Category Archives: Body, Feelings, Mind

Leave Her at the River

Monk riverHow often have you been awake at night processing what happened to you the day before? Perhaps you were reworking a conversation with a family member or colleague. Or maybe you were wondering how to pay that bill that just arrived in the mail. Or perhaps you are a teacher and were busy (re)giving your lecture again, only in a “better way.”

But at 2:00 in the morning, none of these mental exercises are serving you. You really need to sleep – not figure out how you might have more clearly explained yourself to your boss/students/son or daughter. You are losing energy trying to work out how to pay a bill that’s not due for weeks. But still … you can’t seem to stop. These thoughts are swirling around in your mind, keeping you busy and awake.Geisha

One technique that I have used successfully to still my mind is the mantra “Leave her at the river.” I came up with this phrase soon after hearing the Zen story about the two monks. It goes like this:

A senior monk and his younger disciple were traveling together on pilgrimage. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a young, beautiful woman also attempting to cross. She was dressed in silk clothing with abundant black hair piled on top of her head. The young woman appeared troubled and in need of help. She soon turned to them and asked if they might help her cross the river.

The two monks had taken vows to not touch any females. But then, without a word, the senior monk picked up the beautiful woman, placed her on his back, and carried her across the river. Upon their arrival to the other side, he gently let her down onto the riverbank, bowed and continued walking.

The younger monk couldn’t believe his eyes. After crossing the river himself and rejoining the senior monk, he was speechless. For more than four hours he couldn’t think of anything to say as they continued on their pilgrimage in silence.

two monk walking on beachFinally the younger monk could no longer contain himself. “Master, as monks we are not permitted to touch any women. How could you pick up and carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The old monk looked at him in wonder and then replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river. What are you doing still carrying her?”

Granted, this story is rather male in nature. (It would be a good exercise to try and write a female equivalent.) But its message is an important one. Too often we are carrying events, thoughts, feelings, or sensations around with us when we might easily ‘leave them at the river’. While our spiritual work demands that we take time to consciously process and reflect on our daily lives and actions, it is always more fruitful (and a better use of our skillful will) to do so at an appropriate time – a time when we might better resolve, learn, or gain insight about ourselves from the specific event we have experienced.

002363 Disindentification

Assagioli’s note from his archives: La disidentificazione dalla personalità e coscienza ordinaria è il grande segreto della “suggestione”. – è il modo facile. sicuro, diretto per attingere forza, luce, pace, amore. 1-XII-21 Disidentification from the personality and ordinary consciousness is the great secret of “suggestion.” – It is the easiest, surest, direct way to draw strength, light, peace, and love. December 1, 1921

In psychosynthesis, this kind of distancing or detachment is called disidentification, and it is one of the most fundamental and essential concepts in psychosynthesis. The idea is that disidentification brings inner freedom. In fact, the more we are detached from our body, feelings, and thoughts, the freer we are to consciously choose our actions and to be our authentic selves. Assagioli wrote:


We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we disidentify ourselves.

In the story, the younger monk was dominated for hours by the image of the beautiful woman after the older monk set her down on the riverbank. In contrast, the senior monk was able to disidentify from the touch, sight, and scent of the beautiful woman to continue his journey in freedom and peace.

Next time you find yourself spending too much time replaying a conversation or rewriting a past event, stop and try saying: “Leave her at the river,” with the idea that the ‘her’ is the thought that you wish to put aside, either forever or for another, more appropriate time when you might skillfully reflect upon it.

Don’t be surprised if the thought keeps popping back into your head. When it does, just gently repeat the mantra. Try using humor. (e.g., “Oh for goodness sake, Catherine! Will you please leave that woman at the river!!”) Use your imagination to visualize yourself lifting whatever is troubling you from your shoulders and gently placing it down on the riverbed. Then take a deep breath and silently walk away towards inner freedom.

001118 Disidentification

Disidentification – a means to make possible higher identifications

An Imagined Apology

Apology - Street ArtNot long ago, I reflected on the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take. Recently, I heard a fascinating interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her new book The Apology. Throughout her childhood, Ensler had been physically and sexually abused by her father. Decades after his death, she decided to write an apology for him – the apology that she had yearned to hear all her life. The book is written entirely from his perspective. In its “Introduction”, she talks about using her imagination to create the words she needed to hear her father say:

“My father is long dead. He will never say the words to me. He will not make the apology. So it must be imagined. For it is in our imagination that we can dream across boundaries, deepen the narrative, and design alternative outcomes.”

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Birthing Forgiveness

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Today Christians mark the death of Jesus, who before dying, forgave his executioners as well as the thief crucified by his side. Born out of a paradoxical mixture of human suffering, responsibility and love, the essential power of forgiveness is that is contains rather than proliferates violence. Today seems like a good time to explore where forgiveness comes from and the power it holds. How does it happen? And what are the steps that we, in our personal lives, can take towards it?

