Introduction to the Subconscient Level of Consciousness

Western psychology has invested a considerable amount of time and energy in trying to understand, describe and treat the subconscious levels of our existence. Freud described various complexes that arose from the subconscious and which drove the being into actions that the conscious parts neither understood nor desired. Pavlov showed that deep training could link events in the subconscious to create automatic responses to stimuli. Jung explored the subconscious deeply and described a “collective unconscious” that was the repository of deeply rooted drives, instincts, motives and linkages that drove much of response that we have to all things in our lives. Numerous researchers, starting with Freud, took up the study of the dreams to find the symbolic references to subconscious states of consciousness. The practice of psychotherapy began as a way to bring forth the hidden drives from the subconscious to make them conscious, and thus, accessible to treatment and change.

Much of what takes place in the physical consciousness actually has its roots in the subconscient levels of being. These roots are deeply embedded, and whether we call them habits, instincts, drives, automatic responses, or autonomic functions, they are programmed into the being at levels that are far below our normal conscious awareness, and thus, beyond our normal ability to control. Things such as the “fight or flight” response, or response to pheromones in human male-female interaction, are just a couple of the reactions programmed into the subconscient.

Dr. Dalal notes: “Not mentioned so far is the subconscient — part of the being which, from the evolutionary point of view, precedes and is more primitive than the physical consciousness. It includes those concealed parts of the mental, the vital and the physical which have no waking consciousness in them. Everything that enters our consciousness sinks into the subconscient. Besides, all that is suppressed from conscious awareness without being eradicated is also pushed into the subconscient. The following extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s letters elaborate upon what has just been stated about the nature of the subconscient and mentions some of the chief disturbances associated with this part of the being.”

Sri Aurobindo explains: “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 functions of submerged sense-mind which are more operative in the animal and in plant life.”

“… all that is consciously experienced sinks down into the subconscient, not as precise though submerged memories but as obscure yet obstinate impressions of experience, and these can come up at any time as dreams, as mechanical repetitions of past thought, feelings, action, etc., as ‘complexes’ exploding into action and event, etc., etc. The subconscient is the main cause why all things repeat themselves and nothing ever gets changed except in appearance. It is the cause why people say character cannot be changed, the cause also of the constant return of things one hoped to have got rid of for ever. All seeds are there and all Sanskaras of the mind, vital and body, … All too that is suppressed without being wholly got rid of sinks down there and remains as seed ready to surge up or sprout up at any moment.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, The Subconscient and Its Disturbances, pp. xxvii-xxxii

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