Category Archives: Balancing Opposites

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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Does Money Matter? Sending Help to Nepal

Nepal aid piled up.

Nepal aid piles up while our prayers arrive instantly.

Perhaps you find yourself overwhelmed at times with all the requests for financial help that seem to bombard you. Walking downtown in a major city, you might be asked for money from a stranger or find a beggar sitting along the road with a sign for help. At that moment, we are often besieged with existential questions. What should I do? How can I really help? How much money is enough? Will the money help at all?

Soon after the news of the earthquake in Nepal, my husband and I did send money (along with our prayers) to an organization that was helping with relief efforts. As you may know, humanitarian aid is still having trouble reaching those in need, as NGOs face massive logistical difficulties, including Nepalese custom regulations. It does seem that our prayers have become more valuable than our money, able to arrive instantly beyond the roadblocks and border controls.

Currently, I am a support member of an international Christian fellowship, and we are working through financial requests from various charities. There seems to be no end to the need for money! Money to rebuild homes in flooded Malawi, to pay for a young man’s education in India, a school for orphans in Indonesia, Ebola health workers in Senegal. And, of course, now for those suffering in Nepal. The list seems infinite. How can we possibly choose what cause to support?

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Imagine All the People …

Plastic WorldSomeone is holding a large plastic globe over my head while I stand in front of about 750 people and welcome them in English to the Friedensfest or Peace Festival. The afternoon has started with various citizens welcoming the crowd in German, Arabic, Turkish, Aramaic, Kurdish, Dutch, Russian, French and Persian. During the past year, 700 refugee families from Syria and Iraq have descended upon our small German town of Gronau, nestled against the eastern Dutch border. More than 90 languages are spoken among a population of 45,000. In stark contrast to the anti-immigration movement of Pegida in Eastern Germany, today we celebrate our differences as well as try to raise money for those left behind in Sengal and Kobane.

Outside in the drizzling rain, men from the Yazidi community are grilling meats while the women fill plates with cut tomatoes and onion salad. I am struck that ‘Yazidi’ is no longer an idea but suddenly a smiling human before me. Inside the hall, Turkish children are circle-dancing to traditional songs. Other children bob their heads to the music while folding paper into origami birds or dipping their hands into paint and printing their palms.

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When Spirit and Matter Converge – Synchronicity

IMG_2149Most of us have experienced two or more events that seemed to converge in our lives in a peculiar and perhaps disturbing, yet wondrous way. For example, you might be thinking of someone you’ve lost touch with years ago, and suddenly she contacts you. Jung, along with the physicist Pauli, defined such instances as synchronistic events, a series of meaningful coincidences of events that go beyond the probability of them actually happening.

Jung and Assagioli had a long-term professional and friendly relationship that began in 1907 and lasted until Jung’s death in 1961. Assagioli acknowledges Jung’s term ‘synchronicity’ in his unpublished notes found in his archive. He mentions synchronicity as a way to understand the “correspondence between the date of the positions of the stars [astrology] and the psychological characteristics” of a person.[1]

Jung, along with the physicist Pauli,   developed the idea of synchronicity.

Jung, along with the physicist Pauli,developed the idea of synchronicity.

While counseling clients, I have often experienced synchronistic events and have come to understand them as spirit seeking matter. Many people believe that spirit and matter are dualistic in nature – that spirit is ‘higher’ than matter, which throughout various cultures and time has inevitably led humankind to identify matter with evil. From my own experience, I believe that spirit actually needs matter to express itself, and the two are best when joined together in a higher revelation of universal life meaning. Synchronicity is one form of that higher expression, as are symbols and symbolic thought. Continue reading

Fulfilling Your Real Needs

The Dreamer and the Judge

The Dreamer and the Judge

A few weeks ago, we looked at the subpersonality process as experienced by Maria and her integration of two subpersonalities, Miss Victorious and Miss Silent.

As previously mentioned, the subpersonality integration process includes the following stages: recognition, acceptance, coordination, integration, and synthesis.

This week, let’s look at each of these stages in detail.

Recognition

We begin to recognize our subpersonalities when we consciously choose to identify the different roles we are playing in different situations with different people. A good place to start is with any conflicts you might be facing at the moment. In particular, what roles seem to no longer be successfully working? For example, one client strongly identified herself with a subpersonality called Stella who wanted no problems and needed perfection, control and certainty. This subpersonality was obviously challenged by the uncertainty and ambiguities we all must face in our everyday lives.

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Living a Symbolic Life

Orthodox Baptristy Jesus

Ravenna is cold in February, but the sun still manages to warm the ancient stone archways. I place my cheek against a rough granite surface and feel the heat and energy collected over time. I have just spent the morning sitting in the Orthodox Baptistery, staring up at mosaics so carefully placed in the ceiling during the 4th and 5th centuries. The apostles march in procession above us, each carrying a triumphal laurel. In the center, John the Baptist is pouring the water from the River Jordan over the head of Jesus, who stands naked in the rippled pool. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dives into the blessing held aloft by John. To one side stands the pagan water god with a reed in one hand and a garment in another.

While admiring the intricate images, we are joined by two groups of Italian children. One school excursion after another quietly fills the domed building as a teacher explains the history and imagery that envelopes us. The octagonal room is relatively small and the space intimate. At one point a teacher asks, “Why did they use so many symbols in their art at that time?” Her answer: “Because the symbols conveyed la saggezza, the wisdom of that age.”

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Join the Magi – Embrace the Sublime

Often the Christmas story is left unfinished. We usually stop right after the three Wise Men offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Child. The part we tend to skip over is the Slaughter of the Innocents. This massacre of all boys two years and younger in and around Bethlehem is a horrific part of the story that doesn’t easily fit into the joy of Christmas.

innocentsDuccio

The story goes like this: Following a rising star in the hopes of paying homage to the Child, the Wise Men from the East first stop to pay their respects to King Herod in Jerusalem. They ask if he knows where the infant king is. When King Herod hears about the Child, he is perturbed by the prospect of a competitor king, as are the chief priests and scribes. Herod asks the priests if they have any idea where the Child is to be born. They cite from the prophecies that the birthplace is Bethlehem. Herod then privately summons the Wise Men and sends them onto Bethlehem, telling them to “Go and find out all about the Child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and pay him homage.”

After finding the Child and offering their gifts, the Wise Men are warned by an angel in their dreams not to return to King Herod, but to return home by another road. When Herod learns of their surreptitious departure, he is furious and decrees that all male infants must be indiscriminately killed, hoping that the Child will be among them. Meanwhile, an angel appears to Joseph in his sleep, telling him to leave immediately with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three become refugees and are spared from the experience of the slaughter.

The Slaughter of the Innocents is crucial to our understanding of the entire Christmas message. Once a vulnerable child full of Light and Love is born, a powerful leader feels threatened and wants him murdered. His evil desire extends not only to the child, but to many innocent children. What might this story reveal to us today?

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