Table of content
Assagioli’s third core concept is the will: ”The aspects of the fully developed human will are the strong will, the skilful will, the good will, and the Transpersonal Will.”. (1974, p. 15) The will is associated with our essential identity. We know that the self not only observes but also directs. Assagioli considered this aspect of the self the cornerstone of Psychosynthesis. If the self is only an observing, loving witness, it can do nothing but passively observe while powerful inner forces or people try to dominate or control us. With the discovery of the will we see that we can take control over our lives. With the right use of the will we can master inner and outer psychological influences. Through the will, we recognise the power of authenticity and the freedom to express ourselves. There is no greater power than being ourselves.
Assagioli describes it in the following way: ”The man of weak will is like a cork on the ocean, tossed by every wave; or like the weather vane, turned about by every gust of wind. He is the slave not only of the will of others and all external circumstances, but also of his drives and desires. He is unable to make adequate use of his talents and aptitudes; he is unable to live up to his convictions.” (Undated 12)
Assagioli emphasizes the fact that we don’t have a will, we are a will. That is: ”The will is the central power of our individuality, the innermost essence of our self; therefore, in a certain sense, the discovery of the will means the discovery of our true being.” (Assagioli, Undated 12) The will is something we experience; as such it is diﬃcult to explain in theory. As with beauty, the will is subjective. Can we explain to someone the beauty of a sunset if they have not had intimate contact with nature? The will is an inner, dynamic living force; fundamentally it is the will-to-be-who-I am.
I would like to share a personal experience to illustrate this:
”I’d been meditating for 5 hours, only interrupted by a 10-minute interval. My focus was on observing the content of my consciousness. Nothing specific was supposed to happen, except from me being present in the moment. During the first few hours my mind was filled with a cacophony of impressions, but now a sense of clarity emerged and the many impressions no longer disturbed me. Sitting with this clarity any thoughts, moods and sensations faded into the background, and it became obvious that only consciousness is real. I am consciousness; an awake and aware space of quiet existence. Then the question arose: “What would I be without the content of consciousness?” “Nothing” was the prompt reply. I recognized the answer yet … who was asking? Who was choosing to meditate? Who was maintaining the intention to sit and just observe? Who chose to stop the meditation? Who allowed these questions to arise? This reflection made it clear to me that as long as I am in a body and have to function in a manifest universe, I must act. Not to act is also an act. Choosing not to act is an act. There is a will inside us that always wants something and it becomes active as soon as I act. This means choosing presence, a thought, a feeling, a physical act. What is this force? Who is it? … This question was too interesting not to pursue, so the focus of my meditation shifted character, something in me made this choice, and my journey changed.”
Consciousness is fundamentally without boundaries and universal. We can therefore call the self as the loving witness the open self.
Consciousness is a universal backdrop of awareness – a ground of being – and by being in the present moment we can observe the content of consciousness. The will is a dynamic force that expresses itself through individuality and gives our consciousness focus and direction. Essentially, we are consciousness with a purpose, which ultimately is the will-to-be-a self. In other words, we all have a living dynamic force inside us impelling us towards the realization of the self. And the will, the dynamic face of the self, accomplishes this through purpose, intention, choice and direction. The will expresses the universal in us as individuality and in that sense we can say that through the conscious application of our will we become the unique self. The experience of pure will can best be described as purpose. In contrast to the open self, the will centralises the energies around a point/ centre. In terms of energy we can say that our true identity is both an energy field (openness) and a particle (a point) in space. This is – admittedly – a very subtle description which can only be understood through direct experience.
