Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Return of An African in Greenland

Back in April1983, I travelled to Paris to spend three days with Tété-Michel Kpomassie and his family who made me most welcome. The Sunday Times magazine commissioned me to write a piece on his remarkable book. The piece was rejected at time. You can read it along with a  more detailed account of my trip in the two previous posts on The Generalist in November 2009.

Many years later I am delighted to say that his wonderful book with a new Afterword has just been published by Penguin Modern Classics and is now available in eight other languages.

Reading the new material takes me back to how wonderful his writing style is. He has always kept impeccable diaries and the level of detail he brings to his accounts is impressive to say the least. He not only made three further trips to Greenland over the years but also made two epic journeys around Africa ten years apart to 16 countries. His mission was to enable young Africans to learn about Greenland and to open their minds about the outside world.

Monday, April 18, 2022


This intense book by psychotherapist Andrew Jamieson arrived in the post unexpectedly, which was handy as I was speaking to several friends who appeared to be grappling with it. Back in the day I myself went through the midlife thing as did the author of this book. His mother had suffered the same but in her 80s which triggered him to write this valuable work. There are so many interesting aspects to this subject that I have ended up taking copious notes

The idea of mid-life crisis has ancient provenance in the Odyssey and many other stories, Most memorably in Dante's Inferno when the traveller says: 'Midway through this life upon which we are bound, I woke to find myself in a dark wood where the right road was wholly lost and gone.' 

The combination of inner demons/outer misfortune are the central difficulties that force an adaptation to take place which releases dormant potentialities leading to 'a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, greater fulfillment, less troubled, a richer engagement with our own true natures and the world around us'

This is a necessary experience in our emotional development. The role of the midlife crisis is a significant part of our evolution as a species.

Only two mammal species have a post-reproductive life that lasts longer than their reproductive life - Killer Whales (Orcas) and Homo Sapiens. The Orca pods are led by very old female whales who know the ways of the ocean.

Freud and Jung met for the first time for Sunday lunch in Vienna in 1907. Both were to suffer a midlife crisis. Their presence and competing ideas permeate this book. 

Freud had built his reputation and a following with his theory of the centrality of the Pleasure Principal (his term for sexuality) in driving our behaviour. To the trauma of his friends and colleagues, he went on to challenge his own theory in 'Beyond The Pleasure Principle' in which he unveiled his Repetition theory. 

He had come to believe that there really does exist in the mind a compulsion to repeat which he now claimed was  more potent that the sex drive. That human beings have an obsessive desire to continue patterns of behaviour that are injurious to them because the 'familiar' is much stronger than the creative and must be preserved at all costs. This is the neurotic dysfunctional response we fall back on when faced with difficult situations. It triggers a regression into infantile behaviour patterns first experienced in childhood  and amplified by the emotional culture of their original family.

Jung had gained success and notoriety in the period 1895-1900 and underwent a gruelling midlife breakdown from1913-1917, a period he wrote about in 'Memories, Dreams and Reflections'. He searched out his earliest memories which proved to be the key to the secret pages of his mind. He realised he had a mother problem - lack of trust and love  - and  insecurity due to his father's unreliability. He turned to nature.

"I happened to myself" he said. He realised he was two very different personalities. The first was for the outer world - school, university and profession. The second was his true self - mysterious, unpredictable, enigmatic. That is why he needed two marriages and two homes. He was a public figure (extrovert) and solitary creative (introvert) - both terms he coined.

He was revived by being put in charge of an internment camp holding 10,000 British prisoners which improved his health and encouraged  him to work on his new theory which was published as 'Psychological Types' in 1921. His concept was called individuation. He believed that at the core of our personalities lies a set of innate potentialities that we are given a lifespan of up to 90 years to discover and express. At some stage we are liberated to be a unique individual in which fundamental aspects of out true nature are consciously present. He likened it to the genetic code in the acorn that has the capacity to transform its tiny form into a mature oak tree.

But this transformation is impeded by the layers of protective defence from early infancy which will deny us contact with and the expression of our authentic individuality. This is a more powerful mechanism than the urge to repeat says Jung. Its the time when the innovative drive to break out of the confines to make its first appearance. This is the experience of the midlife crisis.

Jung believed the purpose of life was to move beyond the endless wheel of repetition into a state of being that takes us into a whole new realm of experience, of inner exploration and self-discovery. Two competing drives in every human psyche is our fate. Always to be both. Our deep desire to remain the same and our unrelenting desire to develop and change. Can we combine to create a unified theory?

So now we come the infant trauma and a small sub organ of the brain which was first discovered by surgeons in the 1500s but we only discovered what role it plays when MRI brain scans identified it in more detail 400 years later. This organ is named Hippocampus which is the Greek word for seahorse because that's what it looks like.

It has many roles but is especially designed of one critical task - to keep the Amygdala under control. This a cluster of almond shaped cells, situated near the  base of the brain. It regulates response to threats. When aroused it becomes disruptive, undisciplined and panic stricken. It releases high-octane adrenalin from the adrenal glands which are situated throughout our body which enables us to run, jump and flee. All the adrenaline is rarely used up and  remains in our bodies where it converts into cortisol which impacts on our serotonin and dopamine levels that provide us with feelings of confidence and contentment. Our feelings of well-being diminish and be replaced by feelings of permanent danger. This is most intense in our early years. This is because the Amygdala is fully developed when the baby is in its 8th month. The Hippocampus takes three years to be effective.

When a baby is born is the most extreme trauma of its life. Just before birth excessive adrenaline from  the amygdala is injected into the brain. This is etched in the unconscious of every individual. The baby is feeling claustrophobic, with near death terror until it is born into blinding light and a sense of release and liberation. 

Early infantile trauma is a crucial field of study. The infant senses it's powerless and vulnerable. If maternal care is withdrawn the adrenalin will fill it with a fear of abandonment. The mid-life crisis offers the opportunity to overcome and repair damage from the primitive agonies during birth or infancy. Jung also wrote about the family shadow we carry around from these early years that needs also be dispelled. There is a whole fascinating  chapter on cases studies of this.

Andrew Jamieson's also provides fascinating stories of the midlife crises of Beethoven, Michelangelo, Tolstoy, two American Presidents - Lincoln and Roosevelt, and the extraordinary lives of George Eliot and Marie Curie.

I was fascinated to learn that Jung had invented the term synchronicity in conjunction with Wolfgang Pauli who was one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Jung also coined the term persona - a compromise between the individual and society as to how a man should be. The presentation of self in everyday life. Psychological clothing. I was also glad to know of the Chinese thought Wu Wei (Let things happen) and Lao Tzu's idea of action through non-action.

In mid-life there is a gap. One life is ending, one life beginning. A critical transformation. A rebirth. Its called a liminality.

The book quotes from 'The Soul' by Francis Newman which reads: 'There are two families of children on this earth - the once born and the twice born'.

This valuable book has opened my mind and understanding to new trains of thought, fresh healing ideas and a radical new view of childbirth. Andrew Jamieson writes in a clear manner and presents complex thoughts in an accessible fashion. This book will help and comfort many and will pay repeated reading.

The book is published in attractive style by Notting Hill Editions

Friday, April 08, 2022



My dear friend Lindsay Rudland has written a wonderful book on her life with another volume to come. She was a nurse for 46 years mainly working in mental health care. Her next book will cover this aspect of her life in more detail. Lindsay is a natural raconteur, unafraid of revealing the most intimate aspects of her personal life which others would blanch at. Her life has been adventurous, risky, full-on and full also of love and care for others. In later life she has found her guru and shares her experiences. Her down-to-earth chatty style is refreshing, entertaining, intelligent, inspiring and very real. I am convinced that this book will encourage women, young and old, to endeavour to rise. Lindsay has found her healing voice and her words and experiences will comfort many women struggling with similar issues. She's passing on the love and enlightenment she's found. She's the real thing. I'm honoured to be your friend.

[Available from Amazon]