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Abstracted from Assagioli, R.: Psychosynthesis, New York, Penguin Books, 1976
by Ray Sherman
The “self”, that is to say, the point of pure self-awareness, is often confused with the conscious personality, but in reality it is quite different from it. This can be ascertained by the use of careful introspection. The changing contents of our consciousness (the sensations, thoughts, feelings, etc.) are one thing, while the “I”, the self, the center of our consciousness is another.
The conscious self is generally not only submerged in the ceaseless flow of psychological contents, but seems to disappear altogether when we fall asleep, when we faint, when we are under the effect of an anesthetic or narcotic, or in a state of hypnosis. And when we awake, the self mysteriously re-appears, we do not know how or whence -- a fact which, if closely examined, is truly baffling and disturbing. This leads us to assume that the re-appearence of the conscious self is due to the existence of a permanent center, of a true Self situated beyond or above it.
The personal (conscious) self is generally unaware of the other, even to the point of denying its existence; whereas the other, the true Self, is latent and does not reveal itself directly to our consciousness.
But there are not really two selves, two independent and separate entities. The Self is one; it manifests in different degrees of awareness and self-realization. The reflection (personal self) appears to be self-existent but has, in reality, no autonomous substantiality. It is , in other words, not a new and different light but a projection of its luminous source.
No wonder then that man is often discontented, insecure and changeable in his moods, thoughts and actions. Feeling intuitively that he is “one,” and yet finding that he is “divided unto himself,” he is bewildered and fails to understand either himself or others.
Let us examine whether and how it
is possible to solve this central problem of human life. The stages for
the attainment of this goal may be tabulated as follows:
The regions of the middle and higher unconscious should likewise be explored. In that way we shall discover in our selves hitherto unknown abilities, our true vocations, our higher potentialities which seek to express themselves.
Control of the Various Elements of the Personality. After having discovered all these elements, we have to take possession of them and acquire control over them. The most effective method by which we can achieve this is that of disidentification. This is based on a fundamental psychological principle which may be formulated as follows:
We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.
Every time we "identify" ourselves with a weakness, a fault, a fear or any personal emotion or drive, we limit and paralyze our selves. The vigilant self does not submit to that invitation; it can objectively and critically survey these impulses; it can look to their origin, foresee their deleterious effects, and realize their unfoundedness.
Even when these forces within ourselves are temporarily
stronger, when the conscious personality is at first overwhelmed by their
violence, the vigilant self is never really conquered. We can tackle
the deep-seated causes of these attacks and cut away the roots of the difficulty.
This procedure may be divided into two phases:
But in order to be able to do this we must start from the center, we must have established and made efficient the unifying and controlling Principle of our life.
Realization of One's True Self -- the Discovery or Creation of a Unifying Center. What has to be achieved is to expand the personal consciousness into that of the Self; to reach up, to unite the lower with the higher Self. In favorable cases the ascent takes place to some extent spontaneously through a process of natural inner growth, fostered by the manifold experiences of life; but often the process is very slow. In all cases, however, it can be considerably accelerated by our deliberate conscious action and by use of appropriate active techniques.
The men and women who cannot reach their true Self in it's pure essence can create a picture and an ideal of perfected personality adequate to their caliber, their stage of development and their psychological type, and therefore can make this ideal practicable in actual life. These "ideal models" imply vital relationships with the outer world and other human beings, and hence a certain degree of extroversion. But this outward projection of one's own center should not be underrated. It may constitute a satisfactory form of indirect Self-realization. In the best instances the individual does not really lose himself in the external object, but frees himself in that way from selfish interests and personal limitations; he realizes himself through the external ideal or being. The latter thus becomes an indirect but true link, a point of connection between the personal man and his higher Self, which is reflected and symbolized in that object.
Psychosynthesis: the Formation or Reconstruction of the Personality Around the New Center. When the unifying center has been found or created, we are in a position to build around it a new personality -- coherent, organized, and unified.