Assagioli gives the following description: ”When we experience ourselves as “selves,” as subjects, we frequently have an experience that can be summed up in this sentence: “I am a force, a cause.” This is an experience of the human will.” (Miller, 1972)
The will can be experienced at different levels. Implicit in this perspective is the existence of one universal consciousness (God, Brahman, the One), which seeks to unfold its universality through individuality. This means that every person, every being, every creation, is potentially a unique expression – or emanation – of an underlying unity. In Christianity this equates to the notion of God incarnating in Jesus Christ. We all have a “Christ” or “Buddha” nature, but that does not mean we should copy Buddha or Christ. We must realize our own unique divine nature through the will-to-be-self. When we experience this aspect of the will, we recognise the soul’s Transpersonal Will. Yet the will knocks on the door of our personality well in advance of any sign of spiritual inclinations.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE WILL
We first notice the presence of the will as a call from our unique self when we awaken to the need to become a self. This call for freedom and independence is often connected to a crisis. The will is the longing for freedom and authenticity that emerge as we attempt to liberate ourselves from various dependencies and identifications. Assagioli describes it thus: ”one keynote of the will is freedom – freedom to choose and to act the way we want to.” (Miller, 1972)
The pain we experience when we are unable to be ourselves acts as a stimulant to the will. We may need outside confirmation of our identity. It then rests on shaky ground and it becomes diﬃcult for us to establish appropriate boundaries. Or we may be dominated by inner inclinations that run counter to our self-image. In either case, we are not masters in our house. We are tossed to and fro by habits and desires, which diminish our self-respect. These dependencies pose great limitations to our lives.
As these examples show, will and desire are not the same. You may have a will to do something, but you do something different. Will and desire are both powerful, but the will is always connected to identity; the will to be a unique self in action. Desire is often about something outside ourselves, something we want, aﬃrmation, security, power or something we want to avoid. Yet we may also want to be ourselves, which is an important desire that can lead to the will.
The will is deeply connected to boundaries. It is through our boundaries that we define our individuality and uniqueness. Paradoxically we free ourselves through our boundaries, because only when we define our identity through our conscious choices, we become unique. When we stop imitating others and focus on ourselves and our sense of being, we can choose our identity, and gradually liberate ourselves from non-authentic behaviour.
Assagioli describes how the will can emerge as a response to the need to stand up for ourselves and the values and needs we identify with at any given time. We may call this “Identity strength”, a force that provides us with a sense of grounding and integrity. Here the will is a way to greater power.
The will gives us the courage to end an unhappy relationship or leave an unfulfilling career. The strong will is often founded on a sense of dignity, the conviction that we are a valuable expression of something great and important – the soul. But we have to choose our self if we are to recognize ourselves in our actions. This often involves a crisis where we must, as it were, sacrifice our dependencies on the fire of freedom.
Our actual identity, the roles and self-perceptions we have at any given time, are a result of our unconscious and conscious choices. Self-images can represent our false self if they are unconscious imitations. But they can also represent our true selves if they are an expression of a conscious choice. The will enables us to disidentify but also to identify. The will says: “I am not this or that – but this”. We are that which we chose to think, feel and act, even if our choices are based on social and cultural influences. Conscious or unconscious choices have the same effect they create identity. Our choices always have consequences; making conscious choices allows us the freedom to choose something new.
Choosing new self-perceptions has consequences too. Attachments and emotions formed by previous choices revolt against the new will. Awakening to these polarities is painful, but it is the tension between past and present choices that can shape our future identity. When we decide to become who we are as unique individuals our personal psychosynthesis begins.
WILL BASED PSYCHOTHERAPY
Applying these insights into an Awareness and Will Based Psychotherapy, the psychotherapist will need to especially focus on the client’s identity. Awareness and will are essential to this. We need to get to know the client before we start working with his or her issues. Assagioli refers to this initial therapeutic stage as “Thorough knowledge of the client’s personality”.
Psychosynthesis is about helping the client to become an authentic personality, independent of where in the Egg Diagram their identity is located. Because our clients’ issues can be worked with in several ways, we first need a thorough understanding of their self-perception, needs and values. Otherwise the client may adapt to the psychotherapy instead of the therapy to the client.
The first thing I ask the client is, “Where is your journey going? How do you want to grow in this process?” I use metaphors like “being a captain in your own life”, seeing the client as setting a course and steering the way; another useful metaphor is to “be master in your own house.” I emphasize that there is a force in our lives, the will-to-be-self. It is important to explore this ”will to self”; it drives our need for authenticity, individuality and the freedom to be oneself.
