The 3 levels of Consciousness

In psychology we often speak about two levels to our mind —the conscious, and the unconscious.

But, in fact, there is a third element too. And a more accurate model for the human psyche would be like this:

  • Consciousness

  • Personal unconscious

  • And Universal Unconscious (What Carl Jung might call the “collective unconscious)

Now, it would take a much longer essay to elaborate fully on the attributes of of these layers. But, as a very brief introduction here:

Consciousness is essentially the surface level of the mind. Where we are predominately aware of what we are thinking, or experiencing.

This is actually a very small part of our existence — but, because it is the seat of the ego, and our day to day awareness — we feel it is the most prominent part of our self. And, usually, what we believe to be our identity is quite heavily linked to who we are or how we feel on a conscious level.

Then, Personal Unconscious, is the deeper layer of our psyche . . . i.e our “internal self”, and a much larger part of what really makes us an individual.

This is the home of our innate tendencies, hidden talents, dreams, fears, emotional scars, repressed urges and more. And also where our conscious experiences are “stored” after we have stopped noticing them.

But, again, this is all very much unique to us — being like the real foundations of our sense of self.

Whereas, when it comes to the third layer of the mind — which is vastly deeper still — the story is very different

With the Universal Unconscious — we move beyond this idea of “individual mind” or “the self”. And we stray into a realm of pure existence — which is inherent in all of us — as the fundamental manifestation of life. (No matter if you believe this existence to be created or the product of chance / nature etc)

This form of the unconscious is “ours” to a certain extent. But, it is no longer “personal” or “unique. Because it is the kind of unconscious that we share with everyone else — like branches of a tree which share the same essential roots.

And, while this may seem like we are now moving dangerously close to mysticism — actually, the universal unconscious is a concept which is no more far out than the idea of animals having basic survival instincts. Or in there being universal “laws” of physics, which govern our universe.

There are elements of this life which seem to be pretty much non optional —affecting us all equally. It’s just that they are “material” examples. Whereas, here, we are translating the same concept into our internal existence too. Where there is a kind of unconscious which exists as a shared reality for all of us. . . being found both “within” us — as part of our existential make up — but, also, existing outside of us too. As a kind of container for all life.

To use an analogy. It is comparable to the dark sky, which plays home to all the stars. Or, to very air which surrounds all life on the surface of our earth.

The universal unconscious is barely noticeable. (Just as the water of the ocean is not noticeable to fish — but is still absolutely essential to their survival.) Yet it is a profoundly important aspect of our psychological make up — and links us to a reality which truly transcends our usual idea of the self.

It is the reason why we sometimes see similarities in the philosophy, mythological themes, habits, or artistic imagery of cultures throughout the ages — even when those same cultures had no prior exposure to one another.

And it is also the reason why we ourselves sometimes experience intuitions or insights “beyond” what we could possibly know already. Because just like our personal unconscious can create dreams for us — so too, the universal unconscious links us to a source of wisdom that transcends human experience.

The all in all — as the ancient Alchemists might say.

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