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Manifestations of the Will

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Manifestations of the Will
by Marilyn Barker

The will is a key concept within Psychosynthesis as it is the inner force which is available to guide each individual towards self realization and to actualize the potential of all humanity. Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, regarded the will "as the central element and direct expression of the I, or self" (1973, p.245). To help explain the function of the will, he used the analogy of the will as being like the helmsman guiding the ship, providing the direction rather than the power for moving the vessel forward (1973, p.10). The importance accorded the will is reflected in the fact that Assagioli published only two books (in English): the first, Psychosynthesis (1965), discusses the will at length while the second book, The Act of Will (1973) is devoted entirely to this subject. Final evidence of Assagioli's belief in the centrality of the will was his establishment of the "Will Project" which was developed to help actualize the "immense resources of the human will" (1973, p.205) by exploring the will and its practical applications.

Will Parfitt, in his book The Elements of Psychosynthesis, presents the concept of the will more simply by noting that "every choice or decision we make is an act of will" and that consciously connecting with the dynamic energy of the will gives us the ability to be, to do and to become whatever we wish (1994, p.54). Psychosynthesis recognizes that we have many different inner powers, including imagination, emotion and desire. We can develop these powers to help us make wise choices for our own well-being and that of the whole world. Assagioli noted that this work requires the conscious, balanced growth of these inner powers and begins with the recognition and training of the will. He identified the will as central to this process both because of its intimate connection with our personality and the core of our being, our "self", and because of the will's function in "deciding what is to be done, in applying all the necessary means for its realization and in persisting in the task" (1973. p6).

In preparing this paper, I decided that I could best understand the will by applying it to a particular ongoing challenge in my life: the development of my self-esteem. I began by looking at the stages of willing identified by Assagioli (1973, p.7). These are:

      1. recognizing that will exists
      2. having a will
      3. being a will.

Before recognizing that will exists, we may live in a state of in-authenticity, in which our actions are based on social expectation, without regard to, or even awareness of, our own judgments of our circumstances. We feel completely at the mercy of external stimuli; we feel that life "happens to us" and our only form of response is reaction. The attitude that poverty, hatred and environmental destruction are inevitable, that there's nothing we can do so why bother trying, are tragically common examples of having no will.

From this state of having no will, the recognition that will does exist can itself be a transformative experience as it moves us into the realm of possibilities, and so of hope. It also brings with it the opportunity to take personal responsibility for oneself and to experience the sense of personal power which results from having a degree of control over those inner and outer experiences which we allow to shape our lives.

In my own experience, I always remember being aware of will existing (though not in those words) in connection with physical events: I could choose to learn to play the piano, or be a stronger swimmer -- it would just take practice. But truly believing the idea that we can also choose to influence or even change our attitudes and inner qualities is quite new to me. Feeling that I must have been born shy and with low self-esteem, or that world problems are too great or too far away for me to influence left me with no way to move beyond these ideas. However, as I learn that the attitude I bring to a situation or problem, such as the future of humanity, can and does make a difference, then I realize that I can contribute to a solution. When I recognize that my will exists and is at my command, then I can choose if, how and when I want to act. The idea of choice is very empowering on many levels as it means that I can look to myself -- that the answers aren't "out there" as I always used to think -- and that the direction or action I take can be of my own choosing, so it can be tailor-made for me. Knowing that we can make a difference is often the catalyst which allows us to move from having no will to the next stage, that of having a will.

The final stage in the development of the will is the experience of being a will. This is felt as a knowing in our depths of the intimate connection between the will and the self. Assagioli explained this concept by noting that unlike animals, who are aware but not aware of themselves, we can be "self-conscious". However, this self-consciousness is usually distorted by the contents of our consciousness, such as sensations, emotions and thoughts. In order to recognize our "self", we need to dis-identify from these contents of the consciousness, and identify with the "self" (Assagioli, 1973, p.12). Meditation and exercises of self-identification are useful methods to achieve this awareness. The ultimate goal of these practices is the "existential experience of pure self-consciousness, the direct awareness of the self, the discovery of the I "(Assagioli, 1973, p.11) as well as its reflection through the Transpersonal Will.

Beyond this level of personal awareness, Assagioli noted that "a further discovery can be made - that of the relationship between the I and the Transpersonal, or higher, Self" (1973, p13). By recognizing the relationship between the individual will and the Transpersonal Will, we become connected with the spiritual aspect of our being. At its highest level, this connection is experienced as joining together with Universal Will, as was demonstrated in the lives of Jesus Christ and the Buddha. As examples of this ultimate relationship, they remind us of the importance of grounding experiences with the spiritual realm in our everyday life so that we may transform ourselves and the world around us.

This need to ground our experience in everyday life brings me back to my own journey and my desire to understand and develop my own will. For this task, Assagioli's in-depth analysis of the will proved most helpful. Assagioli identified six steps involved in all acts of will. Will Parfitt (1994, p.55-56) simplified Assagioli's original description of the steps involved as follows:

1. investigate: determine what we wish to do or what our desires are
2. deliberate: use our wisdom to choose among the possibilities
3. decide: which act is most important at this time
4. affirm goal: stay connected to our decision
5. plan: determine how best to achieve the desired goal
6. execute: direct our energy through the steps or action necessary to meet the goal

John Cullen (1981) discussed the relevance of this process to management training and its similarity to the standard management functions of planning, organizing, directing and controlling. The powerful results obtainable from using the will are suggested by the similarity between the "Qualities of the Will" identified by Assagioli (1973, p.19) which include energy, discipline, determination, persistence, initiative, and organization, and the similar qualities which we associate with strong business or organizational leaders.

