Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.
In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.
In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.
“Psychosynthesis of the Couple” from Assagioli’s Archives
On Saint Valentine’s Day, we recently celebrated ‘the couple’. In fact, Assagioli viewed marriage as a work of art – a canvas where the husband and wife can learn to alternate in a variety of roles. He believed that psychosynthesis of the couple was fundamental to achieving psychosynthesis of humanity. He wrote:
“When talking about the consciousness of a group, talk above all about the human couple: man and woman and their synthesis, and about their central importance as a fundamental basis and model of inter-psychics at its most vast and complex.”
The Journey of the Three Magi. Postcard from Assagioli’s Archives (ID# 010305)
Recently I realized that desire, in all its dimensions, is beautifully woven into the Christmas story. This word desire can evoke so many different images and feelings. Assagioli saw desire as an integral part of ourselves and subject to both our personal will and the will of the Higher Self.
In fact, the word desire fundamentally holds this idea of a higher or transpersonal will. I was amazed to learn, not so long ago, that the word comes from the Latin roots dē, which means to “come from” and sīdus which means “heavenly body.” In other words, our longings literally “come from the heavens.” This idea may have originated from astrology, which attempts to understand how the heavenly bodies – stars and planets alike – can define who we are and what we want to become.
It seems to me that the journey of the three Wise Men beautifully captures the nuance held in this word. Their desire to find, exalt, and pay homage to the Prince of Peace came from and was guided by a unique and brilliant heavenly body, a bright star in the desert sky. Their deep inner desire driven by their personal will prompted them to caravan long distances across dangerous, foreign lands.
In his book Freedom in Jail (now available for purchase), Assagioli referred twice to the Gospel story of Martha and Mary, and even indicated that he wanted to have an Appendix that would reflect upon it. This appendix was never written, but later his eloquent essay was: “Martha and Mary: The Active Life –The Contemplative Life.” 
In this blog and the next, we will take a closer look at his essay. First of all, Assagioli asks that we read this gospel story with an open mind. So let’s begin with the story:
Most of us come from a long line of motherless mothers. Women who were never mothered themselves, never learned from their own mothers how to nurture the imagination or creativity in their souls, were, basically, never encouraged to become the persons they were meant to be.
Psychically unprotected, emotionally harassed, and sometimes beaten into being good girls, many women today are still only accepted on condition that they behave well. And these scarred, scared women bare babies. They do their best to clothe and feed and care for their babies’ physical needs, but are often unable to cope with or understand the deeper spiritual longings of their children, their need to feel protected and initiated by a wise and soulful Mother.
This is what I consider to be “original sin.” The unresolved pain, emotional trauma, and childhood neglect that a person receives from his or her parents, which they receive from theirs, ad infinitum. Most of us as children, receive, sometimes violently, sometimes emotionally, most often unintentionally, the unhealed hurts that our parents received as children.
My life has recently been full of endings. Having moved from Germany to Italy, I’ve had to say good bye to family, friends, and acquaintances, my garden, my bicycle, and the comfort of the familiar. My husband and I were only one week in Italy when his father died. At the same time, many issues from my past were suddenly emerging, demanding that I redeem them and finally put them to rest. It felt like endings were spilling over me from heaven. A shower of good byes marking the time of new beginnings.
During the last two sessions with clients, I always ask them to focus on endings. We take our time to reflect on how they have typically ended past relationships and how they might like to try a different type of ending during our last session together. We all have a typical way of saying goodbye. For example, there’s the tragic ending, the never-ending ending, and the disappearing ending.
One client had a ‘ritual’ ending. She would always return to the empty room/home/space that she was leaving, stand and acknowledge that space, and then say goodbye. When she told me this, I instantly thought of her birth. This client was a twin and the first-born. At the beginning of her life, a time of great numinous significance, of great endings and beginnings, her mother’s womb had not been empty when she turned to say goodbye.
Roberto Assagioli’s “prison diary” Freedom in Jail is an autobiographical account of the month he spent in prison under the fascist regime in 1940. His conclusion is entitled “A Hymn to Inner Freedom” where he writes about every man and woman’s power to inwardly free themselves.
One does not need to be incarcerated to feel imprisoned. Part of the human condition, at different points in our lives, is to find ourselves enslaved by some uncontrollable situation to which we feel bound. Freedom in Jail shows us that no matter what our condition – be it catastrophe, ill health, old age, and even pending death – we always remain free and responsible for choosing how we actively accept the situation and what attitude we take. The mystery is that these circumstances can also lead us to our Higher Self.
This week I have been saddened by the news coming from the Macedonia-Greek border. More than 300 refugees, including quite a few pregnant women and children, were injured by teargas, stun grenades, and plastic bullets in their attempt to cross the border. After surviving war bombs and sea crossings in dingy boats, more than 10,000 people have been stranded at this border since its shutdown in February. Understandably, they feel frustrated and their hope is slowly seeping away.
Closer to home, in a blog a few months ago, I talked about this photo of a spray-painted “Refugees Welcome” sign a few blocks from where I live. Since then, the “Welcome” has been crossed out.
You may already know Roberto Assagioli (1888-1874), the visionary founder of psychosynthesis, was an Italian medical doctor from Florence who studied under Freud. He was also the first psychoanalyst in Italy and a colleague of Jung’s. But what else do you know about him?
For those of you in the London area, please join us on Sunday, 3 July, for Assagioli Appreciation Dayhosted by the London Wellspring Group. You can learn more about the man and his life, including a premier showing of a film about him. I will be one of the speakers and hope to meet you there.
For tickets and more information, contact Sue Fox or click here.
Palestinians and international activists use make-shift bridges to cross the separation wall between Qalandiya and Jerusalem, November 14, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
There’s a lot of talk about walls lately. They seem to be going up everywhere.
In Hungry, refugees are cutting through and climbing over the 4-meter high barbed wire fence that extends along the Serbian border for 110 miles. British Prime Minister Cameron has recently received EU approval to control Britain’s own borders. And Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu announced this month his intention to “surround all of Israel with a fence” to protect the country from infiltration by both Palestinians, whom he described as “wild beasts.”
Perhaps the best known wall-builder today is the U.S. political candidate Donald Trump. On numerous occasions, he has boasted about building a wall along the Texas-Mexican border and “getting the Mexicans to pay for it.” Recently, however, he was firmly, but indirectly, admonished by Pope Francis during his visit to Mexico. The Pope said:
“Anyone who thinks about building walls … and not building bridges, is not a Christian.”
What struck me is that Pope Francis seemed to say that a Christian builds bridges AND walls. He did not denounce the walls, but simply added the bridges.
But this simple addition actually requires us to perform an extremely difficult, but necessary act of love and will.