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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Part I: Two Versions of Psychosynthesis
(1962) holds an MA in Psychosynthesis from The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust and a four-year Diploma in Psychosynthesis psychotherapy. Through his company, Kentaur Training
and Publishing, he works with Psychosynthesis in Denmark and Scandinavia. He works as a psychotherapist, lecturer, author and writer, and a spiritual teacher. Kenneth Sørensen is the author of two books (in Danish) on esotericism - one on group meditation and another on higher and lower psychism.
A comparison of Wilber and Assagioli
Part II: The Developmental Theory of Psychosynthesis
It is now time to research into the details of what type of developmental theory Psychosynthesis upholds from Assagioli’s original version to modern Psychosynthesis. As we have seen, Wilber’s Integral Model is a hierarchical stage model, a “growth-to-goodness” concept of human development.
But what is it that evolves? For Wilber, and for Assagioli, it is the Self – the seat of identity and awareness. What Assagioli calls the personal self, the center of pure consciousness and will (1975: 119), becomes in Wilber’s terminology to the “Proximate Self” or the observing self (2000c: 33). They share the same basic understanding of what evolves in man, this I will demonstrate in the following and let me start off by offering some of Wilber’s points.
The self, the sense of “I”, undergoes according to Wilber its own development through the basic levels (called the Self-line) and develops different types of identifications or self-sense on each level. This can be defined as the evolution of consciousness through the stages: Material self to bodily self to mental self to soul self to selfless Self.
When the self conquers a new level Wilber claims that it also enters a new world, and a new outlook on reality. It then faces ‘new fears, has different goals, suffers new problems. It has a new set of needs, a new class of morals, and a new sense of self.’ (2002: 38)
The central source of identity expands and deepens as the self develops through the basic levels and develops different and more expanded identifications with what the ‘I’ thinks and feels it self to be. According to Brad Reynolds this leads: “to a ‘decreasing egocentricity’ basically because the self moves from a more narrow or contracted sense of identity to the wider, more embracing stages of conscious awareness” (2006: 195-196).
Wilber exemplifies this development through one of the self related lines i.e. the line of moral development based on research from Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, Carol Gilligan, and Robert Kegan. Wilber calls this development for the spiral of compassion because it expands the self-identity from egocentric (Me), to ethnocentric (US), worldcentric (All Of Us) to Cosmocentric (All). But how did Assagioli consider human development from an Integral perspective?
Assagioli’s Theory of Development Is Based On Hierarchical Thinking
Generally it can be said that Assagioli never presented a detailed developmental theory, but from ideas scattered around in his books and papers a very clear picture can be assembled.
From what we have already covered we can assume that he shares Wilber’s hierarchical ‘growth-to-goodness’ model. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been an influential inspiration for Wilber, and Assagioli also uses it to clarify his own position on human development.
He warmly encourages his students to study Maslow’s books (Assagioli, Undated 2: 4) and in his book The Act of Will he draws a close comparison between his own Egg Diagram and Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ (Assagioli, 2002: 106-122). Assagioli here gives a very precise picture of his developmental theory by aligning it with Maslow’s well-known stage model.
Like Maslow, he considers human development an evolutionary progression through natural unfolding stages that can be stimulated through the various techniques used in Psychosynthesis (Assagioli, 2002: 99). Assagioli (2002: 99) states that: “As the basic human needs are being taken care of, the pull of what Maslow has termed the higher needs gradually emerges and asserts itself, and draws us toward ever greater expansion of consciousness and realization.”
After having briefly outlined the ‘hierarchy of needs’ (Assagioli, 2002: 106), Assagioli (2002: 110) starts to compare it to his own Egg Diagram and explains that: “The basic and normal personal needs concern the levels of the lower and middle psychological life.”
The basic elementary needs are what Maslow calls physiological and safety needs, and they correspond to the lower unconscious. The normal personal needs are according to Assagioli love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. The higher unconscious is associated with Maslow’s Being-values or metaneeds and a real transcendence of normal consciousness.
Assagioli and Maslow claim that satisfaction of the first two groups of needs often activate an existential crisis and the need for meaning – this is a higher pull from above through a transpersonal need or soul need.
Assagioli (2002: 113) claims that we search for the higher needs through an act of transcendence, which is a rising above ordinary consciousness and a transcendence of the limitations of personal consciousness. This happens through the aspiration and will of the personal self and through the pull from the Higher Self to transcend the limitations. There are different types of transcendence related to the different ways of self-realisation; it is not only happening through a search for enlightenment.
The ways are connected with Assagioli’s typology and I will present them later on.
But all the ways apply the “fundamental will to transcend personality limitations through union with someone or something greater and higher” (Assagioli, 2002: 116).
As Maslow, Assagioli (1975: 30) discriminates between self-actualisation and self-realisation. Self-actualisation or what Assagioli calls personal Psychosynthesis is the development of a well-rounded personality and integration of all the normal psychological functions in the lower and middle unconscious around the personal self. This stage can still be quite selfish or self-centred and does not necessarily imply any higher motivation.
Self-realisation means realizing all potentials in especially the higher unconscious culminating in the direct unification between the “I”, the observer and the Higher Self, and ultimately with the Universal Self.
Assagioli (2002: 120) summarises his developmental theory through Maslow’s ‘five stages of evolutionary development.’ The types belonging to the first two stages are motivated by deficiency needs, from physiological to esteem needs. The third and fourth stage is associated with motivation for self-actualisation and the fifth stage is motivated by transpersonal self-realization.
Assagioli (2002: 121-122) further divides the fifth stage of self-realization or spiritual Psychosynthesis into three well-defined stages making the total of eight stages to full self-realisation. The three transpersonal stages are:
1. The activation and expression of the potentialities in the higher unconscious and he exemplifies this stage through some of the extraordinary geniuses in the history of humanity. Leonardo da Vinci and Goethe pertain to this stage.
