Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.
–Dominique Pire, Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1958)
If the Enneagram is first and foremost a diagram and system for psychological healing, growth and integration, then the primary concern is to understand and avoid what has become known in Transpersonal Psychology as spiritual bypassing. However, if the Enneagram was originally designed by someone, somewhere, as a primary tool for advanced and profound spiritual development, the one of the things that blocks this conscious agenda is a pervasive and deleterious tendency to engage in what some are now calling psychological bypassing. If this latter process is in evidence we may eventually experience what Robert Desoille (1945) and Frank Haronian (1967) called “the repression of the sublime.”
In the following essay we will explore how the Enneagram community maybe imbalanced these days by focusing overly much on spiritual bypassing and not much, if at all, on psychological bypassing. When we engage in either form of bypassing we perpetuate a counterproductive split between the psychological and spiritual realms, and in the process may hinder our ability to become integrated and wise. We will also take a look at what the transpersonal theory and praxis of Psychosynthesis, as formulated by Italian visionary psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli and his students and co-workers, can add to our discussion. This essay is admittedly a bit disputatious, but hopefully in the best sense of the term.[i]
Introduction: Three Main Traps
In 1983 California psychotherapist John Welwood gave a talk at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, one in which he coined the term spiritual bypassing. The following year this talk was published as an important article in the Journal of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology (Vol. 16, No. 1). Its title was “Principles of Inner Work: Psychological and Spiritual.” There, Welwood gave the first clear and useful definition of a phenomenon that he and other spiritually-oriented therapists, healers and teachers were noting with interest and concern a mere fifteen years after the close of the 1960s. In a one passage he writes about “… a certain temptation, which I can observe in myself as well, to try to use spiritual practice to rise above the difficulties of unresolved personal problems and emotions.
Perhaps this is connected with a movement in us, traditionally called ‘spirit’, which seeks a certain release from the structures we feel caught in—the structures of karma, conditioning, body, form, matter, personality. Insofar as we want to get away from difficult personal issues and emotions—all the sticky, messy things that keep us rooted right here—we may try to use spirituality to do that. I have come to call this tendency to try to avoid or prematurely transcend basic human needs, feelings, and developmental tasks, “spiritual bypassing.” It should be noted that many years earlier psychologist Abraham Maslow spoke of a similar phenomenon which he termed “spiritual sidetracking”—however he didn’t elaborate a formal definition.
Welwood went on to publish several other related articles and interviews, including: “Human Nature, Buddha Nature: On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship and the Dharma”; “Double Vision: Duality and Nonduality in Human Experience; and “Embodying Your Realization: Psychological Work in the Service of Spiritual Development.” These can be found on johnwelwood.com.[ii] Over the course of the next twenty-six years many others jumped on this ideological bandwagon, culminating in the first full-length book ever written on this topic: Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects us from what Really Matters (Robert A. Masters, 2010). After the turn of the century, it became increasingly common, and even trendy, to vet any and all spiritual beliefs, values, and behaviors (those of self and others) through the critical lens of spiritual bypassing.
These days, there even seems to be a cultural injunction to apply what contemporary thinkers call a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ (harkening back to Freud, Marx and Nietzsche) to public displays of spirituality. In other words, when someone is pursuing (and hopefully having!) spiritual or transpersonal experiences, the person’s history, constitution, motivation and goals need to be examined and interrogated. For example: what psychological traumas and wounds are not being attending to? What personal growth tasks am I avoiding by privileging spiritual life over psychotherapy and the consulting room, 12-step groups, psychologically oriented workshops and retreats, etc.
What is intriguing, at least to this Enneagram teacher and author, is that even if people read Welwood’s entire article they often skip over the other two equally large and troubling “obstacles to growth and development” that he pointedly names and discusses. The first is that in doing psychological work on ourselves “there is a tendency to get overly fascinated with and absorbed in our own personal process. It can be so fascinating to delve into our emotions, archetypes, dreams, or relationships that we can spend a lifetime examining and processing all that rich material. This can become a labyrinth to get trapped in. To treat this kind of self-examination as the ultimate journey is to risk becoming narcissistic, a kind of ‘emotional junkie’ who gets ‘hooked’ on processing personal ‘stuff.’”[iii]
This has recently been given various names on the Internet: psychological bypassing, emotional bypassing, the psychological processing bypass, etc.[iv] Significantly, even among spiritually savvy practitioners there has been precious little written on this topic (hence the perceived need for this article). In fact, there is almost a taboo in the Enneagram world, including at various Enneagram conferences, around having intelligent and sophisticated discussions about psychological bypassing. Perhaps it is because no one wants his or her narcissism outed and challenged?[v] Or perhaps Enneagrammers would prefer not to buck the prevailing trend of privileging the use of the psychological lens (with its largely unconscious assumptions, perceptions, interpretations, methods and medical models, over other possible lens, including and especially the spiritual/transpersonal[vi].
To continue with Welwood’s article, the third obstacle to growth and development is something more universal, something he calls desensitization. He writes that this is “probably the most common of all in our society—to simply desensitize ourselves to both personal success and spiritual development. There is a part in most of us which would rather not feel things too strongly, but just take it easy, sink into some groove and get through life with as little effort or challenge as possible. These are three main traps we face: spiritual bypassing, narcissism, and desensitization.”
The Enneagram-informed reader will immediately see how the latter trap maps perfectly on to Type 9, and it is related to what Jung called the lack of intraception, or the ability to be receptive to our inner life—both our psychological manifestations and the state of our Soul. However, we will not focus on this third obstacle here, even though it is truly universal, and its surmounting is pivotal to our spiritual journey as 4th Way practitioners.[vii] Instead, we will structurally-couple the two forms of bypassing just mentioned, and formulate a way to bring both to the table and into balance.
The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”
In order to describe in some detail the clinical phenomenology and psychodynamics of spiritual bypassing, one would do well to consult Robert A. Masters’ book. There he writes that: “Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” These are rightly understood to be some of the major consequences of the primary issue, which is the human tendency to avoid horizontally, or transcend vertically, important developmental, trauma-related and structural issues.
Why do we do this? In her illuminating article, “Promises and Pitfalls: The Spiritual and the Therapeutic Path”, psychosynthesist and therapist Diana Whitmore talks about the ‘pathologies of the sublime.’[viii] She maintains that “the biggest pitfall on the spiritual path… is what psychosynthesis calls the crisis of duality.” In other words, on the path one eventually has ‘peak experiences’ (as Maslow famously called them), when one is filled with love and light , peace, visions, epiphanies and insights. And yet, one eventually discovers that he can’t hold on to them, because the psyche is not sufficiently purified and ready for complete integration.[ix] One can’t convert the temporary states into more permanent traits (transpersonal philosopher Ken Wilber often writes about this challenge). What happens? The ego gets bummed out, depressed, even panics. The more ordinary, mundane, prosaic world of daily responsibilities and relationships loses its appeal, and one is now caught between seemingly different existential realities. What may emerge is a ‘tyranny of the positive,’ ‘ruthless perfectionism,’ compulsive ‘higher sidetracking,’ and a host of other problems.
