Tag Archives: psychology

From Pencils to Cosmic Love


What better day than St. Valentines to explore Assagioli’s thoughts on Love from a psychosynthetic point of view? But first we have to start with pencils…

In his dialogs with Bruno Caldironi, Assagioli described the process of reflective mediation. This type of meditation is a synthesis of many elements, most notably attention and concentration. The idea is to consciously direct your thoughts to an idea, problem, or concept and note how your thoughts connect, interpenetrate, and link themselves together into a new understanding.

In Assagioli’s careful didactic way, he first gave the simple example of how you might meditate on a pencil.  You might begin like this:

“What’s a pencil? It’s for writing. It’s of wood. It has lead inside…”

After five minutes, you might feel quite finished with these questions, but try to push yourself further by asking:

“Where did the wood come from? What kind of wood might it be? Where does wood come from? From trees…”

4-black-and-white-pencils-blink-imagesAnd then from there, slowly, consider everything regarding trees…  And then the lead…

“What is lead? Graphite? Where do you find graphite? How is it produced? It’s a special state of carbon. What is carbon? What are the different states of carbon? A diamond is also a carbon state. What’s the difference? …”

And so forth… But you’re not finished yet:

“Lead… when was it invented? What are different ways of writing? The computer, a brush, pen, fountain pen, ballpoint pen. What are the differences? Why still use a pencil? What advantage does it have? You can erase a pencil mark. And so, why erase it? What do you write upon? …” And so forth…

Assagioli’s Thoughts on Love

Now let’s take the concept of Love. Here’s what Assagioli said about Love:*

“Before talking about love, and most of all before falling in love, a person ought to meditate for six months on what love is…”

dante paradise assagioli

Assagioli’s note of the final stanza from Dante’s Divine Comedy: “L’amor che muove il sole e l’altre stelle.” (“The love that moves the sun and the other stars.”)

Calidroni immediately interrupted him exclaiming, “But, Professor, they will probably never fall in love again!” Assagioli replied:

“Yes, they will probably fall in love, but in a totally different way. They will fall in love in a better way. Because they will fall in love knowing how to fall in love.

The reflection on love can bring a celebration of love. Absolute Eros… individual reflection of ‘The love that can move the sun and other stars’. My loving is no more than a microcosmic reflection of this great universal force.

You can meditate on various kinds of love, on the different proportions of the different types of love. You need to clearly distinguish sex, passion, tender sentiment, aesthetic appreciation, the communion of the soul, collaboration, commonality of interests, the family, the children. In the love for one person there are all these components, or there ought to be.

And you need to observe the moment in which you fall in love, when you feel attracted to a person, in what percentage are all these various elements present. At the beginning you observe how much happens spontaneously, then the I-consciousness can regulate it, control some of these elements, favoring some of them, in an attempt to bring harmony between the various components.

You could, therefore, meditate on love in general, on this cosmic force, on how it appears in us, in all our emotional relationships, not only towards another individual, but also with regard to all the rest (love of country, love of beauty…), identifying what elements are in play. This meditation is in a vital sense, a reflective meditation.


Assagioli suggests that men refer to Dante’s Beatrice as a symbol of the Ideal Woman.

Assagioli continues to offer us some good advice about how to be in relationship, especially when we find ourselves newly attracted to another person:

When we are attracted to another person, the feeling ‘I’ feels a spontaneous and irrational attraction, or the sexual impulse feels a physical attraction for certain physical merits, but at the same time, there can be contrasting reactions at different levels to the same person, that is, towards that complex of elements that we call Mary or Joan.

woman puzzelIn fact Mary doesn’t exist but a mass of aspects — for example, a beautiful body, an attractive sensation, a deficient mentality, an overbearing and egotistical attitude, bad breath – towards which you can have different and contrasting reactions. From here comes the difficulty of the relationships. You need to watch as a spectator to see what attracts you and what repels you in that person and balance it all out.

If the results are positive, then you need to generously accept the person’s deficiencies. If the negative parts prevail, then it will be better to say no and conquer the feelings of attraction. Defects are in everybody. Nobody is perfect.”


Caldironi, B. (2004). L’uomo a tre dimensioni: Colloqui con Roberto Assagioli [The man of three dimensions: Conversations with Roberto Assagioli]. L. Oretti (Ed.). Ravenna, Italy: Edizioni del Girasole. (Note that this translation from the Italian into English is mine.)

Infinity of the Heart

Frances Brundage New YearNew Year’s Eve is often symbolically imagined as the polarity of death and life, perhaps best pictured as an old man with a sickle accompanying a joyful babe. It is a time of great darkness as we enter winter, and yet, paradoxically, it is also a time of more and more light emerging each day. New Year’s holds the possibility of the numinous, as we clearly mark one year to the next, sweeping aside that which we have lost for all that we have to gain.

