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.
This is Holy Week for many Christians who are anticipating the celebration of Easter next Sunday. Below is an article of mine that was published ten years ago in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly. I describe a meeting with one of my clients that happened on Good Friday, which also that year coincided with Passover.
During this meeting, so many things started to converge and cross over that I was nearly overtaken by them. This story revolves around the converging life paths of my client and myself, and how we both ended up traveling long distances to witness and help guide our grandmothers towards their imminent death.
“It’s been a week of Passion,” Paula’s voice quivered as she dropped down into the chair in front of me. She had already emailed to say that her grandmother was dying and she couldn’t decide whether to go home. Paula had a long history of not being able to decide. We had been meeting for nearly 2-1/2 years, I as her psychosynthesis guide and she as my client. Together, we had explored her feelings of never being good enough and her consequent control of and search for illusive perfection in everything from shoes to menu items to true love. We had attempted to unravel and unbind her never-ending endings. And we had spent hours peeling away Paula’s habitual lateness to discover the face of cold fear of having to wait for the other and relive a surge of emotions around abandonment.
Her week of Passion was literal and figurative. It had been Holy Week and the day we met in 2011 was not only Good Friday, but also Jewish Passover. The word Pasque for Easter actually comes from the Hebrew word which means to “go through.” This week of ‘crossing over’, of leaving slavery for freedom, of moving from this world to the next, from death to everlasting life, seemed to reflect Paula’s own inner and outer struggle.
Since our last meeting, Paula had been confronted with death, an encounter that cannot be controlled or perfected or tricked into arriving before you or never at all. Her grandmother was dying of cancer and was finally surrendering to its call. Paula’s Nonna, an Italian as well as a private icon, no longer held the energy to sustain the Milanese family as she had for all of Paula’s 30 years.
Nonna had been the family pillar, the Corinthian column of strength and integrity around whom Christmas and birthdays and Holy Communions had been celebrated. This grandmother had finally decided to crumble, leaving everyone else to deal with their feelings of loss and painful loneliness. Grandmother, lucid and detached, was quietly slipping away. Her husband was angry that she had given up and stopped fighting, her family felt in many ways that she was already dead.
Three days earlier, Paula’s mother had called to prepare her daughter for the worst. While insisting that Paula not travel home from the Netherlands to Italy, her mother had wanted Paula to prepare for the imminent funeral. “Don’t come,” said Paula’s mother crying into the phone. “It’s better you remember her as she was. Your brother and sister go in to hug her and she does nothing. Nonna doesn’t care anymore. She doesn’t care if you are there are not. You are lucky not to see her this way. Besides, you will only have to fly back for the funeral. Get ready for that instead. It’s better this way.”
Paula recounted all this in tears. Throughout her childhood, her mother’s mother had been the one to comfort Paula, the one to take care of her while Paula’s mother fretted over Paula’s sickly younger brother, cooed over his comical antics.
Nonna had always told Paula that she was her favorite grandchild, and Paula wanted to go home and see her. But she struggled with her own mother’s wishes along with the fact that another ending was looming in front of her—her PhD thesis which was already late and had to be finished in less than three weeks. Logic and reason, Paula’s major accomplices throughout most of her lifetime, told her not to go home, and yet her heart was telling her otherwise…
You can continue reading this story below. Happy Easter!
Today is Assagioli’s birthday (he would have been 135 years young today). So why not buy yourself an Assagioli birthday gift — one or both of his newly published books!
I’m particularly happy to have been part of these two publications. Creating Harmony in Life: A Psychosynthesis Approach is a collection of Assagioli’s lectures from the 1930s and 1960s, published for the first time in English. I had the privilege of introducing, translating and annotating this book.
Psychosynthesis of the Couple is collection of lectures that Assagioli gave on the topic (mostly in Italian). Jan Kuniholm has synthesized these lectures into a highly readable composite essay. I was also able to contribute to the translations from the Italian.
Creating Harmony in Life: A Psychosynthesis Approach
Originally published in Italian in 1966 as Psicosintesi: Per l’armonia della vita, this book provides a fundamental overview of psychosynthesis by bringing together the early lectures of Roberto Assagioli. These lectures explore what psychosynthesis is and how it can be applied towards the practice of personal and spiritual self-development.
