INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Part II: The Developmental Theory of Psychosynthesis
Kenneth Sørensen (1962) holds an MA in Psychosynthesis from The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust and a four-year Diploma in Psychosynthesis psychotherapy. Through his company, Kentaur Training
and Publishing, he works with Psychosynthesis in Denmark and Scandinavia. He works as a psychotherapist, lecturer, author and writer, and a spiritual teacher. Kenneth Sørensen is the author of two books (in Danish) on esotericism - one on group meditation and another on higher and lower psychism.
A comparison of Wilber and Assagioli
Part I: Two Versions of Psychosynthesis
You can now get the IEC materials in 7 smaller chunks - Thematic Section Packages:
This article will investigate the question: Is Psychosynthesis an Integral Psychology?
Ken Wilber is an influential writer in our time within the field of psychology and psychotherapy. His Integral Psychology provides a framework and an overall perspective on human development that is synthetic in its nature. Owing to its inclusive comprehensive developmental approach it may be argued that Integral Psychology resembles the approach of Psychosynthesis. His model provides a method to examine or validate the integral nature of any psychotherapeutic discipline and this will be the main focus for this article in relation to Psychosynthesis.
Wilber works with five basic elements that characterise what he calls an Integral Approach and the AQAL model: Quadrants, Levels, Lines, States and Types, and through that lens I shall investigate whether or not Psychosynthesis is Integral.
I will take the five basic concepts one by one, define them and research into how well Psychosynthesis theory embodies the Integral features and how it can improve Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy.
It is a great challenge to cover such a comprehensive theory as Wilber’s on the basis of an article. Due to the broad focus that I have chosen, there are some limitations that I have to implement.
It will not be possible to have an in-depth discussion of all the details associated with the Integral status of Psychosynthesis; I will only give enough evidence to make an assumption based on a few relevant facts.
I will not investigate whether Wilber is correct in his assumptions about human development. I will take his findings for granted and focus on testing Psychosynthesis for its fulfilment of the Integral criteria as set out by Wilber.
This is not an article on Integral Psychology, so I will only define the broad perspectives in the Integral Approach in order to use it as a lens in my research.
In order to create a clear focus throughout this article, let me start with an outline of the essential conclusions from my research.
I will demonstrate that I have found several new aspects related to the nature of Psychosynthesis when I applied the Integral model. The most relevant new discoveries are found when we compare Assagioli’s and Firman/Gila’s writings. My conclusions so far are as follows:
- There is not only one version of Psychosynthesis but at least two very different versions with respect to especially the developmental theory: Assagioli’s original conception and the revised one by Firman/Gila.
- Assagioli’s version is a height psychological and hierarchical stage model where the self develops through higher and higher levels of consciousness. Firman/Gila’s version is more a depth psychological and a ‘healing the past and recovering the lost potential’ approach.
- Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis includes all the five Integral elements in more or less degree, modern Psychosynthesis is only partly Integral and in Firman/Gila’s version almost none of the Integral concepts are found.
- Assagioli is well aware of what Wilber calls the Pre/Trans Fallacy, the confusion of higher and lower consciousness. Firman/Gila’s version sometimes falls into this confusion when viewed through an Integral lens.
- Applying the Integral model to Psychosynthesis, psychotherapy can help us define the hierarchical stages of development, identify the pathology on each level, avoid the Pre/Trans Fallacy, so we offer the appropriate type of therapeutic intervention to a given problem. This is crucial when deciding the type of therapeutic intervention in a clinical session and in order to create a more synthetic approach to human development.
In the following I will show that the above assumptions can be validated through a careful analysis of the research literature andby applying themto psychosynthesis psychotherapy.
Chapter One: Two Versions of Psychosynthesis
Roberto Assagioli’s Integral Thinking
Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), the founder of Psychosynthesis, was a pioneer of his time. He was one of the first psychiatrists in Italy to endorse Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and at the same time pointed out its limitations. Later, he became a co-founder of Humanistic and Transpersonal psychology, and many years before Abraham Maslow he presented his own transpersonal concept of man.
Psychosynthesis is a broad and synthetic philosophical and psychological theory. Jean Hardy (1996: 95) argues that Psychosynthesis draws on inspiration from the Eastern as well as the Western spiritual and scientific traditions and in this way it resembles Wilber’s approach.
Assagioli (1975: 11) acknowledges the many sources that have inspired his own writings and outlines the many contributions from especially Western psychology in his first book Psychosynthesis. In Psychosynthesis he claims to offer a “more inclusive” and “pluradimensional conception of the human personality” (Assagioli, 1975: 17) than many other approaches of his time. Assagioli (1975: 17) does so through his model of the psyche known as the Egg Diagram. Even though Assagioli prefers the metaphor of synthesis instead of “Integral”, I will argue that he actually points to many of the same philosophical concepts as Wilber does, when he uses the word “Integral.” Assagioli (1967a: 6) states:
“The position assumed by Psychosynthesis is a “synthetic” one. It thus appreciates and weighs the merits of all therapies, all methods and techniques of treatment, without preconceived preferences.”
We also find that Assagioli (1975: 20, 30, 66, 196) frequently writes about an “Integral vision”, “Integral education”, and the “Integral conception of the treatment.”
From this we can assume that at least Assagioli attempts to incorporate an Integral Approach in his writings, even though it does not measure up to the standards that Wilber defines. Let us now turn to Wilber’s (2000a: 659) consideration of Assagioli’s contribution to transpersonal psychology:
“Assagioli was an extraordinary pioneer in the transpersonal field, weaving together the best of many important psychological and spiritual traditions into a powerful approach to inner growth. Among many other contributions, he was one of the first to call for an integration of ‘depth psychology’ with what he called ‘height psychology’, and to combine ‘psychoanalysis’ with ‘Psychosynthesis’.
This could be the first suggestion, that at least Assagioli may fulfil some of the criteria of the Integral Map. It is now time to present the five Integral concepts one by one and see whether Psychosynthesis makes use of them.
According to Wilber (2000c: 5), levels of consciousness, also called The Great Nest of Being, are the backbone of the perennial philosophy and is therefore a “crucial ingredient of any truly Integral Psychology.” So let us see how Wilber defines this concept.
Levels of Consciousness According to Wilber
Wilber’s concept of levels is derived from what he calls the perennial philosophy or the common core of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Wilber (2000c: 5) argue that according to these traditions: “Reality is composed of various levels of existence, of being and of knowing, ranging from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit. Each senior dimension transcends but includes its juniors, so that this is a conception of wholes within wholes.” According to Huston Smith’s (1976: 4-5) research, the spiritual traditions agree in the existence of these levels, but disagree in how many levels there are, ranging from three to twelve. In Wilber’s writings he very often uses from three to sixteen levels according to the need of detail.
The diagram in Figure 1 (Right) attempts to portray how reality according to Wilber (2000c: 6) is composed of a hierarchy of levels, which he prefers to call holarchies, because the basic levels are holons (wholes within wholes) of consciousness. When the self moves through these basic levels of consciousness, as part of its evolutionary journey and development it experiences them as direct experiential realities, reaching from sensory experience to mental experience to spiritual experience. The development of the self is a vertical climb, using a height metaphor, through the different inner levels of reality and increasing complexity.
The levels are not rigid patterns of consciousness but according to Wilber are more like the colours of the rainbow that interpenetrate and grade into each other or like waves in the great river of life, through which its many streams run.
Wilber's conception of the levels is also supported by several theories of developmental psychology, including: Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, and Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development, to name but a few.
The premodern concept of levels and interior hierarchies are not easily accepted by modern and postmodern science even though they have been partly verified by the tradition and the above scientists. According to Smith (1976: 6) and Wilber (2000c: 61) the levels have been rejected because of a scientific materialism that only needs one ontological level: the physical!
