Archive for December, 2016


I was out for a walk recently and took this photo. The winding road lit by the morning sun caught my eye. The road draws us along it, doesn’t it? We instantly, and largely unconsciously, follow its path through the vineyards, turning at the top of the hill to disappear over the top and behind some trees. Yet beyond that lies another hill, less distinct in this light, with a tower standing high on the right. What is that? What’s over there? Where does this road go?

It feels like there is a story here in the making. It feels like we are being encouraged to look into the future, to see what “lies beyond”. That’s such a great thing to do. Our brain thrives on novelty. The right hemisphere, in particular, is always on the lookout for the new, always paying its broad attention to the world around us, sensitive to changes, to new sensations, and seeking to connect us to them.

The other side of that metaphor however is “who laid that road?” Because if I want to go and explore over that hill and see what’s there, chances are I’ll automatically, without thinking about it, follow exactly that path. And there’s something else we all do every day. Follow the paths that others lay for us. We hear a lot these days about propaganda, about the slant on reality pushed by mass media owned by a handful of people, and rumours, lies and conspiracy stories spread through social media. Which all raises the question, “how am I to make my way through this life?” “Whose stories, whose paths, whose directions, am I going to allow to determine the paths I’ll take?”


Here’s another image. I took this one while walking to the Saturday market in a nearby town. This is the Charente river. It looks like this pretty much anywhere you encounter it as it flows through this region (which is also called “the Charente”). It flows with a kind of ease. It rarely looks turbulent. People in this area use it as a metaphor for a way of life. No, maybe more than that, people in this area are influenced by the physical appearance and behaviour of this river in a way which encourages them to live “the slow life”, or, as is often said around here “soyons zen” (“let’s be zen” – relaxed, chilled out, calm).

I think I prefer the metaphor of the river to that of the road. The road seems more fixed somehow. Heraclitus famously said it isn’t possible to step into the same river twice. That’s so clearly true because you can see the water flowing by and you know it’s not exactly the same river now as it was even a few minutes ago. That teaching applies to everything in life of course. Even if a tarmac road isn’t all that different from day to day, you’ll never repeat exactly the same experience of travelling that road.

The river forks at this point where I took the photo. You can see some of it heading off to the left, whilst the rest heads to the right. Life is very like that too. We come to these natural branches, these forks in the road, and we have to choose which one to follow. I think its true that there isn’t necessarily a right choice and a wrong one, and if we at least choose consciously we can feel more “in the flow” in our own life.

Finally, look up into the sky of this photo of the river. There’s a third metaphor about travelling through a life. The contrails in the sky show us where the planes have been (approximately….these trails move and begin to disappear from the instant they are created), but they don’t show us where the plane is going (well, only very vaguely). This reminds me of how we make sense of life by looking back. We understand the present moment in the light of our life so far, the experiences we’ve had, the decisions we’ve taken.

As best I understand it we also make sense of the present moment by factoring in the possible futures we can imagine, so maybe all three of these metaphors have something to contribute – the road, the river, and the trails in the sky…..


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I recently rediscovered Charlie Chaplin’s “great dictator speech”. I’ve never seen the full movie but this scene is where the man who looks like the dictator makes a speech to the country and says what he actually thinks (not what the actual dictator thought!)

There are a couple of sections which really stand out for me and seem more relevant now than ever.

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

I believe that. We seem to live in a time of rising hatred and fear, of increasingly divided societies, but is it helpful to generalise so much? To see a world of “us” and “them” rather than a world of richly diverse individuals? There may be individuals who do really want to live by others’ misery, not their happiness, but that’s not been my experience in life. It’s not hard to encounter everyday, simple acts of kindness. But there’s not enough emphasis on that is there?

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

We humans have created a way of living together based on competition and greed. But aren’t we just as capable, if we so choose, to create a way of living together based on kindness and gentleness?

Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

You are not machines! You are not cattle!

Well that is right at the heart of the reason why this blog is called Heroes not Zombies. We humans are unique, amazing, fabulous creations. The machine model goes nowhere near an explanation of what we are like. We are not like machines. We are more like “complex adaptive systems“. And by saying “you are not cattle” he means you are not “the group”, “the herd”, “the tribe” even, or any such generalisation. There has never been anyone identical to you, not now, not before and there never will be. Your personal experience of this life is utterly unique. You can’t be reduced to a statistic.

You are a “one off“, not a “one of”, a unique human being, not an example of a “kind”.

I don’t know, but I think it’s worth remembering that these days…..

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The other evening the faraway glow of the sunset and a tiny sliver of moon both caught my eye at the same time. So I stepped outside with my camera.

I’ve got some shots of just the sunset, just the moon, and the sunset and the moon in the same frame, but this one includes the foreground and I love it all the more because of that.

Here I can see the last leaves of the mulberry tree in front of the now bare plum tree with the silvery sliver of moon hanging high above them as the sun, which has by now sunk below the horizon, casts such a gorgeous palette of reds, oranges, tobacco and yellow, and the lights of the neighbouring village begin to twinkle before the stars do.

I love the setting sun, and I love the dawn. I love that rhythm of day becoming night, and night becoming day. I love that we can’t pin either the dusk or the dawn down to a precise time, in the way that the meteorologists tell us the exact time of the sunset and the sunrise. I love how the light disappears so slowly and reveals just some of its diversity which is hidden in the white light of noon. I love how it reappears in the same way it disappears but in an entirely different place.

I love the phases of the moon. Look closely and you can see the whole moon in this photograph. Here’s a close up which shows you that more clearly


This isn’t a fantastic shot, but it’s handheld and spontaneous. It does show the whole sphere of the moon and the white crescent is more obviously the reflected white light of the sun than we sometimes realise. But just think how this photo was taken at the same time as the one above. That deep, deep red light of the setting sun caressing the Earth, and that radiant, dazzling white light of the now hidden sudden bouncing off the Moon.

I love the autumn too. Like the Spring it’s a season which makes you more aware of the rhythms of the Earth, and in particular, more aware of the constant nature of change.

So in this one moment I see the rhythms of the seasons, of the sun and of the moon.

I rather like that!

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