Table of content
Who meditates is the first chapter of the book Integral Meditation and explore the conscious observer and director – the subject of the meditator
By Kenneth Sørensen, MA Psychosynthesis
Who is Meditating and Why meditate?
“I’d been meditating for five hours, only interrupted by a ten-minute interval. My focus was on observing the content of my consciousness. Nothing specific was supposed to happen, only to be present in the moment. During the first few hours my mind was filled with a cacophony of impressions, but now a sense of clarity emerged and the many impressions no longer disturbed me. Sitting with this clarity, all thoughts, moods and sensations faded into the background, and it became obvious that only consciousness is real. I am consciousness; an awake and aware space of quiet existence.
“Then the question arose: ‘What would I be without the content of consciousness?’ ‘Nothing,’ was the prompt reply. I recognised the answer yet … who was asking? Who was choosing to meditate? Who was maintaining the intention to sit and just observe? Who chose to stop the meditation? Who allowed these questions to arise? There is a will somewhere, who always directs energies and awareness, no matter how passive I am. This reflection made it clear to me that as long as I am in a body and have to function in a manifest universe, I must act. Not to act is also an act. Choosing not to act is an act. There is a will inside us that always upholds an intention and it is always active through our choices. This means choosing presence, a thought, a feeling, a physical act. What is this force? Who is it? … This question was too interesting not to pursue, so the focus of my meditation shifted character, something in me made this choice, and my journey changed.”
In 2003 a new chapter in my life began. I started my own business offering astrology consultations, coaching and courses in spirituality. I also decided to start my training as a Psychosynthesis psychotherapist due to a deep dissatisfaction with myself and the esoteric milieu I was part of. Despite a regular practice of meditation and contemplation I experienced a lack of ability to walk the talk in respect to the lofty ideas I was preaching. I decided to go back to the drawing board, and to psychotherapy. I had thought I could starve my appetites and problems by not feeding them with attention, but I was wrong.
During my esoteric studies I had frequently come across the work of Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), and was well aware of his close association with Alice Bailey. His writings were published in Bailey’s magazine The Beacon; however, it was his book The Act of Will that piqued my interest. The book influenced me greatly, and stands as one of the best presentations of the will I’ve read. Delving into the studies of Psychosynthesis felt to me like coming home. His psychological model contained all that I needed to reach out to a wider audience with my teaching.
Three perspectives in Psychosynthesis especially resonated. The first is Assagioli’s definition of the self as “a centre of pure self-awareness and will”; next was his idea about subpersonalities; and, lastly, his extensive exploration of the act of will. I was already familiar with the experience of being the observer of my inner world, and here was a psychological model that greatly emphasised this aspect of meditation.
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Assagioli argues that our true identity is pure self-awareness and will. Decades before Eckhart Tolle was speaking of the “Power of Now”, Assagioli was pioneering a psychology that had a vision of the Self as pure consciousness. The global mindfulness movement we see today has the aim of awakening meditators to themselves as consciousness itself. This awakening will change the world; it will liberate the individual from egocentric attachments and prepare her for the experience of unity and oneness. Through the individual, the World Soul is awakening to itself as consciousness. This awakening has many stages, which I explore in this book. Roberto Assagioli also provides us with techniques that help greatly with this process.
According to Assagioli we must integrate and harmonise our entire personality around the self. It was a revelation for me to see how the Eastern concept of the Self could be applied within psychotherapy practice with such skill and wisdom. I was impressed with Assagioli’s self-identification exercise: “We are not our thoughts, emotions or body, but the observing and acting witness behind these instruments of action.” This is pure yoga, and I was not surprised to discover that Assagioli wrote the foreword to the Italian edition of Alice Bailey’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It also changed my meditation practice. Whereas I had previously focused on visualisation and the contemplation of seed thoughts, I was now deeply motivated to observe consciousness itself.
When we start experiencing the transcendent nature of our being, we need a language and certain perspectives in order to grasp its meaning. This is particularly relevant to the question of identity regarding who we are in essence. Without a good map, we can easily become lost in our inner world. Meditation is in essence an inquiry into our true identity, and a practice that can help us to manifest that identity.
