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In today’s world, with all the noise and constant clamour for our attention via advertising, entertainment and social media, there is a deep need for a counter-culture of silence, peace and presence. Roberto Assagioli was well aware of this situation in his day, and the situation is much worse today, so where and how do we find such a centre of silence, peace and presence?
Psychosynthesis has the answer to this question. Within each of us lies a stable, unchangeable and permanent centre of peace and presence: we call it the centre of pure self-awareness and will, the conscious “I”, the observer. In my book The Soul of Psychosynthesis I dedicate a full chapter to the self and how we work with presence in a counselling setting (1), but let me share a couple of perspectives in this brief article.
The development of presence – and its associated qualities of silence and peace – emerges by itself when we are identified with the conscious “I” and observer, which is the innermost subject of our experience.
Many people know the benefits of concentration and attention – and, indeed, letting go of distractions and focusing our attention on the present moment can be the first step towards presence. However, concentration and attention are tools of the mind only, and cannot lead to presence because we can find ourselves concentrating on things that have a stressful effect on our psyche – this is something that is hard to avoid and often happens in an unconscious way.
Presence – is being a silent detached-loving observer
In contrast, being present in the purest way possible involves being self-aware in the here and now, being a silent detached-loving observer of the contents of our awareness in the present situation. To find the eye of the hurricane – to be fully present – we have to step out of the mental-emotional storms of our inner psychological world. We have to disidentify from all the competing inner voices and turn our attention to the centre of our inner world, where we find the loving and willing observer. We do this through the technique of disidentification and self-identification (2).
Presence requires being present with the dual awareness of oneself as the detached-loving observer, together with an awareness of the inner or outer situation we are observing. We hold both perspectives in our awareness. In this way, we can keep remembering who we are (the observer and consciousness itself) while remaining present to our current situation.
Presence emerges out of what has been called the void in consciousness. This void is the still, unchangeable, silent awareness of the conscious “I”. The void has to be developed – it is not something that emerges by itself. Assagioli speaks about it this way: ”In order to strengthen and make stable the pure self-awareness of the observer, it is necessary to have periods of inner silence, gradually longer, to make what is called the void in the field of consciousness.” (3)
Presence and silent meditation
The practice of silent meditation on the contentless awareness of the conscious “I” will gradually develop the silent inner void in the head – a permanent still space that we can retreat to at any time when we need to centre and be present to what is. When we rest in this centre, we can be quiet with ourselves or with others, there is no need to talk or think, it is just pure being. When we first start to notice the void, it seems like nothing, it is just a quiet place, and people might think we are behaving a little oddly because we are able to be in social situations without feeling the need to say much, just being present, relaxed in the here and now.
However, in this silent void, important inner developments are occurring, in the words of Assagioli: “In the silence power is generated, problems are solved and important recognitions are registered. In the silence, sensitivity can be developed and the ability to respond to subjective impressions.” (4)
One of the key ways for developing the void is meditation – and if you are inclined to take up this practice by yourself or with a client, I have created seven meditations, four of which are highly relevant with respect to the development of silence and presence, namely the meditations on silence, presence, power and the loving observer. They are available for free on my website. (5)
The transcendence-immanence of the observer
Let us now dig a little deeper to understand more fully what presence means. In the context of psychosynthesis, presence relates to the transcendence-immanence of the observer and the conscious “I”. The conscious “I” has the potential to be fully present with any content of awareness on any level, from the subconscious to the superconscious. What we can be present to within ourselves, we can bear witness to in another. Let us investigate that.
When we are centred in our awareness as the observer there is the potential for us to be in a state of both transcendence and immanence with respect to the content of our awareness. Transcendence is a state in which we observe something from above, or from a distance, and this occurs when we stand as the observer, detached from what is being observed. (In this particular use of the word, transcendence does not refer to a lofty spiritual experience – a frequent connotation – but rather to see something from a distance.) To be in a state of immanence with what we observe means to have a living and loving relationship with the observed; in this situation, immanence places us inside the observed through empathic identification.
Let me offer an example. As the observer, we can transcend emotions that arise from the lower unconscious, such as anger, jealousy or envy, by observing them from a distance. This gives us an opportunity to influence, direct or transform the emotions because we are disidentified from them – we know we are not the emotions we observe. At the same time, through immanence, the observer can make a deep empathetic identification with the observed, as an act of love, and in this way we can temporarily become one with and truly present to the innermost situation of the loved object.
Presence must be developed
We must emphasise that transcendence and immanence are only potentials. To realise these potentials the observer’s presence (depth, height and breadth) must be developed.
The observer’s relationship to the lower unconscious – as depicted in Assagioli’s egg-diagram (6) – is initially neither transcendent nor immanent with regards to the states in the depths. There are barriers of past conditioning, pain and fear that must first be weakened with love and made conscious before they can open up to the observer. But when this happens, the observer can integrate the lower unconscious energies – sexual or aggressive – and express them constructively, freely and spontaneously.
So, too, with the “heights” of the superconscious. The observer cannot be present to, observe and be in relationship with the energies of the superconscious unless the inner worlds of love and light are also conquered.
The ability to be present in “breadth” refers to our relationship to our political, social and cultural context, and this depends on empathy (immanence) and the span of the conscious “I”s perspectives (transcendence). Breadth of perspective also includes our ability to identify psychological and spiritual influences that arise in the collective unconscious, from biological to spiritual levels.
In conclusion, let me add that the capacity for presence is a synthesis of awareness, love and will.
We must know as fact that we are the observer (awareness): this is the light with which we see. We must be able to love and accept whatever we observe or else we will never be present with the essence of what we engage with. We must develop a will that enables us to let go of identifications (transcendence and detachment) and identify with the observer so we always remember who we are.
Finally, let me offer a quote from Assagioli about the synthesis of love and will and how to accomplish it: “It will be apparent that the successful endeavour to achieve a synthesis between love and will demands much skill in action. It calls for persistent vigilance, for constant awareness from moment to moment. Various current spiritual movements and approaches rightly emphasise it and it has been widely practised in the East. But this awareness, this attitude of maintaining a conscious inner ‘presence’, does not stop with the observation of what ‘happens’ within oneself and in the external world. It makes possible the active intervention and commitment on the part of the self, who is not only an observer but also a willer, a directing agent of the play of the various functions and energies. This can be done by utilising the principle of self-identification. From the vantage point of the self, it is not a compromise between love and will which is being attempted, but a synthesis.” (7)
1. The Soul of Psychosynthesis can be bought here: https://www.amazon.com/Soul-Psychosynthesis-Seven-Core-Concepts/dp/8792252176/
2. See Assagioli’s disidentification and self-identification exercise here: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/glossary/disidentification/
3. Assagioli interviewed for an article Height-psychology by Beverly Besmer: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/height-psychology-interview-with-assagioli/
4. Assagioli in his Meditation Group for the New Age: https://meditationmount.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/3y1-WEB.pdf
5. Download the seven meditations here: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/get-my-seven-meditations-4/
6. See a definition of Assagioli’s egg-diagram and the different levels of the unconscious here: https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/the-psychosynthesis-model-of-the-personality/
7. Assagioli in The Act of Will, 1974, p. 100.