How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch I: Physical Consciousness


Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

“So long as the child is in that state of unconscious identity with the mother, he is still one with the animal psyche and is just as unconscious as it.

The development of consciousness inevitably leads not only to separation from the mother, but to separation from the parents and the whole family circle and thus to a relative degree of detachment from the unconscious and the world of instinct.

Yet the longing for this lost world continues and, when difficult adaptations are demanded, is forever tempting one to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile…” ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 351

People often find Jung’s theories and writing difficult, and it’s no wonder.  He was introducing humanity to a radically different way of seeing and thinking about ourselves, and he used words and phrases in ways that only someone familiar with his work is liable to understand.

The above quote is a good example. What did Jung mean when he wrote about a child being “in that state of unconscious identity with the mother?”  What does it mean to be “one with the animal psyche?” What was he trying to say in this quote? Essentially he’s referring to a common problem that can obstruct our psychological growth.

Lioness with Cub, national Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa
Lioness with Cub, National Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

FreudEriksonPiaget, and Kohlberg have described psychological development as a series of stages in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and abilities.  Jung and Neumann went a step beyond in focusing on the development of consciousness itself, particularly in terms of our psychological and spiritual self-awareness.

Based on these and other developmental theories, I’ve summarized the development of consciousness in three general “epochs” of self-awareness. In this system, Epoch I is Physical Consciousness,  Epoch II is Ego Consciousness, and Epoch III is Integrated Consciousness. For most of us, the first is of relatively brief duration,  the second is quite long (the whole of life for many people), and the third sometimes does not even begin.

“In the first epoch our awareness is limited to our five senses and the forces of physical instinct:  bodily urges, unchecked emotions, and primitive images.  As infants we are like hungry wolf cubs in a vast and comforting wilderness.  We don’t question our habitat or behavior or wonder if there is any other way to be;  we simply act and react to physical stimuli without plan, reflection or guilt….Unburdened by self-consciousness and self-doubt, we are unthinkingly innocent of any wrongdoing because we have no moral code and feel no need to alter or repress anything about ourselves.”  ~J.B. RaffaHealing the Sacred Divide, pp. 20-21.

This earliest phase of life is “that state of unconscious identity with the mother,” Jung referred to:  a paradise of egoless, guiltless, free-and-easy instinctual behavior. During this magical time we are in heaven.

Disney's Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.
Disney’s Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

“If we have a concept of time it is that we dwell in eternity.  If we have a concept of God it is this bliss of oneness that connects us to everything and makes us feel buoyantly, vitally alive. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, Epoch I is simply everyone’s earliest experience of being a human being.  All our future psychological and spiritual growth plays out against this primal background of immersion in a maternal ocean of innocent, unconscious, infinitely pleasurable physical life.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p.22.

Is it any wonder so many of us, like Peter Pan, continue to long for this lost world and struggle to stay young for as long as we can?  In a child, this is a natural and charming way of being, and there are people who remain in this state of harmless, guileless innocence throughout their lives.  Others grow increasingly dissatisfied with themselves as adults. And some become dysfunctional. In fact, a lack of guilt or sense of responsibility,  self-centeredness, emotional immaturity, antisocial behavior, and low impulse-control are all characteristics of sociopaths.  This is why we need egos, (organs of consciousness), and why our egos need to grow in self-awareness. At this point in history, learning to critique and control our more primitive “inner child” has become crucial to our very survival.

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child
Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Despite humanity’s evolutionary advances, negative aspects of an Epoch I mentality still pervade contemporary society. Symptoms include:

  • a  large population of unhappy adults who cannot seem to make difficult adaptations into adulthood,

  • the temptation “to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile,”

  • blaming others for our unhappiness and expecting them to make us happy,

  • obsessive glorification and pursuit of youth and physical beauty,

  • addictions to substances or behaviors that provide temporary escape from our problems and responsibilities,

  • a single-minded focus on satisfying our own instinctual needs without caring about the needs of others, and

  • self-centered, irresponsible, antisocial attitudes, words and behaviors without regard for consequences.

“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680

What did Jung mean by this?  I’ll address this and more as I explore the evolution of consciousness in coming posts.

Image Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes and deer child image, Wikipedia for the Disney image of Peter Pan, and Pinterest for the lioness and cub image.

Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.


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0 Responses

  1. This is a great post considering our current situation politically; thank you for providing an important perspective.
    My objection to Jung’s thoughts here is that he, like most humans, presumes to attribute a lack of integrated consciousness to animals. Realistically, we have no idea what they are or are not aware of internally/mentally/spiritually; we are limited to our observations of their behavior. And we know how erroneous that can be based upon our human interactions.
    As always, I’m looking forward to your next post!

