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A Mystic’s Gift

Evelyn-Underhill

Evelyn Underhill

Recently I wrote about Sorella Maria – “A Wild and Free Creature”, who founded a small Franciscan community in the heart of Umbria. While further exploring the life of this inspiring spiritual pioneer, I discovered that Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also visited the Hermitage of Campello in 1927 (a place that we too will visit on September 20 during  Journey to Places of the Higher Self). (You can read the essay Underhill wrote for The Spectator about her visit, A Franciscan Hermitage.)

According to Underhill’s biographer Dana Greene, this one-day visit was fundamental to her decision to return to active participation in the Anglican Church in which she had been baptized and confirmed. She wrote:

“Certainly nothing has ever brought me so near to the real Franciscan spirit as a few hours spent in the Vale of Spoleto with a little group of women who are trying to bring back to modern existence the homely, deeply supernatural and quite unmonastic ideal of the Primitive Rule.”

By the time Underhill paid a visit to the Hermitage, she had already published her best-selling book Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. This book, published in 1911, reclaimed mysticism as part of the human condition. In her 500+ page book (with more than 1000 footnotes), she explored for the first time in a systematic and scholarly way mysticism throughout the ages and across cultures, nations, and religions. While she focused on mysticism in Christianity, she also examined Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems. She defined mysticism as:

“The expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order, whatever be the theological formula under which it is to be understood.”

Her rich work explores mysticism from the perspectives of psychology, theology, symbolism and magic (to name a few). Ultimately, she draws the conclusion that mysticism is open to everyone. Anyone can be grasped and transformed by Divine Love.

Assagioli extensively refers to Underhill’s book in his writings. While searching in his online archives, I was actually stunned by how much he appreciated her scholarship and understanding of the transcendent. Underhill saw the soul’s mystic journey as a series of five states: awakening, purification, illumination, the dark night of the soul, and union.

Assagioli’s notes that refer to Underhill mention these states, as well as many other transpersonal qualities. Here are just a few examples:

 

 

Similar notes by Assagioli in which he refers to Underhill, include these topic headings:

Illuminative Way Reality
Divine Comedy Joy
Self Being
Will Intuition
Contemplation Inspiration
Aesthetic Way Spiritual Beauty
Intellectual Way Immanence
Regeneration Mystical Dialogue
Receptivity

Besides being a writer, theologian, mystic, and spiritual director, Underhill was also a radical pacifist in the late 1930s when Europe was seeing the rise of fascism. During the same time, Assagioli was actively participating and leading international pacifist meetings. By 1935 he was under surveillance for this activity and ultimately his pacifist stance was the reason for his arrest in 1940. Ida Palombi, who would later become his secretary and collaborator, tells how government agents would frequently “wander about, stop and look inside” Assagioli’s home in Rome while he conducted meetings. By 1939, Assagioli was under even stricter surveillance and his meetings were being recorded.

015491 Quote in Italian on Illumination Underhill

Assagioli’s note referencing Underhill’s book Mysticism. “Illumination. A sudden, intense, joyous, perception of an immanent God of the Universe, of the divine beauty and of this ineffable splendor in which the individual is immersed.”

Therefore, I found it quite poignant to also find Underhill’s article “Meditation on Peace” in Assagioli’s archives, published in November 1939. He must have appreciated its message, which is timeless and remains wise today. But this message is not an easy one to swallow. Underhill insists that a true pacifist must see all of Creation as an “object of cherishing care.” All of Creation includes:

“The violent as well as the peaceful… The Government as well as the Opposition, the Sinners as well as the Saints. Some inhabitants of this crowded nursery are naughty, some stupid, some wayward, some are beginning to get good. All are immersed in the single tide of creative love which pours out from the heart of the universe and though the souls of self-abandoned men…”

Well, you might say that the “nursery” is still full of all these naughty, stupid, and wayward children, along with a few of us trying to “get good.” Thank goodness for that saving grace – the “tide of creative love” pouring out from the heart of the universe! But Underhill doesn’t let us stop and rest there. She immediately calls upon us to move higher, and the climb is not an easy one:

“We are called to renounce hostile attitudes and hostile thoughts towards even our most disconcerting fellow sinners; to feel as great a pity for those who do wrong as for their victims, to show an equal generosity to the just and to the unjust.”

These words could easily have been written by Assagioli himself. While in Regina Coeli prison and afterwards, Assagioli never renounced his captors, embodying Underhill’s call for meditative peace all his life.

Eremo delle Allodole 2

Entrance lane to the Hermitage of Campello

When Underhill met Sorella Maria, they spent time together sitting quietly in the Umbrian woods.  Underhill made the point to ask Sorella Maria, whose friendship she counted as one of her greatest privileges, about her conceptions of the spiritual life. Underhill found the response “startlingly at variance with the peaceful surroundings”:

In tormento e travaglio servire I fratelli. In torment and with great effort, to serve your brothers and sisters.”

