A Possible Experience of Reality: Tan Nuguyen

This  is  a  revised  version of  a  talk  given  at  the  EFPP Summer  School  in Sweden on August 8th 2014 as part of a panel with Jockum NORDSTROM, a Swedish artist invited at the conference.

When you look at Jockum’s paintings, you’ll see birds, animals, hunters, characters from the Swedis 17 century, women sexes, children, all of this on the same canvass board.

An exhibition that he made in France, had this title: All things I have learnt and forgotten. He really meant “all things”, from the past and even far distant past.

You may ask yourself:

– Am I in some baroque dream?
– In a junk’s shop with bits of everything ?
– Am I in the universe of Alice in the Wonderland ?
– Am I immersed in Jockum’s unconscious ?

When myself, I look at these paintings, they make me think of the psychosynthesis process. You know it, the process in 5 stages:


I was taught this model when I was myself in the psychosynthesis training in 1980. I do not know if it comes directly from Roberto Assagioli, or through Steve Kull, one of his helpers.

Before practicing psychosynthesis, I used Fritz Perls’ Gestalt therapy model, Carl Rogers’ empathy process and C.G. Jung’s individuation process. I found that the synthesis process model is more complete, as it does express a transformational and creation process. I have been using it as the core of my practice, in individual sessions as well as in a group setting. After so many years, the model has become a living reality, the very substance of my clinical practice.

This is a personal testimony of how I have been using and experienced the model. Other practitioners may have a different experience.
This process, as I understand now, is not a mental construct that goes nicely from step 1, to step 2, until step 5.Rather, it describes a transformational process, circling around, coming and going through cycles, through spirals, outwards, inwards, going where it has to go, at the required rhythm.

It is the very learning process of our life, as it unfolds through the ages of our life.
It is a non-mental process that puzzles the mind, but the heart can sense and feel it.
It‘s what makes our existence being creative and sustained by vitality and faith.

Each of us has had, at some point of one’s life, an intimate experience of this process. The conceptual model only formulates a human experience of transformation.

The model used in individual or group sessions gives a useful context for guidance. Recognize what we are identified with:

– a belief about ourselves
– a sense of rejection
– a piece of our family story
– a recurrent emotion
– a pain in our body
– Etc.


To be unconsciously identified with a part of our identity, means that we confuse our whole identity with this part. We use the term identification, but there are, in other methodologies, similar concepts such as attachment or fixation.

How do we recognize that we are identified with a partial identity?

1) Through repetitions.
Repetition in our lives of patterns of rejection, humiliation, treason, deception, disillusionment, etc. Assagioli says with we are dominated and controlled by what we are identified with. We may think that we control our lives. As a matter of fact, often, repetition does control our existence.

2) Through the weight in our heart, in our mind, in our body.
We may feel this weight through obsessive ideas, feelings or somatization. Our attention gets stuc and comes back to the same points, again and again, as if we are haunted by unknown forces. On the other hand, this pain could be used as a call for changing the context of our psyche and our life, a call for dis-identification.


Disidentification is not a mental construct, but the description of a living, organismic process, a process of separation. It is not only a symbolic separation inside our own psyche, but it usually does involve other people and situations. Sometimes, it is an agonizing process, a tearing apart in our very souls: mountains falling down, secure walls trembling, sudden storm raging in the Summer time, unknown beating in the heart during the night, the loss of what is dear to us. The reality of life challenges our deep seated beliefs. What was considered as secure grounds falls apart.

This might be the way to experience our inner truth. But how much and how long do we have to give away of ourselves until we can really sense our inner truth? Trust and faith could be a possible answer.


To accept and to feel accepted is the key to making peace with oneself. It’s like to feel at home again. We give space to every part of ourselves, then all our different selves feel included andat home. We have separated so long within ourselves through self-repression and splitting. Splitting means that our own body becomes a strange stranger, our own immune system fights us. Our imaginary takes over our mind and our intelligence. We project the shadows of our souls upon others. Acceptance is a test of inner truth. When there is only superficial acceptance, the inner turmoil remains. When our inner parts feel really accepted, they calm down themselves.

A woman in palliative care, experiencing terminal illness, knew that her last day had come. While brushing her hair, she remembered that she used to be an actress and said, smiling with serenity: “well, it seems that this will be the last time that I prepare myself for a show”.

A Vietnamese monk that I met in Vietnam spent 20 years in prison. I asked a very personal question to that thin and small man with shining eyes and a warm heart: how did you survive?

His answer: I was sentenced to death by the Communist government, and I was so afraid that I had to prepare myself to die. After that, I was no longer afraid: I had accepted the end of my destiny. The sentence to death was commuted to imprisonment, thanks to Amnesty.

In the inner silence of acceptance, we sense, we feel and we receive the presence of the entire world. Acceptance of what IS.  Unity of the Presence, inside and outside ourselves.  At the subjective level, a feeling of serenity or determination depending on the situation arises. Acceptance is not a passive state, acceptance is a dynamic force. Our mind has reached calmness and alertness since we no longer fight to control the unknown.


