person is, the smaller this field of awareness will be and the more automatic his functioning. The majority of people drift on the surface of this "mind stream" and identify themselves with its successive waves, with the changing contents of their consciousness. So consciousness is often unreflective, not consciously noticed, determined by the many personal and social forces that have formed us, the cultural programming that moulds us into a "consensus trance" of automatic, robotized behavior. In this hypnotized, half-asleep state, possessed by the conditioning of our background, we seem almost entirely the product of our genetic heritage, our personal environment and the society we live in - in the grip of forces stronger than ourselves and that we don't understand, be they biological, psychological or social.
The conscious mind contains all that one knows that is readily accessible. This information is well organized and interconnected on a logical basis. The characteristics of this "analytical" mind are invaluable for learning, putting things in order and testing ideas. On the other hand the conscious mind tends to be inhibited by the very quality that makes it so powerfully useful: it seeks to be right.
This part of the personality, the subject of cognitive and behavioral psychology, could easily, without reflection, be regarded as the whole, but the development of depth-psychology and the rediscovery of transpersonal psychology in this century has made it clear that this level of consciousness is only a part of the whole.
- The third part, the Preconscious, is the ante-room of consciousness, where our various experiences are assimilated, our mental and imaginative activities are elaborated and developed in a sort of psychological gestation and interaction, before their birth into the light of consciousness. If consciousness is likened to a spotlight, the Preconscious is everything within its range, but not illuminated at this moment. It is real to the person and accessible. It includes material from the Subconscious that has been reactivated (stimulated and made active due to a similarity or relevance of present circumstances or thoughts). The Preconscious mind is like a problem-oriented and independent file-clerk. It looks over the shoulder of the conscious mind: when a problem is being considered, it conducts a search into the Subconscious mind for clues that it considers relevant.
Its criteria for relevance do not always seem logical to the conscious mind, and therefore the ego learns to censor certain kinds of information from the Subconscious, preventing them from rising higher into full consciousness. This is the mechanism of repression and the "censor" then functions below consciousness; consequently you cannot open-up your mind to the Subconscious simply by resolving not to block its signals; the defenses have first to be recognized, the reasons for them discovered and the Preconscious censor re-programmed, before this is possible. This requires a procedure of concentrated introspection.
Interest, emotional commitment and the desire to solve a problem, cause the Preconscious to work with the contents of the Subconscious (and also through the Subconscious to the unconscious) and the results eventually filter back into consciousness, if they are not censored. Intuition is an early recognition, below the conscious level, that one is on the right track - this causes a felt signal or increase of arousal that causes the conscious mind to pay attention to its periphery of consciousness, to dig a little and pull out the information. Because of the energy of this signal, it may also be registered on biofeedback devices such as a held pendulum or skin resistance galvanometer, which can be used to help the person recognize their intuition.
- The Subconscious is that part of his mind a person is unaware of, or that is out of his control - what Jung called the Shadow. The subconscious functions include vital background psychological activities such as the integration of new data and re-programming where necessary - a function that dreaming reflects - and it coordinates the carrying out of set patterns of behavior that can be safely left "on automatic" by the conscious mind, freeing it to concentrate on the task in hand.
The Subconscious contains all of the emotional and cognitive experience of a lifetime, whether pleasurable, ordinary or traumatic. Its contents are drawn upon by the Preconscious when they seem relevant. It is a reservoir of information so vast and rich that it seems quite incredible to the conscious mind. Its contents are nevertheless consciously reachable by methods of psychological analysis (especially with the aid of biofeedback devices) that serves to resolve the defensive censorship of the preconscious.
The "Shadow" aspect of the Subconscious mind includes the roots of phobias, obsessions, compulsions and delusions and many complexes charged with intense emotion. These are developed in response to circumstances in the past and used in present time when re-stimulated by a similarity of circumstances; this occurs without conscious control, irrationally and without inspection - a "reactive" mental process. Memory of the original, often dramatic circumstance and the accompanying fears and decisions is normally repressed, as it is hard to face and too painful to re-examine.
- The Unconscious contains the fundamental survival drives and primitive urges (including genetic and race memories) that empower the functioning of the mind as a whole. It contains the entire kinesthetic recordings of the body (all of its feelings, sensations and pains) and is integrally linked with the body (that it coordinates and controls) - it is the "body-mind". It also contains the deepest level of Self: the fundamental (primal) experiences, imprints and decisions of this lifetime, from the womb onwards. These only normally surface consciously in symbolic form, in the context of dreams and behavior patterns recognized in retrospect. The deepest forms of psycho-analytic work aim to uncover their content to the light of consciousness. Jung's work on dreams and mythological symbols was instrumental in opening up the incredible world of the unconscious, and the existence of "archetypes" - ways of being that are inherently programmed in the unconscious, making up the substance of the core Self - all the aspects of living that the individual works throughout his life to "actualize," or bring into existence at their fullest potential. His work also exposed the transpersonal dimension that lies beyond the racial stereotypes, but also the necessity of working through the primal and archetypal material, to differentiate and individuate the Higher Self - the spiritual, non-genetic, meta-self.
