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Subliminal Consciousness

Knowing the characteristics of the subliminal consciousness, which are so potent in their effect upon the life, we are in a position to understand the philosophy of concentration and introspection (or meditation). Certain profound experiences have been repeated century after century in the lives of many persons separated by time and' country, and especially among those who have truly understood and practiced the methods of life sanctioned by the esoteric philosophies. These experiences, though very real to those who have evolved them, have been regarded by the average mind as the result of imaginary illusion. They have taken varying forms of manifestation, but may be comprehensively spoken of as deep moral or spiritual regeneration, or a profound insight into and knowledge of the inner self, its latent beauties and powers, or of ecstasy. Various philosophies have been formulated to explain and express them, and perhaps the most cardinal and comprehensive feature of the best of them is the idea of the perception of the Divine Self within—a union with the Infinite, or at-one-ment with the Divine, or psychoplasm. Thus the Hindu Yoga philosophy leads one by an elaborate preparation and practice to the gradual elimination of the follies and vain pursuits of ordinary life—from the attachments and aversions of average thought to a state where it is supposed the soul perceives directly its divine nature and abides in that realization. Much the same purpose, expressed in varying manner and pursued with varying methods of attainment, actuated the Mystics. They believed they attained a mystic union with God. The Quietists, the Children of the Light, and others believed in seeking the light of divinity within the soul.

The experience attained by these persons has been, in the main, inspiring, uplifting, and beneficial. If the whole life may have been marred by a too austere asceticism or a misconceived alienation from the duties of the objective life, it cannot be properly urged against the experience that has given a profounder knowledge of the real Self and its powers, but rather against the lameness of the philosophy by which it has been sought to explain it. Whatever else may ultimately be included in the explanation of such experiences, we may safely say, from our knowledge of the profounder man, that the individual discovery and emergence of the subliminal faculties and consciousness must be first assigned. This view is strengthened by the knowledge that introspection and concentration tend to furnish the conditions for the emergence of the subliminal consciousness, producing phenomena that transcend the ordinary experience.

Now that we have identified these world-wide experiences in similitude with those which scientific investigation has disclosed as possible in every soul, and further with what we may attain by these methods of concentration and meditation, we may consider the true purpose and effect of the methods that have been so much talked of in the philosophy of the New Thought. The purpose and effect of Concentration are to mold the consciousness into new or more beneficent states; those of meditation or introspection are to disclose the higher states and faculties of the subliminal self, and merge them with the objective consciousness. Both of these may be properly classed as concentration, because the higher form of meditation is preceded by some degree of mastery in concentration.

It is evident that the methods as well the results may be properly divided into two classes. I call the first constructive and eliminative; the second, the revealing or interpretative. As to the first, we may formulate a law thus: The mind becomes that which it contemplates. There is a merging of the consciousness in the concept held or the idea contemplated. As the habitual life and thought, the influence of environment, and the complex conditions of existence are the factors that mold the habitual consciousness, so the special effort of thought by which the mind rules out of the field all concepts except that which it is desired to hold also molds and shapes the consciousness to that special end and condition.

I would add these corollaries to the above law: (1) With every expression of a state there is a tendency to repeat it; and, conversely, with every suppression of such expression there is a tendency to infrequency: and from these tendencies arise a permanent state. (2) Concentration builds up a brain structure through which the special functioning or manifestation of thought or consciousness correlated with it takes place with ever-increasing ease and perfection. (3) The soul’s manifestations being known only in states of consciousness, it grows into the state held in contemplation, and the states become permanent by the law of use.

Upon the physical side the cellular brain tissues are thus greatly changed, and hence the usual functionings of the mind are also changed. Brain cells necessary to a healthful, cheerful, happy, and truthful functioning of the mind may be vastly increased. Mentation in conformity with ascertained truth, pure thought, and lofty aspiration may become accomplished and normal states; while brain cells that have become constructed through wrong thought, for harmful and untruthful manifestations of mind, may be atrophied by inhibition and the mind cured of its vagaries.
Upon the psychic side, the marvelous plasticity of the subliminal mind, its responsiveness to suggestion and to objective thought, together with its wonderful memory and retentiveness, are all powerfully affected by the practice; and. as the faculties and tendencies so impressed upon the subliminal consciousness are ever tending in greater or less degree to emerge into the supraliminal state, it will be readily understood why calm and peace, the uplifting influence of lofty thought, long succeed the actual minutes spent in the practice. It also conduces to mastery of the mental action—to increased power of application and more forceful and clearer thought. Mastery of one’s mental states, irrespective of environment, follows; and the power to create one’s subjective condition at will may be attained.

