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.
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!
Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi, in the early 1900s
For this International Women’s Day, l’d like to introduce you to the first President of the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Rome, which in 1926 was initially called the Istituto di Cultura e di Terapia Psichica (Institute of Culture and Psychic Therapy). Yes, that’s right! She was a woman…the Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi (1853-1931), whom Assagioli greatly admired both as an international leader as well as a devoted grandmother and someone he felt “exhibited a happy combination of the gifts of the various ages.”
To this day, Rasponi remains little known even in Italy. She was born in Ravenna into an aristocratic family (her grandmother was Napoleon’s sister Carolina) and was privately educated. Married at the age of 17 to Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, the couple moved to Rome where her husband became a Senator to the Kingdom. Rasponi was widowed in 1899 when she was 46 years old.
Working for Women’s Social, Political and Labor Rights
In addition to her fundamental role in the history of psychosynthesis, in 1903, Rasponi became the Founder and President of the National Council of Italian Women (Consiglio Nazionale Donne Italiane; CNDI), an organization that promoted women’s labor equality and justice in terms of legal, social, familial rights and occupational safety. They also believed in women’s suffrage.
The CNDI organized its first congress on the theme of family education in Rome in 1908. The second was held in 1920 and entitled “La donna per l’Italia nuova” (“The woman for the new Italy”). The third congress on family education took place in Rome from 3-8 May 1923. Rasponi was the CNDI President until 1931, and the organization is still active in Rome today (in Italian, see https://www.cndi.it/).
George Davis Herron, an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana, visited Italy in 1922 and wrote the following about Rasponi and her work in his book The Revival of Italy:
Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi is indeed a superior woman, who combines genuine religious fervor with clear intellectual insight and practical efficiency and adaptability. Under her wise leadership, the Italian feminist movements have avoided the excesses of militant feminism of other countries; and this while working vigorously for all the rights of women as citizens and for their education and preparation for public activity and position.
Turning Her Villa into a Women’s Cooperative
Villa Conti Spelletti where Rasponi started teaching the local women to crochet.
Prior to founding the CNDI, while on holiday at their villa in Tuscany, Rasponi was deeply moved by the poverty she saw around her. Consequently, she decided to open a school where women could learn the traditional art of embroidery and crochet. In 1887, she began teaching five women in her villa and by 1904, 400 women had formed a cooperative, were supporting their families through these artesian crafts, and receiving international awards for their work. The CNDI was soon afterwards created to help promote and organize similar successful campaigns throughout the nation.
Assuntina Pretelli, one of the students at the Contessa’s Scuola di Modano in Lucciano, Quarrata, Italy
During the 1908 earthquake in Messina and Reggio Calabria, through the CNDI, Rasponi was able to organize and support many of the victims, especially its orphans. Her tireless work received recognition from Italy’s Queen Elena who, by Royal Decree, granted Rasponi the title of “the first woman to be invested as a protector of children.”
The ‘Rebel’ President
Assagioli described Rasponi as a woman who “with youthful enthusiasm, pursued every new current of thought with regard to education, culture, and spirituality. The Institute of Psychosynthesis … is particularly indebted to her moral and material support of its Constitution.” The theme of the first conference she held for the newly founded Institute was “How to Educate the Will.” During her lifetime, she acknowledged her own strong will, even calling herself “a Rebel”.
Invitation to the Istituto di Cultura e di Terapia Psichica inaugural address by Assagioli signed by the President Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi.
At her private villa in Rome (now a 5-star hotel), Rasponi often hosted and promoted many new thinkers. Every Thursday afternoon, influential political and cultural figures frequented the villa’s drawing rooms – from Émile Coué (1857-1926), the French psychologist, to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in Literature and Hermann von Keyserling (1880-1946), whom Assagioli described as “a brilliant thinker, a fine architect of the word, and a fervid man of action.”
In 1937, Jiddu Krishnamurti visited Rome for three months and held his conferences at Rasponi’s villa. Despite the fact that Krishnamurti was under surveillance by the the fascist regime’s political police, he was allowed to give his philosophical talks in part because of Rasponi’s high standing and her assurance that his discourses were “absolutely and only philosophical.”
As a Devoted Grandmother
With regard to Rasponi’s devotion as a grandmother, Assagioli wrote:
“The Contessa’s house resembled a government ministry, but that did not prevent her, while in her 70s and in ill health, from being such a conscientious grandmother that she resumed the study of Latin and Greek in order to help her young grandson further develop himself.”
