Sunday, January 16, 2011

Levels of unconscious perception

This morning, in John Welwood's Toward a Psychology of Awakening, I am reading a rather complex explanation of conscious and unconscious perceptions.  He's talking about figure -- whatever is in the foreground of your awareness -- and ground -- that which lies in the background of your awareness; the unconscious.

He then goes on to say that "the unconscious ground can be differentiated into four levels: the situational ground of felt meaning -- our implicit felt sense of the immediate situation we are in; the personal ground -- how patterns of past experience and accumulated meaning implicitly shape our present consciousness, behavior, and worldview; the transpersonal ground -- the ways in which the body-mind organism is attuned to larger, universal qualities of existence; and the open ground -- pure, immediate presence to reality prior to identification with the body-mind organism."

So when I went wandering through my images this morning I stopped at this one, because it gives at least a tentative example that helps clarify some of that -- for me, at least.  The figure in the foreground is clearly intended to be an angel.  That, I think is the situational ground. But included in my past experience are images of childhood villains like the infamous Snidely Whiplash, who hover over their victims and rub their hands together in a nasty unconscious mockery of praying hands. 

Which means that even though this is clearly supposed to be an angel, something about her facial expression, because it is less than beatific, invites me to superimpose a sinister quality over her that others might not perceive.  That, I think, is the personal ground -- and it begins to question: why would someone buy this angel, or be attracted to it?  What does it say about them?  -- all of which is projected out of my own experiences watching the evil of Snidely Whiplash.  The owner of the angel may have no experience of that, and see only beauty and purity, while my mind busily attempts to color my picture of the purchaser with the subtle and inadvertent suspicions about the object.

I confess I'm not quite certain what transpersonal ground would be in this instance, but I believe the open ground is that presence within me -- which I can sometimes tap into through meditation -- that accepts and appreciates without labeling or judging.  And it is that open ground which I long to keep in awareness -- the appreciative, compassionate, non-judgmental non-fearful acceptance of what exists in any given moment.

It is from that open space that I can begin to perceive both the angel and her owner without the overlay of my childhood experiences and prejudices. 

Why go into all this?  I think it just helps me understand how much my experiences color my perceptions and then propel me into judgment.  Now if I could just get better at assessing which judgments are useful and which judgments are not...


Maureen said...

I wonder if the transpersonal ground is that need we all have, at one time or another, to have another's blessing, approval, love?

Really interesting post. The assumption, I would surmise, is that eventually these four levels become fully ingrained so that we are always "awake" to ourselves and others and the larger world.

Diane Walker said...

I think you're right, Maureen: in this case that might be the part of me that observes my reaction and yet balances it with an awareness that a dear friend liked the angel enough to purchase it, and so therefore I "should" like it, too.

How lovely it would be to be able to hold all that awareness...