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“What distinguishes Psychosynthesis from many other attempts at psychological understanding is the position that we take as to the existence of a spiritual Self and of a superconscious, which are as basic as the instinctive energies described so well by Freud.”(Assagioli, 1975, p. 193)
The Superconscious, or the Higher Unconscious, is Assagioli’s 6th core concept. Aside from the will, he has probably written more about the Superconscious than any other topic. In Transpersonal Development, published thirteen years after his death in 1974, he explores in great detail transpersonal states and how we can connect to them.
Earlier we defined the Superconscious as the collected energies that expand our consciousness from the personal to the transpersonal. Many people have testified to experiencing a powerful sense of belonging to or being “at one with” the planet, humanity or existence itself. All truly original scientific, artistic, technological, psychological and cultural innovations have their source in the Superconscious. These are the ideas that push humanity up the evolutionary ladder. These heightened states of consciousness give hope for a world of peace and harmony. Through the Superconscious we experience the unity of nature and man, an understanding that can save both from destruction. This is why it is important to develop our Higher Consciousness. As Assagioli writes:
”One of the greatest causes of suffering and misguided action is fear. This can be individual anxiety or the collective fear which can carry a nation into war. The experience of the superconscious reality does away with fear, for any sense of fear is incompatible with a realization of the fullness and permanence of life. Another cause of error and wrong conduct is the urge to fight which stems from the ideas of separation, from aggression, and from feelings of hostility and hatred. In the calm atmosphere of the superconscious such feelings cannot exists. Anyone whose consciousness has been enlarged, who feels a sense of participation, a sense of unity with all beings, can no longer fight. It seems absurd: it would be like fighting oneself! In this way, the most serious of problems. The ones causing the greatest distress, are resolved or eliminated by the development, enlarging and ascent of the consciousness to the level of Higher Reality. ” (2007, p. 25-26)
The Superconscious is our doorway to the spiritual, but what is spirituality?
Psychosynthesis distinguishes between the “normal” consciousness of the Lower and Middle Unconscious and the transpersonal energies of the Superconscious. This division helps us distinguish between the egocentric and the altruistic. This difference is essential because it is through the Superconscious that we can help solve the most fundamental human problems. Psychosynthesis aims for a world of harmony and peace, but this can only come about through our own will-to-synthesis. So we must start with ourselves. The Superconscious provides us with the energy to build bridges of understanding and harmony, in ourselves and the world.
Yet our own inner lives contain forces that divide us and lead to conflict. As Assagioli remarked: “Selfishness constitutes the fundamental obstacle. Selfishness springs from the desire to possess and to dominate, which is an expression of the basic urges of self-preservation and self-assertion. “(1974, p. 86)
Assertiveness and aggression can cause inner and outer conflict, but we should not condemn or repress them. They are necessary for our survival. Maslow speaks of “deficiency needs.” By definition, these are “needs” for something we lack, whether it is as simple as food or a place to live. They must be fulfilled if we are to develop, but we must learn to master and refine them so that we can get along with ourselves and others. Maslow also speaks of “being” or “meta” needs, needs of a creative character. Maslow called these growth needs. For Assagioli, they arise from the Superconscious, a source of spiritual plenty.
Assagioli defines spirituality in the following way:
”To be spiritual does not mean only to be able to transcend the little self in a “vertical” direction through realisation of the Self and communion with the Supreme Reality. It includes also a “horizontal” attitude, that is, communion of thought and love and harmonious collaboration with all fellow-creatures. This expansion is achieved through “concentric circles,” which gradually include ever larger groups, from the family to humanity as a whole. ” (Undated 1)
Ken Wilber describes how moral development follows four stages, in line with Assagioli’s concentric circles. Moral development in this context refers to care and concern, from individual concern only extending as far as “me” and “mine” to concern for all people. Wilber refers to his theory as the spiral of compassion and he bases it on the research of Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan (Wilber, 2000d). Here the scope of the self widens from self-centric care (me) to ethno-centric care (us), the world-centric care (all peoples and beings) to cosmo-centric care (all). The first two stages include ourselves and the people we like, love and depend on. At the world-centric stage consciousness expands to identify with humanity. Here the transpersonal field begins, with its holistic vision of humanity as one. The idea of human rights and the motivation for many humanitarian movements emerge from this stage, but to believe in these things is clearly not the same as practicing them in everyday life.
