Resting on Angel Wings

Mother of Horus Isabelle Bagdasarianz-Küng without saying

The Mother of Horus. (Photo by Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng)

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.

Fra_Angelico Angels and Mandorla

Christ surrounded by a mandorla and angels. (Detail from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico.)

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.

ANGELICO,_Fra_Annunciation

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

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.

Fra_Angelico_Transfiguration

The Transfiguration by Fra Angelico. Assagioli notes that this is a subject for us to meditate on. A copy of this painting is in Casa Assagioli today.

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.).

graphic mandorlaThe 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:

004957 Assagioli Note about Seeing the Paintings

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.

 

The Poor Man of Assisi

Figure 1 Francis

Fresco in the Sacro Speco (‘sacred cave’) of St. Benedict in Subiaco, possibly the oldest and most faithful image of Francis.

Pace e bene! Peace and all that is good! These words of Saint Francis (1182-1226) go beyond divisions, faiths and institutions, right to the core of our shared humanity. Today in Assisi, people are gathering to celebrate his feast day. Having chosen a life radically dedicated to transcendent values, Francis often appears in Assagioli’s writings. Assagioli would have naturally been familiar with Francis, who (along with St. Catherine of Siena) is one of the patron saints of Italy. In fact, upon meeting Assagioli, Frank Vanderlip described him as a modern day St. Francis:

“There seemed to me to burn in this man the pure flame of a love of justice and humanity… He seemed to have a calm and serene understanding of the causes of the troubles of the world and a sensible apprehension of where materialism is leading the world. He expressed such a cheerful hopefulness that a better road is at hand if the world will but take it.”[1]

Can Money and Spirituality Mix?

Continue reading

Psychosynthesis vs. Jungian Psychology

Medion   DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most people are at least familiar with the term “Jungian psychology,” few have ever heard of psychosynthesis. You might have wondered yourself what the difference is between them. These differences are certainly not easily condensed into a snappy sound bite!

This might be partly due to the fact that the two men – Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), the founder of psychosynthesis, and Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961), the founder of analytical psychology (also referred to as Jungian psychology) – knew each other early in their careers. Continue reading

The Poem that Crossed Borders

Lotus flower 3

Assagioli writes that the Lotus is a symbol of Synthesis.

Next week I will be at Casa Assagioli in Florence, helping Gruppo alle Fonti host their International Meeting. The theme this year is “Synthesis,” a mighty big concept to come to terms with in less than a week. In anticipation, I have begun to reflect on what Synthesis means. The word comes from the Greek word syntithenai, in turn deriving from syn meaning “together” and thtehnai meaning “to put, place.”

Assagioli Triangle Equilibramento

One of Assagioli’s triangles from his Archives.

The concept of Synthesis is complex because it is not only a quality or a state of being, but also a continual process, an attitude, an approach. I have written a number of blogs about Assagioli’s ideas on the synthesis of polar opposites. Basically, synthesis occurs when a pair of opposites continually interact until they are brought into equilibrium. Ultimately the opposites are transmuted into a transpersonal quality. Assagioli liked to draw triangles to illustrate his idea of balancing and transmuting these opposite energies into higher spiritual qualities. Continue reading

The Virtuous Circle of Gratitude and Abundance

olives

Abundance. This is a difficult word for most of us to swallow. Our entire economic system is based on our desiring what we don’t possess. We often feel like we need more, that we never have enough, that tomorrow we will nothing left. As Assagioli wrote we are driven by Original Fear – fear of not having enough food, fear of hunger – and by Original Greed, which fundamentally is the desire for unlimited growth. So we consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.

I live in a small Italian village that is slowly dying from the effects of globalization. This story is not new nor limited to the confines of Italy. Only 40 years ago the town was thriving with 1000 inhabitants, a shop, cafe, and school. Now only 100 people live here, many of them over 80 years old. The shop, cafe, and school are all gone. Only the church remains open (just because the 73-year-old priest has chosen not to retire). Continue reading

Threshing our Lives Anew

But I shall sing of your strength; and in the morning I shall sing of your love. For you are my defender; and my refuge, in the days of my tribulations. (Psalm 59:16)

Since moving to Italy a year ago, I often hear the word ‘tribolazione’. While rarely used in English, this word ‘tribulation’ often poetically enters Italian conversation when my neighbors are talking about a very long, difficult, and grievous period in their or someone else’s life.

thresh and ox

Farmers in some parts of the world still use a tribulum to thresh their harvest.

Hearing this word more often, I started to wonder about its origins. I soon discovered that it derives from the Latin word tribulum. A tribulum is a threshing roller or sledge pulled by oxen that farmers have used for centuries to separate the corn from the husks, the wheat from the chaff.

How often I have felt trampled by oxen as they yanked sharp flints of cut stone over me. (Well, okay. I am dramatizing, but you know this feeling don’t you?) Something inside me is being purged and discarded allowing my truer self to be freed from its hidden form. Without the tribulum, the seed of new life cannot be beaten away from the wheat, the flail, or the corn. The new seed can only lay dormant and lost. Continue reading

Free Will – Fantasy or Saving Grace?

hamburger over truthLast week I heard Robert Sapolsky being interviewed on the radio. Prof. Sapolsky is apparently a renowned and popular U.S. scientist. He is Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, and a big shot in the world of neuroendocrinology. The New York Times has called him one of the finest natural history writers of our time.

Despite all his knowledge, talent, expertise and fame, Prof. Sapolsky left me chilled when he said:

“Free will is what we call the biology that we have yet to study.”

Continue reading