How To Reconnect With The Unconscious Mind
The Lost Power of the Unconscious
No one seriously wants to return to the ancient world, to that time before industry and science, where ordinary men knew only of the farm and hard labour. I should think that most of us would not last long if we were suddenly transported to a distant age, or if we were without our innovations and science that keep our houses warm and our food fresh. The machines have made our environment easy and soft, and we have separated from the harshness and volatility of nature; as a result, we have become frail and gluttonous, and addicted to the sensual and the material. And yet many of us are striving to make ourselves tough, and all the while we are holding onto the comforts and certainties that we were afforded at birth. This, it would seem, is the great irony of our time. But to believe that we are different or distinct from our primitive ancestors, or that we are superior because of our great intellectual achievements would be a mistake. For there is, in a permanent sense, something within modern man that belongs to the primitive world, a source of power and wonder within the human spirit, which has decayed in our time of general physical ease and freedom from constraint.
In return for the lights of technology and science modern man has sacrificed his instincts, emotion and intuition, and his relationship with nature — all the things which bring an intensity to life. Whilst we might have reached the upper limits of our evolution in regards to logic and reason, we have attained this limit at the cost of our instinctive, primeval nature. The primitive man, let us not forget, is a much more natural phenomena than a man of modernity, for he is closer to the wildness and mystery of nature; he belonged to nature, and he kept nature alive; whereas the modern mind thinks little of nature and strives to rule over her, which is why he is willing to destroy her for a profit — and in turn, willing to destroy himself. But humanity’s original nature remains a part of modern man, even though it has been repressed and stifled within the unconscious. Speaking plainly, man has forgotten — or rather refuses to admit to himself — that he is an animal, that he is as wild as the Serengeti and as harsh as the Artic. The denial of this aspect of ourselves, and the loathing of the primal body, of emotion and intuition, as if they are each immoral and corrupt, has removed man from the roots of his creation, from the ground and soil from which he came from. So man, detached from his primal body, is now convinced that he exists entirely in his mind — that the ‘I’ with which he refers to himself belongs only in his head. This separation, and the resulting indulgence and obsession with the mind, has done wonders in regards to science and ‘progress’; however, it has caused man to feel ungrounded, unsettled, as if he is a lost traveller, who is separated from his tribe. It is this disconnection between the rational mind and the unconscious that is the cause of so much disillusionment and illness in the modern world.
Carl Jung, in his autobiography, recalls a dream he had whilst in the United States, in which he describes finding himself in the upper storey of a modern house — ‘a salon furnished with fine old pieces in the rococo style’. He then descended the stairs to the ground floor and he saw that everything looked much older, either ‘fifteenth or sixteenth century’. A stone staircase led him into the cellar of the house. Here the walls were stone blocks and dated from Roman times. Jung then saw a ring hidden in a stone slab, and when he pulled it, another stairway opened. He walked down and found himself in a cave, surrounded by the ‘remains of primitive culture’, and in the corner there were ‘two human skulls’. For Jung, this dream was an image into the human psyche, whereby consciousness represents the first floor, and the unconscious portrayed itself in the lower floors — ‘the deeper I went,’ Jung writes, ‘the more alien and darker the scene became.’
Now, I mention this dream of his because it is a perfect illustration of the human unconscious, and of its relationship with the conscious mind. Each storey symbolises a phase in the progression of consciousness in Europe — beginning with the prehistoric period, the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and ending with the Scientific Revolution. Our common era is the high point of a gradual evolution from human prehistory, and every era before ours holds its own place in the collective unconscious. The unconscious, with its dark and departed wisdom, then is the soil upon which the conscious mind builds and rises, which brings about the birthing and nurturing of life. However, with every triumph of consciousness, there are the seeds of tragedy; and in this case, the tragedy is that as time has passed, man has slowly lost his relationship to his original nature, and to nature itself.
