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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.

Headline

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

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Searching for Funghi, Finding Myself

Now is the time to walk into the Italian hillsides and search for edible mushrooms. Nearly twenty years ago, I experienced my first expedition for these savory funghi while living in Italy. During this search, I realized how much my life had changed. Signora Maria was partly to thank for this revelation, for it was she who invited me to venture into the bosco (forest) with her to search for funghi.

I have recently had a story published about this adventure entitled Sacred Journeys: Buried Treasure. This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Unity Magazine; unitymagazine.org.

That morning, Signora Maria arrived at my gate promptly at 8 a.m., equipped with basket, knife, and rain parka despite the wide azure sky and early morning sunshine. In her early 60s, Signora Maria is elf-like with a quick step and a thin mouth drawn in a perpetual frown. She is known for her long walks alone into the forest and for her huge field outside the village, where she grows vegetables and raises 40 chickens, geese, and a battalion of ducks.

I, too, was prepared with basket, knife, and parka, having earlier asked Signora Maria what I needed for our expedition. Being a bit nearsighted, I also had my glasses tucked in my basket. We started down the gravel road and headed into the valley floor when suddenly Signora Maria rushed up the embankment.

You can continue reading this story by clicking on: Sacred Journey: Buried Treasure.

Freedom under Lock Down

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 Psychosynthesis Trust London.


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

Date/Time: Monday, October 11, 1900-2100 (London time)

Cost: Free.

To book your free space please email: events@ptrust.org.uk


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!

Establishing Spiritual Airways

PrayerflagsYesterday was the World Day of Psychosynthesis and more than 150 people interested in Roberto Assagioli’s vision of psychosynthesis celebrated in an event hosted by two Swedish groups, Psykosyntesföreningen and Psykosyntesförbundet along with the European Psychosynthesis Association (EPA).

The day is meant to establish a spiritual connection between everyone who is generating and working with psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. Each of us is encouraged to take time during the day to reflect on how psychosynthesis is a living, evolving idea that can be successfully applied through many formats and in various contexts.

This day was inspired by a note that Assagioli wrote. What is special about this particular note is that it is dated, something relatively rare to find on his thousands of archived notesA copy of the Assagioli’s original note appears below along with its transcription. Continue reading

One Doll’s Advice

Twenty years ago, my husband and I happened to be living in Egypt when we were visiting my family in California. Visiting just in time for 9/11 and what the media described as an “Attack on America.” What a strange time to come home … in time for an attack. Little did I know that in the days that followed Buzz Lightyear would provide me with the best advice.

Buzz Lightyear is the star of the animated feature Toy Story. He has a broad face with a dimpled chin, no neck, and a constant smile. Encased in a plastic space ranger suit, Buzz is equipped with laser beams that can destroy the deadliest enemy (mainly Emperor Zurg), projectile wings what allow him not to fly but to “fall with style,” and a protective bubble helmet.

Buzz’s sidekick is Woody, who is not half as glamorous. Woody is a cowboy who is always losing his hat. Woody is softer, his body being of cloth, which can cause complications like a torn arm. He does not own any high-tech weaponry or protective clothing. Woody does not own a gun. All he has is an empty holster.

Twenty years ago, my two nephews, Frank (5) and Mark (2-1/2), were in love with Buzz Lightyear. Buzz went to bed with them, traveled in the car with them, had long conversations with them.  Frank had a Buzz Lightyear costume that he put on daily to replay all the action scenes from the movie. Mark, as the little brother, was relegated to the Woody part and costume. That is, until Frank left for school and Mark would immediately usurp the costume and role of Buzz, laser beam and all.

Both Buzz and Woody have favorite things they like to say. Buzz speaks when you press one of his dazzling buttons, Woody has an old-fashion string that you pull from behind his back. Woody says things like: “You’re my favorite Deputy.” and “There’s a snake in my boot.” Buzz sayings include: “To Infinity and beyond!” and “I come in peace.”

When I asked my nephews if they knew what infinity was and what Buzz meant when he says he ‘comes in peace’, they grew frustrated with me. Why was I asking these stupid questions? Why wasn’t I just playing my part as Zurg and falling to the floor dead?

“Infinity has no beginning and no end. It’s like God.” I said. “So to say that you are going beyond infinity means that you are going beyond a place with no end. It really doesn’t make any sense, does it?” 

I was instantly liquidated by a laser beam.

Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

When I told them that ‘to come in peace’ is to come to help people, not to hurt them, they stared at me blankly and soon forgot. I kept asking my stupid questions and Mark soon had the answers, mostly to appease me. Frank, on the other hand, was more interested in having me press his laser beam button after which he would jump back and exclaim, “Don’t touch that! It’s strangely dangerous!” (Unwittingly, the kids had misinterpreted Buzz’s remark of “extremely dangerous” as “strangely dangerous.”)

