Leave Her at the River

Monk riverHow often have you been awake at night processing what happened to you the day before? Perhaps you were reworking a conversation with a family member or colleague. Or maybe you were wondering how to pay that bill that just arrived in the mail. Or perhaps you are a teacher and were busy (re)giving your lecture again, only in a “better way.”

But at 2:00 in the morning, none of these mental exercises are serving you. You really need to sleep – not figure out how you might have more clearly explained yourself to your boss/students/son or daughter. You are losing energy trying to work out how to pay a bill that’s not due for weeks. But still … you can’t seem to stop. These thoughts are swirling around in your mind, keeping you busy and awake.Geisha

One technique that I have used successfully to still my mind is the mantra “Leave her at the river.” I came up with this phrase soon after hearing the Zen story about the two monks. It goes like this:

A senior monk and his younger disciple were traveling together on pilgrimage. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a young, beautiful woman also attempting to cross. She was dressed in silk clothing with abundant black hair piled on top of her head. The young woman appeared troubled and in need of help. She soon turned to them and asked if they might help her cross the river.

The two monks had taken vows to not touch any females. But then, without a word, the senior monk picked up the beautiful woman, placed her on his back, and carried her across the river. Upon their arrival to the other side, he gently let her down onto the riverbank, bowed and continued walking.

The younger monk couldn’t believe his eyes. After crossing the river himself and rejoining the senior monk, he was speechless. For more than four hours he couldn’t think of anything to say as they continued on their pilgrimage in silence.

two monk walking on beachFinally the younger monk could no longer contain himself. “Master, as monks we are not permitted to touch any women. How could you pick up and carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The old monk looked at him in wonder and then replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river. What are you doing still carrying her?”

Granted, this story is rather male in nature. (It would be a good exercise to try and write a female equivalent.) But its message is an important one. Too often we are carrying events, thoughts, feelings, or sensations around with us when we might easily ‘leave them at the river’. While our spiritual work demands that we take time to consciously process and reflect on our daily lives and actions, it is always more fruitful (and a better use of our skillful will) to do so at an appropriate time – a time when we might better resolve, learn, or gain insight about ourselves from the specific event we have experienced.

002363 Disindentification

Assagioli’s note from his archives: La disidentificazione dalla personalità e coscienza ordinaria è il grande segreto della “suggestione”. – è il modo facile. sicuro, diretto per attingere forza, luce, pace, amore. 1-XII-21 Disidentification from the personality and ordinary consciousness is the great secret of “suggestion.” – It is the easiest, surest, direct way to draw strength, light, peace, and love. December 1, 1921

In psychosynthesis, this kind of distancing or detachment is called disidentification, and it is one of the most fundamental and essential concepts in psychosynthesis. The idea is that disidentification brings inner freedom. In fact, the more we are detached from our body, feelings, and thoughts, the freer we are to consciously choose our actions and to be our authentic selves. Assagioli wrote:

 

We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.

In the story, the younger monk was dominated for hours by the image of the beautiful woman after the older monk set her down on the riverbank. In contrast, the senior monk was able to disidentify from the touch, sight, and scent of the beautiful woman to continue his journey in freedom and peace.

Next time you find yourself spending too much time replaying a conversation or rewriting a past event, stop and try saying: “Leave her at the river,” with the idea that the ‘her’ is the thought that you wish to put aside, either forever or for another, more appropriate time when you might skillfully reflect upon it.

Don’t be surprised if the thought keeps popping back into your head. When it does, just gently repeat the mantra. Try using humor. (e.g., “Oh for goodness sake, Catherine! Will you please leave that woman at the river!!”) Use your imagination to visualize yourself lifting whatever is troubling you from your shoulders and gently placing it down on the riverbed. Then take a deep breath and silently walk away towards inner freedom.

001118 Disidentification

Psychosynthesis
Disidentification – a means to make possible higher identifications

Divine Supply

thumbnail_image1(1)The cherry trees behind our house are bursting with fruit. More cherries than we can pick, eat, turn into jam, give away, or freeze. We still have jars from last year – plump cherries bloated by the pure alcohol bath they sit in, waiting to be plucked from the jar, soaked for a few hours in local spring water and eaten. Each fruit tree in the back bares a different type of cherry – white and sour, round and sweet, watery with too much pit.  We are doing our best to collect what we can, but many will inevitably feed the birds, ants and insects, or drop to the ground and nourish the grassy knoll which they now adorn. Continue reading

Bring Me Breath

Suffocate

I can’t breathe. I am the African-American man named George Floyd whose neck you are breaking with the weight of your body. The pressure of your knee is blocking my windpipe. You are crushing the spirit from my soul. I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe. I am the person dying of COVID-19. Grasping for a hand to hold, longing for a comforting word from a loved one. I am alone in my New York City apartment, alone in my prison cell, alone under a plastic tent. I can’t breathe.

