Psychosynthesis Experiences – 7

The superconscious and the 5 stages of psycho-spiritual development

The notion of Superconscious, or higher unconscious, is very specific to Psychosynthesis. In the higher unconscious reside all those stimuli which lead to positive, joyous and creative experiences: some types of artistic inspiration, great scientific insights, mystical experiences and enlightenment experiences, impulses leading to heroic and ethical actions, and more generally, all those potentialities that are peculiar to human nature.

Psychosynthesis’ view of the transpersonal is neither philosophical nor religious. It strives, instead, to be scientific. Indeed, recent studies have amply demonstrated that across different epochs and civilisations, some individuals have adopted very similar techniques and attitudes to reach particular spiritual realisations, proving that, to some extent, these techniques and attitudes transcend historical and cultural differences. These observations have led researchers to formulate two hypotheses:

  • that these experiences are intrinsic to human nature and represent the expression of yet unexplored powers of the unconscious;
  • that this potential can be developed, at least to a certain degree, through specific techniques.

In the field of western psychology, Assagioli had certainly studied these themes in more depth and detail than anyone before him had. He wrote:

“Man’s transpersonal development is a long and arduous adventure, a voyage through strange lands, full of wonders but also difficulties and dangers. It implies a radical transformation, an awakening of hitherto inactive faculties, the raising of consciousness to levels never attained before, its expansion across a new inner dimension. We must not be surprised then that such great change should also take place through several critical stages, often accompanied by psychological, but also physical (psychosomatic) disturbances.”

He identified five of such critical stages:

  • Crisis that precede transpersonal awakening and are usually characterised by a generalised sense of dissatisfaction. We feel that something is missing, but this is not a material or defined lack, but rather something vague and elusive we cannot describe. We start interrogating the deeper origin and purpose of life, wondering for example about the meaning of our and other people’s suffering.
  • Crises resulting from actual transpersonal awakening. Usually, the awakening of the superconscious dimension is accompanied by feelings of energy and joy, which may be very intense. Inner conflicts and suffering seem to disappear, and life assumes new and clear significance. However, in certain circumstances, especially when the degree of integration of the personality is insufficient, this awakening may cause complications, distress and imbalances. We might experience, for example, states of emotional excitation and excessive fanaticism, we might feel called to take on the role of prophet or saviour, or we may develop a harshly critical and perfectionistic attitude towards ourselves, which, far from liberating and elevating us, might drive us deep into depression.
  • Reactions following awakening: The initial state of joyful excitement may differ in duration depending on the individual but is bound to cease. When our personality has not undergone a more substantial transformation, this realisation can be so painful that we might be tempted to deny the value and authenticity of our transpersonal experiences, even dismissing them as fantasies or delusions. Recognising that this regression, or “fall”, is a normal and inevitable part of the transformation process may give us great relief and encourage us to undergo the necessary personal development work and training to achieve a more real and stable transformation.
  • The phases of the transmutation process entail many changes and fluctuations between light and dark. The transformation of the personality is a complex transition process and, as such, it takes time. Assagioli compared it to the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly: when the old state is no longer viable but the new is yet to be reached. Unsurprisingly, such a complex task may produce psychic disturbances of various kind: tiredness, insomnia, depression, anxiety. A different set of problems may present itself during times when contact with the superconscious is easy and the flow of energy is very intense. In these cases, we need to be able to manage our energies in a balanced way, without hindering them or dispersing them into useless and frantic activity.
  • When the transformation process reaches its final and decisive stage, it may produce intense suffering and an inner darkness that some Christian mystics called “the dark night of the soul”. It is a transition often characterised by deep depression and a very acute sense of worthlessness, intellectual inadequacy, a weakening of the will and a general aversion to life. Assagioli maintained, “despite appearances, this terrible experience is not a pathological condition as it is commonly understood” but it “has spiritual causes and a great spiritual value.” This dismal condition is followed by a total rebirth in full spiritual health, in other words, the realisation of the Self.

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