“That very English poet (but of an Irish father) William Blake once wrote, “no bird soars too high if it soars with its own wings”. Since it is self evidently the case that the conscious and unconscious mind accounts for the totality of each and every one of us (and may even provide exciting thresholds to ever more insightful and meaningful awarenesses of each other and beyond) why then should we seek, as sometimes we do, to shun or in other ways avoid overt reference to it? Hopefully this blog will provide a worthwhile stimulus to interpretations pertinent to your own personal “scene” and field of interest. Perhaps we can agree that the term “unconscious mind” refers to the totality of every aspect and facet of experience and knowledge, past and present but which is not overtly active or involved in our cognitions (thoughts) and general conscious awareness at this precise moment in time. It is unconscious precisely because it is playing no overt function and has moved off and away from present horizons – at least in any identifiable or recognizable form. So complex and extensive are the workings of the unconscious mind, that any analogy which we may choose to deploy, will almost invariably, ultimately break down. Nevertheless, let me at least make an attempt.
When you look out across an expanse of water, that is precisely what you see; or is it? Isn’t it a fact that what you actually see is surface water On the other hand, should a bubble emerge on that surface, it must nevertheless have originated from some undetermined level below the surface. Thus the truth seems apparent. Whatever inherent and potential resource of energy and power the lake possesses, it is nevertheless substantially out of view and in that particular sense, inaccessible. I did warn against analogies and the trouble with the one cited above is that it could somehow portray the mind as a kind of “sludge pool”, within which everything ultimately sinks to the bottom, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Rather is the human mind a living, growing, dynamic, interacting resourceful ‘reservoir’ of knowledge, ideas and insights; of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and prejudices; of hopes and doubts; of fears and expectations and so very much more beside. When I play the cornet/trumpet or flugel horn, I draw on musical knowledge of concepts first taken on-board well over 65 years ago. It is my continuing love of and interest in music that has kept and keeps them near to the ‘surface’ so to speak and ready for instant recall and application. On the other hand, experiences which I may have undergone no more than a year or even six months ago, have ‘vanished’ from consciousness and unless my “now” (this moment in time) life happens to somehow touch or call upon them, they may well have gone from consciousness, possibly for all time.
One other important distinction to be made between the conscious and unconscious mind, is that because the contents of the former are de facto conscious, we can evaluate, express and exercise views and judgments about them. In other words, all conscious activity is subject to what we might refer to as a “critical faculty”. The same is not true of the unconscious mind, which by contrast is entirely inaccessible to conscious processes. Thus my unconscious mind is not in possession of and in no way governed by any such critical faculty somehow under conscious control. Indeed – and as you can plainly see – to claim that it is, could only amount to a flagrant contradiction of terms. However, this in no way means that my unconscious mind will therefore fall prey to whatever marauding notion or idea may just happen to enter it: hence the use of the terms congruent and congruence above, to describe thoughts and ideas that both the conscious and unconscious mind may actively respond to. Herein also lies the ground and great safeguard for complete assurance that we cannot, by whatever – either obvious or devious – means, be caused to respond verbally or behaviourally or to harbour thoughts and ideas, which are incongruent with or dissonant to our personal beliefs, values and overall lifestyles.
This latter point is best made an illustration taken from real life. One day while talking to a group of student and postgraduate nurses, I held up my slide pointer (a pen-like object which projects a red dot on to the slide being shown in order to highlight its contents). I then suggested to members of the front row that if, with eyes closed, they took the pointer in their hand and focused their attention upon the sensation of heat to be experienced in that part of the hand making contact with it for one minute, they would indeed begin to actually experience it. As in turn each of those participating held the pointer, I further suggested that the sensation of heat would range from “merely warm” to “possibly quite hot”. Also – and before commencing – I specifically requested that no one should make any form of disclosure, verbal or otherwise, as to what was or was not being experienced. To this I added the further request that participants immediately thereafter complete a short, i.e. half single-sided A4 self-report questionnaire.
Of seven individuals participating, four claimed to have experienced “nothing at all”; two claimed to have experienced “decided warmth” and one claimed to have experienced “genuine heat”. What were of even greater interest were the contents of the four written reports relating to thoughts being experienced immediately before and during their participation in the experiment. All four subjects experiencing “nothing at all” reported thoughts such as “It can’t possibly work”, “He’s having us on”, “No chance” and “That’s ridiculous”. The two subjects claiming to have experienced “decided warmth”, both reported thoughts of “Yes it could happen” and “I find all this fascinating” respectively. Of particular interest was the report of the one subject who claimed to have experienced “genuine heat” (in fact to the point where she added, both verbally and in her completed statement that “It actually became quite hot”). According to her own report later confirmed verbally, she was, in those moments thinking, “That thing most probably has batteries in it and has been rigged”.
Although it didn’t actually happen, let us in our imagination now take this little experiment a stage further, so to speak. Just suppose that at that moment in time, I had had access to an individual already so deeply relaxed and sharply focused to a point beyond conscious thought and for whom at that precise moment in time, almost all consciousness of current and surrounding events and awareness appeared not to be registering. (This – using the more colloquial, dramatic and, at times I feel, unhelpful hypnosis-associated jargon – might be described as a trance-like state). Because the conscious mind (with its capacity to critically analyse and evaluated the situation of the moment) had thus been temporarily suspended, the suggestion of warmth would most likely have been readily accepted even to a point where possibly quite intense heat (if that was what was being suggested) might well have been felt. If – also at the same time – some suggestion had been offered, which was both consciously and subconsciously unacceptable and in whatever way anathema to that individual’s beliefs, opinions, ethical stance in life etc., it would almost certainly have been quite simply ignored. Thus it is as clear as it is important to point out that suspension of the capacity to critically analyse and evaluate, in no way contradicts the reality that the subject/patient remains in full control. He/she will accept what is consonant or pleasing to him/her or what harmlessly stirs interest or arouses curiosity, whereas nothing else is likely to be allowed to pass. Nevertheless – and although normally it is impossible to hypnotize an individual (who clearly understands what hypnosis entails) against his/her will – there is always likely to exist a potential for greater vulnerability, especially among the naive or already so deeply relaxed and intensely focused as described above. For this and other reasons beside, one should only ever agree to co-operate in this way with a clinician/therapist possessing a proven reputation and record in the application of hypnosis for therapeutic aims and ends, i.e. a trained and adequately accredited hypnotist or hypnotherapist. (C)SB