Assagioli agrees that spirituality requires the practice of high ethical standards: “All claims of spirituality have to be expressed through a more pure strict and conscious morality than average man …You shall know the tree by its fruits. “Moral purification is the key to understanding the true reason for the long pilgrimage through the inner worlds. “(2007, p. 154) In order to practice a world-centric morality, we must identify with higher values. Assagioli defines spirituality as: “all the functions and activities which have as common denominator the possession of values higher than the average, values such as the ethical, the aesthetic, the heroic, the humanitarian and the altruistic.” (1975, p. 38)
Transpersonal Consciousness makes us idealists in the broadest sense of the term. Transpersonal psychosynthesis works not “for the purpose of withdrawal but for the purpose of being able to perform more effective service in the world of men.” (Assagioli, 1975, p. 210)
THE SUPERCONSCIOUS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY
In therapy, it is important to be able to help clients through a spiritual awakening and related crises. Assagioli suggests four types of spiritual crises that could be confused with ”normal” ones, because they appear with similar symptoms.
- Crisis Preceding the Spiritual Awakening
- Crisis Caused by the Spiritual Awakening
- Reactions to the Spiritual Awakening
- Phases of the Process of Transformation (1975, p. 40)
In order to understand these crises, we must distinguish between two types of people and two types of problems. Assagioli differentiates between people who have an ideal of being “normal” and others who no longer can adjust to normality. (1975, p. 54) The first type might have psychological scars from a diﬃcult upbringing, which has caused problems with their relations to other people. They have not been able to experience a harmonious integration to normality. This type needs to secure a good, stable life so their basic social needs can be met. In these cases personal psychosynthesis is the aim and talk about Higher Consciousness would not be useful.
The second group have faced an existential crisis and adjusting to “normal” society will not help them. Their quest for meaning and purpose and indifference to “normal” values is often met with surprise or outright rejection. They have woken up to values beyond the normal. They want to know: What is the meaning of my life? How do I live my “calling”? How do I become the best version of me?” They have the same “deficiency” needs as everyone else, but fulfilling these is no longer the centre of their lives.
Although, as Assagioli says, “an individual may have genuine spiritual experiences without being at all integrated, i.e. without having developed a well-organized, harmonious personality”(Assagioli, 1961), it is clear that transpersonal work often requires personal development, in order to consolidate transpersonal experiences.
Yet it is important to distinguish between the two types of problems. It is not appropriate to open up to superconscious energies in guided visualization if clients have a weak ego structure. They do not have the necessary cognitive and emotional maturity to handle energies that expand the boundaries of the personality. They first need to establish healthy and firm ego boundaries, to learn how to say ”no” and to become aware of personal needs. These clients often cannot observe their experiences and so cannot easily disidentify. Long-term “mother” therapy is needed here, until a mature personality gradually emerges.
There are, of course, many exceptions to the above, as the example of Maja shows. She wanted to develop her identity as a woman, and very few transpersonal aspects were involved. She was successful, intelligent, and had a relatively harmonious social life. We focused on improving her self-love and femininity. Had she wanted therapy that focused on shared idealistic values, the transpersonal would have come in. But this was not so with Maja. She was philosophical but rather conventional. She wanted to meet a good man she could start a family with and who could also be her best friend and lover. She still had a sense of an inner space of love and wisdom, which we called “the voice of the soul”. I asked her to stand in the room as the soul, overlooking the chairs representing various subpersonalities. I asked her to put the right hand on her heart, and to tell me what was emerging in her life. What kind of woman did she want to be? This exercise has transpersonal elements, but its intention was personal.
Let’s look briefly at the four spiritual crises and see how we can guide the client through them.
