Dear Friend of Saint Francis:
May the Lord give you Peace!
The conversion of Saint Francis of Assisi, that began by his encounter with lepers and achieved a pinnacle with the stigmata, was a steady progress of discerning the still small voice of God through the complexity of life experiences, human frailties, and deep seated desires. He became a saint through awareness of the dynamics of his personality, authenticity with regards to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and focus on what was going on inside him in relation to the world.
In many ways, this is the same pattern in the lives of all saint, and it ought to become our own. To be fully alive in the Spirit, we must be aware of our spiritual identity (“I have called you by name, you are mine.” – Is.43:1); assert the gifts with which he had endowed us (“And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more,’”- Mt.25:20); and live the purpose for which he created us (“Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call.” – Rm.9:11)
But this cannot be accomplished without shedding illusions and overcoming fears so that we can know who we are, what we are, and why we are. To do this, we must become more aware of two interdependent dimensions of human existence—our psychological dynamic and the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. One effective system for doing that is called psychosynthesis, a theory and practice of human development that was initiated by Roberto Assagioli. He embraced the radical new currents of psychoanalysis pioneered by his contemporaries Freud and Jung, but around 1910 laid the groundwork for an approach that affirms the spiritual dimension of the person, the “higher” or “transpersonal” self, in a way that coheres with traditional understandings of Christianity.
The practice of psychosynthesis challenges the individual to accept the past, appreciate the present and assume personal responsibility for the future. Its underlying personality theory is often schematized as an egg in which the “I”, or personal self, resides at the centre. The “I”, which stands at a distance from the dynamics of the personality and controls the will, is surrounded by a conscious field, in which there is a constant flow of feelings, images, thoughts and desires, around which is the mid-level unconscious, which is the source of creative and intellectual activity; it is the locus of gestation. Below is the inferior unconscious, where reside primary impulses, childhood woundedness and suppressed desires.
Above is the superior unconscious or supra-consciousness where are found deep intuitions and states of altruism and the higher faculties of the spirit. Around the egg is found the collective unconscious containing archaic and archetypical structures that remotely affect our perceptions and decisions. Finally, at the very top, straddling the boundary between the higher unconscious and the collective unconscious is the spiritual or transpersonal self, the true heart of the person.
Ultimately, psychosynthesis aims to bring together the various parts of an individual’s personality into a more cohesive self so that the person can then function in a way that is integrated, more life-affirming, authentic and faithful to what are, in effect, Christian values. The project of reconciling values after the example of Jesus Christ himself requires self-awareness, self-acceptance and commitment to self-transcendence; its objective being to achieve union with God in a manner that corresponds to the person’s unique spiritual identity or calling, a state which produces fruits of God’s own Spirit, including spiritual joy.
A human being, in his present state of evolution, is not a harmonious and coherent unity. He is made up of a mass of heterogeneous and contrasting elements grouped around different centers that are found at different levels relatively independent of each other…(These elements and centers) can be divided into two groups. Those that compose the ordinary human personality and those that constitute the superior individuality, the Soul properly so called. Now, while the ordinary joys and pleasures are felt by the personality, Spiritual Joy is the property of the individuality.
– Roberto Assagioli, Spiritual Joy
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The practice of psychosynthesis is well suited to spiritual direction precisely because it seeks to promote “a harmonious and coherent unity” in a person, the result of which is honest openness to the deepest desire of the human heart, which is to engage in meaningful and loving relationships with others, including the ultimate Other. The awareness that it fosters enables growing consciousness that results in intellectual, moral and religious conversion. Psychosynthesis promotes identification of inner spiritual conflicts and their resolution by freeing the true from the false self.
Psychosynthesis engages the entire person by drawing on all aspects of the person’s past and all hopes and apprehensions regarding the future, but it is situated more precisely in the present where the centrality of consciousness is most critical and vital. In this present, the grandeur of each existential moment is best achieved through communion with God. It is the role of the director to enable expansion of the directee’s field of consciousness and to facilitate his/her identification of interior conflicts that obscure awareness of God’s call. As awareness grows, the “I” exercises increasing control over the content of the conscious and, to a degree, mid-level unconscious through the will, which is like a muscle that must be developed to perform effectively.
The ideal state for any individual is to be free and aware enough to always act and react authentically out of his/her unique and God-given identity, purpose and attendant giftedness. Though ideal, this situation never occurs entirely. In reality, each of us carries from the earliest moments of our life wounds, fears and anxieties that color our understanding and judgement, and shape our actions. As life’s hurts accumulate, our spiritual identity becomes layered over with defence mechanisms, which are incarnated into sub-personalities. Many of these can be quite functional to the degree that they are adapted to the various circumstances of our life.
Distortions, however, inevitably occur when we identify with any of these sub-personalities, because each is necessarily incomplete and maybe even contrary to our true identity. Our true nature is to be found when the “I” is linked to our higher self. Consequently, sub-personalities are false selves. But, at any given moment, if we are not sufficiently aware of the dynamics of our personality, we are inclined to identify with any of them, particularly if these have been effective in limiting fear and anxiety. But sub-personalities cannot be effective in all circumstances and are impotent to yield true spiritual joy quite simply because they cannot be in communion with God. They can never be in dialogue with God because he is Life itself, and they are the unwitting negation of the life that he has lovingly created.
We are not unified; we often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs, and because one hand doesn’t usually hit the other. But, metaphorically, that is exactly what does happen within us. Several sub-personalities are continually scuffling: impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle.
– Assagioli, quoted in by Ferrucci in What We May Be
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While sub-personalities can detract from our true self, they reveal something of life’s circumstances as well as the deepest desires of the heart. Indeed, all sub-personalities contain a facsimile of the true self. They amplify some vital aspect to suit a situation but sever other parts in the process. These amputated parts lie hidden in the psyche but they are real and necessary. As such, they will sooner or later make their presence felt. In the process, they may create disturbing conflicts within and among dominant sub-personalities.
The less a person is aware of their existence and the interplay between them, the more anxious and agitated he/she becomes. In conflict, sub-personalities will become less and less functional, prompting degrees of dysfunction or depression, perhaps ultimately creating a crisis in the person’s physical or emotional health. Just as God is the cause and purpose of our life, breaches in communion with God sap our life of its vitality and result in behaviour that we moralistically call sin, with all its detrimental consequences.
In an article entitled Spiritual Conflicts and Crises, Assagioli writes, “(The resolution of conflicts) is a long and complex affair, composed of phases of active purification for removing the obstacles to the inflow and action of the spiritual forces; phases of development of inner faculties which had been latent or feeble; phases during which the personality must stand steady and submissive, allowing itself to be worked upon by the Spirit and bearing the inevitable suffering with courage and patience. It is a period replete with changes, alternations of light and darkness, joy and sorrow.”
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.
– 1 Peter 2: 9, 11
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May God bless you with knowledge of your name, acceptance of your giftedness, and passion for your purpose.
crib and cross Franciscan Ministries