2. The direct awareness of the Self, which culminates in the unification of the consciousness of the personal self with the Higher Self. Gandhi, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King and Schweitzer belong according to Assagioli here.
3. The communion of the Higher Self with the Universal Self. The highest mystics of all times belong here.
Assagioli divided the above seven stages into two overall stages which he called personal Psychosynthesis – stage one to four – and Transpersonal Psychosynthesis stage five to seven. This is equivalent to Wilber’s ‘outward and inward arc.’ The ‘outward’ development is a process whereby the individual develops a healthy ego resulting in the stage of the integrated body-mind, the ‘Centaur’ with the faculty of Vision-logic. After a stable egoic development there is a turn inward to the higher transpersonal stages. In Figure 8 (See below) (Reynolds 2006: 209) we see a comparison between Wilber’s basic levels with well-known Western and Eastern developmentalists, and if we follow Maslow’s stages we see how Assagioli fits into this diagram.
If we apply the above theory on stage development to Assagioli’s Egg Diagram, we could illustrate it like Figure 9 see below. The comparison between Wilber’s and Assagioli’s stages needs a lot of elaboration, so this is only a first suggestion. Assagioli also divides the three transpersonal stages into five stages when the specific crisis related to the expansion of consciousness is included. In his article Spiritual Joy and in Transpersonal Development (Assagioli, 1993: 108-33, 1942: 1) he gives a lot of information, which I cannot cover within the limitations of this article.
In his book: Psychosynthesis he (Assagioli, 1975: 30) describes the more practical approach of how we actually help ourselves and our clients to develop through the stages, and he clearly discriminates between personal and transpersonal psychosynthesis.
“Psychosynthesis utilises many techniques of psychological action, aiming first at the development and perfection of the personality, and then at its harmonious co-ordination and increasing unification with the Self. Theses phases may be called respectively ‘personal’ and ‘spiritual’ Psychosynthesis.” (1975: 30)
Within these two overall phases he outlines four stages:
1. Thorough knowledge of one’s personality
2. Control of its various elements
3. Realisation of one’s true Self – the discovery or creation of a unifying centre
4. Psychosynthesis: the formation or reconstruction of the personality around the new centre
According to Assagioli (1975: 29) the above stages are not meant to be followed in any strict succession, because he clearly understands the uneven development of man. Assagioli claims that some people have developed a genuine realization of transpersonal Self-realization, but lack adequate development of the personality functions in order to express themselves properly in the world (personal Psychosynthesis) and vice versa (Assagioli, 2002: 121).
But from this we cannot conclude, as Firman/Gila do (see below), that Psychosynthesis does not operate with a hierarchical stage conception that unfolds in natural stages; I think I have demonstrated this in the above.
Vague Stage Conception In Modern Psychosynthesis
When we come to modern Psychosynthesis and its developmental theories, we don’t find many detailed hierarchical stage perspectives except the basic understanding already discussed.
Ferrucci (1982: 139) is the only psychosynthesist who outlines what he calls ‘the evolution from personality to Self’, and he clearly follows Assagioli’s thoughts and defines six stages if we include the stage before awakening. He talks about ‘the ladder of evolution’ (Ferrucci, 1982: 72).
Hardy also acknowledges Assagioli’s hierarchical approach and emphasises the influence from Dante: “The final point that I would like to make about the relevance of Dantes framework to Assagioli is the very hierarchical nature of the pictures of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. This is in accordance with the picture of the Great Chain of Being …” (1996: 148)
Returning to Firman/Gila it is clear that they have chosen another developmental model than Assagioli’s, but they seem not to be fully aware of it, so let me offer a few points.
They claim that their developmental model arises directly from Assagioli’s original thinking and: “to our knowledge, Assagioli never elaborated a detailed developmental theory” (Firman/Gila, 2002: 112).
In order to state the above, they seem to be quite unaware of Assagioli’s hierarchical ‘growth-to-goodness’ model, and that the model they suggest is in direct opposition to fundamental features in Assagioli’s theory as been discussed above.
They claim that Assagioli’s four practical stages:
“Are not hierarchical levels in which earlier stages are subsumed by the later” (Firman/Gila 2002: 46). They seem to forget that Assagioli considers these stages to be part of two overall stages – the personal and spiritual Psychosynthesis, and his alignment with Maslow’s theory.
And they further state:
“Assagioli does not present them as natural stages in human development. For example they do not represent a development sequence unfolding from birth to old age” (Firman/Gila, 2002: 46). But Assagioli does believe in natural unfolding stages as been demonstrated above (Assagioli, 2002: 99). Firman/Gila continue:
“The stages cannot be used as some sort of yardstick to measure our progress in psychospiritual development. They are not a ladder up which we climb …” (Firman/Gila, 2002: 46).
But within the text where he defines the practical steps, Assagioli (1975: 24) actually does talk about an ascent through stages:
“Between the starting point in the lowlands of our ordinary consciousness and the shining peak of Self-realization there are intermediate phases, plateaus at various altitudes on which a man may rest or even make his abode.” And another place he states: “Identification with higher and higher aspects of the superconscious is useful, as it can constitute a ladder toward the Self” (Assagioli, undated 3: 4).
The above quotation from Firman/Gila is clearly in direct contradiction to the Integral Approach, Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, and Assagioli’s theory in all their points.
It seems that Assagioli always considers Self-realisation to be a process that goes through the superconscious and not the lower unconscious and his point is: “The contents of the superconscious, particularly at its higher levels, are very close to the Self and therefore share, to some extent, its characteristics” (Assagioli, 1993: 29).
