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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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?


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A Step Beyond (and my thoughts on the film Her) by Rowena J Ronson

A Step Beyond (and my thoughts on the film Her) by Rowena J Ronson

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There is something so inspiring about an excellent script beautifully portrayed by exceptional actors. When I know that one of my favourites is starring in a new film I get very excited at the prospect of losing myself in the characters and really being taken in and over. I saw that Joaquin Phoenix was the protagonist in Her in 2014, but only just had a chance to watch it – and he did not disappoint.

His vulnerability is so believable and appealing that I was mesmerised, even within the opening scenes. And this same energy was something of a parallel process within the film too.

To cut to the chase, as our technology encourages these days, a personalised program is created, an artificial intelligence, aptly named ‘OS’, or operating system. With the gender of your choice, she, in this case, speaks and interacts with you as if she were a person at the end of a phone. She can think, feel, communicate and learn but she doesn’t have a physical form and obviously is not human. This actually reminded me of modern relationships reliant on modern technology!

Also unlike a real person in a 21st-century relationship, with all the many distractions that fill our lives, the OS ‘operates’ by being 100% present all of the time. Dedicated to its ‘operator’, it becomes the closest friend you could imagine – one who listens and loves you unconditionally and only wants the best for you, but at the same time has no limitations, no stuckness and a boundless ability to evolve.

I could see the appeal of having this kind of connection. It seems almost cleaner and more real when compared with meeting someone through the same medium, a dating site on a computer, because on that forum we have no clue about the person’s history, their intentions and their ability to be present and connect deeply.

The film shows many scenes of people walking along the streets having their own conversations and experiences with their OS, and not connecting to others at all. But it was also interesting to see all of them smiling and seeming truly happy. Phoenix’s character Theo’s OS, Samantha (with Scarlett Johansson’s deliciously dulcet tones) develops her relationship with Theo while nurturing one with herself. She knows clearly that it is important to have her own needs met and so she role-models the perfect scenario where she is communicative, caring and supportive, and also really clear about her own personal development and what her needs are from life and from her relationship with Theo.

But what happens if we keep evolving and being open to the lessons we can learn from our experiences? What happens if we do not feel we are limited to just this lifetime and what we imagine this lifetime to be from our limited perspective? What would happen if we allow ourselves not to be limited? What journey could we go on then? What would it take to create that shift in paradigm?

The answers to these questions came for me in this film and I hope I have said enough for you to watch it and let me know what you think. I was not disappointed and I have woken this morning feeling my mind’s unlimited potential if allowed to tap into my higher self, my purpose and universal connectedness.

There was a message for me in the film about not being limited by relationships and the importance of developing the relationship with ourselves, and beyond, with the universe. Amy Adams’s character at one point in the film speaks of the socially acceptable temporary insanity of falling in love. I liked the way she phrased that and I am sure we can all relate to that amazing sensation of freedom when we surrender to our feelings and chemicals, when we can truly experience that open space within and our ability to connect with another and with ourselves.

Falling in love does feel like we have opened the door to another dimension. The film also illustrated the power of interdependence and how are relationships are real and beautiful, but in the spaces in between, when we are not connecting with people, we have the potential to connect with ourselves and with the universe.

Her is a thought-provoking piece which, because I was open to its resonance, has internally created a shift in my consciousness, and for that I am grateful.

From now on, I want to be open to the other dimensions that are clearly here but which we have trained ourselves not to see, and I am truly excited about the potential of this journey.


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Talking About Our Brains by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley, Photograph by Rowena J Ronson

Talking About Our Brains

by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Open Book by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Open Book by Rowena J Ronson

RJR: What does it mean to be strong emotionally? What does that actually feel like? I have been wondering about this more and more recently and I am exploring the idea that it comes about as a result of how we choose to actively wire our brain. On a spiritual level, if we consider that all our experiences are a gift in learning, then if we process them through that lens, our brain can hardwire those thoughts into our foundations. So when the going gets tough, as it often does in life, if our brain has stable, strong wiring, we can feel that in place to support us, like a chemical safety net. We actually are what we create in our brains from our choices of how we view our lives. And so I choose to learn and to take care of my brain so it takes care of me. And as a result I do feel the benefits of those strong foundations. I wonder what you think about all of this Nigel.