This is the actual psychosynthesis, which also has several stages. The first essential is to decide the plan of action, to formulate the "inner program." We must visualize the purpose to be achieved -- that is, the new personality to be developed -- and have a clear realization of the various tasks it entails.
Once the choice of ideal form has been made, practical
psychosynthesis, the actual construction of the new personality, begins.
This work may be divided into three principal parts:
The roles of an individual, in whom various psychological traits are not integrated, form what we consider to be sub-personalities.
One should become clearly aware of these sub-personalities because this evokes a measure of understanding of the meaning of psychosynthesis, and how it is possible to synthesize these sub-personalities into a larger organic whole without repressing any of the useful traits. During and after this assessment of the subpersonalities one realizes that the observing self is none of them, but something or somebody different from each.
Will. We emphasize the will as being the function most intimate with the self. We think that there is such a thing as the "unconscious will" of the higher Self which tends always to bring the personality in line with the over-all purpose of the spiritual Self. One of the purposes or goals of spiritual psychosynthesis is to make this "unconscious will" of the spiritual Self a conscious experience.
Valuation. In the last few years an increasing number of clinicians have started to talk about the problem of values in psychotherapy, of the relationship between the values of the therapist and the values of the patient, whether and when it is advisable for the therapist to divulge his own values, how he can help the patient to more mature values, and so on. While there may be great ethical and spiritual principles, their values in the psychological sense can only be relative to the individual, to his age, to his general condition and to his stage in therapy.
Exploration of the Unconscious. We do not aim at a thorough, complete, exhaustive exploration of the unconscious. We have not found it necessary for therapeutic and psychosynthetic purposes to look almost pedantically into every little corner of the unconscious, dust it free from every last bit of -- let us call it -- dirt or impurity. We think we can -- as normal people generally do -- put up with a certain amount of unanalyzed unconscious material, as long as it remains more or less quiet and does not interfere with normal life and normal activities.
We take the practical view: when the unconscious disturbs, it has to be dealt with; if it keeps quiet, we do not make a systematic offensive against it.
Self-Identification. The conscious and purposeful use of self-identification -- or dis-identification -- is basic to psychosynthesis.
Self-identification is a rather ambiguous term, and we must distinguish three different meanings. The first meaning is that of the individual identifying himself with that which gives him the greatest sense of being, of aliveness, with that which constitutes his greatest value, and to which he gives the most importance. A successful athlete has his point of self-identification in the physical body. Others identify themselves with the emotional life. A smaller group identify themselves with their minds or brain power.
In others the self-identification with a role is
more evident. This has very severe consequences:
The second meaning which can be given to "self-identification" is the inner experience of pure self-awareness, independent of any content or function of the ego in the sense of personality. The experience of pure self-identy -- or in other words, of the self, the I-conciousness, devoid of any content -- does not arise spontaneously but is the the result of a definite inner experimentation.
The third meaning of "self-identification" is that of the realization of the higher or spiritual Self. It is different from the other experience of pure self already described -- but it is not completely separate from it. Let us remember that there are not in reality two independent selves. There is one Self -- but there are very different and distinct levels of self-realization. Therefore, between the self-identy of the ordinary or normal level of functioning and the full spiritual Self-realization there are intermediate stages or levels, ever wider, clearer, fuller.
The procedure for achieving self-identity in the sense of the pure self-consciousness at the personal level, is an indirect one. The self is there all the time, what is lacking is a direct awareness of its presence. Therefore, the technique consists in eliminating all the partial self-identifications. The procedure can be summarized in one word, introspection. Through introspection we acquire a more focussed and clear awareness of what could be called the attitude of the observer, the inner observer.
The first field of observation is that of the sensations, produced by bodily conditions. The observation of the flow of these sensations makes us realize how fleeting or impermanent many of them are and how easily they alternate. This gives us the certainty that the self is not the body.
The second field of inner observation or introspection is the kaleidoscopic realm of emotions and feelings. We come to the realization that the emotions and feelings also are not part of the self, of our self, because they too are changeable, mutable, fleeting and sometimes show ambivalence.
