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”
As the rate of change continues to increase exponentially and our lives become more interdependent, complex, and uncertain, humanity needs holistic or integrative frameworks to better understand and respond to the unprecedented demands of the 21st century. These unparalleled demands include threats to our very survival as a species from pressures of climate change, terrorism, water scarcity, food insecurity, poverty and social inequality, political corruption, and economic instability.
Consequently, U.S. philosopher Ken Wilber proposed that any truly integrative or integral view of human and social phenomenon must minimally include the individual subjective/interior, the individual behavioral/exterior, the collective intersubjective/interior, and the collective interobjective/exterior. Borrowing from Wilber’s All Quadrant All Level or AQAL framework, an integrative approach to leader development addresses the individual internal and individual external dimensions while acknowledging the larger context of leadership development and leadership. Thus, in this more expansive context, an integrative leader-development framework must first consider human existence and well-being from a holistic perspective, as well as the insights and learnings from adult-development theory.
Given that leaders are first and foremost human, the foundation of this integrative leader-development framework is a comprehensive view of human existence and well-being or wellness. Wellness is a holistic and proactive view of health that regards humans as beings with physical bodies, mental bodies, emotional bodies, and spiritual bodies embedded in social and natural environments and dependent on a vibrant planet Earth. Wellness also emphasizes the overall quality of life and not solely the absence of disease. Wellness is highly significant to leader development because general wellness supports full and consistent access to current developmental capacities and provides the “fertile ground” necessary for ongoing self-development. Although various models of wellness exist, a general framework includes physical, mental-emotional, financial or material, spiritual, social, and environmental dimensions.
Physical well-being is a core dimension of wellness and generally refers to the capacity to meet the demands and potential crises of ordinary life. When physical health and vitality are compromised, it is more difficult to be one’s best self or tend to other areas of wellness. Physical wellness includes regular exercise or body movement, healthy weight, strength and flexibility, rest and relaxation, and sleep. It also includes one’s food and beverage choices and how they affect one’s overall well-being, including general health, vitality, energy, mood, weight, body-mass index (BMI), and stamina.
Mental-emotional wellness refers to awareness, constructive expression, and healthy integration of thoughts and feelings. Thus, mental-emotional wellness includes numerous areas that are highly relevant to an integrative approach to leader development such as mental attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, thoughts, feelings, personality, shadow, identity, motivation, will, self-awareness, perceptions, and self-regulation. Financial or material wellness refers to having adequate financial or material resources to meet essential basic human needs (e.g., food, potable water, clothing, and shelter) and support the fulfillment of higher needs (e.g., self-actualization).
Spiritual wellness refers to a sense of interconnectedness or relationship to and with all life/Life (immanent and transcendent), as well as a sense of awe and appreciation for the mysteries of life/Life. Furthermore, spiritual (or existential) wellness relates to the meaning and purpose derived from contributing to ideals or causes beyond the self (e.g., justice, peace, and sustainability). Social wellness refers to one’s ability to have and maintain healthy adult relationships in all areas of life (e.g., intimate, family, work, and community). Also, social wellness refers to a sense of belonging in the world as well as the capacity to engage in authentic, skillful, and constructive self-expression and communication. Environmental wellness refers to the overall quality and stability of one’s social and natural environments.
Furthermore, as highlighted in Wilber’s Integral Theory, the physical body can be viewed as three bodies, not one, which is also highly significant in an integrative leader-development framework. The three bodies are the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body. The gross body or actual physical body includes all aspects of the body we typically think about—our skin, bones, muscles, systems, organs, tissues, cells, blood, etc.
The subtle body includes energies of the life force associated with human existence. Wilber’s AQAL associates the subtle body with dream states where earthly laws disintegrate. However, the energies of the subtle body are not limited to sleeping states. They are activated and alive in times of vision, inspiration, and creativity. Thus, although still not formally recognized by Western physiology, growing appreciation for and acceptance of subtle energies enlivens our being, as found in Eastern healing and religious traditions such as tai chi, yoga, and Hinduism. Furthermore, as other leadership writers have emphasized (e.g., Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, 2005 and Bruce Schneider, 2008), leaders who understand the role of subtle body energies will increase their potential for effectiveness, especially in the turbulent times of the 21st century.
The third body, the causal body aligns with deep sleep and an infinite openness, stillness, and formlessness or the Ground of Being. This is the body or state that the great mystics of the ages speak of, as expressed in the poem, “Expands His Being,” by Meister Eckhart (1260–1328):
All beings are words of God,—In Love Poems from God (Ladinsky, 2002)
His music, His art.
Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps in our souls.
Every act reveals God and expands His Being.
I know that may be hard to comprehend.
All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth of Himself.
Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;
I need to be silent for a while,
worlds are forming in my heart.
Thus, the three human bodies—gross, subtle, and causal—are highly relevant to this integrative leader-development framework, as addressed further throughout this book.
Note: This essay is an excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders” available on Amazon. An audiobook version is also available on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.
Greetings! I am excited to share that excerpts from the new audiobook version of Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders are now available on my new YouTube Channel. I invite you to check one of my first offerings:
Relationships are the bridges that connect authenticity to influence and value creation. Leadership is not influence for its own sake; it’s influence that makes a difference, that enriches the lives of others. Leadership does not exist in a vacuum. It always operates in context, in relationship. Kevin Cashman in “Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life.”
The distinction between leader and leadership development is a relative recent and one I find helpful. The emphasis of leader development is on intrapersonal capacities such as identity, self-awareness, and self-regulation. Leadership development includes leader development while expanding into the critical realms of interpersonal relationships, culture, and systems. Healthy work relationships that include successful communication (i.e., mutual understanding) are fundamental to manager-leader effectiveness. The very definition of management, achieving shared outcomes with and through other people, assumes both. However, as manager-leaders and anyone who has worked in organizations know, neither successful communication nor manager-leader effectiveness is a given in today’s workplace.
Dysfunctional and contentious work relationships hurt morale and hinder performance at every level of the organization. In contrast, two fundamental characteristics of high performing organizations are constructive human relationships and honest communication grounded in general trust and positive regard for coworkers, manager-leaders, productive or service, mission, stakeholders, and the organization overall.
Consequently, it is highly significant that the mindful leaders in my 2015 study reported improved interpersonal work relationships at every level—interpersonal (coworkers, direct reports, superiors, other stakeholders), team, and group as a developmental result of their mindfulness practice as demonstrated in these select quotes.
Sitting (meditation) helps me slow down, and I think it has helped me—-in all my interactions with coworkers, so that you don’t have, you know, if you feel irritation you feel it first before you react and, you know, you–if you feel anger, you feel that too, before you react. So, it kind of–I guess for me, it’s slowed me down enough to make those kind of more difficult relationships better or more positive. (Female middle manager in higher education)
So, I think that’s, I don’t know how to quite encapsulate that, but I think maybe remembering a bigger context of my relationship with the direct report and never just being too goal-oriented to remember that there’s a relationship happening as well. (Female middle manager and technical writer)
So, it has switched. It has changed a lot of things. I think even with my relationships with people. So, letting go of the blame and how things should be done and really saying, ‘how can we work together? We all want the same thing?’ So, I think I am a little–much more compassionate type of leader now than I was before just because of my own understanding of myself. (Female business owner and former senior healthcare executive)
Thus, active and consistent mindfulness meditation practice cultivates leader and leadership development in powerful and highly relevant ways as it relates to healthy and productive interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Anyone who works (or has ever worked) in organizations knows that healthy and productive interpersonal work relationships greatly impact their workplace motivation, satisfaction, and commitment.
Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers life and leadership coaching with a holistic-transformative approach to support and guide partner-clients in creating and living a life they love! Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/ to schedule a FREE exploratory appointment.
“Self-aware leaders are attuned to their inner signals. They recognize, for instance, how their feelings affect themselves and their job performance. Instead of letting anger build into an outburst, they spot it as it crescendos and can see both what’s causing it and how to do something constructive about it.” Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee in Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence
An ancient teaching of philosophy and the wisdom traditions to, “know thyself” speaks to the significance of leader self-awareness, an element of emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ represents a developmental concept, supported by a weighty body of research, that examines “how should I feel about this?”
The interest in EQ has been growing in popularity and influence since 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his seminal book based primarily on the research findings of scholars, Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Since that time, thousands of research papers and hundreds of books on the topic have been published. While a trendy and popular topic of the leadership literature for years, EQ and its four elements (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, social management) are as relevant today, if not more so, when it comes to leader effectiveness in our ever increasing VUCA environment.
The good news is that the ten developmental themes that emerged from my research (and my experience as a meditation practitioner for the last seven years) reinforce the growing understanding that mindfulness meditation can and does cultivate self-awareness and EQ in general. Without self-awareness, leaders are inclined to react from unconscious habitual patterns of thought, word, and actions (i.e., blind spots) that often have negative impacts on the work environment. The more blind spots leaders have, the more at risk they are for costly missteps.
