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Summer has established itself here in the Charente, and the big heat has come with days of 30+ degrees. The grass is brown and feels crunchy when you walk across it. We managed a visit to family in Scotland so we’ve been away from here for a couple of weeks and several plants just haven’t made it.

This evening was a time for watering, harvesting some tomatoes, courgettes and radishes, and making a start on tidying away dead plants and leaves to put them into the compost bin.

At first glance the garden looks like it is suffering and it’s certainly the end of the road for some plants, but this photo from a forest floor in Scotland in the autumn reminds me…..new growth is never far away.

In fact, new growth is hugely unpredictable. We’ve got about seven large pumpkins swelling up on a giant pumpkin plant which has made its way to every wall it can reach, and we didn’t even plant it! There must have been viable pumpkin seeds in the compost I spread on the plot over the winter months. What a gift! What a surprise!

Nature teaches me this – there is no waste, no final ending, there is always new growth.

Passing the past

If you look carefully here you can see the remains of two platforms. This was, I think, Morningside Station. The trains still run along these tracks but the traces of the station itself have almost vanished.

This got me thinking about the past, how it never really goes away, but we don’t go there any more, we can’t step out of the present and inhabit the past again.

Some people do try to do that all the same. The past has deep roots and it also has strong tendrils which wind themselves around us. They cling to us and we cling to them.

The present doesn’t exist in isolation. It is shaped by both the past and the future. Sometimes we are so busy, so preoccupied, travelling so fast, that we whizz on by, but the past still exerts its influence all the same.

The sky above the Charente often looked like this.

Not any more.

These days if I see a single trail in the sky I think “Wow! Look! A plane!” How strange that the world could change so much in such a short time.

I used to look at a sky like this and think “Where is everybody going??!!” I’d wonder where they’d boarded their plane, and where they would disembark. Airports used to be crowded places over-filled with emotional travellers, leaving, arriving, anticipating, worrying……

That’s all changed. It changed virtually overnight. Now the airports have turned into aeroplane parks, with dozens of planes crowding the tarmac. No queues at the Check in counters. No excited huddles of families and friends eagerly waiting the return of loved ones.

Hardly anyone wants to sit, masked, on a plane for hours with dozens of strangers. Conferences, competitions, concerts and celebrations have been cancelled.

Do you think the sky will look this busy ever again? Has mass tourism come to an end? Has Zoom replaced all the conventions and conferences?

Or is it just a matter of time before it will look as if this year never happened?

What do you think?

I think the world is different now. I hope enough of us see that to choose to live differently and to push for real change……with new priorities, new ideas and different ways to organise our societies.

Writing in the sky

Often an image becomes a favourite because it’s so surprising. This is one of them. I often notice clouds, usually because of a shape, a shade, or a colour. In this case it’s the sequence which is so unusual. Any single one of these clouds would be pretty unremarkable on its own. Together they look like calligraphy. They look like letters forming a word or ideograms forming a sentence.

When I look at this again it inspires me to think about the importance of both context and sequence. Every experience we have has a significance and meaning which emerges, at least in part, from context and sequence.

I think that explains why we talk about “having a run of good luck”, or, the opposite, having a run of bad luck.

When one of your first experiences of the day is a bad one it can quickly colour the entire day. Same again with the opposite. Which is why it’s a good practice to start the day with deliberate, conscious good experiences – say listening to music instead of “doomscrolling” (the new word for reading bad news stories in your social media feed)

Freedom

As the sun light caught the water cascading down from this fountain I crouched down and took this photo. Only later did I see the bird with its outstretched wings.

I’m often fascinated by birds in flight. The buzzards soar so high over the vineyards that they often appear as mere specks in the sky. I’m amazed by how they soar and circle apparently effortlessly riding the invisible currents in the air.

I love to see the swallows chasing each other, diving down to skim the ground, skip round the walls and roofs and just apparently delight in their movement.

Kestrels hover high above the ground wings beating furiously but each bird maintaining a specific position, moving neither left nor right, up nor down, then suddenly plummeting to earth like a stone to grab some unsuspecting prey (how on earth do they see such tiny creatures from such great heights?)

I could go on…..

Watching the flights of birds is liberating. It lifts my spirits, lightens my heart, and inspires me to think about freedom.

It’s almost a definition of life – freedom. Every living creature pursues survival and growth. Sure there are external and internal limits and no living being exists in isolation from others but freedom isn’t about having no limits or no relationships.

Freedom isn’t just about choosing either. Nor is it only about “free will” which some philosophers and neuroscientists doubt.

Freedom, as I understand it, is movement, is change, is the pursuit of survival and development, is the expression of individual uniqueness.

It’s the call of the heart, the call of the soul, the essence of Life.

A different angle

This morning there were masses of spider webs in the garden. But only this one was stretched over the horizontal plane. At that moment I realised all the other webs were on the vertical plane, hanging like works of art in a gallery.

Sometimes we need to notice something different in order to notice what’s common.

During this pandemic, both in lockdown phases and during the times when restrictions are eased, I think this has been happening. We are noticing things which are different and that’s making us much more aware of what we’ve been living with and accepting unconsciously as “normal”.

We don’t have to accept the ordinary and the routine as normal.

Sometimes it takes change, it takes a change of perspective or angle to see clearly what has faded into an “zombie” style of autopilot living.

What are you seeing more clearly now?

What would you like to change about the “normal” ways we’ve been organising and living our lives?

I’ve often had discussions with patients about one of the most important paradoxes at the heart of human existence…….separateness and belonging.

We can’t choose between the apparent opposites of identity and self which we can explore from these two perspectives.

I am unique. My DNA is unique. My immune system is fine tuned to identify and react to whatever is “not me”.

I am also uniquely who I am as the subject at the centre of a vast, ever-changing network of relationships.

All of this has been thrown into a stark light with this pandemic. Separation has been pushed further with social and physical distancing. However, at the same time, belonging and connections have been shown to be even more crucial than we realised.

I think it’s really important for each of us to understand ourselves in our uniqueness, to have a sense of autonomy and difference.

I think it’s equally important for each of us to understand ourselves in our connections and relationships. We exist indivisibly embedded in families, communities, societies and ecosystems.

This photo of the flamingo standing apart from the flock always inspires me to think about these things. It captures the phenomena of reflection, separateness and belonging, all in one image.

Becoming not being

When I started this blog, many years ago, I called it “heroes not zombies” to capture the idea that we are all the authors and central characters (heroes) of our own stories but if we aren’t aware of that then we tend to drift through life on autopilot, driven by the actions and desires of others in a society of sleepwalkers (zombies).

Right from the start I put a subtitle under the main heading – “becoming not being”.

This photo is a good example of why I continue to use that subtitle. It’s taken from my garden, looking over the surrounding vineyards towards the horizon. In this one image we can see bright sunshine, dark storm clouds and several fingers of rain reaching down from the sky to soak the earth below.

It’s an image which can’t be reduced to a single element without diminishing it. What makes it so beautiful, so attractive, so engaging, is the presence of all the elements together…the sunlight, the storm clouds, the rain.

What kind of day is this?

A sunny day? A stormy day? A rainy day?

Or all of the above and more?

This day can’t be reduced to a label. We can’t say it “is” this or that. This day is “becoming”, evolving, changing, developing. It’s multiple and diverse and multi-dimensional.

This day, like all days, is “becoming not being”.

So am I. So are you. So is all of life. So is this planet Earth and the Universe which stretches away in every direction at once.

I’m uncomfortable with labels, with rigid boundaries of time and space. I’m uneasy with categories and classifications, with the tendency to put “others” into separate boxes. I’m suspicious of “outcomes” and “goals” and “endpoints”.

I prefer to be aware of connections, of flow, of change, dynamics and relationships. I prefer not to judge, dismiss or ignore.

Wherever I look I see multiplicities. I find puzzles, curiosities, peculiarities. I see uniqueness. I see that nothing ever ends because everything, every moment, every experience is becoming something else, flowing from the present into the future and changing my understanding of the past.

I see that life is a continuous, complex process of becoming. I don’t see life as a series of separate unconnected units.

I’ve never seen a seedhead just like this before. I’ve seen lots of dandelions with a seedhead something like this but this isn’t the same.

When you look closely you can see how there’s a centre of radiating stalks making the shape of a star or a sunburst. Attached to each of its rays are delicate, fine spindles each carrying a single seed and the soft threads which will carry it far away when the wind blows.

Then there’s another layer of complexity as every seed attaches to its neighbours entangling its own threads with the others to create an ephemeral globe.

The overall appearance is like that of a snow globe, or a crystal sphere.

It’s unique.

There won’t be another seedhead absolutely identical to this one, with the same number of stalks, seeds, threads, each pointing in a specific direction and each with exactly the same number of connections.

It’s our connections and contexts which really make us unique.

I know people try to capture the essence of someone or something by picking a characteristic and classifying them but all of that just separates us into artificial boxes. Our true natures, essences, selves are unique. And they emerge from our constantly evolving, growing, developing lives.

My story is unique.

Your story is unique.

We create them by weaving together the unique events and relationships of our lives.

Nature therapy

Once travel restrictions were eased we took the chance and made a trip to Scotland from our home in the Charente. It was a long trip. We decided the safest way to travel was the one which minimised time spent in the presence of strangers. That meant avoiding airports, planes, railway stations, trains, and buses. What’s left? Driving. Well you can’t drive all the way from France to Scotland. So we booked overnight journeys on the ferry. On the ferry we went directly from our car to a cabin and in reaching the other side directly from the cabin to our car.

All that comes with certain consequences. There’s a kind of heightened awareness of “the other”, a wariness of strangers, and a sense of, if not quite alienation, then, at very least, of separateness.

I suspect the world is going to feel odd and awkward this way for a long time.

My daughter and my son live in the city but luckily Edinburgh has an abundance of green spaces ranging from parks and gardens to forest trails.

Walking along winding paths under tall, ancient trees is a particularly good healing activity. It connects us to the natural world.

Spending time in Nature has been shown to be so good for us that it’s even been called “Vitamin N” and the lack of time spent in Nature has been termed “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Time spent amongst forests has been shown to have particular benefits as we breathe in a range of molecules produced by the trees…..molecules which boost our immune system and lower our inflammatory levels.

I’ve been lucky to have access to a garden throughout this pandemic but there’s something extra, something special, about the activity of “forest bathing”. Was it really a good idea to keep everyone at home? I can’t help feeling that it would be a better plan to allow and encourage everyone to access Nature Therapy.