It’s summer after a long lockdown in Italy and that means “Tutti al mare” (Everybody to the sea)! While I’m not at the seaside, I am taking some time off. So, we return to Ireland in 1998, when I found myself working as a waitress in a little café in the popular tourist town of Kinvara.
Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of my experience, I wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing passages from this book along with Rosaleen’s artwork.
Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/
“Would you like veg and potato with that?” I asked.
“What kind of potatoes are they?” In Ireland, this is a not a trivial question. The supermarket aisle is lined with bags of white, loose records, golden wonder, red, kerrs pink, and baking potatoes. Some are flowery, some are not. Some are for frying, some are not.
For me they are just potatoes, pommes de terre, apples of the earth, round things that grow in the dark underground. But I learned to say, “They’re new potatoes. Boiled. They’re lovely.”
They wanted coffee to go, but then they sat down. Soon it was all over their table, a pool of brown cream, coffee and sugar.
Three young lads, knackered, sloshed, glassy-eyed.
“What do you want to forget with all your drink?” I longed to ask. Instead, I wiped their table clean.
It was the bank holiday weekend in May and the Monday was warm and sunny with a hint of sea breeze. That evening, between myself, one other waitress, the chef and dishwasher, we served 90 people dinner. Piles of dishes collected in the kitchen through the evening, as Mona had no time to wash the smallest spoon. The chef needed her to garnish plates of chicken breast, fry chips, and cook vegetables.
When the last customer went out the door, we all gave a great sigh of relief. Soon the kitchen buzzed with activity. Counters became buried under piles of stacked saucers, dinner plates, cutlery, and glasses.
“We served 90 people! Wasn’t that great?” Mona said, her hands buried in soapy water. All I could think of was how horrified I had become when we ran out of water glasses and, in the middle of serving tables, I had to wash and dry a dozen.
Mona’s gleeful pride in our communal success jolted my self-centered indignation. Her enthusiasm for the job well-done and teamwork bubbled with the suds beneath her elbows.
It was contagious.
“Unbelievable, Mona,” I said. “Simply great!”
The tourists were obvious. They were the only ones in summer wearing Aran sweaters and raincoats over shorts and bare tan legs. They were the only ones to carry umbrellas. They never asked what kind of potatoes the meal came with. They often ate with maps spread and tour books opened.
The Americans were usually loud, the women sometimes adorned with shamrock scarves. They often looked stunned by the late summer evenings and long days of driving on the wrong side of the road. They were curious about how I came to Ireland and talked about themselves — how it was their first day in Ireland, that they just happened upon the town of Kinvara, that their family name is Murphy, and their grandmother once lived in County Mayo.
They were like children in an Irish Disneyland of castles, craic, and fairy stones, while the rest of us struggled with long winters, daily chores, and high taxes.
As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has always played a great part along our journey to our Higher Self. Throughout the world, holy places have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience within the architectural space.
Assagioli noted that:
“Matter is the highest form of Spirit and Spirit is the lowest form of Matter.”
In this way, spirit seeks matter to express the full beauty of the transcendent. Assagioli also noted that Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics have recognized and proclaimed that “beauty is the essential attribute of the Supreme.” Continue reading →
I just read that for the first time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, there will be no formal commemoration event held in the Chinese-speaking world for the anniversary. People are being told to “Mourn June 4 in your own way.” So I am reposting this blog from two years ago. In memory…
In 1989, ten days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, my friend Julie and I sat in the China Travel Services office in Hong Kong and debated whether we should travel to Beijing. The U.S. embassy was warning that our safety could not be guaranteed. Should we go anyway? Grappling with our indecision, Julie asked the stone-faced woman behind the counter, “Is it safe?”
The woman stared hard at us and then looked away. “It is China.”
We decided to trust our intuition and go. Three days later as we walked towards the international gate in the Hong Kong airport, two university students carrying a stack of newspapers stopped us. “Are you going to China?” they asked. We nodded dumbly. “Please take this newspaper for the students.” Their request was half-plea, half-command. Julie faltered, worried about the consequences of smuggling suspicious reading material. Our tour book clearly stated: “It is illegal to import any printed material detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture, and ethics.” The newspapers were full of Chinese characters that we could not read, and we had no idea just how ‘detrimental’ they might be.
Hoping the custom officials would overlook the newspapers, I reluctantly agreed to carry them. Besides, as a U.C. Berkeley graduate, I found it difficult to resist a student protest. I stuffed two copies of the newspaper into my carry-on bag.
The plane was full. A zombie stewardess served stale crackers and dishwater tea. We arrived and breezed through customs without any problems. The air in the terminal felt squeezed dry, all actions confined, all conversations muzzled. I kept thinking of how many times as kids we believed we could dig a hole to China.
