The Inner Nag vs. Inner Wisdom

In this post, I want to present another example of the associative workings of the unconscious mind. Years of strenuous psychotherapy and much “soul searching” have made me sensitive to the meaningful little clues and useful responses the unconscious scatters through our lives. We all have these experiences, but many of us, not understanding their potential value just shrug them off. I recorded this simple incident in one of my notebooks. To set the scene, I should mention that I was living the hermit’s life in a forest shack on the edge of the Canadian wilderness at the time.

Two Faced Man

The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)

December 7, 1997

That pesky unconscious of mine struck again this evening. I had been pondering the nasty ways of the internal nag we all wrestle with from time to time, when I recalled that I have a second voice, much fainter and harder to hear than the scold, which gives advice that is often very wise. Yesterday, this voice suggested it was time to turn the outline of Chapter 1 of my WIP [work in progress] into a draft. The results were most gratifying as all sorts of nifty little ideas popped into my head during the work.

Anyhow, this evening, something gave me the idea that the nagging voice and the wise voice were one and the same, that the scolding and the wisdom both came from the same place. My unconscious mind reacted to this notion in no time flat!

Here’s how it worked.

The door of my only heated room is drafty, so in winter, I fix a light Persian rug over the doorway to keep things more cosy. The carpet is battened across the top and down one side. The unfastened side is held closed by two large pushpins, one at the top, and one at the bottom. Whenever I need to “seal” the door against drafts, I insert these pins in the appropriate places. Never in all my years of living in this wretched hovel have I failed to correctly position the pins – yet today I did!

I have no recollection of doing the deed, but the next time I went to leave the room, I noticed the bottom pin was missing. They sometimes do pop out so I searched the floor for some sign of it. Nothing was to be seen. During the search, I noticed the bottom of the carpet had not even been properly straightened and positioned! I removed the top pin, and then suddenly decided to fetch my rechargeable flashlight from its cradle on the wall and do another, more thorough, search. Again, I found nothing.

The flashlight went back into its cradle, and I once more moved to exit the room – only to find that the rug was still fastened at the top! There was the “missing” pin, hidden by a fold in the edge of the carpet.

Now recall that I had been thinking that my two voices were in fact one and the same, or that what they had to say came from one and the same place. My unconscious response was to place both rug pins in the same place, a simple unknowing act that raises some interesting questions. Was I just acting out the thought, “two things in one place”? Or was the act an attempt on the part of my unconscious mind to communicate a response to what I had been thinking?

June 23, 2013

Fast forward to now.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I can easily answer the questions posed in the notebook entry. The unknowing act was indeed the result of my unconscious mind providing an answer. The unconscious has no supernatural powers, but it knows everything that goes on in the psyche. Furthermore, I can flatly say the answer given is that nag and wisdom come from different places. How do I know this? Simple: putting both pushpins together in the top of the rug was a mistake.

The inner nag is always a product of narrow consciousness, being our attempt to lash ourselves into living up to the unrealistic (idealist, perfectionist, vain) standards of a flattering false persona. Wisdom emerges from the unconscious, the portion of the mind that can integrate and synthesize vaster amounts of “data,” thereby yielding the “bigger picture,” so to speak. Forgetting to arrange the lower portion of the rug suggested that my “both from the same place” idea overlooked some key aspect of the psyche, thus denying it a proper place in the mental scheme of things. I had not allowed the portion to perform its proper function. That it was the lower corner of the rug which was neglected points to the unconscious.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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