I have been reflecting for decades on the role of the unconscious in our experience of being human, namely that which falls outside of our awareness, and my recognition that the unconscious plays an enormous part in our daily life. Indeed, it is a good thing that much of our daily lives is supported to run smoothly by that which is no longer in our awareness. Imagine having to figure out how to open up a tube of toothpaste every time you are about to brush your teeth! Or, even more dramatically, how to walk every time you are about to change locations. Thanks to the way our brain and nervous system works, some things that we learn become automatic and could be said to happen automatically. The unconscious knowing and automatic responding of what to do is the mark of deep and solid learning, hence at least some level of mastery. Why, then, do we need consciousness at all? I suggest that there are multiple responses to this, but what I am particularly interested in is unlearning that which has become unconscious and that impedes our reaching towards our optimal possibilities. Paradoxically, we need consciousness to unlearn the unconscious. As well, the more aware we become, that is the more awake, the more opportunities to respond to the great question from the American poet, Mary Oliver, “What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?”
We run into many moments when we can see, or at least entertain, that it would be good to unlearn and transform certain ways of being, seeing, and doing that have become automatic for us. This is especially the case when one can see that, for example, repeated conflicts with one’s spouse or partner, parents, or children could have been prevented if one did not automatically react to the other in ways that contribute to triggering the other. As you all would have experienced, it takes no time before the wildfire of chain reactions ravages the relationship, even if temporarily. The long-term effect, however, is erosion of relationship, and it typically takes a lot of time and energy to recover from the damage. Yet, most often, we don’t seem to have the power to stop the automaticity of our inner “programming” and to unlearn and undo it. What does it take to unlearn and undo? And, if you think about this in your own experience, you probably will notice that there are almost certainly one or two patterns that keep replaying. And, as you would also know, these one or two patterns seem to be deeply entrenched: so much so that you find yourself despairing with a sense of hopelessness.
All changes require extra energy input. Just as to turn cold water into hot water takes an application of energy in the form of heat, psychic changes, wherein we learn to see things differently, feel differently, and act differently, takes energy, too. In yoga and other spiritual practices, we say that energy follows attention. I would suggest to you that attention is energy; or perhaps better put, that attention liberates energy. Slightly different expressions, but they all point to the same dynamics between energy and attention. For example, consciously focusing, directing, and moving one’s attention gathers energy. I don’t know and can’t explain the exact “mechanism,” but I experience this phenomenon daily. You might think of your awareness as providing heat and/or light, and this heat and light begins to creatively disturb the status quo of the ingrained patterns. As you probably know from your experience, this will most likely be a slow to unfold process.
As readers of my Field Notes, you must have noticed and noted that I am very interested, professionally and personally, in the ongoing process of change of inner programming that automatically turns on and launches me and you into uncontrollable and mostly unconscious behaviors that are not attuned, and liable to be inappropriate and unhelpful, even harmful, landing us squarely into conflicts and misery. And no doubt you also have noticd that I am not interested in just eliminating conflicts and misery but deploying them as personal edges or ‘gateways’ towards our optimal development and generative self-expression.
As I also have noted in previous Field Notes, our personality (egoic structures) are built on top, around, and into this unconscious programming, which creates the dictatorial modus operandi that oppresses and supresses our vital energy—our life force. Have you ever wondered what you would be like, how you would see, feel, and be, if you were freed up from this inner incarceration? What would your personality be like, if you were to be “let out” of this inner and rigidly barred “cage”? Consider the possibility that all our personalities are such cages! Of course, some cages are more gilded than others; some, more comfortable than others. I entertain the possibility that an awakened person may not have a personality, at least not the usual kind that we witness within and without ourselves. As I have said previously, the issue is “being had” by our personalities, rather than having them, at our disposal as they fit in the moment. As the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, states: “I was knocking on the door to get in. Suddenly the door opened. I realized that I was on the inside trying to get out!”
All my speculations aside, I am interested in concretely doing something about transformation of the unconscious programming. This brings me to the attentional “technology,” known as mindfulness. Mindfulness cultivates awareness and attention. A lot of training can go into it to the point that you can become a master (or, if you prefer, a super athlete or an artist) of your own attention. My own introduction to such a practice was in my early gestalt therapy experience. We used to start our work with our therapists often with what was called the ‘awareness continuum.’ All this meant was reporting in-the-moment awareness. Simply starting every statement with “now I am aware,” or some succinct variation on this statement. For example, “Now I am aware (NIAA) of seeing this text appearing on my monitor screen; NIAA of hearing the sound of the keyboard keys clicking; NIAA of wondering what you are thinking as you read this; NIAA of cars on the street below, which I can see on my right out of the corner of my eye…” In the moment, awareness is just this simple, and with ongoing practice can have surprisingly powerful influence over your consciousness and its awakening.
