Tag Archives: psychology

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.

Which Way to Go - 3 Colorful Arrow SignsOur decision making process is only as strong as our weakest stage and usually we are more effective with some of these stages than others. For instance, I once had a client who skipped over any deliberation, which often caused her problems later once she realized that the action she decided to take wasn’t necessarily the best. Let’s take a closer look at each stage of any decision.

Stage 1: Defining Purpose

The first step is to identify your intention or goal. During this step, you explore your goal. Try to be honest about your motivation. Throughout this discussion, I will use myself as an example. My goal is to create more satisfaction in my life. Questions I need to explore are: What is blocking me from receiving more satisfaction? What do I need to do/feel/experience in order to create more satisfaction? Perhaps I need to spend more time alone, increase my self-esteem, garner more faith and trust, communicate my own needs more openly, or no longer fear taking a risk.

Try to narrow down one thing that you might achieve towards your goal. Pick the one that you feel most enthusiastic about, that feels most worthwhile. I pick: Write a book about subpersonalities. Finally state your goal clearly and precisely:

I use my will to … (write a book about subpersonalities).

Stage 2: Deliberation

Next you must weigh all the possibilities you have to achieve your purpose. This is the brainstorming stage where anything goes. It is not the stage where you evaluate, judge or reject any idea. Let your ideas flow, include everything that occurs to you, and play with the endless possibilities. For example, I can join a writing class or workshop (in the South of France!), I can schedule time everyday to write, I can find a class online, I can find a writing buddy that helps motivate me …

Then examine your responses and explore their consequences. Consider how willing you are to accept responsibility for them. Take your time for this process.

Stage 3: Choice

change-sign-postsEventually, you will have to choose one of your options. Some people never get beyond the deliberation stage. Instead they become enamored with the fantasy and, consequently, lack the will to actually perform the action needed to achieve their goal. (This is my problem! How many times, in my head, have I been interviewed about the best-seller that I  still have to write!?) Write your choice down clearly and precisely:

I use my will to … (write every morning).

Stage 4: Affirmation

Next you affirm your decision. Just by sharing my choice with all of you, I am affirming it. You might think this stage unnecessary, but it helps to ground the idea in reality and protect it from your own inner Saboteur. Later, whenever you might feel discouraged, you can come back to your affirmation. Write it down:

I (name) choose to … (your choice).

Stage 5: Planning

Planning can be a key stage to establishing your success. Paradoxically, we tend to limit ourselves when we think too big. Think in SMALL STEPS. Prepare a detailed plan that specifically is directed towards your chosen option. What is the first step you have to take? Who else is involved? What equipment, material, money, space, time, do you need? How do you evaluate your success?

Consider for a moment how you might defeat yourself. How might you resist this new change. How are you going to deal with any inner resistance? Use your imagination to visualize your plan to its successful completion. Always think positively about your purpose and intended outcome.

For example, my plan includes: reviewing my notes, writing an outline for the book, starting a chapter, and looking for a literary agent.

Stage 6: Execute

Finally, you actually execute the decision. Execution of will requires you to use skillful will, feelings, imagination and impulses to constantly supervise your activities. You also have to be flexible and adopt your plan to any change in conditions and circumstances. (For example, what if my “real work” starts to demand more time from my writing? What if I suddenly feel bored with my book?)

Slowly, you begin to work towards your goal. By focusing on your small successes, you can begin to enjoy the benefits of what you have achieved. In this way, you recharge the energy you need to continue towards your goal, and are always moving towards Joy.

Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.

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

Dark Days before Christmas

Light in the darknessIn northern Europe the days are growing shorter. Except for the oak trees with their withered sienna-brown leaves, most of the trees are bare against a bleak landscape and gray skies laden with cold, damp winds. The Dutch have a saying for this time of year: De donkere dagen voor Kerstmis. The dark days before Christmas. Indeed, every day is shorter and the nights seem to stretch out like a long, endless dream.

We are in the season of Advent, which mark the days before Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival. We freely use the word advent to simply mean “to come into being.”  This is the time of year that we await the arrival of light when the Earth will once again begin to tilt towards our sun. The days can then slowly “come into being,” promising their full splendor of sunshine and warmth at the summer solstice. For Christians, this is the time during which they await the birth of Jesus, when the Divine comes into being. Continue reading

The Bamboo Whisk

Tea Bowl with Tea

Today we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain, when the division between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Christians celebrate November 1 as All Saint’s Day and November 2 as All Souls. To mark this numinous time of year, I would like to share a story about Kikuchi-sensei, my Japanese tea ceremony teacher. A longer version of this story was originally published in Ascent Magazine, Issue 36, Fall 2007


The morning I went to the mortuary to see Kikuchi-Sensei, a cold wind whipped around the medieval cobblestone streets of the tiny Umbrian village. She had been fighting cancer for nearly a year and had finally surrendered at the age of 79. Dressed in a pale cinnamon kimono, she appeared so tiny in the lacquered coffin, framed by wild spring flowers that her daughter had picked from their garden, Sensei’s face was strong and peaceful; her mouth, set in her soft, unlined skin, was ready to break into one of her rare, indulging smiles.

Since Sensei had refused visitors during her treatment, I had just managed to accept life without our weekly tea ceremony lessons. But looking upon her still, frail frame, I hardly felt ready to surrender her forever. As I stood by her coffin, in my heart I thanked her for all she had taught me during the years we had spent together. I felt tremendously honored to have known her. Continue reading

When No Money Talks

Assagiolis writing about jail

Assagioli’s writing about his time in jail.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Assagioli’s time in prison is when his prison money was running out. He wrote in intimate detail about this experience in his book Freedom in Jail, under the chapter “An Incident and a ‘Test’”.

From the time of his arrest, Assagioli’s wife Nella was making sure that there was enough money in his prison account to warrant his receiving special treatment. In 1940, Regina Coeli prisoners could buy a more comfortable, private cell and more varied and higher quality food. Continue reading

The Prodigal Daughter

1024px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”.

I have always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), yet at the same time, struggle with it. The story seems so male in context. A young man returns home repentant and humbled after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery. His father is moved with pity, and runs to welcome his son home, clasping him in his arms and kissing him.

“Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. We will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile the elder son who always slaved in the fields and obeyed his father grows angry and refuses to enter the celebrations. But the father says:

“My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

What would the story of the prodigal daughter be, and what would her return to the welcoming mother reveal? Continue reading

Snapshot of the Philosophical Library

Note that this blog is an excerpt from my published article: A Snapshot of the Philosophical Library: Florence, Italy, 1922)


Figure 4 Herron-george-1900

George Davis Herron in 1900.

While conducting research, I often become like Alice and Wonderland, chasing rabbits down the garden path. Most recently, I came across a fascinating book, written by George David Herron (1862-1925), an American clergyman, lecturer, and writer from Indiana. In his book The Revival of Italy, published in 1922, Herron has a beautiful passage describing Roberto Assagioli as the inspiration for the Biblioteca Filosofica. (Philosophical Library) in Florence.

A lively center of philosophical discussion, the Philosophical Library was started around 1903-1905 by those studying theosophy. Wanting to deepen their understanding of Oriental philosophy, library members loaned books, organized classes, conferences and published a bulletin.

Assagioli was one of its more frequent visitors.[1] The Philosophical Library’s intent was to create a “free university for philosophical and religious studies” where the public could come and learn more about the current cultural movements such as Pragmatism, Idealism, and Modernism in a non-academic setting. Continue reading