Assagioli is also aware of the cultural hostility towards the term “higher.” He actively uses and appreciates Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Assagioli, 2002: 106-122) (This will be demonstrated in detail in Chapter II) and explains that the hostility is caused by a false moral valuation. Higher and lower are according to Assagioli often associated with an erroneous moral devaluation of “low” as something inferior to be repressed, when it simply just denote an earlier or more basic stage of development. Assagioli concurrently claims that a false democratic ideal of equality makes the concept of higher development problematic: “It seems … almost an insult to admit that there are people of a higher stature, psychologically and spiritually” (Assagioli, cited in Besmer: 1973-74: 219).
It seems that Assagioli and Wilber both defend the hierarchical construct of reality even though it is unpopular, but Assagioli does more than that: he very explicitly refers to levels of consciousness.
Levels of Consciousness in Assagioli’s Writings
When reading through all of Assagioli’s published writings in English (books, articles and interviews) there can be no doubt that “levels of consciousness” is an important concept in his thinking even though he very seldom specifies the inner worlds.
Assagioli’s (1975: 17) definition of the levels is almost always kept on a general level and specified broadly through his Egg Diagram. He presents this diagram in his first book: Psychosynthesis, and in it he discriminates between three vertical levels: the lower, middle and higher unconscious. I present it in detail below, when I compare Firman/Gila’s change in the Egg with Assagioli’s original conception. But for now, let me demonstrate in the following how he presumably hints at the levels and directly defines them.
It seems that Assagioli (1975: 18, 28, 37, 38, 44, 45, 113, 198. 1993: 28- 29, 32-53), throughout his writings repeatedly refers in general to the Great Chain of Being when he talks about the different psychological “levels”, “realms” and “regions of consciousness.” In Psychosynthesis he uses poetic language and metaphors to make his point:
“Between the starting points in the lowlands of our ordinary consciousness and the shining peak of Self-realisation there are intermediate phases, plateaus at various altitudes on which a man may rest or even make his abode” (Assagioli, 1975: 24).
It is in his book Transpersonal Development, published after his death, that we find some of his most spiritual articles and a full explanation of his concept of the inner worlds or levels of consciousness:
“The third group of symbols, a frequently occurring one, is that of elevation, ascent or conquest of the ‘inner space’ in an ascending sense. There are a series of inner worlds, each with its own special characteristics, and within each of them there are higher levels and lower levels. Thus in the first of these, the world of passions and feelings, there is a great distance, a marked disparity of level, between blind passion and the highest feelings. Then there is the world of intelligence, or the mind. Here too are different levels: the level of the concrete analytical mind, and the level of higher, philosophical reason (nous). There is also the world of the imagination, a lower variety and a higher variety, the world of intuition , the world of the will, and higher still, those indescribable worlds which can only be referred to by the term ‘worlds of transcendence’ (Assagioli, 1993: 92).
Here Assagioli is aligned with Wilber and the perennial philosophy in his cosmological conception of the inner levels of consciousness and The Great Chain of Being.
Jean Hardy (1996: 195) also comes to the conclusion that: “One source of knowledge for Assagioli is certainly what Huxley calls “the perennial philosophy”’’. In her book A Psychology With A Soul, which has become a Psychosynthesis classic, she acknowledges the influence on Assagioli from e.g. Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism and Theosophy (Hardy, 1993: 115) and states that they all adhere to levels of consciousness.
Imagination, the picture making faculty in man, is according to Assagioli a synthetic psychological function that can ‘operate at several levels concurrently; those of sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition’ (1975: 143). In the above quote Assagioli emphasises the higher aspect of imagination and that is presumably why he places it after the mental level. Wilber suggests the same span for imagination (1999a: 130). In Wilber’s (2000c: 62) AQAL diagram (see figure 12) the lower and higher aspects of imagination is associated with the stages he calls symbol and vision-logic. There seems to be a close parallel between the two thinkers in this regard.
In order to visualise Assagioli’s Great Chain of Being, I have created the summary diagram (Figure 2 - Below), which stresses six important points that Assagioli upholds:
a. Higher levels are higher frequencies of energies that interpenetrate the lower levels (Assagioli, 1975: 199-200)
b. Higher levels transcend but include the lower (Assagioli, 1993: 197)
c. There exists a natural exchange of energies between all levels (Assagioli, 1993: 265, 2002: 62)
d. All levels are reflected on the physical level (e.g. through the brainwaves and behaviour), because matter is the lowest level of the hierarchy.
e. Within each level there exist higher and lower frequencies of energies (Assagioli, 1993: 92, 2002: 98-99)
d. He also suggests that the various levels of reality or energy fields each have their own qualities, powers and laws that need to be mastered by the ascending soul (Assagioli, 1993: 161-62, Undated 2: 9).
Wilber’s first book was called The Spectrum of Consciousness; a term Assagioli (1993: 93) also used to describe the inner levels, when quoting the Psychiatrist Urban.
In Figure 2 I have also suggested a preliminary comparison between Wilber’s 10 basic levels and those of Assagioli.
Transcend and Include, Myth of The Given
In the introduction we touched on Wilber’s concept of the higher levels always including the lower. Assagioli (1993: 197) comes to exactly the same conclusion that “these ever wider spheres of spiritual life do not cancel or exclude the preceding ones, indeed they assume them.”
When defining the actual structure of the levels, Wilber (2002: 163) stresses the need to be aware of the myth of the given and to integrate the post-modernistic concept of constructivism. Reality is not a pre-given factor but in many ways a cultural interpretation and this also applies to the levels. Many of the pre-modern descriptions of the levels (inhabited by deities and angels) are coloured by the historical and often mythic epoch in which the sage actually experienced them. This in no way cancels the reality of the levels, but we need to be careful with the interpretation of them. Assagioli (1993: 21-22, 65-66, 141-142) agrees wholeheartedly with this.
According to Wilber (2002: 12) the higher levels are rather potentials than a pregiven mold, a developmental space, “still plastic, still open to being formed as more and more people coevolve into them.”
This is also a concept Assagioli (2002: 49-50) upholds. He discriminates between the plastic and conditioned part of the unconscious. There is a large part of the unconscious that has not yet been exposed to stimuli, and he considers it to be like an inexhaustible store of unexposed photographic film.
I believe that I have demonstrated that Assagioli in his original conception of Psychosynthesis works with levels, but for some reason he chooses to be very vague about the cosmological features of it expressed through the Great Chain of Being; perhaps because of the “hostility” toward hierarchies in the academic environment that made him cautious. This I have not clarified. Let us now see how modern Psychosynthesis deals with this issue.
No Great Chain of Being In Modern Psychosynthesis
When reading through some of the most influential Psychosynthesists the picture gets quite clear. According to my research nobody within the Psychosynthesis community has ever implemented the Great Chain of Being in their theoretical conception of Psychosynthesis. This is quite astonishing, because several writers are well aware of this concept, but never use it.
Let me start by qualifying that statement. All of the psychosynthesists that I have researched into, apply the three general levels outlined in the Egg Diagram (see discussion below). In this way they have a clear discrimination between three vertical levels in the personality. All of them, except Firman/Gila (2002: 195, n.5) believe in a natural unfolding development from the lower unconscious to the middle unconscious to the higher and transpersonal unconscious (Whitmore 2004: 6, Parfitt 2006: 24, Hardy: 30, Ferrucci: 43, Brown: 26). In this way they adhere to a stage progression through higher and higher levels of consciousness and align themselves with the Integral Approach.
What they do not do, according to my research, is to postulate a cosmological and collective worldview with a Great Chain of Being. The modern psychosynthesists seem to operate within an individual framework and they only define three general levels, which give a very gross stage conception and an unclear perception of how the levels of consciousness are actually created and what types of energies can be found there, when seen through the Integral lens.
The traditions and Wilber/Assagioli argue that the levels of consciousness are collective and ontological developmental patterns of growth created by Spirit when it descended into matter and created the universe. This is called involution and will be explained below. This is the territory all individual souls will develop through from subconscious to self-conscious and superconscious.
