By Roberto Assagioli, translated from Italian by Gordon Symons, source Assagioli, Archive, Florence. Italian title: La Posizione Della Psicosintesi Nella Psicologia Contemporanea
This diagram should not be considered as a simple framework, or a mere aid to memory, but rather as a kind of mandala, with its own life within its field of meaning. Because each of its lines has a meaning, even a “message”, and each of you, if you meditate on it, can discover many things both of general and personal application. Personal application can be done if we understand that the drawing represents each one of us: I am That; and that all the aspects of our psychological and spiritual being are described there. Each area of the diagram is full of vital and psychological elements. Think of it as something alive that has a vital message for you, a message that is constantly renewed.
Theoretically, the diagram is very simple. The circle in the middle represents our conscious personality – what we are aware of at any given moment. The point in the center represents the consciousness of the “I” – “I am” – a consciousness that is characteristic of the human kingdom. Even an animal has a much broader psychological structure than we think (such as the geometric sense highlighted in the formation of the cells of a beehive, and the relative saving of space through its hexagonal shape). But animals have not acquired ego consciousness. On the other hand, the super-human beings have transcended, but not lost, this “self-awareness”. Self-awareness is in fact a necessary stage in the great evolution from mineral to God.
The normal human being is intensely aware of the “I”. I am tired, I am happy, sad, and so on. By thinking in this way, he connects the “I” with the elements of his conscious awareness. But we know that the area of awareness does not exhaust our whole being. Research carried out on the unconscious level of our being has shown how many things happen in us of which we are largely unaware.
Psychology acknowledges this unconscious part of the human personality. But if we move from the fact to the usage of the fact, we discover that we are still, as it once was, in the “stone age”. For example, most psychologists, especially psychoanalysts, admit the existence of the lower unconscious. But they ignore or deny the existence of the higher aspects – that is, of a greater quality, value and power than those of our normal personality. This is the great dividing line between materialistic psychologists and those who have a broader and truer vision of the human being and his potential.
For educational purposes, I divided consciousness into three parts – the lower, the middle and the upper. How is it that most psychologists deny the existence of higher consciousness? There is a strange and interesting fact here, which is of general interest because it underlies the great problem of modern psychology. This has developed as a reaction to the old psychology that was part of philosophy. At that time, before the development of science, psychology was subject to philosophy, and was colored by the religious or metaphysical system to which the theologian or philosopher adhered. Generally speaking, science was a branch of theology.
Then a healthy and very creative revolution took place. Science affirmed its independence from religion and philosophy. Francesco Bacone started this revolution and drew up some principles of the scientific method that are still fully valid today. There was then a long conflict between individualistic science and the contingent theology. For example, when Galileo built the first small telescope that made Jupiter’s satellites visible, some theologians of the time refused to look inside! Science was therefore forced to take a very clear stand against theology. But in doing so it went to the opposite extreme and in turn built a “philosophy” that became as narrow as that of the theologians.
When psychology came to assert itself as an autonomous science, it made an attempt at mediation with the Natural Sciences, with a view to the fact that each science needed its own methods of seeking the Truth. We are all agreed, or should be, on the principles of science set by Bacon, and on their measure of objectivity and impartiality, on the fact of avoiding logical errors, on exact observation, experimentation, etc. But psychology had a difficult legacy, in that it had been subject first to theology and philosophy, and then to chemistry and physics.
And so it became that hybrid called “physiological psychology”, and psychologists tried to study psychological facts through quantitative methods. This method could only be applied to the study of the more basic aspects of the interior of the human being – that is, in relation to the study of sensation, memory, and similar aspects. In other words, they tried to limit themselves as much as possible to the functions shared by animals. For example, in one of the manuals in use in Psychology about twenty years ago, in a chapter on animal psychology, there was a half-page on the topic of genius in humans, placed however in a section of the book concerning facial asymmetry. This was not an exception. Even more ridiculous things happened. Even the sensations were viewed with suspicion and became “behaviorism”! That was truly the darkest hour in psychology. Starting with Watson, it was said that sensations were objective and that they could not be studied subjectively: that only external behavior could be measured – that only that was “scientific”! This was a completely unrealistic and perverted perspective. As has been said, psychology first lost its soul (because it was not scientific), and then its mind; and finally lost its senses. The only thing left was “behavior”!
Our starting point for spiritual psychology, in Psychosynthesis, is different, because we argue that higher manifestations are equally important facts of behavior and sensations and that, when they happen, can also be studied scientifically. Intuition can be the origin of an invention that can change our civilization. The intuition of a poet can ignite a generation. Creative imagination has mechanical effects. The superconscious and its facts are as scientific as those of the subconscious. A conditioned reflex is no more scientific than an inspiration. This is the basis of our attitude, the very solid platform on which we can take a position with confidence.
The most charitable answer to why thinkers with otherwise clear ideas do not realize this, is that they are genuinely unable to make the distinction. But there are also other reasons, based on two fundamental aspects – the fear and laziness of the academic perspective. Laziness is highly emphasized by Jung and corresponds to gravity in matter. It falls under the law of minimum means – which also has its uses, such as when it is seen for example in relation to automation. It is right that energy is not wasted in vain. But mental laziness is one of the worst aspects of the Law of Inertia. Then there is misoneism, an aversion to the new. There is also an aspect of pride. The big problem is that most psychologists are devoid of religious spirit. Their pride is therefore hurt when people without academic qualifications have experiences that they haven’t had. They interpret these experiences as hallucinations. (See William James in “The Rightness of Religious Experience”, where he claims that the honest psychologist can accept the values of a plane of reality that he himself has not experienced directly. He had the humility to admit that he had no experience. He collected facts, screened them, and then drew conclusions.
It was a perfect example of the correct attitude to take. He was sometimes mistaken, but only because he hadn’t studied Oriental experiences. But as a way of working with the knowledge available at the time, he is the perfect example of the correct method of approach.) Psychology should be independent of theology, philosophy and physical sciences. It should be a science in itself. You will notice that all the lines in the diagram are broken lines This means that there are no rigid divisions. The area between the individual and collective unconscious can be defined as “the psychological atmosphere in which we live, move and are”. It consists of movement and change, through the senses and also in parapsychological ways. These movements take place continuously, although fortunately we are more or less in the dark about them. The star at the top of the diagram, is the Self, called soul in unscientific language, but which in psychological language we can call the Self, a term also used by Jung. In doing so, Jung actually made the self “respectable”! As you can see, the star is located half outside and half inside the outer edge of the Egg-shape. This indicates a great esoteric truth – that the Soul, or Self, has both individual and universal consciousness, and that its sense of individuality and universality persists during the mysterious process of identification with the Whole.