Among the important results of the possible use of power attained by proper effort is the conscious direction and control thereby of the subtle life forces, by which their maintenance in equilibrium or direction for healing and helpful purposes may be acquired.

The second class embraces the practices in what I have termed the revealing or interpreting state. This is best attained after some conscious mastery of the other, but is more frequently practiced without special reference to any attainment in that direction. It consists in placing the mind, to some degree, in an impersonal and passive but not negative state, unperturbed by the legion of thoughts that distract and claim its attention in ordinary waking consciousness, and allowing its innate, impersonal, and higher nature to manifest in outward or normal consciousness. It is .that attitude of mind best suited to “knowing” one’s self—the Silence. In this state, no one section of the brain being dominant in mental activity, the whole organ may act as a unit, and a higher degree of knowledge and a clearer and more coordinated conception of a subject may result. In this attitude, and with aspiration and desire, the soul renews its more natural and original relation with the subtle and higher psychic forces, resulting in renewed psychic and spiritual power and a more equilibrated condition: as, we may say, the soul in natural sleep, left untrammeled by objective thought, renews its fundamental relations with the body, resulting in great recuperative effects. As we must conclude that there is no isolation in the Universe, but that all is in interaction, .the experience in the “silence” and its effect upon the waking consciousness furnish prima facie evidence of such a proposition as is above stated.

As we know that the plastic and highly suggestible subliminal self has been impressed for years with the thoughts and limitations of the objective life, and that these elements in each life have been different, we shall not be surprised to learn that the silence does not at once and with all persons disclose the transcendent beauty and wisdom of the subliminal self. That which one has been accustomed to hold as his ideal, as well as the states of mind habitually indulged, the practices engaged in, and in fact the whole tenor of life, cannot but have affected the states of subliminal consciousness; and it will be no less than we should expect that they will emerge and greatly mar or hinder the higher manifestations. The stream will not rise higher than its source, and the states of consciousness will habitually rise no higher than the manner of life, thought, and aspiration will warrant; hence, the result will closely approximate in equivalency the elements one brings into the silence. Every thought and aspiration will cast a vote to determine the result; therefore, the daily life should in all respects be made to conform as nearly as practicable to the higher ideals. A permanent realization of the higher Self will never come to one not seeking to live according to the higher life. One must keep the thought habitually pure and the aspirations lofty, and must love truth and wisdom. If he set the soul’s desire upon anything less he will tend toward that instead, and enlist the active efforts and interference of the unwise and undeveloped on the other plane of life. He should avoid criticism of persons, in thought or word, other than the recognition of a state for the purpose of some good and laudable end —and thus eliminate that evil from the consciousness, and destroy the rapport with beings who love detraction and are intensified and pleased with such a state in us.

The higher states we shall thus seek in the Silence will come from within—primarily, a revelation of the subliminal consciousness; but when they arise there may be rapport with the same or other states without. And, as we know from the demonstration of psychical experiment that one of the fundamental functions of the subliminal self is telepathy, who may at present set bounds to the perception by and the disclosures to the consciousness, through this method of purifying and controlling the self and aspirationally relating it to the higher conceptions?

Here I would, more particularly than heretofore, call attention to the wide difference between this practice and that of inducing a manifestation of the subliminal consciousness by hypnotic influence. Hypnotism has been defined by Norman Prince, M.D., as “the more or less (according to the stage) complete inhibition or going to sleep of the frontal lobes as a whole.” And of the frontal lobes the same able writer says: “The activity of this level is the dominant consciousness for the time being of the individual, and, so long as it is in activity, is the personality of the individual.” And again: “If, further, all the higher centers were removed or their power of functioning suppressed, the consciousness would be limited to the activity of the second level, which would constitute a second personality, and would be of a more or less automatic character.” And Professor F. W. H. Myers says that “hypnotism is only a name given to a group of empirical methods of inducing fresh personalities—of shifting the center of maximum energy and starting a new mnemonic chain.”

