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”Individual psychosynthesis can be said to consist essentially in the actualization of one’s own ideal model”(Assagioli, 1974, p. 185)
Let’s take a closer look at Assagioli’s fourth core concept, the Ideal Model, which we discussed briefly in Chapter I. Here we will attempt an overview and examine a few practical applications. We may wonder why out of the many techniques discussed in Psychosynthesis, Assagioli considered the Ideal Model so important. Our opening quote tells us the answer. The Ideal Model is more than a technique: it is the goal of psychosynthesis itself.
The Ideal Model is the client’s ”image of himself as he can and eventually will be, when the psychosynthesis is achieved.” (Assagioli, 1975, p. 164) It is a technique we apply when we have reached the third and fourth phase of the therapy, which Assagioli defines as:
- Realization of One’s True Self – The Discovery or Creation of a Unifying Centre.
- Psychosynthesis: The Formation or Reconstruction of the Personality Around the New Centre (1975, p. 21)
The Ideal Model continues our work with the will. It helps our clients to centre themselves and define a goal for their psychosynthesis. This goal can be expressed using an inner or external image of what they want to realize. Work with the Ideal Model concerns the will’s ability to use the imagination to achieve its goals. The will’s task is to regulate and direct the other psychological functions. The trick is to gather motivation, excitement and vitality behind an aim. The will does this via the psychological laws Assagioli defines in The Act of Will. In this connection, the two most important of these are:
I. “Images or mental pictures and ideas tend to produce the physical conditions and the external acts that correspond to them.” (1974 p. 50)
II: ”Attitudes, movements, and actions tend to evoke corresponding images and ideas; these, in turn (according to the next law) evoke or intensify corresponding emotions and feelings.” (1974, p. 51)
As our sessions progressed Maja’s image of her inner dignified woman became stronger. Sitting in the chair of the “dignified woman,” she could deepen and adjust this image. She saw herself standing in a large room full of people at an important ceremony. She was wearing a bright red evening gown, and beamed with dignity and grace. It was this image of her Ideal Model that she turned into a screen saver on her computer. It became a kind of advert for her Ideal Model. Even more useful was the guided Creative Meditation which she recorded on her cell phone and could listen to any time. These are some of the active techniques we can use to promote the client’s psychosynthesis.
Her Ideal Model focused Maja’s desire to find a relationship based on her new sense of self as a woman. The meditation gradually developed her ability to feel worthy. As Assagioli says, our ability to act is stimulated by images we can visualise clearly and feel strongly about. This is why Visualization and Creative Meditation are so effective in uncovering new psychological qualities and bringing about changes in behaviour.
Will power can be measured by the amount of energy we can mobilize in order to achieve our goals. The energies of the body, feelings, desires, images, thoughts and intuitive ideas form a potent force with which we can achieve much. The power of images to release the will is known in mental training everywhere, from business to elite sports, and can be traced back to the ancient yoga philosophies.
The images we use must of course be authentic. They may arise spontaneously, or emerge gradually as parts of a puzzle. Certain archetypal images have a potency and reach directly to the core of the soul’s purpose. These images come from the Superconscious. Here the soul has sowed seeds that the self can discover at the right time. Such images can become the focus of a lifetime of psychosynthesis. We can access them through exercises that connect us to the Superconscious. In my practice I use various guided visualizations:
Up the mountain and the meeting with the wise man/woman. Here I guide the client on a journey that begins at the foot of a beautiful valley and ends at the top of a sacred mountain. Here we meet a wise person who is an image of the client’s Ideal Model.
The temple of the soul. In this visualization the client stands in a valley and can see the temple of his soul at the top of a hill. I guide the client to the temple, where there is a magic mirror that shows the client’s true self, the mirror image of the client’s Ideal Model.
The theatre of the soul. The visualization guides the client from a valley into a sacred place at the heart of a bright and open forest. Here the soul’s theatre is located. The client is guided in and onto the director’s chair. Behind the curtain the client can hear the sound and mood of all her subpersonalities. At this point the client asks for the subpersonality that is the truest representation of her Ideal Model to appear on the stage so they can have a dialogue.
In his excellent book ‘What We May Be’ (1982) Piero Ferrucci provided many examples of how visualizations can be used in psychotherapy. I highly recommend referring to them.
The Ideal Model can be an image of oneself in a specific situation, or an image of someone else who has the qualities you desire (Buddha, Christ, Virgin Mary, etc.). It can also be a symbol i.e. an animal, a flame, a star. We will look more closely at these symbols later.
