The only thing that’s real is what is present in deep dreamless sleep.

Do you find you sleep better after a bracing walk; a swim in a cold river or the sea; a day of fresh air, tree-climbing, and open sky?

Do you notice that if you brave the cold, literally and metaphorically, you come out feeling better for it, more relaxed?

Those moments in my life when I have felt complete repose have been after such times. Which is why I like Wim Hof for the authentic inspiration that he is.

He braves the cold. They call him The Ice Man. He’s admired by the intellectual dark web. He’s not distracted by the swamp of post modernism and culture wars or a misunderstanding of the paradox of polarities. He just gets on with uniting himself with something greater than himself, something vast, awe-inspiring.

He swims in freezing cold oceans. He climbs Everest in shorts. Now even death  holds no fear for him.

If you’re beginning to sense Jung in the background, yes of course you’re right.  It’s not just your organs you flush out when you immerse in cold water. It’s your subconscious too. You are doing shadow work. 

Wim Hof has shown in laboratory conditions that he and a group of people he trained with his cold water swimming techniques, combined with meditation, that they could trigger the vagus nerve at will. This enabled them to immunise themselves from a virus that was injected into them. It took only 15 minutes for results to show.

What happens on a cellular level happens on a psychic and a spiritual level too. That’s why shadow work is so important. In Kundalini Yoga, a large part of our Level 2 training is shadow work. We address it throughout our teaching lives in White Tantra. It is also integrated into the kriyas (sets of physical exercises, mantras, and breathing techniques) This is reaching in to the most abhorrent disgusting self loathing awful monstrous parts of the sub- and unconscious to face what we absolutely do not want to face at all costs.

These are the things that some of us would spend our whole lives avoiding. These are also things that some of us would rather die than acknowledge. It is deeply uncomfortable work. It is work that has to get done on a cultural level too. Carl Jung talked of collective shadows.

Some socio-cultural analysts say we are stuck on the road to nowhere in the current post modern relativist egalitarian atmosphere. They say that it is preventing us from moving forward to our collective higher consciousness. Some would say it is a necessary step towards higher consciousness. 

Relativism can take us only so far. Humans cannot function without absolutes, whether we like it or not. Doctors decided that alcoholics were doomed to their fate, that the struggle would be pointless, until Alcoholics Anonymous took on the Jungian recommendation to acknowledge a power greater than themselves. It helped recovering drinkers exercise mastery over their shadow monsters instead of being at their mercy.

It’s not just a cold swim, or an icy walk. It’s being in awe of the sea and the mountain and at the same time wanting to be subsumed. It is getting out of your own way, leaving ego aside to reach a truer Self. Yes, it is getting in touch with the absolute.

Wim Hof


Yoga & Creativity Retreat

Puglia, Italy / 22 – 29 September 2018

Stella Shakerchi and Chris Leuenberger invite you to join them in their yoga & creativity retreat held at Casina Settarte, a permaculture paradise and retreat center for somatic dance and performing arts in the beautiful nature of Puglia, Southern Italy.

Enjoy relaxing yet focused daily yoga sessions that will fit your yoga needs. Surrender to the flow of your innate creative potential and try somatic dance and/or creative writing.

While on your leisure time you can go for extensive strolls in the surrounding pine woods and olive groves, swim and play at the nearby beach and maybe after dinner join mantra chanting to calm your mind.

You will go home inspired and recharged!

Stella Shakerchi teaches creative writing and yoga in Oxford.
Chris Leuenberger is a Swiss dancer / choreographer working internationally. Both are 500hr RYT yoga teachers.

Janu Sirsasana

Casina Settarte is a place where the sun is reflected on the white roofs of the Trulli sprouting here and there amongst the green of olive groves. Here daily life is marked by the principles of love for the land, mindfulness and care for every living being.

Founded in 1993 in Puglia, Italy, Casina Settarte is a centre for creative development and education alongside the practice of sustainability, a place of creative research and experimentation surrounded by nature.

Comprising two dance studios and multi-use outdoor spaces, the centre focuses on movement, arts & crafts and permaculture with a particular focus on dance and contact improvisation.
Casina Settarte runs projects, courses and workshops throughout the year, lead by the Casina staff and visiting teachers.

