Tag Archives: unconscious

Wonky realities and unthinkable thoughts

A radical change in thinking is not something we can always do in a conscious way. If, for example, your reality is broken in some way, the process of recognising this and changing it might be impossible with your conscious mind. Much of the work may be done when asleep, and it can surface in dreams.

We invest a lot in our version of reality. It’s how we navigate and what we base our decisions on. However, our beliefs can turn out to be wrong. We may have trusted the wrong people, we may have invested in something that demonstrably doesn’t work. When this happens, most of us are not quick to respond to new evidence. We hang on to the old belief even as evidence stacks up to refute it. I think we do this because we’ve invested something of ourselves in that belief, and it is our sense of self that would have to change to accommodate having been wrong.

If you carry on doing something that doesn’t work, of course you just dig yourself in deeper. The debt from the unsustainable lifestyle gets bigger. The relationship gets ever more dysfunctional. Your health deteriorates. The less you square up to a problem, the bigger it gets. What might have been manageable when it first became evident, becomes bigger and more difficult. Admitting not only to the mistake, but the consequences of clinging to the mistake becomes ever more costly. So you tell yourself that you can have the thing you’ve been told explicitly isn’t possible. And you keep digging the hole.

I’ve been here.

While I was clinging to a reality that didn’t work, my dreams reduced down to a handful of anxiety stories. Some part of my brain knew perfectly well that I was in a lot of trouble, and was trying to get in touch with the rest of my brain. I didn’t listen, for years. I couldn’t face knowing. I bent what reality I had around the broken bits to try and make it work until everything was distorted and dysfunctional. In the end, I got very ill, and change happened anyway and I had no choice but to deal with how broken my reality had become. At that point, I still couldn’t do much of it consciously.

Anyone practicing spiritual disciplines may feel that they are self aware and in control of their mind. You can do a lot of work to explore your unconscious urges and motivations, and still not be able to recognise that some part of your reality is broken. It is easy to assume that you have the self awareness not to fall into this kind of trap. That you’re too good, too clever, too engaged to be living inside an illusion. In practice, you just have the tool set to make a more detailed and carefully justified illusion. If there’s something you don’t want to consciously look at, no amount of being enlightened will give you the self honesty to easily tackle it.

This is because self honesty isn’t the key issue here. It’s how invested we are in how we think things work. It is possible to hold ideas lightly and feel easy about changing them. If someone came along with a new take on gravity or the nature of atoms, I could go along with that comfortably enough. If something comes along that impacts on a key relationship in my life, I might ignore the evidence rather than face it, because I may be too invested to be able to deal with what’s happening. Would I sacrifice that level of attachment for a more dispassionate view? No. Not being that invested comes at a cost as well. Investment itself is a form of vulnerability, but without that kind of vulnerability everything can only ever be superficial.


So many self-help, spiritual and magical practices tell us to focus on our intentions to get what we want. Will your desires into the world. Positive think your way into manifesting what you want. But how do you know what you want? Willpower with no real direction can’t give you much. At the same time, those sources will also encourage you to be mindful and live in the moment, not worrying about the future or regretting the past.

For me, daydreaming has been a deliberate process for most of my life. I imagine things, and I play with them, trying out the variables, looking from different angles, considering possible trajectories. Most of my fiction emerges from this deliberate daydreaming.

By revisiting the past and examining regrets, and thinking about how things might have been different, I develop a better understanding of myself. I learn lessons that I can apply in the future. I daydream a lot about the future, and this allows me to figure out what my priorities are. It helps me see how to move towards the things I want, and how to avoid old patterns I want to change. It can help me identify faulty thinking in the present. Daydreaming about how things could be helps me identify things right now that don’t suit me and need to change.

My daydreaming is unstructured. I don’t approach it with discipline or with allotted time frames. I drift there when I need to. It doesn’t separate me from where I am, either. I can daydream while walking and still see a great deal of wildlife and feel very engaged. I think this is in part because I know when I’m doing it. I don’t wander off in some kind of trance, I trance very deliberately from where and when I am.