Her Revolutionary Initiatives
Rasponi throughout her lifetime founded, organized and implemented revolutionary initiatives – including the vision of psychosynthesis. She established travelling libraries for teachers, secretariats for the protection of women and orphaned children, and maternity help for needy mothers. She always promoted women’s education as an integration of practical activity and intellectual stimulation.
Assagioli, Roberto, (1973). “The Conflict between Generations and Psychosynthesis of the Ages”, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 31.
Assagioli, Roberto. (2008). Il mondo interiore, W. Esposito (Ed.). Vicenza, Italy: Edizioni Teosofiche Italiane, pp. 183-191.
Assagioli, Roberto (1971). Psicosintesi: Armonia della vita. Roma: Edizioni Mediterranee, pp. 69-70.
Today is Assagioli’s birthday (he would have been 135 years young today). So why not buy yourself an Assagioli birthday gift — one or both of his newly published books!
I’m particularly happy to have been part of these two publications. Creating Harmony in Life: A Psychosynthesis Approach is a collection of Assagioli’s lectures from the 1930s and 1960s, published for the first time in English. I had the privilege of introducing, translating and annotating this book.
Psychosynthesis of the Couple is collection of lectures that Assagioli gave on the topic (mostly in Italian). Jan Kuniholm has synthesized these lectures into a highly readable composite essay. I was also able to contribute to the translations from the Italian.
Creating Harmony in Life: A Psychosynthesis Approach
Originally published in Italian in 1966 as Psicosintesi: Per l’armonia della vita, this book provides a fundamental overview of psychosynthesis by bringing together the early lectures of Roberto Assagioli. These lectures explore what psychosynthesis is and how it can be applied towards the practice of personal and spiritual self-development.
A great book for anyone new to psychosynthesis, Creating Harmony in Life is also a treasure trove for experienced psychosynthesis practitioners, with Assagioli’s nuggets of wisdom waiting to be discovered, contemplated, and put into practice.
Jan Kuniholm presents this book, Psychosynthesis of the Couple a synthetic essay that gathers the teachings of Roberto Assagioli, MD, concerning marriage, couples, relationships, and “inter-individual” psychosynthesis, many of which have been translated to English for the first time. The title is edited with notes and an introductory essay by Jan Kuniholm, with a reminiscence by Piero Ferrucci.
Of particular interest are the many diagrams that Assagioli drew to symbolically represent his concepts regarding, for example, communication between couples, stages of union, and various types of man-woman relationships.
We talk a lot about romantic love around Valentine’s Day. When romantic love devours us, we can find ourselves joyfully lost, frightened, and overpowered by intense feelings of belonging. And when this romantic love-bubble bursts, we seem to deflate into a mess of hurt, broken, and overshadowed feelings of failure and unworthiness.
It seems that love, from our human perspective, is inherently limited. The love we feel for another, as partners, family and friends, seems to come with all kinds of conditions. Some of these conditions may seem quite reasonable. For example, you might feel perfectly justified to say to your spouse: “I love you, but not if you have an affair/physically harm me/gamble away all our money.” Other conditions may be more dubious: “I love you, but only if you agree with me/let me have my own way/have enough money, beauty, fame/share my beliefs/keep me from being lonely…” This list can go on and on, depending on the deep inner needs that are unmet in the individual lover.
Love conditions can change in time throughout a relationship. They are restrictions on who or when we are willing to love and how much. Its polar opposite is unconditional love. Unconditional love occurs when we love people freely, fully and openly, with no expectations, demands or restrictions. Unconditional love is a constant stream of acceptance. It is not turned on or off, like conditional love. Unconditional love is full of mercy for the limitations manifested in the one who is loved.
But is it possible to love in this way? Perhaps unconditional love can only be fully expressed by the Higher Self or God. Nevertheless, it is an ideal that the world desperately needs, and something worth acting upon and experimenting with. We might first start with receiving unconditional love from our Higher Self. To know that we are fully worthy, accepted, and loved for who we are, in all our messy brokenness, failure, and even acts of irresponsible choice or worse.
In the ancient Syriac Christian tradition, there is no Hell. The 4th century poet Ephrem and later Isaac the Syrian wrote of God’s irresistible Love. They believed that God’s unconditional love is eternal, ceaseless in its desire for us to embrace it and all that is good. No one can reject God’s love forever, no matter how long they turn aside, try to outmaneuver or outlast His or Her Loving gaze. Unconditional Love is irresistible!
This makes me think of times when I become frustrated or angry with my husband. I shut down and want to run away. But he knows and loves me well enough to always come closer at these times. He typically grabs ahold of me before I flee the room and tenderly embraces me. I may be acting childish and unreasonable, but I cannot resist his act of unconditional love!
