Category Archives: The Will

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.”

It can be encouraging to know that these flu-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. Fear, rage, and vanity are just some of the ‘blocks of primitive mass-emotions’ that Dante portrays as giants in the Divine Comedy. These giants represent blind human forces. They stand in a circle around the well that leads to the final circle of Hell where the betrayers dwell. 

In order to deal with fear effectively, Assagioli urges us to eliminate or minimize the fear within ourselves. He also warns us of a vicious circle that can occur – our personal fear can open the door to the influence of external fear, and external fear feeds the inner one. Again he said:

“We have so much fear that is not ours. It’s stupid to let these fears invade and dominate our being!”

To break this vicious circle, we need to use our skillful will to withdraw our attention deliberately away from the psychological poison of fear. Assagioli suggests that we dis-identify from the fear by simply saying, “That’s not me.” At the same time we are dis-identifying from the fear, we need to not suppress it. Most importantly, we should not be afraid of the fear! Otherwise we can quickly descend into a vicious spiral of fear feeding fear.

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Dante and Virgil meeting one of the giants in Inferno.

Once we are able to release the energy that is holding and nurturing the fear, we can then redirect this new-found energy to do the most good in our lives. 

Returning to Egypt

I learned about collective fear nearly 20 years ago when my husband and I happened to be living in Egypt. But the day the Twin Towers fell, we happened to be visiting my family in California. Was I afraid to return to Egypt? I HAD been afraid. The week before I was sick with fear. My head hurt, my eyes burned, my shoulders ached. And it didn’t help when everyone around me kept saying, “You’re not going back to Egypt, are you? Aren’t you afraid?” 

After careful consideration, prayer, constant check-ins with the US Embassy in Cairo, and reassurances from friends in Egypt, we did decide to return. Once ‘home’ again, everything in Egypt seemed like business as usual. But soon afterwards, I learned of student protests at Cairo universities against the bombings in Afghanistan. U.S. flags had been burnt and there were daily marches at Al Azhar University. 

But did I feel fear? Well, some. All the Muslims that we knew in our neighborhood seemed genuinely happy to see us again. Perhaps our return gave them a feeling of normality. Perhaps they were happy because we had brought our U.S. dollars. 

Our next-door neighbors in Giza included our landlord Mr. Hussein, his wife, Affaf, and two daughters, Mona (21) and Marwa (23). On our first day back, Affaf came baring gifts of baked chicken and stuffed zucchini and eggplant, which we gratefully received. Later that evening, while Kees was out, she appeared at my door with fresh dates still clinging to their palm stems and an invitation to come into the house to see the girls.

The girls awaited me in the living room with kisses. Usually veiled, they were bare-armed with their curly hair tied tightly back. Hibiscus tea was served with more dates, nutty and woody in taste. Mr. Hussein sat watching TV. During the 1967 war, Mr. Hussein was an Egyptian plane navigator. After being shot down by Israeli fighters, he had to wait for rescue in the Sinai desert.

“You not afraid?” was his only question for me. What, I wondered, did he mean by “afraid”?

“Yes,” I said. “A little.”

The women then engaged me in chatter about our time apart. The summer had been exceptionally hot. Early one morning, Mona and her mother ran out the front gate to rescue a tiny chick from the jowls of a wild dog. The young chicken was now happily roaming the inner garden, undisturbed by their two cats. 

Then Mona turned to me and asked, “Were you afraid? Were you afraid to go out of your house? Were you afraid of being bombed?”

What a surprising question! (That AFRAID question again…) None of them were asking if I was afraid to return to Egypt, which seemed to be the only concern of everyone else in my life. The Egyptians, however, wanted to know if I had been afraid to stay in America!

All this made me instantly realize two things. First, one can easily fall into the mass emotion of fear no matter what perspective it is coming from. The second insight was that the amount of fear we experience is often a reflection of the fear we have of our own shadow selves. 

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

If I had assumed all the presupposed fears that had polluted the US national psyche after the 9/11 attacks — fear of returning to Egypt, fear of flying on a plane, fear of living in a foreign country, fear of walking freely in the streets of an Middle Eastern city – I never would have been able to live my life, something I had already been trying to do for years. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! Only the Higher Self can bring us there.

Start today to consciously starve your fear. Anytime your fear appears during the day, practice using skillful will to redirect your thoughts to something beautiful and positive that you recently experienced. Use the Evocative Word exercise, calling to mind the words: Calm, Tranquility, Fearlessness. At the same time, try to face your own personal fears. They are the fears that we all must individually examine and exhume in their full force. Transmute and redeem to their full glory. Without being fully realized, personal fear bubbles over and is projected outside, contributing to the psychic poisons that are already swirling around us. 

Soon after arriving in Egypt that year, I had the opportunity to experience a very special celebration of Ramadan. Remember, once we start using our will to dis-identify from fearful thoughts, emotions, and ideas, we allow ourselves much freedom and new energy to purposively create acts of Love and Will. 

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To read about how two former clients overcame their personal fears, see Starve Your Fear! and The Healing Paradox.

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.”

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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

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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

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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.”

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