I have no doubt that I would much prefer to live with technology and science, and I am grateful to belong to the modern era; but I am not sure I can say the same thing for my soul. It seems the soul does not rejoice amongst the glass towers and health and safety warnings of modernity. For there is, one soon discovers, more to life than the material; we have not only practical needs, but spiritual and moral needs, and if those needs go unfulfilled, then so do we. The Enlightenment vision described our world as if there was no place for gods and spirits, for beauty and ideals — no place for anything that is without explanation or usefulness. Science isolated man from the soil, the mud, and the dirt — from mother nature herself. And now we have inherited a colourless world, in which man has become uninterested in the beauty of nature, and thus in the beauty of himself as well.
But the right response to our situation is not to indulge in our isolation, it is to look back to the past, to a time when man and nature existed in harmony, and to retrieve the parts that belong to us, but that the victory of consumerism has blotted out with the excesses of material wealth. Those ancient spirits do not vanish simply because we are ignorant of them; they still live within us, and so long as we disregard them, their legacy affects us from the unconscious. The way out of this malaise is to rediscover our primitive nature, the ways of our ancestors, and bring this wisdom together with our conscious mind; so the wisdom of the body should be carefully integrated with the brilliance of the mind. But if this is to happen, there would have to be a slowing down of pace, and a civilisation that reverses its definition of ‘progress’ to include the mental and emotional welfare of its people. Until this occurs, which is always unlikely, the individual remains the priority, and it is his responsibility to look into his own heart, and search within for the sake of his health.
It follows that if one wishes to heal the unconscious then he should return to nature, to the source of the unconscious: walks through the woodlands and forests, swimming in the cold rivers, lying in the grasses, gazing upon the night stars, sailing in the vast seas. In regards to practicality and the long term, one might suggest: the cultivation of a small plot of land and the growing of flowers and vegetables, shorter working hours, and less time spent using technology and entertainments. Everything I have listed here are things that— although they are not accessible to all — one will recognise as instinctive and common sense, and which are concerned with grounding oneself with the earth, and letting go of tension and commotion. Deep breathing, and learning how to control the breath, is a necessary practice to revive a stagnant and rotten body, and should not be any more complicated than a simple meditation practice of observing and feeling into the breath. The healing power of cold-water immersion is in the strengthening of the internal systems, which is necessary to rid oneself of inflammation and autoimmune illnesses.
The practice of wild swimming and cold baths are both at present growing in popularity; so too are hiking, rock climbing, and mountain climbing — each becoming something of a sensation, rather than the small niche that they once were. Minimalist living is nowadays the ideal, and although I do not practice veganism, its growth shows an increasing awareness around what nature intended man to eat. This is an optimistic portrait, but I do believe it is revealing of a positive movement in the world towards integration, and towards alignment with the nature.
Nature is a cosmic pulsating energy, and so too is the human body. The purpose in living closer to nature is to allow nature to affect us, as it once affected our ancestors, in such a way as to bring our spirit into alignment with the natural pulse of the universe — to what the Chinese call the way of the Tao. The things listed above — a list which is not comprehensive, but suggestive — are fundamental and concerned with reconnecting with the unconscious from the outside. From the inside, on the other hand, Carl Jung encouraged the exploration of the inner self, that one should take seriously his thoughts and emotions, and in particular his dreams, which often reveal the secrets of the unconscious. The scientific way of thinking assumes that dreams are without significance, and that they are merely random occurrences; but to the primitive man, dreams are messages from the gods, who are doing our thinking for us whilst we sleep. The stories, traumas and dreams that the patient feels to be meaningful — but that wider society will struggle to understand — ought to be taken seriously by the healer, and since we are each both patient and healer then the we should try to experience what our illness, dreams and emotions mean in the context of our life story. This awareness of the inner experience and its processes, and the exploration of one’s own individuality, allows for the re-discovery of the lost connection between soul and mind.
Thank you, Harry J. Stead