Judging by the numerous articles one can easily discover these days in online and in magazines, spiritual bypassing is a hot topic. One can even say that it is part of the New Age and personal development zeitgeist, at least in the United States. On a related note, some observe with curiosity and amusement the concurrent rise of a concern about spiritual bypassing with what has been called the Western Neo-Advaita or Satsang Movement.[x] It has become apparent that when Western students get involved with so-called ‘nondual’ teachers, living or dead, people such as Ramana Maharshi, Poonjaji, Gangaji, Andrew Cohen, Byron Katie, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Anandamayi Ma, Adyashanti, Jean Klein, Eckhart Tolle, Mooji, Ramesh Balsekar and others, they then have the propensity to bypass so-called dualistic states of consciousness and behavior.
Some have even likened the experiential high one gains from meditative states of nonduality to ‘spiritual heroin’ (e.g. see the article of the same name by Kate Bartolotta, in Elephant Journal, 2013). Needless to say, one easily can get addicted to these states of Peace, Love, Bliss, Clarity, Perfection, Wisdom, Compassion, Beauty– and then use them for escapist and avoidant ends. In truth, if we are not careful strong craving for these states become the ultimate way to dissociate from everything and everyone in the relative/dualistic world, and as a side benefit, we get to feel and act spiritually superior to others.[xi]
To continue, articles on our topic have been sprouting up like mushrooms on the Internet. For example:
- “How to know if you are Spiritually Bypassing,” by Jonathan Toniolo (2016);
- “Beware of Spiritual Bypass: Why do we avoid rather than accept?” by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. (Pyschology Today, 2011);
- “3 Powerful Tips to Avoid Spiritual Bypassing,” by Vanessa Petroneli (2013)[xii];
- “Spiritual Bypassing: Ten Completely B.S. Practices of Supposedly Spiritual People,” by Jordan Bates (2017);
- “Spiritual Bypassing: Moving Beyond Spiritual Trappings,” by Elicia Deva (2017);
- “Acknowledging the Spiritual Bypass,” by Mindy Newman (Tricycle Magazine 2017);
- “Spiritual Bypassing: What it is and How to Avoid It,” by Barbara O’Brien (2017);
- “Spiritual Bypassing: We Need to Hurt in Order to Heal,” by Lissa Rankin ( 2017);
- “Stop Spiritually Bypassing Already: An Interview with Eyes Wide Open author Mariana Caplan (2010);
- “Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and the Shadow,” by Bernhard Guenther (2013);
- “The Lure of Spiritual Bypassing (and How to Stop)” by Hannah Braime (2017);
- “What is Spiritual Bypassing?” by Aletheia Luna (2017). (Unbelievable, in this last article the author goes on to list ten (!) subtypes of spiritual bypass: Optimistic, Aggrandizement, Victim, Psychonaut, Horoscope, Saint, Spirit Guide, Praying, Guru and Finger-Pointing).
- “Spiritual Bypassing: What it is, Why it’s Harmful, and What to do About It,” by psychotherapist Annie Wright (2017). In it she offers five ways that spiritual bypassing may show up: anger avoidance, devaluation of feelings vs. spiritual principles, emotional numbing and repression, over-emphasizing the positive, judgment of others for feeling those ‘negative feelings.’
Controversially, this last author’s post claims that the “bottom line” is that “spiritual bypassing is a defense mechanism.” That’s strong stuff, especially since it doesn’t show up on our standard list of Freudian and Enneagram defense mechanisms: Reaction Formation (1), Repression (2), Identification (3), Introjection (4), Isolation (5), Projection (6), Rationalization (7), Denial (8) and Narcotization (9).[xiii] It seems likely that, in the majority of cases, one will utilize at least one or two of these (especially the defense that maps on to one’s own Enneatype) in service of pursuing both healthy spiritual goals and keeping at bay unwanted psychological material.
One of the signs that the obsession with spiritual bypassing is truly here to stay is the emergence of comedic renditions of the phenomenon. One such is the hilarious series of cinematic parodies of the New Age yoga scene by the Yoga Journal: “Ogden: The Inappropriate Yoga Guy” (available on YouTube)
Another is the cult classic article by Mariana Caplan entitled “Zen Boyfriends” (Tricycle Magazine, Fall 2002). In it she recounts a humorous series of encounters with men she is trying to date, all of whom are employing various forms of spiritual philosophies and practices to avoid feeling and expressing their emotions, growing up into healthy and strong men, and having mature, adult relationships.
Another sign is when people begin to do the opposite, to take themselves and their ideas too seriously, to make exaggerated, false and unsubstantiated claims, and/or to employ criticism and shame in service of interpersonal and social control. One example is an online article by Teal Swan where he forcefully states (without any supporting evidence) that: “Spiritual bypassing is the cancer of the spiritual world [note the medical model]. It is a disease that has run rampant in both religious and non-religious circles… I personally consider spiritual bypassing to be the shadow side of spirituality.”
Before moving on two more things should be noted. First, in the past couple of decades there is, arguably, a gendered aspect to this phenomenon. Upon reflection, one can’t help but notice the large number of women writing and teaching on this topic. Even though the earliest expositors were men, as was the author of the only full-length book on the topic, the majority of articles available today seem to be penned by women, and perhaps this makes sense.
After decades, centuries, even millennia of watching their religiously involved and spiritually aspiring menfolk disappear into transcendent realms, and in the process engage in various forms of spiritual bypassing, women may now be looking for and espousing new analytic tools to bring more balance into the lives of their families, workplace environments and the world. Hence the famous quote above from Freud. Maybe one of the important things women want is for men to ground and integrate their transpersonal experiences into daily life?
Secondly, and rather cynically, one has to wonder if our focus on spiritual bypassing has to do with the relatively high number of people in the healing arts who inhabit the more advanced and public sectors of the Enneagram world. After all, therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and others in the healing arts have a lot to gain from privileging the psychological over the spiritual/transpersonal.
In one of his last writings, Freud remarked: “It almost looks as if analysts were the third of those ‘impossible’ professions in which one can be sure of achieving unsatisfying results. The other two, which have been known much longer, are education and government” (Analysis Terminable and Interminable, 1937).
If we are not careful we can permanently inhabit one half of an early object-relation–as a child, student, client or patient—like someone in a bad Woody Allen movie. In other words, if we are not careful one can stay in therapy endlessly, to our own detriment (loss of time, money, maturity, creativity, opportunities).[xiv]
We can forget to apply Jung’s admonition to, at some point, “balance the shadow” and move on to more properly transpersonal tasks. Egged on by social and therapeutic injunctions and scare tactics, we keep on, in the words of archetypal psychological James Hillman, “strip-mining the unconscious,” which as he often noted precludes the development of a loving relationship with our own depths. Personal processing in other words, with or without a therapist, can become “interminable” and even destructive, especially of a well-elaborated spiritual life.[xv]
The financial equation, too, has to be critically examined. Healers need students, clients and patients to pay the bills, buy nice cars (it has been noticed that, similar to doctors, therapists and spiritual teachers almost always have, for some reason, really nice cars!), and put food on the table. That may be one reason why we hear so little about “sacred wounds and scars” in most therapeutic milieus. This is most evident in the field of psychiatry, which is clearly and heavily invested in the medical model. How different things would be if we were told at the outset that our deepest and most intransigent difficulties, many dating back to childhood and adolescence, were not going to be transformed in any sort of comprehensive and permanent way using standard therapeutic tools, but rather that they need to be lived with and somehow sacralized.[xvi]
Applying the medical model to the psyche is almost always counter-productive. Not only might this prevent psychological bypassing, it actually could contribute to a focus on an evolution of the Soul.[xvii] American poet William Stafford wrote a poignant and telling poem titled “Scars” from Oregon Message (1987) that speaks to this issue and how we could approach it in a different way, one that prevents over-psychologizing:
They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.
Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing.
Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.[xviii]
What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?
In stark contrast to the voluminous writings on spiritual bypassing since the 1980s almost nothing has been written on psychological bypassing. In fact, one has to wonder if this glaring lacuna indicates the presence of a taboo subject. But things may be slowly changing. A recent online article on the topic by Paul Dunion (HuffPost, 2016), is called “The Psychological Processing Bypass.” In it he claims that this bypass is likely the most insidious of the bypasses… Anyone witnessing it is hard-pressed to identify what’s going on as a bypass.
But bypasses are like that. They’re meant to conceal what is actually taking place and have the person look good doing it.” He goes on to list ten consequences of over-emphasizing a certain way of processing psychological material, including: “When personal growth is reducing to expressing emotions, life is stripped of its ability to teach; Genuine emotional maturity is disabled; There are serious limits as to how a relationship can be created; Coping skills become seriously arrested; Psychological Processing is a verbal exploration of a person’s emotional life. It often includes an examination of how early wounding impacted future decisions and relationships, with considerable emphasis on how self-concept has been organized.” At the very end he sagely remarks: “[This] bypass is becoming increasingly popular, as people want to benefit from being perceived as committed to personal growth. They also want to avoid the risks involved with any transformative [spiritual] work…”
Note the narcissism involved with all of this. And there is often a concern, conscious or unconscious, about how one is perceived by self and others in the therapeutic marketplace. One can certainly see this in the yoga community, with many practitioners being more concerned with styles of yoga clothes, mats and asanas than with the millennia old philosophy which undergirds the practice. For many (generally the urban elite), yoga quickly becomes social recreation, exotic exercise and alternative therapy, rather than a vehicle for the transformation of culture and consciousness.[xix] Instead of reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, the practitioner reads Yoga Journal, LA Yoga, Whole Living, Common Ground and New Age Journal (this observation and critique is perhaps skewed by the author’s bias!).
In the Diana Whitmore article mentioned above she also speaks about the pitfalls of the therapeutic path: “If we work on ourselves with psychotherapy alone, we frame our existential reality as limited, neurotic, pathological. We see ourselves as ‘someone who is damaged and needs to be fixed.’ A therapist’s task then is to help clients relieve the symptoms and get rid of their problems. The therapeutic path has a vision, sometimes bordering on dogma, of how healthy, fully functioning human beings should be… In this way the very context of the therapeutic path is also its pitfall.
Anyone who has been in psychotherapy as a client for any period of time has most likely experienced that they can work and work and work on their personality, on their dramas and traumas, finding more and more limitations, more that is wrong, and then becoming lost in their pathology… [In fact], if we stay on the therapeutic path for too long, eventually we encounter the largest pitfall, that which in Psychosynthesis we call the existential crisis, or crisis of meaning. It is the ‘so what’ crisis—what’s it all for?” Or, in the words of that poignant 1960s Dionne Warwick song, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
This existential crisis has much to do with the attempt to find personal meaning and purpose in the face of impermanence and almost omnipresent suffering. As the Buddha sagely remarked in the First Noble Truth: “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering, union with what is unpleasant is suffering, separation from what is pleasing is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates (skandhas) subject to clinging are suffering.” Related to this but put in Western esoteric terms, we find Gurdieff’s notion of “The Terror of the Situation.”
One writer defines this as a situation where we are “consigned to a world run, for the most part, by sleeping people; people who are never awake at all. They walk, they talk, they make ‘decisions’—they react, mechanically, to stimuli. They are driven by odd little constructions formed around vanity and fear” (John Shirley blog). These sorts of citizens and leaders inevitably create, for themselves and others, what the Tibetan lama Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche called idiot, or neurotic suffering. Put a slightly different way by French feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray: “Suffering, if it lasts longer than a redemptive moment, is simply a denial of the divine.”[xx] This is, of course, one of the major lessons that Type 4 has to teach us: Self-absorption and personal processing soon become, like Chinese Handcuffs, tight, painful and self-limiting.
Now, some might believe that spiritual bypassing was designed to help us handle, and if possible avoid or neutralize awareness of suffering–using various tried and true defense mechanisms. However, it is our contention that for the most part this is not the case. Upon close examination it is, rather surprisingly, psychological bypassing that is generally and ironically employed to push away anxious awareness of existential realities such as suffering and death. Protestant theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich said it brilliantly when he stated that: “Neurosis is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being.” So then, how do I avoid being as present and awake as possible? Well, one way is by being narcissistically preoccupied with my own psychological wounds and processing.[xxi][xxii]
In 1994 best-selling writer, workshop leader and medical clairvoyant Carolyn Myss published a book called Why People Don’t Heal and How they Can. In it she described a set of phenomena that she had been witnessing for several years, and then she coined a new term, ‘woundology.’ The symptomology includes: defining ourselves by our wounds, controlling others through our wounds, languaging our wounds in ways that keep us perceiving ourselves as victims, compulsively sharing stories about our wounds in therapy groups and interpersonally, learning about and using the “manipulative value of wounds,” building community through our wounds, leaking personal energy through how we language our wounds [and also becoming “energy vampires” with others], privileging woundedness over health, etc.
How then do we discriminate between healthy attention to real problems and an underlying masochistic streak? How do we prevent more of what Claudio Naranjo calls ’ontic obscuration’ and ‘endarkenment’ (as opposed to enlightenment)?[xxiii]
Obviously, there is a big difference between getting stuck in non-useful pain and suffering for secondary and tertiary goals, and consciously using these opportunities for true transformation.[xxiv] Freud had much to say on this topic, and eventually came up with his theory of the ‘repetition compulsion.’ This is a psychological action whereby the person repeats over and over again, usually unconsciously, earlier events or circumstances that were originally traumatic, in hopes of experiencing useful abreactions and healing. Unfortunately, in the process we can and often do get trapped in painful psychological states and lose easy access to experiences of spiritual freedom and agape (unconditional love of self, others and the world).
It sometimes seems that the goal, however unconscious, of modern psychology is to try and remove all or most of our neuroses, inconsistencies, dissociations, irrationalities, so as to render the psyche perfectly sane and rational. But as Aristotle said: “No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness.” Or as Jung said: “If you get rid of the pain before you have answered its questions, you get rid of the self along with it.” Or as Yeats said: “We make of our quarrels with others rhetoric, but of our quarrels with ourselves, poetry.” Or as Rilke said: “I am afraid to drive the demons from my life, lest the angels flee too.”
Interestingly, in popular culture we now seem to believe that the ability to engage in public acts of psychological processing and bypassing is a sign of healthy self-esteem. One thinks of someone like the pop singer Demi Lovato, who on talk shows and reality TV spends as much time sharing about her stints in rehab, struggles with depression and bipolar issues (including self-harming behaviors), and her eating disorder and body image problems, as she does about her actual music career (not to mention her spiritual life, if she has one). These celebrities have, like it or not, become role models for young people around the world.
