Consciousness: The Bright Side of the Moon

Photo credit: Abrams Planetarium by John French

Photo credit: Abrams Planetarium by John French

There are still tigers roaming our modern world, and make no mistake about it, you have a very real chance of being attacked and eaten. Of course for the vast majority of us, I’m speaking of symbolic tigers with this statement, but the outcome of a symbolic tiger attack is just as destructive as if it were the real thing.

Psychologist and researcher of consciousness, Robert Ornstein (1991) said:

The human mind, with its deepest roots in ancient routines for the analyses of simple signals, evolved to respond to dangers such as the tiger, and more recently the product of a rapidly expanding brain, can and will adapt even further, moving deeper within, into the many adaptations humanity has always possessed. (p. 279)

Ornstein points out with this passage that the human mind has developed and evolved from a mind that responded to real-life dangers like tiger attacks. There is no reason to believe that present day human minds are not similarly concerned with our survival and evolution.

There are some people that continue to be closely tied to the ancient interplay of real predator and prey, but for most of us, this interplay and archetype is played out in other ways. We can become conscious of this exchange and look and move deeper, but ultimately this will get us only so far. We must not only become conscious of the interplay, but we must learn from it, and react in smart ways to signals and stimuli that are there to warn us and to help us to have a better chance of avoiding danger and destruction.

Evil and its associated pitfalls and destructiveness, is intent on the halt of growth and development, in both the individual and in society as a whole. We may see evil manifested in our everyday lives through the psychopath as leader, or psychopath as co-worker or neighbor, and in the massacres of innocents by “mad” lone gunmen. The consequences of these attacks are very felt and real, just like an attack from a real tiger.

The psychology of Carl Jung can help us to understand evil, and its enemy; increased consciousness, but Jung’s work is too often associated more with the unconscious and with unconscious dynamics, as well as with the esoteric. But Jungian psychology has just as much to say and learn about the mechanisms and importance of the “bright side of the moon;” that of consciousness. Jung was very much concerned in both his life and his work with the development of consciousness. Unfortunately, all too often Jungian psychology and theory gets bogged down and lost in unconscious processes at the expense of study and discussion of the importance and vital role of consciousness.

Plumbing the depths of the unconscious is imperative, but we must not get lost or stuck there. We should be prepared to learn what we can from the unconscious, such as with our dreams, but we need to then take this learning and knowledge and have the courage to apply it in our everyday lives where we are still confronted with symbolic tigers.

Here is what Ornstein said about how our world has changed and the need for adaptation. He said:

Because we’ve changed the world so much, we need as a society to direct new kinds of adaptation consciously in all periods of life, in infancy, in youth, in society at large, in the planet, in spirit. I can’t say that humanity will do it, but it is clear that unless we understand our roots in ancestral worlds and our adaptations to that world and how our adaptations cling inappropriately now, we have no real hope of changing…( p. 279)

Jungian Erich Neumann in his classic text, The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954), put the importance of developing consciousness another way. He said:

But the preparation for this rapprochement lies, as always, with the hero, the individual: he and his transformation are the great human prototypes: he is the testing ground of the collective, just as consciousness is the testing ground of the unconscious. (p. 393)

Neumann is positing here that the development of consciousness can actually be seen as a testing ground for the unconscious. We must bring back from the unconscious that which it teaches, otherwise, we only make the journey part way. We will be tested, confronted by evil and modern day “tigers.” There are obstacles and destructive forces both within us and without that will try to stop us. This seems to be the manner in which the archetype and interplay between the unconscious and consciousness plays out. As Jung (1976) puts it:

On each level of consciousness the old mystery of the light and the assault of darkness is repeated, for a new level is an increase of light, and that little increase of light can be attacked by the relative darkness of the state before. (p. 406)

Neumann (1954) adds to this idea when he comments:

This unconscious mass component is opposed to consciousness and the world of culture. It resists conscious development, is irrational and emotional, anti-individual and destructive. It corresponds mythologically to the negative aspect of the Great Mother—it is her murderous accomplice, the adversary and the man-slaying boar. (p. 439)

Evil, the great adversary, is lurking in the world and it is insidious. At times in our lives its presence is particularly invasive and apparent. Becoming conscious of this fact and hard truth will help us in navigating our day-to-day lives. We have evolved from a time when our ancestors were confronted with the fear of being attacked by tigers. As Neumann implied in the above quote, our modern adversaries are no less dangerous, and they are anti-consciousness and development and they have the potential to destroy just like a man-slaying boar destroys. As a prison psychologist, I have seen this dynamism and destruction played out in the lives of thousands of incarcerated men with whom I have worked with over the years.

On the positive side, by learning about and from our unconscious, we can gain awareness and insight into ourselves, others, and our world, which can help us to both increase consciousness and approach our lives and developmental tasks with maturity and courage.

The image of the bright side of the moon as a feminine Self symbol is a fitting symbol for a discussion of consciousness. The circular, round, or crescent shape of the moon represents a containing image for the development of the Self, and its paradoxical interplay between conscious and unconscious processes. As seen in the photo to the right, the light from the moon illuminates the darkness, casting its light upon the ocean waters.

Light is to consciousness as darkness is to unconsciousness, while the bright side of the moon contains the truth gleaned from the darkness. Consciousness cannot exist without a balance between these opposites. A psychology of only the unconscious and its depth is like a feather drifting aimlessly in the wind, without an equal and balancing focus on the development of the bright side of the moon—the development of consciousness.

Jung (1976) had this to say about consciousness and light:

…whether you look at the development of man from a merely mental side, or from an ethical side, it is an intensification of consciousness. The question is always the great light, more light, illumination, clarification….Light is always the symbol of consciousness; when there is light you can see, the light helps your vision, and that seems to be the purpose. (p. 501)

Neumann (1954) wrote about the differentiation of the conscious from the unconscious into two separate systems, and he discussed the balance within this development. He said:

The wide discrepancy between ego consciousness on the one hand and the world of the unconscious on the other makes it imperative that the ego should be helped, if indeed the role of the individual and his ego consciousness is as important for the species as we take it to be. (p. 364)

Helping our visions to grow with more light seems to be one of the great purposes of our lives. Consciousness, light, the bright side of the moon; bring a balance to the depths of the unconscious. As Neumann said, “Consciousness is the testing ground of the unconscious.” We plumb the depths so that we can learn, adapt, change and survive. We plumb the depths for many reasons, including important spiritual ones; but also so that evil, our adversaries, the tiger, do not defeat us, but only help to make us stronger, wiser, and more whole. We plumb the depths for the bright side of the moon.


Jung, C.G. (1976). The Visions Seminars. Zurich, Switzerland: Spring Publications.

Neumann, E. (1954). The Origins and History of Consciousness. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Ornstein, R. (1991). The Evolution of Consciousness (Of Darwin, Freud, and Cranial Fire: The Origins of the Way We Think). New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.


© 2013, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Archetypes, Biology, Consciousness, Individuation, Psychology, Psychotherapy, Self, Symbolic, Unconscious and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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