Category Archives: freedom

Writing the Apology You Long to Hear

Apology - Street ArtJanuary is already half gone. Most of us are in full swing again, our busy lives moving rapidly towards spring. Any resolutions are probably either forgotten or put on the back burner. But the start of a new year is also a good time to reflect and forgive — yourself or someone else — and to extend an apology to someone else for forgiveness.

I have written about the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take.  But I learned another approach to forgiveness through an interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her 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.”

As Ensler points out, the first step towards forgiving or making an apology or even hearing an apology can begin with our own imagination. Assagioli said that our imagination has the great power to produce something that never existed before. By using our creative imagination, we help to externally manifest that which we visualize. In other words, by just imagining ourselves forgiving someone or apologizing to someone or having our perpetrator apology to us, we begin to engage in that very act.

008585 will and imagination

Will and Imagination / Imagination is needed in “seeing” the goals and aims. (Note from Assagioli’s Archives)

Now, like most psychosynthesis techniques, using our creative imagination is not so easy! We can’t just say ‘I’m sorry’ and Poof! Magically all is forgiven and forgotten. The imagination must be fully engaged in creative play. We must physically feel the apologize. We would do well to write it down with pen and paper, say it out loud, imagine the injured or injurer sitting before us. We then need to chew on all of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Allow the apology to sink in our stomach. Perhaps cry and even scream our response. Breathe and imagine again…

I have many examples from my counseling practice of how the imagination can work in this way. Here is just one. During our second session together, Clair talked about her longing to reconcile her relationship with her father, which had ruptured fifteen years earlier. When Clair was 11 years old, her father decided to stop talking to the family, made this announcement to her mother and marked it by shaving his head. He only engaged with the family in angry outbreaks, otherwise he was completely silent. Towards the end of Clair’s detailed description of what had happened, she was sobbing. Five days after Clair shared her longing for reconciliation, she received a letter from her father – completely unprompted by her – requesting that they arrange to talk about what happened when she was 11 years old.

008588 will dynamic imagination

Will / Dynamic imagination – / It evokes, directs, focuses the drives and determines the execution, the action – (Note from Assagioli’s Archives)

Both acts, whether we forgive someone or apologize to another, brings freedom. Freedom from the visceral memory of the wounds received in body, soul and psyche. Freedom from the inner emptiness left by the harm we may have inflicted on another. By holding tight to this goal of freedom, a higher transpersonal quality, we can endure the wretchedness we might be feeling as we relive painful experiences. Ultimately, as we move towards reconciliation, inner freedom is awakened and nurtured, activating an inner opening within our heart in which peace can move in and take residence.

To help with this process, one reader recently sent me Forgiveness Phrases by Larry Yang – Awakening Together. In this four-part meditation, you are first invited to ask yourself for forgiveness. Then you imagine yourself asking forgiveness for some act you have consciously or unconsciously inflicted on another. Thirdly, you ask that you may forgive someone else. Finally, you ask for the freedom forgiveness can bring.

Goldilocks_apology_letterTo move more deeply towards birthing forgiveness or an apology requires self-evaluation and reflection. Both forgiving and apologizing are a remembering. Both are humbling. Both victim and perpetrator become equal, fallible, human beings. Both abdicate power. Both become vulnerable.

An apology means examining the details of what you have done. Forgiveness means reliving the details of what has been done to you. Because God is in the details. Freedom is in the details.

This freedom – for both the forgiver and forgiven – is a spiritual release. Ultimately, you will feel a wave of energy move through your body. Your knees might shake and your chest rattle with sobs. In the end, you will breathe again and see the world differently. You will be more connected to all around you.

I leave the final words to Ensler:

“Find a clergy, a person, a counselor. Start to work on your apology. It’s a process. It’s a journey. It’s a practice. It takes time. And to those who can’t get an apology, write yourself one from your perpetrator. Work with somebody to support it. Write a thorough letter to yourself from the person who harmed you. The impact on me was profound. I feel free in a way I have never felt in my life.”

Many thanks to Clair (not her real name) for letting me share her story.

