Archive for March, 2020

What are the energies which run through us? The ones we interact with and which influence us?

When I look at this photo of water in a fountain I get lost in it. The first thing I see is the bubbles. I mean, look at them! Some of them are pretty damn big. Each of them like a perfect little dome catching a spark of sunlight. I remember sitting by this fountain watching it for awhile.

It seemed to me there was no way to predict where a bubble would form, where it would move to, or how long it would last. I guess there’s no way to predict what size each particular bubble would be either, but are there people in the world who could do that? I suspect there aren’t. Yeah, there are probably people who can tell you about the physics of water and explain how bubbles form, but I bet they couldn’t sit by the fountain and predict where the next bubble would form and how long it would exist.

I was thinking about that again while listening to some officials pontificate on the future course of this pandemic.

I guess it’s hard to describe the future when the future doesn’t exist yet.

The next thing I noticed were the ripples and currents in the water. They remind me of those old books you used to find with their fancy papers inside…..what did they call them again? Oh yes, marbled papers. Funny how we can see such similar patterns on the surface of water and on the surface of stone. I’m sure I’ve lots of photos of stone and rock which look patterned in just the same way as water does.

There’s one! And here’s another two…

This phenomenon of similar patterns occurring in different natural materials is described in Confucianism as “li” – a kind of organising force which patterns flows.

I realise as I look at images like these ones that there are two strong forces which attract me, flow through me and shape my thoughts, my behaviour and my life.

Beauty and curiosity.

I love dwelling on phenomena like these because I find them beautiful.

They don’t have to be useful to me. I just love them for what they are. They are beautiful.

I love them too because they pique my curiosity. They set my mind off running down through memories, thoughts and wonderings. Question after question start to flow through my brain. I’ve always been a curious person. As a child my parents subscribed to two “part works” for me. I’d get one of each every week and add them into the binders you could buy to keep them organised. Each was a full colour magazine full of fascinating facts and phenomena. One was called “Knowledge” and the other, “Look and Learn”. Did you have anything like that when you were young? Do you have anything like that now?

Then when I qualified as a doctor, with my first month’s salary I bought a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. I still have it. Can’t bring myself to throw it out even though it’s been long since surpassed by wikipedia and google.


I’d say that is one of the strongest life forces in my life.


That’s another one. I love to take photographs. I love the beauty of Nature, of landscapes, of buildings, of Art, of people. In fact I think I appreciate beauty every single day of my life.

I’m sure these are not the only two life forces in my life, but they are certainly two of the most dominant ones.

What life forces are you aware of in your life?

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What colour is the sea?


Like the sky?


Like grass?


Like clouds?

What colour is the sand?


Like lemons?


Like stone?


Like the sky?

Here’s one thing I’ve found….the more I pay attention to the particular, the more I see (or hear, or smell, or taste, or feel)

We use our left cerebral hemispheres to focus on parts or aspects, label them, categorise them….which is all useful of course, but if we leave it at that we stop seeing reality as it really is.

We need to reintegrate that information into the right cerebral hemisphere to see its contexts, its connections and relationships to everything else. Only then do we experience the particular, the uniqueness of all that is real.

I found that in my work with patients. It was never enough to apply the diagnostic label and think of the patient as just an example of that – whether that be a “diabetic”, an “asthmatic”, or whatever. I had to pay attention to the specifics, to this particular patient’s unique story. Only then could I experience the reality of who they were and understand what they were experiencing.

So, here’s something to try today. Slow down and take your time to pay attention. Explore, as much as possible without labelling. Or, actually, it’s pretty tough not to label, so once you apply the label, just say to yourself, ok, this is an apple (or whatever it is you are exploring), but then, what colours do I see, what textures do I feel, what scents do I smell, what sounds do I hear as I interact with it (turning it over in your hand, running your fingertips over its surface, biting into it…..only if you are exploring something edible of course!)

You get the idea?

Pick anything you like. An object, a song, a view, a flavour, a scent, a sensation. Slow down, pay attention, notice the labels which pop into your head, then continue to explore.

Allow yourself to experience the diversity of the unique.

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This year a new bird has taken up residence in a neighbour’s barn. He’s a “Little Owl”, and, yes, that’s his common name. His scientific name is “Athene noctua”. The “Athene” part goes right back to the belief that this owl had a special connection with Athena, and the “noctua” part comes from the Latin for “Minerva”, who was the Roman equivalent of Athena. As such, this little creature has long been held to represent wisdom and knowledge…..pretty much just what we need more of in our world.

I’ve watched him come and go and the other day there noticed he wasn’t alone. Seems he and his mate have a nest up high behind the roof beams at the back of the barn. He’s a pretty wary creature though so it’s been hard to get a decent photo. However, yesterday, looking out of the window of my study, I could see him sitting on a nearby roof. I slowly raised my camera to my eye, taking care not to make any sudden movements which might attract his attention, even though I was inside my house, and he was outside on the roof. I zoomed in, focused, and pressed the button. I can’t say I really clearly saw what I was getting a picture of, but when I uploaded it to my computer I realised he had totally clocked me.

