Roberto Assagioli


Italian Psychiatrist, Humanist and Visionary

Author Quotes

The collective unconscious is a vast world stretching from the biological to the spiritual level, in which there?fore distinctions of origin, nature, quality and value must be made. It should be noted that Jung often disregards these distinctions: he speaks of the collective unconscious en bloc and is inclined to confuse what he terms ?archaic?, that is, what originates in the ancient collective human experience, with what is higher (we would say superconscious) and in the spiritual sphere. Thus Jung speaks or ?archetypes? as ?images?; but at times he de?scribes them as archaic, racial images, charged with a strong emotional tone accumulated during the centuries, and on other occasions he treats them as principles, as ?ideas?; and he himself suggests their affinity with the Platonic ideas. In reality, there exists not only a difference but an actual antagonism between these two concep?tions of ?archetypes?, and from this confusion between them arise various debatable consequences, debatable at the theoretical level and liable to be harmful in therapy, as I shall have occasion to mention in speaking of Jung?ian therapy. In my opinion, it can be said without disrespect that Jung himself has been dominated by the potent fascination of the collective unconscious, against which he puts his patients on guard.

The principal aim of Jung?s method, as elaborated by him during the last period of his active work, is the lib?eration of the individual from the influences of his personal unconscious and of the collective unconscious, by means of a process the phases of which can be indicated as follows: 1. Clear vision, or the above-mentioned recognition of the nature and causes of the illness. 2. Conscious assimilation of the contents of the unconscious. 3. The discovery of the Self. 4. The transformation of the personality. 5. Its integration and synthesis. From this it is evident how closely what could be called Jung?s ?therapeutic program? is akin to that of psycho?synthetic therapy.

This confession of Jung?s should be greatly appreciated. His understanding of the relativity of our knowledge and the recognition of the unavoidable subjective element in every researcher made him shun all systematic formulations and categorical statements. He took up a firm position on the ground of psychological experience and the empirical method, thus demonstrating a true scientific spirit. With it, however, he combined some lack of precision in thinking and writing and an unwillingness to admit a substantial reality transcending the strictly psychological sphere. But this limitation of his shows how unjust was the accusation of ?mysticism? leveled at him many times. Such a charge reflects a lack of comprehension both of Jung and of mysticism. In reality the two standpoints are not only different but quite opposite. The mystic believes firmly in the existence of God, of a Universal Spirit; he is convinced of being, or of having been, in a state of union with that transcendental Reality. Jung, on the contrary, assumes an agnostic attitude towards it; he admits the subjective, ?psychological? reality of the experience, but maintains that its essential, transcendental reality cannot be regarded as demon?strated. This can be considered a merit or a limitation, according to the point of view. In any case it absolves Jung of the charge of mysticism-a serious one in the opinion of some people. [Jung said, ?When, instead, prodded by the necessity of helping and curing, one seeks new means, one is forced to speak about matters that are not known.?]

Will to will! The will must be: developed, grounded, re-oriented and used!

It is certainly true ? that there is a multiplicity within the self but the will is essentially the activity of the self which stands above the multiplicity. It directs, regulates and balances the other functions of the personality in a creative way. I don?t believe there is any fundamental split, any irreconcilable conflict, within man. I don?t think there is a will to death opposing the will to life. What is loosely called the ?split will? can be recognized to be in reality the conflict between the central will and a multitude of drives, urges, desires and wishes. This is a universal experience. Conflicts are present in every normal individual. Without them there would be no need for psychoanalysis or psychosynthesis! Each choice involves some conflict whether to stay inside and read or go out for a walk ? you can?t do them both at once. In neurotic conflict there is a desperate attempt to have two incompatible things at the same time. But in the normal person the will can function to lessen or to eliminate the conflict by recognizing a hierarchy of needs and arranging for an appropriate satisfaction of all needs. The central will distributes the tasks to other parts of the personality. Let me use an analogy that is central to my thinking. The will is like the conductor of an orchestra. He is not self-assertive but is rather the humble servant of the composer and of the score.

Jung?s most important contribution to the psychology of the unconscious is represented by his extensive stud?ies of the collective unconscious. Before him, psychoanalysis had concerned itself almost exclusively with the study of the personal unconscious. Jung then showed the great extent of collective psychic elements and forces, which exercise a powerful effect on the human personality.

Many people seem to have voluntarily submitted to a spiritual lobotomy, to a repression of the sublime, a complete denial of the transpersonal self. Consequently the higher unconscious remains virtually unknown to many people. Much psychology has encouraged the adoption of a degraded self-image by advancing the argument that all religious or spiritual impulses are mere sublimations of sexual instincts. This type of reductionism ignores the fact that many of the most creative people in human history report experiences of a transpersonal nature. By what right can we deny that spiritual drives are less real, basic or fundamental than sexual or aggressive drives?

Often a crisis in life deprives a person of the function or role with which he has identified: an athlete?s body is maimed, a lover?s beloved departs with a wandering poet, a dedicated worker must retire. Then the process of disidentification is forced on one and a solution can only come by a process of death and rebirth in which the person enters into a broader identity. But this process can occur with conscious cooperation. The exercise in disidentification and identification involves practicing awareness and affirming: I have a body, but I am not my body. I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. I have a job, but I am not my job? etc. Systematic introspection can help to eliminate all partial self-identifications.

