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Psychosynthesis: 100 Years of Spiritual Psychology

by Jon Schottland, MA


Tucked away on N. Pleasant Street in Amherst, MA, The Synthesis Center sits as one of the longest running and most established training centers in North America for the study of psycho-synthesis. For more than two decades, graduates of the professional training program have gone on to work in the fields of counseling, education, health care, social services, and community organizing to name a few. The 100th anniversary of psychosynthesis will be celebrated next year in 2010, and this spiritually oriented psychology (developed by the psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli) continues to be a source of inspiration and innovation for those who work with it.

Psychosynthesis 101

What exactly is psychosynthesis? As the name suggests, it literally refers to the synthesis and integration of the psyche into a more complete whole. Imagine a psychology whose basic premise is that in every person there exists what we will call a "self", and that this self is moving through a process of conscious evolution to grow more whole over the course of a lifetime. Further, imagine that this psychology points you towards a closer connection with your own inner core, where you begin to develop a sense of purpose, meaning and values that is resonant with your own unique and particular nature.

Of course, we are not talking about a packaged product or quick fix here, but a mature psychological framework with substance and weight. The transformative process of psycho-synthesis proceeds gradually over time as an individual comes to recognize, embrace, and integrate the various elements of one’s inner and outer experience. It is a process not unlike what the poet Rumi has expressed in "The Guest House":

"This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!"

It is a natural human tendency to gravitate towards what feels comfort-able, familiar, and secure, and also to avoid or repress what makes us feel threatened or vulnerable. While there is some survival value in this equation, there are also potential pitfalls in terms of integrated human development. Because none of us likes to feel vulnerable for very long, we all, to some degree, must deal with our own "survival personality", pushing aside and resisting whatever appears as a threat to our own survival. Yet, the capacity to sustain periods of vulnerability is a key feature of mental health and resilience, and it is funda-mental to human growth and even the ability to manifest our love and purpose in the world.

How it Works

Note here that survival and well-being are two different states of consciousness. For example, I may have learned as a child that it is "best not to feel too happy or joyful" for fear that the other shoe might drop at any moment, leading to disappointment and possibly a host of other afflictive emotions. As a result, in order to preserve my own sense of personal safety, I might split off and bury my own native capacity to experience joy in order to preserve a feeling of security. Here the survival personality is in working order, keeping me safe, yet also keeping me at a distance from touching an experience of joy that remains hidden or locked away within my being. I can survive a lifetime in this mode, yet it is a life that would not quite rise to its fullest human potential.

The theory and practice of psycho-synthesis addresses this tendency for the psyche to become fragmented. It is based on the premise that we can trust our inner experience, whatever it is. Not only can we trust it, but within each unfolding moment of our life exists something that our soul potentially requires to ripen more fully. In psycho-synthesis we say, "resist nothing, and then choose towards purpose, meaning and values."

This requires some working knowledge of psychological and spiritual practices that allow us both to identify and dis-identify from the contents of our psyche. In short, it means that we develop the qualities of presence and mindful attention that help us welcome the many "visitors" Rumi refers to in "The Guest House." Thus we begin to identify and become more friendly with these visitors, or what in psychosynthesis are called "subperson-alities". We are able to say, "oh, yes, here is the silly, playful, performer, anxious, perfectionist, sad, enthusiastic, creative, pleaser, scared or romantic part of me."

The practice of dis-identification means we recognize that we have many, many different facets of our person-alities, and yet each part belongs to a larger whole or "self" that is distinct (but not separate from) the contents of our psyche. Through the process of dis-identification, we gain a measure of psychological freedom as the contents of our psyche diminish in their ability to dominate our sense of self. Beyond all the positive and negative stories I carry about myself, there is this "something more" that I am, an inner core of awareness and will. This premise is what makes psychosynthesis a transpersonal psychology and a transformational process.

In the End

On a personal note, there is something about psychosynthesis that has enriched my life in a very meaningful way. Psychosynthesis helps me understand the way my psyche operates, and it gives me tools to deal with psychological distress and move more consciously towards my own highest potential.

I have had years of spiritual practice through meditation and Buddhist teachings, but nowhere had I found a comparable psychological practice to address the complexity of human feelings, impulses, desires, relationships and aspirations. I am learning something about faith in life itself and appreciating Rumi’s vision of "The Guest House." I leave the door open a crack even when a part of me wants to shut it tightly. This faith has to do with being guided from within, or above, towards my soul’s deepest wellspring of life. For as Rumi says about these myriad visitors:

"Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond."

Psychosynthesis Training

The Synthesis Center provides in-depth study of psychosynthesis over the course of a year-long program of nine weekends. The program is experiential and designed to support professionals as well as students in the helping arts. www.synthesiscenter.org. 413-256-0772

Jon Schottland, MA has worked as a teacher, trainer and educational consultant for the past twenty years. He is a core teacher in the Psychosynthesis Training Program at the Synthesis center. Jon earned his master’s degree in psychology and counseling at Vermont College and he currently works as a school based counselor and also maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Putney and Saxtons River, VT. He is a long time practitioner of Tai Chi, a father and a guitar player. email: peace@together.net


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