Psychosynthesis: Wholeness
 and the Transpersonal


Josephine Newman


Wholeness is a familiar theme in the world of 
psychotherapy today. Its echoes reach far into the past,
 to the philosophers of old whose sense of core meaning 
at the heart of all existence was the unity within the
 multiplicity and diversity of its parts.


In engaging the theme of wholeness, psychotherapy also focuses on multiplicity, the
 multiplicity of parts within the person who cannot yet find, or cannot yet maintain, a
 sense of unity as a person. Without this sense of unity personal life moves towards its 
own fragmentation and dissolution. With it personal life opens to its own possibilities
 and to a sense of meaning and wholeness.

Psychosynthesis practises a therapy of wholeness, a wholeness rooted in the person’s 
essential being, which is not yet fully realised. This essential being gives unity and coher
ence to all that a person is and all that a person can become and is the innermost core
of the person. To live in relation to this central core of one’s being is the heartland of 
psychosynthesis practice. To guide the client to connect with it and express it is a central focus of its therapy.

Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) formulated his idea of psychosynthesis as a psychotherapy of life. He assumed, however, a philosophical stance in focussing on the unity
 of the self as the central core of the person. (1) As a contemporary of Freud and Jung 
he was well schooled in the psychology of psychoanalysis. His own contribution was not
 a rejection but a further development of his psychoanalytic training. With the methods
 and insights of the new psychological sciences he explored the domain of ‘supercon
scious’ (spiritual, transpersonal) experience. For the most part this had been relegated
 to the wisdom literature of the ages: literary, philosophical and religious. It was shunned 
by the new psychological sciences. By ‘superconscious’ he indicated experiences outside 
or above the norm of our ordinary conscious experience. (2) These experiences were
 typically moments of sudden insight and intuition, moments in which transpersonal 
qualities of life were experienced, moments of receptive inspiration and aspiration. Such
 moments were common experiences and were all documented throughout human his
tory. (3). For Assagioli, as for Maslow, they were evidence of the higher reaches of
 possibility in the self-actualisation process. It was the duty of psychologists, he thought,
 to explore these facts of human experience in addition to the facts of the repressed unconscious. Indeed, he thought, the expression of human ideals in life was the outcome of
our ability to integrate these experiences. The psychological task he set himself, then, was to explore the dynamics of the conscious “I” as it relates to and integrates its own 
ego development as a person. He then related this level of self-realisation to the dynam
ics of transpersonal life. The reality of that life opened a way for the personal “I” to 
journey towards its deeper transpersonal centre which he called the Higher Self. The
 Higher Self is the unifying centre and organising principle of the individual soul/psyche. 
In itself it opens to a further level of alignment with the Supreme Reality, God. But this
 further level was, for Assagioli, beyond the scope of psychology and science. “Of this,”
 he writes, “I am unable to speak; it is outside the confines of science and psychology.
 However, psychosynthesis can help to approach it and to reach the very threshold.” (4)


Psychosynthesis: Practice and Therapy


Psychosynthesis, then, refers primarily to the practice of the the whole self as the core
 reality of life. There are two focal points in this practice around which the stages of self-
realisation unfold. The first is the conscious self. Here issues of personal development
 and the experience of inner freedom to express oneself effectively in the environment of
 one’s life are the primary concern. At this level practice of the self involves the conscious
 “I”, synthesising or unifying its fragmented self-experience occasioned by early stage 
developmental processes. The second focal point is the unfolding of the unconscious,
 transpersonal or Higher Self. Here, through practice, the conscious “I” is drawn into 
deeper relationship with its emerging inner essence. The unity of the whole psyche is
 the unconscious ground of this whole process. It is the ground of healing and wholeness
 in the respective levels of the self-realisation process. The role of therapy in psychosynthesis is to facilitate this practice of the whole self in accordance with the level of
 its unfolding process. The form of therapy appropriate at each stage of the process will 
be different. For the therapist a clearly understood distinction between these two levels 
is essential. At the level of personal life the process of the conscious “I” concerns the
 achievement of a sense of personal identity and its efficacy in one’s actual life. This
 dynamic is self-reflective, and is concerned with organising and managing life within
 the context of an adequate and effective sense of self. But at the transpersonal level the
 dynamic is fundamentally receptive. It is the practice of ‘allowing’, ‘letting be’ and ‘let
ting go’ to the deeper self.

