EDUCATION OF THE WILL
Marc J. Seifer
WHERE DOES MIND END?
The gravest form of evil… is ‘langor of the mind’ which manifests itself in the young man. He sleeps several hours too long, he does not feel very fit, he has no inclination for work. His laziness is apparent on his very face…. There is neither vigor or precision in his movements. After this lost time, he lingers over breakfast reading the newspaper through even the advertisements, because that occupies him without requiring any effort… In the afternoon some of his energy is soon wasted in useless discussion and in gossip…. Lazy people inflict upon their lives the emptiest lives imaginable…. All happiness presupposes [initiative] of some effort.
Education of Will by Jules Payot, 1909
One theoretician who attempts to combine the teachings of Freud and Jung with that of Gurdjieff is Roberto Assagnoili (1888-1974), an Italian psychologist who corresponded with Freud and met with Jung on a number of occasions. Assagnoili’s work is taken directly from Assagnoili’s Psychosynthesis (1970) and from Sam Keen’s remarkable interview which was conducted for Psychology Today during the last year of Assagnoili’s life (December, 1974).
One key difference from Freud is that Assagnoili wants to resurrect the will as a key component of the ego which he equates with the self. His criticism of Freud is that he “neglected the higher reaches of human nature.” This self, which he sees as constantly growing, is often faced with choices. One’s values plays a crucial role in determining which choices are taken and which are discarded. Where Freud sees choices as stemming from or in reaction to the primitive id, Assagnoili sees the will as “the source or origin of all our choices, decisions and engagements.”
The WILL differs from drives, impulses and desires. It is composed of the following phases:
The existential experience of the SELF is directly related to the expression of will. The next step would be to learn how to develop and strengthen it. Similar to Freud, who says that the ego can split off and observe the self, Assagnoili too realizes that the self can be aware of internal as well as external reality. But he is going a step further to link the willing self to one’s identity. How does one experience oneself? It is through self-observation, introspection and active doing that one truly confronts the self.
The self, for Assagnoili, cannot live in isolation. He makes a distinction between being lonely and spending time alone. The self grows by spending time with itself and by actively making conscious decisions, but it must also learn to live in harmony with others, and deal with the will of others. And yet, the self must also learn to deal with the self as well! Assagnoili wants us to have a dialogue with and interact with the self. His “Psychosynthesis” is a technique for integrating social interactions with one’s goals and one’s will. How, he asks, does one achieve a goal? By “analyzing the value and motivation of the goal,” by “deliberating, deciding, affirming, planning and executing” one’s goal. Each of these areas can also be developed.
In pursuit of goals, conflict often arise. Energies are wasted in wrongheaded emotions, misguided sexual pursuits and through power struggles or combat with others. For Assagnoili, the solution out of this malaise, is through sublimation and creative achievement. Part of the way is to get in touch with our “superconscious” or spiritual side, a part of the self that has recuperative and transformative aspects.
Similar to Gurdjieff, Assagnoili has come upon various techniques to “disidentify” with negative and destructive emotions. For instance, instead of saying “I am discouraged,” or “I am depressed,” say “A wave of discouragement has swept over me.” In this way, the person is separate from the emotion. As Gurdjieff has said, “we are not our emotions.” And just as Gurdjieff wants us to be aware of self, Assagnoili wants us to develop a “vigilant self” that does not submit to these detrimental feelings.
A vigilant self “critically surveys those impulses, e.g., discouragement or anger, looks to their origin, foresees their deleterious effects and realizes their unfoundeness.” The goal is to “disintegrate harmful energies” and become self-aware so that these negative emotions do not take hold.
These ideas are very similar to those of Gurdjieff who also discusses at great length how to disidentify with negative emotions and remember the self. All negatives take away from the system and all positives add to the system. As Uri Geller often says, “Stay positive!” Where Assagnoili differs from Gurdjieff or combines these ideas with a Freudian paradigm, is in his recognition that many negative impulses can have an unconscious origin. Just as in psychoanalysis, Assagnoili wants us to “unmask, understand and resolve” these dark emotions. In many cases, we need to “recognize their stupidity.” True, this is easier said than done, but certainly worth the effort. We could say that this is all part of what Gurdjieff calls “the work,” meaning the work on oneself.
