In this video, we’ll be looking at the identification, disidentification and self-identification exercise from Roberto Assagioli who was the founder of psychosynthesis, a modality of transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy. I have modified the language to some degree and added phrases which I feel enhanced the meditation. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
In the first half I’ll explain
- what the purpose of doing this exercise is
- and an explanation of how it works
- and what you can gain by practising it regularly
After that I’ll guide you through the exercise itself.
I’d recommend going through the whole video at least once to understand the process and then when you come back to it, you can skip forward to the meditation part. I’ll put the time at which the guided meditation begins in the description below so you can fast forward to that part when you’re familiar enough with it.
The exercise is a form of meditation which will increase your awareness of yourself as conscious and help to build your inner observer so that you can gain more insight into your internal life but this is without becoming carried away with thoughts, worry, daydreaming, emotions or physical sensations.
All animals, and, according to some traditions, all things have a level of consciousness but it’s only humans that are self-conscious, aware that we are aware. Even in us this can vary from being unconscious, when we are asleep for example or lost in a daydream to being super switched on and feeling fully alive and present.
The capacity to be as conscious as possible is rarely fully developed and not something we typically pay attention to, and when we do pay attention, our experience is often distorted because our consciousness is usually confused with what we are conscious of – the content in our minds, either our thoughts, our emotions, feelings or our body sensations.
With practice, it’s possible to gain a clearer understanding of ourselves and to be able to differentiate our consciousness from the contents of our awareness.
As we become more aware of ourselves as a point of conscious awareness, sometimes called the inner observer, or “I” consciousness, we realise that we are not our thoughts, our feelings or our body sensations. We have this internal experience but we are more than just a stream of these experiences.
As I learn to allow these things to quieten and fall away from my awareness, “I” am still here, observing and conscious but not caught up in the noise.
Most of us will be more preoccupied with one of the three main functions of the mind – thought, feeling or awareness of our body and it’s sensations.
Western culture places the most value on thinking and logic with the emphasis on educational achievement, being bright and high achieving at work. We live in a knowledge economy and are encouraged to work smarter and undertake continual personal development, which often just means learning more information.
It’s hardly surprising that most of us are identified with our minds and live “in our heads” tackling problems by thinking it through. Those who are identified with their minds are likely to describe themselves with intellectual constructs, even when asked how they feel. They often consider feelings and sensations as peripheral, or are largely unaware of having them. Many are identified with a role, and live, function, and experience themselves in terms of that role, such as mother, husband, student, business-man, teacher.
Other people are more identified with their bodies. They experience themselves, and often talk about themselves, mainly in physical and visual terms and are predominantly conscious of their body sensations such as hunger, being hot or cold, comfortable or uncomfortable and whether they are attractive or unattractive; in other words they function as if they were their bodies.
Others are identified with their feelings; they experience and describe their state of being in emotional terms. This is someone who is said follows their heart. They believe their feelings to be the central and most intimate part of themselves, while thoughts and sensations are perceived as more distant, perhaps somewhat separate.
It is also possible to become identified with a role in life or with an aspect of the personality. You may be identified with being a good boyfriend or girlfriend or with your job. It’s not unusual to become identified with a part of yourself such as an inner critic, saboteur, or helpless child. There are many others, some archetypal and some more particular to the individual. These identifications can be fleeting, only being triggered under certain circumstances or they may be more habitual and even the primary mode of being in the world.
Identification with only a part of our personality may become familiar and seem safer and can in fact be useful sometimes but it is very limiting. It prevents us from realising the experience of the ‘I’, the deep sense of self-identification, of knowing who we are. It excludes, or greatly decreases, the ability to identify with all the other parts of our personality, to enjoy them and utilise them to their full extent. Thus our ‘normal’ expression in the world is limited at any one time to only a fraction of what it can be.
The conscious – or even unconscious – realisation that we somehow do not have access to much of what is within us can cause frustration and painful feelings of inadequacy and failure. This is what is known as existential guilt. Feeling guilty that we are not living up to our potential as a whole and integrated human beings.
It is possible to learn to recognise these identifications and to chose to disidentify when we feel ourselves caught up. Ideally, we will be able to choose to identify with a helpful part of ourselves when required, such as playing the social butterfly at a party even though we may be feeling a little nervous and reticent or ‘in a bad mood’.
Learning to recognise and choose can best be done by a deliberate exercise of disidentification and self-identification. Through it we gain the freedom and the power of choice to be identified with, or disidentified from, any aspect of our personality, according to what seems to us most appropriate in each situation.
Thus we can learn to master, direct, and utilise all the elements and aspects of our personality, in an inclusive and harmonious synthesis.