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Roberto Assagioli

The following is a conversation between Roberto Assagioli (RA) and John Firman (JF) in 1973 about the distinction between “I” and “center.” Note: In this discussion John followed the custom of referring to “I” as the “I.” Ann Gila and John Firman changed this many years later. They believed that using the definite article “the” before “I” makes “I” an object rather than the subject that each of is, the living entity that Roberto refers to in this conversation. The words in brackets are inserted for clarity, and several describe what Roberto was pointing to as he spoke.

JF: What is the difference between the “I” which can become identified with a subpersonality off center and the center?

RA: When the “I” is identified with a subpersonality off center, it is no more at the center; there is no center. The “I” should be . . . well the disidentified personal “I,” is at the center, but that is the outcome of successful disidentification. Normally, the “I” is identified with something. So the average person is never at the center. When we say self-centered, that means that it is identified with a selfish, ego-centric, subpersonality, but not the pure personal “I,” the pure reflection of the Self. The “I” is a reflection, but it is never a pure reflection at first, it is always colored and pulled left, right, and downward by subpersonalities. 

JF:  If the Self is always there, is not the center always there, even if we are not at center?

RA:  No! Not at all! You see, the personal “I” goes here and here and here, is never at the center. Except during disidentification. 

JF:  So, there is a distinction to be made between the “I” which becomes identified and the center which is disidentified?

RA:  No! No difference! When the “I” is disidentified, then it remains there [center], and so the communication [with Self] is easier and stronger. First it [“I”] has to free itself from all identification and coloring, then when it has achieved some measure of disidentification, the pull of the Self is stronger than the pull of the subpersonalities. The existential crisis is that there are all these pulls. These are all subpersonalities who try to pull to themselves, and often succeed, the “I.” And meanwhile the pull of the Self is negligible, then it becomes stronger and stronger, and finally it may win.

JF:  So the center is something created by the “I”? 

RA:  But, no! There is no center in the sense you say; the center is a locality, not something existent. What you call the center is the “I,” but temporarily it is eccentric. Center is a geometric; just as in a circle there is a center, a locality, a point in space, not a living entity. The living entity is the “I.” [What is] much confused is the locality with the living creature, the living being. When you say “I am angry,” then this goes here [“I” to lower unconscious]. When you say “I love you” in a personal way, it goes here [“I” to middle unconscious]. When you have a transpersonal experience, it goes here [“I” to higher unconscious]. So it shifts all the time. That is what creates the confusion and the conflict. These are all localities in the inner space, and the entity [ “I”] moves around. All the questions of subpersonalities can be faced this way. And that is the value of recognizing subpersonalities; it is the beginning of detachment. 

JF:  It makes sense that the “I” is a reflection of the Self, is a living entity and thus is distinct from any “locality” within the psyche. The “center” is a conception and a locality?

RA:  Yes. That’s basic. In psychosynthesis we always speak of living realities, living beings. All the rest is conceptual, not reality, as something existent. The rest is description, but the “I” is a reality. 

JF:  So the “I” is still a reflection of the Self, even if it’s in the lower unconscious?

RA: Yes, but colored. It is the bulb, colored and shifted here and there. It can be covered by several veils, the veils of maya. It is there, but it is paralyzed, powerless, ignorant, unconscious. In Eastern terminology, disidentification would be to tear off the veils of maya in order to discover, uncover, what is under there. 

JF:  The Self is the light bulb; the center is a place where the light is most clearly seen by the “I”?

RA:  No. The “I” is the light bulb, the reflection. Don’t take all this too literally. The Self is a resplendent sun, a star, which creates the reflection which is a bulb. Then the bulb often gets colored, veiled, shifted here and there. It is the “I” that is the bulb. 

JF:  What are the characteristics of the place called “center”?

RA.  No characteristics. It’s just a location. It is the place which is in the same direction as the Self.

JF:  We are also talking about alignment – the “I” or bulb, if off, is colored; if not, then it is clear?

RA:  Well, alignment means to bring to the center the “I” which is eccentric and colored. Alignment is also a process, and interaction. The “I” says “I am that Self, that Self am I.” Thus it aligns itself with the Self. In a nutshell, I am not angry, or in love, or this or that. I am a reflection of the Self. Therefore of the same nature of the Self, which is light. That is alignment.




(1) On the Healthy Individual; and (2) On Techniques

Excerpts from an interview with Roberto Assagioli published in Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy in 1973.

Interviewer:  What are the characteristics of the whole, healthy person from the point of view of psychosynthesis? What would I be like?

