Psychosynthesis: A Much-Needed Holistic & Hope-Filled Framework for Healing and Self-Transformation

Psychosynthesis is a holistic approach to psychology, developed by Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) that incorporates psychoanalysis, but significant transcends it by emphasizing health, development, and spirituality. Assagioli illustrated his view of the human psyche in his “egg-diagram” (see Figure) with seven elements:

Figure. Assagioli’s Egg Diagram

Source: Kenneth Sorensen, https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/. Used with permission.

1.   The Lower Unconscious

The lower unconscious, according to Assagioli, contains the basic psychological activities that conduct the operative and intelligent coordination of the body and bodily functions. This dimension of the psyche also holds one’s foundational drives and animalistic urges, as well as emotionally intense established thematic patterns (i.e., psychological complexes), dark dreams and fantasies, and some pathological disturbances such as paranoid delusions, uncontrollable urges, obsessions, and phobias.

2.   The Middle Unconscious

The middle unconscious, according to Assagioli, includes psychological dimensions comparable to waking consciousness with ready access to it. Life experiences are integrated, and standard cognitive and creative intelligence activated in a type of psychological incubation before entering the field of conscious awareness.

3.   The Higher Unconscious or Superconscious

The higher unconscious or superconscious is the region that holds our highest inspirations, aspirations, and intuitions for ourselves, humanity, and our world. This realm is also the source of our higher emotions such unconditional love and higher intelligences. It also holds the deeper experiences of insight, contemplation, and bliss, as well as potentials for higher spiritual experiences and psychic abilities.

4.   The Field of Consciousness

For Assagioli, the field of consciousness, a term he thought useful but not quite precise, referred to the part of our personality of which we are conscious, including the thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, desires, and impulses we are able to see and evaluate.

5.   The Conscious Self or “I”

The conscious self or “I” is the term Assagioli used to refer to the “the point of pure-awareness,” not to be confused with the field of consciousness highlighted above, which refers to the content of experience. The conscious self or “I” refers to the experiencer. He compared the “I” to a projector light and field of consciousness to a screen onto which images are projected.

6.   The Higher Self

Unlike Freud’s psychoanalysis, which only includes a lower unconscious, Assagioli’s psychosynthesis includes the Higher Self or soul depicted above the conscious self in the egg diagram. According to Assagioli, one can experience the Higher Self through the use of psycho-spiritual practices such as meditation.

7.   The Collective Unconscious

Assagioli’s collective unconscious, similar to Jung’s conceptualization of the term, refers to universal, nonpersonal common forms or archetypes that surround and influence us on a collective level. Assagioli distinguished between primitive, archaic forms and higher, progressive forces of a more spiritual nature.

Although not depicted in Assagioli’s original egg diagram (though some contemporary illustrations do include it), another key element of psychosynthesis is the concept of subpersonalities. Subpersonalities, similar to Jung’s persona, refers to parts or formed habit patterns in the human psyche, conscious and unconscious, that we repeatedly express in our lives. For the healthy person, subpersonalities are conscious and in the field of self-awareness and self-regulation. In psychosynthesis, subpersonalities may reside in the lower, middle, or higher unconscious, unlike Jung’s persona or false self. Additional fundamental concepts of psychosynthesis, which highlight stages of Self-realization, include self-knowledge, self-control, disidentification, unifying center, and psychosynthesis, as the peak stage in his model.

Disidentification refers to the necessity of separating oneself (the conscious I) from overidentification with everything outside or beyond oneself. Overidentification can happen any time we identify with an aspect of our life experiences such as a subpersonality, our ethnicity, fear, anxiety, or a role to such an extent that it dominates our lives. Thus, healing and growth opportunities lie in seeing when and where one overidentifies and, with the help of exercises and practices, severing the control of the overidentification on oneself or “I.”

Over time, former objects of overidentification can be healthily integrated into the middle unconscious and accessed more intentionally. The unifying center refers to the discovery or creation of an ideal around which one can reach or reorganize one’s life. Psychosynthesis, in addition to referring to Assagioli’s entire approach to psychotherapy, refers to the peak of the developmental process that establishes a new personality around a primary unifying center: one that is “coherent, organized and unified” (2000, p. 23).

Consequently, personal will (the Will) is a highly significant concept in psychosynthesis such that Assagioli dedicated a book on the topic entitled, The Act of Will. The will is an element of Assagioli’s Star Diagram of Six Psychological Functions (see Figure 5-2/Not included in this essay), which he developed later in his life to complement the egg diagram of the psyche. Lamenting the state of psychology in 1958, Assagioli is quoted as stating, “After losing its soul, psychology lost its will, and only then its mind and senses” (2007, Foreword).