A great book for anyone new to psychosynthesis, Creating Harmony in Life is also a treasure trove for experienced psychosynthesis practitioners, with Assagioli’s nuggets of wisdom waiting to be discovered, contemplated, and put into practice.
Jan Kuniholm presents this book, Psychosynthesis of the Couple a synthetic essay that gathers the teachings of Roberto Assagioli, MD, concerning marriage, couples, relationships, and “inter-individual” psychosynthesis, many of which have been translated to English for the first time. The title is edited with notes and an introductory essay by Jan Kuniholm, with a reminiscence by Piero Ferrucci.
Of particular interest are the many diagrams that Assagioli drew to symbolically represent his concepts regarding, for example, communication between couples, stages of union, and various types of man-woman relationships.
We talk a lot about romantic love around Valentine’s Day. When romantic love devours us, we can find ourselves joyfully lost, frightened, and overpowered by intense feelings of belonging. And when this romantic love-bubble bursts, we seem to deflate into a mess of hurt, broken, and overshadowed feelings of failure and unworthiness.
It seems that love, from our human perspective, is inherently limited. The love we feel for another, as partners, family and friends, seems to come with all kinds of conditions. Some of these conditions may seem quite reasonable. For example, you might feel perfectly justified to say to your spouse: “I love you, but not if you have an affair/physically harm me/gamble away all our money.” Other conditions may be more dubious: “I love you, but only if you agree with me/let me have my own way/have enough money, beauty, fame/share my beliefs/keep me from being lonely…” This list can go on and on, depending on the deep inner needs that are unmet in the individual lover.
Love conditions can change in time throughout a relationship. They are restrictions on who or when we are willing to love and how much. Its polar opposite is unconditional love. Unconditional love occurs when we love people freely, fully and openly, with no expectations, demands or restrictions. Unconditional love is a constant stream of acceptance. It is not turned on or off, like conditional love. Unconditional love is full of mercy for the limitations manifested in the one who is loved.
But is it possible to love in this way? Perhaps unconditional love can only be fully expressed by the Higher Self or God. Nevertheless, it is an ideal that the world desperately needs, and something worth acting upon and experimenting with. We might first start with receiving unconditional love from our Higher Self. To know that we are fully worthy, accepted, and loved for who we are, in all our messy brokenness, failure, and even acts of irresponsible choice or worse.
In the ancient Syriac Christian tradition, there is no Hell. The 4th century poet Ephrem and later Isaac the Syrian wrote of God’s irresistible Love. They believed that God’s unconditional love is eternal, ceaseless in its desire for us to embrace it and all that is good. No one can reject God’s love forever, no matter how long they turn aside, try to outmaneuver or outlast His or Her Loving gaze. Unconditional Love is irresistible!
This makes me think of times when I become frustrated or angry with my husband. I shut down and want to run away. But he knows and loves me well enough to always come closer at these times. He typically grabs ahold of me before I flee the room and tenderly embraces me. I may be acting childish and unreasonable, but I cannot resist his act of unconditional love!
Assagioli’s notes on Love: Love: It’s different aspects. “Needing” or deficiency love. And unneeding, unselfish love. Love for the Being of another person. Maslow, Towards the Psychology of Being, p. 39 …
Our story is just one small example of unconditional love in action. But more profound examples occur when we forgive and continue to love those who have deeply hurt us. Perhaps the failure of a partner to meet a vital condition for our love is a call for help. If he or she cheats on you, can you still forgive them and wish them well (over time?) even if you ultimately decide to end the relationship?
Unconditional love brings freedom. We are free to be ourselves in all our human frailty and know we are still loved. We are free to love others without expectations, demands or emotional turmoil. In turn, the love is also free to flow and transform all that is around us.
We cannot expect to reach perfect unconditional love – that is perhaps only for God, but we can continually step closer to it and learn to find the right balance between the two. We can start by realizing our unmet inner needs and start to see how we try to fulfil them in our relationships. What conditions do we place on the ones we love (including ourselves)? And how do we ascertain our loved ones’ compliance?
