In the beginning there is only the unconscious. The first task of life is to gradually emerge into consciousness, and to discover through this process, both the world and self in a physical manner. This in turn involves a number of stages
Pre-Conception: Finite v Infinite
I will elaborate firstly on the two fundamental processes underlying all experience.
We are accustomed to think of life in a linear conscious fashion with a beginning and end in time.
However this makes little sense from the complementary viewpoint of the unconscious mind.
The beginning of conscious life is understood as the emergence of a separate individual existence in time i.e. as an identifiable unit of life. However, from the complementary unconscious standpoint, linear time has no meaning.
As this distinction between the two fundamental processes of understanding is so important it is worth developing at length.
As already mentioned, the straight line serves as an ideal geometrical symbol of the conscious mind.
It also is the same symbol we use to represent unity in mathematics (i.e. the number "1").
Thus the very basis of consciousness is in the ability to recognise an object as a (separate) unit and thus give it an identifiable existence (i.e. something rather than nothing). This carries right over even into the spiritual realm. It is striking that in all the major Western religions - where the conscious linear approach predominates - that God is seen objectively as One. Not surprisingly therefore, the ultimate experience is always seen as involving a form of union.
In turn, the circle serves as an ideal geometrical symbol of the unconscious mind.
It also is basically the same symbol we use to represent zero in mathematics (i.e. the number "0").
In the East, where there is a greater tradition in the intuitive unconscious process of understanding, (true) reality is seen - more subjectively - as the detachment from all phenomenal experience (i.e. nothing in phenomenal terms). In contrast to the West, where the ultimate spiritual experience is seen in terms of union, in the East it is more often seen as nothing (i.e. the absence of all conscious phenomena), and experienced as a creative void.
Now, 0 and 1, are the two fundamental number symbols and quite adequate to construct the binary number system. On this number system, the miracles of the modern computer age are based.
It is quite remarkable how these fundamental numbers are intimately related to the two primary understanding processes.
The conscious can be seen as the clear separation of what are - in terms of its own static basis - unconnected polar opposites, carrying either a positive (+) or a negative (-) charge. It always operates on a definite either/or logic. Something either is or is not (in static terms) which implies an absolute view of (phenomenal) reality
The unconscious, on the other hand, can be seen as the dynamic interdependence of what are - in terms of its basis - complementary opposites, carrying both a positive (+) and negative (-) charge. It always operates on a both/and logic. Something both is and is not (in dynamic terms) which implies a relative view of reality.
Thus, the belief that (human) life has a definite finite beginning and end in temporal terms is purely a product of a (merely) conscious perspective. Here there is a clear distinction as between existence and non-existence.
However, from the complementary unconscious perspective, existence and non-existence are simply two sides of the same coin.
Indeed, remarkably this notion is even gaining currency in modern physics with the concept of a "free lunch" in the ultimate emergence of matter itself out of a "quantum vacuum" (which is a dynamic concept of nothingness).
In this dynamic sense, non-existence is simply the potential to exist.
The unconscious mind, which in its pure state is totally universal, thus represents the potential ground from which all life emerges.
Thus everyone who is conceived, has eternally existed in the dark of the pure unconscious mind. Conscious life can best be seen - not as an entirely new beginning - but rather, as the awakening from a sleep of infinite duration. The goal of life is to return to this original state now transformed into the light of pure consciousness. Only then will the circle that precedes life in eternal darkness be now completed in eternal light.
At the beginning of finite existence, the unconscious is completely undifferentiated.
It is in total ignorance, with no means yet of recovering its eternal destiny.
To enter on this journey of rediscovery, it must learn to express itself through the complementary mode of consciousness in the growth of phenomenal experience.
However the great danger is that this drive towards ultimate meaning will be confused with mere conscious phenomena.
From a correct dynamic perspective,
conscious phenomena serve essentially as (necessary) signposts on the road
to meaning. Reductionism however, in the exclusive identification of meaning
with conscious processes of understanding, always leads to a distortion
in perspective, and consequently to a great limiting in the potential for
true personality development.