And in another quote by Assagioli (Miller, Stuart: 1973): “…others feel "calls" - to use the old language. They are attracted by the possibility of expanding consciousness into the farther reaches of the Superconscious, up to the experience of the Self. This is true Self realization, what I call Transpersonal or Spiritual psychosynthesis.”
Firman/Gila are obviously in direct opposition with that idea.
In the above we have considered especially the Self’s overall development through the stages. I will now turn to the important Integral concept of lines of development in order to see how Psychosynthesis applies to this.
The Self’s Development Through Lines
When the individual develops through the levels of consciousness from subconscious to self-conscious and superconscious there are, according to Wilber (2000c: 28), about: “Two dozens relatively independent developmental lines or streams” that pass through these levels of consciousness. Some of the prominent lines that every individual unfolds through his/her evolutionary development are the affective, cognitive, moral, interpersonal and spiritual lines. According to the research on which Wilber bases his theory (Maslow, Kohlberg, Erikson, Piaget, Aurobindo etc.), each of the individual lines tends to unfold in a rather sequential, stage-like, holarchical fashion through the basic levels. “But the ‘overall development’ – the sum total of all these different lines – shows no linear or sequential development whatsoever” (Wilber, 2002: 28). The consequences of this are that an individual can be a mixture of highly, medium and low developed lines. The diagram in Figure 10 - see below(Wilber, 2000c: 31) shows varying levels of development in separate lines.
The developmental studies that Wilber uses as background for his theory claim that individuals tend to be focused at an overall and particular stage of development, which is often called the Self’s centre of gravity. The overall stage is especially related to the self-line and what an individual is identifying with, at a particular stage of development. But the overall human being with all its psychological functions is not at any particular stage of development, because all the aspects of the personality have their own individual development.
Some of the lines of development are closely related to the self’s own development and Wilber calls them the self-related streams (see figure 8). The self has a capacity for identifying with each level (becoming one with it) and through this identification masters the level of consciousness until it disidentifies with it again in order to step to the next higher level. Whenever the self is transcending one level it integrates the former in a developmental movement Wilber calls transcend and include.
When the self conquers a new level it also enters a new world and a new outlook on reality. It faces then “new fears, has different goals, suffers new problems. It has a new set of needs, a new class of morals, a new sense of self” (Wilber, 2002: 38).
Lines of Development In Psychosynthesis
One of the principal parts of Psychosynthesis training is the “development of the aspects of the personality which are either deficient or inadequate” (Assagioli, 1975: 29). Assagioli (1975: 57) is well aware of the ‘irregular development’ of many people and has implemented many active techniques to develop the weak psychological functions.
In his Star Diagram (see Figure 11 (below), Assagioli 2002: 49) he very clearly defines what he considers to be the fundamental lines of development, namely the seven psychological functions organised around the Self. The Self is the white area of awareness at the centre of the Diagram (7) and in close relation to this centre Assagioli puts the will, so in a way they are the two sides of the same coin. The difference is that he considers the will to be the primary dynamic psychological function of a living conscious entity – the Self.
In The Act of Will (Assagioli, 2002: 98-99) he also argues for the hierarchical nature of all the psychological functions and in this way they become lines of development. There can be higher and lower aspects of e.g. love and will and all the other psychological functions. The higher the level the more inclusive it becomes in its expression. Assagioli suggests many techniques to this specific development and especially the work with ideal models – a visualised image of perfection. According to Assagioli, every line or psychological function can have its own ideal model, which we work to realize: It “represents the next and most urgent step or stage – that of developing an undeveloped psychological function, focusing on a single specified quality or small group of qualities, or abilities which the patient most needs in order to achieve, and even to proceed with, his Psychosynthesis” (Assagioli, 1975: 170).
From the above we can assume that Assagioli has a conception of lines of development. In this respect Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis becomes Integral.
It is a well-known feature of modern Psychosynthesis to train the weak psychological functions even though the only Psychosynthesist who, according to my research, really gives it a hierarchical stage flavour is Piero Ferrucci. In his book, What We May Be, he offers a lot of techniques to the development of the various psychological functions (see e.g. Ferrucci, 1982: 107-111). But Ferrucci is not very explicit about the hierarchical progression of the lines, so it is not possible to conclude that his approach is Integral in relation to lines of development).
States of Consciousness
Another important concept in Wilber’s Integral Approach is states of consciousness. In Integral Psychology (Wilber, 2002, p.13-14) he defines four states of consciousness that are available to all human beings as temporary state experiences. The waking state is related to the ordinary consciousness of the ego. The next two states can be entered with full consciousness even though they are defined as dream and deep sleep. The dream state is related to states of the soul and is associated with the experience of different visions of divine beings and diverse unitive states with form. The deep sleep state covers all the formless experience with spirit and is associated with emptiness. The final state is the non-dual state that integrates them all in unity – emptiness is form and form is emptiness.
If we look at Figure 9 and recall the presentation of the Egg Diagram we can see that Assagioli’s Egg Diagram gives a general presentation of the four above states. The lower and middle levels are related to the waking ego state. The higher unconscious to the dream or soul state. The Higher Self and above to the causal or deep dream state, and the totality of the Egg Diagram including the Universal Self is associated with the non-dual state. The above comparison is close on a general level, but the details have to be worked out. Assagioli offers many definitions of the higher states throughout his authorship, but does not discriminate as thoroughly as Wilber does between the states at each level.
One of Wilber’s (2000c: 15-16) important points is that these passing ‘height experiences’ or perspectives can be turned into stable stages when the ‘I’ during meditation connects with these states during extended periods of time. Meditation is an important technique for Wilber as well as for Assagioli in order to raise the stage of development for an individual. Meditation on the ideal model is one of the techniques Assagioli suggests.