It all did feel strangely dangerous—Buzz and what he represented that is. What was he teaching my nephews and why was he so powerful an image? What archetype was Buzz for these two small boys? Frankie rejected most food except “power drinks” so he could “grow big muscles like Buzz.”  And it wasn’t just my nephews who were captivated by this action hero, but an entire generation of American boys.

When Bush first called the war on terrorism “Operation Infinite Justice,” I had to wonder if the same people working for Disney were writing the President’s military slogans. “Operation Infinite Justice” and “To Infinity and beyond,” what’s the difference? Then America entered “Operation Enduring Freedom,” although I couldn’t be sure whose freedom we were talking about, certainly not the 21 million Afghans whose country we were about to bomb.

After 11 September, it felt as if my American identity was crashing down inside me alongside the World Trade Centers. I felt overpowered by the violent reactions of my fellow Americans, their immediate thirst for revenge, their interweaving of religious righteousness and patriotic fervor into a frightening display of anger. I couldn’t bear to see how my country was responding to the attacks, to listen to rescue workers at the World Trade Center chant “USA! USA!” as if they were at a football match, to hear my president call the war a “crusade.”

Despite being raised as a good Catholic girl and proud American, God and country weren’t connecting for me anymore. I spent most of the week after 9/11 sick in bed.  My identity was fractured, unraveling, dissolving. I simply did not know who I was anymore or what I should do.

The size and number of American flags numbers overwhelmed me. During the week following September 11, more than 800,000 U.S. flags were sold and gun sales doubled. Nearly every other day the local paper would have an article carefully describing the proper way to display an American flag.[1]

Flags were flying everywhere in my sister’s neighborhood, providing people with comfort and expressing unity. My mother took the boys around her neighborhood to “count the flags.” Flags waved from car antennae, rose in popularity at tattoo parlors, and quickly became fashion jewelry.

One day the local paper came with a full-page flag that you could display in your front window and a smaller one for your car. My sister humorously told her husband, “Don’t be putting up any flags around here. I don’t want Osama bombing our house.”

The Friday after September 11th, a vigil was held in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Bush climbed to the church pulpit, and declared, “The warm courage of national unity is evident in the American flags which are displayed in pride and wave in defiance.”

In the Catholic church that my family attended, the American flag stood next to the altar, its red-and-white stripes carefully wrapped around a statue of the Pieta. These displays of religious imagery were literally intertwined with the symbology captured by the country’s flag.

At the end of the last mass I attended in the US, Father Wallace announced the need for catechism instructors followed by the news that the U.S. and U.K. had just begun bombing Afghanistan.

The news made me feel sick and I longed to sit in silent prayer, but instead we moved right into the final hymn, a joyous melody whose lyrics were full of Alleluias. How could this be? As the congregation sang the hymn, my soul wretched itself around the words.

“Lift your voices joyfully as one.”
(We are bombing poor starving people.)
“Alleluia!”
(Our country is at war.)
“He brings good news.”
(Smoke’em out.)
“Alleluia. Alleluia.”
(Only American lives matter.)
“We are redeemed.”
(We will soon drive away in our big vans and go somewhere to eat too much.)
“Alleluia!”
(God Bless America.)
“Amen.”

Meanwhile, anomalies kept appearing. Oprah Winfrey jumped into the fray with a show examining the question “Is war the only way?” Sound bites by political experts were interrupted by commercials selling herbal essence breast enhancers.

I felt alienated from my country and estranged from myself. What kind of American am I? I kept asking myself.  Why don’t I feel like everyone else? I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and kept hoping my voice would appear somewhere.

There were a few. Barbara Boxer, the only member of Congress to vote against war (420-1). “Let us not become the evil that we deplore,” she urged her colleagues in a dramatic address on the House floor. Rita Lasar who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center. She wrote a letter to The New York Times urging Bush not to bomb Afghanistan. She wrote:

“It is in my brother’s name and mine that I pray that we, this country that has been so deeply hurt, not do something that will unleash forces we will not have the power to call back.”

As our time in California was nearly finished, my husband and I both struggled with our eminent return to Egypt. Then one morning I heard a woman call into a radio talk show. “What can we do?” she pleaded with the panel of experts. “What can we do in the short run?” And then I knew. At least, I knew what I could do in the short run. And oddly enough, the answer came from Buzz Lightyear.

I could go in peace. As a Christian American woman, I could go and live with Arabs and Moslems and Egyptians. I could shop in their street markets, ride their buses, walk by their mosques, and visit their homes to drink tea. And I could say, “I come in peace.”

I left for Cairo the day after the United States and U.K. started to drop Tomahawk cruise missiles, peanut butter, and flyers of assurance on the people of Afghanistan. Less than two months later, I and my husband would be sharing an iftar meal with Mohammed and his family during Ramadan.