B EMERGING CONSCIOUSNESS
Stage 1: Personal v Impersonal
Life - in temporal terms - starts from a single point or singularity, where there is that first emergence from the unconscious into primitive consciousness. Here the total fusion of (undifferentiated) opposites in the unconscious at last ends at the point where division into the separate opposites of consciousness commences.
The first primitive stage largely relates to the life of the developing foetus in the womb. Though still mainly unconscious - and a highly confused state from a conscious perspective - it is extremely important, encoding a master programme in the psyche governing all future emotional development.
The self and the world are initially experienced totally as one. Now, superficially this seems to be identical to the most developed state of mystical union.
However, this first stage is a prepersonal (fully) undifferentiated state, whereas mystical union is the final transpersonal (fully) differentiated state. So in this sense they are at opposite extremes and totally different.
If we adopt a (conscious) linear approach to the stages of development, earlier prepersonal stages are at the furthest remove in development from later transpersonal stages. (Ken Wilber, for example continually emphasises this point).
However if we adopt the equally valid (unconscious) circular approach to the same stages, then there is direct complementarity as between earlier and later stages.
Thus the first is a complement of the last, the second with the second last etc.
In other words, the potential - which was inherent (in an undifferentiated manner) - at the earlier stage is finally realised (in a differentiated manner) at the later (complementary) stage.
Both of these approaches will inform my own treatment.
Now, the developing foetus has no means of distinguishing the (impersonal) physical world from the (personal) world of self. The self and the world are still largely - though not totally - undifferentiated. Because of this primitive identification of the self with the maternal womb which is also experienced as the material cosmos, the self is very much a material self.
Thus this stage is sometimes variously referred to as the material or pleromatic self with a 'protoplasmic' or 'symbiotic' consciousness.
Cognitive and Affective Experience
At this point, I wish to elaborate on the basic modes of understanding.
In a dynamic sense, the affective and cognitive modes are complementary, always interacting in experience.
Essentially the affective mode is the means by which the self responds to reality and is the direct basis of social identity. The cognitive mode, on the other hand, is the means through which the self exercises control over reality and is the direct basis of individual identity. Affective always entails cognitive experience to some degree. Likewise cognitive necessarily entails some measure of affective experience.
The crucial difference is that - in a direct sense - affective experience depends on the unconscious, and cognitive experience directly on the conscious aspect of understanding respectively.
Putting it more precisely, the affective mode primarily is the expression of the unconscious, and only in a secondary manner the conscious process. The cognitive mode, on the other hand is primarily the expression of the conscious and only in a secondary manner the unconscious process.
The affective mode relates directly to what is personal, and only indirectly to what is impersonal in experience.
The cognitive mode relates directly to what is impersonal and only indirectly to what is personal in experience.
Affectivity and emotion (depending primarily on the complementarity of opposites principle of the unconscious process), essentially involves a merging of object and subject in a holistic informal experience.
It is the direct means of bringing a qualitative dimension to experience.
Cognition and reason (depending primarily on the separation of opposites principle of the conscious process), essentially involves the abstraction of object from subject in a partial formal experience.
It is the direct means of bringing a quantitative dimension to experience.
The volitional mode emanating from will is of course central to the other two. It provides the basic drive for development, and is the means of harmonising the affective and cognitive modes, which are themselves complementary.
In this first primitive stage, there is little differentiation in either unconscious or conscious development. Volition (will) expresses itself as blind instinct, and there is great confusion as between affective and cognitive modes. This is exemplified by the almost total identification of both personal qualitative and impersonal quantitative experience i.e. the personal self and the material world.
The Feminine Principle
However, this stage - though confused and of comparatively short duration - is vitally important for future development.
There are two fundamental primitive instincts which are complementary. One is for union and incorporation which is the basis of social identity (i.e. the feminine principle); the other is for separation and autonomy which is the basis of individual identity (i.e. the masculine principle). It is this former feminine principle that is to the fore during this stage.
The foetus is entirely dependent on the mother for physical and emotional survival. The mother's life largely, physically and emotionally is the child's. Basic emotional messages are communicated directly to the foetus in the womb. These constitute that critical master programme which deeply conditions subsequent emotional development.
