Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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Double Take (published in the Society of Homeopaths Journal Spring 2017) by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Double Take
(Spring edition 2017, The Journal of the Society of Homeopaths)

Do you practise homeopathy only with your head – or does it involve your heart and soul too? Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley have differing views…

RJR: Practising homeopathy is quite a heady experience. Analysing cases, choosing methodologies, selecting rubrics, comparing repertorisation and differentiating remedies – these skills all involve the part of our brain that is rational. Our lucidity enables us to be the objective, grounded and clear-thinking unprejudiced observer that Hahnemann encouraged.

And we know that practising homeopathy is a very hearty experience too. Often it is the empathetic wounded soul within that awakens us to our purpose and journey as homeopath and healer in this lifetime. And our infinite compassion undoubtedly fuels our desire to help others in need.

But I wonder what ingredients of our inner being support us to remain consistently present throughout our years in practice, endlessly empowering us to stay motivated, open and willing to persist in service.

For me, my practice as a homeopath, is an extension of my practice as a human being. In life I am boundlessly curious to discover the keys to unlock the obstacles that stand in the way of my healthy journey forward. In our current era of mass deception by corporations and the media, coupled with the persistent myopic and mechanistic medical model, it takes an unbreakable kind of mindfulness for us not to be hoodwinked into dropping down into a hidden well of suppression and toxicity.

I perceive my trail ahead of me, and I am excited by the view. My journey so far has not exhausted or broken me, but has imbued me with a special kind of wisdom and understanding. And in the holding of that light, I am forever motivated to share it with others.

I see my life past as one of many lessons learned, and my future self as a vessel for that continued learning. Each heartbreak, trauma and loss brings to consciousness a part of me that I did not know existed, and I use that dynamism to carry me forward. I actively resist resistance, with the awareness that the more I evolve, the more I am able to empower myself – and guide and empower others.

To adapt Kahlil Gibran’s sentiment, the healing comes through you but not from you. I know when I sit with my patients that my intention to heal and transform, the potency of the words with which I choose to enquire and flow, the field in which I work, and the ability to perceive a person’s essence, comes through me, because I am open and receptive to embody a healing vehicle for them. I feel the support of the animals, minerals and plants from whom we have come, and with whom we share this planet. I feel their connection and energy, as I do that of the person with whom I sit, who has come to me for help.

And for myself and my life, and my practice as homeopath, Dylan Thomas’ words resonate: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night – rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ My dying I will accept in peace, but while living, I will let his words ignite me with endless fire to continue on my quest – and support others in theirs.

NS: I tend to be passionate about the things I feel are right – sometimes too passionate. But the passion in my approach to homeopathic practice was always cooled by a vision of being as down-to-earth as an old-fashioned family GP.

I wanted to employ the potential of homeopathic remedies to help with everything from babies with eczema, to adults with midlife crises, and the elderly with chronic ailments for which allopathic approaches seemed to have very little to offer.

I recognised that my desire to be part of an alternative healing process was born out of my own experiences (and those of many others) with conventional medicine, and was also (for good or ill) part of an anti-establishment attitude.

I did not and do not see it as part of some deeply spiritual journey – either for me or for the patients. People get ill – we all get ill – and there are natural ways to rebalance people’s health and get them closer to being whole again. Homeopathy is one of those ways, along with a number of other long-established non-allopathic therapies from all over the world.

If, as practitioners, we employ the wisdom of nature – herbs and minerals and nutrition or massage and bodywork systems or energetic medicine – it doesn’t necessarily make us mystics or shamans.

Hahnemann always stressed that homeopathy was a science, and by practising it according to the basic laws that he discovered and laid down for us to follow and possibly develop, we are – or should be – behaving like scientists.

Yes, homeopathy is also an art – but it may not be helpful if we lose the balance between science and art and sway too much towards the “creative” approach to homeopathy.

We have knowledge of and access to hundreds of healing remedies and these can be employed for the good of those who are suffering. This is a wonderful and at times seemingly miraculous thing – but maybe it is good to keep ourselves rooted in practicalities rather than float off into clouds of self-discovery and spiritual significance.

I am retired from practice now. But recently I took my first case in many months for a friend suffering with a chronic ailment that nothing else could help. Within days of taking the remedy, their symptoms had gone and they remain well. My passion for homeopathy – and my amazement at its effectiveness – has been reignited.

RJR/NS: Homeopathy is a serious business – for both practitioner and patient. Whether the homeopath’s natural tendency is to be either spiritual or earthly, they need to combine passion with practicality, and art with science. As long as we strive to be ourselves – with openness and honesty – we can do our best for others.


