Is free will an illusion? According to an recent article in the Guardian, about 12% of philosophers believe this to be the case. They argue that our choices are determined by forces beyond our control – perhaps even predetermined all the way back to the beginning of the universe – and that nobody is responsible for his or her actions.
From their perspective, we act only when prompted by physiological reasons. For example, we choose between eating a banana and apple due to a pattern of neurons firing in our brain that can be linked all the way back to our birth, our parents’ meeting, their births, and eventually, the birth of the cosmos. As evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, says:
“Free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics.”
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.”
Upon agreeing to be the guest editor of the latest issue of the AAP PsychosynthesisQuarterly with its theme of “Awareness and Will”, I decided to search for inspiration in Assagioli’s online archives. Luckily I found two very interesting manuscripts. Luckier still, both of these were clearly dated ‘1929.’
Most of the tens of thousands of Assagioli’s notes held in Florence are rarely dated. Rarer still are any manuscripts written before WWII, since most of Assagioli’s documents were destroyed in two separate fires during this time. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
Will Techniques Use much
Kipling’s If Learn it by
Repeat it. Live it!
It evokes the
istics of the will
– sense of time
– positive modality
In fact, Assagioli wrote this note two times, indicating that he found Rudyard Kipling’s poem from 1895 significant.
My curiosity peaked, and I quickly found the poem on the internet. My first impression was how “male” the poem felt. Written in the form of a father’s advice to his son, I found it difficult to overcome my feelings of being excluded from its message. How might this poem be different if it had ended with: “You’ll be a Woman, my daughter!”
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.
Too much to do? Running like crazy? Hardly able to take a breath? Worried about money, somebody’s health, a deadline? Awake at night with the stress by day?
Stress. When it’s chronic, it can be toxic to our body, mind, emotions and reflected in our negative behavior. But when it’s acute, stress can actually be a motivating factor for positive change.
God (or the Universe, however you want to see the world) played his usual tricks on me. A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a workshop on the “Upside of Stress” and gladly agreed. Knowing that stress is energy which can be consciously transformed into positive change, I thought, No problem! It will be fun.
But the joke was on me. God seemed to say, “Okay, Catherine, if you’re so smart and want to talk about transforming stress to 50 other souls, then let’s see what you are made of.” Wham-O! One thing seemed to come after another. Work piled up on top of work, I injured my hand and it became infected, and my taxes were due. It was all just enough to test my resolve and big, fat ideas!
Thick blue boxes wait for us at various tables throughout the villa where Assagioli once lived, worked, and studied. Some of us move to rooms where he and his wife once slept, ate, or received guests. Windows are open and dry hot breezes waif in from the street and neighboring courtyard. At first, we buzz with excitement along with a touch of anxiety, dividing ourselves amongst the boxes like kids in a candy shop or at the school library.
Boxes labeled: “The Will—Italiano,” “Transpersonal Self—English,” “Writings of others,” “Handwritten Notes of Assagioli—English” call to us. Without much thought, I sit in front of the first free box I find, one labeled “Superconscious Material—English.” I unsnap the box’s clip, unwind the protective blue cover, and discover folders and folders of material.
Reverently I open each folder. Staring back through time are onion-skinned papers lined with typed quotations, handwritten notes, various pamphlets and letters all concerning superconscious material. Suddenly I stop shifting through these pages, frozen by a simple note of Assagioli’s: “The Will of God.” It is paper-clipped to a small book on prayer written by an American minister. The book’s margins are full of penciled notes. Double vertical lines run along the edge of a paragraph he once noted, some words in the text are underlined for emphasis. The Will of God. I shudder and cry.
It is all so much, so I stop, climb the stairs to the apartment where his principal collaborator, secretary, and the first president of the Institute of Psychosynthesis after his death, Ida Palombi, once lived with her cats. I sip black coffee, ease myself into a chair on the terrace and breathe in the room’s empty silence.Continue reading →
As previously mentioned, the subpersonality integration process includes the following stages: recognition, acceptance, coordination, integration, and synthesis.
This week, let’s look at each of these stages in detail.
We begin to recognize our subpersonalities when we consciously choose to identify the different roles we are playing in different situations with different people. A good place to start is with any conflicts you might be facing at the moment. In particular, what roles seem to no longer be successfully working? For example, one client strongly identified herself with a subpersonality called Stella who wanted no problems and needed perfection, control and certainty. This subpersonality was obviously challenged by the uncertainty and ambiguities we all must face in our everyday lives.
This is an edited excerpt from my article, ‘Coping with anxiety and rebuilding identity: A psychosynthesis approach to culture shock’, published in Counselling Psychology Quarterly. I am happy to announce that it has been included in an online article collection featuring the most downloaded articles published in Routledge Behavioral Sciences journals in 2014.
The collection features the top three most downloaded articles that were published and downloaded in 2014 in each Routledge Behavioral Sciences journal.
You can download my article (along with others you might find interesting) for free until the 30th June.
Special thanks to “Maria” for allowing me to use her drawings and testimony in this post.
Usually inner conflict is a result of two or more subpersonalities clashing because they each have different needs. You can begin to recognize your subpersonalities by being honest about the roles you play in your everyday life. For example, do you always need to be perfect at everything? Then you probably have a dominant Mr or Mrs Perfect subpersonality. Do you freeze when meeting new people in social settings? Then perhaps you have a Mr or Miss Freeze subpersonality. Your subpersonalities are revealed through the different roles you play in different situations with different people.
By first recognizing your different subpersonalities, you start your journey towards creating more harmony in your life. The subpersonality process includes the following stages: recognition, acceptance, coordination, integration, and synthesis. This process does not happen overnight, but takes patience and lifelong practice.
Miss Victorious and Miss Silent
Let’s take a look at how Maria (not her real name) was able to work through the subpersonality process and integrate two conflicting, polar subpersonalities: Miss Victorious and Miss Silent. The more dominant Miss Victorious wanted to control all situations and be the best. She needed recognition and could operate in the rational world with great success. Miss Silent, on the other hand, was sensitive, deeply emotional, and more creative. She wanted acceptance for who she was and needed safety, space and time alone.