For a woman the maternal role can be a partial synthesising centre, helping to accomplish the individual psychosynthesis, and Assagioli is presenting the idea of spiritual motherhood
By Roberto Assagioli, translated from Italian by Gordon Symons. Original Italian title: Tipi E Gradi Della Psicosintesi III– (Types And Degrees Of Psychosynthesis III). From the Assagioli Archive in Florence.
In this lesson we are examining the various types and degrees of psychosynthesis in which different human personalities can be coordinated and harmonized.
After examining some types and models of male psychosynthesis, we started talking about female ones, first of all outlining those of women as man’s companion, as a wife. Today we will talk about another female function equally and perhaps more fundamental than that of woman: the maternal one.
These two functions combine and integrate admirably into a complete, ideal woman, and every queen of the home should aspire to carry out this higher psychosynthesis within herself.
However, the fact remains that some women far feel more inclined to perform the function of a man’s companion, and others prefer that of a mother. Maeder insisted on this different tendency and vocation and minutely described the two different female types, the conjugal and the maternal.
But apart from this constitutional tendency and vocation, the circumstances of life induce, and often oblige, women to find their own center of interest and activity, their inner synthesis, only in one or the other of the two functions. The woman who has a husband and has no children can dedicate herself more and more fully her to inner communion and intellectual and practical collaboration with her husband. Indeed, she can do more: she can be somewhat maternal with him, and her protective, sweet, indulgent and generous attitude can add new soul notes and enrich and increase the harmony between the two souls, between the two personalities.
On the other hand, the woman who has lost her husband, or who for various reasons cannot have an ideal communion and integration with him in other ways, is drawn to making motherhood the central purpose of her life, and to find in it the reason, the meaning and value of her life.
Beyond being a human function, motherhood, understood in its broadest and deepest sense, is a cosmic principle.
The substance that receives the creative impulse of the Spirit and then processes it and expresses it in itself in worlds and myriads of beings, is universal motherhood. It makes the existence of the manifested universe possible.
Referring to our globe, it is Nature, Mother Earth, who shapes, supports and sustains all creatures. This was clearly intuited, and confusedly but deeply sensed by all peoples, even primitive ones.
In the West we find the cult of Isis, in Egypt the cult of Demeter and Cybele. Then we have the highest and most perfect manifestation, and at the same time more human, in Christianity, with the cult of Mary, the Virgin Mother of the Redeemer, a model of sacrifice and goodness, who is then associated with her Son in the work of Redemption.
If we look for the fundamental aspects of these cults and through the direct observation of motherhood, we find that they are: fruitfulness, creativity, giving life, generous love, permeated by sacrifice and devotion, the protective function, care, the fostering of development. These functions are already found in the animal kingdom. In fact, everyone remembers the hen who deprives herself of nourishment to give it to her chicks, who spreads her maternal and protective wings over them. But there are even more significant examples. Among insects, the pine tree moth removes all the fluff from her body to form the nest and expires after this act of devoted self-denial. Some mealybugs arrange themselves to protect their offspring from the weather with their own remains. We all know how quadruped mothers sometimes defend their offspring unto death.
In primitive women, motherhood is the highest expression of their being. It is said that in certain wild tribes, a woman is only considered to be a being with a soul after she has had a child. As a mother, she acquires a degree of dignity which she did not have as a wife.
Then, in the various civilizations throughout the ages, the importance, nobility and moral and spiritual function of the mother was great. In addition to the physical, even essential maternal care, she was entrusted with the task of cultivating the feelings and imagination of the children, of implanting the first moral and religious foundations in them, the sense of beauty, nature and goodness, altruism, understanding, admiration and worship, which are specific functions of the mother. I will not dwell too much on this because it is well known.
Instead, I think it is my duty, an unpleasant one, but I believe beneficial, to highlight the other side of the coin, that is, the negative side that can be found in the maternal function, both for the woman herself and for the children.
Unfortunately, a widespread error that is committed in carrying out the maternal function is what could be called “materialism”. The physical care lavished on children, especially in the early years, is necessary and indisputable, but it is not the only one; and when these prevail excessively over the others, we see a materialistic limitation of the maternal function, which can have very harmful effects.
If we compare the material care that many mothers give to the body of their children, and above all those aimed at their career and their external success in life, and those aimed at the culture of their souls, intellectual and spiritual communion with them, the disproportion is very great. As a consequence of this, many well-groomed, well-fed and well-protected children are seen to be well on their way to professional studies but are severely lacking in the culture of their souls, and in every serious ethical-spiritual basis. And that’s the fault of their mothers. If these children fail in life and perform unworthy acts, sometimes – I don’t say always – it is the mother who should say the painful “mea culpa”.
Another error, in the sense of an excess of maternal love, is what can be expressed in three words: attachment, identification and possession. This is a more explainable, more human, more forgivable mistake, in a sense, but which can be just as harmful. It is understandable: the more you put yourself into someone or something, the more you give yourself, the more sacrifices you make, the more you bind, identify and attach yourself.