From a still wider and more comprehensive point of view, universal life itself appears to us as a struggle between multiplicity and unity - a labor and an aspiration towards union. We seem to sense that - whether we conceive it as a divine Being or as a cosmic energy - the Spirit working upon and within all creation is shaping it into order, harmony, and beauty, uniting all beings (some willing but the majority as yet blind and rebellious) with each other through links of love, achieving - slowly and silently, but powerfully and irresistibly - the Supreme Synthesis.

I believe the will is the Cinderella of modern psychology, It has been relegated to the kitchen. The Victorian notion that will power could overcome all obstacles was destroyed by Freud?s discovery of unconscious motivation. But, unfortunately, this led modern psychology into a deterministic view of man as a bundle of competing forces with no center. This is contrary to every human being?s direct experience of himself. At some point, perhaps in a crisis when danger threatens, an awakening occurs in which the individual discovers his will. This revelation that the self and the will are intimately connected can change a person?s whole awareness of himself and the world. He sees that he is a living subject, an actor, endowed with the power to choose, to relate, to bring about changes in his own personality, in others, in circumstances. And this awareness leads to a feeling of wholeness, security and joy. Because modern psychology has neglected the centrality of will, it has denied that we have a direct experience of the self. With the certainty that one has a will comes the realization of the intimate connection between the will and the self. This is the existential experience of the direct awareness of pure self-consciousness. It is self-consciousness that sets man apart from animals. Human beings are aware but also know that they are aware. We can express the importance of self-consciousness, the unity of willing and being, by saying (as opposed to Descartes): ?I am aware of being and willing,? or ?I am a willing self.?

In the practice of therapy we both agree in rejecting ?pathologism,? that is, concentration upon morbid manifestations and symptoms of a supposed psychological ?disease.? We regard man as a fundamentally healthy organism in which there may be a temporary malfunctioning. Nature is always trying to re-establish harmony, and within the psyche the principle of synthesis is dominant. Irreconcilable opposites do not exist. The task of therapy is to aid the individual in transforming the personality, and integrating apparent contradictions. Both Jung and myself have stressed the need for a person to develop the higher psychic functions, the spiritual dimension.

Accounts of religious experiences often speak of a ?call? from God, or a ?pull? from some Higher Power; this sometimes starts a ?dialogue? between the man [or woman] and this ?higher Source.

As an Oriental writer has lucidly put it: ?No identity (i.e., self-awareness) can exist without universality, and there is no consciousness of the universal without individual realization.? Poets sometimes have intuitions that reach beyond intellectual concepts. An Italian poet, [GiosuŠ Alessandro Giuseppe] Carducci, had a vivid experience of this fusion and expressed it admirably in a stanza of his Cantico dellúAmore (Song of Love): ?Is it I who embrace the world, or from within The Universe that reabsorbs me in itself? Ah, it was a note of the eternal poem I heard and sought to echo in this little verse.?

At the heart of the self there is both an active and a passive element, an agent and a spectator. Self-consciousness involves our being a witness ? a pure, objective, loving witness ? to what is happening within and without. In this sense the self is not a dynamic in itself but is a point of witness, a spectator, an observer who watches the flow. But there is another part of the inner self ? the will-er or the directing agent ? that actively intervenes to orchestrate the various functions and energies of the personality, to make commitments and to instigate action in the external world. So, at the center of the self there is a unity of masculine and feminine, will and love, action and observation.

Concerning the psychic functions, Jung, as is well known, differentiates between four fundamental ones: sensa?tion, feeling, thought and intuition . In this he differs from almost all other psychologists by his acceptance of the existence of the intuition as a normal psychological function of the human being. Psychosynthesis assumes the same position and lays much emphasis upon the importance and value of the intuition and upon the necessity of developing it. According to Jung, it is the psychological function that permits perceptions to arise from the unconscious and causes their contents to emerge as complete wholes.

A fundamental difference exists between the drives, impulses and desires, on the one hand, and the will on the other. We can all verify the difference, even the opposition between them; and one might say that the ?human condition? is a constant conflict between drives, impulses and desires and the will.

A person is always in a social context; he is not an isolated unit. So the more conflict there is, the more energy is wasted. If we are to have any deep peace it depends upon the harmonization of wills. Self-centeredness is deeply destructive to the cooperation without which a person cannot live a full life in community. Why should we consider good will an expendable virtue, a matter only for the religious? I can go even a step further. This same principle applies to an individual?s relation to nature and the universe. No person can take an arrogant stand and consider himself unrelated to the universe. Like it or not, man is a part of the universal will and he must somehow tune in and willingly participate in the rhythms of universal life. The harmonization and unification of the individual and the universal will ? the Chinese identification with the Tao, the Stoic acceptance of destiny, or the Christian will of God ? is one of the highest human goals, even if it is seldom realized.

The most important rule is to formulate, clearly and precisely, the goal to be reached, and then to retain it unswervingly in mind throughout all the stages of the execution, which are often long and complex.

There is no certainty; there is only adventure.

From a still wider and more comprehensive point of view, universal life itself appears to us as a struggle between multiplicity and unity

Only the development of his inner powers can offset the dangers inherent in man's losing control of the tremendous natural forces at his disposal and becoming the victim of his own achievements.

We are dominated by everything with which our self is identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves. The normal mistake we all make is to identify ourselves with some content of consciousness rather than with consciousness itself. Some people get their identity from their feelings, others from their thoughts, others from their social roles. But this identification with a part of the personality destroys the freedom which comes from the experience of the pure “I”.

Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.

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Italian Psychiatrist, Humanist and Visionary