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Talking About Our Emotions Guiding Us by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Our Emotions Guiding Us by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson
Image: Clarity by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: Have you ever thought why we actually have emotions, and how they actually might serve us? I am interested in exploring our primary emotions in this Double Take with you Nigel, and I also welcome our readers to contribute. What do you think our feelings of anxiety might be trying to tell us?

NS: We have given labels to all sorts of emotions, as if they were colours of the rainbow or different species of birds, but in reality perhaps there is only emotion and emotional responses. Anxiety or neurosis, or whatever we call it, does not come out of nowhere and take control of us. It is actually us. This is what we are. So what that feeling is telling us is this is what you are. But then we are capable of having – and being – what we call ‘mixed emotions’. So what meaning does that have for us?

RJR: I am wondering about the role of anxiety telling us there is something wrong in our lives that we need to put our attention to. What do you think about that?

NS: Yes, that must be right. The anxiety is a sign of our dis-ease and we need to attend to that. Sometimes our anxious state can be triggered by external events, for example, just out of the blue, suppose an idiot or a bigot became the head of state of a major power in the world – it would be quite understandable for us to be in an anxious state. We can attend to our internal imbalances, hopefully, but what do we do about being anxious for an arguably good reason?

RJR: What a great question. Well I think there is much we can do internally to keep our equilibrium when something external creates dis-ease in our emotions. I think the answer lies in how we choose to think about a situation. Do we allow ourselves to be influenced by the media, for example? Do we have the opinions of certain people whom we trust? Do we have our own self-reflection process to rely on to get us back into our own state of balance? Do we know how it feels to be balanced? For me Donald Trump, at this time, represents for people the issue of change. None of us are mind readers, but most of us resist change. And for those that resist, change brings about anxiety….

NS: Obviously, I don’t want to talk too much about Donald Trump, and I think that your answer spells out how to look at our anxious state when it is created by outside factors. But aren’t there times when it is completely the right thing to be in an anxious state? Or a state of fear? Suppose you are being attacked or having to confront a bully?

RJR: Absolutely! The oldest part of our brain – our reptilian brain – will hopefully save us from danger by triggering numerous chemical reactions in our bodies to enable us to either protect ourselves or move us swiftly out of danger, by way of our fight or flight response. But what happens if the danger is more chronic? Suppose we are doing something in our lives that is not sustainable? Perhaps we are in a relationship that we know is not good for us or we are living beyond our means? Perhaps we are not taking care of our health or forever procrastinating on something that we know we need to address? Do you think our system sending out anxiety is a good way to help us to focus in?

NS: Yes. In those ‘acute’ situations, fear or anxiety spur us to action – it’s all instantaneous. The ‘chronic’ situation you mention is different, of course. But I would argue that our system isn’t ‘sending out’ anxiety – we are that anxiety – it’s how we are and how we live – and we do everything in a constant state of anxiety. If that becomes our normal way of being, how can we get out of it?

RJR: Mindfulness teaches us that we are separate from our thoughts and our feelings to a certain extent, and by perceiving ourselves that way, we can calm ourselves out of anxiety. I am not sure that we all do live in a constant state of anxiety. So in answer to your question – mindfulness.

NS; How can the thinker be separate from the thought? Isn’t it only when there is awareness (or mindfulness, if you like) that there is no separation, that there may be clarity? I didn’t intend to suggest that we are all living in a state of constant anxiety – I was just referring to when we are in that state. The question remains: are our emotions useful or do they make life more difficult?

RJR: Mindfulness is a practice. If you see that you have control over your thoughts, then the result is that you have control over your thoughts. Your thoughts define how you feel, so you can influence both. The separation can lead to clarity, especially when we are overwhelmed by circling thoughts, and intense feelings. Our emotions guide us, I believe. They all serve a purpose somehow.

NS: If ‘you’ and ‘your thoughts’ are inseparable, I can’t see how the former can control the latter. We probably have to disagree here. But we may not act on thoughts, for example, we might feel like killing someone, but it’s unlikely that we will actually do it. Emotions are a guide, and maybe we need to embrace them. Maybe they are proof that we are alive. Could we live without emotions?

RJR: In my reflective process today, I have chosen to have different thoughts than I did yesterday, yet I am still me. I am so much more than my thoughts. I agree it is a great idea to embrace our feelings. That is why we experience them. If we are feeling sad, the best way through that sadness, however painful, is to experience it. What is life like for those who suppress anger? A life without feelings is a regular complaint of people on antidepressants. They come to my practice in order to find an alternative, and most say that they cannot feel their emotions, and they are suffering as a result.