NS: If I cut a slice out of my finger, the body will repair even quite a deep wound. I don’t have to do anything for this to happen, except to let it happen, it seems. If the brain is also simply part of our physical body, is it not likely that its inherent tendency is to be strong in adversity and heal itself of any mental wounds? I wonder if it is not a case of us actively choosing to wire our brains in a certain way – is such a thing possible? – but rather, NOT choosing to interfere with the brain’s instinctive intelligence. The problem, of course, is that we use the brain to think – and our negative, confused and neurotic thoughts must make it very difficult for the brain to operate in the same way as a ‘simpler’ part of the body healing and regenerating itself.

RJR: You actually do plenty for the healing of your finger to occur and a great deal of that healing is directed by the brain and the nervous system. I think what you are saying is that it is an unconscious process. The brain is not simply part of the physical body at all. Just as much as the physical body is not purely physical. But I digress. I don’t think we have an inherent tendency to be strong. We are how we are as a result of every single interaction we have while being nurtured by our parents throughout our young years. And of course what occurs in utero, in our genes and our karma play their part too. We are programmed to remember experiences when we are more fearful as a protection mechanism, so children who experience a great deal of trauma, for example, will create brains that a wired differently than those who feel safe and calm. So we can actually possess a traumatised brain from very young, and may not even know it. As for healing from mental wounds, our brain is being bombarded by neurotoxins all of the time. But we might have more control than we think….

NS: Phew… there’s a lot there… Yes that healing of the finger is definitely an unconscious process – “I” just let it happen. This automatic operation of the brain and the body is nothing short of miraculous. But how can you say that the brain is not simply part of the physical body – surely it is, isn’t it? But is the mind something different? And what do you mean by saying the physical body is not purely physical? If you could expand on this? Before I respond on the other things you have just said…

RJR: The brain is not simply part of the body, for many reasons including that the fact that it is evolving all of the time. It is very unique in that way. And we can influence its health uniquely too. Of course there are ways we can look after each of our bodily organs, and by doing so we can certainly change them. But how we look after and influence our brain is completely different. If we think different thoughts, our receptors alter and new pathways are created for use at other times. If we study, our brain responds by learning. Parts of our brain change in size depending on how we use them. And our physical body is also our energetic body but you know all of this Nigel, being a homeopath…..

NS: Well, a former homeopath! I take all those points about why the brain is different. But I would still wonder if the conditioning of the brain from outside sources – and also from within, ie through our use of it for thought – gets in the way of the brain’s natural inclinations and tendencies? I don’t know the answer to this. But there seems something logical in the question. We may think we have some control over the brain – but are we actually messing around with it? You also threw in ‘karma’ as if it were just as plainly evident as genetics and what happens in the womb…. Is there any evidence for inherited ‘karma’ being any different to genetic inheritance? And the question of physical body and energetic body… I don’t know for sure about this. All that seems to be clear is that everything physical is energy or the product of energy. Why differentiate between physical body and energetic body? I don’t want to get away from the discussion about the brain. Are you saying that if we can ‘toughen up’ the brain, then we can be emotionally stronger?

RJR: Once a homeopath, always a homeopath Nigel 🙂  From what I understand, the brain does not have natural inclinations and tendencies. Look to the field of epigenetics and you will see that our DNA is malleable and therefore affected by our environment, which is actually a really good thing and integral to our evolution. So if we take care of ourselves as much as we can in this lifetime, this can and will affect our DNA and consequently how we think and feel and how healthy we are. If we programme our brains to think in a more positive way, we create those connections through our receptors on our nerve cells, which in turn influence our brain chemistry, which makes us feel good. The more we programme our brain to positive thoughts, the easier it becomes because our brain remembers and makes those connections unconsciously. There is a great deal written on this subject now.

NS: From what I understand, the brain DOES have natural inclinations and tendencies. Take a look at sex and violence for starters. Of course, the brain is affected by its environment – which can be for good or ill. The problem that we come back to is: who is this ‘we’ that is taking care of the brain and who is this ‘we’ that is ‘programming’ the brain? Is the ‘we’ separate from the brain? There is a great deal written on this subject, perhaps, but that is also written by the ‘we’, isn’t it? Is it possible to disentangle the ‘we’ and the brain? Talk of programming the brain makes me feel slightly queazy and uneasy. Could it not be that the less we think – and the less we think that we can programme the brain – that the more likely the brain is to operate in its natural state and to find some natural equilibrium – and ultimately to evolve from its primitive state (eg the sex and violence stuff that I mentioned earlier). The brain has not evolved in any way for millennia – and I wonder if it may never do, if humans insist on thinking – and thinking that they can control the brain.

