Category Archives: The Higher Self

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.

Divine Supply

thumbnail_image1(1)The cherry trees behind our house are bursting with fruit. More cherries than we can pick, eat, turn into jam, give away, or freeze. We still have jars from last year – plump cherries bloated by the pure alcohol bath they sit in, waiting to be plucked from the jar, soaked for a few hours in local spring water and eaten. Each fruit tree in the back bares a different type of cherry – white and sour, round and sweet, watery with too much pit.  We are doing our best to collect what we can, but many will inevitably feed the birds, ants and insects, or drop to the ground and nourish the grassy knoll which they now adorn. Continue reading

Harriet Tubman: Mystic Freedom Fighter

Harriet the conductorIn the USA, February is Black History Month, and I would like to take advantage of this extra last day in February to celebrate Harriet Tubman. Tubman (1821-1913) is famous for being an escaped slave who became one of the most successful conductors on the Underground Railway. She helped lead 60 to 70 fellow slaves into freedom, risking her life 13 times as she clandestinely traveled from the Northern states down to Maryland and back again, ultimately arriving to Canada with her people.

But Tubman was even more than a courageous abolitionist. During the Civil War, she worked as a cook and nurse. She then became an armed scout and spy and was the first woman to lead an armed raid in the war, successfully liberating more than 700 slaves in Combahee Ferry, South Carolina. After the war, she was active in the woman’s suffrage movement and established a home for the care of elderly African Americans, where she died of pneumonia. Just before she died, she told those in the room: “I go to prepare a place for you.” Continue reading

Facing Life’s Ambiguities

ambiguityAccording to Roberto Assagioli, the first stage of any decision is to ascertain the purpose driving us toward our desired goal. During all the subsequent stages of an act of will — deliberation, affirmation, choice, planning and execution – we can often gain energy by returning to reflect on our initial purpose.

However, there may be times when we find ourselves in a difficult situation and unable to understand exactly what we are doing or why. We may feel stuck in a particularly uncomfortable situation.  Or we may have to interact with challenging (sub)personalities, who only trigger our own unresolved issues! Nothing around us seems to feel right anymore. Nothing seems to fit with our ideals or desired aims.

We might be asking ourselves: Whatever are we doing here? Whatever could our purpose be?

Figure 1 Assagioli and Palombi

Roberto Assagioli and Ida Palombi

Eighty years ago, Ida Palombi (1905-1981) posed this exact question to Roberto Assagioli. Having graduated from the University of Rome, in 1939 she found herself working as a social worker and translator for the Ministry of the Interior of Rome under the fascist regime. At the same time, she was regularly attending lessons Assagioli was offering at his home on the Aventine. 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

Talking to Strangers

Internet AddictionI spend last Saturday talking to strangers. As a volunteer for the charity Caritas, I spent two hours in front of a local supermarket asking people to donate food to the Italian National Food Bank. This experience meant that I wore a plastic yellow bib (which declared my legitimacy) while dangling plastic yellow bags in front of passing strangers.

Those who were interested in helping, took the bag and filled it with rice, pasta, tomato sauce, olive oil (this is Italy after all!), baby food or canned vegetables. The donated goods were then collected, boxed and sent off to the local food bank.

I startled most of the shoppers that day with my distinct American accent. “Buon giorno!” I called out cheerily. “Would you like to participate in our food collection for the poor?” I asked this at least 100 times that morning and, as you can imagine, the reactions varied. Some simply said ‘No.’ Some said they had already donated at another supermarket. One man said that he could actually use the yellow plastic bag, thank you very much. Continue reading

Spring Breath of God

With standing room only, the bus sped down the freeway on a bright warm morning. Once we turned onto the bollenstreek, long ribbons of intense blue, mauve, and white stretched to the near horizon. At the same time, the colours seemed to invade inside and pour over us. Fields of yellow daffodils blared spring’s final triumph over the particularly long winter. Every head on the bus turned and gazed. And then suddenly, quite spontaneously, everyone sighed together, “Aaahhhhhhhh.” A breath song of collective awe.

We were headed to Keukenhof Gardens, near the Dutch town of Lisse, famous for its variety of bulb flowers, especially tulips. I was feeling particularly triumphant because I had two Dutch people in tow. My husband had finally run out of excuses and decided to appease his American wife. Along with us was a friend who had actually lived near the gardens for the past 35 years and had never visited them before. 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

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