Roberto Assagioli:  I don’t think one can list these qualities because each of us is different and has the right to be healthy in his own way. This is another basic point in psychosynthesis: the uniqueness of each individual; at the present stage of his life and also at different stages of evolution, of development; no generalizing, no labeling. What is healthy for an adolescent is no more healthy for a young man or for a mature man. So it’s very individual; according to the make up of the individual and his stage of realization. Psychosynthesis is very “individualistic” in this sense. It tries to deal with the present unique situation in the interplay between therapist and patient. 


Roberto Assagioli:  This gives me the occasion to say that I never give an opinion on any technique because I think it’s unrealistic, all depends on: who applies it, how he does it, to whom, for what purpose. That’s true for every technique. And anyhow, the theory behind a technique for me is not important. Some can do very good work with rather debatable techniques and some can do indifferent or bad work within a good theoretical framework. It is the specific application to each individual; that is distinctive of Psychosynthesis. We have no pet technique. I accept every valuable technique which I can find. I test it and see how it works.


John Firman and Ann Gila

On theory building:


1) First and foremost, stay grounded in your own experience and do your best to learn how the current concepts seek to point to your experience.


2) If your experience doesn’t seem to match the current concepts, seek out a senior teacher in the field and explore this seeming disconnection between experience and concept.


3) How does the current theory not fit my experience? Is it because I do not understand the current theory?


For example:

When we began working together again in 1987, we became acutely aware that extant psychosynthesis concepts did not seem to fully capture experiences that had become foreground for us and our clients: childhood wounding, recovery from addictions, the more profound types of psychological disturbance, the process of walking with Self through the abysses as well as the peaks of life, the fact that Self-realization did not seem to involve “identifying with Self” but was rather an ongoing process of  life.


Feeling called to be a couple is an invitation to deeply connect with another person, ourselves, and the world. Such intimacy can be wonderfully ecstatic as we experience the joy of loving, of truly seeing and being seen by another, of having someone special with whom to share life’s journey.


However, the essence of being a couple is not the joy or wonder—these are the products of a more fundamental thing, namely, a profound engagement with the truth of our lives. The love, joy, and ecstasy are born of seeing more deeply into the nature of life itself. In effect, intimate relationship is a powerful catalyst for the expansion of consciousness, for engaging the truth of our lives.


Understood in this way, it is not surprising that intimacy leads us not only to the heights but to the depths as well—life is filled with peaks and valleys. That is, this same revelation of truth will show us our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our wounds as well as our gifts, our agony as well as our ecstasy.


The profundity of assuming deep good will in each partner. When someone sits down with their reactivity, to know there is someone hurt in there who needs to be included. Unpacking is not threatening because you KNOW there is goodness and God at the bottom.


True intimacy is the relationship between the inner children.


The greatest challenge is validating my deep wounding and pain without necessarily knowing the source of it. Trying to get memory is as attempt to have something in my hands to show someone, to hold up to someone, and say, "See this is proof that I've been that badly hurt." And it may be that I have to accept, and others have to accept, that I've been hurt and I have pain, whether I have proof of that or not.


Love without empathic seeing, without spiritual empathy, still means wounding!


The notion is that non-mirroring wounding causes the split between higher and lower unconscious in the first place! Without wounding, there would be no split. The superconscious would not be this highly-charged “other place,” but the love, beauty, etc. would simply be a part of daily life, a plateau. Repression of the sublime and of the non-sublime are one in the same: a way of handling the wounding.


True empathic connection doesn’t engender resistance, because it respects exactly where you are—so if you are setting a boundary and someone is violating that boundary, it’s not mirroring.


Thing is, one never “gets over” childhood, but only gets to do deeper layers at each step forward. This is the expansion of the middle unconscious.


Some earlier theory in psychosynthesis interposed a “Higher Self” or “Transpersonal Self” between “I” and what was termed, “Universal Self.” Here it was implied that if we could identify with this Higher Self we could find communion with Universal Self.


This formulation appears to be an attempt to explain that our usual experience of ourselves, masked by identifications, needs to expand beyond those limitations for us to realize our deeper, essential nature in communion with the Divine, Spirit, or, in our terms, “Self” whom can be experienced as universal.


However, the problem with this early formulation of Higher or Transpersonal Self is that there is in fact no “other self” we become: we remain “I” throughout all changes in consciousness, even though the limited experience of ourselves can transform radically as we grow psychologically and spiritually. So to characterize this transformation as “becoming another self,” although this poetically captures the profundity of the experience, is finally inaccurate and misleading. What has actually occurred in this transformation is that we have realized who we were all along: “I” in communion with Self, our individuality in communion with universality.


The problem with believing that we must become “another self” in this process makes that “other self” seem an object we can pursue, an “other” with whom we can identify, which has the effect of obscuring the truth that we are always and for evermore “I.” We may consequently begin looking for “I” in all the wrong places.