NS: Sorry to be argumentative, but isn’t choosing to have different thoughts… a thought? I think we agree about embracing emotions such as sadness – rather than go into denial about them or to spend our time wishing things were different to how they are. Emotions may be the best guide to what is going on with us, yes?

RJR: I would say it is more of a process than a thought. Emotions are our guide to finding out truth in any given situation. What do our readers think?

NS: Emotions are definitely a guide we should pay attention to in this complex area of thought, choice, decision and understanding. And sometimes perhaps doing nothing but paying attention – or even doing nothing – may lead to fresh insight. I think we definitely need some input from our readers on this.


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Talking About Dating Apps, Catfish and more, by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley (Image: Trying to Connect by Rowena J Ronson)

Talking About Dating Apps, Catfish and more, by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

RJR: I wonder what impact dating apps, such as Tinder and Happn, are having on the human psyche and the way we are now ‘connecting’ with each other. What are people really looking for when they enlist their most appealing selfie (or someone else’s) as their ambassador in this new overriding virtual reality that has swiftly become our modern-day concept of existence?

NS: With everyone on their smartphone or tablet almost all of their waking day, perhaps the concept of intimacy is now inextricably linked to technology, rather than the unpredictable but sometimes rather interesting twists and turns of real reality. Do we prefer to wear masks, rather than reveal ourselves?

RJR: Imagine the scenario…. you are in a bar in London…. a great opportunity to chat and connect with people. Instead you stare at the top of everyone’s heads as they look down and talk to each other through technology…. if indeed they actually like each other’s freeze frame at the time! It is a really great way to hide and avoid intimacy, but allows us to be fed just enough to have our egos boosted for a few minutes, if we are lucky….

NS: However and wherever we meet people, there is this whole problem of the image that we present of ourselves and the image that we create about others. It seems that the virtual world encourages us to make and perceive yet another layer of images, and in the midst of all these images, what chance is there of a real relationship between two actual people?

RJR: I totally agree with you. And your question brought up for me one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this. I am not sure people are really looking for real relationships right now. I think many are fed enough by the attention they can glean through dating apps and other ways of superficially connecting through social media. Why have a real relationship with someone, and have to be a real person ourselves, when we can live in a dream reality of ourselves and others?

NS: Isn’t a dream or fantasy relationship one-sided? That makes it safe, I suppose. But it can’t be a relationship unless it’s two-sided, can it? Maybe the fantasy is easier but is it ultimately satisfying? I think it’s the case that many people are disillusioned with relationships and may not want to ‘go there’ anymore. And maybe the fact that you can have a virtual life rather than a real one strengthens this aversion to real relationships – and thus real life. Because life without relationships, however appealing that may be sometimes, is not a complete life, is it?

RJR: I have been researching the modern day phenomena of Catfish through watching the reality-based documentary television series of the same name, and this has been a huge eye-opener for me. People connect with each other on the internet and then develop what feels like deep relationships through texting, and sometimes the person they think they are communicating with is someone completely different. There is so much to think about and say with regards to this, but the first issue that springs to mind, as I said earlier, is how we are fed, so to speak. For some, texting is enough.

NS: Wasn’t there a craze for virtual girlfriends (in Japan, I think) a while ago? I’m not sure how that panned out. But we seem to be getting to a place now where people may be very happy with what is, in effect, a one-sided relationship. Is that safe? Or is it dangerous?

RJR: I don’t know about that craze. Can you tell me more? What do you mean by a one-sided relationship? Then I might be able to answer your question….

NS: It started about three years ago. See this link Meet the Japanese Men in Love With Virtual Girlfriends. The Japanese men in question were having relationships with girlfriends who they knew didn’t exist. But they seemed to find this ok. That is what I mean by one-sided. It’s like having a relationship with your teddy bear – or an imaginary friend. And maybe something like that is happening online?

RJR: Sounds great to me! I was actually quite taken by the film Her (2013), and the idea of forming a relationship with an operating system, which develops into a unique loving entity as a result of its interactions with its user. Maybe that will be the way forward?

NS: Maybe it will. But that’s definitely one-human-sided. Or a relationship with yourself? And what happens to the stimulus of unpredictability? Or are we better off without it? And what about sex? That surely is more interesting with two humans rather than one, isn’t it?

RJR: I think that would be the only one-sided relationship I would want. And I don’t think it would lack stimulation or unpredictability – according to the film – a must watch. We are born with a social brain, which is programmed to develop through our interaction with others. It is a human need to be in relationship with others.