For example, many people - regardless of subsequent achievements - find it almost impossible to fundamentally accept themselves throughout life. When this is a really deep problem, it probably goes back directly to that first relationship in the womb.
Because of the lack yet of any defence mechanisms, the foetus is completely vulnerable, and will pick up accurately the basic unconscious emotional attitude of the mother. If this is one of love and trust, the foetus will unconsciously adopt that same attitude as its "master program".
Now, we have seen that there is no ultimate distinction in the unconscious as between personal and impersonal experience. Thus subsequently it will tend to (unconsciously) view reality in that same light i.e. experiencing the (impersonal) physical world directly in (personal) affective terms as '"good".
If, however that basic unconscious attitude of the mother was one of deep fear and mistrust, the foetus will, of course, unconsciously adopt that negative attitude as its '"master program". Thus subsequently it will always tend to fundamentally view the world and relationships from that same attitude.
Healing can take place but not at a merely conscious level of experience. As the problem lies deep in the undifferentiated unconscious, integration will require the very difficult and painful task of journeying back later - in a psychic sense - to the womb to fully disentangle this problematic unconscious.
Finally, in relation to space and time a confused picture also exists. Experience is in a largely present reality that is almost totally unconscious, yet with the intrusion of momentary, instantly disappearing events i.e. fleeting points in space and time. True linearity requires that these differing events be sequentially connected and registered. This is far from the case as yet.
Manner of Development
It is appropriate at this point to say something about the manner in which stages of development evolve.
Development can move primarily in a conscious direction or in an unconscious direction.
In the former case, one moves gradually out of the (undifferentiated) unconscious towards the specialisation of conscious structures of understanding. This is what I refer to as the linear level.
In the latter case however, one moves gradually back from the (differentiated) conscious towards the specialisation of unconscious structures of understanding (expressed in indirect conscious form). This can only come after the previous level in what I term the circular level.
Differentiation of conscious structures - at the linear level - always involves an outward psychological journey in a process of transcendence. One goes beyond the limited perspective of each previous stage to acquire a new vision more appropriate to one's present development.
Though this process clearly represents positive growth, it can also be problematic.
The ego will always tend to identify with the paradigm of a particular stage. Leaving this paradigm behind, inevitably involves separation and loss. If this is very painful there will be an (unconscious) attempt to simply block out and forget the previous stage(s).
Differentiation of unconscious structures - especially at the point level - involves a complementary inward psychological journey in a reverse process of immanence. One goes beneath or below as it were, previously developed specialised conscious structures, to unearth all those primitive elements still buried and unacknowledged in the unconscious
Thus transcendence, and movement to "higher" stages, through differentiation, inevitably involves a degree of repression - often considerable - of primitive physical desires of earlier stages.
The reverse process of immanence and movement back to "lower'" stages in turn inevitably involves a release and consequent acceptance of these primitive desires.
When seen in this light '"higher" and '"lower" are purely relative terms.
Thus what is a "higher" stage from the standpoint of specialisation of conscious structures is a "lower" stage from that of specialisation of unconscious structures.
Western culture, and its almost exclusive emphasis on conscious processes of understanding, illustrates this point very well. The strong specialisation of rational (i.e. conscious) understanding leads to very undeveloped intuitive (i.e. unconscious) capabilities.
Now, of course, ideally, as forward differentiation of new "higher'" structures takes place, backward integration of these with previous '"lower" structures should also take place.
However - and this is a vitally important point - differentiation and integration involve largely separate psychological processes. Specialisation of the conscious process aids differentiation, whereas specialisation of the unconscious process aids integration. And by definition, the linear level is not suited to specialisation of the unconscious process.
Therefore for development at the linear level, only very limited integration of "higher" with "lower" structures is possible. At best a limited integration of structures - adapted to existing social conventions - is possible.
This is why psychological development does not take place in a very harmonious manner. Indeed, it requires a very lack of harmony in development to keep the drive for integration alive. However it is a very delicate balance. Too much integration - at an earlier stage - will lead to complacency and reduced motivation to explore new horizons. Too little integration at the same stage will create too many obstacles and unduly distort future growth.
The normal way in which full growth of the personality takes place is as follows.
1) Outward specialisation of the conscious process (i.e. horizontal development).
