Recently I realized that desire, in all its dimensions, is beautifully woven into the Christmas story. This word desire can evoke so many different images and feelings. Assagioli saw desire as an integral part of ourselves and subject to both our personal will and the will of the Higher Self.
In fact, the word desire fundamentally holds this idea of a higher or transpersonal will. I was amazed to learn, not so long ago, that the word comes from the Latin roots dē, which means to “come from” and sīdus which means “heavenly body.” In other words, our longings literally “come from the heavens.” This idea may have originated from astrology, which attempts to understand how the heavenly bodies – stars and planets alike – can define who we are and what we want to become.
It seems to me that the journey of the three Wise Men beautifully captures the nuance held in this word. Their desire to find, exalt, and pay homage to the Prince of Peace came from and was guided by a unique and brilliant heavenly body, a bright star in the desert sky. Their deep inner desire driven by their personal will prompted them to caravan long distances across dangerous, foreign lands.
When God’s Will and Our Will Align
But the Magi were not only acting from their personal will. Their personal will was also aligned with the will of the Higher Self as well as to each other’s will. A sign of this alignment appeared as a bright star, which lead them to Bethlehem where the Child whom they sought was born. Their journey is clearly an example of how the will of the “I” and the will of the Self can be deeply connected and work in tandem, not only in ourselves alone but also in relationship with others.
In psychosynthesis terms, these Wise Men had personal desires which were aligned with higher spiritual energies – as evidenced by the appearance of the star and the seekers faithfulness to it. The Magi encompass the ideal of spiritual communal psychosynthesis.
When Our Desires are only Ours
The Magi show us how our desires can actively propel us towards creative spiritual goals. However, as Assagioli points out, usually our desires are banal and selfish, driving us to unbridled self-assertion or excessive sensuality. This kind of desire appears in King Herod. He too longs to locate the Child, but not with the hope of paying him homage. His personal will is to destroy the threat of a competitor king in the fear of losing personal power.
We see clearly how Herod’s personal will is not connected at all with the Higher Self. Herod never looks to the Star. He never even sees the Star. Instead, he uses only rational thought, turning to the priests and scribes to see if they have any idea where the Child is to be born.
These “learned” men cite from the prophecies that the birthplace is Bethlehem. And then Herod boldly lies in an attempt to manipulate the Three Kings. Privately summoning them, he sends them onto Bethlehem, telling them to “Go and find out all about the Child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and pay him homage.”
Once the Magi leave Herod, they see the Star again and ultimately find Jesus. But the Higher Self appears, not only through heavenly bodies, but also in our intuition and dreams. After finding the Child and offering their gifts, the Wise Men are warned by an angel in their dreams not to return to King Herod, but to return home by another road. When Herod learns of their surreptitious departure, he is furious and decrees that all male infants must be indiscriminately killed, hoping that the Child will be among them. Meanwhile, an angel appears to Joseph in his sleep, telling him to leave immediately with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three become refugees and are spared from the experience of the slaughter.
How Will Acts on Our Desires
The alignment of our personal will with the will of the Self and its connection to desire appears in Assagioli’s star diagram. Here we have the heavenly body – the star – again! In the center is the will of the Self (8) and the personal will (7) both acting on the psychological functions that we all have, including Impulse-Desire (3). Like all our psychological functions, desire demands to be expressed (Assagioli’s Psychological Laws IX and X). Instead of ridding ourselves of desire as Buddhism professes, we need to learn how to express our desires either directly, indirectly through symbolic action or through transmuting them into higher desires.
What is God’s Will? What is my Will?
A question I often hear, both in Christian and psychosynthesis circles, is this: How do I recognize my own personal will from the Will of God (the Higher Self)? How do I know it’s what God wants and not just what I want?
To fully discern between the two, we need to first become conscious of our desires, then disidentify from them. From a distance, we can then observe them and finally valuate their intentions and qualities. I have found that usually the personal will is often the line of least resistance.
To work towards our alignment with the will of the Self, Assagioli counsels and encourages us to work towards: “fusing the energy of will and the energy of love into constructive, strong, persevering and wise will – loving will.” Clearly, loving will is what drove the desires of the Magi.
The Christmas story holds the answer to the questions: What is God’s will? What is my will? And when are they the same? The will of God always appears as transpersonal experiences in our personal lives while we are trying to achieve what we desire. We have only to recognize and see the bright stars, hear the angels, and read the dreams in our lives. In other words, like the Magi, when we take action to fulfil our desires and we experience signs in the form of symbols, synchronistic events, or actual transpersonal experiences, we know that our desires match God’s.
For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of the connection, the fusion of the consciousness and will of the Self with the “I,” or personal consciousness and will. All that is Divine becomes synthesized with all that is Fully Human in the birth of Jesus.
The Christmas story is, in fact, full of transpersonal experiences. Elizabeth, an old barren woman, suddenly becomes pregnant. Her unborn child leaps at the sight of her cousin Mary, who is also mysteriously pregnant. Angels appear in temples and a young girl’s home. They swoop into dreams and sing in heavenly choirs. But most importantly perhaps, there is a magical star, shining brightly across the land. Leading foreigners with a deep personal desire and a wise and loving will to a lowly manger where a wee newborn lay, radiating all Wonder.