Practice Spaces
– One large dance studio / yoga shala of 200 square meters with wooden floor. The space is protected from sun and rain and has open sides with blinds that can be pulled down for further protection from wind, rain or sun.

– One small studio 7x5m with wooden floor, central heating and a wonderful view.

The Land
Casina Settarte is surrounded by 2 hectares of land with Olive groves, fig trees, wild herbs (thyme, capers, oregano), almond trees and an organic garden which you can use for relaxation, research and creation.

The Geodesic Dome
The Casina Settarte community recently built a Geodesic dome 7 meters in diameter for open air activities. The wooden structure is comprised of a complex network of triangles, hexagons and pentagons and is particularly suitable for energy work and meditations.

During this retreat you will have two daily yoga classes with Chris and Stella. Experience extensive sessions of Vinyasa yoga, kundalini, restorative yoga, and celestial communication (mantras with extended mudras) in the evening.

To make full use of the life-affirming benefits of a regular yoga practice and to help unleash your creativity, we offer a choice of workshops in creative writing or somatic dance on three afternoons.

Typical Day Schedule
You will start your day with a 90 minutes Vinyasa class in the morning sun. After your class and relaxation session you will have your breakfast. There is sufficient time to rest, go for a walk in the surrounding nature or treat yourself to a massage until lunch. If you can’t get enough of the yoga, we will give the option of taking a shorter Kundalini yoga class right before lunch.
Should you wish to spend a larger portion of the day swimming and relaxing at the nearby beach or going on an excursion for trekking or sightseeing, we can arrange a picnic lunch.

In the late afternoon you will have a choice of creative writing or somatic dance workshops (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
On Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday we will offer a 90 minutes restorative evening yoga class with meditation or yoga nidra.

After dinner you’re invited to join us for 20 minutes of mantras with music and mudras.

In this retreat healthy vegetarian yogic food will be served. The cuisine is

typical of Puglia, based on genuine daily products – lots of fresh vegetables and fruit naturally grown on the Casina Settarte permaculture farm.

The following meals are included in the price: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks Should you have special dietary requirements, kindly send an inquiry to Chris:

Casina Settarte has various accommodation options available:

  • The Trullo: a beautiful traditional southern Italian home. 3-4 beds, 1 doubleon the ground floor and 1 double/ 2 singles on the mezzanine, a bathroomand kitchenette; for close friends or couples
  • The Craniosacral Studio: double bed with ensuite bathroom next to thestudio, recommended for couples
  • The Lamia: quaint stone dormitory. 4 single beds with a kitchen andbathroom
  • Il Grottino / Cave: 3 – 4 single beds in a room carved into the rock
  • The Fish House: a rustic wooden bungalow with 3 single beds and seaviews on clear days
  • The Pine Forest: a perfect camping ground with shaded areas and flatsurfaces that can accommodate up to 10 tents

Accommodation Options and Cost:

Camping (up to 10 tents) EURO 499 
Fish House (3 single beds) EURO 559 
Il Grottino / Cave (3 – 4 single beds) EORO 559

Lamia (4 single beds) EURO 595 
Trullo (2 double beds or 1 double/2 single)  EURO 635 
Craniosacral Studio (1 double bed) EURO 635 


What’s included:

  • 2 daily yoga classes Vinyasa, Restorative (and kundalini for those who want)
  • 7 nights accommodation
  • daily yogic breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • choice of creative writing or somatic dance workshop on 3 afternoons
  • mantra singing and celestial communication sessions after dinner
  • teas, coffees, and water
  • use of all facilities
  • free pickup from Ostuni train station
  • Wi-FiWhat’s not included:
  • airfares / train journeys to Ostuni
  • alcohol
  • excursions
  • massagesThings to doThere are many options for you to spend your free time on your retreat:
  • You can use the large Casina Settarte permaculture estate with its pine forests and olive groves for leisurely walks / hikes and to explore your personal meditation, mindfulness or movement practice.
  • We can arrange trips to the beach, to the famous whitewashed town of Ostuni or to the …. Valley for more extensive trekking and sightseeing.
  • Maybe you feel like treating yourself to a massage. Massages are offered at favorable retreat prices.

Arrival & Departure
Arrival is on Saturday afternoon, September 22nd. Departure is on Saturday, September 29th by noon-time.

