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The idea of the Self as the loving observer and wise director of our life lies at the root of psychosynthesis, and this article explores some of the deeper layers of this concept.
By Kenneth Sørensen, MA, Psychosynthesis
The Self is a mystery.There have been many attempts in philosophy and psychology to try to define the essence of who we are, but words and concepts can never define the Self: the formless always transcends the forms we try to define it with. Nevertheless, the Self can be experienced through introspection and meditation, and theories based on experience can point to the facts of consciousness – which means we can take steps to embark on a journey into the mystery of the Self.
With this in mind, let us explore the experience of Self from the standpoint of psychosynthesis – and, from the very start, define the Self as pure consciousness and will. The centre of our being, from an experiential point of view, arises out of pure energy: pure light, love and power.
We are light because we are aware. The light of awareness is an inner space of wakefulness where the objects of awareness emerge into the light.
We are love because, as souls, we are connected and identified with the whole. We are not separate but truly connected to the soul of humanity and the ever widening spheres of living existence. We understand that the true nature of love is not an emotion or a sense of affection, but the fundamental fabric of our inter-connectedness.Love is consciousness itself, and is the same consciousness that is awake, present and alive in any living form.
We are power because our innermost essential being is a force field, a purpose, and an evolutionary drive towards growth and fulfilment during our time while we are here in our bodies.
This perhaps sounds nice and cosy, but realising these truths can feel scary because it entails the loss of our identification with our story, our belongings and our attachments. As these identifications fade away, one of the only things left for us to hold onto is the naked experience of being awake, present and alive. But there is also freedom in waking up to this realisation, even if it is only a short glimpse, for it is like discovering an open sunny space above a densely clouded sky.
Disidentifying from the veils of attachment
This realisation can emerge, as it has for millions of people, when we identify ourselves with the observer – with contentless awareness – with the one who witnesses whatever occurs within and without from a loving and detached standpoint. This practice of disidentification gives us the ability to step out of the mindstream and the constant identification with changing thoughtforms and outer occurrences.
The Self is never an object. The Self is never a thought because a thought can be observed. The Self is never an emotion because an emotion can be observed. The Self cannot be found in the body because the body can be observed. Rather, the Self is always the observer – it is this simple, so unbelievably simple, when we first awake to this fact. The Self is never something we can point to because we are the one who is pointing. The same applies to the will: the will is always the intention behind our actions, as we will explore later.
Disidentification is focused on whatever we disidentify from, identification is focused on whatever we identify with: both disidentification and identification are acts of the will. It is the faculty of will that makes it possible to identify and disidentify – it is the will that makes it possible for us to decide who we are, that I am this and not that – whether we are doing this often at a conscious or subconscious level.
It is said that the will governs all beginnings and endings, meaning that the will is related to life and death. When we identify with something we give it life, which will strengthen the thoughtform or any form we identify with. When we let go of an identification – a habit, a relation, a role – we cut it off from our life force and our attachment to the identification will gradually die.
We are the Universal Presence having a human experience
Let us for a moment take the largest possible perspective to see how this plays out. Roberto Assagioli calls the disidentification technique the mother of all techniques because it will strip away layers upon layers of identifications until we realise that, underlying it all, we are the Universal Presence having a human experience. But it is not enough to disidentify: we must also make identifications at each stage of development and continually give life to more refined identifications and expressions of the light, love and power that we are. In this respect, we are the Universal Mother giving birth to new forms of divine potential. Each new and more refined or authentic identification is a stepping stone toward realising our potential as the Universal Presence.
This is an important point that I want to emphasise: As we grow in consciousness and connection to the Universe Presence, we undergo a process of disidentifying from false (no longer valid) ideas about our self, followed by identification with more authentic aspects of our self. At each state of development, we discover that former identifications have served their purpose so we can let them go (disidentify) and embrace (identify with) new aspects of self as they are revealed to us by our expanding sense of consciousness. In this way, there is a continual refining of our identifications as we move towards a fuller experience and connectivity with Universal Presence.
Each new identification acts as a portal of experience for the Universal Presence, be it through the role of a subpersonality, a desire, an image, a transpersonal vision or the soul. Each identification will open up a particular frequency of consciousness which either condenses our awareness into the ego-centric states of the lower unconscious or expands our awareness when we visit the superconscious. Through each portal, we can bring our light, love and power and transmute darkness into light.
All the above insights are an expression of the beautiful way in which Assagioli introduced the deepest wisdom and techniques of Eastern insight into Western psychology and psychotherapy. The beauty of it all is that pure awareness of the Self can also be experienced at a personal level, without expanded and transcendent connotations, because there is a reflection of Universal Presence even in the separate consciousness of the ego (or personality): we call this experience the personal observer.
I think it’s important to speak about the Self as the observer (and director) rather than contentless awareness because the latter does not imply a living subject. The observer implies an entity (a present witness), while contentless awareness is more suggestive of the transcendent Buddhist view of no-Self. Assagioli always acknowledged that we are an entity, we are a subject, and in some way we must find the balance between universality and individuality – we must recognise that the Universal Presence has an individualised purpose and experience when expressing through countless forms.
