“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley, complete Essays 2
Often we move through our waking lives partially asleep. Our unconscious mind has hidden motives, influencing our choices and actions without our knowing. Examples range from the simple to the complex—eating when we’re not hungry because we long for something else in life; or having an affair in a misguided attempt to find the fathering or mothering that was missing in our youth.
A number of years ago I worked with a woman who had been plagued by reoccurring dreams and feelings about a long lost love despite her marriage to someone else she loved. She couldn’t understand why she was still haunted by a ghost from romance past.
She contacted this man in an attempt to understand and see what she had been blind to. As soon as he was back in her orb she was immediately back in a trance and rather than waking up was falling asleep again!
When we are in a trance—which most of us are in one way or another, at one time or another—our awareness and attention become very narrow. We sift what we don’t want to see and focus on what we are drawn to. We ignore truths and cling to illusions. This happens in an unconscious attempt to recover from life’s losses and to protect us from life’s difficulties.
Because my client made a conscious choice to challenge her own ‘sight’, over time, she did awaken to what was true. She saw this person she had idolized in a more whole way, finally recognizing his weaknesses as well as his strengths. She also realized the nature of life and love is that there will always be ‘something missing’ because life is imperfect. Therein is our chance to discover the perfection of imperfection.
She also came to see and value the true traits in her spouse that had become overlooked. Here was another way she wasn’t completely seeing. She found wisdom in understanding that no other person could completely give her what she needed. She learned that she was in charge of her own needs and that life offers a smorgasbord of ways to meet our needs once we open our eyes and let go of our fantasies. Becoming more conscious was helping her deepen and expand her life in rich and rewarding ways.
This happened as she widened her attention, expanded her awareness, and allowed herself to notice not just light, but shadow, not just what is conscious, but what is unconscious and at first hidden to us.
A relative of mine who was raised with a disapproving father recently rushed to him in a gush of excitement over a new job he had found, expecting to be congratulated. To his disappointment his father pointed out all the problems with the new position.
“Why did you go to your father looking for validation when he has never given you validation before?” I asked.
“I thought this time would be different,” he said.
“And why would he suddenly have become the man you would like him to be instead of the man he is?” I asked.
Part of conscious living is accepting people for who they are despite how badly we might want them to be different. Then we can honestly see where the limitations are, but also the ways in which we can connect. Being more conscious can help us have realistic expectations about relationships, releasing disappointment and resentment.
The oldest definition of ‘conscious’ dates back to the Latin words for ‘together’- ‘con’ and scio – ‘Know.’ When we live with more awareness and attention the conscious and unconscious parts of our minds begin to correspond in creative ways. Our unconscious offers many gifts from the subterranean. And our conscious mind can take those gifts and bring them to life in our conscious world.
We are talking about staying connected to reality; telling ourselves the truth; becoming aware of what is happening for us on a deeper level; questioning our own motives; asking what hidden agendas show up in our seen actions; and seeking a broader perspective of the people and the painful realities in our lives.
Living consciously requires us to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. It invites us to curiosity. It requires a willingness to challenge ourselves.
As we become more aware, we are more aligned with reality, with truth. Sometimes this temporarily makes our lives more difficult, but ultimately it sets us free. When we are unconscious we live in bondage to false ideas and old injuries and end up creating difficulties for ourselves that could be avoided if we were willing to see what really is. When we are conscious, we respect reality.
It was a year ago this week that I had the most important dream of my life, and the only dream I have had of my mother since she died 51 years ago when I was just shy of 9-years-old. In the dream I went from a dark room—where I had compassionately held the dying—into a brilliantly lit white room where my mother, very much alive, still beautiful, and now younger, was waiting for me.
We were overcome with joy at the sight of each other and rushed into each other’s arms. I was flooded not only with light, but with more love than I have ever experienced in my lifetime.
I have analyzed the dream endlessly in the past year, seeking to understand what the dream was telling me. (Dreams in fact, are a way our unconscious contacts us with insight cloaked in symbols.)
As the first anniversary of the dream approached I had a deep longing for another dream, one that would perhaps offer a little more insight. The night came and went with nothing other than the silly comings and goings of dreams, insignificant shards, which held no value and were lost to my recall upon waking.
But to my surprise, as I left my bed, left sleep, I was suddenly awakened to a fuller understanding of myself and my life. I was flooded with flashes of insight about my shadow side. Parts of myself that have been veiled were revealed. It was truly as if I was awakening in my own dream of life itself.
I knew now that the dream was an invitation to move through the shadows to light. It was a call to let old dysfunctional parts of myself die that held me back from love and a more enlightened life. As I passed into the room filled with love and light I was shown what is possible when we do the work of becoming aware of our unconscious, of making a choice to truly awaken.