Image by Arek Socha
Using the word consciousness in any discussion can be confusing because it's a word used to mean so many things. In the morning my cat is conscious of me as I'm moving around the kitchen preparing her food. I'm conscious when I'm not asleep. As Jung defines it, consciousness is the perception of a relationship between a subject (my ego) and something else that's either outside of me or part of my inner world.
When we examine the roots of the word, we find that it comes from the Latin con, which means "with" and scio, which means "to know." Consciousness is "knowing with" and this makes it a relational activity. To use the terms of Hebrew scholar Martin Buber, consciousness requires an "I" and a "thou," two distinct entities capable of having a relationship. Becoming conscious in the Jungian sense doesn't come easy. It requires a committed effort to know ourselves, but this effort rewards us with a sense of energy, assurance, and peace. Becoming more conscious helps us feel more unified within and more capable of love.
The ancient mystical traditions of the East and West considered our everyday state of consciousness as an illusion, a state of "waking sleep." This state, which I call complex consciousness, isn't one of being unconscious as if we were actually asleep. It's a state of having limited awareness, of being trapped in the social attitude created by our history and the social character of our culture.
Separation Between I and Thou
To begin awakening to higher consciousness is to begin the process of discrimination of things into twos so they can become an "I" and a "thou." It's an interesting paradox that we have to first separate, then relate to in order to contribute to our feeling of wholeness. But without this process we have no way of being aware of feeling whole. If, for example, I don't become aware of myself as an individual, I remain part of the herd mentality. But once I become aware of myself as an individual I can then relate to the nature of our culture's social character and live effectively in it without losing myself to it.
When I mentioned Churchill and his depression earlier [Editor's note: Refers to earlier in the book -- not included in this excerpt.] I told you about his ability to separate from it, and to call it his "black dog." Before he made his discrimination he was his depression, and whenever it came it dominated him and his life. Once he'd separated from it and became an "I" and his black dog a "thou," his perception changed and he was able to relate to his depression in a more objective manner. This detachment helped him live with it without being victimized by it and allowing the depression to control his entire life.
I remember Erin, who'd just taken a job with a major hotel chain as a sales representative. Erin loved her job except for one thing. At times she had to speak to groups of travel agents and convention planners, explaining the hotel's advantages or services, or give a group an enthusiastic welcome to the hotel, explain the facilities and mention some interesting activities in the city. Erin was terrified of public speaking. Her hands would shake, her voice would quiver; she would lose her place, feel faint and extremely embarrassed that she wasn't projecting the enthusiasm she believed was part of her job, that she really felt but couldn't express.
Erin tried separating herself from her fear and even dialoguing with it, but her efforts did not work. I asked her to close her eyes, take a few relaxing breaths, and tell me what image, what mental picture, came to mind that could represent her fear. After a few moments she answered, "A large dark raven."
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I suggested that she begin dialoguing with the raven by visualizing it and then writing the dialogs. I asked her to approach it courteously, simply trying to get to know it by asking its name and if it was willing to talk with her. The raven responded that his name was Fred, that he'd be willing to get to know her, but slowly because ravens don't trust humans. So began a very careful, respectful, and constructive exchange.
If we're having trouble with dialoguing, adding an imaginary image is often helpful, but it needs to come from our imaginations and not be forced or we won't be respecting the "legitimacy" of what we're dialoguing with. We won't be allowing it to be a "thou."
Later Erin told me that this beginning changed how she experienced her fear. She said that before the active imagination exercise, she felt helplessly caught like an actress in a drama, and soon after it, part of her was free, sitting in the audience watching the drama. This separation helped her to feel calm and hopeful.
Know Thy Self and Let Thy Self Know You
We must seek to know the particular aspects of ourselves and allow them to know us. If I'm dialoguing with my weight, I must listen to it and also tell it how it makes me feel. As an "I-thou" relationship develops, we both must be willing to change and allow this willingness to bring us to a state of interbeing. The more I follow this process, the more self-awareness I build. I can now depend on my weight to keep me well informed about how balanced my life is. My body often seems to understand whether I'm overfocused in an area, working too hard, or not recognizing particular feelings.
In many ways my body seems to know what's affecting my soul before my mind does. And at the same time, I feel more whole, like the different parts of me know each other and are working together. I find this work very exciting. The assurance of being centered and feeling authentic is the result of how well we know ourselves and relate to ourselves.
Dialogs aren't the only way we can create a conscious relationship with ourselves. Paying attention to our lives and reflecting on them, journaling, exploring dreams, and expressing ourselves through drawing, painting, music, sculpting, and dance can act as mirrors for seeing our experiences and aspects of our personalities more objectively.
Becoming more conscious means changing the rules by which we live and the beliefs we've maintained. It means actively listening to our inner lives, taking the time and effort to relate to ourselves. While it may temporarily cause us to feel alone or threaten a few immediate relationships, it's actually the path to having more creative and fulfilling relationships -- with the people in our lives and with ourselves as well.
Learning to know ourselves is a step out of fear into love.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc. ©2002.
Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance
by Bud Harris.
In the tradition of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and Thomas Moore’s The Care of the Soul, Bud Harris shows us to value and love ourselves, to think for ourselves, to have lives of our own, and to be able to love others without losing ourselves. This is the path of sacred selfishness.
Info/Order this paperback book or order the Kindle edition.
About the Author
Dr. Bud Harris has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, and a degree in analytical psychology, finishing his postdoctoral training at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. He has over thirty years experience as a practicing psychotherapist, psychologist, and Jungian analyst. Visit his website at www.budharris.com