Category Archives: Spirituality

The Virus of Fear

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

Let’s talk about fear. How arbitrary it can be. Besides personal fears and anxieties, Assagioli writes about “waves of collective fear and panic.” These waves appear daily in our news headlines – the pandemic, ongoing climate disasters, financial injustice, racism and political upheaval. These are some of the external fears that can so easily feed our internal ones.

Assagioli calls this collective fear 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 flu-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. Fear, rage, and vanity are just some of the ‘blocks of primitive mass-emotions’ that Dante portrays as giants in the Divine Comedy. These giants represent blind human forces. They stand in a circle around the well that leads to the final circle of Hell where the betrayers dwell. 

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 said:

“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.

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Dante and Virgil meeting one of the giants in Inferno.

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. 

Returning to Egypt

I learned about collective fear nearly 20 years ago when my husband and I happened to be living in Egypt. But the day the Twin Towers fell, we happened to be visiting my family in California. Was I afraid to return to Egypt? I HAD been afraid. The week before I was sick with fear. My head hurt, my eyes burned, my shoulders ached. And it didn’t help when everyone around me kept saying, “You’re not going back to Egypt, are you? Aren’t you afraid?” 

After careful consideration, prayer, constant check-ins with the US Embassy in Cairo, and reassurances from friends in Egypt, we did decide to return. Once ‘home’ again, everything in Egypt seemed like business as usual. But soon afterwards, I learned of student protests at Cairo universities against the bombings in Afghanistan. U.S. flags had been burnt and there were daily marches at Al Azhar University. 

But did I feel fear? Well, some. All the Muslims that we knew in our neighborhood seemed genuinely happy to see us again. Perhaps our return gave them a feeling of normality. Perhaps they were happy because we had brought our U.S. dollars. 

Our next-door neighbors in Giza included our landlord Mr. Hussein, his wife, Affaf, and two daughters, Mona (21) and Marwa (23). On our first day back, Affaf came baring gifts of baked chicken and stuffed zucchini and eggplant, which we gratefully received. Later that evening, while Kees was out, she appeared at my door with fresh dates still clinging to their palm stems and an invitation to come into the house to see the girls.

The girls awaited me in the living room with kisses. Usually veiled, they were bare-armed with their curly hair tied tightly back. Hibiscus tea was served with more dates, nutty and woody in taste. Mr. Hussein sat watching TV. During the 1967 war, Mr. Hussein was an Egyptian plane navigator. After being shot down by Israeli fighters, he had to wait for rescue in the Sinai desert.

“You not afraid?” was his only question for me. What, I wondered, did he mean by “afraid”?

“Yes,” I said. “A little.”

The women then engaged me in chatter about our time apart. The summer had been exceptionally hot. Early one morning, Mona and her mother ran out the front gate to rescue a tiny chick from the jowls of a wild dog. The young chicken was now happily roaming the inner garden, undisturbed by their two cats. 

Then Mona turned to me and asked, “Were you afraid? Were you afraid to go out of your house? Were you afraid of being bombed?”

What a surprising question! (That AFRAID question again…) None of them were asking if I was afraid to return to Egypt, which seemed to be the only concern of everyone else in my life. The Egyptians, however, wanted to know if I had been afraid to stay in America!

All this made me instantly realize two things. First, one can easily fall into the mass emotion of fear no matter what perspective it is coming from. The second insight was that the amount of fear we experience is often a reflection of the fear we have of our own shadow selves. 

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at drawntocolor.com

If I had assumed all the presupposed fears that had polluted the US national psyche after the 9/11 attacks — fear of returning to Egypt, fear of flying on a plane, fear of living in a foreign country, fear of walking freely in the streets of an Middle Eastern city – I never would have been able to live my life, something I had already been trying to do for years. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! Only the Higher Self can bring us there.

Start today to consciously starve your 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. 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 swirling around us. 

Soon after arriving in Egypt that year, I had the opportunity to experience a very special celebration of Ramadan. Remember, once we start using our will to dis-identify from fearful thoughts, emotions, and ideas, we allow ourselves much freedom and new energy to purposively create acts of Love and Will. 

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To read about how two former clients overcame their personal fears, see Starve Your Fear! and The Healing Paradox.

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

Heavenly and Earthly Desires

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The Journey of the Three Magi. Postcard from Assagioli’s Archives (ID# 010305)

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 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. 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.

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

Free and Wild Creatures Abound

Readers of A Free and Wild Creature have been sending me photos of themselves with my book. You too can become an Official Free and Wild Creature! It’s very easy, just send me a photo of yourself with the book or post your Official Free and Wild Creature photo to the Love And Will Facebook page. Here’s a few to inspire you…

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Thank you everyone!

God likes small places…

Line Drawing of Restaurant by Jenny Beale

Roseleen’s Restaurant’s entrance, by Jenny Beale

Twenty years ago I published God is in Roseleen’s Restaurant, a small book of reflective meditations about my time working as a waitress in Ireland. Can two decades go by just like that? Twenty years ago I was 44 years old, living in a round wooden house in Kinvara, a small village on the West Coast of Ireland. I had just met and fallen in love with my Dutch husband. We would marry in May the next year and have our wedding feast at Roseleen’s.

When I got the job as a waitress, I was an unemployed technical writer with little knowledge of either psychosynthesis or Assagioli. But (as always) I was searching… 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

Official Free and Wild Creatures!

KittyReaders of A Free and Wild Creature have been sending me photos of themselves with my book. What fun! This has inspired me to announce that you too can become an Official Free and Wild Creature! It’s very easy, just send me a photo of yourself with the book or post your Official Free and Wild Creature photo to the Love And Will Facebook page. Here’s a few to inspire you… Continue reading

A Time for ‘Self-Stripping’

DSC01928 Burn

In the Umbrian countryside, it is time to burn old growth.

We are now halfway through the period of Lent – a time before Easter when Christians seek purification through fasting, prayer, and charitable acts. The forty days of Lent are, in many ways, similar to the Islamic time of Ramadan, which I was fortunate enough to experience while living in Egypt. During Ramadan, Moslems are expected to fast as well as give alms and read the Qur’an.

Assagioli wrote extensively on what he called “the science of applied purification”, insisting that this work must be undertaken in order to transform the lower characteristics of our personality and bring unity to our soul. He described purification of the personality as a process of re-orientation and elevation of the higher mind. Using our will, we burn the dross of our affective and instinctual energies, habits, tendencies and passions. Once clear of the obstacles that prevent us from receiving our higher intuitions, we are free to receive wisdom from the Higher Self. In other words, purification is a necessary process that we all must endure along the journey towards personal psychosynthesis before we are adequately equipped to seek spiritual psychosynthesis. Continue reading