The most obvious and damaging consequence of psychologically bypassing is that we give undue, or no longer necessary, attention to the structures and processes of the soma, and not enough to our Essential or Spiritual Self, Soul, or Jiva (Skt). Rumi has a poem, “Spirit and Body,” that speaks to this problematic condition:
Don’t feed both sides of yourself equally.
The spirit and the body carry different loads
and require different attentions.
We put saddlebags on Jesus and too often let the donkey
run loose in the pasture.
Don’t make the body do
what the spirit does best, and don’t put a big load
on the spirit that the body could easily carry.
Another consequence related to the first, yet even more hidden, is that all the psychic turmoil and ontic obscuration can lead the Spiritual Pilgrim/Stranger/Seeker to forget his gnostic task and higher goal. She forgets that the soul is in exile from her True Home. As Islamicist and esotericist Henry Corbin says in Avicenna and the Visionary Recital: “It is by awakening to the feeling of being a Stranger that the gnostic’s soul discovers where it is and at the same time forebodes whence it comes and whither it returns” (from “The Cosmic Crypt: The Stranger and the Guide”).
Our subject here is not Christian or Islamic Gnosticism, but it should be noted that Corbin repeatedly states that our dilemma as moderns is not that we are in spiritual exile, for throughout history people around the world have been aware of this fact, but rather that we have forgotten that we are in this existential condition—so we are doubly dead, spiritually speaking. We are distracted by the fast pace of postmodern life, with all its superficial desires and meaningless baubles and attainments, and we are cut off from the Upper Worlds and the Cosmic Light by, among other things, a thick and opaque layer of psychologizing and woundology. Hence it as if we are buried deep in a “cosmic crypt.”[xxvi]
By now one might justifiably ask, what exactly are we afraid of when it comes to accessing and working with the contents of what Roberto Assagioli repeatedly called the higher-unconscious, including transpersonal experiences and states of cosmic consciousness? One answer comes from Marianne Williamson’s 1992 classic, A Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
We now know, thanks to many caring and brilliant therapists over the past few generations, that what happens to most of us in childhood and adolescence is that we were literally shamed out of our Essence/Soul (and our accompanying Genius/Daemon—see The Soul’s Code by James Hillman for more on this topic) by lesser lights. For the most part by our parents, teachers and friends–who had their own unhealed wounds and agendas. Another way to say it is long before we become body-shamed, slut-shamed, work-shamed, disability-shamed, intelligence-shamed, etc., we were “Essence-shamed.” One possible consequence is that if we are not careful this can set up a cycle of psychological bypassing, as we flail around attempting to regain a felt sense of our own Divinity.[xxvii]
Another explanation comes from Abraham Maslow in an article titled “Neurosis as a Failure of Personal Growth”:
We fear our highest possibilities (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the god-like possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet, we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe and fear before these same possibilities.
Related to this, Maslow coined an evocative term, the “Jonah Complex.” which has to do with a “defense against growth,” a “fear of one’s own greatness,” the “evasion of one’s destiny,” the “running away from one’s own best talent.” He makes sure to stress the rather non-Freudian point that “we fear our best as well as our worst, even though in different ways.”[xxviii]
Roberto Assagioli’s Life and Work[xxix]
Before continuing I will offer a highly abbreviated review of the life and work of Roberto Assagioli. I do this because, unlike Jung, he did not become very well-known during his own lifetime, and even now many spiritual seekers, including Enneagram practitioners and transpersonally-oriented therapists, know little to nothing about him. Assagioli was born in Venice in 1888 to an upper middle-class Jewish family, and died near Arezzo, Italy in 1974. He grew up in a very cultured environment, and his appreciation for beauty and the arts was stimulated early on. His mother studied Theosophy (as later did his wife Nella), and his interest in Eastern wisdom began long before he became well-known. From a fairly early age he learned to speak to some degree English and French, as well as Greek, Latin, German, Russian and Sanskrit. By age fifteen he had already published his first article: “Unconscious Wishes and Conscious Work.” In 1904 he moved to Florence, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. There he studied neurology and psychiatry.
From 1907 to 1909 Assagioli worked on his doctoral dissertation titled: “The Psychosynthesis.” He also began writing articles critical of Freud’s psychoanalysis. In 1974, just months before his death, he explained to Sam Keen in an interview with Psychology Today that, “In Psychosynthesis we pay far more attention to the higher unconscious and to the development of the transpersonal self. In one of his letters Freud said, ‘I am interested only in the basement of the human being.’ Psychosynthesis is interested in the whole building. We try to build an elevator which will allow a person access to every level of his personality.”
By 1911 he began formulating the core concepts and practices of what later became Psychosynthesis (although he himself did not invent the term). After finishing his studies he did further training in psychiatry in Switzerland with Eugene Bleuler. There he met Jung and the two became friends (Jung was born in 1875, so they were roughly contemporaries). He never met Freud, but corresponded with him a few times. Assagioli began studying the works of William James and Henri Bergson and other important philosophers. In 1926 the first Psychosynthesis Institute was opened in Rome, and the following year he published his first book, A New Model of Treatment—Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques. The 1930s saw him writing many articles, many of which were brought together and published in 1965 in his first book, Psychosynthesis. In 1933 he also offered to the world his famous egg or oval diagram, mapping out in a simple yet explanatory way the overall structure and major functions of the psyche (see below).
It should be noted that Assagioli never claimed the fundamentals of psychoanalysis were wrong—only that they were biased in certain directions (esp. toward sexuality, the drives and the lower-unconscious) and thus incomplete. As the years went by he resonated more and more with Jung’s approach and, decades later, after they had both passed on, they were recognized by some as the two most important progenitors of the Transpersonal Psychology movement.[xxx]
When a student begins to compare and contrast Jung and Assagioli, s/he notices that there is a different flavor and tone to their life and teachings. Jung was more Northern and Germanic, scholarly and precise, cool and distant, with a large physical presence and commanding personality. He had five children and apparently several affairs, most famously with Toni Wolff. His father had been a Protestant minister, and Jung spent considerable time reconciling the Christian mythos with depth psychology. Assagioli was more Southern and Italian, warm and soft. He was happily married for over forty years and had only one child, who died tragically at the age of twenty-eight. He generally allowed the teachings to take center stage and tended not to publicly share his personal life and deepest inner experiences.
For example, at the end of his life Jung wrote his spiritual memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, but Assagioli penned no equivalent book, and neither was there a full-length biography written about him before he died. As mentioned before, like Freud Assagioli was raised Jewish.[xxxi] Much more than Jung with his studies in Western esotericism (especially alchemy and gnosticism), Assagioli was oriented towards Eastern philosophies and practices. Finally, even during Jung’s lifetime people were calling themselves “Jungians.” This prompted Jung’s humorous quip: “I’m glad I’m Jung and not a Jungian!” Because of the nature and unfolding of the Psychosynthesis movement practitioners generally were able to avoid the construction of a Church of Assagioli.
