Category Archives: Feelings

The Box of Dates

After two years, aren’t we tired by now of hearing, talking, reading about but mostly fearing Covid-19? My biggest heartache is witnessing the disintegration of the social fabric that once united the villagers where I live. Many of the agricultural traditions were already wobbling on creaky foundations. It’s as if the big bad wolf of fear has blown it all down.

Located in the heart of Italy, the village has about 100 inhabitants; nearly 30 of whom are over 70 years old.  The town’s activities revolve around feast days and holidays, mainly associated with the village’s Catholic Church. Nearly every month there used to be a celebration with most of the villagers gathering for a communal meal afterwards.

The spring feast of Ascension had us in procession around the town’s fields, blessing the earth, sun, and rain for providing us with nature’s abundance. In July we honored the local Franciscan Saint Marzio with porchetta sandwiches and homemade wine. August brought the entire village together for the three-day preparing to make gnocchi Sacra di Gnocco. In early December, we climbed the hill out of town at dusk with lit torches, song and prayer to celebrate Saint Barbara, her statue atop the shoulders of four strong men.

But all these celebrations have since disappeared. Even the village’s most famous – the day long Feast of the Madonna of Monte Camera celebrated on the Tuesday after Easter. Ironically enough, in 1647 when the pest was devastating the village population, the town dwellers who were well enough went in procession to this sanctuary (about 6 km away) to pray to the Madonna so that she might intercede on their behalf.

When they returned to their village, everyone who had been sick was miraculously cured. For 372 years, the villagers have returned in procession to this chapel – without fail – to commemorate the miracle. Every year… even during the last century’s World Wars, even during the time of Napoleon. Every year… except for the past two. Even though such a miracle is needed more than ever.

Personally during these past two years, I have witnessed many of the Italians I know tightly close ranks around their family life, walling themselves inside a circle of quiet desperation. Rarely does someone pause to chat with me anymore. What few smiles remain are hidden behind our masks. I am no longer invited in for a coffee and chat. All kisses are gone. The spontaneous touch of a hand is only a distant memory. We stand at a ‘safe’ distance, feeling unsafe.

An Open Door, An Open Heart

And then one afternoon, Maria Grazia[i] deeply touched me and my soul.

Maria Grazia is 91 years old. She grew up in the village, worked with her family on the land, married the village carpenter, had two children and now lives alone (her husband died three years ago). She is one of the few people whose attitude has not changed towards me. Always happy if I stop in to see her (along with my dog), Maria Grazia always insists on giving me something… creamy chocolates wrapped in shiny foil, a few fresh eggs from her chickens, and one time a small pot of honey from her son-in-law’s beehives.

Last week, I decided to pay her a visit. With all the fear that is running wild in the world, and despite her vulnerability, Maria Grazia attends to a quiet fearlessness. The key to her front door is always in the lock. As usual, I rang the bell and before any answer could come, I simply walked in. Maria Grazia was sitting next to her wood-burning stove, her legs up on a chair and covered with a blanket, rosary in hand. Despite my interrupting her quiet prayers of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, Maria Grazia welcomed me inside.

She did not quaver from my touch or worry about my wearing a mask or not. She was simply glad to see me. In fact, I often had to slide the mask to my chin and repeat myself, her slightly deaf ears unable to decipher my heavily accented Italian. We had met briefly the day before when I went to the mass for Saint Anthony Abate, the patron saint of domestic animals. As always, the villagers brought their animal feed to be blessed by the priest after the mass, and I too had attended with buckets of chicken feed, dog and cat food for the ritual sprinkling of holy water.

“I’m always so happy to see you in church,” was the first thing she said. I can’t remember when anybody told me that they were happy to see me anywhere! Slightly embarrassed to be caught with her legs up on a chair, Maria Grazia explained, “I have fibrosis in my legs.” She lifted up the blanket to show me her swollen, discolored calves and ankles, and then, despite my protests, insisted on getting up.

Hobbling to her cupboard while supporting herself against her kitchen table, she brought out a box of dates and insisted I take them with me. “But don’t you like them?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I like them. But I have another box,” she said. “And besides, I want you to have these.”

Maria Grazia put the box of dates into a plastic bag. I gratefully accepted them and thanked her. We kissed each other goodbye on both cheeks and I went on my way. As I was leaving, she sat down again by the warm stove. I offered to help her replace the blanket over her legs, but Maria Grazia insisted that she could do it herself.

The box of dates meant little to me, but her loving attitude of just being present, without terror in her eyes, without my having to feel awkward or afraid to be with her, was her true gift.  Nothing between us had changed, despite the world being so radically altered. It was a moment when everything felt normal… when human relationship once more felt peaceful… We were just two human beings – with all our limitations – together, acknowledging each other’s presence, the beauty of each other’s soul.