Getting there

As we are in a remote place we can help you arrange your travel plans so that we can all save time, money and the environment.

We provide a free shuttle service from the train station of Ostuni (15 minutes from Casina Settarte).

The nearest airports are Bari and Brindisi. From Bari and Brindisi it is easy to reach Ostuni by train (half an hour from Brindisi, 1 hour from Bari).

Renting a car:

Car sharing makes the cheap rental cars even cheaper. At Brindisi or and Bari airport you can rent a car starting from 80 € per week. We will send an email before the trip and put all interested participants in contact.

Payment by bank transfer or Paypal

To confirm your space please text Stella 0740 212 6826

Side bend


Can I extol the virtues and delights of a summer in Britain anywhere nearly enough? When the sun comes out here life is a holiday. I have never seen a smile quite like the look of wonder as an English gent takes his pint outside to sit on the pub wall in the sun; as a child trundles up to the rock pools and realises the sand is warm; as the surfer takes her dog to the beach and they spend the day together playing in the waves; as the old couple sit and enjoy the fragrances and colours of the garden they have spent years creating together. Paradise. The word comes form an old Persian word ‘Pardeiza’ meaning ‘Garden’. 

Summer lets your bones relax. Your body opens up, time opens up, space expands. It all seems a lot better than it was and life is good. In Oxford today we chanted the Antaar Naad Mantra. ‘Antaar’ is the essence of and ‘Naad’ is the sacred sound. It is a full moon meditation which names the infinite origin, and the creativity on earth, woven together and projected through sound. This mantra gives mastery of the spoken word, protection, and wisdom of past present and future. 

We practiced a kundalini kriya called Moon Kriya, where we chant “Har!” (creation) while moving our hands to stimulate one of our moon meridians. We also practiced Kriya to Make You Enchantingly Beautiful. Yes there is such a kriya. This ends with the mantra “Hum” which means We, uniting us because as Russell Brand will tell you: we are all One!

We also chanted the first lines of Guru Gobind Singh’s powerful prayer, Jaap Sahib: the wonderful Mul Mantra, considered the highest mantra. It talks of Primal Truth, of Creator and creation being one. Truth within and in the universes beyond time, beyond birth and death. It contains the root of sound that is the basis of all mantras. It orients like a compass to keep consciousness of our soul.

Then we chanted Chattr Chakkr Varti, which brings you back to your power, aligning it to the power of nature pervading in all the four directions, self – illumined and united with all. These are the last four lines of Jap Ji. Chattr Chakkr Varti removes fear and anxiety. It instills courage, fearlessness and brings victory. It gives self-command and self-grace.

And to seal in all that mastery, power, truth and grace, we chanted “Ad guray nameh, jugad guray nameh, sat guray nameh, siri guru deve nameh” which means ‘I call on the primal wisdom, the wisdom true through the ages, the true wisdom, the great unseen wisdom.’ You are guided from the primal core through every moment of experience, in your heart’s deepest truth by the infinity of your highest self. This mantra clears clouds of doubt and surrounds the magnetic field with protective light.

Tomorrow on 28th I will celebrate the June full moon  – called Strawberry Moon by native Americans, also Rose Moon, Mead Moon, and Hot Moon – by swimming in the river at Portmeadow. The water is warm and the moon is tantalising as it promises secrets to be found in the depths. Swans pass silently by with signets and geese fly over. The ducks are outrageous as usual and sometimes the horses stop to take a drink at the opposite bank. This is when it feels so good to be on the planet – and it doesn’t cost a thing. Wahe Guru!

