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The Transpersonal Self of each is in intimate union with the Transpersonal Self of all other individuals, however unconscious they may be of this. All Transpersonal Selves can be considered as “points” within the Universal Self. ”(Assagioli, 1974, p. 260)
The Transpersonal Self is the last of Assagioli’s seven core concepts; it is also the most diﬃcult to describe. Hidden beneath layers of thought, feeling and sensation it opens up to realities that transcend the intellect. Its character can best be described as light, energy and formless being.
Nevertheless, the ontological reality of the soul is fundamental to all training in Psychosynthesis. According to Assagioli we rarely experience the totality of the soul. We must start then with a theoretical understanding of its nature coupled with an experience of its guiding power. With this in mind let us begin with some perspectives on the direct experience of the soul.
In an interview Assagioli remarked that: ”the first question I am generally asked is: What is psychosynthesis and in what ways does it differ from other therapies or conceptions of the human personality. First, it is based on experience; it is empirical and existential in the sense that it has grown out of my own experience and that of others. The description of the results is not a theory. It is a report of subjective experience. ” (Besmer, 1973)
Assagioli did not write directly about his personal experiences; very little about himself can be found in his books. Yet after his death, notes he made while imprisoned during WWII were found in his archives, and in these he did write of his own experience. Assagioli was arrested because of his Jewish background and pacifist activities. An article by Schaub and Gulino (1994) reveals how Assagioli achieved a sense of inner freedom in prison. Although facing possible execution, he decided to turn his time in prison into a kind of spiritual retreat.
In his prison notes Assagioli wrote of experiencing “a sense of boundlessness, of no separation from all that is, a merging with the self of the whole.” There was ”first an outgoing movement, but not towards any particular object or individual an overflowing or effusion in all directions, as the ways of an ever expanding sphere.” Then came ”a sense of universal love. Then the ability to focus the radiation (the universal love) towards some object or individual and at the same time to specialize its quality: a compassionate love towards the inmates of my prison and towards all prisoners and the inmates of hospitals, tender love to the members of my family; brotherly love towards my friends… ” (Schaub, Gulino, 1994)
To understand what Assagioli means here we should recognize these aspects of the soul:
- The soul in its static being and active radiation
- The individual and universal nature of the soul
- The masculine and feminine polarity of the soul
THE STATIC BEING AND ACTIVE RADIATION OF THE SOUL
In his prison notes Assagioli speaks of ”a merging with the self of the whole” and an “overflowing or effusion in all directions.” This seeming contradiction is rooted in two different but linked aspects of the soul, that of being and activity. The soul’s character is like that of the self: a stable centre of pure consciousness and will. The difference is that when it merges with the universal Self, the soul’s self-awareness is limitless. Here the experience of being is as a loving witness without limits, linked to the whole.
As Assagioli says, the soul continuously radiates higher states of consciousness, which we experience in the Superconscious. This is the radiation of universal love to our surroundings. The possibilities available here have their origin in the Transpersonal Self (1974, p. 119). Seen from this perspective, the experience of Superconscious energies is largely an experience of the soul’s emanations or radiations. In other words, what we may experience as God, an angel or some paranormal phenomenon, are really – in some cases – our own emanations from a higher level of consciousness.
In his Talks on the Self (Undated 2) Assagioli explains the difference between the soul and its emanation:
”The Self radiates. Aristotle called it in that fine paradox the “Immovable mover.” It is immovable but sets in motion everything else. I suggest that you meditate upon the immovable mover, and our centre the sun, that unknown mysterious entity that sends enormous radiation throughout our whole solar system and beyond. Also, a jewel is static, but sparkles. The jewel receives light and then reflects it and sends it back again, or even a simple mirror reflects most of the light it receives, so it is not so diﬃcult to realize this paradox of the immovable mover.”
