Tag Archives: spiritual

The Box of Dates

After two years, aren’t we tired by now of hearing, talking, reading about but mostly fearing Covid-19? My biggest heartache is witnessing the disintegration of the social fabric that once united the villagers where I live. Many of the agricultural traditions were already wobbling on creaky foundations. It’s as if the big bad wolf of fear has blown it all down.

Located in the heart of Italy, the village has about 100 inhabitants; nearly 30 of whom are over 70 years old.  The town’s activities revolve around feast days and holidays, mainly associated with the village’s Catholic Church. Nearly every month there used to be a celebration with most of the villagers gathering for a communal meal afterwards.

The spring feast of Ascension had us in procession around the town’s fields, blessing the earth, sun, and rain for providing us with nature’s abundance. In July we honored the local Franciscan Saint Marzio with porchetta sandwiches and homemade wine. August brought the entire village together for the three-day preparing to make gnocchi Sacra di Gnocco. In early December, we climbed the hill out of town at dusk with lit torches, song and prayer to celebrate Saint Barbara, her statue atop the shoulders of four strong men.

But all these celebrations have since disappeared. Even the village’s most famous – the day long Feast of the Madonna of Monte Camera celebrated on the Tuesday after Easter. Ironically enough, in 1647 when the pest was devastating the village population, the town dwellers who were well enough went in procession to this sanctuary (about 6 km away) to pray to the Madonna so that she might intercede on their behalf.

When they returned to their village, everyone who had been sick was miraculously cured. For 372 years, the villagers have returned in procession to this chapel – without fail – to commemorate the miracle. Every year… even during the last century’s World Wars, even during the time of Napoleon. Every year… except for the past two. Even though such a miracle is needed more than ever.

Personally during these past two years, I have witnessed many of the Italians I know tightly close ranks around their family life, walling themselves inside a circle of quiet desperation. Rarely does someone pause to chat with me anymore. What few smiles remain are hidden behind our masks. I am no longer invited in for a coffee and chat. All kisses are gone. The spontaneous touch of a hand is only a distant memory. We stand at a ‘safe’ distance, feeling unsafe.

An Open Door, An Open Heart

And then one afternoon, Maria Grazia[i] deeply touched me and my soul.

Maria Grazia is 91 years old. She grew up in the village, worked with her family on the land, married the village carpenter, had two children and now lives alone (her husband died three years ago). She is one of the few people whose attitude has not changed towards me. Always happy if I stop in to see her (along with my dog), Maria Grazia always insists on giving me something… creamy chocolates wrapped in shiny foil, a few fresh eggs from her chickens, and one time a small pot of honey from her son-in-law’s beehives.

Last week, I decided to pay her a visit. With all the fear that is running wild in the world, and despite her vulnerability, Maria Grazia attends to a quiet fearlessness. The key to her front door is always in the lock. As usual, I rang the bell and before any answer could come, I simply walked in. Maria Grazia was sitting next to her wood-burning stove, her legs up on a chair and covered with a blanket, rosary in hand. Despite my interrupting her quiet prayers of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, Maria Grazia welcomed me inside.

She did not quaver from my touch or worry about my wearing a mask or not. She was simply glad to see me. In fact, I often had to slide the mask to my chin and repeat myself, her slightly deaf ears unable to decipher my heavily accented Italian. We had met briefly the day before when I went to the mass for Saint Anthony Abate, the patron saint of domestic animals. As always, the villagers brought their animal feed to be blessed by the priest after the mass, and I too had attended with buckets of chicken feed, dog and cat food for the ritual sprinkling of holy water.

“I’m always so happy to see you in church,” was the first thing she said. I can’t remember when anybody told me that they were happy to see me anywhere! Slightly embarrassed to be caught with her legs up on a chair, Maria Grazia explained, “I have fibrosis in my legs.” She lifted up the blanket to show me her swollen, discolored calves and ankles, and then, despite my protests, insisted on getting up.

Hobbling to her cupboard while supporting herself against her kitchen table, she brought out a box of dates and insisted I take them with me. “But don’t you like them?” I asked.

“Oh yes, I like them. But I have another box,” she said. “And besides, I want you to have these.”

Maria Grazia put the box of dates into a plastic bag. I gratefully accepted them and thanked her. We kissed each other goodbye on both cheeks and I went on my way. As I was leaving, she sat down again by the warm stove. I offered to help her replace the blanket over her legs, but Maria Grazia insisted that she could do it herself.

The box of dates meant little to me, but her loving attitude of just being present, without terror in her eyes, without my having to feel awkward or afraid to be with her, was her true gift.  Nothing between us had changed, despite the world being so radically altered. It was a moment when everything felt normal… when human relationship once more felt peaceful… We were just two human beings – with all our limitations – together, acknowledging each other’s presence, the beauty of each other’s soul.