NS: I think that last point must be right. But technology does seem to have made the ‘one-sided’ relationship much more possible – and maybe even very appealing to some people. And if people give up on trying to form loving relationships with real people, where does that leave us heading?

RJR: I think we are not just heading somewhere, but we are actually already there. We are in relationship with technology, whether we like it or not. For some, reaching out through Facebook live chats is a very nourishing way to check in with themselves, as well as connect with others. Perhaps we need to turn our own thoughts and feelings around on this one, and see the positive side?

NS: I agree that we are there already. But I don’t agree that Facebook is a satisfactory source of nourishment. It’s another example of a kind of one-sided relationship: people primarily talking about themselves and wanting someone to ‘like’ them or what they are doing or agree with what they are saying. I have actually tried to live without it and have found myself going back. It’s addictive and in some ways useful… but does it really offer anything that creates or sustains satisfying relationships?

RJR: I was not encouraging an addiction to Facebook. But recently, in my time off from relationships, I have been watching a philosophical thinker, Jason Silva. He is the creator of Shots of Awe, which are really worth checking out, and what he says has really inspired me. When he is on Facebook live, often more than a thousand people interact with him. And I know it brings him, and those responding to him, joy. Perhaps it is the shared wavelength and the feeling of being met, or perhaps the fact that we are all connected anyway. In recent weeks since I have discovered him, I have been in much better relationship with myself, and there is a lot to be said for that.

NS: Maybe lonely hearts aren’t so lonely when they all link up, or feel that they are linking up, via technology. Even though we are ‘there’, I still think we’re heading somewhere too. And I fear that that somewhere will be life as, in effect, a computer simulation. A simulacrum of life… rather than real human life. And perhaps we should remember that all of this technology, and many who exploit it, do so to make money… not to unite humanity. I still think nothing can substitute for a loving relationship that has no connection with technology.

RJR: Nothing beats a cuddle 🙂 What do our readers think?


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Talking About Couples Counselling by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Couples Counselling by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

twin-souls

Twin Souls (Image by Rowena J Ronson)

RJR: I am enjoying, more and more, my work with couples and their relationships. I am finding that there is far less stigma about going to see a therapist to maintain healthy communication, on all levels, than there was in the past. So much can be gained by investing the time and energy with a loving and objective counsellor, who can hold the space for a couple to work through their differences and rediscover their strengths.

NS: But doesn’t the success of couples therapy depend on both partners in the relationship wanting equally to work through things? If there is an imbalance, as there so often is, can counselling succeed?

RJR: It is better if both members of a couple are invested in wanting something from the counselling, and it might be that they want to work towards a conscious uncoupling. But therapy can still work if one person is more invested than the other, if the sessions are handled fairly and honestly.

NS: If one is more invested than the other, how do you go about being fair to both parties?

RJR: By just holding the space, being present, and working with what is in the room and most of it is very subtle. I check in with both people at the start of a session and ask what each want to work with that day. They have often discussed what they want to bring before the session, and then we work with it and what develops from it too. They introduce what is going on for them and they know not to interrupt each other, and to truly listen. I often work with Gestalt chair work, so once they have heard each other, I ask them to swap chairs and address each other from the other’s perspective – they role play each other – and the insights come from that.

NS: Does the role play put some couples off? Do some use it in a negative way – to ‘attack’ their partner? And does the therapist wonder in some instances: what on earth are these two people doing together?

RJR: The concept of role play can make people feel uneasy – just thinking about it! But once they try it, they can really see the benefits. I hold the process carefully, in and outside of role play, so attacking is never encouraged, as it doesn’t achieve anything positive. The whole environment in the sessions is about connection, truly listening to each other and gaining different insights and perspectives. It is team work – all three of us. Your last question is an interesting one! I would like to think I do not bring those judgments into the room. There is always a reason why two people get together, and the essence of that is always there, even if it becomes really well concealed! We are all human beings who are capable of love, communication and compassion. There is always something to be gained from couples counselling.

NS: There must, presumably, be some couplings that were a mistake right from the start; and maybe that fact can also become concealed or buried. But if there are real reasons why people get together, how do the people concerned lose sight of those reasons? And how do you help them to see them again? Or do they, or you, have to find new and more relevant reasons for their being together?