Our fantasies and desires are a big part of us, and often have the steering wheel as we navigate life’s journey. If we hide them away so they only happen unconsciously, we don’t always know what’s driving us. If we make room for them, we learn. Some of those desires aren’t the most noble, some may be toxic to us. They may hold us to ridiculous standards or damagingly unrealistic expectations. They may undermine our joy in what we have now, if we let them.

A healthy relationship with our desires, where those desires are allowed space and can be explored, stops them from being unconscious motivators. That makes space for better choices. It is better to know and acknowledge our most unappealing inclinations. It pays to look at where those urges would take us and whether we want to go there. It can be cathartic, too, mentally playing out the jealousy, anger, resentment – it can help let it go, without letting it interfere in life in other ways. If I let myself see me wanting to be horrible, I can deal with it. Sometimes it’s best to treat your unconscious a bit like a toddler – just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean everything is fine. Leave it unsupervised and it may try to glue the cat to the inside of the washing machine…


Making room for inspiration

I only write fiction and poetry when I feel inspired to do so. I’ve got a small trick for the blog which is to note down subjects when I’m inspired and then do the writing first thing of a morning. However, only writing when I’m inspired doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for inspiration to show up. I don’t have to be feeling like I’m on fire to redraft and edit, or to promote books so there are parts of the process I can do any time. I also do things to give inspiration the scope to happen.

A lot of our brain processes happen out of sight of the conscious bits of our minds. This is as well. I don’t want to have to micro-manage my internal organs in a conscious way. Aspects of how we absorb information are unconscious. Inspiration is often the putting together of bits and pieces from here and there and seeing how a new thing can be made. That little spark can then be fanned into flame by imaginative work – playing with the ideas, testing them, exploring, and then waiting again for more of the alluring pinging noises as new things come into being.

If I’m not feeling inspired, I need two things – input and space.

Input can be absolutely anything at all that nourishes me. It can be reading a novel, a non-fic book, a blog post. It can be music, film, or it can be live performance. It might be a conversation with an interesting person, a walk over the hills, an unexpected encounter with a fox. If I’m not feeling inspired, then I have to feed myself things that my brain can chew on and turn into something.

I may do some of that chewing in a conscious, deliberate way, but I won’t settle for what comes out of that process. Deliberately trying to come up with ideas results, for me, in ideas that are far less interesting than the ones I let come to me.

Waiting is an important part of the process for me, too. It’s the most unpredictable part. How much time I need varies a lot. I need time when my mind can wander a bit, when I’m not feeding it, and there is room for the magic thing to happen. I have found a number of activities really good for holding this stage. Walking, crafting and housework. Although not too much housework…

Inspiration is not just about making forms of art. It is an issue for all aspects of life, and anything you do can be enriched if you have the space to get inspiration and act on it. I think the absence of that space is a soul destroying thing and I’m conscious that many jobs leave very little room for personal innovation.

I took a week off between Christmas and New Year. I watched a lot of films, read books, pottered about and hung out with people. I did no deliberate planning, although I realised that I needed to do some deliberate planning. A few days after that patch of time off, I had a light bulb moment about where we are economically as a household, what options we have and what I need most. This is going to be a Hopeless Maine year in a serious and dedicated way.

How inspiration will work for anyone else, I can’t say. But, I think the principles of feeding it and giving it space to happen are likely key.

Reclaiming my intuition

The trouble with intuition, is that some people will use it to replace evidence in a way that cannot be argued with. The experience of people magically ‘knowing’ things that from where I was standing, looked like utter bullshit, left me reluctant to use my own for many years. I’m equally troubled by the way we use confirmation on social media ‘I have a bad feeling about today, does anyone else?’ Of course someone else does – the internet has a lot of people on it. I’m wary of how we can all use ‘intuition’ to tell us the things we want to hear, to affirm our biases, prejudices, personal insanity…

But life without intuition is thinner, paler and missing a lot of tricks. We absorb far more information than we can consciously process, and what emerges as a ‘gut feeling’ may not be ‘magic’ but instead the result of unconscious processing. If I let myself, then some of my best thinking happens this way.

