Creating harmony in your inner life requires patience, prayer, and lifelong practice.
Today is Saint Rita’s feast day, and this afternoon I will be joining the local women in our Umbrian village in the small Marian chapel. Saint Rita is especially popular here since she was born and lived in the nearby town of Cascia, where you can still visit her incorrupt body at the Basilica of Saint Rita. All of the women this afternoon will be carrying a bouquet of roses – one of the saint’s iconic symbols – for the priest to bless with holy water.
Two years ago this article was published by Unity Magazine about my struggle to balance two conflicting subpersonalities – Annoyed Wife and Blessed Wife. Saint Rita came to my rescue and since then, I’m happy to say, these two subpersonalities have come into (more or less!) balance.
Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi, in the early 1900s
For this International Women’s Day, l’d like to introduce you to the first President of the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Rome, which in 1926 was initially called the Istituto di Cultura e di Terapia Psichica (Institute of Culture and Psychic Therapy). Yes, that’s right! She was a woman…the Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Rasponi (1853-1931), whom Assagioli greatly admired both as an international leader as well as a devoted grandmother and someone he felt “exhibited a happy combination of the gifts of the various ages.”
To this day, Rasponi remains little known even in Italy. She was born in Ravenna into an aristocratic family (her grandmother was Napoleon’s sister Carolina) and was privately educated. Married at the age of 17 to Count Venceslao Spalletti Trivelli, she had five children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1874, the couple moved to Rome where her husband became a Senator to the Kingdom. Rasponi was widowed in 1899 when she was 46 years old.
Working for Women’s Social, Political and Labor Rights
In addition to her fundamental role in the history of psychosynthesis, in 1903, Rasponi became the Founder and President of the National Council of Italian Women (Consiglio Nazionale Donne Italiane; CNDI), an organization that promoted women’s labor equality and justice in terms of legal, social, familial rights and occupational safety. They also believed in women’s suffrage.
The CNDI organized its first congress on the theme of family education in Rome in 1908. The second was held in 1920 and entitled “La donna per l’Italia nuova” (“The woman for the new Italy”). The third congress on family education took place in Rome from 3-8 May 1923. Rasponi was the CNDI President until 1931, and the organization is still active in Rome today (in Italian, see https://www.cndi.it/).
George Davis Herron, an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana, visited Italy in 1922 and wrote the following about Rasponi and her work in his book The Revival of Italy:
Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi is indeed a superior woman, who combines genuine religious fervor with clear intellectual insight and practical efficiency and adaptability. Under her wise leadership, the Italian feminist movements have avoided the excesses of militant feminism of other countries; and this while working vigorously for all the rights of women as citizens and for their education and preparation for public activity and position.
Turning Her Villa into a Women’s Cooperative
Villa Conti Spelletti where Rasponi started teaching the local women to crochet.
Prior to founding the CNDI, while on holiday at their villa in Tuscany, Rasponi was deeply moved by the poverty she saw around her. Consequently, she decided to open a school where women could learn the traditional art of embroidery and crochet. In 1887, she began teaching five women in her villa and by 1904, 400 women had formed a cooperative, were supporting their families through these artesian crafts, and receiving international awards for their work. The CNDI was soon afterwards created to help promote and organize similar successful campaigns throughout the nation.
Assuntina Pretelli, one of the students at the Contessa’s Scuola di Modano in Lucciano, Quarrata, Italy
During the 1908 earthquake in Messina and Reggio Calabria, through the CNDI, Rasponi was able to organize and support many of the victims, especially its orphans. Her tireless work received recognition from Italy’s Queen Elena who, by Royal Decree, granted Rasponi the title of “the first woman to be invested as a protector of children.”
The ‘Rebel’ President
Assagioli described Rasponi as a woman who “with youthful enthusiasm, pursued every new current of thought with regard to education, culture, and spirituality. The Institute of Psychosynthesis … is particularly indebted to her moral and material support of its Constitution.” The theme of the first conference she held for the newly founded Institute was “How to Educate the Will.” During her lifetime, she acknowledged her own strong will, even calling herself “a Rebel”.
Invitation to the Istituto di Cultura e di Terapia Psichica inaugural address by Assagioli signed by the President Gabriela Spalletti Rasponi.
At her private villa in Rome (now a 5-star hotel), Rasponi often hosted and promoted many new thinkers. Every Thursday afternoon, influential political and cultural figures frequented the villa’s drawing rooms – from Émile Coué (1857-1926), the French psychologist, to Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in Literature and Hermann von Keyserling (1880-1946), whom Assagioli described as “a brilliant thinker, a fine architect of the word, and a fervid man of action.”
In 1937, Jiddu Krishnamurti visited Rome for three months and held his conferences at Rasponi’s villa. Despite the fact that Krishnamurti was under surveillance by the the fascist regime’s political police, he was allowed to give his philosophical talks in part because of Rasponi’s high standing and her assurance that his discourses were “absolutely and only philosophical.”
As a Devoted Grandmother
With regard to Rasponi’s devotion as a grandmother, Assagioli wrote:
“The Contessa’s house resembled a government ministry, but that did not prevent her, while in her 70s and in ill health, from being such a conscientious grandmother that she resumed the study of Latin and Greek in order to help her young grandson further develop himself.”
Her Revolutionary Initiatives
Rasponi throughout her lifetime founded, organized and implemented revolutionary initiatives – including the vision of psychosynthesis. She established travelling libraries for teachers, secretariats for the protection of women and orphaned children, and maternity help for needy mothers. She always promoted women’s education as an integration of practical activity and intellectual stimulation.
Assagioli, Roberto, (1973). “The Conflict between Generations and Psychosynthesis of the Ages”, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, Issue No. 31.
