Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Amplifying Unconscious (Part 5)

Originally posted on January 19, 2011

This continues my reflections on what has occurred to me as a parallel, more “powerful” function of the unconscious. Today I’ll talk about dreams, the problem of “control,” and the nature of inspiration. As I’ve noted, this process seems to be more compelling, more able to capture our minds in the web of illusion and delusion than anything we could consciously say to ourselves.


Here is a dynamic that occurs every night. Putting it mythically, it’s as if our soul or higher power(s) are saying, “Hey, this is a big clue. What happens here needs to be addressed: First, it feels so real—another term is “verisimilitude”—that you are caught up in it. If you ask yourself, “Could this be a dream?”—or worse, assert it—you tend to wake up. (We’ll get to “lucid dreaming” later.)

Another intriguing feature of dreams is that they are sometimes so rich, so beautiful, so complex, that again your ordinary mind couldn’t begin to construct such scenes—not with paintbrushes or computer-enhanced graphics. (Well, closer to the stunning beauty produced by a team of artists over a period of months, such as the vistas in the hit recent movie, Avatar.)  But the point is that this is a clue: Some part of your brain manufactures—or, what I think, channels or acts as an antenna for—scenes that would require a super-super intelligence to produce. So what’s that about?

Related to that is the smoothness of change of scene that again outdoes the cleverness of most scriptwriters. Often the change is seamless, the emerging vista or predicament seems plausible, however fabulous it might be from the perspective of wakefulness. A toilet out in the open in the middle of the living room? Another bunch of stuff in the closet that we haven’t packed for the return journey? Whoa!

And then there’s the issue of interpretation: Are the meanings hidden? I’ve found that occasionally they are a bit subtle—but only rarely does a more Freudian interpretation do better than an approach derived from the ideas of Gestalt therapy, psychodrama, or Jung’s analytical psychology. Often the meanings reveal themselves rather readily, being obvious poetic—indeed, eloquent—multi-modal expressions of the “fix” the dreamer is in, the state of the dreamer’s deeper psyche. (Tarot cards, astrology, the Chinese “I Ching” book of changes, and other oracles are often poetic and synchronistic reflections, also.)

Which of these functions is the true one and the others are false? Wrong question: At this level of super-consciousness, it’s entirely possible for dreams to serve all these functions, have all these meanings, and more. The right question: What can I learn from my dream life?

I think dreams are a prototypical example of the amplifying unconscious. First of all, back to the first theme—they generate illusions. More, they associate these illusions with profound physical relaxation, which operates in the body-mind as a source of powerfully suggestive bliss. If you feel so good, it must be okay. (There’s a form of psychotherapy that fights phobias called “reciprocal inhibition therapy,” developed by Dr. Joseph Wolpe in the 1950s:  Pair the imagery of the fear-provoking stimulus with the activity of deep relaxation. At first the client tenses up, but the therapist gently guides her through a relaxing process, and this in turn dampens the fear.) The point being that the dream state does this, because in that state the body musculature with a few exceptions (such as the eye muscles) are profoundly relaxed—which most experience as being profoundly pleasurable. (Have you ever had one of those naps from which you really, really don’t “want” to wake up? Is it really “you” or the dream state who generates that “not wanting to”?)

The message here is that the mind can generate very convincing illusions. Every night you get this message—one that Siddartha Guatama (known as the Buddha or enlightened one) made as the focus of his psychology. It was really more of an applied psychology and psychotherapy than a religion, when the story is examined carefully—or perhaps if you press me, a psycho-spiritual insight and complex of ideas.

The Problem of “Control”

Here’s another aspect of the amplifying unconscious: It destroys our illusion that it is the choosing self who is “in control.” Just as history and myth have as a common theme acts of hubris and downfall, so also on a personal level there is a common illusion that people can directly control the depths of “the dark side.”

Historically, however, over the last five centuries or more, humanity has been subject to a series of nudges about its actual place: First, we became dimly aware that Europe was not the only place where wisdom and cleverness was happening—there were other civilizations that also were clever—marvelously so!—across the sea. Then we gradually became aware that we humans on this planet were not the center of the solar system—and later, that the solar system was not the center of the universe by a long shot!  Then we became aware that our species’ existence was not the central episode in time, but rather that we seem to be near the end of an inconceivably lengthy  process of evolution. And some (such as me) have suggested that we are not only the acme of the evolutionary process, but really only part way, maybe what other species might consider early adolescence. (I rediscovered a charming section in a charming and provocative one-woman show produced in the 1985 titled “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” by Jane Wagner. The various characters were played by Lily Tomlin. On page 136, “Trudy” reports that her friends the extra-terrestrials observed that “Earth is a planet still in its puberty.”)

Then there was the common illusion that because we could be relatively clever, compared with what we imagined to be ignorance of our grandparents and earlier generations, and compared to animals, that we were “homo sapiens,” wise men, intelligent, and primarily rational. The idea that, first, most humans were far from wise, and that even those who were somewhat rational and wise in a few roles were often (if not almost always) rather flawed, foolish, neurotic, drunk, and in other ways driven by irrationality also—this was offensive to their pride. Freud began the process of challenging this, and although I hardly agree with Freud regarding many of his ideas, I do agree that he was a leader (though not the first) in challenging this collective illusion.