Remember to be a loving observer
Regarding the experience of being an observer, it is important to remember to be a loving observer because the loving observer will always align us with the consciousness of the soul; the prominent quality of the soul is love-wisdom, though there are different types and nuances of this soul love.
It is possible to have an experience of the observer as a cold detached observer, an objective observer, that is neutral and free. This type of consciousness has merit but can also become a trap, cutting us off from the environment and all living beings within it. I vividly remember an experience from the late nineties when visiting a satsang with a well-known Advaita Vedanta teacher. The teacher asked each of us the question “Who are you?”, then helped us to disidentify from any identifications that came up. When it was my turn to engage with this inquiry, I received a direct transmission from his lineage. I experienced a sudden opening and realised that my true nature was no-thing, and an immense joy and freedom swept my being. Being no-thing, with no story or finite identity, allowed me to be anything and everything I chose to be. I was stunned by this experience of detachment and freedom from ties.
Whenever I thought about family or friends, they were like strangers. It was a complete disengagement from attachment to the manifest world and there was absolutely nothing to do or achieve, just pure joy. It was almost like being in a dream, because it was so unreal, even though I was aware that it definitely was a reality. I remained in this state for about 30 minutes, and at one point I had a strong intuition that I had experienced this type of awareness before in a former incarnation in India. The experience was so familiar, it was like time had stopped and I was part of an ageless lineage of sannyasins, contemplating the eternal now. There followed another strong impression – I can only call it truth – an immediate realisation that this was not for me. I was not to give up on the world, but rather enter fully into the suffering and struggle of the world and bring whatever light and love I had to give – and there was such truth and love in this understanding.
While enjoying my own Self-realisation, I could see how this particular transcendent state could be limiting because I was cut off from the world of suffering and of becoming.
This impression of truth and love came from my soul consciousness, which guided me through this opening towards transcendent detachment and into the world of becoming and suffering. By identifying with the loving observer, we can call in the quality of love from the superconscious and stay in touch with whatever arises in consciousness on all levels, including all events in our outer life, without bypassing it. It. This is an impersonal love, beyond likes and dislikes, just an acceptance and an embracing of whatever is. By aligning ourselves with the love of the soul, we can be immanent and transcendent at the same time: we embrace both our divinity and our humanity and become the balancing point between the two dimensions.
Will and intention defines our individuality
From one point of view, the Self is zero; the Self is nothing because it can dissolve into pure transcendent witnessing; it dissolves into the background of that which is always awake. We become, in our identity, an awake, present, expanded, limitless, boundless witness to all that arises in consciousness. And from this point, we are no-thing.
But as soon as we tune into the intention behind this witnessing, as soon as we observe the one who upholds the intention to stay in this state, then we realise there is a choosing/deciding factor, which we can call the individual behind the scene. This individual is the one who decides to stay in this observing mode, and this is where will and individuality enters. We realise that the power of purpose drives us. We are on a mission, we have a calling, and, at some point, we wake up to the fact that we are the one who calls.This is where the duality between the seeker and the sought disappears, and we experience ourselves to be this expanded awareness that is also a powerful purpose. This purpose and force field, a-will-to-good, is me – this is who I am, this is what I’m here to unfold. A wise director of our life.
So, the Self is the loving observer and the will-to-be-who-we-are, and how we perceive this Self develops from stage to stage. We always wake up to new dimensions of who we are – I believe it’s a never-ending quest. I don’t believe in ultimate enlightenment; I think it’s absurd because the universe is always expanding, so I don’t see how there can be an end to it.
How do we make our clients aware of the loving observer?
For those of us who work as psychosynthesis counsellors or coaches, we must step into the role of teacher and help our clients becoming a loving observer. One of the prominent steps, in this case, is to be the observer oneself. If we are identified with consciousness itself, we can hear when the client is speaking from an identified place. When the client says I’m angry, I’m no good, or my mother hates me – whatever the identification is – it will be clear that the client is identified with a story, with a particular part of themselves. When the client is ready to disidentify, we need to mirror their identification and remind the client who is speaking right now: What is the voice you are giving life to right now? This mirroring of their identifications makes the client wake up to the fact of the loving observer, if the counsellor points it out.
Some clients may not be able to love or accept whatever is present. These clients have a process to unfold that will bring them to an experience of being a loving observer. The first stage is to point out the duality between the loving observer and the part that is in need of acceptance – turning subjects (identifications) into objects. Chair work and free drawing of the suffering part is a good place to start because this can make visible the duality between the observer and the part being observed. We could also offer the client a meditation on the loving observer (such as those offered on my website: kennethsorensen.dk/en/get-my-seven-meditations/), which can help the client to practise staying with this particular state of being.
Psychosynthesis counselling is so fascinating because it opens up all the dimensions of our inner life, from the deepest encounters in the lower unconscious, where we transmute darkness into light, to the innermost secrets of our selfhood.
May you all have an illuminating journey towards embodying the Self, from the past, in the present for the future.