Archive for July, 2011


I love these drops of water on stems, leaves and petals. They are like little lenses to see the world through, little prisms or jewels decorating the hedgerow.

dewed filaments

I’ve no idea what this is. It was lying in the middle of the path right in front of me. Like gossamer, a little tangle of filaments in a small bundle on the ground. I guess it’s the creation of a spider of some kind but I’ve never seen anything like it.

spider in web

See the dew drop, just to the top right? What I didn’t notice as I took the photograph was that the creator of this web wasn’t finished. See her right in the middle? It looks to me that the inner spiral is not yet complete.

I saw all of this on the walk to the station which I take every single work day. How different! How new! How becoming, not being……

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Following on from yesterday’s blog post about the golf ball, the morning dew was heavy this week and let me capture some really interesting images. (I’ll post more later)
But take a look at this one…..in the light of post about creating our own paths

footprints on the fairway

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golf ball

I’m not a golfer, but what this photo made me think was, if this is where the ball landed, this is where the golfer will have to play it. The rules state you play the ball from where you find it. No point moaning or groaning or wishing it was somewhere else. It is where it is and you have to play it.
That reminded me of an old joke where someone asks how to get to a particular town, and the response is “Oh, if I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here!”
Not helpful!
Thing is, you have to start from where you are. You can wish you were somewhere else. You can even wish you were SOMEONE else! But that won’t help.
Does that seem harsh?
Because, actually, it turns out, there’s a lot of grief in wishing it were different, or resenting that it isn’t different, from what it is.

You have to take the play – HERE and NOW.

You can only make choices in the PRESENT. There’s no joy in living in the world of past hurts and grievances or in the world of future what ifs and maybes…..




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Umbell Sky

the umbell in the sky

In “If you go down to the woods today…” post I pointed my camera at the forest floor.
In this I’m pointing it up from the forest floor….

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Yesterday I went wandering in a forest which has grown up at the foot of an old quarry. Got lots of lovely shots, but these two completely took me by surprise!
I spotted the glint of a sparkle under a thick growth of ferns so pushed my camera under the leaves and clicked. Look what I found!
A little pool of water beautifully reflecting the forest above and around..

the pool below the fern

the pool below the fern

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Alva Noë’s “Out of Our Heads” [ISBN 978-0-8090-1648-8] makes a strong case for understanding consciousness as a phenomenon, not produced by the brain (in the way that the stomach produces gastric juices, as he says), but rather….well, this is how he puts it –

Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body, and world. Indeed consciousness is an achievement of the whole animal in its environmental context.

He rejects completely a reductionist view that you are your brain –

The subject of experience is not a bit of your body. You are not your brain. The brain, rather, is part of what you are.

and, further,

Brains don’t have minds; people (and other animals) do.

This way of thinking is entirely consistent with what Dan Seigel teaches from a perspective of “Interpersonal neurobiology” – we can find neural correlates of mental phenomena, but we have no way of proving either causation or direct linkage between the two. This is also consistent with those who argue for both and “embodied” and, in particular, an “extended” mind (see Andy Clark’s work). I particularly liked the phrase Alva quotes in his book (attributed to his colleague Susan Hurley) –

…the skull is not a magical membrane; why not take seriously the possibility that the causal processes that matter for consciousness are themselves boundary crossing and, therefore, world involving?

I love that. We are all deeply and intimately connected as open systems with our environments – our physical, social and semantic environments. The flows of energy and life flow into us, through us, out of us. They create us in interaction with our own bodies and minds. As Alva paraphrases Merleau-Ponty –

…our body is ours – the place where we feel and the means by which we act – insofar as the current of activity that flows toward the world passes through it.

There is so much to stimulate your thinking in this book – about consciousness, about a sense of self, about habits, language, how we create the world in constant interaction with that changing world. I’ll just highlight two other parts of the book for you. Firstly what he says about science and biology –

Science takes up the detached attitude to things. But from the detached standpoint, it turns out, it is not possible even to bring the mind of another into focus. From the detached standpoint, there is only behaviour and physiology: there is no mind.

..you can’t do biology from within physics. To do biology, we need the resources to take up a nonmechanistic attitude to the organism as an environmentally embedded unity. When we do that – and now we come to my critical claim – we also secure the (at least) primitive mentality of the organisms. The problem of mind is that of the problem of life. What biology brings into focus is the living being, but where we discern life, we have everything we need to discern mind.

…once you see the organism as a unity, as more than just a process, you are, in effect, recognising its primitive agency, its possession of interests, needs, and point of view.

I feel this is crucial if we are to achieve a better understanding of these big issues of life, mind and consciousness. We have to see people as whole organisms in constant exchange with their environment. There’s something inherently inhuman about the attempts to reduce biology to physics, or the attempts to reduce human beings to physiology and behaviour.

Finally, I could pick many, many paragraphs to make this point, but let me end with this one –

We are partly constituted by a flow of activity with the world around us. We are partly constituted by the world around us. Which is just to say that, in an important sense, we are not separate from the world, we are of it, part of it. Susan Hurley said that persons are dynamic singularities. We are places where something is happening. We are wide.


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Once in a while, I get shocked into upper wakefulness, I turn a corner, see the ocean, and my heart tips over with happiness – it feels so free! Then I have the idea that, as well as beholding, I can also be beheld from yonder and am not a discrete object but incorporated with the rest, with universal sapphire, purplish blue. For what is this sea, this atmosphere, doing within the eight-inch diameter of your skull? (I say nothing of the sun and the galaxy which are also there.) At the center of the beholder there must be a space for the whole, and this nothing-space is not an empty nothing-space but a nothing reserved for everything.

This quote from Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift is used as an epigraph for the last chapter of Alva Noe’s excellent “Out of Our Heads”. As he concludes –

I hope I have convinced you that there is something perverse about the very idea that we are our brains, that the world we experience is within us. We don’t need to have the world within us: we have access to the world around us; we are open to it. I take this to be the import of Bellow’s language in this chapter’s epigraph.

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The natural world is one that is sculpted by the life processes that occur within it. Living beings alter their environment and so alter their landscape of possible actions.

………..Alva Noe. “Out of Our Heads”

We don’t create the world from nothing, but we do create the possibilities of our world, which in turn creates the possibilities for us.


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Life path

Okochi Sanso paths

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
wanderer, there is no path,
you lay down a path in walking.
In walking you lay down a path…

Anotonio Machado (translation by Francisco Varela)

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Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who lived and worked in the US, studied the relationships between self-image, self-esteem and personal growth. He wrote “Psycho-cybernetics” in 1960 [ISBN 978-0-671-70075-1]. He uses a distinct language and set of concepts, which seems very 1960s to me, but the underlying understanding of human behaviour, the connections between the mind and the body, and the ways people can be helped to grow, strike me as being very true. I particularly like his emphasis on the importance of imagination and how we use it to create a self-image, and in so doing, how that sets our embodied mind (not a term he uses) off to get on with delivering according to the interpretation of reality we give it.

I like the last chapter of “Psycho-cybernetics” especially, where he says –

…the body itself is equipped to maintain itself in health; to cure itself of disease……in the final analysis that is the only sort of “cure” there is.

I’m still amazed how little this is understood. So many people, health professionals included, are caught up in the delusion of pathology and drugs. Health is not absence of pathology. Drugs don’t “cure”……they just manage disease. If there’s any healing going on, it’s the natural processes of the body which are responsible. The best drugs can do is modify disease, and in so doing modify illness, whilst we hope healing takes place in the background.

It might be an old concept to think about healing energies, but I like the way Maltz puts it –

This élan vital, life force, or adaptation energy – call it whatever you will – manifests itself in many ways. The energy which heals a wound is the same energy which keeps all our other body organs functioning……whatever works to make more of this life force available to us; whatever opens to us a greater influx of “life stuff”; whatever helps us utilize it better – literally helps us “all over”

I think, and I hope this is the way Medicine will develop – by understanding better just how people get better, and by studying the methods and techniques we can use to genuinely stimulate and support healing. It’s not the dominant paradigm yet, but I’m going to bet it will be!

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