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By Kenneth Sørensen. This is an edited version of a webinar I gave for the Association for the Advancement of Psychosynthesis (AAP). You can watch the webinar by joining AAP here.
Today we are going to dive into the will.
My previous webinar was focused on the question of how to define awareness and work with it in a counselling setting, with a major focus on teaching clients to become the loving observer to whatever is happening in the inner and outer dimensions of their lives. See my article Awareness-based counselling
As you are probably well aware, in my book The Soul of Psychosynthesis I present the seven core concepts of psychosynthesis. I find there's so much to discover when we go deep into the core perspectives of psychosynthesis theory and practice. That's why, for some years now, I have been focused on throwing fresh light upon these concepts and the underlying facts or experiences that these concepts point to.
That first webinar focused on awareness because awareness is closely related to the disidentification technique and to the discovery of the centre of pure awareness and will, which is at the heart of the personal self or conscious “I” and, at a later stage, the transpersonal Self.
Today, we will explore the will. I always like to take an experiential approach to how I work because I think our experiences are the facts upon which we need to base our theories. So I will suggest that we start with a short meditation on the will in order to have a direct experience of what the will is. Will is the function that regulates and develops all the other psychological functions. The will is also part of our core identity, because we actually are will: a living willing actor in our lives. Download my seven free meditations based on the core concepts of psychosynthesis.
Meditation on the will
Let us start by just relaxing and entering into a meditative state, and I will guide you through this short exercise so we can have some basic shared ground from which to discuss the nature of the will.
So just close your eyes, sit relaxed in your chair, and become the observer. Start by observing your breath – your in-breath and out-breath – relaxing into your body, observing the condition of your body. Just embrace your body, be aware of it, and know that you are the observer.
Breathe in and out… Resting.
Now, let go of the sensations of your body and move your attention to the world of the emotions.
Breathe through your emotions, into your body, and let go. Become aware of your emotions.
How do you feel right now? Just accept whatever is present, observing it.
Breathe in through your emotions, into your body, and let go. Know that you are the observer – you're not your emotions.
Just observe what's present right now – thoughts, images – and let them go, just allowing them to be there.
Become aware of the inner commentator – the voice speaking in your head which with you identify. Let go of this voice and become the pure witness. Simply be present, right here and now, knowing you have nothing to achieve and nowhere to go. Just be a still, observing entity. Become centred.
Know that you are the observer. Take a moment to observe the observer, turning your awareness upon its source. Who is aware? Don't look for an object, just be awake and present, observing consciousness itself. And, right now, I invite you to investigate your intention to continue with this exercise – you could stop, you could leave your chair, you could do anything – but you choose to remain right here, right now, present to this experience. Who decides?
Tune into your intention: your will to be here in this moment.
The will is not a desire. The will is your intention. Investigate this intention to be right here in this moment, your intention to hold this attention.
Your intention is a force field – it is a power that decides and directs where you put your attention. It's a very, very subtle energy.
Just observe this intention right now: your will to meditate and be aware.
Let go of any disturbing thoughts, feelings and sensations, and just be aware of your intention – realising that your intention is not an object. Rather, your intention is you directing attention. You are upholding the decision to stay present in the here and now and wake up to yourself as a point of pure consciousness and will, the observer and the actor.
Now, slowly, become aware again of your body, your breath, your surroundings.
Open your eyes.
The naked experience of consciousness and will
There's a very naked feeling about being the observer. When we let go of whatever is emerging in the field of consciousness, and just allow ourselves to be present and aware in the moment, we find a still point of awareness and will. And whenever we revisit this place, it's like we are tuning into a naked energy – all the self-perceptions and images of "who I am" fade away – and we arrive at a very naked place of pure awareness and intention.