Giulia Enders won the 2012 science slam in Berlin for her presentation of some of the material in Gut. It is a revealing read and the drawings by her sister Jill make the science more palatable. (pun intended) The great thing about this book is that it is comprehensive without being overwhelming. It gives a good overview of gut activity and its importance as a system that interacts deeply with our other systems, but also invites further study on some of the chapter content which moves systematically from the oesophagus and digestive organs to allergies and intolerances, the role of gut flora, and how to keep gut flora balanced. A particularly interesting chapter is ‘The Bad Guys” followed by a chapter on the good gut flora we want to encourage. Another chapter that fascinates is “the Brain and the Gut” 

Our gut talks to our brain. Probably in many ways, one way Enders mentions is by sending impulses via nerve fibres. When your gut is struggling, your brain does not function as well as it should. Depression and memory loss have been measured in controlled experiments to be affected by gut health. A healthy microbiome – a diverse happy mix of gut bacteria – is essential for good physiological health. It’s not just mood and memory that are affected by insufficient gut bacteria. As with the FODMAP reactions, severe arthritis, psoriasis eye problems, eczema, problems arising from an aggravated immune system, as well as clinical depression can occur. When gut bacteria from people with depression was administered to rats they all developed depressive behaviours that they had not displayed before. We don’t need to harm rats to know this, everyone instinctively knows there is a huge link between gut and brain function. It is just that decades of doctors insisting that food has nothing to do with your health has thrown people off the path. 

Enders points to a hopeless situation where a woman was at death’s door with digestive problems, so as a final last ditch attempt they used some of her husband’s gut microbes essentially as a suppository and she was completely healed within weeks. It was because he had healthy gut microbiome and it worked to stabilise hers. If you are a vet or work with animals, you will know that this has been in use for decades. The sterile requirements for human medicine make research slow. It’s great to be clean, but as with the FDA when they told Nun and cheese maker Noella Marcellino (more on her next week) to stop using a wooden bucket and use a stainless steel one instead. They thought they were doing the right thing keeping everything sterile, but of course there needs to be a certain amount of good bacteria around to deal with the undesirable bacteria. Using a stainless steel bucket resulted in e-coli, eventually arguing her case, in 2014 Marcellino  was allowed to go back to using the wooden bucket. We all know (I hope) that wood is an excellent self-cleaner and has its own natural oils for that. The same applies to your gut. You need exactly the right balance of good and bad bacteria to keep everything balanced.


Enders includes some wonderful entertaining drawings in her book “Gut” which illustrate the whole process of digestion from the thought, aroma and sight of food, to our responses days after eating. She makes biology fun, which I never thought possible, and she allows for the fact that there is a huge amount yet to be done in gut research. I read the 2017 revised edition, she first presented the material in 2012 which you can see on YouTube and published the book in 2014 it is academic with full references. Her final few pages are devoted to encouraging our ‘Clever Cravings for Fermented Foods’ Her description here is a great reminder to steer ourselves away from processed foods. We naturally know what is good for us, true, but foods that we would never want to eat or drink are disguised by the addition of things that our bodies recognise to make them palatable. The result is that we willingly eat and drink all sorts of things that are awful for our health. So fine is this process, that just the addition of citric acid can fool us. It is ‘something that several million years of evolution has not been able to prepare us for’ A glass of water loaded with sugar (as much as in a Coke) would be undrinkable and disgusting. Add a small amount of citric acid (representing the phosphoric acid in Coke) and suddenly you have a delicious drink. It is because our bodies are familiar with acid from fruit and in combination with other foods it gains our trust.

So yes we do know what’s good for us, but when combined or processed? No. We most certainly do not!

Throughout the book Enders explores the idea of fermented pre-digested foods as one way to encourage a balanced micro biome. In the final section she shows us how to use good bacteria to ferment vegetables. She recommends cabbage, carrots and gherkins that are organic and have no pesticides on them. Some foods that encourage good flora are asparagus, artichokes, onion, garlic, parsnip, potato salad, sauerkraut, yoghurt, leek, salsify, endives. Things from the sunflower family. Eat them regularly. Try it. See how you feel.

Next time Noella Marcellino and the wooden bucket.

Love your beautiful belly! Yes your belly is more likely to be its naturally flat beautiful self when you eat low FODMAP foods, because there is less struggle for your small and large intestines to complete digestion of some difficult fermentable foods, sugars, and polyols.

“What?” I hear you say. Polyols. They are sugar alcohols, which is the ‘P’ in FODMAP.

The other letters stand for Fermentables (to be broken down by bacteria); Oligosaccharides (which just means few sugars); Disaccharides (two sugars); Monosaccharides (one sugar); A (just stands for and); Polyols.