RJR: Not only has our brain continued to develop through the millennia, it develops throughout our lifetime. I am wondering what has made you think that it has stopped developing? And reproduction and survival are not the same as sex and violence Nigel, as you well know. Thinking in terms of ‘we’ and ‘I’ could be considered to be empowering. It is not like we are saying ‘they’. Surely it is a good thing to think that we can influence the health of our brain and therefore our mental and emotional wellbeing? Would you rather feel someone else has the answers, ‘they’ for example, have the answers for you?

NS: I think it has not developed for 5,000 years and maybe longer. (We have kicked this beer can around the yard before.) The evidence? How about the Islamic State beheading videos? How about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria? How about the everyday gang rapes in India? How about the school massacre in Pakistan? How about the arms trade? Humans have made huge technological advances in the past few millennia, but we are as self-centred, short-sighted and appallingly violent as we always were. We have influenced our brains, but through our misuse of them. I feel that if we could ‘step aside’, maybe our brains would function more healthily. I know you mean something positive about ‘we’ and about ’empowering ourselves’ – but I’m not convinced about the pursuit of ‘power’, even over ourselves. Back to the original question of what it means to be strong emotionally… can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity. Like someone facing death with acceptance and courage, can we face life knowing that the odds are almost completely against humans ever really changing?

RJR: Our collective knowledge is increasing and our brains are indeed changing and developing. This does not mean that our brains do not contain the original reptilian part that is responsible for survival and our impulse to fight or take flight. And yes of course we can be self-centered, short-sighted and violent, but that does not mean our brains have not evolved. Can we only be strong emotionally if we truly embrace the hopelessness of the state of humanity? No. I don’t think so. I feel that humans are changing but that we will always have a shadow. We will always be capable of 360 degrees’ worth of emotions and behaviours. But can we influence how we feel and personally evolve? I believe we can. And I would be interested to hear our readers opinions on this subject…..


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Do You Love Me? by Rowena J Ronson, Photograph, Eternity Ring by Rowena J Ronson

Do You Love Me?

by Rowena J Ronson

Photograph, Eternity Ring by Rowena J Ronson

Eternity Ring by Rowena J Ronson

A hundred years or so ago, at the turn of the last century, my ancestors would not have imagined, let alone expected, to marry for Love. In tiny settlements on the Russian/Polish border – think Fiddler On The Roof – Jewish marriages were arranged by a ‘yente’ and the match was decided without the couple’s consent and for monetary, social and practical compatibilities. Husband and wife had their own individual roles, which they accepted willingly, establishing a strong family unit that prevailed through thin and thin. The hearth was built with the fire of survival and thrived on the warmth and unwavering commitment to tradition. Romantic love for orthodox communities such as these was a twinkle in the future’s eye.

In our current era of freedom of choice and materialism in the West, in our larger and grander settlements, we have now evolved a delusional concept of commitment and become too easily betrothed on an imagined whim of love.

What we might experience in the first few weeks, months and even years of a relationship could be a series of dinner dates and movies, holidays and parties, where make-believe ‘firm’ foundations are unwittingly built on the distractions of escapism and not the unromantic reality of the dedication to endure. And why would we really choose otherwise? Oxytocin is a great connector and when we are loved up, we become gratifyingly invested in that feeling lasting forever and are prepared to even commit to marriage on the hope that it does.

In times past, love was expected to grow from shared experiences, familiarity, dependence and the joint journeying through the pervasive passage of time. And that passage was always going to be one monopolised and motivated by loss and survival. But as health, financial and safety baselines have been raised, priorities and preoccupations in relationships have been revised.

Not wanting to dupe you, portraying myself as an embittered mid-life muse, I am in favour of progression and, of course, marrying for love. But my life experience, as someone who has loved and lost – several times; and loved impulsively and experienced a change of heart – several times, is that love is indeed a fragile emotion. Fortunately I only committed to marriage once, but I did that very quickly while on the rebound from my first lost love, and when very young before I developed my own identity, and knew what I was committing to.

The end of 2014 finds me in a very loving and nourishing relationship. And this great love affair is the one I am having with myself. I thoroughly recommend commitment and engagement with yourself throughout your lifetime when you are in relationships and when you are in between them. Doing so will more likely result in your commitments to all things, including people, being the ones you truly want for your head and your heart.

