Featured post

Joyfully Suffering the News

Yesterday I met Lucia for the first time. She is a 7-month old solid soul who has nothing but gurgling smiles for the world. Between bites of chocolate ice cream, her mother became quietly despondent. “Hasn’t the news been terrible lately?” she asked.

Headline

Yes, the news has been terrible. The news is always terrible. That’s what news is. Terrible. It is either full of suffering or full of rich, happy, famous people. Sometimes it is full of rich, unhappy, famous people suffering. But usually it consists of poor, unhappy, non-famous people suffering. In fact, Assagioli once told a student of his that, while it was important to read the news, one should only do so in homeopathic doses!

Continue reading

God’s Will in a Tomato Plant

After months of sowing, tending, watering, and weeding, the garden is finally bursting. During the last days of summer, I am always drowning in tomatoes. Black cherry tomatoes. Frilly fiorentino tomatoes for salad. Tomatoes for pasta sauce. Still more for canning.

But this summer is special because of the tomato plant that helped me understand the will of God.

I have recently had a story published about how I experienced my personal will synchronize with the will of the Higher Self in my garden. Entitled “God’s Tomato Plant”, this article originally appeared in the September/October issue of The Daily Word.

You can continue reading this story by clicking on: God’s Tomato Plant. Enjoy!

Spiritual Lessons of Money (or the Lack of)

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 for he (along with Saint Catherine of Siene) is the patron of Italy.


(For further reading, see Catherine’s article
Assagioli’s Reflections on the Poor Man of Assisi”.)


Can Money and Spirituality Mix?

Many people familiar with the life of St. Francis may like to think of him as a peace-loving eccentric who preached to the birds and wrote poems to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. But Francis was really a frightening radical! If he were alive today, I believe he would make us all feel quite uncomfortable.

Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods
Francis renounces all worldly possessions, as painted by Giotto.

At the age of 25, Francis renounced a vast inherited wealth from his father by symbolically stripping naked in front of Bishop Guido and a great crowd in Assisi, forever devoting himself to ‘Lady Poverty.’ The painter Giotto depicts this scene complete with small boys throwing stones at the naked Francis.

Francis’ initial followers were not permitted to own any possessions. They lived in straw huts and preached and begged in the streets. In fact, Assagioli often referred to Francis as the “Poor Man of Assisi,” and he specifically mentions the saint in his article “Money and the Spiritual Life.”[1]

Figure 4. Francis from Archives
A hand drawn depiction of Francis with (left to right) Brother Masseo, Saint Clair, and Francis preaching to the birds. This is from Assagioli’s Archives, ID# 14609.

Assagioli states that living as Francis did is infeasible in our present age, pointing out that just decades after Francis’ death, the Franciscan Communities realized that “it was almost impossible to do without money and some form of buildings and land … Franciscans now use every means the modern world provides.”[2]

Assagioli continues by assuring us:

“If this is what the sons of Saint Francis do, how can any more be expected of us … caught up in the very fabric of economic, family, and social life?”

He then explains that spiritual transformation does not come from outside ourselves (where money might dominate), but from within.[3] However, Assagioli is then quick to qualify this statement by noting his intention is not:

“… to criticize or distract from the sublime act of Saint Francis, which was indeed heroic and had an incalculable positive effect as an example to others, providing us with a practical lesson in detachment … Our intention was only to show that this way cannot provide us with a generally applicable solution to our everyday lives.”[4]

In other words, money is a necessity for living our lives, but it is our attitude and actions towards money that determine its true worth. What matters most is how detached (or how identified) we are with the money and all that it can buy.

Assagioli’s Test with Money

007922 FIJ An Incident and a Test
Assagioli’s note from Freedom in Jail.

In his prison diary Freedom in Jail, we see firsthand Assagioli’s personal and spiritual struggle with money.[5] He writes about how he went through a psychological test and experience when he was told that the money his wife had deposited to pay for his extra privileges in jail was running out. This meant that he would have to leave his private “special” cell and move into a cell with others and eat the normal prison fare. He wrote that:

“A kind of physical instinctual panic surged which tended to create an emotional preoccupation. I fought it through clear reasoning: the food which I would get was quite sufficient… I roused myself a sense of shame for my selfish preoccupation. I realized the human value of sharing the experience with others of this “poverty.”

As soon as Assagioli had arrived at a deeper acceptance of his financial dilemma and was spiritually ready to share a cell with others, his was notified that his money had arrived, and that things would go on as before. He candidly writes:

“When the news was given to me, I distinctly registered two opposite inner reactions at the same time: an instinctual sense of relief and a feeling of disappointment for being deprived of the new experience and of the opportunity of helping my fellowmen.”

Personally, I have often found this to be the case whenever I spiritually feel conflicted and confused over the deeper meaning and use of money (usually around not having enough!). Whenever I finally manage to transmute my fears into a deeper awareness, the money finally arrives … and this always seems to happen at the very last minute!

Reflect on your attitude towards money

You might take some time to reflect on your own attitude towards money, especially as Europeans face energy bills that are doubling in price and the world sees the rising cost of food and other everyday products. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • How identified am I with money? Do I gain recognition and acknowledgment from my money and possessions?
  • Am I generous with what I own?
  • How do I spiritually deal with any conflicts or confusion I experience over money (or the lack of it).
  • Like Assagioli, have you ever experienced “physical instinctual panic” when you face a financial challenge? Are you able to use your skillful will to detach from money and consequently find a higher solution to that challenge?

Final Words

Assagioli and St. Francis both called us to establish peace in every aspect of our lives. To celebrate this day joyfully, I end with a quote from Saint Francis written in Assagioli’s beautiful hand (in Italian) :[6]

Figure 7.Francis quote 2 from Archives

Lighthearted Joy

What else are the servants of
God if not his minstrels
destined to raise up
the heart of the people
and to bring them
to the Joy of the Spirit.

S. Francesco

 


[1] Roberto Assagioli, Transpersonal Development, The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis, The Aquarian Press, London, 1993, pp. 213-233.

[2] Ibid., p. 217.

[3] Ibid., p. 218.

[4] Ibid., Footnote on pp 220-221.

[5] Roberto Assagioli, Freedom in Jail. Edited by Catherine Ann Lombard. Istituto di Psicosintesi, Florence, Italy. 2016, pp. 25-27, 35-36.

[6] Roberto Assagioli, N.D. ID #8405. Retrieved November 11, 2016 from archivioassagioli.org. This translation is mine. The original Italian text is: “Letizia – Che altro sono i servi di Dio se non i giullari di Lui, destinati a rialzare il cuore degli uomini e portarli alla gioia dello spirito? S. Francesco.”