Elsewhere he explains the difference between static being and activity:
”There is a basic difference between the flow of manifestation, the great working out of the cosmic plan, and the Transcendent. The Transcendent doesn’t flow – the core, the inner jewel, the real centre – does not flow, it radiates.” (Freund, 1983)
In an inspiring article based on notes from an interview with Assagioli, Jim Vargui writes that: ”In this same way the Self is unchanging in essence, yet it sends out its energies, which are stepped down in intensity and transmitted through the Superconscious, and received, absorbed and utilized by the personality.” (Assagioli, Undated 3)
It may seem relatively easy to comprehend the soul as radiating love and inspiration because we have an idea of these states in our own lives. Yet without direct experience, the idea of the soul’s pure self-awareness may seem diﬃcult to grasp. An insight that came to me while meditating may help.
In 2010 I led a meditation retreat, the aim of which was to observe consciousness in the present moment. After five hours of silence my mind seemed to fade into the background. I felt that the top of my head was somehow softening and i felt a sense of freedom and expansion. A kind of inner sky opened in my consciousness, which seemed to stretch into infinity. I sat at peace, simply ”being.”
I did not see this inner sky; it was mea free, impersonal and limitless being. I could still think, but thinking felt like being in a straitjacket. In this expanded consciousness I felt a direct insight into my identity as a consciousness without physical form. My personal history and identity was seen against the backdrop of eternity. It was unquestionably irrelevant, yet somehow still important. There was a complete absence of personal sympathetic love; it was replaced by an oceanic sense of being love without an object. My sense of self was no longer restricted to the personal but was replaced with a certainty that we are all one consciousness. I had not become another, ”I” was still ”me”. My sense of identity was the same but my identification was no longer tied to my personality. It was released into an open field of presence, which extended even beyond the Superconscious into the cosmic.
Moving from the self to the soul is like being on a plane that has cleared the clouds and entered bright, blue, open space. The difference is that the open sky we have entered is ourselves. Experiencing the soul in its static aspect as pure being is an experience of pure awareness. As Assagioli’s says: “The Transpersonal Self is “outside” time and above it. It exists and lives in the dimension of the Eternal. ” (1973)
So far our focus has been on the soul’s static, emanating quality. We can call this the open self because it opens us to greater levels of unity with the world. In its most transcendent aspect it is universal, formless and non-manifest. It is a timeless consciousness, and is often referred to as the “the Ground of Being”. This aspect of the soul can be found in Buddhism and Vedanta, and in the West it is associated with the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart.
THE INDIVIDUAL AND UNIVERSAL NATURE OF THE SOUL
The soul is not just open and boundless consciousness it also has an individual aspect. We awaken to this aspect through the Transpersonal Will-to-be-a-self. When we experience this polarity of the soul, we get a completely different sense of our essential being. On this point Assagioli quotes Father Auguste Gratry:
”I am fond of Auguste Gratry’s description of contact with the Transpersonal Self because it is so vivid:
I felt as [if] it were an interior form … full of strength, beauty and joy … a form of light and flame, which sustained all my being: a steadfast, unchanging form, always the same, which I recovered again and again during the course of my life; yet I lost sight of it and forgot it at intervals, but always recognized it with joy and the exclamation: “Here is my real being”.” (Miller, 1973)
Here we have an image of the soul as an unchanging inner form filled with strength, light and flame. Assagioli locates the soul both within and without the Egg Diagram in order to show its individuality and universality. From within the diagram the soul radiates its qualities. As Assagioli writes: “the Self radiates… downward to the personality, horizontally to other living beings, and vertically to the One Self.”(Assagioli, Freund, 1983) Yet our individuality is never entirely lost even in the most universal states. As Lama Anagarika Govinda tells us:
”Individuality is not only the necessary and complementary opposite of universality, but the focal point through which alone universality can be experienced.” (1974, p. 128)
Through the individual the unique becomes universal. Assagioli refers to the following quote of Radhakrishnan:
”The peculiar privilege of the human self is that he can consciously join and work for the whole and embody in his own life the purpose of the whole. . . . The two elements of selfhood: uniqueness (eachness), and universality (allness), grow together until at last the most unique becomes the most universal.” (1974, p. 128)
We develop our individuality through our will and the choices we make. This means choosing that which we are rather than that which we are not. We develop our unique selves by using our will to pursue the purpose and qualities of life that reflect our true identity. There is never a moment in life without an underlying purpose or intention. The will is an energy we cannot escape, because we bring it to live whenever we make a choice.