Waiting for us in the arrival room was Miss Ren, our 23-year-old tour guide. “Hello, my name is Elizabeth,” she introduced herself and paraded us toward the exit. Tall and slight, she raised her arm high above her head and slightly waved her hand, like a lily caught on a summer breeze. This hand seemed to magically invoke wondrous adventures. She led us outside into an old van.
Our ride to the hotel was along a shady road full of people on bicycles, donkeys pulling carts, cars, trucks and an occasional flock of sheep. “So where do you like to visit?” Miss Ren dutifully asked. With the flurry of tour cancellations, Julie and I were to have Miss Ren and the driver all to ourselves.
“Tiananmen Square,” we said in unison. This was definitely not one of the stops on our five-day Beijing tour. “Oh, no. You can’t go to Tiananmen Square,” she explained. “It is dangerous there. Bad men will steal your money.”
Once she was gone, Julie and I considered her advice, but decided to take our chances and quickly ordered another cab. “Tiananmen Square, please.” We pointed to the Chinese characters in our tour book, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Without a word, the cab driver dropped us off at the Beijing Hotel, three long blocks from the square on Chang’an Avenue. The street was like a giant river flowing with people and bicycles. We entered the moving stream of humanity, many wearing Mao suits, and arrived on foot to the square.
Upon arrival, I was stunned to see Tiananmen Square filled with hundreds of thousands of young people, its massive 109-acres alive like a giant squirming organism. Julie and I began to penetrate the crowd, occasionally reaching for each other’s hand, afraid of being separated. Slowly, we began to focus on the sights around us. There were piles of people, piles of garbage, piles of bedding. Legs stuck out beyond large umbrella roofs. Long lines for bean soup, cabbage, and flat bread wove around us. Hands stretched eagerly to grab orange ice pops. Waving above the crowd were hundreds of red flags, each bearing a school’s name. A voice shouted over a loud speaker. Later we learned that these announcements celebrated the return of Lee Wong from the United States, denounced the stubbornness of Premier Li Peng, called for ambulances, and sang out slogans.
Buses with broken windows acted as toilets. Shattered glass was strewed dangerously close to makeshift hovels and bare mattresses. Looming over the student protest was Mao Zedong’s Mona Lisa smile; his gigantic, now desecrated, portrait baring witness to the scene.
Standing behind nylon cords, student guards protected the inner sanctity of their leaders. Julie and I slid under the cords and walked closer toward the core of the rebellion, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Twice we froze as tall student sentries harshly barked, but our Western faces were our tickets through. I hugged my purse tightly against me. Inside were the Hong Kong newspapers.
We arrived at the monument to find a cluster of young people recording a political statement. Another group was running an old printing press while others painted signs, yellow characters on red backdrops. Nearby, two male students sat eating raw garlic and tomatoes.
A young woman who spoke English approached us. She was a medical student and had just arrived from Hunan province. Fueled by the recent demonstrations, spirits were high. Our new friend offered us a metal cup of cold bean soup. I hesitated, not wanting to insult her, but ashamed to eat what little food the students had. I felt awed and humbled by how these students had empowered themselves with the hope and determination to change their iron-clad country.
“Are you afraid?” I dared to ask. “No,” she answered bravely, full of joy. “We are supported by all of Peking. We would not be able to survive without their feeding us. They will never let the soldiers through.”
A male student then joined us. “What change do you want?” I asked. “We want freedom,” he said. “We want a kindness. There is no freedom when one man rules everyone. The cry from all the students in China is only one.” He raised his fist. ‘Li Peng Go Away.’”
“We want to travel freely like you,” answered the young medical student. “We want to read newspapers and know the truth. You have democracy in America, don’t you?” she then asked. “What do you think?”
I was startled by the question. “Well, yes, I suppose we do,” I said, looking out at the hundreds of thousands of students who inspired and shamed me at the same time. How often had I taken my freedom for granted? I could read any newspaper I wanted, live wherever I wanted, even travel to places like China. But freedom is only relative, I thought, remembering Rosa Parks, World War II Japanese internment camps, Kent State. I wondered how long it could last here like this. Suddenly I remembered the newspapers and gave them to the two students. They scanned them as if they were a map to lost treasure.
Julie and I stayed with the students until nightfall. The protest was eerily quiet, orderly, poised. We met no bad men. Our money was not stolen. As we wove our way out through the crowd, I spied a couple holding hands. Dressed in stockings and heels, the young woman demurely sat on a dirty mattress. Her delicate, floral print dress accented her long pale neck. Together the couple smiled hello.
That evening my heart wrestled with the fear that I might soon learn of the students’ demise. For the rest of my stay, I thought about them constantly. While we sat on camels for our photographs at the Great Wall. While pedaling rented bicycles through the peach orchard near the hotel. On the way to Ming’s Tomb, we spied soldiers riding in green army trucks. Our guide forbade us to snap pictures of the passing enclave.