He is looking directly at me!

How does one living creature possess that knowledge? How do we know that we are being looked at? I bet you’ve had an experience where you are sitting reading a book or having a coffee and, suddenly, you become aware that someone is looking your way. You look up, catch their eyes, and they either hold their gaze, or, more commonly, quickly look away.  I’ve often wondered how that works. What are we picking up? It’s not about casting our eyes around the world and just noticing someone else’s direction of gaze. We seem to be able to detect something, and it also seems this is a talent which is not exclusive to human beings.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience with an animal. Here’s a photo I took one Spring day when the first lambs were in the fields.

Tell me this little one hadn’t clocked me!


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Quite a lot of people, me included, are saying this pandemic is throwing a light on certain things – how fragile our systems of health care and social care, how poor the safety nets are, how interconnected the world is, how the instincts to collaborate and connect are so strong in human beings, how much we humans move around the Earth……[add you own here]

But today I stumbled across some old photos of reflections and I realised that the reflections are a different sort of light.

A direct light brightens and maybe even makes more clear the object it is shining on. That’s useful. Though it immediately brings to my mind that question I have about Scandi-noir crime drama – why does the (usually female) detective always go down into the basement or the abandoned warehouse at night, all alone, with just a torch to light up little bits of the room? Well, I suspect I know the answer to that one already.

Reflections are different.

They turn things upside down.

They give us an unusual and different take on reality, which lets us see beyond what the light is illuminating.

Look at this one, for example –

lily leaves on a still pond which is reflecting the blue sky and some clouds.

Or this one –

the edge of a Scottish loch where the still water is reflecting the clouds

Or, this one –

the solitary flamingo doubled by the water’s surface

In all these cases the reflection does something special I think.

It literally turns something upside down which immediately makes us look more carefully.

It changes our perspective whilst keeping our default one. In other words, it increases our perception and understanding by doubling our perspectives.

It shows us connections we were happy to ignore as long as we focused solely on the central subject. It connects the sky to the water, the water in the clouds to the water in the loch, for example, reminding us of these cycles and links and interconnections which are the most fundamental characteristic of Nature.

It increases our experience of beauty. Each of these photos could have been beautiful without the reflections, but I think that including the reflections make them exponentially more beautiful.

All of which brings me to my main thought today – shining a light on something helps us to understand it, promotes analysis and clarifies what has been obscure or forgotten. Reflecting adds in something completely different – it promotes our perception and understanding by changing our perspective, highlighting the connections, and increasing our senses of wonder and delight.

“And not or” is my moto – analyse and reflect. Actually, as I write that sentence I’m reminded of Iain McGilchrist’s Divided Brain thesis and how the left cerebral hemisphere is great for zooming in, analysing and cataloguing, while the right seeks out the connections, the specific and the unique.


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There’s no doubt this is a very challenging time for very many people. This pandemic is shining a bright light on many problems which we’ve collectively tolerated or ignored.

For me, perhaps THE most impressive feature of this crisis is how human beings are connecting and caring about each other. I know, you might think that’s an odd thing to say when we are all being told to “self-isolate” and practice “social distancing”, (I don’t like either of these phrases, preferring “physical distancing” for the latter, and “sheltering” for the former) but you’ll have seen people on balconies singing, shouting to each other, clapping to salute the health care workers. You’ll have seen people offering their talents and creativity online with free lessons, concerts, publications. You’ll have seen hundreds of thousands of people volunteering to make sure neighbours are safe and nourished. You’ll have seen health care workers, drivers, emergency workers, people who work in the food production and supply chain, and many, many others giving 100% to keep others safe, to heal, to nourish, to support.

You’ll have seen that scientists and researchers around the world are publishing and sharing their work freely and widely without barriers between nations and peoples. We human beings are absolutely brilliant at learning from each other.

We all live on the shoulders of giants.

There is an outpouring of love, of care, and of compassion. Maybe more on a global scale than I’ve seen at any other time in my life.

I’m not naive. I know there’s a lot of evil, cruelty, injustice and selfishness too. But I just want to a take a moment today to celebrate our human ability to make connections, to care, to love, to learn from each other, and to collaborate.

I hope we build the next phase of our lives together on those principles.

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I find patterns utterly fascinating….wherever they are. Look at this blend of textures and colours on the surface of a tree. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s as if some artist has been doodling or a sculptor has been running his or her fingers through wet clay.

Here’s another one.

This one looks like an infinity loop to me.

It reminds me of some of the cup and ring markings on the rocks in the Kilmartin Valley in Scotland. Here’s a photo I took of one of them.

The cup and ring markings in Kilmartin are really impressive and challenging. As best I know absolutely no-one has managed to explain them. Are they maps? Are the signatures? Are they messages from one person or tribe to another? Are they symbols, and if so, of what? Or are they doodles?

