Roberto Assagioli, the visionary founder of psychosynthesis, left a treasure trove of thoughts when he died in 1974 at the age of 86. A great scholar, linguist, educator, and philosopher, Assagioli’s creative ideas compelled him to handwrite his reflections onto small pieces of paper, including the back of concert tickets! Often he would stuff these pieces of paper into a drawer and then ask a student to put them into some kind of order. Other times he himself would organize them into “packets” under titles such as “Freedom”, “Joy”, “The Self”.
As part of the Istituto di Psicosintesi in Florence, Gruppo Alle Fonti (The Group at the Well Spring) has dedicated years to making Assagioli’s notes available online. In 2015, they launched the website www.archivioassagioli.org. This month they recently added the printed publications of Assagioli’s writings, typescripts of lectures and conferences, and drafts of articles and books. Everyone can register to access this archive for free and, with the aid of an excellent search engine, delve into Assagioli’s fascinating, invigorating, and moving archived papers.
Approximately 19,000 documents have been scanned, transcribed, and sometimes translated, and each one is a source of insight into Assagioli’s heart and mind. His notes and manuscripts appear in Italian, English, French, or German.
Today the archive includes thousands of original manuscripts, typescripts, books, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, photos, correspondence, and personal documents accumulated over the years. But when he died, most of this material was inaccessible, tucked away in the attic of his home or kept in a damp cellar where it remained for years.
Part of these manuscripts caught the immediate attention of Piero Ferrucci, a student and close collaborator of Assagioli. In 1974 Ferrucci assumed the daunting task of cataloging and distributing these documents in specially created folders. In 2006, Gruppo Alle Fonti, an international group of devoted volunteers, continued to systematically reorganize, sort, and catalogue the material. We have them to thank for online access to these documents.
In the words of Gruppo Alle Fonti:
“Access to the archive is not only an educative and cognitive opportunity, but a deep and intimate experience leading to an expansion of consciousness.”
I urge everyone to visit the online archive and spend some time with Assagioli and his “unburdened thoughts.” You will definitely find a rich psychosynthesis legacy and have the opportunity to personally touch Assagioli’s deep humanity.
Thirty-five years ago while living in Japan, I was invited by Japanese friends to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Upon our arrival to the city, I was immediately struck by how lively and ‘normal’ it felt. Cars were zooming by, people on bicycle were rushing to their destinations, skyscrapers filled the landscape. It was difficult to imagine the horrible disaster of a nuclear bomb on the city and its 255,000 innocent inhabitants. We soon arrived to the Memorial Park, an open space with various monuments, including an eternal flame burning for peace on Earth, all beautifully decorated with long strings of origami cranes.
While I contemplated these sites, many profoundly sorrowful feelings emerged. Then suddenly a middle-aged Japanese man swooped in and was screaming in my face. Not understanding any Japanese at the time, I asked my friends to translate. Embarrassed, they roughly yet very politely urged him to go away. He was screaming at me for dropping the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.
During the start of the Iraq War, I found myself in a Beirut convent eating dinner with an Iraqi couple. We were all there for a conference on the Syriac language, my husband’s expertise. I could hardly look at this couple for all the shame I felt about my country invading theirs. “I’m so sorry,” I said as soon as the opportunity arose, “for what my country is doing to yours. I hardly know what to say to you.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” the woman assured me. “We know just how you feel. We were having dinner with Kuwaiti friends when our country invaded theirs.”
A month after the 9/11 attacks, I and my husband returned to Egypt after visiting my family in California. We had been living in Giza for the past year and were happy to return. Initially, I was afraid to even say I was American, but no one seemed to show any animosity. Except quietly behind closed doors. My neighbor was not ashamed to tell me how happy she had been to see the Twin Towers fall. For her, Osama bin Laden had successfully brought the schoolyard bully to its knees and fear to its land. “But,” she admitted, “as an architectural student, it saddened me to see the buildings fall.”
It is a beautiful spring day, and I am with my husband and another couple visiting a small medieval village in Tuscany. We were standing in a piazza, enjoying the surrounding architecture, and trying to decide where to have lunch. Suddenly we hear an older man’s voice demanding an answer: “Do you think this is beautiful? Do you? Do you think this is beautiful?” We all turned to him and nodded dumbly. “During the war there was nothing here but malaria and famine.” He nearly spat out the words. “Malaria and famine. Take that bellezza home with you.”
