Table of content
In this conversation, Stuart Miller (Esalen) and Assagioli discuss Assagioli’s future book, which was never completed: Height Psychology and the Self
Interview with Roberto Assagioli by Stuart Miller, January 23, 1973. From the Assagioli Archive, derived from psicoenergetica.it. Translated by Gordon Symons from Italian. Original title: Le Esperienze Del Sé.
(Editors note: Stuart Miller (1938-2014) was the first Vice President of Development at Esalen Institute and visited Assagioli in the seventies. He conducted two published interviews with Assagioli: The Rebirth of the Soul (1973), The Will (1972), and he also shared his account of his meeting with Assagioli: My Experience With Psychosynthesis (Miller, undated). In this conversation they discuss Assagioli’s future book, which were never completed: Height Psychology and the Self. It is my subtitles – KS)
Miller: Did you like the first part that was inserted regarding the super-ego and the Self?
Assagioli: Oh yes: a lot! Very much! Very much! It makes it alive, concrete. And I want this in the book. Of course! That’s exactly what I’m looking for. I think I am good at building the skeleton, but covering it with flesh and blood, sometimes I feel good, but it takes time, the right state of mind, etc. And if someone helps me do it, I’m grateful. And here you did it. And it was a very vital experience, which brings … And so, in all the parts of the book some examples must be added and so on at every point, let’s say, of the conceptual skeletal structure. So, the first five pages have my blessing.
The mistaken jump from the personal to the universal without stages
Miller: What do you want to be put in next? (I was referring to question III)
Assagioli: What is the Self, especially some experience. Well, there is the one I mentioned more than once in some of my writings, that of Father Gratry. I’ll find it. I believe that if you look for it in the collection of experiences you will be able to find it. I’ll give it back. It is not easy to find a clear and precise definition of the Self, because writers or those who have these higher human experiences usually mix up the experience of the Self with expressions about God, or about some superconscious aspect, such as beauty or the simple experience of ecstasy. Or they jump directly to the Universal Self. Bucke says for example that it is a “cosmic” consciousness. You see, those who have had the experience of the Self usually do not talk about it; instead they talk about experiences of enlightenment, or communion, both with nature and with God, or with the Universe. They arrive immediately at the Universal.
You see, you must understand clearly that this is precisely the point that will come to represent the perhaps most original part of my book: precisely the fact that we tend to jump from the personal to the Universal, from ordinary consciousness to Satori, to Nirvana and to Samadhi, without the experience of illumination of the Self, and also of intermediate degrees, the percentage of self-consciousness at the higher levels and of communion with the Universal. Keep in mind my three diagrams – all this is never found explained anywhere. They jump from the personal to what they call the Universal or Cosmic, and so on.
Miller: And is this a mistake on their part? Why do they do this?
Assagioli: For this reason, because consciousness of the Self can be experienced through exercises and a gradual procedure, which one could call “scientific”. Not by flying to the top. Making the analogy, one could say that it is not a summit experience, tout-court, it is instead a gradual ascent, a progressive ascent towards … Or, in other words, one could say that the summit experience is the experience at the top of the mountain, but walking up it, not flying over it into the stratosphere. Here, this is a more fitting analogy.
The individual and universal nature of the Self
Miller: But why not fly? Why climb so slowly towards the top?
Assagioli: No, this comes later. I mean that if one has an experience of the peaks, that is spontaneous, or even artificially induced, this is not a true experience of the peaks in the strict sense – it is rather a hovering or floating in the more or less universal consciousness or cosmic. There is a feeling of unity so intense that people often do not pay attention to the fact that it is the Self that experiences Unity.
It is a subtle but crucial question. If one were truly immersed in the universal, one would not know it. Someone – you will know that way of saying it, of the drop of water that is dispersed in the shining sea. And some, I believe it was Lama Govinda, rightly criticized it. In reality, it is not so, the drop is not dispersed in the sea. And even the Hindus, who knew all about it, spoke of Sat-Chit-Ananda. That is to say “the blissful awareness of the supreme Reality, of the Self”.
Now, there could be no bliss there if there were not someone who is blessed. This is why I always start from the inner experience of a living subject. And insofar as it can bear the Universal, it is the individual who experiences bliss. I believe I have now expressed it in very precise terms. It is not possible to lose the awareness of the Self that experiences all this. Of course, it is difficult in an article to get to the bottom of this question. Now this could be defined as the great Paradox: and Aurobindo talks about it, and so does Radhakrishnan in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and so does Lama Govinda – so the Orientals are aware of this, not all, of course.