Then try, step-by-step, to meet our inner needs ourselves. To gently move beyond our love conditions, first for ourselves, and then for others. As we open up to more love, the Higher Self can sneak through all our messy insecurities and help us to realize a broader, constant, consistent, and radiant Love. A Love full of mercy. An Irresistible Love!
January 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.
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.
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.
To 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.
It’s been eight years that I’ve been sharing these reflections with you and that’s a long time to be together. In his book Psicosintesi: Per l’armonia della vita, Roberto Assagioli writes that it is better to concentrate on a large project rather than many smaller ones. His words made me pause. I’ve been thinking about leaving this writing space for a while and this day of the full moon in May feels like the right time …
They say ‘never say never’, so I won’t. Who knows when I’ll be back? Perhaps when my heart is burning with something I need to say. Hopefully to announce the completion of my ‘large project’. But for now, I will say thank you to all my readers over the years, especially those who reached out to me with appreciation and encouragement.
I close with a reflection on three peacemakers – an Italian, an Indian, and an Austrian – two women, one man. All three happen to be writers. All three have been marginalized or forgotten, despite their ardent striving towards peace. I believe they have something to offer us today…
Prof. Ornella Mariani – Activist for Truth
Recently I watched a video (in Italian) of Prof. Dr. Ornella Mariani, accompanied by a number of other Italian women including journalist Gloria Callarelli, being interviewed after they paid a visit to the Russian Embassy in Rome on April 27th.
“Our government has a lack of will towards any peace, so we took it upon ourselves to visit the First Counselor to the Russian Ambassador,” said Mariani. “Italy has banned any communication with Russian delegates. This situation feels very grave to me.
“Obviously, we don’t feel represented by a government that doesn’t understand the value of peace, and only wants to send arms. If we really want peace, we shouldn’t be sending arms. Article 11 of our Constitution repudiates war, so we should all be doing everything we can to diplomatically find a solution, a peaceful solution to this terrible conflict.”
“We represent the Italian people, not the politicians. We hope to open doors,” said Callerelli. “to help build a bridge in whatever way we can, between the popolo italiano and the popolo russo.”
Three days later at 7 a.m., the DIGOS or Italian Special Operating Division, who are in charge of investigating terrorism and organized crime, arrived at Mariani’s apartment to tell her that she was under investigation for contempt of Italian State institutions. Her apartment and person was to be searched. “Obviously, I did not consent to this,” she said in a video posted afterwards. They ended up taking her phone, but leaving its SIM card.
“We will not lose courage,” she said. “We are stronger than they are.”
Rabindranath Tagore – Prophet of War, Prophet of Peace
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, artist and Nobel Prize winner of literature, devoted much of his life to working towards peace, both in his own country of India as well as internationally. However, he was realist and his words from nearly 100 years ago are eerily prophetic for us today.
Tagore believed that until the powerful nations, aided by their superiority and vast technological advancement, ceased their desire for territorial expansion and control over the smaller nations, world peace could never be achieved.
In a visit to Japan during the middle of World War I, Tagore declared:
“When, with the help of science, a nation’s power begins to grow and brings in harvests of wealth, then it crosses its boundaries with amazing rapidity. For then it goads all its neighboring societies with greed of material prosperity, and consequent mutual jealousy, and by the fear of each other’s growth into powerfulness. The time comes when it can stop no longer, for the competition grows keener, organization grows vaster, and selfishness attains supremacy. Trading upon the greed and fear of man, it occupies more and more space in society and at last becomes its ruling force.”
Tagore’s answer to ending this progression towards world destruction was a bondage of love and spirituality. “All imperialism – except for the imperialism of love – is wrong,” he said. According to Tagore, peace was not a non-war situation, but could only occur when all peoples could evolve into their unique selves, and then join into a singular united bond. He wrote in a letter to a his close friend Charles Andrews:
“When the spiritual ideal is lost, when the human relationship is completely broken up, then individuals freed from the creative bond of wholeness find a fearful joy in destruction.”
In 1938, as he watched the unfolding of World War II, Tagore wrote his famous poem:
Those crushed and trodden lives of the meek and the weak which are sacrificed as food offerings for the mighties. Those human flesh-eaters, snatching and scrambling, tearing the gut, scattering everywhere pieces of flesh bitten by sharp teeth, Stained the lap of the mother earth with the muddy blood. From the thrust of that fierce destruction one day, peace will emerge in the end with a great power. We will not fear, overcoming the distress, victory for us at the end.
