Category Archives: Relationship

(Re)Learning to Mother Ourselves

1024px-Mother-Child_face_to_faceRecently I have been taking psychosynthesis lessons from my 3-1/2 year old neighbor Martina (not her real name). She is an only child without many friends who has been wandering over to my garden whenever I happen to be planting or hoeing in the late afternoon. At first she showed up in her electrical jeep, zig-zagging down the country road from her grandparents’ house, alternatively jerking to a halt and zooming full speed ahead, her three dogs chasing after her.

Martina is highly intelligent, strong-willed and precocious. She is an organizer and often explains to me where plants should be placed and what vases and flowers I need to buy and where they belong in the garden. She is also a great storyteller. In true Italian style, her entire body moves while she talks, her hands fly around with precision, and her facial gestures rise and fall with the tone of her voice.

She is also has a sense of humor. When I tell her I must go because I need to make supper for my husband, she responds, “Yes, because otherwise what would he eat? Grass like the cows?” and then laughs heartedly at her own cleverness.

A Triad of Love

Lately Martina has been leaving her jeep behind to arrive on foot as she pushes her doll “Alice” in a stroller. Once they are within shouting distance, I instantly become la Nonna (the grandmother), Martina becomes the mother and Alice the child.

Within a short time, my “granddaughter” Alice is besieged with traumatic events. It seems like every other minute I must stop hoeing to witness the next catastrophe. Alice is crying and wants her Nonna. Alice is vomiting and la Nonna must hold her over the imaginary toilet. Alice is thirsty, hungry, and crying again. Alice has booped and I must see the mess that she made and direct her mother to where she might toss the dirty diaper.

girl pushing strollerAfter a few days of this, I was beginning to dread Alice’s appearance. I inwardly groaned whenever I saw Martina running behind the pink plastic stroller towards the garden and heard her shouting “Nonna!” Oh no! Not that stupid doll again! Alice and her continual crises were not my only distractions. Both Martina and Alice have their own (toy) cellphones that seemed to ring off the hook. Sometimes it’s the doctor calling, other times it’s simply a wrong number. Often we need to check in with Alessio (Martina’s “husband”) to see if he wants prosciutto crudo or cotto (raw or cooked ham) on his pizza.

But my dread and ignorance was soon awakened. One day when passing the neighbor’s house, I met Martina outside, who immediately exclaimed with bubbly excitement, “I will get Alice!” To my wonder, so much light and joy were shining in Martina’s eyes that I instantly understood that Alice was really a symbol of her own little soul. Reappearing with Alice, Martina only confirmed this fact by saying, “Here is l’amore di Mama (Here’s Mother’s Love). Isn’t Alice l’amore di Nonna too? (Isn’t Alice Grandmother’s Love too?)”

External Unifying Center

1. Conscious self or “I” (Alice) 2. External Unifying Center (Nonna) 3. Higher Self. (derived from Assagioli, 2000, pp. 23-27)

After this revelation, I also understood that through Alice, Martina was learning how to mother herself. In psychosynthesis terms, she was using the doll and my presence to help form her authentic personality. The doll represented her true self (her “I”). This was clear by the shining light in Martina’s eyes when she thought about Alice. And I, as la Nonna, was acting as what is called the external unifying center. My relationship with Alice (as la Nonna) was a mirror for Martina to learn how she, as an authentic being (“I”) could be in relationship with the Higher Self. By learning how to connect to her Higher Self, Martina was also learning how to connect to others in Love.

Let’s look at an example. Once I caught Martina hitting Alice and calling her a bad girl. “Are you crazy? Are you?” she kept berating the forever-smiling doll. I explained quietly that I didn’t like how she was treating Alice, that Alice was too little to know better, and besides we should never hit anyone smaller than ourselves. When my back was turned, Martina surreptitiously berated Alice again. But (thank God!) I am still smarter than most 3-1/2 year-olds and repeated my earlier statements. To date, Martina has not hit Alice. I can only hope that that my outer voice has become her inner one and Martina has learned not to berate herself.

How Children are Wounded

Ideally, during our childhood, we will have “ideal models” who are empathetic enough to mirror our I-Self connection, helping us to learn to connect and experience our own inner unifying center. This mirroring, for the most part, is done by our mothers (or primary caregivers). But unfortunately, most of us as children have never learned from our parents how to connect to the Higher Self. How to nurture the imagination or creativity in our souls.

During my lifetime, I have painfully watched children being pushed, emotionally harassed, and sometimes beaten into being good girls and boys, accepted only on condition that they behave well. Like Alice, they are told they are bad or crazy, and then physically struck by parents who are much bigger, as big as giants in the eyes of the child.

