Idea-forces; are states of consciousness in which the intellectual element and the emotional element are intimately fused
By Roberto Assagioli, 1909, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence. Translated and Edited with Notes by Jan Kuniholm. Original Title: La Psicologia delle Idee-forza e la Psicogogia
The mind is excitable and unsteady;
it is difficult to control and restrain.
The wise one trains his mind to be as straight as a fletcher makes an arrow
. . .
The mind is difficult to control;
it moves swiftly and lightly and lands wherever it pleases.
It is good to tame the mind, for a well-tamed mind brings happiness.
— Dhammapada (vv.33 and 35) 
For the past few decades the psychological disciplines have been making rapid and admirable progress, the credit for which must be attributed as much to the more rigorous scientific investigations in the field of psychopathology as to the studies on religious consciousness and supernormal phenomena fostered by the spiritual renaissance that is currently taking place. It is significant how those disparate studies, far from being antagonistic, act to correct, complement and enlighten each other, showing that there is no reason for the supposed irreconcilable disagreement between science and spirituality.
Of course, this great synthesis of such different tendencies is just beginning to emerge uncertainly, still opposed by tenacious prejudices and numerous misunderstandings, and it will take prolonged efforts of vigorous minds to implement it; but any unprejudiced student can make a contribution to this work.
In the meantime, however, an important step forward has already been taken: that is, the old static conceptions of psychology have been abandoned, for they represented an intellectualism which had believed that it offered an adequate knowledge of the soul, whereas it had merely constructed a series of conceptual schemes. There is now a growing recognition of the inadequacy of the various classifications of psychic facts, such as that into representations, feelings, wills and the like. There is a recognition that “associationism,” with which all psychic life claimed to be explained, is but one among countless laws that regulate it. The unsuspected extraordinary energies and vast unexplored regions of this admirable life, as well as its enormous complexity and ceaseless dynamism, have now been recognized.
Along with this great advance in psychological studies, another has occurred that is no less radical and equally fruitful in important practical consequences. That is, it has been recognized that the psyche is not something rigid and always the same, that can simply be observed and described like a piece of quartz or an onion, or that lends itself only to simple experiments, like a frog or a turtle. Science has recognized that the psyche is marvelously plastic and lends itself to being profoundly modified in a wide variety of ways. The great significance of this recognition is so obvious that I need not pause to demonstrate it. Suffice it to point out that psychotherapy, the results of which are increasingly satisfactory, derives entirely from this new attitude toward the psyche. All of morality, then, can be revitalized and made more fruitful by it. Moralists have been too busy saying, “This is good and that is bad,” or “this should be done and that should not be done;” but they have generally neglected to observe the different conditions and psychic capacities of those to whom they addressed themselves, and above all to point out to them the practical methods that would best help them in putting the precepts into practice.
For even though the psyche is supremely plastic and modifiable, its very complexity and plasticity make it continually elude those who seek to shape it. Therefore, in order to modify it in a lasting and beneficial way, it is not enough to act on it empirically and occasionally. But it is necessary to establish a series of practical, simple, safe methods of inner action using the data gathered through a rigorous study of the psyche’s nature and the laws that govern it.
Even though the new psychological researches have brought to light a great number of difficult problems previously hidden by the comfortable schematism of the intellectualists, fortunately the facts and laws already ascertained make it possible to formulate a series of methods, the knowledge and serious, continuous application of which would produce surprising results.
I now intend to deal with precisely this first group of methods and their coordination in a special discipline, called psychagogy.
One of the scholars who helped constitute the modern synthetic and dynamic conception of the psyche is Alfred Fouillée. His brilliant insight into idea-forces is particularly fruitful, both theoretically and practically. Fouillée resolutely combats those psychologists according to whom ideas are pure, simple and inactive representations (Vorstellungen) ; according to him all states of consciousness are actions and reactions; in every idea there is an emotional and appetitive element that is inseparable from it.
I shall not follow Fouillée in the lengthy developments he makes of this fundamental conception, only noting that in my opinion, as is not infrequently the case, he has failed to draw all the fruitful consequences implicit in that conception and has instead lost himself in long-winded theoretical disquisitions, which curiously contrast with his anti-intellectualist profession of faith.
For the practical purposes of psychagogy, it is not at all necessary to resolve the question of whether pure “representations” can exist free from all other elements, and whether pure feelings are free from all intellectual facts. It matters only to make it sufficiently clear that those psychic events, which we are accustomed to call “ideas” and “feelings” and which constitute the prevailing content of a normal consciousness, are neither Vorstellungen nor “pure affective states,” but idea-forces; that is, states of consciousness in which the intellectual element and the emotional element are intimately fused.
Let us now examine a little more closely the special properties of these idea-forces, properties which have necessarily escaped those who have studied the representational element and the emotional element separately using an artificial analysis.
We shall begin with an analogy which, while not to be taken too literally, is very suggestive.
An “idea-force” can be compared to an electrical battery. The cognitive aspect corresponds to the materials that the battery is made from, and the conducting wires. On the other hand, the emotional charge and the propulsive force correspond to the accumulated electrical charge.