Here considerable forward differentiation of conscious structures takes place, but with only limited backward integration with the unconscious.
Development psychology in the West very rarely goes beyond this point. It offers a basically distorted programme of development with - in relative terms - overemphasis on conscious, and consequent underemphasis on unconscious processes of understanding.
2) Inward specialisation of the unconscious process.(i.e. vertical development).
Here considerable backward integration - of previously developed conscious structures - with unconscious takes place, but with only limited further forward differentiation of the conscious.
This approach is often emphasised in terms of contemplative spiritual development.
There is the opposite danger here of over involvement with the unconscious and too little attention to the outside world (often exemplified in the religious culture of the East)..
3) Mature interaction of both processes (i.e. diagonal development).
Here a high level of development in terms of both conscious and unconscious is achieved where structures are both highly differentiated and also highly integrated with each other.
Because distortions to authentic development have been removed, considerable energy and capacity is available for dynamic and unselfish commitment to the world.
Though very few ever reach this level,
there are shining examples in all ages of special charismatic individuals
who transform society, inspiring countless followers with an enhanced sense
of their true eternal destiny.
Stage 2: External v Internal
We highlighted in the previous stage that there is yet no real distinction as between the (personal) foetus and the (impersonal) world. Both comprise a homogeneous global reality, reiterated in fleeting - and largely unconscious - instantly disappearing impressions.
The next stage involves some advance over this most primitive state, where the first signs of transcendence become evident.
This second stage, will generally start shortly after the birth of a child. The infant has now been separated from the mother's womb and exists physically as a distinct body. The psychological recognition of this fact only comes gradually.
This self at this stage is sometimes termed the urobic self after the mythical serpent that after eating its own tail forms a self contained, pre-differentiated round mass. This circular symbolism, is highly appropriate, as this state is still very close to the undifferentiated unconscious.
However there is some advance over the earlier pleromatic self.
The complete union with the mother - which has now been broken physically - is also broken psychologically. I mentioned before, that are really two basic instincts relating to the conflicting desires for incorporation and for autonomy. The basic instinct at the earlier stage relates to the former desire. Now, with the infant physically separated from the mother, the latter instinct starts to surface with the blind desire for physical survival. The infant is caught in that conflicting situation which signals the first crisis. If growth is to take place, complete dependence on the mother has to be surrendered with the gradual acceptance of a separate physical body.
Through separation and consequent stirrings of primordial existential fear, the infant, slowly becomes aware of a globalised - and as yet undifferentiated physical reality - confronting a self which has no clear boundaries. Early activity (sensori-motor) is taken up with direct exploration of the physical environment.
I feel, it is important to try and precisely explain how this first directional interaction - though still highly rudimentary - of (external) object and (internal) subject takes place.
We have seen that the unconscious can be seen as a combined positive (+) and negative (-) charge. In this sense it can be looked on as dynamically neutral. Consciousness, however, always involves separation of these complementary components into a single positive charge (+) through separation from the complementary negative charge (-). In other words consciousness always involves the positing of phenomena through the corresponding process of negation or denial. Consciously expressed material necessarily involves complementary material remaining unexpressed and thus cut off and repressed in the unconscious.
However, in experience, this conscious positing, creates an imbalance in terms of the neutral unconscious. This leads to a counterbalancing tendency by the unconscious, in introducing the complementary negative charge. This leads to a decisive switching in the direction of experience, which turns in the opposite inwardly towards the self. Now, positive and negative in dynamic terms are purely relative terms. If we start in consciousness with the (external) objective pole as positive, then in relative terms, the internal (subjective) pole is negative. However, if alternatively, we take the internal (subjective) pole as positive, then of course the (external) objective pole is negative.
So, when experience switches from the world to the self, it is now posited in consciousness (i.e. one is now consciously aware of the self). This again sets up a conflict with the neutral unconscious which once more introduces the negative charge, causing a switch back to the (external) world. Thus, through this dynamic correction process, continual interaction of the (external) world and (internal) self takes place.
