A central and unique feature of psychosynthesis theory is the relationship between the conscious “I” (ego or personal self) and the Transpersonal Self (soul or Higher Self). This relationship is depicted in Roberto Assagioli’s egg-diagram (1) as a dotted line linking the conscious “I” (the point at centre of the egg) to the Transpersonal Self (the star at the top of the egg). Clearly, this relationship – which has become known as the I-Self connection – is an important aspect of Assagioli’s thinking. But understanding is not enough – Assagioli always stated that psychosynthesis is based on experiential facts – so how do we experience this connection?
I explore this topic in-depth in my book The Soul of Psychosynthesis, so please look there for a full explanation. Meanwhile, in this brief article, I would like to share some introductory ideas.
Let’s start by defining how Assagioli described the I-Self connection. According to Assagioli: “The ‘I’ is intimately related to the Transpersonal Self. More precisely, the ‘I’ is a projection or reflection of the [Transpersonal] Self, an outpost of the [Transpersonal] Self in the world of the personality.” (2)
Assagioli further emphasised that there are not two separate selves, stating: “There are not really two selves, two independent and separate entities. The Self is one; it manifests in different degrees of awareness and self-realisation.” (3)
There is a lot to unpack here. We read that the conscious “I” is a “projection or reflection” of the Transpersonal Self; however, we might ask: a projection of what? As I have discussed earlier (4), the conscious “I”, or ego, in psychosynthesis theory always points to the inner centre of pure self-awareness and will in each individual. When we disidentify from the body, emotions and thoughts, and identify with self-awareness itself, we discover ourselves as the self-aware observer – which is something entirely different from the content of awareness. When we become the observer, we wake up to the fact that we ultimately are the subject which is aware of being aware, and from this point of detached awareness we can access our will-to-chose what we identify with in any given moment.
From this perspective, it becomes obvious that the conscious “I” is a projection or reflection of the Transpersonal Self’s pure self-awareness and will. In other words, a transpersonal and transcendent witness (5) projects its essential nature into the personality and, at some point as we evolve, we discover in this centre our ability to be a self-aware observer. When we have found ourselves as the observer, we have connected with the core of our being. In Assagioli’s words: “The human personality is characterised by the possession of self-consciousness, or, in other words, the I or Ego is the core of the personality.” (6) It is from this self-aware core that we can start to recognise, accept, integrate and synthesise all the conflicting elements in our personality.
With this in mind, we might ask how this projection of pure self-awareness and will came to happen. Assagioli presents his vision in this way:
“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 father’s house, sets out in search of it and eventually finds it.” (7)
Elsewhere, Assagioli 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.” (8)
The above quotes demonstrate how Assagioli draws on an “emanatistic theory” to explain how the Transpersonal Self projects its essential nature into the personality. This theory is embedded in the Perennial Philosophy and, therefore correspondingly, in Buddhistic, Hinduistic, Neo-Platonic and Christian wisdom. (9) Assagioli is claiming that the soul level, or “heaven”, is not merely a symbolic picture but a real existential sphere that can be encountered and explored: each of us is a transcendent being of light and energy having a human experience.
We can conclude that, according to this theory, the descending soul which becomes the conscious “I” forgets itself when it incarnates in the womb of the mother. Therefore, the child is not self-aware as the observer when it comes out of the womb at birth. Rather, the child is fully identified with the material world, the body and its sensations, and becomes “lost” as a self-aware human being until he much later discovers the centre of pure self-awareness and will, i.e. the conscious “I” and observer.
The I-Self connection is in the child only as a potential to be unfolded at a later stage. There is awareness in the child, but not the self-awareness of the conscious “I” because the evolving child is identified with the external world, the body, emotions and mental content. The same applies for most adults: they have yet to discover their identity as the observer, being identified instead with consciousness itself. In my article The Developmental Theory of Psychosynthesis (10), I describe how this development unfolds from prepersonal to personal awareness, and then to transpersonal awareness.
We might conclude from the above that the I-Self connection is operating in an unconscious and indirect way in the child, and gradually becomes more alive and self-aware as the child develops mentally. It is the reflection of the Transpersonal Self’s pure self-awareness and will (the conscious “I”) in the mind that makes it possible to remember oneself, as the observer. The reflection or projection of the Transpersonal Self’s pure self-awareness becomes the eye of the mind, in my opinion.
The loss of our conscious connection to the soul is a natural and organic process and part of the involution and evolution of consciousness. In other words, we are supposed to “forget” ourselves and later find the source of our essential being, i.e. the break of a conscious or self-aware connection to the source is not due to trauma, but an organic process of life. Trauma can and does entrench our identifications, making it more difficult for us to disidentify with the content of our awareness and identify with consciousness itself, but trauma is not the essential cause of such loss of self-awareness. Let’s see how Assagioli describes this process of forgetfulness:
“Now the ego should be regarded as a projection or a reflection of the spiritual Self. Therefore essentially it partakes of the nature of the spiritual Self, but it is so much veiled by ‘the 70,000 veils of maya’, that is, by its multiple identifications with all kinds of psychic contents (sensations, drives, emotions, thoughts, etc.) that it has lost all remembrance of its origin. Thus we have the paradoxical situation of the personal self – denying its ‘father’, its origin and source. It can also be called the paradox of duality and unity. This is the deep meaning of the old injunction: ‘Become what you are.’ It could be expressed in modern terms as: ‘Recognise your source, your origin, the spiritual Self, and unite in consciousness as much as possible with It until you achieve an increasing realisation of this identity, until it becomes permanent.’ This is the drama of man’s existential situation, the meaning and purpose of human evolution.” (11)
When we awaken to the fact of the conscious “I” and the observer, our journey of self-realisation begins, meaning the process of unification between the I and the Transpersonal Self, which entails two different but equally important developments. First, there is an ascent to the superconscious source of the conscious “I” and observer, namely the Transpersonal Self and its blend of individual and universal consciousness – this provides us with the realisation that we are connected with the whole in the most intimate way possible: we lose the sense of separation yet still understand the unique evolutionary role we must play while in the flesh. Second, there is a descent of the light, love and power of the Transpersonal Self into the personality through the I-Self connection, resulting in its transformation and the radiation of soul qualities through service to humanity.
This developmental process will be the focus of my next article. Please also make use of my seven free meditations to support your spiritual development.
Please feel free to comment and ask questions about what you have read here.
(1) See a discussion of the egg-diagram here: The Psychosynthesis Model of the Personality, Kenneth Sørensen.
(2) The Superconscious and the Self, Roberto Assagioli.
(3) Roberto Assagioli in Psychosynthesis, 1965, p. 20.
(4) See all my posts on the subject here Reflections on the Self.
(5) See the discussion of the Transcendent Self here.
(6) Roberto Assagioli in Dialogue With Assagioli.
(7) Transpersonal Development, 2007, pp. 85-86.
(8) Transpersonal Development, 2007, p. 102.
(9) Read an elaboration of this idea in my article: Why Assagioli Put a Star in the Sky.
(10) The Developmental Theory of Psychosynthesis, Kenneth Sørensen
(11) Roberto Assagioli in Dialogue With Assagioli.