Through a Jungian Lens

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Trying to Understand Consciousness and Unconsciousness

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This photo was taken in the Reserva Santa Elena, part of the Monteverde National Park.  While I was walking through a series of trails on the mountain, I came across a number of small waterfalls with this being the largest of the group.  I have to admit that I love listening to waterfalls and gurgling streams in a forest.  There is something primal about it, something that descends to the core, something that lets me know that what I call my consciousness is naught but a thin, flimsy surface of a vastness that is incomprehensible to my conscious ego.

I often use the words consciousness and unconsciousness, but I don’t know if I ever truly define these words in a satisfactory manner.  I have decided to return to C.G. Jung’s words in order to bring a bit more clarity to the terms as it Jung’s work that has informed my meagre levels of understanding.

“Consciousness does not create itself – it wells up from unknown depths.  In childhood it awakens gradually, and all through life it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep from an unconscious condition.  It is like a child that is born daily out of the primordial womb of the unconscious. . . . It is not only influenced by the unconscious but continually emerges out of it in the form of spontaneous ideas and sudden flashes of thought.” (Jung, CW 11, par 935)

This does make sense to me.  It fits with much of what I taught students while teaching developmental psychology.  In infancy there is no separation between self and other, no realisation that “self” exists.  All is sensory data and no more.  The task of infancy and childhood is differentiation between self and other, the establishment of boundaries.  One of those boundaries that I didn’t consider then was that between consciousness and unconsciousness.  Somehow, I missed that dynamic – the unconscious was something I wasn’t paying any attention to at all, in fact, I didn’t admit its existence as I was much too focused on the dynamics of self and other, the self and the collective, the self and the environment.  For me, it was only about consciousness, a consciousness that I confused with knowledge about things, processes and people.  It was only after the unconscious tripped me up that I became aware of the straight jacket that I had wrapped around myself with the outer world.

“Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but now have forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness:  all this is the content of the unconscious.” (Jung, CW 8, par 382)

Yes, all of this is part of the unconscious, the personal unconscious.  All of this informs, guides, pushes and pulls each of us through the days.  Beneath and surrounding this layer of the unconscious is something bigger, something more, something deeper.


2 Responses

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  1. Robert,
    We have this link on our web site:, but I will save you the trip to the site. More than you will ever want to know about consciousness:
    Read them quickly there is a 25 question test on Friday!!!


    February 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    • Well, this is one test I will flunk – LOL! Wow! What a list of resources.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 23, 2010 at 6:12 am

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