This receptive energy cannot be mastered or achieved by the conscious “I” though
 the latter is dynamically set to try to achieve it! However, it does not preclude the attempt 
by the personal “I” to include more spiritual, idealistic values in everyday living. As personal accomplishments, however, they belong at the level of personal achievement and
 do not as such pertain to the dynamics of transpersonal self-realisation. Lack of clarity
 about this distinction leads to distortion both in therapy and in self-practice and becomes 
yet another psychological block in the self-realisation process. (5)

Assagioli’s theory of subpersonalities provides part of a comprehensive understand
ing of personal synthesis. It addresses the activity of the conscious “I” centre of
 awareness and will, as the conscious “I” relates to and takes responsibility for preconscious elements of the personality. Each subpersonality within a person’s psyche is a
 complex with an unconscious drive as its dynamic centre. To the extent that a complex 
or many such complexes prevail in one’s life, a person is subject to their control. In this
 experience there is a loss of the personal centre as self-directive and self-expressive. It
 indicates a rift in the personal psyche between its conscious and its unconscious processes and a resulting fragmented experience of life. To heal that rift the person needs 
to be free to relate to rather than to be driven and controlled by the unconscious drives 
of the subpersonalities. At this basic stage of personal process the conscious “I” begins 
to practise self-awareness which actively recognises and includes the inner needs
 expressed at the core of its subpersonalities. It begins to assume responsibility for those
 needs accepting them as part of the self’s identification. This identification dynamic is
 self-expanding rather than self-limiting. It freely relates to its needs as part of the self
 and thereby opens to experience more of the self than these needs in themselves express. 
It is the practice of the identification-disidentification process involved here that frees 
the person to align with his/her unfolding essence.

This process, of course, has its internal dynamic or stages which psychosynthesis 
terms recognition, acceptance and integration. Any one of these stages in a person’s pro
cess may require significantly deep and long term therapy. This will depend on the 
person’s present sense of him/her self and how this connects with earlier developmen
tal processes. Areas of arrested development in the emerging self-structure of a personal
 psyche necessarily mean ‘repair’ and ‘healing’ if the person is to connect with his/her
 whole self. It is, consequently, an appropriate focus for a psychosynthesis therapist to
 incorporate into subpersonality theory the insights of more recent psychodynamic 
theory. In this the dynamics of each developmental stage of the self-structure are fur
ther elucidated. As a result, the issues and patterns which subpersonalities present to the 
person will be therapeutically related to on a psychodevelopmental basis. (6)

What is termed meditative practice is the other element of personal synthesis which
 needs emphasis. (7) Meditative practice is more a dynamic than a theory (as indicated
 by the word ‘practice’) and it is difficult to convey its reality in words! Nonetheless it is
 central to the healing, unifying dynamic of the whole-self experience. This unifying and
 healing dynamic is always experienced in an act of presence or self-presence. It is, in fact, 
the self experiencing itself in its unified body-feeling-mind awareness. One cannot, of
 course, ‘grasp’ objectively or control this self-reflective activity; one can only be present 
to it. So it is in meditative practice we develop and maintain a sense of presence to our 
embodied self-experience. This practice leads us into the imaginal structure of all our
 core experiences. In it our self-awareness, because embodied, opens to the layers of
 unconscious body-feeling processes which lay hidden in fantasies. These, in turn, shape
 the patterns of our individual self-structure. As one practises the act of embodied self-
knowing one senses, imaginatively, the wholistic stages of the unified personal centre as
 it relates to the present moment of its life. This activity of meditative self-presence is
 the central dynamic in the identification-disidentification process which characterises
 the self-realisation process. In opening the self to include the complexity of its embodied experience energies of expanded self-awareness are released and become the dynamic
 expressive centre of one’s life.

