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the Fish Tank Metaphor

How the Mind Develops - How Therapy Helps

the Emergence Fish Tank Metaphor

The "Fish Tank" Metaphor

What you see represented in the picture above is a simple way to understand how the "conscious," "subconscious," and "unconscious" compartments of the mind come into being. What do you see?

Start with that I am using a fish tank to represent the container of the mind. And for those unfamiliar with this phrase, "container of the mind," we Emergence Practitioners refer to the mind as a container because we make a distinction between what hold our experiences and these experiences themselves; between the "container of the mind" and "what is in the mind," the content of the mind.

Thus, the "container of the mind" itself is sort of like a three drawer file cabinet wherein you have stored the stuff you use the most in the top drawer and the stuff you rarely use in the bottom drawer. What is stored in this cabinet then; the actual content of the mind, is simply whatever you put into this storage container; your ideas, experiences, feelings, and injuries; your successes and failures, and your loves and hates.

OK. So the mind itself is a container for what we experience and not these experiences themselves. And one way to imagine this container is to see it as a three drawer file cabinet. So why use a fish tank to represent the mind?

Very simply, because at birth, we do not arrive with a three section mind. How many sections do we arrive with? Only one; the conscious container. Which is just another way to say we arrive on the planet in a very conscious state. And pretty much stay in this state for about the first two years of our lives.

Using the fish tank metaphor then, in the first two years of life, we see things as if we are living in a brand new fish tank. Cleanly. Clearly. And surprisingly vividly. So what happens?

Life happens. And we begin to acquire what we Emergence Practitioners call, "blocks." What are "blocks?"

Blocks are what happen to us when we get startled while we are in a highly conscious state. They are permanent blanknesses which get programmed into our minds which function like blind spots in our ability to see life. Literally, they become life experiences we can no longer imagine on the screen of our mind. If we try, we simply go blank.

Unfortunately, no one has ever noticed how important this is. Thus, we generally overlook these blanknesses.

As babies begin to learn to overlook these blanknesses, they begin to acquire experiences which in a way, are heavy. They feel heavy. Darker. Less alive. In fact, by about age two, babies accumulate enough of these heavy experiences that their minds begin to function like a fish tank which needs cleaning.

Imagine how a fish tank would get if you did not clean it for two years. Whoa! Not so pretty. At least at the bottom of the tank. Still, the top would probably remain pretty clear and so, there would be a lot that you still could see clearly.

This is pretty much the way our minds function at age two. Most stuff is pretty clear to us. Some stuff is too heavy to look at. Too dark.

Time passes. And we acquire more blocks. By seven, these blocks accumulate to the point wherein we actually have what passes for three separate zones in the fish tank of our minds. Which is to say, we have things which we literally cannot see at all, things which we see as shadowy movements which cross our minds,and things we can still easily picture in our minds.

Using the fish tank metaphor, we can imagine this happening from more years of not having cleaned the tank. Yuck. Want to stick your hand in there? Not me <smile>. No surprise, most of us do not really want to go to therapy. In therapy, we stick our hands down into the sludge and yucky messes left over from our painful life experiences. And try to clean up these messes.

Can we? Yes. But only if we use our ability to visualize on the screen of our mind to discern between what has and has not healed. What I'm saying is, most folks believe that the proof we have healed something is that we no longer feel bad. Not true. And while we do feel better when we heal something, the real proof of healing is that we feel empowered and strong in this area of life. Including that we have become able to see clearly into what was once so dark that we saw virtually nothing good.

For example, one of my areas of darkness was my feelings of anger. I literally used to hate feeling angry. And blame myself and others for these feelings. Now, having healed a lot of my hatred toward this part of myself, I actually feel positive feelings about me getting angry. Not just logical excuses. Actually happy feelings regarding my ability to get angry.

In fact, I felt this only yesterday, when I spent several hours teaching a seven year old boy to release his anger. It was hard. He got so scared that someone would judge him for being afraid that he literally begged me and his mom to never tell anyone what he had confessed; that he was afraid of his dad's anger.

Being able to witness his dad's anger, at least in my mind, allowed me to blamelessly help this boy. Not with logic nor with excuses, but with genuinely compassionate stories. Like that I used to be so afraid to go to school that I used to fake being sick because I was so scared of an angry bully.

My point? I helped this little boy to clean his fish tank a little. How? By helping him to become able to witness his mom's anger release, his younger brother's, and even mine. Slowly. And with great care and love. But with an honest ability to see the good in anger.

People who have never cleaned this part of their fish tank cannot see the good in anger. Logically, maybe yes, but not visually.

Therapy which helps people to restore their visual ability to witness all of life is the real therapy. Regardless of the method then, if the therapy cleans your glass, then you can witness life with truth and courage.

Not sure if your therapy does this? Want to know how to tell? Please know I'd welcome your questions. And be willing to do whatever I can to help you in knowing for sure.



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