Using an analogy from quantum physics we can say that the soul is both a particle and a wave. The will is our particle nature, and self-awareness is the wave. So Assagioli is right when he says that: “All Transpersonal Selves can be considered as “points” within the Universal Self.” In meditation this will can be felt as an inner living force, a purposeful energy that has a will to something. It may be the soul’s own Transpersonal Will to evolutionary enlightenment and service, or it may be God’s will, the will of the universal Self. When Jesus’ speaks of “my Father’s will” he means this force.
Because the soul wants to transcend the limits of the personality and so be of service to the greater whole, “we need to face courageously and willingly the requirements for transcending the limitations of personal consciousness, without losing the centre of individual awareness. This is possible,” Assagioli says: “because individuality and universality are not mutually exclusive; they can be united in a blissful synthetic realization. ” (Assagioli, 1974, p. 113)
The soul also desires ”communication with other selves” (1975, p. 87) as Assagioli describes in the opening quote of this chapter: ”The Transpersonal Self of each is in intimate union with the Transpersonal Self of all other individuals”. An exchange takes place between souls in the inner world, and for Assagioli the recognition of the group Self is a step towards the universal Self. (Undated 2)
THE SOUL’ S FEMININE AND MASCULINE POLARITY.
Speaking to Sam Keen, Assagioli said that: “In the centre of the self is a union of the masculine and feminine, will and love, action and observation.” (Keen, 1974)
Here Assagioli links the masculine to will and action and the feminine to love and observation (receptivity). The soul is thus dual, having a masculine and a feminine pole.
Our masculine and feminine polarity is itself static and active. We can see the masculine static form as divine fire and force. The static feminine form is universal openness, the experience of ourselves as a limitless and liberated loving witness.
The static masculine form is purposeful. We are unique individuals serving a specific purpose for the work of the universal Self. We are a point in the consciousness of the universal Self.
The soul’s masculine will is like an inner force patiently pushing us past our comfort zones. It knows we are greater than we think we are, and it compels us to become authentically ourselves. This is the inner “king or “queen” who follows the call of the good, the true, and the beautiful. He accepts nothing less than the complete actualisation of what he can be. He extends the boundaries of what we thought was possible. It is clear that his is a will is to action.
The link between feminine love and observation requires deeper reflection. What does observation have in common with femininity and love? Both observation and love require openness. Observation in the sense we are using the word involves self-awareness and receptivity of the self – pure consciousness. So both love and observation open us so that we can identify with people, nature and the cosmos.
This openness expresses itself through our psychological functions. Physically we become relaxed and receptive. Emotionally we become sensitive to something other than ourselves. We speak of ”open minds”, when our thinking takes on a new perspective. Intuitively, we open to the divine. This openness includes our Ground of Being and identification with the whole. These are clearly feminine qualities.
The feminine aspect of the soul is expressed as the desire for belonging, unity and community. It opens hearts, and removes barriers separating us from others. The feminine part of the soul knows there is only the World Soul of which we all are an expression. From this perspective “Love your neighbour as yourself” means exactly that because your neighbour is yourself. Here we understand the soul as a way to greater love. The Transpersonal Will is the will to love, because God is love.
The universal soul is expressed though many individual “points of light”. These vary in brightness, but the soul of humanity is one. Mystics have experienced this paradox and we can grasp it too intuitively, even if it is incomprehensible to the intellect. It represents the realization of our Buddha nature, or Christ-consciousness, what in Psychosynthesis we call Self-realization.
The masculine aspect of the soul seeks to perfect the purpose and development of the individual as a unique expression of the universal Self. The feminine part of soul connects the individual to the whole through identification with our humanity, nature and the world. It seeks to awaken the world to the unity of which it is an expression. By taking care of the cosmos it takes care of itself. Together the masculine and feminine polarity creates the good, the true, and the beautiful.