Happy 2015 everyone 🙂


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Talking About The Movie Click, And Gratitude by Rowena J Ronson

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Talking About The Movie Click, And Gratitude by Rowena J Ronson

Since discovering Shadow Work and stepping on to ‘the carpet’ to do a process last month during a wonderful workshop in the West Country, I have been much more aware of my shadow and have been welcoming its presence to create a healthier and more balanced emotional life. I remember joining a new therapy group a couple of years ago and when I first did some ‘work’ the group reflected that I seemed ‘very together’ despite a huge amount of stress in my life. And they questioned where my fear, anger and grief were being held, as they sat uncomfortably experiencing those emotions themselves, due to my lack of expression, as is common in group therapy work.

And now, visiting a darker place in myself, I am much more aware of those shadowy fears, resentments and dark broken pieces within.

So last night, in an unconscious attempt to bring these broken pieces into my awareness, I decided to revisit the 2006 Adam Sandler film Click. I had a clear space to watch the film on my own so I would not need to edit my response – so I could truly be present to experience whatever emotion it triggered for me.

The film is about a family man who is unable to prioritise time for his family due the pressures of work, ambition, earning money and a boss who clearly did not respect his boundaries. As a result he worked all hours and his wife and children experienced the rough and raw end of his irritation, anger and inability to commit to quality (or any) time with them. This had become their way of life and no one was happy as a result.

The Universe then offers him a vision of an alternative life where all his wishes could come true. He could skip the parts of his life that he doesn’t enjoy – to relieve impatience and monotony, ill health and arguments and instead selfishly do the things he thought he wanted to do instead. He manifests a remote control that can mute, skip, rewind and fast-forward his life whenever he choses. And as a result he isn’t ‘present’. The film describes this state as being on autopilot and I wondered how common this is in people’s lives today.

The modern day version sees families sharing a meal with each member wrapped up in their own little virtual world on their mobile telephones. People spend their lives looking forward to their next holiday, when they will earn enough to really start living, when they will find the perfect relationship so they will feel complete, when their kids will grow up and be less demanding. When, when, when. And all the while they will resist living in the present and truly appreciate what is real and available in their lives to be grateful for NOW.

So the film, as planned and predicted, did make me cry A LOT, and some unexpressed grief was released. It reminded me of the speed of time and how we are here for such a brief spell. Everyone and everything is always changing as we live in a dynamic ‘energetic’ world, which is good in some ways but really painful in others. Our parents are destined to not be with us forever and so with their inevitable parting, our times with them become more and more precious and significant. This button got readily pressed for me in the film as Sandler’s character’s father passed away while he was busy fast-forwarding his life. It brought home to us both, how no one wants to be left with unresolved issues with their parents that forever lie in the realm of regret. And how easy it is for us to take our relationships so much for granted, as if those around us will be here indefinitely and therefore each interaction holds less importance than it ‘should’.

Our children’s early years come with immense challenge and they can feel overwhelming, relentless and unrewarding especially when the going gets tough. These years, and the mirror our children hold up for us, offer huge opportunities for personal growth. And again, how easy is it for parents and children not to be actually present and in relationship with their family, themselves and their surroundings.

Our time here is precious. Every day is a blessing from the Universe. Gratitude for all we do have makes our life so much more rewarding. And being truly present creates unbeatable life learning and rewarding experiences. Be very careful what you wish for……. Click click.


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THE ART OF SURVIVAL by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

THE ART OF SURVIVAL by Nigel Summerley, photograph by Rowena J Ronson

Fire Under Water by Rowena J RonsonFire Under Water by Rowena J Ronson

In the morning we walked across the dry, scrubby wilderness of the Rodopos peninsula in western Crete. In the afternoon we returned across the same landscape and it was awash with fresh water.Yet nothing had changed, apart from my perception – thanks to a lesson in survival from my hiking companion, Ernst Tellegen.

Ernst had taught me that not only was water a key to survival, but that even when you thought otherwise, it was all around you – even in this apparently inhospitable environment.

Crete’s sunshine resorts are well developed for mass tourism. I managed to get away from all that by staying in the sleepy seaside town of Kissamos, way out west. But even its quiet, perfect beach and calm sea palled after a while – you can only relax for so long. In short, I wanted some action…

From the beach I had seen the long, mountainous Rodopos peninsula. I had been told by the locals how wild it was, and also how there was a wild guy who would take you out into the rough country there.

It seemed like a chance of seeing the real Crete – as it used to be. And to be even farther away from the crowd. As I found when I met up with Ernst, when you explore the Rodopos, you don’t see anyone else. You have a huge chunk of the island to yourself, complete with heart-stop views down over the deep-blue Aegean.