When the client together with the psychotherapist defines her goals, her will becomes focused. The goal can be anything, from a wish to achieve greater presence or spontaneity to the courage to set boundaries. These goals may not normally be associated with the will because the will is not understood for what it is, the intention behind any conscious action. When we have a suﬃciently focused will, an inner attraction develops, guiding our psychological energies in a specific direction.
Maja wanted her love life to function; she willed to succeed in love. Our first sessions were about her taking responsibility for this, which she did by defining what a good love relationship is. Next, she committed herself to action. We should never make decisions for our clients because it is by taking on this responsibility that they develop strength.
In Maja’s case she needed to end her affair with the married man. The relationship was unworthy of her and not aligned with her needs and values, something she had long known. With him she did not feel important. She had not chosen herself and therefore did not demand anything from the love she shared in a relationship, something her affair with a married man symbolised. She knew she depended on the confirmation he gave her, and that the hope that he would one day be hers was an illusion. But she lacked the will power to act on this.
Her will and her desire were in conflict. Her will, connected her to freedom and dignity. It told her she deserved better. The will comes from the soul and as our self-awareness increases, it is reflected in the self. It is the evolutionary urge pushing us out of our comfort zones towards more freedom, love and greatness. The will expresses the force from the archetypal king and queen, the soul and the universal Self. Our individual interpretation of this force, the values and images we attach to this power, is an expression of where in the Egg Diagram we currently reside.
When we awaken to our will, our sense of direction becomes clear, whether at a personal or transpersonal level. Maja needed to confront the sense of worthlessness that kept her in a relationship in which she was not seen or chosen because of who she is. During therapy she realized this reflected her lack of self-worth. She now chose to focus her will on developing her identity and self-worth as a woman because this represented her greatest limitation.
According to Assagioli, when we work to strengthen a client’s will the therapist can take on a “father therapy” style:
”The therapist, you see, has two major roles: the motherly role and the fatherly role. The motherly role of the therapist is in order in the first part of the treatment, especially in the more serious cases. It consists in giving a sense of protection, understanding, sympathy and encouragement. What a wise mother does. It is a direct helping by the therapist of the client.
The fatherly role, on the other hand, can be summed up as the training to independence. The true fatherly role, as I see it, is to encourage, to arouse the inner energies of the child and to show him the way to independence. Therefore, the fatherly function is to awaken the will of the client.” (Miller, 1972)
The will regulates all the other psychological functions. This ensures the integrity of our personal and spiritual development, and will eventually liberate our personality. To make this happen we must teach our clients to use the active techniques that can help them to master psychological energies. We all experience fear, resistance, rebellion or paralysis when we need to develop new sides of ourselves.
Assagioli was inspired by Eastern yoga techniques, especially Raja Yoga and its eightfold path to liberation. It is in this light that the application of these techniques should be seen, especially disidentification, visualization and the will.
According to Assagioli the ”principal aims and tasks” of psychotherapy are:
- “The elimination of the conflicts and obstacles, conscious and unconscious that block this development.
- The use of active techniques to stimulate the psychic functions that are still weak and immature. (1967a)
There are also ”a large number of active techniques designed to:
- Awaken latent energies, particularly in the higher unconscious.
- Develop the constitutionally weak functions and those arrested at an infantile stage.
- Transmute the overabundant bio-psychic energies and those that cannot be discharged or expressed in direct ways.
- Discipline and regulate (without repressing or removing) the manifestation of all psychic energies of every level, promoting their constructive and eﬃcient utilisation and creative expression.
- Harmonise the various functions and energies, thereby constructing an integrated human personality.
