The Self – definitions on the self and Self by Roberto Assagioli
The Self – an experience
By, Roberto Assagioli, From Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Newsletter
When we held the Valmy Conference in May 1958 much discussion took place about the Self and it occurs to us that readers of this Newsletter might like to exchange any relevant ideas they come across during the course of their work or reading. So, if you find anything of significance please share it.
The following question and answer from the transcript of the Conference may be of special interest to new readers of the Newsletter: What t from a practical point of view a do we mean by the small, little self, and the Higher Self?”
Dr. Assagioli replied: “I come back to the fundamental attitude of psychosynthesis and research. The Self is an experience, not a conception. We can formulate the experience, more or less, in a conception; but it is an experience. Human life is experience; so we should not start, in my opinion, with a “conception” of the Self, but with techniques which can help us to have the experience of the Self. Let us always speak in terms of experience – experience of the little self, experience of the will, experience of the Higher Self, esthetic experience. First the experience, the life, and then the conceptual formulation and the utilisation.”
Roberto Assagioli in C.G. Jung and Psychosynthesis: “Psychosynthesis, on the other hand, regards the Self as a reality, rather as a living Entity, direct and certain knowledge or awareness of which can be had. In other words, it can be defined as one of those “immediate data of consciousness” (to use Bergson´s expression) which have no need of demonstration but bear with them their own evidence—as happens in the case of ethical conscience, aesthetic experience and the experience of the will. There is a considerable body of testimony in support of this. Here, out of many, is the significant contribution of Father Gratry:
“We possess an ‘inner sense’ which at special times when we succeed in interrupting the habitual flow of distractions and passions gives us direct and clear knowledge of our Soul…I used to experience an inner form, full of strength, beauty and joy, a form of light and fire which sustained my entire being; stable, always the same, often recaptured during my life; forgotten at intervals, but always recognized with infinite delight and the exclamation, “Here is my real Being·.” (La Connaissance de l’Ame)”
“The experience of the spiritual Self is a sense of freedom, of expansion, of communication with other Selves and with reality, and there is the sense of Universality. It fells itself at the same time individual and universal.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis, p. 87)
The self and the Self
By, Roberto Assagioli, From Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Newsletter, 34, Okt., 1968
Arising out of discussions and correspondence on the self, and the distinction between a “personal psychosynthesis” and a “spiritual psychosynthesis,” we received the following definition from Dr. Assagioli which we think will be thought-provoking and interesting to our readers:
“The Self is an ontological Reality, a Being, and is on Its own level a stable Center of Life, from which It radiates energies. The personal self, the self-conscious “I” is a projection or reflection of the Self into the normal human level.
An analogy may help understanding, although, as are all analogies, it is only approximate and partial. The relationship between the spiritual or transpersonal Self and the personal self, or “I”, can be compared to that between the Sun and a planet, let us say the Earth. From the sun emanate many and powerful radiations, which affect the planet and all the living beings on it, producing the conditions for evolution, development, growth. In the same way the Self projects a small portion, a spark, a tiny center of self-consciousness.
This self grows in self-awareness, intelligence, power to act, etc., under the combined influence of “nourishment” from the environment, the soil where it exists, and from the vivifying impact of the descending energies radiated by the Self. One might say that the Self becomes aware through the self of what exists and occurs at the personal levels (physical – emotional – mental). The personal self, in its turn, becomes aware of the Self in two ways:
- By opening itself consciously to and recognizing the radiation from the Self.
- By rising towards and eventually contacting and merging partially with the Self.”
“This personal self is the human core at the ordinary level, the level of personality. It is the centre of our ordinary psychological functions: mind, emotions, sensation, imagination, etc. Likewise, at our higher human level there is an entity that is at the centre of the higher functions – artistic inspiration, ethical insight, scientific intuition.
This is our real core: it is there in all of us, but the personality is generally not aware of it at the ordinary level.” (Miller, 1973)
The Self and its emanation
In my interpretation, Assagioli is demonstrating his belief that there is a transcendent, unified Spirit that created the external world of matter in the form of a number of levels of reality, from the most complex intellect and feeling to the simplest aspect of inorganic matter. This process of Spirit descending to create levels of reality is the process of involution. According to Assagioli (Transpersonal Development, pp. 85-86), this same process occurs when the soul or Self incarnates from its heavenly abode:
“Time and time again one is brought up against the paradoxical duality and unity of the Deity. The personal “I” comes down from the star, or from the spiritual “I”, in the form of a reflection. This fits one of the interpretations of the parable of the prodigal son. The personal “I” is the prodigal son who has descended to the level of the material world and forgotten his origin, to the point where of his own free will he resorts to all the foolishness he is capable of, all the errors (”errors” both in the sense of making mistakes and of going astray), and only then feels a longing for his fathers house, sets out in search of it and eventually finds it.”