Exploring Assagioli’s Archives – Sept. 16/17

Ahead of World Psychosynthesis Day on 20th September, I will be demonstrating a one-hour session via Zoom on how to navigate Assagioli Archives, home to approximately 19,000 notes and manuscripts from Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis.  

Gruppo alle Fonti, part of the Instituto di Psicosintesi in Florence, has dedicated many years to making Assagioli’s notes available, creating this free resource online to share his work as widely as possible. They launched Assagioli Archives in 2015 and have recently added the printed publications of Assagioli’s writings. 

I will be introducing the archives and demonstrating how to navigate them with practical tips such as how to use the search engine and copy images. As a collaborator with Gruppo alle Fonti at the Istituto di Psicosintesi for many years, I have helped to catalogue and scan archive documents. 

Feel free to join me on either day (Note that both workshops are the same).

Friday 16th September 6.00 – 7.00pm (BST) for more information and booking, click here.

Saturday 17th September 12.00 – 13.00 (EST) for more information and booking, click here.

Cultivating Radical Hope As Our Plant Collapses

There is no nice way to talk about this. Our planet is under siege and we are committing collective suicide. June was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. As I write this, fires are scorching Western Europe and California. For the first time ever in the UK, temperatures topped 40° C (105° F). In Italy where I live, 28% of the land is currently turning into desert.

The U.N. Secretary-general, António Guterres, has said:

“Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. … We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

Yes, it is in our hands, but time is slipping away. Our planetary disasters are slowly becoming normalized. Our hearts and minds continue to resist even the smallest personal change. Friends and family still fly off on long-distant holidays. Pineapples and mangos still appear on the supermarket shelves. We are eating too much meat. The planet is water-stressed. Everything is still swathed in plastic.

Yes, we are addicted to fossil fuels, but if we deeply assess the addiction, we see that it is an addiction to consume, to own, and to have power – all driven by a fear of not having enough.

Despite the need for radical systemic global change, our will is constantly twisted and out-maneuvered, sabotaged and stymied. We are being overrun by greed and betrayal. As Grete Thunberg has said, all the proposed mitigation to prevent the climate catastrophe has proven to be a lot of “Blah. Blah. Blah.”

Facing the Collapse

Lately I have been following webinars by Joanna Macy and Jonathan Gustin entitled “Climate Change as a Spiritual Practice”. During one of these events, an article written by ethicists David Schenck and Larry R. Churchill was presented. The article is entitled “Ethical Maxims for a Marginally Inhabitable Planet”. I highly recommend that you take time to read this article.

Based on their bioethics work in intensive care units (ICUs) and hospices, they have come up with six ethical maxims for a time of collapse. These maxims are useful guidelines for what we will need to face. Our world is in free fall, a state that researchers have recently coined as ‘Collaspsology’.

As Schenck and Churchill write: “Maxims are less how to analyze and choose and more how to be.” Maxims are moral virtues which we can start to cultivate now to help us inwardly prepare for catastrophic events.

The authors insist that theirs are not the only maxims, but a bare beginning. Think of them as seeds for the future. They are a place to start. A place to ask yourself: What values do I want to develop, gain some mastery of, and activate during this potential human tragedy and all that it implies?

Here are the six maxims, along with some of my own reflections on them. I also added two of my own. Feel free to do that same, and share with others.

Maxim 1: Work hard to grasp the immensity.

Photo by Leonid Danilov

Just as it is difficult to accept devastating news about one’s health, it is equally difficult to accept the devastation being imposed on the planet and all its living beings. Like any health crisis, we have to grasp all that we are facing before we can choose the best remedy.

While contemplating this maxim, I thought about Wilfred, whom I met years ago in London. Born in Germany in 1928, his father was a high ranking official in the German army. He thought, even though he was Jewish, that he and his family were perfectly safe from persecution. Failing to grasp the immensity of Nazism proved fatal to everyone except Wilfred, who at 13 managed to escape and walk by himself over the Swiss Alps to Milano. There he was able to locate a distant uncle who was working as a tailor. The story goes on, but teaches us not to be shortsighted or feel immune when facing looming disaster, especially while it’s happening to others all around us.

Maxim 2: Cultivate radical hope.

Schenck and Churchill explain that radical hope is the “kind of hope that reappears after optimism has died.” It is not fantasyland or magical thinking. Radical hope is the grace that comes once we hit rock bottom. Radical hope demands that we be courageous.

This maxim immediately brought to mind Dante’s Divine Comedy and his approach at the Gate of Hell. Like most of us, Dante would have preferred to avoid this gate all together, opting instead to ascend directly into Paradise. The inscription on the gate’s lintel stops him in his tracks: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter (Inf. 3. 9).  Dante decries these words, and Virgil, “a man of quick discernment,” exhorts Dante – to not leave behind “all hope,” but rather to leave behind his “sheer black cowardice” (15).

One time while in Assagioli Archives I discovered a note that said “Will-to-Joy”. The words are double underlined with blue and red pencil. We could say the same about hope: “Will-to-Hope / The duty of Radical Hope”. A willful practice to be and create joy and hope.

Lately, I have been consciously practicing radical hope. In the garden, while pulling up weeds – yet again… When meeting someone new and thinking they might become a friend… While stumbling over my Italian – yet again! While praying for rain…(this goes with my Maxim #8).

Try practicing radical hope today and see what new energy it brings – especially when it seems like there’s nothing left to do.

Maxim 3: Have a line in the sand.

This maxim is not so intuitive. Having a line in the sand means coming to some understanding about what you will do and what you will refuse to do. It’s about setting boundaries. For someone who is dying, this maxim determines whether she will continue on life-support or not. For Viktor Frankl and Etty Hillesum, it meant defining their attitude while facing the horrors of concentration camps. In Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela tells of one of his lines in the sand; he refused to escape from prison, even though he had numerous opportunities to do so.

This maxim is a serious one and requires all aspects of will – strong, skillful, good, and transpersonal. In fact, this maxim is so serious that I couldn’t help playing humorously with it (see my Maxim #7). My line in the sand is: When there’s no more food, I will not eat my dog. But I will eat my neighbor’s dog, especially the one that barks all night. hahahaha

But seriously, who knows what I’ll be willing to eat if I’m starving? Like the authors say, drawing a line in the sand demands that we activate our imagination alongside the understanding that the sands are constantly shifting. We are more likely to manage shifting boundaries well if beforehand we imagined the worst and practiced this willful act to its conclusion.

Okay. Let’s try again… If I’m starving, I’ll eat my chicken’s eggs and then my chickens. And if my neighbors are starving, I’ll share my eggs and then my chickens. And if we are all starving…? Well… this obviously still needs some more work!

