Tag Archives: spiritual

The War Paradox

good and evilHe was a big, well-built man with thick thighs like huge whales, breaching towards the airplane seat in front of him. He ended up sitting in the aisle next to me. We were thrown together that afternoon, only after some confusion and switching of airplane seats. Because of his size, I thought he wanted more space, but he quickly confessed he needed to sit in the aisle because he was claustrophobic.

“My doctor says I should see a psychologist, but he also gave me some drops to calm me down.” The words rushed out in a torrid as he jumped up to retrieve the prescriptive drug from his jacket in the overhead bin.

“Well, you’re in luck,” I said smiling once he settled down (sort of). “I’m a psychologist!”

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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.

Darkness Inside

For most of us, these days are more than just physically dark. We can also become lost and overwhelmed in all the expectations of the season. The shopping, planning, cooking, baking, wrapping, cards, music, school plays, church concerts. The running and stress, travel and traffic, not to mention all the money worries.

Typically, we are expected to spend time with our families, with the idea that everyone should be happily singing songs around a piano or opening perfect presents or eating gourmet meals. But our reality may actually lead us to feeling only more lonely and unsatisfied. Under pressure by the media and our own unreal expectations, many of us become depressed this time of year and some of us may even feel suicidal.

Assagioli's notes on polarities.

Assagioli’s notes on polarities.

Darker still are the constant reminders, between the tinsel and flashing lights, of the pain and suffering in the world. Not to mention, of course, our own pain and suffering. How can we possibly feel Joy? The entire season can feel like a sham. Bah Humbug! Where is the Higher Self in all this tragic mess?

Balancing Darkness with Light

Simon and Garfunkel once recorded a song called 7:00 News/Silent Night,” in which the familiar carol is quietly and beautiful sung. At first dimly, then more clearly and loudly, we simultaneously hear the voice of a newscaster dispassionately announcing the kind of violent and terrible news we are all too familiar with. Even though, at the end, the voice of the announcer seems to overwhelm the song, the tender voices unceasingly sing – they are not even faintly shaken.

One could experience this song as another symbol of despair – the submergence once again of peace and joy in the harsh violence of our day. But when listened to in its wholeness, the song expresses the reality that light does shine in the darkness. If we tune into the song of peace, we will be able to hear its still small voice singing clearly under the din of the crowd.

Light and dark. Joy and hatred. These are two of the many polarities that exist in the world. Our job is to learn to live with their tension in order to transform and synthesize their energies into a higher reality. Assagioli says that this process is analogous to a chemical combination when two elements are absorbed into a higher unity endowed with qualities different from what each individual element has.

Transforming Opposites into a Synthesis

The idea is to balance these opposites, hold their creative tension, and give space for a completely new and higher entity to be born. You do this by first being with the violent darkness but not identify with it. Then be with the joyful light and not identify with it either. Finally, we need to be with all that is and hold an objective understanding of the tensions between them in order to creatively seek wholeness.

Assagioli insisted that the mid-way point between two opposites is not static inside us, but rather in “a state of continuous oscillation.” We can actually experience this oscillation between Darkness and Light when we listen to the song “7:00 News/Silent Night.”

Once we can hold onto this mid-way point, then psychosynthesis can occur. It is a wise person who can play with opposites and watch with awe as they awaken and manifest into a complete formed higher quality.

So during these dark days before Christmas, practice hanging on and letting go. Hang onto the dark, and then let it go. Then hang onto the light, and let it go. Try to stand in the mid-way point by expressing Human Affection during this season. Then wait quietly and patiently for the advent of Spiritual Love that is quietly, calming, and ceaselessly singing in the world’s chaos.

God’s Smiling Wisdom

Patriarch Circle

His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch

Recently I ran right into God’s sense of humor. As always, it quietly snuck up on me. Even as I write this, I am shaking my head and smiling at how clever and creative God can be at broadening my inadequate perspective on the world.

It all started with an idea I had for the Sunday School at the local Syrian Orthodox Church where I have been helping out for the last two years. The entire functioning of the Sunday School is chaotic. Five dedicated women have been trying to offer guidance to the children who descend on them every Sunday morning. Sometimes there are only one or two women to supervise, guide and handle more than 30 children of all ages (4-12) who show up at irregular intervals during the two-hour mass.

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What You Put in Your Glass

Ramadan Lanterns. Photo by B. Simpson

Ramadan Lanterns. Photo by B. Simpson

Ramadan this year started on June 18th. In 2001, my husband and I were living in Giza, right in front of the pyramids. A few months after 9/11, Ramadan began and we were blessed with a special experience.

The days before Ramadan in Cairo are filled with anticipation. Paper and tinsel streamers appear across inner courtyards and wide roads. Lanterns and miniature mosques made of everything from crepe paper to recycled tin are hung and lit at night. Everyone waits for the sliver of moon to appear and to hear the official news announcing the start of the 30-day fast.

“Ten days eating. Ten days cake. Ten days new clothes. This is what they say about Ramadan,” Mr. Ashraf told us the night he drove my husband and I to his home for Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daylong fast.

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Does Money Matter? Sending Help to Nepal

Nepal aid piled up.

Nepal aid piles up while our prayers arrive instantly.

Perhaps you find yourself overwhelmed at times with all the requests for financial help that seem to bombard you. Walking downtown in a major city, you might be asked for money from a stranger or find a beggar sitting along the road with a sign for help. At that moment, we are often besieged with existential questions. What should I do? How can I really help? How much money is enough? Will the money help at all?

Soon after the news of the earthquake in Nepal, my husband and I did send money (along with our prayers) to an organization that was helping with relief efforts. As you may know, humanitarian aid is still having trouble reaching those in need, as NGOs face massive logistical difficulties, including Nepalese custom regulations. It does seem that our prayers have become more valuable than our money, able to arrive instantly beyond the roadblocks and border controls.

Currently, I am a support member of an international Christian fellowship, and we are working through financial requests from various charities. There seems to be no end to the need for money! Money to rebuild homes in flooded Malawi, to pay for a young man’s education in India, a school for orphans in Indonesia, Ebola health workers in Senegal. And, of course, now for those suffering in Nepal. The list seems infinite. How can we possibly choose what cause to support?

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Does Prayer Matter? Sending Help to Nepal

Prayer flags    earthquake Kathmandu. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. www.galuzzi.it

Prayer flags flying before the earthquake in Kathmandu. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. http://www.galuzzi.it

Immediately before dying by firing squad in Indonesia, eight men convicted of drug trafficking sang Amazing Grace. On the same day, across the globe in Baltimore, Maryland, a large crowd gathered in the riot-torn streets of their city to also sing Amazing Grace. I was moved to learn about these simultaneous events and particular struck by their media coverage on BBC news.

These past days, I have been praying for the Nepalese people caught under rubble, trenched by rain and hovering in makeshift tents in the middle of Kathmandu, fearful every time another aftershock unrattles their trust in the earth under their feet. Last Christmas a good friend who just returned from Nepal on business brought me a stream of colorful prayer flags. Since then, these prayer flags have hung across my terrace roof tagging along with the white grape vine that is just starting to burst with leaves.

I imagine my prayers leaping off my lips onto these colorful square pieces of cloth and then flying home to Nepal. In the Tibetan tradition, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, but rather the prayers are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.

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Imagine All the People …

Plastic WorldSomeone is holding a large plastic globe over my head while I stand in front of about 750 people and welcome them in English to the Friedensfest or Peace Festival. The afternoon has started with various citizens welcoming the crowd in German, Arabic, Turkish, Aramaic, Kurdish, Dutch, Russian, French and Persian. During the past year, 700 refugee families from Syria and Iraq have descended upon our small German town of Gronau, nestled against the eastern Dutch border. More than 90 languages are spoken among a population of 45,000. In stark contrast to the anti-immigration movement of Pegida in Eastern Germany, today we celebrate our differences as well as try to raise money for those left behind in Sengal and Kobane.

Outside in the drizzling rain, men from the Yazidi community are grilling meats while the women fill plates with cut tomatoes and onion salad. I am struck that ‘Yazidi’ is no longer an idea but suddenly a smiling human before me. Inside the hall, Turkish children are circle-dancing to traditional songs. Other children bob their heads to the music while folding paper into origami birds or dipping their hands into paint and printing their palms.

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When Spirit and Matter Converge – Synchronicity

IMG_2149Most of us have experienced two or more events that seemed to converge in our lives in a peculiar and perhaps disturbing, yet wondrous way. For example, you might be thinking of someone you’ve lost touch with years ago, and suddenly she contacts you. Jung, along with the physicist Pauli, defined such instances as synchronistic events, a series of meaningful coincidences of events that go beyond the probability of them actually happening.

Jung and Assagioli had a long-term professional and friendly relationship that began in 1907 and lasted until Jung’s death in 1961. Assagioli acknowledges Jung’s term ‘synchronicity’ in his unpublished notes found in his archive. He mentions synchronicity as a way to understand the “correspondence between the date of the positions of the stars [astrology] and the psychological characteristics” of a person.[1]

Jung, along with the physicist Pauli,   developed the idea of synchronicity.

Jung, along with the physicist Pauli,developed the idea of synchronicity.

While counseling clients, I have often experienced synchronistic events and have come to understand them as spirit seeking matter. Many people believe that spirit and matter are dualistic in nature – that spirit is ‘higher’ than matter, which throughout various cultures and time has inevitably led humankind to identify matter with evil. From my own experience, I believe that spirit actually needs matter to express itself, and the two are best when joined together in a higher revelation of universal life meaning. Synchronicity is one form of that higher expression, as are symbols and symbolic thought. Continue reading

The Passion of Everyday

Women at the Tomb from a Syriac Gospel, Northern Iraq

For Western Christians around the world, this is Passion Week. (Eastern Christians celebrate next week.) Believers commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, his crucifixion, death and resurrection. In Spain, there are elaborate and nightlong processions of masked penitents heaving gigantic statues depicting the suffering of Jesus and Mary. When I was living in Italy, I once had a friend visiting me who, after a day of sightseeing in Rome, said quite candidly, “I’m tired of every time I go into a church, I have to look at statue of a man being tortured and nailed to a cross.”

What might we understand from this disturbing image that seems to simultaneously fascinate and repel? First of all, it’s important to see the complete picture of the Passion. The story does not end with the crucifixion, but actually starts there. The Passion is only complete with the resurrection, but we tend to ignore this essential part of the story, preferring to dwell on the murderous nature of Jesus’ death. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this just what the media does? Burying the good news until it’s impossible to see?

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The Calendar is Round

A discarded ship container is recycled into a children's library.

A discarded ship container is recycled into a children’s library.

One of my friends in Japan emailed to wish me a happy birthday. “In Japan, turning 60 is a special birthday,” she wrote. “We call it “Calendar Round” or 還 暦  (kanreki).”

“More like Body Round!” I wrote back jokingly. But this idea of coming full circle intrigued me. Calendar Round comes from the sexagenary cycle of the Chinese calendar dating back to 2000 B.C. This calendar has 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches. Since 60 is the first number that both 10 and 12 can divide, the cycle is considered complete after sixty years.

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