Thus hypnotism becomes merely a method of suppressing the normal and dominant self and summoning into objective activity some subconscious chain of memories, some segment of the self, some weak and limited personal phase, uncontrolled by the will and reason of the dominant consciousness. Instead of finding the true self, that self is segregated and its alienated parts are brought into inharmonious manifestation.

Concentration, on the other hand, sacrifices nothing of self- consciousness, and gains the added consciousness of the subliminal states, blending and unifying them into a whole—or, with masterful effort, withdraws the consciousness from any field and centers it upon another at will. There has been much confusion upon this point, growing principally out of the lack, possibly, of a greater personal knowledge of the methods and results of concentration; from the fact that mono-ideaism may be a characteristic of both conditions; and from the further fact that many persons imagine that they can effect nothing through the agency of the subliminal except by the method of auto-suggestion, which, it is well known, can also produce hypnosis in some very susceptible subjects.

As to the condition of mono-ideaism, the difference between the two states is, as I conceive it, that in the hypnotic the idea is firmly retained by a sort of helpless responsiveness of the segregated subliminal personality divested of the will and reason of the objective or waking self; while in that of concentration it is the result of a masterful effort of the mind that is able to control its mentation, excluding at will from the field of consciousness such ideas as it determines to exclude, and holding such as it chooses to hold, with the ability to relinquish the same at will.

As to auto-suggestion, it is, in either case, only a method of inducing a condition. In concentration, and for perceiving subliminal processes, it is mainly useful to him who has not fully realized that there is no power whatever in the suggestion itself, but that the power lies altogether in the responsiveness of the consciousness to the suggestion; and that if the power lies in that source, then all one need do to accomplish the object is to substitute the original purpose, will, and action, aptly expressed or mentally held, and dispense with the indirect method of suggestion. Thus the same power that lies inane and inefficient, until called out in responsiveness to external suggestion, may rise into original and creative action. This is the exercise of self-knowledge of the inner self.

We may next note those experiences where there is first an independent manifestation of the two intelligences—the subliminal unperceived by the supraliminal, but followed by a complete usurpation of the field by the subliminal: as in the case where the subject was conversing in the normal state with A, and turns and continues orally the conversation carried on by signs with B, who was behind her and whose presence was unknown. The secondary personality had quickly emerged and controlled the field to the exclusion of the normal self. But it must be remembered that if there be other extraneous intelligences that may in any way act upon a person this same result would be possible and the manner of its occurrence would be similar.

Finally, in the phenomena of hypnotism we have abundant evidence of the possibility of the segregation of the personality, the apparent creation of one or more limited chains of memories, and of distinct and independent experiences, lying below the normal consciousness, that come into expression when the normal consciousness is submerged or inhibited. Neither the psychology nor the physiology of hypnotism has been satisfactorily explained. There seem to be in the hypnotic sleep a withdrawal of consciousness from the external attention and a concentration upon organic recuperation. In general there is inhibition to some degree of the normal state and a concentration upon others.

For my present purpose I desire only to mention hypnotism as one of the agencies that have disclosed the marvels of the subliminal self, from the “uprush of ideas and impulses, matured beneath the conscious threshold,” to the emergence from the subliminal realm of states of consciousness so distinct from the normal self as to have earned the designation of secondary or multiplex personalities. Prof. F. W. H. Myers has said:

“I hold that each of us contains the potentialities of many different arrangements of the elements of our personality, each arrangement being distinguishable from the rest by differences in the chain of memories which pertain to it. The arrangement with which we habitually identify ourselves—what we call the normal or primary self—consists, in my view, of elements selected for us in the struggle for existence with special reference to the maintenance of ordinary physical needs, and is not necessarily superior in any other respect to the latent personalities which lie alongside it—the fresh combinations of our personal elements which may be evoked by accident or design, in a variety to which we can at present assign no limit.”