The electricity of the battery always tends to discharge, and as soon as it finds a suitable conductor it flows along it. Thus the idea-force has an energy in itself that always tends to express itself externally and in actions, and does so as soon as it finds its way free from any inhibition. If the battery is defective, the electricity is easily dissipated. Similarly, if the “idea-force” is confused or uncertain, its energy soon dissipates no matter how intense it was at first, as is the case with so many warm enthusiasms that arise today and fade tomorrow.
The analogy also serves well to illustrate the various types of combinations and linkages between the various idea-forces.
Batteries can be joined in series; that is, with the positive pole of one connected to the negative pole of another. This increases the voltage, that is, the potential difference of the electrical voltage (the height of the cascade). These correspond to ideo-affective complexes in which each added element increases and intensifies the emotional and impulsive charge. This occurs in people in the throes of a passion; for example, in a man in love with a woman, in whom each fact, each new image, each new thought concerning the beloved woman, provides new fuel to the fire, makes the passion more intense, the desire more vivid (the same can be said in the case of other passions: greed, ambition, combativeness, etc.).
On the other hand, batteries can be joined “in parallel,” or in “derivation;” that is, with the positive poles joined together and the negative poles joined to each other. In this case there is no increase in potential [voltage, or “pressure”], but [there is an increase] in “amperage;” that is, in flow, in quantity (the cascade [voltage drop] remains the same height, but there is an increase in the flow [amperage] that discharges). In the psychic realm this corresponds to the extension, the enlargement of a feeling, a tendency, or a desire, from one object to several objects: an affection that, without intensifying, extends from one to several people; the desire for an object that extends to other similar objects, etc. For example, the maternal sense of a teacher that makes her extend her affection gradually to all the children entrusted to her.
Moreover, when the intensity (voltage) of an electrical charge exceeds the capacity of the battery [or component] or wires or insulators, there are short-circuits and discharges, often with destructive effects on the system itself and on whatever is connected to the current. Similarly, discharges occur in the psyche that are sometimes no less dangerous and destructive. What is a crime but a violent discharge of an accumulated passion that has reached a very high potential? On the other hand, when the discharge does not occur externally, the psychic charge that overcomes normal capacity spreads by unplanned channels and produces various neuro-psychic disorders. The most typical example of this is a hysterical seizure, in which a strong emotion, instead of remaining in the psychic realm and manifesting itself externally through the various modes of expression (mimicry, language, action), overcomes all inhibitory resistance and pours out impetuously into the motor nerves of the body, giving rise to convulsions and other incoherent movements.
There are, on the other hand, the normal and useful transformations of electrical energy into heat, light, movement, etc. Corresponding to these transformations in psychic life are the various fruitful transformations of inner energy: the force of feelings, desires, or volitions, which is transmuted into constructive action; amorous sentiment which is transformed into poetry; love of country which is transformed into an act of heroism; pity for someone’s suffering which is transformed into beneficial social action, etc.
Other interesting psycho-electric analogies can also be pointed out. For example, the phenomenon of induction, whereby the current flowing through the primary circuit arouses an opposite one in the secondary circuit. Thus an idea or a conscious purpose arouses an opposite idea and resistance in the subconscious; hence inhibition, indecision, contrast. The phenomena of psychic induction do not occur only within a single psyche, but are frequently produced between two people: the state of mind of one arouses the opposite state of mind in the soul of the other; in this case the induction manifests itself as a “spirit of contradiction.” But this is not always the case; on the contrary, states of mind are often communicated and transmitted directly as if there were a connecting thread, a line of force between one individual and another. This corresponds to the transmission of electricity at a distance and explains certain phenomena of collective psychology such as the excitement of crowds. Electrical action at a distance currently has its most refined and admirable manifestation in radio-telegraphic and radio-phonic transmissions, by means of special Hertzian waves [radio waves]. These have their analogy in the phenomenon of psychic transmission called telepathy. These analogies — and many others that could be found, not only with electricity but with other natural energies, by those who possess the necessary technical knowledge — form the basis of a still barely sketched branch of psychology, psychodynamics, which presents great scientific and practical interest.
Psychic, moral, spiritual energies cannot be measured with precision instruments (although some very promising attempts have been made by Cazzamalli and others); they cannot be produced or put into action by material and visible means, but they are not therefore less real and powerful. Let us remember that through them we achieved the mastery over natural forces of which we are so proud. It was the light of intelligence kindled in our minds that enabled us to dispel the outer darkness with beacons and electric lamps; it was the warmth of desire, the power of will, and the activity of intelligence that made man capable of flying in the heavens. In short, behind every force and every material achievement lies the highest and most powerful energy of spirit.
There is another set of analogies — those within the human body — that are themselves suggestive and lend themselves to extensive development.
It can be said that the many idea-forces existing in a man’s psyche correspond in some respects to the citizens who make up a state. Just as citizens are brought together by various ties — family, social, professional, political, etc. — so idea-forces are often connected in multiple ways. Like citizens, idea-forces are often engaged in fierce struggles to impose themselves on the others and dominate them; and the various ways in which a more or less stable and harmonious equilibrium is formed in consciousness among the discordant tendencies, corresponds to the various political factions out of which a state finds its order.
