Lessons from the Classrooms of Tagore and Assagioli

This is a brief excerpt from my article recently published in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly that explores the educational philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli. To download this article, please click here.

One of the most compelling worldwide impacts of Covid-19 is the abrupt and profound change in how children are being educated. What can psychosynthesis bring to this radical change in education? To start, we might turn to two great figures from the last century: Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli.

During their lifetimes, Tagore and Assagioli were both participants in a larger educational movement during the early 19th century, a time of social and political upheaval, technological and industrial revolution, World War I, and the flu epidemic of 1918.

Rabindranath_Tagore_reading_to_others_(1)

Rabindranath Tagore reading to others.

Tagore as an Educator

In addition to his literary and musical genius and accomplishments, Tagore spent forty years of his life as an educator. During his lifetime, Tagore undertook the enormous task of creating three schools through which he might impart his humanistic and universal vision unto others. In 1901, he founded Santiniketan (Abode of Peace), a boys’ school situated on the property trusted to him by his father. Prominent former students include film director Stayajit Ray, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, and Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Rabindranath-Tagore-classroom-West-Bengal-Shantiniketan

Tagore with his students.

The institution was upgraded to a university in 1921. Many years later, in a letter to Gandhi, Tagore described his “International University” as the “vessel which [carries] the cargo of my life’s best treasure.”[1]

Tagore’s third institution Sriniketan (Abode of Prosperity) was intended as a school of rural reconstruction, “aiming to make the villagers self-reliant and self-respectful through improvement of their physical, intellectual and economic condition.”[2] Ten years after his death, all three institutions were taken over by the central government of India, which continues to run them today.

Assagioli’s Educational Philosophy

During his lifetime, Assagioli wrote a number of articles about education and learning[3] with a special interested in the education of gifted-children.[4] He asserted that children’s education should help them develop into a harmonious and well-balanced human being on all levels – physical, emotional, imaginative, intellectual, ethical, social and intuitive.

RA and Students in Switzerland2

Roberto Assagioli teaching students during the 1965 summer
session of Mrs. Faillettaz’s finishing school in Gion, Switzerland,
Institut Villa Pierrefeu, now ivpworld.com. (Photo by Isabelle
Küng).

In addition, students need to integrate and synthesize these aspects into a fully aware individual who is conscious of the Higher Self.[5] He identified education as a carefully balanced relationship in which the teacher, through his or her authority and curriculum, guides the child towards discovering his or her autonomy and personal psychosynthesis.

Despite their similar thoughts on education, unlike Tagore, Assagioli did not establish a children’s school or university, but he was instrumental in establishing psychosynthesis institutes and organizations around the world. Like Tagore, Assagioli was always interested in developing national and international groups that worked towards inter-personal synthesis.

Suggestions based on Tagore and Assagioli’s Educational Insights

The following suggestions are offered as possible supplemental activities to e-learning. The hope is that these suggestions might also stimulate teachers and parents to create their own appropriate tasks best suited for their children and situation. [6]

Engage with Nature

To counterbalance time spent gazing at a computer screen, students need to be encouraged by their teachers and parents to engage with nature. Time devoted to pets, walks, and the outdoors should be incorporated into daily life. Note that learning also takes place through all meaningful activities with material objects such as building materials, drawing, gardening, and the explorations of natural objects.

Child in natureFor younger students, material experiences can also be simple tasks in the home environment such as sorting laundry by color or shape. Math can be integrated into everyday life experiences such as cooking or counting birds, flowers, or butterflies found in the yard. Teachers can schedule virtual sharing time in order to encourage children to share their pets, a favorite toy and/or something found in nature.

Stimulate Creative Imagination

Experiences in nature can help to activate the creative imagination. Other activities include cooking, gardening, artwork, dream work, and moments of silence. Practice counting ten positive things per day with an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation. Be creative in providing opportunities for virtual class and school community events such as art or talent shows.

Train the Will

Concentration occurs when a student’s mind, body and will are engaged. Younger children especially thrive on order and consistency. Teachers and parents can encourage students to participate in the work of their families at home: laundry, cooking, food shopping, dishes, yard work, and sibling care.

A mind all logic Doc ID 824

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It
makes the and bleed that uses it.” R. Tagore, Stray
Birds, CXCIII (Assagioli’s note from his archives)

Have students design a project or learning plan, along with scheduling their time at home. When children can find and care for their own belongings, they feel capable and responsible. Younger children can be independent for long stretches of time when they have carefully arranged spaces for dressing, hygiene, preparing food, cleaning-up, and independent play.

Remember to promote the process, emphasizing awareness, presence and the joy of caring for belongings and others as opposed to the final result. Parents also need to learn that clean-up of an activity is also the child’s work and provide the guidance necessary for the child to learn this process of keeping things tidy and in order. All these practices help students to train their will.

Teachers of older students might try creating a class that self-governs. The class might elect a mayor, community council, judge and various committees functioning under the tactful guidance of the instructor. The choices, decisions and responsibility inherent in self-government helps to develop some of the essential qualities of the will and constitutes the best type of education of freedom and democracy.

Open Avenues to Spirituality

Creating a space for students to experience and express their spiritual feelings is perhaps, at this point in time, the most necessary and the least attended to. Children and young adult students should be amply informed of the sufferings and misfortunes that much of humanity, including perhaps those close to them, are enduring at this moment. Consequently, discussion and reflection on current events and their feelings about them should occur frequently whenever possible.

