The Nature of the Subconscient

Sri Aurobindo utilizes the term ‘subconscient’ to signify a level of consciousness that operates below the range within which the normal human awareness is operable. We may look at consciousness as a spectrum similar to what we know of the properties of the electro-magnetic spectrum or the color or sound spectrum. In each case, there is a range of vibration that is perceptible and there are segments of the spectrum both above and below the vibrational range that can be perceived. Whether this is light, sound or conscious awareness, the principle is the same.

This does not mean, however, that just because something cannot be consciously perceived that it does not have an impact on us. The spiritual life is predicated on the experience of a consciousness that descends from above bringing with it peace, knowledge, joy, love and other manifestations of a wider, more harmonious level of consciousness. Some work to shift their being to the higher plane entirely, abandoning the life of the world, while others seek to extend and expand their range of awareness and become receptive to these higher ranges acting upon the mind, life and body.

Similarly, the subconscient levels have their strong and grounding influence, creating both an inertia that is resistant to change, and a repository for habits of being that have been developed over the course of evolutionary existence. Western psychology began to recognise the influence of the subconscient levels and through the work of Freud, Jung and others, began to develop a methodology to become aware of these influences and begin to modify them through the conscious level of the being. That work, however, remains very much in its infancy and has been plagued by the fragmentation that tries to define everything absent its relation to the whole of life and existence, which is the hallmark of Western scientific analytical thinking.

Sri Aurobindo identified the nature and role of the subconscient and developed a deeper understanding of the interplay of the subconscient on the life and responses of the individual and the ways that it can be both recognised and modified through the practice of yoga.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “As there is a superconscient (something above our present consciousness) above the head from which the higher consciousness comes down into the body, so there is also a subconscient (something below our consciousness) below the feet. Matter is under the control of this power, because it is that out of which it has been created — that is why matter seems to us to be quite unconscious. The material body is very much under the influence of this power for the same reason; it is why we are not conscious of what is going on in the body, for the most part. The outer consciousness goes down into this subconscient when we are asleep, and so it becomes unaware of what is going on in us when we are asleep except for a few dreams. Many of these dreams rise up from the subconscient and are made up of old memories, impressions etc. put together in an incoherent way. For the subconscient receives impressions of all we do or experience in our lives and keeps these impressions in it, sending up often fragments of them in sleep. It is a very important part of the being, but we can do nothing much with it by the conscious will. it is the higher Force working in us that in its natural course will open the subconscient to itself and bring down into it its control and light.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Subconscient, pp. 262-267

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