It is, perhaps, superfluous to add that the capacity for meditative practice, as embodied self-awareness, is itself part of the developmental process. The practice is distorted
 if it becomes a controlling observation on any level of awareness, whether body, feelings 
or mind. As practice it must rest on a willingness to receive full awareness of the embodied self in the present moment. As process, however, this has many levels and phases. It
 demands a willingness to ‘work through’ the deeply embodied repressions and ego-
defences which continuously limit and restrict our self-perceptions. In this way one’s
 actual self-experience will gradually align with the embodied sense of who one is in whatever experience the present moment may realise.


Spiritual Synthesis

In turning to what Assagioli called ‘spiritual synthesis’ that is, to the realm of transpersonal experience, we are focussing on a deeper level of unity within the psyche. This 
unity is between the personal self and its inner essence and ground of being. At the level
 of personal life we practise presence to the self-centre in which the unity of self as body,
 feelings, mind is experienced. The inner image giving shape to this movement is the personal self and its expression in one’s life. In spiritual synthesis that practice remains in
 place, as it were. But the dynamic within the self changes. As the personal self becomes 
more active, secure and responsible in its life it begins to be drawn towards its own deeper 
centre and ground. The inner image shaping this movement is no longer the personal 
self but the Higher, Whole Self, as the ground of the personal.

Signs of this transition may appear through experiences of an ego-transcending qual
ity which somehow relativise the sense of self. These include experiences of deep inner 
peace, or perhaps justice or compassion; or indeed inner emptiness, grief or desolation.
 Whether positive or negative, ego-transcending experiences do break into human consciousness and awaken a sense of the spiritual core of life. Empirical evidence of such 
phenomena throughout human history is readily available. When such spiritual awakening happens it poses a threat to the personal ego-bound psyche. In response to this 
threat the conscious self tries to take control of the spiritual. It intensifies its efforts to
 foster spiritual values and perhaps to be more heroic in facing suffering and accepting
 the diminishments of life. But this effort, as has been noted already, can only achieve the
 spiritual as an ego-ideal. However admirable and important this may be it remains at the 
personal level and does not as such effect a deeper spiritual level of self-realisation. The
 ground to which transpersonal experience points is itself transcendent and cannot consequently be achieved by the ego trying to transcend itself! If we turn to the great spiritual 
traditions we will learn that the way forward at this point involves a transition from an
 active to a more passive transformative process. The ego dynamic of the personal self
 must ‘let go’ to the deeply transformative process unfolding in and through its life.

Meditative Practice


Psychosynthesis is in line with these traditions in pointing to meditative process as
 the way of receiving and responding to the transpersonal in life. The idea of meditative 
practice as explained here, however, stresses more focally, the element of spiritual practice in this process. (8) The practice of embodied self-presence to the transpersonal
 ground, in and through ordinary life activities, is central. (9) It draws us at the same time 
into an ever-deepening presence to our personal dynamic and its attachment to the ego
 image, organising life and preventing connection with the deeper centre. ‘Letting go’
 to ones inner ground of being is a deeper and more inclusive life connection than the
 ego, in and of itself, can realise. The goal of spiritual practice, as a dynamic of the whole
 psyche, is to connect us with the deeper ground of our personal lives.

