13 May Sound Healing and the Unconscious Mind
The structure of the psyche
The concept of the conscious and the unconscious mind, was developed by Sigmund Freud, and further expanded upon by his student Carl Jung. Through his observations Jung noticed that in most circumstances a person uses direct thinking, which he described as their conscious mind. Direct thinking is guided by goals and characterised by speech. Jung observed that for the conscious mind to focus it establishes order by processing information through linear and sequential patterns. Jung also observed that a person has undirected thought, which he described as the unconscious mind. Unlike the conscious mind the unconscious is characterised by creating images, that do not have linear patterns. Because they don’t have a linear pattern, it can be more difficult for our conscious mind to process and understand. However, Jung recognised that the unconscious mind works with images in a way that enables more deeper and insightful mental processing to take place.
Jung further went on to explain that there are two primary storage compartments in the unconscious mind, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is created by memories that are forgotten or repressed. Repression happens when we become conscious of something, but there is a part of our mind that wants to bury it in the unconscious and forget it. This may be due to what our ego feels is out of sync with our social environment and social conditioning. What our ego perceives as incompatible behaviour, Jung referred to as the Shadow or Lower Self, and includes beliefs related to weakness, inferiority, and a person’s primitive qualities.
The collective unconscious, which is sometimes referred to as the “objective psyche” contains the whole spiritual heritage of humanity. It is made up of a collection of ancestral experiences, knowledge and imagery that every person is born with and is shared by all human beings. According to Jung it is responsible for a number of deep-seated beliefs and intuitive instincts. Jung believed that the collective unconscious is expressed through universal concepts called archetypes, which can be signs, symbols, or patterns of thinking and behaviour. According to Jung, these mythological images or cultural symbols are not static or fixed; instead, the unconscious mind works in a way which may overlap or combine these symbols at any given time. Some of the common themes are: birth, death, power, rebirth, the anima, the child, the hero and the mother.
Accessing the Unconscious Mind
A person can access their unconscious mind by slowing their brain wave down to alpha (7-14 hz) and then theta (4-7 hz), through relaxation and meditation. When accessing the unconscious mind, it is possible to develop psychic abilities, such as clairvoyance, by further opening and developing the pineal gland. Shaped like a pine cone, it is a separate part of the central brain that secretes the hormones melatonin and serotonin. When stimulated it also produces DMT (N-dimethyltryptamine), which acts as a neurotransmitter connecting to the visual, auditory and memory-related regions of the brain. In some mystical and esoteric systems, the pineal gland is linked to the Third Eye, which lies in the centre of the forehead. When activated it can support the development of our intuition, spiritual awareness and psychic energy, providing perception beyond ordinary sight.
Archetypes and the Self
Archetypes are points in the psyche that both attract and exert energy. They can be represented as spiritual guides that work to structure the psyche. They are patterns of potential and possibility. The central archetype that structures all experiences as past, present and future is the Self.
When a person accesses their unconscious mind, it provides an opportunity for their ego to work on an issue or crisis and to ‘Self-actualise’. This process happens by the mind connecting to Self and building up psychic energy in the unconscious which finds images from individual experience or absorbed cultural experience that person has attached to the archetypal core. The psychic energy moves through the unconscious guided by Self and re-emerges into consciousness as images or symbols. This process provides messages for the ego to support its realignment with Self.
Sound Therapy Process
A person can be assisted in accessing their unconscious mind through working with a sound therapist. Firstly, a therapist will support a person in feeling safe and to trust themselves or ‘Self’, the therapist and the process. If we imagine that the mind is made up of different parts, and some of those parts such as the inner-child feel vulnerable. Then other parts are created to protect the vulnerable parts. When a person feels safe, relaxed and trusting of the process, the protectors relax and the Self can take control and allow the gentle and hypnotic sounds to take them into a state of relaxation, slowing their brain waves down to alpha then theta. It’s at this speed that the brain can build up psychic energy and access the unconscious mind.
During this process the attending consciousness of the therapist holds a safe space for the client. When working with the unconscious, the therapist can also overlap with the client’s psychic energy and conjointly enter the space of images and symbols. This joint effort can support the therapist in reading where the client’s unconscious mind is taking them. They are then able to work with instruments, sounds and techniques to increase the potential for psychic transformation. Comparative to the mother child relationship, the therapist holds a safe space for the clients psychic processing at a precarious time. During the full process including a quiet period at the end , which in Buddhism is referred to as ‘Shunyata, the therapist is witness to the client’s transformation and is present and completely attentive.
