What Is the Unconscious?

From Krishnamurti’s Book THE WHOLENESS OF LIFE

Krishnamurti: We have talked about the necessity for human beings to change, and about why they don’t change, why they accept this intolerable condition of the human psyche. I think we ought to approach the same thing from a different angle. Who has invented the unconscious?

David Shainberg: Who has invented it? I think there is a difference between what we call the unconscious and what is the unconscious. The word is not the thing.

K: Yes, the word is not the thing. Who has thought it up?

S: Well, I think the history of thinking about the unconscious is a long and involved process.

K: May we ask: Have you an unconscious? Are you aware of your unconscious? Do you know if you have an unconscious that is operating differently, trying to give you hints – are you aware of all that?

S: Yes. I am aware of an aspect of myself that is incompletely aware. That is what I call the unconscious. It is aware of my experience, aware of events in an incomplete way. That’s what I call the unconscious. It uses symbols and different modes of telling, of understanding a dream, say, in which I discover jealousy that I wasn’t aware of.

K: Do you also give importance, Dr Bohm, to a feeling that there is such a thing?

David Bohm: Well, I don’t know what you mean by that. I think there are some things we do that we are not aware of. We react, we use words in a habitual way…

S: We have dreams.

B: We have dreams, yes…

K: I am going to question all that because I am not sure…

S: You are not questioning that we have dreams?

K: No. But I want to question, I want to ask the experts if there is such a thing as the unconscious, because I don’t think it has played any important part in my life at all.

S: Well, it depends on what you mean.

K: I will tell you what I mean. Something hidden, something incomplete, something that I have to go after consciously or unconsciously – discover, unearth, explore and expose. See the motives, see the hidden intentions.

B: Well, could we make it clear that there are some things people do which you can see they are not aware of doing?

K: I don’t quite follow.

B: Well, for example, this Freudian slip of the tongue – somebody makes a slip of the tongue which expresses his will.

K: Yes, yes, I didn’t mean that quite.

S: That is what most people think of as the unconscious. You see, I think there are two problems here, if I can just put in a technical statement. There has arisen in the history of thinking about the unconscious, a belief that there are things in it which must be lifted out. Then there are a large group of people now who think of the unconscious as areas of behaviour, areas of response, areas of experience that they are not fully aware of, so that in the daytime they might have, let’s say, an experience of stress which they didn’t finish with, and at night they go through re-working it in a new way.

K: I understand all that.

S: So that would be the unconscious in operation. You get it also from the past or from previous programmes of action.

K: I mean – the collective unconscious, the racial unconscious.

B: Let’s say somebody has been deeply hurt in the past; you can see that his whole behaviour is governed by that. But he doesn’t know it; he may not know it.

K: Yes, that I understand.

S: But his response is always from the past.

K: Yes, quite. What I am trying to find out is why we have divided the conscious and the unconscious. Or is it one unitary total process – one movement? Not hidden, not concealed, but moving as a whole current. These clever brainy birds come along and split it up and say there is the conscious and the unconscious, the hidden, the incomplete, the storehouse of racial memories, family memories….

S: The reason that that has happened, I think, is partially explained by the fact that Freud and Jung and others were seeing patients who had fragmented off this movement which you are talking about. So much knowledge of the unconscious grew out of that.

K: That’s what I want to get at.

S: There’s the whole history of hysteria, where patients couldn’t move their arms, you know?

K: I know.

S: Then you open up their memories and eventually they can move their arms. Or there were people who had dual personalities…

K: Is it an insanity – not insanity – is it a state of mind that divides everything, that says there is the unconscious and the conscious? Is it also a process of fragmentation?

B: Well, wouldn’t you say, as Freud has said, that certain material is made unconscious by the brain because it is too disturbing?

K: That is what I want to get at.

B: It is fragmented. That is well known in all schools of psychology.

S: That’s right. That is what I am saying. It is fragmented off and is then called the unconscious. What is fragmented is the unconscious.

K: I understand that.

B: But would you say that the brain itself is in some sense holding it separate on purpose in order to avoid it?

K: Yes, avoiding facing the fact.

S: That’s right.

B: Yes. So that it is not really separate from consciousness.

K: That is what I want to get at.

S: It isn’t separate from consciousness but the brain has organized it in a fragmented way.

B: Yes, but then it is a wrong terminology to call it that. The word unconscious already implies a separation.

K: That’s right, separation.

B: To say there are two layers, the unconscious and the surface consciousness, a structure is implied. But this other notion is to say that that structure is not implied, but that certain material wherever it may be is simply avoided.