To continue our chronology, the Psychosynthesis Institute was founded in Florence in 1945, where it still exists today. The Psychosynthesis Research Foundation was founded in Delaware in 1957 and was later relocated to New York. In 1973 The Act of Will was published, and Transpersonal Development: The Dimension beyond Psychosynthesis made its appearance posthumously in 1988. In the 1970s and 1980s many new training schools appeared in Europe and North America. Like Jung, Assagioli had a background that included deep interchanges with great thinkers and spiritual teachers including: D. T. Suzuki, Alexandra David-Neel, P. D. Ouspensky, Rabindranath Tagore, Viktor Frankl, Inayat Khan, Hermann Keyserling, Alice A. Bailey and C. G. Jung. They cross-pollinated his work and made it all the more synthetic and rewarding.
I should also mention the major movements, waves or forces in modern psychology, and how Assagioli extended them into a fifth. The First Force, beginning with Freud and his fellow researchers, is Psychoanalysis; the Second Force, beginning with John B. Watson, B. F. Skinner and others, is Behaviorism; the Third Force, beginning with therapists such as Carl Rogers and James Bugental, is Existential-Humanistic; the Fourth Force, beginning with Assagioli and Jung and leading up to Maslow, Stanislav Grof and others in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, is Transpersonal Psychology; Assagioli labeled the Fifth Force ‘psycho-energetics,’ which is the study of experience as consisting of both energy and consciousness. This was his attempt to connect modern psychology to the new physics. In the spirit of Ken Wilber’s later dictum “transcend and include,” it encapsulates the best and most useful aspects of the previous four forces and then goes beyond them. At least that is the idea.
According to Douglas Russell a few of the ‘basic constructs’ of Psychosynthesis are:
- Focuses on the higher-unconscious at least as much as on the lower-unconscious, with the understanding that both can be dynamically repressed.
- Develops exercises to contact, develop and utilize the Spiritual or Higher Will especially in its three major qualities: Strong, Good and Skillful.[xxxii] Related to this is an emphasis on discovering and living out to the best of one’s ability his/her Life Purpose or dharma.
- Acknowledges and works with both Personal Psychosynthesis and Spiritual Psychosynthesis.[xxxiii]
- Learns to recognize our various “subpersonalities,” skillfully name and work with them and, when required, disidentify from them in order to integrate the psyche and prepare for transpersonal qualities and behaviors to emerge.
- Places an emphasis on raja yoga. This includes concentration and meditation practices, training the higher or abstract mind, using creative visualizations and other methods.
Unbeknownst to most in the world of psychology, Assagioli in Italy (like Jung in Switzerland) had ‘secret esoteric affiliations.’ Two fairly recent online articles have begun the process of revealing his true sources of information, inspiration and direction: “Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis and the Esoteric Roots of Transpersonal Psychology,” by Al Mankoff (2006) and “Beyond the ‘Wall of Silence’—Psychosynthesis Inside and Out,” by Keith Hackwood (2015).
They explore the fact that he was strongly influenced in thought and behavior by not only Jung, William James and later transpersonal theorists such as Maslow, but also by Theosophist H. P. Blavatsky and esotericist and channel Alice A. Bailey. In fact, already in 1934 he was reportedly in contact with and inwardly directed by the Tibetan Master Djwhal Khul (D.K.) to “write an article upon the power of the dedicated will” (much later he published the complete book The Act of Will).
Apparently, starting in 1943 he was one of the 42 living disciples working with D. K. in Discipleship in the New Age, Vol. 1 & 2. Supposedly, he was tasked with translating the esoteric materials in the vast Alice A. Bailey corpus into clear and practical terms and exercises (much as Bailey was supposedly instructed to make more accessible to a wider audience Theosophical materials written by Blavatsky). He was told to emphasize the nature and purpose of the Soul at least as much, if not more, than the personality, to try and develop a new philosophy and practice of the Will, and to the best of his ability synthesize Western science and Eastern wisdom.
The Biological and Metaphysical Instincts
In traditional spiritual practices awakening the metaphysical instincts has often been done at the expense of suppressing the biological instincts—a process referred to as spiritual bypassing. The body and its associated needs and desires are often regarded as impure and as an obstacle to spiritual attainment.
In “The Metaphysical Instincts & Spiritual Bypassing in Integral Psychology,” Bahman Shirazi (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Integral Counseling Psychology at CIIS) makes the salient point that in his opinion Assagioli’s framework, which combines empirical, depth, humanistic and transpersonal perspectives at once, is “the most comprehensive Western integrative psychological and psychotherapeutic system compatible with integral [and presumably transpersonal] psychology.”
He goes on to remind the reader that the lower-unconscious region, often associated with Freudian psychology, “… is associated with the biological functions as well as dynamically repressed emotional and mental content. The lower-unconscious is mainly regulated through biological instincts. Instincts are innate, unconscious, means by which Nature operates in all forms of life… Biological instincts… such as survival, aggressive and reproductive instincts are well known and well researched in general, in Western psychology.”[xxxiv]
So then, when we worry about the negative effects of spiritual bypassing we are at least partially concerned with the harmful consequences of not attending to the lower-unconscious. When we repress these contents various things may happen. We may end up projecting them on to others (Type 6). Or suffer a conversion disorder and hysterical symptomology (Type 2). Or split off from them using the schizoid defense (Type 5). Or become heavily armored and in denial (Type 8). Or… fill in the blanks. The middle-unconscious includes the conscious mind and the realm of conscious suppression in service of adaptation and functionality. In Psychosynthesis there is a simple yet profound oval or egg-shaped diagram that is often trotted out and used to show the relationship between the ego or “I”, the Transpersonal or Higher Self, the overall Field of Consciousness, the Collective Unconscious, and the Lower, Middle and Upper Unconscious.[xxxv]
In the 1920s Assagioli began the process of theorizing, sketching out and working with what he termed the higher-unconscious, whose organizing principle is the Higher or Transpersonal Self. Similar to the lower- unconscious, it can be made conscious and integrated into the personality. It contains its own instinctual processes, which according to Shirazi can be referred to as ‘metaphysical instincts.’ These include spiritual intuitions, visions, illuminations, aspirations, insights and more—all of which can be repressed for various reasons and rendered unconscious. They are often more powerful and instructive than the biological instincts and become ever more relevant in the course of our spiritual development. “They… tend to propel us toward our spiritual destiny. They influence our religious impulses, beliefs and behaviors, as well as our philosophical ideations.”
We would do well to recall that for Jung the human psyche (he didn’t usually speak about Essence) has an innate drive or gradient toward wholeness. Overall, he called this evolutionary process ‘individuation.’ In similar fashion, the Berkeley-based spiritual teacher A. H. Almaas has written about what he calls the ‘enlightenment drive.’ In his book Runaway Realization we find this statement: “The particular maturation of the soul that fosters true practice involves the awakening of a fourth drive, the enlightenment drive. Although similar to the instinctual drives… the enlightenment drive is not completely biological… We may recognize the enlightenment drive as the religious drive, the longing for God or divine union… In the Diamond Approach, by recognizing the truth of this drive, we learn to work on the instinctual drives and harmonize them into the enlightenment drive (27).” This can also be called the drive toward Spiritual Freedom, Liberation, Awakening, Realization or True Nature.