For several years I worked with an Ideal Model of myself as a yogi. The archetype came to me spontaneously during a meditation, and the name of the yogi immediately resonated with me. He was sitting in a perfect lotus position underneath a tree in a sacred place. The energy he radiated appealed strongly to my psychological type. At first I was watching the yogi in third person, from the “outside” and I noticed his charisma and qualities. I reflected on his name and his possible life story and what could be motivating his yoga practice. The reflections gave me a range of data, either real experiences or simply useful associations, which helped me to create an image of him as my inner wise person. In that way he became as real as possible in my consciousness. Shortly after I started to feel devotion to Brahman. I only had to think of the name Brahman and I would feel a sense of blissful love and surrender to this transcendent and immanent being that is the cause of the universe. I had not previously experienced such fervent love for a Hindu god, which I now did in connection to the image of my inner yogi. Continuing the meditation I saw again how he interacted with other people. I gained many important insights into my current personality through him.
Sometimes I identified myself with the yogi (first person perspective) and held an image of him in my head or at the heart centre. On other occasions I visualised myself as actually being him. Then I found myself sitting by the Ganges looking out over the river of life. When I did this visualisation I would play Indian ragas and burn incense in order to intensify the atmosphere. The outcome of these meditations was contact with the qualities the yogi represented, and an identification with his function. It gave me an inner motivation to teach meditation and spiritual psychology, because now it was the most natural thing in the world to me.
I also visualised myself radiating wisdom and love out to my network of friends and students, and in this way I integrated the Ideal Model in all areas of my life. The intention was not to perfectly manifest the yogi’s character, but the visualizations gradually deepened my contact with his qualities and that which he represented. There is no limit to how many variations we can develop once we have found an Ideal Model that works. This yogi is today a living part of my inner world and will always be a subpersonality and archetype that I can draw on when I want to deepen my meditation.
Psychosynthesis is a highly advanced Transpersonal Psychology, because it includes all stages from birth to enlightenment. Not everyone is able or willing to spend so much energy on a visionary quest towards enlightenment. Psychosynthesis, however, does hold this vision alive– the vision of self-actualization and Self-realization – and offers techniques we can use to reach our goal.
VARIOUS TYPES OF SELF MODELS
Our personality rests on previous self-images or models that structure our identity and self-perceptions. These perceptions are formed by the messages and impressions we receive from our environment and our own inherent characteristics. Assagioli describes the unconscious as a large movie archive of exposed images, memories etc. that inform our self-image. However, there are also large amounts of unexposed film that we can consciously influence with our image-making function: the imagination. In Assagioli words, we can discover ”the immense reserve of undifferentiated psychic energy latent in every one of us, that is, the plastic part of our unconscious which lies at our disposal, empowering us with an unlimited capacity to learn and to create.” (1975, p. 22)
The starting point for the Ideal Model is the receptivity of the unconscious. Through visualizations and Creative Meditation we present the unconscious with images of what we want to be. This is, of course, exactly what the advertising industry does. We buy their products because we are repeatedly exposed to their slogans and images.
Assagioli mentions six different types of self-models that he called false selves, because they do not truly reflect who we really are. They are often in conflict with each other and form subpersonalities and inner voices that compete for our attention. As we will see in the next chapter, it is important that we uncover and transform these false selves in the first and second phase of therapy. Assagioli’s (1975, p. 167) six false types are:
- What we believe we are. These models come in two classes where we either over-evaluate ourselves or under-evaluate ourselves.
- What we should like to be. The idealized and unattainable models.
- What we should like to appear to be to others. There are different models for each of our important interpersonal relationships.
- The models or images that others project on us; that is, the models of what others believe us to be. We are aware of them, but reject them.
- Images or models that others make of what they would like us to be. We are aware of them, but reject them.
- Images which others evoke and produce in us; i.e., images of ourselves evoked by others. We are often unconsciously identified with these.
Number 6 is called “projective identification” and these models can be very damaging. For example, someone brought up in a strict moralising environment that judged them harshly may end up believing that they are “evil”.
Assagioli’s last category of self-model is the Ideal Model:
- The Model of that which we can become – seen from a realistic perspective.
Another group of self-perceptions form an eighth model. These are the realistic representations of who we are at our present level of development.
The Ideal Model uses nature’s own design. It is a conscious approach to the creative powers of the unconscious. As Assagioli’s says, its essence is to use: ”the plastic, creative, dynamic power of images, particular of visual images”. (1975, p. 166) An authentic Ideal Model is the embodiment of an idea that originates in the Superconscious, where we can find a number of archetypal ideas of what we may be. These abstract ideas are potent forces that can “incarnate” into a mental-emotional image. This ideal image stimulates the desire and impulse to physical action and realization.