Both the primary-trauma of the unconscious and the secondary-trauma of the Subconscious are connected with the "body-mind", whereby defensive "armor" in the form of chronic muscular tension, holds the bodily stress-reaction of "fight or flight", continually in place. This occurs when an experience becomes too painful to view or is too uncomfortably repeated and then awareness of it is repressed - thoughts, emotions and bodily tensions. Unviewed, it then festers and persists. Though the tension may once have been appropriate, it is now a hindrance, and its perpetual nature holds the original trauma in re-stimulation (though the feeling or awareness of it may be repressed).
And though the repressed cognitive and emotional reactions may have been rational in the past circumstance (in the effort to survive or overcome), if they are reactively enacted in the present situation, and if they are not accompanied by a fresh appraisal of the current reality, they are the underlying cause of irrational or inappropriate behavior, negative emotion and illness, and therefore have been a primary target of psychotherapy.
Because the body-mind functions inter-actively, work in Transformational Psychology may sometimes require a range of techniques to handle the problems. Physical symptoms (high blood pressure, ulcers, lack of energy, etc.) arise from stress, muscular tension, reactivated trauma, over-work, anxiety about social competence, threat or insecurity at work, rigid attitudes of perfectionism and fears of failure - based on low self-esteem, due to not having been "good enough" for parents and other dominant figures. Such neurotic dependencies on others conflict with the drive for independency and self-fulfillment. Psychotherapeutic massage may be prescribed, to develop awareness of faulty attitudes and repressed feelings, and to help relax and de-traumatize the body.
The following illustrates the structure of the mind in terms of levels of consciousness:
Help directed at one level will affect the other levels of functioning - the powerful fears and drives of the Subconscious affect physical health, feelings, beliefs and behaviors - an holistic approach is therefore most effective. The Transformational Psychology procedures take account of this structure; the techniques progressively cut deeper and deeper both through to the core Self and into the Transpersonal realm, which are the essence of Mankind.
The gradient of approach has to be right in order to ensure a secure and effective route through. Like the layers of an onion, the appropriate charged material becomes exposed and may be viewed and confronted. This approach, of handling the area of highest reactivation in the present time, is fundamental to Transformational Psychology analysis. However, there is no benefit to "digging up" the unconscious. Only as it appears on the surface, when it is reactivated in present time, and is accessible in the Preconscious, is when it should be handled.
Many currently widespread techniques, e.g. Primal Therapy and Rebirthing, dig up traumatic material at random, unfortunately leaving much of it incompletely handled and bypassing the charge thus reactivated, which builds up and tends to destabilize the individual. The warmth of group support may may temporarily alleviate this destabilization, but the bypassed charge tends to resurface under the pressures of everyday life.
Following the lead of Breuer and Freud in their psycho-analytic practice, it has been found that the conscious re-experiencing and confronting of a painful experience, if done thoroughly enough to a full acceptance of the reality of the experience, serves to drain it of distortive power: The energy used to repress the pain is released and the person is able to re-evaluate the past decisions surrounding the experience, to expose the lies that he has been living. Of course this is not possible without a gradient approach; if this was not the case the person would already have been able to deal with the material and it would have been part of his experience that he could view and analyze in full consciousness.
Freud recognized that such traumatic incidents (times of emotional and physical pain) tend to run in sequences - the initial traumatic experience empowers or "charges-up" later similar experiences.
To be able to erase the power of the earliest experience, the later incidents that are reactivations of the initial experience, have to be looked at first. So working from the most recent incident - the memory most reactivated and therefore available to view in the present moment - back through earlier similar incidents in sequence, gradually removes the charge built upon the earliest experience, so it too can be re-examined in full, and most importantly, the decisions accompanying it exposed to view and changed to a more rational, self-determined viewpoint, appropriate to the present time and circumstances.
A basic tenet of psychoanalysis as originated by Freud is that we are restricted from realizing more than a fraction of our true potential because of the repressed, negative, "reactive" contents of the mind: negative fears, resentments, motivations and dislikes. Although much of this content may have been appropriate at the time it was formed, during childhood, it is often no longer valid from the point of view of an adult. When the content is confronted (faced up to completely and with equanimity) and made conscious by the adult mind, it dissolves and loses its power to restrain thought and action, and there is a release of positive creative energy, the energy that had been used to repress the material.
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