So far we have looked at a general anatomy of the soul. Many questions remain which can be answered only by awakening to our identity as soul. For now let us say that we are a “point of light within a greater light, which manifests itself through a physical body, with the aim of bringing love to the world.”
Now let us take a look at how Assagioli understands the process of Self-realization.
THE PROCESS OF SELF-REALIZATION
Asked why our personal lives don’t reflect the Superconscious, Assagioli replied:
”Because there are so many things in between. Between the personal self and the Higher Self there are all sorts of things – opaque, not transparent – that prevent the light, or refract it; all sorts of obstacles” (Freund, 1983)
With this in mind let’s continue the soul’s journey from body consciousness to non dual consciousness, exploring the obstacles along the way. As mentioned Assagioli’s philosophy implies a notion of the soul’s emanation. Here he talks about the symbol of resurrection: ”It presupposes an emanastistic theory of the soul, descending , becoming one with matter, and then returning to its ”home”, the heavenly homeland-not as it was before, but enriched by the experience of self awareness which has come to maturity in toil and conflict.” (2007, p. 95)
In the Egg Diagram, the soul’s descent to the self at the level of the personality is represented by the dotted line between the two levels of self-awareness. Assagioli writes: ”Our spiritual being, the Self, which is the essential and most real part of us, is concealed, confined and ”enveloped”, first by the physical body with its sense impressions; then by multiplicity of the emotions and the different drives (fears, desires, attractions and repulsions); and finally by the restless activity of the mind. The liberation of the consciousness from the entanglements is an indispensable prelude to the revelation of the spiritual Centre.” (1975, p. 214)
Self-realization means disidentifying with our given personality. It also means developing new qualities in our personality that reflects the soul’s radiation. This is required in order to manifest the soul in the world. This means working with Ideal Models and subpersonalities.
Assagioli gives examples of two different ways to the soul which in practice must nevertheless be combined. The first involves anchoring superconscious states in the personality, via Ideal Models and symbols. The way involves purifying the personality and its reactions to these new states. This work gradually develops new qualities in the personality that enable us to better express the love and will of the soul. As mentioned we can call this enlightenment through the Superconscious, because it is an approach to the soul through an anchoring of superconscious qualities in the personality.
The second way is more direct. What does Assagioli mean by the direct awakening to the soul? ”Self-realization, in this specific well-defined sense, means the momentary or more or less temporary identification or blending of the I-consciousness with the spiritual Self, in which the former, which is the reflection of the latter, becomes reunited, blended with the spiritual Self.” (1975, p. 202) What has to be achieved is to expand the personal consciousness into the Self; “to reach up, following the thread or ray to the star”. (Assagioli, 1975, p. 24)
Assagioli’s ”thread or ray” is the Bridge of Consciousness between the soul and the self (number 7 in the Egg Diagram in Chapter II). Assagioli speaks little about this, but it is nevertheless very important. The Bridge of Consciousness is our direct line of communication to the soul. The self is a projection of the soul and the Bridge of Consciousness must share its characteristics. It is a channel of pure self-awareness and will – a silent space – connecting the “earth and heavens”.
This channel is formed of the male-female energy polarity discussed previously. I personally experience it as immovable wakefulness, this is the open feminine aspect. Then there is the dynamic force of will and Life itself. Basically there is only one will, the universal will, which is the force of evolution behind existence. Will and life are synonymous, and therefore one can agree that: ”our Self (soul) is life and the personality is in the flow. The qualities of the personality should go with the flow, but not the Self. The great thing, diﬃcult but possible, is to live at the same time in the eternal and in the temporal.” (Assagioli, Freund, 1983)
For Assagioli life itself bring about synthesis at both biological and spiritual levels (1974, p. 32, 125, 130). The opening to the soul connects to a vital, potent, fiery being that wants something with our lives.
Assagioli sees this channel as ”elastic” (Undated 2). It is ”a channel of communication” (Assagioli, Freund, 1983), or, in another image, ”an elevator” (Assagioli, Keen, 1974). We take it to “ascend” to the soul.