I would like to describe some key perspectives that grew out of my personal experience, and the sources that helped to inspire these perspectives. Let’s start with three key questions:
Why do we meditate?
What is spirituality?
These questions are profoundly existential in nature and cannot be easily answered. I will give a short introduction to each question in this chapter, and continue with the inquiry in subsequent chapters.
What is Meditation?
Let me begin by proposing a definition of meditation:
To be awake and present in the here and now
To focus our mind on an object
These definitions relate to two different types of meditation, both of which can create many positive changes in our character and, consequently, in our environment. The effects of meditation are physical and psychological, as well as spiritual.
Meditation can be of great benefit to the physical body, as documented in recent research, particularly regarding mindfulness. Meditation aids the development of our personality by enabling new psychological qualities such as courage, love and endurance to emerge. Also, meditation can have a spiritualising effect by expanding our consciousness from the individual to the universal, which can be experienced as unconditional love and a sense of communion with all of nature and humanity. Such experiences can offer deep insights into the mysteries of life, as well as providing artistic, scientific and ethical inspirations; the various effects depend on the focus of the meditation. While in a state of expanded awareness, we can gain insights into the meaning and purpose of our lives.
The two different types of meditation represent an active and a passive approach, and working with these we can further identify seven ways of meditation and seven paths of Self-realisation. The foundation for this philosophy is the teaching of the seven rays. According to discoveries within quantum physics, everything is energy – but some esoteric spiritual traditions argue that this energy can be divided into seven different “colours” or frequencies. The main objective of this book is to explore the seven rays and how to work with them.
In passive meditation we focus on the source of consciousness itself. This is often called awareness-based meditation or mindfulness. Practising this type of meditation we can experience consciousness without form, and pure awareness of our identity without thought, emotions or sensations. The practice is about letting go of all content to observe the source of consciousness itself. This can give us a sense of inner peace, a detached freedom, and clarity. The practice expands our consciousness from a separate ego identity to a wider universal presence. During these “peak experiences”, our personal identity stays in the background and a timeless Now enters the mind. The basic version of this practice involves the meditator observing the breath, thoughts and sensations with a neutral attitude in order to relax the body, still the mind and reach a state of inner peace.
In active meditation we focus on creating specific changes in the personality as part of a process of purification. This practice will eventually enable the expression of Soul consciousness through the refined personality. In this way, the good, the true and the beautiful already inherent in the Soul will manifest in creative ways. This form of meditation is orientated towards the manifestation of our Soul in action.
Another important thing to consider in respect to meditation is the psychological typology of the individual. People are different in their psychological make-up. This variety demands that a whole spectrum of meditation techniques are required to suit the particular spiritual type of the meditator. Such a holistic approach to meditation is integral: it takes into account all individual, cultural and social dimensions of life, and includes all levels of an individual from body, mind to Soul and Spirit. To illuminate this integral perspective is one of the main objectives of this book.
Meditation is also energy work. Meditation can foster an ability to master the energies that make up who we are. Energy work is a science developed by various yogic traditions over the centuries. Everything is energy, and when we realise we live in a cosmic sea of energies we better understand that spiritual realisation is a tremendous task. We live, move and have our being within this cosmic sea, and it is only through the exploration and manifestation of this sea that we can discover our inner greatness. This perspective lies at the heart of the new energy psychology, which is based on the philosophy of the seven rays or the seven rivers of life. We can master the seven rays when we understand their qualities, and integral meditation can help in this task.
In essence integral meditation concerns:
- The seven rivers of life and their ray qualities.
- The seven ways of meditation and their paths to freedom.
- The seven levels of consciousness, from body, through mind, to Soul and Spirit.
- Five integral life practices.
The fruit of this approach emerges in the sphere of “I”, “We” and “It”, ie in the domains of the individual, the cultural and the physical world we inhabit.
In the following chapters, I will offer an overview of the seven energies, ways and levels. I will introduce the reader to the new energy psychology and show how it can serve as a practical guide to meditation and life.
Today, meditation is often taught with a focus on its benefits to our physical and mental health, but this comprises only the basement of an individual’s “inner house”, and meditation can benefit the entire house, which leads us to the next of our questions.
This is the ultimate question we can ask, and it is the aim of meditation to answer it. It is a question that points directly to the Self and our experience of being in a continual process of development. I will offer a couple of perspectives here but, from an existential point of view, it is important to note that the answer cannot be known intellectually, only experienced.
When we start to meditate, we will typically be confused because we have not yet developed a centre from which to facilitate meditation. Our focus in life is so much on the external world that a conscious exploration of our inner world is an unusual and extremely difficult task to undertake. Sensations in the body, psychological states and outside disturbances occupy our consciousness, and reaching inner clarity sometimes feels like an impossible task. Even when we are able to observe the content of our consciousness, it is difficult to find meaning amid the continuous flow of thoughts and sensations that grab our attention. At this stage, we have yet to learn how to discriminate between pure consciousness and the content we project onto the inner screen of our mind.
It is not easy to grasp the full picture and nature of our identity. Let us therefore enter the laboratory of consciousness and investigate some of the many functions and parts of consciousness that are active when we have a spiritual experience.
Consciousness and Awareness
Let’s use the movie theatre as a metaphor: When we experience the content of our consciousness, we encounter it as an inner movie, or what is called the stream of consciousness. We get caught up in identifying who we are with this stream of voices, feelings, images and sensations while failing to realise that who we are is actually the light that projects the images onto the screen. This light is consciousness itself, or what Assagioli calls the centre of pure self-awareness. It is the wakefulness and awareness of the individual, the inner space where all objects of consciousness become visible.
It is self-evident that something inside us is self-aware. This is the subject, the sense of I-am-ness, the experience of being alive and conscious. We call this centre of consciousness the self, and its primary function is to be self-aware. We cannot observe consciousness itself because the eye cannot observe itself, but it is something we can become aware of, become present in and awake to. Consciousness itself is neutral, like white light, and always carries the quality of purity. Many Eastern traditions state that from an existential point of view this light is our identity: we will always be this silent, never changing and static reality – it will always be the same, an eternal and imperishable ground of conscious being. The light is likened to a silent wakefulness out of which different states of consciousness arise.
When we learn to silence the mind by observing and letting go of its content we become aware of consciousness itself, however limited at first. We will still feel a sense of being a separate individual. This sense of separateness trick us into believing that our individual consciousness is unique and special, but at a later stage of the meditation process we realise that there’s no difference between the consciousness of one individual and another – although there is a big difference in respect to the movies each of us plays inside our heads. To reiterate, the point here is that the movie is not who we are, it’s just a temporary flow of images that we play in our inner movie theatre. This movie is important because it tells the story of our life – and understanding the nature of this movie is an initial step to further development. Our aim is to experience the fundamental and universal identity that is omnipresent consciousness – the white light that is the source of all the colours in our individual movies. We are Universal Presence having an individual experience. We are not our body, emotions or thoughts, but a centre of pure self-awareness experiencing these states. This is a radical statement that can leave people feeling uneasy because it begs the question: Who am I as an individual if I am only this static neutral awareness? I will attempt to answer this question later in this book.
The diagram below (Figure 1) illustrates some of the factors that come into play in everyday experiencing.
Consciousness is pure being, always present and aware in the here and now. It is the observer, the inner light, the Soul and the Universal Self. Whatever name we use depends on the particular level of consciousness we are describing.
Will is related to the decision-making faculty in the individual. Will gives intentionality, dynamism, direction and evolution. It is through the faculty of will that we can decide where to put our attention. Will functions primarily through the mind in relation to the personality, but it is not the mind.
Attention is the mind’s eye, a tool for the conscious and acting self which is able to focus awareness onto a single object, enabling the mind to reflect upon and investigate the object.
The field of consciousness is the space of awareness in which the content of consciousness emerges. This field is closely related to the brain’s physical ability to reflect its content onto an inner screen.
The content of consciousness consists of our many intuitions, thoughts, emotions, images, sensations, etc. This content is created by the activities of the observer, but also contains information and sensations from the collective unconscious. I will expand on this point later.
Consciousness is like an ocean: when we fill a cup with water from the ocean, the water in the cup is separate from the ocean but retains the same inherent qualities. Likewise, during meditation, we observe our own individual consciousness through the mind’s eye – but this consciousness is just a drop from the sea of universal consciousness. This limitation is not a bad thing, it is only the mind’s way of contracting around a core of consciousness which enables us to develop an individual identity and ego. We need this ego so we can assert our will through our actions in the world. This separation of consciousness – or ego contraction – serves us up to a point in our early development, but later in our spiritual journey it becomes the major obstacle for spiritual growth.
By spirituality I mean the ability and process by which we can each expand our consciousness from individuality to universality, moving from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric to cosmo-centric awareness. This process involves the gradual expansion of our identity and what we consider to be “I”. At each level of development, we can experience the centre of pure consciousness in a more or less contracted way. Awareness Meditation, or mindfulness, facilitates this process. We are here referring to mindfulness practices as found in Buddhism, and not the practice of physical relaxation often promoted by Western mindfulness instructors. (I will describe this meditation practice in greater depth in Chapter 5.)
When we expand our awareness, we discover the ocean of consciousness. We let go of the little cup and become part of the Eternal Now, an ocean of pure consciousness that is also “I”. When connected with universal presence and non-dual awareness, everything is “I”, but it is a cosmic “I”. This realisation is essential to the experience of oneness.
So who meditates? For now the answer is: The self as a centre of pure self-awareness.
And who am I? The answer is still: A centre of pure self-awareness.
The Will is the Freedom to Choose Our Individual Identity
The centre of pure consciousness can never be the whole story of our identity. If that was the case we would all be the same. Even the enlightened and Self-realised, such as a Buddha, a Jesus or a Krishna, express different qualities. Consciousness manifests in many different ways.
The awareness of pure consciousness is an existential experience for those who practice advanced awareness-based meditation, it is a state in which we are able to rest in total silence and peace. There is only pure consciousness. Not a thought crosses the horizon of mind. There is only pure, wide, empty consciousness. But the moment we decide to act and step out of the meditation, we become differentiated. When we manifest our consciousness it becomes limited – we always limit the limitless in the container of our personality. Using our will we decide to concentrate and focus our available energy in a certain direction. In the moment we think, feel or sense anything, we make a decision, and this is a limitation. We could have decided to think, feel, sense and do something very different. Every choice has a consequence; it brings energies into play and activates the law of cause and effect. But in the act of choosing lies our freedom; we can choose how we want to manifest at any given moment.
It also becomes obvious how limited and restricted we are. If we could choose to express perfect love and wisdom in any situation, we would surely do so, but we do not because we are restricted by our psychological functions. The mind, our feelings and the body are the fundamental organs of action, and they limit the full expression of our potential.
Another definition of spirituality is the ability to express universal consciousness and all its manifestations of abundant love, wisdom and power in action. In other words, spirituality involves the will.
The will, acting through the choices we make, is critically involved whenever we wish to show our identity in action. We act all the time, and will continue to do so as long as we are incarnated in a physical body. We are here on earth because we bring something to life through our presence and our actions. This something is seen in the different energies, coloured by particular qualities, which show the world who we are. These qualities determine the different ways in which life manifests itself, be it as a mineral, plant, animal or human being. There are never two identical manifestations. Each snowflake is uniquely different, and the same applies to humans.
The will is directly connected to our identity because it is an inner force, a-will-to-be-a-unique-self. When I look into the phenomenon of will, I am always surprised by its subtlety. It is a force, an intention, a purpose with a direction. The will is alive, it is a living energy, it will manifest, and it will always create a more authentic life expression. The will is in essence the will-to-be-who-you-are, and it continues to push us further and further into the greatness of what we may become. If consciousness is pure potential, the will is the urge to realise that potential in action. If consciousness is universal oneness, will is the urge to express that oneness in a unique way. When we connect with this spiritual life force, it’s obvious that it contains preferences because there are some choices and directions that are more meaningful than others. This evolutionary life force pushes us forward from within and shows us what our true identity can be in action.
When this inner call is recognised – the-will-to-be-self – our identification with the personal will, which is usually focused on personal matters, loosens. We start to listen to the intention of the Soul, and become connected to its transpersonal will. When we realise what is motivating us our unconscious and subconscious values and needs are revealed. When we become sufficiently aware, we can use our will to choose what we want to identify with, and so identity becomes a choice. It is in the light of this perspective that Assagioli’s definition holds true: “We are a centre of pure self-awareness and will.” Our character is the effect of all the conscious and unconscious choices we make in life.
We now can see how identification is deeply related to the will – our identity is our sense of I-am-ness and identification is our ability to recognise and choose what we wish to identify with. Whenever we say “I Am” we express a choice of identification, and this will surely have consequences because it brings energies into action. Assagioli referred to the will as the primary function of the self, and even argued that “we are a will”. The will is first and foremost an experience we need to explore in consciousness as a dynamic energy separate from the mind. We use the mind to reflect on different choices, but the experience of purpose, the will-to-be, is not mental. It is a great adventure to contemplate the nature of the will in meditation and to explore the question: “What force is behind our need for an authentic life expression?” This contemplation can bring us into the very heart of our existence and reveal our identity as a divine spark of fire.
The will is present at every level of consciousness. Even in a state of the most sublime transcendent freedom, the intention of the meditator to stay in this silent presence is residing in the background. Consciousness and will are inseparable.
We will discuss the nature of the will later, but now we will focus on the question of who is meditating? The answer as we shall see is “a centre of pure self-awareness and will”.
The Stage Selves: The Many Faces of the Personality
It is obvious that our identifications and self-images change during our life span, from childhood until our last days. Our manifested identity is something that changes too, and develops according to the choices we make in life. Early in life we copy the people around us, and don’t make any real conscious decisions about our identity. From this point of view, the faculty of the will is something that develops as we are able to reflect with self-awareness, and this happens when we start using the mind’s capacity for reasoning. The self-images and identities we create before we learn to use the mind make up a role we play, a role-self based on expectations we have internalised from our social environment and our need for survival, security and safety.
Developmental theories based on integral philosophy and the psychology of Psychosynthesis define a set of stages through which we progress as part of the self’s overall development. Drawing upon these theories, I have devised a model of development comprising of seven stages or phases, whereby a different type of awareness is created at each stage (see Table 1).
Table 1: The seven stages of development.
Essentially, these developmental stages represent the story of the self’s journey from symbiotic union with the mother to profound oneness with Spirit. I will discuss this more in the next chapter.
At each stage of development, the self develops a new level of awareness, a new self-image and new identifications. Using the term stage-self, it can be seen that at each successful stage of development, a stage-self emerges that embodies the values, needs and drives relevant for that specific stage, with an accompanying self-image that gives the self a centre of gravity and a sense of continuity and stability.
Development through the seven stages is not a rigid sequential stage model. Rather, it is more a case of two steps forward, one step back, with identifications and attachments made at earlier stages needing to be re-aligned whenever a higher level of awareness and identification emerges.
This brief account of the developmental line of the self is only a part of the total picture. Assagioli has defined seven psychological functions through which the self expresses self-awareness, with each psychological function having its own developmental line. I have modified Assagioli’s model slightly; the seven functions in my developmental model are will, feeling, thought, imagination, logic, passion, and action (which includes the body and its sensations).
The self-line is my term for the development of the point of pure self-awareness: how much we are aware of at a particular stage. This development is more or less concurrent with the other seven lines, with each line corresponding to a different psychological function. Intuition is also a psychological function, but a transpersonal one, which comes into play with six other transpersonal functions. These transpersonal functions are equivalent to the seven psychological functions, but manifest at a higher level. When the transpersonal functions become evident in an individual, we can say that the Soul is making its influence felt.
