Dante's Path: A Practical Approach to Achieving Inner Wisdom

Overview

Two pioneers in holistic psychology show how to heal mind and spirit, using Dante's Divine Comedy as a metaphor for personal growth.

Bringing a unique Western approach to the quest for enlightenment, Dante's Path addresses such struggles as depression, anxiety, and addiction through a brilliant lens called psychosynthesis. Conceived by Italian psychotherapist Roberto Assagioli, who was a student of Sigmund Freud and colleague of Carl Jung, psycho-synthesis embraces spirituality ...

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Overview

Two pioneers in holistic psychology show how to heal mind and spirit, using Dante's Divine Comedy as a metaphor for personal growth.

Bringing a unique Western approach to the quest for enlightenment, Dante's Path addresses such struggles as depression, anxiety, and addiction through a brilliant lens called psychosynthesis. Conceived by Italian psychotherapist Roberto Assagioli, who was a student of Sigmund Freud and colleague of Carl Jung, psycho-synthesis embraces spirituality as a key component of mental health. Dante's Path draws on Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy (of which Assagioli was a devotee) as a rich metaphor for the challenge of escaping from fear-based instincts (Dante's Hell), into a place of personal transformation (Purgatory), then into the confidence of finding life's higher purpose (his Pilgrim's Paradise).

With specific exercises, such as guided imagery and meditations, Dante's Path leads readers on a unique step-by-step journey for building an ongoing relationship with their guiding inner wisdom. The Schaubs have used this holistic method to successfully treat hundreds of patients for over thirty years.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The authors are practitioners of a form of holistic psychology called "psychosynthesis," which was founded by Roberto Assagioli when he, along with Carl Jung, began developing the field of transpersonal psychology as a way to bring spirituality into the psychoanalytic movement. But you don't have to be a proponent of psychosynthesis to enjoy this book, because it is less a guidebook and more an interpretive reading of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy as Assagioli saw it, as a metaphor for his psychoanalytic approach that stressed the process of first dealing with one's fears of mortality (Hell), then developing a sense of the power of one's spirituality (Purgatory), and finally experiencing the "loving force" of the spiritual or "universal energy" in one's daily life through access to one's higher self or "wisdom mind." Throughout, the authors offer helpful sidebars detailing mental exercises, especially forms of applied meditation and imagery, to help people access their higher self-"a creative process in which, through a series of discoveries, your experience of who you are is gradually expanded." The book's real success is in providing a fascinating interpretation of Dante's masterpiece-and the movement of Dante from the "dark wood" to the beatific image of his beloved Beatrice-in a way that is sensitive to the work itself and doesn't use The Divine Comedy merely as an advertisement for the authors' psychoanalytic approach. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592400294
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/15/2003
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Bonney Gulino Schaub, M.S., R.N., is one of the country's foremost practitioners of holistic nursing. Richard Schaub, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and teaches meditation and clinical imagery. They direct the New York Psychosynthesis Institute and lead numerous seminars for both professional and general audiences.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

THE EXPERIENCE OF MORE

You have within you all the potential for a special relationship that is waiting to be realized right now. It is the relationship between your everyday personality and a deep source of internal wisdom. Sometimes, at night, you might experience this wisdom as knowledge or guidance you receive in your dreams. Sometimes, during the day, a word or phrase or passing mental image might indicate that your internal wisdom is trying to get through to your conscious self. And, on some occasions, in a moment of true grace, an abundance of internal wisdom might break through to your awareness and illuminate reality more fully than you have ever seen it before.

Around the world and throughout the ages, people have been searching for ways to access this internal wisdom in order to experience the benefits it has to bestow. Tapping into that wisdom will reveal your purpose for living, your destiny, and with that new understanding your fears will relax, the right choices about the directions of your life will become obvious, you will live with greater peace, and more love will flow to and from your mind and heart.

