Tag Archives: Act of Will Roberto Assagioli

The Good Will
In chapter seven, Roberto Assagioli turns his attention to the interpersonal, social context. He discusses the fact that humans do not live in isolation and must interact in personal and social relationships. He emphasizes the importance of the Will for the “many attempts (that) are being made to replace competition with cooperation, conflict with arbitration and agreement, based on an understanding of right relations between groups, classes and nations.” He points out that to arrive at “harmonization” of the wills of those concerned with any particular effort, individual wills must discipline themselves and choose aims that are “consistent with the welfare of others and the common good of humanity.”

The individual accomplishes the tasks of such discipline and choice-making by eliminating obstacles and actively developing and expressing a good will. Selfishness presents a significant obstacle. It can be countered by skillful use of the will. Moreover, good will must be mobilized to give energy to make the effort. Another obstacle is self-centeredness, lack of understanding another’s perspective and insistence on one’s own point of view. Such lack of understanding is itself an obstacle and requires “the intention to understand and also the relinquishing of … self-centeredness …”. Assagioli says that humanistic psychology provides people with the means for increasing their understanding of others. Humanistic psychology through presents knowledge of how humans are constituted, how humans vary individually and as groups, and promote understanding and expansion of empathy. Empathy is “the projection of one’s consciousness into that of another being. … (A)pproaching him or her with sympathy, with respect, even with wonder, as a “Thou” and thus establishing a deeper inner relationship.” Deepening empathy results in a wider and greater appreciation of the “wonder and mystery of human nature.” We become aware that human nature involves conflicts and suffering, and a core of goodness and possibility for change in everyone.

With that understanding, Assagioli claims, …(W)e are induced to drop the ordinary attitude of passing judgment on others. Instead a sense of wide compassion, fellowship and solidarity pervades us.” We can both accept the be-ing of others, and also their potential for becoming. We become aware that we have some responsibility for how we influence others, as well. “And the more we are aware of this, the more we can see to it that our influence is beneficent and constructive.” And this hinges on our intention. “The good will is … a will that chooses and wants the good.”

Love and Will
Chapter eight begins with the claim that, “One of the principal causes of today’s disorders is the lack of love on the part of those who have will and the lack of will in those who are good and loving.” From this point, Assagioli explores the types of love: love directed toward oneself; maternal and paternal love; love between men and women; fraternal love, altruistic love; and humanitarian love; impersonal love; and love of God.

Some “observations … about the general nature of the most important relationships between love and will” follow. As he implied earlier, Assagioli says that usually, love and will are not in balance, but are most often found in inverse relationship. He points out that love is attractive and magnetic and outgoing, while will is more “dynamic” and has a tendency to be “affirmative, separative, and domineering.” The differences can lead to opposition of love and will. To love well, is an art that requires use of will.

“To love well calls for all that is demanded by the practice of any art, indeed of any human activity, namely, an adequate measure of discipline patience and persistence. All these we have seen to be qualities of the will.” Good loving and good willing both require knowledge about human beings, which is obtained through humanistic psychology. (See above.) After a certain amount of knowledge is obtained, three methods can be undertaken that will lead to “the harmonization and unification of love and will.” The three methods are: developing the weaker of love and will, such that both are available; awakening and manifesting the higher aspects of both love and will; and, operating them together in alternation so that each arouses and reinforces the other.

Developing the weaker of love and will means that “emotional types…must see to the progressive development of the will and its increasingly active employment” and “volitional types … have to take particular care that the quality of love tempers and counterbalances it employment, rendering it harmless and constructive.” The will training might consist in “cultivation of aspects in which it may be deficient.” This may mean that the person has to overcome inertia or resistance. Where love needs to be strengthened, fear may need to be addressed.

Awakening and manifesting the higher aspects of love and will requires that we first of all recognize that there are lower and higher aspects of both. Compassion is a higher form of love than possessiveness is, for example. And, domination is a lower form of will than directing the will towards non-ego-involved and constructive ends.

Gradual fusion of love and will and their resultant synergy takes place over time, is part of the whole process of psychosynthesis, and “anyone who sets himself to practice it soon realizes how difficult it is.”