But in the evolution of children, sooner or later the moment always comes when detachment by the mother is needed. Detachment, mind you, not in a spiritual sense, but in a personal sense. There is a time when the son or daughter must take their independent place in life. It is such a natural fact that it is found among animals where the healthy natural instinct dominates, where many complications and degenerations are not present. A typical example: birds that throw their young out of the nest so that they must use their wings to fly. An example with high symbolic meaning.
The same happens with primitive peoples. In their well-organized societies, there are so-called initiation rites to puberty. The moment of detachment, which coincides with puberty, is recognized as a fundamental stage in the life of young people, and there are special rites with very interesting symbolic meanings, in which the adolescent becomes aware of himself and possesses himself, and detaches himself from his parents.
Often the civilized mother does not realize this need, does not have the wisdom; nor perhaps the complete and comprehensive love necessary to make the highest sacrifice, the one that matters most, and which I would paradoxically call, the sacrifice of her previous sacrifices. Sacrificing one’s dedication to children, that is, knowing how to withdraw, is very difficult, because it is contrary to all that has been right and has been desired until then.
Yet life brings these changes, these passages, in which what was beautiful, good, dutiful and noble at a given moment, becomes inappropriate, excessive, harmful and damaging at a later time. And often the mother does not see, does not want to see, and does not know how to implement this. She tries hard to tie her children to herself in every way, sometimes unfortunately by indulging their shortcomings. And the bad thing is that she believes, or wants to deceive itself, or deceive others, that she is doing good.
Some of the children who enjoy this comfortable state of protection, of being over-protected against the harshness of life, then enter life unprepared for its struggles and its pitfalls; and from this psychological and spiritual unpreparedness, dangers arise for their health, for their social and human position. Often, they remain weak, shy, victims. For others, the opposite occurs. When children have a more virile and energetic temper, they tend to escape that family tyranny and, reacting, often fall under harmful and dangerous influences. They violently break the bond that has tended to go on for too long, and then the mother, not understanding, accuses them of ingratitude, of lack of affection, and thus painful disagreements arise: an abyss is dug between mother and children, and it is the mother who is the most hurt.
That which she could have preserved, which is the gratitude and inner closeness with her son and a spiritual relationship, even while he is affirming himself independently, she lacks, although it would have been a high reward for her sacrifice.
This female crisis also helps to explain a social phenomenon that is generally spoken of in a joking tone, but which often causes serious trouble and suffering: the problem of the mother-in-law. The crisis of a mother whose daughter is getting married is to be taken seriously. What I said referred to the children and their detachment, because it is they who gradually detach themselves in adolescence. In the case of the daughter, it is often more abrupt and brutal; up to the time of getting married, the daughter is often both a daughter and a friend for the mother; they participate in the same activities at home and away. Suddenly a new being comes along, who intrudes into their intimacy, and abruptly interrupts it. This is a serious crisis for the mother, and if she cannot understand it nobly and overcome it, painful things can happen. The mother becomes the “mother-in-law” in the bad sense of the word; hostility and jealousy arise in her towards the individual who has stolen her daughter, her companion, her friend. Of course, this attachment and these unjust reactions can produce a series of errors in the mother’s behavior, against which the son-in-law rebels, and often the daughter too, and thus well-known complications occur.
There is one solution to all these problems, and only one: the same one that I indicated for man in the case of his profession, his social, civil and family function. We must not allow ourselves to be absorbed exclusively by any human function, whatever it may be, even the most noble and beautiful. We have a paradox here: the woman, to be a mother in the best, highest and the truest way, must not be exclusively a mother. Above all, she must be a human person who is also a mother, who exercises the function of a mother. Within the woman, beside and, I dare say, above the mother in her, there must be a self-aware human soul, who has other interests and other activities, who lives a social and spiritual life. This does not make her less of a mother, but a better mother.
First of all, by being interested in spiritual and social problems, and living the life of her time, of her nation and her civilization, she will be able to understand and follow her children for longer. Here is the paradox again: if, when the children are young, she takes a few hours to read newspapers, the best books of her time, taking an interest in problems that transcend the small circle of her family, she will be able, when the child he becomes a teenager, to follow him, to understand him, and to be his companion and friend. Therefore, in the interests of the maternal function, the mother should not be exclusively a mother. When the separation comes, she will have another set of human and spiritual interests ready to direct her vitality and activity, and to which to devote her time.
I will give an example which, being American, may seem excessive, but which is typical. An American lady, whose daughter was married and who had to live with her and her son-in-law, to avoid the danger of being a “mother-in-law”, began, at fifty years of age, attending university regularly and taking exams. And she said: “You will understand that in the evenings, when I returned for dinner, I had much more to think about than the disputes between my daughter and my son-in-law. I was thinking of Plato and the Egyptians”. Indeed, when a woman has other interests, broader and higher ones, she looks at the small family quarrels, and the periods of settlement that there may be in the married life of her daughter, with a much more serene look, and rather than being a source of problems and complications, she can be a help. This same lady said of her son-in-law, who had a difficult character and was worried about everything: “It is him we should be sorry for: we could leave him, but he can never leave himself!”. Obviously, this is an exceptional case. It is difficult to suddenly switch from family life to student life. Therefore, there must be a gradual preparation and wider, spiritual, social and intellectual interests should be cultivated during the period of motherhood.
