One 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.
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.
“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.”
The title of this blog might seem contradictory, but in fact this is exactly what I discovered when working with my clients. My findings have recently been published in Pastoral Psychology. In this scientific peer-reviewed article, I describe how psychosynthesis counseling helped to awaken spirituality in three out of eleven clients who identified themselves as atheists. This article in its entirety is published on Open Access and is available for free. I urge you to share it with pastoral care workers that you may know.
Fundamental to psychosynthesis psychology is the idea that we all have spiritual drives as much as we have combative and sexual ones. To determine how well my clients are in touch with the spiritual part of themselves, I always ask during the initial interview “Do you have any religious or spiritual practice?” Most often, my clients say that they have no religious affiliation or belief in God and describe themselves as atheist. The following testimony is a typical response:
“I would call myself an atheist. As a scientist, I know that there is no proof showing that God exists. But I also know that there is no proof showing that He does not exist.”
Recently, I have discovered a box of notes labelled Servicein Assagioli’s Archives. This box is a treasure trove of inspiration and direction, especially as we enter this year of tremendous responsibility. What is special about most of these notes are that many of them are dated, a rarity among his archive material. Titles of folders inside this box include: “How to help” and “Simple ways of serving.”
The majority are written in Italian and first person, giving the impression that they were meant to encourage and direct himself as he began to integrate and synthesize his own life of service in the world. One of the notes is simply:
Servizio – (Mia) preparazione (Miei) compiti
Service – (My) preparation (My) tasks
Dates of the notes range from 1921—1931. This decade of Assagioli’s life was very fertile – personally, professionally, and spiritually. Assagioli was to become a mature man of 33-43 years. In 1922, he married Nella Ciapetti, and a year later became a father for the first time to his son, Francesco Ilario.
The Journey of the Three Magi. Postcard from Assagioli’s Archives (ID# 010305)
Recently I realized that 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, not so long ago, 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.
It seems to me that the journey of the three Wise Men beautifully captures the nuance held in this word. Their desire to find, exalt, and pay homage to the Prince of Peace came from and was guided by a unique and brilliant heavenly body, a bright star in the desert sky. Their deep inner desire driven by their personal will prompted them to caravan long distances across dangerous, foreign lands.
The title of this blog might be a strange one for Christmas week, a time when many of us make a special effort to help those in need, donate money to charity, and volunteer our time to a deserving cause. Given the state of our world, you might argue that “stop saving the world” seems incongruent with what the world really needs today.
“If we examine our motives with all sincerity we often discover that the reasons for our preoccupation with helping others are not as pure and noble as we thought. We begin to realize that the shining alloy, mixed with gold, also contains the base metal of vanity, presumption, proselytism, and – most subtle and concealed of all – the desire to appease our conscience so that we will have some excuse for not undertaking the hard work of inner purification.”