One final story. I am just six years old. It is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis is looming. Our kindergarten class has been lined up into single file and brought to the gymnasium. This is not our normal routine. We are told to sit down together on the floor. All the other elementary school kids are also there. A teacher I don’t know is talking. She is telling us how if there is a bomb, we will all gather in the gym like this and stay together. No one will be able to go home. When the bomb is dropped, we will sleep here and wait for our parents to come. We might have to wait days. I don’t understand. This all feels like a dumb thing to do. I raise my hand and wait to be called on. “Why are adults doing this?” I ask. The teacher doesn’t answer. She just looks at me.
All these strong experiences have taught me the need to overcome nationalism and, above all else, hold fast to the moral spirit of humanity. Given what is happening in Europe today, we would do well to heed the words of Rabindranath Tagore, poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature. Soon after WWI, Tagore wrote and lectured worldwide against nationalism, calling on all of us to recognize our greater humanity. In his book Nationalism, he clearly states:
“Nationalism is a great menace… the time has come, for the sake of the whole outraged world. Europe should fully know in her own person the terrible absurdity of this thing called the Nation.”
Tagore did not shirk from pointing out how nationalism was prevalent in his own country, causing him to meet with scorn from every side. In 1917, Tagore began speaking openly against the British Raj. To the average British official, he was considered a non-cooperator who refused to ‘play the game’ of Anglo-Indian back-scratching. To the average Indian nationalist, he was un-patriotic. As his biographers note: “By not joining any group, and refusing to temper his criticisms, Tagore had become the target of all groups.” In fact, he was nearly assassinated during a visit to San Francisco by Indian nationalists.
Tagore distained blind nationalism and fanaticism where “machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bullfight of politics.” What he proposed instead was universal humanism, global cooperation and harmony. Tagore’s core ideas included the need for self-determination, strengthening society from below, universal man and the need for education transcending borders.
For the rest of his life, Tagore called on all peoples to create a “more human order, a finer science of life, and a spiritual republic behind world politics.”
We may wonder how Tagore’s words of 100 years ago might have any relevance to us today. But nationalism is still playing a major role in the more than 20 wars ranging worldwide. One’s national identity is causing fractures even inside countries like the USA and the EU. The attitude of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ is a nationalist one.
Yesterday was the World Day of Psychosynthesis and more than 150 people interested in Roberto Assagioli’s vision of psychosynthesis celebrated in an event hosted by two Swedish groups, Psykosyntesföreningen and Psykosyntesförbundet along with the European Psychosynthesis Association (EPA).
The day is meant to establish a spiritual connection between everyone who is generating and working with psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. Each of us is encouraged to take time during the day to reflect on how psychosynthesis is a living, evolving idea that can be successfully applied through many formats and in various contexts.
This day was inspired by a note that Assagioli wrote. What is special about this particular note is that it is dated, something relatively rare to find on his thousands of archived notes. A copy of the Assagioli’s original note appears below along with its transcription. Continue reading →
Lately, I have been attending a series of talks about the Maternal Gift Economy. It’s an interesting concept that challenges our preconceptions of how the exchange of services and products must take place.
Some might say we have an exchange economy, but the reality is (and has been) that the global economy is an exploitive economy. As Assagioli wrote we are driven by Original Fear – fear of not having enough food, fear of hunger – and by Original Greed, which fundamentally is the desire for unlimited growth. Hence our tendency to consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.
In contrast, a gift-based economyis grounded in the values of nurturing and care rather than competition and greed. To begin with, we might change how we talk about our services rendered. For example, when speaking about the medical staff who are having to deal with the onslaught of Covid-19 patients, we say they are ‘sacrificing’ themselves. But what changes inside us when we exchange the word ‘sacrifice’ for ‘gift’? Try saying: “Our doctors and nurses are gifting their expertise, care, time, and lives” and see how that feels.