Then the opposite can occur to what has been said: since the mother must first sacrifice at least in part the wider interests of family duties, there remains a desire, a beneficial lack of fulfillment, which means that when she becomes freer from those duties, there is a fervor in her, an unsatisfied thirst for cultural, social and spiritual activities, which greatly facilitate the transition to the new kind of life.
This leads us to speak naturally of women who are not mothers according to the flesh, who do not experience motherhood physically. Well, these women are not entirely excluded from motherhood, indeed they can carry out its wider and higher aspects which can be more useful socially. This has various aspects and can be effected in various ways. One of the first and most natural is that of education. The teacher performs a fully maternal function. She replaces mothers who cannot educate their children; therefore the teacher should always consider her task as essentially maternal. By doing so, she establishes relationships with her schoolchildren in the most appropriate and elevated way, avoiding many frequent errors in education and would correct with a human and affective manner what school programs can contain that is too didactic and impersonal.
In the countryside, the teacher is often the only woman who, with the doctor and the parish priest, can spread the light of intelligence and culture, and through the children she can educate adults, enlighten, pacify souls, bring orientation and love. In this regard, I will mention a very positive initiative, that of the “Anima Italica” founded by Countess Maria Baciocchi de Peon, which offers lessons which are given by teachers to the mothers of the children. In thousands of schools, especially rural ones but also in the populous districts of the big cities, for example that of S. Frediano in Florence, these morality and hygiene lessons were given to the mothers from the area. The moral success of the initiative has been enormous. Because of their interest in their children, these mothers came in their thousands to hear those words of education and instruction, and there have been cases of true healing, of regeneration. (For more information and to have the text of the “conversations” contact “L ‘Anima Italica” via De ’Bardi 20 – Florence).
Even the teachers in the Middle Schools have an essentially maternal task. It is more complex, arduous and delicate than that of the primary teacher; it is more difficult and more complex for a mother to educate older children than little children. The secondary school teacher must address adolescent personalities morally and intellectually at the most critical moment of their formation. Therefore, she needs the spirit of the highest, wisest and most conscious soul motherhood, she needs to have a great inner preparation and intuition, fervor and discretion. Accordingly, she can have the most precious results, the deepest and sweetest satisfactions, she can truly awaken souls by revealing them to themselves, and save weak and deluded creatures from mistakes and failings.
This is how the foundations of future families are laid, but to do it in the most effective way, teachers should be like “mothers” as much as possible and like “teachers” as little as possible; that means, even while demanding the necessary mental work, they must not favor sterile intellectualism, proud culture as an end in itself, especially in young girls, but that they should justify every intellectual study by demonstrating its human value, and indicating its beneficial uses in social and family life. It is important that they take care of the students individually, entering into their confidence, advising them maternally. The maternal vocation of the woman, the need that the female heart has to nourish and protect, finds one of its noblest manifestations in assisting the sick and suffering. The nursing profession can truly rise, when illuminated by high spiritual fervor, to the exercise of a mission in the highest sense of the term, as happened for the great pioneer of the great modern nursing movement, Florence Nightingale. (See the beautiful biography of her written by Laura Orvieto: “Thus lived Florence Nightingale”).
A task, an even more modern mission in which women can do very well by exercising their maternal function, is that of the social worker and the factory secretary. I spoke to some of them and I understood how much good they can do in the families of workers, with all their social difficulties, in their relations with the authorities, in health matters, etc. But through this, they can also bring spiritual light and moral education, and work together and bring enlightenment into thousands of people’s families.
So, there is room for all kinds of activities. Each woman can enhance her motherhood for her own intimate satisfaction and for the good of society. Indeed, I would say that this is a necessity of modern times. Our civilization is set on an overly masculine foundation. And it’s a man who is recognizing this and who is saying it to you. The masculine element has its strengths: it is dynamic, constructive and progressive, it is what keeps you going, what makes you act. Let’s fully evaluate its strengths, but also recognize its excesses and shortcomings: it is too extreme. It often destroys life in the process of creating the new. The function of women, on the other hand, is conservative: it preserves life, transmits it, defends it. The right balance is therefore needed in society between the progressive, dynamic and creative, but troublesome male impetus and the conservative element in the woman. The woman therefore has a great social function to perform, and she can do it very well without any “feminism”; indeed excessive “feminism” would be contrary to that function because in this way the woman would be imitating male attitudes and activities, and would simply become a poor copy!
Women, on the other hand, while remaining so in the truest and highest sense of the term, can leave the small family circle and bring the gift of their “motherhood” into society, either as a primary teacher or secondary teacher, or as a nurse or midwife; the gift of love and understanding, of the work that saves, that illuminates, that protects, that comforts, that heals. The more the woman is aware of this human and spiritual mission, the better she will fulfill it, the more we will have a balanced and harmonious society, in which men and women can fully fulfill their highest potential.