Assagioli exemplifies how a passion or a social role can function as a partial synthesizing centre around which the personality can be integrated, however with certain dangers luring.
By Roberto Assagioli, translated from Italian by Gordon Symons. Original Italian title: Tipi E Gradi Della Psicosintesi – (Types And Degrees Of Psychosynthesis). From the Assagioli Archive in Florence.
We have seen how multiple the human mind is, full of discordant elements. We then realized that in it, in addition to the activities of which we are aware, there are many others of which we have no direct awareness, but which have great importance in our life. Finally, we have tried to understand what synthesis is, in which the dispersed and contrasting elements can be harmonized and unified.
Today we can begin to concretely study the various types and degrees of psychic synthesis that are formed in us, or that we can actively produce.
Complete psychosynthesis, in which all the elements of the psyche are coordinated and united in a stable manner, is an ideal concept to which we must try to get as close as possible, but which cannot be perfectly implemented. In many cases we can and must be content with much less. But even a partial and imperfect psychosynthesis constitutes a great progress against anarchy, disorientation, the inner storms in which many find themselves. It can be a satisfactory solution, eliminating suffering, conflicts, nervous disorders and moral confusion, giving meaning, purpose and value to a life.
We will therefore limit ourselves to examining various types of this partial psychosynthesis, those most frequent and least difficult to implement, which tend to form spontaneously, but which a conscious and decisive action can make much better, eliminating the defects, obstacles and dangers to which they often give rise. In these partial syntheses the unifying principle can be varied.
Passion as a synthesizing centre
The simplest and most frequent is a dominant trend, a passion. Passion has been defined as a desire in a violent and chronic state.
It, as Ribot said, represents in the actual order what the fixed idea is in the intellectual order. It is clear that such an ardent and fixed desire must tend to absorb, to accentuate all internal energies, to direct all external activities. Passion is a demanding and jealous despot who does not tolerate opposition or deviations and exploits every faculty and ability of man for his own purposes. In a passionate individual, physical forces, intelligence, imagination and memory are all placed at the service of passion. Everything must be subordinated and, if necessary, sacrificed, in order to pursue it at any cost. Passion awakens and activates energies that have hitherto been latent and ignored. Passion makes a man do things that he himself – let alone others – would never have believed him capable of.
Just think what drives a man’s ambition or thirst for glory. It can force him into a real asceticism, and induce him to set aside sleep and food, to work sixteen or eighteen hours a day, to give up all pleasures. Greed, the thirst for profit can do the same. There are already wealthy businessmen who lead such a feverish and exhausting life which many poorer people would refuse to lead. And think of the extraordinary things that make amorous passion can bring about. It can transform an apathetic and fearful person, who seemed perhaps not very intelligent, into a very different person, ardent, courageous and highly resourceful, who ignores all obstacles or dangers. And also, a passion for adventures, explorations and discoveries forces us to endure everything, to risk everything and to dare, like a Christopher Columbus, a Livingstone, an Andrée. A noble patriotic passion has made many humble and simple heroes, who with their admirable simplicity have offered everything and sacrificed themselves. It even goes beyond man’s deepest and most tenacious instinct: the instinct for survival.
Therefore, there is no doubt that passion has an extraordinary unifying power. It is now a matter of seeing what the results are, what the dangers are and what the remedies are.
Passion has all the advantages and all the drawbacks of a firm but rigid and restricted synthesis. It is at once clairvoyant and blind. It sees all that can serve to achieve its goals, but is deaf and blind to everything that doesn’t concern it. It is both constructive and destructive. It can create a great industry out of nothing, or it can ruin a family, a community, an entire people; it can create a masterpiece, or wreak havoc and sow ruin like a cyclone; exalting the energies of a man so that he surpasses himself, or can vampirize his forces, consume him and destroy him like a malignant tumor in the body.
A passion is therefore a powerful and dangerous weapon that you must know how to handle. For a passion to be beneficial and fruitful, and not destructive, two things are needed. First of all, that its aim is noble and elevated. But this is not enough: it can be said that this is not always true. Sometimes, indeed not infrequently, a selfish passion can produce good. For example, ambition and thirst for money create industries, make discoveries, inventions.
Here we have evil in the service of the good, an admirable and profound principle that Goethe puts in the mouth of Mephistopheles: “I am the spirit who always seeks evil and who always produces good”. Indeed, perhaps, after all, and observing in a broad and comprehensive way, one can say that it always happens like this: that every individual evil ends up bringing a collective good. It is the great revenge that good always has over evil. It could be symbolically called “the sublime hoax that God plays on Mephistopheles”.
On the other hand, even a noble and idealistic passion can be dangerous and have harmful effects if it becomes excessive. Its own impetuosity can prevent it from reaching its end, causing an intense reaction in those driven by it, and in others. Its own violence can drain it prematurely, or it can consume its own resources. Sometimes its fury causes it to transmute into its opposite: love is transmuted into hate, attraction into repulsion, delight into disgust.
Other insidious dangers of noble passions are: proselytism and fanaticism, intolerance, pride and harshness. Unfortunately, examples are not rare in the history of religions. A religious and even national ideal can fascinate, can attract so strongly that it no longer sees anything other, and believes that everything – to achieve its goal – is lawful; it can make them lose their sense of proportion, of justice; make them fanatic, intolerant and cruel.
It is therefore vital that we be masters and not slaves to any passion, even the best. And this requires the presence and activity of a center superior to it; of a wider vision, of an awake and powerful will that knows how to take passion in hand, making it the element and instrument of a wider, individual and super-individual synthesis. How this is done, we will see it in the next meetings, when we talk about total spiritual psychosynthesis.
For now, I will only say that controlling passion does not mean destroying it. We must not be afraid of passion, nor try to destroy it. It is strength, life, fire. Rather, we must feel the living shame of not knowing how to raise it to our ideal, be it of inner perfection or of beneficial action around us. It must be sacrifice, and not distort the individual faculties as it does in the ambitious, the greedy, whose aim is the achievement of their selfish and personal ends. If we did this, if we do it, we can transform the world.
I recommend reading, about passion, some very beautiful chapters in Eymieu’s book: “Le Gouvernement de Soi-même”, intended for self-control in a broad sense, and in psychosynthesis.
When a social role becomes the synthesizing centre
Another unifying principle, another inner force that produces partial psychosynthesis is the special task, the particular functions that an individual has in life – a creative, practical task, or an absorbing profession, such as that of the artist, the writer, or the doctor; or a vital and human function such as that of the housewife or mother or wife. These can capture the attention, the interest and energies of a person to the point of directing them and concentrating them all, thus creating the corresponding psychosynthesis.
These syntheses can have very different human and spiritual values. At one extreme we have that narrow and mean example of the bureaucrat or housewife who have no interest in anything other than their office or home, who shrivel up and make sterile their little tasks. On the other hand, we have those who carry out their humble office with dignity, disinterest and spiritual awareness, considering it as a duty, as a social service, trying to fulfill it in the most noble and profound way, consecrating it and consecrating themselves to it in a religious spirit.
It’s not what we do that matters, but how we do it. To use an appropriate expression of Keyserling, “it all depends on the inner spiritual level at which one stands.” In other words, it is a matter of having a clear vision of the type or model of ideal life, of the special function that we are called to perform or that we have freely chosen, and to propose to implement it in the fullest and most appropriate way possible.
Let’s look at some examples. In the past, an ideal and widespread type was that of the disinterested, adventurous knight, ready to defend the weak and the oppressed, to correct injustices, to curb the oppressors. Then it changed, and I would say moderately, to that of the nobleman. The nobleman, the aristocrat, felt the duty to keep his moral prestige alive. He had a strong sense of honor. His motto, often heard and lived, was “noblesse oblige”. Now this, in another sense, could become the motto for every other task, every other function, every other type.
Similar to the nobleman there was, in modern times, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, the ideal type of the “gentleman”, in whom we still find the sense of honor as a specific quality, dignity, self-control, composure, a coherent style of life. These fellows have all fallen into disuse. It is a pity, from a certain point of view, but they are being replaced by others who may have perhaps a lesser ideal of their own, but who all have their value.
A type that is currently spreading is that of the selfless industrialist, who offer a social service, who feel that they are servants of the community, who are not driven in their work by ambition or a thirst for profit, but by the ideal of serving their own kind. A typical example: Ford. Whoever reads his autobiography will see this clearly. We are not querying his ideal, we are seeking its value; and subjectively, for him, his genuine and frank ideal is to raise the tone of the material life of the people. By producing cars so cheaply and spreading them across every social class, he proposed to widen the circle of action of every man, to bring him back in contact with nature, and to allow many to live in the countryside, while going to work in industrial centers. He then built hospitals, homes and schools for his workers. He therefore had a true social ideal.
Ford’s nobility and disinterestedness are revealed in the struggle against greedy capitalists and financiers, against the industrialists whose only aim is profit. In fact, Ford’s disinterest, which was detrimental to the selfish interests of other industrialists, was fiercely fought. There have been dramatic episodes: three times, industrial competitors and bankers have tried to ruin him, in recent times, causing a strike in the bodywork factory for Ford cars. In his previous fights Ford won; we hope he will also win in the latter, for his own good and that of the community. But Ford is not alone. Others, in the practical, industrial and social fields, have this feeling of performing a social service, of being a link in the big chain.
Throughout the ages we have had the type of the artist, who, utterly in love with beauty, sacrifices comforts, riches and honors to portray and eternalize in verses or thoughts the vision that has enthralled him. With regard to this, I would propose we reread together the poetry of Carducci, the poet, in which this ideal is expressed in a wonderful way. It seems to me a new joy, a new counsel, a new inducement. I also chose this poem because, in addition to the poet’s ideal, the work of creative psychosynthesis is also admirably expressed there: materials, psychic elements that are melted and molded in the inner fire and which produce works of beauty.
* * * Exercise: Gathering oneself, reflecting on what might be one’s duties, one’s specific functions in life, and what the type of ideal is, the perfect model of it: what qualities it requires, what mistakes and dangers are to be avoided in it. This already gives a first orientation, a beginning of psychosynthesis.