These Fermentables, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols have short chains that are not broken down in the small intestine, and for some people their large intestine does not have the required bacteria to break them down either. Remembering that your gut is your second brain – or my better brain as I like to call it – of course its nervous system will be upset by all the bloating and struggling to deal with the FODMAP foods, which are also described as short chain carbohydrates such as fructans, sorbitol, lactose, and fructose.

Enter an intriguing book by Giulia Enders published 2015 called “Gut” If you want to know more about how the intestines work to deal with food and the complete digestion process from smelling and seeing food to expelling, this is the book for you. Or you can read my blog next week which is a review of “Gut”

The effects of FODMAP foods on some guts was brought to light by Monash University (Melbourne) researchers Dr Sue Shepherd and Dr Peter Gibson. Essentially, if you digest FODMAP foods poorly then they ferment in your large intestine or bowel and absorb water; cause arthritis like symptoms; produce gas; cause inflammation and stomach pain; cause some auto-immune conditions and in some, psoriasis and eczema. There are also the psychological effects such as low mood and anxiety. Sometimes it contributes to depression, as you will know if you watched the video I included in my last blog on Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”

Most people think of the heart line, and the spine as being essential lines through the body, but in yogic medicine especially we are invited to be very aware of our gut and how it behaves. It has a huge number of nerve endings and it is an accurate barometer of health. The main precept of Kundalini and Ashtanga is Prana/Apana balance. Prana is the energy in the body, or all the upward energetic movements in the practice. Apana is the eliminating or dissolution force, or all the downward insular movements and rest phases in the practice. Yogis are constantly keeping antennae poised to find this balance, not just through practice, but through meditation and nutrition as well as Ahimsa and compassionate living balanced with Tapas – the fire of will and action.

This diagram shows the different possible ways food can act in the gut. The lumens are just small openings inside the intestinal structure. These can get swollen with fluid when trying to deal with foods that are mismatched to the wrong gut. Yoga wants us to be completely aware of our bodies and have union all round, which puts us in the position to be our own physicians. We have the expertise we need within, it just needs accessing.

If you are concerned, you could try eliminating any suspect foods for a month or two, give your intestines time to heal, and the gut bacteria a chance to re-balance. Then slowly re-introduce foods and note carefully their effect on your well-being. I don’t want to give a definitive list because it is different for everyone. Here are some foods that were identified as high/low FODMAP in the Monash University research:

Gluten is not strictly a FODMAP as it is a protein, but it can cause trouble for some: gluten-free products contain far less oligosaccharides and fructans than gluten products.

Remember the classics: Hippocrates ‘Let your food be your medicine, your medicine be your food’ i.e. Listen to your gut!

Next blog a review of Gut by Giulia Enders

Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street.

The fact that there is much talk of dogs and cats in this chapter is not the only reason why it is my favourite. It is also because this is the most personal chapter and there is no agenda. Sure Peterson is hopeful that we are out of the Post Modernist despair, that we can and do have higher aims to strive towards, and that life is worth living with courage in the face of tragedy and the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Peterson generously discusses aspects of his family life, he describes his daughter Mikhaila’s  juvenile arthritis and auto-immune disease, her dependence on opiates to ease the pain and the struggle to find good treatment. Such a brutal and serious illness inflicted on an innocent child is a real test of your faith. We are all going to be faced with illness and crises in those we love, and this last chapter is a meditation on what to do in these awful instances. It is a practical guide to coping with those sorts of times. One of the things you do when you are overwhelmed by crisis is to shorten your time-frame. You can’t think about next month or next week, maybe not even tomorrow, because now is just so overwhelming that that’s all there is. So you cut your time-frame back until you can cope with it, and if it’s not the next day you can get through then it’s the next hour. ‘And if it’s not the next hour then it’s the next minute. And you know, people are very very very tough. It turns out that if you face things then you can put up with a lot more than you think you can put up with. And you can do it without becoming corrupted.’ Pet the dogs and cats that you encounter, because when you’re suffering you have to be alert to the unexpected beauty in life.