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

The Pandemic of Collective Fear

Assagioli writes how “waves of collective fear and panic” are like 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 virus-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. 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 says:

“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.

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. 

You might start today to consciously ‘vaccinate’ yourself against 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. You can also 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 whirling around us. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! But with patience and Love, along with the guidance of the Higher Self, the virus of fear can be cured.

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

[i] Maria Grazia is a pseudonym.

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

Changing Judgments to 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

One Doll’s Advice

Twenty years ago, my husband and I happened to be living in Egypt when we were visiting my family in California. Visiting just in time for 9/11 and what the media described as an “Attack on America.” What a strange time to come home … in time for an attack. Little did I know that in the days that followed Buzz Lightyear would provide me with the best advice.

Buzz Lightyear is the star of the animated feature Toy Story. He has a broad face with a dimpled chin, no neck, and a constant smile. Encased in a plastic space ranger suit, Buzz is equipped with laser beams that can destroy the deadliest enemy (mainly Emperor Zurg), projectile wings what allow him not to fly but to “fall with style,” and a protective bubble helmet.

Buzz’s sidekick is Woody, who is not half as glamorous. Woody is a cowboy who is always losing his hat. Woody is softer, his body being of cloth, which can cause complications like a torn arm. He does not own any high-tech weaponry or protective clothing. Woody does not own a gun. All he has is an empty holster.

Twenty years ago, my two nephews, Frank (5) and Mark (2-1/2), were in love with Buzz Lightyear. Buzz went to bed with them, traveled in the car with them, had long conversations with them.  Frank had a Buzz Lightyear costume that he put on daily to replay all the action scenes from the movie. Mark, as the little brother, was relegated to the Woody part and costume. That is, until Frank left for school and Mark would immediately usurp the costume and role of Buzz, laser beam and all.

Both Buzz and Woody have favorite things they like to say. Buzz speaks when you press one of his dazzling buttons, Woody has an old-fashion string that you pull from behind his back. Woody says things like: “You’re my favorite Deputy.” and “There’s a snake in my boot.” Buzz sayings include: “To Infinity and beyond!” and “I come in peace.”

When I asked my nephews if they knew what infinity was and what Buzz meant when he says he ‘comes in peace’, they grew frustrated with me. Why was I asking these stupid questions? Why wasn’t I just playing my part as Zurg and falling to the floor dead?

“Infinity has no beginning and no end. It’s like God.” I said. “So to say that you are going beyond infinity means that you are going beyond a place with no end. It really doesn’t make any sense, does it?” 

I was instantly liquidated by a laser beam.

Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

When I told them that ‘to come in peace’ is to come to help people, not to hurt them, they stared at me blankly and soon forgot. I kept asking my stupid questions and Mark soon had the answers, mostly to appease me. Frank, on the other hand, was more interested in having me press his laser beam button after which he would jump back and exclaim, “Don’t touch that! It’s strangely dangerous!” (Unwittingly, the kids had misinterpreted Buzz’s remark of “extremely dangerous” as “strangely dangerous.”)

It all did feel strangely dangerous—Buzz and what he represented that is. What was he teaching my nephews and why was he so powerful an image? What archetype was Buzz for these two small boys? Frankie rejected most food except “power drinks” so he could “grow big muscles like Buzz.”  And it wasn’t just my nephews who were captivated by this action hero, but an entire generation of American boys.

When Bush first called the war on terrorism “Operation Infinite Justice,” I had to wonder if the same people working for Disney were writing the President’s military slogans. “Operation Infinite Justice” and “To Infinity and beyond,” what’s the difference? Then America entered “Operation Enduring Freedom,” although I couldn’t be sure whose freedom we were talking about, certainly not the 21 million Afghans whose country we were about to bomb.

After 11 September, it felt as if my American identity was crashing down inside me alongside the World Trade Centers. I felt overpowered by the violent reactions of my fellow Americans, their immediate thirst for revenge, their interweaving of religious righteousness and patriotic fervor into a frightening display of anger. I couldn’t bear to see how my country was responding to the attacks, to listen to rescue workers at the World Trade Center chant “USA! USA!” as if they were at a football match, to hear my president call the war a “crusade.”

Despite being raised as a good Catholic girl and proud American, God and country weren’t connecting for me anymore. I spent most of the week after 9/11 sick in bed.  My identity was fractured, unraveling, dissolving. I simply did not know who I was anymore or what I should do.