Yet for the most part people think that even if they don’t succeed in controlling their own minds, they should be able to do so. This is mistaken. It is possible to turn away from powers that tend to be greater than your own: Jesus said (Matt: 16: 23),  “Get thee behind me.” He didn’t say, “Let’s work this out in the process of argument because—to cite another saying by Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice), “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” The amplifying unconscious is an estimated twenty to fifty times more clever, more quick-thinking, more compelling than any argument or thinking puny human minds can come up with on their own. (When fused with the amplifying unconscious, though, people can speak brilliantly—as prophets or dictators—extemporaneously, for long periods of time; such is the power of inspiration.)

In other words, human minds cannot directly control or will the amplifying unconscious, but it can in the long run master it! It takes patience, determination, clearing out the contrary messages and mixed desires, the impurities of childish entitlements and attitudes. It involves cultivating habits of opening to love, positivity, and responsibility, and practicing these attitudes over a fair period of time. It may require a fair degree of self-discipline. (It is not required that a person be 100% pure in these endeavors, but they do need to dominate the unconscious mix.) If this positive thinking is practiced, there will be a resonant psychic energy (from the amplified positive dimensions) that will be greatly helpful in resisting temptation.

On the other hand, if a person unconsciously indulges in a fair degree of resentment, hate, lust, greed, and other forms of lower consciousness, these emotions also get amplified and this in turn can entrench a person fairly strongly in cycles of mental illness or collective cruelty to others.

I’m suggesting that with discipline, practice, and often community support, people can develop habits of turning toward the light, towards more noble virtues. Once in a while, events of radical transformation and repentance even happen. But generally this is felt as not will but Grace, an operation of forces that are experienced as being “outside” the ordinary sense of self. But this doesn’t happen easily or quickly, any more than a person with schizophrenia can say, “Uh-oh, my thinking is stuck in negativity; I’d better change my ways” and that itself makes it all better. These currents have their own power and don’t change directions quickly, for the most part.

Inspirations and Breakthroughs

The term “inspiration” suggests the inflow of spirit from the outside, and overlaps with the word-root of epiphany. Revelation comes from parts unknown—it isn’t experienced as one’s own thoughts. There’s a surprise—sometimes associated with joy, excitement, and occasionally with fear or horror.

Indeed, many aspects of developing mind may be re-imagined as a gradual inflow of “higher” wisdom into the “lower” centers—as is represented by the chakra system of kundalini yoga. It’s as if we have the latent potentials of higher wisdom that gradually open to the receptive mind at higher and more effulgent levels to one who cultivates the necessary openness to the process.

From more primitive and childish (or even infantile) needs, one can become aware that there are higher and more refined ways to sublimate these needs. For example, the infant’s tendency to cling, to bond, can become the healthy bonding quality that makes for community and civilization. (The sociopath doesn’t make this transition.) One can discern equivalent transformations for all the other childhood needs. Even the seven deadly sins can be understood as the natural heritage of humanity, childish needs that not only can be sublimated, but must to some extent be satisfied. There is a real place for modest and tamed capacities for anger, for sexuality, for sloth, etc.—having absolutely zero of such qualities can also be unhealthy for the soul. (Reference: Kerry Altman: The Wisdom of the 5 Messengers)

We need also to recognize that for the higher chakras, the expansion of the soul extends beyond the individual’s personal striving to include the good of the community, and to include also participation in modalities such as art, music, poetry, and other forms of creativity and enjoyment. In this sense, some geniuses open to powerful sources of inspiration in various ways—musical composition, art, architecture, science, philosophy, spirituality, etc.

Indeed, the phenomena associated with genius is to some degree available to everyone. Actually, the term derives from the Latin equivalent of the earlier Greek word, “daimon,” which describes the guiding spirit that was available to every person. We might use the term “muse” or “guardian angel(s).” In the last several hundred years the word came to refer only to those with prodigious talent—such people “were” geniuses. But what if we all realized that we all had access to our own genius, and that part of the education of children involved the opening of these channels of awareness and receptivity?

The problem involves the recognition also that a person’s access to genius might involve qualities that seem unbalanced or even taboo to the adults in a given society. What if the genius of some kids was more—dare I say it?—“psychic”? Or what if there were a capacity for genuine spiritual insight in children, just as there seems to be a possibility that some kids are remarkably talented in the realms of music, or math, or sports, or sensitivity to nature, or learning languages, etc.? We don’t have an educational system that is designed to detect and cultivate kids’ natural special strengths. It’s sadly more like an assembly line in which all kids are expected to absorb the knowledge of their elders. (In light of the new electronic media, web-browsers, etc., we are on the verge of questioning the idea that what education should be about is the 20th century ideal that it should entail mainly the memorization of information. This is also in light of the growing recognition that a great deal of that information has become obsolete, partial, irrelevant, and often misleading!)

[I’ll writer more on this dynamic, and will try to include and/or respond to the more intellectually intriguing comments sent by readers  in the future.]

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