[Mandala by Clare Goodwin]

What is Psychosynthesis?

In its most basic sense, psychosynthesis is simply a name for the process of personal growth: the natural tendency in each of us to harmonize or synthesize our various aspects at ever higher levels of organization. In human beings, this evolutionary drive towards a higher level of being becomes conscious, which makes it possible to cooperate with and facilitate this natural process. Cooperating with evolution in this purposeful way requires a conceptual understanding, a framework, and a wide range of practical techniques. Psychosynthesis integrates the best available concepts and methods into an inclusive and flexible framework, so as to assist and facilitate the natural human striving toward development and integration.

Psychosynthesis believes that each human being has a vast potential that generally goes largely unrecognized and unused. It also believes that we each have within ourselves the power to access that potential. Psychosynthesis is often seen as an unfolding process where the person actually possesses an inner wisdom or knowledge of what is needed for that process at any given time. The guide's role is help identify these inner resources, support the process, and be attentive to what is happening.

The Superconscious

Psychosynthesis was first formulated in 1910 by the Italian psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), a pioneer of the psychoanalytic movement in Italy, and a contemporary of both Freud and Jung. Early in his work he observed that repression of higher, superconscious impulses (later known as "repression of the sublime") could be just as damaging to the psyche as repression of material from the lower unconscious. Traditional psychoanalysis recognizes a primitive, or "lower" unconscious - the source of our atavistic and biological drives. But there is also a higher unconscious, a superconscious - an autonomous realm from which originate our more highly evolved impulses: altruistic love and will, humanitarian action, artistic and scientific inspiration, philosophic and spiritual insight, and the drive toward purpose and meaning in life. Psychosynthesis is concerned with integrating material from the lower unconscious and with realizing and actualizing the content of the superconscious. To this end, it uses a wide range of techniques for contacting the superconscious and establishing a bridge with that part of our being where true wisdom is to be found. The superconscious is thereby accessible, in varying degrees, to each one of us, and can provide a great source of energy, inspiration, and direction. Psychosynthesis helps us in attempting to manifest this part of ourselves as fully as possible in everyday living.

The Egg and Star Diagram

Psychosynthesis uses a number of "maps" or diagrams to aid in understanding the various components of the self. Although they are necessarily limited in both scope and perspective, they are useful in providing a partial depiction of the mystery of the self. Both diagrams are basic to psychosynthesis. The Egg Diagram can also be seen in color. The Star Diagram depicts the psychological functions with the will playing a pivotal role.

The Egg Diagram
1. The Lower Unconscious
2. The Middle Unconscious
3. The Higher Unconscious or Superconscious
4. The Field of Consciousness
5. The Conscious Self or "I"
6. The Higher Self
7. The Collective Unconscious

The Star Diagram
1. Sensation
2. Emotion-Feeling
3. Impulse Desire
4. Imagination
5. Thought
6. Intuition
7. Will
8. Central point: The I, or personal self

The Self

The self is an entity independent of and sovereign to the various aspects of the personality, such as body, feelings, and mind. This concept is found in the major world religions and in more and more branches of Western psychology and philosophy. Freeing the concept from any doctrinal background and examining it empirically, we find first of all a centre of awareness and will. This is the "personal self," the "I," or centre of personal identity, from which the various aspects of the personality can be recognized, reorganized, and integrated. The personal self, however, is distinct from the "Transpersonal Self," which is the focal point of the superconscious realm. It is a deeper and all-inclusive centre of identity and being, where individuality and universality blend.

A helpful image is that of an orchestra, where the musicians represent the different parts or aspects of ourselves. Without a conductor, there would be little cooperation as each of the musicians would attempt to get their favourite music played according to their own interpretation. Acceptance of and submission to the conductor results in integration of the orchestra, and this would subsequently be reflected in the music. Where the conductor represents the self, the transpersonal self can be thought of as the composer or the producer.

Functions of the Self

The two central functions of the personal self are consciousness and will. The consciousness of the self enables one to be clearly aware of what is going on within and around him or her, to perceive without distortion or defensiveness. This has been called the inner "attitude of the observer." To the extent that one is able to achieve this vantage point, the claims of the personality and its tendency to self-justification no longer stand in the way of clear vision.

The will is considered a direct expression of the self in psychosynthesis and is given a central place. Through releasing the will of the Self, we gain freedom of choice, personal responsibility, the power of decision over our actions, and the ability to actively regulate and direct the many personality functions. In this way we are freed from helpless reaction to unwanted inner impulses and to the expectations of others. We become truly "centred," and gradually become able to follow a path that is in accordance with what is best within each of us. At the highest level of will development, we seek to align our personal will with a more universal will, thus increasing the capacity to serve the forces of evolution and to find a deeper meaning and purpose in our personal lives and our social tasks, and to become able to function in the world more effectively and serenely, in a spirit of cooperation and good will.

False Identifications

To act "from our centre" can be difficult, as we have all experienced. One major difficulty in learning to act "from centre" is the large number of false identifications we make with specific elements within ourselves. We may identify, for example, with a temporary feeling such as fear or anger, and lose or distort our true perspective. Or we may become identified with one of our "subpersonalities" - those semi-autonomous and often contradictory aspects of ourselves that follow a predictable, pre-programmed routine when evoked by a certain set of circumstances. Much of the basic work of psychosynthesis is aimed at recognizing and harmonizing subpersonalities. We are then no longer helplessly controlled by them, but can learn to bring them increasingly under conscious direction. Essential to this involves learning the central process of "dis-identification" from all that is not the self, and "self-identification," or the realization of our true identity as a centre of awareness and will.

Methods Employed

There are a wide variety of methods employed in psychosynthesis to meet the diversity of needs presented by different situations and different people. Each person is treated as an individual, and an effort is made to find the methods best suited to the person's existential situation, psychological type, unique goals, needs, and path of development. Some of the methods more commonly used include guided imagery, body awareness and movement, symbolic art work, journal-keeping, training of the will, goal-setting, dreamwork, development of the imagination and intuition, gestalt, ideal models, and meditation. The approach in psychosynthesis is to treat the person as a whole, although any one session may focus on a particular level or aspect. In aiming at integration of body, feelings, and mind, psychosynthesis has as a goal to foster an on- going growth process, in which we apply the basic attitudes and techniques of psychosynthesis in daily living to achieve a more joyful, harmonious, and full actualization of our lives.

Stages of Psychosynthesis

Every person is an individual, and the integration of each person follows a unique path. But in the overall process of psychosynthesis we can distinguish two consecutive stages - personal and transpersonal psychosynthesis. In personal psychosynthesis, the integration of the personality takes place around the personal self, and the individual attains a level of functioning in terms of his work and his relationships that would be considered optimally healthy by current standards of mental health.

In the transpersonal stage of psychosynthesis, the person learns to achieve alignment with, and to express the energies of the Transpersonal Self, thus manifesting such qualities as social responsibility, a spirit of cooperation, a global perspective, altruistic love, and transpersonal purpose. Often the two stages overlap, and there can be a considerable amount of transpersonal activity long before the stage of personal psychosynthesis is complete.

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For an excellent overview of psychosynthesis, check Growth Resources in Psychosynthesis, by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.

URL= http://two.not2.org/psychosynthesis/ps2.htm
Last revised: March 4, 1998.