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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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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Maladies Of Our Time

Published in the Society of Homeopaths Journal, Summer 2012
Double Take by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley

The maladies of our time are legion. Humans today suffer on every level — physical, emotional and mental — just as much as they have ever done, if not more. But are humans themselves the problem? And is there a homeopathic cure for the planet?

What are the maladies of our time?

Greed, ignorance, short-sightedness, lack of awareness, failure to communicate, denial of feelings… superficiality, crowd-following, keeping up with the Joneses, duplicity, commitment-phobia… addiction, drugging, band aids, suppression… too much speed, not enough time… and boredom. These are the maladies of our time. What we see in clinic are the inevitable consequence of these underlying causes.

People live in the past or the future but rarely in the present, and most are unwilling to take responsibility for their health, their behaviour, their choices and their lives, and are not encouraged to do so either. We are a disempowered flock looking outside ourselves for the answers.

And then someone suggests you go and see their homeopath. You tell your story as a whole, you hear yourself and you are heard, and a new chapter begins. I remember my first experience twenty years ago when I was recommended homeopathy after nearly dying from a secondary ear infection and a severe allergy to all antibiotics. I had never been to see any kind of therapist or alternative practitioner before. I had never even heard of homeopathy and didn’t have a clue on what to say to the perceived ‘strange man’ sitting opposite me, and for a whole hour and a half to boot! I rambled and I asked a hundred questions in my innocent attempt to understand what it was that homeopathy could ‘do for me’.

And of course, our own new patients have the same experience when they consult us. They come with cancer, MS and Motor Neuron Disease, anxiety, depression and more, and they ask: ‘Can YOU CURE ME?’ They have exhausted their allopathic options and are looking, in desperation, for a longer straw. And they are surprised to learn that their lifestyle and years of suppression by allopathic medication has in fact made them ill.

Side effects of drugs are swept under the carpet. We live in an era where antidepressants are prescribed for all complaints that cannot be resolved with any other drug. I have seen five patients in the past two days who were given antibiotics for viral infections. I have also learned recently that doctors are being paid not to refer patients to hospitals – to deal with symptoms by drugging rather than finding out what is really causing their symptoms.

But are we all living too long anyway, with too little regard for the consequences. We have used nearly all the planet’s fossil fuels in one hundred years. I read that on current projections, by 2050 there will be as many people living in cities (6 billion) as now live on the whole planet Earth.

I often have thoughts along the same lines as those of Agent Smith in The Matrix. His words at the end of the 20th century are becoming more relevant as the years move on… he said: “I would like to share a revelation that I have had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realised that you are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

Perhaps we too should be looking at the bigger picture. Maybe the real maladies of our times are humans themselves.

Very near the top of the almost endless list of maladies of our time should surely be self-medication. Humans, even apparently intelligent ones, seem to think that all of their ills can be cured by taking the right drug. Pills for headache or for heartburn, painkillers, sleeping pills, antidepressants… there are cupboards and drawers full of these things in countless homes and offices all across the world, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. They are dished out by doctors and pharmacists and lapped up by their patients.

Take the recent case of a young mother whose partner walked out because he was unwilling to do anything to help care for their baby. Left to cope alone with the child, she was so upset and finding it so difficult to cope that she sought help from her doctor. The doctor told her she was depressed and gave her antidepressants, which she then took unquestioningly for a long time, before eventually beginning to wonder whether the medication was simply masking feelings that were natural and that had to be worked through if they were to be dealt with.

Stress, the almost universal malady of our time, is said to be the root cause of at least 75 per cent of visits to GPs, either as an acute condition or as part of a chronic situation. Stress leads to fatigue, and fatigue fuels stress.

Stressed, depressed, exhausted? Take a pill. The pill doesn’t work? Take another one. Or take a different one.

And if the pills that you’re taking (because the other pills don’t work) fail to blot out the problem, then those handy little helpers alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogenics etc are available for the more heavy-duty work of delivering oblivion.

Whether the user is conscious or not of what they are doing, this use of pills, booze or drugs, is self-medication. It is a way of trying to heal the maladies of our time, an attempt to offset the misery and joylessness with a high which is, inevitably, only temporary. Sex is often used in the same way: an escape, a brief ecstasy and a fleeting dissolution of the troublesome ego. But sex and drugs (and even rock ‘n’ roll) cannot truly heal, or make whole. One cannot restore the balance of the body by using outside agents, by attacking and opposing symptoms allopathically, by overstimulating the organism.