    1. Thanks, Darla. Glad you got the political allusion. It was intended.
      You raise an excellent point. I thought about the consciousness of animals too. You’re right, of course. We have no idea how self-aware they are and can only say that from our perspective, some of their behavior seems brutally savage. Yet, we only have to look at our history to see how brutally savage the human animal can be too, and all for the sake of our highest ideals!
      I’m assuming that as a scientist, Jung may have been referring to our species most “primitive” brain, the one composed of pure animal instinct (after all, we are animals too) to which layers of new brain cells have been added over the millennia to the point that we’ve developed these “higher” capabilities and theories and ideals and inventions of which we’re so very proud. Jung often wrote about how nature has no moral rules and that we do because at our best we don’t want to harm other beings if we can help it. Thus, for example, some of us become vegetarians….yet who’s to say vegetables have no consciousness? I believe they do.
      Anyway, my sense about the quote in its entirety is that he was advocating an integrated self-awareness that brings balance; i.e. not being so detached and idealistic that our self-awareness is limited only to our heady thoughts and ideals and theoretical abstractions such that we forget that we too are animals, with an animal’s needs and capabilities for being even more cruel to each other than Nature appears to us to be. Thanks for your always thoughtful comments.

      1. Thank you for this follow-up. You are *way* more familiar with Jung’s work than I am, and I appreciate your insights. I wonder if Jung would have enjoyed following all the current and potential theories of science about energetic fields (now being confirmed with new technologies) and brain waves and spontaneous changes in cells or epigenetics or even the simple proofs of animals responding in ways that seem contrary to their nature (e.g. animals who have been historically “enemies” yet are best friends in different circumstances). But you’re right, and I digress, we humans need to focus more on our own issues and address integrated self-awareness … hopefully, to eventually, harmonize our world. Blessings!

  2. I bet he’d love, love the new theories you mention. He was into very cutting-edge science, and a huge fan of physicist David Bohm who anticipated quantum theory. Bohm wrote about the three orders of the universe which, if you’re oriented to thinking in a symbolic way (“As without, So within,” etc.) totally correlates to Jung’s theories about the three orders of awareness: the conscious self, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious.
    Unlike many today who use the term “unconscious” in a disparaging way and associate it with ignorance, he never thought there was anything wrong with the unconscious self. To the contrary. Everyone has conscious and unconscious parts and he knew the unconscious to be a very real and essential part of who we are. In fact the purpose of his work was to help us explore our own unconscious selves so as to understand ourselves better and live more fulfilling lives. Yes, indeed, “We humans need to focus more on our own issues and address integrated self-awareness!!” Well said.

  3. Thank you Jeanie for this post in which you elaborated so well on Jung’s thought. I also got the political allusion … how can we not? As Above, so Below or, as you say as Within so Without. Also, I’m glad that the ego is not getting a bad rap as it so often is … we need strong healthy differentiating egos to enable us to separate from that uroboric state of unconsciousness. And to dive into that state of unconsciousness in eg our dreams and work on them! We may be so lucky to retrieve parts of wholeness in the endeavour …
    I’m looking forward to Epoch 2.

    1. Thank you, Susan. For everything I said about Epoch I there’s so much more I failed to say, which leaves more room for misinterpretation than I’m comfortable with. For example, this morning I changed the “Peter Pan” paragraph to clarify the fact that many adults live with this mentality without causing undue harm. I may have to spend more time elaborating on Epoch I. It has so much to do with our future development, not only as individuals, but as a species. We’ll see.