Maxim 4: Appreciate the astonishing and unique opportunity.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

During the webinar, I was impressed by how Joanna Macy, who is 93 years old, expressed her joy to be alive at this moment and able to witness the transformation we are about to undergo. She said she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Personally, my initial instinct is to run away. But then I have a strong subpersonality who tends to operate in this fashion.

The key word here is ‘appreciation’. Now is the time to practice appreciation of our bodies, feelings and thoughts. Our ability to embody courage and grace. The daily gifts and smallest blessings.

I remember my mother telling me years after my father’s murder how she managed to take hold of her life again. Tragically widowed at 46 years old with four kids to raise in 1970, she spent the first year in shock while trying to contain her anger and sadness. “Then a year later in early spring,” she told me once, “I saw the first crocuses bloom. And suddenly I knew I would be okay.”

Practice appreciating those “blooming crocuses” in your life, both big and small.

Maxim 5: Train your body and your mind.

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

I would add to this maxim that we also need to train our heart, that is our ability to feel. The more conscious and healthy we are on every level –  physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – the more we will be able to deal with the challenges we will need to face.

The better we can cope, the better we can endure the suffering of those around us and help ourselves and others to grow, heal, and yes – even thrive – beyond the inevitable grief and rage. (This spiritual service ties in with Maxim #4.)

This training of heart, mind, and soul is necessary before we can be fit enough to become, like Etty Hillesum at Westerbork, a “thinking heart”. During the three months she spent living amongst the “mud, overcrowding and people arriving every day in truckloads”, she vowed to become the “thinking heart of the barracks”:

“At night, as I lay in the camp on my plank bed, surrounded by women and girls gently snoring, dreaming aloud, quietly sobbing and tossing and turning, women and girls who often told me during the day, “We don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, otherwise we are sure to go out of our minds,” I was sometimes filled with an infinite tenderness, and lay awake for hours letting all the many, too many impressions of a much-too-long day wash over me, and I prayed, ‘Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks.’ And that is what I want to be again. The thinking heart of a whole concentration camp.”

Maxim 6: Act for the future generation of all species.

The authors urge us to “Act, personally and politically, to limit the damage being done to the biosphere. Speak for the poor, the unborn generations, the forests, seas, and animals.”

For me, this is a tough one, as this maxim runs headlong into “drawing a line in the sand.” I know that in the last 20 years, 45% of the worldwide insect species have died, but I don’t want ants running around my house. I can capture a spider and carry it outside to a nearby flowerbed, but a scorpion on my bathroom floor needs to be stepped on. Mice do not belong in my pantry.

However, I know that here are also times, when I feel completely powerless, like when I watched my neighbor cut down 100-year-old trees.

These struggles forge within us higher transpersonal qualities. They also push us to practice right relations – with all Earthly beings.

The authors insist that:

“It is essential to find creative ways to cultivate an in-depth, emotional as well as intellectual understanding of interconnection, so that…we are acting for everything in the global web.”

The keywords here are “creative ways”. I’m still working on this one! Let’s try together!

Now I introduce my two personal maxims:

Maxim 7: Use humor whenever possible.

Humor can help bring a new perspective to any situation. In Assagioli’s seminal essay “Smiling Wisdom”, he begins by talking about the physical and psychological benefits of laughter. He then explores the spiritual value of laughter, especially as a means of overcoming suffering.

Often when we cannot find anything humorous about a situation, we are too serious and intensely attached to the issue we are facing. Humor can help bring a sense of proportion to any struggle, which in turn helps us to ground ourselves into what is real and eternal.

A beautiful example of humor mitigating tragedy can be seen in the movie La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful). In the film, a father employs his imagination and playful humor to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a concentration camp. Life at the camp becomes a complicated game for the boy, complete with points and a grand prize of winning a tank.

Like everything else in life, humor must be applied to good purpose and in the right proportion, otherwise it can turn into sarcastic criticism. A true humorist is one who can see human life in all its frailty with a compassionate and playful heart.

Maxim 8: Connect with a Higher Power.

The Self is an Experience

I believe this maxim is vital as we cannot depend on our egos alone to deal with this crisis. Whether you have faith in God, Allah, Jesus, the Cosmos, who or whatever – you need to have a connection to a higher source of Wisdom and Light, a connection that you continuously and regularly cultivate. To illustrate this fundamental and essential need, I return to Dante’s Divine Comedy, which so beautifully describes where we are right now and our emphatic need to connect to a Higher Power.

In the epic poem, Dante is guided by the poet Virgil through Hell where they meet shadow souls who are eternally lost because of the choices they have made. Hell is divided into three sections and as you journey downwards, the souls’ transgressions become more grievous.

Dante’s Inferno

While the souls in the upper part of Hell have not consciously chosen to do evil, they are there because they have not consciously refused evil. They are only half-conscious and weak of will.

This is exactly where many of us are right now. During the past decades, we might have known that our actions were effecting the earth’s health, (the first Earth Day was, after all, April 1970!), but we remained only half-conscious and weak of will. We did not consciously choose to pollute, blunder, and destroy our earthly home, but we also did not consciously refuse to do so.

The middle and lower parts of Hell, however, are for those who have consciously chosen to commit acts of violence and fraud respectively. In other words, the souls condemned for violence and fraud have consciousness and will, but they have only directed their attention and action toward darker and negative goals leading them to endless suffering. In psychosynthesis terms, these souls have consciously used their will to completely disconnect themselves from the Higher Self, a Higher Power.

This lower part of Hell could easily accommodate all the oil and gas executives that consciously chose not to disclose their company’s scientific findings on how devastating the exploitation of natural resources would be to future generations. But we also must be honest about our own culpability. At this moment in time, we all stand at this threshold. If we don’t make wise, clear choices right now, we are doomed to consciously commit acts of violence, betraying ourselves, our planet, and our future.

An angel opens the gate for Dante and Virgil, allowing them to enter the City of Dis

Upon reaching the middle circle of Hell, Virgil and Dante are barred from entering the City of Dis (i.e. the City of Satan) by great iron battlements. This gate is guarded by hundreds of fierce demons. To make matters worse, three Furies appear – images symbolic of haunting remorse – and threaten to uncover Medusa’s head. Virgil quickly orders Dante to cover his eyes with his hands and further protects his prodigy by placing his own hands over Dante’s. If a living man catches even the smallest glimpse of the Medusa, he will forever turn to stone – petrified by the destructive forces of evil.

All Virgil and Dante can do is wait for divine help. Soon a messenger from Heaven arrives and the Furies and Medusa vanish. An angel touches the gate with a wand and cries out the will of God. Virgil and Dante are finally unopposed to enter into the middle regions of Hell. 