For almost every malady there is a medication available (or one on the way soon), but often there is no real solution or resolution.

Proper self-medication (and true making whole) is the action of a healthy immune system, of homeostasis, the vital force’s natural balancing act. And as we all know, the action of the vital force is stimulated and assisted by the use of homeopathic remedies.

Similarly, it seems that the planet itself has its own systems of homeostasis, its own form of self-medication — not one that destroys the sufferer but one that ultimately enables the sufferer to return to health. At least, this is the argument of the Gaia hypothesis which suggests that the whole living earth is one super-organism which can react and adjust to changing conditions to ensure its survival.

If human beings are the pre-eminent malady of our time, then it is most likely that the planet, with its formidable resources, will deal with them.

Will it use disease or disaster to be rid of humans? Or will the humans be destroyed by their own hubris, selfishness and violence? It could actually be that they will find themselves dealt with homeopathically. If the different (but all too similar) tribes of human beings end up wiping each other out, destroying themselves, then that could be the biggest-ever demonstration of like curing like.

The greatest maladies of our time seem to be human beings, their unbalanced ways of life, and their short-sighted attempts to patch themselves up with allopathy, drugs and escapism. If we don’t find a way genuinely to heal ourselves (through homeopathy, healthy living and fundamental long-term changes), we run the risk that the earth’s own survival mechanisms will get rid of us — to safeguard the planet’s health. We all need real healing now. For our own sakes — and for the sake of the world.


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What makes relationships so important to us, why are they so problematical, and can we change ourselves in order to make them work?

NS: What are our expectations from personal and intimate relationships? Are they fundamentally any different now than they were 500 years ago?

RJR: The world has changed fundamentally and in every way in the past 500 years, so yes, of course relationships have changed in that time. One major change is that we did not use to live as long as we do now, so when we committed to living out our days in a marriage, we were probably expecting 20 years tops. And the concept of “romance” did not exist 500 years ago, either. Do you know when and why marriage first became an institution?

NS: I would disagree that the world has change fundamentally – and thus I think what human beings seek from personal and intimate relationships may not have changed that much. But I take your point about longevity – that certainly adds something to the relationship mix – and perhaps we could go into that. I don’t think anyone really knows when marriage began as an institution, since in most cultures it seems to go back to ancient times. Presumably, a major reason for it was procreation and child-rearing – certainly not romance (which I think was a medieval invention). Sex and companionship may have been other factors. And marriage was also tied up with forging alliances and ties between families and communities.

RJR: I am surprised that you think the world – or the people living on it, shall we say? – have not changed fundamentally in 500 years. I suspect even on an animal instinct level, we have evolved dramatically. I remember being told once that marriage came about as a result of the convenience of land exchange. And the concept of romanticism came long after, and has become a lucrative commercial enterprise since our brains have been washed by the media. So do you feel we have the same expectations out of our relationships than those of our grandparents, for example?

NS: Human technology has changed. But I cannot see that people have changed in 500 years – or in several thousand years. If you read Shakespeare or Chaucer or Homer or the Book of Moses, do you not think the human being today is still the same as those portrayed there? The ideals or the fashions associated with relationships have changed. But the fundamental needs of people don’t seem to have changed: sex, closeness, intimacy, friendship, companionship, sharing (and the problems associated with all these things haven’t changed, either). One woman I discussed this question with suggested that romanticism has been there longer than we tend to think, ie that alongside marriage, in all its earliest and various forms, there has also been “romance”. In crude terms, men and women have married, for all sorts of cultural reasons, and then had extramarital relationships of all sorts, some governed by lust and some by love – or a mixture of the two. Our grandparents may have lived with reasonable expectations of greater stability in relationships than we can hope for now, and they may have been satisfied with fewer marriages, fewer relationships, fewer partners. On the other hand, they may have been caught up in the same confusion of permanent and impermanent relationships. How can we know how many affairs our grandparents had? It seems we are in uncharted territory – both in the past and now. What do we expect today from relationships? Can we even answer that? Is it perhaps that all we need is a hand to hold as we clamber down slippery slopes and walk through the dark?

RJR: I understand all that you say, but I am not convinced by your argument. Men’s and women’s roles have changed dramatically in the past 20 years, and this has encouraged a lack of commitment when the going gets tough, as a new relationship can be bought on-line, in secrecy, with a “no returns policy” on consequences.