To read more about Tagore’s ideas on world peace, click here to download an article “Rabindranath Tagore and World Peace” by Kalyan Kundu.
Bertha von Suttner – First Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize
Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) was an Austrian baroness with a fascinating life story who became a renowned novelist. She also greatly influenced Alfred Nobel to establish the Nobel Prizes. In 1889 she became world famous for her brutally realistic depiction of war in her antiwar novel Die Waffen Nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!, translated and published in 1905).
Von Suttner had personally lived through four wars herself – in 1859 (Italy and Austria), 1865 (the German states and Denmark), 1866 (Austria and Prussia), and 1870-71 (France and Prussia). In addition to using her own experiences for the novel, she interviewed veterans and read government documents. Publishers kept rejecting the novel, insisting that it was impossible to sell “in our military state.”
Die Waffen Nieder! became an instant success and was translated into eight languages. Von Suttner took advantage of the book’s popularity by establishing an Austrian peace society in 1891. She believed that military weapons always seem to acquire new lives, and their only purpose is to cause death.
For the rest of her life, von Suttner was a celebrated speaker at international conferences and peace meetings, and became heavily involved in a variety of peace organizations, including: the International Arbitration and Peace Society in London; the War and Peace Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland; the Berne Peace Congress in 1892; and the Inter-planetary Union. She and her husband also founded a pacifist journal. While touring the US, she said in no uncertain terms:
“War, all war is hell. Your Secretary of War is a Secretary of Hell. And your War Department is a Department of Hell. Your great generals and military men are all Hell Lords, perpetuating barbarism.”
Von Sutter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, making her even more famous. The Carnegie Peace Foundation awarded her a lifelong pension for her work towards peace. As World War I approached, she grew more alarmed by the arms race in Europe and militarization of the air. She lamented:
“They are fighting like beasts about who is the worst beast. And they don’t see that the beast itself is war.”
She died four weeks before the start of the first World War. It is said that her final words on her deathbed were:
“Lay down your arms! Tell it to all!”
Overview of pledged and/or delivered weapons for Ukraine
Australia: missiles and weapons – AUD $70 million ($51.6 million)
Belgium: 200 anti-tank weapons and 5,000 automatic rifles/machine guns
Canada: 8 armored vehicles, M777 howitzers, 4500 M72 rocket launchers and up to 7500 hand grenades, as well as $1 million dollars for the purchase of commercial satellite high resolution and modern imagery, machine guns, pistols, carbines, 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, sniper rifles, and various related equipment ($7.8 million), plus additional $20 million in military aid (CAD $25 million – details undisclosed)– CAD $118 million total (as of April 22)
Croatia: rifles and machine guns, protective equipment valued at 124 million kuna (€16.5 million)
Czech Republic: T-72 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles;400 million koruna ($18.23 million) of non-light weapons, including 160 shoulder-fired MANPADS systems (probably 9K32 Strela-2), 20 light machine guns, 132 assault rifles, 70 submachine guns, 108,000 bullets, 1,000 tactical gloves, all worth 17 million crowns ($756,000), and an earlier 188 million koruna ($8.6 million) worth of 4,000 mortars, 30,000 pistols, 7,000 assault rifles, 3,000 machine guns, a number of sniper rifles, and one million bullets.