RJR: Well I would question the idea of mistakes. My belief is that life is all about learning, and through our relationships we learn a great deal. I married young and was only in relationship with my husband for seven years. We were both very immature and unskilled and couples counseling, at the end of our marriage, gave us both clarity that we were not destined to spend the rest of our lives together. But we did have two fabulous boys to show for our union, and I have never viewed our relationship as a mistake. I do think that if there is compatibility and love, even if one or both members of a couple lose sight of that, it can be recaptured in counselling. I provide a safe space where each person can be heard and the relationship can be natured and hopefully rekindled. We can do that in many ways, including bringing into the light what each appreciates about the other. What do you mean by new and relevant reasons?

NS: Maybe we could agree that we learn from what happens. You’re saying there are no mistakes – only what happens. And I’m more or less persuaded on this now. But presumably it could be a “mistake” for two people who could have a positive and fulfilling relationship to throw it away? By “new and relevant reasons”, I meant that perhaps the factors that brought two people together in the first place may no longer apply, but there may be now different but equally compelling factors that could bind them together.

RJR: I would prefer not to view relationships that come to an end as being ‘thrown away.’ It feels a very negative way to view the ending of a relationship that is causing more harm than good to those involved. I am interested to know what ‘equally compelling factors’ you are referring to and I am interested too in your expression ‘bind them together.’

NS: I think it’s sometimes good to be negative. We give being negative a negative connotation, but in fact that can be a peculiar way of thinking. If someone gives up heroin, we don’t see that as being negative – but of course, it is. To end a destructive relationship, which has taught you nothing but that it was a disaster from the beginning … is not dissimilar. So let’s hear it for being negative and walking away … and not looking back in any way. The compelling factors I was referring to could be that the two people concerned have both changed and/or their world has changed … but they may find they have something new in terms of commonality and love that wasn’t there at the beginning. ‘Being bound together’ is perhaps an unfortunate choice of phrase, but I mean there could be something that makes them feel they want to still be committed to each other.

RJR: I like what you say about giving negative a negative connotation. I had not thought about that way. Bring on the shadow! I think it is good to end destructive relationships – be it romantic or otherwise. But I always think there is something we must have learned. ‘Not looking back in any way’ sounds extreme – and I am not sure how useful. I suspect we have all observed friends moving on swiftly from one relationship to another (and even get married again), only for them to come across the same issue, just dressed slightly differently. If they had taken space in between and reflected on their previous relationship, and what they learned, perhaps they would have made different choices the next time. And I am sure you know my response to your final question. If two people feel like they want to stay together, for whatever reason, the reason does not matter at all.

NS: I guess something that we definitely take from one relationship to the next is ourselves. And if we don’t change, then the relationship problems are likely to be similar. Perhaps pre-coupling singles counselling might be a good idea? Alone or together, it seems that we have to be prepared to observe, understand and change.

RJR: I completely agree with you 🙂 Now what do our readers think? Feedback and contributions welcome!


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Talking About Food Addiction by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Food Addiction by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

curvaceous

Image: Curvaceous by Rowena J Ronson

NS: Karen Carpenter was a beautiful young woman with a sublime singing voice – and she was a great drummer. You don’t get many combinations better than that. She should surely have had a happy and fulfilling life; but at the age of 32, she was dead from anorexia. Why would someone who appeared to have it all bring about, in effect, their own death? And why does our relationship with food seem to play such a large role in some mental and emotional dramas?

RJR: Your words bring up a lot of questions for me, including what does it mean to be happy? There is also a ‘should’ in what you are saying. Should Karen Carpenter have been happy and fulfilled, following her purpose in life. If only the human brain were that simple. If we were all content, would none of us have an eating disorder? What do you think?

NS: I was probably saying something naive to suggest that musical brilliance would equate to a happy life. How much great music has been created by troubled souls? And it may well be that contentment eludes almost all of us. But how does discontent become linked to food? Is this all about our image of ourselves? Or is there also something else going on?

RJR: It seems musical brilliance can often lead to the exact opposite of a happy life. Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, Ian Curtis and Jimi Hendrix are examples of those troubled souls you mention. As for food, we derive such comfort from eating, don’t we? An unhealthy relationship with food is encouraged from when we are very young. Our parents control us by depriving us of or treating us with food. Young babies can take some control back by not eating and seeing the impact it has on the emotions of the caregivers. I think food issues such as anorexia go way deeper than image…

NS: Yes, food can be very comforting and very satisfying – and instantly. In this respect, it may be much more potent than the other things we seek to give us comfort and satisfaction. But if it fails to give sufficient comfort, do we then feel we have to have more of it? Is this one of the roads to obesity? Food also does seem to be tied up with reward and punishment – and that presumably can include punishing ourselves, either through giving ourselves too much or too little food. If food were not so readily available as it is in the so-called developed world, would it be the potential problem that it is? Have we lost sight of what food is actually for?