Assagioli’s notes on Love: Love: It’s different aspects. “Needing” or deficiency love. And unneeding, unselfish love. Love for the Being of another person. Maslow, Towards the Psychology of Being, p. 39 …
Our story is just one small example of unconditional love in action. But more profound examples occur when we forgive and continue to love those who have deeply hurt us. Perhaps the failure of a partner to meet a vital condition for our love is a call for help. If he or she cheats on you, can you still forgive them and wish them well (over time?) even if you ultimately decide to end the relationship?
Unconditional love brings freedom. We are free to be ourselves in all our human frailty and know we are still loved. We are free to love others without expectations, demands or emotional turmoil. In turn, the love is also free to flow and transform all that is around us.
We cannot expect to reach perfect unconditional love – that is perhaps only for God, but we can continually step closer to it and learn to find the right balance between the two. We can start by realizing our unmet inner needs and start to see how we try to fulfil them in our relationships. What conditions do we place on the ones we love (including ourselves)? And how do we ascertain our loved ones’ compliance?
Then try, step-by-step, to meet our inner needs ourselves. To gently move beyond our love conditions, first for ourselves, and then for others. As we open up to more love, the Higher Self can sneak through all our messy insecurities and help us to realize a broader, constant, consistent, and radiant Love. A Love full of mercy. An Irresistible Love!
January is already half gone. Most of us are in full swing again, our busy lives moving rapidly towards spring. Any resolutions are probably either forgotten or put on the back burner. But the start of a new year is also a good time to reflect and forgive — yourself or someone else — and to extend an apology to someone else for forgiveness.
I have written about the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take. But I learned another approach to forgiveness through an interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her book The Apology. Throughout her childhood, Ensler had been physically and sexually abused by her father. Decades after his death, she decided to write an apology for him – the apology that she had yearned to hear all her life. The book is written entirely from his perspective. In its “Introduction”, she talks about using her imagination to create the words she needed to hear her father say:
“My father is long dead. He will never say the words to me. He will not make the apology. So it must be imagined. For it is in our imagination that we can dream across boundaries, deepen the narrative, and design alternative outcomes.”
As Ensler points out, the first step towards forgiving or making an apology or even hearing an apology can begin with our own imagination. Assagioli said that our imagination has the great power to produce something that never existed before. By using our creative imagination, we help to externally manifest that which we visualize. In other words, by just imagining ourselves forgiving someone or apologizing to someone or having our perpetrator apology to us, we begin to engage in that very act.
Will and Imagination / Imagination is needed in “seeing” the goals and aims. (Note from Assagioli’s Archives)
Now, like most psychosynthesis techniques, using our creative imagination is not so easy! We can’t just say ‘I’m sorry’ and Poof! Magically all is forgiven and forgotten. The imagination must be fully engaged in creative play. We must physically feel the apologize. We would do well to write it down with pen and paper, say it out loud, imagine the injured or injurer sitting before us. We then need to chew on all of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Allow the apology to sink in our stomach. Perhaps cry and even scream our response. Breathe and imagine again…
I have many examples from my counseling practice of how the imagination can work in this way. Here is just one. During our second session together, Clair talked about her longing to reconcile her relationship with her father, which had ruptured fifteen years earlier. When Clair was 11 years old, her father decided to stop talking to the family, made this announcement to her mother and marked it by shaving his head. He only engaged with the family in angry outbreaks, otherwise he was completely silent. Towards the end of Clair’s detailed description of what had happened, she was sobbing. Five days after Clair shared her longing for reconciliation, she received a letter from her father – completely unprompted by her – requesting that they arrange to talk about what happened when she was 11 years old.
Will / Dynamic imagination – / It evokes, directs, focuses the drives and determines the execution, the action – (Note from Assagioli’s Archives)
Both acts, whether we forgive someone or apologize to another, brings freedom. Freedom from the visceral memory of the wounds received in body, soul and psyche. Freedom from the inner emptiness left by the harm we may have inflicted on another. By holding tight to this goal of freedom, a higher transpersonal quality, we can endure the wretchedness we might be feeling as we relive painful experiences. Ultimately, as we move towards reconciliation, inner freedom is awakened and nurtured, activating an inner opening within our heart in which peace can move in and take residence.
To help with this process, one reader recently sent me Forgiveness Phrases by Larry Yang – Awakening Together. In this four-part meditation, you are first invited to ask yourself for forgiveness. Then you imagine yourself asking forgiveness for some act you have consciously or unconsciously inflicted on another. Thirdly, you ask that you may forgive someone else. Finally, you ask for the freedom forgiveness can bring.