The Principle and Technique of Synthesis
Assagioli says that achieving “a synthesis between love and will demands much skill in action.” Among other things, it “calls for persistent vigilance, for constant awareness from moment to moment.” This kind of ‘mindfulness’ “makes possible the active intervention and commitment on the part of the self, who is not only an observer, but also a will-er, a directing agent of the play of the various functions an energies.” To bring about the synthesis (not a compromise, but a “higher unity endowed with qualities that transcend those of either”) wisdom is essential. Wisdom works by regulating from a higher level, that of the Transpersonal Self, which is “a higher unifying center of awareness and power.” The process of transpersonal psychosynthesis “constitutes the high effort, the central drama of man, who, either consciously or unconsciously, aspires to this goal, or is pushed toward it by his inability to find lasting satisfaction or a true peace until he has attained it.”

This is a guest post about Psychosynthesis, courtesy of Carla Peterson and Hedwig Weiler (http://psychosynthesiswis.blogspot.com/).

Chapter Five – The Skillful Will: Psychological Laws

Assagioli begins chapter 5 by identifying two mistakes people make about the will. One is that using the will means using a kind of force to oppose other psychological functions, such as desire or imagination. The other mistake is to abandon the will and allow whatever happens to happen. He then goes on to describe the skillful will, that aspect of will that has “the ability to develop that strategy which is most effective and which entails the greatest economy of effort.” It does this by stimulating, regulating and directing other psychological functions: sensation, emotion/feeling, impulse/desire, imagination, thought and intuition.

In the section on “The Psychological Elements” Assagioli presents his famous star diagram.

He discusses the relationships among the psychological functions, distinguishing between those that are “spontaneous” and those that can be influenced or directed by the will.

Then he discusses the nature and role of the unconscious, which has two parts. One part is conditioned. It is ‘set’ and is not easily influenced. The other is more flexible; it is available for new impressions and connections. Interestingly, Assagioli calls this the “plastic” part – and brain plasticity is currently being researched intensively. Impressions that are made in the unconscious, do not just disappear or sit there, they act in the unconscious. We can use this fact to our advantage, Assagioli says. He provides ten psychological laws that when observed, allow us to develop and use our will skillfully.

“The Ten Psychological Laws”

Law 1 – Images or mental pictures and ideas tend to produce the physical conditions and the external acts that correspond to them.

The will can be used purposefully and consciously by the individual to choose, evoke, and concentrate on the images and ideas that will help to produce the actions (s)he desires.

Law 2 – Attitudes, movements, and actions tend to evoke corresponding images and ideas; these, in turn (according to the next law) evoke or intensify corresponding emotions and feelings.

…Through conscious and purposeful movements, one can evoke and strengthen positive and desired inner states. e.g. mudras

Law 3 – Ideas and images tend to awaken emotions and feelings that correspond to them.

…The centrally located will can mobilize the energy of the emotions and feelings through the use of appropriate ideas and images. e.g. “evocative words”

Law 4 – Emotions and impressions tend to awaken and intensify ideas and images that correspond to or are associated with them.

… vicious and virtuous circles — feedback processes

Law 5 – Needs, urges, drives, and desires tend to arouse corresponding images, ideas, and emotions.

… wishful thinking and rationalization

Law 6 – Attention, interest, affirmations, and repetitions reinforce the ideas, images, and psychological formations on which they are centered.

Attention makes images and ideas more exact and clearer

Interest increases the prominence of ideas and images, making them seem larger and of longer duration

Affirming images and ideas gives them more force and effectiveness

Repetition drives in the idea or image and makes it penetrate more deeply, sometimes creating almost an obsession

Law 7 – Repetition of actions intensifies the urge to further reiteration and renders their execution easier and better, until they come to be performed unconsciously.

This is the way habits are formed. “Will and intellect can form habits of thought and will. We are responsible for forming our habits and even when acting according to habits we are acting freely.” William James

Law 8 – All the various functions, and their manifold combinations in complexes and subpersonalities, adopt means of achieving their aims without our awareness, and independently of, and even against, our will.

We can “seed” our unconscious…

Law 9 – Urges, drives, desires, and emotions tend and demand to be expressed.

“Drives and desires are the active, dynamic … springs behind every human action.” Assagioli Sometimes we need to find harmless and/or constructive means of expression for these, as to repress them sends them into the physical or they “come out sideways”.

Law 10 – The psychological energies can find expression: a. directly (discharge – catharsis) b. indirectly, through symbolic action c. through a process of transmutation.

