Dr. Roberto Assagioli

Taken from the Association for the Advancement of Psychosyntheis website:

His life had a wholeness offered to few men or women; whole, in the sense that the bold innovator born nearly a century ago lived to see his ideas take form in hundreds of articles, books in many languages, students in numerous countries, a body of theory pregnant with new implications and consequences, and centers continuing to develop his work in the United States, Canada, England, Italy, Switzerland, France, Greece and Argentina.

Such outer completeness, the struggle well-won, and the legacy left to his fellow men would be enough. But there was – and equally precious for those who knew him personally – an inner wholeness about this man that was itself a continuous, living triumph over death. He had the achievement of joy, of a dynamic serenity and wisdom. And he was complete in that he himself did not fear death: so vital, he never worried his passing, despite his own physical frailty during the last twenty-five years. It was as if he sensed that nothing important would be taken away, as if, in the joy he achieved, there was some personal knowledge of immortality.

Be that as it may, the achievement of the man, both public and personal, recalls our attention and deserves to be remembered.

Roberto Assagioli was born in Venice in 1888. To the west of Italy Queen Victoria ruled the Empire, and to the east a Viennese physician was already mining the foundations of Victorian culture. In 1910 Assagioli, the young medical student, introduced the important discoveries of Sigmund Freud to his professors at Florence. His name appears in the histories of psychoanalysis as one of the first two or three Italians to pioneer in bringing the courage and rationality of the psychoanalytic insight to bear on the frequent shallowness of Victorian life. This alone would, and did, make him noteworthy.

The remarkable thing, however, is that while embracing the radical new currents of psychoanalysis, he simultaneously – in 1910 – laid the groundwork for a critique of that same psychoanalysis. He saw that it was only partial, that it neglected the exploration of what Maslow, some sixty years later, would call “the farther reaches of human nature.” Assagioli’s purpose was to create a scientific approach which encompassed the whole man – creativity and will, joy and wisdom, as well as impulses and drives. Moreover, he wanted this integrative approach to be practical – not merely an understanding of how we live, but an aid in helping us live better, more fully, according to the best that is within each of us. This conception he called psychosynthesis.

He was very early. Who was there to hear such a large and balanced statement? Not many people in the twenties, not in the thirties, not in the forties, not in the fifties, were ready. It was only in the late sixties that, with the suddenness born of deep and massive need, his books and other writings were taken up by thousands. Almost sixty years needed to elapse, so far was he ahead of his time.

He was never alone, of course. He was always a well-known figure, even prominent in Roman culture before the Second World War. He had correspondents and friends, colleagues and co-workers, all over the world – Jung, Maslow and Tagore among them. But the real work of those many years was a work of preparation; of patient thinking, studying, and learning the ways of the human psyche, of writing and rewriting. It was as if he were called to nurture, in a relative quietness, the outline of a theoretical and practical view of the human being that men and women of the seventies and beyond could use.

Of his personal goodness, his patient understanding of co-workers, students, and clients, his brilliant and seasoned wisdom, his compassion and selfless giving of himself in service to others – much could be said. Here though, the note that we wish to sound is the one he himself always sounded – the note of joy. Claude Servan-Schreiber wrote of the first visit she and her husband made to the aged Florentine Doctor: “For a long moment we looked at each other, all three of us, without speaking. Assagioli smiling, his eyes astonishingly vital within a face lined by great age, moving over us, going from one to the other. Was he submitting us to an examination? It was, instead, the opposite. He was allowing us to discover him leisurely, to establish a connection with him, without us even realizing this was happening. It was a climate of communication where words find their place later, while something like a current was developing between us. His face was shining with an extraordinary, radiant, inner glow, such as I have never encountered in an octogenarian, and rarely in men much younger. This message of joy, perceived immediately, communicated immediately, is the finest memory which I keep of the numerous meetings which we later had with him. ‘All is possible and accessible to you: joy, serenity, I offer them to you as a gift.’

The sources of his joy were deep within him, and he shared them freely, showing many others a way toward the freedom of such joy. He found joy in the experience of what he called the Self- the inner core, dynamic and transcendent, radiant with consciousness and powerful with will, immutable, universal. He found joy in his own Self and the Self he could see in everyone else. He elicited the joy of Self-realization in those who came to see him. He found joy in the contemplation of beauty, of art, of ideas, of service; of science, of nature. It was the joy of this knowing that must have made the years of his waiting easy. This was a far-seeing joy, one that grew on his love of contemplating from his garden the vast and starry reaches of the Italian sky – the endless worlds, the living cosmic miracle of what is and what is becoming. We can miss such a man, but it is hard to mourn you, Roberto, you with your face in the stars.

[NOTE: This description of the life and work of Dr. Roberto Assagioli was taken from an article titled In Memoriam: Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) in the second Synthesis Journal. Author is unknown.]