A Spiritual Warrior for Human Rights

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 1965 file photo, Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington after the House of Representatives rejected a challenger to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. (AP Photo/William J. Smith, File)

February is black history month in the U.S., and I recently learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, an inspiring and heroic woman who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, class rights, and overall human rights. What caught my attention was that her courageous fight against oppression was motivated by a spiritual awakening that she had at the age of 44.

During her lifetime, Hamer was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of poverty-strickened people through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative.

Hamer (1917-1977) was the last of 20 children born to a sharecroppers in Mississippi. Tricked into picking cotton when she was only six, the owner of the plantation promised her snacks and sweets that her family could not afford from his store. She only attended school until the 6th grade, having to return to the fields to help support her aging parents. By age 13, she would pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily while living with polio.

In 1944, she married Perry Hamer and the couple toiled on a Mississippi plantation. Because Hamer was the only worker who could read and write, she also served as plantation timekeeper. The Hamers wanted to have children, but in 1961, Fanny Lou received a hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor. The Hamers later adopted two daughters.

In the summer of 1964, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was the first time she learned that black people had the right to vote. Hamer’s biographer, Dr. Keisha N. Blain says that, at that moment, Hamer found her calling. Blain explains:

“It was certainly a political awakening for Hamer, but it also was a spiritual awakening.

“She felt that it was God’s plan for her to become an activist and take a leading role in the expansion of black political rights.

“The one reason that she never gave up despite all she had to struggle through was that she really believed that ‘God was on her side.’ She truly believed that it was not so much a political mission, but a spiritual one. She saw herself ‘speaking light into a world of darkness’.”

Once the owner of the farm where she worked learned that she had tried to register to vote (which was initially denied because of a trumped up ‘literacy test’), she was immediately fired. Despite having to move house, loose most of her possessions, and ultimately flee for her life, Hamer was free to pursue her calling. Reflecting later, she said “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

Hamer is perhaps most famous for her speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention during which she described her brutal beating in a Mississippi jail during her struggle to register to vote. President Lyndon Johnson was so frightened by the power of her message that he called an impromptu televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech was later aired and inevitably moved even Johnson and many others to help pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Hamer speaking at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

During Hamer’s time as an activist, she traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on behalf of civil rights. Woven into her speeches was a deep level of confidence, biblical knowledge, and even comedy. One of her famous lines, that appears on her tombstone, is “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She often inspired other activists with her singing of spiritual Gospel songs during times of great stress and even terror.

In 1964, Hamer was one of the 11 SNCC delegates (including John Lewis and Harry Belefonte) who visited Ghana. The visit was revolutionary for her, for she saw for the first time black people in charge of their own destiny, including holding positions of political power. (Hamer would run for both for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971.) After a three-hour interview with the Diallo Alpha, Director General of the Ministry for Information and Tourism, Hamer received a musical instrument only found in Africa.

In the end, Hamer grew frustrated with politics. She said she was “tired of all this beating” and “there’s so much hate. Only God has kept the Negro sane”. A great cook and knowledgeable about growing crops and raising animals, in 1968, she returned to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, and began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, buying up land that blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors, she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She single-handedly ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today.

Hamer may be remembered best as a civil rights activist, but she was foremost a spiritual warrior. Her faith and calling is what sustained her. Hamer was convinced that God was working through the civil rights movement to usher in the Kingdom of God.  Her favorite Bible passage was from the Gospel of Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he as sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

In the end, Hamer died of breast cancer after suffering for many years with various physical illinesses, some sustained from her beatings. May God rest her soul.

May God grant us all the her spiritual strength to preserver in whatever area of activism we are called upon to passionately undertake.

Discover More about Fanny Lou Hamer

Read the speech Hamer gave with Malcolm X in Harlem, New York.

Read the full report of the SNCC visit to Ghana.

Read an article about Hamer’s pastoral and prophetic styles of leadership as acts of public prayer by Breanne K. Barber.

Buy Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Dr. Keisha N. Blain 

Search for more information on Fanny Lou Hammer in the digital collection at the University of Southern Mississippi

Freedom under Lock Down

Nearly all of us have experienced some form of “lock down” during the past year of the pandemic. During this time, perhaps you’ve had time to reflect on what ‘freedom’ means to you personally and to all of us collectively.

