Category Archives: Balancing Opposites

From the Couple to Humanity

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“Psychosynthesis of the Couple” from Assagioli’s Archives

On Saint Valentine’s Day, we recently celebrated ‘the couple’. In fact, Assagioli viewed marriage as a work of art – a canvas where the husband and wife can learn to alternate in a variety of roles. He believed that psychosynthesis of the couple was fundamental to achieving psychosynthesis of humanity. He wrote:

“When talking about the consciousness of a group, talk above all about the human couple: man and woman and their synthesis, and about their central importance as a fundamental basis and model of inter-psychics at its most vast and complex.”

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Stop Saving the World

saving-the-worldThe title of this blog might be a strange one for Christmas week, a time when many of us make a special effort to help those in need, donate money to charity, and volunteer our time to a deserving cause. Given the state of our world, you might argue that “stop saving the world” seems incongruent with what the world really needs today.

To better explore what I mean, we once again turn to Assagioli’s essay “Martha and Mary: The Active Life –The Contemplative Life.” This time we focus on his ideas about service. [i] Assagioli writes:

“If we examine our motives with all sincerity we often discover that the reasons for our preoccupation with helping others are not as pure and noble as we thought. We begin to realize that the shining alloy, mixed with gold, also contains the base metal of vanity, presumption, proselytism, and – most subtle and concealed of all – the desire to appease our conscience so that we will have some excuse for not undertaking the hard work of inner purification.”

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Transforming Walls and Bridges into Love

Wall over Bridge

Palestinians and international activists use make-shift bridges to cross the separation wall between Qalandiya and Jerusalem, November 14, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

There’s a lot of talk about walls lately. They seem to be going up everywhere.

In Hungry, refugees are cutting through and climbing over the 4-meter high barbed wire fence that extends along the Serbian border for 110 miles. British Prime Minister Cameron has recently received EU approval to control Britain’s own borders. And Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu announced this month his intention to “surround all of Israel with a fence” to protect the country from infiltration by both Palestinians, whom he described as “wild beasts.”

Perhaps the best known wall-builder today is the U.S. political candidate Donald Trump. On numerous occasions, he has boasted about building a wall along the Texas-Mexican border and “getting the Mexicans to pay for it.” Recently, however, he was firmly, but indirectly, admonished by Pope Francis during his visit to Mexico. The Pope said:

“Anyone who thinks about building walls … and not building bridges, is not a Christian.”

popeWhat struck me is that Pope Francis seemed to say that a Christian builds bridges AND walls. He did not denounce the walls, but simply added the bridges.

But this simple addition actually requires us to perform an extremely difficult, but necessary act of love and will.

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Irresistible Love

Nabascha

© Copyright Nabascha

We talk a lot about romantic love around Valentine’s Day. When romantic love devours us, we can find ourselves joyfully lost, frightened, and overpowered by intense feelings of belonging. And when this romantic love-bubble bursts, we seem to deflate into a mess of hurt, broken, and overshadowed feelings of failure and unworthiness.

It seems that love, from our human perspective, is inherently limited. The love we feel for another, as partners, family and friends, seems to come with all kinds of conditions. Some of these conditions may seem quite reasonable. For example, you might feel perfectly justified to say to your spouse: “I love you, but not if you have an affair/physically harm me/gamble away all our money.” Other conditions may be more dubious: “I love you, but only if you agree with me/let me have my own way/have enough money, beauty, fame/share my beliefs/keep me from being lonely…” This list can go on and on, depending on the deep inner needs that are unmet in the individual lover.

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The War Paradox

good and evilHe was a big, well-built man with thick thighs like huge whales, breaching towards the airplane seat in front of him. He ended up sitting in the aisle next to me. We were thrown together that afternoon, only after some confusion and switching of airplane seats. Because of his size, I thought he wanted more space, but he quickly confessed he needed to sit in the aisle because he was claustrophobic.

“My doctor says I should see a psychologist, but he also gave me some drops to calm me down.” The words rushed out in a torrid as he jumped up to retrieve the prescriptive drug from his jacket in the overhead bin.

“Well, you’re in luck,” I said smiling once he settled down (sort of). “I’m a psychologist!”

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Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn 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.

Darkness Inside

For most of us, these days are more than just physically dark. We can also become lost and overwhelmed in all the expectations of the season. The shopping, planning, cooking, baking, wrapping, cards, music, school plays, church concerts. The running and stress, travel and traffic, not to mention all the money worries.