1. CRISIS PRECEDING THE SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
People interested in transpersonal perspectives have at some point experienced this type of crisis. Assagioli uses Viktor Frankl’s term existential vacuum to describe this condition (1974, p. 106). Needs associated with normality no longer makes sense as a primary motivator and there is a yearning for something different. Often a sense of boredom, depression and despair, a sense of a lack of direction in life, precipitates the crisis. These symptoms may seem familiar and normal, but the need behind the crisis is very different. It is a need for meaning, to somehow make a difference in the world. The heart has been opened and a clear humanitarian motivation emerges. The call to service is a sure sign that the client is becoming conscious of the soul.
Here the therapist mirrors back the client’s longing with acceptance and appreciation. His symptoms are the growing pains of an emerging new consciousness.
A conflict between the needs of the personality and the soul may arise. The soul may urge the client to find a new and more meaningful job, but the personality may balk at taking the plunge for a number of reasons, financial, loss of status, ostracism. Here it is crucial that the psychotherapist understands the client’s spiritual process. Knowing that she is undergoing a natural development, and that the psychotherapist has gone through the same process, encourages the client to “follow the heart” and carry on.
Transpersonal exercises are a great help in clarifying the spiritual longing. Visualizations can guide clients to the temple of the soul, where their longing can be heard and seen more clearly. The client can also be guided up a mountain where a talk with a wise person can provide meaningful perspectives. There are many examples of this in the Psychosynthesis literature; Assagioli (1975), Ferrucci (1982, 2014) and Schaub (2013) are particularly useful. The main idea at this point is to help the client develop a new vision of life, activate the will and manage the inner resistance to change.
Sometimes clients know exactly what they want, but simply can’t bring it about. Psychological functions, perhaps the will, may be undeveloped. The knowledge, passion or imagination to realize the dream is missing. Here the focus will be to develop the weaker functions. With Maja it was the feeling function. We focused on redeeming the pain she had accumulated, which helped her to be present with her emotions. When the will supports a client’s vision and she seeks to live it, new demands arise. She exits her comfort zone and enters a new landscape, which requires new skills, which hitherto have been dormant. Yet the meaning and authenticity one finds there are worth the effort.
2. CRISIS CAUSED BY THE SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
There are different ways of managing these crises; here I will look at only a few general themes. One is how the personality reacts to the new spiritual energies. For an unprepared personality, new values and energies of higher consciousness may be overwhelming. Clients may have “seen the light” or had a “revelation,” and this can manifest in different ways, depending on the psychological type.
One type of reaction is ego inﬂation. Here clients identify with the transpersonal energy and may feel called to a special and important mission. They are not aware of the difference between the potential and the actualization; they may have felt the power, but are not able to manifest it properly. I once worked with a woman who held a leading position in the educational sector. She believed her mission was to reform the educational system because she had the right ideas. But after many rejections she was close to losing her job because she couldn’t cooperate with other people. She was inspired and motivated, but a fanatical single-mindedness made it impossible for her to work with anyone else. She felt victimised, misunderstood and not seen. Her need for self-assertion hijacked the ideas that originated from the transpersonal realm; this did neither she nor the ideas any good.
Other types may become inflated with love. This may result in a relationship with a spiritual teacher that knows no boundaries. They are often motivated by a great love of the spiritual, which they want to express in a relationship. The idea of a great spiritual romance can become an obsession and any signs of failure bring enormous frustration. This type lacks grounding; their ideals are diﬃcult to realise because their feeling of love is too strong. I worked with a man who was a dry technical type, trained as an engineer. He had fallen in love with a woman who was “alternative” and lived in a spiritual community. She read his astrological chart and introduced him to idealistic passions he never experienced before. Together with her he wanted to provide clean drinking water to developing countries. She did not reciprocate his feelings, but wanted them to be friends and to support him in realising his idealistic vision. His feeling function was undeveloped and his romantic idealization of the woman hijacked his initial transpersonal ideas.
These examples show the need for a wise and balanced approach in psychotherapy. Often we cannot deal with the problem from a purely rational perspective. We must find an appropriate outlet for these energies so they do not swamp the personality. Meet the good intention but encourage its realistic expression: that is the task. It is useful to focus the will on the positive aspects of the vision; then the client can realize it through clarifying his purposes, values and planning, followed by practical actions.