Accompanying the stirrings of spring are the stirrings of what life will become after the COVID-19 crisis. To be honest, nobody really knows. But then, nobody ever really knew. We often like to think that we are entirely in control of our lives, our surroundings, our future. But if nothing else, the virus has taught us that we cannot control everything around us. However, we can take responsibility for our inner attitude towards everything from adversity to discomfort to death, and for our own outer actions in how we choose to live our lives. Continue reading →
This weekend, many Italians are traveling to village cemeteries to pay homage to their ancestors. The Catholic feast of All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday followed by All Soul’s Day. It is a time for the living to ritually remember the dead – both saint and sinner alike. In preparation, the (mostly older) women are scrubbing tombstones clean and buying votive candles and pots of chrysanthemums to decorate the graves of loved ones. Coinciding with the beginning of darker days and longer nights, this time allows us to pause and consider our own life and death.
Fava bean flowers
The two days devoted to honoring the dead correspond agriculturally to when Umbrian farmers seed their fields. They are also busy burying onion bulbs and garlic cloves with the hope of enjoying sweet shoots in the spring. There is a local saying among our neighbors that All Saint’s Day marks the planting of fava beans. In fact, eating fava beans was once thought to be a way to be in communion with the dead. The bean flower is white with black markings that take the form of the Greek letter thet or θ, which is the first letter of thanatos, meaning ‘death’. Continue reading →
In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am happy to announce the publication of A Free and Wild Creature: Women, Service and Motherhood.
This book is a selection of blogs that have appeared on this website from 2014 to 2019. As the past five years have flown by, these bi-monthly reflections followed each other without any thought on my part to their cohesion or continuity. They simply captured moments in time – concerns, joys, wonder, delight, and sorrow.
And yet, while preparing this series of four small books, the reflections seemed to have mysteriously folded into one another. Like the flotsam washed ashore by the sea, these reflections seemed to have divided themselves by weight, roundness, shape and tone. Continue reading →
Seventy-five years ago on November 30th, a young Dutch Jewish intellect died at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her legacy of love and reconciliation, as described in her ten diary notebooks and the many letters that she wrote, continues to inspire people around the world. Etty Hillesum (1914-1943) was only 29 years old when she died, but during her short lifespan she managed to live a life of contemplative spirituality and practice in a world that seemed to be falling to pieces around her.
Hillesum grew up in a non-religious home of intellectuals. Her parents were both teachers – her father taught the classics and her mother Russian literature. Hillesum had two younger brothers, both very talented but mentally unstable. She describes having grown up in a “chaotic and sad situation … a madhouse where no human being can flourish.” Continue reading →
Recently I wrote about Sorella Maria – “A Wild and Free Creature”, who founded a small Franciscan community in the heart of Umbria. While further exploring the life of this inspiring spiritual pioneer, I discovered that Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also visited the Hermitage of Campello in 1927 (a place that we too will visit on September 20 during Journey to Places of the Higher Self). (You can read the essay Underhill wrote for The Spectator about her visit, A Franciscan Hermitage.)
According to Underhill’s biographer Dana Greene, this one-day visit was fundamental to her decision to return to active participation in the Anglican Church in which she had been baptized and confirmed. She wrote:
“Certainly nothing has ever brought me so near to the real Franciscan spirit as a few hours spent in the Vale of Spoleto with a little group of women who are trying to bring back to modern existence the homely, deeply supernatural and quite unmonastic ideal of the Primitive Rule.”
By the time Underhill paid a visit to the Hermitage, she had already published her best-selling book Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. This book, published in 1911, reclaimed mysticism as part of the human condition. In her 500+ page book (with more than 1000 footnotes), she explored for the first time in a systematic and scholarly way mysticism throughout the ages and across cultures, nations, and religions. While she focused on mysticism in Christianity, she also examined Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems. She defined mysticism as: Continue reading →
In his book Freedom in Jail (now available for purchase), Assagioli referred twice to the Gospel story of Martha and Mary, and even indicated that he wanted to have an Appendix that would reflect upon it. This appendix was never written, but later his eloquent essay was: “Martha and Mary: The Active Life –The Contemplative Life.” 
In this blog and the next, we will take a closer look at his essay. First of all, Assagioli asks that we read this gospel story with an open mind. So let’s begin with the story: