Category Archives: Relationship

Lessons from the Classrooms of Tagore and Assagioli

This is a brief excerpt from my article recently published in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly that explores the educational philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli. To download this article, please click here.

One of the most compelling worldwide impacts of Covid-19 is the abrupt and profound change in how children are being educated. What can psychosynthesis bring to this radical change in education? To start, we might turn to two great figures from the last century: Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli.

During their lifetimes, Tagore and Assagioli were both participants in a larger educational movement during the early 19th century, a time of social and political upheaval, technological and industrial revolution, World War I, and the flu epidemic of 1918.

Rabindranath_Tagore_reading_to_others_(1)

Rabindranath Tagore reading to others.

Tagore as an Educator

In addition to his literary and musical genius and accomplishments, Tagore spent forty years of his life as an educator. During his lifetime, Tagore undertook the enormous task of creating three schools through which he might impart his humanistic and universal vision unto others. In 1901, he founded Santiniketan (Abode of Peace), a boys’ school situated on the property trusted to him by his father. Prominent former students include film director Stayajit Ray, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, and Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Rabindranath-Tagore-classroom-West-Bengal-Shantiniketan

Tagore with his students.

The institution was upgraded to a university in 1921. Many years later, in a letter to Gandhi, Tagore described his “International University” as the “vessel which [carries] the cargo of my life’s best treasure.”[1]

Tagore’s third institution Sriniketan (Abode of Prosperity) was intended as a school of rural reconstruction, “aiming to make the villagers self-reliant and self-respectful through improvement of their physical, intellectual and economic condition.”[2] Ten years after his death, all three institutions were taken over by the central government of India, which continues to run them today.

Assagioli’s Educational Philosophy

During his lifetime, Assagioli wrote a number of articles about education and learning[3] with a special interested in the education of gifted-children.[4] He asserted that children’s education should help them develop into a harmonious and well-balanced human being on all levels – physical, emotional, imaginative, intellectual, ethical, social and intuitive.

RA and Students in Switzerland2

Roberto Assagioli teaching students during the 1965 summer
session of Mrs. Faillettaz’s finishing school in Gion, Switzerland,
Institut Villa Pierrefeu, now ivpworld.com. (Photo by Isabelle
Küng).

In addition, students need to integrate and synthesize these aspects into a fully aware individual who is conscious of the Higher Self.[5] He identified education as a carefully balanced relationship in which the teacher, through his or her authority and curriculum, guides the child towards discovering his or her autonomy and personal psychosynthesis.

Despite their similar thoughts on education, unlike Tagore, Assagioli did not establish a children’s school or university, but he was instrumental in establishing psychosynthesis institutes and organizations around the world. Like Tagore, Assagioli was always interested in developing national and international groups that worked towards inter-personal synthesis.

Suggestions based on Tagore and Assagioli’s Educational Insights

The following suggestions are offered as possible supplemental activities to e-learning. The hope is that these suggestions might also stimulate teachers and parents to create their own appropriate tasks best suited for their children and situation. [6]

Engage with Nature

To counterbalance time spent gazing at a computer screen, students need to be encouraged by their teachers and parents to engage with nature. Time devoted to pets, walks, and the outdoors should be incorporated into daily life. Note that learning also takes place through all meaningful activities with material objects such as building materials, drawing, gardening, and the explorations of natural objects.

Child in natureFor younger students, material experiences can also be simple tasks in the home environment such as sorting laundry by color or shape. Math can be integrated into everyday life experiences such as cooking or counting birds, flowers, or butterflies found in the yard. Teachers can schedule virtual sharing time in order to encourage children to share their pets, a favorite toy and/or something found in nature.

Stimulate Creative Imagination

Experiences in nature can help to activate the creative imagination. Other activities include cooking, gardening, artwork, dream work, and moments of silence. Practice counting ten positive things per day with an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation. Be creative in providing opportunities for virtual class and school community events such as art or talent shows.

Train the Will

Concentration occurs when a student’s mind, body and will are engaged. Younger children especially thrive on order and consistency. Teachers and parents can encourage students to participate in the work of their families at home: laundry, cooking, food shopping, dishes, yard work, and sibling care.

A mind all logic Doc ID 824

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It
makes the and bleed that uses it.” R. Tagore, Stray
Birds, CXCIII (Assagioli’s note from his archives)

Have students design a project or learning plan, along with scheduling their time at home. When children can find and care for their own belongings, they feel capable and responsible. Younger children can be independent for long stretches of time when they have carefully arranged spaces for dressing, hygiene, preparing food, cleaning-up, and independent play.