Soon afterwards we flew home. A few days later, one morning while walking past a newsstand, I froze and cried out. The People’s Liberation Army had stormed Tiananmen Square in the night. I felt as if I had swallowed a stone, like someone had died in my own family. The balmy spring day became obscenely bright. I will never forget how those Chinese students – their courage, hope and faith in humanity — touched me … on their own battlefield. On their own burial ground.
Is free will an illusion? According to an recent article in the Guardian, about 12% of philosophers believe this to be the case. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the beginning of the universe – and that nobody is responsible for his or her actions.
From their perspective, we act only when prompted by physiological reasons. For example, we choose between eating a banana and apple due to a pattern of neurons firing in our brain that can be linked all the way back to our birth, our parents’ meeting, their births, and eventually, the birth of the cosmos. As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, says:
“Free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics.”
Nearly all of us have experienced some form of “lock down” during the past year of the pandemic. During this time, perhaps you’ve had time to reflect on what ‘freedom’ means to you personally and to all of us collectively.
I will be exploring this concept of freedom in an upcoming Webinar, sponsored by the Association of Advancement for Psychosynthesis.
In this webinar, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Roberto Assagioli’s reflections on the deeper meaning of ‘freedom’ – a word that is bandied about without much thought – from advertising soda drinks to promoting war.
The concept of freedom will be explored through Assagioli’s autobiographical account Freedom in Jail. This book outlines Assagioli’s own experience before, during and after his own imprisonment in Regina Coeli prison by the Italian fascist regime in 1940. Freedom in Jail offers insights into Assagioli’s understanding of true “inner freedom, pure freedom … attained rising above the fetters, a sense of expansion …”
We will begin with a presentation during which I will talk about Assagioli’s time in prison and how he practiced his psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. While in prision, he ultimately experienced his own personally transformation and self-realization.
The presentation will be followed by Q&A. Then we will break up into smaller groups and share our thoughts on a specific excerpt from his book. At the end, we will gather together as a larger group and share whatever insights we might have gained.
I hope to see you there!
Freedom in Jail: A Reflection on Pigeons, Paper, and Paradise
Date/Time: Saturday, May 15, 2021. Noon-2pm EST
Cost: Free for AAP member, $25 for non-members, May 15, 2021.
The spiritual philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature in 1913, and Roberto Assagioli are remarkably similar in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the Infinite Self and the personal self.
While deriving from diverse cultural and linguistic inheritances, the spiritual philosophies of each man underwent a similar evolutionary process. To begin with, both men grounded their philosophy in the moments when they were able to touch the Infinite, becoming intensely conscious of it through the illumination of joy.
Let’s take a closer look at the word ‘synthesis’. The word psychosynthesis was first used in 1889 by Pierre Janet in his book L’automatisme psychologique. Freud spoke of the synthesizing function of the ego, but he used this word only in the sense of re-establishing the condition existing before a split or dissociation due to a traumatic experience or to strong conflicts.
Others, such as Jung and Maeder used the words synthesis and psychosynthesis in a deeper and wider sense as the development of the integrated and harmonious personality, including both its conscious and unconscious parts.
The word ‘synthesis’ comes from the Greek word syntithenai, in turn deriving from syn meaning “together” and thtehnai meaning “to put, place.”
In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.
We are now at the end of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enoughto experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.
Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis.Continue reading →
In 1913, Mina Loy (1882-1966) was living in a rented villa in Florence when she found herself in a torpor and depressed. Her photographer husband had just set sail for Australia, abandoning her with their two children. A painter herself, she was artistically stalled and still mourning over the death of her first child who had died in infancy six years earlier.
Enter Dr. Roberto Assagioli!
Yes, Mina Loy – feminist, bohemian, poet, and playwright – was one of Roberto Assagioli’s first clients.
Over the course of her lifetime, Loy acted, wrote feminist and utopian tracts, created lampshades, and painted – including a lost portrait of Assagioli. Loy was born in London. Her mother was British and Christian while her father was a Hungarian Jewish tailor who had escaped Budapest’s antisemitism. Loy would end up having two husbands, four children, and several complicated love affairs. (More on two of these later…)
They were two women preachers during a time when only men preached. They were black preachers who preached to both slaves and slave-holders. They were black women preachers who inspired men and women, believers and ‘backsliders,’ Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians, lawyers, doctors and magistrates.
Their names were Jarena Lee (1783–1855?) and Julia Foote (1823-1901), two of the first African American women to achieve the right to preach in the newly formed nation. Overcoming both gender and racial barriers, both women preached widely over great distances. A widow and mother of two children, Lee traveled 2325 miles, walking many of them, to preach 178 sermons. Defying her husband and parents, Foote was a deacon and minister for five decades, traveling to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic region, California, the Midwest, and eventually Canada.
“I had nothing to do but open my mouth and the Lord filled it.”