Elsewhere, Assagioli (Transpersonal Development, 2007, p. 102) offers further details:
“We have now reached the fifteenth group of symbols, that of resurrection and return, what in the gospels is referred to as the return of the prodigal son to his father’s house. This is a return to a previous state and points to a return to the original, primordial Being. It presupposes an emanatistic theory of the soul, descending, becoming one with matter, and then returning to its “home”, the heavenly homeland – not as it was before, but enriched by the experience of self-awareness which has come to maturity in toil and conflict.”
Assagioli is claiming that the soul level, or “heaven”, is not merely a symbolic picture but a real existential sphere to be encountered and explored.
“The Self is one it manifests in different degrees of awareness and self-realisation” (Assagioli, in Psychosynthesis, p. 20)
The Self and how it affects the personality
“The individual influx descending from the Ego (soul) to the personality may be compared to the solar rays which reach the earth. These rays are variously intercepted, deflected and extracted according to the greater or lesser purity and transparency of the atmospheric strata through which they pass.
Thus the subtler ultra-violet radiations are for the most part intercepted in the upper parts of the atmosphere even when this is pure. When there are clouds and mists, the luminous and calorific rays also are partly arrested. When the rays reach solid objects on the earth the reaction is different, according to the nature of the objects. Lustrous objects reflect the rays an opaque objects absorb them; colored objects absorb some radiations and reveal others an so on.
Very similar is the fate of the spiritual and higher mental radiations emanating from the higher self, and descending through the mental and emotional levels of the personality to the objective consciousness functioning through the physical brain.
The highest and most subtle intuitions and promptings are generally arrested and do not reach the consciousness. When mental mists befog the mind, or psychic storms agitate or obscure the emotional nature, most if not all of the individual radiations are obstructed. Then these radiations are absorbed or rejected according to the ideas, opinions, projections, likes and dislikes, desires, tendencies, and so on, which constitute the variegated (miscellaneous) furniture of our mental home.” (Assagioli, Roberto , 1930, Individual Psychology and Spiritual Development, Vol IX, Nov., The Beacon.: 184-185)
The Self pervade the three aspects of personality: “Abstract geometrical symbols are often combined with the symbol of the sun or a star: e.g.; the visualisation of an equilateral triangle which symbolises the three aspects of the personality – physical, emotional and mental – and above the apex of the triangle a sun or star, with radiating rays, symbolising the Self. This is a very apt symbol to illustrate the process towards and the achievement of spiritual psychosynthesis through the action of, the pervasion by, the spiritual Self of the reconstructed or re-newed personality.” (Assagioli in, Psychosynthesis, p. 203)
“Our spiritual being, the Self, which is the essential and most real part of us, is concealed, confined and “enveloped” first by the physical body with its sense impressions, then by the multiplicity of the emotions and the different drives (fears, desires, attractions and repulsions), and finally by the restless activity of the mind.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis 214)
The Self and spiritual development through the higher unconscious
The Higher Self is the cause and source for all the superconscious processes, but is itself not a process, but a point of pure universal being. (Assagioli, The Superconscious and the Self)
According to Assagioli (1963: 4), the Higher Self is able to act through the superconscious “under the powerful stimulation of some unusual stress or emergency, or in response to some strong appeal.”
“From these higher levels come the inspiration of the great artists and prophets, the illuminations of the mystics, the flashes of intuition, the great decisions which lead to heroic deeds. This higher inner life must have, as our normal one, a center from which it manifests and which directs and controls it: this center is the individual, or spiritual Self.” (1927, see also The Superconscious and the Self for a complete presentation)
“Identification with higher and higher aspects of the superconscious is useful, as it can constitute a ladder toward the Self” (Assagioli, The Superconscious and the Self ).
“To reach the place where this Self resides means a climb, an ascent to the heights of the superconscious.” (Assagioli in: Transpersonal Development, 1993, p.83)
It seems that Assagioli always considers Self-realisation to be a process that goes through the superconscious and not the lower unconscious and his point is: “The contents of the superconscious, particularly at its higher levels, are very close to the Self and therefore share, to some extent, its characteristics” (Assagioli, Transpersonal Development, 1993: 29).
And in another quote by Assagioli (Miller, Stuart: 1973): “…others feel “calls” – to use the old language. They are attracted by the possibility of expanding consciousness into the farther reaches of the Superconscious, up to the experience of the Self. This is true Self realization, what I call Transpersonal or Spiritual psychosynthesis.”
