Unconsciousness is not simply an absence of consciousness; it is an active process to help us survive, by blocking overwhelming feelings from reaching consciousness. It is a disconnective process to prevent overload by a stimulus for which there is no option for escape - fight or flight are no longer solutions. When one is hit on the head there are no options. When one is forced to witness an act of violence there is also no option. But more generally, overload occurs when our acquired value-systems and mores permit no options. Thus someone offends us deeply and we learn we must turn the other cheek - we must not strike them or run away.
It would seem that tension is a result of the strain between separate consciousnesses that are not integrated - one part of you wants this, another part of you wants that: a structural conflict. Such lack of integration result from blockages, parts of the brain that become unconscious to prevent overload; once there is this duality, a person then suffers from inexplicable symptoms and strange dreams. He can literally no longer get himself together.
Shutdown as a result of overload is a key defense mechanism in the human brain. A tense person may report a sense of ease after further stimulation, but this is a spurious state. The subject has induced a repressive mechanism due to overload and as with the effects one sees with meditation, when repression is effective there is a sense of well-being (telic relaxation). However it is accompanied by symbolic rationalization of the blockage in the left cortex (especially by lies and alteration or fabrication of the reality) and repression of right hemispheric feelings (by suppressing, invalidating and ignoring them). This is why it is so easy to be misled by the various approaches claiming to eliminate anxiety and tension. The way out is always the way through; what is resisted will persist.
In a slow and subtle process, parents infuse into their children a psychological web that traps feelings and permits no release - an inner rigidity bucking against one's natural impulses. If nothing a child can do is right for his parents he is left without any adaptive (even neurotically adaptive) responses. The energy of his anguish and frustration will be added to the general pool of psychological pain, ultimately leading to overload and overflow into symptoms.
We have examined how a split in consciousness develops between the two hemispheres of the brain cortex, but it can also come about between the higher and lower brain centers - between the old reptilian brain, or limbic system, and the frontal cortex.
The limbic system of organs, part of the lower brain, is the oldest in evolutionary terms. It has much denser packing of brain cells and operates at a signal frequency four times faster than the typical cortex frequency. It is the central processing unit of the brain, with parallel functions (like a powerful computer RISC chip) linking up the conscious cortex via the sensori-motor system to the body's nervous systems.
70% of the brain's capacity is devoted to controlling the body and in receiving and processing the kinesthetic (physical sensation) feedback, and every perception is automatically recorded (including emotional feelings), even those received when the cortex was unconscious or incapable of representing them (such as with a baby). Such memories may be accessed in the hypnotic state, when the cortex is 'switched off' and no longer repressing lower brain memories, or the communication between higher and lower brain may be progressively improved by mental development (including the discharge of traumatic blocks). Its 'brain power' is responsible for the tremendous potentials of the unconscious, which are hardly tapped by most people's way of life, but that may be seen on occasions, for example under hypnosis or with the idiot sevant who, by way of his malfunctioning cortex, has access to these powers.
These diffuse energies then produce activation of the entire forebrain; rather than being directed precisely, they are routed to a variety of cortical pathways, that indirectly mobilises the cortex into action, so that it may aid in its own defense by devising symbolic rationalizations and denials of the unacceptable feelings. It is only when the pain can be accepted and felt that there is no need for symbolic channels, and direct frontal connection can be made, from the cortex back down to the limbic system, which can then stop the diffusion of reticular activity. The limbic system may also control RAS connections to the hypothalamus, which affects hormone balance and thus the body-mind in a profound way, including the thyroid and the heart.
The overflow of blocked pain can find its outlet in many ways, such as compulsions. For example, an overwhelming sexual urge can occur where pain, blocked at the limbic system, is re-routed to a sexual center, which in turn causes the cortex to become aware of sexual feelings, rather than the original feeling of pain. The person is unconscious in the full sense, even while he is aware of his sexual urge, his partner and sex techniques, because he is completely unconscious of his driving motivation. This is the difference between awareness and consciousness.
The only consciousness beyond what is real is unreal consciousness. A liberated mind can only come about as a result of specific connections being made to one's historic consciousness. The use of LSD, by prematurely opening the limbic gate, continuously drives the cortex into all sorts of bizarre thoughts in a desperate effort to defend and symbolise the liberated (but not liberating) pain. The mind is fragmented by over-activation, so that coherence and discrimination is lost. Due to overload the number of rechannelled connections has proliferated. Some of these may open up higher programs and cause insights to occur, but the psychedelic overload can destroy the integrity of consciousness, and this may cause severe later problems.
Let us take an example of 'symbolic' consciousness. Instead of the specific feeling that 'Mother is never here for me', the thought is, 'Women are useless and best ignored'. How bizarre the symbolism is depends on the charge value of the pain that is trying to gain access to the frontal cortex. Given enough deprivation, the person may come to despise women and be hostile to them in general. Women, in his awareness, are a generalized symbol upon which he projects a past, lost consciousness.
True consciousness is something that evolves from our feelings. You do not 'lose your head' in order to feel, rather you 'find your head' in the sense of finding the right connections. Consciousness, then, is determined by horizontal access and by the fluidity of connections between the limbic system and the frontal cortex. Any higher state of consciousness depends upon these connections being in place.
The frontal cortex integrates the impressions from the major sensory modalities (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) with representations of information from the limbic system, and coordinates them into consciously connected responses. It is pain that raises the threshold of the frontal cortex to sensory input, keeping itself unaware of reality, both externally and internally. Repression of feeling means repression of both what is inside and what is coming from outside. The brain 'selects its input' and shapes what we see and hear; it deliberately misperceives, or it rationalizes in such a way as to soften any hurt.
The most common causes of neurosis are simply the common experiences of childhood - all the ways in which our child needs are continually frustrated - because of the negative traits, moods and admonitions (silent or overt) of one or both parents. It does not necessarily take a terrible incident (though most people have some trauma); rather a painful COEX (pattern of condensed emotional experience) builds up through positive feedback on the telic-paratelic cycle. One reaches, gets knocked back and retreats, then later tries again more tentatively, and a mal-adapted pattern gradually emerges.
Move on to Attention
Return to Transforming the Mind - Contents