The Unconscious Mind & the Iceberg Metaphor

 An iceberg can serve as a useful metaphor to understand the unconscious mind, its relationship to the conscious mind and how the two parts of our mind can better work together. As an iceberg floats in the water, the huge mass of it remains below the surface.

Only a small percentage of the whole iceberg is visible above the surface. In this way, the iceberg is like the mind. The conscious mind is what we notice above the surface while the unconscious mind, the largest and most powerful part, remains unseen below the surface.

In our metaphor the small amount of iceberg above the surface represents the conscious mind; the huge mass below the surface, the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind holds all awareness that is not presently in the conscious mind. All memories, feelings and thoughts that are out of conscious awareness are by definition 'unconscious.' It is also called the subconscious and is known as the dreaming mind or deep mind.

Knowledgeable and powerful in a different way than the conscious mind, the unconscious mind handles the responsibility of keeping the body running well. It has memory of every event we've ever experienced; it is the source and storehouse of our emotions; and it is often considered our connection with Spirit and with each other.

No model of how the mind works disputes the tremendous power which is in constant action below the tip of the iceberg. The conscious mind is constantly supported by unconscious resources. Just think of all the things you know how to do without conscious awareness. If you drive, you use over 30 specific skills... without being aware of them. These are skills, not facts; they are processes, requiring intelligence, decision-making and training.

Besides these learned resources which operate below the surface of consciousness there are important natural resources. For instance, the unconscious mind regulates all the systems of the body and keeps them in harmony with each other. It controls heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, the endocrine system and the nervous system, just to name a few of its natural, automatic duties.

The conscious mind, like the part of the iceberg above the surface, is a small portion of the whole being. The conscious mind is what we ordinarily think of when we say 'my mind.' It's associated with thinking, analyzing and making judgments and decisions.The conscious mind is actively sorting and filtering its perceptions because only so much information can reside in consciousness at once. Everything else falls back below the water line, into unconsciousness.

Only seven bits of information, plus or minus two can be held consciously at one time. Everything else we are thinking, feeling or perceiving now... along with all our memories remains unconscious, until called into consciousness or until rising spontaneously.


Right at the water line of our metaphoric iceberg is where we imagine and dream. The imagination is a two-way communication medium between the unconscious and conscious minds. It functions as the membrane through which material and processes happening in the unconscious mind come into conscious awareness.

Communication through the imagination is two-way. The conscious mind can also use the medium of the imagination to communicate with the unconscious mind. The conscious mind sends suggestions about what it wants through the imagination to the unconscious. It imagines things, and the subconscious intelligences work to make them happen.

The suggestions can be words, feelings or images. Athletes commonly use images to mentally rehearse how they want to perform by picturing themselves successfully completing their competition. A tennis player may see a tennis ball striking the racket at just the right spot, at just the perfect moment in the swing. Studies show that this form of imaging improves performance.

However, the unconscious mind uses the imagination to communicate with the conscious mind far more often than the other way around. New ideas, hunches, daydreams and intuitions come from the unconscious to the conscious mind through the medium of the imagination.

An undeniable example of the power in the lower part of the iceberg is dreaming. Dream images, visions, sounds and feelings come from the unconscious. Those who are aware of their dreams know how rich and real they can be. Even filtered, as they are when remembered later by the conscious mind, dreams can be quite powerful experiences.

Many people have received workable new ideas and insights, relaxing daydreams, accurate hunches, and unexpected intuitive understandings by replaying their dreams in a waking state. These are everyday examples of what happens when unconscious intelligences and processes communicate through the imagination with the conscious mind.

Unfortunately, the culture has discouraged us from giving this information credibility. "It's just your imagination" is a commonly heard dismissal of information coming from the deep mind. This kind of conditioning has served to keep us disconnected from the deep richness of our vast unconscious resources.

In the self-healing work we'll be using the faculty of the imagination in several ways. In regression processes to access previously unconscious material from childhood, perinatal experiences, past lives and the even deeper realm of the 'universal unconscious.' Inner dialogue is another essential tool that makes use of the imagination in process work.

'Under the Iceberg' Communication

To carry the iceberg metaphor forward, each of us can be represented as an iceberg, with the larger part of ourselves deeply submerged. And there's a place in the depths where all of our icebergs come together, a place in the unconscious where we connect with each other.

The psychologist Carl Jung has named this realm the 'Collective Unconscious.' This is the area of mind where all humanity shares experience, and from where we draw on the archetypal energies and symbols that are common to us all. 'Past life' memories are drawn from this level of the unconscious.