How do you tell if what you’ve got is intuition, self indulgence, or madness? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for years. It’s especially loaded for me, because depression and anxiety create feelings of doom and misery, and I can persuade myself that I must be psychically knowing that something dreadful is going to happen, and spiral down into it, and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or I can attribute it to dodgy brain chemistry and let it go… How do I tell which is which?

The only thing I’ve got as a method of testing, is whether I can use it to make fair models of what will happen. If my gut feel about a person, or a situation, fits in fairly well with what happens, then regardless of whether that’s psychic-ness or unconscious processing, I’ve got something I can use. If my impressions don’t relate to reality, then something less helpful is going on. It requires an uneasy amount of self-honesty. Who doesn’t want to be magical, intuitive and special? It’s hard to look at a gut feeling and say ‘you aren’t real, my brain chemistry is playing up’ but sometimes that’s the path to sanity.

Then there’s the question of how we use intuitive insights in social situations. Some people are assholes. If that’s where you’re coming from, then aggressively asserting intuition as a means to power, to subdue or impress others, is just asshattery. It’s not good to go deliberately trying to poke around in other people’s heads and lives, either. It’s an invasion of privacy. If insight just turns up, then there’s a responsibility to use that kindly, and not as some kind of power trip.

I’ve spent some years now trying to be more open to my unconscious mind, to insight and intuition and at the same time to not let my depressive and anxious tendencies latch onto it. I’ve got a way to go, and I’m a long way from entirely trusting myself, but overall I like the trajectory.

Making changes

I’m very much a work in progress, trying to figure out how to live, how to relate to others and make sense of things. No doubt I’ll still be doing this to my last day. Part of the challenge is figuring out what I want, because without that, it’s impossible to make any sense of what I should be doing.

On reflection, I want to be able to push further and do more, and I think that’s viable if I’m clever about it. That means making changes to my diet so that I can sustain better levels of energy. I’m taking Sundays off – at least from the computer. It helps me clear my head, and I think more effectively for time out. Blogs like this one are set up in advance. I’m making a point of getting time off, and time outside. I’m also getting back to swimming, not just for the fitness aspect, but because being in water makes me happy and always has.

I need challenges, and also ones that can be met. The nearly impossible fires my mind, but the actually impossible can get depressing. I’m doing better at finding good challenges, and people to work with.

There is something happening, and I feel it, even though I can’t name it. Shifts beneath the surface of my awareness, rising up as a run of intense, colourful dreams, utterly incomprehensible, but loaded with implications nonetheless. The curious feeling that something at the surface of me has softened a little – like a seed shell expanding with water and ready to split in germination. A week ago I would not have said I had some kind of rigid and dead outer layer, but that may simply mean I had not noticed it. Only in becoming a tiny fraction more flexible does it become evident that something – I still don’t know what it is – had ossified rather.

The answer is to explore, experiment and see what comes next. The sense of something stirring, the feeling of potential growth – this has a large spiritual dimension to it, for me. I do not know where I’m going or what I’m doing, and that’s entirely fine. There is just a sense of having been called to step up, and to let go and see where that takes me.

The power of expectation

One of the memes that crops up in many New Age lines of thinking is that we get what we look for, and like attracts like. Certainly, you are going to have a hard time seeing something you don’t believe is there. Yesterday I was exploring the way in which negative people are often acting in ways intending to reinforce their own world view. I want to follow on from that today. Not thinking so much about the implications of believing, or not believing in fairies and angels here. More about what we believe of ourselves and the world.

It’s so easy to manufacture the experiences that confirm expectations, without necessarily being conscious off the process. Back in my teens there was a boyfriend who had been through some awful stuff and didn’t really think anyone cared about him, as a logical consequence of this. If anyone got too close, he’d become increasingly demanding, difficult and challenging until he forced them (and in my turn, me) to give up and walk away. Thus he kept confirming his belief about his relationship with the whole of reality. Eventually, I gather he got his head straight enough to give someone a chance. There’s nothing like believing you are unlovable to make it hard for those around you to manifest care.