In this example, both Dante and Virgil require the will of the Higher Self before they can enter deep and terrifying gloom. This is the same for us as we face the crises we are in. Without a connection to a Higher Power, we can too easily be turned into stone (i.e., we gaze upon Medusa), frozen and unable to act, as we become overwhelmed by grief and remorse.

The gate of Dis can only be safely passed by those who have come to the kind of faith and humility which brought the angel to Dante’s aid. Without such faith and humility, looking upon the darkness within oneself and others can, in effect, result in our losing our humanity to insanity or despair or becoming completely possessed and identified with evil.

It is truly a lifetime endeavor to discern how much depends on our will alone to act, and when we need to patiently wait for the moment when our will and the will of a Higher Power are aligned. This alignment will bring us great insight, courage, and immediacy when coming face-to-face with the dark side of reality and helping us to choose against evil itself.

A Guide to Assagioli’s Archives

Archive announcement

Roberto Assagioli, the visionary founder of psychosynthesis, left a treasure trove of thoughts when he died in 1974 at the age of 86. A great scholar, linguist, educator, and philosopher, Assagioli’s creative ideas compelled him to handwrite his reflections onto small pieces of paper, including the back of concert tickets! Often he would stuff these pieces of paper into a drawer and then ask a student to put them into some kind of order. Other times he himself would organize them into “packets” under titles such as “Freedom”, “Joy”, “The Self”.

As part of the Istituto di Psicosintesi in Florence, Gruppo Alle Fonti (The Group at the Well Spring) has dedicated years to making Assagioli’s notes available online. In 2015, they launched the website www.archivioassagioli.org. This month they recently added the printed publications of Assagioli’s writings, typescripts of lectures and conferences, and drafts of articles and books. Everyone can register to access this archive for free and, with the aid of an excellent search engine, delve into Assagioli’s fascinating, invigorating, and moving archived papers.

Courtesy of the

Approximately 19,000 documents have been scanned, transcribed, and sometimes translated, and each one is a source of insight into Assagioli’s heart and mind. His notes and manuscripts appear in Italian, English, French, or German.

Today the archive includes thousands of original manuscripts, typescripts, books, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, photos, correspondence, and personal documents accumulated over the years. But when he died, most of this material was inaccessible, tucked away in the attic of his home or kept in a damp cellar where it remained for years.

Part of these manuscripts caught the immediate attention of Piero Ferrucci, a student and close collaborator of Assagioli. In 1974 Ferrucci assumed the daunting task of cataloging and distributing these documents in specially created folders. In 2006, Gruppo Alle Fonti, an international group of devoted volunteers, continued to systematically reorganize, sort, and catalogue the material. We have them to thank for online access to these documents.

In the words of Gruppo Alle Fonti:

“Access to the archive is not only an educative and cognitive opportunity, but a deep and intimate experience leading to an expansion of consciousness.”

I urge everyone to visit the online archive and spend some time with Assagioli and his “unburdened thoughts.” You will definitely find a rich psychosynthesis legacy and have the opportunity to personally touch Assagioli’s deep humanity.

To help you get started, please feel free to download and share this Beginner’s Guide to Using Assagioli’s Archives.

Three Peacemakers

It’s been eight years that I’ve been sharing these reflections with you and that’s a long time to be together. In his book Psicosintesi: Per l’armonia della vita, Roberto Assagioli writes that it is better to concentrate on a large project rather than many smaller ones. His words made me pause. I’ve been thinking about leaving this writing space for a while and this day of the full moon in May feels like the right time …

Yoko Ono displayed her message “Imagine Peace” in London, Berlin,
Los Angeles, Melbourne, Milan, New York and Seoul.

They say ‘never say never’, so I won’t. Who knows when I’ll be back? Perhaps when my heart is burning with something I need to say. Hopefully to announce the completion of my ‘large project’. But for now, I will say thank you to all my readers over the years, especially those who reached out to me with appreciation and encouragement.

I close with a reflection on three peacemakers – an Italian, an Indian, and an Austrian – two women, one man. All three happen to be writers. All three have been marginalized or forgotten, despite their ardent striving towards peace. I believe they have something to offer us today…

Prof. Ornella Mariani – Activist for Truth

Recently I watched a video (in Italian) of Prof. Dr. Ornella Mariani, accompanied by a number of other Italian women including journalist Gloria Callarelli, being interviewed after they paid a visit to the Russian Embassy in Rome on April 27th.

 “Our government has a lack of will towards any peace, so we took it upon ourselves to visit the First Counselor to the Russian Ambassador,” said Mariani. “Italy has banned any communication with Russian delegates. This situation feels very grave to me.

Ornella Mariani, Essayist

“Obviously, we don’t feel represented by a government that doesn’t understand the value of peace, and only wants to send arms. If we really want peace, we shouldn’t be sending arms. Article 11 of our Constitution repudiates war, so we should all be doing everything we can to diplomatically find a solution, a peaceful solution to this terrible conflict.”

“We represent the Italian people, not the politicians. We hope to open doors,” said Callerelli. “to help build a bridge in whatever way we can, between the popolo italiano and the popolo russo.”

Three days later at 7 a.m., the DIGOS or Italian Special Operating Division, who are in charge of investigating terrorism and organized crime, arrived at Mariani’s apartment to tell her that she was under investigation for contempt of Italian State institutions. Her apartment and person was to be searched. “Obviously, I did not consent to this,” she said in a video posted afterwards. They ended up taking her phone, but leaving its SIM card.

“We will not lose courage,” she said. “We are stronger than they are.”

Rabindranath Tagore – Prophet of War, Prophet of Peace

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, artist and Nobel Prize winner of literature, devoted much of his life to working towards peace, both in his own country of India as well as internationally. However, he was realist and his words from nearly 100 years ago are eerily prophetic for us today.

Tagore believed that until the powerful nations, aided by their superiority and vast technological advancement, ceased their desire for territorial expansion and control over the smaller nations, world peace could never be achieved.

In a visit to Japan during the middle of World War I, Tagore declared:

Rabindranath Tagore

“When, with the help of science, a nation’s power begins to grow and brings in harvests of wealth, then it crosses its boundaries with amazing rapidity. For then it goads all its neighboring societies with greed of material prosperity, and consequent mutual jealousy, and by the fear of each other’s growth into powerfulness. The time comes when it can stop no longer, for the competition grows keener, organization grows vaster, and selfishness attains supremacy. Trading upon the greed and fear of man, it occupies more and more space in society and at last becomes its ruling force.”

Tagore’s answer to ending this progression towards world destruction was a bondage of love and spirituality. “All imperialism – except for the imperialism of love – is wrong,” he said. According to Tagore, peace was not a non-war situation, but could only occur when all peoples could evolve into their unique selves, and then join into a singular united bond. He wrote in a letter to a his close friend Charles Andrews:

“When the spiritual ideal is lost, when the human relationship is completely broken up, then individuals freed from the creative bond of wholeness find a fearful joy in destruction.”