I will be exploring this concept of freedom in an upcoming Webinar, sponsored by the Psychosynthesis Trust London.


Freedom in Jail: A Reflection on Pigeons, Paper, and Paradise

Date/Time: Monday, October 11, 1900-2100 (London time)

Cost: Free.

To book your free space please email: events@ptrust.org.uk


In this webinar, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Roberto Assagioli’s reflections on the deeper meaning of ‘freedom’ – a word that is bandied about without much thought – from advertising soda drinks to promoting war.

The concept of freedom will be explored through Assagioli’s autobiographical account Freedom in Jail. This book outlines Assagioli’s own experience before, during and after his own imprisonment in Regina Coeli prison by the Italian fascist regime in 1940. Freedom in Jail offers insights into Assagioli’s understanding of true “inner freedom, pure freedom … attained rising above the fetters, a sense of expansion …”

We will begin with a presentation during which I will talk about Assagioli’s time in prison and how he practiced his psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. While in prision, he ultimately experienced his own personally transformation and self-realization.

The presentation will be followed by Q&A. Then we will break up into smaller groups and share our thoughts on a specific excerpt from his book. At the end, we will gather together as a larger group and share whatever insights we might have gained.

I hope to see you there!

Mourning Tiananmen in My Own Way

I just read that for the first time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, there will be no formal commemoration event held in the Chinese-speaking world for the anniversary. People are being told to “Mourn June 4 in your own way.” So I am reposting this blog from two years ago. In memory…


tiananmen_1989_pays_reutersIn 1989, ten days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, my friend Julie and I sat in the China Travel Services office in Hong Kong and debated whether we should travel to Beijing. The U.S. embassy was warning that our safety could not be guaranteed. Should we go anyway? Grappling with our indecision, Julie asked the stone-faced woman behind the counter, “Is it safe?”

The woman stared hard at us and then looked away. “It is China.”

We decided to trust our intuition and go. Three days later as we walked towards the international gate in the Hong Kong airport, two university students carrying a stack of newspapers stopped us. “Are you going to China?” they asked. We nodded dumbly. “Please take this newspaper for the students.” Their request was half-plea, half-command. Julie faltered, worried about the consequences of smuggling suspicious reading material. Our tour book clearly stated: “It is illegal to import any printed material detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture, and ethics.” The newspapers were full of Chinese characters that we could not read, and we had no idea just how ‘detrimental’ they might be.

Hoping the custom officials would overlook the newspapers, I reluctantly agreed to carry them. Besides, as a U.C. Berkeley graduate, I found it difficult to resist a student protest. I stuffed two copies of the newspaper into my carry-on bag.

The plane was full. A zombie stewardess served stale crackers and dishwater tea. We arrived and breezed through customs without any problems. The air in the terminal felt squeezed dry, all actions confined, all conversations muzzled. I kept thinking of how many times as kids we believed we could dig a hole to China.

Waiting for us in the arrival room was Miss Ren, our 23-year-old tour guide. “Hello, my name is Elizabeth,” she introduced herself and paraded us toward the exit. Tall and slight, she raised her arm high above her head and slightly waved her hand, like a lily caught on a summer breeze. This hand seemed to magically invoke wondrous adventures. She led us outside into an old van.

Our ride to the hotel was along a shady road full of people on bicycles, donkeys pulling carts, cars, trucks and an occasional flock of sheep. “So where do you like to visit?” Miss Ren dutifully asked. With the flurry of tour cancellations, Julie and I were to have Miss Ren and the driver all to ourselves.

“Tiananmen Square,” we said in unison. This was definitely not one of the stops on our five-day Beijing tour. “Oh, no. You can’t go to Tiananmen Square,” she explained. “It is dangerous there. Bad men will steal your money.”