NS: I agree that relationships do now appear to be more fragile and that technology has played a part in this. But do you not think that people have always found ways to have the kind of relationships that you refer to here? One can look at contemporary relationships on a surface level and see the predominance of fly-by-night liaisons and a lack of willingness to commit; one can also see successful long-term relationships based on hard work – and love. But deep down, why on earth do we get involved in relationships? What is it that we get from them? What is it that we give in them? And can they be a way of finding out what we ourselves are?

RJR: I think a smaller proportion of the population were promiscuous in the past. We get involved in relationships because we are not complete without them. Clearly we are not hermaphrodites. But incompleteness emotionally, and forming relationships in order to fill up and feel complete seems to be part of our culture and era. This creates endless dissatisfaction and a need to refill in one way or another. I can understand the point of view that we learn about ourselves from being in relationship, but I also think it is a very unevolved way to evolve.

NS: On the evolution question, I would still argue that human beings have not evolved since the time of the Minoans, the Aztecs and the ancient Egyptians. But maybe we should try a slightly different tack for a moment, and also follow what you have said. Why do we feel incomplete without relationships? And are we actually complete in relationships?

RJR: You really think we haven’t evolved mentally, emotionally, spiritually or even physically? As individuals we evolve or dissolve, if we chose to or not – throughout our lives – but I am happy to move the conversation on… We feel incomplete in relationships because of two main reasons. First, we were created as two halves of a whole, and second, because we are conditioned to seek fulfilment in and of life with someone else. The first point probably doesn’t need exploring, but I am happy to discuss it if you feel there is mileage. The second, however, is very much of interest to me. We can work at being fulfilled in all aspects of our life, but when it comes to sex, there is nothing like the connection with someone whom you love and fit with. I am not talking about romantic love. I am speaking of that infallible and inexplicable feeling that one gets when all our energy points, our chakras, are aligned with someone we love and the energy flows from within out, from the source through us to ground in the earth. It facilitates us to be absolutely present, in the moment, connected in all ways, as if nothing else matters… and nothing else does….

NS: We were created? By what? By whom? There are two reasonably distinct genders that are generally required for procreation, as in many other species. But where does the idea of two halves being somehow deeply fulfilled in each other come from? I think, as you say, we are conditioned to think in these terms. The primary function of sex, whether we like it or not, is procreation. Who or what has turned it into the thing that has assumed such importance for human beings? There are arguably many things that are like the intense connection with someone you love… like the stillness of wild places at night, like being on tops of isolated mountains, like being absorbed by the sea or the stars… all of these things are surely love/beauty/truth, aren’t they?Is it not possible that chakras are a concept dreamed up by imaginative humans? Yes, great sex gives one the feeling that nothing else matters… isn’t that why humans spend so much of their time pursuing or thinking or reading or writing about great sex? Such sex provides the (temporary) ending of the self (something most of us can’t do in any other way, except perhaps to get out of our heads on booze or drugs). That ending of the self through orgasm is an ecstasy. But it does not last… desire is temporarily satisfied… then the act has to be repeated for that ecstatic release once more. Sex is dressed up by so-called tantric practitioners as if it might lead to some awareness/enlightenment… but in reality it leads to nothing… except more sex… Doesn’t sex tend to be just one more escape from the emptiness within… as with all addictions, philosophies, religions, politics? And if that is so, what is it that makes for real relationship between human beings?

RJR: We were definitely created. I am not saying we were created by God. But we came into being and therefore we were created, even if only by evolving chemicals and an inner desire for evolution and life. And we were created in a way that we could procreate in order to continue life. As for the two halves and deep fulfillment – maybe it is a case of you have to be there to experience it! I have clearly conditioned myself and I am happy with that. Sex is pleasurable and addictive, and purposefully so. If we did not enjoy it so much, we wouldn’t do it, and therefore we would not procreate. The two go hand in hand. It has assumed such importance because those who experience how wonderful and fulfilling sex can be know it. We all know it collectively, even if we have not experienced it ourselves. I agree that a very real sense of fulfillment can be achieved by being with nature, but again it is a connection with that something else that is separate yet fundamentally part of ourselves. As for chakras, I have personally experienced the sensation of chakra connection through sex and I can assure you it was not my mind’s invention. And tantra therapists practise reaching self-actualization through tantra and it is certainly not all about orgasm and destination. Perhaps that is where you are limiting yourself. It is all about the journey and it surprises me I need to remind such a well travelled man as yourself. As for addiction, I agree that sex and love are chemical addictions in a similar way to drugs and alcohol. My thoughts and process on addiction are forever evolving; having been more black and white about the subject in the past, I am now open to a new way of thought. Perhaps we can view addiction in a more holistic way rather than just seeing its dark side. Chemical addiction to substances which alter our own fine balance is clearly not a useful way to evolve in this world. But chemical addiction to other human beings… the oxytocin release when a woman breastfeeds her babe, bonds them in a way no words can describe. We are not empty vessels. Sex does not fill us. We are full anyway. We are receptive, though, to chemical reactions, within ourselves, and with others. It is how we connect on a profound level. And it is worth living and dying for.