It is important to celebrate this time of year with ritual and reflection, remembrances and hope. When we consciously enter this period of great polar energy, we enable ourselves to realize that death and life, dark and light, and the numinous are always available to us – every day and in every breath. Just like the outgoing and incoming years, the old breath goes out and the new comes in. Every moment. All the time. And  nestled inside the old and new lies the eternal now. Continue reading

Resting on Angel Wings

Mother of Horus Isabelle Bagdasarianz-Küng without saying

The Mother of Horus. (Photo by Isabelle Bagdasarianz Küng)

How can we cope with the overpowering images and messages from the daily news? Hurricanes, fires, mass murder, nuclear threats, and crazed world leaders can be overwhelming, pushing us towards a spiral of negative thoughts. Naturally, we want to be informed about what is going on in the world so we can make clear decisions and activate change. But we also need to find the right balance in our lives so we don’t feel lost in the constant swell of bad news.

The key is to seek equilibrium. Like feasting on salty food all day, when we only nourish ourselves by munching on the news, we can make our hearts and minds ill. We need to refresh ourselves with the taste and sound of spring waters, waters that might help us flush the salty taste from our mouths and renew our bodies and souls.

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The Poor Man of Assisi

Figure 1 Francis

Fresco in the Sacro Speco (‘sacred cave’) of St. Benedict in Subiaco, possibly the oldest and most faithful image of Francis.

Pace e bene! Peace and all that is good! These words of Saint Francis (1182-1226) go beyond divisions, faiths and institutions, right to the core of our shared humanity. Today in Assisi, people are gathering to celebrate his feast day. Having chosen a life radically dedicated to transcendent values, Francis often appears in Assagioli’s writings. Assagioli would have naturally been familiar with Francis, who (along with St. Catherine of Siena) is one of the patron saints of Italy. In fact, upon meeting Assagioli, Frank Vanderlip described him as a modern day St. Francis:

“There seemed to me to burn in this man the pure flame of a love of justice and humanity… He seemed to have a calm and serene understanding of the causes of the troubles of the world and a sensible apprehension of where materialism is leading the world. He expressed such a cheerful hopefulness that a better road is at hand if the world will but take it.”[1]

Can Money and Spirituality Mix?

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The Virtuous Circle of Gratitude and Abundance


Abundance. This is a difficult word for most of us to swallow. Our entire economic system is based on our desiring what we don’t possess. We often feel like we need more, that we never have enough, that tomorrow we will nothing left. 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. So we consume and purchase, possess, save and hoard.

I live in a small Italian village that is slowly dying from the effects of globalization. This story is not new nor limited to the confines of Italy. Only 40 years ago the town was thriving with 1000 inhabitants, a shop, cafe, and school. Now only 100 people live here, many of them over 80 years old. The shop, cafe, and school are all gone. Only the church remains open (just because the 73-year-old priest has chosen not to retire). Continue reading

Threshing our Lives Anew

But I shall sing of your strength; and in the morning I shall sing of your love. For you are my defender; and my refuge, in the days of my tribulations. (Psalm 59:16)

Since moving to Italy a year ago, I often hear the word ‘tribolazione’. While rarely used in English, this word ‘tribulation’ often poetically enters Italian conversation when my neighbors are talking about a very long, difficult, and grievous period in their or someone else’s life.

thresh and ox

Farmers in some parts of the world still use a tribulum to thresh their harvest.

Hearing this word more often, I started to wonder about its origins. I soon discovered that it derives from the Latin word tribulum. A tribulum is a threshing roller or sledge pulled by oxen that farmers have used for centuries to separate the corn from the husks, the wheat from the chaff.

How often I have felt trampled by oxen as they yanked sharp flints of cut stone over me. (Well, okay. I am dramatizing, but you know this feeling don’t you?) Something inside me is being purged and discarded allowing my truer self to be freed from its hidden form. Without the tribulum, the seed of new life cannot be beaten away from the wheat, the flail, or the corn. The new seed can only lay dormant and lost. Continue reading

Free Will – Fantasy or Saving Grace?

hamburger over truthLast week I heard Robert Sapolsky being interviewed on the radio. Prof. Sapolsky is apparently a renowned and popular U.S. scientist. He is Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, and a big shot in the world of neuroendocrinology. The New York Times has called him one of the finest natural history writers of our time.

Despite all his knowledge, talent, expertise and fame, Prof. Sapolsky left me chilled when he said:

“Free will is what we call the biology that we have yet to study.”

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