(Re)Learning to Mother Ourselves

1024px-Mother-Child_face_to_faceRecently I have been taking psychosynthesis lessons from my 3-1/2 year old neighbor Martina (not her real name). She is an only child without many friends who has been wandering over to my garden whenever I happen to be planting or hoeing in the late afternoon. At first she showed up in her electrical jeep, zig-zagging down the country road from her grandparents’ house, alternatively jerking to a halt and zooming full speed ahead, her three dogs chasing after her.

Martina is highly intelligent, strong-willed and precocious. She is an organizer and often explains to me where plants should be placed and what vases and flowers I need to buy and where they belong in the garden. She is also a great storyteller. In true Italian style, her entire body moves while she talks, her hands fly around with precision, and her facial gestures rise and fall with the tone of her voice.

She is also has a sense of humor. When I tell her I must go because I need to make supper for my husband, she responds, “Yes, because otherwise what would he eat? Grass like the cows?” and then laughs heartedly at her own cleverness.

A Triad of Love

Lately Martina has been leaving her jeep behind to arrive on foot as she pushes her doll “Alice” in a stroller. Once they are within shouting distance, I instantly become la Nonna (the grandmother), Martina becomes the mother and Alice the child.

Within a short time, my “granddaughter” Alice is besieged with traumatic events. It seems like every other minute I must stop hoeing to witness the next catastrophe. Alice is crying and wants her Nonna. Alice is vomiting and la Nonna must hold her over the imaginary toilet. Alice is thirsty, hungry, and crying again. Alice has booped and I must see the mess that she made and direct her mother to where she might toss the dirty diaper.

girl pushing strollerAfter a few days of this, I was beginning to dread Alice’s appearance. I inwardly groaned whenever I saw Martina running behind the pink plastic stroller towards the garden and heard her shouting “Nonna!” Oh no! Not that stupid doll again! Alice and her continual crises were not my only distractions. Both Martina and Alice have their own (toy) cellphones that seemed to ring off the hook. Sometimes it’s the doctor calling, other times it’s simply a wrong number. Often we need to check in with Alessio (Martina’s “husband”) to see if he wants prosciutto crudo or cotto (raw or cooked ham) on his pizza.

But my dread and ignorance was soon awakened. One day when passing the neighbor’s house, I met Martina outside, who immediately exclaimed with bubbly excitement, “I will get Alice!” To my wonder, so much light and joy were shining in Martina’s eyes that I instantly understood that Alice was really a symbol of her own little soul. Reappearing with Alice, Martina only confirmed this fact by saying, “Here is l’amore di Mama (Here’s Mother’s Love). Isn’t Alice l’amore di Nonna too? (Isn’t Alice Grandmother’s Love too?)”

External Unifying Center

1. Conscious self or “I” (Alice) 2. External Unifying Center (Nonna) 3. Higher Self. (derived from Assagioli, 2000, pp. 23-27)

After this revelation, I also understood that through Alice, Martina was learning how to mother herself. In psychosynthesis terms, she was using the doll and my presence to help form her authentic personality. The doll represented her true self (her “I”). This was clear by the shining light in Martina’s eyes when she thought about Alice. And I, as la Nonna, was acting as what is called the external unifying center. My relationship with Alice (as la Nonna) was a mirror for Martina to learn how she, as an authentic being (“I”) could be in relationship with the Higher Self. By learning how to connect to her Higher Self, Martina was also learning how to connect to others in Love.

Let’s look at an example. Once I caught Martina hitting Alice and calling her a bad girl. “Are you crazy? Are you?” she kept berating the forever-smiling doll. I explained quietly that I didn’t like how she was treating Alice, that Alice was too little to know better, and besides we should never hit anyone smaller than ourselves. When my back was turned, Martina surreptitiously berated Alice again. But (thank God!) I am still smarter than most 3-1/2 year-olds and repeated my earlier statements. To date, Martina has not hit Alice. I can only hope that that my outer voice has become her inner one and Martina has learned not to berate herself.

How Children are Wounded

Ideally, during our childhood, we will have “ideal models” who are empathetic enough to mirror our I-Self connection, helping us to learn to connect and experience our own inner unifying center. This mirroring, for the most part, is done by our mothers (or primary caregivers). But unfortunately, most of us as children have never learned from our parents how to connect to the Higher Self. How to nurture the imagination or creativity in our souls.

During my lifetime, I have painfully watched children being pushed, emotionally harassed, and sometimes beaten into being good girls and boys, accepted only on condition that they behave well. Like Alice, they are told they are bad or crazy, and then physically struck by parents who are much bigger, as big as giants in the eyes of the child.

This was indeed Martina’s case. On a number of occasions, I had heard her own grandmother ask if she wasn’t crazy. While sipping coffee in their kitchen, I despondently witnessed the giant adults tell Martina that she was stupid and bad, unable to do anything right. “If you don’t listen and behave,” her grandmother threatened her to my dismay, “Catherine won’t love you anymore.”

“Oh no,” I insisted. “I will always love Martina, no matter what.”


Jane Goodall (2015)

Jane Goodall (age 83), the famous British primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace, was asked by by Bill Moyers in an interview:

“Where in the long journey [of evolution]  do you think empathy comes from?”

She replied:

“It’s the bond between mother and child … for us and for chimps and other primates.  The root of empathy is in all the expressions of social behavior that you can see mirrored in the mother-child relationship.”

How Adults Can Heal the Inner Child

stanne maria jesus

Not unlike Martina’s doll and nonna, an icon of St. Anne, Mary and Jesus can also be used as a symbol for our inner healing.

