The unconscious mind is a dark, murky, mysterious wonderland. It is a shadowy place that holds all our memories, ideas, feelings and thoughts that are out of conscious awareness. Considering only 5-9 bits of information can be held consciously at one time, the overwhelmingly vast majority of data resides in your unconscious mind.
The iceberg (see photo) is a helpful metaphor with the conscious mind being what we notice above the surface of the water. But the huge mass – the largest and most powerful part – represents our unconscious and remains unseen below the surface. Put a different way (for my millennial readers), the conscious is what you have readily available on your desktop of your computer while the unconscious is the files and folders buried in your C-drive.
Although many associate the unconscious as an evil, subterranean place we dare not tread, that could not be further from the truth. All of the complicated processing that allows us to think, speak, reason, remember and basically function in our daily lives is stored in our unconscious. When you drive your car, you are using more than 30 skills concurrently without being consciously aware of them. Can you recall every time you tapped the brakes or left blinker on the way to work? These are all automated processes we learn over time, requiring intelligence, decision-making and training.
But the unconscious is also our repository for all our feelings and emotions, including the ones that are not socially – or even personally – acceptable. Within each of us are uncomfortable remnants of childish, primitive, wild behavior including even rage (ever observe a mild-mannered person totally go off with road rage?). It all lurks under the quiet surface of our iceberg, closely monitored by our waking, conscious mind. But make no mistake, it exists. It has been suggested that when we sleep, we all go quietly and safely insane in our dreams, like lunatics breaking out of their jail cells and running the asylum as the night guard (conscious) falls asleep on the job.
Every memory you have experienced is stored deep in the recesses of your unconscious mind – similar to Google storing every search on their servers (sorry, scary analogy, but true). Many bits of information may be useless and never called up again, but the majority are helpful that allow us to function as human beings. There are also the select few that may be so painful we purposely store them in the basement of our minds and throw away the key. These repressed feelings and emotions – conveniently tucked under our radar – can manifest in incredibly harmful ways, including causing physical pain virtually anywhere in your body: stomach (IBS), headaches, back and neck, feet (plantar fascia) and wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome). The mind is so tricky it will typically inflict pain in our most vulnerable areas i.e., a runner may get plantar fascia and the software programmer who taps away on the keyboard all day gets carpal tunnel syndrome. This may all sound ludicrous to you; after all, how could our own minds sabotage our bodies like this? Contrary to logic, our unconscious mind is protecting us with this defensive mechanism, viewing the repressed emotions as more painful to deal with than the distraction it creates physically. The pain felt in our body is absolutely real, but it originates in the unconscious mind. We then typically chase down rabbit holes, treating the symptom(s) and not the root cause, which both begins and ends in the mind.
The depths and complexities of our mind are incredibly fascinating as this brief summary above is just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). There are as many neurons in our brain (~100 billion!) as stars in our galaxy so imagine the vast intricate web of our unconscious minds we have yet to explore. As we delve deeper and discover more thrilling revelations, it may all just continue to…blow your mind!