Category Archives: Daily Meditations

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

Psychosynthesis
Disidentification – a means to make possible higher identifications

Coffee Grinds Everywhere

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

“How do you like your steak?” I’d ask.

As a vegetarian for more than twenty years, I found this question ludicrous. I like my steak on the cow where it belongs. Most people like theirs well-done.

Every job always has something that’s hard to swallow.

Jennys spiral

Back home in the US waitresses fear chefs. There is a tension between them that literally can become palatable. I remember a friend telling me how she dreaded returning anything to the kitchen, especially after the chef threw a potato at her.

At Rosaleen’s Restaurant, however, comradeship existed between us. Any tensions disappeared as we focused together in the preparation of steak, lamb, fish, and vegetable. At times, three of us fluttered around a single serving: the chef, pouring sauce and garnishing the plate, her assistant placing doilies on dishes and slicing bread, and me waiting to whisk the plate to the customer so to deliver the meal hot.

This shared longing to serve our best was perhaps what the customer tasted most.

Tea cup

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Under the Napkin Tent

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

I found it curious who ate what and how much. The Burren lamb bones gnawed clean of meat. The barbecued chicken wings, once garnished on a bed of lettuce, reduced to tiny sticks. Baked cod picked apart and left under a napkin tent.

Was it the food, its taste and appearance, that mattered or the hunger, its degree and duration? Was it the conversation shared or the person listening? When we are given the food of life, what and how much do we eat?

Jennys spiral

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God likes small places…

Line Drawing of Restaurant by Jenny Beale

Roseleen’s Restaurant’s entrance, by Jenny Beale

Twenty years ago I published God is in Roseleen’s Restaurant, a small book of reflective meditations about my time working as a waitress in Ireland. Can two decades go by just like that? Twenty years ago I was 44 years old, living in a round wooden house in Kinvara, a small village on the West Coast of Ireland. I had just met and fallen in love with my Dutch husband. We would marry in May the next year and have our wedding feast at Roseleen’s.

When I got the job as a waitress, I was an unemployed technical writer with little knowledge of either psychosynthesis or Assagioli. But (as always) I was searching… Continue reading

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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Useless Exercises as Will Gymnastics

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Strong will alone is like pushing a car uphill.

Upon agreeing to be the guest editor of the latest issue of the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly with its theme of “Awareness and Will”, I decided to search for inspiration in Assagioli’s online archives. Luckily I found two very interesting manuscripts. Luckier still, both of these were clearly dated ‘1929.’

Most of the tens of thousands of Assagioli’s notes held in Florence are rarely dated. Rarer still are any manuscripts written before WWII, since most of Assagioli’s documents were destroyed in two separate fires during this time. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Christmas List

Underhill Christmas Rules 1921 1-4

Evelyn Underhill’s notes from the King’s College Archives.

Most of us are familiar with writing Christmas Lists. As children we might have been encouraged by our parents to write to Santa Claus, sending him our list of desired gifts. We might have also been told that Santa Claus kept his own “list of who’s naughty and nice.” As we became adults enmeshed in the frenetic holiday craziness, our Christmas lists probably became more numerous and less imaginative – lists of things to do, presents to buy, and greeting cards to send.

Recently, with the help of my friend and colleague Georgie, I discovered that the Christian mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also wrote a Christmas list – but a kind I had never seen before. In the archives of King’s College London, you can read three pages of her own notes which she entitled “Rule. Christmas 1921.” Her handwriting is evenly spaced and full of sensuous loops and curves. Like Assagioli, she occasionally underlines, and even double underlines words for emphasis. Underhill’s Christmas list contains her spiritual goals for leading a Christian life, to be tested and practiced by herself for six months – “quietly and steadily, with a disposition to find them true even where uncongenial.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

From Pencils to Cosmic Love

pencils-1820407_960_720

What better day than St. Valentines to explore Assagioli’s thoughts on Love from a psychosynthetic point of view? But first we have to start with pencils…

In his dialogs with Bruno Caldironi, Assagioli described the process of reflective mediation. This type of meditation is a synthesis of many elements, most notably attention and concentration. The idea is to consciously direct your thoughts to an idea, problem, or concept and note how your thoughts connect, interpenetrate, and link themselves together into a new understanding.

In Assagioli’s careful didactic way, he first gave the simple example of how you might meditate on a pencil.  You might begin like this:

“What’s a pencil? It’s for writing. It’s of wood. It has lead inside…”

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Formulating Christmas Blessings

goodwill yellowAre you dreading this holiday season? The incessant music. Crowds of anxious consumers. The proliferation of plastic made in China? Unwanted gifts and the duty of buying gifts unwanted? The unreasonable pressure of a perfect Christmas dinner on the table. Forced encounters with others with whom you would rather not? Fake joy…

Rejoice! There is a simple way out. It’s called “Formulating Blessings.” Anyone can play and it’s absolutely free! Continue reading