Birthing Forgiveness

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Today Christians mark the death of Jesus, who before dying, forgave his executioners as well as the thief crucified by his side. Born out of a paradoxical mixture of human suffering, responsibility and love, the essential power of forgiveness is that is contains rather than proliferates violence. Today seems like a good time to explore where forgiveness comes from and the power it holds. How does it happen? And what are the steps that we, in our personal lives, can take towards it?

Forgiveness is a creative process. You decide how much, when, where, how, and under what conditions to forgive. As Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “The important part of forgiveness is to begin and to continue” (author’s italics). It does not happen overnight, it does not have to happen fully. But one thing is certain, it cannot happen from your head. We cannot reason our way around, into, or towards forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the heart, and it requires a great love, a Love beyond ourselves.

Assagioli wrote:

“Forgiveness is not an act of passivity or weakness. Every time we forgive, we perform a ‘magical act’, because we break a chain and, by doing so, we free ourselves from a bond. Forgiveness is a conscious act of will and love, that truly knows how to forget and stop the sad succession of resentment, vendettas and struggles among human beings. Forgiveness is the most effective way to bring peace to the souls of the world.”

Throughout the years, I have come to understand that forgiveness is a process of both acceptance and surrender. It is a long process and does not happen once but gradually, many, many times. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when Peter asked him, “How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seven times seventy” (Matthew 18:21-22).

panther

Forgiveness comes stealthily like a panther.

There are initial steps we can take towards forgiveness. First we must acknowledge and feel our sorrow, soften our rage, and give room to our grief. The sadness encasing our hearts must be felt, tears must fall, sobs must rattle our chests free of hardened armor. If we don’t accept the pain inflicted upon us by others and release it, that pain will continue to roam our soul like a hungry predator.

Courageously facing our own grief and sorrow—and each of our lives inevitably carries such heartache—will ultimately lead to forgiveness. But we must also want to forgive. Without this inner longing by ourselves, forgiveness will never come. Once the soul is open, forgiveness comes stealthily like a panther. It takes its time, pausing, waiting, watching, easing closer and closer to the wounded spirit. Then, unexpectedly, it leaps into the vulnerable, bare soul.

mandela0502ap726Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Forgiveness is sung as a duet. We bemoan those who have hurt us, but we also must at the same time entreat those we have hurt. We are often the last to forgive ourselves, especially when we have for many years inflicted pain and self-judgement against our own lives. What we don’t forgive of ourselves, we can never forgive of others.

No matter how dark the path or how close to death our past trauma lurks, as human spirits, we are as strong as iron in the blacksmith’s fire, able to re-emerge transformed and free. Forgiveness ultimately restores the living relationship that we have with ourselves, our neighbours, the world, and God.

The moment we forgive, we birth merciful energy into the collective unconscious and help to generate more forgiveness in the world. As the survivor of Auschwitz Eva Mozes Kor once said, “I discovered that I had the power to forgive, and it was a tremendously empowering feeling. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator. Forgiveness has everything to do with the victim taking back her life.”

Five Steps Towards Forgiveness

  1. Write a letter to the person that you feel injured by. Do not hesitate to write down all your feelings towards this person. Hold back nothing. Do not mail this letter.
  2. Write a letter to yourself. Ask yourself for forgiveness for the things that you might have done or failed to do and are sorry for.
  3. Find someone that you can trust and who can listen compassionately to your story.
  4. Write the word “Forgiveness” on a card and place it somewhere that you pass frequently during the day. For example, on your desk, the refrigerator door, or the bathroom mirror. Ask the Higher Self to help you forgive, whenever you see it.
  5. Try to put a human face on your perpetrator. For example, try to imagine the person who hurt you as a little child. A woman I knew had been molested by her grandfather, but no one else in the family knew. As an adult, she wrote to her cousin and asked him to write a letter describing what he remembered about their grandfather. Her cousin’s response enabled her to see her grandfather in a more human light and this eventually helped her to forgive him.

References

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, p. 400-403.

