A definition of descent and going deeper by Roberto Assagioli, from his book Transpersonal Development
“The second group of symbols has to do with the idea of going deeper, descending to the ‘bottom/depth’ of our being.
Exploration of the unconscious is regarded symbolically as a descent into the depths of a human being, an exploration of the lowest regions of the mind. This symbol came into its own when psychoanalysis was developed, but was not invented then, for it has its origin in the remote past; indeed in antiquity it had a deeper meaning. We need only think of Aeneas’ descent into hell in the Aeneid by Virgil, or of Dante’s description of hell. In addition to this, a number of mystics speak about the ‘abysses of the soul’. Apart from psychoanalysis in the strict sense of the word, there is a branch of psychology known as ‘depth psychology’, represented by Jung and others. Their basic principle is that we must have the courage to face up to all the lower, darker aspects of our being, the things referred to as ‘the Shadow’, and then include them in our conscious personality. This recognition and inclusion are acts of humility and power at one and the same time: a person who is able to give conscious recognition to the baser characteristics of the personality, without being overwhelmed by them, is achieving a true spiritual conquest. But there can be dangers in this. The fable of the sorcerer’s apprentice should put us on our guard: it is comparatively easy to let the ‘waters’ burst forth, but much more difficult to stop them and command them to withdraw!
It might be useful in this connection to remember what one gifted psychotherapist, Robert Desoille, does. This creator of the ‘waking dream’ method also uses ‘descent’ in his work, though he places greater emphasis on ascent. As far as descent is concerned, he says that it should be used wisely, a little at a time i.e. start by seeking an experience of the higher realities and then, as you become gradually stronger, cautiously explore the region of the unconscious. The aim is to eliminate the dissociation between the conscious mind and the lower unconscious, which has been produced by repression, by the condemnation of the conscious mind and by not wanting to admit – out of presumption or fear – that this aspect of our personality exists. To repress it serves no useful purpose: far from ridding us of it, it aggravates the situation. Our task is to redeem this lower part of our being. ‘Recognizing’ this aspect of our personality does not mean allowing ourselves to be ruled by it. It means getting ready for it to be transformed. Christ’s descent into hell to redeem those imprisoned there has this profound meaning.”