There are many names for this deep source of wisdom. It is the mysticís vision, the artistís muse, the scientistís intuition. The Old Testament prophets received it by seeing visions and hearing voices: Elijah referred to it as ìthe still small voice within,î and when Moses ascended the mountain to receive wisdom about how to lead his people and asked for a name by which to call the source of his guidance, he was told only, ìTell them that ëI Amí sent you.î Tibetan Buddhists call this internal wisdom prajna. The Zen tradition refers to the ìinner reason of the universe which exists in each mind.î Gandhi meditated in order to receive guidance from what he called ìthe inner lightî of universal truth. In the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous it is the ìHigher Power.î

Dante, in The Divine Comedy, his masterful poetic description of spiritual seeking, personified inner wisdom as his female guide, Beatrice. Carl Jung referred to it as ìthe Self.î And our own teacher, Dr. Roberto Assagioli, called it the ìhigher selfî and founded a school of modern psychology, which he called ìpsychosynthesis,î to develop a human science of the higher self, because it was his belief, as it is ours, that access to this higher self could be studied and taught as a practical, scientific fact. We have come to call it the ìwisdom mindî in order to distinguish it from the rational mind in our discussions with patients and students.

To know that this higher aspect of yourself exists and is available to you is certainly good news. The problem, however, is that this may be the first time anyone has told you about it. In order to form a relationship, you must first become acquainted with the other partyóin this case your own inner wisdomó and then begin to nourish the bond between you. The purpose of this book is to help you do just thatóto educate you about this higher part of your nature and teach you how to be in relationship with it so that you, too, can enjoy its life-changing benefits in the course of your daily life.

The path to forming a relationship with your wisdom mind is not magical or mysterious. Rather, it is a creative process in which, through a series of discoveries, your experience of who you are is gradually expanded. You begin exactly as you are, stay exactly who you are, and, simultaneously, you become more. Your core personality doesnít change; you still function as ìyouî in the world and in your relationships with others on a daily basis, but you also begin to notice yourself gaining more perspective and purpose and feeling more at peace. ìRealityî is no longer just the version presented to you by social conventionóa life of surviving, functioning, and then relaxing from surviving and functioning. Rather, you will also begin to experience the deeper reality that the saints and mystics have always told us aboutóthose moments of wisdom and illumination in which you see into the underlying harmonious order of life. You wonít transcend everyday reality; youíll still live out your life like everyone else, but youíll live it with an awareness of belonging to a greater life that you can trust.

Personally, we each trace our own curiosity about the nature of this inner wisdom to a particular early experience. Richardís occurred when, at the age of nineteen, he was lying in spiritual bliss in a tiny, pitch- black, soundproof room in the basement of a Princeton University building as a subject in a study of sensory deprivation being done for United States Navy Astronaut Research. Bonneyís occurred when she was just thirteen, sitting in a state of transcendent joy while staring at Monetís Water Lilies in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. While both of us remember even earlier breakthrough experiences of inner wisdom, these events were the conscious turning points at which we became aware of a deeper potential hidden within human nature.

Professionally, we have investigated the human potential for wisdom and illumination through the field of transpersonal (ìbeyond personalityî) psychology, which studies the integration of person- ality and spirituality. Developed in the United States in the 1960s, transpersonal psychology has its roots in the work of two European psychiatrists, Carl Jung and Roberto Assagioli. They were both students of Sigmund Freud, but they broke away from his psychoanalytic movement because of its failure to address the spiritual aspect of human nature.

We discovered Assagioliís first book, Psychosynthesis, when we were searching for a source of psychotherapy training that included a spiritual component, and we immediately felt at home with his thinking. What impressed us most deeply was his brutally realistic view of the darkness and difficulties of life and the fact that his own commitment to studying the higher potentials in human nature was actually strengthened during a very low and dark period in his life.

Assagioli was born in the Jewish ghetto in Venice in 1888. Having lived through the loss of both parents by the time he was a teenager, he was guided by his stepfather, a physician, to become a psychiatrist and student of psychoanalysis. In 1909, he was named the Italian representative to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, founded by Freud, the then-still-controversial father of psychoanalysis. Assagioli studied for a time in Switzerland, at the same hospital as Jung, but quickly became dissatisfied with psychoanalysis because, for him, it ignored the healthier possibilities inherent in human nature, including higher consciousness and spirituality. At the age of only twenty-two, he broke with the psychoanalytic movement and began to formulate his own method of practicing psychotherapy, founding the first institute for teaching psychosynthesis in Rome in 1928.