RJR: From working with a great many binge eaters, I hear that mostly the overeating leads to discomfort. On a basic level, though, we all overeat. We all put way too much focus on food. We need far less than we feel we do – and this obviously does not just relate to food. And our minds become very used to excess. What feels like a normal portion one day, can subtly be expanded to a whole new ‘normal’, and it goes on. I agree that reward and punishment play their part in our food story. Small children often feel they can take control of their parents by using food as leverage. And this of course stems from society where food is given as treats. From the patients that I have seen with anorexia, I don’t think that they believe that they are punishing themselves by not eating. And I am not sure it is about availability of food either. It goes a lot deeper than that.

NS: If food were not so readily available – and over-available – would food-related problems still exist? I’m sure you’re right that we all eat too much, putting our bodies under excessive strain through having to process it all. But if anorexia has very little to do with food, as seems likely, then what do you think is going on?

RJR: You ask good questions. I guess there are not many overeaters in Tanzania! But over here in the West, we are conditioned to base everything around eating. In terms of anorexia, each person tells their own story. What do you think might be a reason to start that level of control over oneself?

NS: It does seem to be about control in some way. But is it control taken to the point of self-harm? Discipline taken to a point where it is almost punishment? You have said that it is not about punishment and imply that it is more about self-control. We usually use the term self-control as a virtue. Does the anorexic see their behaviour as virtuous or good? Could it even be more than control? A sort of triumph of the mind over the body?

RJR: Good questions, and I am sure it is different for different people. The control and lack of control all seem part of it. Seeing it as a triumph would be a delusion anyway. All of this lies in the unconscious mind, so we can only guess what is going on for each individual, and they will not really know either….

NS: In that case, is it as far as we can go to say that somehow the outer reflects or exhibits the inner. That the physical appearance is indicative of the inner turmoil – just like a frown or a grimace but more extreme, and more “controlled”? Is it a form of wordless language – saying something like: “Look, this is what is going on inside me”?

RJR: And that is a great question with which to open up this discussion to our audience. I invite our readers to contribute.


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On Being Human by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

On Being Human by Nigel Summerley and Rowena J Ronson

Speak To Me

Photograph: Speak To Me by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: I am just back from the One World Festival and I was struck by how friendly people were! We all shared a smile as we crossed each other’s path, it was almost a shock at the beginning. It started to make me think how strange the reverse is in terms of how we live the rest of our lives. We walk along London roads completely closed to those around us. We cram ourselves in carriages on the tube, breathing each other in, but not uttering a word or exchanging a glance. How has this become the norm?

NS: This is not exclusively a London experience. It can happen also in the country – anywhere. And in London, you can live in a neighbourhood where people are friendly and do speak to each other. But generally, we increasingly don’t speak to each other – or even acknowledge each other. At the same time many of us are wrapped up in phone and email conversations as we move among those we are not speaking to. So we ARE communicating and NOT communicating at the same time. Is it us or technology that is to blame? Or just increased population?

RJR: Interesting points Nigel. Mobile phones seem to have become many people’s companion as they walk along the road. I was behind a woman yesterday in St Albans, and I could tell you had no issue with crawling along while scrolling pages on her phone, regardless of how busy the high street was or that she was holding others up. She was in her own bubble and no one else mattered. So I do think mobiles play a part in it, even if we are not communicating with someone while walking, we can so easily not be present. And I guess maybe there is something in that. When we are on a busy tube, do we ignore others because we really do not want to be present? Is the experience too unbearable? Watching people on busy streets passing each other by without a thought or glance, it is almost surreal, and this is how we were as humans way before mobile telephones….

NS: Yes, mobile phones used like this are perhaps a red herring – or a symptom of what you are talking about. Fundamentally, it seems that we don’t talk to each other on the tube etc, partly because we are stressed and engrossed in our own stuff – but perhaps mainly because we don’t know each other. We tend not to talk to ‘strangers’. Previous generations – in a world without so many people – did seem to talk to each other more. But apart from there being so many of us now, there is also an element of fear, isn’t there? You don’t know what might happen if you do speak to a ‘stranger’.

RJR: I think you are spot on about the issue of ‘so many people’. I think it brings out a sense of overwhelm and a need to disconnect and retreat into our own bubbles. I guess it is a survival mechanism. I am not so sure if it is a conscious a process as fear of what might happen but maybe there is an element of that for some too. I have spoken to several people recently who say that they just cannot cope with travelling in and around London anymore by tube. They feel it is such a huge zap on their energy for which they take several hours if not a day or so to recover. This is not something that they have experienced in the past. Can you relate to this?

