You may already know Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), the visionary founder of psychosynthesis, was an Italian medical doctor from Florence who studied under Freud. He was also the first psychoanalyst in Italy and a colleague of Jung’s. But what else do you know about him? Below are seven fascinating facts about Roberto Assagioli that might surprise you.
You can learn more about the man and his life, including a premier showing of a film about him, on Sunday, 3 July, by joining the London Wellspring Group for Assagioli Appreciation Day. For tickets and more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
1. When Assagioli was 11-½ years old, his family was living in Venice. One evening while watching the sunset, he understood intuitively the structure of the human psyche and the mystery of the Self. All the concepts that today form the basis of psychosynthesis, he realized in 20 minutes. He would often say: “That day I received the skeleton of psychosynthesis, and since then, for the rest of my life, I have put the meat around those bones!” (Giovetti, 1995, p. 105).
2. Assagioli was 27 years old when he was called to arms as a medical doctor in World War I. He never spoke about his time spent during this period, except for the fact that he never shot or carried a revolver. Instead he made one of soap, painted it black, and managed to convince everyone that he was armed (Giovetti, 1995, p. 37).
3. Perhaps you already know that Assagioli published scientific papers in his native language of Italian, as well as in English, German, and French. But did you know that he also learned Russian before his visit to Russia in 1910? He said that he had about 30 lessons and studied irregularly, often during boring university classes. He was interested in the language in order to come into contact with Russian life and “penetrate most deeply the baffling psychology of the people.” Fifty years later, he still could remember “a delicate and musical sonnet of Lermontow [in Russian] as well as other poems.” (Assagioli, 1992, p. 13).
4. If you have ever visited Casa Assagioli, his home in Florence, you know how extensive his library is. Assagioli often had double copies of books, one for his home in Florence and one for his summer house in Capolona, where he and his wife Nella would escape for cooler temperatures. Before leaving for their summer retreat, he would often load up the car with so many books that she would come out to find her seat taken! (personal interview with Dr. Renzo Giacomini, 2012).
5. Assagioli had wooden blocks with imprints of his evocative words made, which guests of Gruppo Alle Fonti today are often invited to use. When asked why, near the end of this life, he was still using evocative words, he replied: “There is never any end to our personal psychosynthesis” (Giovetti, 1995, p. 81). When he died, the cards in his study were Patience and Serenity.
6. Perhaps you are familiar with how Assagioli used scraps of paper to write down his thoughts. Thousands of these are now cataloged in the Assagioli archives in Florence and can even be visited online. When asked why he wrote on these small bits of paper, referred affectionately to as Assagiolini, he answered smiling, “They are accumulators of energy! (Rosselli, 2012, p. 18).
Assagioli also used these “accumulators of energy” to teach his students. Sergio Bartoli recalls one time he defended Assagioli’s writings before officials in the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis. The next day, Assagioli slipped “one of his famous notes” into the student’s pocket that said the following: “Correct your impulsiveness!” (Giovetti, 1995, p. 78).
7. Assagioli was a theosophist, and according to his niece Donatella Ciapetti Assagioli, “esotericism formed his basis, but he always separated his interests in esotericism from his scientific work, because he did not want to be misunderstood” (Giovetti, 1995, p. 74). He believed in reincarnation, telling Sam Keen (1974) soon before his death that:
“Death looks to me primarily like a vacation. There are many hypotheses about death and the idea of reincarnation seems the most sensible to me. I have no direct knowledge about reincarnation but my belief puts me in good company with hundreds of millions of Eastern people, with the Buddha and many others in the West. Death is a normal part of a biological cycle. It is my body that dies and not all of me. So I don't care much. I may die this evening but I would willingly accept a few more years in order to do the work I am interested in, which I think may be useful to others. I am, as the French say, disponable (available). Also humor helps, and a sense of proportion. I am one individual on a small planet in a little solar system in one of the galaxies.”
Assagioli, R. (1992). Come si imparano le lingue con l’inconscio. Firenze: Istituto di Psicosintesi.
Giovetti, P. (1995). Roberto Assagioli. La vita e l’opera del fondatore della Psicosintesi, Roma: Edizioni Mediterranee.
Keen, S. (1974). The golden mean of Roberto Assagioli. Psychology Today. Downloaded on 4 March, 2016 from http://synthesiscenter.org/articles/0303.pdf.
Rosselli, M. (2012). Roberto Assagioli, A bright star, International Journal of Psychotherapy, 16:2, pp. 7-19.
Catherine Ann Lombard, M.A., is a psychosynthesis psychologist, practitioner and researcher. She has had numerous articles published on psychosynthesis, and she will be one of the speakers during the Assagioli Appreciation Day. You can follow her blog at LoveAndWill.com
Photo © by Catherine Ann Lombard/LoveAndWill.com