In 1938, as he watched the unfolding of World War II, Tagore wrote his famous poem:

Those crushed and trodden lives of the meek and the weak
which are sacrificed as food offerings for the mighties.
Those human flesh-eaters, snatching and scrambling,
tearing the gut,
scattering everywhere pieces of flesh bitten by sharp teeth,
Stained the lap of the mother earth with the muddy blood.
From the thrust of that fierce destruction
one day, peace will emerge in the end with a great power.
We will not fear,
overcoming the distress, victory for us at the end.

To read more about Tagore’s ideas on world peace, click here to download an article “Rabindranath Tagore and World Peace” by Kalyan Kundu.

Bertha von Suttner – First Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize

Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) was an Austrian baroness with a fascinating life story who became a renowned novelist. She also greatly influenced Alfred Nobel to establish the Nobel Prizes. In 1889 she became world famous for her brutally realistic depiction of war in her antiwar novel Die Waffen Nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!, translated and published in 1905).

Von Suttner had personally lived through four wars herself – in 1859 (Italy and Austria), 1865 (the German states and Denmark), 1866 (Austria and Prussia), and 1870-71 (France and Prussia). In addition to using her own experiences for the novel, she interviewed veterans and read government documents. Publishers kept rejecting the novel, insisting that it was impossible to sell “in our military state.”

Die Waffen Nieder! became an instant success and was translated into eight languages. Von Suttner took advantage of the book’s popularity by establishing an Austrian peace society in 1891. She believed that military weapons always seem to acquire new lives, and their only purpose is to cause death.

For the rest of her life, von Suttner was a celebrated speaker at international conferences and peace meetings, and became heavily involved in a variety of peace organizations, including: the International Arbitration and Peace Society in London; the War and Peace Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland; the Berne Peace Congress in 1892; and the Inter-planetary Union. She and her husband also founded a pacifist journal. While touring the US, she said in no uncertain terms:

“War, all war is hell. Your Secretary of War is a Secretary of Hell. And your War Department is a Department of Hell. Your great generals and military men are all Hell Lords, perpetuating barbarism.”

Von Sutter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, making her even more famous. The Carnegie Peace Foundation awarded her a lifelong pension for her work towards peace. As World War I approached, she grew more alarmed by the arms race in Europe and militarization of the air. She lamented:

“They are fighting like beasts about who is the worst beast. And they don’t see that the beast itself is war.”

She died four weeks before the start of the first World War. It is said that her final words on her deathbed were:

“Lay down your arms! Tell it to all!”

Overview of pledged and/or delivered weapons for Ukraine

  • Australia: missiles and weapons – AUD $70 million ($51.6 million)
  • Belgium:  200 anti-tank weapons and 5,000 automatic rifles/machine guns
  • Canada: 8 armored vehicles, M777 howitzers, 4500 M72 rocket launchers and up to 7500 hand grenades, as well as $1 million dollars for the purchase of commercial satellite high resolution and modern imagery​, machine guns, pistols, carbines, 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, sniper rifles, and various related equipment ($7.8 million), plus additional $20 million in military aid (CAD $25 million – details undisclosed)– CAD $118 million total (as of April 22)
  • Croatia:  rifles and machine guns, protective equipment valued at 124 million kuna (€16.5 million) 
  • Czech Republic: T-72 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles;400 million koruna ($18.23 million) of non-light weapons, including 160 shoulder-fired MANPADS systems (probably 9K32 Strela-2), 20 light machine guns, 132 assault rifles, 70 submachine guns, 108,000 bullets, 1,000 tactical gloves, all worth 17 million crowns ($756,000), and an earlier 188 million koruna ($8.6 million) worth of 4,000 mortars, 30,000 pistols, 7,000 assault rifles, 3,000 machine guns, a number of sniper rifles, and one million bullets. 
  • Denmark: 2,700 anti-tank weapons, 300 Stinger missiles (returned to United States to be made operational), protective vests
  • Estonia: Javelin anti-tank missiles; nine howitzers (with German permission)
  • European Union:  other weapons (unspecified- €500 million) [originally included fighter jets, which currently appears no longer true]
  • Finland: 2,500 assault rifles and 150,000 cartridges for them, 1,500 single-shot anti-tank weapons, and combat ration packages
  • France: MILAN anti-tank guided missile systems and CAESAR artillery howitzers, plus “additional defense equipment”
  • Germany:  50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems, 56 PbV-501 IFVs, 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense system, plus permission for select other countries to send weapons controlled by Germany
  • Greece: portable rocket launchers, ammunition, and Kalashnikov rifles 
  • Ireland: 200 units of body armor, medical supplies, fuel, and other non-lethal aid
  • Italy: Cabinet approved transfer of military equipment, pending Parliamentary approval.- reported to include Stinger surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank weapons, heavy machine guns, MG-type light machine guns and counter-IED systems
  • Japan: bulletproof vests, helmets, and other non-lethal military aid
  • Latvia: scheduled to deliver Stinger anti-aircraft missiles
  • Lithuania: Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems and ammunition 
  • Luxembourg: 100 NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon), Jeep Wrangler 4×4 vehicles, 15 military tents, and additional non-lethal equipment
  • Netherlands: 200 Stinger missiles, 3000 combat helmets and 2000 fragmentation vests with accompanying armor plates, one hundred sniper rifles with 30,000 pieces of ammunition, plus other equipment; 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers (with German permission)
  • North Macedonia: unspecified military equipment
  • Norway: 4,000 anti-tank weapons, helmets, bulletproof vests, other protection equipment
  • Poland: 200+ T-72 tanks, other approved delivery of Piorun (Thunderbolt) short-range, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and munition; Defense Minister expressed readiness to supply several dozen thousand rounds of ammunition and artillery ammunition, air defense systems, light mortars, and reconnaissance drones 
  • Portugal: grenades and ammunition, G3 automatic rifles, and other non-lethal equipment
  • Romania: €3 million of fuel, bulletproof vests, helmets, ammunition, military equipment, and medical treatment 
  • Slovakia: S-300 air defense system
  • Slovenia: T-72 tanks (reported), undisclosed amount of Kalashnikov rifles, helmets, and ammunition
  • Spain: 1,370 anti-tank grenade launchers, 700,000 rifle and machine-gun rounds, and light machine guns, 20 tons of medical supplies, defensive, and personal protective equipment composing of helmets, flak jackets, and NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) protection waistcoats
  • Sweden: 10,000 AT4 anti-tank weapons, helmets, and body shields 
  • Turkey: co-production of Bakar Bayraktar TB2 armed drones​
  • United Kingdom: anti-aircraft capabilities (Stormer), 10,000 short-range and anti-tank missiles (including NLAWs and Javelins), Saxon armored vehicles, Starstreak air defence systems, loitering munitions — with aid at £200 million, to rise to as high as £500m – see April 25 (note: on April 8, reports indicated aid already at £350 million)
  • United States: Howitzers and artillery rounds; laser-guided rocket systems; Switchblade, Puma, and Counter-Unmannered Aerial systems​; counter-artillery radars; Stinger and Javelin missiles; anti-armor systems, small arms and various munitions; more than 50 millions rounds of ammunition; body armor ($3.6 billion since invasion began);; five Mi-17 helicopters, 70 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) (pre-invasion​) 

Taken from Forum on the Arms Trade where you can also find a timeline and resources.