In 1940 he was labeled a pacifist and imprisoned by the Fascists. Instead of breaking him, however, his imprisonment provided Assagioli with what he termed ìa blessingî:

the realization of independence from circumstances, the realization of inner freedom. We should realize the freedoms from fear, want, etc., but the right emphasis should be given that inner freedom without which all others are not sufficient. My dedication is going to be to the task of helping men and women free themselves from inner prisons.

Friends finally secured Assagioliís release, but his troubles were far from over. He remained under strict police scrutiny and, with the advent of the Nazi occupation, was forced into hiding in the Tuscan hills. Shortly after the war, his only child died from an illness he developed while the family was in hiding. It was not until 1950 that Assagioli was able to reopen the psychosynthesis institute, this time in Florence.

Assagioli was the first modern Western doctor to incorporate worldwide spiritual and meditative practices directly into his work with patients. By the late 1950s, word of his approach had spread, professionals from around the world began to seek him out as a teacher, and, since that time, many others have begun to emphasize the importance of integrating spirituality into the paradigm for seeking mental and emotional health.

But if our teacher was Roberto Assagioli, you may well be asking by now, why have we called our book about the educational and creative process of connecting with inner wisdom Danteís Path rather than Assagioliís? The answer is that Assagioliís own path actually led him back to the work of the fourteenth- century poet-mystic Dante Alighieri. Like so many of his countrymen, Assagioli had studied Danteís poetic masterpiece The Divine Comedy, in which Danteís alter-ego, the Pilgrim, goes on a spiritual journey through the realms of hell, purgatory, and paradise. In Assagioliís case, however, that study went well beyond the literary to become a formidable influence on his own work.

For Assagioli, Dante was a spiritual sage who had, in his poem, mapped the entire course of the spiritual path Assagioli himself had traveled and along which he was guiding his patients. In his notes on the suffering of his psychiatric patients, he refers again and again to Danteís hell. In his notes on peopleís struggles to live with less fear and more freedom, he refers to Danteís purgatory. And in his references to spiritual states of being, he speaks of the poetís paradise. Dante had, in fact, visited all the realms of human experience and discovered both the worst and the best in human nature. For the modern psychiatrist, the visionary poet was a realistic teacher of enlightenment who had, six hundred years before Assagioliís commitment to freeing others from their inner prisons, dedicated his own work to leading future generations ìfrom misery to bliss.î Dante paints a brilliantly illuminative word picture not only of the states of misery and bliss but also of the sometimes difficult path we must travel on our journey from one to the other, and Assagioli supplies both the modern understanding of human psychology and the practical methods available to us for having direct experiences of our natural higher potentials.

As psychotherapists and teachers of other health professionals, we emphasize the lifelong practicality of following this path to the realization of wisdom and illumination because, in our thirty years of practice, weíve found that many of the problems we all have as human beings canít be solved simply by rearranging the furniture of our personal and professional relationships. Many of our problems function as disguises for the real problemóour knowledge that we are but temporary citizens of life and that everyone and everything we see passes away. This is a fact everyone would prefer to deny, and yet much of the fear, worry, doubt, and anger we live with on a daily basis flows inexorably from this unalterable truth. Our promise to you is that, by following the path we have traveled in the footsteps of Dante and Assagioli, and that we will map for you in the pages that follow, you, too, will be able to find a way of relaxing the grip of your fears and deepening your awareness of your intimate connection to the whole of the harmonious, eternal, interpenetrating, mysterious universe. It is a transformation everyone, including you, is capable of achieving, and your way of accomplishing it is by developing an ongoing relationship with your guiding internal wisdom.

In addition to making this promise, however, we also recognize the importance of acknowledging the obstacles that block many of us from realizing this innate, universal potential. All these obstacles, as you will learn, are really forms of fear. Fear has many faces, some of the more obvious of which are anxiety, insecurity, hurt, and worry. It can, however, also be disguised as anger, greed, envy, negativity, addiction, betrayal, or violence. Using Danteís map of hell as a guide, we will lead you on a tour of all our shared human fears so that you will be able to recognize those that are most prevalent in your own life. And, once youíve gained that self-knowledge, weíll teach you safe, effective, time-tested methods of liberating yourself from your fears each time they threaten to block your progress.