Hardy, as mentioned, fully acknowledges the hierarchical approach in Psychosynthesis and several times points to the Great Chain of Being, but she does not make this explicit when presenting Psychosynthesis theory.
Similarly, Parfitt (2006: 134) is also well aware that Assagioli is influenced by Theosophy and the seven dimensions or levels of existence. Parfitt also uses the Kabbalah to explain Psychosynthesis. Kabbalah is the mystical aspect of Judaism and in this system there is also an inherent notion of the Great Chain of Being. Parfitt never implements this in his presentation of Psychosynthesis, although he operates with the three general levels. He actually contradicts it, when he introduces the idea that the Self (Universal Consciousness) can be found at all levels of existence. (Parfitt, 2006: 229) This is not compatible with the theory of emanation or involution, a core concept in Kabbalah and the perennial philosophy, which explains how the Great Chain of Being has been created and what types of energies that according to that theory can be found in the lower levels.
Neither Piero Ferrucci, Diana Whitmore, Molly Young Brown nor Bonney Gulino Schaub and Richard Schaub use the Great Chain of Being in their presentations. But they all use the three general levels.
John Firman and Ann Gila are two of the most influential writers on Psychosynthesis theory today and have contributed many new additions to Assagioli’s theory. Many of the concepts they introduce are not in line with Assagioli’s original thoughts on e.g. how the Self develops and the nature of the levels of consciousness which I will demonstrate during this article.
I will give their version of Psychosynthesis a prominent role when researching into the Integral nature of Psychosynthesis in modern time. Firman/Gila (2000c: 5) are the only writers who directly reject the vertical development through the levels of consciousness:
“We do not strive for particular experiences of unity, do not aspire to climb some ladder of enlightenment” (2007: 24), and in another important quote by Firman/Gila (2004: 8): “The stage model of Psychosynthesis is not a ladder we climb rung by rung, nor one we climb once and for all time.”
Throughout their work Firman/Gila (2004: 8) are not in favour of a transcendent worldview with heavenly realms, they seem neither to believe in Assagioli’s (1975: 211) “shining regions above” nor in his fascination with Dante’s Divine Comedy, ending in Unity and Paradise.
From the above it seems that we can assume that Assagioli himself acknowledges the Great Chain of Being, and this will be emphasised in another quote below, while modern Psychosynthesis only has a limited use of it and Firman/Gila reject it.
Let us now turn our attention to involution; another of the inherent metaphysical assumptions in Wilber’s Integral Psychology. It is a crucial concept to grasp in order to understand e.g. the inconsistency between Firman/Gila’s version of Psychosynthesis and Assagioli’s. They claim that the higher Self (universal consciousness) also can be found in the lower unconscious, this is not compatible with involution as will be demonstrated now.
Involution – The Great Descent Of Spirit Into Matter
In Wilber’s (1999a: 626) book Up from Eden he outlines the concept of involution in Figure 3 - Below. When Spirit creates and incarnates in the universe or envelops into matter, he calls this process involution or emanation. Involution is in this respect the whole downward movement, whereby Spirit loses and forgets itself in successively lower levels and in this way becomes immanent in creation. But the immanence of Spirit is only a pale reflection of the original spiritual source and when it steps down into matter, which is the densest, lowest, least conscious form of Spirit, it is almost not recognisable (Wilber, 2003: 5-6).
The well-known statement that all is One or what Wilber calls One Taste is only true on the highest Non-Dual level, up till then our union with Spirit is more or less unconscious according to the level of consciousness we are identified with. The higher we climb the closer we get to Non-Dual consciousness and Unity. That’s why Firman/Gila’s claim that the Self can be found in the lower unconscious are not compatible with this philosophy.
From an individual point of view, we as spirits do exactly the same prior to physical birth. According to Wilber (1999a: 250-253), drawing on the Tibetan book of the Dead, we descend from the spiritual regions until we reach the plane of physical birth. After physical birth we, as unconscious spirit, reverse the direction and the inner spiritual nature in the child (inherent in matter) will now, through the stages subconscious, self-conscious, and superconscious, attempt to return to the source, to Spirit. This process is called evolution.
According to my research, Assagioli’s cosmological concept of creation, involution and evolution is fully aligned with Wilber’s version. Assagioli actually writes a lot on these abstruse matters, but I will not go into a deep consideration of all his metaphysical thoughts. I have included some of the most important in an extract in Appendix 1.
For now I will briefly demonstrate that he actually works with involution also called emanation. Assagioli believes that the transcendent Spirit is one and that it can only be defined by what it is not, but as soon as Spirit creates the universe, duality arises between Spirit and matter. In a paragraph where Assagioli (1993: 251) speaks of the “great principle of involution or emanation” he defines it:
”From a basic, original absolute reality, a series of levels of life, intellect, feeling and material life has developed, through gradual differentiation, to the point of inorganic matter. Thus every quality or attribute of the eternal world, of matter itself, and of the countless different creatures is but a pale, obscure reflection of a quality or attribute of the spiritual Reality, the Divine Being.”
This quote demonstrates how Assagioli considers the creation of the levels of consciousness to have happened through involution. Assagioli (1993: 85-86, 102) also considers this process to be true in relation to the individual soul and uses the Biblical parable of the prodigal son to explain the individual cycle of involution and evolution. The soul descends from the star (in his Egg Diagram) in the form of a reflection (the personal “I”) and forgets its origin, but after the long process of going astray in all kinds of “wrong” directions it remembers its father’s house, it searches for it and finds it.
But how does modern Psychosynthesis relate to this concept? I have found no evidence whatsoever, that any of the modern writers have included the concept of involution. Firman/Gila (2004:3) are the only writers who consciously address the question and they reject it: “Human beings are intrinsically at home in the cosmos. We are not visitors from another dimension, alienated and seeking our way home.”
But according to Assagioli (1993: 102) the opposite is the case. He believes with his own words in an: “emanatistic theory of the soul, descending, becoming one with matter, and then returning to its “home”, the heavenly homeland.”
How does this discrepancy in relation to levels of consciousness and involution affect the developmental theory of Assagioli and Firman/Gila? This will be the next research area.
Assagioli’s Egg Diagram
In order to demonstrate how Assagioli’s developmental theory of man differs in essence from Firman/Gila’s version of Psychosynthesis; let us take a look at his Egg Diagram.
Assagioli’s (1975: 17) Egg Diagram (see Figure 4, in my drawing - below) is a presentation of the different unconscious and conscious levels of man.
The lower unconscious (1) encompasses first of all the elementary psychic activities that govern the organic life. It is also the seat of the fundamental drives, such as sexuality, self-preservation and aggressiveness, dreams and imaginations of an inferior kind, and many complexes, charged with intense emotion. If we compare Assagioli’s (1975: 17, 1967a: 2-3) definition with his levels of consciousness (see Figure 2), we find that this area corresponds to the physical and lower emotions/imaginations.
The middle unconscious (2) is the pre-conscious, and the psychic elements are similar to those of the waking consciousness, so the exact nature of this content depends on the stage of development of the particular individual. It is, however, composed of the ordinary psychological functions of mind, emotions and imagination and to the corresponding levels of consciousness.
The higher unconscious (3) is associated with the levels of higher abstract mind, higher imagination, intuition and transpersonal will. That is why contact with these levels is experienced as “higher intuitions and inspirations – artistic, philosophical or scientific, ethical ‘imperatives’ and urges to humanitarian and heroic action” (Assagioli, 1975: 17).
Assagioli also discriminates between different levels of self, according to the philosophy of emanation. The Universal Self (not represented in the above diagram; see my summary diagram in Figure 5) is the One Self (Brahman, God etc.) from which all other Selves arise and according to Assagioli (2002: 261): “All Transpersonal Selves can be considered as ‘points’ within the Universal Self.”
The living conscious human entity in man is at the centre of the Egg Diagram (5) and called the conscious self, or “I.” This self is a point of pure consciousness and will, and experienced as the inner observer and actor when disidentified from the content of consciousness (thoughts, emotions and sensations etc.). Very often we are so identified with the content of consciousness that we never experience this centre, but according to Assagioli (1975: 111) this is one of the major objectives in Psychosynthesis therapy to teach the client to step back (disidentify) and observe the contents in order to transform it.
The ‘I’ is a projection or emanation of its higher source, the Higher Self, in exactly the same way as the Higher Self is a projection of the Universal Self.
The higher Self (6) is a blend of individual and universal consciousness, it “experiences universality but without “losing” itself within the vast Universal Self. It remains at the center, Immovable.” (Assagioli, Undated 3: 5) The Higher Self is the cause and source for all the superconscious processes, but is itself not a process, but a point of pure universal being. (Assagioli, Undated 3: 1-3)
There is only One Self on the highest existential and transcendent level of being, but in manifestation the One becomes the many due to the duality between Spirit and matter as been discussed earlier. It is very important to discriminate between the different levels of Self in order to avoid confusion of levels. Assagioli (cited in Besmer, 1973: 7) states: “Such phrases as, ‘I am Brahman, I am The One’, need to be clearly qualified. They may express a metaphysical ontological truth, but the personal self certainly has not reached that level of expansion of consciousness. It is a difference of development.” The relation between the three selves and the levels is demonstrated in figure 5 - below.
The field of consciousness (4) is where we can observe, evaluate and act on the incessant flow of the mind-stream coming from all parts of the unconscious areas. The individual is in an ongoing interchange with the collective unconscious (7). Psychic energies from all parts (higher and lower) of this vast general psychic environment are influencing the individual and are blended with the individual energies, which the individual at some time has identified with.
It becomes clear from this very brief outline of the Egg Diagram that it serves as a powerful tool to discriminate between what Wilber (1999b: 332) calls prepersonal (lower unconscious), personal (middle unconscious) and transpersonal (higher unconscious). This becomes evident in the next section when we will investigate how Psychosynthesis deals with the Pre/Trans Fallacy problem.
Before I enter into the comparison between Assagioli and Firman/Gila, let me demonstrate how Assagioli’s and Wilber’s definition of the Self is very similar. According to Wilber (2002: 33), the self is the one that is navigating through the levels and lines of development (see below). Wilber (2002: 33) defines the self as the inner “observer (an inner subject or watcher)” which he calls the proximate self or the ‘I’ and defines all the belongings of the self that can be observed through the self’s awareness: body, subpersonalities, different roles in life etc. as the distal self or the “Me.”
Some of the self’s primary psychological functions is: identification, will, navigation, defences and integration. The self undergoes its own development through the basic waves and develops different types of identifications or self-sense on each level. According to Wilber (and Assagioli) every human being possesses three major or basic selves. We have a gross self, or ego, a subtle self or soul and a causal formless self or atman Self. The atman Self is the ultimate Self and the transcendental witness and resembles Assagioli’s Universal Self. We are of course not necessary awakened to them but during peak experiences the two higher selves can temporarily enter the prevailing stage of consciousness.
According to Assagioli and Wilber, Self-realisation is a process whereby the personal ‘I’ is making an ascent to its higher source through the superconscious area and the higher levels of consciousness. This is a crucial element in any Integral Approach and Assagioli is aligned with that. In Chapter Two I will demonstrate this in detail.
Firman/Gila’s Change in the Egg
One of Firman/Gila’s central arguments for removing the higher Self from the top of the Egg Diagram (see Figure 6, Firman/Gila, 2002: 20) is derived from clients’ experiences with the higher Self while in despair (lower unconscious) or in the mundane details of life. Firman/Gila (2004:1-2) argue that according to these experiences the Self must be present in all levels.
They believe in the omnipresence of the Self throughout all levels:
“Transcendence here denotes that Self cannot be equated with any specific content or process of the higher, middle, or lower unconscious, while immanence denotes that Self is still completely present and active within the content and process of all these levels—both insights at the core of Assagioli’s understanding of Self” (Firman/Gila, 2004: 2).
According to Firman/Gila the Self is “completely present” within the lower unconscious, but this is in opposition to the concept of involution, and also the “core of Assagioli’s understanding of Self.” We do not find universal consciousness in the lower unconscious in a model that builds on involution, because according to Assagioli (1975: 19): “This Self is above, and unaffected by, the flow of the mind-stream or bodily conditions”, and “The transpersonal Self is “outside” time and above it. It exists and lives in the dimension of the Eternal” (Assagioli, 1973: 6).
Wilber (2000a: 468) agrees in the above: “We seek for Spirit in the world of time; but Spirit is timeless and cannot there be found. We seek for Spirit in the world of space; but Spirit is spaceless and cannot there be found.”
Assagioli does not say that the Self is cut off from the process of becoming in the manifested world including the lower unconscious. It is in direct connection with it but through the “I”, its pale reflection in the manifested world.
By following Assagioli’s theory it is not necessary to change the Egg in order to explain why people experience higher states while working with the past of the lower unconscious or experience spontaneous enlightenment while engaged in ordinary life situations.
According to Assagioli (1963: 4), the Higher Self is able to act through the superconscious “under the powerful stimulation of some unusual stress or emergency, or in response to some strong appeal.”
In an interview (Freund 1983: 85) Assagioli calls this principle for “man’s extremity, God’s opportunity.” The pain and agony of the personal self and its appeal for help act as an invocation to the Higher Self, which responds by sending its light and love through the superconscious.
The situation is visualised in my diagram (Figure 7-below). One famous instance of this process is Eckhart Tolle’s spontaneous enlightenment reported in his book The Power of Now (2004: 3). Assagioli explains the spontaneous enlightenment as a “pull” or “call” from above by the Higher Self (2002: 113).
In Assagioli’s version of the Egg Diagram: “The Self is to the superconscious what the “I”, or personal self, is to the elements and functions of the personality.” (Cited in Hardy 1996: 31).
They operate at two very different ontological levels. Firman/Gila see the Self as completely present and immanent in all lower and higher states; universal consciousness (the higher Self) can be found in the biological processes as well as in the higher more unitive states. Assagioli operates with the Great Chain of Being and the resulting duality between the different levels of consciousness. Firman/Gila do not because in Parfitt’s (2006: 229) words: “The Self can be put at both top and bottom of the Egg, and for that matter anywhere else on the edge of the egg.”
This is in not an option when working within the Integral Approach or with Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis.
Even though Ferrucci (1982: 45) does not directly operate with the Great Chain of Being, he is in much closer rapport with Assagioli on this issue: “The transpersonal Self, while retaining a sense of individuality, lives at the level of universality, in a realm where personal plans and concerns are overshadowed by the wider vision of the whole.”
The difference between the two concepts can perhaps seem to be unimportant for the psychotherapist, but they have very deep implications for how a Psychosynthesis psychotherapist guides his client in the process of Self-realisation. In what direction are we looking for the higher Self: above and beyond normal consciousness (Wilber/Assagioli) or in it (Firman/Gila)?
This question brings us to the much debated concept of the Pre/Trans Fallacy of Wilber. With the help of this theory I will demonstrate that Assagioli and Firman/Gila are following two very different developmental models.
The Pre/Trans Fallacy Debate
One of the most crucial points to verify in order to clarify whether Psychosynthesis is an Integral psychotherapy is how it relates to one of the major debates within the field of transpersonal psychology – what Wilber calls the Pre/Trans Fallacy.
This issue was one of the most important philosophical discussions within the field in the late 80’s and 90’s. It is often called the Wilber/Washburn-controversy because of the two authors’ diverging concepts regarding human development. Very briefly, as an introduction, it can be said that Wilber came to the conclusion after writing his first two books that his developmental theory (today called Wilber 1) was based on an incorrect assumption about a lost childhood spirituality. According to this notion every individual experiences a lost Eden or divine ground when developing an ego, because it represses the original connection to spirit. This childhood spirituality needs to be recaptured through a depth psychological approach so the self in this way returns to the lost spiritual source in the past.
