"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," Sigmund Freud Even Freud sensed that the complex work of psychoanalysis could take itself so seriously that it found sexually-charged, repressed monsters everywhere in the psyche. To balance this perceived over-emphasis on the darker aspects of the psyche, Roberto Assagioli, an Italian contemporary of Freud, created a school of psychology known as Psychosynthesis.
Assagioli sought a more well-rounded approach in which the spiritual aspects of the psyche become an intentional part of the growth process. He believed that each of us has a unifying center, which contains an Observant Self and the will. The will is not characterized by willfulness but rather a sense of willingness to accept and integrate what is present. From this center, we can observe, harmonize, integrate and direct the various parts of the psyche.
The wonderful thing about this work is that it can be fun. Rather than years focused on navel gazing in which we see only lint and the failures of our parents, this approach uses drawing, imagination, guided imagery and other techniques to move us toward wholeness. Assagioli even believed that when we engage in this kind of personal growth and self-realization, we are doing nothing less than participating in the evolution of humanity.
While this school is very positive in its outlook, a major focus of the work is to befriend the "sub-personalities" that sabotage us. Simply put, sub-personalities are powerful, largely unconscious, psychic patterns from early life that easily hijack us. Psychosynthesis teaches us to become a conductor of sub-personalities who takes the cacophony of these often dissonant voices and brings them into harmony to sing the same song. The key, as with all spiritual and psychological work, is to accept and befriend whatever we find.
Here's a very simple practice based on Assagioli's work:
- Spend a minute observing the thoughts that enter your awareness.
- Notice that during that minute your thoughts changed, perhaps even contradicted each other. This shows that while you have thoughts, you are not your thoughts. There is some other part of you that is observing the constant flow.
- Now spend another minute with your thoughts. This time see if you can also become aware of the part that is witnessing your changing thoughts.
- This Observant Self is the part of you that notices your thoughts (or feelings or physical sensations) without becoming them, taking them too seriously or making them your identity.
- Cultivating awareness of your Observant Self frees you to make a conscious, appropriate choice in any situation.
If you would like to learn more about Psychosynthesis and its tools for integrating your life, then please join us on Saturday, June 16 for a retreat day entitled "Path to Wholeness: Harmonizing the Conflicting Parts of Ourselves". It will be held in San Anselmo, CA.