Forgiveness is a creative process. You decide how much, when, where, how, and under what conditions to forgive. As Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “The important part of forgiveness is to begin and to continue” (author’s italics). It does not happen overnight, it does not have to happen fully. But one thing is certain, it cannot happen from your head. We cannot reason our way around, into, or towards forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the heart, and it requires a great love, a Love beyond ourselves. Continue reading

Birthing Mercy

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality  whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Christians and non-Christians alike might reflect on Jesus’ act of forgiveness for the soldiers who nailed him to the cross and the thief who hung crucified at his side.

After the recent carnage in Brussels, most of our world leaders are calling for heightened surveillance and security, tighter borders, illegal torture of prisoners, patrols of Muslim neighborhoods, stricter control over the flow of refugees from the Middle East, and the ultimate destruction of Isis.

Perhaps it’s too early to start talking about forgiveness, but one faint whisper of mercy would not do us any harm. Our own responsibility in co-creating the world we all live in also needs to be acknowledged and spoken.

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Celebrating and Redeeming Flesh

baby with muscles

I am writing on a warm morning in early autumn. The oak branches are full and alive, corn fields lean with their ripeness, and rabbits graze in the filtered light. As the days grow shorter, I am trying to embrace autumn (and then the long winter) that will soon descend on Northern Europe. To do this, I have been collecting the yellow birch leaves that strew my path, acorns fallen from the night winds, and chestnuts that are still encased in their prickly green shells.

To fully participate in the beauty we find in nature, perhaps we need to start with appreciating our own living nature, beginning with our bodies. Autumn is autumn with all the decline and loss it might evoke, and all its shimmering colors, low filtered sunlight, and the fervent calling of wild geese overhead. This is true of who we are as well. We are who we are … wondrous and onerous, fragile and strong, light and dark.

This time of year also seems to be mirroring my own aging process. Lately, I have experienced a number of what I call OPTs (Old Person Things). I leave the kitchen, walk down the steps into the cellar, and stand bemused as I try to remember what I came down for. I take my wallet out of my purse and put it back without removing the bills that I need. I search for glasses, shoes, jackets and even credit cards that are sitting right in front of me. I watch (horrified at times) as my cognitive skills slow to a near standstill, yet at the same time I can feel myself grow more open, grounded, and at peace.

Take a moment now to wonder about your own body — to find your body wonderful! Your body contains a hundred times more cells than there are stars in the galaxy. Everyday, your heart, on average, does the daily work of lifting 1000 kilos from the ground up to the top of a five-story building. We have 656 muscles throughout the body. Our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, breathing, thinking, and speech bring us powerful revelations and gifts.

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New (In)Sights

Looking Beyond the Mirror Image

Looking Beyond the Mirror Image


During the last month I have had cataract surgery on both eyes. Nearsighted since I was 9-years-old, receiving clear vision after wearing glasses for 50 years is nothing short of a miracle. Surveying my garden after the operation, the blues of the cornflowers and borage blossoms seemed to jump out at me. Since then many natural images that would once have escaped me are appearing. A delicate winged dragonfly fluttering on top of the lavender. The rhythmic dance of the poppy petals in a soft morning breeze. Sad eyes on the face of the full moon.


However, my bathroom mirror is much more difficult to look at now! How eluded I have been! Suddenly I see wrinkles around my mouth, blotches on my cheeks, all the gray hair on my head, cellulite everywhere but… can it be…on my calves?! The list goes on! How did this happen overnight?

Acceptance seems key here. Of old age. Like 60 which is coming up fast for me. Three years ago I jokingly complained that in all the photos taken of me, an old lady seemed to be there, following me about like a faithful dog. (That old lady, of course, was me!) But I also realize that there are at least two advantages to getting older.

  1. I can now tell beautiful men that they are gorgeous without worrying about the consequences. That was not the case when I was younger.
  2. I now seem to be able to touch people more freely. I can lightly brush their cheek, pat their shoulder, even take their hand or hug them. I am more free to physically express my affection, heartache, and compassion. As a young woman, such physicality was impossible as it could easily be misunderstood as erotic, provocative, or unseemly. Now it’s just viewed as an affectionate gesture from a nice old lady.

So, take heart. There are advantages to growing old that you may not have seen yet. I recently edited a marketing piece about branding that included an example from a producer of beauty products. About 10 years ago, the CEO and his staff decided that their strategy would be to convince American women that they were ugly and growing old. That was the intended goal of the multimillion dollar company. To make you feel old and ugly. And they have had lots of money and expertise to achieve this end. Don’t let them win.

Facial CreamBeauty, as they say, is only skin deep. I have tried to look away from the bathroom mirror into one that might reflect my soul. This view can also be bit disconcerting, but I do see some progress and success. I am happier. I am quieter. I am hugging more people. I am more myself.

The recently deceased Lauren Bacall is quoted as saying, “I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.” I always like to say, “I once was young and beautiful. Now I’m just……beautiful!”  In psychosynthesis terms, I am trying to dis-identify from my body, knowing that it is temporal and constantly changing. I am so much more than just my body. I am pure consciousness and will. And that is something that doesn’t come in a jar of face cream. Consciousness and will is the human expression of God to which we all are born.