Forging an Arrow of Gold

In Chapter 4 of Assagioli’s book Harmony in Life, he invites his readers to:

“Reread Giosuè Carducci’s poem ‘Il poeta’ (‘The Poet’) as it expresses in a wonderful way … through which the psychic elements are fused and shaped in an inner fire, producing works of beauty.”

Inspired by Assagioli’s suggestion, I searched the internet for the poem and found it in Italian along with a translation by G. L. Bickersteth published in 1913.[1] While Bickersteth’s translation is true to the meter and rhyme of Carducci’s poem, the language itself felt antiquated – for example, his use of ‘merry-andrew’ in the third line. So, I decided to attempt to translate Carducci’s poem myself from a more literal perspective.

Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907) was a poet, writer, literary critic and teacher. During his lifetime, Carducci was regarded as the official national poet of modern Italy, and today he is studied by nearly all Italian students during high school. In 1906 he became the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature “not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces.”[2]


The Poet
by Giosuè Carducci

(translated by Catherine Ann Lombard)

The poet, oh foolish folk,
is not a beggar
crashing other’s banquets
with vile jokes and crazed antics
to steal away the bread
he robs from the pantry.

Nor is he a loafer
with hazy daydreams
his head forever in the clouds
his eyes roving
in vain search of angels
only to see swallows
nesting in the barn.

Neither is he a gardener
enriching life’s paths
with manure
only to offer cabbage flowers
to the men
and violets
to the ladies.

The poet is a mighty blacksmith,
a bare-chested artisan
who everyday with pride
makes for steely muscles
and sturdy neck,
sinewy arms and lively eyes.

Just before the birds
twitter their morning song,
and the dawn shines upon the hills,
the blacksmith’s bellows
awaken flames to roar
his forge to labor in.

And the flames flash and shine
sparkling boldly
audaciously glowing
whistling, hissing, and then roaring
finally soaring
crimson embers in the grate.

What will be, I do not know.
God only knows
while smiling upon the poet
smithing the flame
so fervent
upon the elements
of love and thought.

Elements that he throws
into the furnace
along with memories
and the glories of his forbearers
and his people
past and future
flowing into one
incandescent mass.

He seizes his hammer
to toil and tame the molten mass.
The hammer beats and sings
upon the anvil.
The sun rises and is resplendent
upon the work
so laboriously won.

He hammers! For freedom
Swords and shields of fortitude
Garlands victorious
Life glorious
And Beauty’s coronation
Majestic and sweet.

He hammers! And lo!
Tabernacles decorated
for the household gods
and their rituals.
Tripods and altars embellished
with rare frieze.
And rich chalices for the banquet.

For himself, the poor blacksmith
makes an arrow of gold
and shoots it towards the sun
to watch how high it flies
and how splendid it glows;
To watch and marvel at
its graceful brilliance
and nothing more.


References

[1] Bickersteth, Geoffrey Langdale (1913). Carducci. London: Longmans, Green.

[2] “Vita, opere e poetica di Giosuè Carducci” (in Italian). 13 June 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2022.

Why are Adults Doing This?

Thirty-five years ago while living in Japan, I was invited by Japanese friends to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Upon our arrival to the city, I was immediately struck by how lively and ‘normal’ it felt. Cars were zooming by, people on bicycle were rushing to their destinations, skyscrapers filled the landscape. It was difficult to imagine the horrible disaster of a nuclear bomb on the city and its 255,000 innocent inhabitants. We soon arrived to the Memorial Park, an open space with various monuments, including an eternal flame burning for peace on Earth, all beautifully decorated with long strings of origami cranes.

While I contemplated these sites, many profoundly sorrowful feelings emerged. Then suddenly a middle-aged Japanese man swooped in and was screaming in my face. Not understanding any Japanese at the time, I asked my friends to translate. Embarrassed, they roughly yet very politely urged him to go away. He was screaming at me for dropping the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.

During the start of the Iraq War, I found myself in a Beirut convent eating dinner with an Iraqi couple. We were all there for a conference on the Syriac language, my husband’s expertise. I could hardly look at this couple for all the shame I felt about my country invading theirs. “I’m so sorry,” I said as soon as the opportunity arose, “for what my country is doing to yours. I hardly know what to say to you.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” the woman assured me. “We know just how you feel. We were having dinner with Kuwaiti friends when our country invaded theirs.”

© Copyright Simon Carey

A month after the 9/11 attacks, I and my husband returned to Egypt after visiting my family in California. We had been living in Giza for the past year and were happy to return. Initially, I was afraid to even say I was American, but no one seemed to show any animosity. Except quietly behind closed doors. My neighbor was not ashamed to tell me how happy she had been to see the Twin Towers fall.  For her, Osama bin Laden had successfully brought the schoolyard bully to its knees and fear to its land. “But,” she admitted, “as an architectural student, it saddened me to see the buildings fall.”

Slavic Goddess Berehynia

It is a beautiful spring day, and I am with my husband and another couple visiting a small medieval village in Tuscany. We were standing in a piazza, enjoying the surrounding architecture, and trying to decide where to have lunch. Suddenly we hear an older man’s voice demanding an answer: “Do you think this is beautiful? Do you? Do you think this is beautiful?” We all turned to him and nodded dumbly. “During the war there was nothing here but malaria and famine.” He nearly spat out the words.
“Malaria and famine. Take that bellezza home with you.”

Peace for Ukraine, painting by Mona Shafer Edwards

One final story. I am just six years old. It is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis is looming. Our kindergarten class has been lined up into single file and brought to the gymnasium. This is not our normal routine. We are told to sit down together on the floor. All the other elementary school kids are also there. A teacher I don’t know is talking. She is telling us how if there is a bomb, we will all gather in the gym like this and stay together. No one will be able to go home. When the bomb is dropped, we will sleep here and wait for our parents to come. We might have to wait days. I don’t understand. This all feels like a dumb thing to do. I raise my hand and wait to be called on. “Why are adults doing this?” I ask. The teacher doesn’t answer. She just looks at me.

