Most of us are aware of our conscious verbal self-talk. Many of us are also aware that we have other thoughts and assumptions that are less conscious, and for the most part, we only have a rough idea of what they are. For instance, we may have been in a situation that showed us that our assumptions about someone or something was wrong, and we were initially not even aware of having and operating from those assumptions.
The iceberg analogy works well for thoughts. We are aware of our conscious self-talk, which is the tip of the iceberg. And we also have and operate from a large number of other thoughts that influence – and to a large extent determine – how we experience life and what choices we make.
They form our most basic assumptions about ourselves, others, and life. They color our perceptions and choices. And they color our life as a whole.
Knowing this, it makes sense to explore and make some of these conscious, especially if they don’t serve our life as we would like it to be.
What does this iceberg look like?
As mentioned above, the tip of the iceberg is our conscious self-talk.
The part of the iceberg that’s under the metaphorical water consist of verbal self-talk and visualizations, words and images.
Some of these are about more peripheral things in our daily life and the world.
And some make up our most basic assumptions – about ourselves, others, the world, and life in general.
What are some examples of the below-the-water thoughts?
The particular combination of thoughts are individual. But there are more universal themes – especially for people within the same culture and subcultures.
I have images and stories about specific people in my life. She is my partner and have these qualities and relationships with me. This is my father and he is a certain way. And so on.
I have images and stories about countries and groups of people – including cultural and political groups. My images and stories determine what I think about them, how I see myself in relation to them, and who I like and don’t like so much.
I have images and stories about who and how I am. I have these qualities, roles, and identities, and not so much these others ones. I like these and don’t like those, and wish I had more of these.
I have images and stories about situations, how I am in relation to them, and what they mean about me and for me. One I am exploring right now is noise (the closest neighbor building is going to be torn down and rebuilt), and I see stories in me about being a victim, not being in control, and somehow being damaged by noise. Behind these are some early childhood memories.
Then we have our most basic assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world. These are, at least in my experience, mostly in the form of images, although it’s usually easy enough to set words to and elaborate on these images.
For instance, I find I have images of time – in the form of a timeline separated into present, future, and past. And I fit specific images (aka memories, scenarios) into each of these categories. I also have an image of me as a human being, a man, and so on. And of the world – the universe, planet, humanity, myself – both as separate objects (from my culture) and as a seamless whole (from my own conscious explorations).
How can we make these thoughts and assumptions more conscious?
The best way I have found is through different forms of inquiry, for instance The Work of Byron Katie and Living Inquiries which is a modern version of Buddhist inquiry.
The Work helps us be more conscious about our verbal thoughts, and – depending on the skill of the facilitator – can helps us go very deep in exploring both verbal and visual thoughts.
Living Inquiries more explicitly helps us explore both images and words, and also how they combine with sensations. We get to see how sensations lend a sense of substance, solidity, and truth to the thoughts, and how thoughts give a sense of meaning to their associated sensations.
Some additional reflections
I have seen people saying “I am not a racist” as a response to the recent focus on racism in the US and around the world. For me, this is an example of not being aware of what’s below the water. Just by living in our culture, we adopt racist thoughts – and for most of us, these are below the water. Even black people have these racist stereotypes, and probably reverse ones to compensate, just from living in this culture.