On Saint Valentine’s Day, we recently celebrated ‘the couple’. In fact, Assagioli viewed marriage as a work of art – a canvas where the husband and wife can learn to alternate in a variety of roles. He believed that psychosynthesis of the couple was fundamental to achieving psychosynthesis of humanity. He wrote:
“When talking about the consciousness of a group, talk above all about the human couple: man and woman and their synthesis, and about their central importance as a fundamental basis and model of inter-psychics at its most vast and complex.”
In his archives, you can find a slip of paper on which he noted the need of mediation in marriage. He then cites the book The Horizon of Marriage in which Radhakamal Merkerjee’s suggests God as the mediator. To illustrate this idea, Assagioli made a sketch of one of his famous triangles representing the synthesis of polar opposites. On the left hand side is Husband and on the right Wife. And the higher guiding principal at the triangle’s apex is God.
This triangle also could illustrate the findings of Abraham Maslow who discovered that for self-actualizing, healthy people there was a positive willingness for each of the partners to surrender himself or herself to the greater unity that was formed from both of them and transcended their separate existences.
In other words, the synthesized couple forms a third entity (1 + 1 = 3), the third being the couple itself. In this way, the couple can be energetically strong, especially when the two persons and the couple itself are all connected to God. Couples who model this spiritual strength are rarely found in our society, mainly, because the spiritual and erotic energy is so difficult for most people to hold. Through the repression of the sublime, society’s tendency is – often unconsciously – to belittle, defuse, or destroy the couple.
Assagioli did not limit the idea of the couple to marriage alone.
In his archives, you can also lists of different types of couples, including: Doctor – Patient, Teacher – Pupil, Master – Disciple, Author – Reader (that’s you and me!), and Coauthors of a work of art like a book, music, or opera.
Assagioli clearly stated that individuals should not “lose” themselves completely in the couple, which he then extended to the process of inter-individual groups. He wrote that we need to “resist the tendency to throw ourselves completely into the group, as it may be a form of evasion from individual responsibility to one’s Soul.”
Like everything in life, maintaining the right proportions is key. Returning to the triangle again, each individual in a couple must balance the principles of “distance” and “tension” to maintain an equilibrium in the relationship.
Roberto as Husband, Nella as Wife
Let’s now take a closer look at Assagioli’s own marriage to his wife Nella Ciapetti (1893-1973). As his second wife, she always seems to appear either as a footnote in his biographies or as a complex and fragile character in the margins of his activities. But recently, I was happy to read more about her.
In reality, Nell Ciapetti, contributed greatly to the new theosophy movement in Rome during the early 1900s. Known in her youth as a “distinquished lady with ideas of grand clarity and elegant form,” she wrote articles for the theosophical magazine Ultra, to which Assagioli also eventually contributed. Perhaps influenced by their relationship at the time, a year before their wedding in 1922, Assagioli wrote an article entitled “Spiritual Love.”
After they were married, Ciapetti coordinated a women’s group within the Theosophy Society. In 1924, after the birth of their son Ilario, she gave a lecture on “Spiritual Motherhood” and a year later published “The Love of a Woman” in Ultra magazine.
In 1926 the young family settled in Rome at via Antonio Bosio, n. 15, and their home became the seat of the newly formed Istituto di Cultura e Terapia Psichica, where together they hosted many theosophical events, persons, and public conferences. In 1933, this institute would transform into the first Institute of Psychosynthesis.
Perhaps this note from Assagioli’s archives speaks best about the couple’s relationship at that time:
Servizio – Non prender mai decisioni da solo. Sbaglio facilm. per mancanza di intuizione, ecc. Consigliarmi con altri (ben scelti), ad es. Nella, ecc.
Service – Never take a decision alone. I easily make a mistake for a lack of intuition, etc. Consult with another (well-chosen), for example Nella, etc.
Nella’s spiritual intuition and consultation as a wife was accompanied by a practical side. As described in Freedom in Jail, the night Assagioli was arrested in 1940, she quickly went into action. Nella immediately called the prison to arrange for proper meals to be delivered to Roberto’s cell, sent a telegram to psychosynthesis friends in the U.S., called friends in Rome, and tidied up the papers on his desk. Afterwards, she spent most of the night in prayer “for Roberto in jail and for Italy at war.”
Roberto was married to Nella for 51 years until her death in 1973. He would die one year later.
Emanuel Swedenborg believed that men and women who truly love their spouse will be reunited with them in the afterlife, in eternal angelic marriage. He wrote that “conjugal love perfects an angel, since the union makes it become more and more human.”
Try to take some time to acknowledge, nurture, and celebrate whatever couple you are a part of or privileged to witness. And the next time you do meet and recognize a spiritual couple, don’t forget to check if they’re wearing their wings!
Roberto Assagioli, Considerator, Il Mondo Interiore, edited by William Esposito. Vicenza, Italy:Edizioni Teosofiche Italiane, 2008, pp. 27-40. (All translations from Italian into English are mine.)