An Interview with Roberto Assagioli , Conducted by Beverly Besmer, Source: Interpersonal Development. 4: 215-225 (1973/4)
The Assagiolian position in relation to disidentification, classically stated in Psychosynthesis, demonstrates that ‘I’ contains many things but is, in its essence, other than those things. It differentiates consciousness from its contents or objects, and creates a context in which to regard consciousness quaconsciousness. It is as though, in Ken Wilber’s example, a nested hierarchy (or holon) is revealed by means of which consciousness apprehends the events and ‘things’ that arise within itself – transcending and including those contents in a shift of movement toward a wider identification (or level).
In other words, ‘I have a body, but I am more than my body. I have emotions but I am more than my emotions’ and so on. In a pragmatic, therapeutic sense one result of this dis-identification process allows for the unclenching of overly tight identifications, for the relaxing of habits and locked-in patterns, and for the promotion of deconditioning and fluidity of self-experience . This correlates well with notions of spaciousness and of relaxed yet focused awareness, as presented variously in many of the world’s great traditions and, for example, in contemporary movements such as that of Mindfulness.;
when you identify with your thoughts or feelings or with the sensations in your body …there is much greater turmoil and suffering than when you dwell as the non-judgmental observer of it all, identifying with the knower, with awareness itself.John Kabat Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (p.297)
I have known this technique be of great value for many clients, and indeed many times in my own experience too – undeniably it can be the right medicine at the right time.
Fear derives from the separate, isolated, special and unique ‘I’ – pervasive, psychophysical, existential fear, polished in identity, swapped in techniques of disidentification, and transcended, silenced, loved back into allness through a profound ceasing. As Dr David Hawkins puts it:
It stops when it is not narcissistically energised
Dr David Hawkins, Discovery of the Presence of God – Devotional Nonduality, (p.81)
The Self is not subject to, nor limited by, the Experiencer. Its quality is neither linear nor sequential and is independent of phenomena and even the practice of experiencing itself. By virtue of identity, the Self is innately the Knower and the Known
Ibid (p. 128)
Disidentifcation, to coin a phrase, is only relevant in its relationship to identification – consciousness, far from transcender fallacies, is not other than its contents; or to state it another way, consciousness is as present in the form of its contents as it is in the emptiness of its centre. The rim of the wheel, the hub and the spokes, are all the wheel. There is no ‘there’ to escape to, no ‘here’ to escape from. Transcendence is immanence on another axis.
Perhaps here it is helpful to consider another voice, that of AH Almaas, who states that:
“Disidentification can’t be an activity; if it were an activity, it would not be disidentification, but identification with something else. It would be just a substitution. If there is someone who is moving away from something else, that someone must be identified with something, or at least with the desire to move away from something. Disidentification means the cessation of identification, the cessation of taking something to be you, or to belong to you, or to define you.”
AH Almaas, Diamond Heart Book III, p. 172
So whilst the Psychosynthesis Disidentifcation Exercise is clearly effective and yet also, clearly, an activity, the effect it is catalysing may, in fact, be more in the nature and direction of a cessation. The intentionality informing the exercise (and each ‘doing of’ the exercise) becomes vital for the nuance and texture of the result. If we seek to disidentify because we seek to escape (transcend, get beyond, move past etc) then we never really disidentify – we simply perform a shift in the object of identification, and remain in the field of operations belonging to ego, albeit perhaps, spiritualised ego. A better class of delusion, but delusion nonetheless. If however we disidentify in non-activity, then we effectively unplug from the ego’s juice and create the conditions by which the little red LED of active self can fade out, dissolving, as it were, into emptiness.
Collaterally, as thought returns (and seemingly, it always does) so a sense of ego or separate self re-emerges too, often powerfully or reactively. This ‘ego’ is not vanquished through penetrating insight alone, for it has immense resilience and powers of persistence, and re-establishes itself through a movement of will. This Will, to which Assagioli ascribed two distinct poles (a ‘power’ element, and an ‘effortless volition’), itself relates to the Pythagorean sense of dynamis, a state of potentiality, a movement of energy towards an as yet unrealized disposition. Will infers motion within the psyche, (entelechy) with an ultimate expression as energeia (being-at-work itself). It pertains to karma, and the propensities of attractor fields, perfecting itself as it is.
However, in practice, the movement of ‘identification/disdentifcation/identification’ becomes akin to a rhythm of the breath, and in the gradual shift the sense of ego loosens somewhat, becomes more fluid, less compressed:
Ego-grasping is a deeply rooted disposition to contract and solidify our identity around a wounded sense of self. To free this contraction does not destroy the presence of a notion of self-identity. When we see that the ego is empty of substance, we open to a more spacious, permeable sense of self. This creates a greater awareness of our fluidity and lack of permanence. It can mean we are more open, generous at heart, and less attached to who we are. Because we are no longer so contacted and self-preoccupied, we suffer less.
Rob Preece, The Wisdom of Imperfection, (p. 76)
Finally, in considering the praxis that informs this motion, we may see a clear thread in Almaas:
Two Ways to Develop the Capacity for Disidentification
The capacity for disidentification can develop in two ways: The first is by increasing the capacity to tolerate greater distance from certain self-representations, which allows us to experience Being more easily… The second way the capacity for disidentification develops is that our overall self-representation becomes so much more complete that our identity becomes very flexible. This ultimately leads to a strong general capacity for disidentification such that we can actually be disidentified from the overall self-representation while still maintaining our identity. This capacity requires thorough clarification, that is, objective understanding and seeing through delusions regarding the various segments of our self-representation. It also requires a measure of balance in our spiritual development: balance in relation to mind, heart and body for example; balance in relation to stillness and movement, knowledge and expression, and so on.
AH Almaas, The Point of Existence, (p. 128)
My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
And falls into the basin of the mind
That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
For intellect no longer knows
Is from the Ought, or knower from the Known --
That is to say, ascends to Heaven;
Only the dead can be forgiven;
But when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.
WB Yeats, A Dialogue of Self And Soul
I recommend a careful reading of the whole poem, but space permits just this meat for now.
The last word shall rest with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in typically succinct manner, as he puts it:
EGO BUILDS A WALL
Ego keeps busy trying to build a wall around itself, to shut itself away from the “other.” Then, of course, having created this barrier, immediately the ego also wants to communicate with the other, which it now perceives as “outside” or not part of itself.
“Nonviolence ” in Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery, page 45.
There is more than a grain of the essence and insight of Psychosynthesis in this, as well as a wry comment on the history of the Psychosynthesis tradition, complete with its own strangely manifest trace of ego and the crumbling edifice of a ‘wall of silence’. But that is a subject for another day.
22nd October 2012