NS: The tube in rush hour is one of the most potent reminders of how overcrowded we are – and also the epitome of the stress of city life. It’s not surprising that we retreat into our bubble – and perhaps become increasingly careful about whom we allow to have access to that bubble. But the more we are estranged from each other, the easier it is, it seems, for things to break down. It must, in most cases, be easier to be violent towards a stranger than towards someone you know. And doesn’t this potential explosion of violence in an overcrowded environment apply as much to the world as it does to the city?

RJR: I guess it does. It is interesting that you have brought violence into the equation. Tell me what made you make the link?

NS: City life is the proverbial ‘rat trap’ – and on the tube we are overcrowded and stressed and hemmed in by strangers. In these circumstances animals are more likely to fight each other for survival.

RJR: And by being forced to use the reptilian part of our brain, do we become less in touch with our humanity?

NS: That could be a chicken-and-egg situation – we may lose touch with our humanity and then resort to basic violence. If we dehumanise everyone around us, then violence becomes easier. So is there anything we can do to focus on the fact that ‘strangers’ are similar to ourselves?

RJR: Be conscious? But I am not sure that is the point is it? Our consciousness tends to go out the window of the train as our need for self protection has a louder calling.

NS: Perhaps being conscious would allow us to risk losing whatever it is that we think is so important that we tend to protect it at all costs?

RJR: I wonder if we can bring others into our discussion? Double Takers, what do you think?


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Talking About Guilt And Regret by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Talking About Guilt and Regret by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Inside Up by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Inside-Up by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: Other than for people who have committed terrible crimes, I am wondering about every day thoughts and feelings of guilt and regret and how these two very powerful dark forces shape our lives. I am curious to hear your initial reaction to this question…

NS: Did you see The Eichmann Show on TV recently? If so, it might be interesting to bring that into this discussion. That looked at guilt in relation to the most terrible crimes – but I think there is a connection between that guilt and the guilt/regret that may affect us all in our everyday lives. Either way, it seems to be bound up with dealing with, and accepting the reality of, the past – and not letting it poison the present (and future).

RJR: I haven’t seen it yet. But I will. But I am less interested in the obvious guilt that people who commit terrible crimes ‘should’ feel. I am more interested in how are lives are shaped by guilt and regret, and shame for that matter, and how you feel about that.

NS: I was just thinking of The Eichmann Show – or more correctly, the original footage from the Eichmann trial that was used in the film – because the focus was on Eichmann’s face as he was confronted with the evidence of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, for which he bore considerable responsibility, although his defence was largely that he was acting under orders, and according to his loyalty to the Nazi state. That face was almost constantly twisted in a lopsided grimace that seemed to me (but I could be wrong) a sign of painful suppression of acceptance of guilt for the awful suffering of thousands of men, women and children. When we suppress guilt or regret, then it so often manifests in some other way – physical, mental or emotional. On one or more levels we can become twisted or crippled. This seems to be a danger for all of us. Not on the level of Eichmann – although he was an “ordinary” human being, albeit tangled up in dreadful actions. Guilt and regret will cripple us, if we let it. So is the simple answer to accept our mistakes and wrongdoings, and see the stupidity of guilt and regret and let them go?

RJR: This is where I was coming from, yes. I would say acceptance is key to everything. Accepting our wrongdoings and those of others. Allowing the lessons we have learned to influence and create who we are, but not allow our guilt and regret to colour our landscape by tainting our present and future. Otherwise we live a life stuck in the past and we become disabled in our ability to fulfil our purpose in this lifetime…

NS: Many people would say that they can’t help feeling guilty or can’t help feeling regret. Why is that? And how do they get rid of these feelings? And do they really want to get rid of them? Acceptance may be difficult for them – for all sorts of reasons.

RJR: I would say because people can feel helpless to feel any different, or they can feel they deserve the guilt and regret they are feeling. And I guess for some, these feelings are not really in their awareness. Certainly I feel a lot of people think that once they think in a particular way, changing their thoughts and consequently how they feel, is beyond their control. What do you think?

NS: It’s odd – because it can feel beyond one’s control. But logically, actually, it all comes from within. That thing of deserving to feel guilty can be strong, as if imposed from outside, but again, it is self-imposed. Do parents, education, media and religion all play a part in setting down the framework for guilt and regret? Or is it purely a masochistic self-harm? It seems like it may not be a case of changing thoughts – but simply stopping thoughts that basically don’t make any sense.

