Tag Archives: psychosynthesis

When an Ideal Model Goes Wrong

Painting by William Blake

My mother used to always say: “Nobody’s so bad that they can’t be used as a bad example.” One might find this advice startlingly judgmental, but surely Mom was referring to people like the last US president. He was and still is ‘bad’ and hence a perfectly good ‘bad example.’ And yet, many of the 74 million people who voted for him still believe he has the right to be president. Many love him. Some even see him as their Savior.

Trump is not just a good ‘bad example,’ but also a good example of an ideal model gone wrong. Assagioli emphasized our need to have what he called ‘ideal models.’ He wrote:

“Hero-worship … is a natural and­ irrepressible­ tendency­ of human beings and, at the same time, one of the most powerful stimuli towards the elevation of consciousness.”

Of course, the heroes that he was referring to are human beings who exhibit the highest qualities of the human spirit, people whose qualities we are attracted to and wish to embody ourselves. People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Mother Teresa. In India there is a beautiful saying related to this: “The Ganges purifies when seen and touched, but the Great Beings purify even if they are only remembered.”

Assagioli said that such heroes and heroines serve two diverse functions. The first and most obvious is that Great Men and Women enliven and enrich us. He wrote, “They radiate light upon us like the sun as it draws all the secret virtues from a seed.” Great Beings’ higher acts of love and will encourage us to imitate them and do the same.

Great Men and Great Women also hold the ‘image’ that we project onto their personality. Therefore, Great Men and Women are a mixture of the reality of their own personality along with the added qualities that their admirers project onto them. What is important is that this projection needs to be followed by what Assagioli calls ‘introjection,’ that is, by our ‘reactivating’ and integrating inside us the ideal that we have projected­ onto the other. This introjection can happen unconsciously, but as Assagioli explains:

“We can also help this process along by consciously imitating Great Beings with all our will and desire in order to possess the qualities we admire in those greats. It is appropriate to recognize and exploit this benefit that Hero-worship brings to humanity. Worship or admiration of Great Beings spontaneously and naturally evokes our urge to imitate their higher qualities. At the same time, we can help translate these qualities into actual altered behavior by consciously and actively­ imitating them.”

The Potential Dangers of Hero-Worship

Perhaps you can see where all this is taking us – right back to those 74 million Trump voters… Hero-Worship can easily slide down the slippery slope and become ‘idol-worship.’ Assagioli refers to such idols as inferior models who include: “some movie stars, sports and TV prize winners, successful businessmen irrespective of their character or moral stature, etc.” The problem is nearly everyone who voted for Trump, unconsciously or consciously, wants to be like him. Many have become mechanical imitations of him. Others frightening exaggerations. Trump, as an inferior model and master of the dynamic power of visual images, has been incredibly successful in getting people to be their worst selves.

To annihilate the self-hood of deceit & false forgiveness from Milton. Painting by William Blake.

Assagioli suggests that one way to debunk unworthy models is to uncover their biographic narrative to reveal all their human frailties, unhappiness, and frustration. But Trump has shown his instinct for survival by crying ‘fake news,’ dismissing his failures in delusional denials, and tweeting his kudos. It might actually be too late. After all, the mental and emotional images of the Golden Hero he pretends to be seem firmly introjected in the minds of his followers.

So how do we get out of this? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “The world is upheld by the veracity of good men; they make the earth wholesome.” We must turn our gaze, media obsession, and internet clicks away from idols and instead honor the true heroes in our midst. Not only those heroes and heroines around us but those inside us. Emerson also said, “Other men are lenses though which we read our own minds.”

Seek those men and women who express the best inside you. Touch their cloak of wisdom and be healed. Celebrate them. Make them known. Let their light radiate your virtuous seeds of love and will. Then grow – no thrive! – and learn how to become the Great Being you are meant to be.

Writing to Awaken

During this past year, many of us have faced deeper questions about our lives and its purpose. So the beginning of 2021 might be a good time to start a spiritual diary.