Continue reading

After Freedom in Jail

Accompanying the stirrings of spring are the stirrings of what life will become after the COVID-19 crisis. To be honest, nobody really knows. But then, nobody ever really knew. We often like to think that we are entirely in control of our lives, our surroundings, our future. But if nothing else, the virus has taught us that we cannot control everything around us. However, we can take responsibility for our inner attitude towards everything from adversity to discomfort to death, and for our own outer actions in how we choose to live our lives. Continue reading

Finding Freedom in Jail

Regina Coeli Snijder

Photo of Regina Coeli prison by : Pietro Snider/Inside Carceri

Today I read a beautiful account by Jennifer Toon, a 41-year-old woman who spent half her life in prison. Just as she was finally given her full freedom, she found herself living once again under the Covid-19 lockdown. She writes about her time in prison:

“The most important lesson I learned during this time was that I had to accept my circumstances as they were, then change my perspective about them.”

Toon continues to explain how a change in her attitude totally changed her prison experience. Her moving account resonates with that of Roberto Assagioli.

What better time to read Freedom in Jail than when we’re all locked up at home? Roberto Assagioli intended that his “prison diary” might become an account of the time he spent in Regina Coeli prison under the fascist regime in 1940. Throughout his testimony, Assagioli offers a personal example of how to use difficult life events as an opportunity to develop one’s personal and spiritual psychosynthesis.

As most of us know by now, you don’t need to be incarcerated to feel imprisoned. Part of the human condition, at different points in our lives, is to find ourselves enslaved by some uncontrollable situation to which we feel bound. Freedom in Jail shows us that we always remain free and responsible for choosing how we actively accept the situation and what attitude we take. The mystery is that these circumstances can also lead us to our Higher Self.

Okay. Sounds good. I’ve convinced you, but how can you get a hold of a copy? Of course, as the book’s editor, I would love you to buy a book. Not only does it contain Assagioli’s writings, but 160+ footnotes, numerous photos, transcribed citations from Keyserling’s From Suffering to Fulfillment, copies of Assagioli’s official prison records, and a detailed “Introduction”.

But did you know that the handwritten notes that were compiled into Freedom in Jail are actually available online through Assagioli’s Archives?

Archive announcement

A Guide to Finding Freedom in Jail

If you are unfamiliar with how Assagioli’s Online Archives work, now’s a great time to explore this treasure trove. I have written a short Guide to Finding Freedom in Jail to help you get started. Now you too can discover the world of Assagioli’s Archives and see how you can find Freedom in Jail.

For those of you who already know your way around the archives or who already have a copy of the book, there some suggested readings from Freedom in Jail at the end of this reflection.

Buying a Copy of Freedom in Jail

Even with all this material available online, I still hope you consider buying the book. Here’s what Piero Ferrucci, Psychotherapist and Philosopher, Author of What We May Be has said:

I am impressed with the splendid work you did with Freedom in Jail. You have turned it into a microcosm, with useful psychological, spiritual and historical material that will benefit many people. Assagioli often would have the inspiration for a book, would write the outline perhaps, then leave it because he was too busy already with something else. But this book represents a milestone in his life and a crucial theme of his teachings. So I am very glad you took care of it in such a precise and complete way. The editorial level is first-rate.

To purchase a hardcopy of Freedom in Jail, please contact the Istituto di Psicosintesi in Florence at: istituto@psicosintesi.it. Books are also available from the Psychosynthesis Trust London by contacting enquiries@ptrust.org.uk.

Below are some suggested readings from Freedom in Jail. To find them in Assagioli’s Archive, just enter the Doc # in the Quick Search field.

Proposed Readings from Freedom in Jail by Roberto Assagioli

Freedom

In Jail and Freedom

Assagioli also had to accept his situation and figure out what he wanted to do with this time in jail. Like those of us under quarantine during the Covid-19 crisis, he too faced the uncertainty of how long he would be in jail and even if he would survive. These passages reflect his coming to terms with the uncomfortable situation he suddenly found himself in.

In Jail: Doc # 7670, Acceptance: Doc # 9274,
The prisoners: Doc # 9303, Freedom: Doc # 7664


An Incident and a “Test”

Assagioli did not really spend time in solitary confinement as we might understand it today. At that time, more affluent prisoners, like Assagioli, could pay for private and more comfortable cells as well as better food. Assagioli actually writes about his personal struggle when his money nearly ran out and he faced the possibility of having to share a cell with other prisoners and the idea that he might lose his “‘freedom’ … of solitude and of privacy!”