Regarding direct expression – the will needs to deliberate, choose, and regulate the expression

Regarding indirect expression – means of symbolic expression can be chosen, such as physical exercise, using objects, or writing

Regarding transmutation, there are several ways and means:
Elevation – transformation into a “higher” value
Purification – of motives and intent
Interiorization – transmuting a “lower” quality to a “higher” one, eg. pride to a sense of inner dignity
Extension – ripple the energies outwards, eg. self-love to love of family, community, etc.
Outer Expression – crystallizing a value into action, chosen purposefully
The Act of Will. Roberto Assagioli.

Chapter Six – Practical Applications of the Skillful Will

In this chapter are presented some specific psychological techniques for applying skillful will.

I. Realizing the Value of the Will. This technique was discussed in chapter two as well. It relies on imagination to spark desire and emotion to increase the strength of one’s will.

II. Technique of Substitution. Energy follows from giving attention, which has a tendency to increase interest. Thus we can give attention to a substitute for an unwanted thought or behavior, and thereby shift our energy to the new thought or behavior, reducing the pull of the old one.

III. Psychological Breathing and Feeding. We can pay attention to and choose our “psychological environment” to a much greater extent than we usually do. By withdrawing our attention to the “poisons” of greed, violence, fear, and depression we tend to diminish these in the inner and outer worlds. Through cultivation of positive qualities that counter these poisons we help ourselves and the world.

IV. The Technique of Evocative Words. Assagioli points out that words will evoke “the state of mind, the physical state, and the acts that correspond to (them)”. Attention and repetition reinforce the image or idea, and an unconscious activation of what is signified by the word occurs. This means that simply seeing a word that signifies a desired quality will tend to move one toward acting with that quality. We can amplify this in various ways by concentrating on the word, writing it repeatedly, viewing it in poster-sized print, chanting or singing it, etc. Yet, for some people, a particular word may evoke a resistance, ambivalence or other negative reaction, so we have to be careful to notice such resistance and skillfully work with or around it.

V. The “Acting As If” Technique. In some 12-step programs this technique is summarized as “fake it until you make it.” By changing our behavior, facial expression, tone of voice, even our costumes, we can find our internal state changing. More recent work done on facial expression and emotion validates Assagioli’s comments about how putting on a smile can affect one’s mood, or how imitating another person’s facial expression can give entry into their emotional world. Assagioli gives many interesting examples from the lives of people such as the French general Turenne who “marched resolutely in front of his troops going into battle” which gave him a reputation for courage. He acted as if he had it, and so inspired his troops. In this section Assagioli also addresses dealing with very strong fears by working to desensitize them or to gradually build up a tolerance for the activity that generates such fear or reluctance.

This is a guest post about Psychosynthesis, courtesy of Carla Peterson and Hedwig Weiler (http://psychosynthesiswis.blogspot.com/).

Roberto Assagioli’s The Act of Will, Chapter 3, is about the Qualities of the Will. And Chapter 4 is about the Strong Will.

Here is a definition of ‘Quality’ from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/quality

quality [ˈkwɒlɪtɪ]
n pl -ties
1. a distinguishing characteristic, property, or attribute
2. the basic character or nature of something
3. a trait or feature of personality
4. degree or standard of excellence, esp a high standard
5. (formerly) high social status or the distinction associated with it
6. (Music, other) musical tone colour; timbre
7. (Philosophy / Logic) Logic the characteristic of a proposition that is dependent on whether it is affirmative or negative
8. (Linguistics / Phonetics & Phonology) Phonetics the distinctive character of a vowel, determined by the configuration of the mouth, tongue, etc., when it is articulated and distinguished from the pitch and stress with which it is uttered
9. (modifier) having or showing excellence or superiority a quality product
[from Old French qualité, from Latin quālitās state, nature, from quālis of what sort]

Chapter 3 The Qualities of the Will
This paragraph is a very short reprise of chapters one and two. In chapter one, the Will is presented as the dynamic “inner power” that decides, chooses, and persists in doing “what is to be done.” It is intimately tied to the core of the personality, the self. In chapter two Assagioli explains that the qualities of the will are the modes of expression of the-will-in-action.

Chapter Three explores the characteristic ways in which the will in action expresses itself, as exemplified by great and smaller ‘willers.’ Assagioli provides seven sets of such characteristics.