Writing a spiritual diary is different from writing a memoir or a diary in general as the focus is on your spiritual life – in other words, what is happening inside your soul. Besides a blank notebook and pen, it requires you to have some courage and a great deal of honesty. By focusing on what’s happening in your inner life, you allow yourself to more carefully observe the small changes that are happening in your heart and mind. In your written reflections, you can work through troubling issues, set new spiritual goals, and discover higher qualities like patience, determination, and beauty that have always existed inside you.

Continue reading

Gifting Ashes, Gifting Oil

The Olive Harvest

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 economy is 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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Joyfully Suffering the News

Yesterday I met Lucia for the first time. She is a 7-month old solid soul who has nothing but gurgling smiles for the world. Between bites of chocolate ice cream, her mother became quietly despondent. “Hasn’t the news been terrible lately?” she asked.

Headline

Yes, the news has been terrible. The news is always terrible. That’s what news is. Terrible. It is either full of suffering or full of rich, happy, famous people. Sometimes it is full of rich, unhappy, famous people suffering. But usually it consists of poor, unhappy, non-famous people suffering. In fact, Assagioli once told a student of his that, while it was important to read the news, one should only do so in homeopathic doses!

Continue reading

Lessons from the Classrooms of Tagore and Assagioli

This is a brief excerpt from my article recently published in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly that explores the educational philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli. To download this article, please click here.

One of the most compelling worldwide impacts of Covid-19 is the abrupt and profound change in how children are being educated. What can psychosynthesis bring to this radical change in education? To start, we might turn to two great figures from the last century: Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli.

During their lifetimes, Tagore and Assagioli were both participants in a larger educational movement during the early 19th century, a time of social and political upheaval, technological and industrial revolution, World War I, and the flu epidemic of 1918.

Rabindranath_Tagore_reading_to_others_(1)

Rabindranath Tagore reading to others.

Continue reading

The Vase in the Ladies’ Toilet

It’s August again and in Italy that means “Tutti al mare” (Everybody to the sea)! While I’m not at the seaside, I am taking some time off. So, we return to Ireland in 1998, when I found myself working as a waitress in a little café in the popular tourist town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of my experience, I wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” For the next few posts, I’ll be sharing passages from this book along with Rosaleen’s artwork.

14

Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/

Rosaleen’s Restaurant, 170 years ago, was a Temperance Hall, a place where Irish men and women (segregated into separate meetings) gathered to proclaim the evil of drink and to swear abstinence from its impurities.

Did the spirits of these early pioneers sit among the clientele as they drank their Merlot wine? I often tried to imagine them talking together. What would the hardy women of old in their heavily layered frocks have to say to their cigarette-smoking, scantily clad daughters? How might those ancestral mothers react to the uneaten spuds left on their children’s plates? Continue reading

Leave Her at the River

Monk riverHow often have you been awake at night processing what happened to you the day before? Perhaps you were reworking a conversation with a family member or colleague. Or maybe you were wondering how to pay that bill that just arrived in the mail. Or perhaps you are a teacher and were busy (re)giving your lecture again, only in a “better way.”

But at 2:00 in the morning, none of these mental exercises are serving you. You really need to sleep – not figure out how you might have more clearly explained yourself to your boss/students/son or daughter. You are losing energy trying to work out how to pay a bill that’s not due for weeks. But still … you can’t seem to stop. These thoughts are swirling around in your mind, keeping you busy and awake. Continue reading

Divine Supply

thumbnail_image1(1)The cherry trees behind our house are bursting with fruit. More cherries than we can pick, eat, turn into jam, give away, or freeze. We still have jars from last year – plump cherries bloated by the pure alcohol bath they sit in, waiting to be plucked from the jar, soaked for a few hours in local spring water and eaten. Each fruit tree in the back bares a different type of cherry – white and sour, round and sweet, watery with too much pit.  We are doing our best to collect what we can, but many will inevitably feed the birds, ants and insects, or drop to the ground and nourish the grassy knoll which they now adorn. Continue reading