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. Continue reading →
Seventy-five years ago on November 30th, a young Dutch Jewish intellect died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her legacy of love and reconciliation, as described in her ten diary notebooks and the many letters that she wrote, continues to inspire people around the world. Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) was only 29 years old when she died, but during her short lifespan she managed to live a life of contemplative spirituality and practice in a world that seemed to be falling to pieces around her.
Hillesum grew up in a non-religious home of intellectuals. Her parents were both teachers – her father taught the classics and her mother Russian literature. Hillesum had two younger brothers, both very talented but mentally unstable. She describes having grown up in a “chaotic and sad situation … a madhouse where no human being can flourish.” Continue reading →
At first glance, you might think that life coaching, shamanic soulfulness, short stories about Japan, and a textbook on psychosynthesis might not have much in common. But they do! All have come into my hands (literally) during the last year in the form of books, and I would like to share them with you now.
In addition, I am planning to publish a series of short books based on my blogs. So this list ends with a preview of my first book in the series. But before we peek inside all these book covers, I would first like to introduce you to a wonderful new resource… Continue reading →
Today we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain, when the division between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Christians celebrate November 1 as All Saint’s Day and November 2 as All Souls. To mark this numinous time of year, I would like to share a story about Kikuchi-sensei, my Japanese tea ceremony teacher. A longer version of this story was originally published in Ascent Magazine, Issue 36, Fall 2007
The morning I went to the mortuary to see Kikuchi-Sensei, a cold wind whipped around the medieval cobblestone streets of the tiny Umbrian village. She had been fighting cancer for nearly a year and had finally surrendered at the age of 79. Dressed in a pale cinnamon kimono, she appeared so tiny in the lacquered coffin, framed by wild spring flowers that her daughter had picked from their garden, Sensei’s face was strong and peaceful; her mouth, set in her soft, unlined skin, was ready to break into one of her rare, indulging smiles.
Since Sensei had refused visitors during her treatment, I had just managed to accept life without our weekly tea ceremony lessons. But looking upon her still, frail frame, I hardly felt ready to surrender her forever. As I stood by her coffin, in my heart I thanked her for all she had taught me during the years we had spent together. I felt tremendously honored to have known her. Continue reading →
One of my favorite anecdotes from Assagioli’s time in prison is when his prison money was running out. He wrote in intimate detail about this experience in his book Freedom in Jail, under the chapter “An Incident and a ‘Test’”.
From the time of his arrest, Assagioli’s wife Nella was making sure that there was enough money in his prison account to warrant his receiving special treatment. In 1940, Regina Coeli prisoners could buy a more comfortable, private cell and more varied and higher quality food. Continue reading →
Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”.
I have always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), yet at the same time, struggle with it. The story seems so male in context. A young man returns home repentant and humbled after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery. His father is moved with pity, and runs to welcome his son home, clasping him in his arms and kissing him.
“Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. We will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
Meanwhile the elder son who always slaved in the fields and obeyed his father grows angry and refuses to enter the celebrations. But the father says:
“My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
What would the story of the prodigal daughter be, and what would her return to the welcoming mother reveal? Continue reading →
While conducting research, I often become like Alice and Wonderland, chasing rabbits down the garden path. Most recently, I came across a fascinating book, written by George David Herron (1862-1925), an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana. In his book The Revival of Italy, published in 1922, Herron has a beautiful passage describing Roberto Assagioli as the inspiration for the Biblioteca Filosofica. (Philosophical Library) in Florence.
A lively center of philosophical discussion, the Philosophical Library was started around 1903-1905 by those studying theosophy. Wanting to deepen their understanding of Oriental philosophy, library members loaned books, organized classes, conferences and published a bulletin.
Assagioli was one of its more frequent visitors. The Philosophical Library’s intent was to create a “free university for philosophical and religious studies” where the public could come and learn more about the current cultural movements such as Pragmatism, Idealism, and Modernism in a non-academic setting. Continue reading →