Little by little, one is able to feel the subtle difference between what “comes down from above” and what “arises from below” or comes from outside
By Roberto Assagioli, date unknown, From the Assagioli Archives – Doc. #23071 in Florence. Original Title: Appunti di lavoro psicospirituale (Notes on Psychospiritual Work). Translated and Edited with Notes by Jan Kuniholm. Editor’s Interpolations are [in brackets]
In these notes are written, in a simple and immediate way, the warnings, insights, reflections and resolutions that arose spontaneously in “silence.”
They do not pretend to say “new things,” nor are they formulated with philosophical rigor: they are offered in a fraternal spirit, as encouragement and good wishes to those who struggle and aspire.
At certain critical periods in the evolution of the soul it is necessary that it pass through the harsh experience of the deprivation of all human comfort; it is necessary that it be abandoned to itself and that from its helplessness, its torment and despair, it be led and obliged to turn directly to God, to seek and find in Him alone what it has anxiously been seeking here and there among things and men.
Only through this experience does one acquire the power to really master things and men (instead of letting oneself be enticed or overwhelmed by them) and the high privilege of entering into full communion with God and abundantly receiving His Light, His Glory, His Love.
To safely tread the arduous paths of spiritual development, avoiding the pitfalls that may be encountered at every step along the way, it is good to learn to grasp life’s “indications;” to clearly recognize the Will of the Lord; and to distinguish true intuitions from the imaginations of the unconscious and external suggestions. It is a necessary art. One must devote oneself to it continuously, to practice it at every opportunity in daily life. Observe the way “indications” arise, and then note whether or not facts confirm them.
Thus, little by little, one is able to feel the subtle difference between what “comes down from above” and what “arises from below” or comes from outside; to discriminate between pure, original intuition and the imaginative camouflage by which it is distorted, more or less, during its “descent” through the various psychic levels.
Consider each situation, each event, each person and each of one’s own bodily or moral states, as a “proof” (a test): a “lesson” and an “examination.” They all are.
Develop a dual consciousness: learn not to identify completely with the content of your consciousness of the moment — a part of us always remains free, as sentinel, observer and judge: the Spectator.
All material help should be a means of moral and spiritual help. All help intended to combat effects should be accompanied by help that is aimed at eliminating causes.
Thus, for example, physicians should, in addition to treating ongoing diseases, teach each sick person how to avoid getting ill again; give him advice on hygiene and prevention, both in general and specifically, of the ills to which he is predisposed.
This at a minimum. But spiritually-oriented physicians would include psychotherapy and spiritual healing in the work: they would show the way and the means to achieve “integral health.”
If one wants to effectively help others to improve themselves (education of young people, care of souls, psychotherapy, etc.) one must not oppose the tendencies to be fought or disciplined with a force that is external to the individual (such as imposing will of the educator or doctor — not even abstract, impersonal norms or laws) — but rather arouse a higher internal force in the person.
The first method, which unfortunately is most often used by parents and “educators,” awakens the opposition of the individual, who feels diminished and repressed in his vital expansion. Hence the impatience, rebellion and “revolutionary spirit” of young people, who feel a strong need to expand, to assert themselves.
By the second method, on the other hand, the individual’s best feelings, his highest powers, are awakened and he is shown that his own lower tendencies are a primary obstacle to his truest, broadest, most worthy expression.
In this way he feels understood and encouraged in his development, and he gratefully welcomes the help offered to him, indeed he requests it.
When pain torments us, when sorrows and worries tend to shut us up in the shell of our personality and we are inclined to indulge in soft lamentations, bitter recriminations, and harmful “self-pity,” let us force ourselves, with a resolute internal act, to come out of ourselves; to keenly remember how many human beings in every part of the world suffer far more than we do (the imprisoned, the sick in body and soul, those enslaved to low passions, the materially and morally abandoned . . ).