Before moving on to the final section, I could argue that great creative artists—painters and sculptors, composers and musicians, writers and poets, architects and others–are often more likely to notice, appreciate and integrate the higher-unconscious than are people in the so-called healing arts. They are aware that there is a lot of good, alchemical prima material to work with, including the myths, symbols and figures of the archetypal realm, and thus are far less likely to indulge in psychological bypassing and to repress the sublime.[xxxvi] An example of the higher-unconscious creatively precipitating down into form, would be these final lines from “Sailing to Byzantium,” by W. B. Yeats (1928):
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity…
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.[xxxvii]
Another poetic example would be The Duino Elegies, by Rilke, which touches and incarnates the angelic realm for our delight, healing and edification.[xxxviii]
As should be obvious by now, a significant part of Assagioli’s vast project was a de-repression and re-valorization of the higher-unconscious. It should be noted that in his Integral Yoga, which bears many resemblances to practical aspects of Psychosynthesis, India philosopher and yogi Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) expressly recommended against “plunging into the subconscient [roughly equivalent to the lower-unconscious] without first mobilizing the higher-unconscious. Without this preparation, he claimed, there is a risk of losing oneself, without adequate tools, in the obscurity and chaos of the ‘subconscient’ world.
“Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga is unique in that it starts with the opening of the higher centers of consciousness first. This is to avoid the trappings of the lower-unconscious and the intensification of attachments, as well as a myriad of other problems associated with the premature opening of the kundalini energy… “(Shirazi).
We agree with this view, except for Shirazi’s belief that only Integral Yoga works with the higher-unconscious early in the psychospiritual process of transformation. Anyone familiar with Assagioli’s writings, especially the collection of essays in Transpersonal Development, knows that in psychosynthesis one is explicitly encouraged to become aware of and explore the higher-unconscious early on, though always in a mature and balanced way.[xxxix]
Conclusion: Balancing Right Proportions
The soul on its own level is an initiate. –D.K.
As I conclude, I want to make absolutely clear that nothing said in this essay should be construed as denigrating modern psychology and the psychotherapy profession—it is what we do with our knowledge and practices that is, so to speak, on trial here. In fact, in the January 2017 Enneagram Monthly I wrote an essay called, “The Regret of the Basic Fault: Healing the Original Wound with Psychoanalytic Insight and Mourning.” There in the conclusion I say: “As must be obvious by now, it is my belief that Enneagram-informed theorists, writers, teachers and therapists would do well to make good use of the very best of psychoananlysis and depth psychology. Too often the insights and approaches from these fields are reduced to a shallow and facile neo-Freudianism and dismissed.
In my opinion, the worldwide Enneagram community would do well to acquaint itself to the next level with important and useful ideas and methods culled from the likes of: Freud, Jung, Mahler (cf. The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant), Horney, Schwartz-Salant (a personal favorite), Jones, Klein, Winnicott, Kernberg, Kristeva, Lacan (in spite of his nearly impenetrable French discourse), Irigaray (a fabulous feminist psychoanalyst and philosopher), Fromm, Kohut, Fairbairn, Adler and Erikson.
“By implication, we would be wise to avoid the tendency to spiritually bypass. In a way that is a companion piece and bookend to this new one. It is true that most of us have unhealed wounds that need to be addressed one way or the other. But what we have been examining here is the fact that there are several negative consequences to getting stuck in psychological bypassing, the most salient one being that we run the risk of short circuiting and sacrificing our ability to understand and participate in our own spiritual evolution. After all, from an esoteric perspective our task is not to become psychologically sophisticated neo-primates, but to transform into spiritual initiates looking forwards and upwards, expanding our consciousness into ever higher levels of being and wider realms of becoming.”[xl] To move beyond the 4th or Human Kingdom, and into the 5th Kingdom.” (the Kingdom of Souls in Theosophy).
Here is a key take-away: when we get stuck in psychological bypassing we could inquire about the opportunity-cost involved in these attitudes and behaviors. In other words, what ideas, issues and activities are not being attending to when we postpone more advanced and elevated understandings and practices? The nature and purpose of the Soul, and its relationship to the acquired personality? Processes of spiritual initiation and evolution? Sri Aurobindo asserted:
“Man is a transitional being, he is not final; for in him and high beyond him ascend the radiant degrees which climb to a divine supermanhood.[xli] The step from man towards superman is the next approaching achievement for the earth’s evolution… It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of nature’s process.”
A more poetic revelation of our evolutionary journey comes, once again, from our Persian friend Rumi:
I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to an animal,
I died as animal and I was a human,
Why should I fear?
When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as a human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my Angel Soul
I shall become what no mind ever conceived…”
–Coleman Barks, trans.
Clearly the Enneagram world needs a new perspective and a new discipline, one that links and addresses psychological and spiritual bypassing in fair, balanced and useful ways. Psychosynthesis, dating back to at least 1965 with the publication of Assagioli’s first major work, can provide such a framework of theory and praxis. It is revealing that when one Googles “Jung and the Enneagram,” or “Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram,” multiple references surface with great ease. However, only two appear when one Googles “Psychosynthesis and the Enneagram.” One is from Michael Lerner on angleofvision.org, where he talks about “a useful resonance with the Enneagram in Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis model.” Another can be found in Tom Condon’s highly recommended article “The Trouble with Typing,” where he quotes Assagioli as saying: “You never kill the ego, you only find it living in a larger house.”
Since around the turn of the century various authors and teachers have been trying to articulate and promulgate the spiritual or “depth dimension” of the diagram and system, including Sandra Maitri (2000, 2005), A. H. Almaas (2000), Helen Palmer (1995), Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (1999), Claudio Naranjo (1994), and Susan Rhodes (2009, 2010). However, an argument could be made that this will not be possible without explicitly addressing the prevalence of psychological bypassing.
In 2006 Susan Rhodes began publishing a series of articles and books where she “takes issue with the dominant paradigm of the field.” She wrote a critical article titled “Let’s Depathologize the Enneagram,” where Susan lists (without mentioning psychological bypassing by name, only implication) four propositions: 1) The current [guiding] paradigm [in our enneagram theories and practices] is unnecessarily negative; 2) The current paradigm is too narrow in scope; 3) The current paradigm is psychologically divisive; 4) The current paradigm is not very coherent.[xlii] She goes on to state for the record in footnote 8: “When I advocate to depathologize the enneagram, I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about things like defense mechanisms or use the enneagram to help with diagnosing psychological disorders.[xliii] I’m just saying we shouldn’t let pathology be what defines the enneagram itself. The enneagram is not at its core a system for looking at pathology—it’s a system for looking at life and its processes.”
We could add that it is also a specialized and powerful tool for becoming more awake, and thus capable of self-reflection, psychological integration, and the right use of Will. As a result we will be able to consciously assist in our own growth and evolution, a process traditionally known as spiritual initiation.[xliv] Balancing a concern about spiritual bypassing with attention to how we psychologically bypass, and then transcending both in what Ken Wilber calls an ‘integral embrace,’ can help us move in a positive direction.
Almaas, A. H. Facets of Unity: The Enneagram of Holy Ideas (2000).
____________ Runaway Realization: Living a Life of Ceaseless Discovery (2014).
Assagioli, Roberto. Psychosynthesis (1965).
_________________The Act of Will (1973).
_________________Transpersonal Development: The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis (1988).
Aurobindo, Sri. Essays Divine and Human (1997).
Bailey, Alice A. Initiation, Human and Solar (1922).