Sorting out any subpersonalities awakened in the process is recommended in order to uncover any underlying motivations and reactions. Often the client will understand the needs that drive them. A transpersonal state and an inner child, each fighting for attention, can often lead to confusion.
Opening the client up to new visions is not recommended at this stage. Their present challenges are demanding enough. But it is crucial to strengthen the loving observer. A transpersonal opening requires a strong centre, capable of managing the unfamiliar energies. This centre is the self, and the client must learn to disidentify from the transpersonal energies, otherwise he will suffer over-stimulation. These are the kinds of problems that come from identifying with only one level of our inner house, without including the others.
3. REACTIONS TO THE SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
The soul and the personality’s “honeymoon” ends when the demands of everyday reality kick in. Even with all the exciting and inspiring new visions, the personality itself has not changed. The new energies place new demands on one’s ethics and behaviour. Assagioli says: “Sometimes it even happens that lower propensities and drives, hitherto lying dormant in the unconscious, are vitalized by the inrush of higher energy, or stirred into a fury of opposition by the consecration of the awakening man – a fact which constitutes a challenge and a menace to their uncontrolled expression.” (1975, p. 47)
Clients may feel they’ve taken the wrong direction because their reactions have become more intense. It is as if they have fallen from a mountaintop with a beautiful view, back down to grim reality. Anger, exhaustion, sadness and feelings of inferiority are common. This is sometimes called the “crisis of duality,” because one is torn between the ideal and everyday self.
When we meet the client at this stage, we need to focus on the awakening of the heart. After a glimpse of the nature of the soul, they can easily become self-critical and judge themselves too harshly. An idealized version of themselves with which they are identified can become a harsh inner critic. Here the Superego hijacks the transpersonal energies and demands perfection. The client needs to understand that the pronouncements of this inner voice are the exact opposite of spiritual development. Only a poverty stricken love can love only what is perfect. By containing, accepting and loving the imperfect the heart raises it to a higher level. Love breeds love. At this stage the therapist must hold the loving space for the client and be the wise teacher who understands the process of awakening, because she has lived through it. Here we help the client relive the transpersonal experiences of pure being, depth and authenticity while transforming the painful inner states.
The therapist’s presence can bring healing and loving acceptance to the pain. The client learns how to observe, accept, breathe through and let the pain go. He learns to trust his will-to-be-a-self and meets the challenges of life. This may cause people unaccustomed to this new version of the client some dismay. It also helps to work with subpersonalities in the client’s subconscious, who now must learn to express themselves at a higher level.
Significant shifts in the client’s outer life may also occur. Old relationships end, and new ones develop. Life may seem confusing and chaotic because one has a foot in each camp: the old life no longer makes sense, but the new one is not yet clear. There may be more harmonious passages through this crisis, but they are rare in clinical practice. This stage leads to the next, where the client learns how to pursue a spiritual practice in life.
4. PHASES OF THE PROCESS OF TRANSFORMATION
Waking up to the soul has its price: the transformation and refinement of the personality. Assagioli calls this “the way of purification” and in it old behaviour patterns are purged. A kind of moral awakening accompanies the values of the heart. We begin to act on the interest of the whole and not only our personal affairs. Challenges may arise regarding intimacy, money and power. An intimacy of the heart, enjoying greater sensitivity and empathy may curb selfishness in relationships. Conscience speaks and we reject being exploited or exploiting others. Ethical issues concerning how we earn and spend money may arise. Our consumer habits are scrutinised in the light of our conscience. Our new connection to the world makes us consider how we consume its resources. The soul wants to influence the world and this includes the place of power in our relationships. Waking up to the soul’s values, we feel the continuous inner pressure of the Transpersonal Will. It is a living force pushing us beyond our comfort zone. It insists that we grow and become greater. Its persistent appeal is that we give more love, strength and creativity to the world. The soul’s main motive is service.