1. Energy – Dynamic Power – Intensity
This dimension of the Will is clearly associated with the aspect of will Assagioli calls strong will. The “power element” is often quite necessary, but is not sufficient for acting either with skillful or good will. And, sometimes, Assagioli says, the will, especially under the influence of the higher aspects of the Transpersonal Will, can act without effort. Assagioli points out that the energy, power, intensity element of the will can be and is experienced when we meet with opposition to acting as we will. Then, he says, we experience the intensity of our will.

2. Mastery – Control – Discipline
This dimension is related to the quality of energetic power. It is essential in training to be able to do something, for example, play a musical instrument, and to acquiring the skills one needs to accomplish some goal. Assagioli discusses discipline – out of favor in the 1970’s, and inhibition.

3. Concentration – One-Pointedness – Attention – Focus
Assagioli states that this essential quality of the will comes into play very strongly in the skillful will aspect. His quotation from Ramacharaka’s Raja Yoga is both delightful and challenging.

4. Determination – Decisiveness – Resoluteness – Promptness
Assagioli relates this quality of will to the stage of Determination, in which the need to decide is addressed and resolved in the stage of Decision. This quality is also needed in the stage of Direction of the Execution of a planned act or course of action.

5. Persistence – Endurance – Patience
My mother would have called this quality or set of qualities “stick-to-it-iveness.” This quality keeps the willer steadfast through long, even seemingly fruitless endeavors, trials and tribulations. Sometimes, as in the case of Viktor Frankl, this quality is expressed in heroic measure.

6. Initiative – Courage – Daring
This quality occupies a middle ground between requiring “full and complete security” on the one hand, and on the other foolhardy risk-taking dare deviltry.

7. Organization – Integration – Synthesis
Assagioli says about this dimension of the will that it “operates in various ways. First as an inner synergy, coordinating the various psychological functions; it is the unifying force which tends toward, and enables one to achieve, personal psychosynthesis. It is also active at the transpersonal level and works toward the unification of the personal center of consciousness, the “I” or ego, with the Transpersonal Self, leading to the corresponding harmonious cooperation of the personal will with the Transpersonal Will (transpersonal or spiritual psychosynthesis).

Chapter Four – The Strong Will
Chapter Four presents a number of exercises to strengthen the will. The first exercise Assagioli presents is to use memory and imagination in reflection on what the lack of strength of will has cost you, followed by reflection on what the advantages a strong will would bring to you, and concludes with imagining and visualizing “yourself as you will be when you have attained inner and outer mastery.” He strongly suggests writing down in some detail the specific details of the first two reflections. Another exercise is to read material about people who have exercised strong will, and books and articles also by writers who write to awaken “inner energies.”

Once motivation is aroused by the first two exercises, the next exercises presented will strengthen the will through exercising it for the sake of strengthening it; through the medium of physical exercise; and through approaching daily life as an opportunity to exercise the will.

In the last few paragraphs of this chapter, Assagioli dispenses some advice I really like. He writes in relation to using the will to alternate between periods of activity and rest, “An ordered rhythm in our activities generates harmony in our being, and harmony is a universal law of life.” This leads into two other counsels. One is to harness other drives or impulses in service of the will, when one lacks the strong will one is trying to develop. He says pride, ambition, or play can be strong incentives and the will can use them. The other counsel is to take the attitude that opposition from others or difficulties in relationships offer us opportunities, the “parallel bars,” on which our will can exercise.

Some Questions for Reflection

How would you assess your own current state of will vis a vis the qualities of the will Assagioli presents?

Which quality of your will was especially present/absent this week in relationship to your project?

Did you try any of the exercises to strengthen your will?. If so what did you learn?

Why does RA encourage us to “work in silence”? Is this easy or difficult for you?

This is a guest post about Psychosynthesis, courtesy of Carla Peterson and Hedwig Weiler (http://psychosynthesiswis.blogspot.com/).

