Archive for May, 2015


I’ve reached “u” again in my “A to Z of becoming“, and “u” can stand for “unwind“.

Sunday is a good day to practice unwinding. If Sunday isn’t a good day for you then it’s still good to have at least one day a week when you set aside the demands, responsibilities and tasks for a short while and unwind. So, try to find a day in the next week even if it’s not a Sunday.

Once you find your day, how are you going to unwind?

Well, I was inspired by this swan – after all, what better way to unwind than to “swan around” for a bit? (I mean swan around in the wandering about aimlessly way, not in the dramatic or showing off way!)

The French have a great word for this – “flâner” – which means to stroll around, or (a nice English word – to “amble” around).

You see I don’t think unwinding means you need do nothing. It doesn’t mean you need to sit still, or to try to empty your mind, or anything like that. I think rather it involves taking it easy, just living, not having a particular purpose or goal for a wee while. I’m sure we need goals and purpose and everything like that, but we also need to be able to enjoy times which are free of such things.

A person who strolls around is known as a “flâneur” – and I rather like to assume the role of the “flâneur” from time to time.

I think the Italians focus more on the not doing when they unwind – have you come across “dolce fa niente“? (doing sweet nothing)

So, what about your language? What are the good words for enjoying living in an unwinding, relaxing, ambling around kind of a way?

Moi? Je flâne aujourd’hui

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turning japanese

I look at this photo, and I wonder what country I was in when I took it.

Well, I don’t have to wonder for long because I only took it a day ago and I remember well that when I did I was only about an hour from where I live (in France) – but, seriously, couldn’t this have been taken in Japan?

What gives an image a strong sense of place or of culture? Is it the colour? Is it the juxtaposition of flowers and something particular a human being has made?

I don’t find it hard to see beauty in Nature, and now that I live surrounded by vineyards I feel more connected to that beauty than ever, but what takes the whole experience to a different level for me, is to see, in the same moment, so much creation – the creation of Nature, and what a person created.

You see, there is a spiral of creativity here.

There’s the creativity of the Universe which has produced this flower and the person who constructed and painted the shed behind it.

Then there’s the creativity of the person themselves, and where their imagination took them, and then their choices, their decisions and their actions to make this shed, pick this paint, paint that wood, choose that flower, plant it, nurture it and train it.

And there’s me.

To stand there and look up and see this, and to focus in on part of what I could see as I compose this image, and to capture it, and now, to post it for you to see.

And there’s you.

What might this image stimulate for you?

What might this post provoke your imagination to create now?

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This old wall revealing layers of paint reminded me of something important about memory.

The past isn’t something with disappears behind us, like the last station we just passed on the train. Rather, it’s what the present emerges from.

And because the present emerges from the past, the past is always a part of the present.

I am who I am, and my body is what it is, not brand new, isolated from the rest of the world and reality, but, as a living, developing, growing phenomenon.

I am emerging from not only the past in my life time, but from the life times of all who lived before me.

I think that’s partly why many people are fascinated by genealogy. It’s not just interesting stories about ancestors, its an uncovering of patterns, streams and influences which continue to create the here and the now.

Here’s some more beautiful photos of paint from the old fisherman’s shed on the Ile d’Oleron

green and blue
old greens

I hope you enjoy them.

As well as stimulating my thoughts about the past and the present, they also demonstrate (I think) a very beautiful Japanese aesthetic concept – wabi sabi – which I love, not just because of the beauty but how it honours the beauty of reality as opposed to the delusional ideas we have about “perfection” (which doesn’t exist!!)

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the geometry of flowers

Isn’t this beautiful?

How could you fail to be seduced by the astonishing geometry of this flower?

We see this everywhere in the world – how patterns seem to display an remarkable mathematical order.

Interestingly, the same day I took this photograph (which I immediately titled “the geometry of flowers”) I read a fascinating article about mathematics teaching, entitled “The limits of a rational mind in an irrational world – the language of mathematics as a potentially destructive discourse in sustainable ecology.” by Steve Arnold of Auckland University of Technology. Here are a couple of paragraphs which caught my eye –

Galileo famously said, “The laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.” However we realise that this profound statement was while very true, it is not strictly true. There are times when the mathematical understanding of the world breaks down. Now in a time of ecological distress, we need technologies and tools that can match more perfectly our world. In reality, Mathematics is a highly nuanced poetry that describes the human condition, it mirrors the workings of the human brain (as mathematics is exclusively a product of human thought). Mathematics tells us our own story, it tells us how the human brain works, and as we strive to make meaning of the world, we do so using the tools available to us; number is one of the ways that we language our experience.

Within mathematics there continues to this day an expectation that the simple relationships described in mathematics should be able to neatly describe our complex world. However the real world is not simple, tidy and neat. The real world is full of messiness, unpredictability, human emotion and error. Mathematics describes a predictable world, where error can be eliminated, and it is desirable to simplify and exterminate unwanted complications. Where the two differ, surprisingly it is the human experience in the real world that defers to the all-powerful notions of mathematics.

And, in conclusion, he makes the excellent point that mathematics is just one way to make sense of the world, and it’s a way that we ourselves have made up.

We put so much faith in numbers, that sometimes we place the power of the digit over the judgement of our experience. This idea of positivism has found a secure home in the teaching of mathematics in schools. We are controlled by numbers, from the early stages of test results, to class position and IQ, to more recently BMI scores, glasses prescriptions, salaries and postcodes. We sometimes forget that numbers are a way to tell the human story. We forget we make them up, not the other way round.

So, yes, this is a beautiful geometric flower and how often can we use mathematics to model the beauty of the natural world? But, surely, we need to always remember that the mathematical story of the world is not a perfect explanation. And that we should not allow anyone to reduce Life to numbers.

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pink and blue

In the pink….

Into the blue….

Have you ever stopped to wonder about the colours we use in the phrases we think and say?

As I looked up towards evening, the setting sun caught the jet stream and coloured it pink as this plane streaked across the blue sky, and immediately, in my head, I heard “in the pink” and “into the blue”.

What nice phrases, aren’t they? How healthy to be “in the pink” and how free to be flying “into the blue”!

What colours cropped up in your thoughts today?

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white flower in the grass

In the garden of the house where I live now there is a quite a lot of “grass” to mow. I put “grass” in inverted commas because there is a lot growing there that sure isn’t botanically grass. I suppose some people like to have a “lawn” which really is all “grass” – a monoculture of grass.

I like diversity. I find it beautiful and I think it is a fundamental characteristic of healthy, sustainable ecosystems. It’s even a good principle to have in your own life. T S Eliot said “human kind cannot bear very much reality” but I think he could have said “human kind cannot bear very much same-y-ness” (OK, Eliot wouldn’t have actually used such a word but you get my point)

The other day I decided to take my camera and get down to grass level to really see what was there. The photo above is the first one I took. Here are some of the others –
orange flower in the grass

purple flowers in the grass

daisy in the grass

yellow flower in the grass

The thing to remember is that ALL of these flowers are tiny – the daisy is probably about the biggest of them.

Aren’t they just beautiful?

Isn’t diversity compellingly attractive?

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Tokyo office

I’ve been thinking about bureaucracy recently so I dug out this photo I took in Tokyo one evening a few years ago.

It’s an office block and there are many like this in most cities I expect, but two things struck me when I saw this one. The first thing was how it looked like a cage or a prison, and the other was “what does everyone DO in there every day?”

I’ve been thinking about bureaucracy partly because last week was the deadline to submit a “declaration de revenus” (declaration of income) at the local tax office in France. I’ve only been in France since November last year so I hoped I’d manage to escape the tax forms until next year. On Monday I joined the queue at the tax office at 0830am (a queue which snaked out of the office, down the steps and along the pavement by the time I got there), and patiently waited until it was my turn. I explained in my best French that I was “Ecossais” and had arrived to live in France in November, so did I need to complete a tax return now, or could I leave it until next year? (Of course, I hoped the answer would be “next year”) The answer was “maintenant”. Yikes!

The second reason I’ve been thinking about bureaucracy recently is I’ve just read David Graeber’s new book, “The Utopia of Rules“. It makes a lot of sense to me. His book is a collection of three essays in which he explores the seemingly unstoppable rise of bureaucracy around the world. He does a good job of explaining how it’s happened. I think what he describes is a kind of “road to hell” – you know the one which is “paved with good intentions”? He makes the case that creating rules, regulations and standards partly arises from the desire to break “arbitrary power” – to produce common “transparent” rules which will be applied in all circumstances regardless of who the people are. Another source is the human desire for certainty and predictability which produces a preference for numbers and the simplification of complex situations.

So what does all this form-filling do for us? What kind of world do we get when give precedence to what can be measured and when we substitute figures for values? What happens when we try to run our institutions and our societies by applying algorithms?

We end up de-humanising our lives.

Whilst bureaucracy might have had the intention of taking away “arbitrary” power from individuals to produce something more “transparent” and “equitable”, it merely shifts the power up to the rule-makers and their enforcers. And this shift away from individuals who can be known, and with whom we can develop relationships over time, to faceless, nameless bureaucrats simply increases the alienation which we all experience in society.

I think the practice of Medicine is sadly de-valued by protocols, algorithms, “guidance” and rules. I preferred it when we trained professionals who developed their knowledge and their wisdom over their years, and who could flexibly adapt what they knew to deliver holistic, compassionate care always in the interests of the individual they were working with right now.

We see reports of teachers saying that working life has become unbearable under the constant auditing and “performance reviews”. We see health care workers suffering from stress from overwhelming amounts of paper-work, audits and bullying. We see doctors heading for the retirement door at the first possible opportunity as decisions are taken out of their hands and placed into those of bureaucrats who create “referral guidelines” and “treatment protocols” – Medicine by numbers.

One of the key themes of my blog is “heroes not zombies” and it seems to me that bureaucracy is one other way to create zombies – in addition to the tried and tested “bread and circuses” techniques.

Do we need more rules, more regulations, more “standards”, more monitoring, more surveillance, more audits, more “performance reviews”, more “elimination of variation”?

Or are we building ourselves cages to live in?

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heart felt

In the A to Z of Becoming, T stands for Thanks.

I’ve written about the value of gratitude journals before (here it is if you want to click through)

It’s strange but I think the things we value most in life are not easy to have if we set off to go and get them.

I’m thinking of happiness, health and love for example.

If you decide to go and find any of those things today I suspect you might do a lot of looking but they aren’t so easy to find. You can’t go and buy them in a shop. And you can’t go and ask someone else for them.

What you can do is create the conditions which makes it more likely they will turn up in your life. I think there’s a number of things we can do to create such conditions – certain choices we can make, certain actions we can take, certain thoughts we can think.

But one of the ways is through gratitude.

I’m saying thank you to YOU today.

Thank you for stopping by.

Thank you for reading these words I write.

Thank you for looking at these photos I take.

Thank you, most of all, for being the unique you that you are, and for embracing this journey of “becoming not being”.


Already I feel happy, healthy, and loving.

Your turn.



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blue butterfly

Whether we think about this butterfly, think about a tree, or think about a person, we know we are not looking at machines.

Yet the reductionist, mechanistic model seems to retain a dominance in our culture.

Here, I think, is a better way to think of living creatures –

Complex, open, dynamic beings.


All living creatures are composed of millions of cells. In each creature, all of those cells develop from a single fertilised egg. All of those cells interact, but not in simplistic, “linear” ways. Instead the interactions can be described as “non-linear”. (Connections such as positive and negative feedback loops which produce exponential changes, rather than simple changes of addition or subtraction)

An assembly of cells connected in a non-linear manner is a complex being. And complex beings have certain characteristics, not least of which are the abilities to self-repair, self-regulate, defend themselves and to replicate.

We can focus down on the individual elements of a complex being, for example on a single cell, or a group of cells working together to form an organ, but we can’t fully understand any of those cells or organs until we consider them again as parts of the whole creature.


An open system exchanges energy, materials and information with the rest of the environment in which it exists.

All living creatures are open systems. They are constantly breathing in, breathing out, consuming and excreting (amongst other things!)

We can focus on an isolated single creature but we can’t fully understand it unless we consider it again as part of the whole environment in which it exists.


Living creatures are dynamic. They are constantly (and I do mean constantly) changing. They change because they are open and they change because they are complex. Every day some cells break down and die, and others are created new, but overall they have a direction of growth – becoming ever more complex and ever more unique every single day.

This dynamism in a complex, open being leads to the manifestation of “emergent” properties. They develop, change and behave in unpredictable ways. It is impossible to know with certainty what changes are going to occur at any particular moment in any single individual.

Look again at that lovely blue butterfly I’ve photographed.

Have you ever watched a butterfly fly?

Would you be able to predict which way it’s going to move next? Have you ever met anyone who can even explain how butterflies manage to fly the way they do?

Look at that lovely blue butterfly again.

Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it a work of art? Isn’t it astonishingly more complex and unpredictable than any machine?

And that’s a butterfly. What about a person?

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Marx wrote –

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.

What I like most about that quote is the emphasis on the creative power of imagination.

Our imagination is one of our most incredible resources.

It would be a shame to use to to scare ourselves each day with fears instead of using it to dream and to help us achieve our hopes.

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