Category Archives: symbols

When an Ideal Model Goes Wrong

Painting by William Blake

My mother used to always say: “Nobody’s so bad that they can’t be used as a bad example.” One might find this advice startlingly judgmental, but surely Mom was referring to people like the last US president. He was and still is ‘bad’ and hence a perfectly good ‘bad example.’ And yet, many of the 74 million people who voted for him still believe he has the right to be president. Many love him. Some even see him as their Savior.

Trump is not just a good ‘bad example,’ but also a good example of an ideal model gone wrong. Assagioli emphasized our need to have what he called ‘ideal models.’ He wrote:

“Hero-worship … is a natural and­ irrepressible­ tendency­ of human beings and, at the same time, one of the most powerful stimuli towards the elevation of consciousness.”

Of course, the heroes that he was referring to are human beings who exhibit the highest qualities of the human spirit, people whose qualities we are attracted to and wish to embody ourselves. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Mother Teresa. In India there is a beautiful saying related to this: “The Ganges purifies when seen and touched, but the Great Beings purify even if they are only remembered.”

Assagioli said that such heroes and heroines serve two diverse functions. The first and most obvious is that Great Men and Women enliven and enrich us. He wrote, “They radiate light upon us like the sun as it draws all the secret virtues from a seed.” Great Beings’ higher acts of love and will encourage us to imitate them and do the same.

Great Men and Great Women also hold the ‘image’ that we project onto their personality. Therefore, Great Men and Women are a mixture of the reality of their own personality along with the added qualities that their admirers project onto them. What is important is that this projection needs to be followed by what Assagioli calls ‘introjection,’ that is, by our ‘reactivating’ and integrating inside us the ideal that we have projected­ onto the other. This introjection can happen unconsciously, but as Assagioli explains:

“We can also help this process along by consciously imitating Great Beings with all our will and desire in order to possess the qualities we admire in those greats. It is appropriate to recognize and exploit this benefit that Hero-worship brings to humanity. Worship or admiration of Great Beings spontaneously and naturally evokes our urge to imitate their higher qualities. At the same time, we can help translate these qualities into actual altered behavior by consciously and actively­ imitating them.”

The Potential Dangers of Hero-Worship

Perhaps you can see where all this is taking us – right back to those 74 million Trump voters… Hero-Worship can easily slide down the slippery slope and become ‘idol-worship.’ Assagioli refers to such idols as inferior models who include: “some movie stars, sports and TV prize winners, successful businessmen irrespective of their character or moral stature, etc.” The problem is nearly everyone who voted for Trump, unconsciously or consciously, wants to be like him. Many have become mechanical imitations of him. Others frightening exaggerations. Trump, as an inferior model and master of the dynamic power of visual images, has been incredibly successful in getting people to be their worst selves.

To annihilate the self-hood of deceit & false forgiveness from Milton. Painting by William Blake.

Assagioli suggests that one way to debunk unworthy models is to uncover their biographic narrative to reveal all their human frailties, unhappiness, and frustration. But Trump has shown his instinct for survival by crying ‘fake news,’ dismissing his failures in delusional denials, and tweeting his kudos. It might actually be too late. After all, the mental and emotional images of the Golden Hero he pretends to be seem firmly introjected in the minds of his followers.

So how do we get out of this? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “The world is upheld by the veracity of good men; they make the earth wholesome.” We must turn our gaze, media obsession, and internet clicks away from idols and instead honor the true heroes in our midst. Not only those heroes and heroines around us but those inside us. Emerson also said, “Other men are lenses though which we read our own minds.”

Seek those men and women who express the best inside you. Touch their cloak of wisdom and be healed. Celebrate them. Make them known. Let their light radiate your virtuous seeds of love and will. Then grow – no thrive! – and learn how to become the Great Being you are meant to be.

Imagine All the Healing

Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust. Marije Smits

“Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust.” (Marije Smits)

When Susan arrived for her first counseling session, I was struck by her almost fairy-like beauty. With dark hair, creamy fair skin, and crystal green eyes, she reminded me of Snow White. At the time of our meeting, Susan was a 28-year-old PhD student studying philosophy and ethics. Not long before, she had discovered a mole while taking a shower. Susan had been going to tanning salons since she was 20. By the time she was 23, she was addicted to looking and feeling “sun-kissed”. By then she was working at the tanning salon to help pay for her own treatments. For nearly two years, she was tanning every other day.

The mole turned out to be diagnosed as malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. “I didn’t even know what ‘melanoma’ meant,” she admitted to me. “When I found out the results, I was all alone at home and started to panic. I thought I was going to die.”

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

From Sexual Instinct to Channeled Love

Fear Less Love More

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

Let’s talk about sex. The sexual instinct that is… Lately, the media has been giving it a bad rap. Every day there is another report of a woman being assaulted by a Hollywood mongrel, fellow actor, news anchorman, US president, or fashion photographer. This is not new news. Nearly every woman has encountered this type of aggressive behavior (in various degrees) during her lifetime. I still do, even at the age of 62!

Come on guys, grow up! Sublimate and transmute already!

Let’s talk about sexual energy from a psychosynthesis point of view. Assagioli did more than 100 years ago in his article “The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energy.” First, I want to say that this is mainly a male problem. For some mysterious reason, men have more difficulty holding sexual tension. This is a general fact. There are, of course, exceptions… Continue reading

The Power of Symbols

010296 Greetings from Fay Pomerance

Painting of a Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley by Fay Pomerance (1912-2001) in Assagioli’s Archives in the folder labelled “Symbols”.

Symbols are constantly appearing in our lives and are often used in an unconscious way. They are powerful tools that can help us to develop personally and spiritually. Assagioli wrote that there are certain symbols that have a specific psychosynthetic integrating value, and therefore need to be brought more consciously into our everyday lives.

Symbols – like the animals and other images that appear in our dreams – are accumulators, transformers, and conductors of psychological energies. Assagioli wrote:

Continue reading