Perhaps this is the greatest gift of any mystic – to first recognize the profound sense of pain and need of the world and acknowledge one’s passionate desire to help it. To then maintain the love and will needed to bare the tremendous tension between one’s inner peace alongside such suffering. To quietly stand as a witness. Humbly radiate Love. Silently offer heartfelt prayer. And attempt, in whatever way possible, courageous action.


Here is another article about the relationship between Underhill and Sorella Maria: “Discovering Sister Maria” by A.M. Alchin.

Click here to read a lecture Assagioli gave at the Third Summer Session of the International Centre of Spiritual Research at Ascona, Switzerland, in August 1932, in which he extensively quotes Underhill’s work.

San-Ni-Ichi

Peak Experience3 ClombardTranspersonal experiences have blessed my life for many years. Perhaps one of the earliest and strongest occurred in 1987 while I was living in Japan. After graduating from UC Berkeley, I moved to Fukuyama, about 400 miles south of Tokyo to teach English.

Before I left, my brother gave me the name and address of Takashi (not his real name), a friend of his from business school who lived in Tokyo. Soon after settling in, I contacted Takashi and introduced myself. He replied with the suggestion that I meet him in Kyoto where he was planning a business trip. During the weekend, he would have time to accompany me through the ancient capital city.

I happily agreed to this idea. Kyoto is renown for its numerous temples and shrines. Surrounded by mountains and graced with bamboo gardens and philosopher paths, Kyoto seems to hold the essence of Japan. With a guiding hand, I hoped to touch this essence. Continue reading

Places of the Higher Self

Five-day Journey Through the Green Heart of Italy

September 18-23, 2017

Assagioli at camadoli

We will visit the Camaldoli Hermitage near Florence. Here is a photo of Roberto Assagioli (fourth from the left) outside of this same hermitage (courtesy of Fernando Maraghini).

In our everyday lives we are often too busy, distracted, or caught in the mundane to be open to the places of the Higher Self. Throughout history and across cultures, our ancestors have always created ritual space and time for the transpersonal to enter into the ordinary. Such holy places are often located on mountaintops and deep inside caves, in silent havens and in nature. Churches, temples, and mosques have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience. As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has also always played a great part along this journey to our Higher Self.

La Verna, Italy

La Verna, Italy

Continuing with the theme of “Synthesis,” after the International Meeting at Casa Assagioli, we embark on a Journey to the Higher Self. Starting from Florence, we travel east to visit medieval churches and mountain hermitages, allow our souls to soar from La Verna, discover beautiful villages and, of course, enjoy the cucina locale. During this five-day journey, you will have a chance to discover places of transcendence in the green heart of Italy – in the forest-covered Tuscan and Umbrian Apennines, the home of many generations of seekers and saints of the transpersonal.

The journey is especially meant to be an open voyage of discovery and a direct personal experience of all that presents itself during its various stages. We will go slowly and quietly, allowing you the time and space necessary to directly experience the reality of the Higher Self, the key part of you that connects the personal with the transpersonal and, hence, the personal with the universal.

DSC01520This journey promises to be a fonte of inspiration for anyone seeking the Higher Self in the natural beauty and surroundings of Italy. We hope to provide you with a journey that might help transform and strengthen you when you ultimately return to your daily life.

This trip is organized and hosted by Catherine Ann Lombard and Kees den Biesen, the guides and facilitators.

Cost: € 985.00 per person. For more information and registration, see A Journey to Places of the Higher Self.

Beauty – Where Spirit and Matter Converge

John
As an expression of beauty, awe, and awakening, art has always played a great part along our journey to our Higher Self. Throughout the world, holy places have been built to hold the polar tensions of spirit and matter, inner and outer space and light, as well as the community that shares the transcendent experience within the architectural space.

Assagioli noted that:

“Matter is the highest form of Spirit and Spirit is the lowest form of Matter.”

In this way, spirit seeks matter to express the full beauty of the transcendent. Assagioli also noted that Plato, Plotinus, and Christian mystics have recognized and proclaimed that “beauty is the essential attribute of the Supreme.”

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Parisian Love Lessons

Dear Readers,
     August is the time most Europeans are on holiday, so I thought we would also take a break from psychosynthesis and travel to Paris …


This is just the first floor! You need a degree in Satellite Mapping Technology to find your way in the Louvre.

Paris. A big city of grid-like streets lined with pale-yellow palatial buildings which all loom above me seven-stories high. I feel like an ant scurrying between these 19th century edifices of glory as I and my husband run for four days between every tourist site in town— The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre …

We are not alone, but followed by throngs of tourists (28 million per year!) seeking…what? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what I am seeking. A Parisian experience? A glimpse at artistic genius? Alluring romance? Haute cuisine?

I suppose I am not seeking anything … I can only tell you what I found.

Luxembourg Park, Paris

Luxembourg Park, a nice place to lose one’s way …

The first evening upon our arrival, we strolled through the holiday-packed Luxembourg Gardens where some things remain simply and quintessentially French. Older men (and even a few women) were playing jeu de boules under shaded trees and beside them, standing in the open air, was a coat rack so the players could properly hang their jackets.

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