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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.

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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!

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Pigeons, Paper and Paradise

Photo of Regina Coeli prison by Pietro Snider/Inside Carceri

Nearly all of us have experienced some form of “lock down” during the past year of the pandemic. During this time, perhaps you’ve had time to reflect on what ‘freedom’ means to you personally and to all of us collectively.

I will be exploring this concept of freedom in an upcoming Webinar, sponsored by the Association of Advancement for Psychosynthesis.

In this webinar, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Roberto Assagioli’s reflections on the deeper meaning of ‘freedom’ – a word that is bandied about without much thought – from advertising soda drinks to promoting war.

The concept of freedom will be explored through Assagioli’s autobiographical account Freedom in Jail. This book outlines Assagioli’s own experience before, during and after his own imprisonment in Regina Coeli prison by the Italian fascist regime in 1940. Freedom in Jail offers insights into Assagioli’s understanding of true “inner freedom, pure freedom … attained rising above the fetters, a sense of expansion …”

We will begin with a presentation during which I will talk about Assagioli’s time in prison and how he practiced his psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. While in prision, he ultimately experienced his own personally transformation and self-realization.

The presentation will be followed by Q&A. Then we will break up into smaller groups and share our thoughts on a specific excerpt from his book. At the end, we will gather together as a larger group and share whatever insights we might have gained.

I hope to see you there!

Freedom in Jail: A Reflection on Pigeons, Paper, and Paradise

Date/Time: Saturday, May 15, 2021. Noon-2pm EST

Cost: Free for AAP member, $25 for non-members, May 15, 2021.

Register by: Monday, May 10.

To Register and for more Info: Click here.

A Spring Breeze of Religious Experience

The spiritual philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature in 1913, and Roberto Assagioli are remarkably similar in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the Infinite Self and the personal self.

While deriving from diverse cultural and linguistic inheritances, the spiritual philosophies of each man underwent a similar evolutionary process. To begin with, both men grounded their philosophy in the moments when they were able to touch the Infinite, becoming intensely conscious of it through the illumination of joy.

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Synthesis—A Dynamic, Organic Unifier

Lotus flower 3
Assagioli writes that the Lotus is a symbol of Synthesis.

Let’s take a closer look at the word ‘synthesis’. The word psychosynthesis was first used in 1889 by Pierre Janet in his book  L’automatisme psychologique. Freud spoke of the synthesizing function of the ego, but he used this word only in the sense of  re-establishing the condition existing before a split or dissociation due to a traumatic experience or to strong conflicts.

Others, such as Jung and Maeder used the words synthesis and psychosynthesis in a deeper and wider sense as the development of the integrated and harmonious personality, including both its conscious and unconscious parts. 

The word ‘synthesis’ comes from the Greek word syntithenai, in turn deriving from syn meaning “together” and thtehnai meaning “to put, place.”

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Burning Old Growth for Joyous Renewal

DSC01928 Burn

In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.

We are now at the end of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enough to experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.

Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis. Continue reading

Giving “Birth to a Butterfly”: Assagioli’s Feminist Patient

Wall painting by Mina Loy, Peggy Guggenheim’s Villa, Pramousquier, 1923

In 1913, Mina Loy (1882-1966) was living in a rented villa in Florence when she found herself in a torpor and depressed. Her photographer husband had just set sail for Australia, abandoning her with their two children. A painter herself, she was artistically stalled and still mourning over the death of her first child who had died in infancy six years earlier.

Enter Dr. Roberto Assagioli!

Yes, Mina Loy – feminist, bohemian, poet, and playwright – was one of Roberto Assagioli’s first clients.

Over the course of her lifetime, Loy acted, wrote feminist and utopian tracts, created lampshades, and painted – including a lost portrait of Assagioli. Loy was born in London. Her mother was British and Christian while her father was a Hungarian Jewish tailor who had escaped Budapest’s antisemitism. Loy would end up having two husbands, four children, and several complicated love affairs. (More on two of these later…)

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Two Black Women’s Voices Once Heard

Jarena Lee and Julia Foote

They were two women preachers during a time when only men preached. They were black preachers who preached to both slaves and slave-holders. They were black women preachers who inspired men and women, believers and ‘backsliders,’ Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians, lawyers, doctors and magistrates.

Their names were Jarena Lee (1783–1855?) and Julia Foote (1823-1901), two of the first African American women to achieve the right to preach in the newly formed nation. Overcoming both gender and racial barriers, both women preached widely over great distances. A widow and mother of two children, Lee traveled 2325 miles, walking many of them, to preach 178 sermons. Defying her husband and parents, Foote was a deacon and minister for five decades, traveling to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic region, California, the Midwest, and eventually Canada.

“I had nothing to do but open my mouth and the Lord filled it.”

Jarena Lee
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When an Ideal Model Goes Wrong

Painting by William Blake

My mother used to always say: “Nobody’s so bad that they can’t be used as a bad example.” One might find this advice startlingly judgmental, but surely Mom was referring to people like the last US president. He was and still is ‘bad’ and hence a perfectly good ‘bad example.’ And yet, many of the 74 million people who voted for him still believe he has the right to be president. Many love him. Some even see him as their Savior.

Trump is not just a good ‘bad example,’ but also a good example of an ideal model gone wrong. Assagioli emphasized our need to have what he called ‘ideal models.’ He wrote:

“Hero-worship … is a natural and­ irrepressible­ tendency­ of human beings and, at the same time, one of the most powerful stimuli towards the elevation of consciousness.”

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Writing to Awaken

During this past year, many of us have faced deeper questions about our lives and its purpose. So the beginning of 2021 might be a good time to start a spiritual diary.

Writing a spiritual diary is different from writing a memoir or a diary in general as the focus is on your spiritual life – in other words, what is happening inside your soul. Besides a blank notebook and pen, it requires you to have some courage and a great deal of honesty. By focusing on what’s happening in your inner life, you allow yourself to more carefully observe the small changes that are happening in your heart and mind. In your written reflections, you can work through troubling issues, set new spiritual goals, and discover higher qualities like patience, determination, and beauty that have always existed inside you.

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Gifting Ashes, Gifting Oil

The Olive Harvest

Lately, I have been attending a series of talks about the Maternal Gift Economy. It’s an interesting concept that challenges our preconceptions of how the exchange of services and products must take place.

Some might say we have an exchange economy, but the reality is (and has been) that the global economy is an exploitive economy. As Assagioli wrote we are driven by Original Fear – fear of not having enough food, fear of hunger – and by Original Greed, which fundamentally is the desire for unlimited growth. Hence our tendency to consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.

In contrast, a gift-based economy is grounded in the values of nurturing and care rather than competition and greed. To begin with, we might change how we talk about our services rendered. For example, when speaking about the medical staff who are having to deal with the onslaught of Covid-19 patients, we say they are ‘sacrificing’ themselves. But what changes inside us when we exchange the word ‘sacrifice’ for ‘gift’? Try saying: “Our doctors and nurses are gifting their expertise, care, time, and lives” and see how that feels.

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The Virus of Fear

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

Let’s talk about fear. How arbitrary it can be. Besides personal fears and anxieties, Assagioli writes about “waves of collective fear and panic.” These waves appear daily in our news headlines – the pandemic, ongoing climate disasters, financial injustice, racism and political upheaval. These are some of the external fears that can so easily feed our internal ones.

Assagioli calls this collective fear 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.”

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