How many such beliefs are we all lugging around? I’m conscious that I may be viewing the world as more hostile than it inherently is. I don’t see the New Age reality of benevolence and love, I see something that is at best, neutral. As a consequence the odds of me recognising an experience of benevolent angels, for example, are pretty slim. I probably wouldn’t notice them until they bit me on the bottom, by which point they wouldn’t seem quite so benevolent anyway… What else have I got? I don’t know, but I’m looking.  I don’t want to be at the mercy of my own unconscious misapprehensions if I can help it.

How much conflict in life comes from the clashing together of stories and beliefs on this personal level? The person who assumes they won’t be believed, and who consequently stays silent. The person who believes they are inherently unacceptable and so has to keep acting out until they find what you can’t tolerate. The person who cannot believe anything good, kind, altruistic or generous really exists so will keep imagining terrible, hidden motives to explain the compassion their reality has no space for. How many people are lugging round a unique reality and bludgeoning other people with it as a consequence?

None of us has a perfect view of self or wider reality. We all have blind spots and illusions, and I suspect that’s just one of those things about being human. We also have differences of opinion such that my functional reality may seem like crazy fantasy to other people. It’s just as dangerous to assume you are right as it is to default to the assumption that you are wrong in this.

We find out where the issues may be when two incompatible realities are banged together. How to tell which is real? Am I the ungrateful, demanding, unreasonable one, or is what I want normal, and is the other person a lazy slacker who does not know what decent behaviour looks like? We won’t ever figure that out by looking just at the two people involved. Wider context tells us a lot about how we fit in elsewhere. I’m wary of taking ‘normal’ as a measure for anything because it’s so flawed. In a room full of killers, the mass murderer is pretty normal, after all. But if only one person finds us wildly unreasonable and nobody else does, that’s certainly indicative.

The more diverse a pool of people we can draw on for this, the better. How does my work self compare to my social self, my parent self, my pagan-gathering self? Am I getting the same kinds of responses across the board? How do I feel about the people I clash with? Do I respect them and want to respond to the clash, or do I think they are idiots? Where do I want to fit? These can be useful measures, although if we are the killer in a room full of killers, metaphorically speaking, conforming to peer standards may be letting us stay in a crappy place and resisting opportunities to grow.

Someone too entrenched in their own sense of self importance will never be able to make a good assessment in this regard. Someone who cares more about seeming right than being right, will never be able to explore to see if their relationship with reality is faulty. If you can ask, and seriously consider whether you’re going the wrong way, there’s every reason to think you can also consider the issue well. Doubt and self questioning are vital tools. Self belief is also necessary to sanity. There’s a balance to strike, but if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t find it.

Meditating on the past

For me, paganism is a dedication to consciousness. There is no aspect of my life in which that’s not a possible consideration. I have felt for a long time that I never want to find myself in a position where I’ve done, or said something, and I have no idea why. At college, way back when, I minored in psychology. All that reading up on Freud’s views of the unconscious, our repressed desires and animal drives. I decided that I was going to do my level best not to have my actions directed by inner forces beyond my conscious awareness. On the whole I do ok with this, but it means I think about everything, a lot. I pick over my actions and intentions, question my own motives, watch for dishonourable inclinations and try to maintain full control over myself all the time. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s impossibly hard, and I slip up. I speak sharply, I have a diplomacy fail, I fail to read what other people are signalling. Life is complicated.

One of the hardest areas for me has been dealing with my past. I suspect this could be true for other people too. Things we learn as adults, we know we have learned, and are fully conscious of. However, many of our assumptions about what is normal, are established in our minds in those first years. The years most of us can’t remember properly. Our model for relationship, our sense of self… it all begins in infancy as we absorb unquestioningly everything we are exposed to. It’s one of the reasons that abused children go on to be abusers – it is all they know how to do. Our expectations of how others will treat us, our assumptions about what matters, our values, and priorities can all belong to this hazy infancy time as well.

Deep meditation is a way of poking about into what memory remains, searching for moments when it all began, for realisations, for the key turns of phrase that shaped expectation or defined self. Sometimes it can dredge up unsavoury things. Other times the results make a lot of sense. On occasion, it can be downright dangerous.