These are the countries who contributed troops or financial backing to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, UK, USA, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, North Macedonia, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine, Australia, Bahrain, El Salvador, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Tonga, UAE


[1] The US flag must never touch the ground, but be received by waiting arms and hands. When putting the flag at half-mast to show mourning, you must first raise the flag to the peak of the flagpole, and then lower it to the half-mast position. Never fly another flag above the U.S. flag. Never wear a flag, or a piece of a flag. When wanting to dispose of a flag, call the American Legion so it can be done properly or retire it by burning.

Running Against All Odds

According to the Olympic record this year, Marcell Jacobs (26) is the fastest man on earth. He ran the 100m race in 9.8 seconds. (Usain Bolt from Jamaica has the all-time record at 9.58 seconds). Jacobs’ win brought joy to many Italians, especially since this is the first medal for Italy in the 100m race. The odds were 30:1 against him.

As a child, Jacobs always dreamt of winning an Olympic gold medal. He started out as a long-jumper, but after an injury three years ago, switched to running. While training in Rome, he built a team around him that included a chiropractor, nutritionist, and mental coach.

Jacobs is Italian, but he is also African-American. Born in El Paso, Texas, he immigrated to Italy when he was six months old with his Italian mother. At the time, his father, who was in the US Army, was transferred to South Korea, and so ended the marriage. Jacobs said he lost contact with this father after that. “I never saw my dad from that time on,” he told the press.

Continue reading

No Time to Wash the Smallest Spoon

It’s summer after a long lockdown in Italy and 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/

“Would you like veg and potato with that?” I asked.

“What kind of potatoes are they?” In Ireland, this is a not a trivial question. The supermarket aisle is lined with bags of white, loose records, golden wonder, red, kerrs pink, and baking potatoes. Some are flowery, some are not. Some are for frying, some are not.

For me they are just potatoes, pommes de terre, apples of the earth, round things that grow in the dark underground. But I learned to say, “They’re new potatoes. Boiled. They’re lovely.” Continue reading

Beauty as a Divine Imprint

John
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.” Continue reading

Mourning Tiananmen in My Own Way

I just read that for the first time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, there will be no formal commemoration event held in the Chinese-speaking world for the anniversary. People are being told to “Mourn June 4 in your own way.” So I am reposting this blog from two years ago. In memory…


tiananmen_1989_pays_reutersIn 1989, ten days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, my friend Julie and I sat in the China Travel Services office in Hong Kong and debated whether we should travel to Beijing. The U.S. embassy was warning that our safety could not be guaranteed. Should we go anyway? Grappling with our indecision, Julie asked the stone-faced woman behind the counter, “Is it safe?”

The woman stared hard at us and then looked away. “It is China.”

We decided to trust our intuition and go. Three days later as we walked towards the international gate in the Hong Kong airport, two university students carrying a stack of newspapers stopped us. “Are you going to China?” they asked. We nodded dumbly. “Please take this newspaper for the students.” Their request was half-plea, half-command. Julie faltered, worried about the consequences of smuggling suspicious reading material. Our tour book clearly stated: “It is illegal to import any printed material detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture, and ethics.” The newspapers were full of Chinese characters that we could not read, and we had no idea just how ‘detrimental’ they might be.

Hoping the custom officials would overlook the newspapers, I reluctantly agreed to carry them. Besides, as a U.C. Berkeley graduate, I found it difficult to resist a student protest. I stuffed two copies of the newspaper into my carry-on bag.

The plane was full. A zombie stewardess served stale crackers and dishwater tea. We arrived and breezed through customs without any problems. The air in the terminal felt squeezed dry, all actions confined, all conversations muzzled. I kept thinking of how many times as kids we believed we could dig a hole to China.

Waiting for us in the arrival room was Miss Ren, our 23-year-old tour guide. “Hello, my name is Elizabeth,” she introduced herself and paraded us toward the exit. Tall and slight, she raised her arm high above her head and slightly waved her hand, like a lily caught on a summer breeze. This hand seemed to magically invoke wondrous adventures. She led us outside into an old van.

Our ride to the hotel was along a shady road full of people on bicycles, donkeys pulling carts, cars, trucks and an occasional flock of sheep. “So where do you like to visit?” Miss Ren dutifully asked. With the flurry of tour cancellations, Julie and I were to have Miss Ren and the driver all to ourselves.

“Tiananmen Square,” we said in unison. This was definitely not one of the stops on our five-day Beijing tour. “Oh, no. You can’t go to Tiananmen Square,” she explained. “It is dangerous there. Bad men will steal your money.”