However, in this early primitive stage of development, the conscious is not well differentiated. In other words, the ability to separate from the unconscious and posit a charge is still very weak. Consequently, the counterbalancing negative charge is also weak. Therefore in experience, very little object, or self constancy is yet possible, as fleeting impressions of both, arise and disappear in the momentary present. The infant is vaguely aware holistically of a world separate from the self, sometimes experienced in a benign, sometimes in a threatening light.
Much is made here of the oral stage and the instinct for food. In the most basic sense, individual physical survival depends on the consumption of food. It is not surprising that the infant, in an attempt to remove this threatening other, desires in the most primitive way to assimilate the world through the mouth, The consequent fear, is to be in turn swallowed, as if by a beast by this other. We will see later - at a time when one is trying to shift from selfish egocentric to a mature selfless cosmic centred identity - that fears of being swallowed up and suffocated arise again in a dramatic fashion.
In our day, eating disorders are extremely common, especially among women. Invariably, the psychological subtext is one of difficulty in coming to terms with an individual self identity, reflecting in turn the domination of the masculine principle in society.
Again, because of sufficient lack
of conscious differentiation, experience of space and time at this stage
is still rudimentary. They are experienced, but not in any definite extended
sense but rather in terms of a consolidation of present momentary events.
Stage 1: Whole v Part
This stage is capable of much subdivision, and would relate to the later stages of the sensori-motor period. Here the young child in a highly tactile manner explores the immediate physical environment gradually distinguishing in it more detailed features. In the process the child identifies with a more clearly defined separate self as a body ego.
It is also sometimes referred to as the typhonic self. The typhon is that mythical creature, half human, half serpent. This stage is therefore a half-way house between the undifferentiated unconscious and the differentiated conscious. It is a pre-logical time, when confusion as between both processes (conscious and unconscious), still predominates.
One of the key features of the earlier primitive stages is an inability to distinguish general from partial reality. Without this, there is little capacity to form images to promote stability, and gradually give extension to experience.
The key feature of this stage is the emergence of a new ability to gradually differentiate in experience parts which are in some degree separate from the overall environment. This whole v part distinction is the result of quite a complex process which I will now attempt to explain.
I have already dealt with - in the primitive stages - of the basic dynamics behind both the modes and directions of experience. A new element needs to be introduced at this point.
Let, us for imagine - in present experience - that I become aware of a particular object e.g. a cat, in my environment. I therefore posit the cat as an (external) object in consciousness. This in turn conflicts with the neutral unconscious, which - as we have already seen - introduces the counterbalancing negative charge, causing a switch in the opposite direction in experience, from the (external) object to my (internal) self, which I now in turn posit in consciousness.
So from a merely conscious perspective, a switch has simply taken place from external to internal consciousness (through the unrecognised influence of the unconscious). However, more than this takes place. To some degree, when the switch from positive to negative takes place, there is a fusion of opposites, generating energy in the development of the unconscious. This is all important in terms of the whole v part distinction.
So what happens in my perception of the cat is this. I am aware first of the cat consciously as an (external) object, then of myself consciously as an (internal) object. However due to a certain fusion of opposites in this process and the generation of spiritual energy, I now also posit the general more spiritual concept of cat. So, in fact in my perception of the cat, there is a dynamic interaction as between a specific particular perception of a cat and the general concept or class of cat. Indeed, I cannot experience one without the other. If I have no concept of "cat", I cannot meaningfully experience a particular cat.
In this simple perception, the unconscious plays a crucial process. Now, we may subsequently try and interpret such experience in reduced (solely) conscious terms. What this leads to is a fundamental distortion in experience, where the role of the unconscious - though still vitally necessary - becomes greatly limited. This in turn leads to undue rigidity in concept formation. (I will be at pains to point this out later in relation to mathematical understanding. For example the conventional understanding of number - due to conscious rational reductionism - is greatly misunderstood).
This leads to a very important observation on the manner in which child development takes place. In the early stages, there is a healthy interaction of conscious and unconscious processes, although admittedly in a very confused manner. However in our highly rational culture, subsequent "higher" development so often means the attempted screening out of the unconscious process altogether in favour of reduced and distorted (merely) conscious interpretations of all experience.
