Psychosynthesis uniquely defines the ego as the conscious core of the personality, a centre of pure self-awareness and will; the ego is also referred to as the conscious “I”, the personal self or the observer. We discover this conscious core when we disidentify from our thoughts, emotions and sensations, and identify with consciousness itself. In my article What is the Conscious “I”? I go into depth regarding the ego’s essential nature.
In this article, I would like to reflect on the difference between the conscious “I”, or ego, and the Transpersonal Self – I have defined the Transpersonal Self elsewhere in my article The Transcendence of the Transpersonal Self , so this article will focus only on differences between the ego and Transpersonal Self.
We know that the conscious “I” is a projection, or reflection, in the personality of the Transpersonal Self’s pure self-awareness and will, so we can say there are not two selves, but rather a pure self-awareness that manifests on different levels. We might say that the “I” is an outpost of the Transpersonal Self in the mental field of the personality (see my article The Connection Between Ego and the Transpersonal Self ).
Roberto Assagioli discussed the difference between the ego and the Transpersonal Self in an illuminating dialogue with psychosynthesis pioneer Martha Crampton. In answer to Martha’s question “How would you distinguish the ego from the Spiritual self?”, here is Assagioli’s reply (note: his terms “spiritual Self” and “Self” refer to the Transpersonal Self):
“There is a great difference; the personal self or I is ‘self-centred’, it is the awareness of oneself without any expansion of consciousness, without the joy, the love and all the other qualities of the spiritual Self. The personal self could be called ‘neutral’, but the awareness of it gives a certain sense of freedom from the ordinary attachments and identifications.
“The difference is also one of level, as is clearly shown in my diagram of the psychological constitution of the human being. But difference does not mean separation. The personal self can be considered a reflection or projection of the Spiritual Self. Between them communication is possible and the personal self can ascend towards the Self, get near to It and at moments identify itself with It. This relationship has various stages. The first is that of disidentification and objective observation of the flow of psychological elements which come and go within the field of consciousness, just as a scientist observes natural phenomena…
“The aims of the personal self are egocentric. To use Maslow’s terminology, they are directed to the satisfaction of needs or wants. The spiritual Self is outgoing, radiant, and needs and asks nothing from outside. There is no difficulty in seeing the difference.”
We learn from the above that the conscious “I”, or observer, is self-centred, egocentric and without the expansion of awareness that goes with the experience of the Transpersonal Self. The conscious “I” lacks the joy, love and unselfishness of the Transpersonal Self. We also see that, even though we may have identified with the observer (conscious “I”) to attain a disidentified self-awareness, we are still influenced by the pull of our personal needs for safety, esteem and ambition – this is partly because the ego (conscious “I”) is driven by what Maslow calls “deficiency needs”, which is the hole-within that we seek to fill with the consumption of people and things.
The Transpersonal Self, on the other hand, is motivated by an abundance of love, joy and power, which it radiates effortlessly through beingness and service to the planet. We can also experience the Transpersonal Self as a dynamic call to service and a joyful participation in freely giving out of one’s abundance, which is a reward in itself.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that the ego (conscious “I”) is self-centred – there is a reason for this. According to Assagioli:
“The realisation of the central self is not all that has to be discovered. In fact, it is, in a sense, only the beginning because, having reached awareness of the central ‘I’, which is naturally and rightly self-centred and separative at first in order to assert its unique and separate identity as an individual, we then find this is not enough, and that there are other and greater states of consciousness with which to identify.” (1)
First, we need to define our individuality, or, in other terms, complete our personal psychosynthesis, then we can embark on the larger quest of unifying with our spiritual core. This task is done by the conscious “I” and involves our ability to harmonise, integrate and synthesise all of our personal resources and needs around the centre of the conscious “I” and our external goals. In this way, we can begin to manifest ourselves in the world as durable and reliable individuals who can take responsibility and be counted on. Put another way: we first need the strength of an integrated personality before we can handle the powerful energies of the Transpersonal Self.
However, at some point on our journey of self-development, we begin to hear the call of the Transpersonal Self and, according to Assagioli, grasp that: “The self-awareness of the conscious ‘I’ is only a poor reflection of the enduring, immortal essence of the spiritual ‘I’, the [Transpersonal] Self.” (2)
Self-awareness can be compared to light, with the conscious “I” being only a poor reflection of its luminous source – but this need not be so: we can expand our light so that the reflection becomes brighter and starts to radiate the qualities of the Transpersonal Self. Assagioli expressed it this way:
“What we call the ordinary self is that small part of the deeper Self that the waking consciousness is able to assimilate in a given moment. It is therefore something contingent and changing, a ‘variable quantity’. It is a reflection of what can become ever more clear and vivid; and it can perhaps someday succeed in uniting itself with its source.” (3)
We might conclude that the strength of the reflected consciousness of the conscious “I” is dependent on how much light we can assimilate and reflect in any given moment. This is exactly what we try to do in reflective and receptive meditation on the self/Self: we still the mind and turn our attention to the observer and, in the attentive observation of contentless awareness, we automatically turn our minds towards the sun, which is the source of light, the Transpersonal Self – this will attract the light of the Transpersonal Self and gradually lift the conscious “I” towards it.
Assagioli gives this explanation:
“Let us remember that the conscious ‘I’ is a ‘reflection’ of the Self and is thus essentially of the same nature, however much it is weakened and ‘coloured’ by the contents of the middle level of the personality. When one manages to eliminate those contents by means of certain exercises (particularly that of disidentification), the conscious ‘I’ tends to return upwards to its origin.” (4)
In my book Integral Meditation – I explore these ideas in detail.
In conclusion, I would like to offer this analogy. If the conscious “I” is a 100W light bulb radiating from its centre in the personality, the Transpersonal Self is a perpetual nova radiating in the superconscious. Enlightenment happens when the light bulb in the personality reflects its higher counterpart in more and more complete ways. When this happens, the love-power and superconscious awareness of the Transpersonal Self will be manifested in the world through the personality.
With blessings, Kenneth.
1. Meditation for The New Age, by Roberto Assagioli, Third Course, Booklet 2.
2. Transpersonal Development, by Roberto Assagioli, 2007, p. 26.
3. The Self: A Unifying Center, by Roberto Assagioli
4. Transpersonal Development, by Roberto Assagioli, 2007, p. 40.