David Smith, “Twinned in terror at a Nazi Camp,” Guardian Weekly, January 21-27, 2005, p. 20.

Official Free and Wild Creatures!

KittyReaders of A Free and Wild Creature have been sending me photos of themselves with my book. What fun! This has inspired me to announce that you too can become an Official Free and Wild Creature! It’s very easy, just send me a photo of yourself with the book or post your Official Free and Wild Creature photo to the Love And Will Facebook page. Here’s a few to inspire you…

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Silvia standing in her newly planted orchard (Italy).

Marjorie

Marjorie who says she can’t wait to read it! (USA)

Pina

My beloved Pina (Italy)

Kees

A Dutch guy Kees who had to be a Free and Wild Creature to marry me!

A Time for ‘Self-Stripping’

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In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.

We are now halfway through the period 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 enough to 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.

Dante-Divine Comedy Mountain of Purgatory

Dante’s Mountain of Purgatory

Assagioli often referred to Dante’s Divine Comedy as a “wonderful guide and description” for our personal and spiritual development. He wrote:

“The first part of Dante’s pilgrimage is a long difficult path of purification and expiation across the kingdoms of his lower nature. Divine wisdom is not revealed to him directly: in his impure, unregenerated state, still surrounded by the impenetrable veil of matter, man is unable to directly contemplate the supreme truth.”

Similarly, Evelyn Underhill, in her classic book Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, wrote that Dante’s Purgatorio was a period of “self-stripping, which no mystic system omits.”

I find it interesting that Lent – this period of purification and expiation – always coincides with the time before and after the spring equinox. In the Italian countryside, now is the time to prune the olive and fruit trees, prepare the land for spring planting, clean the manure out of donkey stables, and clip back the vines. At the same time, as I walk through the open fields, rabbits and hares flash by, pheasants in their brilliant plumage call out, and deer start to appear at dusk. My neighbors’ chickens and geese are all suddenly busy laying. Often I am graced with a dozen fresh eggs.

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What to do when your neighbor gives you so many fresh chicken and geese eggs? Make ravioli of course!

For the Italian contadini, early spring (like Lent) is a time of clearing away dead wood, burning unnecessary growth, and discarding all that is old and no longer serves. And while this process of pruning and clearing and cleaning takes place, we are simultaneously able to enjoy the beginnings of new life.

Levels of Purification

014005 Purification of the Personality

Body. Assagioli calls on us to purify ourselves on many different levels. The first step is purification of the body. This means a healthy diet; avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, drugs; andplenty of exercise, fresh air and water. However, he does warn that when we become too fixated on physical purification, we can actually hinder other more important practices.

Emotions. Assagioli insists that what is most urgently needed is purification of our emotions. We start with identifying our feelings, sensations, thoughts and desires and then disidentifying from them. He wrote:

“What is the significance of ‘purity of heart’?

Complete absence of personal desires – absence of every thought for oneself – the abandonment of every idea or desire for compensation or benefit – full disinterest – self-giving – the renouncement of every pleasure, of every personal satisfaction.”

Imagination. Perhaps even more vital today, given all the images available to us through social media, is our need to purify our imagination. More than 50 years ago, Assagioli named these images that exploited “man’s morbid fascination for violence, horror, cruelty, and perverted sex.” He called them “collective poison, a psychological smog”. We all know how viral these images are today (along with tweets, which are simply verbal images as opposed to true discourse) and how harmful they have become to society as a whole.

To clear such psychological smog, Assagioli calls us to practice reflective meditation, mental silence, and the self-identification exercise. The goal is to eliminate all impurities from the personality that are preventing us from being receptive to the energies from the Higher Self or God. Assagioli wrote:

“Joy is one achievement that follows purification and the active practice of virtue. Joy is a result of a state of purity, of the absence of egoism, of harmony with God and with humankind.”

Purification for the Planet

Our personal act of purification is not just for ourselves alone. It also desperately needs to be carried out because, when we do this work, we are also participating in the great work of planetary purification.