This process has its challenges. The new Ideal Model has to compete against earlier self-images and the conflict between them is a test of our determination to be ourselves. If the resistance is too great, the Ideal Model will not succeed, and the visualization will be abandoned. In such cases we can say that the Ideal Model is stillborn. That is why it is critical to work with both the release and transformation of the conflicting self-images that “emerge from the depth” when we start to focus on the Ideal Model. We need to simultaneously redeem and transform these conflicting self-images. The work with conflicting subpersonalities happens during the third and fourth stages of the therapy.
Assagioli recommended this approach for transforming resistance: ”if, spontaneously, emotions of fear or anger come up, the patient tries not to fight them. This is the point: not to fight them, to be permissive, to accept and to experience them. This has to be done over and over again for a suﬃcient number of times, for in this there is a spontaneous – not forced – freeing of what could be called ”psychological allergy”; and after a suﬃcient number of times the patient without any effort finds himself free from negative emotions.” (1975, p. 174)
Maja’s conflict related to her inner child, who believed she would be abandoned and ostracized if she expressed her need for intimacy. We therefore worked on Maja’s ability to accommodate and meet her inner child’s fears, giving it the tender care she had not received in childhood. The Awareness Based approach helped her to observe any bodily and emotional sensations that arose when she visualised making demands on her future boyfriend. The image of the “dignified woman” challenged her “survival personality,” the group of self-images and subpersonalities that sought love by being a helper. (This dynamic is described in the chapter on developmental psychology.) When we want to manifest an Ideal Model or other expressions of higher consciousness, we must simultaneously work with the lower unconscious and transform earlier layers of identity formed in childhood.
In some cases, actual people become our role models. Something of this is found in the therapist-client relationship. The psychotherapist can to some extent be a role model in the sense that she/he has qualities the client needs to integrate. When the psychotherapist holds the loving space in “mother style” therapy, or acts as supervisor in “father style” therapy, then he/she becomes a model for the clients’ ability to father and mother herself. As illustrated in the previous chapter the psychotherapist in this way functions as an external unifying centre for the client. The danger is that the client may become too dependent on the psychotherapist, but our focus on the will reduces this risk considerably. Our work on observation and the objectification of subpersonalities using chair work or creative drawing, also reduces the transference from client to therapist.
Assagioli also refers to categories of idols with which a client can be identified(1975, p. 169). Examples are pop stars, sports figures, rich or “successful” people. These idols can have a powerful influence and if we devote too much attention to them they can stand in the way of an authentic psychosynthesis. Rather than develop our own qualities and resources, we live vicariously through another person’s success, whether our children’s, a partner’s or a celebrity’s. Assagioli insists that we view these figures critically, focusing on their unattractive aspects, in order to release the client from possible obsessions.
Maja was fascinated by the married man. He was influential, charismatic and good looking. She suffered from a kind of “tunnel vision,” seeing only what fascinated her. Because of this she idealized him. When we started to examine the details of the relationship it became apparent that he had broken many of his promises. He was sexually fascinated by Maja, but his commitment went no further. When I pointed out his hurtful comments and patterns of betrayal, she accepted them intellectually, but her idealization was immune to any critical analysis.
Here disidentification and chair work made a difference. We let her affectionate side occupy a chair in the room and present her case. Her inner teenager wanted to be loved by him and was practically obsessed with her romantic transference. The strategy was to transfer her need for love from the man to herself. Maja soon saw that as long as her “inner teenager,” and therefore herself, was bound to this man, she would remain stuck in an unhappy love relationship. Through the loving witness and disidentifying, Maja saw how she could contain her inner teenager’s pain without becoming identified with it. Breaking out of the relationship would be painful, but we could prepare her to bear the pain, because the alternative was worse. And it was this work that made it possible for Maja to leave the relationship and choose her own path towards a fulfilling love relationship. Her inner teenager eventually welcomed this choice, even if it also feared the breakup.
THE SKILFUL APPLICATION OF THE IDEAL MODEL
When we work with Ideal Models, it is important not to “shoot sparrows with cannons” and introduce idealistic Ideal Models that go far beyond the needs of the client. Most Ideal Models aim at developing specific sides of the client, as witnessed with Maja. Few clients benefit from focusing on an image of their perfect personality too soon in the process. Yet we should not diminish the client’s aspirations. If a deep spiritual longing motivates the psychosynthesis, we should meet this with an appropriate Ideal Model.