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

The Pandemic of Collective Fear

Assagioli writes how “waves of collective fear and panic” are like 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 virus-like fears are not ours, but energies that we are experiencing from the people and society around us. 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 says:

“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.

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. 

You might start today to consciously ‘vaccinate’ yourself against 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. You can also 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 whirling around us. 

Let’s face it. There are a million reasons to be fearful. The human condition hardly lends itself to fearlessness! But with patience and Love, along with the guidance of the Higher Self, the virus of fear can be cured.

Assagioli’s note from his archives.

[i] Maria Grazia is a pseudonym.

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

COP26, Tagore, and Human Truths

Franco, who is blind, cuts his grass with a scythe.

After the COP26 ended in Glasgow, and I couldn’t help feeling like a lemming caught in a mass migration off a towering cliff. It’s difficult to stay grounded and hopeful when faced with the empty actions of our political leaders and the 100+ coal, oil and gas company lobbyists and their associated groups who welded influence during the conference.

Even though the U.S. military pollutes more than 140 countries combined, their emissions are not included in any calculations (due to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude them). And since the 2015 Paris Agreement, 1005 land and environmental defenders have been murdered, with one out of three being an Indigenous person.

According to scientist Ken Anderson, “net zero,” is meaningless rhetoric (or more simply Blah, Blah, Blah) that allows us to move the burden in reducing emissions from today out to future generations. He said, “Net zero is Latin for kicking the can down the road.”

On a personal level, I have struggled with watching in quiet desperation as neighbors cut down their trees for firewood. My nearby neighbors are a farming family, four generations that have lived here for more than a century. They own most of the surrounding land and they do not hesitate to cut down trees and hedges, in order to turn fields into plowable acreage, which they mindlessly kill with fertilizers. 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

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

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

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

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

A Litany of Endings

butterfly

My life has recently been full of endings. Having moved from Germany to Italy, I’ve had to say good bye to family, friends, and acquaintances, my garden, my bicycle, and the comfort of the familiar. My husband and I were only one week in Italy when his father died. At the same time, many issues from my past were suddenly emerging, demanding that I redeem them and finally put them to rest. It felt like endings were spilling over me from heaven. A shower of good byes marking the time of new beginnings.

During the last two sessions with clients, I always ask them to focus on endings. We take our time to reflect on how they have typically ended past relationships and how they might like to try a different type of ending during our last session together. We all have a typical way of saying goodbye. For example, there’s the tragic ending, the never-ending ending, and the disappearing ending.

One client had a ‘ritual’ ending. She would always return to the empty room/home/space that she was leaving, stand and acknowledge that space, and then say goodbye. When she told me this, I instantly thought of her birth. This client was a twin and the first-born. At the beginning of her life, a time of great numinous significance, of great endings and beginnings, her mother’s womb had not been empty when she turned to say goodbye.

Continue reading

“A Hymn to Inner Freedom”

soloFRONTERoberto Assagioli’s “prison diary” Freedom in Jail is an autobiographical account of the month he spent in prison under the fascist regime in 1940. His conclusion is entitled “A Hymn to Inner Freedom” where he writes about every man and woman’s power to inwardly free themselves.

One does not need to be incarcerated to feel imprisoned. Part of the human condition, at different points in our lives, is to find ourselves enslaved by some uncontrollable situation to which we feel bound. Freedom in Jail shows us that no matter what our condition – be it catastrophe, ill health, old age, and even pending death – we always remain free and responsible for choosing how we actively accept the situation and what attitude we take. The mystery is that these circumstances can also lead us to our Higher Self.

Think of Viktor

Assagioli’s note: “Remember Viktor Frankl. Think of all those who are in jail,…” (Archivio Assagioli, Firenze, © Istituto di Psiconsintesi).

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Walking the Labyrinth of Your Soul

labyrinthgeneral

A labyrinth has often been used as a metaphor for a soul’s spiritual journey. Unlike a maze, labyrinths are usually circular in shape and have one, and only one, continuous meandering path that eventually leads to the center. This single path threads itself over the maximum amount of ground, without treading the same trail twice. There are no dead-ends, no intersections.

Labyrinths can be found in almost every religious tradition around the world. The design is mysterious and mythic, its origins unknown, yet primordial. It is an archetypical design, appearing across continents and cultures. The Hopi medicine wheel, Tibetan sand paintings, Troy dances, and the Tree of Life, found in the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbala, are all examples of labyrinths.  Even DNA, which encodes the genetic inheritance that defines our unique identity, could be viewed as a labyrinth, the double-helix strands spiraling around each other.

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