Assagioli, Roberto. (2008). Il mondo interiore, W. Esposito (Ed.). Vicenza, Italy: Edizioni Teosofiche Italiane, pp. 183-191.
Assagioli, Roberto (1971). Psicosintesi: Armonia della vita. Roma: Edizioni Mediterranee, pp. 69-70.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Have a wonderful Holiday and a safe and Happy New Year! Many blessings to you in 2023.
After months of sowing, tending, watering, and weeding, the garden is finally bursting. During the last days of summer, I am always drowning in tomatoes. Black cherry tomatoes. Frilly fiorentino tomatoes for salad. Tomatoes for pasta sauce. Still more for canning.
But this summer is special because of the tomato plant that helped me understand the will of God.
I have recently had a story published about how I experienced my personal will synchronize with the will of the Higher Self in my garden. Entitled “God’s Tomato Plant”, this article originally appeared in the September/October issue of The Daily Word.
Roberto Assagioli, the visionary founder of psychosynthesis, left a treasure trove of thoughts when he died in 1974 at the age of 86. A great scholar, linguist, educator, and philosopher, Assagioli’s creative ideas compelled him to handwrite his reflections onto small pieces of paper, including the back of concert tickets! Often he would stuff these pieces of paper into a drawer and then ask a student to put them into some kind of order. Other times he himself would organize them into “packets” under titles such as “Freedom”, “Joy”, “The Self”.
As part of the Istituto di Psicosintesi in Florence, Gruppo Alle Fonti (The Group at the Well Spring) has dedicated years to making Assagioli’s notes available online. In 2015, they launched the website www.archivioassagioli.org. This month they recently added the printed publications of Assagioli’s writings, typescripts of lectures and conferences, and drafts of articles and books. Everyone can register to access this archive for free and, with the aid of an excellent search engine, delve into Assagioli’s fascinating, invigorating, and moving archived papers.
Approximately 19,000 documents have been scanned, transcribed, and sometimes translated, and each one is a source of insight into Assagioli’s heart and mind. His notes and manuscripts appear in Italian, English, French, or German.
Today the archive includes thousands of original manuscripts, typescripts, books, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, photos, correspondence, and personal documents accumulated over the years. But when he died, most of this material was inaccessible, tucked away in the attic of his home or kept in a damp cellar where it remained for years.
Part of these manuscripts caught the immediate attention of Piero Ferrucci, a student and close collaborator of Assagioli. In 1974 Ferrucci assumed the daunting task of cataloging and distributing these documents in specially created folders. In 2006, Gruppo Alle Fonti, an international group of devoted volunteers, continued to systematically reorganize, sort, and catalogue the material. We have them to thank for online access to these documents.
In the words of Gruppo Alle Fonti:
“Access to the archive is not only an educative and cognitive opportunity, but a deep and intimate experience leading to an expansion of consciousness.”
I urge everyone to visit the online archive and spend some time with Assagioli and his “unburdened thoughts.” You will definitely find a rich psychosynthesis legacy and have the opportunity to personally touch Assagioli’s deep humanity.
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.
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.
After the COP26 ended in Glasgow, and I couldn’t help feeling like a lemming caught in a mass migration off a towering cliff. It’s difficult to stay grounded and hopeful when faced with the empty actions of our political leaders and the 100+ coal, oil and gas company lobbyists and their associated groups who welded influence during the conference.
Even though the U.S. military pollutes more than 140 countries combined, their emissions are not included in any calculations (due to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude them). And since the 2015 Paris Agreement, 1005 land and environmental defenders have been murdered, with one out of three being an Indigenous person.
According to scientist Ken Anderson, “net zero,” is meaningless rhetoric (or more simply Blah, Blah, Blah) that allows us to move the burden in reducing emissions from today out to future generations. He said, “Net zero is Latin for kicking the can down the road.”
On a personal level, I have struggled with watching in quiet desperation as neighbors cut down their trees for firewood. My nearby neighbors are a farming family, four generations that have lived here for more than a century. They own most of the surrounding land and they do not hesitate to cut down trees and hedges, in order to turn fields into plowable acreage, which they mindlessly kill with fertilizers. Continue reading →
Now is the time to walk into the Italian hillsides and search for edible mushrooms. Nearly twenty years ago, I experienced my first expedition for these savory funghi while living in Italy. During this search, I realized how much my life had changed. Signora Maria was partly to thank for this revelation, for it was she who invited me to venture into the bosco (forest) with her to search for funghi.
I have recently had a story published about this adventure entitled Sacred Journeys: Buried Treasure. This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Unity Magazine; unitymagazine.org.
According to the Olympic record this year, Marcell Jacobs (26) is the fastest man on earth. He ran the 100m race in 9.8 seconds. (Usain Bolt from Jamaica has the all-time record at 9.58 seconds). Jacobs’ win brought joy to many Italians, especially since this is the first medal for Italy in the 100m race. The odds were 30:1 against him.
As a child, Jacobs always dreamt of winning an Olympic gold medal. He started out as a long-jumper, but after an injury three years ago, switched to running. While training in Rome, he built a team around him that included a chiropractor, nutritionist, and mental coach.
Jacobs is Italian, but he is also African-American. Born in El Paso, Texas, he immigrated to Italy when he was six months old with his Italian mother. At the time, his father, who was in the US Army, was transferred to South Korea, and so ended the marriage. Jacobs said he lost contact with this father after that. “I never saw my dad from that time on,” he told the press.
As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has always played a great part along our journey to our Higher Self. Throughout the world, holy places have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience within the architectural space.
Assagioli noted that:
“Matter is the highest form of Spirit and Spirit is the lowest form of Matter.”
In this way, spirit seeks matter to express the full beauty of the transcendent. Assagioli also noted that Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics have recognized and proclaimed that “beauty is the essential attribute of the Supreme.” Continue reading →