Assagioli arrives at the same conclusion in regard to turning states into permanent traits. He argues that the experience of the higher states: “encourages a gradual stabilisation of the centre of personal consciousness and of the area of ordinary consciousness at gradually higher levels” (Assagioli, 1993: 40, see also: 1993: 51).
From the above it seems reasonable to assume that Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis is Integral when it comes to the concept of states. All the modern Psychosynthesists that I have researched into include the various states connected to the three levels of the Egg Diagram, but they lack the process that turns states into stages.
We will now very briefly turn the attention to a topic that Wilber does not say much about: Types. But that does not mean that they are unimportant.
When considering types, Wilber almost entirely draws on existing models from Jung and the Enneagram. The types are horizontal orientations available on each level i.e. the feminine and masculine expression. Wilber (2002: 54) exemplifies the important use of types by combining the nine types of the Enneagram with the eight vertical levels used in Spiral Dynamics and from this combination we get seventy two different psychological orientations.
Assagioli is well aware of the importance of typology or differential psychology. He has a chapter on typology in his book The Act of Will and a short presentation of his own septenary classification published under the title: Psychosynthesis Typology (Assagioli, 1983a).
He classifies them as: the Will/Power type, the Love/Illuminative type, the Active/Practical type, the Aesthetic/Creative type, the Scientific/Rational type, the Devotional/Idealistic type and the Organizer/Ritualistic type (Assagioli, 2002: 250-251). There is no space to elaborate on details of the types, so let us look at the modern Psychosynthesis writers.
Ferrucci is again the Psychosynthesist who comes closest to Assagioli’s original ideas. In his book Inevitable Grace he goes deep into the seven ways (types) of Self-realization and exemplifies them through the lives of famous geniuses and creatives. Hardy and Parfitt also offer a short introduction to the ways.
None of the above writers, nor anyone else that I have researched into, has presented a complete theory on the basis of Assagioli’s suggestions, so the modern version of Psychosynthesis Typology seems to be rather partial.
It seems to me that typology is a well known approach within the Psychosynthesis community, so it seems that they are all in some respect Integral. This brings us to the last Integral topic of how it all fits together.
AQAL – How Levels, Lines, States and Types All Fit Together
Wilber’s AQAL model is one of his later findings and offers a synthetic conception of all his central concepts in one picture. Wilber claims that anything in the manifested Kosmos – the world of becoming – can at least be observed from the four different perspectives we find in the AQAL diagram (see Figure 12 - below).
The left part of the diagram represents the individual/collective interior, and the right part is the exterior. The upper part is all related to individual development and the lower part is collective development. All the quadrants are also embedded in the whole spectrum of levels already introduced. In this way AQAL becomes All Quadrants All Levels.
In the Upper Left we find all the different levels of consciousness that any individual may pass through in the full possibility of development to its fullest potential. In the Upper Right we find all the individual and physical aspects (e.g. brainwaves and behaviour) associated with the Upper Left. In the Lower Left we find all the cultural and shared states of consciousness that any individual will be part of, and the stages of development that any group may pass through. In the Lower Right we see how the cultural values are reflected in different kinds of political and social systems. Wilber often summarises his model in the sentence: cultivation of body, mind and spirit in self, culture and nature.
I will now research into whether Psychosynthesis is aware of the four quadrants: The individual interior and exterior and the collective interior and exterior.
The Individual Interior – Upper Left
This field has already been covered up till now; this is where the individual development occurs through the basic levels and lines.
The Individual Exterior – Upper Right
In this quadrant we see all the states of consciousness reflected in outer behaviour and brainwaves. Wilber also has a conception of subtle bodies due to the stages in this quadrant.
He defines a subtle body as an ‘energetic support of the various states and levels of mind’ we find in the upper left. (2000c: 12) The gross physical body supports the material mind (brainwaves and behaviour), the subtle body the emotional, mental and higher mental mind and the causal body support the spiritual mind. The energetic bodies are also better known as the aura.
Wilber claims that we have to integrate the three bodies in e.g. psychotherapy in order to get the full picture of a given situation.
The question is here, does Psychosynthesis include the three bodies: gross, subtle and causal when working with psychotherapy?
Assagioli, being a medical doctor, acknowledged that the study of neuro-physiology and the electrical impulses (1975: 194) was very important, and he also encouraged the use of the appropriate physical cures i.e. different drugs etc. (1993: 126, 132)
In his article Psychosomatic Medicine and Bio-Psychosynthesis, he confirms that the body must be included in Psychosynthesis psychotherapy and states that the proper name for Psychosynthesis is Bio-Psychosynthesis. In various contexts he suggests a variation of physical exercises as part of the psychotherapeutic training.
It seems to me that Assagioli is also well aware of subtle bodies even though he does not write much about it. In a short sentence he explains what I assume to be the three bodies of the personality – the gross and subtle body of Wilber:
“Our spiritual being, the Self, which is the essential and most real part of us, is concealed, confined and ‘enveloped’ first by the physical body with its sense impressions, then by the multiplicity of the emotions and the different drives (fears, desires, attractions and repulsions), and finally by the restless activity of the mind” (1975: 214).
He also mentions what I believe is the Eastern concept of ‘karana sharira’, the causal body, when he speaks of the soul as the lotus flower hiding the divine essence – the ‘Jewel of the Lotus.’ (1993: 97)
Assagioli’s emphasis on the will also places a strong focus on this area of the quadrant, because Psychosynthesis encourages the client to take direct action in order to facilitate the transformational change. The implementation of every new therapeutic goal follows a carefully planned process – called the six stages of the Will.
Many of the modern Psychosynthesists, especially Parfitt (2006: 202), also put emphasis on integrating body work as part of the therapeutic process and they also work with the act of will.
