Tag Archives: spirituality

Why are Adults Doing This?

Thirty-five years ago while living in Japan, I was invited by Japanese friends to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Upon our arrival to the city, I was immediately struck by how lively and ‘normal’ it felt. Cars were zooming by, people on bicycle were rushing to their destinations, skyscrapers filled the landscape. It was difficult to imagine the horrible disaster of a nuclear bomb on the city and its 255,000 innocent inhabitants. We soon arrived to the Memorial Park, an open space with various monuments, including an eternal flame burning for peace on Earth, all beautifully decorated with long strings of origami cranes.

While I contemplated these sites, many profoundly sorrowful feelings emerged. Then suddenly a middle-aged Japanese man swooped in and was screaming in my face. Not understanding any Japanese at the time, I asked my friends to translate. Embarrassed, they roughly yet very politely urged him to go away. He was screaming at me for dropping the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.

During the start of the Iraq War, I found myself in a Beirut convent eating dinner with an Iraqi couple. We were all there for a conference on the Syriac language, my husband’s expertise. I could hardly look at this couple for all the shame I felt about my country invading theirs. “I’m so sorry,” I said as soon as the opportunity arose, “for what my country is doing to yours. I hardly know what to say to you.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” the woman assured me. “We know just how you feel. We were having dinner with Kuwaiti friends when our country invaded theirs.”

© Copyright Simon Carey

A month after the 9/11 attacks, I and my husband returned to Egypt after visiting my family in California. We had been living in Giza for the past year and were happy to return. Initially, I was afraid to even say I was American, but no one seemed to show any animosity. Except quietly behind closed doors. My neighbor was not ashamed to tell me how happy she had been to see the Twin Towers fall.  For her, Osama bin Laden had successfully brought the schoolyard bully to its knees and fear to its land. “But,” she admitted, “as an architectural student, it saddened me to see the buildings fall.”

Slavic Goddess Berehynia

It is a beautiful spring day, and I am with my husband and another couple visiting a small medieval village in Tuscany. We were standing in a piazza, enjoying the surrounding architecture, and trying to decide where to have lunch. Suddenly we hear an older man’s voice demanding an answer: “Do you think this is beautiful? Do you? Do you think this is beautiful?” We all turned to him and nodded dumbly. “During the war there was nothing here but malaria and famine.” He nearly spat out the words.
“Malaria and famine. Take that bellezza home with you.”

Peace for Ukraine, painting by Mona Shafer Edwards

One final story. I am just six years old. It is 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis is looming. Our kindergarten class has been lined up into single file and brought to the gymnasium. This is not our normal routine. We are told to sit down together on the floor. All the other elementary school kids are also there. A teacher I don’t know is talking. She is telling us how if there is a bomb, we will all gather in the gym like this and stay together. No one will be able to go home. When the bomb is dropped, we will sleep here and wait for our parents to come. We might have to wait days. I don’t understand. This all feels like a dumb thing to do. I raise my hand and wait to be called on. “Why are adults doing this?” I ask. The teacher doesn’t answer. She just looks at me.

Rabindranath Tagore

All these strong experiences have taught me the need to overcome nationalism and, above all else, hold fast to the moral spirit of humanity. Given what is happening in Europe today, we would do well to heed the words of Rabindranath Tagore, poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature. Soon after WWI, Tagore wrote and lectured worldwide against nationalism, calling on all of us to recognize our greater humanity. In his book Nationalism, he clearly states:

“Nationalism is a great menace… the time has come, for the sake of the whole outraged world. Europe should fully know in her own person the terrible absurdity of this thing called the Nation.”[1]

Tagore did not shirk from pointing out how nationalism was prevalent in his own country, causing him to meet with scorn from every side. In 1917, Tagore began speaking openly against the British Raj.[2] To the average British official, he was considered a non-cooperator who refused to ‘play the game’ of Anglo-Indian back-scratching. To the average Indian nationalist, he was un-patriotic. As his biographers note: “By not joining any group, and refusing to temper his criticisms, Tagore had become the target of all groups.”[3] In fact, he was nearly assassinated during a visit to San Francisco by Indian nationalists.

