Category Archives: The Will

Assagioli’s Favorite Exercise Routine

J.P._MüllerJorgen Peter Muller (1866-1939) had a reputation for being everything from pornographic to a world famous hygienist and physical fitness guru. The Danish sportsman was, in fact, all-round champion athlete, Danish Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog, and author of the international best seller My System, published in 1904.

My System is a complete step-by-step guide to 18 daily exercises that nearly anyone can complete in 15-minutes. The book sold 2 million copies and was translated into 25 languages. Muller became famous for traveling around Europe and demonstrating his exercises while wearing only a loincloth and displaying his tanned, toned body. Shocking by all Victorian standards!

Muller also preached radical ideas for the time – like taking daily baths, opening windows for fresh air, breathing for relaxation, and sunbathing. And My System wasn’t only for men. He insisted that women needed to develop a “muscular corset” (that is, firm abdomen muscles) which would “bring about the conditions necessary for painless deliver in childbirth”(!) He would go on to write My System for Ladies and My System for Children.

My System for Children in Italian

My System for Children in Italian

One of his famous devotees was the writer Franz Kafka, who would preform Muller’s prescribed moments twice a day, naked in front of an open window. Once Muller moved to London, opened the Muller Institute and dropped the umlaut from his name, royalty also streamed in to learn his techniques. Followers included the Crown Princess Sophia of Greece, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Windsor.

Assagioli was also a great fan, describing Muller as “a living example of the miracle of training.” He said Muller’s approach as a “spiritual psychological method,” which he himself practiced. Assagioli recommended doing the gymnastics in My System for biological and psycho-therapeutic reasons: to maintain good hygiene and health and to train the will.

Like Assagioli, Muller was a fragile and weak child. While Assagioli was born with a club foot, Muller weighed only 3-1/2 pounds at birth and explained, “I could sleep in an ordinary cigar box.”

As a young man, Assagioli often went hiking with his father in the Alps, averaging 30 kilometers per day. “Hiking in the mountains strengthened me physically,” he said, “and also gave me a sense of the closeness to nature. Later I discovered the higher meaning, the symbolism of mountain climbing.”

20091 Muller from Archives

Assagioli’s note from his archives: Consigliare e prescrivere ai miei malati “Il mio sistema” di J.P. Müller. Far fare a tutti almeno qualche esercizio fisico. Grande valore medico e psicoterapico. (Recommend and prescribe “My System” by J.P. Müller for my patients. Have everyone do at least some physical exercise. Great medical and psycho-therapeutic value.)

By the age of 8, Muller was performing daily morning exercises for seven minutes, washing himself in cold water, and drying himself off with a towel. As a young man, he joined the Copenhagen Rowing Club and, by the age of 26, he had first prizes in Denmark for power-walking, javelin throwing, hammer throwing, the pentathlon and the Five Danish Mile Run. He was also a philosopher, having studied theology.

The beauty of Muller’s exercises is that they can be performed at home and without any type of apparatus. My System’s simplicity and economical advantage, in particular, was what attracted Assagioli. He wrote:

“It is not athletic, that is, it doesn’t tend to develop particular muscles, but it’s hygienic. It activates healing and circulation without causing fatigue. Therefore, it can help everyone and can even be followed by small children and elderly people who are 70-80 years old. It is particularly adapted to educating the will because it insists, above all, on precise, polished and rapid movements.”

Despite Muller’s wild popularity 100 years ago, he and his system has faded into obscurity. But I found him to be a fascinating figure (literally!) and have since downloaded his book, which is a great read. Chapter 1 starts out asking “Why be Weakly?” Why indeed? Whether in body or will, we could all use some daily exercise.


Click here to download My System by J.P. Muller.

Click here to view videos of Muller demonstrating “My System”

Heavenly and Earthly Desires

xmas-postcard-front-010305

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

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.”

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

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