Believe Nothing

Those were the very first words I heard my therapeutic counselling course tutor say.

Ooh, cynical, I thought.

Then she read, ‘Do not believe what you have heard; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe anything because it is rumoured and spoken by many; do not believe merely because a written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe merely the authority of your teachers and elders. That includes me,’ she added with a laugh.

I protested, ‘But you’re our teacher. What are we supposed to believe?’

She smiled. ‘That’s one of the things you’ll learn.’

Oh great, I thought. This is going to be a waste of time and money. And yet, that turned out to be one of the most useful precepts I encountered on the course, and for the next twenty years.

Today these words (said to have originated from the Buddha), are more relevant – indeed, vital – than ever: technology has opened the field to anyone, wise, unwise, or otherwise, to share advice in blogs and on social media.

The internet is awash with well-intended advice memes: ‘First impressions are everything.’ ‘It doesn’t matter what others think.’ ‘Relax; it will be okay.’ ‘Never stop trying.’ ‘Risk being vulnerable.’ ‘Express your anger.’ ‘It’s not your fault.’ ‘Be patient.’  ‘Trust more.’ ‘Say no.’

All of them can be helpful, reassuring and sometimes life-changing. They can also be misleading, confusing and counter-productive. ‘Walk away’ might be good advice for someone enduring an abusive relationship. It might not be so good for someone who serially walks away from jobs because they’ve never dealt with a recurring issue/theme in their life, and takes ‘Walk away’ – especially with a mountain or sunrise (or both) background – as confirmation to quit. Again.

All such messages speak from the personality and story of whoever creates or shares them, including recognised teachers – they cannot do otherwise. For example, mindfulness might be taught by someome so intrigued by abstract ideas, they’ve never paid much attention to the here and now. When this person experiences the benefits of being present, they learn avidly and become a passionate expert – not recognising that many ordinary people, uninterested in abstract ideas, are already naturally good at being in the here and now.

We are all different; we are all unique, with our unique and complex stories. I’m hardly the first to suggest that true acceptance of difference is the biggest hope for world peace; it’s also important for individual peace. People sharing profound words of guidance don’t know your circumstances, your personality. It’s good to deeply know your own, and develop your intuition. Then you’re able to sift through the exhortations of others, take what’s useful, leave what isn’t (whilst recognising that it might be useful for someone else).

Yesterday’s street-wise are today’s information-wise. Whether we read it in the Daily Mail or the Bible, on Twitter or Tiny Buddha, we’re getting better at discerning. However, we all have stuff – facts and ideas – that we believe out of habit, without even realising. They’re called introjects.  We acquired a whole bunch of these messages masquerading as ‘truths’ from the people we grew up with. We carry on acquiring them from the significant people and groups we interact with. Even with the help of a coach, counsellor or therapist, it can take a lifetime to identify our introjects; to tease them out from what we now feel as we evolve into greater maturity, and into a surer sense of what we believe and what we don’t (and what we remain open-minded about).

So should you believe this ‘believe nothing’ advice? Well, of course even that is ironically but neatly subjective. Some are more inclined to trust (often those who are more trustworthy). But some habitually and immediately reject new ideas, and could usefully open up to believing more. Some are learning to be less trusting, some to be more so. Neither is better than the other – just different.

But don’t take my word for it.

believe nothing


You rock!

A friend once remembered her geography teacher describing three different types of rock: metamorphic (the product of dramatic changes), sedimentary (a build-up of invisible layers) and igneous (solid and enduring). Within each type, there are many sub-types. The teacher then added that people could be understood in that way, too.

There are various ways of categorising individuals (some more helpful than others). We are all, of course, more complex than any model. But models can help both me and a client perceive more clearly their natural preferences, the trajectory of their life. It’s for them to decide what fits, what doesn’t – and what seems not to, but might be worth bearing in mind.

‘Rock types’ may not be a recognised approach in the field of psychology, but in my client work I’ve often been reminded of my friend’s story, and mused thus:

‘Metamorphic’ clients are those who naturally pass through distinct phases in their working life: re-inventing themselves with ease as they move between apparently diverse areas, and sometimes feeling so squeezed by the pressures of a role that they jump into something entirely different. They bring great energy to a new project or role, and leave it with equal decisiveness. They appear to leap from one thing to another but there is often a core skillset, or thread of values, running through what they do for a living, and why they do it.


