Category Archives: Spirituality

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.

Assagioli wrote:

“Forgiveness is not an act of passivity or weakness. Every time we forgive, we perform a ‘magical act’, because we break a chain and, by doing so, we free ourselves from a bond. Forgiveness is a conscious act of will and love, that truly knows how to forget and stop the sad succession of resentment, vendettas and struggles among human beings. Forgiveness is the most effective way to bring peace to the souls of the world.”

Throughout the years, I have come to understand that forgiveness is a process of both acceptance and surrender. It is a long process and does not happen once but gradually, many, many times. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when Peter asked him, “How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seven times seventy” (Matthew 18:21-22).

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Forgiveness comes stealthily like a panther.

There are initial steps we can take towards forgiveness. First we must acknowledge and feel our sorrow, soften our rage, and give room to our grief. The sadness encasing our hearts must be felt, tears must fall, sobs must rattle our chests free of hardened armor. If we don’t accept the pain inflicted upon us by others and release it, that pain will continue to roam our soul like a hungry predator.

Courageously facing our own grief and sorrow—and each of our lives inevitably carries such heartache—will ultimately lead to forgiveness. But we must also want to forgive. Without this inner longing by ourselves, forgiveness will never come. Once the soul is open, forgiveness comes stealthily like a panther. It takes its time, pausing, waiting, watching, easing closer and closer to the wounded spirit. Then, unexpectedly, it leaps into the vulnerable, bare soul.

mandela0502ap726Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Forgiveness is sung as a duet. We bemoan those who have hurt us, but we also must at the same time entreat those we have hurt. We are often the last to forgive ourselves, especially when we have for many years inflicted pain and self-judgement against our own lives. What we don’t forgive of ourselves, we can never forgive of others.

No matter how dark the path or how close to death our past trauma lurks, as human spirits, we are as strong as iron in the blacksmith’s fire, able to re-emerge transformed and free. Forgiveness ultimately restores the living relationship that we have with ourselves, our neighbours, the world, and God.

The moment we forgive, we birth merciful energy into the collective unconscious and help to generate more forgiveness in the world. As the survivor of Auschwitz Eva Mozes Kor once said, “I discovered that I had the power to forgive, and it was a tremendously empowering feeling. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator. Forgiveness has everything to do with the victim taking back her life.”

Five Steps Towards Forgiveness

  1. Write a letter to the person that you feel injured by. Do not hesitate to write down all your feelings towards this person. Hold back nothing. Do not mail this letter.
  2. Write a letter to yourself. Ask yourself for forgiveness for the things that you might have done or failed to do and are sorry for.
  3. Find someone that you can trust and who can listen compassionately to your story.
  4. Write the word “Forgiveness” on a card and place it somewhere that you pass frequently during the day. For example, on your desk, the refrigerator door, or the bathroom mirror. Ask the Higher Self to help you forgive, whenever you see it.
  5. Try to put a human face on your perpetrator. For example, try to imagine the person who hurt you as a little child. A woman I knew had been molested by her grandfather, but no one else in the family knew. As an adult, she wrote to her cousin and asked him to write a letter describing what he remembered about their grandfather. Her cousin’s response enabled her to see her grandfather in a more human light and this eventually helped her to forgive him.

References

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, p. 400-403.

David Smith, “Twinned in terror at a Nazi Camp,” Guardian Weekly, January 21-27, 2005, p. 20.

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…

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Silvia standing in her newly planted orchard (Italy).

Marjorie

Marjorie who says she can’t wait to read it! (USA)

Pina

My beloved Pina (Italy)

Kees

A Dutch guy Kees who had to be a Free and Wild Creature to marry me!

A Time for ‘Self-Stripping’

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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.

Dante-Divine Comedy Mountain of Purgatory

Dante’s Mountain of Purgatory

Assagioli often referred to Dante’s Divine Comedy as a “wonderful guide and description” for our personal and spiritual development. He wrote:

“The first part of Dante’s pilgrimage is a long difficult path of purification and expiation across the kingdoms of his lower nature. Divine wisdom is not revealed to him directly: in his impure, unregenerated state, still surrounded by the impenetrable veil of matter, man is unable to directly contemplate the supreme truth.”

Similarly, Evelyn Underhill, in her classic book Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, wrote that Dante’s Purgatorio was a period of “self-stripping, which no mystic system omits.”

I find it interesting that Lent – this period of purification and expiation – always coincides with the time before and after the spring equinox. In the Italian countryside, now is the time to prune the olive and fruit trees, prepare the land for spring planting, clean the manure out of donkey stables, and clip back the vines. At the same time, as I walk through the open fields, rabbits and hares flash by, pheasants in their brilliant plumage call out, and deer start to appear at dusk. My neighbors’ chickens and geese are all suddenly busy laying. Often I am graced with a dozen fresh eggs.

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What to do when your neighbor gives you so many fresh chicken and geese eggs? Make ravioli of course!

For the Italian contadini, early spring (like Lent) is a time of clearing away dead wood, burning unnecessary growth, and discarding all that is old and no longer serves. And while this process of pruning and clearing and cleaning takes place, we are simultaneously able to enjoy the beginnings of new life.

Levels of Purification

014005 Purification of the Personality

Body. Assagioli calls on us to purify ourselves on many different levels. The first step is purification of the body. This means a healthy diet; avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, drugs; andplenty of exercise, fresh air and water. However, he does warn that when we become too fixated on physical purification, we can actually hinder other more important practices.