The methods Assagioli used in his practice, and that we use with our own patients, are forms of applied meditation and imagery that you, too, can use every day. As you practice them yourself, you will begin to experience more and more liberation from fear, and, with the quieting of your fears, you will become better able to hear the subtle voice of your wisdom mind. We will then guide you to develop and strengthen your relationship with that higher part of your nature so that its benefits will gradually be able to flow more and more freely.

Inspired by Dante and Assagioli, we had been thinking about writing this book of practical spirituality for many years when the events of September 11, 2001, motivated us to finally put our thoughts into action. Tragedy, as we had already learned all too well, is often the catalyst that moves people to become spiritual seekers. We had been working with the therapeutic uses of imagery and meditation for many years when, in the 1980s, we began to see, both in our practices and in our community service work, more and more people who were either dying of AIDS or losing friends and loved ones to that dreadful disease. And, over and over, we saw our patients reviewing the meaning of their lives and searching for the spiritual strength to cope with their devastation. These people were truly in a ìhellishî state, and they were suddenly struck by the realization that what-ever material success they might have achieved, it was no more than temporary. They required some deeper inner wisdom or spiritual awareness to comfort them and give them courage.

We have also worked at various points in our careers in medical centers and drug and alcohol treatment agencies and have seen many forms of suffering that required us to help people draw down deep into themselves for strength. But hellish states, suffering, and the desire for deeper wisdom are not the sole property of people with frightening illnesses. We have also been therapists for hundreds of people who are simply discontent with their life as it is, people who have come to believe there must be something ìmoreî to life than what they are experiencing but who donít know how or where to find itópeople who are, perhaps, very much like you.

Finally, going beyond these clinical experiences, we have had the joy of leading groups of people on several Sacred Art Tours of Florence during which we were able to introduce them to the universal spiritual wisdom embodied in Renaissance art and teach them how to practice visualization meditation as they sat before those sacred paintings. Having witnessed the illuminations experienced by so many of our travelers during their meditation, we became more convinced than ever that the tools for touching and tasting deeper wisdom were, quite literally, right in front of our eyes.

With this book we will guide you, as we have our patients, our students, and our Florentine travelers, on your own journey to discovering your inner wisdom. As both fellow seekers and spiritual scouts, we offer you not only a map to make the trip less confusing, but also a clear promise of the transformational rewards it will bring.

Dante and His Poem by Domenico di Michelino

CHAPTER ONE

Maps and Guides

The Divine Comedy is imbued with the universally held religious beliefs of fourteenth-century Italy, which have made the timeless truths it conveys difficult for some readers to recognize. These days, some countries may have a predominant or even an ìofficialî religion, but most people are free to espouse whatever belief system they choose, or none at all.

Personally, we traveled many paths before stumbling upon the road that ultimately took us to the self- development practices and spiritual perspective we benefit from now. Like many others, weíd followed a traditional, inherited religion; weíd given up belief in anything at all for the cynical belief in nothing; and weíd tried cobbling together a selection of teachings from various sources to construct a belief system we hoped would be unique to our needs. Each one of these paths, however, presented a different kind of roadblock. Believing in what others had said didnít lead to our own experiences or to new development. The cynical belief in nothing violated our desire to know more and closed our minds to other possibilities. And belief in our own patchwork construction always seemed suspect even to usódid we really know what we were talking about?

Finally, we came to approach our spiritual search in a practical way. We began to test a variety of spiritual maps and guides with one simple, elegant question: Does it work? ìWorking,î for us, meant helping us to live our lives with more love and less fear.

The kind of love we are speaking about here is not romantic attraction or loving conditionally because the object of your love provides you with something specific that you want or need. We mean the love that is a universal, ever-present, indestructible reality to be fully touched and tasted in the course of mystical discovery but also sensed in even the most humble behaviors of daily life. When you unite with that love, even for a momentóin a relationship, in a work of art, or in a ray of lightóits unique quality moves through your entire mind, body, and mood, and when you merge with it, as Danteís Pilgrim did, you come back changed forever.

Although we may not consciously realize what exactly it is we seek, we all, on some level, yearn for this merging, this greater love that will wash away our fears and negativities and make the world right again. One thing the founders of all our Western Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions had in common was their personal experience of mystical breakthroughs that took them into direct contact with the energy of love that, they have taught, is at the core of our reality and the point of our living.