Thus we scatter our own drop of bitterness in the great sea of human pain. But at the same time also remember the meaning, high purpose and spiritual value of suffering; the glorious goal of human evolution; the final liberation and bliss in which all sorrow will find overabundant compensation.
No less courage is required to sustain prosperity than adversity. In times and periods of prosperity we are easily tempted to make a grave mistake: that is, to live and act only “personally,” lowering our vigilance and discipline, neglecting to maintain continuous and conscious contact with the Soul. We delude ourselves that we are free, strong and our own masters: we squander the precious energies bestowed upon us by the Spirit in a sterile, and sometimes low, way for selfish purposes.
Then it is necessary for “beneficial pain” to come and redeem us, to make us repent and teach us to become worthy stewards of the Father’s gifts and powers.
Include everything and transcend everything.
Every morning we must awaken twice: from the sleep of the body and from the sleep of ordinary consciousness to the true wakefulness of the Spirit.
All memories of past limitations, weaknesses and failures have no value for the future. In fact, an increase in spiritual strength can make something easy that was previously impossible or tiring.
The future is new and different. New possibilities have no precedent, no measure or comparison in the past, no limits. Disregard the past, and proceed, boldly, with full faith, with joyful enthusiasm!
From the point of view of spiritual development, what we do matters little — how we do it matters a great deal. This is a fundamental principle that, if properly understood, has important practical consequences, and is very comforting for those who are obliged to attend to such [seemingly inconsequential] tasks.
In order to grow inwardly, it is not as important to do more “spiritual things” as to do them “more spiritually;” one is not required to change occupation, but to change soul. Thus one who has to sweep and dust may come to do so with such a spirit as to make those humble acts a true rite of purification — while one who studies the most arduous philosophical problems with an analytical mind and a dry heart, one who writes a skillful treatise on theology or morals with [only] personal aims, has done nothing spiritually.
How blind and obtuse we are to the countless internal and external opportunities that life offers us! Too often we overlook or even ignore the treasures that have been placed at our fingertips as we scramble for unnecessary things, or waste time and energy petulantly complaining because life does not give us what seems good to us.
Let us remember how discontentment, devaluation, and criticism tend to limit, craze, or harm both those who are criticized and those who do the criticizing; and in this sense constitute a subtle and poisoned weapon that silently accomplishes more harm than the blatant work of open rebellion and overt violence.
Let us instead apply ourselves to recognizing — and using — the great beneficial power of praise, gratitude, and glorification.
Praise arouses and vivifies; gratitude attracts new gifts; glorification (which is recognition of divine omnipotence) comes to transform circumstances, beings and ourselves in an almost magical way.
The French saying, “Partir c’est mourir un peu,” is well known. It is correct; but the reverse is more profoundly true: “To die is but to depart.”
The Inner God has been waiting in each of us, waiting for millennia, for us to be ready, worthy to receive Him — to be capable of receiving His inexhaustible gifts.
Man has two tasks that might seem at first glance to be opposites, but which in fact necessarily imply each other and complement each other in a creative synthesis:
First: To individualize, embody, and make self-conscious the Spirit, which in itself is universal and superconscious.
Second: To Indefinitely extend the limits of personality; universalizing it.
These two activities are to be carried out in parallel, and when, after long cycles, they are brought to perfection, we arrive at the creation of the Divine Man, whose dazzling center of light can no longer be touched and whose sphere of irradiation and love has extended to include all that lives.
Our every thought, every effort, every good deed is taken into account by the Great Law that governs atoms, men and worlds.
Even the holiest work, that of helping others, can be done inappropriately and excessively.
It is not good to let others lean too heavily on us. If we allow it out of weak goodness, out of misguided compassion, or for a secret satisfaction of our own vanity, we harm those we would like to benefit, and we take on grave responsibility.
The most valuable help we can give is to teach how to help oneself.
It is good to show the way, to give the means to walk it, to accompany [others] as far as it is allowed, to lovingly support [them] in perilous steps — but it is not right to agree to actually carry on our shoulders those who would like [to experience] the joys of the heights without the healthy labors of the ascent. Let us firmly resist such demands, even at the cost of making those dear to us suffer, of being accused of little love — yet we must do so in the name of a higher and wiser love.
Everything, with dignity and reverence.
Everything, with discrimination and obedience.
Everything, in gladness and with love.
We passionately invoke God and complain about His seeming remoteness — but how can He come into us while we are all “busy” and preoccupied with ourselves, with others, and with countless things? For Him to come, everything else must go, or at least to be limited, to step aside — note: everything else, that is, including the good things. It is necessary that we “empty ourselves;” then He will fill us.
This is the deep reason and justification for so much renunciation, sacrifices, surrender, imposed or voluntary, which might seem unnecessary or unnatural. This is the true — entirely internal — meaning of the “vow of poverty.” Those who know how to thus “empty themselves” of all internal attachments and possessions are the true “poor in spirit,” who are granted the vision of God.
Free yourself in order to liberate [others].
We affirm the invincible power of the Spirit.
It is Splendor that dispels all darkness; it is Fire that burns, purifies, regenerates.
We often fail to solve our problems, to see clearly in ourselves because we are too focused in our personality. The problem is too close and so we see the details but not the outlines of the whole; it worries us too much and therefore our emotions blur our vision.
There are various ways to eliminate these difficulties and causes of error.
The first is to consider our problems impersonally, as if they belong to others. Create the appropriate “distance,” studying the case of the person who bears our first and last name as if he were a friend or a stranger who has asked us for advice and help.
The second way is to create “distance” over time. This is achieved not by insisting on resolving the issue immediately, but by resolutely putting it aside, “ignoring” it for the moment and attending to other things. During the interval there is a deep part in us that continues to process the problem, and does so better without the nagging and disruptive intervention of personal will and conscious attention. Thus, when we return with a “fresh mind” to the problem, the solution, previously sought in vain, often comes to us easily and spontaneously.
Another way even better than the previous ones is to raise ourselves above the plane where the perplexity or obstacle exists, by whatever means is most effective for us (meditation, reading, communion with other beings or nature, etc.); then observe them from “above,” from where one can get an overall perspective of the whole matter and discern the origin and direction of the forces at work. Thus one can rightly decide and effectively respond. To master the forces of a given plane one must transcend it.
In more serious and complex cases — where, although we use, or attempt to use, these means, we fail to find the solution or are not sure that the one we have glimpsed is right — we can resort to the help of others. If we are given recourse to a wise person with a higher perspective, so much the better. But this is not necessary; even a simple and humble person can enlighten and help us: it is enough that he or she has sympathy for us and sincerely desires our good. Others naturally have the “distance” mentioned above; they see things from a different point of view, in a different light and with a different perspective. Therefore, people who are of a different psychological type than us, and those more gifted with intuition, can especially benefit us.
But it is not appropriate to resort too often and easily to the latter means, otherwise we become too dependent on others and thus miss one of the essential purposes of life: that of developing our spiritual autonomy.
Finally, the highest and surest way to solve any problem, to overcome any difficulty, is to make a strong appeal to the God Within with sincere fervor, with faith, and to wait for “His answer” with attentive listening. This [answer] may come from “within” or from “without;” it may be contained (unbeknownst to them) in the words of a friend or . . . an enemy, in the sentence of a book, in the suggestions that are implicit in an event. The answer always comes: one must learn to recognize and interpret it.
We should never remain (as is often the case with those who are not vigilant) in an intermediate state of nervous semi-tension that is not sufficient to produce [something] or to radiate [energy], and yet sufficient to tire us.
Either arouse the energy necessary to operate effectively, or abandon work for the moment and open ourselves to the soothing, restorative influences of nature, art and thought. And if we do not feel “alive” enough even for these, we should get some good physical and mental relaxation that rests and restores us.
One of the most insidious and least easily perceived obstacles that stop or slow down spiritual development is that of too-easy gratification.
In the face of the will-o’-the-wisps, the ephemeral glimmers of ordinary life, a ray of starlight is such a great gift. In contrast to the murky, burning drinks of the passions, a sip of clear, fresh water is so great a grace that we feel we must be content with it. We forget that, in God, the gifts intended for us are infinite.
It happens to us as it did to Rabindranath Tagore: “I was well paid with having received so much, but He was still not satisfied with what He had given me.”
This does not mean that we should not fully appreciate what we have received.
Always be grateful and never be paid.
THE WALNUT AND THE MAN
To reach the tender and substantial inner walnut, one must remove the hull, which is sour and irritating; crack the hard, tenacious shell; gently peel off the thin sticky skin.
Thus man, in order to manifest his true Being, must free himself from the rough and harsh outer covering of his personality; he must crack the hard shell of his selfishness and pride; and then he must still free himself from the thin separative veil created by his own virtues. Then he can nourish himself and nourish others.
One does not have the right to pray for a particular “intention” concerning another person without that person’s knowledge and consent. One who does so assumes a grave karmic responsibility. Indeed, it is great presumption to believe that one knows what is truly good for another, or what are the ways by which the Soul wants to lead him.
Instead, one can pray in a general way for the highest good — whatever it may be — of the person we care about, and offer what strength and goodness we have to God for him, in the name of the Unity of Life, of the spiritual love that is communion in God.
It is useless to keep saying, “Thy Will be done,” to address prayers to God, invocations to the “inner warrior,” if we do not then carry out what has been manifestly and repeatedly shown to us as being “His Will,” with constant and willing work; and if we do not create — by inner silence, by listening, by surrender and obedience — the necessary conditions for God to “speak” to us, for the “Warrior” to fight within us.
Maintain at the same time a twofold attitude: maximum mastery over external things and our lower elements, over impressions and suggestions (whether they come from outside or emerge, violent or insidious, from the depths of the unconscious); maximum obedience to God, to the King who has his throne in the mysterious “center” of our soul.
Let this be the motto for each of us: “Lord of the World, servant of the Spirit.”
In trusting surrender all our tumult is settled in peace.
To affirm is to create (Word — Creator Logos).
To say a word earnestly, with conviction, with will, is to evoke the meaning, the “spirit” that is in it and to awaken it, to make it efficient.
We therefore affirm resolutely, with full faith, what we want to be, what we want to create.
The word thus affirmed will become action, and the action will react upon us, until we ourselves are re-made, re-generated, identified with what we have affirmed.
When a difficulty, a setback, a test confronts us and obstructs our path, and even more so when a series of such trials arise — our spontaneous and “natural” reaction is a sense of impatience and discontent, which may go as far as rebellion. Yet those difficulties, those obstacles have useful functions in our lives.
First of all, they serve to test the seriousness, the steadfastness, the constancy of our resolutions. Those that are not firmly rooted, that do not respond to deep needs, do not withstand the test; and an appropriate selection then takes place that benefits the truly vital purposes.
Contradictions and opposition, then, serve to give us a healthy jolt, to arouse dormant energies; to set off vivid sparks in our souls by their rough collision. Thus they enrich us, reveal us to ourselves. The opposition of both events and men are also worthwhile to make us accumulate and focus constructive and creative energies.
Often a work has greater effectiveness and persistence and has greater power of irradiation, the more it has cost us, the more life we have had to put into it, the more sacrifices we have had to make to implement it.
Recognizing this usefulness, understanding how in this sense the bold Eastern statement that “an enemy is as useful as a Buddha” is true, greatly helps us to take an appropriate attitude: to be active and resolute without violence; to be serene and harmonious without weakness.
The great means to continue spiritually is the active and continuous effort of goodness that is wanted, loved and offered.
READING THE NEWSPAPER
We could and should make even of this act, which appears so insignificant and so “everyday,” an occasion for spiritual exercise. Reading the newspaper, as it is usually done, in a passive and non-vigilant manner, has effects that are not good, indeed very harmful to our soul. The rapid shifting of attention from one topic to another, the overlapping of a crowd of images, of disparate ideas, which in turn arouse a series of conflicting emotions — all this leads to mental scattering, superficiality, the dulling of deep feeling. In this state of extroversion and disintegration (of “dissipation,” to use an effective word that the ancients used), we are particularly open to suggestions, we are easily influenced by judgments — by the psychic, vicariously skeptical, passionate, or depressing atmosphere of the paper, in which the outward and less beautiful part of humanity’s life is reflected, more or less deformed.
What is the remedy?
Not reading the newspaper is not possible in our social life, and it would not be good: it would be an escape, a selfish isolation. Transforming newspapers would be very desirable — and much could be said about it — but until that has happened, another more ready remedy must be found. And that can be none other than changing the way the newspaper is read.
Instead of considering this action as an occasion for rest and relaxation, it is better to do it with intensified internal vigilance, with wise discrimination, and with a warm and generous heart.
Resist vain curiosity and do not dwell on long-winded descriptions, idle discussions, or the thousand little ephemeral events. Resist the suggestions of current ideas, of collective passions; of the ordinary, separative and self-centered way of considering events and reacting to them.
Observe serenely, from above, this tumultuous and confused picture of human life, to try to glimpse its concealed order, its directions and meanings, and to intuit the great laws that govern its course.
Perceive the blindness, unconsciousness, but also the good aspirations and generous impulses of the human masses. To realize vividly — through the sad facts, the crimes, the suicides, the miseries of all kinds that cast dark warning shadows on the shining appearances of our “civilization” — how great is the sum of human sorrow. Feel a deep and lasting urge to do one’s own work, to devote one’s life to diminish that hoard of suffering. In short, aspire to read the paper with the eye of the Spirit and the compassionate heart of a Bodhisattva. 
Immortal God within me, inspire me with Your Infinite Love, guide me with Your Omniscience, work in me and through me with Your Omnipotence.
Spiritual gladness does not exclude the travail, the struggle, the effort to master and regenerate the lower elements of our personality. On the contrary, in such labor we can find new reason for gladness, feeling how, in living it strongly, we fulfill our most worthy task as persons and as we help the common ascent, we are truly “God’s co-workers.”
 A second document with the same title is Doc. #23070 in the Archives. This second document is very similar but contains some hand-written corrections which are difficult to decipher. When possible reference will be had to #23070 but generally this translation follows #23071. —Tr.
 In Italian, Assagioli wrote “il criticismo tendono a limitare, isterilire, ‘mortificare,’” which literally reads that criticism tends to limit, “hysterify” or “mortify” both the one ciriticizing etc. There is no good Engish equivalent of isterilire, which means “to make hysterical” in the psychoanalytic sense of the term; and he puts “mortificare” in quotes to suggest the medieval sense of the term, suggesting to do punitive harm to oneself in the religious sense of “dying to the flesh.” —Tr.
 French for “To leave is to die a little.” —Tr.
 In Italian Assagioli wrote “offrire per essa a Dio forze e ‘meriti’” which is literally to offer strength and “merit” to God for him. —Tr.
 The implication of the “appropriate selection” suggests a “spiritual evolutionary” purpose: that the weaker resolutions drop away while stronger ones are maintained. —Ed.
 At this time in history, when the circulation of actual newspapers is greatly declining, it is helpful to note that Assagioli’s notes apply equally or more ungently to online news, social media, and other forms of mass communications. —Ed.
 Bodhisattvas are those who have renounced becoming a divine Buddha, to enter the bliss of Nirvana, in order to remain in the world and work for the sake of humanity for long cycles until all are liberated and redeemed. —Author’s Note.