Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

A New View of the Non-Rational Mind

Originally posted on June 1, 2011

A few months ago I wrote of one feature of the unconscious mind that is as yet hardly known. I call it the “amplifying unconscious mind.” Another category operates in some ways similarly and in other ways, I’m not so sure. (Well, I’m not very sure of any of this, but I am addressing some things that ordinary psychology does not adequately address.)

When Freud said, "Where id was, there shall ego be," I think he was half right: Where immature non-rational mind rules, let’s substitute wiser or more mature rational (language) mind. However, I think it might have been even more correct to say, “Where immature, non-rational mind rules, let’s (1) mature it, develop it, honor it, refine it, love and nurture it, positively reinforce it, develop good habits with it—i.e., the non-rational mind; (2) we should also develop a rational mind that recognizes and honors non-rational mind, and again refuses to force, coerce, punish, or negatively reinforce it. (Perhaps this is another way to look at the “positive psychology” trend.)

Non-rational mind is not always repressed. Sometimes it is just too big to be channeled through the language-ing functions. It includes myth, illusion, some aspects of poetry, symbols, dreams, inspirations, some music, body-work and dance, imagery, spontaneity, intuition, and the like. In these channels non-rational mind is sometimes more foolish but also sometimes clearly wiser that the capacities of rational mind. This what Shakespeare means when he writes about “the quality of mercy” that must balance mere justice.

(3) The main thing, though, is for rational mind to learn how to collaborate with non-rational mind in a balanced fashion, sometimes referred to as balancing heart and mind, or spirit-soul and ego. This requires a different approach to “ego development.” In developing the capacity for love, faith, and responsibility, there is also a skill of balancing a degree of surrendering, letting go, and gentle-ing that allows better coordination with and a partial yielding to non-rational mind.

In a sense, this general idea in other ways has been expressed by Carl Jung in his discussion of the conjunction of opposites, of the syzygy of masculine and feminine principles. (But here we are not just talking about gender so much as yang and yin or other primal dualities.

All this carries forth an intuition of Freud as well as Jung, and many depth psychologists since, who found themselves truly awed by the powers of the unconscious mind. On the other hand, I suspect that not only the general public, but a significant percentage of people who have studied 20th century psychology, have never really recognized how much their own lives are lived by their non-rational selves. This may be part of the next paradigm shift.

Note that I’m not advocating a mere swing of the pendulum into a neo-romantic glorification of the non-rational or sentimental. Just as the rational mind needs development—and most people are really below- average in, say, the kinds of lessons taught by cognitive therapy—i.e., a modicum of critical thinking—; the point here is that non-rational mind, undeveloped, can be foolish. The point isn’t to think of it as intrinsically wise, but rather to consider methods in ordinary school, religion, recreation, and other modalities that will help refine these sensibilities. I’m clear it can be done. (Aspects of the creative /expressive therapies and drama therapy or sociodrama, for example, offer many useful methods!)

Develop both sides; consider how both sides can be developed; notice the differences, honor both approaches, and balance them. It can be done!

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