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A lecture about the seven core concepts of psychosynthesis given at the International Congress of Psychosynthesis, Taormina, Sicily, June 2016. By Kenneth Sørensen
You can also listen to the lecture here: Seven Core Concepts of Psychosynthesis
By Kenneth Sørensen
Hello, everybody. Let me start by addressing my gratitude to the team behind this big event. It’s a really big achievement to bring so many people together. So, thank you very much.
My topic today, the seven core concepts of psychosynthesis, really lies on my heart. When we started the Psychosynthesis Institute in Norway, a couple of years ago, we decided to base the curriculum on the seven core concepts. We wanted the students to realise, to experience, these fundamental concepts.
I would like to start by introducing the seven core concepts. I guess you are all familiar with them, but let me start by reading them as Assagioli formulated them:
While psychosynthesis is offered as a synthesis of various therapies and educational approaches, it is well to keep in mind that it possesses its own original and central essence. This is so as not to present a watered-down and distorted version, or one over-coloured by the concepts and tendencies of the various contemporary schools. Certain fundamental facts exist, and their relative conceptual elaboration, deep experience and understanding are central, and constitute the sine qua non of psychosynthetic training. These experiences are:
These concepts are indispensable and an essential ingredient if we are going to understand or live psychosynthesis. It has been stated before that Assagioli, in a very famous interview with Sam Keen, admitted that the limitation of psychosynthesis is that it includes too much, it accepts too much – and perhaps he defined these concepts to counter this limitation because he made this statement just shortly before he died.
So, I guess Assagioli’s motivation was to offer some fundamental guidelines in our quest to become psychosynthesis practitioners. This is my take on the subject. So, when we are offering training to students, these are the core experiences we are trying to give students through training. It is also important to recognise that we must have these experiences ourselves in order to give them away.
When we look at the seven concepts, we could ask: Why does Assagioli name these seven concepts? Why are they so essential to psychosynthesis? This could be a very important question to ask. Because if these seven concepts are the backbone, if they are the core of psychosynthesis, we must ask and we must answer these questions. And I would like to offer my own answers to these questions based on the book I have just published, The Soul of Psychosynthesis, which is based on my own experiences with these concepts.
Disidentification and the self
I would like to bring disidentification and the self together because I think they belong together. Assagioli states that disidentification is the mother of all the techniques used in psychosynthesis – so this is the basic technique we have to experience . And why is disidentification so crucial?
It’s crucial and it’s important because it reveals the true nature of the self. It reveals our nature, our identity, as a point of pure self-awareness and will. By disidentifying, by using the specific technique, we are in some way letting go of all the different and various identifications we have, so it is a very, very deep technique.
I think that by including the disidentification technique in his set of core principles, Assagioli brilliantly introduced one of the most famous and relevant techniques of the East into modern western counselling, because this technique is widely used in Buddhism and Hinduism. In the Advaita Vedanta tradition – where it is known as neti (I’m not this, I’m not that) – this particular exercise was intended to reveal the true nature of Brahman, the true identity of our original face, a point of pure universal awareness.
The disidentification exercise can reveal our identity in several deep stages. It reveals the personal self; it reveals the transpersonal Self; it reveals the Universal Self. And what lies behind these concepts? First of all we realise ourselves to be the observer; we realise ourselves to be the loving observer who can observe the content of consciousness.
On a temporary level, we realise we can observe our bodily sensations, we can observe our emotions and our mental states. On a wider or more expanded scale, the disidentification exercise will also take us beyond the mental and expand our consciousness into wider and wider spheres of existence, with the direct effect that we can identify with the soul and disidentify with our personality.
What I really like about these seven core concepts is that Assagioli described them as facts: existential facts. So it’s not a theory. Anybody who sits down and practises with these concepts will realise that his or her true nature is awareness, that my true nature is will or intention. When we discover this, we join millions of people around the world who have discovered this as a fact – there’s nothing new about it, even though the realisation of the will is actually quite new.