I think there must be some relationship in the English word "intention" with the experience of "inner tension". Intention is building an inner tension – a kind of force field – and the more we become aware of our intention in the present moment, the more we are tuned into this force field, this naked force of will – and this is why I always say that the will is a force, the will is an inner power which is very different from desire, thought, images and bodily expression. Even though we find it hard to differentiate between desire and will, there is a clear difference. Desire is very often turned outwards – it’s a desire for something outside of our self and we feel a pull or a push, we need to grasp something. So, desire is based on a sense of lack, a vacuum that needs filling.
Love and will lie at the heart of psychosynthesis counselling
The will is quite different from desire. The will is a force in itself, with no sense of lack. That said, the will might be lacking in a sense of accomplishment, or be lacking in an ability to express itself through the other psychological functions, whereby it can feel inhibited or restricted. But in itself, the will is a pure force, and I think it's so important to have this experience, and go into this experience again and again, in order to transmit it to our clients.
The core of psychosynthesis counselling is about guiding the client to the centre, guiding the client to have an experience of being a loving observer to the contents of their awareness, teaching them how to embrace, hold and be with whatever arises. This is the love aspect of psychosynthesis counselling
The will aspect is to teach our clients how to be powerful, teaching them about this power in the heart of their being, the power to make choices. Because the will is primarily about freedom: freedom to become who we are and freedom to be who we are.
Whenever I counsel clients, I have two very important objectives. First, we have a dialogue, with me taking time to try to understand the existential situation of the client, finding out about their core needs and values, finding out what kind of person I am in front of. But, as a psychosynthesis counsellor, I also have an obligation to teach the client about Assagioli's findings, in particular the discovery of the centre of pure awareness and will. In fact, I believe there are four different perspectives in psychosynthesis counselling, and I will now describe them by drawing on some of the teachings of Ken Wilber.
Waking up, growing up, cleaning up, showing up
Ken Wilber talks about waking up, growing up, cleaning up and showing up. An internet search will generate many explorations of this idea.
Waking up is about finding the observer. It's the technique of self-transcendence. In psychosynthesis, we use the disidentification exercise to help us to wake up. We wake up to our self as pure awareness, and there are several stages in this. The first step is to wake up to the personal self and the observer – this type of pure awareness is limited, restricted or contracted around a perception of the self as separate, but we still experience our self as something different, something distinct from emotion, thought and images. So, at this stage, waking up is about waking up to the fact that I am consciousness itself.
The next step is to wake up to the transpersonal Self. At this stage we enter into a much more expanded awareness in which we let go of mental restrictions and self-centred self-perceptions and find that we are an open soul, an open awareness, limitless. At this stage we let go of the story of the personal self. For me, this means letting go of my personal self as Kenneth Sørensen and all my struggles and all my background. Instead, I become aware, without doubt, that I am something much deeper and more profound than what my personal story tells me. At this stage we realise our connectedness to the whole as the pure conscious witness, which is also present in all other conscious beings.
Finally, there is the very advanced stage of waking up to the Universal Self, to use Assagioli's term: this is a nondual and cosmo-centric oneness with all sentient beings.
In the process of waking up, we are using our will whenever we disidentify, whenever we say "This is not me" then we exercise our will and make a choice. We make a choice to disidentify, and this is an act of will.
Whenever we identify with something, by saying I am this or that, we apply the will, because we are choosing to identify with a particular state of being. So the will is crucial to the path of waking up to pure consciousness and self-transcendence.
Through the disidentification exercise, we make subjects into objects that we can observe and act on. Those people and roles we have identified with become objects in our awareness. In this way, we discover our identifications with being a father, a teacher or any other role with which we identify with on a conscious or unconscious level. All of these identifications can be owned, changed or relinquished – we can wake up to the fact that "I'm not the roles I play in life, I'm actually pure consciousness, unconditioned". We make subjects into objects, but afterwards we can enter these roles with greater awareness and choose to play these roles in a much more detached and liberated way.
I think the real benefit of this waking-up practice is that it gives us freedom and detachment by giving us an ability to play our roles with humour without being too attached to the ways in which we can live our lives.