This was indeed Martina’s case. On a number of occasions, I had heard her own grandmother ask if she wasn’t crazy. While sipping coffee in their kitchen, I despondently witnessed the giant adults tell Martina that she was stupid and bad, unable to do anything right. “If you don’t listen and behave,” her grandmother threatened her to my dismay, “Catherine won’t love you anymore.”

“Oh no,” I insisted. “I will always love Martina, no matter what.”


Jane Goodall (2015)

Jane Goodall (age 83), the famous British primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace, was asked by by Bill Moyers in an interview:

“Where in the long journey [of evolution]  do you think empathy comes from?”

She replied:

“It’s the bond between mother and child … for us and for chimps and other primates.  The root of empathy is in all the expressions of social behavior that you can see mirrored in the mother-child relationship.”

How Adults Can Heal the Inner Child

stanne maria jesus

Not unlike Martina’s doll and nonna, an icon of St. Anne, Mary and Jesus can also be used as a symbol for our inner healing.

Our mothers and fathers perhaps did their best to clothe and feed and care for our physical needs. But they still remained unable to cope with or understand the deeper spiritual longings of their children, the need to feel protected and initiated by someone soulful and wise. Someone like a grandmother who might teach us how to nurture our creativity and cherish our souls.

But we, as broken adults, can be redeemed and synthesized whole. The road is not an easy one. It requires humility, desire, devotion, and grace. As adults it is our responsibility to probe our own lives to discover the truth that lies behind the choices we are making. Nearly all our present day anxieties, problems, and confusion are a direct result of childhood trauma that we have yet to mourn.

Once we understand the fear, loneliness, anger, feelings of inadequacy, or other negative images that we inherited from our parents, only then can we move forward and become free to be who we really are. But insight is only the first step in this most difficult journey. Next we must surrender ourselves to all the old emotions that we have carried for so long, finally allowing ourselves to feel and release them. And then, we must be prepared to receive renewed life, positive change, and all the opportunities full of grace that suddenly present themselves for us to simply accept with gratitude.

This is not a path one can take alone. One cannot understand his or her true essence without first looking within and then finding a mirror, another soul who can listen with compassion and without judgment and then reflect the knowledge back to its source.

In her small wise way, Martina instinctively knows all this. That’s why her eyes light up when she runs to retrieve Alice. That’s why she runs over to la Nonna in the garden, pushing Alice in the stroller in front of her. That’s why Alice is l’amore di Mama, l’amore di Nonna.

References and Further Reading

Assagioli, Roberto (2000), Psychosynthesis, A Collection of Basic Writings, The Synthesis Center, Inc., Amherst, Massachusetts

Firman, John and Ann Gila (1997). The Primal Wound. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Firman, John and Ann Gila (2002). Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Miller, Alice (1987). The Drama of Being a Child. London: Virago Press.


Courageously Creating Good Will

003415 good willOne could not help but be horrified by the images last week of Dr. David Dao being violently dragged off United Airlines overbooked flight to make way for a crew member. His forcible abuse and maltreatment by the three policemen ended up with him suffering a concussion, broken nose and the loss of two front teeth. Dr. Dao only wanted to go home to see his patients the next morning.

Since the release of the videos made by fellow passengers, responsibility for this incident has been placed on a number of different people.

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Women’s Psycho-Spiritual Gifts

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assgioli’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.

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From the Couple to Humanity


“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.”

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Wise Love and Original Sin


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.

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Tuning into Spiritual Airways

PrayerflagsOn September 20th, those of us who have been touched by Roberto Assagioli’s vision are celebrating the first World Day of Psychosynthesis. 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.

Ultimately, psychosynthesis allows us to integrate all our human dimensions – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – into a harmonious and synthesized whole so we can fully express ourselves and live life creatively. Beyond our individual psychosynthesis, Assagioli also urges us to seek personal and spiritual synthesis within couples, groups, and even nations.

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Stones and Seaweed (Part II of II)

Paidraich and his wall

Padriach with a bucket of seaweed standing in front of the stone wall he built with his two hands.

Summer is here again, and so I thought I would dig out a story from fifteen years ago, something I wrote while my husband and I spent six weeks on the island of Inishere, Ireland, helping Anita and Paraic with their new B&B and café not to mention their farm and four kids. I will always be grateful to them for their hospitality during the summer of 2001.

This is long story for a blog and comes in two parts. I hope you enjoy it and your summer!

Inishere has one shop, three pubs, and a chipper (a place to buy fried foods), an art center displaying the resident artist’s work, a hotel, and a new library. Groceries were ordered by phone and delivered three times a week. This naturally altered our attitude to shopping and nothing was taken for granted. Still Kees and I had no desire to leave.

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