Category Archives: freedom

When No Money Talks

Assagiolis writing about jail

Assagioli’s writing about his time in jail.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Assagioli’s time in prison is when his prison money was running out. He wrote in intimate detail about this experience in his book Freedom in Jail, under the chapter “An Incident and a ‘Test’”.

From the time of his arrest, Assagioli’s wife Nella was making sure that there was enough money in his prison account to warrant his receiving special treatment. In 1940, Regina Coeli prisoners could buy a more comfortable, private cell and more varied and higher quality food.

Paid cells came “furnished” with a bed instead of a cot, a real mattress instead of a straw mattress, better linens, two pillows, a small writing table, and a wash basin. Non-paying prisoners received one meal a day consisting of bread (“as heavy as a brick and as hard as a stone”) and minestrone soup (“that sticks in your throat and doesn’t really go down”)[1]. Meanwhile, paying prisoners were offered a varied menu — pasta with anchovies on Monday, veal on Thursday, and fish on Friday. They could also choose from jams, butter, chocolate, biscotti, and fruit — even bananas.

Assagioli writes how he was living a “peaceful but intense life” when one day he was told that his prison fund was running out. Once it was exhausted, he would have to eat the common prison food and move into a cell with other men. This news came as a surprise. With some investigation, he soon learned that while his account had plenty of money, as a political prisoner, he needed special permission from Police Headquarters to access the funds.

jail reading listThere was nothing he could do but wait and hope for the best. Despite this practical understanding, Assagioli describes his being psychologically tested on both accounts – concerning the food and concerning the private cell.

Assagioli watched with interest as he struggled with these two tests. Never particularly attached to food, he nevertheless felt a surge of  “physical instinctual panic” which kept him emotionally preoccupied. But perhaps the more difficult challenge was concerning his “freedom”, that is, his “privilege of solitude and privacy” that came with living alone in his jail cell.

Assagioli writes how through “clear reasoning” he was able to succeed in freeing himself from these two preoccupations. After all, many thousands throughout Italy at the time were living on a similar meager diet. This roused in him a sense of shame, which helped him to realize the human value of sharing the experience of “poverty” with others. With regard to sharing a cell with other men, he came to understand that the experience would allow him to actively help others. Once he surpassed, on an inner spiritual level, these two tests, he was able to serenely pursue his deep inner exercises, readings and usual activities in jail.

Then the day arrived when only 25 cents remained in his account. Assagioli was ready (and willing!) to move the next day, but at the last minute the necessary permit arrived from Police Headquarters. Assagioli noted two opposite responses occurred simultaneously inside him upon hearing of this news: 1) an instinctual sense of relief and 2) a feeling of disappointment of being deprived of the experience of helping the other prisoners.

assagioli1937-bw

Roberto Assagioli in 1937 (Archivio Assagioli, Florence, Italy)

I suppose I love this story because it resonates with my own experience. A number of times I have run low of money, and each instance has actively thrown me into a spiritual test. (Or crisis!?) Clear reasoning has often helped me to release my worries. But more often Faith in what I was hoping and trying to achieve has propelled me forward. The money always seems to appear — but always at the very last minute and in a mysterious way.

For example, when my husband and I needed to make an offer on our house in Umbria, we were short €2000. Where could we possibly dig up that money? We believed in what we were doing. We knew in our hearts that we were making the right spiritual choice. Therefore, we did not despair, but instead turned to prayer. Two days later, a client of mine in China sent me an email. She had just been awarded a grant that allowed her to hire a professional to edit her scientific papers. Would I mind receiving the money now and editing the papers next year? The amount of the grant was exactly €2000.

Years after his time in prison, Assagioli wrote an essay “Money and the Spiritual Life.” In his essay, he recognizes that “the thought of money strikes a deep, intense chord within us.” He points out:

“What emerges [when we deal with money] is a turgid gush of mixed [emotions] … of fear, desire, greed and attachment – along with feelings of guilt, envy and resentment.”

Assagioli’s advice is to:

“First free ourselves from the tendency to place too much value on money.
Secondly, tackle the real problem: our relationship with material things in general.”

I like to think that he was remembering his time in prison when he wrote these words.

We can actually use our money (or lack of it) to grow spiritually. Money (and the lack of it) helps us to understand our attitudes, mindsets, and conduct, either individually or collectively, around our inner (in)certainties, fears and hopes for the future, and ability to empathize with others. Next time money feels scare (or plentiful), consciously observe how you are relating to it through your material possessions and/or gift giving. As Saint Benedict wrote “listen with the ear of your heart.” And then with humor and imagination, see how money, or the lack of it, is talking to you.

 

Reference

[1] Ugolini, L. (1970). Regina Coeli: Dieci Mesi di Carcere Fascista 1940-1941 [Regina Coeli: Ten Months in a Fascist Jail 1940-1941]. Milano: Casa Editrice Ceschina, pp. 48, 60, 103-106.

 

 

 

The Vivid Color of Ixoras

freedom to pollute with bronze statue of refugee

Statue of Liberty carrying the declaration “Freedom to Pollute” next to a bronze statue of climate change refugee, at the Bonn Climate Change Conference.

It’s been a week since the closing of the Bonn Climate Change Conference. A small victory occurred with the passing of a global insurance plan that by 2020 will help protect 400 million poor and vulnerable people around the world. The project, called the InsuResilience Global Partnership, aims to provide insurance against damage caused by global warming.

Naturally, this project is fraught with controversy. Instead of having the richer nations, who are generally the bigger polluters, pay for climate disaster relief, this initiative actually pushes poor people in poor countries to pay an insurance premium.

016705 Dante on greed

Assagioli’s note on greed from his Archives,

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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

Freedom in Jail – One Year Later

RA Freedom in JailIt’s been a year since the publication of Freedom in Jail by Roberto Assagioli, which I had the privilege to edit and write an introduction to. From its conception to its final release, this project felt like a massive treasure hunt. Some of the 160+ footnotes took me days to research. Others only led me down a dead end with no clear answer in sight.

While I was busy with Freedom in Jail, I was also preparing to make an international move from Germany to Italy. One of the many beautiful and synchronistic events related to this book was that Freedom in Jail appeared in print a few days before my arrival in Italy. In a strange way, the book and Assagioli were here to greet me.

I worked on this book, but this book worked on me, and continues to do so. Gruppo alle Fonti is now preparing an Italian translation for publication in the near future. While helping to prepare for this edition, a number of mysterious footnotes have been resolved and other insights have been uncovered.

Prison was one of Assagioli’s most gratifying experiences

In a 1965 interview with Julie Medlock, Assagioli said:

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