- Promote the introduction of the individual into society by means of harmonious interpersonal and group relations”. (1967a)
The will leads us to freedom, and is the antidote to dependency and victim hood. Father Therapy can therefore be seen as a “freedom project” which supports the client’s self-actualization and Self-realization. If we leave out the will, we run the danger of the client regressing. This especially so if the psychotherapist focuses on care taking and Mother Therapy, which perpetuates the client’s dependency on the psychotherapist and is in direct contrast to the values of psychosynthesis. Assagioli said that the therapist should encourage and train the client “from the outset to practice active methods of acquiring an increasingly clear self-consciousness, the development of a strong will and the mastery and right use of his impulsive emotional, imaginative and mental energies, and to avail himself of all means of gaining independence of the therapist.” (1967b)
In therapy it makes sense to start by strengthening awareness and will. After all they constitute the central aspects of our identity and steer the course of our lives. When the psychotherapist is mirroring the client’s will, it is a good idea to name the client’s chair the “director’s chair”, “captain’s chair” or “instructor’s chair”. Here decisions are made. The intention is to help the client to consciously identify with the loving witness who is making decisions. Other aspects of the client can be objectified by other chairs representing her different subpersonalities. These can either be supportive or opposed to the client’s goals.
Most mirroring occurs in the relational field between the client and psychotherapist. When the psychotherapist has authentic authority, both professionally and personally, this power is transmitted to the client. When the client realizes that the psychotherapist’s intention is to liberate her so she can be what she chooses and has the potential to become, the client experiences being seen in her strength.
This does not mean that the therapist unequivocally supports all the client’s beliefs. On the contrary, the Will Based Psychotherapist must challenge the client’s assumptions. The strength of the client’s convictions are tried and tested against the needs and values that have been identified in the therapeutic process. At some point in the psychosynthetic approach the psychotherapist openly explains its philosophy to the client. If the therapeutic objective is accepted, the psychotherapist takes on the roles of guide and healer in relation to this. The healer function is concerned with bringing love and understanding to the psychological processes (the mother role). And in our role as guides we train our clients to become a loving witness who with power can express their identities in action (the father role).
The transference of power is central to Awareness and Will Based Psychotherapy. It relies on the psychotherapist’s ability to see the potentialities and possibilities in the client which have not yet come to bloom. The therapist’s faith and certainty in the client’s ability to become fully himself is essential to the psychotherapeutic relationship. It enables the client to see himself as the psychotherapist does and to identify with the therapeutic vision. In this sense, the psychotherapist becomes an external unifying centre reflecting the client’s deepest values and needs.
It is important to have the skilful will in mind. If we understand life from an evolutionary perspective, we see that it is a journey towards more consciousness. We see that our sense of identity evolves as our values and needs change. We must choose our identity with care and hold it lightly in our awareness. Evolution demands that we do not identify with, or become too attached to anything. This perspective can be introduced in therapy using statements such as: “It is true in the present moment.”
THE STRONG, GOOD AND SKILFUL WILL
Let us now briefly refine the description of the will. In The Act of Will Assagioli differentiates between three aspects as well as three levels of will. The three aspects are the strong, good and skilful will. The three levels are personal, transpersonal and universal will. Fundamentally there is only one will, the universal will, the evolutionary force behind the creation. But this will unfolds in various ways depending on the person’s level of development. Here is how Assagioli distinguishes between the strong and good will:
”At the centre of the self there is a unity of masculine and feminine, will and love, action and observation” (Keen, 1974) The self contains the polarity between the masculine-feminine, which is universally applicable in the cosmos. In the East it is referred to as Yin-Yang or Shiva-Shakti. The will can thus be masculine or feminine:
”The will is not merely assertive, aggressive and controlling. There is the accepting will, the yielding will, the dedicated will. You might say that there is a feminine polarity to the will—the willing surrender, the joyful acceptance of the other functions of the personality.” (Assagioli in Keen, 1974)
The Strong Will is the most basic and familiar expression of will; it is the masculine assertion of identity. It is the dynamic power and ego strength which enable the emergence of the self. The strong will can easily be abused; hence its somewhat bad reputation. But we must recognize that the strong will is essentially the will-to-be-self and is indispensable when we are working to become a free human being. If we are self-centred, the strong will can damage our relationships and cause trouble in other social contexts. It is not inherently evil, but it can only unfold according to the underlying values, wisdom or consciousness that controls it.