An Incident and a “Test”: Doc #7687


Transpersonal Experiences

Assagioli described some of his transpersonal experiences while in prison, including Love, Joy, and a deeper realization of the Joy within himself.

Love: Doc #7785, Joy: Doc # 7787, Joy – A deeper Realization: Doc # 8438

A Week under Lockdown

Lockdown in Pieve 2In Umbria, it all happened gradually. Like contracting the virus itself, I suppose. One person wearing a mask at the supermarket and everyone trying to act normal about it. The fervent washing of hands upon entering home. The silly jokes. Do you know the latest Italian slogan? Meno tasse, meno tosse (‘Less taxes, less coughing.’ But in Italian it’s funnier because it rhymes.) The collective denial when everyone shook hands as they offered the Sign of Peace during Sunday Mass.

Then things started to heat up. Like the feverish heat of the virus, I suppose. We were only allowed to go out to work, for food shopping and emergencies. Signs warned us at the supermarket to stand at least a meter apart while waiting on line. But I wondered about buying fruit and vegetables that anyone could handle and easily sneeze on. All the flour was missing from the shelves and the mozzarella nearly gone. Schools were all closed, but bars were open and restaurants too. People were still making plans to meet for dinner. Continue reading

Celebrating Women in Psychosynthesis

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

A spiritual portrait of Assagioli painted by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.

Assagioli is often criticized for his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis.” in which he describes “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and the wifely function. His recognition of the differences between men and women in this essay can cause anxiety among psychosynthesis psychologists today.

But in a 1965 lecture on the same topic, Assagioli explains why this subject raises our suspicion and/or fear. He says that many people think that when you recognize these differences, that you are implying that men are better than women. These differences, however, do not imply that women are of less value or inferior to men. Assagioli actually said such thinking is “simply stupid”! Continue reading

Harriet Tubman: Mystic Freedom Fighter

Harriet the conductorIn the USA, February is Black History Month, and I would like to take advantage of this extra last day in February to celebrate Harriet Tubman. Tubman (1821-1913) is famous for being an escaped slave who became one of the most successful conductors on the Underground Railway. She helped lead 60 to 70 fellow slaves into freedom, risking her life 13 times as she clandestinely traveled from the Northern states down to Maryland and back again, ultimately arriving to Canada with her people.

But Tubman was even more than a courageous abolitionist. During the Civil War, she worked as a cook and nurse. She then became an armed scout and spy and was the first woman to lead an armed raid in the war, successfully liberating more than 700 slaves in Combahee Ferry, South Carolina. After the war, she was active in the woman’s suffrage movement and established a home for the care of elderly African Americans, where she died of pneumonia. Just before she died, she told those in the room: “I go to prepare a place for you.” Continue reading

Facing Life’s Ambiguities

ambiguityAccording to Roberto Assagioli, the first stage of any decision is to ascertain the purpose driving us toward our desired goal. During all the subsequent stages of an act of will — deliberation, affirmation, choice, planning and execution – we can often gain energy by returning to reflect on our initial purpose.

However, there may be times when we find ourselves in a difficult situation and unable to understand exactly what we are doing or why. We may feel stuck in a particularly uncomfortable situation.  Or we may have to interact with challenging (sub)personalities, who only trigger our own unresolved issues! Nothing around us seems to feel right anymore. Nothing seems to fit with our ideals or desired aims.

We might be asking ourselves: Whatever are we doing here? Whatever could our purpose be?

Figure 1 Assagioli and Palombi

Roberto Assagioli and Ida Palombi

Eighty years ago, Ida Palombi (1905-1981) posed this exact question to Roberto Assagioli. Having graduated from the University of Rome, in 1939 she found herself working as a social worker and translator for the Ministry of the Interior of Rome under the fascist regime. At the same time, she was regularly attending lessons Assagioli was offering at his home on the Aventine. Continue reading

Assagioli’s Favorite Exercise Routine

J.P._MüllerJorgen Peter Muller (1866-1939) had a reputation for being everything from pornographic to a world famous hygienist and physical fitness guru. The Danish sportsman was, in fact, all-round champion athlete, Danish Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, and author of the international best seller My System, published in 1904.

My System is a complete step-by-step guide to 18 daily exercises that nearly anyone can complete in 15-minutes. The book sold 2 million copies and was translated into 25 languages. Muller became famous for traveling around Europe and demonstrating his exercises while wearing only a loincloth and displaying his tanned, toned body. Shocking by all Victorian standards!

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