Furthermore, Assagioli held the view of the existence of a transpersonal will, which he viewed as a dormant potentiality for most people. Assagioli’s transpersonal will aligns with what Maslow referred to as “higher needs” and the growing field of transpersonal psychology refers to using a variety of terms that include Christ consciousness, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, mystical experiences, spirit, oneness, and other such similar concepts.

As mentioned above, psychosynthesis proposes a dynamic five-stage healing and realization process (see Table—Not included in this essay). Stage zero highlights the predominate stage of humanity, characterized by what Assagioli called, the “fundamental infirmity of man.” John Firman (?–2008) referred to this human condition as “primal wounding”; wounding resulting from not being seen and heard for who we truly are by significant others in our lives. Stage 1 relates to the tuning in of one’s inner experience and the cultivation of greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is the foundation of all growth and development. Without self-awareness, we tend to react out of instinct and habitual responses or what Firman referred to as, the survival personality. As self-awareness expands, we start to see our tendencies, preferences, and shortcomings.

Eventually, we (often with the help of supportive practices or a skilled guide) begin to free ourselves or disidentify from our habitual thoughts, feelings, reactions, and roles, thereby cultivating the witness or individual observer “I” (Stage 2). Over time, we may start sensing a more expansive identity or connectedness to life and begin to feel new vocational urges, creative impulses, or directive promptings (Stage 3). From a psychosynthesis perspective, this involves surrendering and inviting a more intimate, conscious relationship with the Highest Self or soul. The fourth stage of psychosynthesis corresponds to a period in which we are formally responding to the invitations of the Highest Self (in contrast to the personal self or ego in its contemporary usage) and developing more spiritually.

Survival of wounding, exploration of the personality, the emergence of I, contact with the Highest Self, and response to the Highest Self represent the five stages of psychosynthesis. However, Assagioli and others (e.g., Firman & Gila, 2002 and Brown, 2009) cautioned that these stages do not represent a set developmental sequence, but potential responses to the human condition that can occur at any age.

It is important to note that Assagioli presented psychosynthesis in two subcategories: personal psychosynthesis and transpersonal psychosynthesis. The emphases of personal psychosynthesis are self-awareness and self-regulation. The foci of transpersonal psychosynthesis are on the realization of one’s Highest Self/soul and the actual psychosynthesis, the reformation of the personality around a new unifying center or ideal.

Numerous practices and exercises align with psychosynthesis overall and in these two categories. Thus, to identify a narrow set of core practices is inconsistent with this reality. However, it is fair to say that visualization, drawing, self-observation, and meditation are common practices among psychosynthesis-oriented counselors, therapists, and coaches. In addition, as highlighted above, disidentification is a core concept of psychosynthesis and activities aimed at freeing oneself from overidentifying with a dimension of our being or life other than the center of pure awareness or “I.”

Given today’s pressing global challenges and the subsequent demands on human beings, psychosynthesis offers a holistic and hope-filled paradigm for the journey toward healing, well-being, self-actualization, and Self-realization.

Note: Modified excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders”

This Week’s Mindful Living & Leading Reflection

The Evolutionary Imperative: Moving from Either/Or to Both/And

Colorful Individuals Come Together in Unity, Spirit and PurposeFollowing a dynamic U.S. mid-term election that continues to unfold, the heart-breaking destruction and death from the worst wildfires the state of California has ever experienced, and the ongoing madness of the US national political scene, I read a news headline that prompted me to ask myself, “how can we free ourselves from the either/or thinking that has us trapped in a downward free fall?”

While an excellent article on the political landscape for Democrats in the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election, the headline, Midterm elections return Democrats to a debate over their 2020 presidential choice: Passion or pragmatism? (Matt Viser, November 10, 2018), illuminates the either/or thinking trap that limits humanity’s capacity to respond to the challenges of our times creatively.

We, Americans and all peoples, live in a complex and interconnected world. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as climate change, natural resource depletion, political corruption, growing inequality, mass extinction of species, global terrorism and numerous economic challenges, war, and world hunger.

Given the scale of our challenges, it is essential that we all join hands to address our collective problems. Unfortunately, America’s current political climate and tone are divisive and regressive. How can we overcome the toxic and dark forces to effectively respond to our challenges and usher in a positive future? Our religious traditions have called humanity to live in unity throughout the ages. For example:

  • Christianity: God hath made of one blood all nations of men.
  • Judaism: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
  • Islam: All creatures are the family of God, and he is the most beloved of God who does most good unto His family.
  • Hinduism: Human beings all are as head, arms, trunk, and legs unto one another.

And, in Taoism, the theme of unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, represented in the religious symbol itself,  is fundamental.

With all this encouragement for unity from our religious traditions, where might we start to begin to unify? The American Heritage Dictionary defines unity as the arrangement of parts into a whole. Thus, to unify as a people and solve our most pressing global problems, we must first unify our thinking.

We cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them. We must learn to see the world anew. Albert Einstein

Unified thinking requires us to move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. Actualizing this third way of thinking about and responding to the challenges before us – shifting from fragmented parts to an interconnected whole – -is the evolutionary imperative of the 21 Century, which does not mean everything is equal. It is not. Both/and thinking requires discernment of breadth and depth. How inclusive and how deep?

Much has been written about this urgent need to move from either/or to both/and thinking (i.e., from fragmented parts to wholes)- thereby expanding our thinking and creating comprehensive frameworks to guide our lives. A few such authors include Hazel Henderson, Fritjof Capra, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Duane Elgin, and Ken Wilbur.

Ken Wilbur, one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, has written over a dozen books, including, A Spectrum of Consciousness; A Brief History of Everything; and Up from Eden. He developed a unified field theory of consciousness, a synthesis, and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Wilbur refers to his approach as Integral which is synonymous with the concept of unified thinking. In his Integral Theory, he identifies four essential quadrants of reality and argues that we must integrate the truths of all four quadrants to solve our most urgent social problems and fulfill our potential. In other words, each quadrant is only a part of the whole. Standing alone, each quadrant is incomplete.

The essential message is that we face unprecedented and complex challenges to our quality of lives and the lives of future generations. We will not and cannot successfully overcome these challenges with the same fragmented thinking that created them. Starting with our own lives, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help lead the essential shift from either/or to both/and thinking at every level of society. Three areas that beg for unified thinking are reason and faith; the economy and the natural environment, and the individual and the common good (To be continued).

Building a New Way of Leading: From Power Over to Power To and With

After the recent (September 2018) United States Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination to a full Senate vote, Senator Kamala Harris from California declared that Republican senators relied on “raw power” to push the nomination forward. While Kavanaugh ended up securing the Senate votes needed to fill the US Supreme Court seat, the degree of concurrence with this assessment of Senate Republicans (and Kavanaugh himself) indicate that change is in the air.

Change is in the air because this type of raw power or power over has been the norm of Western Civilization for eons. This history of power over includes the domination and objectification of women which was clearly on full display in the Kavanaugh drama as well. It was deeply painful for many women and men to witness this public display and “victory” of power over leadership. After all, haven’t Americans evolved as a people? How could this and so many other blatant displays of power over leadership succeed in 2018?

I admit to periodic despair and dismay over these failings of leadership. However, a growing number of people are rejecting power over leadership for a new way—leadership as power to and with. Power to and with occurs when individuals claim what the Native peoples of the American continents, according to anthropologist, author, and educator, Angeles Arrien (1940 -2014) refer to as “original medicine”  or their unique authentic inner power.

Speaker at Conference and PresentationAs we claim our authentic inner power, we free and fuel ourselves to genuinely express our deepest yearnings not only for ourselves but also for our world.  We are then able to move into power with relationships as we join in cooperative partnerships with others for a more equitable, inclusive, peaceful, and sustainable world for all.

For example, the current “Me Too Movement” which is bringing growing awareness of and action on sexual harassment and sexual assault against women, began in 2006 when Tarana Burke, an American community organizer, began using the phrase “Me Too” to bring attention to the severity of these social ills. Burke’s power to authentically self-express ignited a spark within American actress Alyssa Milano, who then used the term on the social media platform Twitter in 2017.

These two women claimed their power to authentic self-expression which has inspired thousands of women and men, celebrities and noncelebrities, to express power with one another to build an impactful movement. For example, the Me Too Movement has resulted in change within various sectors of American society, particularly the corporate media sector (e.g., firing and/or legal action against film producer and Miramax cofounder, Harvey Weinstein; CBS Corp. Chairman and CEO Les Moonves; NBC “The Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer, and CBS anchor Charlie Rose).

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Further indications of this emerging new way of leading can also be seen in a growing body of academic and popular literature on this power to and with orientation such as feminine leadership, compassionate leadership, and participatory leadership. In addition, my 2015 doctoral research, which I highlight in my newly released book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders, identified integrated or balanced leadership as the primary developmental theme of mindful leaders. Integrative/balanced leadership is the term I chose to describe their shift from heavily weighted traditional masculine expressions of leadership to more balanced expressions of traditional feminine and masculine qualities.

Consequently, despite the darkness of our times and the onslaught of gross displays of raw power spued from high places, there are countless people, women, and men, across the globe building a new way of leading from power over to power to and with. You too can contribute to this emerging expression of leading by engaging in a personal transformative journey that connects you with your authentic inner power and fosters an expansion of consciousness and heart our nations, world, and planet Earth so desperately needs.

 

You can also learn more about my book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders on my WhizBuzz page.

Now available, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders”

For fellow bloggers interested in mindful leadership, leader development, and self-transformation, I invite you to check out my new book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders” now available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback versions.

Ten Developmental Themes book image