We often find that our clients’ immediate problems are rooted in insuﬃcient development of important qualities such as acceptance, empathy, courage or mental clarity. Identification with negative parental, professional, or gender roles may inhibit their self-esteem. Clearly we must first dissolve negative identifications as much as possible, before working with Ideal Models. Assagioli recommends working with Ideal Models to strengthen insuﬃciently developed psychological functions (1974, p. 98-99).
In Chapter III, we described how each psychological function constitutes a separate line of development. From this perspective, it is important to develop a model “that represents the next and most urgent step or stage – that of developing an undeveloped psychological function, focusing on a single specified quality or small group of qualities, or abilities which the patient most needs in order to achieve, and even to proceed with, his psychosynthesis.” (Assagioli, 1975, p. 170)
There are two kinds of Ideal Models. Some relate to the image of the complete self-actualized or “enlightened” personality. These involve transpersonal psychosynthesis. We can also have more specialized models. Certain types of spiritually oriented people are motivated by very “advanced” Ideal Models. Here we may want to gradually turn the client toward their own perfect ideal and away from a too idealistic choice. We should not do this too suddenly. A client may want to identify with her Buddha-nature and could benefit from an Ideal Model of a wise teacher, which she can seek to realize in practice.
When we work with the Ideal Model we aim to develop the imagination, a psychological function that has significant effect on all the others – as made clear in our earlier discussion about Assagioli’s psychological laws. The imagination itself works through synthesis, which is why Assagioli considered it so important. It can operate on the physical, emotional, mental and intuitive levels. We can use our imagination to picture physical objects, or evoke emotional states, to grasp intellectual concepts and contemplate human connectedness. As Assagioli says, training the imagination “is one of the best ways towards a synthesis of the different functions” (Assagioli, 1975, p. 144)
Assagioli particularly emphasized two types of meditation. Awareness Meditation, as described in Chapter IV, uses disidentification and self-identification, and an example of this is included in the Appendix. Creative Meditation uses visualizations helpful in developing psychological functions. In Awareness Meditation we wake up to the self as pure self-awareness and will. Creative Meditation develops our psychological functions so we can express this self in a liberated personality.
Creative meditation is based on the ability to visualize. In order for us to make our Ideal Model strong enough to compete with the other self-images, we must be able to keep its image in our minds. We do this through visualization. Visualization strengthens our powers of concentration and increases our ability to focus on what is important in our lives. Working with Ideal Models creates greater focus on our authentic personality.
CREATIVE MEDITATION ON THE IDEAL MODEL
Psychosynthesis requires clients to carry on working outside therapy sessions. We can strengthen our client’s willingness to do this through using Creative Meditation.
Most spiritual traditions use visualization as part of their contemplative practices. The ”power of thought” is well-known in self-development milieus, as is the idea that energy follows thought. We can also say that energy follows imagination. Psychosynthesis is an energy psychology, and Creative Meditation is an important method of mastering our psychological energies.
Creative Meditation draws on the power of visualization. One of the first meditations I practiced was to visualize a sun in my chest radiating transpersonal qualities: acceptance, trust and compassion. During the first decade of my meditation practice, this was my focal point. Visualization creates images in our inner world which contain specific energies. This makes visualisation a powerful tool for harmonizing and synthesising the personality and for aiding the soul’s manifestation in the world. Visualisation enables the creation of a new personality, one through which superconscious energies of the soul can be expressed.
Here are the usual stages of Creative Meditation: Centring, Ascension, Meditation and Anchoring. They show how the Ideal Model can be used as a focal point for visualization.
These steps ensure that our meditation is connected to the highest level of energies available and is free of influences from everyday consciousness. In Centring, before starting the meditation, we direct our awareness towards the Superconscious. Here we go to the symbolic mountain where the meditation begins. Doing this helps to build a clear channel of communication between the self and the soul, as illustrated by the dotted line between these two points in the Egg Diagram. As we strengthen this connection using different types of visualizations our contact with the soul gradually increases. A Creative Meditation included in Appendix describes these stages.
Centring: In this stage we quiet our body, emotions and mind, harmonizing them through the attention of the loving witness. We then assume the role of the observer and ascend the mountain as close to the Superconscious as possible.
Ascension: In this stage we create a channel between the incarnated soul, the self, and the eternal soul or Higher Self.
The ascent begins by anchoring our attention in the heart centre represented by a sun radiating acceptance. This provides “Identity”-strength and allows us to rest in a firm and stable presence of love. Then, directing our consciousness to the centre of the brain, another, second sun, opens up. Here we make contact with all other awakened souls in the world by expanding our awareness in a 360 degrees radius. We then direct the consciousness from our brain up towards a brilliant sphere of light and love, the seat of the soul. Here we identify with the great being which is the divine Self.