Another, even deeper level can be termed the 'Universal Unconscious' where experiences beyond just humanity's can also be accessed with regression process. It is at this level that many 'core issues' begin, and where their healing needs to be accomplished.

The unconscious connection 'under the iceberg' between people is often more potent than the conscious level connection, and an important consideration in doing the healing work. Relationship is an area rich with triggers to deeply buried material needing healing. And some parts of us cannot be triggered in any way other than 'under the iceberg.'

Although the conscious mind, steeped in cognition and thought, is able to deceive another... the unconscious mind, based in feeling, will often give us information from under the iceberg that contradicts what is being communicated consciously.

"Sounds right but feels wrong," is an example of information from under the iceberg surfacing in the conscious mind, but conflicting with what the conscious mind was able to get on its own. This kind of awareness is also called 'sentience,' the realm of 'intuition.'

Consciousness and Sentience

Another way of understanding the iceberg metaphor is to place 'consciousness' above the water line, and 'sentience' below. The two fundamental kinds of human awareness, consciousness and sentience, are both used in this work.

Conscious awareness brings awareness of thoughts, visions and spiritual realities. Sentience is the feeling sense that conveys awareness of body sensations, intuition and deep emotional realities. Consciousness is associated with light, and at the transpersonal level, Spirit. It is the outgoing, yang, electric, thinking, 'masculine' kind of awareness.

Sentience is associated with darkness, and at the transpersonal level, the Mother of Creation. It is the more in-drawing, magnetic, feeling, 'feminine' kind of awareness. Both the culture and our own experiences have conditioned us to favor consciousness, and then encouraged us to increase and expand it. On the other hand, our deepest conditioning generally has told us to try to ignore or otherwise deny our sentient awareness whenever it feels 'bad.'

The healing work involves finding and reclaiming lost parts of ourselves, virtually all of which are feeling parts that have been suffering great pain in their darkness and isolation. This reclaiming work has been difficult to do since our conditioning and nearly every self-help approach and spiritual path has involved used consciousness in ways that have enabled it to rise above or lift out of the pain and despair of the sentient parts still stuck in imprints.

While wholeness has been the stated objective of various therapies and spiritual paths, most have advocated reclaiming only the lost parts of Self that can align with the needs and desires of consciousness. This bias has of course left many parts out in the cold, and wholeness an elusive goal.

This work reverses the age-old tendency of consciousness to dominate sentience. Only sentient awareness can tell us what is needed for the healing of our feeling parts, and consciousness can help the healing work go quickly, easily and painlessly by being there for the feeling parts in loving acceptance.

'Consciousness in the service of sentience' is the master key to healing at the deepest levels. And you, the responsible, resourceful, loving, inner Healer is who uses this key. As the work progresses, you learn how to bring love and acceptance to every part of Self, no matter how 'bad' it may feel at first.


Intuitive information comes without a searching of the conscious memory or a formulation to be filled by imagination. When we access the intuition, we seem to arrive at an insight by a path from unknown sources directly to the conscious awareness. Wham! Out of nowhere, in no time.

No matter what the precise neurological process, the ability to access and use information from the intuition is extremely valuable in the effective and creative use of the tools of self healing. In relating with others, it's important to realize that your intuition will bring you information about the other and your relationship from under the iceberg.

When your intuition is the source of your words and actions, they are usually much more appropriate and helpful than what thinking or other functions of the conscious mind could muster. What you do and say from the intuition in earnest communication will be meaningful to the other, even though it may not make sense to you.

The quickest and best way to nurture and develop your intuition is to trust all of your intuitive insights. Trust encourages the intuition to be more present. Its information is then more accessible and the conscious mind finds less reason to question, analyze or judge intuitive insights.

The primary skills needed for easy access and trust of intuitive information are:

* The ability to get out of the way.

* The ability to accept the information without judgment.

Two easy ways to access intuition and help the conscious mind get out of the way are:

* Focus your attention in your abdominal area and imagine you have a 'belly brain'. As you feel into and sense this area, 'listen' to what your belly brain has to say. This is often referred to as listening to our 'gut feelings.'

* With your eyes looking down and to your left and slightly defocused, simply feel into what to say next.

Once the intuition is flowing, it will continue easily, unless it is blocked. The most usual blockages are because of the conscious mind's judgments of the intuitive information. The best way to avoid this is to get the cooperation of the conscious mind so it will step aside and become the observer when intuition is being accessed.