______________The Rays and the Initiations (1960).
Barks, Coleman. The Essential Rumi (1995).
_______________Rumi: The Book of Love, Poems of Ecstasy and Longing (2003).
Bucke, Richard M. Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1901).
Condon, Tom. “The Trouble with Typing” (online, 1996).
Corbin, Henry. Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (1960)
Desoille, Robert. Theory and Practice of the Directed Waking Dream (1961).
_______________The Waking Dream in Psychotherapy: An Essay on the Function and Regulation of the Collective Unconscious (1945).
Dunion, Paul. “The Psychological Processing Bypass” (online blog, 2016).
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1959).
Ferrucci, Piero. Inevitable Grace, Breakthroughs in the Lives of Great Men and Women: Guides to your Self Realization (1990).
______________What We May Be: Techniques for Psychological and Spiritual Growth through Psychosynthesis (2009).
Firman, John. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit (2002).
Grof, Stanislav. “A Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology” (2006).
Hackwood, Keith. “Beyond the ‘Wall of Silence’—Psychosynthesis Inside and Out” (online, 2015).
Haich, Elisabeth. Initiation (1960).
Haronian, Frank. “The Repression of the Sublime” (1967).
Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology (1975).
______________ Blue Fire: The James Hillman (1989).
______________ The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling (1996).
______________ The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life (1999).
Irigaray, Luce. The Irigaray Reader. Margaret Whitford, ed. (1992)
Jung, C. G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933).
__________Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963)
Keen, Sam. “The Golden Mean of Roberto Assagioli” (Psychology Today, December 1974).
Lerner, Michael. “Enneagram: An Archetypal Psychology” (angleofvision.org).
Lombard, Catherine Ann. “Differences between Psychosynthesis and Jungian Psychology” (2017).
Maitri, Sandra. The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram (2000).
______________The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues: Finding the Way Home (2005).
Mankoff, Al. “Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis, and the Esoteric Roots of Transpersonal Psychology” (online).
Masters, Robert A. Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects us from What Really Matters (2010).
Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being (1962).
_________________The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971).
Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul: a Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (1992).
_______________The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (1997).
Myss, Carolyn. Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can (1994).
Naranjo, Claudio. Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View (1994).
Palmer, Helen. The Enneagram in Love and Work (1995)
Rhodes, Susan. “Let’s Depathologize the Enneagram” (enneagramdimensions.net, 2006).
______________The Positive Enneagram (2009).
______________Archetypes of the Enneagram: Exploring the Life Themes of the 27 Enneagram Subtypes from the Perspective of Soul (2010).
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Duino Elegies. Translated by Stephen Mitchell (1989).
Riso, Don Richard and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram (1999).
Rosselli, Massimo, M.D. and Duccio Vanni, M.D. “Roberto Assagioli and Carl Gustav Jung” (JATP, 2014 Vol. 46, No. 1).
Russell, Douglas. “Psychosynthesis in Western Psychology” (Psychosynthesis Digest Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall/Winter 1981).
________________“Seven Basic Constructs of Psychosynthesis” (Psychosynthesis Digest Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1982).
Schuller, Michael. Psychosynthesis in North America (1988).
Shirazi, Bahman A. K. “The Metaphysical Instincts and Spiritual Bypassing in Integral Psychology.” Integral Review, Sept. 2013, Vol. 9, No. 3.
Sorensen, The Courage to Be Kenneth and Hanne Birkholm. “Roberto Assagioli—His Life and Work, a Biography” (2017).
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Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting through Spiritual Materialism (1973).
Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930).
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_______________“Human Nature, Buddha Nature: On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship and the Dharma” (interview in Tricycle Magazine, 2011).
_______________“Double Vision: Duality and Nonduality in Human Experience” (The Sacred Mirror, 2003).
_______________“Embodying Your Realization: Psychological Work in Service of Spiritual Development” (johnwellwood.com).
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____________Integral Psychology (2000).
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___________Integral Spirituality (2006).
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It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.
–The White Queen, in Alice in Wonderland
[i] This essay is dedicated to the Mexican author Fatima Fernandez Christlieb, and her new book Where On Earth Did the Enneagram Come From? (2017). She too is trying to restore the spiritual/transpersonal/depth dimension to our Enneagram studies and practices.
[ii] Transpersonal psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield is one of several other people who have been disseminating this wisdom since the 1980s and 1990s: “Spiritual practice will not save us from suffering and confusion, it only allows us to understand that avoidance of pain does not help.” From A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Pitfalls of Spiritual Life (1993).
[iii] The Tibetans would call this “psychological processing arising as an enemy.”
[iv] Gurdieff had a related term for this, “Food for the Moon.” It means that we are slaves to our mechanical conditioning and our personalities feed on our baser impulses. A more literal interpretation says that for people incapable of moving themselves through life by spiritual, essential impulses, the Moon provides a propulsive force. And esoterically, the Moon and the beings that reside on it feed off our lower energies. For more on this subject see “Are we food for the Moon?” by Jason Jeffrey, and “Food for the Moon,” on the cassiwiki.net.
[v] For more about post-1960s narcissism in America, see The Culture of Narcissism, by Christopher Lasch (1979). Also see Boomeritis, by Ken Wilber (2002). In it he ties the narcissism to the shadow side of the Baby Boomer Generation, and to what has become known in Spiral Dynamics and Integral Psychology circles as the “mean green meme.”
[vi] For penetrating insights about the rampant medicalization of the psyche, see works by James Hillman.
[vii] As Gurdieffians know, Self-Work and Self-Observation lead to Self-Remembering, which is the antidote to lack of intraception and falling asleep to self and the world.
[viii] Lady Diana Whitmore is Founder, President and Co-chair of the Psychosynthesis & Education Trust in London, and author of two books: Psychosynthesis Counselling in Action and Psychosynthesis in Education: A Guide to the Joy of Learning. She has also been on the Trustee Board of the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. In the 1970s she was mentored by Laura Huxley and other prominent philosophers and spiritual teachers.
[ix] The classic stages in Eastern Orthodox mysticism are: Purification, Illumination, Union.
[x] This movement, which apparently began when the teachings and practices of Sri Ramana Maharshi came to the West with seekers such as Paul Brunton and others in the 1950s and 1960s, is often criticized for focusing mostly, or only, on atma-vichara (self-inquiry) and prajna (insight leading to wisdom) and ultimately atma-vidya (knowledge of the Self)–and omitting the preliminary practices.
[xi] According to the Buddha craving, or trishna in Sanskrit, is the root cause of human suffering. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the psyche is craving food, clothing, shelter, wealth, fame, power… or rarefied states of consciousness. The ego is still in charge.
[xii] You know something has achieved good market penetration and widespread currency when the title sounds like it is on the cover of Cosmopolitan, Redbook or The Oprah Magazine!
[xiii] A good, short definition of a defense mechanism is “a systematic way of remaining unconscious.” What is often forgotten, even by well-meaning therapists, is that defense mechanisms are a real blessing in childhood, and sometimes even into adulthood. Instead, we tend to overly pathologize the mechanisms, rather than experience them in a more holistic and compassionate light. On wonders how many realize that Freud never used the term “to defend”—he used the German word abwehr, which means to parry or deflect.