Many of the modern psychosynthesists lay emphasis on integrating body work as part of the therapeutic process and they also work with the act of will. In regard to Wilber’s three bodies, Hardy is the only writer who according to my research is showing a direct knowledge of two of the bodies through this earlier presented diagram. Every body and the state of consciousness it carries is a step closer to the Self. This drawing shows the holonic and vertical dimension of Psychosynthesis. Hardy doesn’t mention the inclusion of body work in her presentation.
The therapeutic work with the subtle body in psychotherapy is related to the use of i.e. Tai Chi and other types of subtle body practices. According to the Eastern traditions, the causal body is also the body that develops through the many incarnations and carries all the evolutionary growth from one incarnation to the next. So any spiritual practice will automatically and directly develop the spiritual quality of the causal body.
Let us now go to the collective sphere and see how Psychosynthesis performs in this area.
The Collective Interior – Cultural Development
In his book Up from Eden, Wilber outlines how the spiritual evolution (called spirit-in-action) has unfolded up through the history of humanity through different stages of consciousness. This evolutionary development in history has been recognised by several theorists, including Jean Gebser (1905-1973) who influenced Wilber in his theories about cultural development. He was one of the first to research and detect the various psycho-historical structures of consciousness that have emerged in the course of history. He called these stages of cultural development for the archaic, the magic, the mythic, the mental, and the integral and it is visualised by Brad Reynolds (2006: 263) in Figure 13 -see below.
These traits are still active in the human constitution today because development always, in Wilber’s definition, transcends and includes the former stages. Wilber also includes the transpersonal levels in his approach to collective development called psychic, subtle and causal but they seem more to be future possibilities. These stages of development are the shared worldviews that all the different cultures have been embedded in at a given time and they are at the same time reflected in the individual psychological make-up.
The stages has also been defined as prepersonal, personal and transpersonal development, and an important point Wilber makes is the difference between the popular masses of a culture and the avant-garde of a given culture. The latter are very often developing through the
Every human being develops through many of these stages in a natural process from birth to adult. In this way the culture as well as the individual climbs the Great Chain of Being.
It is not within the scope of this thesis to go further into the definition of Wilber’s cultural evolution. Instead I would like to investigate whether we can find traits of collective and cultural evolution in Assagioli’s thinking.
Roberto Assagioli is well aware of the evolution of cultural consciousness and addresses this issue several times in Transpersonal Development and in several articles (Assagioli, undated 1, 4, 1965, 1973). Chapter Nine in Transpersonal Development is called “The Stages and Crisis of Spiritual Development” and is introduced in the following manner:
“Even if we take no more than a causal look at the people around us, we see at once that they are not equally developed from the psychological and spiritual point of view. Some of them are still in a primitive, even wild, state, others are a little more developed, yet others are more advanced, and finally there are those few who have transcended normal humanity and now stand at the threshold of the superhuman, spiritual stage’ (Assagioli, 1993: 107).
In this chapter Assagioli brings out his developmental theory by comparing the individual growth from child to adult (upper left) with the different cultural stages of development found in humanity during certain historical periods (lower left), and it resembles in many respect Wilber’s psycho-historical stages of consciousness. Assagioli (Undated 4: 6) claims that according to the ‘law of recapitulation’ “the individual, in his development, actually goes through a rapid re-run of all the stages through which humanity has passed.”
Assagioli works with the same three overall stages: prerational, rational and transrational. He discriminates also between a higher and lower expression of the same stage or psychological age. Let me very briefly cover them from the above chapter:
Stage 1. The primitive stage
This is the stage of the primitive people and ordinary small children. They are “characterised by being simple, impulsive, easily distracted. They live only in the present, they are sensitive and emotional, but their feelings, though they may be intense at the time, are lacking in depth and are short-lived” (Assagioli, 1993: 108). The moral stage on this level he claims to be rather egocentric or pre-conventional. This stage very much resembles Ken Wilber’s magical-typhoon – see Figure 13.
Stage 2. The mythic stage
Assagioli exemplify this psychological age and stage through the early Vedic age in India or those of the Homeric period in Greece. According to Assagioli, human beings at this stage are rather naïve and childish in their belief systems. The higher qualities of this age are: “purity, spontaneity, devotion and a childlike faith in God” (Assagioli, 1993: 108). He describes their moral development as very conventional with a lot of devotion to their superiors, to moral and religious precepts and to the law. This stage seems to correspond with Ken Wilber’s Mythic-Membership.
But Assagioli carries us further into the mental stages of development with the following words: “Men cannot and should not stay at this childish level. Their development is marked, as during adolescence, by a series of contrasts and conflicts, and this opens up to the next stage.” (1993: 109).
The rational stage or the “Titanic or Promethean” stage
At this stage we develop critical reflection and this gives rise to many problems and doubts. The cultural values and theories are no longer taken for granted or accepted without discussion. The mind wants to know the facts about a given moral value or thing. The individual becomes very proud and independent and turns away from gods or any authority. According to Assagioli we also find “an accentuation of self-awareness and self-affirmation which often leads to subjective introspection and is the chief characteristic of the Romantic viewpoint” (1993:109). He also considers this stage to be very chaotic and disharmonic presumably because of the many battles between the individual and the collective values.
The lower aspects of this psychological age are among more an excessive self-affirmation, destructive impulses, anarchy, fanaticism, pride, and lack of respect of and understanding of others. The higher qualities are idealism, generosity, courage and boldness, a sense of honour.
The overall purpose of this age is “development of the mind and of the independent moral faculties, affirmation of self-awareness and of spiritual independence, the study of life and the gaining of a broader experience” (1993:110). This age corresponds to the psychological age of the adolescent and many people are according to Assagioli at this level today – and it resembles in some respect Wilber’s Mental-Egoic level.
