Author Archives: Allan Hunter

Bay Path

Huge thanks to the wonderful participants who came to the Bay Path Concord campus for "Writing as a Healing Modality" workshop yesterday. Rarely have I had the privilege of working with such insightful, deeply intelligent, and aware people. Thanks to you we were able to traverse some demanding terrain and arrive at a deeper sense of the way writing can help us let go of the past and empower us for the future. You were able to do this with good humor, laughter, and real empathy. Yes, there were some tears, and they were respected as an important part of the process of healing.

I hope to meet with you all again and continue our work together.


City of romance, miraculous sunsets, history, and way too many tourists.

Let’s see if we can step back in time and see what made Venice such a superb creation in its heyday. Think of it: a city built on water – the advantages of that. If we look only at the history and the art we’ll miss the sheer convenience of the place when it was in its prime.

What would it have been like? Well – to begin with, there would have been no need to have drains or trash collection, the canals would do it all. And transport became easier. No more slow lumbering wagons, heaps of horse manure, and noise of wheels. In fact no more need to house and feed horses and clear up after them. Instead there was the easy flow of water borne traffic. Surely the canals would smell a little, but nothing like the pungency of heaps of horse and human manure that plagued other cities. And, best of all perhaps, no dust.

Fresh water, filtered through the earth into the wells of individual houses, would have been better than in most other cities, and in no shortage. Better yet, fire, the scourge of so many cities (think of the Great Fire of London in 1666), would not be such a terrible threat.  Rats, too, would have had a harder time spreading diseases to stone built houses, and less garbage to feed on. Diseases would have been plentiful, of course: malaria and other water-borne plagues would have been very unpleasant, but then many European cities seemed to have them, anyway, as swampy areas adjacent to the city centers were always likely to breed mosquitos, flies, and so on. 

And as for trade… ships could bring in goods easily, reaching all corners of the city without effort.  Even from a military point of view all that was needed for defense was a navy, and once the ships were built a navy was not nearly as expensive to maintain as an army, nor as unruly. Other city states would have to gear up to fight a naval engagement, taking months to build ships, and they would be expected to maintain an army too.  Not the Venetians.

Quiet, calm, secure, relatively pleasant to the nose, easy travel – Venice would have had it all. It would have struck the visitor of bygone times as superbly modern and innovative. Perhaps we can learn from it about what city dwelling might need to be.


The other day I was walking past a delightful garden and I saw the owner, an older lady, transplanting flowers. I looked up and noticed that directly above her a large tree with dead branches overhung the plot. Surely, before too long the dead branches would fall and crush the flowers, or perhaps if workmen were sent to cut the branches they would surely damage the flower beds.

And that is what we do. When we can’t manage to deal with the big things in life we set about doing little things. We can’t deal with our lives, so we re-arrange the furniture. We can’t deal with world poverty so we donate a pair of shoes. We can’t face the littleness of our own being, so we have a nation that elects a president who constantly tells us how great he is.


When I was very small my parents would hurry me along, always chivvying me to get ready and be presentable way before the event was due to happen. 

Now, when I'm with Zoe (6) and Ellie (4) I sometimes find myself telling them to hurry up, to get ready, not to dawdle. At such moments I catch myself. I don't want to be late, but am I perhaps still living my life according to my parents' schedules? I have no right to pass on that anxiety to this new generation. They have a right to their own self-pacing. 

My problem is not going to be their problem if I can help it.

Iron Hans

I've recently had cause to revisit this Grimm Brothers' Tale, and it's provided me with plenty of food for thought - which is not a bad thing in a story about psycho-sexual maturation.

One part caught my attention particularly. In the middle of this tale the young prince is carried off by Hans and told to look after a lake, to protect it for anything falling into it. The first day he forgets his task and puts his aching finger in the water, the same finger that got caught in the door of Hans' cage. It turns gold. The second day he looks in the water to see his reflection and one of his hairs falls in, and turns gold. The third day he sees creatures swimming beneath the surface, leans forward, and all his hair flops over his brow and into the lake. It promptly turns gold, too.

He's failed his test of keeping the lake pure, but what actually is this series of events signaling to us?

I'd suggest that for the adolescent there are three 'tests', the clearest of which is on the second day when, narcissus-like, the prince looks at his reflection and a hair falls into the lake. If one of the challenges of growing to maturity is to master the narcissistic aspect of one's temperament, then this may be the clue we need. The first day the boy wants to ease his painful finger, the wound he got when he opened Hans' cage and let him out. We can, at the adolescent stage, identify too closely with the wounded feeling that our parents and others do not see who we truly are. This is a real challenge. Feeling like a victim can blight one's life unless one decides not to dwell on it. The finger turns gold - just as the experience of being misunderstood can lead us to the gold of greater understanding - if we take the time to process it.

On the second day the narcissistic element of the boy looking at his own reflection is likewise a phase that needs to be dealt with in order to reach real maturity. He sees the hair that has fallen into the lake and recognizes with a shock that the task is not all about him. Teenagers preening in front of a mirror today may need to take note of this one.

On the third day the boy is attracted by something beneath the surface. And here, I'd suggest, is the most important event so far. It suggests to us that he now wishes to look beneath the surface of life, to find out about the things that exist beneath the surface of his own being. Knowing who one is, in depth, is a great blessing, and yet spending too long in the place of introspection can be a trap of its own. The boy pulls back and sees his hair is now all gold, and he seeks to hide it - which is exactly what any of us will do when we see the authentic essence of who we are. Knowing what our soul actually is feels like a huge gift, and it is. But others, who know only the material world, may give us a hard time about being our authentic self. This struggle is fairly acute during adolescence, which is where the boy is in his development. At the end of the tale, finally, he is able to reveal his hair to his bride - and so to show who he actually is.

I've gone into this tale in such detail because it seems to me that it contains hugely useful information about adolescent development, information we have often chosen to ignore in our school system. Teaching to the test and cramming for SATs will not replace the wisdom encapsulated in these ancient tales. It's time we recognized that.


Springtime, and Nature, set me thinking once again about our environment and how we relate to it. Take a look at any open space – birds, trees, flowers. It all looks rather idyllic.

Yet we also know that birds eat small insects and worms, and are in turn eaten by predators. We know that trees will choke each other out of the sunlight if they need to.

This should remind us of a basic truth: we live in a world that depends upon some degree of exploitation. We eat plants, and animals, and so to some extent that means we prey on them. The point here is not that we should all declare veganism to be the answer but that we should be aware that we live in a world that has always depended on living beings eating, destroying and exploiting other organisms.

The important thing is that we should accept this, and recognize that we live in two realms. We live in a realm of spirit, which is what we actually are, and we live in a material world that feeds the body in which that spirit resides. We are both. We are crassly, messily human and we are also spirits.

Our task in life is to navigate between these two.

Can we live by cooperating with Nature? Can we take what we need without trashing the place in the interests of money? Can we stay on that knife edge?  

We can, if we decided to. Otherwise we’ll face a world of climate catastrophe, horrendous pollution, and real misery.

Which realm you decide to live in most is up to you. The material realm of physical comforts says grab all you can. The spiritual world says be in harmony.

The sacred Hindu text of the Rig Veda has a section in which it describes the tree of life. In it sit two birds. One is quiet and thoughtful. The other is ravaging the fruits. The tree is us and we are both birds, but we get to decide which aspect of life is more important to us.

Drama, anyone?

In my viewing of tv and Netflix I've noted again and again how many movies and series are centered on violent action, death, and explosions. Next in line would be life-threatening situations (in hospitals, for example). Perhaps someone could do a survey and find out just what percentage of our visual media are predicated upon death and destruction.

What occurs to me is that the existence of so much drama, computer-enhanced violence, and so on, seems to suggest that in order to be 'entertained' we have to be jolted awake.

Could it be that we are now so used to drama and terror that we no longer feel very much? Our daily diet of news contains much that is remarkably violent and disturbing. It's as if we've become immune to the drug, and need ever increasing doses to feel anything at all.

Are we, in fact, numbed out? Is not feeling anything the new normal?

As a counselor and life coach I begin to suspect this might be true......

Echoes and words

Stay on Track

It's a phrase we hear all the time, meaning, don't deviate from your chosen path - but it is, in fact, nonsense.

The phrase derives directly from navigation, specifically airplane navigation. There one sets a course (the intended direction) but because of winds and weather the way one actually flies is often rather different. This results in one creating one's 'track' - where one has in fact gone while trying to get directly from A to B.

It follows, then, that one can never fail to be 'on track' because that's the route one's taken. One can be 'on course' -- if you're lucky.

The original difference between the words conveys an important life lesson; we may plan a course that is theoretically perfect, but life will always mess with any such plans. That's when we create our track.

Words have echoes


It's a cheery British phrase meaning the equivalent of 'goodbye'. It actually derives from World War One, when English soldiers heard the French saying "à toute à l'heure" which meant 'see you soon'. The average British Tommy had some trouble with that, and so it became 'toodle-oo', and went back into English usage.

Imagine the war in France; the violence, the slaughter, the uncertainty of ever seeing one's companions again. Under those circumstances this cheery mangling of the French phrase carries untold bravado, fatalism, and downright courage. Cherish what the language holds.


... and Clichés.

Let's start with this: Museum. It's so familiar, and yet if we pharse it out it means a place that was created for the muses, those difficult, silent and slippery goddesses who inspired artists when they deigned to grace them with their presence.

Go to a museum - find your muse.