Category Archives: The Will

Two Newspapers to China

tiananmen_1989_pays_reutersIn 1989, ten days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, my friend Julie and I sat in the China Travel Services office in Hong Kong and debated whether we should travel to Beijing. The U.S. embassy was warning that our safety could not be guaranteed. Should we go anyway? Grappling with our indecision, Julie asked the stone-faced woman behind the counter, “Is it safe?”

The woman stared hard at us and then looked away. “It is China.”

We decided to trust our intuition and go. Three days later as we walked towards the international gate in the Hong Kong airport, two university students carrying a stack of newspapers stopped us. “Are you going to China?” they asked. We nodded dumbly. “Please take this newspaper for the students.” Their request was half-plea, half-command. Julie faltered, worried about the consequences of smuggling suspicious reading material. Our tour book clearly stated: “It is illegal to import any printed material detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture, and ethics.” The newspapers were full of Chinese characters that we could not read, and we had no idea just how ‘detrimental’ they might be.

Hoping the custom officials would overlook the newspapers, I reluctantly agreed to carry them. Besides, as a U.C. Berkeley graduate, I found it difficult to resist a student protest. I stuffed two copies of the newspaper into my carry-on bag.

The plane was full. A zombie stewardess served stale crackers and dishwater tea. We arrived and breezed through customs without any problems. The air in the terminal felt squeezed dry, all actions confined, all conversations muzzled. I kept thinking of how many times as kids we believed we could dig a hole to China.

Waiting for us in the arrival room was Miss Ren, our 23-year-old tour guide. “Hello, my name is Elizabeth,” she introduced herself and paraded us toward the exit. Tall and slight, she raised her arm high above her head and slightly waved her hand, like a lily caught on a summer breeze. This hand seemed to magically invoke wondrous adventures. She led us outside into an old van.

Our ride to the hotel was along a shady road full of people on bicycles, donkeys pulling carts, cars, trucks and an occasional flock of sheep. “So where do you like to visit?” Miss Ren dutifully asked. With the flurry of tour cancellations, Julie and I were to have Miss Ren and the driver all to ourselves.

“Tiananmen Square,” we said in unison. This was definitely not one of the stops on our five-day Beijing tour. “Oh, no. You can’t go to Tiananmen Square,” she explained. “It is dangerous there. Bad men will steal your money.”

The squareOnce she was gone, Julie and I considered her advice, but decided to take our chances and quickly ordered another cab. “Tiananmen Square, please.” We pointed to the Chinese characters in our tour book, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Without a word, the cab driver dropped us off at the Beijing Hotel, three long blocks from the square on Chang’an Avenue. The street was like a giant river flowing with people and bicycles. We entered the moving stream of humanity, many wearing Mao suits, and arrived on foot to the square.

Upon arrival, I was stunned to see Tiananmen Square filled with hundreds of thousands of young people, its massive 109-acres alive like a giant squirming organism. Julie and I began to penetrate the crowd, occasionally reaching for each other’s hand, afraid of being separated. Slowly, we began to focus on the sights around us. There were piles of people, piles of garbage, piles of bedding. Legs stuck out beyond large umbrella roofs. Long lines for bean soup, cabbage, and flat bread wove around us. Hands stretched eagerly to grab orange ice pops. Waving above the crowd were hundreds of red flags, each bearing a school’s name. A voice shouted over a loud speaker. Later we learned that these announcements celebrated the return of Lee Wong from the United States, denounced the stubbornness of Premier Li Peng, called for ambulances, and sang out slogans.

Mao

Buses with broken windows acted as toilets. Shattered glass was strewed dangerously close to makeshift hovels and bare mattresses. Looming over the student protest was Mao Zedong’s Mona Lisa smile; his gigantic, now desecrated, portrait baring witness to the scene.

Standing behind nylon cords, student guards protected the inner sanctity of their leaders. Julie and I slid under the cords and walked closer toward the core of the rebellion, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Twice we froze as tall student sentries harshly barked, but our Western faces were our tickets through. I hugged my purse tightly against me. Inside were the Hong Kong newspapers.

We arrived at the monument to find a cluster of young people recording a political statement. Another group was running an old printing press while others painted signs, yellow characters on red backdrops. Nearby, two male students sat eating raw garlic and tomatoes.

Students at Tiananmen SquareA young woman who spoke English approached us. She was a medical student and had just arrived from Hunan province. Fueled by the recent demonstrations, spirits were high. Our new friend offered us a metal cup of cold bean soup. I hesitated, not wanting to insult her, but ashamed to eat what little food the students had. I felt awed and humbled by how these students had empowered themselves with the hope and determination to change their iron-clad country.

“Are you afraid?” I dared to ask. “No,” she answered bravely, full of joy. “We are supported by all of Peking. We would not be able to survive without their feeding us. They will never let the soldiers through.”