A man dominated by ambition, who stifles every other aspiration in order to succeed, becomes insensible to the beauties of nature and art; he kills all affection and all pity in himself, and may well be compared to a state ruled by a warlike autocrat who is completely immersed in plans of struggle and conquest, who conscripts his subjects from their favored occupations to send them to fight in distant lands. Contrast this with a restless, nervous and inconstant woman who is devoid of strong passions and firm ideals, who is attracted by every glow of novelty and dominated by every fleeting impulse: does she not resemble a republic ruled by demagogues, full of clamor and confusion, in which “any clod who comes along playing the partisan passes for a Marcellus with the crowd?”
The social question then lends itself to an even closer parallel. As is well known, prior to the French Revolution the [typical European] state consisted largely of ruling classes who had all the privileges, of a “third estate” (bourgeoisie) with little influence, and of the people who had no political rights and lived in misery and ignorance. Then the “rights of man” were proclaimed, and since then, through a series of confrontations and reforms, excesses, deviations and reactions, the establishment of true social justice based on cooperation and not on struggle, and thus of a stable and harmonious collective order, has now become the universally recognized need and the immediate task of world reconstruction.
Similarly, in the past, the human personality was repressed and oppressed by rigid family and social morality (especially for women), or by an ascetic ideal of mortification; against these came various revolutions culminating in the freedom of the Renaissance. Then came the reaction fostered by the Counter-Reformation, followed by the new Romantic revolution that reaffirmed the rights of passion, feeling, and even individual caprice. Then again there appeared the rigid and hypocritical “Victorian” era in England and the narrow and slightly less hypocritical “bourgeois morality” of the 1800s in the rest of Europe.
At the same time, the positivist scientific and philosophical current and later the “idealistic” (neo-Hegelian) current, although they were in conflict with each other, both still gave primacy to the intellect, which deified itself and devalued and depreciated both feeling and imagination as well as spiritual aspirations, intuitions and the inner life in general.
This threefold repression of traditional, positivistic and “idealistic” approaches, together with other causes, provoked various and intense reactions in the last decades. These have included a certain spiritual redemption in the field of culture (which, however, failed to have a wide and decisive influence); the emancipation of women; the rebellion of young people against traditional and family authority; the reassertion of instincts (favored by materialism and certain scientific trends such as the original psychoanalysis) ; the revaluation of “nature” in every sense, and thus came the general “insurrection of telluric forces” (Keyserling).
The present twofold problem in the life of the individual is the same as that mentioned in the social field: the establishment of a “psychological equity or justice” that takes due account of all the elements of the human personality, including the body — that gives each an equal development and an adequate field of expression, but also balances and disciplines each of those elements so that abuses among them ceases. In such a balance, struggles are changed into “creative tensions” aiming at the attainment of a superior harmony, a broad, rich and fruitful synthesis.
Various valuable contributions have been made by modern psychology to the solution of this problem, and not a few works have been published on “the education of the will,” “the education of character,” “self control,” etc. But it would be better to designate this important branch of applied psychology by the ancient name that was given to it by Plato: psychagogy — which indicates its practical and active character (αγωγια) in that it proposes the cultivation of all aspects and energies of the psyche — and by the modern name of psychosynthesis (in the narrow sense), in that it includes the principles and methods for coordinating, integrating and harmonizing those energies, through the action of a unifying Principle, into an “inner organism,” into a “psycho-spiritual unity.”
Psychagogy and psychosynthesis respond to a general and urgent need, and it can therefore be expected — and hoped! — that they will have a rapid and flourishing development; but in order for them to have wide application and to be accepted without opposition, especially by young people, it is necessary that they be founded on a truly scientific basis and remain independent of any particular doctrine or trend, whether philosophical or dogmatic, traditional or modern.
If all those who have written works on psychagogy had adhered to this standard, many confusions and uncertainties would have been avoided, and many arbitrary interpretations and harmful theoretical superstructures would have been discarded. For example, how many vain discussions have been carried on about the definition of the will and its relation to free will and determinism! In general this has happened: each writer, instead of merely expounding and coordinating the psychological laws he has discovered, has wanted to graft them intimately to his own particular philosophical ideas. Consequently all those who do not share those ideas are naturally drawn to doubt even the truth of those psychological laws.
Thus the Anglo-American writers, whose ideas and trends are known under the collective name of “New Thought,” have wanted to tie their brilliant insights and effective methods to a whole metaphysical-religious system, the value of which is not insignificant (I will not discuss this now) but which manages to put off many who have quite other philosophical ideas or a different mental structure from that of the New Thinkers.
On the other hand, some writers, nourished almost exclusively by scientific studies and having come to psychagogy through psychopathology, lock themselves into a rigid determinism, such as Dubois, for example, who goes so far as to assert that “l’éducation est fondée toute entière sul l’idée du déterminisme.”  So naturally all those who think this assertion is erroneous will be wary of the excellent practical advice Dubois gives.