Meditation is imaginative work. We can imagine ourselves back into the children we were, trying to see with adult eyes the influences that shaped us. However, the mind plays strange tricks. It can become hard to differentiate between a thing imagined and a thing remembered, leading to false memory syndrome. If we go looking for specific answers to our identities, we may easily find them –not because they are real, but because our unconscious has blithely invented them for us, or speculatively filled in the gaps. No matter how hard you try to pin down your unconscious, some bit of it will be off like a gleeful two year old, smearing something messy over the walls of your psyche.

There is one technique I have found that helps me hold clarity around this issue, distinguishing raw memory from contemplative work. I think in third person when I am meditating on some aspect of my own life. I remember in first person. Thus if I remember something that has a third person voice on it, I know that was something I played with that might, or might not have any other reality to it. I’ve been doing this since my teens, which is probably as well given the breadth and depth of both my inner fantasy life, and my deliberate meditating. It also means that when poking about in old wounds, I can hold a little bit of distance. She did this, and she did that, and she heard this and felt a certain way about it. I am not there now, it belongs to who I was in another time. That deliberate separation also protects me from becoming too enmeshed in older emotions which is also an advantage.

Sometimes it takes years of poking to pin a thing down. I’ve carried for a long time the feeling that being thin equates to being loveable. We’re not talking slender here, we’re talking thin to the point of dangerous fragility. I was a buxom teen, despite my best efforts in the other direction, and have never achieved the kind of thinness I think is called for. Other, more adult, rational and conscious bits of my mind know that being so very thin would not be good for me, and would not make me attractive. But this thin is not about sexual attraction, it’s about being loved. That’s one thing that makes me think wherever I got it, was early on. Poking around over years, I couldn’t pin it down to a single word. I was a slightly rounded child, not fat, but painfully self conscious about it. Why, even when very young, did I want to be the kind of thin that would suggest risk of death?

I got my answer yesterday. It had everything to do with how my child mind interpreted things that probably had nothing to do with me. Sometimes, the things we learn from our environments are not the things anyone meant us to learn. I saw that thinness and fragility in others brought out protective urges in adults. To be that valued, that cared for I would therefore have to be that thin. Probably thinner. I’ve always looked solid and robust, people have tended to assume a coarseness of emotion, a lack of subtle sensitivity alongside that. My body is big, there is no point treating me as in any way fragile. So I recognise the child in me, who wanted to be a delicate little flower, and wasn’t able to be that, and felt like a failure as a consequence. I don’t know if I’ll ever be at ease with my own skin, but this piece of the puzzle takes me a little bit closer to it, I think.

Dreams of flying

The idea that dreams can be interpreted was presented to me in childhood. I’ve looked into the psychology and science of dreaming a bit, which fascinates me, and I think however you come at it, there is something to indicate that dreams tell us about ourselves. Even if they are just white noise our brain makes when shutting down, it’s our white noise. I think dreams are indeed a window to the unconscious, and sometimes more than that. They are the means by which we tell ourselves the things it is just too difficult to mentally articulate when we are conscious.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed about flying. Mostly, I am not very good at it, and need a prop to make it possible. Often I can barely get off the ground. For years, I had reoccurring persecution nightmares where I would run through buildings, up stairs, along ever smaller corridors, until at last the only scope for escape called for jumping out of a window. I’d perch on the edge, hope it was a dream, and let go. Sometimes I’d fall, sometimes I’d get away. Often, I’d wake up. With hindsight, the symbolism of needing to run away and take a leap into the unknown, does not take much unpicking.

There is, in me at least, a definite correlation between what I dream about around flying, and my emotional state. It’s to do with how soulful I feel, how creative, how alive to myself. If I’m depressed, or otherwise in a bad way, I do not dream I can fly. As such, it’s always been something of a barometer for me, a way of keeping an eye on myself. It might have been more use as such, of course, if I’d taken it even slightly seriously. By gradual degrees I stopped dreaming about flying, and the nearest I got was the occasional plummet from a dream window. Intuition isn’t a whole lot of use if you persistently ignore it, and one of the consequences of being disenchanted, was that I couldn’t take seriously irrational things like dreams. Even though I had almost continual nightmares, taking the same small handful of forms.