Our mothers and fathers perhaps did their best to clothe and feed and care for our physical needs. But they still remained unable to cope with or understand the deeper spiritual longings of their children, the need to feel protected and initiated by someone soulful and wise. Someone like a grandmother who might teach us how to nurture our creativity and cherish our souls.

But we, as broken adults, can be redeemed and synthesized whole. The road is not an easy one. It requires humility, desire, devotion, and grace. As adults it is our responsibility to probe our own lives to discover the truth that lies behind the choices we are making. Nearly all our present day anxieties, problems, and confusion are a direct result of childhood trauma that we have yet to mourn.

Once we understand the fear, loneliness, anger, feelings of inadequacy, or other negative images that we inherited from our parents, only then can we move forward and become free to be who we really are. But insight is only the first step in this most difficult journey. Next we must surrender ourselves to all the old emotions that we have carried for so long, finally allowing ourselves to feel and release them. And then, we must be prepared to receive renewed life, positive change, and all the opportunities full of grace that suddenly present themselves for us to simply accept with gratitude.

This is not a path one can take alone. One cannot understand his or her true essence without first looking within and then finding a mirror, another soul who can listen with compassion and without judgment and then reflect the knowledge back to its source.

In her small wise way, Martina instinctively knows all this. That’s why her eyes light up when she runs to retrieve Alice. That’s why she runs over to la Nonna in the garden, pushing Alice in the stroller in front of her. That’s why Alice is l’amore di Mama, l’amore di Nonna.

References and Further Reading

Assagioli, Roberto (2000), Psychosynthesis, A Collection of Basic Writings, The Synthesis Center, Inc., Amherst, Massachusetts

Firman, John and Ann Gila (1997). The Primal Wound. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Firman, John and Ann Gila (2002). Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Miller, Alice (1987). The Drama of Being a Child. London: Virago Press.


Places of the Higher Self

Five-day Journey Through the Green Heart of Italy

September 18-23, 2017

Assagioli at camadoli

We will visit the Camaldoli Hermitage near Florence. Here is a photo of Roberto Assagioli (fourth from the left) outside of this same hermitage (courtesy of Fernando Maraghini).

In our everyday lives we are often too busy, distracted, or caught in the mundane to be open to the places of the Higher Self. Throughout history and across cultures, our ancestors have always created ritual space and time for the transpersonal to enter into the ordinary. Such holy places are often located on mountaintops and deep inside caves, in silent havens and in nature. Churches, temples, and mosques have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience. As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has also always played a great part along this journey to our Higher Self.

La Verna, Italy

La Verna, Italy

Continuing with the theme of “Synthesis,” after the International Meeting at Casa Assagioli, we embark on a Journey to the Higher Self. Starting from Florence, we travel east to visit medieval churches and mountain hermitages, allow our souls to soar from La Verna, discover beautiful villages and, of course, enjoy the cucina locale. During this five-day journey, you will have a chance to discover places of transcendence in the green heart of Italy – in the forest-covered Tuscan and Umbrian Apennines, the home of many generations of seekers and saints of the transpersonal.

The journey is especially meant to be an open voyage of discovery and a direct personal experience of all that presents itself during its various stages. We will go slowly and quietly, allowing you the time and space necessary to directly experience the reality of the Higher Self, the key part of you that connects the personal with the transpersonal and, hence, the personal with the universal.

DSC01520This journey promises to be a fonte of inspiration for anyone seeking the Higher Self in the natural beauty and surroundings of Italy. We hope to provide you with a journey that might help transform and strengthen you when you ultimately return to your daily life.

This trip is organized and hosted by Catherine Ann Lombard and Kees den Biesen, the guides and facilitators.

Cost: € 985.00 per person. For more information and registration, see A Journey to Places of the Higher Self.

The Power of Symbols

010296 Greetings from Fay Pomerance

Painting of a Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley by Fay Pomerance (1912-2001) in Assagioli’s Archives in the folder labelled “Symbols”.

Symbols are constantly appearing in our lives and are often used in an unconscious way. They are powerful tools that can help us to develop personally and spiritually. Assagioli wrote that there are certain symbols that have a specific psychosynthetic integrating value, and therefore need to be brought more consciously into our everyday lives.

Symbols – like the animals and other images that appear in our dreams – are accumulators, transformers, and conductors of psychological energies. Assagioli wrote:

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Beauty – Where Spirit and Matter Converge

As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has always played a great part along our journey to our Higher Self. Throughout the world, holy places have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience within the architectural space.

Assagioli noted that:

“Matter is the highest form of Spirit and Spirit is the lowest form of Matter.”

In this way, spirit seeks matter to express the full beauty of the transcendent. Assagioli also noted that Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics have recognized and proclaimed that “beauty is the essential attribute of the Supreme.”

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Courageously Creating Good Will

003415 good willOne could not help but be horrified by the images last week of Dr. David Dao being violently dragged off United Airlines overbooked flight to make way for a crew member. His forcible abuse and maltreatment by the three policemen ended up with him suffering a concussion, broken nose and the loss of two front teeth. Dr. Dao only wanted to go home to see his patients the next morning.

Since the release of the videos made by fellow passengers, responsibility for this incident has been placed on a number of different people.

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Assa…who? Psychosyn…what?

Roberto Assagioli

Roberto Assagioli (Assagioli Archives, Florence)

If you ever wondered how to explain who Assagioli is to people who have never heard of him or psychosynthesis, I recently had a short article published about him in The Florentine magazine. You can read “A Man of Peaceful Action” by clicking here.

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Women’s Psycho-Spiritual Gifts

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assgioli’s studio in Florence.

In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.

In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.

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