In 1973, after four years at the Esalen Institute in idyllic Big Sur California and training there as a Gestalt Therapist, something was deeply missing for me. In spite of the journey of self- development, working with many great teachers and living in a therapeutic community. I was not happy or fulfilled and the goals that I had strived so hard to reach felt empty and meaningless. Was I just an isolated individual working on my own development to become the best me possible? Was this all there was? Even more troubling, was looking around the world and seeing unthinkable suffering, man’s striking cruelty to each other, children suffering and the annihilation of nature. I thought I needed a change of such overwhelming magnitude, that I was stuck.
We humans often think that to change our outer circumstances will create a change on our inner world – we change jobs, partners in life, houses, and geographical locations in our naive attempt to find meaning – when actually we are being called to make an inner change. No amount of manipulation of our outer world will fulfill the longing and divine homesickness that we are experiencing.
No amount of manipulation of our outer world will fulfill the longing and divine homesickness that we are experiencing.
For me, it was a first trip to Europe and to Italy, where my family comes from and where I heard that there was this old man who was magical in his impact on others and on bringing them home to themselves. Nothing to lose, I booked in to meet this Roberto Assagioli guy, the father of this weird thing called psychosynthesis, of which I knew little. From the moment I met this man, I knew that my life was changed forever and would never be the same. What he awakened in me was both astounding and irrevocably transformative. With him I was lifted onto my own wings of aspiration into a world that was so utterly different than the self- centered personal development world of a therapeutic community. After all, the Gestalt prayer is:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
(Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, 1969)
Of course Perls meant that only by fulfilling our own needs can people help others do the same and create space for genuine contact; that is, when they ‘find each other, it’s beautiful’; But in the 1970’s, I’m afraid the ‘if not, it can’t be helped’ was more dominant and our fundamental interconnectedness was lost.
My world enlarged beyond its earlier confines and I became aware that my life was meaningless unless I was in some way connected to the larger whole, in service of something greater and contributing to both the redemption of pain and the evocation of potential. This awakening was Assagioli’s gift to me. However, real jewel was his philosophy and system that provided me with the principles, methodology and tools to express and live all that was awakened in me.
For the inner conflicts that I experienced between different parts of myself – there was his model of multiplicity in the personality – Subpersonalities. There was the me that wanted to be loved and accepted and equally strong, there was the me that wanted to go out into the world and make my mark. These two characters often quarreled because they fundamentally needed and wanted different things.
For experiencing that who I really was – is more than this orchestra of different voices inside me, there was disidentification and finding the place inside that was never changing, my Being. (Today called mindfulness) For the myriad of peak experiences and moments of transcendence, there was the model of the human being which included our higher aspirations, altruistic tendencies, need for meaning and purpose, and our interconnectedness – what Assagioli called the Superconscious.
I found the place in me, simply called ‘the Self’ in psychosynthesis, that was beyond all psychospiritual content and was until then, an unimagined depth of Being. I discovered that spirituality is to be found in darkness as well as light – that my challenges and issues were not the result of mere inadequacy or childhood conditioning, but were also intimately connected with my spiritual journey.
I found the place in me, simply called ‘the Self’ in psychosynthesis, that was beyond all psychospiritual content
In short, the positivity with which psychosynthesis approached the human condition; the tools it provided for psychospiritual growth; the reframing of pathology into steps forward along the path; the vast strands that Assagioli wove with both eastern mysticism and western psychology to create a comprehensive model of the richness of Being Human profoundly contributed to who I am
today. Contained within this model there is no dogma, no doctrine, and no ‘isms’ to be adopted. There is not a Truth to be adopted, but a generous exploration of finding one’s own trust and belonging in the universe. His ethos and values stressed that our growth and development needs to be empirical – that is, it needs to fit and be congruent with our experience. If not, he said, ‘chuck it out’.
After over 35 years with this model which I have applied both therapeutically in counselling and psychotherapy but also socially with disengaged young people through the founding of two educational charities – I continue to be grateful for this amazing gift that I was given as a young woman which has made my life rich with meaning, with service to others and unbelievably alive and colourful.