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.”
The cherry trees behind our house are bursting with fruit. More cherries than we can pick, eat, turn into jam, give away, or freeze. We still have jars from last year – plump cherries bloated by the pure alcohol bath they sit in, waiting to be plucked from the jar, soaked for a few hours in local spring water and eaten. Each fruit tree in the back bares a different type of cherry – white and sour, round and sweet, watery with too much pit. We are doing our best to collect what we can, but many will inevitably feed the birds, ants and insects, or drop to the ground and nourish the grassy knoll which they now adorn. Continue reading →
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 →
Synthesis occurs when a pair of opposites continually interact until they are brought into equilibrium. Ultimately the opposites are transmuted into a transpersonal quality. But synthesis is even more than the balancing of opposites. Assagioli writes that:
“Synthesis is not just between two opposites, but between multiple and heterogeneous endpoints. All syntheses of polarities are true but partial syntheses. Complete syntheses unite several elements into one organic unity.”
In this light, bread becomes a beautiful metaphor for synthesis – the unification of many diverse ingredients into a higher organic form that gives life. Bread unites a multitude of opposites – dry, earthy flour with the fluidity of water. Sugar (to help the yeast rise) with salt (for taste and preservation). Air within the dough is heated by the fire in the oven. Finally, the baker’s two hands, one heart and skillful will bring them all together so they might ultimately be transformed into nourishment for body and soul. Continue reading →
As I write these words, my 93-year-old mother is dying. We are separated by an entire continent and an entire ocean, 6000 miles apart. It is a tremendous challenge to not race onto a transatlantic flight to be by her side. But I realize that our distance now is a gift, for I have no other recourse but prayer and the willful and conscious act of radiating Light and Love.
Only a month ago, we were together in sunny California where I was visiting her for three weeks. While I was there, my mom told her Hospice care worker, “I’m having such a good time with Catherine that I forget to take my pain medicine.” Continue reading →
New Year’s Eve is often symbolically imagined as the polarity of death and life, perhaps best pictured as an old man with a sickle accompanying a joyful babe. It is a time of great darkness as we enter winter, and yet, paradoxically, it is also a time of more and more light emerging each day. New Year’s holds the possibility of the numinous, as we clearly mark one year to the next, sweeping aside that which we have lost for all that we have to gain.
It is important to celebrate this time of year with ritual and reflection, remembrances and hope. When we consciously enter this period of great polar energy, we enable ourselves to realize that death and life, dark and light, and the numinous are always available to us – every day and in every breath. Just like the outgoing and incoming years, the old breath goes out and the new comes in. Every moment. All the time. And nestled inside the old and new lies the eternal now. Continue reading →
The Mother of Horus. (Photo by Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng)
How can we cope with the overpowering images and messages from the daily news? Hurricanes, fires, mass murder, nuclear threats, and crazed world leaders can be overwhelming, pushing us towards a spiral of negative thoughts. Naturally, we want to be informed about what is going on in the world so we can make clear decisions and activate change. But we also need to find the right balance in our lives so we don’t feel lost in the constant swell of bad news.
The key is to seek equilibrium. Like feasting on salty food all day, when we only nourish ourselves by munching on the news, we can make our hearts and minds ill. We need to refresh ourselves with the taste and sound of spring waters, waters that might help us flush the salty taste from our mouths and renew our bodies and souls.
Assagioli writes that the Lotus is a symbol of Synthesis.
Next week I will be at Casa Assagioli in Florence, helping Gruppo alle Fonti host their International Meeting. The theme this year is “Synthesis,” a mighty big concept to come to terms with in less than a week. In anticipation, I have begun to reflect on what Synthesis means. The word comes from the Greek word syntithenai, in turn deriving from syn meaning “together” and thtehnai meaning “to put, place.”
One of Assagioli’s triangles from his Archives.
The concept of Synthesis is complex because it is not only a quality or a state of being, but also a continual process, an attitude, an approach. I have written a number of blogs about Assagioli’s ideas on the synthesis of polar opposites. Basically, synthesis occurs when a pair of opposites continually interact until they are brought into equilibrium. Ultimately the opposites are transmuted into a transpersonal quality. Assagioli liked to draw triangles to illustrate his idea of balancing and transmuting these opposite energies into higher spiritual qualities. Continue reading →
“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.”
The 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.
“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.”