Ernst, 51, from the Netherlands, worked as a handyman and paramedic before settling in Crete in 2010. Realising that the Rodopos was the island’s most unspoilt area, he based himself there and single-handedly built a wood-cabin home in the hamlet of Afrata. He survives by leading day-long survival courses – equal parts walk and talk.

Afrata is the last stop before you go north, into parts that few visit. No roads, no tracks, no paths… it’s rough, tough, forbidding terrain with scrubby, scratchy vegetation and only the occasional tree. The Rodopos is the easterly of two peninsulas that form the Bay of Kissamos, and Kissamos town sits in the mouth of the bay.

So here we were, Ernst and I, hiking many miles away from the upmarket resort-hotels of Elounda, the booze and bikinis of Malia, the ancient remains of Knossos, and even beyond Crete’s far-western city, Chania.

“Where we are,” said Ernst, “we could be the first people ever to set foot.” And this wasn’t bullshit – he doesn’t deal in that. With him, you don’t get the usual stunts and tricks of the “survivalist”. Much of what you learn is about attitude – how to use your brain and trust your instincts.

It’s not a teacher-and-pupil lesson with Ernst showing you something and then you try to do it yourself. It’s more a dialogue on the move, in which he imparts knowledge and insights. It can also be a philosophical exchange about the essentials of life.

“Survival is in the head,” said Ernst. “It’s not 200 ways to make a fire, or eating the intestines of a snake.” In fact, on our trip, eating was not a high priority. At the start, I was offered the pick of five rucksacks. Each had different contents, said Ernst, but all had everything needed to cover the essentials of survival. When I opened my bag, halfway through the hike, I found those essentials did not include a sandwich.

“I never teach people to set traps,” said Ernst. “On TV it looks good – in 10 minutes they have a rabbit and a barbecue. In reality, the animals here – salamanders, lizards, badgers, snakes, field mice – are aware of our presence and will do everything to avoid us.” So we weren’t going to be eating? “You can go three minutes without oxygen, three hours without protection from a harsh environment, three days without water, and three weeks without food, ” said Ernst. No, we weren’t going to be eating.

“The biggest danger is dehydration. Collect water – that is numero uno for increasing chances of survival. If you don’t have enough water, then your body temperature is not regulated.” But where do you find water in the wild? “Trees and bushes breathe,” said Ernst. “In the daytime they exhale oxygen and water. If you tie a plastic bag tightly around a branch with one bottom corner of the bag hanging down, this should give you one cup of water every 24 hours.”

And if there are no trees? “Dig a condensation pit.” He showed me how to excavate a crater 3ft across and 2ft deep, put a cup at its centre, then cover the hole with a plastic sheet, weighted in the middle with a small stone to encourage condensation to run down the plastic and into the cup. Ernst’s most memorable tip was that you can use a condom to carry water: “A good one will take up to 40 litres,” he said.

But didn’t I have to learn to make fire? “If you want to make fire with two sticks,” smiled Ernst. “Make sure one is a match.” And the best way to make fire in the wilderness? “With a Bic lighter.” With a two-bits-of-wood fire plough, you have to practise for days to succeed, he said. “The fire plough is a romantic way of making fire. But if the ship has sunk, and you are on the shore with people panicking and screaming – and perhaps with other people coming towards you looking to eat you – you are not in a romantic mood.”

Ernst’s wit punctuated much of his teaching. “Humour is one of the greatest things on earth – essential to survival,” he said. I even began to see the funny side of the fact that my legs were being scratched to bits by hostile bushes. I had foolishly come in beach shorts, while Ernst wore sensible lightweight trousers.

As we walked through the 30C heat of the afternoon, Ernst came up with surprising gems. “Gut feelings are important – pay attention to them 100 per cent,” he said. “In a survival situation, animal instincts take over – and that’s good.” And he was scathing about costly gimmicks and gear: “What kind of survivor will you be, even if you have millions in the bank? You can have all your expensive equipment and still fall into that ravine and die. But knowing who you are is what is important. The key to survival is knowing who you are and understanding yourself and your needs.”

In the end, Ernst did show me two ways to make fire: one using dry grass and a magnifying glass; one using a firestone (you scrape magnesium slivers from the stone then run the back of your knife down the stone to make sparks to light the magnesium). Both were incredibly difficult.