To move more deeply towards birthing forgiveness or an apology requires self-evaluation and reflection. Both forgiving and apologizing are a remembering. Both are humbling. Both victim and perpetrator become equal, fallible, human beings. Both abdicate power. Both become vulnerable.
An apology means examining the details of what you have done. Forgiveness means reliving the details of what has been done to you. Because God is in the details. Freedom is in the details.
This freedom – for both the forgiver and forgiven – is a spiritual release. Ultimately, you will feel a wave of energy move through your body. Your knees might shake and your chest rattle with sobs. In the end, you will breathe again and see the world differently. You will be more connected to all around you.
I leave the final words to Ensler:
“Find a clergy, a person, a counselor. Start to work on your apology. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a practice. It takes time. And to those who can’t get an apology, write yourself one from your perpetrator. Work with somebody to support it. Write a thorough letter to yourself from the person who harmed you. The impact on me was profound. I feel free in a way I have never felt in my life.”
Many thanks to Clair (not her real name) for letting me share her story.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Have a wonderful Holiday and a safe and Happy New Year! Many blessings to you in 2023.
In northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.
We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.” This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being.
For most of us, these days are more than just physically dark. We can also become lost and overwhelmed in all the expectations of the season. The shopping, planning, cooking, baking, wrapping, cards, music, school plays, church concerts. The running and stress, travel and traffic, not to mention all the money worries.
Typically, we are expected to spend time with our families, with the idea that everyone should be happily singing songs around a piano or opening perfect presents or eating gourmet meals. But our reality may actually lead us to feeling only more lonely and unsatisfied. Under pressure by the media and our own unreal expectations, many of us become depressed this time of year and some of us may even feel suicidal.
Assagioli’s notes on polarities.
Darker still are the constant reminders, between the tinsel and flashing lights, of the pain and suffering in the world. Not to mention, of course, our own pain and suffering. How can we possibly feel Joy? The entire season can feel like a sham. Bah Humbug! Where is the Higher Self in all this tragic mess?
Balancing Darkness with Light
Simon and Garfunkel once recorded a song called “7:00 News/Silent Night,” in which the familiar carol is quietly and beautiful sung. At first dimly, then more clearly and loudly, we simultaneously hear the voice of a newscaster dispassionately announcing the kind of violent and terrible news we are all too familiar with. Even though, at the end, the voice of the announcer seems to overwhelm the song, the tender voices unceasingly sing – they are not even faintly shaken.
One could experience this song as another symbol of despair – the submergence once again of peace and joy in the harsh violence of our day. But when listened to in its wholeness, the song expresses the reality that light does shine in the darkness. If we tune into the song of peace, we will be able to hear its still small voice singing clearly under the din of the crowd.
Light and dark. Joy and hatred. These are two of the many polarities that exist in the world. Our job is to learn to live with their tension in order to transform and synthesize their energies into a higher reality. Assagioli says that this process is analogous to a chemical combination when two elements are absorbed into a higher unity endowed with qualities different from what each individual element has.
Transforming Opposites into a Synthesis
The idea is to balance these opposites, hold their creative tension, and give space for a completely new and higher entity to be born. You do this by first being with the violent darkness but not identify with it. Then be with the joyful light and not identify with it either. Finally, we need to be with all that is and hold an objective understanding of the tensions between them in order to creatively seek wholeness.
Assagioli insisted that the mid-way point between two opposites is not static inside us, but rather in “a state of continuous oscillation.” We can actually experience this oscillation between Darkness and Light when we listen to the song “7:00 News/Silent Night.”
Once we can hold onto this mid-way point, then psychosynthesis can occur. It is a wise person who can play with opposites and watch with awe as they awaken and manifest into a complete formed higher quality.
So during these dark days before Christmas, practice hanging on and letting go. Hang onto the dark, and then let it go. Then hang onto the light, and let it go. Try to stand in the mid-way point by expressing Human Affection during this season. Then wait quietly and patiently for the advent of Spiritual Love that is quietly, calming, and ceaselessly singing in the world’s chaos.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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. 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.”
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
In his prison diary Freedom in Jail, we see firsthand Assagioli’s personal and spiritual struggle with money. 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?
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) :
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.
 Roberto Assagioli, Transpersonal Development, The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis, The Aquarian Press, London, 1993, pp. 213-233.
 Roberto Assagioli, Freedom in Jail. Edited by Catherine Ann Lombard. Istituto di Psicosintesi, Florence, Italy. 2016, pp. 25-27, 35-36.
 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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.