The ability to form images, distinct from the objects they symbolise, is a highly creative act. The world does not have meaning in itself (i.e. objectively), but rather obtains meaning through the dynamic interaction of these (subjective) images with what they represent. This basic truth is almost completely lost in conventional appreciation of science. People tend to see it in a reduced static manner as a way of interpreting reality as it is "really is" objectively (independent of mind). Properly seen, science is a dynamic interactive activity in which - with mass consensus - a symbolic sign language is created. This provides a means through which reality can be interpreted in a seemingly consensual fashion, which - however useful - is still always arbitrary.
The first images, the infant creates, naturally enough are of the mother, as well as other key environmental objects. In turn, experience will switch to the formation of "body images" i.e. an image of ones own physical body as being separate from the overall environment.
Thus the experience of space and
time is somewhat modified. It is still very much of the present, but now,
due to image formation, of an extended present which still could not be
described as linear. This would require more specialised conscious development.
Perhaps, it would best be described as experience of natural space and
Stage 2: Positive v negative
As we have seen, the previous stage represents a significant advance, in relation to the ability to develop basic concepts, the capacity to gradually separate the (physical) self from the world and through image formation, to create a more varied environment. However, because there is still much confusion as between conscious and unconscious processes, there is a magical quality to experience. Also, it is still very much rooted to the immediate present. The ability to remember past events or anticipate future ones is still somewhat rudimentary. Also though image formation has commenced, the complex structures of language have not yet emerged. All this starts to change at this stage with the a new remarkable transformation which greatly facilitates the emergence of language which is so crucial for future development.
Putting it simply, up to this objects have this somewhat transient significance. They only exist for the child when present in experience. The power to consciously grasp that an object still exists - when outside direct observation - has not yet been acquired. This in turn is due to the lack of differentiation in consciousness.
I have pointed out before, that conscious experience, always involves the psychological operation of positing. However, dynamic switching in experience from object to subject (from + to - ), and in turn from subject to object (from - to + ), involves the counterbalancing unconscious phenomenon of negation (operating through the unconscious).
However, though in relation to each other, external and internal are positive and negative poles, from a conscious perspective, both must always be experienced as positive. This inevitably creates contradiction, necessitating continual switching from one pole to the other, which is the key dynamic of experience.
When the child starts to realise that experience is not just of the world (externally) or of the self (internally), but rather involves a relationship between both poles, then the first conscious grasping of negative existence develops i.e. the notion that objects, and the self still exist, even when not present in consciousness. This ability, in turn greatly increases object constancy and the extension of experience in space and time.
The most significant development is that of language. From one perspective, language can be seen as a system of symbols for social communication, geared to this extended experience of space and time. The growing experience of the infant brings the gradual realisation also of other selves. Language thus forms an ideal means of establishing agreed social symbols, enabling communication to be standardised.
This in turn - in our culture - acts
to greatly increase specialisation of consciousness in an increasingly
It would be useful at this point to summarise the key features of original, primitive and natural (i.e. composite) stages at the physical sub-level.
In the beginning or original state - which is eternal - the primary processes of conscious (representing finite reality) and the unconscious (representing infinite reality) are inseparable. This is a pure state of undifferentiated unity which represents nothingness.
The emergence of finite existence involves rudimentary separation of both processes (i.e. conscious and unconscious).
In the earlier primitive stage both affective and cognitive modes are almost identical leading to inability to distinguish personal from impersonal reality. There are only the first signs here, of conscious differentiation and consequent modal separation so that in some limited degree the infant can distinguish personal and impersonal reality.
In the second primitive stage both external and internal directions are still almost identical leading to inability to distinguish the subjective self from the objective world. The first real signs of conscious differentiation in terms of direction takes place here.
There is more conscious differentiation with the composite stages of natural development.
In the first of these stages, a greater level of modal separation is possible. Through now, greater interaction of conscious and unconscious processes, formation of images or symbols representing objects and self is possible.
In the second of the composite stages, again through increased interaction of both processes, a greater level of directional separation is possible, making the (continued) existence of integrated objects - even when negated or absent in terms of present experience - possible. Along with the emergence of a more complex set of social symbols (i.e. language) a greater extension of experience beyond the immediate moment takes place.