The size and number of American flags numbers overwhelmed me. During the week following September 11, more than 800,000 U.S. flags were sold and gun sales doubled. Nearly every other day the local paper would have an article carefully describing the proper way to display an American flag.[1]

Flags were flying everywhere in my sister’s neighborhood, providing people with comfort and expressing unity. My mother took the boys around her neighborhood to “count the flags.” Flags waved from car antennae, rose in popularity at tattoo parlors, and quickly became fashion jewelry.

One day the local paper came with a full-page flag that you could display in your front window and a smaller one for your car. My sister humorously told her husband, “Don’t be putting up any flags around here. I don’t want Osama bombing our house.”

The Friday after September 11th, a vigil was held in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Bush climbed to the church pulpit, and declared, “The warm courage of national unity is evident in the American flags which are displayed in pride and wave in defiance.”

In the Catholic church that my family attended, the American flag stood next to the altar, its red-and-white stripes carefully wrapped around a statue of the Pieta. These displays of religious imagery were literally intertwined with the symbology captured by the country’s flag.

At the end of the last mass I attended in the US, Father Wallace announced the need for catechism instructors followed by the news that the U.S. and U.K. had just begun bombing Afghanistan.

The news made me feel sick and I longed to sit in silent prayer, but instead we moved right into the final hymn, a joyous melody whose lyrics were full of Alleluias. How could this be? As the congregation sang the hymn, my soul wretched itself around the words.

“Lift your voices joyfully as one.”
(We are bombing poor starving people.)
“Alleluia!”
(Our country is at war.)
“He brings good news.”
(Smoke’em out.)
“Alleluia. Alleluia.”
(Only American lives matter.)
“We are redeemed.”
(We will soon drive away in our big vans and go somewhere to eat too much.)
“Alleluia!”
(God Bless America.)
“Amen.”

Meanwhile, anomalies kept appearing. Oprah Winfrey jumped into the fray with a show examining the question “Is war the only way?” Sound bites by political experts were interrupted by commercials selling herbal essence breast enhancers.

I felt alienated from my country and estranged from myself. What kind of American am I? I kept asking myself.  Why don’t I feel like everyone else? I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and kept hoping my voice would appear somewhere.

There were a few. Barbara Boxer, the only member of Congress to vote against war (420-1). “Let us not become the evil that we deplore,” she urged her colleagues in a dramatic address on the House floor. Rita Lasar who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center. She wrote a letter to The New York Times urging Bush not to bomb Afghanistan. She wrote:

“It is in my brother’s name and mine that I pray that we, this country that has been so deeply hurt, not do something that will unleash forces we will not have the power to call back.”

As our time in California was nearly finished, my husband and I both struggled with our eminent return to Egypt. Then one morning I heard a woman call into a radio talk show. “What can we do?” she pleaded with the panel of experts. “What can we do in the short run?” And then I knew. At least, I knew what I could do in the short run. And oddly enough, the answer came from Buzz Lightyear.

I could go in peace. As a Christian American woman, I could go and live with Arabs and Moslems and Egyptians. I could shop in their street markets, ride their buses, walk by their mosques, and visit their homes to drink tea. And I could say, “I come in peace.”

I left for Cairo the day after the United States and U.K. started to drop Tomahawk cruise missiles, peanut butter, and flyers of assurance on the people of Afghanistan. Less than two months later, I and my husband would be sharing an iftar meal with Mohammed and his family during Ramadan.


These are the countries who contributed troops or financial backing to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, UK, USA, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, North Macedonia, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine, Australia, Bahrain, El Salvador, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Tonga, UAE


[1] The US flag must never touch the ground, but be received by waiting arms and hands. When putting the flag at half-mast to show mourning, you must first raise the flag to the peak of the flagpole, and then lower it to the half-mast position. Never fly another flag above the U.S. flag. Never wear a flag, or a piece of a flag. When wanting to dispose of a flag, call the American Legion so it can be done properly or retire it by burning.

Writing to Awaken

During this past year, many of us have faced deeper questions about our lives and its purpose. So the beginning of 2021 might be a good time to start a spiritual diary.

Writing a spiritual diary is different from writing a memoir or a diary in general as the focus is on your spiritual life – in other words, what is happening inside your soul. Besides a blank notebook and pen, it requires you to have some courage and a great deal of honesty. By focusing on what’s happening in your inner life, you allow yourself to more carefully observe the small changes that are happening in your heart and mind. In your written reflections, you can work through troubling issues, set new spiritual goals, and discover higher qualities like patience, determination, and beauty that have always existed inside you.

Continue reading

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.”

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.”

Continue reading

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