Few things take as much courage and can produce such valuable results as exploring the unconscious.
Nothing could be more crucial than Socrates’ great commandment: “Know thyself.” Those who don’t know themselves act out their unknown contents in the world, often with disastrous results.
Explore the unconscious with the courage to see the horror and beauty of the endless diversity of elements. But don’t explore as a tourist, as a psychedelic thrill-seeker or dilettante. If you enter the unconscious without a moral purpose, as Jung pointed out, you are asking to get wrecked. You would not go deep-sea diving without training, tools, discipline, and a support network. Shamans don’t travel into the unconscious to have fun or hang out. They enter with respect, usually for the moral purpose of healing, and they get in and get out as quickly as possible, well aware of the dangers. Another moral purpose to enter the unconscious is to expand consciousness and to share that expanded consciousness with others.
Sometimes, we are in a state where we are consumed or obsessed with some outer controversy, but actually, what we are experiencing is much more fundamentally an agitation happening in the unconscious. We live in an extroverted culture that locates problems and rewards in the outer world. But virtually all human problems — war, conflict, environmental destruction, etc. — ultimately derive from a single source: human psychology.
Try the following meditation: sit still, and instead of trying to still your mind, let it run amuck, going wherever it wants. Have a pen and notebook (or other recording system) before you, and record what comes up. Paying attention to your dreams and recording them for further study is also crucial.
Be aware of the forces and subpersonalities in your personal unconscious. Ignoring them means they will rule you as autonomous complexes.
Numerous public statements by former president George W. Bush illustrate the wrong way to relate to your unconscious.
“I’m not really the type to wander off and sit down and go through deep wrestling with my soul.”
— George W. Bush, as quoted in Vanity Fair, October 2000
“I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.” — George W. Bush, aboard Air Force One, June 4, 2003
How do you know yourself? One way is continuous, mindful attention to the movies with voiceover narration playing in your head all day and night. There are waking movies, dreaming movies, and daydreaming movies. The George W. Bush method of self-inquiry would be to ignore these movies as just bits of nonsense. But notice that every bit of ephemeral whatever — a flickering image, a twisted thought form of words strung together — each of these has an actual existence. It is a fact that you thought of that particular image, those particular words at that particular moment. The unfolding of the universe alters because you thought of one thing and not another. Regardless of what a dismissive ego might think, each of these “bits of nonsense” happens for a reason and is a product of inner forces operating within you. Acknowledging this takes courage because we would rather cling to a neater, tidier version of ourselves, an airbrushed yearbook photo, when actually we look more like labyrinths filled with moving images and words. And these labyrinths have twists and turns and secret corridors we may not know ourselves. If we don’t know them, then this unexplored content — sexuality, emotions, unintegrated desires, etc. — will come spilling out of us as slips of the tongue and sometimes as horrendous irreversible actions (the stuff that personal and collective histories are made of). For example:
“The truth of that matter is, if you listen carefully, Saddam would still be in power if he were the president of the United States, and the world would be a lot better off.”
— George W. Bush, second presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004
“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
— George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004
“Who could have possibly envisioned an erection — an election in Iraq at this point in history?”
— George W. Bush, at the White House, Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, 2005
“The most important job is not to be governor, or first lady in my case.”
— George W. Bush, Pella, Iowa, as quoted by the San Antonio Express-News, Jan. 30, 2000
“I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. You’re doing a heck of a job. You cut your teeth here, right? That’s where you started practicing? That’s good. He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me.”
— George W. Bush, Nashville, Tenn., May 27, 2004
It is all too easy to point to the unconsciousness of the other, but the only thing standing between you and George W. Bush-consciousness is eternal vigilance about your inner content. You must be willing to explore your sometimes dark and twisted contents. Listen to the voices speaking in your head all day long. Notice all the different voices — their various tones and agendas. Some are distinct subpersonalities. Vigilantly monitor them. Otherwise, you become them as a sequence of acting out personalities. Witness all the images that appear in your mind. Someone said that fear is like a dark room where negatives are developed. Carefully study all those negatives, prints, slides, and looping videos. Evaluate each] on various scales such as negative/neutral/positive, fear/anxiety to calm/spiritual acceptance, power/love.
Besides carefully observing inner content, you must also recognize that you are not merely a passive observer of these inner artifacts. You are the producer, the director, the special effects team, and all the actors populating the movies playing in your head. You can decide to start editing out certain repetitious scenes and looping voices. You can consciously choose and create new characters, settings, and dialogue to create more life-affirming and novel movies.
Exploration of inner content is unlike a museum tour where you mustn’t touch any glass cases or their curious contents. Inner exploration is an active, interactive, and sometimes interventionist process. To observe a thing is to change a thing, and the maximal case of this is when the object of your observation is your inner content.
Crowley defines magick as “The science and art of creating change in conformity to will.” You are most magically empowered when you choose to use your will to create change in your inner content. So throw open all those glass cases, probe all the curious inner contents, grasp some of these strange artifacts, and metamorphose them with your True Will.
Exploration of inner content is a pathway of truth that takes great courage, moment by moment. Not everyone who glimpses this pathway dares to follow it into the labyrinth of the unconscious. Consider the poem “The Wayfarer” by Stephen Crane (1871-1900):
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
“Ha,” he said,
“I see that no one has passed here in a long time.”
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
“Well,” he mumbled at last,
“Doubtless there are other roads.”
For an introduction to learning more about the levels and content of the unconscious, see
Thoughts on Jung
Here are a couple of excerpts:
“Nobody doubts the importance of conscious experience; why then should we doubt the significance of unconscious happenings? They also are part of our life, and sometimes more truly a part of it for weal or woe than any happenings of the day.” — C.G. Jung
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn the literature of the whole world—all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their own souls. Thus the soul had gradually been turned into a Navareth from which nothing good can come. Therefore let us fetch it from the four corners of the earth—the more far-fetched and bizarre it is the better!” — C.G. Jung
If you’re aware of what’s in your personal unconscious and need to wrest control of your mind back from fragmenting forces see the techniques for dealing with afflictive thoughts and feelings in A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler
For an example of what can happen when you enter the unconscious too casually see: Shred to Black — Salvia Blue Moon Apocalypse
For more on Dubyah consciousness and its alternatives see:
Real People Suck — An Imaginary Person’s Manifesto