Archive for October, 2015


At this time of year the Vinge-viérge, (Boston Ivy, or, Japanese Ivy) that grows over the wall at the edge of my garden develops these incredible little blue-black berried on red stems as the leaves around them turn their own glorious shades of red.


It’s a big plant and for most of the year it is full of the rustling sounds of birds. Just now there are warblers and finches and sparrows and redstarts all flying in and out of the dense foliage. That came to mind as I read the following passage from Robert Brady’s The Big Elsewhere. Here he is reflecting on the birds flying into the trees for shelter during a snowstorm.

Who knows what forms of natural “friendship” abide out there in the deeps of the real world, how far these homely allegiances go, and where they integrate like two hands clasping.

Don’t you love that? “Like two hands clasping”

Or how far back in time they reach, how they began to be – seems as much an interweaving of wild wisdom as a mosaic of chance that worked out well. Compromises were made, benefits were exchanged.

That reminded me of the biology teacher’s question about whether or not the students loved Nature and whether or not they thought that Nature loved them back.

Doesn’t it seem that we are surrounded with the evidence of “an interweaving of wild wisdom”?

…..and there at the hearts of the trees the birds can enjoy the quiet that abides in a plant, and in exchange for the gift of the motion that abides in a bird; plants seem to appreciate rhythms of all kinds – they dance with grace and beauty in the wind…

Oh I love that. The mutual appreciation of stillness and motion.

Talking about grace and beauty, here’s another couple of photos of the ivy –

splash of red

This one reminds me of how everything changes but each individual changes at his or her own speed and rhythm.


And this image reminds me of the “Japanese Ivy” version of the name of this plant.


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black headed warbler

I’m not an expert in names. I am curious about pretty much everything in the universe but I’m not good at looking at a tree, a flower, or a bird and saying “that’s a…..”

Not knowing the names doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what I see, and I find it doesn’t reduce my curiosity any. Sometimes I wonder if not being able to name what I see allows me to see more clearly – to see the individual in its uniqueness, rather than reduced to a member of a particular category.

However, it doesn’t stop me wondering….so, does anyone know what kind of bird this little one is?

I spotted it a couple of days ago. I’m wondering if it’s a black-headed warbler. It was small, but I also think it was young – seemed quite fluffy!

Whatever its name, this is sure a lovely photo – especially with the autumn leaves on the ground.

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vineyard early autumn

In his “The Big Elsewhere”, Robert Brady after building a dry stone wall, says

…that any worthy effort is a dialog, that wisdom is a living thing, not frozen in time, not a doctrine or a dogma, not a monument, not a library, not a printed book or ether page, and that you are born with wisdom ready and waiting to be known to you.

So true….that we are never done learning, never complete in our knowledge. That should keep us humble, and teach us to live with uncertainty, and be a constant stimulus to our curiosity. When he says “…you are born with wisdom ready and waiting to be known to you”, then I recall Elizabeth Gilbert, from her “Big Magic” 

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.

But it also sets me up to hear Bob Brady’s next point –

What does living wisdom tell us? Amongst other things, that the solution is where the problems are: in ourselves.

After the best part of forty years working as a doctor with each day filled with one to one consultations with patients I’m more convinced than ever that the only healing which ever occurs comes from within the individual. Each of us is unique and as “complex adaptive systems” we are self-healing. Good medicine is what supports the personal, unique wisdom of the organism.

Prolonged lack of contact with that wisdom lies at the heart of our problem, and if we continue in our current way we are ended: the real thing won’t stand for it. Existence must be a dialog with the present, as the living, thinking person is taught by any art, any worthy endeavour. You are instructed and guided by the very task, the very ongoing. You are taught the true way most truly only by traveling it, not by standing still and listening to others tell you the way, or by looking at an old map of where others have gone.

I think we gloss over the fact that we are adaptive creatures. We are constantly adapting. We are “open systems” continuously picking up energy, information and molecules from the environments in which we live and adapting our whole being to the changes. We are dynamic creatures, never fixed, never static, constantly learning, developing and growing. The only way to learn to live is to learn by living!

Bob Brady goes on to distinguish dead from living wisdom –

Dead wisdom obviates dialog by saying: “Do it this way because we have always done it this way.” Dead wisdom souls a dead society. Living wisdom, on the other hand, like all that is ongoing, is always and ever new. Living wisdom is green, the green of grass, the green of leaf, green of the living layer beneath the bark of a tree. It is the green youth and hope in hearts that are alive.

Tradition, dogma and “evidence” can all become “dead wisdom”, because they can all claim a certainty which will ultimately turn out to be at best incomplete, and at worse false.

Living wisdom is “always and ever new”.

You’ll learn it today.

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Yesterday I wrote about the experience of following your curiosity when something catches your eye.

Today I want to share with you some photos I took deliberately.

I love this time of year. I love when the leaves start to develop their rich and different colours then just begin to fall to the ground. I noticed a few lying on the grass so I went out to look for a red one first.

red leaf

Already in its redness I could see hues of pink and decided to look for a pink one next.


Within the pink leaf I thought there was a suggestion of something close to the colour of the palm of my hand.


Then I found one which made me think of the world around me as the sun began to set. So I held it up in front of the sun, capturing its full glow.

sunset leaf

Wow! You can have a lot of fun looking for diversity at this time of year. So many different colours. So many different patterns. Every one of them unique.

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That’s a funny phrase don’t you think – “eye catching”?

How can something “catch” your eye?

But it does, doesn’t it? I do think you can observe with intent. I’ll write a post about that tomorrow, but today I’d like to share what happened yesterday evening.

Every other monday evening I take a yellow bag of papers, tins, plastics and so on for recycling, along our little road a couple of hundred yards to the collection point for the pick up on the tuesday morning. I’ve done that every fortnight for this last year but as I turned to walk back home last night something caught my eye – something just in the corner of my eye –

the yard

Can you see? Just to the right of the old well….something in the field. I went closer to have a look.

flower field

Wow! Look at these flowers! Spectacular!

The sun was about to set and as I looked to my right I saw the low rays sliding across the vineyard and lighting up some of the petals. I’m really pleased with this one – just look!


If the colour hadn’t caught my eye, if I hadn’t been curious enough to walk into the field, if I hadn’t looked along behind the old wall…..I’d have missed this.

So there’s my tip for today – if something catches your eye, follow your curiosity!

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Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a number of articles about “hormone disruptors” in the French language newspapers. I’ve not noticed this issue getting much coverage in English language media so I thought I’d share some of it here with you today.

“Hormone disruptors” are chemicals which have the power to affect the “endocrine system” in human beings. The endocrine system is the network of glands and communication channels in the body which produce natural chemicals called “hormones”. Hormones are the key to the regulation of a lot that goes on in the human body. As well as having specific effects on certain tissues, the whole endocrine system is intricately connected to both the nervous system and the immune system. There are even fields of study known as “psychoneuroendocrinology” and “psychoneuroimmunology” to research the connections between these whole body systems.

The first article which caught my eye was the report of a study published in Nature where the researchers had shown that two chemicals in the environment, neither of which had much of a biological effect on human cells, could combine to have a dramatic effect. Figaro described this as the situation where one plus one didn’t equal two, but maybe fifty.

Humans are chronically exposed to multiple exogenous substances, including environmental pollutants, drugs and dietary components. Many of these compounds are suspected to impact human health, and their combination in complex mixtures could exacerbate their harmful effects. Here we demonstrate that a pharmaceutical oestrogen and a persistent organochlorine pesticide, both exhibiting low efficacy when studied separately, cooperatively bind to the pregnane X receptor, leading to synergistic activation. Biophysical analysis shows that each ligand enhances the binding affinity of the other, so the binary mixture induces a substantial biological response at doses at which each chemical individually is inactive.

There are an estimated 150,000 chemicals in the world which are all licensed as safe but have been tested only singly, and not in combination with the others which are found in our environment, and indeed, in our bodies.

At the beginning of October, the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO) published a warning about the effects of all these chemicals which are now routinely found in mothers’ bodies during pregnancy. They said –

Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.’’ It cites research showing that virtually all pregnant women bear a chemical burden and that babies are born “pre-polluted”

What problems were these doctors concerned about?

« Miscarriage and fetal loss, impaired fetal growth, congenital malformations, impaired or reduced neurodevelopment and cognitive function, and an increase in cancer, attention problems, ADHD behaviors, and hyperactivity ».

In addition, they referred to other problems which have a hormonal element – obesity, diabetes, infertility, endometriosis and polycystitic ovarian disorder.

Where are all these chemicals coming from?

Hormone (or endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found in food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and chemical coatings on household products.

Then, this week, in Le Monde, I read an article about the hormone disrupting potential of the chemicals used as fire retardants. A group of researchers at “L’Anses” concluded that

il est plausible que les retardateurs de flamme n’aient eu, en près de quarante ans d’utilisation, qu’une utilité marginale, voire nulle. Les risques, eux, sont bien réels : certains de ces composés sont cancérogènes, perturbateurs endocriniens, toxiques pour la reproduction, persistants ou neurotoxiques. Ou tout cela à la fois.

….in other words there is little evidence that they’ve done much to prevent serious problems from fires, but plenty of evidence to show that the health risks are significant – cancerogenic, hormone disruptors, fertility suppressing and neurotoxic.

Hormones are a key component in the maintenance of human health. As the obstetricians and gynaecologists pointed out disruption of the endocrine system may well be playing a significant role in our modern epidemics. If that’s true then we won’t achieve population health by just trying to persuade individuals to eat less carbohydrates!

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Marcel Conche says this about thoughts –
To meditate is to be waiting, like lying in wait, for thoughts that are going to surprise us, bringing sudden clarity.
and he quotes Heidegger –
“We will never succeed in having thoughts, they come to us,” said Heidegger
This reminded me of what Liz Gilbert describes in her “Big Magic” about how ideas come to us. She suggests we think of ideas as living their own lives, wandering around the world looking for a partner to work them in order to bring them to fruition. I liked that concept. It’s maybe a stretch of the imagination to think of ideas as entities living their own lives, but then, maybe thoughts are a bit like that too?
Here’s Conche again –
We anticipate, with variable probability, the result of an action, and it is for this reason that we act. Yet we don’t anticipate thoughts. The philosopher is, in this regard, similar to the artist. Thought is “work of a poet,” said Heidegger.
Again and again he suggests the approach of the artist – not least because he sees Nature as a continuous creative process.
Liz Gilbert says we need to turn up every day prepared to do the work. She describes what others have called the “discipline” of the writer, but that’s not a word that’s ever had much appeal to me! Maybe we could call it a habit? (or what I’d tell patients about making better dents!)
Conche says that what we need to encourage thoughts to come to us is a kind of ease (an absence of anxiety), and setting aside any preoccupations with our selves.
What is required so that thoughts come to us? First, the soul must reach “freedom from anxiety” (ataraxia), serenity, a sort of negative happiness that we can call “wisdom”—a wisdom that is not the aim of philosophy, but its condition. Then and correspondingly, preoccupation with oneself must be absent.
Ha! Did you ever watch the movie “What about me?” by 1 Giant Leap?

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