On the interplay of the conscious and the unconscious in the evolutionary cycle
This article assumes prior knowledge of the seven stages of the evolutionary cycle.
To recap, a person goes through different stages in his evolutionary journey, represented by the diagram below.
Let us focus on the intervals between the 3rd and 4th stage, as well as the 7th and next 1st stage. For simplicity I will call these intervals the 3–4 and the 7–1.
What makes the 3–4 and the 7–1 interesting? This is where there are possible disruptions in a person’s journey, where a person experiences unusual difficulties that may cause him to deviate from or abandon his original goal.
You can see these ‘unusual’ intervals represented in the seven-tone musical scale. There are two semitones between every white key, except between mi-fa and ti-do, where there is only one semitone. Notice there are no black keys between the mi-fa and the ti-do.
In this article I would like to explore the interplay of consciousness and unconsciousness in the seven-stage cycle, and to place this within the larger context of a person’s evolutionary journey.
Consciousness and unconsciousness
First let us make the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious.
You may be familiar with the yin-yang symbol representing the concept of duality.
We can thus make the following distinctions:
light / outward / masculine / giving / active / assertive / particulate / linear / positive / doing
dark / inward / feminine / receiving / receptive / allowing / wave-like / circular / negative / being
Please note I do not refer to culturally-determined male and female gender roles here but the quality and direction of the energy that these polarities represent.
Thus we can think of the conscious as the light or the yang, and the unconscious as the dark or the yin, each with the associated qualities.
The conscious is able to evaluate, calculate, assess, plan, and strategise. It is what Eric Berne terms the ‘adult ego state.’ At its highest and most effective, it is able to perceive reality accurately and act in accordance with laws of the universe. In its limited form, it adheres to subjective structures and provides only partial illumination.
The unconscious represents untapped potential. It is what Carl Jung terms the shadow, the parts of himself (good or bad) a person has rejected or repressed. People tend to think of the shadow as something to be afraid of or avoided, but do not view the shadow in such negative terms. Rather, see it as data yet to be processed. It is the birth place of callings, inspirations, and dreams.
The unconscious communicates through vague promptings and symbols, so a person may suddenly yearn “to be free,” dream about flying, and develop a fascination with birds.
When the unconscious communicates, the conscious can choose whether to act upon its signals. If the conscious chooses to cooperate with the unconscious, it can then begin the work of figuring out how to manifest dreams in reality.
Of course, signals from the unconscious may not always be positive. When the unconscious communicates destructive desires, the conscious must also decide whether to acquiesce.
Relating this back to the cycle
Part of the cycle lies above the line (conscious) and part of the cycle lies under the line (unconscious).
During the conscious processes above the line, the person deals more with exploration of the external world, through the manipulation of form to find an expression for his internal beliefs and perspectives.
For example, let us say a songwriter has a certain feeling he experiences internally. When he tries to convey this feeling through song, by manipulating sound frequencies, this is a conscious process.
During the unconscious process, the person no longer seeks to manipulate the external world, but turns inwards. It is a period of inner exploration and transformation. This is the ‘nigredo’ phase of alchemy, in which unconscious material is processed.
For example, a person feels sad. A person who resists entering the unconscious process would suppress this emotion to remain ‘above the surface.’ But if a person allows himself to cry, he enters into unknown internal territory. After processing his sadness by crying, he may have a new realisation, such as, “I do not want to please people anymore.”
After the unconscious process, the person comes out radically different, with new values and a new outlook on life. It is then time for the conscious to once again take over, and find a fresh expression for this new psychological structure.
Challenges in the 3–4 and the 7–1
The challenges a person faces in the 3–4 and the 7–1 are similar but in opposite directions. In the 3–4, a person’s primary state is conscious, and the struggle is in allowing the unconscious process to take over. In the 7–1, a person’s primary state is unconscious, and the struggle is allowing consciousness to once again take control.
You can think of the 3–4 as dusk, when lightness changes to dark, and the 7–1 as dawn, when darkness changes to light.
I have previously written about the 3–4 and what it was like to cede conscious control to the unconscious. At that time I had no more than a vague prompting to ‘quit my job’ — a message from the unconscious — and had to decide whether to follow this voice. I did, and was able to proceed along the journey.
I will now speak more about the 7–1 since I am in the 7th year of my journey and am facing the struggle of allowing my consciousness to rise.
In the 7th year, a person is in the final stage of their journey. In Genesis, God rested on the 7th day. And so the concept of the sabbath was born, a holy day of rest. Today, the idea of taking a sabbatical has become commonplace.
I experienced this ‘holy rest’ as coming to be at peace with myself, with no desire to move forward nor dwell on the past, but simply to enjoy whatever I had and to revel in all that I had attained. I was comfortable.
In the Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell, this state is described in the Tale of King Muchukunda. After a weary battle in which the omnipotent King Muchukunda emerged victorious, he was granted a gift from the Gods. His greatest desire was to sleep without end.
But the hero cannot remain in paradise eternal. He must make the return journey and rejoin the real world.
The challenge here is for consciousness to act once more, to take the treasures gained from the unconscious process and shape it into a suitable form to share with the world. In other words, to find an expression for the new self.
Becoming more conscious
In one evolutionary cycle, a person reaches the peak of one level of consciousness, and then descends into the depths of the corresponding level of unconsciousness.
At the end of the process, with new inputs and data from the unconscious stage made conscious, the person now has an expanded level of consciousness. But by how much?
Let us say that our psyche exists in a binary tree structure with many divisions.
Let us further say that at this point in time, one part of that structure is conscious.
During the ascending part of the cycle, the conscious parts of the person align themselves and begin moving in the upward or positive direction. They gather momentum and reach a breakthrough in the 3–4.
Thus they are able to achieve the crossover, when lightness changes to dark. They are now able to access the unconscious. But they cannot access the entire shadow all at once.
They can only access their own antithesis. So whatever ‘amount’ of consciousness there was, is the ‘amount’ of unconscious data a person can now access, before the upturn returns the person to the conscious state yet again.
So the opposing part of the binary tree, the other side of the duality, the negative pole is assimilated.
The person’s consciousness has now ‘doubled,’ and the entire process repeats itself. Through such repeated cycles, the person ascends up the binary tree, becoming more and more conscious, integrating more and more parts of himself as he goes through successive rounds of evolution.
Relating this back to our musical analogy earlier, a C5, which is one octave higher than a C4, has double the frequency of a C4. This is also true for any other pair of notes that are one octave apart.
Consciousness as effectiveness
I previously wrote that as a person progresses along the evolutionary path, he is able to grasp and integrate more and more ‘factors’ into his life equation.
Suppose a person’s probability of success in any given endeavour is a function based on a number of factors. And that a person’s likelihood of success is dependent on the number of factors he has within his conscious control.
So for example, in a function f(a,b,c,d,e) with variables a, b, c, d, and e, where a person can only grasp factors a, b, c, and d, then the person would likely succeed around 80% of the time.
It then follows that we can approximate the degree of a person’s consciousness by his degree of effectiveness in the world. The more parts of himself a person has integrated into his consciousness, the more accurately he perceives reality, without being hindered by his limitations, blocks, preferences and past impressions.
He can then ‘see the world as it is,’ and become an effective agent in the world.
- General teachings, Kelvin
- The Law of Octaves, Gurdjieff
- Various writings, Carl Jung
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
- Games People Play, Eric Berne
- Male/Female Energy, Michael Teachings
- The Masculine and Feminine Principles in the Creative Process, Pathwork Lectures
Originally published at https://www.betterself.sg on January 10, 2021.