Symbols are constantly appearing in our lives and are often used in an unconscious way. They are powerful tools that can help us to develop personally and spiritually. Assagioli wrote that there are certain symbols that have a specific psychosynthetic integrating value, and therefore need to be brought more consciously into our everyday lives.
Symbols – like the animals and other images that appear in our dreams – are accumulators, transformers, and conductors of psychological energies. Assagioli wrote:
“The symbol attracts psychological energies, stores them, subsequently transforms them and then utilizes them for various purposes – particularly for the important one of integration.”
How to Work with Symbols
We need both intuition and analogical thought to work with symbols. Analogical reasoning requires us to creatively build relational constructs between the symbol and its meaning. It requires us to think in relationship and thereby discover new and unusual relationships. Assagioli states that: “analogy is an important psychological connection between outer and inner realities.” In our rational society, we are typically trained in school to think rationally (1+1=2), not in relationship (1+1=3).
Assagioli points out that all the analogies that we come up with also need to be systematically analyzed to determine if it really has value. In this way, working with symbols can be challenging and hard work. The process requires us to first recognize the symbol, create relational analogies, and finally discern if the analogies are worth putting to work on our unconscious! Only then can we begin the real work of psychosynthesis!
Once visualized, symbols can set into motion unconscious psychological processes. In this way, they become an effective way to transform the unconscious. Symbols are the language of the unconscious, as we know from our dreams. Addressing the unconscious in logical terms does not work. We must speak to the unconscious in its own terms, and symbols help us to do this.
Symbols in Assagioli’s Office
Let’s take a closer look at some of the symbolic objects that you can still find in Assagioli’s office. We know that as a young student and recent graduate of medicine, Assagioli would visit Jung in his Küssnacht office in which he also found interesting exotic (symbolic) objects.
While reflecting on this list below, think about what symbols might help you at this time in your life. Try to locate a photograph or representation of the symbol(s) you need at this moment and put them on your desk or wherever else you might frequently see them. Remember that words are also symbols. You can always write the symbolic word of a higher quality or energy that you would like to see more of in your life.
Please note that these interpretations are my own based on traditional symbolic meanings along with research into Assagioli’s archives. Since a symbol can hold a multitude of meanings, they are not necessarily Assagioli’s personal interpretations.
Model of Sailing Ship
It is said that Assagioli always had this ship pointing out towards the window in his study. A ship signifies adventure, exploration, setting out on the sea of life, crossing over the sea of creation. A ship can also symbolize crossing the waters of death. This ship reminds me of one of Assagioli’s most quoted sayings: “There is no certainty, there is only adventure.”
This globe is well-documented as being in his study, although only recently has it been reacquired from the Institute in Rome. It is interesting that he had a celestial globe and not an earthly one. The heavens are typically symbolic of our expansive consciousness and universality.
Flag of the United Nations
Assagioli would meditate for the United Nations, which was founded on 24 October 1945 soon after WWII. He would end his mediation with a Blessing for Humanity. One can view the UN as a symbol for international and planetary psychosynthesis. Flags are symbols of victory, conquest, and self-assertion. What is interesting about a flag is that it is always placed at the top of a pole or mast. This raised position is expressive of the will to “heighten” the spiritual significance of the image, raising it above its normal profane level.
It is said that Assagioli often had one rose in a vase on his desk. (Although one student of his recently told me that this was not necessarily true.) Today you can find a bronze rose adorning a blue vase. So in a funny way, you can find a symbol of the symbol! The image of an open flower is universally used as a symbol of the Spirit. Assagioli created a well-loved meditation on the blossoming of a rose, a symbolic visualization of the opening of one’s soul. See the Exercise of the Blossoming of the Rose by Roberto Assagioli.
Postcard of Mount Fuji
In this list of symbolic images written by Assagioli, we can see he wrote “Fuji (Hokusai)”. In another note, he wrote that Mount Fuji was symbolic of ascent. Assagioli wrote that we have “a series of inner worlds, each with its own characteristics, through which we can ascend.” Mountains are places to which we physically ascend in the outer world. Throughout the ages, religious temples have been built on mountaintops, uniting the inner ascent with the outer one.