The questions, of course, arise: What is the nature of these personalities manifesting in the one individual (I do not refer to alleged extra-terrene minds controlling)? What is the degree of their separateness? How distinct and independent are they? And, finally, how are they essentially correlated, and how may that unity and correlation be fostered rather than their separation accented? In the first place, the evidence shows so gradual a transition in the cases—from the simple automatic actions performed with some degree of knowledge on the part of the objective self to the apparently wholly separated chains of actions and memories constituting these secondary or multiplex personalities—that it is fair to conclude that they are but differences in the degree in which the functioning consciousness is concentrated upon the one or the other plane, or upon both in varying proportions. The distinct line of demarcation between the memory of one state and that of another will most likely be found to be a result of the physical basis of memory, or a correlation of experiences perceived and associated through limited brain areas. For instance, hypnotism has been said to be the suppression of consciousness related with all or part of the frontal lobe; hence, there is lacking in the hypnotic personality the memories and characteristics of the normal self, that part of the brain being correlated with that self.

But if we analyze the nature of consciousness and memory, I think it will throw much light upon the question. Consciousness as a whole—as, for instance, the state of the self at any moment—must be the state of the subliminal self plus the sum total of experience impressed upon it. Thus it will be evident that in the essence of consciousness there may be no memory aside from the sum total of experience surviving as a result, just as the individual characteristics of a race evolved at different periods exist simultaneously, and not otherwise, in the individual. Now, memory arises when that consciousness is segregated and its divided parts relate themselves to the ideas of time and place and these become further related to each other. Thus consciousness becomes individually related to particular moments, places, and persons; and these individual states, which have become differentiated as memories, become related to one another by association.

The placid sea presents a homogeneous and unified surface, but when acted upon by the zephyr it is broken into many facets, each related to an external condition; yet they are all of the same sea. Thus if we conceive the ultimate Self as the original essence, impressed with the sum total of experience and existing as an undifferentiated state of consciousness, we discover an adequate explanation for all the perplexing phenomena of the apparent loss, the segregation, and the sudden emergence of memory. The waking or supraliminal self is a segment of this sum total of consciousness, specifically related as a distinct chain of memories with a certain state of environment and purposes. The hypnotic self, or the secondary personality, is another segment of this sum total of consciousness, specifically related as a distinct chain of memories with another state of environment and purposes. The same may be said of sleep. Ecstasy is more than any of these, for strictly it is not a personal or memory state at all, but transcends them, and is a degree of realization of that sum total of consciousness, unsegregated and unrelated to environment in memory states. Barring ecstasy, all these will be seen to be merely emergences of the true and unified self into memory states, bearing some relationship to external environment or to subjective conditions. No doubt this sum total of consciousness becomes the reservoir of the effects of all experience. Says Professor Myers:

“Suppose that my arm is rendered anesthetic by hypnotic suggestion, and is then pricked without my seeing it—I shall be unconscious of the pricks. My normal self, that is to say, will be unconscious of them, and on the ordinary view my whole self will be unconscious of them. But I shall consider it as practically certain a priori that some phase of personality of mine must have been conscious of the pricks and must have registered them on some latent mnemonic chain. Thus, in a word, nothing which my organism does or suffers is unconscious; but the consciousness of any given act or endurance may form a part of a chain of memories which never happens to obtrude itself into my waking life.”

The ultimate unity of all these states is indicated by many facts. There is a participation by the normal and the subliminal selves in many acts and memories, and, in cases where there appears to be no participation by the normal self in the memories or experience of the subjective personality, it would seem that the two have an actual basis of unity though not always evident in the experience. Says Professor Myers: “It sometimes happens, as Delboeuf and others have shown, that a subject who on waking from the hypnotic trance remembers nothing can be led by artifice to recollect all that he has done.” This, if true in one case, must be true in all similar ones, and discloses the fact that phenomena that appear to constitute separate personalities have an underlying basis of unity; and to establish that unity in a state of consciousness it is only necessary to find the associational links, or to create conditions for their spontaneous interrelation.

The phenomena of dreams disclose the same truth. Dream- states are as independent as if no waking state had preceded them; that is, they are not related by a chain of memories, and usually they fade away from the waking consciousness almost as soon as they appear. But in many cases, and under proper individual conditions, they become clear and perfect in the waking consciousness, especially when a slender thread of memory can be grasped by association with which the other memories are enabled to emerge with it. It must be evident, then, that any practice tending merely to evoke the consciousness in distinct chains of memories, in limited expressions, is not the method we should seek; but if we find there is a method that will unify into one consciousness all the memories which may emerge from the sum total, that method will deserve our earnest attention. I will refer particularly hereafter to what I conceive to be such a method.

