Self-suggestion: how does it work?

Italian version


This paragraph that Bardon devotes to self-suggestion refers to the possibility of interacting with the subconscious. The term is often interchangeable with “unconscious”, used more frequently in a psychoanalytic context. Freud, for example, observed that the contents removed at the conscious level formed the unconscious layer (Unbewusste), but he also alternatively used the term subconscious (Unterbewusste). In theory, what we call the unconscious is considered a deep mental process with no neuroanatomical counterparts; In contrast, the subconscious, which regulates the course of what is not subjected to conscious awareness (such as breathing, motor coordination, automatic dexterity), is delegated as we will see to the cerebellum. We have chosen to keep the term subconscious in this context, although some aspects of the exposition may refer to the alternative term.

Introducing Step II Bardon dedicates a paragraph to self-suggestion meanings and techniques intended as adjuvants of the ensuing exercises. Therefore, it is not a practice in itself but a tool that supports willpower to counteract the criticalities of one’s nature.

Self-suggestion techniques are certainly not the prerogative of magic thinking. They were introduced and developed as psychological therapy by Émile Coué, a French psychologist and pharmacologist, at the beginning of the 20th century. He realised that drug therapy supported by a positive mental state amplified the effect of the drugs. The formula was a repetition in the morning and the evening of a phrase like “Every day I’m getting better and better”, which helped to transmute thoughts related to the disease into a cure through self-suggestion.

Coue’s method consisted of occupying the consciousness with an exclusive idea that, with the help of the imagination, saturated the patient’s mind by holding back the subconscious impositions so that their intellect was positively influenced. Coué argued that the body could dominate some diseases with this system, as long as imagination prevails over negative thoughts. Subsequently, Coué’s method was applied to autogenic training techniques.

Bardon closely follows the guidelines already outlined by Coué, with the evident application differences necessary to use autosuggestion in hermetic practice. According to him, self-suggestion closes the gap between the conscious aspect – which we express in waking activity – and the subconscious layers of the psyche, which can influence us by overcoming the barriers of our voluntary control. But what do we mean by conscious and subconscious?

Conscious activity, the awareness of the objects of perception reflected internally through the sense organs, finds its physical counterpart in the brain; the brain is not consciousness, which is a function of the soul, but its image on the body level. Consciousness carries out an activity of coordination and homeostasis with the external environment. That allows individuals to recognise themselves as such and, therefore, distinguish themselves from what is other than themselves through the affixing of space-time categories.

As the word suggests, the subconscious is below the threshold of conscious perception. Bardon rightly defines it as an opponent, not as a negative element of the soul, but because it represents what we are not and in which we do not recognise ourselves, projecting into it the aspects that we consider competitive with what we have chosen to be. We could still describe it as a reservoir of unexpressed potentials, a chaotic whole waiting to be actualised, vibrant with energy that risks overwhelming our reference personality if not controlled. Consequently, as a malleable whole, the subconscious can be anything, even our fears and weaknesses, if we give it this shape. In a positive sense, it is the “place of possibilities” to use a metaphor dear to Christian theology; but to take advantage of it, we must somehow “deceive” it.

According to Bardon, the main obstacle in using autosuggestion is when we employ the habitual thought pattern to apply it to the subconscious. The manifestation of an idea requires the space-time sphere for the idea to become a reality. When we express the decision, for example, not to give in to the passion for a specific vice, we do so using a linguistic pattern such as “from tomorrow I will stop smoking” or “I will not eat sweets” or “I would like to stop drinking”. In these cases, using the future or a conditional formula, we retain the idea that there is a separation between our current vice and its subsequent resolution, which results in the duration necessary to eradicate it. But by doing so, we give the subconscious time to frustrate our desire, especially if we have weak willpower. The subconscious is outside the space-time categories; if we offer it the chance to act causally, it will find a way to deceive us.

The organ that reflects the soul aspects of the subconscious is the cerebellum. Located in the cranial fossa, one of its main activities is motor control. Yet, various language, attention, and imagination functions have been recognised over time. The substantial difference to the cerebral cortex, which in learning operates through imitation, is that the cerebellum uses “internal models” to determine the type of output to be performed. The cerebellum can coordinate the body’s balance, posture, movement, mental function, vision, and psychological resistance to change by functioning as a collector that receives information from the brain, nervous system, and spine.

How do we manage to overcome the pitfalls of the subconscious? We use sentences in the present or imperative tense. Referring to the previous examples, we will say: “I don’t smoke”, “I don’t eat sweets”, “I am a non-drinker” as if one’s aspiration had already been satisfied and the fact realised. In doing so, the thought remains day by day in the superficial consciousness and then gradually integrates into the subconscious. We also remember that the exercise is not a technique in itself but must be combined with other actions. The following are the indications on the practice:

  • Prepare a necklace of forty pearls or a rope with forty knots. It will help not to get distracted when repeating the chosen formula.
  • In the evening before falling asleep and in the morning as soon as you wake up, recite the chosen phrase, sliding a pearl or a knot each time. Recite quietly or mentally, as appropriate. During the evening session, the ideal would be to continue until you fall asleep, trying to transfer the desire into sleep; in this way, the practice is more effective.
  • If there are nocturnal awakenings for any reason, you can use the opportunity to practice until you fall asleep again.
  • In addition to the transmutation of unwanted character aspects, desires concerning health, the development of particular faculties and, in general, everything that has to do with the physical, soul and spiritual improvement of the personality are accepted. That excludes external contributions such as lottery winnings, financial assets, etc.
  • This exercise helps correct the defects found with the mirror practice of Step I. The self-suggestion must be continued until its effectiveness is found, after which one can move on to the next desire. So, for now, try not to set yourself too ambitious goals.