The Unconscious

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Each night, asleep, pictures flow through our minds, a woven complexity of story. Later we might recall glimpses of feelings, images, and narrative, vaguely aware that some profound process has taken place within our dreaming depths. In our waking life, no matter how willfully we direct our attention to pursuing various consciously selected trains of thought, we find for much of the time a greater wash of thoughts drift in, drift out--and some actively unwanted ones inserting themselves jarringly. We often find ourselves in a daydream, singing a particular song on loop, or mulling over some subject matter we did not know we care about. There is a powerful river of thought and feeling, the unconscious, on which our conscious selves exist like captains in a craft, and though we negotiate these waters with some active ability to assert direction, we are forever bound to this profound force that undergirds with a tumbling enormity the movement of our lived experience.

Too often people can set themselves at odds with this force--in fact many in the field of clinical psychology have sought to minimize its presence or pretend to its taming--but the force flows heedless of our aspirations to some total control of ourselves. Consider, though, how much is to be gained when we are respectful of the unconscious and can grow curious about it; if we make space to dip into it, we fish out treasures from the deep. So it is when we sit down to a blank sheet of paper and surrender ourselves to that mysterious tempest we call "a brainstorm"; we find a profusion of ideas, of all colors and qualities, tumbling out so fast we can barely take dictation. On a stroll we might purposefully "let our minds wander," letting go the leash of conscious control for a certain space of time, looking for internal refreshment and sometimes finding--suddenly--a fully formed understanding, a theory, a decision, a certainty, an idea, that comes to us when we align with the rolling of this vast beneath.

"Depth psychology" has at its root a healthy respect for the unconscious and prioritizes learning from it, informing through this great resource our consciously selected plans and reasoned beliefs. When we approach symptoms--depression, anxiety, compulsions, addictive returns--we engage with the question of what these symptoms are saying about what is tumbling forth from the unconscious mind. It is through this process that we can find the secret nightmare of waking life that triggers a person's panic attacks, or the half-unknown certainties of sorrow that compel depression. It is when we let our minds wander, brainstorm and associate, dare to dream and to daydream, that we can address the struggles and anxieties that live at an unconscious level and come to interfere with our conscious plans and drive. If this deep force is left too long unattended, the captain of her craft, rocked in a troubled bath, gets locked, and waterlogged, and capsized.