But perhaps some might object that, however desirable the elimination of every thorny theoretical question might be, one cannot organize a whole culture of the psyche without at least solving some of the fundamental philosophical problems. Instead, I repeat, I believe that psychagogy can be independent of various philosophical theories, in the sense that any of its principles that are recognized as practically true can be expressed in various ways, according to the various forma mentis and theoretical beliefs of those who enunciate it. Here is an example that seems clear and convincing to me.
In several books on psychagogy, it is said that in order to master a passion certain expedients are very useful: self-recollection; refusing to identify oneself with that passion; considering it as something extraneous and heterogeneous to oneself, as something that did not exist in the past and can soon be eliminated. But, one might say, everything depends on one’s idea of one’s “self,” and that is quite different to various people. Instead, it is not difficult to show that those precepts can be accepted and put into practice equally well by three people who have three quite different conceptions of the self.
Let us first take a spiritualist. For him the distinction mentioned is natural and obvious; he regards the true self as something eternal, immutable, divine; a passion is for him but a veil, a passing cloud, which may well interrupt the rays of the sun, but can in no way disturb that source of light.
Let us now take, on the other hand, a student of psychology, who has learned from a treatise considered among the most authoritative (that of William James) that psychic life can be compared to a stream or current, and that the self or “I” consists in the synthesis of psychic facts, continually renewing itself, but is not something different from them, just as the river is not this or that drop of water, but is only water. This student, too, will understand very well that he must not identify himself with his own passions, just as the river must not be identified with this or that wave, with this or that whirlpool (using instead the analogy of the state, one would say that the state is composed of all citizens, that it represents them all and not only this or that party, this or that social group).
Take, finally, a person who identifies himself with his own higher tendencies, his own higher aspirations. This person, too, will readily recognize the need not to identify with his own passions, to fight them as something hostile to himself; just as in the state a group of citizens, animated only by the desire for the common good, cannot fail to fight an underworld association or a party of unscrupulous social climbers.
Having thus cleared the way of the principal existing prejudices and confusions concerning psychagogy, we may briefly examine its most important laws and the practical methods based on them.
From the characteristics we have seen to be proper to idea-forces we can easily deduce a first group of fundamental laws:
- “Every idea-force tends to produce the act corresponding to it.”
- “Every idea-force tends to persist.”
- “Every idea-force tends to associate itself with others.”
It is useless for me to dwell on proving the truth of those laws; in every treatise on psychology, in every book on the education of the will, on suggestion, or on psychotherapy, numerous certain facts are cited, which everyone can easily recognize as being determined by those laws.
I will only say that almost everything one wants to consider as the effect of suggestion and self-suggestion depends precisely on the surprising practical effectiveness of idea-forces. The fact that the phenomena of suggestion appear clearer and more intense in neuropathic persons and in the state of hypnosis does not at all indicate that those phenomena are abnormal. The only difference lies in this: that in those cases all the other idea-forces, tendencies, etc., which would normally inhibit or greatly modify the suggested idea-force, are paralyzed, so that it can freely unfold in all its power and produce such effects in the organism as to seem marvelous. I will mention, among many, a case narrated by Prof. Pierre Janet, who was a pioneer in these studies.
A sick person is made to believe that a blister in the shape of a six-pointed star will appear on her chest. During hypnotic sleep she says that she thought about the blister continuously. When she wakes up she no longer thinks about it; but after some time the figure of a six-sided star stands out in red on her chest. Regarding this phenomenon Janet rightly notes,
It is not enough to say that this redness is due to the stimulation of a vasomotor nerve; for there is no nerve which distributes itself precisely at this place in the form of a six-pointed star. It is a partial and systematic stimulation of several nerves, which I cannot understand without the action of a thought which coordinates these stimulations. 
There are numerous cases reported by serious and authoritative physicians in which nervous paralysis, muteness, neuralgia, digestive and circulatory disorders, etc., have been cured by the use of psychotherapeutic methods.
So the effect of idea-forces on our psychic life as well as on our organism is powerful, and if we normally do not notice it — because our imperfect analysis does not know how to follow an idea-force in all its complicated actions and reactions on the innumerable other idea-forces of our psyche — this does not make this effectiveness any less.
This recognition has enormous practical importance in our lives. By this time we no longer need all the convenient excuses, all the pretexts and sophistry we subjectively use toward ourselves and others to justify our weaknesses and violence and to keep falling back on them. By this time we can no longer say, “What do you want? This is who I am.” — “This is my temperament and I cannot change it.” — “When I see certain things I can’t restrain myself,” and many other such phrases.
By this time we know that our character, far from being rigid and unchangeable, is modified every day by the action of innumerable influences, whether we are aware of them or not. It is therefore a question of deciding whether such modifications should be left to chance, and thus remain contradictory, chaotic and often harmful; or should they be consciously produced, coordinated according to a definite plan and directed toward freeing ourselves from unwanted tendencies and achieving a higher, freer and more fruitful psychic life. There is no excuse for not undertaking this work of mastering our psyche and for not continuing it unceasingly: every day and throughout life.