Remember to promote the process, emphasizing awareness, presence and the joy of caring for belongings and others as opposed to the final result. Parents also need to learn that clean-up of an activity is also the child’s work and provide the guidance necessary for the child to learn this process of keeping things tidy and in order. All these practices help students to train their will.

Teachers of older students might try creating a class that self-governs. The class might elect a mayor, community council, judge and various committees functioning under the tactful guidance of the instructor. The choices, decisions and responsibility inherent in self-government helps to develop some of the essential qualities of the will and constitutes the best type of education of freedom and democracy.

Open Avenues to Spirituality

Creating a space for students to experience and express their spiritual feelings is perhaps, at this point in time, the most necessary and the least attended to. Children and young adult students should be amply informed of the sufferings and misfortunes that much of humanity, including perhaps those close to them, are enduring at this moment. Consequently, discussion and reflection on current events and their feelings about them should occur frequently whenever possible.

Evocative WordsNow is the opportunity for all young people to learn how to approach crisis with a positive, loving attitude. It is essential to use the events to arouse the higher qualities within them, such as sympathy and compassion for others; the awareness, responsibility, and determination to correct what social ills they can, and the acceptance of the afflictions that they are unable to eradicate.

Teachers and parents need to avoid all expressions of irritation, depression, fear and other negative thoughts and emotions in the presence of children. Above all, bitter discussions caused by conflicts between the parents´ points of views should be eliminated. Adults also need to abstain from “projecting” onto children their own negative states of mind and aggressive impulses. Try instead to use humor whenever appropriate and maintain a cheerful atmosphere as much as possible.

Spontaneous spiritual experiences frequently occur in children. Without the obstacles often found in adults, their consciousness is open to higher energies. Therefore, teachers and parents need to pay attention to these spontaneous experiences, to appreciate their value, and to encourage their manifestation.

Ways of opening up to spiritual energies include:

  • Cultivate a sense of beauty, especially the aesthetic appreciation of the various aspects of nature: the sky, the sea, mountains, flowers, etc.
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and admiration for one’s inner and outer worlds.
  • Promote the use of evocative words and/or symbols of higher qualities.
  • Present young people with examples of persons who have led a spiritual life especially during historically challenging times: the great religious figures, geniuses, heroes — not only warriors and conquerors — but philosophers, poets, artists, scientists, and workers in the humanitarian field.
  • Wisely adapt methods such as concentration, observation, and meditation in order to promote a spiritual life. For adolescents, introduce spiritual psychology that favors an understanding of their inner make-up, puts emphasis on their essential spiritual nature and on their higher potential.

Consciously Choose Right Relations

In order to encourage right relations, be sure to acknowledge to the students the need for grace and courtesy at home. Many of us are house-bound or limited in our outside activities and, therefore, experiencing more family togetherness than we are accustomed to. Practice and encourage kindness, patience and acceptance with humility.

Peter Pan Nursery Children PlayingYou can encourage right relations among students virtually by having lunch together, singing, dancing, and doing yoga together. Of course, physical interaction between students should occur as must as possible as well. Parents and grandparents can play games together with their children and create a communal time and space to share reflections and experiences that have emerged during the day. Teachers can also foster ways for students and families to collaborate remotely in large and small groups.

Moving beyond the family and class to the wider community, help students to provide a service to others in the following ways:

  • Write friendly letters to the elderly and letters of gratitude to community service workers.
  • Make face masks.
  • Plant a garden. Weed someone’s garden in the neighborhood.
  • Connect with younger children in earlier levels of the school for reading aloud.
  • Create care packages for postal office, delivery, supermarket or hospital workers.
  • Donate time or food to local food banks.

References

[1] Rabindranath Tagore, Letter to Mahatma Gandhi. 2 March 1940. Rabindra Bhavan Archives, Visva-Bharati, India.

[2] Quayum, “Education for Tomorrow,” p. 20.

[3] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione sessuale.” Bollettino Filosofico, III:1, 1914; Roberto Assagioli, “Come s’imparano le lingue col subcosciente.” L’economia umana, 3, 1954; Roberto Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, “Creative Expression in Education.” Journal of Education, 145:3, 1963; Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1968. Retrieved on 17 July 2020 from https://synthesiscenter.org/articles/0321.pdf

[4] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati.” Umanità in cammino, IV:2, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati. Firenze, Istituto di Psicosintesi, 1963.

[5] Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.

[6] While I have compiled these suggestions, some of them come from Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education, The Deeper Meaning of Education,” Psychosynthesis and Research Foundation, 1968, Downloaded on 17 July from https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/notes-on-education-by-roberto-assagioli/. Others are derived from Kitty Bravo, “Montessori Pedagogical Guidelines for Supporting Learning at Home During COVID-19.” The Montessori Foundation, n.d., Downloaded on 17 July 2020 from https://www.montessori.org/montessori-pedagogical-guidelines-for-supporting-learning-at-home-during-covid-19/

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

Celebrating Women in Psychosynthesis

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

A spiritual portrait of Assagioli painted by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.

