Are you dreading this holiday season? The incessant music. Crowds of anxious consumers. The proliferation of plastic made in China? Unwanted gifts and the duty of buying gifts unwanted? The unreasonable pressure of a perfect Christmas dinner on the table. Forced encounters with others with whom you would rather not? Fake joy…
Rejoice! There is a simple way out. It’s called “Formulating Blessings.” Anyone can play and it’s absolutely free!
I received this psychosynthesis approach to transforming negative judgments into blessings from Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng, a student of Assagioli’s and a pioneer teacher of psychosynthesis at the international boarding school that she co-directed. She was inspired to create this “game” in 1975 after lamenting to Assagioli that being responsible, aware and disciplined 24/7 was “difficult.” Assagioli responded with his usual gentle and enigmatic smile: “It is not easy.”
Instead of seeing her life journey of personal and spiritual psychosynthesis as a “mission impossible,” Küng suddenly felt that Assagioli brought her task to the threshold of possibility and action. Instead of lamenting, she was able to ask herself: “Okay, so how do I do this? And where do I begin?”
Step-by Step Guide to Formulating Blessings
Formulating Blessings[i] is a step-by-step approach for converting negative judgments into benedictions. So let’s begin!
You start with a piece of paper and pen and draw five vertical columns.
- In the first, left-hand, column, write a judgement, for example, “Uncle Harry is a racist.” Write ten or so judgements that are currently running around in your head. For example: “My neighbor’s Christmas lights are obnoxious.” “Aunt Sue is an idiot.”
- Look at your list and circle all the adjectives. For example: racist, obnoxious, idiot.
- In the second column, write an OPPOSITE QUALIFYING ADJECTIVE, for each of the adjectives you circled. A qualifying adjective is one that is a constructive evaluation of the reality. For example: “someone who likes people who are different from himself,” “tasteful,” and “skillful”.
- Take the sentences in the first column, exchange the adjective you circled with its opposite that you wrote in the second column, NEGATE the sentence and write it in the third column. So now, you might have:
“Uncle Harry is not someone who likes people who are different from himself.”
“My neighbor’s Christmas lights are not tasteful.”
“Aunt Sue is not skillful.”
Through these steps, your judgment has been reformulated into a statement that is more encouraging, as it holds the goal that needs to be achieved by the individual. For example, Uncle Harry needs to learn how to like people who are different, the neighbors need to learn what is tasteful, and Aunt Sue needs to learn skillfulness.
Assagioli’s note from his Archives
Goodwill. Techniques / Consultations Conferences. Examining the problem from every point of view. Including the problem in a larger whole, a wider frame of reference – seeing the connections with the total situation. Consider it from above. Solve it from above. Readiness to partial sacrifices, renunciations, by all parties, in order to have a greater benefit for each and all in the whole. Renunciations, rightful compromises, in the present for greater fruits in the future. An inclusive, “completed point of view”.
- You are now half-way to your benediction! The next step is to introduce a TIME factor. With the time factor, you qualify the sentence further by stating more precisely when or how often the action occurs. You might add words like: “often, every so often, momentarily, or just during the holiday season.” Or you might realize that you have to actually change the sentence to past tense, because the action only occurred once. For example, here are the three sentences augmented by time.
“When he feels vulnerable, Uncle Harry is not someone who likes people who are different from himself.”
“My neighbor’s Christmas lights, which are up just during the holiday season, are not tasteful.”
“Aunt Sue was not very skillful when confronting her landlady.”
Can you feel how much things have changed for you inwardly so far?
- The next step is to write what each person NEEDS, what action they might take. For example:
“Uncle Harry needs to watch a different TV News channel and meet people different from himself in a safe setting.”
“My neighbors need to feel that they are adequate, even with fewer Christmas lights.”
“Aunt Sue needs to learn how to express herself and her boundaries in a clear, impartial way.”
- Finally, you can reflect on the HELP you might be able to offer each individual. There are all sorts of possibilities, each depending on the context. But whatever you do, always remember to first dis-identify from whatever situation you are facing. Remember that Assagioli said that the guiding psychological principle of dis-identification is:
“We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we dis-identify ourselves.”
For example, with your neighbors, since the holiday season is only temporary, you can simply decide to use your skillful will and not identify with their Las Vegas display of Christmas lights. You can use humor to endure the flashing onslaught, as they are only temporary. If you feel comfortable enough, you could decide to talk to the neighbors about how you feel about the lights, maybe asking for some boundaries to be put in place around their display.
With your relatives, things are often trickery. Years ago in California, I attended a lecture by Ram Daas and will never forget his words:
“If you really want to do spiritual work, go home for a weekend.”
You might feel comfortable enough to express your feelings to those close to you. Or instead, you could try changing your inner attitude. For example, you might simply decide to pray for Uncle Harry and Aunt Sue, or radiate light and love towards them, or choose to only encounter them when you feel strong and clear enough to dis-identify from their “lack of skillfulness” or “vulnerable fear of the other.” In my client work, I have seen such an inner change of attitude work miracles on many different kinds of relationships. When you change inwardly, so does the world around you.
Now that’s a Christmas Blessing!
[i] Many thanks to Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng for allowing me to share “Formulating Blessings,” which I have slightly modified here. Küng introduced the original exercise to her teachers at her boarding school, who successfully implemented it to constructively assess students.
In 1978, Küng presented “Formulating Blessings” at the National Psychosynthesis Convention in Rome to 250 people. Teachers present at that time were able to successfully put it into practice with parents of difficult adolescents.