Where Gurdjieff sees multiple I’s, Assagnoili “sees the will as standing above the multiplicity. It directs, regulates and balances all the other functions.” Once one “cultivates the certainty that one has a will, with that comes a realization of an intimate connection between the will and the self.” Assagnoili tells us we need “cold, impersonal observation as if these impulses are a natural phenomena acting outside ourself.” In this way we can create a “psychological distance” between ourself and these negative complexes. The goal is to create a “critical faculty” of self-awareness, “but not too critical!”
Having taught psychology for over 35 years, I continue to be amazed that the will is completely ignored by mainstream textbooks in the field. For all intents and purposes, the will is never discussed by Freud or Jung, and certainly not by the behaviorists! Thus, it is of historical interest to realize that one of Freud’s closest associates, Otto Rank, wrote a considerable amount about the will. Rank goes so far as to say that “the human being experiences his individuality in terms of his will” (Lieberman, 1985, p. 126). For Assagnoili and, I would imagine, for Rank as well, one should “take a vow” to affirm and express the will.
However, when it comes to defining precisely what the will is, both Assagnoili and Rank state that ultimately it is undefinable. It is easier to experience the will than to define it. Nevertheless, Rank does make an attempt. “We cannot prevent our birth or death,” Rank says, but we can choose how to live our life during the interim. The will is “the integrated personality as an original creative force.” It is “the impetus that strives for affirmation and control.” Quoting Jessie Taft, an associate active in the women’s movement, Rank stated that “Will is not merely the drive of a predominant instinct or combination of instincts. It is that central integration of the forces of the individual that exceeds the sum of the parts, a unity which can inhibit as well as carry through to realization the instinctual urges.” Will is a “positive, guiding force” responsible for the integration of the self. It “represents the life center of the human being, something primal and ultimate” (Lieberman, 1985, pp. 357-358).
I can’t make you love me if you don’t.
Line from a Bonnie Raitt song.
Jules Payot (1909) in his classic book The Education of the Will, takes a different approach. Payot, realizes that expression of the will along a single path will lead one to success. However, “even good ideas are no match against the brute strength of natural inclinations and tendencies” (p. 61). Payot has uncovered a powerful hard truth, namely that the will is no match against the emotions. Spencer notes that “the world is led by emotion” (p. 80). “The power that emotional states have over our wills cannot be exaggerated. They can even make us face suffering and death without hesitation…. [Even intelligence] submits docily to emotional states” (pp. 70-77).
Since “the will is not fond of receiving cold orders from intelligence,” Payot realizes for the will to become successful, it must tie itself to an emotional state. History is replete with “the feeble effect of abstract ideas contrasted with the power of emotion.” Thus is the “Comedy of Life,” (p. 81).
Payot also realizes that “all communication with the outside world must necessarily be through the action of the muscles.” This involves “an expenditure of energy” (pp. 83-84). Much like Gurdjieff’s teachings, Payot suggests that “men who are masters of themselves are extremely rare.” Similar to Gurdjieff’s idea of mechanical man, Payot notes that most men are “marionettes.” “When powerful emotions and violent thoughts take over, we stand by helplessly” (p. 86). He then hits the reader with the harshest of truths. True self-mastery, he says, “is a delusion.” The will “has only a mock power over the brute forces with which we must struggle.”
The reason Payot comes to this conclusion has to do with our biology. Emotions are primary, but so are physical states. And when physical states effect the mind, the exertion of will over such states becomes extremely difficult, and most cases, essentially impossible.
However, one advantage the will has is the ability to perceive the future and consider its consequences. Here is Payot’s “Kingdom of Intelligence.” The secret for approaching self-mastery is to fuse our plans with positive emotions. The only way for an intellectual idea to have power is to find an emotional state to attach to it. That is how to increase will power. Essentially, what Payot is saying is for the will to succeed, the head must work with the heart. This is what Tony Robbins means when he drumbeats us to, “live with passion.”
“All volition involves resolution” and commitment. But for true success to be achieved, we must “cultivate enthusiasm” and choose a path that will lead to enjoyment. The secret to triumph and exultation lies in knowing how to direct one’s own thoughts and feelings in the direction that leads to a happy existence (p. 379).
But, happiness also involves “effort.” In other words, a person must work for happiness. If you like homemade cocoanut custard pie then don’t go to the store and purchase one. Make it yourself. The effort involved has a payoff.