The ‘sedimentary’ client typically has a career that builds slowly over the years. They may change jobs, but each layer draws on, and is infused by, layers that have gone before – allowing them to develop deeply textured skills and wisdom that can reach out sideways. This depth can be invisible to those only witnessing the current stage: the sometimes fragile sedimentary types are not likely to speak much about their achievements, but can surprise others by drawing on their reserves when the situation evokes their contribution.


An igneous rock is more of a ‘career for life’ type. They can appear cool or even hard, but once they have chosen their work, they do it with solid passion. I don’t see many in my consulting room, as people who come to me are usually seeking some kind of transition. Any major career changes that happen for an igneous are usually forced by something like redundancy. I used to meet more igneous types in my work with organisations, and they’re characterised by thorough knowledge, and steadfastness.


I don’t rush to mentally assign a rock type (and when I do, I do it lightly). An apparent metamorph might finally find the work they’ve been longing to build up in layers. Someone else might have an apparently igneous career for years until the still, small voice that has been urging then to reinvent themselves begins to shout.

Human beings being what they are, each type of rock usually looks askance at the others, whether in judgment or sheer bewilderment.

To the others, an igneous rock can seem inflexible and unimaginative, sedimentaries reclusive and flaky, and metamorphs unstable or even chaotic. For anyone growing up in a family (or culture) predominantly of a different type, there is often a message, whether or not consciously delivered/received, that different = wrong.

Sometimes the task with a client is to help them to recognise and celebrate their own rock type (even if we don’t use that language), and to live and work in a way that honours their true preference. This can be immensely liberating: an out-of-type career path drags us down. A metamorph naturally struggles to stay long in any type of role; working at depth may not come easily to an igneous, and a sedimentary’s worst nightmare could be something new smashing their carefully built layers. It’s fine to be the rock you are.

But for others, the point of our work is to lean out of their comfort zone for a while. I can ask catalytic questions, and offer insights and feedback, but only they can decide whether the possible rewards are worth the risk of deliberately working out of type. If so, then my job is to help them find the courage to make a decision, identify the strategies to implement it, and develop the resilience to see it through.

Each client is unique, and so each piece of work is unique, and never predefined. Together, the client and I co-create: exploring, experimenting, learning each other as we go. In that way, we uncover the pace and the direction our sessions need to take.

It’s how I like to work. I wonder what the geography teacher would have said about that…

Can You Trust Your Intuition?

An intuition arrives fully formed: a neatly wrapped little parcel of knowing.

Maybe you have a decision to make. While your conscious attention is busy elsewhere, your subconscious mind/body (some might say soul) draws on memories of all the information and sensation it’s ever received, as well as every decision and action you’ve ever taken – and the outcomes of those decisions and actions. The soul does its alchemy, and the answer arrives when it’s ready – possibly when you’re meditating, but equally likely when you’re doing the shopping.

Intuition may also tap into what psychologist CJ Jung called the collective unconscious: humanity’s shared memory-experience that makes possible common dreams, shared cultural symbolism, and synchronistic events. Such sentience could extend beyond humanity to all other living beings, so when people speak of being guided by the universe in their decisions, they might be on to something.

Intuition is generally reported as being trustworthy, and no wonder: our personal mega-computers have almost infinite data to work with. But although true intuition is generally reliable, we need to be careful: what seems to be intuition can come from elsewhere, and be mistaken for the real thing. This can lead to bad (sometimes catastrophic) decisions which cause us to doubt our intuition, or even whether it exists at all.


Two emotions often mistaken for intuition are desire and fear.

You might, for example, feel that your intuition is telling you to enrol on a certain class. You feel a strong and recurring urge, and so you go with it. But maybe you’re not fully aware of the power of your sensual desire for someone else you know is signing up. Your rational mind might have already told you that a relationship probably isn’t going to happen, but your strong desire has you go along anyway, masquerading as intuition.

Or maybe you experience what feels like a strong intuition that you’re ‘meant’ to be in Brighton. You throw over all obligations to head there straight away. This might be intuition, and in Brighton perhaps you connect with someone who’s dreaming of the same start-up that you are. But equally it might be a yearning for happiness connecting to a hidden memory of a blissful childhood holiday – even though that bliss can never be recaptured in the same way.

