The Subconscious Basis of Our Individual Being, Part 1

We tend to not only identify with the values of our family, our country, our religion, but we also internalize the standpoint taken by them, so that we view situations, actions and reactions, and history through the lens of this standpoint. This of course can create a highly biased viewpoint of affairs, such as when the Europeans brutally enslaved, colonized and sucked out the wealth of developing countries and justified it by the idea that they were “bringing civilisation” to these backwards parts of the world! Even today, most Europeans and their American descendants, believe this to have been the case, despite massive evidence of the falsity of this view on many levels. Similarly, some religious denominations feel it is their mission to ‘convert’ people to their religion (or destroy them if they refuse to convert), and they have undertaken extreme activities, including brutality, ripping chlldren away from their families and forcing them into boarding schools, where their culture, language and traditions were suppressed, and children were hazed and beaten into submission.

These may be some of the most visible and egregious types of examples, but they illustrate how people ordinarily can accept the viewpoint they inherit with their birth into a particular life, no matter how visibly brutal and inhumane that viewpoint actually turns out to be.

Much more subtle, and therefore, much less subject to internal review, are the innumerable ways the culture reflects on our ways of seeing, thinking, acting, framing issues and ideas, and the types of development we are willing to undertake. This also includes our ways of treating other people, how we relate to children, how we relate to each other, and may include subtle pressures to conform to racist, sexist or similar viewpoints in our day to day lives, demeaning others, bullying or simply accepting actions that deny others equal access and rights through systemic processes that we simply accept as being the ‘natural order’ of things.

When one sees people ‘waving the flag’ under the idea of ‘my country, right or wrong’, or ‘my religion is better than someone else’s religion’, it is a clear indicator of these subconscious influences coloring their view. Each one of us carries these subconscious influences within ourselves and at some point, to become free and able to see things based on an undistorted view, we must become aware of these subconscious forms of bias and coloration and take steps to eliminate them from our vision and our action.

The Mother writes: “When a being is born upon earth, he is inevitably born in a certain country and a certain environment. Due to his physical parents he is born in a set of social, cultural, national, sometimes religious circumstances, a set of habits of thinking, of understanding, of feeling, conceiving, all sorts of constructions which are at first mental, then become vital habits and finally material modes of being. To put things more clearly, you are born in a certain society or religion, in a particular country, and this society has a collective conception of its own and this nation has a collective conception of its own, this religion has a collective ‘construction’ of its own which is usually very fixed. You are born into it. Naturally, when you are very young, you are altogether unaware of it, but it acts on your formation — that formation, that slow formation through hours and hours, through days and days, experiences added to experiences, which gradually builds up a consciousness. You are underneath it as beneath a bell-glass. It is a kind of construction which covers and in a way protects you, but in other ways limits you considerably. All this you absorb without even being aware of it and this forms the subconscious basis of your own construction. This subconscious basis will act on you throughout your life, if you do not take care to free yourself from it. And to free yourself from it, you must first of all become aware of it; and the first step is the most difficult, for this formation was so subtle, it was made when you were not yet a conscious being, when you had just fallen altogether dazed from another world into this one (laughing) and it all happened without your participating in the least in it. Therefore, it does not even occur to you that there could be something to know there, and still less something you must get rid of. And it is quite remarkable that when for some reason or other you do become aware of the hold of this collective suggestion, you realise at the same time that a very assiduous and prolonged labour is necessary in order to get rid of it. But the problem does not end there.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Subconscient, Collective Subconscious Influences, pp. 111-118

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