Let us look at how Assagioli can help us form an idea of the nature of this channel.
Writing in Psychosynthesis of the activation of the channel, Assagioli says: ”The opening of the channel between the conscious and the superconscious levels, between the ego and the Self, and the flood of light, joy and energy which follows, often produce a wonderful release.” (1975, p. 43) He also describes the gradual coming together of the self and the soul: ”Before attaining reunification there is a time of dramatic ”inner dialogue” – appeals, questions and answers-following by a gradual coming together and by ever more frequent and vivid sparks between the two poles as they approach one another until the point where they meet. They then separate again until that moment of great peace when the two become one.” (2007, p. 78)
The soul’s direct influence reaches the self through the Bridge of Consciousness. (Indirectly it passes through the Superconscious.) The self experiences the direct influence as a “calling” or a “pull”. (See Chapter IX in The Act of Will.)
So how do we use this Bridge of Consciousness? Assagioli describes that it must be cleared before it becomes transparent to soul consciousness. There are, according to Assagioli, two primary methods we can apply to clear this channel. One is through the practice of disidentification and awareness meditation, which facilitates inner silence. The other is through the invocation of the soul asking for its intervention and then to wait for the soul’s response.
Assagioli describes the effect of the silence: ”After this must come the attainment and practice of ”mental silence”. This clears any obstacles between the mind and the higher cognitive functions, intuition, or enlightenment. More broadly it means purifying the channel between the personal ”I” and the Transpersonal Self. This means purifying the whole personality and consciously withdrawing from identification with that personality though the cultivation of a divine ”indifference” to its demands, so that one can then identify with the Self.” (2007, p. 160)
Speaking with his students Assagioli instructed them in a meditation:
“But also with Self we can use each day for a moment, first a rapid recollection of the personal self, quieting as much as possible in a short time, relaxing the body, quieting the emotions, asking the mind to be so good as to keep still. And then in the measure we succeed in doing that, the elastic pull, the thread between the personal self and the Transpersonal Self can be considered as being elastic, and a good elastic. And when all the things which tie the personal self to the ordinary level are eliminated in a measure, the pull continuously operates and the personal self is drawn joyously upward toward the Self.
In the silence let us try, as much as possible, to go close to the Self, without strain or anxiety, but calmly, joyously and easily, helped by the central aﬃrmation:
We are that Self, That Self are we.
Try to realize it in the silence.” (Undated 2)
According to Assagioli it is a very radical process to achieve direct unity with the soul. Not only do we have to be disidentified from our personality, but also from the transpersonal states in the Superconscious. We can easily lose ourselves in ecstatic peak experiences and forget that the soul’s purpose is to bring light to humanity. (Undated 2)
When we have disidentified from all states of consciousness, we awaken to the soul’s static aspect : ”In these cases there is a forgetfulness of all contents of consciousness, of all which forms the personality both on normal levels an those of the synthesized personality, which include superconscious or spiritual levels of life and experience; there is only the pure intense experience of the Self.” (1975, p. 202) In order to strengthen the pure awareness of the observer, increasingly longer periods of mental silence is needed to create the inner void or sense of emptiness. This is why the communication channel is referred to as the ”silent path”.
In a conversation with one of his students Assagioli suggested the following technique to help with disidentification:
“There are some techniques which can help with disidentification. The first and most effective is the realization of infinity, eternity and universality. And that’s completely scientific. The universe is practically infinite. The universe has no end and no beginning; perhaps, in millions and millions of years, but that’s, for us, practically eternal. And then it’s universal because all, everything, acts and reacts on everything. So, if you meditate, or just think, and try to realize this fact of infinity, eternity and universality, that will create an atmosphere of peace, of serenity.” (Freund, 1983)
In the same conversation with Diana Freund Assagioli describes the second method we can use to clear the channel, which is the personal self’s invocation of the Transpersonal Self or soul.
”Invocation is the royal road. Invocation clears the channel. That thread between the personal self and the Transpersonal Self is really a channel, a channel of communication. And the most effective method is invocation.”