Appendix Four of Roberto Assagioli’s The Act of Will is titled “Historical Survey.” In these few pages, Roberto Assagioli summarizes “briefly some of the more significant views of those who have dealt with the subject of the will.” Beginning with Patanjali, moving through theologians and philosophers such as Augustine, Duns Scotus and Leibniz, Assagioli points out that they held the will as being essential to human being and action. He goes on to discuss some psychologists’ conceptions of the will, asserting that many psychologists have not been clear about what the will consists in, whether it is conscious or unconscious, or originates in one or another psychological function. And some have denied the existence of the will altogether, in favor of asserting a philosophy of determinism. In the work of humanistic, existential and transpersonal psychologists, Assagioli finds greater acceptance of the importance of the will, some interest in research within a broader and “more refined” scientific method, and an openness to the idea that the will can also relate to a transpersonal dimension of experience.

Chapter One situates The Act of Will in contemporary culture. Assagioli describes the strained quality of much of life in these times, its frantic pace, and the multiplicity of demands and responsibilities faced by contemporary humans. He states that disparity has been increasing between these external demands and the degree of internal strength and resilience to meet them. This creates more disturbance, discouragement and frustration. He describes two ways of meeting this situation. One is by simplifying external life to the extent possible, and the other is by strengthening the “inner powers”. There are limits to the ability to simplify. Strengthening the inner powers is essential and in this, the will is foundational. “There are two reasons for this: the first is the will’s central position in man’s personality … his very self. The second lies in the will’s function in deciding what is to be done, in applying all the necessary means for its realization and in persisting in the task in the face of all obstacles and difficulties.” The chapter ends with the same thought that ends Appendix Four, “Therefore I believe that the right procedure is to postpone all intellectual discussions and theories on the subject, and begin by discovering the reality and the nature of the will through its direct existential experience.”

I am struck by how well Assagioli was able to see the then-contemporary culture in which he lived. If anything, the concerns he expressed about the tension, the exhausting demands, responsibilities and pace of life, have only been magnified 30 years later. Now as never before, ability to focus, to attend and to sort through the magnitude of what we face is eroded by a deluge of fragments of information, images and sensory overload. Now more than ever humans need to cultivate the capacities of will as a dynamic regulating, integrating dimension of the self.

Chapter Two begins the description of what is an existential experience of the will. It occurs in three phases, Assagioli says: recognizing that the will exists; realizing that I have a will; and discovering that I am a will. He describes some ways that discovery of the will can come about. He discusses resistances to experiential exploration and development of the will. These are related to misunderstanding of the nature of the will, human inertia, and unwillingness to exert the effort or pay the price to develop the capacities of will. However, with some effort, a person can begin to understand that she or he has a will that is intimately tied to his or her own self. Unlike an earlier phase in which consciousness is identified with the contents of consciousness, when a process of self-identification is engaged, self-consciousness strengthens, and consciousness is no longer identified with its contents.

As one begins to understand that there is a very close relationship between the personal self (the ‘I’) and the will, one becomes aware of the need to understand just what that relationship is. One wants to know how to increase and consolidate the existential experience of ‘I’ and will. Assagioli presents the famous “star diagram” to explicate the set of relationships among personal self, will, and psychological functions. “Through the will, the I acts on the other psychological functions, regulating and directing them.” Then he goes on to assert that there is a Transpersonal Self and a Transpersonal Will, which “is a function of the Transpersonal Self.” He presents the well-known “egg diagram” to show these relationships. More on this in a later chapter.

Next, Assagioli describes the aspects or facets of the will, and states that each can be trained. These aspects are: the strong will, the skillful will, the good will, and the Transpersonal will. He briefly describes each of these, noting that each has a relationship with the others. Together they can balance, modulate and enhance each other. The chapter ends with remarks on the Transpersonal Will, which is the “will of the Transpersonal Self.” Assagioli points to the “field of relationship within each individual between the will of the personal self or I, and the will of the Transpersonal Self.” That field of relationship “leads to a growing interplay between, and ultimately to the fusion of, the personal and transpersonal selves, and in turn to their relationship with ultimate reality, the Universal Self, which embodies and demonstrates the Universal, Transcendent Will.” Note the direct and vertical line from I and personal will, to Transpersonal Self and Transpersonal Will, to Universal Self and Universal Will.

It will become clear that through training the will in its various aspects, qualities and phases, we can grow in our awareness of personal self, transpersonal (higher) Self, and unity with Universal Self.

This is a guest post about Psychosynthesis, courtesy of Carla Peterson and Hedwig Weiler (http://psychosynthesiswis.blogspot.com/).