Eventually Mikhaila figured out what was wrong with her through nutrition. By eliminating certain foods, specifically dairy, legumes, soy, and gluten, she cured herself of auto-immune symptoms, arthritis, and depression. Incidentally Peterson followed suit and inspired by his daughter, improved his own health in the same way. It is not written about in the chapter, but here is a video where they describe it on a television discussion program:

But those days when Mikhaila was suffering, a pretty ginger siamese cat who lived across the street from Peterson would stroll over to them and roll over near their lovely American Eskimo dog and they were friends. ‘You have to look for that little bit of sparkling crystal in the darkness when things are bad. you have to look and see where things are still beautiful and where there’s still something that’s sustaining and you narrow your time-frame and you be grateful for what you have, and that can get you through some very dark times.’ So then maybe it can be only tragic and not absolute hell. In the worst situation, you can make it only tragic and not hell. ‘There’s a very big gap between tragedy and hell.’ 

Peterson closes the chapter with the idea that if we didn’t all attempt to make terrible things even worse than they already are then maybe we could tolerate the terrible things that we have to put up with in order to exist. Maybe we could make the world into a better place. It’s what we should be doing and what we could be doing because we don’t have anything better to do. 

And that is what the book is about.

Next blog FODMAP! What’s That??

Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are skateboarding.

The crux of this chapter may be the sentence ‘It is certain that a woman needs consciousness to be rescued, and consciousness is symbolically masculine and has been since the beginning of time.’

Not as provocative as it sounds. This chapter is about the assault on the positive masculine. Peterson observes that our society seems to have concluded that strong men are dangerous, partly because we think Western culture is a tyrannical patriarchy and that the only way you get to the top is because you mis-use power. And all the men who have the ambition to reach the top are tyrants in training, and that’s the basic attitude we have towards young men now. ‘Everything about that is pathological, inexcusable, and shameful.’

The idea that Western culture is primarily a patriarchal tyranny is historically ignorant. There are only about 30 civilised countries in the world. The rest of them are run by brutal thugs, where the corruption is spread through the entire country. ‘we’re not like that. And that’s that!’ says Peterson. Western culture is fundamentally honest. One of the best predictors of success in the Western world is conscientiousness. Conscientious people are honest, have integrity, are dutiful and do what they say they will do, and that is an accurate predictor of long term life success.

In terms of the positive masculine, Peterson says ‘I read it partly as a continuation of what Nietzsche announced back in the late 1800s as the death of God. In Western culture God is a masculine figure, and the idea that the divine masculine has been decimated, which is basically Nietzsche’s pronouncement, has filtered all the way down to masculinity itself. That is an appalling outcome. It is something that could only be desired by someone who is a true enemy of humanity.’ So this chapter is a call to encouragement, for young men to understand that their failure to participate fully in Being ‘leaves a hole that is precisely the size of their soul in the cultural landscape. ‘We need all the light we can bring to bear on the situation.’ says Peterson.

This chapter is not as odd as it may appear at first, with its statements that might sound outrageous to even a mild feminist, and its prolonged study of fairy tales and Disney movies. The religious core to ’12 Rules’ is accompanied by a solid grounding in evolutionary biology. And the idea of the divine masculine is not so unique to Western patriarchal society. In Eastern mysticism and yogic philosophy Shiva is the divine impulse, the move to order, and Shakti is the feminine chaos, similar to that discussed in this chapter with the fairy tales.

Essentially chapter 11 is a meditation on the difference between weakness and goodness; a call not to confuse the demand on young men to be soft with being good. Not to expect young men to go against the traits of their nature – ‘wakefulness, clarity of vision, tough minded independence’ – to become ineffective and as a result unattractive to women. Not to deny that women are in fact, yes, statistically, ‘tender minded, agreeable, more susceptible to anxiety and emotional pain.’ 

On this second reading, my reservations and objections of yesterday are mitigated, as far as they can be while I remain aware that the universe we have constructed is still only one version of possibilities. In the context of today’s Academic environment this is a brave chapter: ‘The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously (“you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous”) when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of’

Final chapter tomorrow.

Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They are Skateboarding.

And I think Peterson means boys in particular. Children of course need slightly dangerous play so that they can develop competence and learn how to measure risk and daring. A society that over protects children only results in them remaining unformed. The first section of chapter 11 (Danger and Mastery) makes sense and is well argued.

