Category Archives: Feelings

The Virus of Fear

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

Let’s talk about fear. How arbitrary it can be. Besides personal fears and anxieties, Assagioli writes about “waves of collective fear and panic.” These waves appear daily in our news headlines – the pandemic, ongoing climate disasters, financial injustice, racism and political upheaval. These are some of the external fears that can so easily feed our internal ones.

Assagioli calls this collective fear a widely diffused psychological poison or smog. He says:

“So often when we feel a sudden fear with no apparent reason, it is not ours at all. It is a psychic infection —like a virus.”

It can be encouraging to know that these flu-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. Fear, rage, and vanity are just some of the ‘blocks of primitive mass-emotions’ that Dante portrays as giants in the Divine Comedy. These giants represent blind human forces. They stand in a circle around the well that leads to the final circle of Hell where the betrayers dwell. 

In order to deal with fear effectively, Assagioli urges us to eliminate or minimize the fear within ourselves. He also warns us of a vicious circle that can occur – our personal fear can open the door to the influence of external fear, and external fear feeds the inner one. Again he said:

“We have so much fear that is not ours. It’s stupid to let these fears invade and dominate our being!”

To break this vicious circle, we need to use our skillful will to withdraw our attention deliberately away from the psychological poison of fear. Assagioli suggests that we dis-identify from the fear by simply saying, “That’s not me.” At the same time we are dis-identifying from the fear, we need to not suppress it. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of the fear! Otherwise we can quickly descend into a vicious spiral of fear feeding fear.

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Dante and Virgil meeting one of the giants in Inferno.

Once we are able to release the energy that is holding and nurturing the fear, we can then redirect this new-found energy to do the most good in our lives. 

Returning to Egypt

I learned about collective fear nearly 20 years ago when my husband and I happened to be living in Egypt. But the day the Twin Towers fell, we happened to be visiting my family in California. Was I afraid to return to Egypt? I HAD been afraid. The week before I was sick with fear. My head hurt, my eyes burned, my shoulders ached. And it didn’t help when everyone around me kept saying, “You’re not going back to Egypt, are you? Aren’t you afraid?” 

After careful consideration, prayer, constant check-ins with the US Embassy in Cairo, and reassurances from friends in Egypt, we did decide to return. Once ‘home’ again, everything in Egypt seemed like business as usual. But soon afterwards, I learned of student protests at Cairo universities against the bombings in Afghanistan. U.S. flags had been burnt and there were daily marches at Al Azhar University. 

But did I feel fear? Well, some. All the Muslims that we knew in our neighborhood seemed genuinely happy to see us again. Perhaps our return gave them a feeling of normality. Perhaps they were happy because we had brought our U.S. dollars. 

Our next-door neighbors in Giza included our landlord Mr. Hussein, his wife, Affaf, and two daughters, Mona (21) and Marwa (23). On our first day back, Affaf came baring gifts of baked chicken and stuffed zucchini and eggplant, which we gratefully received. Later that evening, while Kees was out, she appeared at my door with fresh dates still clinging to their palm stems and an invitation to come into the house to see the girls.

The girls awaited me in the living room with kisses. Usually veiled, they were bare-armed with their curly hair tied tightly back. Hibiscus tea was served with more dates, nutty and woody in taste. Mr. Hussein sat watching TV. During the 1967 war, Mr. Hussein was an Egyptian plane navigator. After being shot down by Israeli fighters, he had to wait for rescue in the Sinai desert.

“You not afraid?” was his only question for me. What, I wondered, did he mean by “afraid”?

“Yes,” I said. “A little.”

The women then engaged me in chatter about our time apart. The summer had been exceptionally hot. Early one morning, Mona and her mother ran out the front gate to rescue a tiny chick from the jowls of a wild dog. The young chicken was now happily roaming the inner garden, undisturbed by their two cats. 

Then Mona turned to me and asked, “Were you afraid? Were you afraid to go out of your house? Were you afraid of being bombed?”

What a surprising question! (That AFRAID question again…) None of them were asking if I was afraid to return to Egypt, which seemed to be the only concern of everyone else in my life. The Egyptians, however, wanted to know if I had been afraid to stay in America!

All this made me instantly realize two things. First, one can easily fall into the mass emotion of fear no matter what perspective it is coming from. The second insight was that the amount of fear we experience is often a reflection of the fear we have of our own shadow selves. 

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at drawntocolor.com

If I had assumed all the presupposed fears that had polluted the US national psyche after the 9/11 attacks — fear of returning to Egypt, fear of flying on a plane, fear of living in a foreign country, fear of walking freely in the streets of an Middle Eastern city – I never would have been able to live my life, something I had already been trying to do for years. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! Only the Higher Self can bring us there.