RJR: Feeling guilt, shame and regret are certainly programmed into us as a result of our original conditioning. But they are also sustained by our ongoing self-conditioning. I counsel many people who have these kinds of thoughts and they can be very attached to them. I think they would argue that they do make sense, as they have become so proficient at viewing the world through that lens. CBT can be really helpful I find.

NS: Why are we programmed in this way? Is this a worldwide phenomenon or is it peculiar only to some cultures? And are we so deeply programmed that we can’t see that that is why we feel the way we do? How does CBT help? Is it really more effective than stopping and taking a deep look into oneself – seeing what has happened and accepting it and starting afresh?

RJR: Being a parent is not an easy task. It is not like we start with our own clean sheet. We have our individual conditioning, developed, perfected and passed on through our ancestry. We are complex human beings. And each and every interaction with our children, and all their interactions with their siblings – when we are exhausted, exasperated, when we are doing our best, when they are learning and pushing our boundaries – all of this goes into the picture of how they will then see the world and the stories they will tell themselves of who they are and how they fit in. Is it a worldwide phenomenon? I would say so. Are some cultures more susceptible than others? Yes. Are we deeply programmed, so much so that we cannot be objective? Yes. Are there many techniques to help us become more self aware? Absolutely. Is it an easy journey? No. Nigel, have you known many people who can just stop and perceive themselves objectively and then have the tools to see the world from a completely different perspective? CBT is a useful tool but there are others too. CBT helps us to question our beliefs about ourselves. But reading a good book or watching a thought provoking film can do the same, if we are open to self-reflection and change. And of course homeopathy is another tool for creating a shift in how we view the world and ourselves within it.

NS: Is there a danger that some of the tools for self-reflection and change – however well intentioned – may actually add to the “programming” and make it even more difficult for us to see straight (something which, as you say, is extremely difficult for just about all of us).

RJR: Can you say more about what you mean? Maybe give me an example?

NS: Say, one takes up some form of meditation or subscribes to some belief system or some therapy or method (all of which will have been devised by someone else), then might that only add to one’s inability to see clearly? The argument of “Have you known many people who can just stop and perceive themselves objectively?” (answer: no) does not necessarily mean that that is not a way to go.

RJR: I think the right method will help a person step out of their way of viewing themselves and encourage insights. When I use the process of journalling to work through an issue, I do so with the intention of challenging myself and finding more insights for a particular situation, for example. I think it is all about intention. If we have the paradigm that people do not change, we will create that as our reality. I am curious about your question and how you have phrased it. ‘`Stop’. Stop what? I think there needs to be a process someone goes through to perceive themselves differently. Can we ever see ourselves objectively? I don’t think so. Can we try and see things and ourselves from someone else’s point of view? In conversation, yes, if we are truly open to doing so. But it would be by no means easy….

NS: Stop going in the wrong direction? If we suddenly see we are going in the wrong direction, we stop – before going in the right direction. The question is whether insight comes in an instant or whether it is the result of some process. We have strayed away from guilt and regret… but perhaps not very much at all. Can we see – in an instant – that guilt and regret are destructive and pointless? Or do we need to go through a process to have that insight?

RJR: Yes, of course every moment we are capable of having a spontaneous insight, an epiphany, which can alter our perception. And in turn this can affect our thoughts and therefore our feelings of guilt and regret. I think patterns of feeling guilty can go back a long way though, and, as I said before, can be part of our conditioning. Guilt for one issue might shift in an instant with an insight, but an entire deep rooted pattern might take longer. But anything is possible 🙂

NS: That seems to be the essence of the problem. Some guilt/regret can be shifted in an instant. But we may not even be aware of how the deep guilt/regret is affecting us. If the instant insight works through seeing something completely clearly, can we somehow see the deeper problems just as clearly? As you say, anything seems possible… but are we frightened that if we do see things clearly, then we might be somebody different?

RJR: I am not sure Nigel.  I think people are generally acutely aware of how guilt can rule their lives. They can see that in an instant. But shifting a whole way of being in their world is not as easy as making a decision that you will. Much like regular doses of homeopathic remedies, there needs to be gentle, regular pushes to our unconscious to continue to remember to create change….

NS: Perhaps everyone has to tackle the problem of guilt and regret in their own way – with or without outside help. I think that one thing we can agree on is that neither guilt nor regret serve no useful purpose for us – and that we will live better lives (and behave better to those around us) if we are free of these negative and destructive feelings.

RJR: I couldn’t agree more. What do our readers think?