Resistance to disidentification – I am not my body
I know there has been some resistance with respect to Assagioli’s use of the phrase ‘I’m not my body, I’m not my emotions’ – and he was actually well aware of this resistance. In a dialogue with his students, Assagioli said it is necessary to disidentify from the body, to disidentify from the emotions and the desires, in order to have the realisation of pure self-awareness. But that doesn’t mean that we are not to appreciate the body. Instead, his formula actually reveals two profound experiences of the self, namely that the self can be both transcendent and immanent with respect to any content of consciousness. The transcendent nature of the self is that, through disidentification, we bring a distance to what we observe in consciousness: we get above it, in some way, when we observe whatever is present in our consciousness. But I think the prominent statement by Assagioli is where he calls the self ‘the loving observer’, and – by an act of love, by accepting our body, by appreciating our body, by accepting whatever is present in our consciousness – we create a loving atmosphere, we create a relationship. This allows us to be immanent, in a loving relationship to what is present; we create the ability to be in an empathic relationship with our body, our emotions and our personality. This realisation is not about being transcendent and just rising above everything. It is actually about incarnating fully in the body, incarnating fully in the emotional and in the mental. Through an act of love, through this ability to embrace and be aware of whatever is present in the field of consciousness, we create a loving relationship to whatever emerges within.
When we apply this practice in therapy, we use what I call awareness-based counselling. What is awareness-based counselling? It’s the ability to learn about the client, to be a loving observer to their present condition, however it may be. When I work with clients, I start by teaching them that they can become the loving observer to whatever is happening in their life – that there is a conscious point within them and that, from this place, they can learn to accept whatever is present inside. During therapy, I remind them again and again about this fact. When clients become identified with different parts of themselves, with subpersonalities, I remind them by asking: ‘Who’s speaking now? Try to take a step back and try to observe what is present right now.’ And then I train them to connect with the body, to sense what is going in their body and their emotional field, and to sense whatever is present in their mind. Awareness-based counselling trains the client to be fully awake, aware and present in a loving way with present conditions – and this creates the centre, the famous centre of Assagioli (he stated that psychosynthesis is all about working from the centre). Psychosynthesis counselling is focused on pointing out this centre to the client because if he or she discovers this ability to lovingly observe whatever arises in consciousness then they have found a home and a place of freedom where they can start to conquer whatever they encounter.
The will and the ideal model
The next two core concepts I would like to describe are the will and the ideal model.
I like to talk about the will as the-will-to-be-self – it is the living energy that demands authenticity, it’s the life force within every person who is really seeking to be a unique individual. If the self was only comprised of consciousness, then we could only talk about the self as an open and boundless entity – we would fundamentally be this open space with no boundaries. But, in deep meditation, when we really go deep into pure awareness and lose connection with the mental field, we find silence. Then we can investigate the nature of this being inside us who has an intention to be present, because there is always an intention, there is always a sense of will in every conscious state. For example, we could decide to stop our meditation if we wanted to – which shows there is a guiding force, there is a power within us that is choosing to be in a particular state of consciousness.
Assagioli made a huge contribution to western psychology by introducing and speaking about the will and, in doing so, I see him as part of a larger movement. I’m also very fond of Sri Aurobindo, from India, who changed the Eastern concept of spirituality.
The aim is not so much about escaping the manifested world and entering into a transcendent state – many traditional religious teachers have this concept, that we have to get out of samsara, out of illusion, out of this world. But there is now a new evolutionary movement that offers a new philosophy about incarnation, which is that we need to get into the world, with all the light, with all the power, with all the love that we have, in order to change the world. According to these evolutionaries, God wants to manifest, God wants to incarnate this world through us – and this is what the will is all about.
Will is about synthesis. Will is a driving force urging us to create a new world. When we work with the will, we work with the masculine face of the self. Assagioli talked about the self as having a feminine face and a masculine face. The feminine part is consciousness, while the masculine aspect is the will. The will is the inner authority and master. The will is our ability to define our identity out of infinite possibilities. The will is our ability to find what is authentically me.
Why do we choose to become who we are? Because there is a guiding impulse within us – I would call it the soul – which makes us choose one thing instead of something else. We can align ourselves with this force and create our cosmic address (to borrow a phrase from Ken Wilber). We can find our place in life, and take up that place, and from there manifest the goodness, beauty and power which is inside of us.
