Living Kipling’s “If”

While recently conducting research in Assagioli’s Archives, I came across this note by chance:

Use much
Kipling’s If
Learn it by
Repeat it.
Live it!


It evokes the
various character-
istics of the will
– detachment
– mastery
– sense of time
– positive modality

In fact, Assagioli wrote this note two times, indicating that he found Rudyard Kipling’s poem from 1895 significant.


My curiosity peaked, and I quickly found the poem on the internet. My first impression was how “male” the poem felt. Written in the form of a father’s advice to his son, I found it difficult to overcome my feelings of being excluded from its message. How might this poem be different if it had ended with: “You’ll be a Woman, my daughter!”[1]

Okay. This poem seemed to be instantly working on my will! Before I could possibly move towards the overall message Assagioli was so enthusiastic about, I needed to detach myself from my feminist sensibilities.


Rudyard Kipling (1883)

Once this feat was accomplished, I realized that Assagioli’s advice itself is a beautiful teaching of how the will works as a process. Development of the will is never complete but always partial, especially at the beginning. Our will slowly, gradually gains energy, building strength and skill over time. This will process is exemplified in Assagioli’s note – first he asks us to simply use the poem, then to learn it by heart, thirdly to repeat the poem and finally to “Live it.”

Let’s just start by using the poem, zooming in on the four characteristics Assagioli listed in his note, which I briefly describe below:


This characteristic is closely related to the fundamental psychosynthesis prinicipal of disidentification.

We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.[2]

The more we are detached from our body, feelings, and thoughts, the freer we are to consciously choose our actions and to be our authentic selves.


Mastery is closely related to control and discipline. Assagioli clearly states that these characteristics refer to how we express our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The more detached we are from them, the better able we are to express them. By working with and training our control and discipline, we achieve mastery. Assagioli says:

“Mastery gives us both maximum effectiveness and the most intense and enduring sense of assurance, satisfaction, and joy.”[3]

Sense of time

Sense of time is related to mastery in that one must learn to recognize the most appropriate time to act as well as the most appropriate action to take in every moment. One of Assagioli’s techniques for developing this quality is to “Make haste slowly.” For example, try dressing yourself slowly and deliberately when you are in a hurry to go to work. When you have a sense of time, you are also able to envision long term consequences, something sorely lacking in today’s world. Developing a clear sense of time ultimately allows you to realize the eternal in every moment that you are living.

Positive modality

This quality refers to viewing the world and one’s life from a positive perspective. In other (clichéd) words, seeing the glass half full, rather than half empty. This attitude evokes a positive degree of confidence, belief and knowledge in our higher transpersonal qualities.

Mapping If to Will Qualities

kipling-if-2If you haven’t done so, I suggest you click here, print out a copy of the poem and read it. You might want to take a pen and see if you can map the four characteristics against the various lines in the poem. It’s a nice exercise of the will!

Here’s a partial list of what I came up with:

Detachment – “Dream but not make dreams your master”

While detachment is a major theme of Kipling’s poem, the entire second stanza seems to focus on this quality. Kipling (and Assagioli) suggests that we dream and think but not identify with our dreams or thoughts. They encourage us to meet the polar opposites of Triumph and Disaster, but in such a way that we remain constantly ourselves and not overwhelmed by either.

This stanza ends with urging us to not identify with our own truths spoken or our life endeavors, which others can easily twist into lies and brake into pieces. In the next four lines, we are asked to detach from our “winnings,” that is all that we have gained materially. In this way we might easily risk our “winnings”, lose them, start again, and never feel the need to speak of what once was fleetingly ours. Success is, therefore, not determined by what we own, but by who we are.

Mastery – “Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”

Kipling asks us to gain mastery over our feelings, speech and actions. We are urged to not respond to hatred by “giving way to hating” or lying even when we are “lied about.” To persist “when there is nothing left” inside us, except the Will which says: “Hold on!” And finally to master our virtues and compassion no matter whom we find ourselves with – be it Kings or crowds.

Sense of Time – “Wait and not be tired of waiting”

Sense of time appears in the poem in many forms. In the first stanza, sense of time merges with mastery as Kipling suggests that we be able to wait without being tired of waiting. Time comes explicitly at the end of the poem when he tell us to “fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds worth of distance run.” This could be read two different ways. A minute (as well as a lifetime!) can seem to fly by or creep slowly forward. However, no matter how we experience time, we need to live each minute in full consciousness with full acts of Will that might resonate into the future.

Positive Modality – “Don’t give way to hating”

Finally, examples of positive modality prevail in most of the lines. For instance in the third stanza, the reader is encouraged to positively approach any life loss or failure with inner calm and positive hope. In fact, the first lines start by saying to “keep your head” even when everyone else is losing theirs and “blaming you.” You definitely need to stay positive when you are standing the fire and everyone else seems to be feeding it!

Encounter Assagioli’s Archives

Many thanks to Gruppo Alle Fonti, who maintain Assagioli’s archives and have scanned thousands of documents and made them available for free through their website. You can also encounter these precious notes yourself in Casa Assagioli, Florence, from November 17-20 or next year January 19-22 and March 23-26. Or better yet, sign up for their International Incontro, September 14-17, 2017. For more information, you can contact them through their Facebook page.

[1] In fact, this has been done a number of times. See

[2] Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis, A Collection of Basic Writings. Amherst, Massachusetts: The Synthesis Center, 2000, p. 19.

[3] Roberto Assagioli, The Act of Will. London: The Psychosynthesis and Education Trust, 2002, p. 24.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s