Miller: Therefore, you do not claim that one should experience the Self when it elevates or accesses the Universal, but that one actually experiences the Self, only that it is usually an unconscious experience. From this point of view, you are not raising an ethical question, but simply a matter of psychological observation.
Assagioli: Oh, there is no ethical issue! In a certain sense, the true, pure awareness of the self is over-ethical – ethics comes into play in the relationship between all of this and the personality. But this is actually beyond good and evil – it is the pure awareness of the Self.
Miller: I spoke of ethics in a purely pragmatic sense: as the most effective way to proceed, commonly speaking.
Assagioli: Oh, in that sense. What usually happens when people begin to ascend to the higher levels of consciousness, if we can call them that, is that they usually immediately encounter an experience of the summits. You fly to the top. But then they usually fall back. And then, they try and try again to repeat that flight, and then they fall back into a more and more frustrated experience for not being able to repeat the experience, then they try again, trying by resorting to artificial means, until they resign themselves to admitting that they must rise gradually, resting on the various levels, in order to make the experience and awareness a permanent acquisition. But this comes later. It is rare, especially in the West, for one to reach these heights by climbing; you can usually get there by flying. And so, they tumble down. And then the rise begins, of necessity.
The Solitary Self
Now I want to say something else. The other extreme of this attitude is Keyserling’s. I don’t know if in the book I gave you, he talks about the Self. Not much? Well, in other books he does talk about it. Keyserling had the experience of the Self, but in an almost exclusively individual sense. Very little perception of the Universal Self. He speaks of a “solitary” Self and of the experience of solitude and so on. Therefore, he emphasizes the aspect of uniqueness and individuality of the experience of the Self. It is not that he denies that other, sometimes he says something about it, but his subjective experience has mainly concerned the individual aspect of the Self. And this goes hand in hand with his … Can you see it? These are the two extremes. Well, not really extremes, but the two …
Miller: You are saying that from a psychological point of view it is usual to pass through the stage of self-awareness on the path to the Universal, but usually people are not aware of this, of self-awareness.
Assagioli: Oh yes. At first, we are not aware of our personal self. How many intelligent psychologists have no idea of their self – they speak of personality, of ego as “a bundle of elements”, but the point in the middle escapes them. It’s amazing. The nucleus of reality of our being is not consciously recognized, not even on a personal level, let alone on a transpersonal level.
The Seven Ways
Miller: But you say that as a general aid to ascent, the cultivation of self-awareness is one of the fundamental means.
Assagioli: Yes, this is very true. Of course, one has to take the trouble, be it through the new yoga, or the old one, the eternal yoga. Just to disidentify – says Patanjali, if you read it carefully, in his Hindu terminology. Especially in the last book where he talks about the experience of Samadhi. And that is Samadhi. But there are those means, those exercises, all the various instruments of yoga: concentration, meditation, contemplation, and so on. So, this is the way of yoga training. But then there are also the other ways: the mystical, aesthetic, and all those. So, there is not only that way, but I think it is currently very suitable for many who cannot accept and do not connect with the mystical way, or others. It is a technique, in this age of technique.
Miller: How are the seven or more ways connected with self-awareness understood as a way?
Assagioli: I do not understand. Self-awareness is not a way, it is the final product! The yoga that I have just described is in itself one of the ways, the Raja Yoga, the technique of progressive exercises towards it.
Miller: But among the seven or more ways, which does Raja Yoga belong to?
Assagioli: Oh, here is a distinction to be made, and I will do it in my book, among the ways and techniques. It’s important. Each way has its own techniques. I would place Raja Yoga in the illuminative way. One of the most frequent experiences of the Self is illumination, the light source. Thus, each way has a technique. The aesthetic way has its techniques. And so has the mystical way, and the ritualistic way, which then is a whole technique, more or less. It is my recent idea to distinguish ways from techniques. But these are deep waters for the article. But it is good that you have them clear.
Miller: We have said what the Self is not. We have given examples of experiences of the Self. Can we say how the Self works in personal development, or in the lives of people in general? Like a call? As a personal crisis of meaning? At a certain age? With a sudden and unexpected illumination? And also, for deliberate evocation and ascent? What is the dynamic of the Self in the life of the personality? This brings us to Point IV: What is the use of the Self and transpersonal experiences?
Assagioli: Well, it is done all the time.
Miller: I know, but I would like to hear your comment on this.
Assagioli: I’m always ready to talk about these things. Furthermore, as you wrote in your report, we always forget about the Self. We forget it. In this regard I really like the physical analogy with a phone call, that is, to remember to call the Self: are you free? He is always free! Think of the patience of the Self. Well, it doesn’t have much merit, because it is easy for him, being in contact with the Eternal!