This evolutionary pressure meets resistance in the personality, which reacts with fear and protests against the new demands. Clients at this stage have found “the way”, but need help transforming their inner resistance. Work on subpersonalities that resist the will-to-be-self can help. (Chapter VIII.) But we must remember that subpersonalities should be seen as potential ”partners” in this work. They possess an inner light, which can mirror superconscious energies. If the soul is the sun, and the Superconscious the sunlight, then subpersonalities are the moon reflecting this light. Assagioli describes it this way:
“The spiritual elements that come down like rays of sunlight into the human personality – into our personal consciousness – sand form a link between our ordinary human personality and the Higher Self, the spiritual Reality. They are like rays of light pouring down, taking on various shades of colour and dispersing, depending on the permeability or the transparency of our personal consciousness.“ (2007, p. 241)
Psychosynthesis aims to manifest the Superconscious in the world. This means accessing these energies through the lower unconscious. We may think that we can rise above the lower unconscious, but we forget that we are functioning through the body and its nervous system which operate at a lower frequency than the Lower Unconscious.
Transpersonal energies are rays of light, that is, qualities that when integrated into the personality refine it. The vision is to learn to interact with the environment spontaneously with love and wisdom. Assagioli describes it this way: ”Therefore, we must endeavour to develop, on the one hand sympathy, love, and insight and on the other disinterestedness, self-forgetfulness, and emotional detachment. In this way we shall achieve one of the main purposes of our evolution – a wise love without attachment, a truthful love which gives freedom and makes us free.” (1934)
In chapter III we looked at Assagioli’s descriptions of our inner worlds, including the upper levels of this energy spectrum. Based on this, I would suggest that the Superconscious contains energies we can call abstract thoughts, and from these emerge scientific, cultural and political ideas. There is also an imaginal world of visual impressions, sounds and sensations, which we can call aesthetic. Then there is the world of intuition. This shows us how everything is connected and this gives rise to wisdom, ethics and altruism. Heroic and self-sacrificing energies come from the world of the will. These worlds are fields of universal and unifying consciousness; through them we realize that everything is connected. They are impersonal and relate to all humanity and the planet itself. The consciousness experienced in the awakening depends on psychological type. Assagioli uses seven different types, based on the will, love, aesthetics and science etc. (Undated 16, Ferrucci 1990)
Experiencing these energies does not mean that we automatically develop a transpersonal value system. There are many examples of how these impressions can be used selfishly. In the ‘Creative Talents’ diagram Assagioli shows how someone can access transpersonal elements, while his consciousness is still centred in the personality (1975, p. 201). Mozart was clearly a genius, but his personality was immature. We’ve spoken of this in Chapter III in respect to the different developmental lines. Here we find people who have an obvious creative talent. They bring something completely new, original and pioneering to the world, but at the same time they are domineering and selfish because of an inflated ego. These are classic examples of how the ego can hijack transpersonal energies by believing and presenting these energies as something unique to individual.
When the developmental line of the self enters the transpersonal, we find the great universal geniuses whose ideas, sensibilities, and spirit have shaped our culture. Assagioli mentions Pythagoras, Plato, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein. He created the chart ‘The Ascent of the Self’ to illustrate this idea. (1975, p. 200). Here the consciousness of the self is permanently connected to the Superconscious. The separate self merges with the universal consciousness and experiences a profound sense of unity with all mankind.
So there is a marked difference between the self that ascends to the Superconscious, which results in an expansion of self-identity, and the self receiving inspirations from the Superconscious without any following expansion of self-identity.
Finally let us look at some methods of expanding our consciousness. A psychotherapist following a spiritual practice will be able to advise clients on a similar journey. It involves three main tasks of transpersonal psychosynthesis and is what Assagioli calls for Self-realization. These 3 tasks are:
a. Purify and refine the personality’s reactions to transpersonal energies,
b. Strengthen the capacity to receive the abundance of transpersonal energies that are present in the client’s Superconscious.
c. Purifying the channel connecting the self and the soul enabling the clients to awaken to their identity as soul.
There are examples of the first task in Chapter VIII, and we will review the third in the next chapter. We will end this chapter by considering the second task.
Assagioli mentions two categories of exercises:
- Those which promote the elevation of the “I” or Ego, the centre of self-consciousness, to levels usually superconscious and towards union with the spiritual Self.