Finding Our Guide

Our own search for ìwhat workedî culminated in our discovery of a wise guide, Roberto Assagioli, whose own seeking has provided our map ever since. Assagioli himself had tried many systems, many methods, many paths, and had corresponded or visited with spiri- tual teachers and philosophers around the world. Initially, we were intrigued by the fact that he was both a highly educated and scientifically trained Western medical professional and one who was at home in the world of spiritual literature, spiritual seeking, and spiritual experiences. Following his path has allowed us to honor our scientific thinking and common sense while at the same time we explore higher states of consciousness in order to see what we might learn.

Most spiritual thinkers and authors of spiritual literature advocate that in order to deepen your spirituality you must first get rid of your ego (or, even more extreme, that the very notion of self is an illusion). That concept had never seemed practical to us; in other words, it didnít work. If we got rid of our ego, the part of our mind that organizes our multitudinous thoughts and feelings into coherent, intentional actions, we wouldnít be able to focus ourselves well enough to function at work, earn money, and feed our children. Unless we were willing to surrender our autonomy and individuality by joining some kind of commune or cult, so long as we chose instead to continue living in the real world, how were we to pay the rent? Addressing this issue, Assagioli put it very simply by saying, ìThe human ego is part of a higher organizing process in nature, and so the idea of getting rid of it is silly.î

That view seemed to us extremely realistic and based on common sense. The path to spiritual and personal development that he proposed was an open-ended process rather than a specific program that required us to follow rigidly laid down patterns of thought. Assagioli saw spirituality as a natural part of our basic humanity, equal to, but not more important than our physical biology and our social personality. In his view, our biology, our personality, and our spirituality together comprise the basic elements of our nature, and each of those components has its own needs and demands. According to that view, our physical and emotional health require that we respond to the needs of all three. And, in his opinion, it was the education and exploration of our spiritual self that had been the most neglected element of our nature, and the one around which much ignorance and superstition had gathered.

Assagioliís Map of Human Nature

Assagioli formulated a map of our biological-social-spiritual nature that has worked for us. It has, in other words, allowed us to live with more love and less fear without trying to deny or suppress any part of ourselves. We have also used Assagioliís map, as he did, to do psychotherapeutic work that honors the higher needs and possibilities of our students and patients while also recognizing their very real fears and conflicts. By doing that, we have been able to help hundreds of people, and we offer that map to you here as a way to start you on your own journey.

Your biological self is dominated by the need to survive. It wants you to use your attention to look for signs of danger and/or threat taking place either in your body or in the environment. It wants you to worry, to plan carefully so that nothing will go wrong, to get angry and territorial about even the simplest conflicts, to fantasize escape, to think only of yourself, and to be suspicious, even paranoid, about other people as a way of staying prepared. In other words, your biological self wants you to control every aspect of life, and, as a result, it sends you fight-or-flight signals all day long, even about situations that are not really dangerous.

Your social self is dominated by the need to belong, to be approved of, and so it wants you to use your attention to evaluate situations according to whether you are included or excluded. It wants you to compare yourself to others, to judge others, to deflate others and to inflate yourself, to look for opportunities to win more approval, reward, status, or self-esteem, and to adjust your thoughts and behavior so that you can win those things. Like your biologi- cal self, your social self fights for survival, but it is the survival of your self-image that is its driving need. It sends you signals of self- consciousness and self-absorption to keep you on track toward satisfying its need.

Your spiritual self is of an entirely different dimension because it is not concerned with the survival of either your body or your self-image. Your spiritual self is connected to creation itself. It knows that all things come and go as part of the natural cycle, and it is at peace with that obvious fact of life. As part of its connection to creation, your spiritual self is dominated by the need to take care of life, to take care of creation, to fulfill your part, your purpose, while you are here. The most human manifestation of this caring for life is being loving, and Mary, Kuan Yin, the Shechinah aspect of God, and other universal symbols are all expressions of this love that is rooted in creation itself.

Your spiritual self wants you to fulfill that loving purpose, and so it tries to keep your attention on its truth and prevent you from getting too lost in false purposes. It is not uncommon for people to misdirect their innate spiritual impulse toward achieving some social goal such as gaining more approval or higher status, and then, when theyíve reached that goal, to still feel no lasting sense of fulfillment or peace. One of our patients, for example, talked to us about having won an Academy Award and awakening the following morning to a feeling of emptiness. Another described the moment he stared for the first time at his just- completed, huge, expensive home and thought, ìAnd now what?î Both these people had lost their true purpose without even realizing it until they recognized how little meaning their social accomplishments actually held for them.

Just as your biological self sends you fight-or-flight signals, and your social self sends signals of self- consciousness and self-absorption, your spiritual self has its own signals: It sends you a feeling of longing, of missing out, when you are living too disconnected from your purpose, and the signal to start searching again when you have gotten too far from the truth.

As you can see, each of these three elements of your nature wants something different from you, and each wants you to focus specifically on its particular needs. Your attention is constantly being pulled in different directions, and so, when you feel ìall over the placeîóas many people tell us they doóitís because you are. The elements of your very nature are in active competition with one another. All of their needs are undeniable, and all need to be met. The question then becomes how to coordinate them as best we can, so that we can live with as much internal harmony as possible.

Discovering Dante

Assagioli died in 1974, and we never got to meet him. But in 1990, after many years of studying and then teaching his work, we felt irresistibly drawn to deepen the bond we already felt with him by visiting his home city of Florence, where his papers are archived. We were both self-employed, and we couldnít really afford to take the time off from work, but we knew we had to goófor us it felt like a pilgrimageóand so we went, determined to stay for a month.

The very day we arrived, we went where all the tourists in Florence goóto the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral). Crowds pour in through the door on the right and out through the door on the left, but the inner vastness of the Duomo dwarfs all human activity. In such a magnificent space, you wonder where to look first. Our immediate instinct was to go toward a large painting on a side wall, and the result of that fortuitous choice has been both many years of study and the writing of this book.

The painting was di Michelinoís Dante and His Poem. It shows the sage and poet Dante holding his poem The Divine Comedy, while depicted around him are the three realms of the journeyódescending to hell, climbing the mountain of purgatory, and entering into paradise. We stared at Dante. He stared back at us. He seemed to be saying: ìHere is the map of all the human worlds. Take the journey and discover what I found.î We felt a deep and immediate emotional connection with that painting but didnít yet understand its source.

Two weeks later, we were sitting in the library archives of Assagioliís home in Florence. Weíd come to Florence because weíd instinctively felt the need to be closer to the teacher weíd never met. Weíd called to request access to the library as soon as we arrived, but weíd also been told that a previous American student had stolen from the archives and so we knew there was a good chance we wouldnít be allowed in. For several days we got no reply, but then, out of the blue, the library secretary returned our call, and we made an appointment to meet her.

We spoke to her in simple, bad Italian, and she graciously spoke back to us in a few words of hesitant English. Then, in the middle of the conversation, she smiled, turned around, and got us the key. Perhaps our gratitude for Assagioliís work had come through to her.

We returned to that small, sunny library again and again. As we read Assagioliís intimate notes about his early work, his imprisonment by the Fascists, the death of his son, his spiritual experiences, his scholarly explorations, his search for practical methods to help his patients, we began to feel deeply attached to him and privileged to have access to his handwritten thoughts and feelings in a place so imbued with his gentle spirit.

Assagioli had read books in five languages (Italian, French, German, English, and Sanskrit) and had written notes in all but Sanskrit, which made many of them difficult for us to read. We discovered, however, that in his later years, once people from around the world began to seek him out, his notes were increasingly written in English. He referred to many mystics, artists, saints, philosophers, poets, and political thinkers, and he was always trying to synthesize these sources. As his work continued, he arrived at a way of being, an openness to higher consciousness, that brought him increasingly frequent experiences of illumination. Again and again in his notes we found brief jottings that said simply, ìJoy, overflowing joy,î ìGioia,î or ìSilent joy.î

One day, we were talking with a former student of his, now a doctor in Florence, about our research, when he suddenly asked, rubbing his fingers together, ìCan you feel the joy?î To this day, many years after Assagioliís death, his students, now psychiatrists and psychologists all over Italy, still become animated with humor and gratitude when they talk about him.

It was in going through Assagioliís notes that we discovered his deep identification with Dante. Not only with the literary Dante of the Duomo painting or the Dante of the spiritual journey to hell, purgatory, and paradise described in The Divine Comedy, but with the Dante who, despite a life of exile and loss, had emerged as a purposeful and enlightened teacher.

When we returned from Florence, we plunged immediately into an intensive study of Dante and his poem. We read The Divine Comedy many times in many translations and slowly began to get past the obstacles to understanding presented by his fourteenth-century historical, literary, and religious references. We began to see that Danteís hell was a catalogue of our fears, his passage through purgatory was the road to liberation from those fears, and paradise was the realm in which we explore higher consciousness.

To Make It Real, Begin in Hell

Dante took one third of The Divine Comedy to describe in painful detail all of the hell impulses in human natureóindifference, lust, addiction, greed, rage, pride, violence, fraud, betrayalóbehaviors that were described as ìsinsî in the Middle Ages but are behaviors we still engage in and encounter every dayóat home, at work, in the neighborhood, in the nation.

Hell is a place we want to get out of. Itís old news. We hear about it in our daily papers and on the nightly news. Itís in our city, in our town. People hate one another, betray one another, and kill one another. They are stupid, addicted, obsessive, and unbelievably insensitive. Theyíre full of rage or pride. They cheat and lieóand on and on. Our history books contain stories of slaughter told side by side with accounts of the advances and discoveries of creative humanity. Scientists discover how to split the atom and then use that knowledge to build the most destructive bomb the world has ever known. We just canít seem to keep hell out of our behavior.

The relevance of Danteís exploration of hell is brought home to us again and again as despairing clients whoíve been through hellish experiences ask, ìWhatís wrong with people? How can they do this to each other? Where is God in all of this? If God exists, and He let this happen, then I hate Him.î The recurrence of hell in human affairs makes us all doubt humanityís long-term chances for survival. But the very fact that it is so ubiquitous is actually the reason that our spiritual journey needs to include the exploration of this darkness. Because, if hell is all around us, the answers we arrive at will be required to hold up in the face of the pain, suffering, and loss we encounter every day.

The challenge is: How can we love the whole thing? It doesnít seem possible, since the full cycle of lifeóbirth, growth, decay, and deathóis not itself lovable. Birth and growth are easy to love, but decay and death are easy to fear. One half of life is lovely while the other is fearful. Fear is planted firmly in the middle of our existence. It seems that nothing can change it. Throw what you will at itóart, religion, science; fear just swallows them up and stares back at us. It just is. It is an eternal state.

Start with Fear

Thatís why Danteís acknowledgment of hell is, in a way, so reassuring. His very humanity, all his questions, doubts, fears, and emotional reactions, are incorporated into the map he draws for finding states of higher consciousness and harmony in living.

Have you ever seen one of those maps of a public transportation system that indicate with an X or a circle ìYou are hereî? Thatís what Dante does. He tells us that we must start from wherever we are. We do not have to suppress our emotions in order to be more spiritual, and we do not need to suppress our mind in order to have no thoughts or only good thoughts. Instead, we have to develop self-knowledge about our emotions and mind just as they are, and that mental development will ultimately lead to changes in our feelings and our physical states. There are no shortcuts from being lost to being found, and although we can get good guidance from many sources, it is, in the end, only we ourselves who can develop our own mind. Enduring spirituality cannot be imposed from without. Itís an inside job.

Both Dante and Assagioli tell us that our personality and our spirituality cannot be separated, that our mental/emotional development and our spiritual development are aspects of a single activity. We have encountered many people who dabble spiritually and get nowhere. Unfortunately, at the first moment of crisis, their unrealized spirituality blows away like dust. One reason for this might be that they were never really committed to transformation in the first place. Another reason, however, might be that in their seeking they were attempting to deny their own experience and doubts while trying to conform to the dictates of a particular religious or spiritual system.

We wonít make that mistake. Letís follow the guidance of Dante and Assagioli, and letís go to hell together ... for the sake of discovering paradise and a way of harmony.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2003

    An elegant synthesis of art, psychology and spirituality

    A graceful book which awakened my deeper knowing of the inspired art of the Rennaissance, humanism, and the place of art in healing.

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