E.H. Anderson (1901) metaphysician and hypnotist from Toledo, Ohio, and contemporary of Jules Payot looks at will in a different way. For Anderson, the will is a resultant force. What one really wants to cultivate is the force behind the will which Anderson says is INTENTION. “The will is an expression of a force.” Intention involves resolve, contemplation, planning, aim, purpose, goal direction, fixed determination, or in Anderson’s words, “conscious deliberation…. Intention directs the will.”
In order to develop intention, one must learn CONCENTRATION. This is a technique closely linked to meditation, learning to withdraw into one’s silence. Anderson tells the initiate to “relax your mental tension, banish random associative thoughts” and learn to concentrate. “Silence is one of the great factors in all psychic work.”
Anderson is telling us to learn how to get in touch with our real selves by meditating and by concentrating. He also recognizes for intention to be maximized, the subject must approach his goal with CONFIDENCE. “Confidence begets confidence.” Confidence involves faith and belief in oneself. Doubts and fears need to be set aside. “I can’t” should never be part of one’s vocabulary. “When you rely on yourself, you are relying upon the universal power that is expressing itself through you…. Know thyself and you will be self-confident.”
In Chogyam Trungpa’s book The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Trungpa suggests that “people don’t appreciate themselves. Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards themselves, they cannot experience harmony or peace within themselves.” Trungpa says that we often see the world as “burdensome or depressive.” “Instead of appreciating one’s life, we take our life and our existence for granted.” We need to relax more and learn to “appreciate our mind and body.” Trungpa wants us to seek tranquility and learn that our lives are “wonderful and precious.” Express gratitude for the gift of life. Give yourself a break. When necessary, forgive yourself. Realize that humor has a healing effect. Appreciate the irony and even nuttiness of existence. Become a friend and be gentle with yourself.
A first step towards increasing self-awareness and ability to concentrate involves learning how to MEDITATE. Part of this process is to learn how to stop thoughts. Three easy ways are as follows:
Sit in a quite place and concentrate on your breath. That’s it. Think only about your breath. This allows you to slow yourself down and get into a meditative mode.
Another way should be done outdoors. Find a special spot, perhaps in your backyard, in a forest or on a hilltop. Sit quietly and listen to the sounds around you. The quieter you are and the more you listen, the more unwanted thoughts will disappear, and the more open your mind will become.
If you perform this second excercize correctly, you will begin to extend your hearing senses, and by this process, an entirely different level of awareness will be attained. You will note, for instance, that dogs and birds communicate with each other over distances exceeding several miles.
Both of these techniques are simple but powerful ways to learn how to draw into one’s silence so that concentration can take place. And with concentration, comes contemplation, deliberation, intention and acts of will. Where Freud sees humans as being motivated by two key drives, sex and aggression, Assagnoili wants to add the spiritual quest as a third primary drive. Associated with this third drive is a desire for self-transformation, and the vehicle for obtaining this is the will. Successful expression of the will involves tying the head with the heart, pairing your goals with positive emotions.
3. The third way was derived from the teachings of Silva Mind Control, Uri Geller and E.H. Anderson, who devotes a chapter in his book Psychical Developments to auto-hypnosis and healing. The idea is to create a spiral stairway down into your mind, say 10 floors. At the bottom floor create a room with a set of tools and a stage, and on that stage place a screen. On this screen you can project a part of your body or someone else’s body you need to heal. Surround that image with a vision of healing light. This space is your workplace. Use the sacred room and the projection screen for a moment of prayer and a variety of visualized goals.
Quoting Maslow, Assagnoili recognizes that through self-actualization, peak experiences can be achieved. These spiritual encounters are associated with the feeling of transcending time, being in synch with the self and one’s destiny and feeling at one with the world.
For Anderson (1901), the only way for the soul to “manifest itself on the physical plane is through the physical organism.” The old cliché, “the body is the temple of the soul” comes to mind. “Remember,” Anderson says, “man is at one with the universal, his natural condition is that of harmony with all of nature. Now he is estranged, it is his duty to again become in rapport with the soul of the race,” to allow the “universal intelligence to manifest itself through him and it is this condition of eternal peace that brings him into a condition of peace with all around him.” For Anderson, “the expression of this peace is grace.” Through will and the realization of one’s oneness with the universal intelligence, thought can be directed and “greatness” can be achieved.
As Assagnoili told Sam Keen, “By denying the centrality of the will, modern psychology has denied direct experience of the self.” We must become aware of the notion of being a “willing self” as this first step towards self-transformation.
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