Celtic knots

I’ve always found Celtic knots attractive. I think they are both beautiful and fantastic symbols of important characteristics of reality – the indivisible inter-connectedness of everything, and the dynamic, flowing qualities of Nature.

Alan Watts, that great teacher of Zen principles, talks about the reality of inter-connectedness in one of his essays. He says -

interdependence and virtual identity with all other forms of life which the divisive and emboxing methods of our current way of thought prevent us from experiencing……….The so–called physical world and the so–called human body are a single process, differentiated only as the heart from the lungs or the head from the feet………..our intellectual and scientific “establishment” is, in general, still spellbound by the myth that human intelligence and feeling are a fluke of chance in an entirely mechanical and stupid universe—as if figs would grow on thistles or grapes on thorns………wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvelous neural organization which, shall we say, sponsors it?
 I love that word he uses – “emboxing”. I’ve never seen that word before. Maybe he invented it, but it’s great. The way we label and classify after focusing on only certain aspects of any phenomenon separates and divides. It puts whatever we are looking at into a box. When we apply this technique to ourselves we divide ourselves from the Nature, from the Earth, and even from the Universe.
Dividing ourselves from Reality produces a dangerous delusion. As Watts says, “wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvelous neural organization which, shall we say, sponsors it?”
I particularly like his reference to the human body – because if we really did understand ourselves as intimately and inextricably connected to the universe then maybe we’d stop classifying whatever is not “us” as “them” or “it”. Then we would have a chance to create a world which was more like the human body – made of well-differentiated parts which relate to each other in mutually beneficial ways – the reality of integration, not the delusion of division and separateness that seems to result in exploitation, plunder, killing and rape.

Honey bee

Swan reflecting



Alan Watts wrote, in his collection of essays, “Does it matter?”

an enormous amount of current intellectual, philosophical, and even scientific discourse strikes me increasingly as absurd. It is an attempt to translate a nonlinear and multidimensional system of vibrations into a linear (alphabetical or mathematical) system of symbols; and it just can’t be done

Human beings have learned to do amazing things using mathematics, technology and our advances in materialist, reductionist sciences. But these advances tend to fool us into thinking that we can approach all of Life with the same ideas, concepts and methods. Alan Watts nails this error with his usual focused clarity. He wrote that back in the 1960s but 50 years on we are still making the same fundamental mistake.

Living organisms are not machines. Natural ecosystems are not elaborate mechanical technologies. We can’t squeeze open, dynamic phenomena into the same mechanical models which work in the fields of engineering and technology.


Categorical or dynamic

left hemi right hemi

In “The Secret Life of Pronouns”, the psychologist, James Pennebaker discusses two different kinds of thinker – categorical or dynamic. I hadn’t heard of this distinction before but in the briefest of nutshells -

A categorical thinker is someone who tends to focus on objects, things, and categories. The opposite end of this dimension are people who are more dynamic in their thinking. When thinking dynamically, people are describing action and changes

That sounds very familiar to me. In fact, its got a lot in common with Iain McGilchrist’s left and right hemisphere approaches to life. The left hemisphere RE-presents reality to itself, labelling, listing, naming, categorising. Whereas the right hemisphere focuses on what he calls “the between-ness”, connections, relationships, or the whole.

For the last few months, I’ve been sharing on this blog a series of posts under the title “The A to Z of Becoming” where I take one verb each week for you to think about, and play with. I deliberately chose verbs because I think it’s the “doing words”, the “action words” which determine the kind of life we experience. This is partly in tune with William Glasser’s Choice Theory, and partly with Deleuze’s focus on change, or difference, which provided me with the fundamental principle of this blog – “becoming not being”.

So, there is something insightful about this distinction, but, the way my mind works, I also find myself balking at the “two value” use of “or” – I SO much prefer “and”! (Which is something I picked up from the General Semanticists, before I even heard of Deleuze.

So, maybe now I can be more aware of when I am thinking categorically and when I’m thinking dynamically (and, yes, I DO have a preference!)

New to me


Sometimes I like to share a photo with you just because it shows something I’ve never seen before, and I guess if it’s new to me, it might be new to some of you too!

I noticed this in the churchyard around the eglise in the little town of Segonzac in France. I’ve looked at it a lot and I still don’t really understand what it is.

At a level of simple description, it’s a black and white photograph of a post office, framed in a black frame which is hanging from a rusty metal stick. It seems to have been deliberately placed here, just in front of the wall of the church, and with some flowers planted in front of it.

I find it enormously appealing but what on earth is going on here? Why this particular photo? Why the post office? Why frame it and hang here in the churchyard? And are these particular flowers significant?

I’m just sure there’s a story here, but I don’t know what it is……

Tree heart

In the second part of the A to Z of Becoming, P stands for the verb “please”.

What I’m thinking is that it might be a good idea to explore “pleasing” this week. What do I mean by “pleasing”? Well, whatever pleases your heart.

I reckon there are two kinds of pleasing worth exploring – do something which pleases YOU – there is far too little self-compassion in this world. It’s not that we should all go about “just pleasing ourselves” and ignoring the rest of the world, nor, necessarily that we should be purely hedonistic and seeks lives of unending pleasure (fantasies, all those ideas!). Which is why I suggest that you ask your heart about your pleasing.

Maybe this week you could plan to something which would please you. Then do it. Then reflect on it later. How did it feel? What was it about what you did which pleased you?

Then, to keep a healthy balance, also think what you could do to please somebody else. Think of someone…..a relative, a friend, a neighbour, a workmate…..what could you this week which would please them? (Maybe you should ask them!) Then do it. Then reflect on it later? How did it feel? What was it about what you did which pleased them? And how did that please you?

With the verb to please, I’m thinking about how we increase the compassion in our lives – the self-compassion AND the compassion we show to others. One touchstone for that is “what pleases my heart?”

Slow down

Autumn reflecting in the charente

Life can feel very full. If it is like a river, then that river can seem like it’s in full spate, rushing, rushing, rushing and very, very full.

So, in the midst of that, I find it helps, to choose to slow down for a bit, to stroll, wander, meander…..to see what catches my attention and to stop for a moment, gaze, listen, breathe.

The river in this photo is the Charente……which has a reputation for flowing slowly.

One of the features of life in France which surprises and delights me, is how the routine of closing all the shops on Sundays is still so common. In fact, in many towns, the shops will close not just on Sunday, but maybe on Monday too. When you’re not used it, it can catch you out, or frustrate you, but once you become used to it, and settle into it, it brings so many opportunities to slow down and create a healthy rhythm.

If your life has been flowing fast recently, choose a little slowness….just for a wee while. See how that feels.

As I was walking in a forest the other day I came across this -


new growth in the forest

I often feel a kind of thrill seeing new growth like this. It’s the emergence of Life on Earth. This little seedling might well grow up to be one of the great trees of this forest. How does it do that? How does this one little seed begin to sprout, begin to reach upwards through the decaying leaves on the forest floor, and seek out the sun, the air, and the rain?

And then a little further on, I find this tree….



Don’t adjust your screen – it’s the right way up!

Look at these twists and curves and corners, as the tree reaches first this way, then another. Who could predict which way any of these branches would grow? Who could predict what this tree would look like today if they were seeing it back when it was one of those little seedlings pushing its way towards the light?

I see this everywhere.

I saw it every day with every patient I ever met. Who could have predicted how this person would be today, what life they would be living, and how they would be experiencing it?


That’s what gets me about the irrational arrogance of those who claim to know. Those who claim certainty. I am never convinced by those who claim they know what the results will be of a particular treatment for a particular individual. They can throw the term “evidence based” about as much as they like, but if they think that label gives them some magical ability to predict the future for individual human beings, then they are quite likely to be mistaken.

I don’t like the irrational arrogance of certainty in any area. I don’t like it in politics, matters of belief, wordview (religious, atheistic or scientistic), in economics, or any other human domain. Life is not predictable. Living organisms cannot be properly understood if represented as mere objects. All living forms are dynamic, open, complex systems. All are unique and together they are diverse. Commonalities matter, but so do differences.

If there is one thing I always doubt, it’s certainty.

But then, like Montaigne, I’m fond of saying “mais, que sais-je?” (“but what do I know?”)


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