The young will have more time than older people to do this work and to benefit from it, but it should not be believed that it should be reserved only for them. Adults need it at least as much, indeed with greater urgency, not only because they have less time ahead of them to implement it, but also because they have the great responsibility and difficult task of educating the new generations in and for a rapidly changing world. Every objection is in vain (that is, it falls down) in the face of the fact that the psyche, and even the body, remain plastic, to a greater extent than is generally believed, until late in life. The difficulties that arise from less plasticity (but too much plasticity is also an inconvenience), formed habits, less energy, are counterbalanced by various advantages: the calming down or lower exuberance of instincts, passions, desires; mental maturation; life experience.
Of course, one should not expect easy and immediate successes. Indeed, the first attempts are discouraging. Accustomed as we are to living at the surface of our consciousness, what we discover in the slums and alleys of the psyche with the first analyses frightens and horrifies us. Impulses, tendencies, and desires, which in moments of calm meditation we recognize to be contrary to our highest aspirations and to our true Self or “I,” to be enemies even of our selfish well-being, and which we thus believe we have eliminated, rise up again and again: blind, obstinate, rabid, and apparently undisturbed by all our efforts to suppress them. This should neither surprise us nor make us despair. It is natural that although ideas-forces may have been prevented from being expressed in actions, they have still actually been nourished and intensified by impressions and sensations of all kinds which we considered harmless and of no consequence. Ultimately they have been able to freely make intimate connections with many other groups of ideas-forces and thus take firm root in the psyche, so it is natural that such ideas-forces should offer serious resistance to our attempts to eliminate them.
On the other hand, it is no less true that every effort we make, every other idea-force projected against them has a certain effect, even if not immediately perceptible by us, and therefore, if we have the necessary constancy, victory is inevitably ours.
Three main factors contribute to making such victory more or less rapid and definite:
- the intensity of the idea-forces projected against those we want to dissolve;
- the frequency and constancy of such reactions;
- the richness and firmness of the connections with which we learn how to establish the new idea-forces.
But, important as it is, this is but one of the many actions we can exercise on our psyche. First of all, we can fight the tendencies and defects from which we want to free ourselves in another way, which is often indeed preferable: that is, not by fighting directly, but instead by cultivating and strengthening the opposite tendencies and virtues. Again, the work is not easy, but if there are no special difficulties or even pathological obstacles, its success is sure.
Of course it is easier work to cultivate a virtue or ability against which there are no special obstacles, and even more so that of intensifying an already existing one, even though it requires time, constancy and patience. But this kind of inner activity is so unusual that even if beginners are persuaded and willing, they stop, hesitant before the vastness and complexity of the task, and do not know which way to start again.
Psychagogy must come to their aid, while reminding them that the work must be accomplished by their own strength. It offers them a set of principles and precise methods, enabling them not to proceed empirically and tentatively, but to go straight to the goal, taking advantage of the experience of those who have gone before. Similarly, a mountaineer must reach the summit with the energy of his own muscles, but saves time and avoids danger by using topographical maps or following the directions of an experienced guide.
The first practice that must be undertaken seriously and methodically is that of “recollection” or “meditative reflection.”
It is evident that one cannot speak of cultivating the psyche if one does not stop living at the surface of consciousness, so to speak, letting the play of idea-forces take place automatically. Instead, we must withdraw into ourselves and, by using careful, serene and keen introspection, free from all fearful restraint and hypocrisy, we analyze the whole content of our psyche — without allowing ourselves to be frightened by unexpected monsters, nor dazzled by the glitter of some gem. Above all, we must take advantage of those moments of calm to discriminate sharply and definitively between our highest aspirations and the crowd of tendencies, impulses, prejudices, mental habits, which are the undesirable legacy of our past, both recent and distant.
But such analysis and discrimination, must not remain purely intellectual acknowledgments. They must immediately transform into practical purposes and decisions. Recognizing a tendency as undesirable and firmly resolving to fight it with all one’s might and on every occasion must be one and the same process. We shall see later what an essential role feeling has in this.
The criticisms which have been rightly made against the excessive tendency to analysis and intense introspection with which many souls have been tormented, and whose harmful effects can be seen, for example, in the life of Amiel, cannot be made [toward the reflection we are discussing]. These are two completely different things, as those who have dealt with the subject have well demonstrated, among whom I will only mention Colozza, in the already mentioned book on Meditation. Payot, in his well-known book L’éducation de la volonté, has also written a few good pages on the subject.
However, those who begin to practice recollection soon encounter unsuspected difficulties; they discover with painful amazement how little they are master of their own thoughts. Even if they are not agitated by any passion, even if no impulse disturbs them, they are unable to meditate in a consecutive and orderly manner. Futile thoughts unrelated to the subject of meditation, insignificant or unpleasant memories, details of external life, and petty annoyances or worries all appear insistently at the threshold of consciousness, like importunate and unwelcome visitors. And the worst of it is that each of them is not isolated, but drags behind it a long chain of other thoughts, memories, feelings, etc., which often make one completely lose sight of the meditation that was originally undertaken.