Denmark: 2,700 anti-tank weapons, 300 Stinger missiles (returned to United States to be made operational), protective vests
Estonia: Javelin anti-tank missiles; nine howitzers (with German permission)
European Union: other weapons (unspecified- €500 million) [originally included fighter jets, which currently appears no longer true]
Finland: 2,500 assault rifles and 150,000 cartridges for them, 1,500 single-shot anti-tank weapons, and combat ration packages
France: MILAN anti-tank guided missile systems and CAESAR artillery howitzers, plus “additional defense equipment”
Germany: 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems, 56 PbV-501 IFVs, 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense system, plus permission for select other countries to send weapons controlled by Germany
Greece: portable rocket launchers, ammunition, and Kalashnikov rifles
Ireland: 200 units of body armor, medical supplies, fuel, and other non-lethal aid
Italy: Cabinet approved transfer of military equipment, pending Parliamentary approval.- reported to include Stinger surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank weapons, heavy machine guns, MG-type light machine guns and counter-IED systems
Japan: bulletproof vests, helmets, and other non-lethal military aid
Latvia: scheduled to deliver Stinger anti-aircraft missiles
Lithuania: Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems and ammunition
Luxembourg: 100 NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon), Jeep Wrangler 4×4 vehicles, 15 military tents, and additional non-lethal equipment
Netherlands: 200 Stinger missiles, 3000 combat helmets and 2000 fragmentation vests with accompanying armor plates, one hundred sniper rifles with 30,000 pieces of ammunition, plus other equipment; 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers (with German permission)
North Macedonia: unspecified military equipment
Norway: 4,000 anti-tank weapons, helmets, bulletproof vests, other protection equipment
Poland: 200+ T-72 tanks, other approved delivery of Piorun (Thunderbolt) short-range, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and munition; Defense Minister expressed readiness to supply several dozen thousand rounds of ammunition and artillery ammunition, air defense systems, light mortars, and reconnaissance drones
Portugal: grenades and ammunition, G3 automatic rifles, and other non-lethal equipment
Romania: €3 million of fuel, bulletproof vests, helmets, ammunition, military equipment, and medical treatment
Slovakia: S-300 air defense system
Slovenia: T-72 tanks (reported), undisclosed amount of Kalashnikov rifles, helmets, and ammunition
Spain: 1,370 anti-tank grenade launchers, 700,000 rifle and machine-gun rounds, and light machine guns, 20 tons of medical supplies, defensive, and personal protective equipment composing of helmets, flak jackets, and NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) protection waistcoats
Sweden: 10,000 AT4 anti-tank weapons, helmets, and body shields
Turkey: co-production of Bakar Bayraktar TB2 armed drones
United Kingdom: anti-aircraft capabilities (Stormer), 10,000 short-range and anti-tank missiles (including NLAWs and Javelins), Saxon armored vehicles, Starstreak air defence systems, loitering munitions — with aid at £200 million, to rise to as high as £500m – see April 25 (note: on April 8, reports indicated aid already at £350 million)
United States: Howitzers and artillery rounds; laser-guided rocket systems; Switchblade, Puma, and Counter-Unmannered Aerial systems; counter-artillery radars; Stinger and Javelin missiles; anti-armor systems, small arms and various munitions; more than 50 millions rounds of ammunition; body armor ($3.6 billion since invasion began);; five Mi-17 helicopters, 70 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) (pre-invasion)
Thirty-five years ago while living in Japan, I was invited by Japanese friends to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Upon our arrival to the city, I was immediately struck by how lively and ‘normal’ it felt. Cars were zooming by, people on bicycle were rushing to their destinations, skyscrapers filled the landscape. It was difficult to imagine the horrible disaster of a nuclear bomb on the city and its 255,000 innocent inhabitants. We soon arrived to the Memorial Park, an open space with various monuments, including an eternal flame burning for peace on Earth, all beautifully decorated with long strings of origami cranes.
While I contemplated these sites, many profoundly sorrowful feelings emerged. Then suddenly a middle-aged Japanese man swooped in and was screaming in my face. Not understanding any Japanese at the time, I asked my friends to translate. Embarrassed, they roughly yet very politely urged him to go away. He was screaming at me for dropping the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.
During the start of the Iraq War, I found myself in a Beirut convent eating dinner with an Iraqi couple. We were all there for a conference on the Syriac language, my husband’s expertise. I could hardly look at this couple for all the shame I felt about my country invading theirs. “I’m so sorry,” I said as soon as the opportunity arose, “for what my country is doing to yours. I hardly know what to say to you.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” the woman assured me. “We know just how you feel. We were having dinner with Kuwaiti friends when our country invaded theirs.”