The stage of the consolidated personality or the adult soul
This is the stage of the integrated personality which Assagioli compares to the adult man or woman and we also find a higher and lower expression of this stage. The emotions have been stabilised and the mental and rational faculties have been developed. The former states of chaos and rapid changes have settled due to a consolidation of the personality.
The lower expression of this stage shows itself through reactions to the harsh realities of life, the many failures and disappointments give rise to an unduly scepticism and intellectual crystallisation. This hardening of the personality can make it very extrovert in its pursuit of personal duties and ambitions and create an isolation and emphasis on selfishness.
The higher aspects of this age and stage can according to Assagioli be summarised in three words: harmony, balance and effectiveness. The personality is now so integrated or ‘perfected’ that it is a good vehicle for spirit, and man is able to demonstrate a good balance between spirit and form. This seems to represent the stage of personal Psychosynthesis or self-actualisation. This stage is a major turning point for the soul where it must choose between the lower or higher way. The lower way will intensify the suffering and crystallisation into matter until a major crisis will interact and change the course. This crisis is a battle between the personality and the Self which will one way or another rejuvenate the entire personality with new spiritual energies, when the surrender is done. The positive outcome of this crisis, Assagioli calls: The awakening of the soul. The higher way will lead to a gradually closer rapport with the spiritual Self and the evolving self will enter the path of purification and the different crisis here.
The above psychological age resembles in many instances the stage Ken Wilber calls the integrated body-mind or the Integral Centaur.
The following stages in Assagioli’s stage theory are purely transpersonal stages and follow a pattern of crisis, purification and expansion of consciousness from stage to stage.
To Assagioli, individual Psychosynthesis (Upper Left) is only one aspect of the synthesis he argues for: “Individual Psychosynthesis is not, and cannot be, an end in itself, since each one of us is closely linked in life with other persons and groups” (Assagioli, 2002: 185). The horizontal part of Psychosynthesis was meant to be a wider and more full integration of the individual in the collective without loosing individuality. He argues that many of the same techniques that are used for personal Psychosynthesis also could be implemented in the interpersonal work. His idealistic vision was that Psychosynthesis could play a role in establishing right human relations among the couples, between groups, nations and ultimately lead to the Psychosynthesis of humanity (Assagioli, 1965: 7). He even went further and saw human evolution as part of a greater evolution that united all beings into the supreme or cosmic synthesis (Assagioli, 1975: 31).
Assagioli does not write much on the above issue, but he seems to have been fully aware of the area and actually has a brief cultural stage model to offer as an example, so in this respect he seems to be Integral.
There is not much to say about modern Psychosynthesis. Most of the literature that I have researched into acknowledges the importance of interpersonal development, but lacks entirely a stage model and is not Integral in this respect.
Firman/Gila’s contribution within this area is significant even though it is not Integral, because they have offered a lot of new insights to the significance of authentic mirroring and an empathetic environment this should be honoured. Let’s now turn to our last subject – the Lower Right quadrant of social development.
The Collective Exterior – Social Development
Wilber’s Lower Right quadrant deals with the social and political reflections in society of the cultural values in lower left. The social and political systems are where the values get integrated in institutions; this is where we act to establish the structures of society within its manifold areas.
Assagioli does not write much about this area. There are a few articles about education (Assagioli, 1960, 1963, 1968, Undated 1) and how to integrate Psychosynthesis within the schools and universities. There are also some thoughts on the gender issue (Assagioli, Undated 4, 1965, 1973) and the development of nations as souls and personalities (Assagioli, Undated 4: 3). But he upholds the attitude that the core human problems have to be solved in the heart of every individual, because society is a reflection of human consciousness. He argues that e.g. the aggressive drives must be transmuted through an individual effort in order to secure real peace in the world. That’s why his main focus is in the Upper Left quadrant.
There can be no doubt that Assagioli was a firm idealistic believer in the Psychosynthesis of humanity – unity in diversity was the glorious future goal he argued for.
In his article From the Couple to the Community he writes about the Psychosynthesis of nations, which he considers to be psychological entities with a soul. A nation is composed of the public at large that participate in the desire life of the lower unconscious, the thinkers that constitute the mental part of the nations conscious life, and the few geniuses and creatives that act as vessels for the nation’s superconscious and soul.
The obstacle to this synthesis between nations he argues is psychological not political, which is why we need individual as well as social psychology. Here we might find a clue to why he does not write more on the political and social issues, because as he says Psychosynthesis “is in fact neutral in the fields of philosophy and religion, as well as social and political neutral” (Undated 4: 3).
In the lower left we also find subtle and causal levels even though it is very difficult to find out how Wilber considers these structures in reality. Perhaps Assagioli gave a hint to how he saw this development in the quote below:
“Let us try in our imagination to form a vivid picture of the glory and bliss of the victorious, liberated soul as it consciously participates in the wisdom, power and love of the Divine Life. Now let us imagine an even greater vision of the Kingdom of God, when it has become a reality on earth, the vision of a redeemed humanity, with the whole of creation regenerated and displaying with joy the perfection of God” (1993: 128).
I find this area the weakest represented in both Assagioli’s writings and modern Psychosynthesis, and the Integral perspective becomes very vague.
I will now bring in the clinical issues related to the second chapter. What can we learn, as Psychosynthesis psychotherapists, by applying the Integral Approach to our work?
Lines, States, Types and Quadrants In The Clinical Work
What are the implications if we align Psychosynthesis therapy with Wilber’s lines, states and types?
According to my research there seems not to have been any attempts to implement the modern developmental research, which Wilber is using, within Psychosynthesis theory. Assagioli seems to be the only writer who has used Maslow’s findings to create a model of human development, which is a lot more dynamic, than his very static Egg Diagram offers. By combining the different lines of development with the Egg Diagram in the same way as Assagioli does with the need line in Figure 9, we get a much more detailed understanding of our clients’ varied stages of development. This is crucial when we seek to develop the weak psychological functions in order to create a well-integrated personality.