DSC01957 Bruno

Bruno (76 years old) becomes one with the tree he is pruning.

At the physical level, when we purify our bodies, we also are helping to raise consciousness at a higher, collective level. We bring energy to matter in its entirety – animal, vegetable, and mineral – helping to purify it from contamination and exploitation, a result of humankind’s selfish purposes. Assagioli even suggests that we can symbolically purify and bless matter by spraying our cash with perfumed holy water!

At an emotional level, our purification helps to energize the dispersion of negative emotions in the world. Purification at our mental level helps to melt down and destroy old concepts, dogma, fanaticism and ideologies that produce fears and have hypnotized many people. We turn to Assagioli again:

“A nation is an entity, a soul analogous to a human soul: it can be noble and high or selfish, proud, overbearing. It is about educating, raising, purifying the soul of one’s nation, of which each of us is a part.”

 

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Assagioli’s note from his archives.

In the end, purification brings redemption. Our souls, through suffering and sacrifice, are renewed. Like the olive tree and the grapevines whose branches are cut bare, promising new fruit, we too are reduced to our true selves, ready for new, fresh growth.

Book Announcement: The First in a Series

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am happy to announce the publication of A Free and Wild Creature: Women, Service and Motherhood.

Book Cover I am a Wild CreatureThis book is a selection of blogs that have appeared on this website from 2014 to 2019. As the past five years have flown by, these bi-monthly reflections followed each other without any thought on my part to their cohesion or continuity. They simply captured moments in time – concerns, joys, wonder, delight, and sorrow.

And yet, while preparing this series of four small books, the reflections seemed to have mysteriously folded into one another. Like the flotsam washed ashore by the sea, these reflections seemed to have divided themselves by weight, roundness, shape and tone. Continue reading

Useless Exercises as Will Gymnastics

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Strong will alone is like pushing a car uphill.

Upon agreeing to be the guest editor of the latest issue of the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly with its theme of “Awareness and Will”, I decided to search for inspiration in Assagioli’s online archives. Luckily I found two very interesting manuscripts. Luckier still, both of these were clearly dated ‘1929.’

Most of the tens of thousands of Assagioli’s notes held in Florence are rarely dated. Rarer still are any manuscripts written before WWII, since most of Assagioli’s documents were destroyed in two separate fires during this time. Continue reading

Levels of Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at drawntocolor.com

Valentine’s Day feels like a good time to take a closer look at Love. February is also Black History Month in the US, and lately I have been reading and listening to sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr in 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

When you listen to Dr. King speak, his message is more powerful than ever before. As his deep baritone voice melodically rises and falls, you are swept across the tides of time into his eternal message of Love and Will. His gift was to help us touch the human heart and awaken our deeper transpersonal nature. He was a master teacher, leader, and poet – using his voice to conjure truth through the most familiar of images and the essence of everyday life. Continue reading

Wedding Bells for Joy

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Joy.

For a year now, I have been a volunteer working one morning a week for the local Italian Catholic organization Caritas, which means ‘charity’ in Italian. This national organization, funded in part by the Vatican and in part by donations, offers food and clothing to the poor, subsidizes housing, pays medical bills, and tries to find or create jobs for the unemployed. During this past year, I have done everything from teach asylum seekers English, pack and distribute groceries for the needy, canvas for food outside supermarkets, help run an auction, perform basic office work, and hang out with people in the Caritas waiting room.

One sweltering July morning, Rose (Note that all names have been changed) showed up hot and sweaty and on the verge of tears. She had walked three miles in the sweltering heat pushing her 4-month-old baby girl in a rickety stroller down a road full of racing Italian traffic and no sidewalk. Rose plopped down onto a chair and started sobbing. Everything was just too much. Despite having been in the country for two years, she still didn’t understand much Italian. (I would realize months later that she could barely read and write.) That day she sat gripping another official letter that can had come in the post. One of those bureaucratic letters full of convoluted language that just tells you to wait for another bureaucratic letter to arrive someday soon. Continue reading