The squareOnce she was gone, Julie and I considered her advice, but decided to take our chances and quickly ordered another cab. “Tiananmen Square, please.” We pointed to the Chinese characters in our tour book, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Without a word, the cab driver dropped us off at the Beijing Hotel, three long blocks from the square on Chang’an Avenue. The street was like a giant river flowing with people and bicycles. We entered the moving stream of humanity, many wearing Mao suits, and arrived on foot to the square.

Upon arrival, I was stunned to see Tiananmen Square filled with hundreds of thousands of young people, its massive 109-acres alive like a giant squirming organism. Julie and I began to penetrate the crowd, occasionally reaching for each other’s hand, afraid of being separated. Slowly, we began to focus on the sights around us. There were piles of people, piles of garbage, piles of bedding. Legs stuck out beyond large umbrella roofs. Long lines for bean soup, cabbage, and flat bread wove around us. Hands stretched eagerly to grab orange ice pops. Waving above the crowd were hundreds of red flags, each bearing a school’s name. A voice shouted over a loud speaker. Later we learned that these announcements celebrated the return of Lee Wong from the United States, denounced the stubbornness of Premier Li Peng, called for ambulances, and sang out slogans.

Mao

Buses with broken windows acted as toilets. Shattered glass was strewed dangerously close to makeshift hovels and bare mattresses. Looming over the student protest was Mao Zedong’s Mona Lisa smile; his gigantic, now desecrated, portrait baring witness to the scene.

Standing behind nylon cords, student guards protected the inner sanctity of their leaders. Julie and I slid under the cords and walked closer toward the core of the rebellion, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Twice we froze as tall student sentries harshly barked, but our Western faces were our tickets through. I hugged my purse tightly against me. Inside were the Hong Kong newspapers.

We arrived at the monument to find a cluster of young people recording a political statement. Another group was running an old printing press while others painted signs, yellow characters on red backdrops. Nearby, two male students sat eating raw garlic and tomatoes.

Students at Tiananmen Square

A young woman who spoke English approached us. She was a medical student and had just arrived from Hunan province. Fueled by the recent demonstrations, spirits were high. Our new friend offered us a metal cup of cold bean soup. I hesitated, not wanting to insult her, but ashamed to eat what little food the students had. I felt awed and humbled by how these students had empowered themselves with the hope and determination to change their iron-clad country.

“Are you afraid?” I dared to ask. “No,” she answered bravely, full of joy. “We are supported by all of Peking. We would not be able to survive without their feeding us. They will never let the soldiers through.”

A male student then joined us. “What change do you want?” I asked.  “We want freedom,” he said. “We want a kindness. There is no freedom when one man rules everyone. The cry from all the students in China is only one.” He raised his fist. ‘Li Peng Go Away.’”

“We want to travel freely like you,” answered the young medical student. “We want to read newspapers and know the truth. You have democracy in America, don’t you?” she then asked. “What do you think?”

I was startled by the question. “Well, yes, I suppose we do,” I said, looking out at the hundreds of thousands of students who inspired and shamed me at the same time. How often had I taken my freedom for granted? I could read any newspaper I wanted, live wherever I wanted, even travel to places like China. But freedom is only relative, I thought, remembering Rosa Parks, World War II Japanese internment camps, Kent State. I wondered how long it could last here like this. Suddenly I remembered the newspapers and gave them to the two students. They scanned them as if they were a map to lost treasure.

Tanks

Julie and I stayed with the students until nightfall. The protest was eerily quiet, orderly, poised. We met no bad men. Our money was not stolen. As we wove our way out through the crowd, I spied a couple holding hands. Dressed in stockings and heels, the young woman demurely sat on a dirty mattress. Her delicate, floral print dress accented her long pale neck. Together the couple smiled hello.

That evening my heart wrestled with the fear that I might soon learn of the students’ demise. For the rest of my stay, I thought about them constantly. While we sat on camels for our photographs at the Great Wall. While pedaling rented bicycles through the peach orchard near the hotel. On the way to Ming’s Tomb, we spied soldiers riding in green army trucks. Our guide forbade us to snap pictures of the passing enclave.

