How can we cope with the overpowering images and messages from the daily news? Hurricanes, fires, mass murder, nuclear threats, and crazed world leaders can be overwhelming, pushing us towards a spiral of negative thoughts. Naturally, we want to be informed about what is going on in the world so we can make clear decisions and activate change. But we also need to find the right balance in our lives so we don’t feel lost in the constant swell of bad news.
The key is to seek equilibrium. Like feasting on salty food all day, when we only nourish ourselves by munching on the news, we can make our hearts and minds ill. We need to refresh ourselves with the taste and sound of spring waters, waters that might help us flush the salty taste from our mouths and renew our bodies and souls.
Psychosynthesis holds the principal that we are not only made up of our instinctual natures – sexual and combative – but we also consist of higher qualities like courage, patience, and compassion. You might view the media as feeding your lower tendencies. In a similar way, you might want to consider how and in what way, on a daily basis, you are feeding your higher nature.
Spending time in nature, contemplating art or music, being in silence and allowing for inner reflection or prayer are all good ways to renew our souls. Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng, a student of Assagioli’s and a pioneer teacher of psychosynthesis at the international boarding school that she co-directed, recently told me that in his office was a photograph that she had taken. The photo, which is still at Casa Assagioli, is of the Mother of Horus (the original is at the Louvre in Paris). When she asked why he had placed in where all his clients couldn’t help but see it, he told her it was there to “see what patients might associate with it, and thus better understand their spiritual inclinations.”
Assagioli writes about how viewing a picture of certain symbolic images is actually a technique for “stimulating and ‘enticing’ the activity and expression of the superconscious”. The symbolic image you choose to help you relate more readily to your spiritual self is, of course, dependent on your background. For some the Buddha or the Mother of Horus is meaningful while for others the Inner Christ, Old Sage, or Inner Master or Teacher would be easier to relate to.
In one of his many archive notes, Assagioli does specifically recommend us to engage with the paintings of angels by Fra Angelico (1395-1455). (He also mentions pictures of high mountains, stars and nebulae.) Having lived right up the road from the National Museum of San Marco in Florence, Assagioli would have been familiar with Fra Angelico’s paintings. As a Dominican monk, Fra Angelico painted a series of frescoes in the cells of the convent of San Marco. Each cell painting was designed for the monks to meditate on. These humble works are painted in clear bright colors with a quieting simplicity. Softly feminine in nature, each pastel painting is yet fierce in its emotional impact.
Assagioli must have found these frescos particularly stimulating as a copy of one of them, The Transfiguration, still hangs in his house today. Those familiar with Assagioli’s model of the human psyche will be struck by the similarity of his egg diagram to the almond-shaped mandorla around Christ in Fra Angelico’s painting. Transfiguration, in general, symbolically represents the visible form of divinity (also expressed in the Buddha shedding light for three miles around and the manifestation of Krisha to Arjuna.).
The mandorla around the Christ represents an idea similar to the transfiguration. It is a geometical symbol of the intersection of the two spheres of Heaven and Earth. If you take two circles (two distinct worlds) and allow them to intersect, their union is this mandorla. This intersection can also represent the point where opposite poles embrace. The forces inside the mandorla can be seen as regenerative and creative, where all polarities (visible and invisible, divine and human, light and dark, etc) synthesis into new and higher forms of energy.
I found the following typed note in Assagioli’s archives that perhaps best expresses his sentiments upon viewing Fra Angelico’s work:
So if you are feeling down about current events, take one of Fra Angelico’s angels and contemplate its glorious wings of light. Know that these angels are nearby and ready to help you. They are the messengers of your Higher Self, the part of you that sits inside the mandorla of space and time. Go there and renew your weary soul.
Much gratitude to Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng for her generosity in sharing her story and photo.