When we are under the guidance of our deeper will, the process guides us, and all forces are going in one direction with onepointedness attention. And the outside world responds to this unity of direction.
It is a different experience in our ordinary neurotic reality, in which we are identified with a dominant subpersonality. We, then, try to hook the whole world into our neurosis, and we often succeed!!! For example, the rejected personality hooks others into the vastness of his solitude. The hysterical personality eroticizes its imaginary, producing emotional waves between intense admiration and intense disappointment. The over-adaptive personality shows a false self to the world. The dependent personality hooks into the deep blaming of abandonment. The rigid personality hooks others to join him in its inner prison of certitudes and obligations. When all our parts feel that they are parts of a whole, they coordinate their energies together in the service of the whole system, just as the human body does function. One single vital energy runs all over the system, in the same way as the blood irrigates the whole body. This is also this kind of experience when an isolated personality accepts symbolically to melt into the whole.


As a matter of fact, synthesis is not the endpoint of the process, synthesis not an objective to reach. It is the very core of the process: it feeds and nurtures the entire process.

Assagioli asks us to identify with the I/Higher Self. What does that mean?

The “higher” Self in terms of subtle experience or wider Self, is expanding not in one direction, but in all directions of Creation, all directions of Time and Space. We can have the experience through our innate sense of inter-connectedness with the universal. It has been with us from the beginning of our being as an embryo in the uterus. It is a potential dimension ready to be activated at any instant. As soon we evoke it, it is here, here and now. We have never dissociated from it, it is in the intimate beat of our heart, in the pulsation of our internal organs.
When we develop this innate capacity, we can sense the subtle reality of the Universe: a Multiverse, a multiple universe containing myriads of universes. We are part of this immense energy. When we do realize that, we are able to shift our attention to any point in space and time. The disidentification process can happen almost instantaneously. Our awareness becomes moving and flowing.

There is no need to practice complex and enduring meditation systems or sophisticated therapy techniques or mental maps or doctrines to have access to this reality. We only need to be present to the experience of our being as it unfolds at every instant. This is the reality of the universe described by the Ancient Greeks as the Cosmos, by the Chinese as the Tao, by the poet Dante as Universal Love.


The artist may also give us a sense of what synthesis means. For instance, if I am present to Jockum’s paintings, what do I see? I see birds, animals, hunters, characters from the Swedish 17century, women’s sexes, children, all of this on the same canvass board, in the same context.

What is striking is that every part has the same importance. There is not one part dominating other parts. Each one has a space inside the totality of space. All are equals within the context of the composition. It’s what defines love: a relationship between equals. It’s not an ordinary vision, it’s not extra-ordinary either. It’s just natural, the way it is.

The artist’ vision teaches us this unity and diversity of the flow of our life experience. When one looks at a accomplished painter’s work, the eye is guided to travel all around the painting,seeing the whole of forms and colors in every part. When a synthesis of energies is taking place, one has to step out of the way and to make room for the process to unfold. Herbert von Karajan, the great orchestra conductor often viewed as an egocentric personality, used to say: “the art of directing an orchestra is to know when you have to stop using the stick so as not to disturb the orchestra”, “you have to let the emotion flow throughout the orchestra and bring its own musicality”. He refers to the contemplative experience when one senses the flow of the whole through one’s being, and chooses not to interfere and, instead, let it happen.
In the clinical setting with clients or groups, I have, sometimes, experienced that sense of flow and talking with other practitioners, it is not a rare experience. It’s an experience of grace, the grace of being part of the on-going universal process of creation.


I consider the synthesis process as a precious asset for practitioners in the field of psychotherapy. I know that the trend now, is more on the teaching of techniques and protocols, which are presented as miraculously efficient for traumas and neurosis! Through my own experience of using some of these techniques (I am referring to EMDR, ocular movement therapy, and Ericksonian hypnosis), I came to the conclusion that they lead to an impasse unless they are included and intertwined within a process.

In our field, the reflection on process has not known any further progress since the times of Carl ROGERS and his colleague Eugene GENDLIN. In the artistic field, since the end of the 19century, the creation process has been at the core of a series of avantgarde revolutions which question some basic assumptions about colors, forms, objects, matter, beauty, and even the purpose of art itself.
We certainly can learn from this questioning. It is the questioning about what reality is. At the core of our practice as counselors and therapists, there is the same question about the reality of one’s life and its potential of transformation.
I would like to bring a stone to the edifice of the 5 stage synthesis process. The heart-felt-sense of choice could be a sixth aspect, but this aspect is present in all 5 stages.

What does choice mean? There is a sense of choice when there is more than one possibility. The experience of choice takes place when the context becomes wider. Suddenly, there is a new perspective when we see what we have not noticed before, a perspective which is outside our mindset built around our beliefs systems, family history education and past experience.

What is it, which has been always there, as a potential, in our very being? The answer is: our sense of inter-connectedness that we have embodied from the times of the embryo and that is still there until our death. Death itself could be viewed as an ultimate experience of inter-connectednes. The choice can be felt because we have this inner knowing of our primal reality. Then we can choose to come back to it. It’s like going from light to darkness, and vice versa. It‘s not a duality, it’s not a split between two aspects of reality, between superior and inferior. It’s rather a movement of transformation, and we activate this process through sensing through our hearts that we have the choice. The more we practice this switching of awareness, the more we are able to play with it.

This choice is central to psychosynthesis. ASSAGIOLI describes our real identity in his egg diagram: the axis I/Higher Self, the sense of interconnectedness with the whole. In spiritual literature, higher refers to subtler realms of reality.
The more we identify with our primal identity, the more we refine this experience. Our senses, our hearts, our minds can attune to subtler realms of space and time. Here, psychology joined with mystic experience. Or, as ASSAGIOLI used to say, we come at the door of another domain of experience.