NS: We evolved into creatures that use sexual union for procreation – although that necessity seems to be in the process of being overturned, with the arrival of surrogates, gay parents and the not-too-distant prospect of cloned human beings. Maybe these developments highlight what humans have done with sex. Animals also appear to get some pleasure from sex, but many of them still seem to do it to procreate and in tune with certain natural cycles. Humans seem to have taken the pleasure aspect of sex and made it something to be desired and attempted, or at least talked about, at all times. It is also something that humans have made ever-present, with sexual images, particularly of women, becoming ubiquitous in every medium. Perhaps sex can be “deeply fulfilling” but it also seems to be something that humans can’t get enough of… and is therefore more associated with addiction and frustration rather than with fulfilment. Great sex, with or without chakras, is great sex… it does not appear to be the key to enlightenment, any more than playing a great guitar solo or completing a triathlon. All can give a sense of transcendence of the self. But how can we be certain that any experience is “not the mind’s invention”? Everything is in your brain… every so-called experience or sensation is in your head. What you experience IS you. The observer IS the observed. And paradoxically, this is the most difficult – if not impossible – thing for our brain to accept. Surely the well-travelled person knows there is no “journey”… there is no route from here to something else… there is actually nowhere to go. “You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there – you’ve always got more than enough rope,” as Dylan said. The truth is always here in the eternal now… there is no path to it… only away from it, only diversions. Which leads us back to escape through “travel”, “journeys”, “experiences” and so on. Sex may be an addiction. Surely love is not an addiction? Romantic “love”, yes. But not love. You say we are not empty. Is that really the case? It seems that we can be fulfilled in relationship. But I think we are still a long way here from finding out what real relationship is. It has nothing to do with chemistry, sex, romance or esoteric flimflam. Yes, it has to be profound, and it has to be the essence of life/death. But could it be possible that we human beings have yet to embrace real relationships? And that what we currently call “relationships” are actually escapes, diversions, delusions and entertainments?

RJR: I feel you are deflecting my argument. First of all, surrogacy and cloning are not about sex and will only ever be a necessary substitute for procreation for a very few – not an argument for overturning the norm. And I am not talking about sex being mutated and manipulated by the media either. We have created ourselves an era where everyone can’t get enough of everything. Sex was obviously going to be yet another area of our lives to be over-consumed. And I did not say the answer to enlightenment is through sex. What I am saying is that it is important for us to be as complete as we can be before we are in relationship with others, and then the union sexually, and otherwise, can be very fulfilling and can take us on a journey together that can be exceptional and different from the road we travel alone. And I believe we do travel, although I understand where Mr Dylan is coming from. And he too has been on his own journey to get to the place from where he writes. I agree, there is no escape from ourselves but I do think love can certainly be an addiction. If you were to design what an evolved relationship would be, without escapes, diversions, delusions and entertainments, what would it look like?

NS: I take all those points. It does seem logical, sensible and probably incontrovertible that we need to be as complete as we can before we can be in real and sustainable relationship with others. The stumbling block is the “as we can”. If we fall short of completeness – which we all do – then ultimately relationships will contain immense difficulties for all concerned. Can there be degrees of completeness? It seems not. Ultimately, we are all alone (born alone and dying alone) and perhaps ultimately we are also all the same human being – all of us just one more attempt at that completeness. What would that wonderful “evolved relationship” be like? No one can answer that question, surely – in this world where “almost completeness” and “almost relationships” seem to be the best we can expect. It certainly can’t be “designed” from where we are now. That would simply be an idea – and no use at all. But that does not mean that that “evolved relationship” will not be…