Spiritual traditions and the wisdom of both East and West have all attested to the 
psychological difficulties and dangers to be encountered on the spiritual, transformative 
journey. All have portrayed it as a way of detachment, the letting-go of ego attachment
 to the achievement of personal selfhood. But while they stress its difficulties and dan
gers they show little understanding of the psychological dynamics of the whole process.
 It is precisely here that Assagioli felt contemporary psychological insights could con
tribute. They could clarify the relationship between these two dynamics as they come
 together in the psyche. They could also help clarify commonplace psychological dis
turbances that often accompany spiritual awakening. Such disturbances include not only 
well documented pathological and psychotic distortions of spiritual materialism, ego-
inflation, narcissistic altruism, spiritual escapism and other regressive psychological
 tendencies. These confuse spiritual developmental with prepersonal and personal psychological dynamics. (10)

In addressing this level of human experience Assagioli was hopeful that empirical psy
chology would at length incorporate in its science the study of the whole psyche and of
 its levels of development. The whole psyche for him meant the person, a bio-psychospiritual being, unified as the personal centre of all its experiences.
 The practice of conventional therapy is somewhat modified within this wholistic view
 of the person. Connecting with the person as a bio-psychospiritual being, will always 
involve a context of meditative practice. The process of any one individual, of course,
 will relate to issues of prepersonal and personal stages of development. But the whole 
person, as unified centre of body, feelings, mind, soul and spirit, will be the ground on
 which the therapist meets the client irrespective of specific issues in their dialogue. Such
 meeting and dialogue does not and cannot, of course, depend on the level of self-reali
sation in either therapist or client. But for the therapist it depends on the practice of
 meditative presence to self and to the self of the client who may not be able to hold 
his/her own personal centre. At the level of spiritual synthesis the therapist will become
 guide more than therapist. The guidance will relate to the way of presence to inward, 
embodied life-experience and its expression in daily life activities.

Conclusion


The idea of psychosynthesis centres on the dynamic of unity within the psyche. This 
dynamic is as much a philosophical as it is a psychological stance. It represents the deepest insight of the great philosophies of existence. In the psychological order unity 
becomes a project of personal consciousness emerging from a personal unconscious stage
 of life. It further presses the psyche from within towards its own deeper transpersonal
 possibility. Assagioli’s well-known map of the psyche highlights the various levels and
 stages which this emerging unified psyche involves. As has been noted here, the details 
of the psychological dynamics of these levels and stages may be expanded in the light of
 more recent studies on the subject. This would include not only insights of psychody
namic developmental theory but also insights and developments of transpersonal theory.
 Psychosynthesis, as practised in Eckhart House, includes as an ongoing project both
 these areas of development. It also extends its idea of spiritual life to include a dialogue 
with the spiritual traditions of our culture. The idea of meditative practice has its roots 
in these traditions. It provides an approach to spiritual experience which Assagioli did
 not develop but which is in harmony with the essence of his thought.

Footnotes


1. In this Buber and Assagioli had similar ideas. See, for example, Friedman, “The Healing Dialogue
 of Psychotherapy” (1985: Jason Aronson Inc., NY and London), pp 5-6.

2. Assagioli, R., Transpersonal Development. (English Translation 1991: The Aquarian Press, 
London); pp 19 -20.

3. Ibid.

4. Assagioli, Op.cit, p. 31

5. Assagioli, Op.cit., passim. Also Wilbur, K. “The Pretrans Fallacy’, Journal of Humanistic
 Psychology 22 (2): pp 5 -43.

6. Psychosynthesis, as practised in Eckhart House, approaches subpersonality theory with this
 psychodynamic developmental basis in mind.

7. The principle of meditation is central to psychosynthesis. But the idea of meditative practice as
 practised in Eckhart House is a development of this.

8. For a full development of this level of meditative practice, see Karlfried Graf Von Durkheim, “The 
Way of transformation”, (1980 Allen and Unwin, London).

9. Such practices include embodied presence to self, to others, to nature, work, play and to all 
forms and expressions of life.

10. See note 5 above. Also Wilbur, “Eye to Eye, (1983, Anchor Books, NY).

Josephine Newman is a lecturer in Moral Philosophy at University College 
Dublin. She is also a member of the team at Eckhart House, Institute of 
Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Theory.