This happens to people by varying degrees, according to their different constitutions, but no one escapes it. In fact, curious to say, even those who are able to keep their minds focused on a given subject for a long time without allowing themselves to be distracted, as many scientists do, for example, find it difficult to withdraw and reflect on themselves without the mind rebelling. This fact, strange at first glance, appears understandable when one considers that when we are entirely focused on a particular study, this strongly inhibits all other conscious psychic activity. But when one chooses one’s self for the object of study and attempts to plumb the obscure regions of the subconscious, this leaves the way clear for [the entry of] that crowd of psychic facts of all kinds which lie in those depths, and which by their nature tend to cross the threshold of consciousness. Indeed in the face of such invasions one recognizes the aptness of the Indians’ rough but expressive analogy: an unmastered mind is like a drunken monkey stung by a scorpion!
This humiliating condition of being slaves of our own minds must cease. And the only way to master the mind is to practice vigorous, methodical, insistent exercises of concentration and meditation.
Such exercises, however, are only a preparation for arriving at a state of continuous concentration. In this state, whatever activity occupies us — whether easy or difficult, amusing or tedious, insignificant or serious — the mind must be rigorously concentrated on that activity, to the exclusion of all other things.
Do not think that concentration implies effort and tension; on the contrary, perfect concentration must occur naturally, easily and almost automatically; this is precisely the aim of the special exercises. But some might object, in such a state of continuous concentration wouldn’t our life become too rigid and stuffy, wouldn’t it dry up the living sources of feeling and inspiration?
This fear is unjustified. Our minds must inhibit only extraneous and troublesome thoughts, reprehensible tendencies, futile worries, useless apprehensions, but must gladly give free passage to every beautiful idea, every bright inspiration, every elevated impulse and feeling.
We can leave aside the theoretical question of whether we can conceive (or come upon, in our consciousness) pure feeling that is free from all representational, intellectual elements. In practice we can regard our feelings, our emotions, and our passions as ideas-forces, or as groups of ideas-forces endowed with a great deal of energy. These can unfold in various ways and with greater or less rapidity, varying from a beneficent outpouring that sustains one through long years of hardship and sacrifice, to a violent and impulsive act that ends a life. Everyone knows the immense power of this category of idea-forces, which are truly the arbiters of all our activities. Most interesting is the study of the various ways in which emotions can affect the body, how they can inhibit all other idea-forces for a time, how they can break down existing mental “complexes” and create new ones. . . , thus producing unexpected acts, changes in tastes, character, conversions and so on.
Good contributions to these studies were made by Janet in several of his books. With special care Freud then studied the idea-force “complexes” endowed with a very strong emotional charge and showed that when they cannot discharge themselves by external reactions or associate harmoniously with other groups of psychic facts, they deeply disturb the functions of mind and body and play an essential part in the pathogenesis of the most varied hysterical symptoms.
I will also mention that two interesting psychotherapeutic methods are based on these facts: the cathartic or “purification” method of Breuer and the psychoanalytic method of Freud himself, both of which tend to disrupt and “discharge” the “complexes” of ideas-forces that disturb the normal functioning of the psyche.
Emotions and feelings are thus the most powerful idea-forces, but also the most dangerous, and it is unnecessary to emphasize the prime importance of controlling and cultivating them. Here, too, current ideas are curiously and woefully inaccurate. People are inclined to regard feelings and emotions as entirely spontaneous, capricious and uncontrollable. Yet it is not difficult to persuade oneself otherwise. It is enough not to identify with them — and this is achieved after the first exercises of meditative recollection — and it is enough to know some of the laws of psychagogy; for example, that “every idea-force tends to persist” — that “every idea-force tends to associate with others” — and that “clarity of image supports the accumulation and conservation of emotional energy,” and so on.
Almost all of our activities can contribute to a wise cultivation of feelings. We can very well predict the effect that a given reading, a given conversation, the sight of a certain work of art, or the study of a certain philosophy will produce on us, the feelings they will awaken or those they will oppose. So if we do not systematically use these predictions to change and improve ourselves, we have only ourselves to blame.
There are two other very important psychological laws from which valuable psychagogical methods can be derived. The first is, “Every external act tends to awaken or intensify the corresponding feeling.” This law is well known to religious psychologists, who have always recommended performing the external acts of faith, acting as if one believed, in order to come to truly acquire faith; Pascal’s famous abêtissez-vous  is but a special case of this. In this then lies the psychological explanation for the effectiveness of ceremonies and rituals.
This law lends itself to continuous application in a thousand different ways. From smiling to drive worry away, to showing unusual friendliness to a person in order to remove our own unjust and petty resentment — there is, it may be said, no circumstance in which the wise use of such practices fails to be of valuable help. I need not, therefore, multiply the examples; everyone can easily find them for himself. The important thing is not to forget the law and to be determined to apply it on a daily basis.
The second law, a logical consequence of the first, can be stated thus, “Any voluntary inhibition of the external expression of a feeling weakens it and may go so far as to suppress it.” An obvious consequence of this law is the need to strictly control the external manifestations of the passions and emotions we want to fight. It is not a matter of destroying their force, but of directing it, transmuting it, channeling it.
The well-known organic theory of emotions, advocated by Lange and James (which, by the way, is highly questionable), shows how much importance modern psychologists have given to these laws.
