Painting by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, hanging in Assagioli’s studio in Florence.
In his controversial essay, “The Psychology of Woman and her Psychosynthesis,” Assagioli discusses the psychological characteristics of both women and men, and how together, “each can become, psychologically, a complete human being.” He also describes in detail “womanly functions” such as the maternal function and wifely function.
In June, 2016, Piero Ferrucci related a funny story about this essay and Assagioli’s ideas concerning feminine roles. In the 1970s, Betty Friedman, author of the Feminist Mystic, came to meet Assagioli in Florence. She had a great time and during a guided meditation, the image came to her of a rainbow uniting men and women in the world. She asked for some of Assagioli’s writings to take back with her. Despite Ferrucci asking Ida Palombi, Assagioli’s secretary and associate, not to give Freidman his controversial writings on the psychology of men and women, Palombi did. And they never saw Friedman again.
“Psychosynthesis of the Couple” from Assagioli’s Archives
On Saint Valentine’s Day, we recently celebrated ‘the couple’. In fact, Assagioli viewed marriage as a work of art – a canvas where the husband and wife can learn to alternate in a variety of roles. He believed that psychosynthesis of the couple was fundamental to achieving psychosynthesis of humanity. He wrote:
“When talking about the consciousness of a group, talk above all about the human couple: man and woman and their synthesis, and about their central importance as a fundamental basis and model of inter-psychics at its most vast and complex.”
The title of this blog might seem contradictory, but in fact this is exactly what I discovered when working with my clients. My findings have recently been published in Pastoral Psychology. In this scientific peer-reviewed article, I describe how psychosynthesis counseling helped to awaken spirituality in three out of eleven clients who identified themselves as atheists. This article in its entirety is published on Open Access and is available for free. I urge you to share it with pastoral care workers that you may know.
Fundamental to psychosynthesis psychology is the idea that we all have spiritual drives as much as we have combative and sexual ones. To determine how well my clients are in touch with the spiritual part of themselves, I always ask during the initial interview “Do you have any religious or spiritual practice?” Most often, my clients say that they have no religious affiliation or belief in God and describe themselves as atheist. The following testimony is a typical response:
“I would call myself an atheist. As a scientist, I know that there is no proof showing that God exists. But I also know that there is no proof showing that He does not exist.”
Recently, I have discovered a box of notes labelled Servicein Assagioli’s Archives. This box is a treasure trove of inspiration and direction, especially as we enter this year of tremendous responsibility. What is special about most of these notes are that many of them are dated, a rarity among his archive material. Titles of folders inside this box include: “How to help” and “Simple ways of serving.”
The majority are written in Italian and first person, giving the impression that they were meant to encourage and direct himself as he began to integrate and synthesize his own life of service in the world. One of the notes is simply:
Servizio – (Mia) preparazione (Miei) compiti
Service – (My) preparation (My) tasks
Dates of the notes range from 1921—1931. This decade of Assagioli’s life was very fertile – personally, professionally, and spiritually. Assagioli was to become a mature man of 33-43 years. In 1922, he married Nella Ciapetti, and a year later became a father for the first time to his son, Francesco Ilario.
The title of this blog might be a strange one for Christmas week, a time when many of us make a special effort to help those in need, donate money to charity, and volunteer our time to a deserving cause. Given the state of our world, you might argue that “stop saving the world” seems incongruent with what the world really needs today.
“If we examine our motives with all sincerity we often discover that the reasons for our preoccupation with helping others are not as pure and noble as we thought. We begin to realize that the shining alloy, mixed with gold, also contains the base metal of vanity, presumption, proselytism, and – most subtle and concealed of all – the desire to appease our conscience so that we will have some excuse for not undertaking the hard work of inner purification.”
In his book Freedom in Jail (now available for purchase), Assagioli referred twice to the Gospel story of Martha and Mary, and even indicated that he wanted to have an Appendix that would reflect upon it. This appendix was never written, but later his eloquent essay was: “Martha and Mary: The Active Life –The Contemplative Life.” 
In this blog and the next, we will take a closer look at his essay. First of all, Assagioli asks that we read this gospel story with an open mind. So let’s begin with the story:
What can I say, as an American who has found refuge in Europe for the past 21 years? Everyone else is busy saying it all. On one side – shock, dismay, fear. On the other – glee, revenge, hope of becoming great again.
I’m afraid I saw this coming a long time ago – like 21 years ago? – and am not surprised. But it is still painful to watch. I can’t bare to hear his name ever again. And yet it will undoubtedly resound in history. Her name has quietly sunken into the “what-might-have-been” (The WMH-bin). Buried under heartache and broken pride.
Of course, this all happened because of _________________ (fill in the blank). But underneath it all, what we really have to face is the moral and spiritual crises we are in. As Assagioli wrote:
“Everything that happens is a mix of good and evil in various proportions. This is only to highlight that each aspect is equally real.”