Wilber (1999b: 1) speaks of his first model as a romantic “recaptured-goodness” model, which: “posited a spectrum of consciousness ranging from sub-conscious to self-conscious to superconscious (or id to ego to God), with the higher stages viewed as a return to, and recapture of, original but lost potentials.”
This was also the position Washburn took and defended in his reply to Wilber’s new perspectives in his two books The Atman Project and Up From Eden.
In the two books Wilber offers a different perspective on human development where ego-development is not a step away from Spirit but a step forward. Instead of the depth psychological perspective, he shifts to a height psychological approach and introduces a stage model where the self is developing through a series of psychological stages or levels ranging from body, mind, soul to Spirit. His phase-2 theory was an evolutionary “growth-to-goodness” model, with the spectrum of consciousness unfolding in developmental stages or levels.
According to Wilber, one of the major problems that occur, when we do not use hierarchical levels (holarchies) is that we tend to confuse the levels.
In his book Eye to Eye he defines the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He assumes that human beings have access to the sensory/emotional (prerational), the mental and the spiritual (transrational): “The point is simply that since e.g. prerational and transrational are both, in their own ways, non-rational, then they appear quite similar or even identical to the untutored eye. Once this confusion occurs – the confusion of “pre” and “trans” – one of two things inevitably happens. The transrational realms are reduced to prepersonal status, or the prerational realms are elevated to transrational glory.” (Wilber, 1999b: 333).
Wilber identifies Freud as a reductionist, because he tends to interpret all mystical experiences as an infantile longing for symbiotic and “oceanic” feelings, which he relates to the peaceful infantile state at the breast, to which every human being longs to return. According to Wilber (1999b: 1-3), Jung is occasionally an elevationist because he does not discriminate between higher and lower experiences within the collective unconscious. In this way primitive and archaic impulses will be interpreted as spiritual.
Out of the confusion of levels arise a lot of clinical issues related to what are personal energies and what is spiritual and how we guide the client to a real encounter with the Higher Self. I will research these questions below, but initially let us see what kind of developmental model Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis is adhering to.
Psychosynthesis in Relation to Pre/Trans Fallacy
Was Assagioli himself aware of the Pre/Trans Fallacy? According to Wilber he seems to have been. In regard to the Pre/Trans Fallacy, Wilber (1999b: 340) says about Assagioli: “I would like to include Maslow and Assagioli among the many transpersonalists who, in my opinion, do not commit significant Pre/Trans Fallacy.” Wilber (1999b: 341) even notices that Assagioli is aware of Jung’s tendency to mix the lower and higher unconscious.
In the interview Height Psychology (Besmer 1973: 4) Assagioli presents his view on discriminating between higher and lower levels, and he exemplifies the confusion via Jung’s tendency to mix the “archaic primitive concepts and higher ideal models.”
Assagioli (1975: 212) also uses Desoille’s research to demonstrate the importance between lower and higher unconscious when working with these areas during guided visualisations. Desoille’s research shows that a guided descent to the depths of the sea evokes “the threatening power of the unconscious … In contrasts, in the ascent of the mountain there is the evocation of positive and constructive feelings.”
Assagioli (1975: 19, 1993: 65, 120, 1967b: 19) points out the “confusion of levels” several times, so he is well aware of it.
I have not found any evidence that Assagioli believes in the “recaptured goodness” model, but overwhelming evidence for the “growth-to-goodness” model, which I will further demonstrate when dealing with his stage model in Chapter Two.
When it comes to how Psychosynthesis is practiced today in relation to the two different developmental models Wilber uses, the picture gets a lot more blurred. Because no one explicitly uses the Great Chain of Being it is not possible to identify a pure “growth-to-goodness” model. But as has been mentioned before, many of the psychosynthesists use three vertical levels and an ascending progression through them. This includes the discrimination between the two overall stages Assagioli suggests: personal and spiritual psychosynthesis.
Ferrucci comes close because he implies an ascending stage model (see Chapter Two) and Hardy, as has been demonstrated earlier, recognizes that Assagioli uses a hierarchical model, but does not implement the Great Chain of Being herself directly when outlining Psychosynthesis in her book. Indirectly, however, she presents the most precise diagram which gives a very close description of Assagioli’s hierarchical conception of development.
When presenting Figure 7b (see right), Hardy (1996: 30-31) says nothing about the Great Chain of Being, but explains that “the relationship of the Self to the ‘I’ seems best presented by the diagram … The ‘I’ is seen as the centre of body, mind and feelings, which can be assumed to make up the field of consciousness. The ‘I’ can be at different points in its relation to the Self.”
The diagram, I think, gives a very clear presentation of the vertical development of the ‘I’ and also of the three bodies, a concept I will return to in the section on AQAL.
Firman/Gila, on the other hand, present a very clear “Recaptured goodness” model and have as far as I can see, and perhaps unknowingly, turned Psychosynthesis in the opposite direction of Assagioli’s original intention.
Firman/Gila consider the child to have an intact I-Self connection and also a full access to higher and lower unconscious from the birth. But that connection and experiential range is distorted or broken due to a non-empathetic environment that causes the primal wound and the split in consciousness between higher and lower. Firman/Gila (2002: 196, n.9) argue that this split actually creates the higher and lower unconscious in the individual! In their own words:
“In our view, the higher unconscious and the lower unconscious are not developmental levels but dissociated sectors of the psyche that need to be integrated.”
This is another strong statement against the ontological levels of consciousness in nature. They argue that in order to heal the brokenness and reconnect to the Self and get the full access to higher and lower unconscious we must go back and heal the wound.
In a personal e-mail correspondence with me (see Appendix 2), Firman clarified his position: “Our hypothesis (is) that the person’s experiential range—from agony to ecstasy—would be intact if he or she were perfectly seen in empathetic love. This ideal would mean there would be no higher and lower unconscious—just a full experiential range that would allow us to experience the heights and depths of life in stage appropriate ways. …”
This is clearly an example of what Wilber calls a “recaptured-goodness” model. It seems that Firman/Gila (2002: 194, n. 5) have been unaware of Assagioli’s close connection to the neo-platonic ideas, because according to them: “Assagioli never directly addressed the formation of the higher and lower unconscious”, but it seems that he did.
When covering involution in the last chapter, I quoted him saying: “From a basic, original absolute reality, a series of levels of life, intellect, feeling and material life have developed, through gradual differentiation, to the point of inorganic matter.” This is how the higher and lower levels of the unconscious are created, viewed through Assagioli’s lens, and according to that theory the child is not in full contact with the higher unconscious or has an intact unbroken I-Self connection (full connection to God, Brahman etc.) as Firman/Gila claim. This potential unfolds during the development from body, mind, soul to Spirit.
Another important difference between Firman/Gila and Assagioli is that they consider the experience of new energies from the higher unconscious to be an experience of a formerly repressed area according to the primal wound. But Assagioli does not consider this always to be the case even though he agrees that repression of the superconscious does happen. But according to him the eruption of material from the superconscious levels arrive: “almost ready made, and has very little connection with previous experiences.” (Assagioli, 1975: 198)
Firman/Gila (2002: 195, n8, 196, n.9) clearly do not consider a hierarchical progression through stages. They reject the developmental progression from the lower unconscious to the higher unconscious. This brings them in opposition to Assagioli and the above-mentioned writers.
We find many traces of Firman/Gila’s point of view (the “recaptured-goodness” model) in the writings of other Psychosynthesists even though no one fully takes their view.