So far I have kept myself in a “normal” field, but there are also the supernormal levels. It does not seem fair not to mention, even if only in passing, the fact that three important groups of psychologists, — i.e., all Indians (both those of the orthodox Brahamanic schools of Yoga, Samkhya and Vedanta, as well as Buddhist ones), Christian religious psychologists, and Anglo-American adherents of “new thought”— have argued that the methods they have presented not only enable the normal psychic faculties of man to be perfected, but are capable, if conveniently practiced, of developing a new and wonderful faculty which is latent in all, but active only in a few. This faculty is variously called “spiritual intuition,” “mystical consciousness,” “cosmic consciousness,” “spiritual vision,” “inner vision,” “faith,” and so on. This is not the time to examine the value of these statements, which have been made by men who lived in the midst of civilizations so radically different from each other; but it does seem to me appropriate to note that the serene, dispassionate study — above all practical and lived, not merely outward and descriptive study — of religious experiences can be of extraordinary importance for psychagogy. It is time to banish a priori denials once and for all and to recognize that not only in heaven and earth, but also in the human soul there are many mysteries whose existence our timid reason barely begins to suspect.
If, therefore, on the one hand, psychagogy must strive to elevate and perfect ordinary consciousness in every way, on the other hand it also has the right to attempt to extend it, guiding it to the conquest of the mysterious and fascinating regions of the subconscious and “spiritual consciousness.”
 At the Assagioli Archives in Florence, there are several versions of this essay, the earliest version of which was published in 1909. The present translation is based upon Doc. #23793, a typed manuscript which contains this note at the end: “This article was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (published and edited by G.C.Ferrari), September-October 1909 – Year V, No. 5. The original text was later revised and in several parts amended and supplemented by the author himself. The copious bibliography published at the foot of the original text was also not considered for reproduction for reasons of space and because it is out of date; it is, however, available to those who request it from the secretariat of the Institute of Psychosynthesis.” This bibliography is included in Archive Doc.#24036. This document (Doc. #23793) is based upon hand-written revisions by the author shown in Doc. #24039, and is probably dated some time after 1932, which is the publication date of the Keyserling reference in the revised text. —Tr.
 The Dhammapada is the best known text in the Pali Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. Verses 33 and 35 which Assagioli quotes are given here as adapted from a translation by tipitaka.net —Tr.
 Associationism is the idea that mental processes operate by the association of one mental state with its successor states. It holds that all mental processes are made up of discrete psychological elements and their combinations, which are believed to be made up of sensations or simple feelings. In philosophy, this idea is viewed as the outcome of empiricism and sensationism. The concept encompasses a psychological theory as well as comprehensive philosophical foundation and scientific methodology. This concept is first found in Plato and Aristotle, and was supported by many western philosophers. —Ed.
 Assagioli seems to be using the term “morality” as it is defined (for example) by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as referring “to certain codes of conduct put forward by a society or a group (such as a religion), or accepted by an individual for her own behavior.” —Ed.
 Alfred Jules Émile Fouillée (1838-1912), French philosopher. In L’Evolutionnisme des idées-forces (1890), La Psychologie des idées-forces (1893), and La Morale des idées-forces (1907), is elaborated his doctrine of idées forces, or of mind as efficient cause through the tendency of ideas to realize themselves in appropriate movement. —Ed.
 The German term Vorstellungen may be translated as ideas, presentations, concepts, images, or pictures. —Tr.
 See La Psychologie des idées-forces, Paris-Alcan, vol.I, p.IX, X, etc. —Author’s Note.
 Note that knowledge of electricity when this essay was originally written (1909) was not as well-developed as it is now, and the terminology has changed as science and application have changed over the past century. Assagioli uses the term accumulatore or“accumulator,” which we are translating as “battery,” but in some contexts his meaning may include what in English may be called an “appliance” or a “capacitor” or “component.” —Tr.
 Assagioli uses the term “cascade,” which is not now in use as an electrical term. In electrical terminology the voltage in a series is the sum of the “voltage drops” of each component. “Voltage” is analogous to “pressure.” So that two batteries joined in series will produce a higher voltage than a single battery. See diagram in editor’s Appendix A at the end of this essay.—Ed.
 Technically “amperage” is the amount of electrical flow in a circuit. —Ed.
 Assagioli’s analogy from electrical circuitry may not be clear: a series circuit in electricity is one in which current flows along a single line through multiple sources in which the opposite polarities are joined, so to speak. A parallel electrical circuit usually is one in which currents flows out from multiple sources in which the like polarities are joined. See diagram in editor’s Appendix A at the end of this essay.—Ed.
 In modern medical parlance this is often called a “psychogenic nonepileptic seizure” or PNES. —Ed.
 Some of these analogies have been developed very acutely by Pierre Janet in his study “Les oscillations du niveau mental,” in Revue des idées. —Author’s Note.
 According to Faraday’s discovery (1831), induction is a current produced because of voltage production due to a changing magnetic field. Induction is the principle behind electric motors and generators. Assagioli’s analogy makes use of the fact that induction follows “Lenz’s Law,” which states that the direction of the induced current is always opposing the change which causes the current. See Diagram in editor’s Appendix B at the end of this essay.—Ed.
