Peter Owen Jones: the extreme pilgrim
PUBLISHED: 21:22 04 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:56 20 February 2013
Author, award-winning broadcaster and Anglican priest Peter Owen Jones comes to Cheltenham
Peter Owen Jones Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim:Tuesday, October 5, 7-9.30pm, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham
Experiences of an extreme pilgrim
Peter Owen Jones is an extraordinary man.
Seemingly breaking all the rules along the way, the 52-year-old has gone from advertising executive to Anglican priest and award-winning broadcaster. Some of his remarkable television series have included Around the World in 80 Faiths, The Battle for Britains Soul and How to Live a Simple Life.
In his three-part series for the BBC, Extreme Pilgrim, he travelled to China, India and Egypt to seek the paths of enlightenment and spirituality he believes we have lost in the west. While in Egypt he spent 21 days in complete solitude, writing a series of letters to those people who have played the most important roles in his life.
As Peter is coming to Cheltenham on Tuesday, October 5 to talk as a guest of The Isbourne Centre, I spoke to him to ask him what the experience meant to him.
I found the letters in your book incredibly moving. How have friends and family responded to it?
Theyve responded very kindly I think. We live our lives with extraordinary people, and very rarely do we express how much they mean to us. A sentence isnt enough; you can tell someone that you love them, but there is so much more behind that. The ripples formed by the relationships we have stay within us and we carry them as memory. Its our experience of them that informs us about our own reality; our own capacity for love as well as our own darknesses.
Did the process of writing unearth feelings you werent necessarily previously aware of?
Yes, I would say so. It was like pulling it out from the depths; it had gone in and settled and I hadnt actually had a chance to review it. Being in a cave in the desert is an incredibly cruel, brutal thing to do and so all of your past memories, all of the building blocks of your life tend to come to the fore at that point as youre vulnerable and exposed.
And would you say that this experience has changed you fundamentally?
Yes, completely. I think from all the things Ive experienced in my life, that month in the cave was just the most incredible milestone. I feel incredibly privileged that I had the opportunity to go through that process and to be able to thank those who have been involved in my life.
Was it at times a frightening experience?
It was very, very frightening. In that kind of environment you have to face your fears, you have to face what youve been hiding from your need for love, your need for control, your need for affection and theres no escape from that reality.
and would you say thats a good way to achieve that reality with complete abstinence?
Yes, I do. I think something extraordinary happens to us when we do that theres nowhere to hide from the usual distractions: we cant turn on the television, we cant turn on the radio, we cant go to the pub, we cant make a phone call. All of the things that we have in the west arent there any more and so we have to face the darkness and the dread.
Do you think everyone should, at some point, go through a similar experience?
I do. I would say there are critical times in our lives in our mid-twenties, and definitely in mid-life when it would be useful. By the times we get to our forties and fifties weve had quite a few bumps and bruises, but also a remarkable amount of beautiful things too, which we might not have seen for what they were at the time.
What makes you leave the comfort of rural life in England and the bosom of your family to travel as extensively as you do?
We only have one life; youve got to live it. And if youre frightened, its all the more reason to do it.
So what makes you happy, Peter?
Waking up in the morning; Im just so glad to be here, living. What a ride some of its bloody awful, but I wouldnt miss any of it.
Peter Owen Jones will be appearing at Pittville Pump Room, East Approach Drive, Cheltenham, GL52 3JE, on Tuesday, October 5. Tickets are 12 in advance/15 on the door. Call the Isbourne Centre on 01242 254321, visit www.isbourne.org
Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim is published by Rider, price 9.99.