Definition of spiritual: “We are using the word “spiritual” in its broader connotation which includes, therefore, not only the specific religious experience, but all the states of awareness, all the functions and activities which have as common denominator the possessing of values higher than the average, values such as the ethical, the aesthetic, the heroic, the humanitarian, and the altruistic. We include under the general heading of “spiritual development” then, all experiences connected with awareness of the contents of the superconscious, which may or may not include the experience of the Self. It should also be pointed out that the reaching up in the realm of the superconscious and its exploration, while approaching the consciousness of the Self, may sometimes even constitute an obstacle to full Self-realisation, to the reaching of the summit where the personal-I awareness blends into awareness of the spiritual Self. One can become so fascinated by the wonders of the superconscious realm, so absorbed in it, so identified with some if its special aspects or manifestations as to lose or paralyze the urge to reach the summit of Self-realisation.” (Assagioli in Psychosynthesis, p. 38-39)
In order to achieve self-realisation: “What has to be achieved is to expand the personal consciousness into that of the Self; to reach up, following the thread or ray (see diagram II) to the star; to unite the lower with the higher Self.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis, p. 24 (see more))
“The opening of the channel between the conscious and the superconscious levels, between the ego and the Self, and the flood of light, joy and energy which follows, often produces a wonderful release.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis, p. 43)
“There are not in reality two independent selves. There is one Self – but there are very different and distinct levels of self-realisation. Therefore, between the self-identity of the ordinary or normal level of functioning and the full spiritual Self-realisation there are intermediate stages or levels, ever wider, clearer, fuller.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis p. 113)
“To be more exact, there are two main ways of arriving at spiritual Psychosynthesis: One could be called the abrupt, dramatic way, as seen in cases of religious conversion and in the forms of sudden illumination or awakening – and the latter is the technique used in an extreme way by Zen-Buddhism. But in many cases, and perhaps at present in the majority of cases, there is instead a gradual development from the integrated personality towards the inclusion of superconscious elements, a gradual approach of the personal self-consciousness towards the spiritual Self, from self-identity in the personal sense to spiritual realisation.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis p. 188-189)
“The superconscious precedes consciousness of the Self …” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis p. 198)
“Self-realisation, in this specific well-defined sense, means the momentary or more or less temporary identification or blending of the I-consciousness with the spiritual Self, in which the former, which is the reflection of the latter, becomes reunited, blended with the spiritual Self. In these cases there is a forgetfulness of all contents of consciousness, of all which forms the personality both on normal levels and those of the synthesized personality which include superconscious or spiritual levels of live and experience; there is only the pure intense experience of the Self.” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis p. 202)
Self-realisation is a process where we must remove the obstacles in the middle and lower unconscious for the inflow of superconscious energies: “… the necessary conditions to be fulfilled and the price to be paid for the high achievement of Self-realisation are a drastic transmutation and regeneration of the personality. It is a long and many-sided process, which includes phases of active removal of the obstacles to the inflow and operation of superconscious energies …” (Assagioli in: Psychosynthesis 49, 54)
“When dis-identifying from the contents of consciousness the personal self tends to rise to its source the higher Self” (Assagioli in: Transpersonal Development, 1993, p. 44)
Self and the Universal Self
“The Transpersonal Self of each is in intimate union with the Transpersonal Self of all other individuals, however unconscious they may be of this. All Transpersonal Selves can be considered as ’points’ within the Universal Self.” (The Act of Will, 1974, p. 260)
The higher Self is a blend of individual and universal consciousness, it “experiences universality but without “losing” itself within the vast Universal Self. It remains at the center, Immovable.” (Assagioli, The Superconscious and the Self)
Assagioli (cited in Besmer, 1973: 7) states: “Such phrases as, ‘I am Brahman, I am The One’, need to be clearly qualified. They may express a metaphysical ontological truth, but the personal self certainly has not reached that level of expansion of consciousness. It is a difference of development.”
In a passage describing the “great principle of involution or emanation”, Assagioli (Transpersonal Development, 2007, p. 251) explains: “From a basic, original absolute reality, a series of levels of life, intellect, feeling and material life has developed, through gradual differentiation, to the point of inorganic matter. Thus every quality or attribute of the eternal world, of matter itself, and of the countless different creatures is but a pale, obscure reflection of a quality or attribute of the spiritual Reality, the Divine Being.”
“The inner experience of the spiritual Self, and its intimate association with and penetration of the personal self, gives to those who have it a sense of greatness and internal expansion, the conviction of participating in some way in the divine nature. In the religious tradition and spiritual doctrines of every epoch one finds numerous attestations on this subject some of them expressed in daring terms. In the Bible there is the explicit sentence “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” St. Augustine declares: “When the soul loves something it becomes like unto it; if it should love terrestrial things it becomes terrestrial, but if it should love God (we may ask) does it not become God?”
The most extreme expression of the identity of the human spirit in its pure and real essence with the Supreme Spirit is contained in the central teaching of the Vedanta philosophy: “Tat Twarn Asi” (Thou art That) and “Aham evam param Brahman” (In truth I am the Supreme Brahman).
In whatever way one may conceive the relationship between the individual Self and the universal Self, be they regarded as identical or similar, distinct or united, it is most important to recognize clearly, and to retain ever present in theory and in practice, the difference that exists between the Self in its essential nature—that which has been called the “Fount,” the “Center,” the “deeper Being,” the “Apex” of ourselves—and the small ordinary personality, the little “self” or ego, of which we are normally conscious. The disregard of this vital distinction leads to absurd and dangerous consequences.” (Assagioli in, Self-realization and Psychological Disturbances)
The transcendent Self
Assagioli (Psychosynthesis, 1975: 19): “This Self is above, and unaffected by, the flow of the mind-stream or bodily conditions”
“The transpersonal Self is “outside” time and above it. It exists and lives in the dimension of the Eternal” (Assagioli, 1973: 6).
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