Parfitt (2006: 93) clearly aligns himself with Firman/Gila in this quote on the lost childhood spirituality: “It has been said that a newborn baby is whole, complete in itself, and free from all restriction and fear. We can re-live and truly feel in our bodies all that we knew and felt as babies. This can include the free flow of energy, a sense of connection to the Self and to the oneness of all life. Our bodies may be armoured, but when we start to release this armour, we find our bodies also carry all the knowledge and understanding we have of the transpersonal or spiritual realms.”
It also seems that Whitmore, even though she upholds the traditional ascending development through stages, has taken their view on childhood spirituality. She clearly talks about returning to a past union with the Self which is now lost e.g. “all counselling ultimately is to achieve the recovery of the Self, our Self” (Whitmore, 2004: x-xi, 126).
Hardy (1996: 25) is also suggesting the unity of lower and higher unconscious in childhood.
Assagioli (1993: 102) and Wilber (2000a: 467) also talk about a lost “Eden” or union with the divine source, but this “loss” happens before birth as part of the soul’s involution into matter. Before we go into a discussion on how the “recaptured-goodness” model according to the Integral Approach can create trouble in the clinical work, we need a last discriminative factor. In order to distinguish between higher and lower energies we need a set of principles that define what spiritual development means.
Definition of Spiritual Development According to Assagioli
Assagioli defines spiritual development in the following terms:
A. Spirituality implies vertical and horizontal development. A transcendence of the little self in a vertical direction through communion with God. This means transcendence and transformation of all selfishness, fear, inertia, love of pleasure and all untamed forces. Horizontal development through communion with all fellow-creatures from the family to humanity as a whole (Assagioli, Undated 1: 4, 1993: 196).
B. Higher values. Spiritual is connected with: “All states of awareness, all the functions and activities which have as common denominator the possessing of values higher than the average, values such as the ethical, the aesthetic, the heroic, the humanitarian, and the altruistic” (Assagioli, 1975: 38).
C. High ethics. All claims of spirituality have to be expressed through a more pure strict and conscious morality than average man. “You shall know the tree by its fruits”; and that is why “moral purification is the key to understanding the true reason for the long pilgrimage through the inner worlds which is the fabric of Dante’s famous epic” (Assagioli, 1993: 162).
This is some of Assagioli’s principles, others could be applied, but we need spiritual principles in order to distinguish states that appear similar but are actually very different. A good example is the experience of ecstasy; it is very often associated with the experience of higher unconscious states flavoured by a blissful state, but it can easily be confused with more personal states of joy and happiness. The difference is that the personal states of joy, often associated with sexual intercourse, competitive accomplishment etc. very often (but not always) are self-centred and do not transcend the individual toward the universal. As has been discussed before, Spirit according to the Integral Approach is to be found on the highest levels of consciousness. The personal states can actually create stronger attachment to the body and ego and often exclude higher values. We will explore this issue now when we deal with elevation of prepersonal states to transpersonal and how the Pre/Trans Fallacy affects the clinical work.
It is important to notice that the confusion of levels can and does exist independently of what type of developmental model we use. But the Integral point is that when both higher and lower energies are associated with the same unconscious source (the “recaptured-goodness” model) and sought for via a regressive move to the past, then it is difficult to discriminate between them.
Problems and Dangers in Therapy Arising Out of The Confusion of Levels
I will now investigate what consequences the Pre/Trans Fallacy has for especially psychotherapy, and what kind of confusion we can identify within Psychosynthesis theory and practice when using the Integral map as a critical lens. Assagioli mentions several kinds of problems associated with the confusion of levels, I will also suggest some myself and will interpret them all as dangers in therapy.
The prerational energies are the body sensations, feelings and images in the lower unconscious all associated with the separated individual and his basic needs. The experience of these energies can be quite joyful and beneficial, but they are not spiritual in the sense Assagioli and Wilber define spirituality. So what kind of trouble can come out of it, if we as psychotherapists believe them to be spiritual?
The danger in the fascination of the primitive and disruptive states
Assagioli (1967b: 5) address this issue and in order to clarify the confusion of levels, he introduces the concept of levels: “from the biological to the spiritual” in the collective unconscious. From Jung’s mixture of higher and lower archetypes “arise various debatable consequences; debatable at the theoretical level and liable to be harmful in therapy” (Assagioli, 1967b: 5).
So according to Assagioli there are not only theoretical problems with the Pre/Trans Fallacy, but also “harmful” consequences. The dangers that Assagioli (1967b: 10, 1975: 98, 228. 1993: 91) discusses in his work are related to the danger when the forces of the lower unconscious are uncovered and sometimes overwhelm the client.
Assagioli seems to suggest that if we, like Jung, have a “potent fascination of the collective unconscious” (Assagioli, 1967b: 5) and consider it all to be spiritual or higher archetypes even though it is quite primitive and sometimes dangerous, then we can weaken our client’s defence mechanism in an unwise way. He actually states that the premature unleashing of the unconscious energies can produce psychotic cases and in some cases lead to suicide (Assagioli, 1975: 98).
The danger in pointing the wrong way to the “heights”
Firman/Gila’s version of Psychosynthesis claims that Self-realisation is something that happens when we heal the “primal wound” in the past, but from an Integral point of view, this position gives a very partial perspective on what spiritual development is. There are several problems with this conception.
The past is accentuated in an unwise way because spiritual development becomes a matter of regression to earlier states of consciousness in order to reconnect with the “wounded child.” To believe that we have to regress to the “primal wound” in order to experience universal consciousness can in my opinion lead to a gross reductionism of what the spiritual path implies, when we remember Assagioli’s definition of spiritual. This becomes in my opinion evident when reading Firman/Gila. According to the perennial philosophy, Assagioli and the Integral Approach we do not find universal consciousness in the lower unconscious, and if this is true, we lead our clients in the wrong direction. Assagioli points to Desoille’s research in the above quote in order to show exactly what kinds of experience often are related to the descent: “the threatening power of the unconscious.” Purifying the lower and middle unconscious is on the other hand absolutely necessary in order to facilitate the descent of spiritual energies (Assagioli, 1975: 49-53).
Firman/Gila write almost nothing about transmutation of selfish desires, purification, meditation and expansion of consciousness in vertical and horizontal direction, subjects that are central for Assagioli in connection with Self-realisation. The Integral Approach claims that in order to reach the transrational or spiritual states of consciousness we have to let go of (at least temporarily) our mind, emotions and body states. This is not done by a regression to past emotional states, but by identifying with something higher beyond mind. Parfitt’s claim, that through the body we can get “a sense of connection to the Self and to the oneness of all life” is hard to believe in an integral context because, as Wilber (2000b: 456) states it: “The body, you see, is basically narcissistic and egocentric. Bodily feelings are just about your body, period. … The body’s sensory awareness cannot enter into care and compassion and ethical discourse and I-thou spirituality.” Wilber (2006: 203) fully acknowledges the importance of bodywork and implements it in what he calls his Integral Life Practice, but we don’t look for Spirit there.
It is the tendency to elevate prepersonal and personal states to spiritual that we find in Firman/Gila’s writings and from an Integral point it has the unfortunate effect that it trivialises the sacred and actually makes room for a desacralisation of reality – in other words to reductionism. Let me offer a few examples:
The emergence of what Assagioli calls the “I”, the separated and pale reflection of the Self, in Firman/Gila’s (2002: 56) version of Psychosynthesis becomes the: “emergence of the human spirit, our true essence.”
A motorcyclist’s personal experience of joy, freedom and connection with the warrior archetype when riding his bike is elevated to a transpersonal state (Firman/Gila, 2002: 70). Why is it not merely a healthy ego gratification? Firman/Gila claim that Self-realisation is about following your deepest values, but they do not define them, so anyone can claim to be Self-realised because they follow their deepest wish to buy a motorcycle!
A client’s development of healthy self-care (Firman/Gila, 2002: 88) becomes a matter of connecting with the higher unconscious, but healthy ego-development is not in Assagioli’s version about higher values, because it is motivated by our own well-being. Transpersonal states make it possible to transcend and expand our self-centredness, so self care is only the foundational work that must precede Self-realisation.