Evocative WordsNow is the opportunity for all young people to learn how to approach crisis with a positive, loving attitude. It is essential to use the events to arouse the higher qualities within them, such as sympathy and compassion for others; the awareness, responsibility, and determination to correct what social ills they can, and the acceptance of the afflictions that they are unable to eradicate.

Teachers and parents need to avoid all expressions of irritation, depression, fear and other negative thoughts and emotions in the presence of children. Above all, bitter discussions caused by conflicts between the parents´ points of views should be eliminated. Adults also need to abstain from “projecting” onto children their own negative states of mind and aggressive impulses. Try instead to use humor whenever appropriate and maintain a cheerful atmosphere as much as possible.

Spontaneous spiritual experiences frequently occur in children. Without the obstacles often found in adults, their consciousness is open to higher energies. Therefore, teachers and parents need to pay attention to these spontaneous experiences, to appreciate their value, and to encourage their manifestation.

Ways of opening up to spiritual energies include:

  • Cultivate a sense of beauty, especially the aesthetic appreciation of the various aspects of nature: the sky, the sea, mountains, flowers, etc.
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and admiration for one’s inner and outer worlds.
  • Promote the use of evocative words and/or symbols of higher qualities.
  • Present young people with examples of persons who have led a spiritual life especially during historically challenging times: the great religious figures, geniuses, heroes — not only warriors and conquerors — but philosophers, poets, artists, scientists, and workers in the humanitarian field.
  • Wisely adapt methods such as concentration, observation, and meditation in order to promote a spiritual life. For adolescents, introduce spiritual psychology that favors an understanding of their inner make-up, puts emphasis on their essential spiritual nature and on their higher potential.

Consciously Choose Right Relations

In order to encourage right relations, be sure to acknowledge to the students the need for grace and courtesy at home. Many of us are house-bound or limited in our outside activities and, therefore, experiencing more family togetherness than we are accustomed to. Practice and encourage kindness, patience and acceptance with humility.

Peter Pan Nursery Children PlayingYou can encourage right relations among students virtually by having lunch together, singing, dancing, and doing yoga together. Of course, physical interaction between students should occur as must as possible as well. Parents and grandparents can play games together with their children and create a communal time and space to share reflections and experiences that have emerged during the day. Teachers can also foster ways for students and families to collaborate remotely in large and small groups.

Moving beyond the family and class to the wider community, help students to provide a service to others in the following ways:

  • Write friendly letters to the elderly and letters of gratitude to community service workers.
  • Make face masks.
  • Plant a garden. Weed someone’s garden in the neighborhood.
  • Connect with younger children in earlier levels of the school for reading aloud.
  • Create care packages for postal office, delivery, supermarket or hospital workers.
  • Donate time or food to local food banks.

References

[1] Rabindranath Tagore, Letter to Mahatma Gandhi. 2 March 1940. Rabindra Bhavan Archives, Visva-Bharati, India.

[2] Quayum, “Education for Tomorrow,” p. 20.

[3] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione sessuale.” Bollettino Filosofico, III:1, 1914; Roberto Assagioli, “Come s’imparano le lingue col subcosciente.” L’economia umana, 3, 1954; Roberto Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, “Creative Expression in Education.” Journal of Education, 145:3, 1963; Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1968. Retrieved on 17 July 2020 from https://synthesiscenter.org/articles/0321.pdf

[4] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati.” Umanità in cammino, IV:2, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati. Firenze, Istituto di Psicosintesi, 1963.

[5] Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.

[6] While I have compiled these suggestions, some of them come from Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education, The Deeper Meaning of Education,” Psychosynthesis and Research Foundation, 1968, Downloaded on 17 July from https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/notes-on-education-by-roberto-assagioli/. Others are derived from Kitty Bravo, “Montessori Pedagogical Guidelines for Supporting Learning at Home During COVID-19.” The Montessori Foundation, n.d., Downloaded on 17 July 2020 from https://www.montessori.org/montessori-pedagogical-guidelines-for-supporting-learning-at-home-during-covid-19/

The Vase in the Ladies’ Toilet

It’s August again and in Italy that means “Tutti al mare” (Everybody to the sea)! While I’m not at the seaside, I am taking some time off. So, we return to Ireland in 1998, when I found myself working as a waitress in a little café in the popular tourist town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of my experience, I wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing passages from this book along with Rosaleen’s artwork.

14

Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

Rosaleen’s Restaurant, 170 years ago, was a Temperance Hall, a place where Irish men and women (segregated into separate meetings) gathered to proclaim the evil of drink and to swear abstinence from its impurities.

Did the spirits of these early pioneers sit among the clientele as they drank their Merlot wine? I often tried to imagine them talking together. What would the hardy women of old in their heavily layered frocks have to say to their cigarette-smoking, scantily clad daughters? How might those ancestral mothers react to the uneaten spuds left on their children’s plates? Continue reading

Leave Her at the River

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

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

Divine Supply

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

Bring Me Breath

Suffocate

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

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

Continue reading

After Freedom in Jail

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

Finding Freedom in Jail

Regina Coeli Snijder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archive announcement

A Guide to Finding Freedom in Jail

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

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

Buying a Copy of Freedom in Jail

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

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

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

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

Proposed Readings from Freedom in Jail by Roberto Assagioli

Freedom

In Jail and Freedom

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

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


An Incident and a “Test”

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

An Incident and a “Test”: Doc #7687


Transpersonal Experiences

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

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

A Week under Lockdown

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

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

Celebrating Women in Psychosynthesis

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

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

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

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

Harriet Tubman: Mystic Freedom Fighter

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

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