Meditation: We have now reached the meditation stage where the Ideal Model selected as the main focus for the Creative Meditation comes in. We can meditate on anything, only the imagination limits our reach. It may be a good idea to meditate on the qualities we want to strengthen and which are embodied in our Ideal Model. This links our meditation with our life. In Appendix you can find an Ideal Model of the Lotus of Peace and Harmony.
Through imagining a brilliant white lotus in the heart centre, emanating peace and harmony, we create an imaginary lotus in the heart, drawing peaceful, harmonious energies from the Superconscious. We create a vehicle through which higher energies can manifest. Anyone who practices Creative Meditation will recognize this. Experienced meditators know the impact of a visualization practice that we come back to. It is like visiting a house you have built, where energies are available the moment you enter.
Through visualization Creative Meditation gradually builds a channel to the Superconscious, home of the higher energies. These energies may begin to enter our everyday life, yet other forces may also appear. Disturbing energies – oppositional forces – and subpersonalities may surface in order to be transformed. This is a natural consequence of meditative work, and is known as “harmony through conflict”. When the meditation is over it is time to anchor the energies in the world.
Anchoring: Here we aim for the energies we have gathered to be released into the world. Accumulation of energy can clot our centres producing symptoms of over stimulation: headaches, burning sensations, fatigue, irritability and restlessness. So as we complete each meditation we make the energy available to the world. A very simple way to do it is to pronounce the Hindu syllable OM three times. Each time we visualize the energy flowing out to the world, through our various social and professional networks. The soul wants to bring light to the world. Through pronouncing OM we create a ray of light that uplifts and strengthens the world around us. The creative syllable OM manifests the energies we desire while we pronounce it.
IDEAL MODEL CONNECTING THE SELF AND THE SOUL
The Ideal Model can be the focal point for both personal and transpersonal psychosynthesis. When used in personal psychosynthesis the Ideal Model serves as a focus for personal success. It draws on images that we commonly associate with success, and a particular one is chosen based on the need motivating the work.
The following visualization from Assagioli applies to both personal and transpersonal psychosynthesis: ”Picture yourself vividly as being in possession of a strong will; see yourself walking with a firm and determined step, acting in every situation with decision, focused intention, and persistence; see yourself successfully resisting any attempt at intimidation and enticement; visualize yourself as you will be when you have attained inner and outer mastery. ” (1974, p. 36)
When directed towards transpersonal psychosynthesis, the Ideal Model draws on archetypal symbols coming from the Superconscious. Assagioli provides many examples of appropriate symbols (1975, p. 181). Earlier I showed how an image of the sun or a yogi can serve as Ideal Models in Creative Meditation.
These Ideal Models form an indirect link between the self and the soul, different from the direct route via the Bridge of Consciousness. Here the communication comes as an immediate and intuitive certainty, out of “thin air,” with no interpretation necessary. I will speak more about this in Chapter X.
This indirect route establishes a bridge between the contents of the Superconscious and our Ideal Model. Archetypes from the Superconscious inspire the Ideal Model; the images of the yogi and sun, for example, both symbolize the archetypal idea of enlightenment. The diagram illustrates how the soul activates an archetypal idea on which the self meditates through the Ideal Model. Assagioli quotes Jung on using symbols as Ideal Models: “the psychological machinery which transmutes energy is the symbol”.
Assagioli continues: ”there is a great variety of symbols having an anagogic (uplifting) influence that can be made to serve this process, of which ideal human figures or ”models” constitute an important class. Two types of these ideal figures, different and in a sense opposite, are respectively suited to men and women. A man may visualize some hero or human-divine Being, such as the Christ, or he can use the image of the ideal woman like Dante’s Beatrice or the Madonna. Inversely a woman can take as a model the highest model of womanhood her imagination can conceive or an image of the ideal Man. The influence of such ”images” is beautifully expressed in the Indian saying: ”Ganga (the sacred river) purifies when seen and touched, but the Holy Ones purify when merely remembered”. (1975, p. 275)
I hope it is clear how the Ideal Model can help focus more clearly on our authentic personality. We live in a world full of distractions that constantly demand our energy and attention. The Ideal Model helps us to stay on course. It serves as an inner guidepost, so we as a skilful captain can reach our self-chosen destination safely.
Next we turn to Synthesis: the diﬃcult art of harmonizing, integrating and synthesising the crises, conflicts and obstacles that make up life’s journey.