Emotions. Assagioli insists that what is most urgently needed is purification of our emotions. We start with identifying our feelings, sensations, thoughts and desires and then disidentifying from them. He wrote:

“What is the significance of ‘purity of heart’?

Complete absence of personal desires – absence of every thought for oneself – the abandonment of every idea or desire for compensation or benefit – full disinterest – self-giving – the renouncement of every pleasure, of every personal satisfaction.”

Imagination. Perhaps even more vital today, given all the images available to us through social media, is our need to purify our imagination. More than 50 years ago, Assagioli named these images that exploited “man’s morbid fascination for violence, horror, cruelty, and perverted sex.” He called them “collective poison, a psychological smog”. We all know how viral these images are today (along with tweets, which are simply verbal images as opposed to true discourse) and how harmful they have become to society as a whole.

To clear such psychological smog, Assagioli calls us to practice reflective meditation, mental silence, and the self-identification exercise. The goal is to eliminate all impurities from the personality that are preventing us from being receptive to the energies from the Higher Self or God. Assagioli wrote:

“Joy is one achievement that follows purification and the active practice of virtue. Joy is a result of a state of purity, of the absence of egoism, of harmony with God and with humankind.”

Purification for the Planet

Our personal act of purification is not just for ourselves alone. It also desperately needs to be carried out because, when we do this work, we are also participating in the great work of planetary purification.

DSC01957 Bruno

Bruno (76 years old) becomes one with the tree he is pruning.

At the physical level, when we purify our bodies, we also are helping to raise consciousness at a higher, collective level. We bring energy to matter in its entirety – animal, vegetable, and mineral – helping to purify it from contamination and exploitation, a result of humankind’s selfish purposes. Assagioli even suggests that we can symbolically purify and bless matter by spraying our cash with perfumed holy water!

At an emotional level, our purification helps to energize the dispersion of negative emotions in the world. Purification at our mental level helps to melt down and destroy old concepts, dogma, fanaticism and ideologies that produce fears and have hypnotized many people. We turn to Assagioli again:

“A nation is an entity, a soul analogous to a human soul: it can be noble and high or selfish, proud, overbearing. It is about educating, raising, purifying the soul of one’s nation, of which each of us is a part.”

 

013919 End of Purification Redemption

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

In the end, purification brings redemption. Our souls, through suffering and sacrifice, are renewed. Like the olive tree and the grapevines whose branches are cut bare, promising new fruit, we too are reduced to our true selves, ready for new, fresh growth.

When Desire Leads to Revelation

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

Today is Epiphany, a celebration of when the three Magi, traveling from the far East in search of the Divine Child, finally find him and offer him gifts. Driven by desire, their search ends in Revelation.

Desire. It is a word that can evoke so many different images and feelings. Assagioli saw desire as an integral part of our psychological functioning, along with sensation, emotion, imagination, thought, and will. “Everyone is moved by a desire of some kind,” Assagioli said, “from sensual pleasures to the most idealistic aspirations.”

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A Different Kind of Christmas List

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Evelyn Underhill’s notes from the King’s College Archives.

Most of us are familiar with writing Christmas Lists. As children we might have been encouraged by our parents to write to Santa Claus, sending him our list of desired gifts. We might have also been told that Santa Claus kept his own “list of who’s naughty and nice.” As we became adults enmeshed in the frenetic holiday craziness, our Christmas lists probably became more numerous and less imaginative – lists of things to do, presents to buy, and greeting cards to send.

Recently, with the help of my friend and colleague Georgie, I discovered that the Christian mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also wrote a Christmas list – but a kind I had never seen before. In the archives of King’s College London, you can read three pages of her own notes which she entitled “Rule. Christmas 1921.” Her handwriting is evenly spaced and full of sensuous loops and curves. Like Assagioli, she occasionally underlines, and even double underlines words for emphasis. Underhill’s Christmas list contains her spiritual goals for leading a Christian life, to be tested and practiced by herself for six months – “quietly and steadily, with a disposition to find them true even where uncongenial.” Continue reading

Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.

We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.”  This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being. Continue reading

The Bamboo Whisk

Tea Bowl with Tea

Today we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain, when the division between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Christians celebrate November 1 as All Saint’s Day and November 2 as All Souls. To mark this numinous time of year, I would like to share a story about Kikuchi-sensei, my Japanese tea ceremony teacher. A longer version of this story was originally published in Ascent Magazine, Issue 36, Fall 2007


The morning I went to the mortuary to see Kikuchi-Sensei, a cold wind whipped around the medieval cobblestone streets of the tiny Umbrian village. She had been fighting cancer for nearly a year and had finally surrendered at the age of 79. Dressed in a pale cinnamon kimono, she appeared so tiny in the lacquered coffin, framed by wild spring flowers that her daughter had picked from their garden, Sensei’s face was strong and peaceful; her mouth, set in her soft, unlined skin, was ready to break into one of her rare, indulging smiles.

Since Sensei had refused visitors during her treatment, I had just managed to accept life without our weekly tea ceremony lessons. But looking upon her still, frail frame, I hardly felt ready to surrender her forever. As I stood by her coffin, in my heart I thanked her for all she had taught me during the years we had spent together. I felt tremendously honored to have known her. Continue reading