Assagioli is often criticized for his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis.” in which he describes “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and the wifely function. His recognition of the differences between men and women in this essay can cause anxiety among psychosynthesis psychologists today.

But in a 1965 lecture on the same topic, Assagioli explains why this subject raises our suspicion and/or fear. He says that many people think that when you recognize these differences, that you are implying that men are better than women. These differences, however, do not imply that women are of less value or inferior to men. Assagioli actually said such thinking is “simply stupid”! Continue reading

An Ordinary Extraordinary Christmas

breakfastThe day started out normal enough. Breakfast of homemade bread and jams, creamy sheep cheese from Sardinia, ricotta, and peanut butter from a large jar brought long ago from the Netherlands, all swallowed down with cappuccinos in our usual breakfast cups. That morning we were just a bit more rushed, hurrying out by 8 am to attend the morning mass at the Monastery of St. Luca in Fabriano.

Benedictine nuns in the sober habits sang the psalms in clear – sometimes wavering – voices accompanied by one of the sisters playing the dulcimer. A monk priest said the mass. Afterwards we stood around the 16th century pews listening to Don Ephrem tell stories of when he was first ordained as a priest in Syria. Barely speaking Arabic, he was sent off to a high mountain village to say the Christmas mass.

But first he had to hear confession. The problem was nobody spoke Arabic, they all spoke a mountain dialect. Behind the confessional screen, he begged for mercy, asking the elderly women penitents to recount their sins in a language he might understand. French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, slowly spoken simple Arabic? No, none of those. Only mountain dialect, a slowing dying blend of indecipherable Arabic and language once carried on the wind.

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Talking to Strangers

Internet AddictionI spend last Saturday talking to strangers. As a volunteer for the charity Caritas, I spent two hours in front of a local supermarket asking people to donate food to the Italian National Food Bank. This experience meant that I wore a plastic yellow bib (which declared my legitimacy) while dangling plastic yellow bags in front of passing strangers.

Those who were interested in helping, took the bag and filled it with rice, pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil (this is Italy after all!), baby food or canned vegetables. The donated goods were then collected, boxed and sent off to the local food bank.

I startled most of the shoppers that day with my distinct American accent. “Buon giorno!” I called out cheerily. “Would you like to participate in our food collection for the poor?” I asked this at least 100 times that morning and, as you can imagine, the reactions varied. Some simply said ‘No.’ Some said they had already donated at another supermarket. One man said that he could actually use the yellow plastic bag, thank you very much. Continue reading

School Bells for Joy

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
(Psalm 34:6)

Joy at School

Joy at nursery school.

Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.

But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.

Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills. Continue reading

Rocky’s Prayer

Day of the DeadThis weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.

fave-in-fiore

Fava bean flowers

The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading

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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Spring Breath of God

With standing room only, the bus sped down the freeway on a bright warm morning. Once we turned onto the bollenstreek, long ribbons of intense blue, mauve, and white stretched to the near horizon. At the same time, the colours seemed to invade inside and pour over us. Fields of yellow daffodils blared spring’s final triumph over the particularly long winter. Every head on the bus turned and gazed. And then suddenly, quite spontaneously, everyone sighed together, “Aaahhhhhhhh.” A breath song of collective awe.

We were headed to Keukenhof Gardens, near the Dutch town of Lisse, famous for its variety of bulb flowers, especially tulips. I was feeling particularly triumphant because I had two Dutch people in tow. My husband had finally run out of excuses and decided to appease his American wife. Along with us was a friend who had actually lived near the gardens for the past 35 years and had never visited them before. Continue reading

Birthing Forgiveness

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Today Christians mark the death of Jesus, who before dying, forgave his executioners as well as the thief crucified by his side. Born out of a paradoxical mixture of human suffering, responsibility and love, the essential power of forgiveness is that is contains rather than proliferates violence. Today seems like a good time to explore where forgiveness comes from and the power it holds. How does it happen? And what are the steps that we, in our personal lives, can take towards it?

Forgiveness is a creative process. You decide how much, when, where, how, and under what conditions to forgive. As Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “The important part of forgiveness is to begin and to continue” (author’s italics). It does not happen overnight, it does not have to happen fully. But one thing is certain, it cannot happen from your head. We cannot reason our way around, into, or towards forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the heart, and it requires a great love, a Love beyond ourselves. Continue reading