Further into the chapter there is what appears to be a comprehensive argument against Marxism, Feminism, and Post-Modernism. I say ‘appears’ because I read on unconvinced – not that Marxism, extreme feminism and Post-modernism are bad ideas, but that his arguments are objective – even though Peterson brings in many erudite examples. Also any chapter that mentions Derrida and Oedipus must be a little bit suspect. But his personal reflection on why he felt his friend committed suicide is very moving and persuasive.

It was not until later, when Peterson talks about Sleeping Beauty, The Little mermaid, and Alice in Wonderland that I warmed up to what he was saying in terms of patriarchy.

It is the case that the Humanities subjects at Universities, especially in the US and Canada can be politically-correct to an unhealthy extreme, and it seems to be this that Peterson needs to counterbalance in chapter 11. For this reason I need to re-read it and report back: I have to get to grips with what he is really saying underneath the politics of Academia.

Therefore, more of chapter 11 tomorrow.

Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech 

There’s a relationship between communication and the structure of being. This is a strong part of yoga, and especially in Kundalini yoga, Yogi Bhajan emphasised again and again the importance of clear and careful speech. So much so that one of the modules the the advanced Level 2 Kundalini Teacher Training is Conscious Communication. Peterson has it right here in that he knows that the link between speech and Being is part of the role that consciousness plays in the universe. Language takes the chaos and makes it into things, just like in Genesis when in the beginning was the Word. God told Adam to name all the animals and plants, and in doing so he makes them real. Once you name something you can deal with it.  In chapter 10 Peterson talks about the children’s story There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon where a little dragon keeps on growing because it is ignored. Once it is acknowledged, it shrinks again. No matter how terrible the actuality is, it’s rarely as terrible as your imagination. Because your imagination is an old thing it’s seen a lot of terrible things in the history of life; it can put monsters everywhere. So it might be better without exception, to name the thing, no matter how terrible it is. ‘If you can’t name it what that means is you’re telling yourself that you’re so terrified that you can’t bring your attention to bear on it, and that makes you the loser, instantly’ says Peterson. When you think you can’t talk about something because it’s bad, it’s not as bad as what you conjure up if you can’t talk about it. ‘That’s how we demonise people. There isn’t a better synonym for what’s terrifying than that which is unspeakable. You want to bring things out of the realm of the unspeakable.’ This is why Peterson is a free speech advocate.

‘It’s deeper than the intellect. It’s an assault on whatever rule consciousness has in Being.’ It means you can’t participate in the process of creation, it’s something that deep. ‘Freedom of speech – that’s the worship of the Logos in many ways. The deepest idea in our culture is that Logos is creative and what it makes is good. That’s God at the beginning of time saying Logos is good.’ To bring things out of the murk is a good thing.  ‘You don’t mess with that. It is the most sacred principle of western civilisation. Not only western, the Taoists know this as well.’ And of course, the yogis!

There’s nothing wrong with prudence, so you want to choose your words carefully but part of wisdom is knowing what to be afraid of. Often, with almost every important choice you make you have terror on one side and terror on the other. There’s no way forward that doesn’t involve risk. There’s a big problem with self censorship, and it is that every time you fail to express who and what you are in an articulated manner, you first of all lose an opportunity to know yourself better. That’s not good because you have to pilot yourself through life,  life is a dangerous and treacherous enterprise and if you don’t know yourself well then you won’t pilot yourself well and you may be hurt more often than you need to be. The other thing is that you also weaken yourself.

Your mind is wired up in many different ways to determine what constitutes a valid threat, and that’s not an easy thing to figure out. It is very difficult to determine. One of the ways your brain figures that out is to watch you, and it assumes that if you move away from something, if you retreat from something, that the thing you’re retreating from is bigger than you and that you are smaller than it. ‘And so it makes you just that bit more existentially weak and frightened. And so when you have something to say and then you don’t say it, not only do you miss an opportunity to articulate yourself properly which is fundamentally necessary, but you tell yourself right down to the level of your soul, that there is less of you than there could be. And that makes the next retreat even more likely… It’s a recipe for cowering in the corner and freezing.

You might be afraid to say what you have to say. And you may have every reason to be afraid. But you should be even more afraid of not saying what you have to say, because the consequences of that as they accrue over the long term will undermine everything for you. They will undermine your faith in yourself, they will undermine your family, they will undermine your society.’

You have been warned!

Chapter 11 tomorrow.


Rule 9: Assume That the Person You Are Listening To Might Know Something You Don’t.

Psychotherapy is not advice. it is exploration, articulation and strategising. It is conversation and mostly listening. People can be so confused, that their psyches will be ordered and their lives improved by the adoption of any reasonably orderly system of interpretation, says Peterson. But they need to figure it all out for themselves, and the way to do this is to think and talk and simulate the world and plan how they are going to act in it. The Freudian way was for the analyst not to speak and to be out of view of the patient, so that their facial expression could not betray any reaction to what the patient was saying. Peterson practices in a different way, as do most modern clinical psychologists, in that they will look the client in the eye and not hide their reactions to what the client is saying. This gives the client clues about how to gauge themselves and possibly the way they can go about the ordering of their psyche.

This is a chapter about conversation and the different forms that conversation takes. It is a chapter about humility and about listening. Peterson says it took him a long time to understand what the religious injunction to humility meant, and what the word humility means in it’s technical sense, and he concluded it was ‘what you don’t know is more important than what you know’ Then what you don’t know can start to be your friend. People are very defensive about what they know. But you don’t know enough. ‘You can tell that you don’t know enough because your life is not what it could be, and neither is the life of the people around you.’ You just don’t know enough. That means that every time you encounter some evidence that you are ignorant, if someone points it out, you should be happy about that. ‘Maybe I have to sift through a lot of nonsense to get to the message that you’re telling me, but if you can actually tell me some way that I’m wrong, and then maybe give me a hint about how to not be wrong like that, then I wouldn’t have to be wrong like that any more. That would be a good thing, and you can embark on that adventure by listening to people.’ If you listen to people they will tell you amazing things and many of those things ‘are little tools you can put in your toolkit like Batman and you can go out into the world and use those tools and you don’t have to fall blindly into a pit quite as often.’ 

Speaking of Batman, the artwork in the book is by a comic artist called Ethan Van Sciver, and is remarkable for its eye catching detail. Here are some more examples of his work:


The humility element is: ‘do you want to be right, or do you want to be learning?’ And it goes deeper, it’s ‘do you want to be the tyrannical king who’s already got everything figured out, or do you want to be the continually transforming hero – or fool, for that matter – who’s getting better all time?’ That’s actually a choice. It’s better to be the self-transforming fool who’s humble enough to make friends with what he doesn’t know, and to listen when people talk. Listening is a transformative exercise. If you listen to the people in your life they will tell you what’s wrong with them, and how to fix it, and what they want. They can’t even help it, because people are so surprised when you actually listen that they tell you all sorts of things that they never even intended to, things that they don’t even know, and you can work with that.

Now and then you have a very good meaningful conversation with someone and you feel that you really connected and know more than you did when you come away from the conversation. During the conversation you felt engrossed in it. That feeling of being engrossed is the feeling of meaning, which is engendered because you are having a transformative conversation. So your brain produces that feeling that you are in the right place and time. It is a good place to occupy because you register the meaning. It is one of the truisms of clinical psychology. ‘A huge part of clinical psychology is just listening to people. So they come in, and they’re unhappy, and they’d rather not be. And you say “why do you think you might be unhappy?” and they don’t know. They might have some ideas, they may have to ramble around for a year before they figure out why they were unhappy.’ They get rid of a lot of reasons why they thought they were unhappy that were untrue and then you get to the heart of the problem. ‘Then you might ask them “well if you could have what you wanted so that your life would be ok, what would that look like?” and they’d have to ramble around about that because they don’t really know. But the listening will straighten them out’ because people can think by talking and having someone to listen. It is very hard to think, but almost everyone can talk. If you can listen to yourself talk and someone is there, you can note their reactions, which will work as a foil to your thoughts.

The well known clinical psychologist Carl Rogers suggested we paraphrase what someone tells us, and ask if that is correct. That way the person talking to us knows they are understood. So if you are arguing with someone the point is not to win the argument, it is to fix the problem, You need to grapple with what they mean and if you don’t deal with the problem fairly between you it will just keep on coming up again and again.

This chapter is not as dense and satisfying as some others, but still interesting, and it wraps up with Socrates – always a good idea: ‘The Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates, who always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man, because he knew that what he knew was nothing.’

More tomorrow!