It has been hardly more than my purpose here to state a prima facie case for the existence of the subliminal self, without adducing an array of evidence or refining upon an analysis of its functionings, but seeking to state its existence and general nature in order that the activities of the normal or primary self may be intelligently conceived as connected therewith, drawing its most vital aid and support therefrom—hence to emphasize the fact that no Esoteric Art of Living can leave out of consideration its study and a knowledge of it.

It is now evident that the normal man—that ordinary waking state of consciousness related to the apparent world— is but a limited manifestation of a larger and profounder Self from which it may draw knowledge and inspiration. I have suggested that in truth there is, as a whole, one sum total of consciousness, parts of which become manifested in the objective life under such limitations and with such independence as to suggest the designation of personalities, though undoubtedly comprehended in that profounder Self which conserves all knowledge and memories of the several. “It is conceivable,” says Professor Myers, “that there may be for each man yet a more comprehensive personality—or say an individuality—which correlates and comprises all known and unknown phases of his being. Such a notion can no longer be dismissed as merely mystical. Analogy points to it; and, though no observation could fully prove it, there may well be observations which make it probable.” This underlying unity is the source of all the differing phases of consciousness. Its maximum emergence in the physical organism, which it builds and controls, is the normal or supraliminal self, whereby it undergoes the differentiating process of evolution.

To suppose, therefore, that this emergent point, the normal self, were all, or that it were the most important under all conditions, would be very faulty. Says Professor William Crookes: “Whilst it is clear that our knowledge of subconscious mentation is still to be developed, we must beware of rashly assuming that all variations from the normal waking condition are necessarily morbid. The human race has reached no fixed or changeless ideal; in every direction there is evolution as well as disintegration.” It is no doubt true that the normal self is the phase of consciousness best adapted to the maintenance of the physical needs of the individual; but the physical needs are but small in importance compared with the larger needs of - the individual thus known. Hence we can understand the origin of the higher qualities of the mind and the loftier impulses of the deeper nature, which find no relationship to merely physical needs. Music, art, and estheticism, altruism and universal love, are emergences of this higher consciousness, related to our particular plane of existence. All deep and profound impulses are surgings of this mighty undersea of consciousness. Genius is the harmonious synchronizing of the lofty states of the subliminal with the normal man. Ecstasy is the abidance for the time in those subliminal states, unmarred by any cognition of the normal and limited. Of this constant emergence, Professor Myers says: “In this very question of emergence of unfamiliar faculty from a subconscious stratum, our next step shows us faculty thus emerging which is of real use; products of subliminal mentation up- rushing into ordinary consciousness which actually benefit the waking life. Does this emergence occur in the normal life? My answer is that it does, and when it does it constitutes genius.”

It is evident, then, the highest condition of life for us is that one which effects the most perfect synchronizing of the subliminal consciousness with the normal and environmental self: that condition of life which recognizes the due importance and purpose of the normal and cultivates its healthy exercise, and seeks to incorporate therewith the processes and results of the subliminal consciousness. If it were possible to know the facts, it is probable that we would find the lives of the truly great, the spiritually enlightened, to have been of this type. If this be the highest condition we may presently attain, or the full measure of the immediate results of evolution, the question at once arises as to how it may be attained, or what course will conduce to its realization.

It is pertinent to suggest here the reason why such a method as the “hypnotic” is not the advisable one, and can never conduce to the desired end. The reason lies in the fact that the method severs or segregates the consciousness, creating and perpetuating separate chains of memories, and suppresses the normal state—two things, as I believe, we must avoid. If the end above spoken of is to be attained, the self-consciousness of the normal state is never to be lost, nor are new and distinct phases of personality to be created out of the subliminal consciousness; but the self-consciousness is to be preserved intact, and the subliminal consciousness is to be realized as far as possible and blended therewith—thus unifying all memory and consciousness in the one. This can best be attained through the evolutionary processes and results of living the higher life, as suggested in preceding papers, and by a proper and rational practice of introspection (or meditation) and concentration. The reason for the former is found in the nature of evolution itself; for the latter, it lies in the fact that it is the only method of practice which retains the self-consciousness of the normal state and at the same time creates special facilities for the emergence therein of the knowledge and states of the subliminal self: nothing being relinquished, except at will, and all gains of conscious states added to and blended with the one in possession. But I will refer to this specifically in a subsequent paper.