A month after the 9/11 attacks, I and my husband returned to Egypt after visiting my family in California. We had been living in Giza for the past year and were happy to return. Initially, I was afraid to even say I was American, but no one seemed to show any animosity. Except quietly behind closed doors. My neighbor was not ashamed to tell me how happy she had been to see the Twin Towers fall. For her, Osama bin Laden had successfully brought the schoolyard bully to its knees and fear to its land. “But,” she admitted, “as an architectural student, it saddened me to see the buildings fall.”
It is a beautiful spring day, and I am with my husband and another couple visiting a small medieval village in Tuscany. We were standing in a piazza, enjoying the surrounding architecture, and trying to decide where to have lunch. Suddenly we hear an older man’s voice demanding an answer: “Do you think this is beautiful? Do you? Do you think this is beautiful?” We all turned to him and nodded dumbly. “During the war there was nothing here but malaria and famine.” He nearly spat out the words. “Malaria and famine. Take that bellezza home with you.”
One final story. I am just six years old. It is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis is looming. Our kindergarten class has been lined up into single file and brought to the gymnasium. This is not our normal routine. We are told to sit down together on the floor. All the other elementary school kids are also there. A teacher I don’t know is talking. She is telling us how if there is a bomb, we will all gather in the gym like this and stay together. No one will be able to go home. When the bomb is dropped, we will sleep here and wait for our parents to come. We might have to wait days. I don’t understand. This all feels like a dumb thing to do. I raise my hand and wait to be called on. “Why are adults doing this?” I ask. The teacher doesn’t answer. She just looks at me.
All these strong experiences have taught me the need to overcome nationalism and, above all else, hold fast to the moral spirit of humanity. Given what is happening in Europe today, we would do well to heed the words of Rabindranath Tagore, poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature. Soon after WWI, Tagore wrote and lectured worldwide against nationalism, calling on all of us to recognize our greater humanity. In his book Nationalism, he clearly states:
“Nationalism is a great menace… the time has come, for the sake of the whole outraged world. Europe should fully know in her own person the terrible absurdity of this thing called the Nation.”
Tagore did not shirk from pointing out how nationalism was prevalent in his own country, causing him to meet with scorn from every side. In 1917, Tagore began speaking openly against the British Raj. To the average British official, he was considered a non-cooperator who refused to ‘play the game’ of Anglo-Indian back-scratching. To the average Indian nationalist, he was un-patriotic. As his biographers note: “By not joining any group, and refusing to temper his criticisms, Tagore had become the target of all groups.” In fact, he was nearly assassinated during a visit to San Francisco by Indian nationalists.
Tagore distained blind nationalism and fanaticism where “machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bullfight of politics.” What he proposed instead was universal humanism, global cooperation and harmony. Tagore’s core ideas included the need for self-determination, strengthening society from below, universal man and the need for education transcending borders.
For the rest of his life, Tagore called on all peoples to create a “more human order, a finer science of life, and a spiritual republic behind world politics.”
We may wonder how Tagore’s words of 100 years ago might have any relevance to us today. But nationalism is still playing a major role in the more than 20 wars ranging worldwide. One’s national identity is causing fractures even inside countries like the USA and the EU. The attitude of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ is a nationalist one.
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.
Are you dreading this holiday season? The incessant music. Crowds of anxious consumers. The proliferation of plastic made in China? Unwanted gifts and the duty of buying gifts unwanted? The unreasonable pressure of a perfect Christmas dinner on the table. Forced encounters with others with whom you would rather not? Fake joy…
Rejoice! There is a simple way out. It’s called “Formulating Blessings.” Anyone can play and it’s absolutely free! Continue reading →
Yesterday was the World Day of Psychosynthesis and more than 150 people interested in Roberto Assagioli’s vision of psychosynthesis celebrated in an event hosted by two Swedish groups, Psykosyntesföreningen and Psykosyntesförbundet along with the European Psychosynthesis Association (EPA).
The day is meant to establish a spiritual connection between everyone who is generating and working with psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. Each of us is encouraged to take time during the day to reflect on how psychosynthesis is a living, evolving idea that can be successfully applied through many formats and in various contexts.
This day was inspired by a note that Assagioli wrote. What is special about this particular note is that it is dated, something relatively rare to find on his thousands of archived notes. A copy of the Assagioli’s original note appears below along with its transcription. Continue reading →