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The innocent power of the unconscious

The unconscious mind is a vast storehouse of awareness. It sees and hears everything, and retains it indefinitely. But it does not have strong powers of logic. Reason, per se, is the province of the conscious mind.

Instead, the unconscious mind tends to "reason" by association. It links adjacent experiences, forming a web of relationships so that one experience can instantly evoke another — much faster than we can think.

Imagine that your prehistoric ancestor is wandering through the jungle with her tribe. Suddenly she sees a tiger attack and kill her companion. At the same time, she hears the cries of alarm from her friends, and sees them rushing up into the trees. She follows them to safety. But that horrific experience will now be deeply imprinted in her spirit, together with all its associated sights and sounds. The next time she hears the warning cry, or even sees what might be the stripes of a tiger, she'll be up the tree before she even knows what's happening.

The simpler "wiring" of the unconscious mind means it can act much more quickly than the conscious. And throughout our evolution, it has been doing just that: triggering faster-than-thought reactions that enabled us to survive dangers in the wild. Across the millenia, the unconscious has been our guide, our advisor, our friend.

That evolution has led us to the here and now. It's easy to see how life in a complex civilisation gives rise to inner conflict. The conscious mind understands the rules of social engagement, and is able to plan ahead to achieve what it desires. The unconscious mind is primeval. It sees life simply and associatively. It has its own agenda. No surprise then, that our daily experience can present challenges to which our rational mind will respond one way, while our unconscious reacts another way altogether. But the unconscious is faster, and gets there first — "helping" us survive, in ways that may actually hurt.

The result is inner strife — a feeling that one's spirit is being torn in different directions. The conflict can only be resolved by bringing the whole person back together as one.