Soon afterwards we flew home. A few days later, one morning while walking past a newsstand, I froze and cried out. The People’s Liberation Army had stormed Tiananmen Square in the night. I felt as if I had swallowed a stone, like someone had died in my own family. The balmy spring day became obscenely bright. I will never forget how those Chinese students – their courage, hope and faith in humanity — touched me … on their own battlefield. On their own burial ground.

Tank man

Free Will will Sent You Free

hamburger over truthIs free will an illusion? According to an recent article in the Guardian, about 12% of philosophers believe this to be the case. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the beginning of the universe – and that nobody is responsible for his or her actions.

From their perspective, we act only when prompted by physiological reasons. For example, we choose between eating a banana and apple due to a pattern of neurons firing in our brain that can be linked all the way back to our birth, our parents’ meeting, their births, and eventually, the birth of the cosmos. As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, says:

“Free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics.”

Continue reading

Pigeons, Paper and Paradise

Photo of Regina Coeli prison by Pietro Snider/Inside Carceri

Nearly all of us have experienced some form of “lock down” during the past year of the pandemic. During this time, perhaps you’ve had time to reflect on what ‘freedom’ means to you personally and to all of us collectively.

I will be exploring this concept of freedom in an upcoming Webinar, sponsored by the Association of Advancement for Psychosynthesis.

In this webinar, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Roberto Assagioli’s reflections on the deeper meaning of ‘freedom’ – a word that is bandied about without much thought – from advertising soda drinks to promoting war.

The concept of freedom will be explored through Assagioli’s autobiographical account Freedom in Jail. This book outlines Assagioli’s own experience before, during and after his own imprisonment in Regina Coeli prison by the Italian fascist regime in 1940. Freedom in Jail offers insights into Assagioli’s understanding of true “inner freedom, pure freedom … attained rising above the fetters, a sense of expansion …”

We will begin with a presentation during which I will talk about Assagioli’s time in prison and how he practiced his psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. While in prision, he ultimately experienced his own personally transformation and self-realization.

The presentation will be followed by Q&A. Then we will break up into smaller groups and share our thoughts on a specific excerpt from his book. At the end, we will gather together as a larger group and share whatever insights we might have gained.

I hope to see you there!

Freedom in Jail: A Reflection on Pigeons, Paper, and Paradise

Date/Time: Saturday, May 15, 2021. Noon-2pm EST

Cost: Free for AAP member, $25 for non-members, May 15, 2021.

Register by: Monday, May 10.

To Register and for more Info: Click here.

Two Black Women’s Voices Once Heard

Jarena Lee and Julia Foote

They were two women preachers during a time when only men preached. They were black preachers who preached to both slaves and slave-holders. They were black women preachers who inspired men and women, believers and ‘backsliders,’ Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Presbyterians, lawyers, doctors and magistrates.

Their names were Jarena Lee (1783–1855?) and Julia Foote (1823-1901), two of the first African American women to achieve the right to preach in the newly formed nation. Overcoming both gender and racial barriers, both women preached widely over great distances. A widow and mother of two children, Lee traveled 2325 miles, walking many of them, to preach 178 sermons. Defying her husband and parents, Foote was a deacon and minister for five decades, traveling to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic region, California, the Midwest, and eventually Canada.

“I had nothing to do but open my mouth and the Lord filled it.”

Jarena Lee
Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Bring Me Breath

Suffocate

I can’t breathe. I am the African-American man named George Floyd whose neck you are breaking with the weight of your body. The pressure of your knee is blocking my windpipe. You are crushing the spirit from my soul. I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe. I am the person dying of COVID-19. Grasping for a hand to hold, longing for a comforting word from a loved one. I am alone in my New York City apartment, alone in my prison cell, alone under a plastic tent. I can’t breathe.

Continue reading

After Freedom in Jail

Accompanying the stirrings of spring are the stirrings of what life will become after the COVID-19 crisis. To be honest, nobody really knows. But then, nobody ever really knew. We often like to think that we are entirely in control of our lives, our surroundings, our future. But if nothing else, the virus has taught us that we cannot control everything around us. However, we can take responsibility for our inner attitude towards everything from adversity to discomfort to death, and for our own outer actions in how we choose to live our lives. Continue reading