This is a two part series about my visit to Assagioli’s archives in 2007. In October, my husband, Dr. Kees den Biesen, and I will also spend a day at Casa Assagioli on our guided trip In Dante’s Footsteps: A Psychosynthesis Trip to Florence and the Casentino Valley. For more information, see PoeticPlaces.org.
Another scorching June afternoon in Italy. The bus descends the winding road down from Rocca di Papa onto the autostrada as we head north to Florence. We are thirty pilgrims on our way to Casa Assagioli, the home in Florence where the founder of Psychosynthesis Roberto Assagioli lived, worked, taught, and wrote. The first group to directly encounter Assagioli’s archives, we come from all over the world—Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, France, Haiti, Spain, Poland, Ireland, the USA and, of course, Italy.
Our hosts are Alle Fonti della Psicosintesi, translated as “At the Well Spring of Psychosynthesis.” Since 2007, this international group has been sifting and sorting through the boxes of material that Assagioli accumulated during his lifetime. Initially gathered and examined after Assagioli’s death in 1974, his notes, international correspondence, appointments, articles, books, pamphlets, hand-written reflections, and scholarly assessments were later stored in the “Esoteric Room” of his house.
We about to spend the day visiting Assagioli’s house, study, and garden. In addition, we would have the unique opportunity to experience the archives ‘hands on.’ An afternoon would be devoted to our reading, studying, and perusing the cataloged files including original handwritten material by Assagioli.
Eventually, we drive past Assagioli’s rose-colored house at 16 via San Domenico and are finally released from the bus. Heading to our various hotels for the night, we prepare for our next day’s “encounter of the heart.” But Florence refuses to let us rest, as it is San Giovanni’s feast day and the city is ablaze celebrating her patron saint with street fairs and fireworks. From my hotel room above the city, the Duomo appears like a wedding cake church, the waxing moon hangs haloed in the sky, and fireworks explode with precision and streams of fairy dust light. At the same time, Italians roaming the street roar as their Azzuri team beats England in the European soccer semi-final. Encased in a strange and beautiful mixture of human and divine, I finally settle down for the night.
Encountering Assagioli’s home
We gather the next morning at Assagioli’s rose-colored house at 16 via San Domenico. As we sit together in a meditation circle, singular words fly between us, our shared feelings of. Our first task is to stop at a small round table full of wooden blocks. These blocks are stamps especially made by Assagioli to imprint his evocative words. Bang! Bang! We select a block and carry a word into the day. Action! Joy! Eagerness! Surrender! Vitalità is now stamped onto my soul.
We divide ourselves into two groups for the house tour, and soon English, Italian, and French fly up and down the two-story villa. Hung on walls throughout the house, white boards forever carry Assagioli’s handwritten words and diagrams. We climb up to his apartment where his portrait as a 20-year old greets us, beckoning all to reflect, know, love.
I enter Assagioli’s study to find it dimly lit with the shutters drawn. On the desk is a kitchen timer, a small U.N. flag, model ship, a photo of Assagioli meditating under a tree, and a postcard of Mount Fuji. I sit for a moment on the divan where he would receive guests and try to still my mind, but I am drawn to his bookshelves. I run my finger along The Art of Expression by Atkinson, A la découverte du Yoga by Adams Beck, Unità Creativa by Tagore, and The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche by Jung.
Our group now eases outside, across a patio, through a disheveled cantina, and into the garden where Assagioli would meditate on his roses. A pungent smell of wild ground mint fills our senses, and pruned olive branches with olives the size of seeds lie at our feet. A tree bares green susine prunes ready to ripen. I quietly watch a white butterfly drink from lavender nectar. Strong light etches delicate shadows onto the terracotta pavement. The trills and swishes of various languages float above me as the frenetic Florentine traffic rushes by. Cicadas vibrate their rhythmic song, a resonance of midday heat.
Dr. Renzo Giacomini is now sharing in Italian his personal memories of when he was a student of Assagioli’s in 1972. “There are two things missing from his study,” he says in a low, almost conspiratorial, voice. “A spittoon and a big, black telephone. Assagioli had respiratory problems and was often spitting into a spittoon which he kept near his desk.” The Sicilian couple who is listening appears to struggle with this piece of information. “Oh,” they finally surmise, “it was la vecchiaia, old age.”
“And the telephone would ring and ring, but being deaf in his old age, he would never answer it, leaving it for the secretary downstairs,” continued Dr. Giacomini. “Yet, he always seemed to be able to hear whatever question you had.
“He loved his books and when he and his wife went up to their summer home, he would often fill up his car with so many books that his wife barely had any place to sit.”
Time for lunch. Eggplant baked in sugo, oozing with melted mozzarella. Thinly sliced zucchini layered with parmesan. Salads and fresh greens. Tozzetti and cups of diced sweet fruit. Real conversations on folding chairs placed in the shade.
After lunch we form another circle, only this time we are instructed on how to approach Assagioli’s archives. We must take care of the energy his handwritten material evokes. Move slowly. Allow for the paper and words to touch us. Breathe and know this is only a taste.
To be continued next time…