Archive for August, 2014

Inspire – one of my most favourite verbs.

In this week’s A to Z of Becoming, the letter “I” stands for the verb “inspire”.

So, here’s what I’m interested to explore (and maybe you’ll be inspired too!)

Who inspires you?

Make a list. Who do you know who inspires you? Which characters from history inspire you? ( a variation of that which I’ve read is to imagine having a dinner party, who would you choose to invite….given that you could invite anyone who’s ever been alive). Which fictional characters inspire you?

Once you’ve made this list, maybe you could spend some time with some of these people – that is, arrange to meet, or read a biography, watch a movie about them, read the book where the fictional character appears……..

What inspires you?

A particular work of art, a poem, a song, or other music, a particular place, a certain movie, play or novel? (Maybe some of my blog posts??) Make another list.

Again, once you have this list, expose yourself to these inspirations – go see that painting, listen to that music, watch that movie, spend some time in that particular place.

Here are a couple of more ways in which you can engage with this “inspire” verb this week…..

Describe in what you are inspired by the people and things on your lists. Are you inspired to take particular actions? Are you inspired to create…..to paint, write, compose, sing….? Are you inspired to change something in your life? Just describe how you are inspired in a way which helps you to decide to actually do something!

Finally, how might you inspire others? What could you do this week that someone else might be inspired by?

[here’s some of the things which inspire me……]





IM short intro .005




my new motto


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I love symbols, and am always drawn to explore the symbolic meaning of a drawing, or other communication. They have such deep, and rich power.

Here’s one I found recently on the Cathedrale Saint-André Primatiale d’Aquitaine.


I suspect this might be quite modern, but I love it all the same…..see the scallop shell from the Compostella Pilgrims’ Way


…..a very modern version of a triskele (body/mind/spirit? or earth/sky/heaven?)


……the waves of the sea, and the stars in the sky to guide you.


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Moonlight on water

I was struck today by this paragraph about Romanticism in Iain McGilchrist’s Master and His Emissary –

Romanticism in fact demonstrates, in a multitude of ways, its affinity for everything we know from the neuropsychological literature about the workings of the right hemisphere. This can be seen in its preferences for the individual over the general, for what is unique over what is typical, for apprehension of the ‘thisness’ of things – their particular way of being as ultima realitas entis, the final form of the thing exactly as it, and only it, is, or can be – over the emphasis on the ‘whatness’ of things; in its appreciation of the whole, as something different from the aggregate of the parts into which the left hemisphere analyses it in self-conscious awareness; in its preference for metaphor over simile, and for what is indirectly expressed over the literal; in its emphasis on the body and the senses; in its emphasis on the personal rather than the impersonal; in its passion for whatever is seen to be living; and its perception of the relation between what Wordsworth called ‘the life of the mind’ and the realm of the divine; in its accent on involvement rather than disinterested impartiality; in its preference for the betweenness which is felt across a three-dimensional world, rather than for a seeing what is distant as alien, lying in another plane; in its affinity for melancholy and sadness, rather than for optimism and cheerfulness; and in its attraction to whatever is provisional, uncertain, changing, evolving, partly hidden, obscure, dark, implicit and essentially unknowable in preference to what is final, certain, fixed, evolved, evident, clear, light and known.

Well, well….for those of you who are already familiar with Iain McGilchrist’s hypothesis about the differences between the left hemisphere and right hemisphere ways of approaching the world, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a terrific, comprehensive summary. He, of course, is at pains to point out, time and again, that he is not saying that the left approach is bad and the right is good, or vice versa…….that we need BOTH, and that we need to integrate the functions of the two hemispheres, not allow the left to dominate the right.

But take your time, and read through that paragraph carefully. He is highlighting what is consistent in the values of Romanticism with the tendencies, or preferences of the right hemisphere of the brain. 

I enjoy what the left hemisphere does for me, but I resonate SO strongly with ALL of these “right hemispheric” qualities he describes so beautifully in this paragraph. It captures my fascination for the personal, the particular, the transient, for “becoming not being…..”

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What was/is your experience of school?

David Richard Precht, the German philosopher argues that our schooling system continues to be based on the industrialism of about 100 years ago. We still seek to teach sets of facts to all children of the same age, and then test their ability to recall those facts in examinations leading to qualifications. The intention of the education is to produce compliant workers and consumers who will conform to the demands of industrial society.

He argues that we are not fostering creativity, emotional intelligence or relationship skills which enable communities and teams to work together, and individuals to develop and express their unique talents.

He draws his ideas from philosophy, from neuroscience (NOT materialist neuroscience which seeks to reduce all human experience and cognition to identifiable areas of the brain), and from an understanding of how society has changed over the last few years.

Many of his recommendations are in line with teachings from people like Montessori and Steiner, so he can be understood to be part of a more child-centred, holistic movement in education.

I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say in a recent interview published in Cles magazine (“Notre école est un crime”). He points out that asking children to sit still for an hour and pay attention is not a good starting point – most children, and indeed most adults, are able to concentrate on one topic for about 15 to 20 minutes (which is why TED talks do so well, and why youtube is the new television), and that one thing we know about health is that sitting still isn’t good for you!

He thinks schooling de-motivates learners and that the average 12,000 hours of education leading to the “Bac” qualification in Europe are experienced as pure boredom by most children.

He also thinks we are not teaching the right kind of skills for the 21st century – we need more innovation, creativity, diversity, the ability to use the internet to gain knowledge and to connect with others, more emotional intelligence and a greater ability to form and grow healthy relationships with others.

His proposals include moving away from classroom curriculae to a more project-based system of education which is by its nature multi-disciplinary and encourages children to pursue their own curiosity.

What do you think? How would you change the educational system?

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that bacteria and human beings interact in profound and complex ways. I wrote recently about the way bacteria in our guts might affect our food choices and behaviour. Well, here’s an interesting study looking at the antidepressant effect of mycobacteria vaccae which are found in the soil.

Antidepressant microbes in soil cause cytokine levels to rise, which results in the production of higher levels of serotonin. The bacterium was tested both by injection and ingestion on rats and the results were increased cognitive ability, lower stress and better concentration to tasks than a control group. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, have topical contact with it and get it into their bloodstreams when there is a cut or other pathway for infection. The natural effects of the soil bacteria antidepressant can be felt for up to 3 weeks if the experiments with rats are any indication.


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Water patterns

It’s quite hard to capture the sense of flow in flowing water – but I really, really like this photo I took yesterday.

It reminds me of the class in school where we learned about “interference patterns” where two wave forms would meet – you can almost see here the same kind of “cross-hatching” which occurs when that happens.

So, as well as being a beautiful image, this stimulates a lot of my thoughts about flow, about patterns, about connections, about transience…….oh, I could go on!

How great it is that a single moment can stimulate such rich trains of thought……..

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In the second part of the A to Z of Becoming, H is for Hug.

How good does it feel to give, and to receive, a big hug…..whether the person you are hugging is one of your children, someone you love, or just someone your heart goes out to.

Is it too much to suggest you should hug at least once EVERY day?


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Bay of Biscay

I did a search the other day to see if I could find the origin of the French phrase “l’émerveillement du quotidien” (the amazing everyday) because its a concept which I’ve taken to heart so passionately that if anyone asks me for advice about how to live a good life, how to be happy and healthy, I’ll pretty much always begin by saying they should approach every single day with an attitude of wonder and joy – “l’émerveillement du quotidien” (one good way to do that is to use the “first and last” method)

Well, I haven’t managed to track down the origins yet, but if you put the phrase into a google image search, guess what? MANY of the photos which come are mine!

So, whatever the origins, I guess I’m one of the world’s leading protagonists of “l’émerveillement du quotidien”!

This photo is one I took while on holiday on the West coast of France – it’s a great example of how amazing an everyday view of the sea is. Look at the range of colours! It’s gorgeous, and remarkable!

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Under the ice


It seems there is no end to astonishing discoveries on this planet Earth. Now we’ve discovered Life half a mile under ice where the sunlight never, ever reaches. In a subglacial lake in Antarctica scientists have over 4000 species of single celled organisms. But how can they exist when there is no sunlight, and so no photosynthesis?

As photosynthesis is impossible without sunlight, the Lake Whillans bacteria must get their energy from a different source. This could be existing organic material, or, like the ‘chemotrophs’ found in gold mines and near deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the bacteria might run on chemical reactions involving minerals in the Antarctic bedrock and carbon dioxide dissolved in lake water.

Bacteria have sure learned how to live in environments human beings couldn’t survive in!

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eau potable

The earliest form of photography was the daguerreotype (named after its inventor, Monsieur Daguerre). It was a process which captured images onto silver coated copper plates. It didn’t involve using negatives and every single “print” was a one off. They couldn’t be duplicated or transferred onto paper.

The daguerreotype was remarkable for the accuracy of the image produced. It was sharp and detailed (you could use a 50x magnification lens to look at part of the daguerreotype and see crisp details). Partly because of its accuracy it was initially used as a “scientific instrument” and found in laboratories, but as the technology became more portable the taking of portraits, landscapes and cityscapes soon proliferated.

As photography developed, an artistic intention was soon brought to it. The newer processes of making negatives and printing onto paper, were quickly taken up by artists.

I’m a keen photographer, as I’m sure you can tell if you browse through this site. I’m also very curious about how we experience the world and how we communicate our experiences to other people. Recently I’ve been wondering about the differences between “representation” and “manifestation”.

Just as the daguerreotypes were great for re-presenting what could be seen, I think we often believe that is what we are doing when communicate our observations and experiences to others. Certainly in scientific publication, the scientists are trying to “re-present” what they have observed as “objectively” as possible.

However, as it’s not possible to experience any “out there” from anywhere other than “in here”, there is always an aspect of “manifestation” to the “representations”. Every “re-presentation” involves some “manifestation” of the subjective experience of the person who is making the image (or writing the document).

Maybe in all Art we can see these two aspects – there is some re-presentation of what the artist experiences (including what he or she observes) – but there is always some degree of manifestation too. I wonder to what extent Art could even be said to be primarily a way of manifesting the subjective – a way of a human being making manifest the otherwise invisible, unique, personal experience of the world.

Look at the image I’ve placed at the top of this post. It’s a photo I took in a “beau village” in France. It’s a sign to show that the water here is drinkable. But it isn’t just a sign. Even the way the words “eau potable” (which means drinkable water) are carved reveals something of the creator of the piece. And what about the shell? Why is that there? The shell is the symbol of the pilgrims heading to Compostella. So this is a drinking fountain to help quench the thirst of the pilgrims. That manifests something of the artist’s world view doesn’t it?

Saint-Exupéry said

saint exupery invisible

So how are you going to manifest YOUR unique, invisible, essential experience of reality?

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