So for us there is no “Higher Self” or “Transpersonal Self” understood in this way. Rather, we posit that over the course of Self-realization human beings can find themselves in communion with Self, often experienced as universal, expressing their unique, essential “I-amness” in the world—the expression we term, authentic personality.


John Firman

Yeah, therapists are as therapists do... gotta shop around, find someone without an axe to grind, who’s interested, compassionate, and been around the block him/herself. And absolutely, a good therapist isn’t about advice or telling you what to do, but to really GET you and stand with you in who you are without screwing around with you at all—a place to say anything, explore anything, above all, a safe place. Then, lo and behold, you get to GET yourself at a deeper level. Magic, sometimes.


You go off, have breakfast, come back, and someone is gone. I guess it’s a very intimate thing people want some privacy for. Death is so amazing. How can one be there one minute and gone the next? Birth—same thing. Mystery, mystery, mystery. I’ve been getting how important our bonds to those who have “gone before” are. I try to keep all of them close, including my cats and dogs.


Some of my thoughts on the mystery of intimacy go like this. Intimacy (from the root meaning “within”) means that our innermost feelings emerge within the relationship. That’s simply what happens. It’s as if all of us are called into the relationship, even hidden, soft places, places in which we are very young.


Well, that means, in my experience, that our earliest woundings will be emerging. Yes, joys will emerge too, but the wounds are a key problem, because as they emerge, they can often be trod upon by the most innocent-looking actions. When this happens, rage occurs, and when this rage acts towards the other, it hits their wounds, engendering rage in them, and voila, you’ve got a “bump” leading to withdrawal, distance, and eventually the end of the relationship.


So either I walk away, or I and my partner need to recognize the wounds and begin to make room for them in the relationship. We both need to recognize that there are young, vulnerable parts of us emerging in the relationship, and we need to commit to make the relationship safe enough for these younger parts of ourselves. I know of no other way.


And this means accepting and loving the other even in their vulnerabilities (and the quirky non-abusive behaviors which may arise from them). I commit not to hit vulnerable spots and also to understand the depth of the wounding which may emerge and create behavior.


Without a commitment to make it safe, the relationship won’t sail. Of course, everyone steps on toes when you’re learning to dance (and we’re always learning). The key, if you’re going to live with someone, is when this happens is it recognized, apologized for, and work done to prevent it from happening again. If someone steps on my toe and I say “ouch that hurt,” and they say, “hey, quit being such a wimp, that didn’t hurt,” then it ain’t safe and I don’t dance.


So, did they really get how much they hurt you? And if they really got that, would they make amends? Trouble is sometimes the other doesn’t get how much it hurt because we instantly withdraw (rage) and don’t even let on that anything got hurt. Can each person see the other’s pain? The other’s vulnerability? And build a relationship which is safe enough for the hidden, younger, and softer layers of our hearts to emerge and be held?


Ann Gila

Self-Realization and Therapy


  1. Trust that clients are following their path to the best of their ability.

  2. Enter the unknown with respect, appreciate the mystery.

  3. Stay humble; know you are limited and might not know what is best.

  4. Have faith that something/someone greater than you and the client is guiding the journey.

  5. Have respect and awe for the unique journey of the individual.

  6. Support the client’s own authority.

  7. Accept that symptoms sometimes are not cured.


  Ann’s Guidelines for Therapists/Guides

  1. Listen.   Breathe.   Be fascinated by the journey of the person who sits across from you.

  2. Learn from the client what he/she wants. If you are unsure about what the client says, try to clarify.  If the client is unsure, suggest a direction and ask if it is okay.  

    • Remember: “It’s your life, my dear client.”  

    • Breathe

  3. Don’t rush in to fix, to solve. Help the client relate to the issue.  Help the client discover more about it.  

    • Breathe.

  4. Be empathically curious, explore the issue: 

    • Learn about it:  its history, how it works . . .

    • What are the client’s wishes in regard to it?

    • Notice if the issue involves a subpersonality or two (and perhaps facilitate dialogue between the person and a subpersonality, or between two subpersonalities.

  5. Trust . . . that if you care, are interested, help the client discover herself, she will take the next step with this issue . . . therefore you don’t need to fix.

  6. Remember . . . you have no idea where this is going to go. This is a creative process.  It will unfold in ways in which you might have never imagined.  You are the facilitator of the client’s unfolding, of her creation.  You are not the creator of your client. Remember:  Beginner’s mind.

  7. Don’t be shy to say, “I’m not sure where to go right now. Do you have a hunch about the best way to proceed?”

  8. Remember . . . Spirit is in charge. Ask Spirit to help you be with your client, even during the session (silently to yourself).

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