K: I don’t want to think about somebody because he has hurt me. That is not the unconscious, it’s just that I don’t want to think about him.

S: That’s right.

K: I am conscious he has hurt me and I don’t want to think about it.

B: But a kind of paradoxical situation arises there because eventually you would become so good at it that you wouldn’t realize you were doing it. That seems to happen, you see.

K: Yes, yes.

B: People become so proficient at avoiding these things that they cease to realize they are doing it.

K: Yes.

B: It becomes habitual.

S: That is right. I think this is what happens. These hurts….

K: The wound remains.

S: The wound remains and we forget that we have forgotten-

K: The wound remains.

B: We remember to forget, you see!

K: Yes.

S: We remember to forget and then the process of therapy is to help the remembering and the recall – to remember you have forgotten, and then to understand the connections of why you forgot; then the thing can move in a more holistic way, rather than being fragmented.

K: Do you consider, or feel that you have been hurt?

S: Yes.

K: And want to avoid it? Resist, withdraw, isolate – the whole picture being the image of yourself being hurt and withdrawing – do you feel that when you are hurt?

S: Yes. I feel – how to put it?

K: Let’s go into this.

S: Yes, I feel there is definitely a move not to be hurt, not to have that image, not to have that whole thing changed because if it is changed it seems to catapult into the same experience that was the hurt. This has a resonation with that unconscious which reminds me… you see I am reminded of being hurt deeply by this more superficial hurt.

K: I understand that.

S: So I avoid hurt – period.

K: If the brain has a shock – a biological, physical shock – must the psychological brain, if we can call it that, be hurt also? Is that inevitable?

S: No, I don’t think so. It is only hurt with reference to something.

K: No. I am asking you: Can such a psychological brain, if I can use those two words, never be hurt? – in any circumstances, given family life, husband, wife, bad friends, so-called enemies, all that is going on around you – never get hurt? Because apparently this is one of the major wounds of human existence. The more sensitive you are, the more aware, the more hurt you get, the more withdrawn. Is this inevitable?

S: I don’t think it is inevitable but I think it happens frequently, more often than not. And it seems to happen when an attachment is formed and then the loss of that attachment. You become important to me, I like you, or I am involved with you, then it becomes important to me that you don’t do anything that disturbs that image.

K: That is, the relationship between two people, the picture we have of each other, the image – that is the cause of hurt.

B: Well, it also goes the other way: we hold those images because of hurt.

K: Of course, of course.

B: Where does it start?

K: That is what I want to get at.

S: That is what I want to get at too.

K: He pointed out something.

S: I know he did, yes.

B: Because the past hurt gives tremendous strength to the image, the image which helps us to forget it.

S: That’s right.

K: Now is this wound in the “unconscious” – we use the word unconscious in quotes for the time being – is it hidden?

S: Well, I think you are being a little simplistic about that because what is hidden is the fact that I have had this happen many times – it happened with my mother, it happened with my friend, it happened in school, when I cared about somebody… You form the attachment and then comes the hurt.

K: I am not at all sure that it comes through attachment.

S: Maybe it is not attachment, that is the wrong word. What happens is that I form a relationship with you where an image becomes important – what you do to me becomes important.

K: You have an image about yourself.

S: That’s right. And you are saying that I like you because you are conforming with the image.

K: No, apart from like and dislike, you have an image about yourself. Then I come along and put a pin in that image.

S: No, first you come along and confirm it.

B: The hurt will be greater if you first come along and are very friendly to me and confirm the image, and then suddenly put a pin in me.

K: Of course, of course.

B: But even somebody who didn’t confirm it can hurt if he puts a pin in properly.

S: That’s right. That’s not unconscious. But why did I have the image to begin with? That is unconscious.

K: Is it unconscious? That is what I want to get at. Or it is so obvious that we don’t look. You follow what I am saying?

S: I follow, yes.

K: We put it away. We say it is hidden. I question whether it is hidden at all, it is so blatantly obvious.

S: I don’t feel all parts of it are obvious.

B: I think we hide it in one sense. Shall we say that this hurt means that everything is wrong with the image, but we hide it by saying everything is all right? In other words the thing that is obvious may be hidden by saying it is unimportant, that we don’t notice it.

S: Yes we don’t notice it but I ask myself what is it that generates this image, what is that hurt?

K: Ah, we will come to that. We are enquiring, aren’t we, into the whole structure of consciousness?

S: Right.

K: Into the nature of consciousness. We have broken it up into the hidden and the open. It may be the fragmented mind that is doing this. And therefore strengthening both.