The stage of development for any psychological structure or subpersonality could be assessed through an inquiry into the motivational level and value system of the subpersonality. If we are able to conclude what it needs, we will know what type of ‘food’ is needed and are able to help develop a healthy version at that level.
The vertical progression of the ‘I’ and the field of consciousness from the bottom of the Egg through the different vertical stages of development to the Higher Self, offer us a clear and detailed discrimination between prepersonal, personal and transpersonal states. In this way it becomes easier to discriminate between personal and spiritual development and to avoid the Pre/Trans Fallacy. Assagioli addresses the need for such discrimination in order to ensure the right treatment, because the same symptoms, e.g. depression, can be a sign of a spiritual crisis and a more normal state of consciousness (Assagioli, 1975: 53-58). In other words, we need to identify our client’s stage of development in order to offer the right therapeutic treatment. Meditation exercises that train the client’s ability to transcend and disidentify from normal consciousness could be fatal, if the real need is to build a more solid ego-foundation (personal Psychosynthesis). Techniques to strengthening the ego through ego gratification would be harmful for a client who is stuck in an existential crisis and needs help to let go of attachments to the ‘values of normality’ in the five first stages in Figure 9.
It is important to emphasize that many clients, who stress the need for spiritual psychosynthesis, also need to address repressed personal issues, because of the uneven development of many people. But by using a detailed map of stages we always know as psychotherapists at what level we work.
One of Wilber’s important contributions to psychotherapy is his Fulcrums of Self-development. (See Figure 14 - below. Reynolds 2006: 198) I cannot go into a full discussion of this model, but only indicate its relevance for Psychosynthesis therapy. Wilber argues that “whenever the self moves through a basic level of the Great Nest, it goes through a fulcrum (or a milestone) of its development” (Wilber, 2000c: 92).
In this evolutionary development there can be a healthy or a pathological fashion of what has to be learned and integrated. Wilber (2000c: 98-99) claims that every level has a characteristic psychopathology that must be addressed by the appropriate psychotherapeutic intervention or treatment modality. His model includes personal as well as transpersonal pathologies so no stage of development is beyond a need for treatment, if the healthy transition through that stage failed. In Wilber’s (2000c: 97) model all psychotherapies are relevant, at their appropriate level, because they each have specialised with specific types of pathology. Wilber (2000c: 109) introduces the term ‘a full-spectrum therapist’ and states that he/she: “works with the body, the shadow, the persona, the ego, the existential self, the soul and Spirit.” Psychosynthesis, which claims to be a synthetic treatment, might be inspired by that vision.
Wilber’s theory on states claims that the experience of higher states can further the client’s evolutionary growth, because states can be turned into stages. The prolonged experience of higher states in meditation, he argues, has been proved to be one of the primary techniques for such accelerated growth (Wilber, 2000b: 541). It seems that in order for Psychosynthesis therapy to be a ‘full spectrum’ therapy, we must implement meditation as a standard procedure. This is also in alignment with Assagioli’s suggestions, because in his own words: “It is the central technique which helps apply effectively all the other techniques” (Assagioli cited in Freund 1983: 74). He actually states that the exercise on self-identification meditation should be used as early as possible in the treatment for personal psychosynthesis (Assagioli, 1975: 119). The Integral Approach could perhaps serve as a further incitement to implement meditation in Psychosynthesis therapy.
The use of types would assist the therapist in discriminating between the various types of clients and help facilitate growth in correspondence with the particular type. It could be an important tool to see and honour the uniqueness of all clients, especially when they are very different from the therapist’s type. The last Integral area that I would like to comment on is the Four Quadrants.
A truly Integral psychotherapy would always include all four perspectives when dealing with pathologies of any kind. This would involve a therapeutic approach that explored the individual states and stages e.g. connected with the clinical issue, the individual background and the personal history experienced from the perspective of the ‘I’.
It would also look into the behavioural patterns of the client and how the physical body carries the symptoms and apply relevant techniques to facilitate the healing within that area. All internal transformation must be brought into action in order to be grounded in real life experiences. It is a question of developing an autonomous behaviour based on recognised authentic values.
Applying the cultural perspectives in clinical work would highlight the importance of addressing the client’s family background and the shared cultural worldviews that he/she is part of. It could also foster the use of group therapy and group meditation as a means for solving any dysfunctions in the intersubjective area.
The relevance of researching into the social structures of the individual is also very crucial. Were there any racial, sexual or gender related oppression in the society of the client? It is also important as an aspect of the client’s psychological health to assist the individual in finding a meaningful life purpose and a role in the collective sphere. The transformations that take place in the inner collective sphere must be acted out within the family and social structure of which the individual is part. The psychotherapeutic objective in the two collective areas is to establish right human relations to ever wider spheres of humanity.
This concludes the last integral concept,
Is Psychosynthesis an Integral Psychology?
The answer to this question depends on what version of Psychosynthesis we use. It seems to me that there is sufficient evidence to assume that Assagioli’s version to a greater or lesser degree implements all the five Integral concepts.
He is the only psychosynthesist who implements the Great Chain of Being and involution. He is very cautious on this matter, but when comparing the quotes with his philosophical background in Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism and Theosophy, I think there is sufficient reason to believe that he shares this conception with Wilber and the perennial philosophy.
Assagioli several times addresses the confusion of levels, so we also have reason to assume that he pays attention to the Pre/Trans Fallacy and that his developmental theory is a hierarchical ‘growth-to-goodness’ model, because of his close association with Maslow’s model. The development of the weak psychological functions and the hierarchical nature of them suggest that he also works with lines of development.