[xiv] One can’t but notice that adults who are endlessly concerned with their own childhood and adolescence, and what they believe to be necessary personal processing, in hopes of healing, curing or adapting to painful wounds (which to be clear may really exist), are rarely the creators of what Gurdieff would call “objective art.” Their creativity is mostly personal, “subjective art.”
[xv] Modern psychology sometimes gives lip service to the importance of spiritual work—but then emphasizes the importance of healing, curing or adjusting to psychological wounds from the bottom up, so to speak. Another way to look at this comes from Ken Wilber’s works, where he (and other systems theorists) speaks of “downward causation” and “upward causation.” An example of downward causation is the practice in Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga of invoking, contacting and bringing down the Supramental Consciousness and the creation of the Gnostic Being.
[xvi] Apropos the topic, Maslow says, “Let me talk about one defense mechanism that is not mentioned in psychology textbooks… It is the defense mechanism of desacralizing… Self-actualization means giving up this defense mechanism and learning or being taught to resacralize. Resacralizing means being willing, once again, to see a person ‘under the aspect of eternity,’ as Spinoza says, or to see him in the medieval Christian perception, that is, being able to see the sacred, the eternal, the symbolic” (“Self-actualization and Beyond,” in Challenges of Humanistic Psychology, 1967).
[xvii] One of the earliest proponents of working with the psyche in this manner (besides Jung) was James Hillman. See especially Re-Visioning Psychology, The Soul’s Code, and Blue Fire: The Essential James Hillman.
[xviii] A hallmark of genuine sacred wounds is that they can’t be healed directly. One can only be healed by giving to others in a spirit of love what one missed or had had damaged when younger. Then as St. Cyprian said: “Let that which wounds you be your cure” (200-258 CE).
[xix] For hilarious parodies of this phenomenon, watch YouTube episodes of “Ogden: The Inappropriate Yoga Guy.”
[xx] For marvelous books that integrate psychoanalysis, spirituality, feminism and the best of postmodern philosophy readers are directed to the works of Belgian-born French feminist philosopher, psycholinguist and cultural theorist Luce Irigaray.
[xxi] The Sufis have a saying that reminds them of the futility of certain kinds of processing, which goes something like this: “My life has been a journey that has been filled with the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows, with joys and sorrows, successes and failures—none of which has actually happened!”
[xxii] If French philosopher, historian and social critic Michel Foucault were alive today, he might be writing a long book called something like The Birth of the Consulting Room: An Archaeology of Therapeutic Perception. In it he would apply his critical and historiographical analyses to the rise of therapy as industry, and, of course, to various relations of power inherent and endemic to said industry.
[xxiii] For more on this topic see “By Way of Introduction: A Theoretical Panorama,” in Character and Neurosis, by Claudio Naranjo.
[xxiv] For more on the differences between horizontal translation and vertical transformation, see various works by Ken Wilber, including the article “A Spirituality that Transforms” (2006) and The Essential Ken Wilber (1998).
[xxv] By focusing so strongly and so often on our personal past, we also tend to lose use of our higher or spiritual intuition, because as Assagioli states, there are several special characteristics of intuition, one of which is that it is “directed toward continued development, toward the future” (Assagioli, 1988). If that is the case, then we are not really accessing and using intuition when we are engaged in what Freud called anamnesis—which is a “remembering of things, people or situations from an earlier or previous existence.” In Freudian therapy this becomes a patient’s account of his or her medical history, to be used in psychoanalytic treatment.
[xxvi] For brilliant and readable expositions of Corbin’s oeuvre, the reader is encouraged to look at the books by Thomas Cheetham. Another way to say this is that our personality, or body-mind, is indeed at home on the terrestrial plane, or in samsara—but our soul is not.
[xxvii]For an excellent and enjoyable series of fantasy books having to do with, among other things, the relationship between our personality and daemon/soul, try reading His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman, or see the movie The Golden Compass.
[xxviii] For an excellent and highly readable book having to do with our relationship to our own creativity, genius and destiny, see James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling (1996).
[xxix] Until the 1980s and 1990s, one of the only places that Assagioli’s work was known, discussed and appropriated was in the Findhorn Foundation, a well-known and respected intentional spiritual community in the far north of Scotland. This is where the author first encountered Psychosynthesis, when he took a workshop led by Diana Whitmore.
[xxx] Although it is interesting how often Assagioli is overlooked and even actively ignored when giving credit to early forerunners of what became known as the Fourth Force, Transpersonal Psychology. For example, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof doesn’t mention him at all in his “A Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology” (2006).
[xxxi] See biographical information and comparisons with Jung in Catherine A. Lombard, and Massimo Rosselli and Duccio Vanni.
[xxxii]From an esoteric perspective these correspond to the first three Rays of Aspect.
[xxxiii] “In personal psychosynthesis there is a process of mental centering: learning to use the mind to transcend the limitations of being governed by drives, impulses, emotions, desires, and partial identifications… Spiritual psychsynthesis facilitates contacting and expressing energies of the Transpersonal or Higher Self. The consciousness of the Higher Self includes intuitive awareness, a broad perspective of the human condition and a sense of purpose” (Douglas Russell, 1982).
[xxxiv] We are familiar with these three Instinctual Variants or Subtypes in Enneagram studies: Self-Preservation, Sexual and Social. They have both higher and lower correlates, and thus exist in both the lower-unconscious and higher-unconscious. We are complicated, mixed-bag, instinctually speaking, and sorting this out becomes a preliminary practice in personal psychosynthesis.
[xxxv] Tibetan Buddhist teacher and writer Pema Chodron likes to say that “Our life’s task is to use what we have been given to wake up!” One benefit of studying Assagioli’s egg or oval diagram is that we in front of us a graphic depiction of what we have been given from a comprehensive point of view
[xxxvi] One thinks of Rilke pleading: “Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee too!”
[xxxvii] Yeats was, of course, heavily involved in the Dublin Theosophical Lodge, and was also interested in Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism and Spiritualism.
[xxxviii] “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so because it serenely disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.” First Elegy
[xxxix] See Chapter 10, “Spiritual Development and Neuro-Psychological Disturbances,” in Assagioli’s Transpersonal Development.
[xl] “Initiation… is a graded and realized series of expansions of consciousness, a steadily increasing awareness of divinity and of all its implications… “From Bethlehem to Calvary, by Alice A. Bailey (27).
[xli] This is very similar to Nietzsche’s notion of the uber-mensch, but from an even more profound philosophical and spiritual perspective.
[xlii]In Susan’s articles and books she articulates and deconstructs two aspects of this “dominant paradigm” of Enneagram studies. The first has to do with the contemporary (post-1960s) Enneagram’s relationship to Freudian theory and the modern medical model (dating back to early Ichazo and Naranjo); the second has to do with what she calls the “ego vs. essence” dichotomy and model.
[xliii] As some have noted, after approximately fifty years the Enneagram community has become very good at focusing on and accurately diagnosing psychological disorders. Healing and/or curing them is a different story. For that to happen we would have to develop spiritual/transpersonal understandings, through being involved with spiritual philosophies and practices.
[xliv] For detailed and inspiring material about the phenomenology of spiritual initiation, see Initiation, by Elisabeth Haich, and Initiation: Human and Solar and The Rays and the Initiations, by Alice A. Bailey.