The strong will relates to the “fire-aspect” of the self and comes directly from spirit. This force insists on becoming all that it may be. The will’s strength depends on how much purpose we invest in a goal i.e. how strong is the will to be oneself. Whether the strong will is destructive or constructive depends on its balance with the good will. When influenced by the loving polarity of the self, the will becomes the good will.
The Good Will: ”It may be said to be an expression of love” (Assagioli, 1974, p. 90). The will is essentially about expressing our identity in action; for example, setting goals and achieving them. The good will is effective because it teaches us how to cooperate; it creates healthy, constructive relationships with others in order to realize common goals. People are often lacking in either the love or the will aspect of the self; they are loving and caring but lack strong will, or are strong and powerful but lack good will. We must balance and synthesize our love and will, which, Assagioli knew, is not an easy feat.
”It calls for persistent vigilance, for constant awareness from moment to moment… But this awareness, this attitude of maintaining a conscious inner “presence,” does not stop with the observation of what “happens” within oneself and in the external world. It makes possible the active intervention and commitment on the part of the self, who is not only an observer, but also a willer, a directing agent of the play of the various functions and energies.” (1974, p. 101) Here we return to the intention behind Awareness and Will Based Psychotherapy: helping our clients to become a loving witness who can master life using the strong, good and skilful will. The self’s core is static, the consciousness open and powerful. When the self expresses itself in action it does so through the seven psychological functions.
Here the skilful will plays a major part.
The skilful will. The decision to express our self in a new and authentic way is exciting, yet it also brings fear, inertia, and other kinds of inner and outer resistance. When we decide to put the will-to-be-ourselves into practice, our approach can be unbalanced. If our will is too strong we may try to repress our conflicting emotions, which can result in a too rigid personality. If we emphasize the good will, we might not be able to will at all; we may be too tolerant of inner resistance and prefer to passively go with the flow.
We must then call on the skilful will. As Assagioli writes:
”The essential function of the skilful will, which we need to cultivate, is the ability to develop that strategy which is most effective and which entails the greatest economy of effort, rather than the strategy that is most direct and obvious.” (1974, p. 47)
Strategy is the key idea here, as is ”economy of effort”. Much energy is wasted on conflicts created by the strong will or by the good will’s lack of control.
Assagioli maintains that willpower is not based solely on the strength of the will. Rather he sees it as a function that can awaken, regulate and direct all the psychological functions and as such utilize the power inherent in our body, feelings, desires, ideas, thought and intuition.
In The Act of Will, Assagioli describes the psychological laws which activate these psychological forces. A few examples must suﬃce. The power of visualization is well known in meditation and mental training. It is based on the creative force of the imagination. Visualizing something can awaken and direct our psychological energies. If we visualize the sun as if it was located near our heart, emanating love to ourselves and the world, then we will gradually experience this love as a reality. Images are very powerful; a fact the advertising industry knows how to exploit.
Another aspect of the six stages of the skilful will, which I can only briefly mention, relates to how we realize an idea, from its conception to its execution. The stages are similar to the kind of ”process thinking” we often find in coaching.
DEVELOPING MAJA’S STRONG, GOOD AND SKILFUL WILL
In my work with Maja my initial aim was to strengthen her strong will and her sense of identity as a woman. I did this by consistently acknowledging her will-to-be-self and encouraging her inner exploration. How did she experience her will to have a good love life? How did the body feel, or her emotions, and what pictures did she have of it?
We also worked with her skilful will. I objectified her will to love with a chair that represented the “dignified woman”. Her usual seat was the director’s chair; it represented the self, the caretaker of her inner crew (the subpersonalities), the loving and powerful witness. The other chair represented the Ideal Model of her inner woman (see diagram). During our sessions I often asked if she could sit in the chair representing her inner woman.