Assagioli (2002: 98-99) clearly discriminates between higher and lower love, personal and transpersonal will, so these qualities, as well as freedom and joy, can be expressed at a personal and at a transpersonal level. Firman/Gila seems not to consider the motivation behind the qualities and the levels of expression. This creates in my opinion a lot of confusion. There are many examples of elevation in Firman/Gila’s work and they all in my opinion tend to trivialise the great mystery and in a way: creates reduction of the spiritual mystery.
The cause of many of the problems could relate to the fact that Firman/Gila (2002: 171,183) argues that Self-realisation is part of personal as well as transpersonal psychosynthesis, while Assagioli (2002: 121) clearly defines Self-realisation as part of the transpersonal stages which will be explored in the next chapter. If healthy ego-development is part of the realisation of the Self – Atman, then it becomes very difficult to define spirituality.
In order to be authentic human beings when working with our clients it is crucial to mirror a realistic picture of what it takes to enter the path of Self-realisation. When we call self-care spiritual attainment, in my opinion we tend to lead our clients astray.
There is also a grave risk that the “recaptured-goodness” model strengthens an attachment to victimisation. When our childhood is connected with the loss of not only our personal happiness but also the entire spiritual ground, there is a lot more “to blame” evil society and our family for. The “growth-to-goodness” model does not postulate a blissful Eden in childhood, but instead points to the meaningful development of ego, as a step closer to the transpersonal “heaven.” When the true connection to the Self is associated with childhood it can also create an unhealthy and regressive longing to the spiritual womb of the mother, a state Assagioli (2002: 113) calls “to lose oneself in the collective.”
The danger in confusing intuition with emotion and the resulting lack of true guidance
Another example Assagioli (1993: 69) presents is in relation to Jung’s definition of intuition: “Jung calls (intuition) “irrational” but this term is open to misunderstanding because it can be understood as contrary to reason, whereas in fact it is merely different, not contradictory. We might perhaps call it “para-rational” or “transrational.”
Assagioli (1975: 27, 2002: 156) argues that intuition can be confused with unconscious wishes and desires, and if we believe that our client’s irrational spontaneous emotions (following the gut feelings) are highly spiritual and intuitive, this can get them into serious trouble. For the untrained eye they are easy to confuse because they share some of the same features: they are non-rational, spontaneous and often accompanied by joy and certainty. It is especially important when confronted with crucial decisions that we can discriminate between what type of energies we are following, this is important for Assagioli (2002: 156). One way to discriminate between intuition and emotion is that emotion is always partial, only acting on behalf of one part of the personality while intuition is a holistic faculty that serves the whole.
One of the most fatal errors in psychotherapy is when we elevate our client’s pathological (psychotic) fantasies to spiritual intuitions that need to be explored. Instead of strengthening the ego, we can in that situation apply spiritual techniques that will disrupt the fragile ego.
The danger in confusing the Superego as part of the higher unconscious
In my Psychosynthesis training I was presented with a comparison between Assagioli’s Egg Diagram and Freud’s Egg with the Id, Ego and Superego. The Superego was in this particular comparison related to the higher unconscious. This is a mistake that is very easy to commit when not using levels of consciousness. When we apply the levels, we know that the superconscious is associated with the levels of higher mind, intuition and will and the Superego has nothing to do with that. According to Assagioli the superego ‘is to a great extent introjected from parental prohibitions and parental commands. This type of conscience is on the level of the personality.’ (1975: 232)
The Superego is very often driven by fear, ‘but the experience of the superconscious reality cancels out fear … In the serene atmosphere of the superconscious, however, those feelings (fear, aggression, hate) cannot exist.’ (1993: 29) (My brackets)
The danger in this specific confusion is that we connect the higher dimensions with fear and this can result in a ‘repression of the sublime’. When the higher energies impact an unprepared personality they may cause serious troubles but they are not in themselves harmful, because the energies in the higher levels always include the lower even though a partial and (erroneous) identification with them by the ego can exclude the lower energies.
The danger of ego-inflation
Assagioli also takes notice of the danger of ego-inflation when not discriminating between higher and lower levels. He talks about “a confusion of levels” in connection with the inflow of superconscious energies, when the ego cannot discriminate between itself as a relative being and the more absolute being of the higher Self united with the Universal Self (Assagioli, 1975: 45, 1993: 50, 74, 121).
This confusion arises when we fail to discriminate between a transcendent reality and the immanent reality, when we do not see the difference between what is a potential and what is realised reality. Assagioli (1993: 50) uses the example of an acorn that has the potential to become an oak, but first has to go through the long process of growth.
Firman/Gila are in my opinion very close to committing that error. They do not see the relevance in discriminating between the three selves as Assagioli and Wilber do. This is obvious since they do not use levels, so they easily, from an Integral point of view, confuse the different “reflections” of the Self. A clear example of this is found in this quote by Firman/Gila (2007: 39):
“Assagioli’s ‘three selves model” leaves a subtle but fundamental question unanswered: Who moves from the experience of ‘separate individuality’ to the experience of ‘individuality and universality’? Is there yet another self, one which can move from the experience of ‘personal self’ to the experience of ‘Transpersonal Self?’ We do not think so.”
They conclude that there is only one ‘I’ – the one who experiences, having different experiences of agony or unity with the divine, so no need for a higher Self, because you are always the same ‘I’ experiencing it all. Following this argument we might conclude that there is only One Who Experiences, (Universal Spirit), and this seems to be the well-known concept of “All is One.”
Assagioli (Undated 2: 10) addresses this confusion of levels many times: ‘All is One’ is a deep metaphysical truth at that level, but unfortunately many people bring down that wonderful reality to human levels, or other levels in manifestation where it simply does not operate. All is One in essence, in Being; but in becoming, in manifestation, in that process of life, there are countless many.”
When there is no duality between high and low, it is easy to blur the distinction between the personal self or ‘I’ and the Higher Self. Personal experiences very often get elevated in such a philosophical atmosphere, and this seems also to be the case, as I have demonstrated, in Firman/Gila’s writings.
The danger of moral nihilism
Another danger we encounter, according to Assagioli, when we fail to discriminate between the transcendent reality of pure spirit and the more relative level we as human beings inhabit, is moral nihilism. Assagioli points out (1993: 160) that some immoralists claim that good and evil are relative for the realised human being, because in the eye of the Spirit all action is indifferent. Spirit justifies everything. So if we or our clients believe we are gods, which we are in potential but not in reality, then we can argue that no moral principles apply to me. Wilber has written extensively on the tendency in our culture towards a dangerous narcissism, which he calls Boomeritis because of the post-modernistic notion of moral relativism and its egalitarian worldview that claims that “nobody’s truth is better than mine.” Both writers seem to be in agreement here.
The Danger of Reducing All Higher Energies to Sublimated Lower Energies
Let us now turn our attention to the second version of the Pre/Trans Fallacy. Psychosynthesis in all its versions truly acknowledges the importance of integrating the higher dimensions when working with clients. That is why reductionism is not, as far as I can judge, so widespread within the Psychosynthesis community, so I will not go into detail with this issue.
But as we have already seen it can become a gross reduction of the spiritual mystery when we elevate normality to spiritual heights and this is a side effect of elevation.
On several occasions Assagioli addresses the direct reduction of higher states e.g. in Transpersonal Development he flatly rejects the positivist reduction of mystical phenomena, when they treat them as morbid manifestations. (1993: 134)
Assagioli is also very aware of the Freudian reductionist attitude and reject the idea that mysticism is merely a product or by-product of sex. (1975: 272) The psychoanalytical attitude tends to create a very negative image of man and his motivation, and this was also one of Assagioli’s concerns (2002: 144, Keen 1974: 8) as well as the problem with the psychoanalytical dream interpretation that “tends to “reduce” everything to infantile impressions and traumas, and to instinctive urges.” (1967a: 9)
Summary of Chapter One
In the above chapter I have mainly researched into Psychosynthesis for the use of levels of consciousness and the associate concepts of involution and the Pre/Trans Fallacy. It seems that the inclusion of the Great Chain of Being in Psychosynthesis can help clarify the difference between prerational and transrational states of being and help avoid the Pre/Trans Fallacy. Especially if we define the features of spiritual energies as Assagioli did and also include involution as a guiding theory.
