Category Archives: healing

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.

Keeping a spiritual diary is not a new idea. The practice gained popularity in the 1600s, especially among Protestant women. For the first time, women could adopt roles through their self-reflections that were forbidden in their everyday lives (like preaching) without having to excuse themselves to the larger society. Many saw the practice as a way to converse, maintain contact and sustain a direct interpersonal relationship with God. As Elizabeth Bury wrote in her 17th century journal:

“If it weren’t for my diary, I would neither know what I was, what I did, or what I had.”

Assagioli also kept a spiritual diary. He said keeping a diary is one way we can explore our inner world, discover ourselves, and others. He wrote:

“Diary writing helps to create distance and become ‘the observer.’ You can also do this verbally, but writing has practical and therapeutic advantages. Practically, writing helps speed up the healing process.”

Assagioli explains that while writing, you naturally begin with the story that you are conscious of. But as you write, other thoughts and feelings that you were not yet aware of spontaneously emerge. It is as if the pen were to “take control of your hand.” But in reality, it is not the “pen” that is taking control but the unconscious.

Through the centuries we have been blessed with many inspirational spiritual journals, including the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s Secular Journal; Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal; Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year; and Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life.

What goes into a Spiritual Diary?

The purpose of a spiritual journal is to gain insight into how your soul is moving and where it is taking you. Granted, you might need to start writing about the stack of bills that need to be paid or a relationship that is off the rails, but you then have to push yourself further to explore questions like:

  • Why is this bothering me so much?
  • Is this a pattern in my life?
  • Does a calmer more peaceful place also exist inside me?
  • What is my intuition telling me about this difficult situation?
  • What am I doing to take care of my physical and emotional needs?

Don’t be discouraged if the answers seem too distant to hear. Try to remember that you’re listening hard for God’s voice. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear above all the raucous that fills our everyday lives. A spiritual diary can help clear the lines of communication.

Writing about your thoughts, desires, worries and heartache is a way to develop spiritual and psychological awareness about your motivation for acting in the world and your deeper intuition as to what you really need at that very moment. A hot bath? A cool drink? A good cry? A friend to talk to or an evening of quiet? Hope? Clarity? Compassion?

It is important that you scribble down exactly what you are thinking and feeling. Try not to match your thoughts to somebody else’s idea of what you should be writing or who you ought to be. A quiet, private place helps you to focus along with a regular, daily time slot just for writing. You can always start with a spiritual passage you’ve always liked or one that speaks to you in that particular moment.

Don’t be afraid. Just write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, wise, or entertaining. Just write without any judgment. Tell that judge inside you to go away! You know, that one who keeps insisting:

“Oh! This is so stupid/a waste of time. I’m a terrible writer. Look at my handwriting. What a mess! Who cares what I think or write about?”

If such thoughts keep creeping into your head, then write them down too! The key is to keep writing no matter what. Because, with a sincere and open heart, practice and patience, you will eventually arrive to a deeper and more meaningful place.

Another helpful technique is to detach yourself from the episodes or feelings that you are writing about by acting like distant and benevolent observer. Humor helps to create the distance that you might need. The ultimate goal is to stay in relationship – with your pen and paper, your inner life, and God.

Assagioli’s Suggestions for Spiritual Diary Topics

Here’s a few suggested topics from Assagioli to help get you started.

Assagioli’s note from his “Diary of Interior Work.”
  • Past spiritual experiences. Try to reconnect to a numinous time in your life. Perhaps you felt a powerful connection to something bigger than you in a beautiful natural setting. Using your imagination, bring yourself back to that experience and then write about it
  • Thoughts – Impressions – Illuminations. While writing about a particular situation that you experienced that day, try to reflect on what you were thinking at that moment. What impressed or surprised you the most? Did you have any Aha/Eureka! moments?
  • Lucidity of thought – The sudden solution of a problem. It’s vital that we acknowledge and cultivate those times in our lives when we suddenly see the solution to a problem, understand a deeper motivation, or realize what’s really going on in a difficult situation. The more we understand how these moments of clarity happen inside us, the more easily we can access this energy when we need it.
  • Information received at night and recalled on awakening.  Creativity needs to time to incubate before it can emerge, and often we receive insights in the night, through our dreams, or upon awakening. Try to catch one of these insights and write about it. You can also take time to record your dreams.
  • Service accomplished. Be sure to celebrate your spiritual accomplishments as well as those by others around you! You can always write about an inspiring book or blog you recently read, a beautiful piece of music you heard, a person or animal you helped, or a small kindness you gave or received.

You can read entries from Assagioli’s “Diary of Interior Work,” edited by Luce Ramorino, by clicking on the links below:

Assagioli’s Diary 1

Assagioli’s Diary 2

Assagioli’s Diary 3

Assagioli’s Diary 4

Joyfully Suffering the News

Yesterday I met Lucia for the first time. She is a 7-month old solid soul who has nothing but gurgling smiles for the world. Between bites of chocolate ice cream, her mother became quietly despondent. “Hasn’t the news been terrible lately?” she asked.