A male student then joined us. “What change do you want?” I asked.  “We want freedom,” he said. “We want a kindness. There is no freedom when one man rules everyone. The cry from all the students in China is only one.” He raised his fist. ‘Li Peng Go Away.’”

“We want to travel freely like you,” answered the young medical student. “We want to read newspapers and know the truth. You have democracy in America, don’t you?” she then asked. “What do you think?”

I was startled by the question. “Well, yes, I suppose we do,” I said, looking out at the hundreds of thousands of students who inspired and shamed me at the same time. How often had I taken my freedom for granted? I could read any newspaper I wanted, live wherever I wanted, even travel to places like China. But freedom is only relative, I thought, remembering Rosa Parks, World War II Japanese internment camps, Kent State. I wondered how long it could last here like this. Suddenly I remembered the newspapers and gave them to the two students. They scanned them as if they were a map to lost treasure.

TanksJulie and I stayed with the students until nightfall. The protest was eerily quiet, orderly, poised. We met no bad men. Our money was not stolen. As we wove our way out through the crowd, I spied a couple holding hands. Dressed in stockings and heels, the young woman demurely sat on a dirty mattress. Her delicate, floral print dress accented her long pale neck. Together the couple smiled hello.

That evening my heart wrestled with the fear that I might soon learn of the students’ demise. For the rest of my stay, I thought about them constantly. While we sat on camels for our photographs at the Great Wall. While pedaling rented bicycles through the peach orchard near the hotel. On the way to Ming’s Tomb, we spied soldiers riding in green army trucks. Our guide forbade us to snap pictures of the passing enclave.

Soon afterwards we flew home. A few days later, one morning while walking past a newsstand, I froze and cried out. The People’s Liberation Army had stormed Tiananmen Square in the night. I felt as if I had swallowed a stone, like someone had died in my own family. The balmy spring day became obscenely bright. I will never forget how those Chinese students – their courage, hope and faith in humanity — touched me … on their own battlefield. On their own burial ground.

Tank man

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

Useless Exercises as Will Gymnastics

pushing-a-car1

Strong will alone is like pushing a car uphill.

Upon agreeing to be the guest editor of the latest issue of the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly with its theme of “Awareness and Will”, I decided to search for inspiration in Assagioli’s online archives. Luckily I found two very interesting manuscripts. Luckier still, both of these were clearly dated ‘1929.’

Most of the tens of thousands of Assagioli’s notes held in Florence are rarely dated. Rarer still are any manuscripts written before WWII, since most of Assagioli’s documents were destroyed in two separate fires during this time. Continue reading

Levels of Love

Fear Less Love More

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

Valentine’s Day feels like a good time to take a closer look at Love. February is also Black History Month in the US, and lately I have been reading and listening to sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr in 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

When you listen to Dr. King speak, his message is more powerful than ever before. As his deep baritone voice melodically rises and falls, you are swept across the tides of time into his eternal message of Love and Will. His gift was to help us touch the human heart and awaken our deeper transpersonal nature. He was a master teacher, leader, and poet – using his voice to conjure truth through the most familiar of images and the essence of everyday life. Continue reading

Successful Willing

We are now more than half-way through January and you may want to reflect on any New Years Resolutions you have made. Most of us choose goals like losing weight, giving up smoking, learning something new, and finding a better job or relationship. Studies show that only about 2 out of 10 of us will manage to achieve our goals. When we do succeed in achieving a set goal, we often feel joyful.

New-Year-Resolutions

As Assagioli wrote:

“Since the outcome of successful willing is the satisfaction of one’s needs, we can see that the act of will is essentially joyous.”

If you find yourself far from feeling joyous, struggling instead with your longing to change, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at how you make decisions. Assagioli has written extensively on decision making in his book The Act of Will. He describes six stages of the decision making process: defining purpose, deliberation, choice, affirmation, planning, and execution. Continue reading

When Desire Leads to Revelation

xmas-postcard-front-010305

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.”

Continue reading

From Pencils to Cosmic Love

pencils-1820407_960_720

What better day than St. Valentines to explore Assagioli’s thoughts on Love from a psychosynthetic point of view? But first we have to start with pencils…

In his dialogs with Bruno Caldironi, Assagioli described the process of reflective mediation. This type of meditation is a synthesis of many elements, most notably attention and concentration. The idea is to consciously direct your thoughts to an idea, problem, or concept and note how your thoughts connect, interpenetrate, and link themselves together into a new understanding.

In Assagioli’s careful didactic way, he first gave the simple example of how you might meditate on a pencil.  You might begin like this:

“What’s a pencil? It’s for writing. It’s of wood. It has lead inside…”

Continue reading