I will now see how Psychosynthesis apply Lines, States, Types and Quadrants and start out with a brief introduction to Wilber’s definition of the Self in order to clarify who is experiencing the integral dimensions.
Assagioli, Roberto , 1942, Spiritual Joy, The Beacon
Assagioli, Roberto, 1960,The Education of Gifted and Super-Gifted Children, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation. Issue No. 8
Assagioli, Roberto, 1961, Self Realization and Psychological Disturbances, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation Issue No. 10
Assagioli, Roberto, 1963, Creative Expression in Education (It's Purpose, Process, Techniques and Results) Psychosynthesis Research Foundation.
Assagioli, Roberto, 1965, Psychosynthesis: Individual and Social (Some Suggested Lines of Research), Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 16
Assagioli, Roberto, 1967a, Psychosomatic Medicine and Bio-Psychosynthesis, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 21
Assagioli, Roberto, 1967b, Jung and Psychosynthesis, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation. Issue No.19
Assagioli, Roberto, 1968a, Notes on Education, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation
Assagioli, Roberto, 1968b, The Science and Service of Blessing, Sundial House
Assagioli, Roberto, 1969, Symbols of Transpersonal Experiences, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Reprint No. 11 included is:
Assagioli, Roberto, 1970,The Technique of Evocative Words, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 25
Assagioli, Roberto, 1972, The Balancing and Synthesis of Opposites, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 29)
Assagioli, Roberto, 1973, The Conflict between the Generations and the Psychosynthesis of the Human Ages, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 31
Assagioli, Roberto, 1974, Training a Statement, Florence: Istituto di Psicosintesi
Assagioli, Roberto, 1975, Psychosynthesis, Turnstone Press
Assagioli, Roberto 1975b, The Resolution of Conflicts and Spiritual Conflicts and Crises, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 34
Assagioli, Roberto 1976, Transpersonal Inspiration, and Psychological Mountain-Climbing, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 36
Assagioli, Roberto, 1983a, Psychosynthesis Typology, Institute of Psychosynthesis
Assagioli, Roberto, 1983b,Cheerfulness (A Psychosynthetic Technique), Pasadena Calif.: Psychosynthesis Training Center. (First print 1973, P.R.F. issue 33)
Assagioli, Roberto, 1983c, Life as a Game and Stage Performance (Role Playing) Pasadena Calif.: Psychosynthesis Training Center. (First print 1973, P.R.F. issue 33)
Assagioli, Roberto, 1993, Transpersonal Development, Thorsons.
Assagioli, Roberto, 2002, The Act of Will, Psychosynthesis and Education Trust
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 1 Psychosynthesis in Education, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Reprint No. 2
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 2, Talks on the Self, (Handed out from The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London)
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 3, The Superconscious and the Self, The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 4, From the couple to the community, (unknown source)
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 5, A Psychological Method for Learning Languages, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 3.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 6, Discrimination in service, (The Institute of Psychosynthesis, London)
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 7, Music as a Cause of Disease and as a Healing Agent, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 5.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 8 Smiling Wisdom, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 4.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 9, Synthesis in Psychotherapy, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No.15.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 10, The Psychology of Woman and Her Psychosynthesis, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation. Issue No. 24
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 11, The Self a Unifying Center, The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 12, Training of the Will, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 17.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 13, Transpersonal Inspiration & Psychological Mountain Climbing, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 36.
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 14, Transmutation and Sublimation of Sexual Energies, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 13
Assagioli, Roberto, Undated 15, What Is Synthesis? (Handed out from The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, London)
Besmer, Beverly, Height Psychology: Discovering the self and the Self, Interpersonal Development, 4, 1973-4, pp. 215-225
Brown, Molly Young, 2004, Unfolding Self, the Unfolding of Psychosynthesis, Helios Press
Ferrucci, Piero, 1982, What We May Be, Tarcher/Putnam
Ferrucci, Piero, 1990, Inevitable Grace, Tarcher/Putnam
Firman, John & Gila, Ann, 1997, The Primal Wound, SUNY
Firman, John & Gila, Ann, 2002, Psychosynthesis – A Psychology of the Spirit, SUNY
Firman, John & Gila, Ann, 2004, A Suggested Change in the Egg Diagram
Firman, John & Gila, Ann, 2007, Assagiolis Seven Core Concepts for Psychosynthesis Training
Freund, Diana, 1983, Conversations with Roberto, Psychosynthesis Digest Spring issue
Hardy, Jean, 1996, A Psychology with a Soul, Woodgrange Press
Smith Huston, 1976, Forgotten Truth: The common Vision of the Worlds Religions, Harper San Francisco
Miller, Stuart, The Will of Roberto Assagioli, Intellectual Digest, October 1972
Miller, Stuart, The Rebirth of the Soul, Intellectual Digest, August, 1973.
Keen, Sam, 1974, The Golden Mean of Roberto Assagioli, Psychology Today Interview.
Parfitt, Will, 2006, Psychosynthesis: the Elements and Beyond, PS Avalon
Reynolds Brad, 2004, Embracing Reality – The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber, Tarcher/Penguin
Reynolds Brad, 2006, Where’s Wilber At?, Paragon House.
Rowan, John, 2005, The Transpersonal: Spirituality in Psychotherapy and Counsellling, Routledge.
Rueffler, Margret, 1995, Our Inner Actors, PPPI Press
Schuller, Michael, 1988, Psychosynthesis in North America
Schaub, Bonney Gulino & Richard, 2003, Dante’s Path, Gotham Books
Servan-Schreiber, Claude, 1974, A Higher View of The Man-Woman Problem, Synthesis 1
Shorrock, Andrew, 2008, The Transpersonal in Psychology, Psychotherapy and Counsellling, Palgrave MacMillan
Sliker, Gretchen, 1992, Multiple Mind: Healing the Split in Psyche and World, Shamballa
Tolle, Eckhart, 2004, The Power of Now, Namaste Publishing
Visser, Frank, 1998 Transpersonal Psychology at a Crossroad, http://www.integralworld.net/esseng2.html (20.5.2008)
Visser, Frank, 2003, Thought as Passion, SUNY
Washburn, M. (1990). Two Patterns of Transcendence. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 30 (3), pp.84-112.
Wilber, Ken, 1999a, The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Two, ShambhalaWilber, Ken, 1999b, The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Three, Shambhala
Wilber, Ken, 2000a, The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Seven, Shambhala
Wilber, Ken, 2000b, The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Eight, Shambhala
Wilber, Ken, 2000c, Integral Psychology, Shambhala
Wilber, Ken, 2003, Excerpt G: Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies, http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/kosmos/excerptG/part1.cfm/ (20.08.2008)
Wilber, Ken, 2006, Integral Spirituality, Shambhala
Whitmore, Diana, 2004, Psychosynthesis Counselling in Action, third edition, Sage
This article is an extended and adapted (two case studies is omitted) version of my MA Thesis from 2008 at the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust in London and the University of East London (formal award in June 2009). It is offered to the public with the hope that it can foster a deeper understanding of the Integral features of Psychosynthesis and perhaps facilitate an open debate about the future development of Psychosynthesis and for that matter: Integral psychotherapy.
I wish to thank John Firman and Ann Gila for permission to print his revised Egg Diagram, to Jean Hardy for allowing me to include her model and to Ken Wilber and Brad Reynolds for their contributions. I also wish to thank my tutor Martin Egan for many good advices and Annabritt Jakielski for proofreading it all.