I recommend that you practice this NIAA exercise and note what effect this has on you. In gestalt work, we were also noticing any shift out of the moment, which was an opportunity for inner work on whatever was incomplete in the current gestalt that had arisen. My interest in all this is not for the performativity per se, rather how I can apply mindfulness of simple awareness to liberate and facilitate the opening and freeing of my inner unconscious programming that has invariably led to conflict and misery within, and in my interactions with the world, and of suppression of my life force.
With the above in mind, I will share with you below a practice that can arise from one’s awareness that is known as visualization or, more comprehensively termed, inner rehearsal. In the way I understand the latter, it is a way of accessing the great possibilities that are existing as either seedlings, or suppressed covered aspects, of our highest dreams, possibilities, and potentials. Carl Gustav Jung’s term for this is “active imagination.” It is about bringing to life the process that develops, cultivates, and nurtures the ongoing awakening of what you truly are.
How does inner rehearsal work?
Visualization and Inner Rehearsal
I will start with giving some description, by way of an illustration, how inner rehearsal works; then, I will offer some ideas about how to use the method, and how it actually works in our physiological and psychological inner worlds.
Think about something you would like to have in your life, some way of being, some achievement, a valued goal, a relationship or a way of being in relationship. It does not matter what it is. What does matter is that it is in alignment with your own most deeply held values. If you should notice some inner resistance, this could indicate that you have some further inner exploration and work to do, and it might well indicate some subtle or not-so-subtle misalignment with your values.
Notice what thoughts, body sensations, and emotions you have associated with this particular high dream. Use your awareness to notice all these types of experience about your potential to achieve your dream possibility. Particularly, do your best to note the process of thinking and watch your likely tendency to get caught up in the content of these thoughts. Keep in mind that your thoughts and feelings are aligned with a personality structure that has unconsciously been built up over the course of your life. And this particular egoic structure almost certainly has ‘good’ intentions even while working ‘against’ your capacity to achieve your dream. Most importantly, remember that this part of your unconscious is actually favourable to what you are hoping to do. However, it has become habituated to a method that is repetitive and ingrained with thoughts and feelings that are, to put it mildly, unskilful; namely they do not work with you to support moving towards your dreaming, process-oriented goal. Discovering how to engage these ‘hidden’ parts of your inner community will be a central part of your creative and imaginative process.
There are, broadly speaking, a number of possible elements to the process of inner rehearsal, involving visualization:
Look deeply into knowing your inner construction and its outward manifestations. This requires your awareness. You will be looking for what is invisible to you! Pay attention to the flickers: those little tiny signals that are easily missed or ignored. When you notice one, catch it, and follow it.
Practice your meditative process in the service of becoming increasingly ‘no-body,’ which means having a sense of ease, calmness, and clarity. This process will result most likely in an increasingly developed ability to know the world in-the-moment as it actually is, and to ‘forget’ yourself who ‘sees’ things in the forms with which you are familiar and powerfully predisposed. These forms have certainly served as a confinement structure for you and your authenticity.
Give yourself free reign to imagine the seemingly and previously impossible dream of being and/or doing!
Beginning, likely forever beginning, the inner rehearsal of being this more fully alive authentic being that has been locked, as if in a prison, inside your consciousness, comprised of your body states, and emotional, thinking, and behavioral automaticity.
Notice and welcome everything that indicates a problem. This will be your inner work possibilities.
These steps are about the ongoing liberation towards your desired growth and development, and are also for the development of your capacity to increasingly be outside and beyond your current range and move ever more fluidly into the realms of true knowing and being. Dreaming what and who you will be to achieve your dreams, and practicing increasingly and persistently the identity that is fluid and able to manifest your dream are central to your becoming the optimal being that you are.
I believe that life has been given to us as a free gift I do not recall asking for it, but there I was, with the gift of life fully received. What we make of this one special opportunity for existing is influenced by the power and range of the consciousness that we can access.
This will be the last Field Note prior to my summer break and retreat. Please do feel free to comment and ask any questions you may have about this Note, as I will watch for your contributions and respond to them, and If you see a post from someone else that you feel moved to respond to, I encourage you to do so.
My next Field Note will be published October 1, 2022.
I wish you all a great and thriving summer of recharging and coming more fully alive!
As always, many thanks to Heesoon for stellar support with this Field Note…