The Will and Initiation

The will is a natural process, the spark of life, and it is vital to understand how we connect with this energy in our lives as every choice or decision we make is an act of will. Understanding and being able to effectively utilise the will is central in Psychosynthesis and the Western Esoteric Tradition which both essentially aim at helping a practitioner develop will, use their imagination and – putting the two together – create a meaningful and satisfying life. Thus Psychosynthesis can be understood as a practical application of the esoteric tradition, not surprisingly considering Assagioli was deeply immersed in esoteric learning and practice.

            Using the will is not about will-power or forcing things to happen. The real will does not impose, it directs. Assagioli (in The Act of Will, 1975) expressed this clearly: “The will balances and constructively utilises all the other activities and energies of the human being without repressing any of them.” To be the director of our lives we have to be able to disidentify from our controlling and limiting attachments. In fact, central to an understanding of esoteric practice – and Psychosynthesis – is the ability to disidentify from one’s conscious (and unconscious) patterns and re-identify with the unique and inviolable Self within us. Assagioli made a point of stressing how the Self is closely allied to the will so it is clearly, then, not the same as desire, is not the will of drives, subpersonalities, or any unbalanced aspect of the personality or individual character. To ‘do what thou wilt’ does not mean to just do as you please but rather to connect with the deepest Self and respond accordingly to this will.

            Of course, we don’t always operate on such rarefied planes. Any action can be transformed into an act of will so long as it is not done from habit or because somebody told us to do it. Then as we activate will it grows; as the alchemists said to make gold you must have some gold first. It is the same with the will, the more we use it, the more it develops further. We then discover that we are not just passively witnessing the events of our lives but, as the director of our lives, we have the ability to make life-affirming choices, not just for ourselves but also in relationship with others.

            Such awareness does not just arise from positive, disidentifying experiences, it often also arises at those moments when we are most identified, feeling empty, helpless, or dependent. As the Psychosynthesis theorists Firman and Gila (The Primal Wound, 1997) remark: “There will be times when we are called to meet Self in experiences of helplessness, disintegration, and loss of identity.” It is remarkable, and paradoxical, that the centred will is so free that even through these difficult times it offers us an opportunity to shift from helplessness to choice. Many esoteric traditions believe this is the very purpose of incarnation.

            Roberto Assagioli clearly defined four steps in experiencing the will which correspond to the stages in traditional esoteric initiation, stages that occur in all of us at different times.

Step 1: The Non-initiate: no will (victim consciousness), a common human experience at times, involving a sense of impotency, being reactive to the environment, a victim to drives and blind urges. Desire and avoiding pain are the primary motivations.

Step 2: The Neophyte: knows the will exists (awakening consciousness), has awareness of simple choices, shifts their primary attention from desire and compulsion to increased choice. This step involves the development of strong will (the energy needed to choose) and skilful will (knowing how to apply the will most effectively.)

Step 3: The Adept: having an active and engaged will (centred consciousness), is able to disidentify from the contents of the personality and become director of their life. As the move to an integrated personality develops, good will emerges, coupled with a deeper sense of purpose. (An intermediary step, sometimes in esoteric groups called The Babe of Abyss, involves a genuine and identifiable move from ‘freedom from’ to ‘freedom to’.)

Step 4: The Magus: being the will (universal consciousness), identified with the Self and able to freely choose identification or not as appropriate to any circumstance.

            The more this consciousness permeates a being and those they engage with, the more empathy, co-operation and right human relations are established through a recognition of the greater whole.

            A true Magus operates with a balance of love and will, achieves the satisfaction that comes from altruistic activities and has sense of fulfilling inner purpose or ‘true will’. Then ‘good will’, the will-to-service (similar to the Buddhist bodhisattva vow or the Oath of the Master of the Temple in esotericism) brings responsibility which is the ‘ground’ of freedom, for being responsible is being guilt-free, accountable, unrehearsed, whole hearted, alert, subtle and sensitive.

Will Parfitt