When we work with will-based counselling, we focus on the client’s authentic needs, resources, values and qualities. We help the client to define who he or she is by confronting them with the responsibility of becoming themselves.
There’s a big difference between desire and will. Sometimes we know who we are but we’re afraid to express it. Fear, the desire to avoid something, becomes an obstacle to expressing oneself authentically. Will-based counselling is more about father therapy, to use one of Assagioli’s definitions. It’s about helping the client to express their will, to become independent by recognising their important needs – and to help achieve this we can use the technique of the ideal model.
The ideal model is another unique contribution of psychosynthesis. The ideal model is the image of who we could be based on creative meditation. We have to meditate; we have to live with our ideal model images in order for them to become real. By using visualisation and creative meditation, the ideal model can help the client to realise who she needs to be.
As discussed, synthesis is a global and cosmic force within each of us that drives life towards unity and wholeness. Assagioli knew that life is inherently good, even though there’s plenty of suffering due to identification with our basic instincts, particularly self-preservation, greed, aggression and selfishness. When working with synthesis in practical work, we are working with subpersonalities. We work with the opposing forces within us that block our ability to be who we perceive ourselves to be [i.e. our ideal model]. I call this part of the work creative counselling.
Creative counselling is a way to liberate the self so we can be who we want to be. Creative counselling uses many means – this could be work with the imagination, it could be drawings, it could be chair work or role-playing. There are many different techniques that can help the client discover their subpersonalities, harmonise them and transform them. So, creative counselling is a way of creating synthesis.
I have really thought about what synthesis is. To be honest, I don’t know what synthesis is, but I do know the result of synthesis is flow. Flow is the spontaneous ability to be who we are in a particular mode of expression. When we have worked through a complex of some kind, a blockage, then we become freer. We feel an ease and a spontaneity where previously there was restriction and inhibition. This flow, this ability to be present and to be who we are in action, is a sort of inner and outer freedom. So, with synthesis comes the ability to experience flow.
The superconscious and the transpersonal Self
The last two concepts are the superconscious and the transpersonal Self. In order to understand what these concepts are pointing at, I think we must first define what spirituality is. One way to define spirituality is the expansion of consciousness from self-centeredness to the experience of a unified consciousness, a oneness.
I am fond of the terminology of Ken Wilber, who describes four stages in the spiritual process. First, we need to develop self-care, love for one’s self. The next expansion, or stage, is care for our family and others; this is the ethnocentric stage and is still about me and those I care for. The next stage is care for the world – this is the world-centric stage. This expansion, or stage, of consciousness sees us trying our best to act on the behalf of humanity – trying to uphold the values and declaration of human rights. At this stage there is an expanded consciousness that entails us being at the service of the world, because we experience as a fact that we are a part of the world soul, the soul of humanity. This third stage is the soul stage – it involves awareness of the soul. The last stage is the cosmo-centric stage where we care for all there is in the entire cosmos.
Spirituality is about expanding our sphere of care, our ability to take responsibility for wider and wider spheres of influence. One way to do this is to help our clients to harness their qualities and the superconscious qualities and bring them into life.
There are two different methods of this process of spiritual psychosynthesis. One is to develop the superconscious qualities through meditation, visualisation and practical service. The other, more radical, approach is to work directly on creating a connection between the separate “I” consciousness and an expanded awareness of the soul. (In Assagioli’s egg-diagram, the dotted line between the personal self and the transpersonal Self illustrates this connection symbolically.) This path, or connection, has been called the silent path because when we go into silence and disidentify from the content of consciousness – personal and superconscious – there is an experience of rising up, of expanding our awareness, of becoming whole without losing our identity. This process is a spontaneous thing that happens – you start discarding all mental thoughts, things become quieter, and then you get an expansion of consciousness when you realise that you are the whole, that the consciousness present in everyone is also the consciousness of I am. This realisation of unity is not something profound that is reserved for only a few mystics, rather it is a possibility for every one of us: we just have to do the yoga – the seven essential core concepts. Then use them for practical work.
I guess that was my final word. Thank you.
My book The Soul of Psychosynthesis is dedicated to the exploration of the seven core concepts.