The squareOnce she was gone, Julie and I considered her advice, but decided to take our chances and quickly ordered another cab. “Tiananmen Square, please.” We pointed to the Chinese characters in our tour book, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Without a word, the cab driver dropped us off at the Beijing Hotel, three long blocks from the square on Chang’an Avenue. The street was like a giant river flowing with people and bicycles. We entered the moving stream of humanity, many wearing Mao suits, and arrived on foot to the square.

Upon arrival, I was stunned to see Tiananmen Square filled with hundreds of thousands of young people, its massive 109-acres alive like a giant squirming organism. Julie and I began to penetrate the crowd, occasionally reaching for each other’s hand, afraid of being separated. Slowly, we began to focus on the sights around us. There were piles of people, piles of garbage, piles of bedding. Legs stuck out beyond large umbrella roofs. Long lines for bean soup, cabbage, and flat bread wove around us. Hands stretched eagerly to grab orange ice pops. Waving above the crowd were hundreds of red flags, each bearing a school’s name. A voice shouted over a loud speaker. Later we learned that these announcements celebrated the return of Lee Wong from the United States, denounced the stubbornness of Premier Li Peng, called for ambulances, and sang out slogans.

Mao

Buses with broken windows acted as toilets. Shattered glass was strewed dangerously close to makeshift hovels and bare mattresses. Looming over the student protest was Mao Zedong’s Mona Lisa smile; his gigantic, now desecrated, portrait baring witness to the scene.

Standing behind nylon cords, student guards protected the inner sanctity of their leaders. Julie and I slid under the cords and walked closer toward the core of the rebellion, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Twice we froze as tall student sentries harshly barked, but our Western faces were our tickets through. I hugged my purse tightly against me. Inside were the Hong Kong newspapers.

We arrived at the monument to find a cluster of young people recording a political statement. Another group was running an old printing press while others painted signs, yellow characters on red backdrops. Nearby, two male students sat eating raw garlic and tomatoes.

Students at Tiananmen Square

A young woman who spoke English approached us. She was a medical student and had just arrived from Hunan province. Fueled by the recent demonstrations, spirits were high. Our new friend offered us a metal cup of cold bean soup. I hesitated, not wanting to insult her, but ashamed to eat what little food the students had. I felt awed and humbled by how these students had empowered themselves with the hope and determination to change their iron-clad country.

“Are you afraid?” I dared to ask. “No,” she answered bravely, full of joy. “We are supported by all of Peking. We would not be able to survive without their feeding us. They will never let the soldiers through.”

A male student then joined us. “What change do you want?” I asked.  “We want freedom,” he said. “We want a kindness. There is no freedom when one man rules everyone. The cry from all the students in China is only one.” He raised his fist. ‘Li Peng Go Away.’”

“We want to travel freely like you,” answered the young medical student. “We want to read newspapers and know the truth. You have democracy in America, don’t you?” she then asked. “What do you think?”

I was startled by the question. “Well, yes, I suppose we do,” I said, looking out at the hundreds of thousands of students who inspired and shamed me at the same time. How often had I taken my freedom for granted? I could read any newspaper I wanted, live wherever I wanted, even travel to places like China. But freedom is only relative, I thought, remembering Rosa Parks, World War II Japanese internment camps, Kent State. I wondered how long it could last here like this. Suddenly I remembered the newspapers and gave them to the two students. They scanned them as if they were a map to lost treasure.

Tanks

Julie and I stayed with the students until nightfall. The protest was eerily quiet, orderly, poised. We met no bad men. Our money was not stolen. As we wove our way out through the crowd, I spied a couple holding hands. Dressed in stockings and heels, the young woman demurely sat on a dirty mattress. Her delicate, floral print dress accented her long pale neck. Together the couple smiled hello.

That evening my heart wrestled with the fear that I might soon learn of the students’ demise. For the rest of my stay, I thought about them constantly. While we sat on camels for our photographs at the Great Wall. While pedaling rented bicycles through the peach orchard near the hotel. On the way to Ming’s Tomb, we spied soldiers riding in green army trucks. Our guide forbade us to snap pictures of the passing enclave.

Soon afterwards we flew home. A few days later, one morning while walking past a newsstand, I froze and cried out. The People’s Liberation Army had stormed Tiananmen Square in the night. I felt as if I had swallowed a stone, like someone had died in my own family. The balmy spring day became obscenely bright. I will never forget how those Chinese students – their courage, hope and faith in humanity — touched me … on their own battlefield. On their own burial ground.

Tank man

Free Will will Sent You Free

hamburger over truthIs free will an illusion? According to an recent article in the Guardian, about 12% of philosophers believe this to be the case. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the beginning of the universe – and that nobody is responsible for his or her actions.

From their perspective, we act only when prompted by physiological reasons. For example, we choose between eating a banana and apple due to a pattern of neurons firing in our brain that can be linked all the way back to our birth, our parents’ meeting, their births, and eventually, the birth of the cosmos. As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, says:

“Free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics.”

Continue reading

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.