Over the last months I’ve noticed my dreams becoming far more varied. I still get a lot of nightmares, but they come in far less familiar shapes and are a lot more interesting. I get weird, surreal dreams – in last night’s my son mistook Neil Gaiman for Brian May, the hair being the source of his confusion. Nothing meaningful there, nothing to interpret that I can see, but it was a dream with my son, husband and Neil Gaiman in it, so that was cool.

My dreaming used to be a big part of my sense of enchantment, and had a significant role in my creativity. It was like having this deep river of awen flowing through my psyche every night, and things would always wash in on the currents. That went away, and for a long time I was suffering from lack of inspiration. Having the same small subset of anxiety dreams wasn’t helping, but that was a symptom, not a cause.

One of the things I am doing, as part of my active quest for re-enchantment, is paying a lot more attention to my dreams. I try to remember them in the mornings, and if there was anything I can figure out how to articulate, I share it. At the moment I can’t see any trends or threads that need attention paying, but I’m looking, and I’m not going to ignore what I dream any more. It’s part of a process of taking myself, and my emotions, seriously again.

I used to dream about houses – often interpreted as symbols of the self. Over the years my dream houses became weirder and more run down. They were frequently uninhabited, or unliveable in, and there were unpleasant things there. They were also the frequent location of the running and jumping out of windows sequences. Of late, the dreams of houses have people trying to colonise them, attempts to drive out the vampires, and other things I think bode well.

 I still can’t fly unaided, but I can fly, and that’s definitely a good sign.

Conscious, unconscious

How aware are you of your own motives? What drives you? Do you find you’ve done or said things and not known why? What does your unconscious mean to you?

For a long time, years in fact, I’ve worked hard to be as fully conscious as I could be. To know what I was doing and why. To know myself. I considered that essential for self growth. I’ve got to the point of having to acknowledge that so far, I’ve not been doing a great job. There were too many things I refused to accept and acknowledge about what was then around me. In so doing, I distorted my sense of self. But it remains an aspiration to be as self aware as I can manage.

What is the unconscious? Is it the place of denial and letting yourself off the hook? Are we talking about Freud’s id, animalistic and selfish, pushing us to do things for less than honourable reasons? That’s not the sort of unconscious I want.

What about dreams? The rich and magical flows of inspiration and creativity we have aren’t tidy, controlled and known things. Inspiration flourishes in the unconscious. Somewhere, between the questing after self awareness, and the denying of some aspects of my reality, I lost track of that. I should have noticed, because for years I barely dreamed, and when I did it usually involved the same dull handful of anxiety nightmares.

I’ve been trying for a different understanding of my own unconscious, seeing it not in ‘id’ terms as something to tackle, but as a dark river that flows underneath what I do. A place of magic, strangeness and potential. Something to be open to, not something to fight. One of the interesting consequences is, having deliberately and consciously shifted my understanding, my unconscious has also changed. I’m dreaming again. Rich, vibrant, startling, inspiring, unsettling dreams full of colour, emotion, and experience. I wake up in the mornings with my head full of all kinds of strange things, and my heart lifted. When I dream in wild and vivid ways, I feel better. It doesn’t have to be obviously meaningful, so long as it is intense.

There is something in me that exists in ways I am not fully aware of. To be entirely conscious would kill it. I have learned that it does not thrive in environments where I am not honest with myself. Too much misplaced blame and having my intuition messed with did not help. Being open to the unknown within me is a whole new journey. There is so much of who I could be, I realise I do not know at all. Potential, awen, the insanity of poetic vision, the delirium of dreaming. I do not need to know all of that so thoroughly that I control it into not existing. I can have self awareness without sacrificing the magic of unconsciousness. I can dream and still be a realist. I can imagine, and recognise truth.

During the period of my life when I was trying hard to suppress and reject all the things that come from magical unreason and dreaming, I was at my least true. Rationality and reason are not the only things in a human mind that matter, and they need balancing. I lost that balance. In trying to be too sane, I became unsane. (not insane, just ill). I mention this because I fear it’s all too easily done, and if I can discourage others from going too far into wanting self control, then all well and good.

We are, I have come to realise, not supposed to know, or understand everything. The trick is knowing what to unravel, and what to keep mysterious. I’m working on that.