  4. Dear Jeanie,
    This is a wonderful piece. The emergence of consciousness is certainly “in the air” after a long absence, and it is incumbent upon all of us to help it along. Last week I found (for the 1st time) _Analytical Psychology in Exile: The Correspondence of C.G. Jung and Erich Neumann_, which shows the fascinating development of the theories of consciousness over a 32 year correspondence, which was cut off for 5 years during WWII, because Dr. Neumann was in Palestine and Dr. Jung was in Switzerland. What emerged from Dr. Neumann’s 5 years of isolated work was his magnum opus entitled, _On the Origins and History of Consciousness_, which has moved to the top of my reading list. Dr. Neumann felt Dr. Jung was “operating on a different plain than the rest of us,” but it was Dr. Jung who highly praised Dr. Neumann’s book for making his research more accessible to laymen. One eulogy of Dr. Neumann called him the “logician” of the Jungians, which offers the promise of a second generation of Dr. Jung’s work, which helps new followers to see where they are in Dr. Jung’s sea of prodigious scholarship.
    In his Foreword, Dr. Jung expressed that each of us is responsible for our own psychology, “for the ‘personal equation’ colours the mode of seeing.” Today in our politics we are seeing far too many of our fellow citizens, who seek to regress to having Daddy or Mommy take care of their troubles, and our cable news stations seem to be encouraging nothing less on a 7/24/365 basis. I very much look forward to your further analysis of the steps we need to take to help our fellow citizens emerge from their unconscious fog into adult responsibility for themselves and our place in the world as a Nation.
    Surely the world has had enough of the false assumption that suggests that liquid war is a good thing. There are far too many other issues to address than the health of our defense industry; but those can’t be addressed until we are awake. The startling fact is that when the Vietnam War with all its heartache ended (we were thrown out despite over overwhelming power), nothing awful happened. Instead the country became a natural capitalist state, just as China has become, regardless of the labels.
    I too want to address these issues of consciousness further in my current political psychology series about The Meaning of America. One can argue that the people who need to become conscious won’t read this or any of our pieces, but I feel strongly that the leaders who do read them will carry these ideas forward into the collective unconscious, and gradually the Ship of State that seems headed for the rocks in Election 2016 will turn toward open water with fair winds and following seas. It remains to be seen whether we have to first get over the Ship of Fools stage, which sadly seems a possibility. But, I am optimistic that we will see a new and more mature equilibrium in our lifetime.
    I love one other thing Dr. Jung said in the Foreword to Dr. Neumann’s book: “Ultimate truth, if there be such a thing, demands the concert of many voices.” I hope that all of us reading this will add our voices to help our fellow citizens around the world to advance their consciousness, not to mention restoring their sense of conscience, which also seems to have eroded a bit too much.
    Best regards, Skip

    1. Thanks for the interesting info about Dr. Neumann. And also your thoughts on politics, war and consciousness. I know you’re making a valuable contribution with your own work in this field. I suspect the current situation in American politics may well be the tipping point, or hundredth monkey, that will bring about more mature equilibrium in consciousness. As the saying goes, “It’s always the darkest before dawn.” And Jungians are always saying that crisis precedes change. Whatever else this is about, it is most definitely a fascinating spectacle like few we’ve seen in our relatively brief history. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts here, and for reposting this piece. Jeanie

  5. Thank you for another wonderful topic and discussion, Jeanie. The thought that life should be easy and without suffering is pervasive–even as everyone suffers and struggles. Surely mommy will save us–or something will. We want that mother breast now, but forget to turn toward the suffering to see what it’s teaching us.
    I’m not immune. I feel this longing since my brother’s recent death. He was a placeholder for protection in my adult life. He stepped in to support me when our father died when we were teenagers, when we lost connection with our mother, and when my husband (another nurturer) died. With my brother gone and no one in my childhood family alive except me, I’m experiencing a free-floating anxiety and physical vulnerability. My dreams are active and mysterious. I look forward to meeting with my dream therapist tomorrow.

    1. I’m so sorry about the loss of your brother. You’ve been through so much, given so much, and worked so hard to maintain balance throughout. What with the loss of Vic, your mother, your brother, and the responsibility of caring for your mother-in-law, you have earned your stripes and titles of Wise Woman and Crone at least four times over in twice as many years.That is a heavy load to bear. Thank goodness you have your wonderful, supportive sons. I know you are a rock of comfort to them, as they are to you. As are your many close and longtime friends. And your dream therapist!! And, of course, your dreams. You’ll always have those. There have been times when my dreams have brought more comfort than anything else in my life. Just knowing they were always there, always ready to send understanding and comfort and affirmation has been a joy. I wish you many healing dreams throughout this current phase of your life, my dear friend. Blessings, Jeanie .

  6. Thank you for this article. Reading it through the second time it dawned on me, ‘Hey this isn’t about dreams.’ :- ) But maybe it is (?). My question is regarding Epoch 2 and Epoch 3. It seems they coexist. Or overlap in time. Do you think so, even in an ongoing manner? Even late in the game?

    1. Well, I would say that the boundaries between each phase certainly overlap. Moreover, as our consciousness grows, we don’t lose any awareness we previously gained, but simply add to it. And if we are actively working on it, the expanding of our consciousness is certainly ongoing. For example, the more we learn from dreams about our ego or shadow, the more self-aware we are of them when they act up in waking life. I don’t see full consciousness or self-awareness as an attainable end, but as an ongoing process. The self-awareness of any given individual at any given time, no matter how highly conscious, is bound to be full of dark spaces which the individual has yet to gain access to. For example, I might be able to see my shadow coming out in a conversation but still be unaware of the emotion that activated it. And I might be thinking so much about my shadow that I might not be taking the other person’s feelings, needs, or shadow into consideration.

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