I also think that the structure of his Egg Diagram confirms that he works with the same four states as Wilber does, and the quotes offered suggest that he was aware of the important transformation of states to stages. Assagioli’s use of differential psychology and psychological types has also been confirmed.
The concept of the four quadrants is the weakest Integral feature in Assagioli’s writings. Upper Left is covered reasonably well, but upper right is very weak when considering the importance of the body. His emphasis on the will, on the other hand, gives some weight in that area, because it is about implementing change in the individual’s behaviour.
The cultural collective quadrant is only very briefly described but it has a clear evolutionary stage progression, and Assagioli is the only psychosynthesist who emphasizes this. The social collective quadrant is also very briefly described and is hardly recognisable.
My overall assessment is that Assagioli’s version of Psychosynthesis shows enough clear and identifiable traits to be considered an Integral Approach.
When it comes to modern Psychosynthesis, I choose to discriminate between the major body of psychosynthesists and Firman/Gila.
The first group has a clear conception of individual levels and discriminates between the three vertical dimensions in the Egg Diagram, but it is a very vague conception. I do not find many new contributions to clarify the exact nature of the levels, they all seem to repeat the same information that Assagioli offers.
They do seem to have some sort of stage progression through the three levels – from the past, to now, to future possibilities. But compared to Assagioli’s details it seems strange that there has not been any stronger progress in the hierarchical development theory of Psychosynthesis.
The Integral potential in relation to levels does exist, but it is weak. Some of them seem to argue for a lost childhood spirituality but do not embrace Firman/Gila’s model of development. The development of the weak functions is also mentioned, but almost none of them describe any hierarchical stage development for the lines. I find the Integral potential existing but very weak.
The large group seems to work with the different vertical states, but they show no deeper understanding of how to turn states into stages. In relation to the four quadrants I do not find many developments that extend Assagioli’s understanding, except some emphasis on body work. A major point of critique could be the fact that nobody seems to have taken the cultural stage progression into consideration.
My overall assessment of modern Psychosynthesis is that it is only partly Integral, but it has potential to be turned into a full modern Integral Approach.
Firman/Gila seem to be the most innovative among the modern Psychosynthesis writers. They have suggested many new theories to the field, but they also in some respect seem to be in direct opposition to Assagioli’s original version. I find that there is good reason to assume that they have created a new developmental theory for Psychosynthesis as has been argued for. There is no natural stage progression through hierarchical levels; a fact that causes many incompatibilities with Assagioli’s version, especially in relation to the nature of the Self’s development. It also cancels out Wilber’s concept of lines.
They place a strong emphasis on healing the wounded child as a way to personal and spiritual Psychosynthesis, and I find that part too over-accentuated even though it is highly relevant in personal Psychosynthesis. From an Integral point of view their model becomes very problematic in relation to the Pre/Trans Fallacy. The strong emphasis on the wounded child tends to blur the distinction between personal and spiritual energies, and creates confusion of levels.
They do use levels but it seems not in any ontological understanding of the word. There is no natural unfolding of stages through a hierarchy and this also cancels out Wilber’s concept of lines. In their version, the higher and lower states are caused by repression of the initial unity, so they neither have any Integral conception of states and I have not found any mention of types in their writings.
In regard to the four quadrants they have contributed with a lot of new theory on especially empathetic and non-empathetic relationships. Unfortunately the limitations for this article have not been able to offer their theories within this field sufficient credit because real innovations have taken place here. My overall conclusion on Firman/Gila is that Psychosynthesis in their version is not Integral.
Applying the Integral Approach to Psychosynthesis, psychotherapy can help us broaden our perspectives on human development and see new potentials in our clients.
Implementing the Integral concept of levels of consciousness can refine our understanding of the higher and lower states and stages of consciousness in our clients’ themes and help us identify the possible pathology on each of the various levels. The concept also contributes with an important discriminative tool to avoid the Pre/Trans Fallacy, so we offer the appropiate type of therapeutic intervention to a given problem. This is crucial when deciding the type of therapeutic intervention in a clinical session.
The concept of lines of development offers a dynamic and multifaceted conception of human development that could help the therapist identify high developed and immature psychological functions and traits. It brings in a detailed spiritual vision for all the different parts of the human being and a detailed understanding of the possible pathology in each line. Assagioli’s ideal model technique is very relevant here as a tool to development.
The way states (peak experiences) can be turned into permanent traits or stages is also a very important concept, because it underlines the necessity for using meditation if we really wish to help our clients with spiritual psychosynthesis. It could be argued that any psychosynthesis psychotherapist should be trained in meditation and apply it daily if they aspire to be a full spectrum psychotherapist.
Typology or differential psychology is also very relevant in order to identify the deeper motivational forces behind the client’s behaviour and help develop them in a mature form.
Applying the four quadrants really forces the therapist to think out of the box and work with multiple perspectives in relation to human development. Personal and spiritual psychosynthesis, Bio-Psychosynthesis (Bodywork), Social Psychosynthesis and creative participation in society should be at the forefront when ever we contemplate therapeutic interventions or introduce the client to the philosophical conception we work with.
The Integral Approach has much to offer Psychosynthesis and in many ways it seems to be a new and promising update of Assagioli’s original vision.
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This article is an extended and adapted (two case studies is omitted) version of my MA Thesis from 2008 at the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust in London and the University of East London (formal award in June 2009). It is offered to the public with the hope that it can foster a deeper understanding of the Integral features of Psychosynthesis and perhaps facilitate an open debate about the future development of Psychosynthesis and for that matter: Integral psychotherapy.
I wish to thank John Firman and Ann Gila for permission to print his revised Egg Diagram, to Jean Hardy for allowing me to include her model and to Ken Wilber and Brad Reynolds for their contributions. I also wish to thank my tutor Martin Egan for many good advices and Annabritt Jakielski for proofreading it all.