Roberto Assagioli: The Will as a Road to the Higher Self.
Featured Image: Photo of Roberto Assaglioli, M.D. – Taken from the book ‘ Psychosynthesis (1965) By U3195247, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
By Rene Wadlow.
Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) set out a path to the Higher Self with the power of the will. Roberto Assagioli, whose birth anniversary we mark on 27 February was a close co-worker of both Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustave Jung. In 1910, he broke from the Freudian approach and began to develop his own psycho-spiritual model which he called psychosynthesis He was closer in approach to Jung, but as the first translator of Freud’s writings into Italian, he is often cited as the introducer of Freudian thought into Italy.
Roberto Assagioli was an Italian psychiatrist, humanist and Theosophical student of the world’s spiritual traditions. (His mother and wife were members of the Theosophical Society).
Colorized painting of Sigmund Freud. By Photocolorization, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
I am what I will to be.
A short presentation of Assagioli’s view is that “I am what I will to be”. In a sense, the individual does not have a will: rather he is a will, a directing energy, that has taken human form as an individual. The individual will-force is in some way identical to the universal will-force. Assagioli who had studied Asian thought highlighted the Chinese sage becoming one with the universal energy – the Tao (1)
As the individual will starts on its path toward the Higher Self, it must drop off images of its earlier self formed by experiences, memories, feelings and images of the past. Some of these self-images and experiences have been repressed and stored in the subconscious. Thus in many cases, there is a first task of self-discovery of past experiences and emotions stored in the sub-conscious. Only when this is done, can one deal with the current self-images and emotions which make up the current personality.
Jung, Carl Gustav (1875-1961). By ETH Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The process of dropping off current self-images Assagioli calls “disidentification”. Disidentification is needed so that a new identity emerges, one that is capable of accepting and integrating in a harmonious synthesis all the earlier emotions, thoughts and experiences. This is why Assagioli called his approach “psychosynthesis.” It is this fresh, new personality, which Assagioli termed the “I” that can set out on the road to develop the Higher Self. This inner journey is not always easy. There is a progressive examination of the contents of the field of consciousness and the functions of the psyche. This involves a progressive movement through the preconscious, the subconscious and culminating with the higher concious. Assagioli writes:
“Spiritual development is a long and arduous journey, an adventure through strange lands full of surprises, difficulties and even dangers. It involves a drastic transmutation of the ‘normal’ elements of the personality, an awakening of potentialities hitherto dormant, a raising of consciousness to new realms, and a functioning along a new inner dimension.”
Along the way to the Higher Self, the will can be strengthened by what Assagioli calls “transpersonal experiences” and what A. Maslow calls “Peak Experiences”. Such experiences help to stimulate the drive toward the Higher Self. However, some of these transpersonal experiences can be short-lived and ephemeral unless they are grounded through meditation and techniques of visualization of oneself as already functioning as the Higher Self.
These techniques of creating an identity as being the Higher Self is one of the outstanding features of psychosynthesis. However, after 1936, his work became increasingly difficult both because of the growing antisemitism under Nazi German pressure on Italy and because his humanitarian activities aroused hostility from the Italian Fascist government. In 1940 he was arreested and kept in solitary confinement for a month and then kept under strict police surveillance. In 1943, he was again actively persecuted and forced to hide in remote mountain villages. He narrowly escaped twice from the Nazi soldiers who had destroyed his family’s home with dynamite.
After 1945, he increased his contacts with a wide group of spiritual thinkers from different traditions. However, his aim remained finding approaches to wholeness, realizing the full human potential, transcending contradictions and achieving enlightenment.
1) See the chapter “The Universal Will” in his major book: Roberto Assagioli. The Act of Will (London: Wildwood House, 1974)
2) See Jean Hardy.A Psychology with a Soul (London: Routledge and Kegan Pail, 1987)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.