- Those which promote the opening of the consciousness to the “descending” inflow of the contents and energies of the superconscious.” (1967b)
In my book The Call to Greatness (2012), I described 14 different types of meditation we can use to achieve the above. These are dynamic, sensitive, reflective, observing and creative meditations, aimed at different psychological types and purposes. The book is based on Psychosynthesis and is a guide to transpersonal work and is useful further reading. Here I will focus on the value of developing both the clients’ and the psychotherapists’ intuition. Assagioli wrote:
”We cannot conceive a true and successful therapist who has not developed and uses the intuition. For this reason, this technique should be given special attention in every didactic psychosynthesis.” (1975, p. 221)
As mentioned, intuition is a basic psychological function. Each function provides its own unique insight into reality. Intuition is a function of synthesis because it “considers the totality of a given situation or psychological reality … directly in its living existence.” (Assagioli, 1975, p. 217) Intuition gives us a direct experience of the inner reality or essence of another human being, a situation or an object. “Intuition assimilates the very essence of what the object really is.”(2007, p. 63) Assagioli describes it as “the opening of an inner eye which enables us to perceive realities which are not visible to our normal mental sight.” (2007, p. 63) Etymologically the word intuition is from in-tueri, which means “to see within”.
Intuition is infallible when it is true intuition, and Assagioli distinguishes between everyday sense intuition and transpersonal intuition. The former are gut feelings, sensations and emotions. These intuitions are mixed with our own subjective emotions hence they may or may not be true. Transpersonal intuitions are not necessarily emotional. They are more like entering a room where everything is illuminated and you can understand its meaning and purpose at once.
Intuition is essential in our work with psychosynthesis. Assagioli writes: ”Only intuition gives true psychological understanding both of oneself and of others. Whenever one wants to reach a true understanding of the essence of the specific quality of a human being, of a group, or of human relationships, the use of intuition is indicated and even necessary. ” (1975, p. 220-221)
To strengthen our intuition we must clear the way for it. We must cultivate stillness and disidentify with the content of consciousness. This quiets the personality and makes it receptive. Troubled thoughts, feelings and sensations create an inner “cloud” which the rays of the sun – the intuition – cannot penetrate. These are intuitions from the Superconscious. We may spontaneously feel a sense of oneness with someone we have never met before; yet you know for sure that “this is my life companion.” It may be the immediate certainty that you must leave your job and choose another career. Intuition is a powerful, unquestionable force of truth. Yet we may repress our intuition if the resistance from the Lower Unconscious is too strong.
Our consciousness may also reach to the intuitive dimension at the Superconscious level, where it may experience deep insights. In a meditation group that I led, several of us simultaneously experienced the solar system as a living organism, evolving towards a defined goal. The planets were living beings with which we were deeply connected, and a large invisible hand led us towards our common goal. This experience was more real and intense than our usual physical reality. In all cases, we must train our will to let go of disturbing content and reject it when it enters the field of consciousness.
In the appendix there is an outline for a creative meditation aimed at developing intuition. In order to understand the truth about something, we must see it in its totality, in the context of the whole to which it belongs. We may ask: “What is the meaning of my life? “, “Why do I suffer? Only through intuition can we arrive at an answer to such questions. The meditation aims to create a channel linking three important points in our inner spiritual structure: a centre of being in the middle of the chest or “heart centre”; a “wisdom centre” in the brain, which is the head centre; and the brilliant sphere of the soul above the head. This meditation strengthens the connection between the self and the soul. This is the “elevator” Assagioli says we can use to reach the different floors of our inner house. Intuition lives in the terrace at the top of the Egg Diagram. Here we can see the stars and discover our intimate connection to the cosmos and the depths of Mother Earth.
The Superconscious houses an abundance of resources; through it we have access to a surplus of energy to motivate us in life. From it we receive the spiritual inspiration and aspiration to take the last step: the union of the self and the soul, the essential goal of transpersonal psychosynthesis, a journey we will take in the next chapter.
“There is no certainty; there is only adventure”Roberto Assagioli