Rabindranath Tagore

All these strong experiences have taught me the need to overcome nationalism and, above all else, hold fast to the moral spirit of humanity. Given what is happening in Europe today, we would do well to heed the words of Rabindranath Tagore, poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature. Soon after WWI, Tagore wrote and lectured worldwide against nationalism, calling on all of us to recognize our greater humanity. In his book Nationalism, he clearly states:

“Nationalism is a great menace… the time has come, for the sake of the whole outraged world. Europe should fully know in her own person the terrible absurdity of this thing called the Nation.”[1]

Tagore did not shirk from pointing out how nationalism was prevalent in his own country, causing him to meet with scorn from every side. In 1917, Tagore began speaking openly against the British Raj.[2] To the average British official, he was considered a non-cooperator who refused to ‘play the game’ of Anglo-Indian back-scratching. To the average Indian nationalist, he was un-patriotic. As his biographers note: “By not joining any group, and refusing to temper his criticisms, Tagore had become the target of all groups.”[3] In fact, he was nearly assassinated during a visit to San Francisco by Indian nationalists.

Tagore distained blind nationalism and fanaticism where “machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bullfight of politics.”[4] What he proposed instead was universal humanism, global cooperation and harmony. Tagore’s core ideas included the need for self-determination, strengthening society from below, universal man and the need for education transcending borders.[5]

Yurii Sheliazhenko

For the rest of his life, Tagore called on all peoples to create a “more human order, a finer science of life, and a spiritual republic behind world politics.”[6]

We may wonder how Tagore’s words of 100 years ago might have any relevance to us today. But nationalism is still playing a major role in the more than 20 wars ranging worldwide. One’s national identity is causing fractures even inside countries like the USA and the EU. The attitude of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ is a nationalist one.

To hear another prophetic voice like Tagore’s, I suggest going this link and listening to Yurii Sheliazhenko, the executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and a board member of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection. He says:

“Instead of breaking the last bonds of humanity out of rage, we need more than ever to preserve and strengthen venues of communication and cooperation between all people on Earth.”

References

[1] Rabindranath Tagore, 1917. Nationalism. Norwood Press: USA. 1917, p. 133. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/nationalism00tagorich#page/14/mode/2up

[2] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, London, Bloomsbury, 1995

[3] Ibid., 285-6.

[4] Tagore, Nationalism, 48.

[5] Sneha Reddy, Tagore in the time of war 1913-1919, in World War I Centenary (2017). Retrieved from http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/?p=4020

[6] Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study, London, MacMillan and Co. Limited, 1915, 20.

A Spiritual Warrior for Human Rights

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 1965 file photo, Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington after the House of Representatives rejected a challenger to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. (AP Photo/William J. Smith, File)

February is black history month in the U.S., and I recently learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, an inspiring and heroic woman who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, class rights, and overall human rights. What caught my attention was that her courageous fight against oppression was motivated by a spiritual awakening that she had at the age of 44.

During her lifetime, Hamer was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of poverty-strickened people through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative.

Hamer (1917-1977) was the last of 20 children born to a sharecroppers in Mississippi. Tricked into picking cotton when she was only six, the owner of the plantation promised her snacks and sweets that her family could not afford from his store. She only attended school until the 6th grade, having to return to the fields to help support her aging parents. By age 13, she would pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily while living with polio.

In 1944, she married Perry Hamer and the couple toiled on a Mississippi plantation. Because Hamer was the only worker who could read and write, she also served as plantation timekeeper. The Hamers wanted to have children, but in 1961, Fanny Lou received a hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor. The Hamers later adopted two daughters.

In the summer of 1964, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was the first time she learned that black people had the right to vote. Hamer’s biographer, Dr. Keisha N. Blain says that, at that moment, Hamer found her calling. Blain explains:

“It was certainly a political awakening for Hamer, but it also was a spiritual awakening.

“She felt that it was God’s plan for her to become an activist and take a leading role in the expansion of black political rights.

“The one reason that she never gave up despite all she had to struggle through was that she really believed that ‘God was on her side.’ She truly believed that it was not so much a political mission, but a spiritual one. She saw herself ‘speaking light into a world of darkness’.”

Once the owner of the farm where she worked learned that she had tried to register to vote (which was initially denied because of a trumped up ‘literacy test’), she was immediately fired. Despite having to move house, loose most of her possessions, and ultimately flee for her life, Hamer was free to pursue her calling. Reflecting later, she said “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

Hamer is perhaps most famous for her speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention during which she described her brutal beating in a Mississippi jail during her struggle to register to vote. President Lyndon Johnson was so frightened by the power of her message that he called an impromptu televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech was later aired and inevitably moved even Johnson and many others to help pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Hamer speaking at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

During Hamer’s time as an activist, she traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on behalf of civil rights. Woven into her speeches was a deep level of confidence, biblical knowledge, and even comedy. One of her famous lines, that appears on her tombstone, is “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She often inspired other activists with her singing of spiritual Gospel songs during times of great stress and even terror.

In 1964, Hamer was one of the 11 SNCC delegates (including John Lewis and Harry Belefonte) who visited Ghana. The visit was revolutionary for her, for she saw for the first time black people in charge of their own destiny, including holding positions of political power. (Hamer would run for both for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971.) After a three-hour interview with the Diallo Alpha, Director General of the Ministry for Information and Tourism, Hamer received a musical instrument only found in Africa.

In the end, Hamer grew frustrated with politics. She said she was “tired of all this beating” and “there’s so much hate. Only God has kept the Negro sane”. A great cook and knowledgeable about growing crops and raising animals, in 1968, she returned to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, and began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, buying up land that blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors, she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She single-handedly ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today.

Hamer may be remembered best as a civil rights activist, but she was foremost a spiritual warrior. Her faith and calling is what sustained her. Hamer was convinced that God was working through the civil rights movement to usher in the Kingdom of God.  Her favorite Bible passage was from the Gospel of Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he as sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

In the end, Hamer died of breast cancer after suffering for many years with various physical illinesses, some sustained from her beatings. May God rest her soul.

May God grant us all the her spiritual strength to preserver in whatever area of activism we are called upon to passionately undertake.

Discover More about Fanny Lou Hamer

Read the speech Hamer gave with Malcolm X in Harlem, New York.

Read the full report of the SNCC visit to Ghana.

Read an article about Hamer’s pastoral and prophetic styles of leadership as acts of public prayer by Breanne K. Barber.