Typically, we are expected to spend time with our families, with the idea that everyone should be happily singing songs around a piano or opening perfect presents or eating gourmet meals. But our reality may actually lead us to feeling only more lonely and unsatisfied. Under pressure by the media and our own unreal expectations, many of us become depressed this time of year and some of us may even feel suicidal.

Assagioli's notes on polarities.

Assagioli’s notes on polarities.

Darker still are the constant reminders, between the tinsel and flashing lights, of the pain and suffering in the world. Not to mention, of course, our own pain and suffering. How can we possibly feel Joy? The entire season can feel like a sham. Bah Humbug! Where is the Higher Self in all this tragic mess?

Balancing Darkness with Light

Simon and Garfunkel once recorded a song called 7:00 News/Silent Night,” in which the familiar carol is quietly and beautiful sung. At first dimly, then more clearly and loudly, we simultaneously hear the voice of a newscaster dispassionately announcing the kind of violent and terrible news we are all too familiar with. Even though, at the end, the voice of the announcer seems to overwhelm the song, the tender voices unceasingly sing – they are not even faintly shaken.

One could experience this song as another symbol of despair – the submergence once again of peace and joy in the harsh violence of our day. But when listened to in its wholeness, the song expresses the reality that light does shine in the darkness. If we tune into the song of peace, we will be able to hear its still small voice singing clearly under the din of the crowd.

Light and dark. Joy and hatred. These are two of the many polarities that exist in the world. Our job is to learn to live with their tension in order to transform and synthesize their energies into a higher reality. Assagioli says that this process is analogous to a chemical combination when two elements are absorbed into a higher unity endowed with qualities different from what each individual element has.

Transforming Opposites into a Synthesis

The idea is to balance these opposites, hold their creative tension, and give space for a completely new and higher entity to be born. You do this by first being with the violent darkness but not identify with it. Then be with the joyful light and not identify with it either. Finally, we need to be with all that is and hold an objective understanding of the tensions between them in order to creatively seek wholeness.

Assagioli insisted that the mid-way point between two opposites is not static inside us, but rather in “a state of continuous oscillation.” We can actually experience this oscillation between Darkness and Light when we listen to the song “7:00 News/Silent Night.”

Once we can hold onto this mid-way point, then psychosynthesis can occur. It is a wise person who can play with opposites and watch with awe as they awaken and manifest into a complete formed higher quality.

So during these dark days before Christmas, practice hanging on and letting go. Hang onto the dark, and then let it go. Then hang onto the light, and let it go. Try to stand in the mid-way point by expressing Human Affection during this season. Then wait quietly and patiently for the advent of Spiritual Love that is quietly, calming, and ceaselessly singing in the world’s chaos.

Inside Out Turned Outside In

Inside Riley's Headquarters. From right to left: Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear, Sadness. Photo by Pixar.

At the controls in Riley’s  brain Headquarters. From right to left: Anger, Disgust, Joy, Fear, Sadness. Photo by Pixar.

Yesterday I went to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out. It is an intelligent 3D-animated feature about 11-year-old Riley who moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. But the real stars of the film are her five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, who are busy operating Riley’s outer behavior from her brain Headquarters. I will not go into details about the story, but I did find it entertaining, fun, and thought provoking. The movie has received rave reviews and is topping all kinds of records for ticket sales.

Today in the Guardian newspaper, one movie critic has warned shrinks to stay away from the movie. (Oops! Too late!) Psychology professionals (along with some parenting forums) are reportedly outraged that Sadness is shown as fat, frumpy and unattractive, and Joy is slim, pretty and smart. What is the film saying? That fat people are sad and thin people are full of Joy?

Actually, from a psychosynthesis perspective, this discrepancy could have easily been explained (and the movie would have been much richer) if the five emotions had actually been five different subpersonalities. Like our subpersonalities, in the movie each emotion not only has feelings but also a body and mind as well. All are embodied in a type of human form. Sadness is the color blue and, okay, let’s say full-bodied, while Joy is a slender and an adorable version of Tinkerbell. In addition, all five emotions have cognitive functioning, that is, they all contemplate, calculate, make decisions, and integrate new ideas and experiences, especially when they have to find a way to reconnect to Riley.

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