Tag Archives: Roberto Assagioli’s The Act of Will Book Study: Chapters One and Two

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/).