Bringing Light to the Subconscient

Sri Aurobindo takes a different tack on understanding and revealing the action of the subconscient than we see in much of Western psychology. Psychologists starting with Freud have tried to understand the subconscient by dredging it up, bringing it all to the surface and there exposing all the mass of reactions, habits, mechanical responses, impulses, instincts and the complexes associated with them. Unfortunately, the conscious being is not really in a position to sort all of this out and they therefore wind up mostly wallowing in it, struggling against things without the understanding or the power to change them.

Sri Aurobindo’s approach is different: “A descent into the subconscient would not help us to explore this region, for it would plunge us into incoherence or into sleep or a dull trance or a comatose torpor. A mental scrutiny or insight can give us some indirect and constructive idea of these hidden activities; but it is only by drawing back into the subliminal or by ascending into the superconscient and from there looking down or extending ourselves into these obscure depths that we can become directly and totally aware and in control of the secrets of our subconscient physical, vital and mental nature. This awareness, this control are of the utmost importance.” The subconscient “sustains and reinforces all in us that clings most and refuses to change, our mechanical recurrences of unintelligent thought, our persistent obstinacies of feeling, sensation, impulse, propensity, our uncontrolled fixities of character. The animal in us,–the infernal also,–has its lair of retreat in the dense jungle of the subconscience. To penetrate there, to bring in light and establish a control, is indispensable for the completeness of any higher life, for any integral transformation of the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 19, “Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance towards the Sevenfold Knowledge.”

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The Nature of the Subconscient

Sri Aurobindo delves into the subconscious levels of our being because so much of our physical being, life and reactions in the mind is actually controlled by the subconscient. “that part of us which we can strictly call subconscient because it is below the level of mind and conscious life, inferior and obscure, covers the purely physical and vital elements of our constitution of bodily being, unmentalised, unobserved by the mind, uncontrolled by it in their action. It can be held to include the dumb occult consciousness, dynamic but not sensed by us, which operates in the cells and nerves and all the corporeal stuff and adjusts their life process and automatic responses. It covers also those lowest functionings of submerged sense-mind which are more operative in the animal and in plant life; in our evolution we have overpassed the need of any large organised action of this element, but it remains submerged and obscurely at work below our conscious nature. This obscure activity extends to a hidden and hooded mental substratum into which past impressions and all that is rejected from the surface mind sink and remain there dormant and can surge up in sleep or in any absence of the mind, taking dream forms, forms of mechanical mind-action or suggestion, forms of automatic vital reaction or impulse, forms of physical abnormality or nervous perturbance, forms of morbidity, disease, unbalance. Out of the subconscious we bring ordinarily so much to the surface as our waking sense-mind and intelligence need for their purpose; in so bringing them up we are not aware of their nature, origin, operation and do not apprehend them in their own values but by a translation into the values of our waking human sense and intelligence.” Sri Aurobindo points out that the action of the subconscious remains unknown to us and functions automatically. We rarely have the opportunity to directly see this action–sometimes through illness or other imbalance of the system a window is opened to this mechanical, underlying consciousness that nevertheless has a tremendous influence on our waking lives. C.G. Jung in particular worked hard to actually explore the subconscious and bring out the hidden influences. We shall continue this review in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 19, “Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance towards the Sevenfold Knowledge.”