Assagioli also identified four aspects of the fully developed will. These are the strong will, the skillful will, the good will and the Transpersonal Will (1973, p14-18). Although these four facets are each very meaningful in helping me to understand the functioning of the will, I see their relationship somewhat differently than Assagioli. I consider the strong will and the skillful will to be manifestations of the will at the personality level, while the good will is an attitude or value we can express by the way we use the strong and/or skillful will. The use of these aspects of the will is within our awareness and so originates in our field of consciousness. In contrast, the Transpersonal Will operates from the superconscious levels of the psyche (Assagioli, 1973, p. 113) and is an expression of the Transpersonal Self. A description of each of these aspects of the will follows.

The strong will might be considered to be similar to the Victorian concept of willpower with its associated power and energy. However this strength, used in isolation from the skillful or the good will, may be ineffective or even harmful. For example, breaking down a locked door may be unnecessary if a window has been left open. Or the single-minded pursuit of "success" carried out at the cost of hurting friends or family often results in a hollow victory. Thus, the strong, skillful and good will must be developed in a balanced fashion to give us access to the full power of the will.

A second aspect of the will is skillfulness. This faculty allows us to stimulate, regulate and direct all the other facets of our being, our emotions, thoughts, impulses, intuition, imagination and sensations, in order to achieve our desired goal (Assagioli, 1973, p13). It is this function of the will which allows us to choose the action most consistent with our inner attributes or guides us to combine a weak will with other personal drives such as ambition in order to reach our chosen goal. It is this aspect of the will which may also lead us to explore unconscious motives and blocks influencing our behavior so that we may develop a course of action which takes into account, supports or works on transforming aspects of our personality, based on this awareness.

Looking at the good will, John Cullen has described it as the synthesis of love and will (cited in Clay, 1997). Thus the good will can be developed by choosing aims which are consistent with the welfare of others and the common good of humanity (Assagioli, 1973, p.86). In discussing the good will, Phyllis Clay (1997) notes that, unlike the strong will and the skillful will which can be developed INTRA personally, without regard for others, the good will, as well as the transpersonal will and universal will must be developed INTERpersonally.

Beyond living our lives at the personality level, we can come to experience the higher realms: the Transpersonal Self, and its expression through the Transpersonal Will. This discovery may occur through an experience of spontaneous illumination as reported by R. M. Bucke in Cosmic Consciousness or in William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience; it may be felt as a 'call' or 'pull' from a Higher Power; or it may be cultivated by an upward expansion of our consciousness through prayer, meditation or exercises for this purpose. Assagioli pointed out the importance of the will in working with our consciousness; he noted the will's role in overcoming obstacles, in maintaining a receptive state, in acting as a propellant to attain and stabilize the consciousness at its higher levels, as well as in directing and making use of the energies released (1991, p.48).

All aspects of the will can be enhanced with training and practice, and performing actions as "acts of will" sets what Ferrucci calls an avalanche process in motion (1982, p.75) whereby once we use our will, it enables us to use our will further.

However, despite our efforts at growth, obstacles may appear on this path. Aspects of our personality may cloud our awareness or divert our attention. Conversely, the devastating inequities and pain suffered by much of humanity coupled with our new awareness of our unity with all may overwhelm and incapacitate us. Here again the remedy lies in the use of the will to focus our attention on the actions we determine to be most appropriate. This use and development of the will is supported and enhanced by practices such as meditation and the use of the Self-Identification exercise.

In terms of my personal growth, it was helpful for me to look at my goal of improving my self-esteem from the perspective of my higher purpose. I thought about the feeling of transcendence which I experienced at a time of confusion and lack of meaning in my life. This was a pivotal point on my spiritual journey and left me with a deep knowing that I was Child of God, whole and complete just as I am. This left me with such an amazing feeling of having a purpose in life, of knowing that I could do and be all that was mine to do. I remember the sense that anything was possible and the knowing that I could fulfill my purpose, just by using the gifts I possess. In remembering this experience an interesting shift occurred: the importance of having self-esteem fell away. It became obvious that raising my self-esteem was a goal set by my personality, so I could feel better about myself while I was fulfilling my life's purpose. From this perspective it seemed that I had the process reversed, or had misunderstood the requirements; I could now see that in working towards fulfilling my purpose, any higher self-esteem necessary would be a by-product of that process. How enlightening: by staying connected with this "knowing" I can now redirect my will to use my energies in a much more purposeful pursuit than just the development of self-esteem for its own sake. I can focus on finding my life's purpose and on carrying it out!

Whether it is the attainment of goals we set from our own center, or the development of the connection with our spiritual nature, the will in its many forms plays a central role in our aspirations towards s/Self realization. The understanding of the will and its development provided through Psychosynthesis is a major contribution to humankind, both individually and in its totality, as it is through the skillful use of the will, complemented by love, that humanity will achieve its greatest potential.


Assagioli, R. (1965) Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques. New York: Penguin.
Assagioli, R. (1973) The Act of Will. New York: Penguin.
Assagioli, R. (1991) Transpersonal Development: The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis. London: HarperCollins.
Clay, P. L. (1997) Will Project. E-mail of 9/22/97: psychosynthesis @
Ferrucci, P. (1982) What We May Be. Los Angeles: j.P. Tarcher.
Parfitt, W. (1994) The Elements of Psychosynthesis. Rockport
, MA: Element.

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