Tagore distained blind nationalism and fanaticism where “machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bullfight of politics.”[4] What he proposed instead was universal humanism, global cooperation and harmony. Tagore’s core ideas included the need for self-determination, strengthening society from below, universal man and the need for education transcending borders.[5]

Yurii Sheliazhenko

For the rest of his life, Tagore called on all peoples to create a “more human order, a finer science of life, and a spiritual republic behind world politics.”[6]

We may wonder how Tagore’s words of 100 years ago might have any relevance to us today. But nationalism is still playing a major role in the more than 20 wars ranging worldwide. One’s national identity is causing fractures even inside countries like the USA and the EU. The attitude of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ is a nationalist one.

To hear another prophetic voice like Tagore’s, I suggest going this link and listening to Yurii Sheliazhenko, the executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and a board member of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection. He says:

“Instead of breaking the last bonds of humanity out of rage, we need more than ever to preserve and strengthen venues of communication and cooperation between all people on Earth.”

References

[1] Rabindranath Tagore, 1917. Nationalism. Norwood Press: USA. 1917, p. 133. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/stream/nationalism00tagorich#page/14/mode/2up

[2] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, London, Bloomsbury, 1995

[3] Ibid., 285-6.

[4] Tagore, Nationalism, 48.

[5] Sneha Reddy, Tagore in the time of war 1913-1919, in World War I Centenary (2017). Retrieved from http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/?p=4020

[6] Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study, London, MacMillan and Co. Limited, 1915, 20.

A Spiritual Warrior for Human Rights

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 1965 file photo, Fannie Lou Hamer, of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington after the House of Representatives rejected a challenger to the 1964 election of five Mississippi representatives. (AP Photo/William J. Smith, File)

February is black history month in the U.S., and I recently learned about Fannie Lou Hamer, an inspiring and heroic woman who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, class rights, and overall human rights. What caught my attention was that her courageous fight against oppression was motivated by a spiritual awakening that she had at the age of 44.

During her lifetime, Hamer was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of poverty-strickened people through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative.

Hamer (1917-1977) was the last of 20 children born to a sharecroppers in Mississippi. Tricked into picking cotton when she was only six, the owner of the plantation promised her snacks and sweets that her family could not afford from his store. She only attended school until the 6th grade, having to return to the fields to help support her aging parents. By age 13, she would pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily while living with polio.

In 1944, she married Perry Hamer and the couple toiled on a Mississippi plantation. Because Hamer was the only worker who could read and write, she also served as plantation timekeeper. The Hamers wanted to have children, but in 1961, Fanny Lou received a hysterectomy by a white doctor without her consent while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor. The Hamers later adopted two daughters.

In the summer of 1964, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was the first time she learned that black people had the right to vote. Hamer’s biographer, Dr. Keisha N. Blain says that, at that moment, Hamer found her calling. Blain explains:

“It was certainly a political awakening for Hamer, but it also was a spiritual awakening.

“She felt that it was God’s plan for her to become an activist and take a leading role in the expansion of black political rights.

“The one reason that she never gave up despite all she had to struggle through was that she really believed that ‘God was on her side.’ She truly believed that it was not so much a political mission, but a spiritual one. She saw herself ‘speaking light into a world of darkness’.”

Once the owner of the farm where she worked learned that she had tried to register to vote (which was initially denied because of a trumped up ‘literacy test’), she was immediately fired. Despite having to move house, loose most of her possessions, and ultimately flee for her life, Hamer was free to pursue her calling. Reflecting later, she said “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

Hamer is perhaps most famous for her speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention during which she described her brutal beating in a Mississippi jail during her struggle to register to vote. President Lyndon Johnson was so frightened by the power of her message that he called an impromptu televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech was later aired and inevitably moved even Johnson and many others to help pass the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Hamer speaking at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

During Hamer’s time as an activist, she traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on behalf of civil rights. Woven into her speeches was a deep level of confidence, biblical knowledge, and even comedy. One of her famous lines, that appears on her tombstone, is “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She often inspired other activists with her singing of spiritual Gospel songs during times of great stress and even terror.

In 1964, Hamer was one of the 11 SNCC delegates (including John Lewis and Harry Belefonte) who visited Ghana. The visit was revolutionary for her, for she saw for the first time black people in charge of their own destiny, including holding positions of political power. (Hamer would run for both for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971.) After a three-hour interview with the Diallo Alpha, Director General of the Ministry for Information and Tourism, Hamer received a musical instrument only found in Africa.

In the end, Hamer grew frustrated with politics. She said she was “tired of all this beating” and “there’s so much hate. Only God has kept the Negro sane”. A great cook and knowledgeable about growing crops and raising animals, in 1968, she returned to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, and began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, buying up land that blacks could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors, she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She single-handedly ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today.

Hamer may be remembered best as a civil rights activist, but she was foremost a spiritual warrior. Her faith and calling is what sustained her. Hamer was convinced that God was working through the civil rights movement to usher in the Kingdom of God.  Her favorite Bible passage was from the Gospel of Luke 4:18:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he as sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

In the end, Hamer died of breast cancer after suffering for many years with various physical illinesses, some sustained from her beatings. May God rest her soul.

May God grant us all the her spiritual strength to preserver in whatever area of activism we are called upon to passionately undertake.

Discover More about Fanny Lou Hamer

Read the speech Hamer gave with Malcolm X in Harlem, New York.

Read the full report of the SNCC visit to Ghana.

Read an article about Hamer’s pastoral and prophetic styles of leadership as acts of public prayer by Breanne K. Barber.

Buy Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Dr. Keisha N. Blain 

Search for more information on Fanny Lou Hammer in the digital collection at the University of Southern Mississippi

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

Searching for Funghi, Finding Myself

Now is the time to walk into the Italian hillsides and search for edible mushrooms. Nearly twenty years ago, I experienced my first expedition for these savory funghi while living in Italy. During this search, I realized how much my life had changed. Signora Maria was partly to thank for this revelation, for it was she who invited me to venture into the bosco (forest) with her to search for funghi.

I have recently had a story published about this adventure entitled Sacred Journeys: Buried Treasure. This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Unity Magazine; unitymagazine.org.

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Establishing Spiritual Airways

PrayerflagsYesterday was the World Day of Psychosynthesis and more than 150 people interested in Roberto Assagioli’s vision of psychosynthesis celebrated in an event hosted by two Swedish groups, Psykosyntesföreningen and Psykosyntesförbundet along with the European Psychosynthesis Association (EPA).

The day is meant to establish a spiritual connection between everyone who is generating and working with psychosynthesis concepts and techniques. Each of us is encouraged to take time during the day to reflect on how psychosynthesis is a living, evolving idea that can be successfully applied through many formats and in various contexts.

This day was inspired by a note that Assagioli wrote. What is special about this particular note is that it is dated, something relatively rare to find on his thousands of archived notesA copy of the Assagioli’s original note appears below along with its transcription. Continue reading

A Spring Breeze of Religious Experience

The spiritual philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Bengali poet and Nobel Prize winner of Literature in 1913, and Roberto Assagioli are remarkably similar in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the Infinite Self and the personal self.

While deriving from diverse cultural and linguistic inheritances, the spiritual philosophies of each man underwent a similar evolutionary process. To begin with, both men grounded their philosophy in the moments when they were able to touch the Infinite, becoming intensely conscious of it through the illumination of joy.

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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.

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Celebrating Women in Psychosynthesis

Olga Froebe Studio Assagioli

A spiritual portrait of Assagioli painted by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.

Assagioli is often criticized for his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis.” in which he describes “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and the wifely function. His recognition of the differences between men and women in this essay can cause anxiety among psychosynthesis psychologists today.

But in a 1965 lecture on the same topic, Assagioli explains why this subject raises our suspicion and/or fear. He says that many people think that when you recognize these differences, that you are implying that men are better than women. These differences, however, do not imply that women are of less value or inferior to men. Assagioli actually said such thinking is “simply stupid”! Continue reading

Book Announcement: The First in a Series

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am happy to announce the publication of A Free and Wild Creature: Women, Service and Motherhood.

Book Cover I am a Wild CreatureThis book is a selection of blogs that have appeared on this website from 2014 to 2019. As the past five years have flown by, these bi-monthly reflections followed each other without any thought on my part to their cohesion or continuity. They simply captured moments in time – concerns, joys, wonder, delight, and sorrow.

And yet, while preparing this series of four small books, the reflections seemed to have mysteriously folded into one another. Like the flotsam washed ashore by the sea, these reflections seemed to have divided themselves by weight, roundness, shape and tone. 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