The third field of observation is that of mental activity. Here too the same criterion applies: mental activity is too varied, fleeting, changeable; sometimes it shows no continuity. The very fact that the self can observe, take notice and exercise its powers of observation on the mental activity proves the difference between the self and the mind.
Objective observation produces naturally, spontaneously and inevitably a sense of dis-identification from any and all of those psychological contents and activities. By contrast the stability, the permanency of the observer is realized. Then the observer becomes aware that he can not only passively observe but also influence in various degrees the spontaneous flow, the succession of the various psychological states. Therefore, he feels himself different, is dis-identified from those contents.
Thus, one has to actively discriminate between the contents of the field of consciousness and its center -- that which creates it, the self. The technique to be used is that of successive dis-identifications from the various groups or layers of contents -- physical, emotional and mental.
Exercise in Dis-identification. The first step is to affirm with conviction and to become aware of the fact: "I have a body, but I am not my body." The second step is the realization: "I have an emotional life, but I am not my emotions or my feelings." The third step consists in realizing: "I have an intellect, but I am not that intellect."
The body, the feelings and the mind are instruments of experience, perception and action -- instruments that are changeable and impermanent, but which can be dominated, disciplined, deliberately used by the "I", while the nature of the "I" is something entirely different. The "I" is simple, unchanging, constant and self-conscious. The experience of the "I" can be formulated as follows: "I am I, a centre of pure consciousness."
The technique of self-identification can be considered as a defense mechanism against the constant stream of influences, inner and outer, which try to capture the ego and demand identification.
The same technique can be used in connection with the various roles one plays in life. The technique is he recollection and affirmation that: "I have, I must play and I quite willingly play, as well as possible, my roles in life. But these are roles, specific but partial roles, which I, myself, am playing, agree to play, watch and observe myself playing. Therefore I am not any of them; I am self-identified, and I am the director of the acting, not only the actor.
The Technique of Dialogue. The patient is asked to imaginatively dramatize the following situation: he imagines himself as having a specific personal or interpersonal problem which he does not feel he can solve by the ordinary rational means of the conscious personality. We then explain to him that there is a wise teacher within him -- his spiritual Self -- who already knows his problem, his crisis, his perplexity. He needs to make an inner journey to approach this inner teacher and then in imagination to simply state the problem, talking to the imagined teacher realistically as if he were a living person and, as in everyday conversation, courteously awaiting a response.
On occasion the answer is immediate and spontaneous; it is received clearly and comes with authority and an absence of all doubt. Sometimes the answer is delayed and comes in an unexpected moment, when the personality is not looking for it and is perhaps occupied with other concerns -- a condition that seems to facilitate the reception of the message, because eager expectation and tenseness can constitute an obstacle to receptivity.
Sometimes the answer comes seemingly spontaneously through a third person or through a book or other reading matter, or through the development of circumstances themselves. Enlightening impressions or psychological communications are reaching us all the time, even when not consciously sought. Formulating a question and being in a state of general expectation helps us to register and recognize what would otherwise remain hidden.
Of the personified symbols of the spiritual Self, that of the Inner Christ is one that we use in cases of individuals who are fairly open to Christian symbolism, in line with the general rule of using as much as possible the subject's own terminology in relation to the whole setting of his beliefs and preferences. In the case of atheists it is possible to use the inner teacher without going into a laborious discussion as to the existence or non-existence of the deity.
Transmutation and Sublimation of Sexual Energies. The problem of sex, the problem of how to deal in a sane and constructive way with the sexual drive, has confronted humanity ever since the beginning of civilization. In the past, in the sexual domain an attitude prevailed which led public opinion to regard the biological instincts and the human passions as bad and impure. Therefore, the method enjoined for dealing with them was that of suppression, except when the sex urge could find a justified satisfaction in lawful marriage. The whole subject of sex was considered improper, and adults tried to keep young people ignorant about it as long as possible.
The weakening of the religious influence on which that attitude was based, and the realization of the injurious effects of that suppression on health and character evoked various movements of revolt. All these concurred to foster and justify the uncontrolled gratification of all drives and impulses, the letting loose of every passion, the following of every whim.
But the result of this "liberation" did not produce the expected satisfaction and happiness. The followers of uncontrolled sexual expression found, and are still finding, that excesses are necessarily followed by exhaustion or disgust; that the sexual drive and passion, even when not checked by moral considerations, cannot always find gratification owing to lack of suitable partners. Moreover, various drives often come into conflict with each other, so that indulgence in one requires the inhibition of another.
Also, ethical and spiritual principles or aspirations cannot be eliminated as easily as many seem to believe; they persist in the unconscious owing to hereditary and environmental influences, and also exist latent in the true spiritual nature of man. When violated, they arouse conscious or unconscious protest and consequently intense inner conflicts.
It is apparent that neither of the two extreme attitudes can give satisfactory results. However, there is another alternative, a more dynamic and constructive way of handling the problem. This is based on, and takes advantage of, a fundamental property of biological and psychological energies, namely, the possibility of their transmutation.
We can therefore proceed in our examination of the methods to be followed in the utilization for constructive ends of surplus or excessive sexual drives.
The first rule is to adopt an objective attitude towards sex, free from the traditional reactions of fear, prudishness, and condemnation, as well as from the lure and glamor -- often artificially fostered -- by which it is generally surrounded at present. The objective scientific attitude towards the sexual drive should be twofold: we should, on the one hand, eliminate the fears and condemnations, which have the effect of repressing it into the unconscious, and, on the other hand, we should exercise a calm but firm control, followed by an active process of transmutation whenever its natural expression is unwarranted.
In seeking to define the nature of sexuality we find in
it three principle aspects:
Transmutations can take place in two directions. The first is the "vertical" or inward direction. Many instances of this kind of sublimation are offered by the lives and writings of the mystics of all times, places and religion. All of them speak of the "bliss" they experience (sensual aspect). One can also observe the different steps leading from human love to love for a higher Being (emotional aspect). Some of them speak of it as the "mystical marriage." In psychological terms one would say that the goal of spiritual synthesis is the union of the personality with the spiritual Self.
While the process of transmutation and sublimation can frequently be observed, one must not infer therefrom that all spiritual love is "merely" the outcome of sublimated sex. On the one hand, one finds many people whose normal sexual life is inhibited yet who show no trace of mysticism; on the other hand, there are instances of people leading a normal sexual life, raising a family, etc., and having at the same time genuine mystical experiences.
The spiritual life and consciousness belongs to a definite psychological level and has a quality which is specific and not derived. The transmuted energies reach up to it from below, as it were, and give it added vitality and "heat." The creative aspect can be sublimated in this "vertical" direction in the formation of a new regenerated personality.
The second direction of the transmutation process is "horizontal" or external. Here also we find three kinds of transmutation. The first, rather than being actual transmutation, consists of the substitution of other pleasures of the senses for sexual pleasure. The second consists of an enlargement or extension of love so as to include a growing number of individuals; the third produces or fosters artistic and intellectual activities.
There appears to be a deep similarity between sexual energy and the creative energies operating at other levels of the human being. Artistic creation offers a particularly suitable channel for sublimation, and many instances can be found in the lives of great artists, writers and composers.
Transmutation and sublimation is a process that can be
either spontaneous or consciously and deliberately fostered and brought
about. In the latter case, there is ample scope for the effective application
of the facts and laws ascertained or rediscovered by modern dynamic psychology.
Here are some practical methods for such applications:
The process of transmutation and sublimation may be compared to the regulation of the waters of a great river, which prevents recurring disastrous inundations or the formation of unhealthy marshes along its banks. While a portion of the water is permitted to flow freely to its natural destination, the remainder is diverted through proper channelling to appropriate mechanisms that transform its energy into electricity to be employed as motive power and other purposes. In a parallel way, the conscious or unconscious drives, which produce so much individual suffering and social disturbance, can become, if rightly controlled and channelled, the springs of activities having great human and spiritual value.
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