“There are two chief ways for clearing that channel – one is to rise through techniques and discipline, upward. The personal self aspires and rises upward toward the Transpersonal Self and sometimes reaches the level of the Superconscious and then it can have peak experiences and broadening of consciousness and illumination. The other method is to attract the down pouring, what religious people call grace, but it isn’t grace, it is scientific; it is an answer to an appeal. And that attracting can be done, perhaps even more effectively, when the personal self is in trouble. You know the saying-man’s extremity, God’s opportunity. Translated in scientific terms: In a psychological crisis the appeal of the personal self for help gives an opportunity for the Transpersonal Self to pour down its energy or its light or its love. You see that?”
Freund: Roberto interrupted himself to say that, of course, the two ways, coming from a harmonious condition or coming from one of anguish, were not actually separate. The channel they each cleared was the same, only the approach might be different. “Often the personal self tries to raise itself up to a certain point and succeeds, but it cannot go further – at that point, it invokes.”
Roberto Assagioli continues the conversation with examples of specific invocations:
”May the light of the Self enlighten me”.
“May the love of the Soul pervade me.”
”May the peace of the Spirit enfold me.”
THE THERAPEUTIC WORK WITH SOUL CONNECTION.
The best way to help our clients to clear the communication channel between the self and the soul is to instruct them in Awareness Based Meditation. First they disidentify from the personality and become the observer. Next follows a sustained period with silence where they must use the will to let go of all distractions, and consciously choose to return to the silence. We can practice mental silence with or without invocation, but it is a useful technique to focus our attention.
The greatest challenge with this work is that the personality easily gets bored and impatient. Thoughts like: “nothing is happening ” or “it’s too uncomfortable to sit still” are not unusual. Let the client know that these thoughts represent our attachment to the personality. When we observe, accept and let go of these states we create a gradually expanding inner space.
Silence is saturated with soul quality. When the self is looking “up”, the soul is looking “down”, and this contact can be felt as silence. Some experience this silence as standing on the peak of the world’s tallest mountain; others feel like they are lying on the bottom of the sea. Both are metaphors for the inexpressible; a quiet opening up to the great mystery.
It is suﬃcient to spend 15 minutes on these instructions. During this period, important impressions can be registered due to the effect of the silence; it is like the light from the sun or the moon reflecting on a perfectly still sea. These 15 minutes are not enough though to establish permanent contact with this inner silence. A daily practice and considerable more time is needed to develop the required sensitivity.
The essence of Psychosynthesis is the union of love and will. The greatest art is the creation of a living synthesis in our hearts. We are here to demonstrate that we are points of light within a greater light, and our purpose is to bring love to life on earth.
Let us end this chapter – and the book – with an instruction from Assagioli who is beautifully illustrating how disidentification is replaced with the identification with the soul.
”In the night-darkened room, with only our globe of the universe lit, both of us sat, eyes lowered, bodies relaxed and comfortable, to meditate, Roberto began, speaking slowly: “More radiant than the sun. (RA: I comment on that: that means that the spiritual radiance, the radiance of the higher plane is greater than the enormous radiance of the physical sun. Do you realize what that means, more radiant than the sun?)
“Purer than the snow. (That means completely disidentified with all lower contents. The Self is disidentified from the purest things we can conceive, like the snow.)
“And subtler than the ether (because a being in that high plane, the vibrations, are thinner and more powerful) is the Self, the spirit within us. (But we are in spirit, and in truth, and so we are from eternity.) I am that Self, that Self am I. (Only realizing the Self, for each of us, is part of the one Universal Self, because at that level there are no separations, no loneliness, no distances.)
“Now you realize better the meaning of this. So let us meditate on it and realize…”Very slowly he intoned,
“More Radiant than the sun
Purer than the snow Subtler than the ether
Is the Self, the Spirit within us. We are that Self
That Self are we.”
“You are here with all your past. I am here with all my past.Roberto Assagioli
And then we’ll proceed into our futures. But our souls,
our Selves, there we are one”