Start today to consciously starve your fear. Anytime your fear appears during the day, practice using skillful will to redirect your thoughts to something beautiful and positive that you recently experienced. Use the Evocative Word exercise, calling to mind the words: Calm, Tranquility, Fearlessness. At the same time, try to face your own personal fears. They are the fears that we all must individually examine and exhume in their full force. Transmute and redeem to their full glory. Without being fully realized, personal fear bubbles over and is projected outside, contributing to the psychic poisons that are already swirling around us. 

Soon after arriving in Egypt that year, I had the opportunity to experience a very special celebration of Ramadan. Remember, once we start using our will to dis-identify from fearful thoughts, emotions, and ideas, we allow ourselves much freedom and new energy to purposively create acts of Love and Will. 

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To read about how two former clients overcame their personal fears, see Starve Your Fear! and The Healing Paradox.

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

Snow Blossoms

snow sunset

First day of Spring, Umbria, Italy, 2018

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

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

From Sexual Instinct to Channeled Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at drawntocolor.com

Let’s talk about sex. The sexual instinct that is… Lately, the media has been giving it a bad rap. Every day there is another report of a woman being assaulted by a Hollywood mongrel, fellow actor, news anchorman, US president, or fashion photographer. This is not new news. Nearly every woman has encountered this type of aggressive behavior (in various degrees) during her lifetime. I still do, even at the age of 62!

Come on guys, grow up! Sublimate and transmute already!

Let’s talk about sexual energy from a psychosynthesis point of view. Assagioli did more than 100 years ago in his article “The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energy.” First, I want to say that this is mainly a male problem. For some mysterious reason, men have more difficulty holding sexual tension. This is a general fact. There are, of course, exceptions… Continue reading

The Long Road to Paradise

bomarzo_monsterWhat can I say, as an American who has found refuge in Europe for the past 21 years? Everyone else is busy saying it all. On one side – shock, dismay, fear. On the other – glee, revenge, hope of becoming great again.

I’m afraid I saw this coming a long time ago – like 21 years ago? – and am not surprised. But it is still painful to watch. I can’t bare to hear his name ever again. And yet it will undoubtedly resound in history. Her name has quietly sunken into the “what-might-have-been” (The WMH-bin). Buried under heartache and broken pride.

Of course, this all happened because of _________________ (fill in the blank). But underneath it all, what we really have to face is the moral and spiritual crises we are in. As Assagioli wrote:

“Everything that happens is a mix of good and evil in various proportions. This is only to highlight that each aspect is equally real.”

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A Litany of Endings

butterfly

My life has recently been full of endings. Having moved from Germany to Italy, I’ve had to say good bye to family, friends, and acquaintances, my garden, my bicycle, and the comfort of the familiar. My husband and I were only one week in Italy when his father died. At the same time, many issues from my past were suddenly emerging, demanding that I redeem them and finally put them to rest. It felt like endings were spilling over me from heaven. A shower of good byes marking the time of new beginnings.

During the last two sessions with clients, I always ask them to focus on endings. We take our time to reflect on how they have typically ended past relationships and how they might like to try a different type of ending during our last session together. We all have a typical way of saying goodbye. For example, there’s the tragic ending, the never-ending ending, and the disappearing ending.

One client had a ‘ritual’ ending. She would always return to the empty room/home/space that she was leaving, stand and acknowledge that space, and then say goodbye. When she told me this, I instantly thought of her birth. This client was a twin and the first-born. At the beginning of her life, a time of great numinous significance, of great endings and beginnings, her mother’s womb had not been empty when she turned to say goodbye.

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Your Significance Reaches Beyond Your Imagination

Our acts of kindness are like seeds in the wind. Surrender them to be transformed into miracles.

Our acts of kindness are like seeds in the wind. Surrender them to be transformed into miracles.

How often do you despair at your apparent insignificance? Between the acts of war our countries participate in, world poverty and the devastation of our climate, what possible difference can we make? Such problems can feel overwhelming and our own meager lives seem so small. Even when we do rise above such feelings of inadequacy, we then might struggle to choose the most appropriate response. What actions can we possibly take at a personal level to affect what is emerging globally?

First of all, you and your actions do matter. My experience is that our significance reaches far beyond our imagination. Even the smallest acts of kindness directed towards rectifying the world’s injustices make a difference. But perhaps most surprisingly and wonderfully, even obscure acts that we may not consider meaningful can make a difference.

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Accepting Acceptance

Reconcilation2It may seem strange, but often the first step we need to take towards making any inner or outer change is acceptance. Usually we are stuck in some way because we are not willing to accept the reality of our situation, our limitations, past failings, or the consequences of what we think we desire. Too often we see acceptance as passive and weak. But if this is so, why is acceptance so hard to do?

Active acceptance is actually a very positive higher quality that requires a strong and skillful will. Recently, I had a woman come to see me who was struggling with her relationship with her younger sister. While growing up as the eldest daughter in a large family of nine children, Ann (not her real name) often played the role of mother to her siblings. This was especially true with her sister Liz who was 10 years younger.

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