Speaking the Language of the Unconscious
The concept of the unconscious mind exists in a plethora of manifestations. Many cultures, theories, and paradigms incorporate the idea of a part of us that contains our inner mysteries. The complexity of the human mind is too vast to constantly be held in conscious awareness. We would have to either know, be, do, think, experience, and feel much less than we do or else we would have to be constantly spinning with input, judgment, emotions, and memories.
Science has long since proven the reality of the unconscious mind. Studies have been able to verify that our brains have an implicit model for learning in addition to the explicit model we are consciously engaged in. The automatic functions of the brain, such as maintaining balance and temperature, and conditioned responses to stimuli are further examples of the existence of the unconscious.
If we can accept that the unconscious is real we then move into debating what its purpose is, what it contains, and how it can be altered to foster positive psychological growth. There are many ways of conceptualizing the unconscious, all of which probably have some merit. I won't advocate a particular theory here, as the concept I want to discuss, communicating with the unconscious mind, is applicable to all theories. As a therapist or a client, learning the language of your unconscious mind can be an valuable tool for self-awareness and for generating change.
We can start understanding how to speak the language of the unconscious by looking at how it speaks to us. Dream content, Freudian slips, free associative thoughts, experiences under hypnosis or during meditation are all ways that we generally can access the unconscious mind and get a glimpse at its messages to us. Reading tarot cards, tea leaves, or even interpreting poetry can be other ways that we actively seek to encounter the unconscious.
The way we make meaning out of something like a tarot card reading or a poem gives us a lot of information about our unconscious minds. Those mediums can offer information from a spiritual entity or dimension, or about another person's experience, but the way we encounter them and choose to interpret them says a lot about us.
When you look at the image on a card, or read of line of poetry, what comes to your mind first? The split second impressions we receive before we even begin to go trying to look for interpretations, these are from the unconscious mind. When you start noticing and giving attention to these immediate thoughts, feelings, or sensations you start developing a framework for listening to your unconscious.
Another thing to note is that the content of these experiences: meditations, dreams, tarot card readings, etc is always symbolic in nature. There are no flow charts or clear formulas. Instead there are winding mazes of imagery that can leave the conscious mind befuddled and dismissive. When we work to understand these images and symbols they can begin to speak to us as clearly as the written word.
In order to get more comfortable working with symbology you can ask yourself questions such as: if that image of a dragon was about more than just a dragon, what would it mean? Then again, the next step is to pay attention to those very first thoughts, the split second impulses that are your answers to the questions.
Dream interpretation is a good place to start, for one, because we all have dreams that are usually full of symbology, and secondly because the entire dream is created by the dreamer so it is harder to dismiss the content as irrelevant.
Though the language of the unconscious is symbolic it can manifest differently for different people. For example some people are highly visual, their unconscious mind may be most effective communicating in compelling imagery that comes through during sleep and in day dreams. For other sound is their strongest sense. For them music may hold the same mystery and information that imagery does for visual people. For kinesthetic people they may have a series of bodily sensations that give them information relative to the unconscious. Imbalances in the unconscious may show up as aches, pains, and bodily discomfort.
Moving another level closer in, within your sensory strengths you will have an individual experience with the images, music, sensations, smells, etc that communicate with you. For example, two people might have a dream about being Elvis. Each individual will have unconscious patterning about Elvis that is unique. Yes, both carry collective symbology about Elvis, but the context in which they have experienced Elvis and his music, the way their families thought about Elvis, etc will make interpreting the two dreams very different.
I am wary of systems for interpretation that give a generic meaning for a variety of symbols (ex. dreaming about elephants means dreaming about a repressed memory). Those systems rely on the collective experience of symbology. An elephant may represent memory because collectively we have associated elephants with having a good memory and many people have heard that elephants have a good memory. However compelling the collective meaning of symbols may be, there is always a unique experience with the symbol that you can begin to understand as you witness and work with your own unconscious.
The best way to begin deciphering the language of your own unconscious is to ask yourself what the elements of your dream/fantasy/Freudian slip would represent if they were symbols. Another way to phrase it would be, "what does an elephant mean to me?" It can be hard for us to think past the place, person, or thing we encounter in an unconscious communication as being anything more than what it is to our conscious mind, however opening it up to possibility is an important step in learning to communicate with yourself on this level.
Let's say you have a dream about your high school friend Joey you haven't seen in years. Joey was in a band and was always wild and crazy. He never followed the rules, didn't do well in school, yet was creative and free. You could interpret that as meaning you're due to run into him in person or online soon. You could interpret that as meaning in your unconscious mind you miss him or have some unfinished business with him. You could also ask yourself, if I think of Joey as a symbol what would he represent? Maybe the aspect of him as a rebel is most compelling and your unconscious wants to help you loosen up a bit. Maybe it's the creative energy that stands out, and it's time to tap into that creativity for yourself. The context of the symbol is important as well. What was Joey doing in the dream? How did you feel towards him? Where there any other symbols surrounding his presence in the dream?
In summary, you can learn to communicate with your unconscious mind through listening: noticing the thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc that arise automatically; through being willing to interpret symbology in dreams, daydreams, and meditations; and the more your practice communicating with your unconscious, the more it will sink in to your automatic mind and become a habit.
If you notice that you are judging yourself, feeling dismissive of what you experience, or feeling like you're not capable of listening to your unconscious, that's your conscious mind, your defenses, getting in the way. Your defenses are there to protect you. Is it their job to keep unconscious content out of your awareness. That dismissive perspective is fine, but don't let it squelch your curiosity about yourself. Being open to learning something new about yourself is the only foundation upon which you can develop your ability to communicate with your unconscious mind.