Buy Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Dr. Keisha N. Blain 

Search for more information on Fanny Lou Hammer in the digital collection at the University of Southern Mississippi

The Box of Dates

After two years, aren’t we tired by now of hearing, talking, reading about but mostly fearing Covid-19? My biggest heartache is witnessing the disintegration of the social fabric that once united the villagers where I live. Many of the agricultural traditions were already wobbling on creaky foundations. It’s as if the big bad wolf of fear has blown it all down.

Located in the heart of Italy, the village has about 100 inhabitants; nearly 30 of whom are over 70 years old.  The town’s activities revolve around feast days and holidays, mainly associated with the village’s Catholic Church. Nearly every month there used to be a celebration with most of the villagers gathering for a communal meal afterwards.

The spring feast of Ascension had us in procession around the town’s fields, blessing the earth, sun, and rain for providing us with nature’s abundance. In July we honored the local Franciscan Saint Marzio with porchetta sandwiches and homemade wine. August brought the entire village together for the three-day preparing to make gnocchi Sacra di Gnocco. In early December, we climbed the hill out of town at dusk with lit torches, song and prayer to celebrate Saint Barbara, her statue atop the shoulders of four strong men.

But all these celebrations have since disappeared. Even the village’s most famous – the day long Feast of the Madonna of Monte Camera celebrated on the Tuesday after Easter. Ironically enough, in 1647 when the pest was devastating the village population, the town dwellers who were well enough went in procession to this sanctuary (about 6 km away) to pray to the Madonna so that she might intercede on their behalf.

When they returned to their village, everyone who had been sick was miraculously cured. For 372 years, the villagers have returned in procession to this chapel – without fail – to commemorate the miracle. Every year… even during the last century’s World Wars, even during the time of Napoleon. Every year… except for the past two. Even though such a miracle is needed more than ever.

Personally during these past two years, I have witnessed many of the Italians I know tightly close ranks around their family life, walling themselves inside a circle of quiet desperation. Rarely does someone pause to chat with me anymore. What few smiles remain are hidden behind our masks. I am no longer invited in for a coffee and chat. All kisses are gone. The spontaneous touch of a hand is only a distant memory. We stand at a ‘safe’ distance, feeling unsafe.

An Open Door, An Open Heart

And then one afternoon, Maria Grazia[i] deeply touched me and my soul.

Maria Grazia is 91 years old. She grew up in the village, worked with her family on the land, married the village carpenter, had two children and now lives alone (her husband died three years ago). She is one of the few people whose attitude has not changed towards me. Always happy if I stop in to see her (along with my dog), Maria Grazia always insists on giving me something… creamy chocolates wrapped in shiny foil, a few fresh eggs from her chickens, and one time a small pot of honey from her son-in-law’s beehives.

Last week, I decided to pay her a visit. With all the fear that is running wild in the world, and despite her vulnerability, Maria Grazia attends to a quiet fearlessness. The key to her front door is always in the lock. As usual, I rang the bell and before any answer could come, I simply walked in. Maria Grazia was sitting next to her wood-burning stove, her legs up on a chair and covered with a blanket, rosary in hand. Despite my interrupting her quiet prayers of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, Maria Grazia welcomed me inside.

She did not quaver from my touch or worry about my wearing a mask or not. She was simply glad to see me. In fact, I often had to slide the mask to my chin and repeat myself, her slightly deaf ears unable to decipher my heavily accented Italian. We had met briefly the day before when I went to the mass for Saint Anthony Abate, the patron saint of domestic animals. As always, the villagers brought their animal feed to be blessed by the priest after the mass, and I too had attended with buckets of chicken feed, dog and cat food for the ritual sprinkling of holy water.

“I’m always so happy to see you in church,” was the first thing she said. I can’t remember when anybody told me that they were happy to see me anywhere! Slightly embarrassed to be caught with her legs up on a chair, Maria Grazia explained, “I have fibrosis in my legs.” She lifted up the blanket to show me her swollen, discolored calves and ankles, and then, despite my protests, insisted on getting up.

Hobbling to her cupboard while supporting herself against her kitchen table, she brought out a box of dates and insisted I take them with me. “But don’t you like them?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I like them. But I have another box,” she said. “And besides, I want you to have these.”

Maria Grazia put the box of dates into a plastic bag. I gratefully accepted them and thanked her. We kissed each other goodbye on both cheeks and I went on my way. As I was leaving, she sat down again by the warm stove. I offered to help her replace the blanket over her legs, but Maria Grazia insisted that she could do it herself.

The box of dates meant little to me, but her loving attitude of just being present, without terror in her eyes, without my having to feel awkward or afraid to be with her, was her true gift.  Nothing between us had changed, despite the world being so radically altered. It was a moment when everything felt normal… when human relationship once more felt peaceful… We were just two human beings – with all our limitations – together, acknowledging each other’s presence, the beauty of each other’s soul.


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

The Pandemic of Collective Fear

Assagioli writes how “waves of collective fear and panic” are like a widely diffused psychological poison or smog, he says:

“So often when we feel a sudden fear with no apparent reason, it is not ours at all. It is a psychic infection —like a virus.”

It can be encouraging to know that these virus-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. In order to deal with fear effectively, Assagioli urges us to eliminate or minimize the fear within ourselves. He also warns us of a vicious circle that can occur – our personal fear can open the door to the influence of external fear, and external fear feeds the inner one. Again he says:

“We have so much fear that is not ours. It’s stupid to let these fears invade and dominate our being!”

To break this vicious circle, we need to use our skillful will to withdraw our attention deliberately away from the psychological poison of fear. Assagioli suggests that we dis-identify from the fear by simply saying, “That’s not me.” At the same time we are dis-identifying from the fear, we need to not suppress it. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of the fear! Otherwise we can quickly descend into a vicious spiral of fear feeding fear.

Once we are able to release the energy that is holding and nurturing the fear, we can then redirect this new-found energy to do the most good in our lives. 

You might start today to consciously ‘vaccinate’ yourself against fear. Anytime your fear appears during the day, practice using skillful will to redirect your thoughts to something beautiful and positive that you recently experienced. You can also use the Evocative Word exercise, calling to mind the words: Calm, Tranquility, Fearlessness.

At the same time, try to face your own personal fears. They are the fears that we all must individually examine and exhume in their full force. Transmute and redeem to their full glory. Without being fully realized, personal fear bubbles over and is projected outside, contributing to the psychic poisons that are already whirling around us. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! But with patience and Love, along with the guidance of the Higher Self, the virus of fear can be cured.

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

[i] Maria Grazia is a pseudonym.

————————————————-

To read about how two former clients overcame their personal fears, see Starve Your Fear! and The Healing Paradox.