We have found the subliminal self to be the source of the normal or supraliminal self, and have noted some of its faculties and characteristics as it emerges into the normal phase of life. What is the ultimate nature of this vast storehouse of the soul? Has it always been individualized, manifesting through successive states of expression, or was there a time when out of the Infinite Consciousness it took the limitations of personality? In any event, can it be other than the original essence which in the past has been evolving, by processes of adaptation to physical environment and to the ends of individual well-being, into the complex and marvelous being called man? And as nothing can be evolved that has not existed potentially, must we not ascribe to it the vastest possibilities—the attributes of divinity? Says Professor Myers:

“If, as we get deeper down, we come on even more definite indications of powers and tendencies within ourselves which are not such as natural selection could have been expected to develop, then we may begin to wonder on what it was that the terrene process of natural selection, as we have it, began at the first to exercise modifying power. To such a question no answer whatever can be given which is not in some sense mystical, or rather metempirical, as dealing with hypotheses which no experience of ours can test.. But it should be remembered that there is no metaphysical or physiological answer in possession of the field. The competition is open; die course is clear.”

Leaving the profounder problem of the ultimate nature of the real Self, let us consider that which immediately concerns us; namely, its possibilities with reference to the life we are now living. These are, first, its influence upon the waking normal self by emergence into and blending with it; second, its responsiveness to the influences of external conditions and thought and its perfect memory. Accepting evolution, I would expect, a priori, to find these characteristics inhering in the profounder self. The ability successfully to adjust and adapt the organism to environment presupposes a high degree of responsiveness and plasticity; while progress and unfoldment require creative or originative possibilities, coordinated with retentiveness, or memory. If these be the essential characteristics of the subliminal self that have played so important a part in the past of life, it is evident that they must be reckoned with in any attempt to understand the possibilities of the future or to facilitate the highest attainment therein.

The emergence of the knowledge of the subliminal self at every point of life has been noted; it remains for us briefly to consider the other characteristics. The subliminal self is exceedingly susceptible to suggestion; that is, it is inherently responsive. This is abundantly shown in all hypnotic experiments, where for the time being the normal consciousness is more or less suppressed and but a segment of the subliminal manifests. This responsiveness has played a large part in the causes that have produced the mental differentiations in the evolution of man; but, without the controlling guidance of the reason and will evolved in the normal or objective self (as in the case of hypnotism), it could become destructive of the higher interests. I believe it is the intelligent and understanding control and guidance by the will and reason that may utilize this faculty and effect far-reaching and beneficent results to the individual. When one can, in a small degree, unify his waking consciousness with the processes of the subliminal, and blend his voluntary thought with the recuperative powers of the subliminal self, he may heal himself when the operations of the vital forces are disturbed; he may keep them equilibrated, and himself calm and peaceful, and with the right philosophy and aspiration may enter quite a new realm of experience and life.

The subliminal self has practically a perfect memory, and states of consciousness once fixed tend to persist or recur because of this faculty of retentiveness. The vast importance of this fact as related to our present life must be plain, and is the most ample justification for the insistence upon maintaining high ideals in thought and act. It explains how character is builded, and why it persists long after the experience which was the cause of the modification has faded from the memory of the normal or objective self. Thought does not only affect the momentary waking consciousness, but its effects sink far down into the subliminal and there modify the existing states— perchance to emerge again when the moment is opportune. How important, then, become our objective life and thought! And what a molding and constructive agency we have in our ability to select, to some extent, our waking states and thoughts; to engage in the building and shaping of the deeper and truer self for the higher expressions of consciousness, by using care and method in bringing into the normal state the true and noble and beautiful, and excluding therefrom their opposites! This I call selective mentation and psychism. Thus one may do for himself in a few years what the slow processes of evolution may require generations to do for a race.

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Joseph Stewart, LL. M.

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