Greater self-awareness provides the “inner-space” one needs to notice sensations and see thoughts arising within and to choose a constructive response over a destructive reaction. Expanding self-awareness also typically evolves into the capacity to comprehend more complexity, which naturally involves a transition toward a more inclusive self-identity. Consequently, greater self-awareness translates into more intentional leading and living over time as illustrated in voices of these mindful leaders.
So, it (mindfulness practice) has helped me to notice how I am in relationship and how I come across. It has helped me to continue to refine how I am with others so that I can work better with people. It has helped me to manage conflict with people when there is conflict. It’s helped me to just kind of have a better sense of my strengths and weaknesses and how to bring that into meetings and working with the team. (Female middle manager in the personal-development industry)
So through self-awareness, I take a bigger picture approach, so I’m more open to what they (more senior leaders) are wanting to achieve and I can see the bigger context of why decisions are made. And in direct relationship experiences with superiors, I find that I’m more…probably more balanced, more open to discussion as well and having more confidence in myself and belief in my ability as a leader and manager of a group then I can integrate with persons of a higher authority and I’m not feeling challenged or inferior. I can see, not necessarily as an equal in status or rank, but an equal as a person to person kind of thing…discussing the ideas and then making it happen, so that’s been a definite change in me. (Male administrator higher education)
Thus, mindful leaders are more attuned to their inner worlds through growing self-awareness that makes a positive and powerful difference not only in their formal leadership roles but in all areas of their lives. This developmental theme of mindful leaders and the nine others that emerged from my research, as well as my own life-experience, support the transformative potential of mindfulness meditation. So, what are you waiting for? Try mindfulness meditation for yourself and begin reaping the developmental fruits associated with an active, consistent, and persistent practice (i.e., the path of mindfulness meditation is a PATH, a very rich one, but it is not a quick fix).
Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D.
Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me. Paulo Coelho in The Zahir
Modern neuroscience is illuminating humanity’s understanding of the nervous system including the human brain and the evolutionary discovery that the human adult brain has a quality of neuroplasticity, the ability to change. This ability to change permits rewiring of the neural pathways or circuits established by longtime habitual cognitive-emotional-behavioral patterns throughout the entire lifespan.
It is difficult to emphasize the significance of this finding (and numerous others), because it undercuts a paradigm historically held by scientists and mental health professionals that the human brain becomes “hardwired” in childhood. Thankfully, humans can and do rewire our brains and form new habits throughout our lives which is extremely good news for individuals, organizations, and humanity’s collective future!
Despite the good news of neuroplasticity, we all know that changing longtime habitual patterns is not easy. This is in part due to our highly efficient human brains that naturally seek to conserve energy by autopiloting repetitive thoughts-emotions-action loops so as to free up cognitive capacity for new, creative, and more complex endeavors.
However, a growing body of scientific findings on meditation and the brain indicate that practices such as mindfulness meditation support the replacement of self-defeating habits with more constructive habits (to include meditation itself!) while also facilitating structural changes that enhance well-being. The mindful leaders in my 2015 doctorate study demonstrated the capacity of the adult brain to rewire neural pathways and form development-oriented habits through a commitment to their mindfulness practice as depicted in the following example.
And when I don’t practice, I miss it. I long for it, and I feel, it helps being married, having a barometer [laughs] that lives with you. Who says, ‘Has it been a couple of days since you sat?’ ‘Or a couple of weeks, perhaps?’ You know, ‘What’s going on?’ And, usually he doesn’t have to say that. Usually just my own reactivity speaks to me, his responses to me speak to me that show me that I’m off base. And I do miss it and it was profound for me when I realized that meditation is like food. It’s nurturing. So, there’s no longer the hammer of a should, if I don’t practice there will be negative consequences. It’s more that I really long for my own sanity I think.
Thus, the mindful leaders studied appear to be experiencing the fruits of their practices and the promise of neuroplasticity. They are freeing themselves from unproductive habitual patterns and choosing new constructive habits for better (and more sane) lives to include commitment to their meditation practices. For more information on the good news of neuroplasticity and additional (r)evolutionary findings in the realm of neuroscience and meditation, check out “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, PhD, Holistically-Oriented Transformative Coaching and Management Consulting (http://www.metamorphosisconsultation.com).