 Ferdinando Cazzamalli (1887-1958) was an Italian psychiatrist and director of a psychiatric hospital in Como, who worked with an electrical engineer to investigate the relationship of telepathy and the electromagnetic currents in the brain. —Ed.
 Quoted from Dante, Purgatorio, c.VI vv.127-129. Marcellus was elected consul of ancient Rome five times. Here translated by John Ciardi. —Tr.
 “Telluric” usually means “of or relating to the earth, or soil.” But Assagioli here refers to the use of the term by philosopher Hermann Keyserling. Keyserling used this term to refer to what he saw as primal or elemental forces that were earth-based, but that were expressed through human beings in a particular way, analogous to the eruptions of primal forces in an earthquake or a volcano. He even coined a phrase “telluric man,” to indicate people whose deepest motives are driven by these primal forces.See Keyserling’s South American Meditations. —Ed.
 The use of the word psychagogy was supported by Lombardo Radice (“La Critica”, V, n.5) and adopted, among others, by Colozza (who gave the subtitle “Psychogogy Notes” to his excellent book on The Meditation, Naples 1903) and by Baudoin, founder of the Institut de Psycagogie et de Psycothérapie in Geneva.—Author’s Note.
 According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the Greek work αγωγια (which has a literal meaning of “conduit”or “conductor”) has a meaning that corresponds roughly to the English word “leader,” coming from a root that means “to draw out or move.” Assagioli is here contrasting this with psycho-logy, which would imply merely “study.”—Tr.
 “New Thought” is a spiritual movement that coalesced in the United States in the early 19th century. It was seen by its adherents as succeeding “ancient thought,” accumulated wisdom the various cultures, primarily regarding the interaction among thought, belief, consciousness, and the effects of these within and beyond the human mind. William James referred to the various groups in this movement as having profound agreements, so that he treated them as a single movement, in his book Varieties of Religious Experience. —Ed.
 Paul Charles Dubois (1848-1918) was a Swiss neuropathologist and psychotherapist. —Ed.
 from L’éducation de soi-mème [Translated as The Education of Self, 1911], pag.66. —Author’s Note. “Education is based entirely upon the idea of determinism,” —Tr.
 mindset. —Tr.
 Pierre Marie Félix Janet (1859-1947), French psychologist, physician, philosopher, and psychotherapist, considered by many to one oif the founding fathers of the modern discipline of psychology. —Ed.
 Assagioli Quotes Janet in French: “Il ne suffit pas de dire que cette rougeur est due à l’excitation d’un nerf vaso-moteur; car il n’y a pas de nerf qui se distribue précisément à cet endroit sous forme d’une étoile à six branches. C’est une excitation partielle et systématique de plusieurs nerfs, que je ne puis comprendre sans l’intervention d’une pensée qui coordonne ces excitations.” —Tr.
 L’Automatisme psycologique, Paris, Alcan, pag.267. —Author’s Note.
 Müller, creator of a well-known and excellent system of physical education, reports that through the exercises he has taught, people from the age of 70 to over 80 have obtained healing from various ailments and real rejuvenation. (See: My System, Milan, Sperling and Kupfer). —Author’s Note. Jørgen Peter Müller (1866-1938) was a Danish gymnastics instructor whose My System was published in 1904 and translated into 24 languages, including English. It is still available.—Ed.
 Note that trying to dissolve an idea-force does not mean trying to destroy the impulsive or emotional energy that animates it (which is impossible) or to repress it with violence. Instead, it is a question of “detaching” that force from the idea with which it is connected and of directing it in other ways.—Author’s Note.
 Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) was a Swiss moral philosopher, poet and critic, author of Journal Intime (translated into English as Private Journal). —Ed.
 Jules Payot (1859-1940) was a French educator. —Ed.
 (The Education of the Will), Paris, Alcan, 1895.—Ed.
 The relationships between inner life and external activity have been extensively discussed in the essay “Martha and Mary,” included in the volume The awakening of the soul, soon to be published.—Author’s Note. “Martha and Mary”was first published in Italian in Ultra magazine in 1925, and an Italian version is found in the Assagioli Archives. It was published as a pamphlet in English by Sundial House in the UK in 1966. —Ed.
 The ellipsis in this sentence after the words “new ones” appeared in the original published version and in all subsequent versions. It is unclear whether Assagioli used this as a device to suggest a “pause for reflection” or for another purpose. —Ed.
 Josef Breuer (1842-1925) was an Austrian physician who made important discoveries in physiology, neurophysiology and psychotherapy. He first developed what was then called “the talking cure.”—Ed.
 According to blog at French website maphilo.net, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662, French philosopher, physicist and Catholic writer) wrote concerning the development of faith, “c’est le cœur qui sent Dieu et non la raison,” and “Abêtissez-vous faites dire des messes.” which may be translated roughly as “It is the heart that feels God and not the reason” and “Make yourselves stupid [like an animal] (abêtissez-vous) and have masses said,” suggesting that one may “turn off the reasoning mind” and perform the actions of faith in order to feel God.—Ed.
 In his Principles of Psychology (1890) James asserts that “the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and . . . our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.” Vol. 2:449. —Ed.
 That is, placing oneself as much as possible in the inner conditions indicated by those who have had those experiences.—Author’s Note.