The will and growing up
The next of the four perspectives on counselling concerns growing up. Growing up is about stage development; it's about the developmental theory of psychosynthesis, which describes the process of moving from the lower unconscious to the middle unconscious to the superconscious and beyond (see the egg-diagram of Assagioli). When Assagioli speaks about growing up, he points to the process of psychosynthesis.
There is a psychosynthesis process occurring in each and every one of us, and it's a process that leads to harmonisation, wholeness and oneness. But this process can be arrested or blocked – then people come to counselling to resolve these blockages. The principle aim and task of psychosynthesis is, according to Assagioli, to eliminate the conflicts and obstacles, conscious and unconscious, that block the natural development towards wholeness. In psychosynthesis counselling, we do this by making use of the various active techniques to stimulate the psychological functions that are weak and immature (including the functions of will, feeling and imagination – see Roberto Assagioli's Star Diagram below).
So the role of the will with regards to growing up is to develop the psychological functions. It takes a lot of effort to develop our emotions, our imagination, our sensations – it's actually a yogic practice. (One of the prominent techniques in the growing up process is the use of ideal models, which are realistic inner images of what we could become if we applied effort. An ideal model is a vision of our future self.) Each psychological function can be developed from the lower unconscious to the middle unconscious to the superconscious. The functions can be expressed at an instinctual level, at a self-aware level, and at a superconscious holistic level. We have to put constant focus and attention on the development of the functions, which is where the will comes in with respect to growing up.
From the perspective of growing up, we are helping our clients to become more mature and integrated, with all of their psychological functions available to them. Some clients might have an immature emotional, mental or imaginative life, and some might have a restricted access to their desires. According to the client's need, we need to teach them how to access their will and use the active techniques to develop the functions. Assagioli speaks about this development in his article about bio-psychosynthesis and in his books if you would like to read more.
Cleaning up is about shadow work
Cleaning up concerns shadow work, which is about the elimination of conflicts and obstacles. Here, the will also plays a prominent role because we need the will to face our shadows, the will to face uncomfortable aspects of ourselves, including the things about which we are afraid or ashamed, or whatever else is blocking our development. Whenever we work with the will, we enter the Heroic Way, and the most prominent quality we develop on the Heroic Way is courage. So, the will is about developing the courage of our clients, the courage to be who they perceive themselves to be. However, cleaning up is not just about inner transformation, it is also about the outer expression of an authentic lifestyle and the breaking up of our false roles and dishonest relationships. Cleaning up involves taking courageous action and step into a unique identity, then showing up.
Showing up is about speaking our voice
Showing up is the last of the four counselling perspectives. Showing up involves accepting our responsibilities and carving out a self-initiated path so that we can become who we are, find our authentic role in life, and be in service to life. We take our load upon us and help to correct the imperfections we find in the world and in ourselves, which takes a lot of will, especially with regards to planning, retaining focus. Indeed, showing up involves the training of the will and applying the six stages of the will. It takes a lot of strength and the organisation of all our resources to be creative and influence the world with our qualities.
The first visible impact of soul consciousness is a sense of need to be engaged in service. This experience produces a joyful creativity in our field of influence as the soul begins to manifest and incarnate fully in our personality, doing so through its own creativity. In psychosynthesis theory, we talk about the seven ways to soul-consciousness, which involves the blending, or fusion, of the psychological qualities of the personality type with soul type in service to humanity. These seven ways involve identification with the transpersonal will (the will to serve) while letting go of the will of the personality (our ambitions and self-serving needs). We exchange the happiness of the ego for the joy of the soul, hence Assagioli called this type of will the joyful will.
All the areas of development described above can be addressed according to the presenting needs of the client. At the same time, it might be wise to notice that the process of psychosynthesis is a life-long endeavour – beginning with the search for the elusive happiness of the personality, leading to the lasting joy of the soul, and finally the bliss of the Spirit.