The Psychosynthesis Diagram of the Person
Assagioli’s basic diagram representing the human being has been an integral part of psychosynthesis since its earliest days. Assagioli said of this diagram, “It is, of course, a crude and elementary picture that can give only a structural, static, almost ‘anatomical’ representation of our inner constitution." While Assagioli’s original diagram depicted Self (or Transpersonal Self) at the apex of the higher unconscious, the diagram above does not do so. Here, Self is not represented at all, and should be imagined as pervading all the areas of the diagram. Self can be contacted at any level.
Another general comment about the diagram is that Assagioli understood the oval to be surrounded by the collective unconscious (Jung) which comprises inherited propensities or capacities for particular forms of experience and action shared by the species as a whole and developed over the course of evolution. Unlike Jung, however, Assagioli suggested that there are levels within the collective unconscious, writing that Jung “often disregards these distinctions.”
“I” and the Field of Consciousness and Will
“I” is the direct reflection of Self and the essential being of the person, distinct but not separate from all contents of experience. “I” possesses the two functions of consciousness (or awareness) and will, and whose field of operation is represented by the concentric circle around “I” in the oval diagram. “I” is placed at the center of the field of awareness and will in order to indicate that “I” is the one who has consciousness and will. It is “I” who is aware of the psyche-soma contents as they pass in and out of awareness; the contents come and go, while “I” may remain present to each experience as it arises. But “I” is dynamic as well as receptive: “I” has the ability to affect the contents of awareness and can even affect awareness itself, by choosing to focus awareness, expand it, or contract it.
The Middle Unconscious
The middle unconscious is the area of our personality in which we integrate the experiences, learnings, gifts, and skills which form the foundation of our conscious expression in the world. The content of our middle unconscious is complex patterns of personal expression, for example learning to walk, acquiring language skills, becoming adept at a musical instrument or sport, or developing roles within family and society. All such patterns depend on many different components being synthesized into an integrated whole—various discrete movements make up the pattern of walking, many specific techniques and concepts make up the pattern of playing music, and the learning of grammar and vocabulary make up our ability to speak a language.
However, while these smaller components are the building blocks for the more complex patterns, the components themselves must remain largely unconscious when expressing via the pattern. Otherwise, our awareness would be so filled with the many individual elements that we could not express a larger pattern: we could not walk if we were thinking of all the individual movements, nor play an instrument if consciously remembering all the theory and technique, nor speak a language when constantly preoccupied with the rules of grammar.
Thus, in the process of learning complex patterns of expression, we render unconscious—in the middle unconscious—the individual building blocks of expression. Our consciousness and will are thereby freed to express through the patterns: we focus on where we are walking rather than on the elements of walking, on the meaning of the music rather than on the technique, and on what we are saying rather than on the mechanics of the language. This same process can build up complete identity systems within the personality called subpersonalities, a much-studied phenomenon in psychosynthesis.
The Lower Unconscious
The lower unconscious is the realm of the unconscious to which we relegate the experiences of shame, fear, pain, despair, or rage caused by the wounding we have suffered in our lives. One way to think of the lower unconscious is that it is a particular bandwidth of our experiential range which has been broken away from consciousness. It comprises that range of experience related to the threat of personal annihilation, of destruction of self, of nonbeing, and more generally, of the painful side of the human condition.
The Higher Unconscious
The higher unconscious denotes “our higher potentialities which seek to express themselves, but which we often repel and repress” (Assagioli). As with the lower unconscious, this area is by definition not available to consciousness, so its existence is inferred from moments in which contents from this level affect consciousness. Higher unconscious experiences are those moments, termed peak experiences by Abraham Maslow, which are often difficult to put into words, experiences in which we may sense deeper meaning in life, a profound serenity and peace, a universality within the particulars of existence, or perhaps a unity between ourselves and the cosmos. This level of the unconscious represents an area of the personality which contains the “heights” overarching the “depths” of the lower unconscious.
Pervading all the areas mapped by the oval-shaped diagram, distinct but not separate from all of them, is Self, a deeper source of wisdom and guidance, a source which operates beyond the control of the conscious personality. We might experience Self as a call or invitation towards increasing psychological wholeness, towards a growing personal integrity, or perhaps towards a sense of deeper purpose and meaning in life. These invitations from Self may be assumed to be present implicitly in every moment of every day, and in every phase of life, even when we do not recognize this. Whether within our private inner life of feelings and thoughts, or within our relationships with other people and the wider world, the call of Self may be discerned and answered.