Tag Archives: Unconscious mind

Tao as Universal Unconscious Mind

Leafing through this great Havens book on Milton Erickson I was struck by this:

[W]hile on the Research Service of the Worcester State Hospital he interviewed a catatonic schizophrenic who manifested a variety of bizarre behaviours and beliefs which struck Erickson as familiar. Eventually he was able to relate them to those of several primitive tribes, a discovery which puzzled him greatly because the patient obviously was unfamiliar with the beliefs and rituals of any of these tribes. These and other observations of the spontaneous development of identical patterns of thought and behaviour among separate individuals throughout the world and throughout history led him to conclude that basic human thinking and emotion are very much the same from person to person in spite of individual and regional idiosyncrasies. In other words, he observed that the human mind has an incredibly wide but finite range of potential patterns available to it and that everyone has the capacity to function within any one of those patterns.

The particular patterns that any given individual adopts or manifests, he realized, are a result of limitations imposed upon this original pool of potentials by culture and by the individual’s unique experiential history.

This is just so it. Humanity is bounded but infinite — but cultural humanity is far more bounded. The schizophrenic was tapping into the underlying pool — who knows exactly how. But (as with Jung) the behaviour tipped Erickson off to the unlimited nature of human cognition free of the social. The need to have the social be “everything” is quite strong, but partly thanks to a weird childhood in which recovery from polio played a major role, and partly to his great natural oddness, Erickson never had that need and brought a very objective eye to human beings.

That eye is the eye of the unconscious itself. Havens:

Erickson’s fundamental orientation towards life, perhaps the central theme of his work, was that people must learn to recognize, to accept, and to utilize, what actually is in order to meet their needs, accomplish their goals, and satisfy their purposes. Rather than lamenting, distorting, or denying the unpleasant facts of life or fantasizing about an easier, more ideal reality, Erickson proposed that people must experience and acknowledge the realities of their situation and apply whatever capacities they have in order to cope as effectively or purposefully as possible with those realities.

That may seem obvious — it’s the classic wisdom and never outdated — but the point is that “we” are not merely what “we” think ourselves to be. Your consciousness begins your physical life far less local to your body. Much of the most interesting stuff in your mind is stuff you never really look at after you become localised. Hooking into the body you start to leave the non-bodily behind — and then you hook into a cultured body, and get caught in language. But just reach behind and unhook those, and you have things you had no “conscious” idea about, mental aspects that already understand life in a less biased way than you do, so you can lean on them. As Havens says:

His most general observation was that people have both a conscious mode of functioning and an unconscious mode of functioning. The conscious mind represents a prejudiced and limited perspective on reality which can result in various distortions and behavioral anomalies. The unconscious mind, on the other hand, is a flexible system of thought and awareness which perceives and responds to the literal or objective qualities of reality. It is relatively unprejudiced, is very intelligent, and contains a vast reservoir of previously acquired, experientially based knowledge and memories.

The relation of this to “spirituality” is for example: just think of everything as having an unconscious mind. You can learn to tap into it by these and all sorts of methods. In an STE you become conscious of it, including as a whole — hence “cosmic consciousness”.


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