After Shunyata the therapist brings the client back to their waking conscious mind, supported by drawing the client’s energy down their body to their feet to create stability, referred to as ‘grounding the client’. Then a process of integration takes place, as the images and symbols the client accessed in the unconscious start to surface into the conscious, at which stage the client may verbalise what they saw and experienced. The process creates balance within the clients ego/Self relationship. Due to the nature of this deep work, the client may need time for a full integration to mature. The sound practitioner helps the client by accepting that the engagement with the unconscious is a process of ‘coming to understand’.
The Primal Relationship – Mother Child Unity
Jung considered the mother archetype to be the most important; represented as a universal connection to creation and the earth. The mother may not always manifest in a literal image form, and may include: a garden, a ploughed field, a spring or a well, country, the earth, the sea, the woods.
The strong connection to the mother archetype is apparent when an infant is in the early stages of development. At birth, before the infant’s ego is developed, it perceives the mother as the great mother, an archetypal creation in human form. Whilst the child’s ego shelters within the mother-Self relationship, it is the great mother that provides the confidence that is essential for a healthy development of the personality.
The mother-child attachment is a common experience for a child. Up until the child is a few months old their mother’s consciousness acts as the child’s own consciousness as it develops. They then have to undergo a natural but also traumatic detachment from the mother, which the ego requires to develop and find its own personality, identity and independence. The emotions that are experienced could create a feeling of loss or detachment. This may reoccur on multiple occasions when a person’s ego draws upon their independent masculine energy.
The repression of beliefs related to weakness, inferiority, and a person’s primitive qualities, usually start in childhood, and can become exiled and what Jung refers to as the wounded child. We can reconnect with these parts again through accessing the unconscious, and providing them with the natural qualities of the Self, such as compassion and love. On a deeper level, we are accessing the emotional experience of collective consciousness, including detachment and loss, and asking the archetypal mother the question “does life love me?”.
During a gong bath, when a client accesses their unconscious mind, they may encounter a multiple of interesting archetypes. Some may exert compelling energy and manifest as spiritual, mythological and fantasy. Accessing such archetypes presents a potential for both individual and collective healing.
My experience of receiving a gong bath from fellow student during the practitioner course with College of Sound Healing tutor Sheila Whittaker, was as follows: “At first, I saw Centaurs, the half-human, half-horse creatures in Greek mythology. The gong bath was powerful like a sonic massage.
Halfway through I had an overwhelming feeling to save the earth, and its species. This feeling came from the gong being played at my head space. It was emotional, and the gongs at my feet balanced this energy with fire and will power. Towards the end I saw images of my cells being separated and returning to their individual elements of water, fire, earth and air. As the sound of the gongs dissipated, my cells reconnected to form my physical body again. Afterwards I felt calm and very light physically and mentally.”
My experience of seeing Centaurs as a mythical archetype may relate to a duality between the mental and spiritual or the primal connection to nature. Associated with Greek Mythology the Centaur represents the hunter, a masculine energy that in the early developments of ego seeks to detach from the dominance of the mother archetype. The origin of the Centaur can be traced back to the Kassites about 1750 B.C. from an area now Iran. The Kassites used to mark and protect the parameters of their land with stones of guardian spirits, some of which depicted beings that were half horse and half man. Therefore, another explanation is that Centaurs were protecting the perimeters of my psyche, before undertaking deeper work in the unconscious.
The second part of the gong bath where my body was split into the four elements of water, fire, earth and air, may relate to the transformational paradigm of alchemy. In Jungian terms alchemy consists of a process of individuation and a return towards the Self. This deep change can start with a burning or death (or in my case splitting into four parts) and then lead to a sorting out and purification of elements before the new qualities emerge. Sorting out the four elements is characterised by a psychic balance within the dimensions of time and space, marking the qualitative uniqueness of a person’s life journey. As a child we learn to structure our conscious reality through the mythic experience of perceiving the four directions, and placing our Self within the centre, our axis mundi.
Mythology connects us to powerful global themes from the collective unconscious. Often these myths are stories associated with how civilisations were formed or evolved. They remind us of ancestral origins, ignite a spiritual awakening and can connect us to other dimensions. Myth is the story used to describe and explain the psyche’s movement along the path to a new phase of creative development. A move towards integration, individuation and wholeness.
We all have a deep inner, unconscious driving force towards wholeness and connection to Self. Over time, our lost connection to rituals, has left us without the guidance to accessing Self, healing psychic wounds and becoming spiritual elders. Jung offers a map to the unconscious, where we can access our whole self and reconnect to collective ancestral wisdom through images and archetypes. The meditative resonance of sound, and an experienced sound therapist can help to facilitate this process. Through my practical application of working with gongs, I have continued to develop an understanding of this deeper work. I have also undertaken other research including: sound healing, Jungian psychology, sandplay therapy, Thetahealing, Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) and energy (shamanic) healing. What I have witnessed is a transformation in people and myself, as we access unconscious images to understand what is holding us back and create the power within us all to grow and evolve into accessing collective wisdom.