Headline

Yes, the news has been terrible. The news is always terrible. That’s what news is. Terrible. It is either full of suffering or full of rich, happy, famous people. Sometimes it is full of rich, unhappy, famous people suffering. But usually it consists of poor, unhappy, non-famous people suffering. In fact, Assagioli once told a student of his that, while it was important to read the news, one should only do so in homeopathic doses!

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A Week under Lockdown

Lockdown in Pieve 2In Umbria, it all happened gradually. Like contracting the virus itself, I suppose. One person wearing a mask at the supermarket and everyone trying to act normal about it. The fervent washing of hands upon entering home. The silly jokes. Do you know the latest Italian slogan? Meno tasse, meno tosse (‘Less taxes, less coughing.’ But in Italian it’s funnier because it rhymes.) The collective denial when everyone shook hands as they offered the Sign of Peace during Sunday Mass.

Then things started to heat up. Like the feverish heat of the virus, I suppose. We were only allowed to go out to work, for food shopping and emergencies. Signs warned us at the supermarket to stand at least a meter apart while waiting on line. But I wondered about buying fruit and vegetables that anyone could handle and easily sneeze on. All the flour was missing from the shelves and the mozzarella nearly gone. Schools were all closed, but bars were open and restaurants too. People were still making plans to meet for dinner. Continue reading

Assagioli’s Favorite Exercise Routine

J.P._MüllerJorgen Peter Muller (1866-1939) had a reputation for being everything from pornographic to a world famous hygienist and physical fitness guru. The Danish sportsman was, in fact, all-round champion athlete, Danish Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, and author of the international best seller My System, published in 1904.

My System is a complete step-by-step guide to 18 daily exercises that nearly anyone can complete in 15-minutes. The book sold 2 million copies and was translated into 25 languages. Muller became famous for traveling around Europe and demonstrating his exercises while wearing only a loincloth and displaying his tanned, toned body. Shocking by all Victorian standards!

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Imagine All the Healing

Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust. Marije Smits

“Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust.” (Marije Smits)

When Susan arrived for her first counseling session, I was struck by her almost fairy-like beauty. With dark hair, creamy fair skin, and crystal green eyes, she reminded me of Snow White. At the time of our meeting, Susan was a 28-year-old PhD student studying philosophy and ethics. Not long before, she had discovered a mole while taking a shower. Susan had been going to tanning salons since she was 20. By the time she was 23, she was addicted to looking and feeling “sun-kissed”. By then she was working at the tanning salon to help pay for her own treatments. For nearly two years, she was tanning every other day.

The mole turned out to be diagnosed as malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. “I didn’t even know what ‘melanoma’ meant,” she admitted to me. “When I found out the results, I was all alone at home and started to panic. I thought I was going to die.”

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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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Levels of Love

Fear Less Love More

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

Valentine’s Day feels like a good time to take a closer look at Love. February is also Black History Month in the US, and lately I have been reading and listening to sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr in 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

When you listen to Dr. King speak, his message is more powerful than ever before. As his deep baritone voice melodically rises and falls, you are swept across the tides of time into his eternal message of Love and Will. His gift was to help us touch the human heart and awaken our deeper transpersonal nature. He was a master teacher, leader, and poet – using his voice to conjure truth through the most familiar of images and the essence of everyday life. Continue reading

The Prodigal Daughter

1024px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”.

I have always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), yet at the same time, struggle with it. The story seems so male in context. A young man returns home repentant and humbled after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery. His father is moved with pity, and runs to welcome his son home, clasping him in his arms and kissing him.

“Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. We will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile the elder son who always slaved in the fields and obeyed his father grows angry and refuses to enter the celebrations. But the father says:

“My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

What would the story of the prodigal daughter be, and what would her return to the welcoming mother reveal? 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

Threshing our Lives Anew

But I shall sing of your strength; and in the morning I shall sing of your love. For you are my defender; and my refuge, in the days of my tribulations. (Psalm 59:16)

Since moving to Italy a year ago, I often hear the word ‘tribolazione’. While rarely used in English, this word ‘tribulation’ often poetically enters Italian conversation when my neighbors are talking about a very long, difficult, and grievous period in their or someone else’s life.

thresh and ox

Farmers in some parts of the world still use a tribulum to thresh their harvest.

Hearing this word more often, I started to wonder about its origins. I soon discovered that it derives from the Latin word tribulum. A tribulum is a threshing roller or sledge pulled by oxen that farmers have used for centuries to separate the corn from the husks, the wheat from the chaff.

How often I have felt trampled by oxen as they yanked sharp flints of cut stone over me. (Well, okay. I am dramatizing, but you know this feeling don’t you?) Something inside me is being purged and discarded allowing my truer self to be freed from its hidden form. Without the tribulum, the seed of new life cannot be beaten away from the wheat, the flail, or the corn. The new seed can only lay dormant and lost. Continue reading