That’s not to say following inner prompts is always wrong. Your strong sense that a certain plan is going to work out may be either intuition, or a really strong hope that it will work out – and the strong hope and belief themselves may be enough to carry the plan through. But the more we’re aware of where inner prompts are coming from, the better equipped we are to make good decisions, leading to actions that support our wellbeing.

We can also get what feels like an intuition not to do something. For example, you may sense an inner voice telling you not to go to a certain networking event. This could be a good intuition that it’s not your sort of event – or that there’s something else you need to be doing. However, you could call it intuition and stay at home, missing a fantastic opportunity because what you were really feeling is irrational but real fear of public exposure.

It can be hard to trust intuition when so many other drives feel like the real thing. Caught in this place, we can sometimes become paralysed by anxiety and self-doubt, unable to move forward.

So how can you tell the real thing when it arrives? Intuition is when you just know. People have long described it as a ‘gut feeling’. Now that we know the gut has its own mini-brain, connected to the rest of the body and the main brain, this gut feeling that intuition is a gut feeling suddenly makes a lot of sense. But the trouble is, so many other things feel like ‘just knowing’, especially if we want them to enough.

If you’re unsure, one way is to keep a log. What do you feel when you consider a particular course of action? What are your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations? Later, you can reflect on what you did, and how you feel now about the decision you made. You’ll start to see patterns and themes emerging, showing how you tend to make decisions, and how that works out for you.

The more aware and honest you are about your deep fears and desires, the more skilled you’ll grow at unpicking what’s motivating you: whether your ‘knowing’ is a good basis for a decision, big or small – or whether more exploration is needed. Once again old wisdom holds true: in this case, the words of Socrates: ‘Know Yourself’.


Being in Oslo is enjoyable but hectic; some restorative time in nature is called for. So Peter and I spend a week in Telemark: countless lakes with lilies, wooden houses, granite boulders, pines clinging to impossibly sheer cliffs, and vast stretches of fenceless forest – in which we know deer and elk are moving around, mostly at night. During the long days, we move around too: from the central hills to the high plateau of Hardangervidda, to the south coast with its rocky islands. We’re exploring; prospecting.

In Oslo we went to a talk about moving to Norway, and discovered it could be quite easy – as long as we’re willing (and able) to do paid work. A small percentage of Norwegians are self-employed, the speaker tells us – but with the rise of a small enterprise culture, that’s changing. It’s not the only thing. “Norwegians traditionally help each other. That’s changing, but they still do.” “ On weekends, people head out into nature; not so much lately, but they still do.”

We’re exploring possibilities for entering a culture that still persists. I have felt an increasing urge to withdraw from that which saps my soul. This includes (but is not limited to) the pervasive noise of civilisation, and the selfish and aggressive behaviour that inevitably erupts when too many fish are trapped in a diminishing pond. My instinct is to respond by moving away from the destruction of unbridled consumerism, towards more freedom, peace, generosity of spirit, unspoilt wild places; more room for everyone, human and otherwise. If we all had the same urge, such resources and qualities would quickly diminish, as when birds find a fruiting tree and quickly strip it. But few seem to, or at least not so urgently or persistently. Ultimately, most people choose to live in cities – or feel they have no choice. Anyway, to move towards something perceived as more desirable doesn’t guarantee total comfort or contentment, by any means. This isn’t a rational urge of mine; it’s a deeply instinctive one, watched, tempered and planned for by the rational mind.

Travelling in an older EV with a small range has necessarily kept us loosely tethered to main roads and towns. And we see evidence of constant change:  prosperity brings more glass, more concrete, more steel, more tarmac, more ad boards selling lifestyles. We would hope to participate in Norway’s traditional community as well as its unspoilt land, and the former appears to be receding faster than the latter, though much of both is (as yet) largely untouched. We’ll need a car with a bigger range, if we want to find and be in places where community, as well as land, is not yet dominated by left hemisphere functions.

At Hardangervidda National Park Centre, we learn about reindeer. An interactive display shows how populations have travelled over the millennia from North America, to Siberia, to southern Europe, to Scandinavia – moving with the edges of advancing and retreating ice sheets, always staying with optimum reindeer conditions; exploiting newly exposed land bridges from one continent to another – perpetually on the move towards more desirable conditions, and away from that which threatens survival. No border control, no immigration policies. But there’s always new terrain to learn; new weather patterns, and food sources – and maybe some new predators to contend with…

Today, the Hardangervidda herd can move only within the boundaries of the National Park. Whether or not they know it as they migrate west to calve, or south for the winter, they are an isolated population: prevented from leaving by ‘infrastructure’ (mostly motorways and railways). As the edge of the cold north retreats once more, they will experience a strong, ancient prompting to move with it. But doing so will be impossible – unless that infrastructure has by then fallen into disuse and disrepair. Until and unless such a time arrives, they are (like so many trying to live in an increasingly controlled world) effectively trapped. Although they may survive for much longer, they will thrive only for as long as they can hear, and respond to, their inner promptings. 


Totnes to Oslo: last leg!

Totnes to Oslo: last leg!

On Saturday we rejoin the Leaf on the mainland, after a restful stay at the Hankø Hotel.

We get a charge at Vestby, and at the nearby service station we enjoy a colourful plate of salad from a buffet that reminds me of Seeds2 in Totnes. There are Leafs everywhere, and Teslas. Throughout the trip we’ve had chargers pretty much to ourselves, but we now have to wait our turn.

It’s time to go to Baldron in the Woods, and we’re a little nervous. We park on the forest track and walk up to the cabin, to find our new colleagues having a clear-out of shoes. Over a welcome cold drink on the veranda we share stories and passions, and find we have much in common. Raphael is smiling, observant, thoughtful; Marianna vivacious, caring, determined. Both have researched extensively in many areas of health and education.

We’re joined by Alberto, a Mexican architect, and Iuuk, a Dutch photographer, both here to explore volunteering opportunities. After a tour of the steep garden with its pines, cabins, lilies of the valley and panoramic compost toilet, we look at two challenges: a possible greenhouse site, and a pump that isn’t sucking, though its motor works. Alberto comes up with ingenious ideas, and we stand by, ready to assist if needed. If this was a recruitment test we wouldn’t get interviews, but we’re relaxed about that, as this isn’t the job we came to do. Peter will have IT projects, and my first job will be refining the English on labels for herbal essences, and I’ll be carrying on my coaching practice via Skype.

The sun’s still hot when we turn in at nearly 10pm. Our cabin is full of spare mattresses and boxes of Baldron merchandise, and the roof is waiting to be repaired, but we’re comfortable, and we sleep well.

In the morning Raphael makes an excellent green smoothie with dandelions, seeds, and various foraged herbs before going off to an event. Marianna comes with us in the Leaf to the Oslo flat where we’ll live for the next three months. The more we talk, the more I enjoy her company.


We spend the rest of Sunday getting our room straight, and exploring the area. The clinic and flat are on the ground floor of a big old house in a quiet street. There are lilacs and fieldfares outside our window, a park at the end of the road, and a health food shop two streets away. Peter has spotted slow chargers that are free to use, but we’ll need to get a pass.

We’ve arrived: Peter navigating, researching charge points and finding places to stay; me driving, doing handwashing and finding inventive ways to dry it. The Leaf has been a joy to drive. Our Mk2 has an average range of 80 miles, but new EVs have a range of up to 250 miles, which would make a journey like this a doddle.

Total miles: 1662

Average speed: 35mph

Approximate cost: £95.49

Tomorrow we start work, and in three months we’ll think about the journey home…


Totnes to Oslo in an EV: 4

We’re finally out of the lowlands and into the hills. We’ve had six days of flat landscapes and broad skies, abundant tall beech trees leaning in to meet across long straight roads, and miles of windfarms. These countries get the need to address climate change; objections about turbines spoiling the view would be secondary, if not laughable, on mainland Europe.

Now we’re travelling through a land of islands in sparkling seas; long, spanning bridges, tiny unfenced fields, wooden houses amongst granite outcrops, and pine forests.

All the way there have been sinister-looking barns, with ventilation shafts and silos, housing cramped, stressed, and often diseased hens or pigs for the massive non-free-range market. Since France there’s been the constant anticipation of vehicles bursting out of side roads, assuming priority – unless you can see a yellow diamond telling you otherwise, and numerous city cyclists who either wait at zebra crossings or don’t, so that you can never tell (unless you’re local, presumably) whether stopping will cause more problems than not stopping.

But it’s a relaxed and beautiful journey from Lund, hugging the west coast of Sweden up to Norway. Chargers are predictable, and located very sensibly at service stations (or MacDonald’s). On Wednesday we visit Victorian Gothic coastal castle Tjoloholms Slott, where Peter came in 2005, and we camp on the coast at Gullbrandstorp. Our tiny blue Highlander is the only tent.


I have to get up during the night, and a thrush is singing softly in anticipation of the dawn chorus. This soon swells to glorious surround-sound, accompanied by the enthusiastic percussion of a corncrake.

On Thursday the Leaf takes time out, and we walk round the island of Marstrand from another campsite where we’re the only tent, occupying an area of green amidst a sea of camper vans and caravans.  ‘Camping’ these days seems to mean parking your mobile home on a site with facilities, or visiting your second home, permanently pitched on the site.  Maybe the people who like to throw up a little tent and light a fire, and talk, and maybe sing, and don’t mind not washing for a while, know places not shown in the tourist information camping guide. We’ll find such places in Norway.

We cross the border into that country on Friday afternoon, and find a rather fine place to stay for the last night of our journey. Booking on the same day means we’ve been able to get some good room deals, and that’s how we’re now at the Hankø Hotel and Spa, on an island reached via a little ferry with an Icelandic captain. The Leaf stays in a carpark on the mainland, fully charged and ready to go.

After supper we discover we’ve been invited to stay tomorrow in a lakeside cabin at Baldron in the Woods, where our hosts for the next three months run a biodynamic farm. Then we’ll travel on to Oslo, where we’ll be living in a flat above the Baldron Health Clinic.

Although tonight feels like the end of a journey, and tomorrow a new beginning, we’re not quite there yet…


Totnes to Oslo in an EV: Part 3

We get up for an early walk in the park, and come across two young deer playing tag amongst the trees until they lie down exhausted. The hotel breakfast isn’t appealing, so we decide to get something at our first charge stop.

We enjoy a nice country run to the outskirts of Hamburg, but there we find our first out-of-order charger. Being Sunday, there’s no-one to call. We have 30km in hand, and following the postcode to the nearest charger takes us to a quiet square in inner Hamburg. No charger. Peter gets out and walks around using Google maps as if searching for Pokémon, while I stay with the car and watch a dog play tirelessly in a pond while his middle-aged male owner sits knitting. There’s no-one we can call to find the exact location; however, where it should be stands a brand new ‘pissoir’. So we drive across the city, grateful that it’s Sunday, and find a charger that works. It’s outside a big residential block, right beside the stink pipe.

Leaving Hamburg seems to take forever, with every light (and there are lots) red. The drivers are the most aggressive we’ve encountered yet. The biggest trials, I tell Peter, always come in the middle of a journey. Tomorrow will be better.

The next destination is a small out-of-town shopping area, all closed up for Sunday. But there’s a rapid charger, and it works…

We’d been hoping we might get to Denmark today, but we both realise it’s not going to happen. Remarkably it’s late afternoon already, and we suddenly recognise that we’re hot, tired, hungry and a little dehydrated. We pick a random place to stay in Eutin – it looks okay and the room is cheap.

It turns out to be amazing. In the midst of busy trunk roads, flash car showrooms and industrial estates, within a wall is the Hotel Straßenmeisterei, with cobbled pathways, old apple trees, a pond full of lily pads. The food is superb, the hostess delightful. We’re celebrating: we’ve passed the Trials of Hamburg. But exhaustion has caught up with me, and I sleep for ten hours straight.


We leave Eutin mid-morning, and stop for a precious lakeside walk before driving to our next charge point: a giant shopping centre on Fehmarn. From this island in the Baltic Sea, we take the ferry to Denmark. Crossing the country (with its many sea bridges, and more undulating than I expected) we stop for two charges: one at a small roadside Kro Hotel, and one at the Crown Plaza in Copenhagen. From there it’s a short and easy trip to Malmo, where we spend a delightful evening exploring the city streets, parks and trees with friend Terese, and then a conversation with her husband Alessandro about a project in Italy where land and even castles are being given to projects that guarantee ecological sustainability – a bit like Wales’s One Planet Development, only free. It’s conversation that could go on, but it’s getting dark and we have to get to Kävlinge… so we get back in the Leaf for one last short stretch before bed.

Total miles travelled: 1180 in seven days

Average miles per day: 168

Remaining miles to Oslo: approx 343

Due date: Saturday 28th May

Piece of cake?