The personal will is for many people only a potential that remains hidden behind automatic and unconscious behavioural patterns developed during the early developmental stages. During these early stages we rely on the external world for confirmation and recognition, but we are not yet capable of making conscious decisions, therefore we rely on automatic, we might say genetic or pre-programmed, human responses. A major step forward in our development happens when we awaken to the idea that we can live an individual life based on our own sovereign decisions. This realisation marks a transition from an unconscious safety-orientated way of being to a self-aware and individualistic way of being. We become self-directed and free to choose our own lifestyle. We realise we can create our own destiny and experience the consequences of our choices. This is an important step towards the realisation of Soul-consciousness, which in my terminology involves a manifestation of holistic and altruistic group consciousness.
The discovery of the will enables the individual to integrate their personality around meaningful, self-defined goals. Accordingly, we can align our resources, needs, values and psychological functions around a planned life expression, around what we might call a vision of a good personal life. We step into character and become robust, dependable and recognisable as individuals. What we witness here is how the will is expressed through the mental and rational level – so let’s see how the expression of will changes according to the level of development.
- The unconscious stage is defined by a safety-orientated lifestyle. There is no individual will at this stage, no real self-awareness, so the individual is attached to living out whatever is expected of them.
- The rational stage marks the first stage of the conscious will. We are able to choose new ways of being in the world based on self-reliant evaluations of our identity, needs and desires. At this stage the individual does not yet have any real power in the world, defined as the ability to make their influence known.
- The integrated stage is a powerful stage in the growth of the personal self, called self-actualisation by Abraham Maslow and personal psychosynthesis by Assagioli. The individual succeeds in realising ambitions and meeting needs for individual self-expression. The will comes through as the will-to-power, and the individual naturally becomes a centre of influence. Our focus is on developing all our creative talents, and we begin to exhibit a high level of individual freedom and creative self-expression.
- The awakening of the Soul generates an existential crisis. Our awareness becomes increasingly humanistic and holistic. Instead of being at the centre of the world, we start to identify with the needs of the world. This leads to a battle between the personal will with its ambitions, and the transpersonal will with its altruistic goals. We are faced with an ongoing choice between the values of the personality and those of the Soul. When the shift is complete the individual will start to make their influence known as a potent force for good in the world.
- The enlightenment of the personality by the Soul is a long ongoing process of purification of the personality which shows itself in the emerging ability to express the Soul’s goodness, truth and beauty. The transpersonal gives us meaning and purpose. We let go of the smaller joys of the personality in exchange for the deep joy of bringing goodness into the world. I am not suggesting an ascetic way of life because all the smaller joys of the personality can be enjoyed in a balanced way, but the importance of these joys diminishes as we experience the flow of creativity, communion with other people, and a deep connectedness with the world. At this stage the power of the will expresses itself in individuals who are able to use their skills and talents within the spheres of politics, culture, psychology, arts, religion, science and business.
The will can reach even higher stages of development but, for now, I offer only the above description of stages to help explain the development of our psychological functions. Knowledge of the developmental stages and lines is helpful when we want to evaluate our progress. We expand our self-awareness and self-image through each of the developmental lines, all of which are connected and therefore influence each other.
It is now possible to briefly revisit the question: Who meditates? In the light of the foregoing discussion, it can be stated that it is the stage-self who meditates, our stage-self being a centre of pure consciousness and will as appropriate for that particular level of development.
So far we have only scratched the surface in our inquiry into who we are and why we meditate. In order to grasp the whole picture of what meditation can offer, we need a psycho-spiritual map that sets out both who we are and the nature of the terrain we are travelling through. Without such a map, we could easily become lost in the myriad energies we encounter when we close our eyes and start our journey. A good map will make it easier to understand the essence of integral meditation.
In the next chapter, I will present a map of the territory we are passing through, from body and mind to Soul and Spirit. The map is not the territory, but it will guide us on our journey.
Here you will find more inspiration
Here you can buy The Soul of Psychosynthesis, By Kenneth Sørensen
Here you can buy Integral Meditation – The Seven Ways to Self-Realization, By Kenneth Sørensen
Read the intro article about Integral Meditation
Read the intro article about Psychosynthesis
Read the intro article about The Seven Types
Here you will find a biography about Roberto Assagioli