The role-playing and visualization awakened Maja’s desire to express her femininity with self-worth. Sitting in the ideal woman’s chair she could feel the values and needs that were important to her love life. She explored what kind of man she was attracted to. She also drew a picture of her inner woman, which she scanned and used as screen saver on her PC.
We recorded a short heart centred meditation on her cell phone, where she visualized herself as a “worthy woman”. The exercise produced an energy and a sense of herself as a noble being. Our work together gave birth to a dignified and authentic inner woman. With Maja as the loving and directing witness, the inner woman gained greater power of self-expression. Eventually Maja was able to end the relationship with the married man.
In Will Based Psychotherapy the client is encouraged to act on her inner discoveries. We therefore planned scenarios where Maja had to set boundaries and be direct about her needs, and then we discussed the result in our next session. In some sessions she sat in different chairs and rehearsed imaginary conversations with people. Through this she learned what it meant to be authentic in her dealings with the world.
As mentioned, working to develop new personality traits and behaviour will most likely create inner resistance. Previously dominant habits resist change. Old beliefs, self-images and insecurities will rebel. The skilful will is all important when working with these forces.
When Maja decided to act on her new insights, she was apprehensive, particularly so in the months leading up to the break up. We placed the chairs representing the obstacles before her Ideal Model and explored these inner voices (see diagram). It soon became clear that her “inner child” and “inner teenager” were producing this fear. Working with these subpersonalities is the main focus of Chapter VIII.
When the fear was too great Maja could not act. We worked with these obstacles according to the three perspectives described in the last chapter. We put her fearful teens in chairs, and she described each one while sitting in the observer’s chair (3. person). She then changed chairs and dialogued with the other subpersonalities in the room (2. person). She identified deeply with each subpersonality; this gave her valuable insight into the actual fear (1. person). The inner resistance is represented by the fearful teenagers in the diagram above.
These exercises released repressed feelings (catharsis) and allowed Maja insights into the different layers of her personality. It illustrated the kind of work where, as Assagioli says, we: “transform the overabundant bio-psychic energies and those that cannot be discharged or expressed in a direct way.” Her inner teenagers felt a deep longing for her absent father. Great shame accompanied this and could not be expressed in her unsatisfactory relationship. Her inner teenagers had learned to adapt and not be a “burden” in relation to men. This submissive and pleasing role is a classic example of a false self that has developed in response to not having one’s authentic needs met.
We can see how Maja’s will satisfies the needs of both the Ideal Model and the conflicting subpersonalities. Maja as the observer uses her will to activate the imagination, emotions, body and thoughts in order to redeem the accumulated energies. This enabled completely new sides of her personality to develop. As Assagioli told Sam Keen:
“But in the normal person the will can function to lessen or to eliminate the conflict by recognizing a hierarchy of needs and arranging for an appropriate satisfaction of all needs. The central will distributes the tasks to other parts of the personality. Let me use an analogy that is central to my thinking: The will is like the conductor of an orchestra. He is not self-assertive but is rather the humble servant of the composer and of the score. ” (1974, Keen)
Maja and I worked directly with the inner world of the different subpersonalities. They feared the consequences of having an authentic female identity. Through guided meditations she explored her inner house and identified the various self-images she had throughout her life. Because Maja now knew how to be a loving witness, these meditations created more space for her subpersonalities. She gained insights into how she could engage with her “voices” and satisfy their needs through the loving energy from her heart. We can compare working with the skilful will with the psycho-spiritual techniques used in yoga. As our sessions progressed her will-to-be-self became stronger, more loving and intelligent. She also became more assertive. She experienced greater flow in her life and an effortless will to simply be herself, especially in her interactions with men.
The day she told me she had left the married man was momentous. She was not bitter about what had previously seemed a betrayal on his part. She could see how they both had “used” each other to meet certain needs, which they thought could not be otherwise met. She was now ready to look to the future and to embody her new Ideal Model. She felt freer to be herself and was determined to succeed in love.
In the chapter on the soul, we will go deeper into the Transpersonal Will’s function and purpose, but now the time has come to deal with the Ideal Model.