Posts tagged ‘ego’

Unconscious or Subconscious: Does it Matter? || Mary Coday Edwards

Unconscious or subconscious: Does it matter?

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

 

Two words often bantered about with imprecision, we do well when speaking of our own spirituality to use clarity when venturing into these underground realms.

As a word person, my first stop on this journey of exploration is a dictionary (1).

First coined by French psychologist and philosopher Pierre Janet in the early 1900s, the subconscious is defined as that part of our mind that is currently not in focused awareness.

Unfortunately for the majority of us, it’s impossible to hold the bulk of what we experience with concentrated attention, and therefore it’s spirited into the subconscious, to perhaps later be retrieved.

For example, you may be hiking along a forest trail in deep conversation with a friend. Later, sitting on a sun-warmed boulder, lunching on your peanut butter sandwich, your friend remarks on those wildflowers  bedecking the wilderness floor passed by earlier, at which point your mind might recall the blue sea of columbines that at the time registered with your visual sense – but without conscious focus.

Past-learned skills also find their way into the subconscious.

In every country I’ve lived or worked, I struggled to learn the local language and/or dialect, measuring success by how accurately I could buy peanuts from the shopkeeper in the bazaar.

Grocery shopping, Kabul, Afghanistan; April, 2007

And although I’ve been back in the States for a few years, these languages still surface in my dreams. People I knew then show up, conversing in their native tongue – sometimes I have two different language conversations occurring in the same dream and while my dream self understands both parts of the dialog, my dream characters do not.

“I never know when somebody’s going to knock on the door of my own unconscious in a way that I wouldn’t have anticipated.” Anna Deavere Smith, Actress, Playwright, Professor

Said to be contributed by 18th century philosopher Friedrich Schelling, Freud took the word unconscious and divided it into the id (instincts or drives) and the superego – sometimes referred to as the conscience.  He regarded the unconscious as a storehouse of repressed socially unacceptable desires, wishes, and ideas, as well as painful memories and emotions. The key concept here is repressed, and thus not easily accessible to our day-to-day operations of living but yet exerting their influence upon our behavior.

Carl Jung retained Freud’s notion of the unconscious mind as the storehouse of repression, but added another stratum called the collective unconscious, which is a reservoir of unconscious memories that we inherited from our ancestors. From this collective unconscious arise other of Jung’s concepts, such as archetypes, anima, and animus (topics not addressed in this blog).

“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

While the material stored in the subconscious can be recalled with deliberation and effort, that which sits in the murky regions of the unconscious is, generally speaking, not accessible through one’s own self or one’s efforts via the ego (2).

And ego, in today’s language milieu and simplistically speaking, is that part of our mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious. It keeps us safe from what might be deemed unacceptable to our parents, teachers, or peers. Long after it’s done its job, the ego still maintains its habit of refusing questions and killing curiosity – required steps in growth of consciousness.

Transformation and personal growth require that our unconsciously driven behaviors be brought to the light of consciousness. We learn to watch for and respond to unconscious stress signals vs. reacting with fight or flight.

Unfortunately, ego’s very good at convincing its host that what it believes/thinks/wants is the ultimate and only truth or reality. Mindfulness and mediation practices reveal our ego’s dictatorial bent and personal bias.

A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens up to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul, long before there was the conscious ego.” Carl Jung

My above-noted dream scenario serves as an example of both the subconscious and the unconscious at work.

Symbology is one of the many tools our unconscious uses to get our attention, with dreams being a conduit to consciousness.  Without going into dream interpretation, my unconscious took my subconscious material – foreign languages – and turned it into a symbol representing a lack of communication between parts of me, which I then can explore.

But first I must consciously address my ego who is right there upon my awakening, insisting I ignore this gift of a dream from my psyche. “We have more important things to attend to!” it insists.

Honoring all parts of myself – after all, the ego did keep me safe – I remind if gratefully and compassionately of its past and current job descriptions.  I tell it that when other bits of me are ignored, denied participation in the conversation, or left to die in a neglected corner of my soul, I incur stress which brings sickness, disease, and an early death – not a hopeful outcome for ego.

Through mindfulness practices, we watch attentively for emerging unconscious behaviors, beliefs, and values which come knocking on our door.

And as always, People House ministers, counselors, therapists, and staff are here to assist you on your path of transformation. No one can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone!

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Notes & Sources:

1.) Psychology Glossary, https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/psychology-glossary.php

2.) In my early teens I asked my mother what the term “male ego” meant, a popular phrase in those days, usually with the word “fragile” attached to it. She refused to discuss it, which sent me to the dictionary – not finding it of course, and “ego” with its 10-15 word definition did not do the word justice to my teen brain. I perceived uncomfortable emotions attached to her refusal – correctly or incorrectly – and so did not risk pursuing the topic further with other adults.

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth