A definition of transformation by Roberto Assagioli from his book The Act of Will.
“Law X—The psychological energies can find expression: I. directly (discharge—catharsis) 2. indirectly, through symbolic action 3. through a process of transmutation.
At first sight the direct modes of expression do not appear to call for much comment. They are simply the means whereby the natural and healthy gratification of the fundamental needs and tendencies is obtained. But in reality things are not that simple. Conflicts often develop between these needs and tendencies, conflicts placing priorities and limits on their gratification, or even negating its feasibility.
Moreover, these tendencies cannot all be indulged at the same time; their expression needs to be regulated on the basis of criteria of possibility and suitability. And this, in turn, necessitates deliberation, choices and decisions, in fact acts of will.
Certain restrictions inevitably impose themselves because of individual physical and psychological circumstances, obstacles created by our relations with other people, and social and environmental conditions in general. But these problems of control and regulation are not insoluble. When, and to the extent that, direct expression must be delayed, modified, or even entirely disallowed, ways and means of indirect expression are at hand which can offer adequate satisfaction and may often be preferable.
A symbolic acting out is frequently just as satisfying and liberating as direct expression. For example, if anger provokes us to attack somebody we believe has treated us badly, its direct expression would involve us in a physical or verbal assault. But the same hostility can be discharged by trouncing some object that symbolizes our opponent.
Another way of discharging hostility is to write a vituperative letter giving full vent to one’s bitterness and resentment—and then not to send it! The mere action of expressing anger and indignation on paper is often sufficient to discharge the energy, or psychological voltage, it carries.
Transformation and sublimation. These processes have a special importance in that their recognition and utilization offer the best and more lasting solution to many basic human problems. This warrants their thorough investigation and wide application. The breadth of the Subject does not permit of its being adequately dealt with in the present context, but some of the essential points are presented here.
The transformation of energies is a natural process going on at all times, both “horizontally,” within each level—physical, biological, and psychological—and “vertically,” between all levels, where it can be seen as sublimation or degradation, according to whether energy is carried to a higher or lower level.
These transformations often occur spontaneously, but they can be induced by deliberate acts of the will. At the physical level, heat may be converted into motion (the steam engine) or electricity (the thermoelectric generator). Electricity in its turn can be converted into heat (the electric stove) and motion (the motor). The knowledge and utilization of these and many other transformations constitutes the basis of technology.
Chemical combinations of substances produce other substances having different properties from those of their components and in some cases bring about a simultaneous release of heat and energy. In the physical sciences; there is a process, called sublimation, through which a chemical substance passes from the solid state directly to the gaseous state, and after cooling, to final crystallization. It is interesting to note that sublimation of chemical elements is particularly valuable as a means of purification.
At the biological level countless transformations are constantly occurring or can be induced, all regulated in the wonderful ways that make life possible. At the psychological level, too, transformations are happening all the lime. Many of the phenomena governed by abovementioned laws are due to the interaction and transformation of psychological energies.
Most important—though their mechanism is still a mystery to us—are the transformations and interactions that take place vertically, that is, between the energies of the various levels. Of immediate interest are the biological and physical changes produced by the action of mental and psychological energies. Their study and utilization constitute the large field of psychosomatic medicine.
There are then all the external actions determined by psychological factors. An idea combined with a desire or a feeling arouses an impulse to set in motion the corresponding physical activities. For instance, the desire, for wealth in conjunction with a plan for acquiring it may prompt one to make a journey, embark upon some enterprise, or construct a building. Love for a woman allied with an assessment of the conditions for marrying her has been known to transform itself into the urge to pursue certain studies or the determination to obtain a particular job.
All the basic instincts and drives undergo such transformations, which are particularly evident in the case of:
Sexuality and love.
The transformation of combative and aggressive drives «has a central importance because it constitutes one of the most effective, perhaps the most effective, means of ; eliminating interpersonal conflicts and preventing war. ;As to sexuality and love, there is certainly no need to •emphasize the fact that the ways to deal with these two powerful drives is an existential problem confronting every human being. This subject has been treated in Psychosynthesis (Chapter VIII), and in my pamphlet The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energies.
The ways and means of psychological transformation and sublimation can be summed up as: Elevation; B. Purification; C. Interiorization; D. Extension; E. Outer expression.
By means of elevation the merely physical sex drive can be transformed into emotional love; possessive love into oblative love; craving for sensuous pleasure into aspiration to experience aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual joys.
Purification is concerned principally with the nature of motives and intentions.
Interiorsation can transmute vanity and pride into a sense of inner dignity; personal self-assertion into spiritual affirmation; aggressive drives into a tool for dealing with inner “enemies.” This use has been aptly stated by Frances Wickes: “. . . one of our great tasks of our present day—[is] to introvert war.”
Extension brings about the transformation of egotistic love in successive, wider circles to love of family, of fellow workers, of one’s country, and of humanity. Paternal and maternal love which may have been denied expression through lack of children can be bestowed upon those of others, or upon all people who may need love and help.
Outer expression corresponds to the “crystallization” of sublimated chemical substances. Thus compassion is expressed in humanitarian actions; aggressive tendencies can be utilized in the struggle against social evils. It is important to realize, however, that there are pseudo-sublimations,
which should be recognized and guarded against. They are a substitute, a counterfeit of the real thing; they can be a disguise covering over impulses and activities not really sublimated. In sublimation it is sincere intention that counts.
Pseudosublimation is present where there is hypocrisy, whether evident or not.
The process of artistic creativity deserves special mention. It is considered a form of sublimation; it often is, but not always. In his creative activity the writer, painter, or composer often gives expression to his drives, urges, and desires as well as to his aspirations. For him it is then a means of catharsis. On the nature and level of this expression depends the quality of the transformation of the energies involved.
“We now come to the twelfth group: symbols of transmutation. The body can be transmuted by a process of regenerative psycho-spiritual transformation (during the course of which psycho-physical and para-psychological powers are also developed. The mind is brought into harmony with the spirit and includes the body, achieving an organic, harmonious unity of all aspects of a person’s being, which we might call ‘bio-psychosynthesis’. This is true spiritual alchemy. (Assagioli in The Act of Will)
When we speak of alchemy we usually think of attempts to ‘make gold’ – something which once seemed unbelievable, though it is not now so far-fetched since we have begun to manipulate atoms and transform one element into another. Often, however, the Arab and medieval books on alchemy used symbolic language to express a psycho-spiritual alchemy, i.e. the transmutation of humans. This has been recognized by a number of modern scholars, especially Jung, who in the last years of his life devoted much time and much of his writing activity to the symbolism of alchemy. In his work Psychology and Religion he speaks about this at length, showing how he also found this symbolism in the dreams of his patients and in the drawings produced by both sick and well people.” (Assagioli in Transpersonal Development)