And he did explain how to eat in the wilderness. “There are three rules for edible grasses: if stem and leaves both come directly from the roots, if the leaves are serrated, and if any flowers are yellow, then you can eat the leaves. They are full of minerals and vitamins A, E and K. Very healthy.”

Ernst reckoned that in any survival situation, you are likely to be rescued within three days (unless you have not told anyone where you are going): “I always tell two different people where I am going. I did that this morning before we set off.”

As well as group walks, Ernst does one-to-one outings, like the one I was privileged to be on. The group trips appeal to the curious who, like I did, want a day of action away from the beach. Those who pay a bit more for a solo trip with Ernst get to ask everything they wanted to know about human survival and to get some intense personal coaching in self-awareness. Either way, it’s a neat adventure.

Some of Ernst’s survival skills relate to the kind of hot and hostile environment we were walking through, but most of his self-preservation teaching could be applied to anywhere on earth – from the desert to the city.

Ultimately, survival is about staying cool when stuff happens. “With all that I know, something can still go wrong,” said Ernst. “The earth is a living creature – it changes continually. The mountains lose stones and rocks by the day – just as the human body sheds particles of skin. That rock that you are holding now, it might be the day that it breaks.”

* Ernst Tellegen (00 30 6940 682656, http://www.bushcraftcrete.com) takes groups of up to eight on his survival walks from €50pp.


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Talking About Our Shadow by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Talking About Our Shadow by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

Behind You by Rowena J RonsonBehind You by Rowena J Ronson

NS: “Immigration” has become an issue in the UK with the rise of the UK Independence Party, and with an apparent contest between the political parties to be the toughest on immigration. But what does this mean? And this anxiety, fear and sometimes hysteria about immigration is nothing new, is it? In some form or other it seems that “immigration” is an issue in most parts of the world. What is this really about?

RJR: I would say it is about our ‘shadow’. All our emotions, our lost parts of ourselves that we are repressing, we project on to ‘immigrants’ who we see are the predators who are out to get us and threaten our security.

NS: Do we do this only to immigrants? Do we not do this to a degree to other people generally? Or is it somehow easier – and more “acceptable” – to do it in relation to immigrants, since it can be dressed up in some sort of rationale about taking away employment opportunities and/or being a drain on public services?

RJR: I agree with all you have said. I believe we do this generally but when it comes to immigrants, people can feel it is justified because ‘they’ are taking from ‘us’.

NS: But what is the barrier to our seeing everyone as human beings like ourselves. Do we have an innate fear of anyone who is not ‘us’? Do we think these ‘others’ are evil in some way? I think what I’m getting at is: is this perhaps the most fundamental human problem – our inability to accept others, and work together for the common good?

RJR: I do think we have an innate fear of anyone who is not ourselves. I think that without that fear response built into our brains, we would not have been able to survive and thrive as we have in this world. We are all capable of all behaviours and emotions but I think it is easier to identify evil in others than own it ourselves. I think it is not just a problem that we don’t accept others – I think we don’t accept ourselves.

NS: So the immigrants really are a scapegoat – for ourselves? We identify in them the things that we hate about ourselves – but can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge that those things are within us? My feeling is that you are right about this. So is the solution (if there is one) to accept our shortcomings – and our ability to behave badly?

RJR: I think the solution is to accept that we are all capable of all emotions and behaviours, on a 360 degrees spectrum. And the more we accept ourselves and acknowledge all parts of ourselves and in particular the many feelings we put into our shadow, the more likely we will be able to own those feelings. And in turn we will all individually take more responsibility and blame others less, and feel the universal connectedness that is within and without us. The more self aware and spiritual we become, the more able we are to see another as one of our own.

NS: I don’t want to get sidetracked into a discussion of religion. But it is interesting that some of the most intense intolerance is religion-based, eg Christian antipathy to Muslims – and Muslim antipathy to Christians. What you have said seems to be wise and full of sense. So is “immigration” an issue in the UK and in many, many other countries because those countries (and their peoples) are so lacking in self-awareness and spirituality? And if that is the case, what hope or way forward is there?

RJR: I wish I could answer that question!! I also wonder if it is just about religion. The comments I hear from people are usually on what we highlighted at the start of this dialogue…. that immigrants will take from us. I think it boils down to fear and I think people are quite attached to that emotion…. what do you think?

NS: I think fear pervades our thinking far more than we are willing to acknowledge. And some of that fear – as you have suggested – is fear of our own shadow selves, which we project onto others. So perhaps our fear and antipathy towards the ‘immigrant’ is not fear of ‘the other’ but fear of our real selves.