Category Archives: The Will

Mourning Tiananmen in My Own Way

I just read that for the first time since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, there will be no formal commemoration event held in the Chinese-speaking world for the anniversary. People are being told to “Mourn June 4 in your own way.” So I am reposting this blog from two years ago. In memory…


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 Square

A 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.

Tanks

Julie 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

Free Will will Sent You Free

hamburger over truthIs free will an illusion? According to an recent article in the Guardian, about 12% of philosophers believe this to be the case. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the beginning of the universe – and that nobody is responsible for his or her actions.

From their perspective, we act only when prompted by physiological reasons. For example, we choose between eating a banana and apple due to a pattern of neurons firing in our brain that can be linked all the way back to our birth, our parents’ meeting, their births, and eventually, the birth of the cosmos. As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, says:

“Free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics.”

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Synthesis—A Dynamic, Organic Unifier

Lotus flower 3
Assagioli writes that the Lotus is a symbol of Synthesis.

Let’s take a closer look at the word ‘synthesis’. The word psychosynthesis was first used in 1889 by Pierre Janet in his book  L’automatisme psychologique. Freud spoke of the synthesizing function of the ego, but he used this word only in the sense of  re-establishing the condition existing before a split or dissociation due to a traumatic experience or to strong conflicts.

Others, such as Jung and Maeder used the words synthesis and psychosynthesis in a deeper and wider sense as the development of the integrated and harmonious personality, including both its conscious and unconscious parts. 

The word ‘synthesis’ comes from the Greek word syntithenai, in turn deriving from syn meaning “together” and thtehnai meaning “to put, place.”

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The Virus of Fear

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

Let’s talk about fear. How arbitrary it can be. Besides personal fears and anxieties, Assagioli writes about “waves of collective fear and panic.” These waves appear daily in our news headlines – the pandemic, ongoing climate disasters, financial injustice, racism and political upheaval. These are some of the external fears that can so easily feed our internal ones.

Assagioli calls this collective fear a widely diffused psychological poison or smog. He says:

“So often when we feel a sudden fear with no apparent reason, it is not ours at all. It is a psychic infection —like a virus.”

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Where’s my umbrella?

The Covid-19 pandemic has quietly seeped an undercurrent of violence into our lives. The young children who are isolated in their rooms because a playmate’s father has tested positive. The youth who feel like no one is listening and no future awaits them. The small business owners who are left only with shuddered doors and back rent to pay.

And then there is Roberto (not his real name). Roberto and I met a year ago, and I have fond memories of our chatting away at a conference. Roberto is in his early 60s, a quiet and gentle Italian homeopathic doctor who has healed many people with herbal medicine, massage, and loving care. I was particularly delighted at the time because he knew about psychosynthesis.

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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!

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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

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