We humans have a particular kind of creativity. We imagine, we play and we make marks. I love all of that. But then I look around me and I see that making marks is embedded in all kinds of natural phenomena. It’s as if the whole Universe just loves to make marks.

We live an a creative universe.

Creativity runs through us the way our blood runs through us, the way our breath runs through us, the way we are infused by the streams of materials, energies and information which run through us, the way our spirit runs through us.

We react and we act. We engage and we respond. Catabolism and anabolism (biological terms related to our metabolism….how we break down materials which we consume and fashion them into the things we need to live) are at the core of our being.

Just by living, we create, but isn’t it such a thrill when we create consciously?

Isn’t it such a delight when we stumble across the works of creation?



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When I look at this the first thing I think is “how beautiful”. It’s like a work of art, isn’t it?

Look at the sweeping lines, the layers, the smooth surfaces and the ripples in both the water and the stone.

The next thing I think is how similar AND different the water and the stone are…..those colours, surfaces and lines, but the stone which changes over millennia while the water changes over seconds.

The third thing I think is how the universe began, fourteen billion years ago or so, first with only a couple of different atoms, then a few more as the creative and destructive furnaces of the stars kicked into action, and how every single element we’ve found on this planet was created, atom by atom, in those vast clouds of stars millions of light years away. Then over millions of years how the Earth was fashioned into the incredible substances, structures, materials.

It astonishes me.

The fourth think I think when I contemplate this image is how all the water, all the rocks, all the air which moves around as winds across the face of the Earth and the Sea, all the heat of the Sun which beats down upon us, makes this one, precious place for us all to live.

One of my favourite books of all time is Thomas Berry’s “The Great Work”.

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When I lived in Cambusbarron in Scotland I looked out of the window each day and saw Ben Ledi. I quickly realised that this mountain looked different every day, so I started taking photos of it. I took a LOT of photos.

I was constantly amazed how my usual experience was not of looking at the same scene every day, but seeing a different scene.

I know, maybe you are thinking, but it’s the same mountain. It’s just the clouds and the light which is changing….

But the mountain doesn’t exist by itself. It exists in a place and a time. I can’t see the mountain disconnected from the world in which it exists. That wouldn’t be real, would it?

I think the world is like this.

Absolutely everything is connected. Absolutely everything exists in webs of contexts and environments.

It changes moment by moment. Everything we see, hear, smell, touch and taste changes constantly as the streams of molecules, energies and information flow through, influencing, creating, disrupting.

So, today is always new.

This moment is always new.

We humans are good at doing something called “abstracting”. We isolate a part of what we are experiencing and consider it as if it is separate, disconnected, un-attached. We call these abstractions “things” or “objects”. Or we call them “outcomes” or “results”.

But we have to return our abstractions to reality eventually and then we seem them as less isolated, less fixed, less separate than we thought.

I never felt I could understand a patient by isolating their disease from their life. I never felt I could understand someone’s illness if I considered only the changes in certain cells, organs or tissues.

When we tell our stories, part of what we are doing is describing some connections…..some sequences, some consequences. We describe events, experiences and emotions, and together they combine to make every day, every moment, every place and every relationship, unique.

What did you notice today?

Was there something familiar which you experienced differently today?

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The first cherry blossom appeared in the garden this week. I love this time of year when the bare, sleeping trees, awaken, produce buds and start to unfurl both flowers and leaves. It’s surely one of the most powerful phases of the annual cycle of nature.

There’s a wild plum tree in the corner of the vineyard next to the garden and this week, it too, has started to produce its blossom. Every day when I step outside I look at these two trees, one to my left, and one to my right, and each time I look I see more flowers. It never ceases to amaze me and it never passes me by.

I think a lot can pass us by in life. Either because we are too busy (occupied) or too distracted (pre-occupied). That’s one of the reasons why I love the appearance of the blossom. We are sensitive to change and so it’s hard not to notice that these two trees look different every day just now. When there isn’t such obvious change we sort of tune things out, don’t we? We stop noticing because it’s all so familiar.

Well with this pandemic we’re all noticing change now, aren’t we? (Maybe not all of us, we’re still seeing footage of crowds of people carrying on as if nothing is any different) So, maybe that’s one way for us to get something positive out of this crisis……maybe it’ll help us to wake up, to reflect, to notice and to wonder.

If you’re living in one of the countries which is restricting movements and everyday activities you’ll have a bit more time on your hands now as well. I’ve seen lots of articles online about how to fill the time, how to avoid boredom. There are loads of articles about movie and long form fiction streaming services, ebooks, virtual museum tours, live concerts online and so on.

There’s another opportunity which comes with this time of waking up, noticing and finding more time on our hands….it’s the opportunity to ask ourselves about priorities and meaning. How am I living my life these days? Is there anything I’d like to change? Do some things seem less important now, and others way more important than we had realised?

We have the opportunity to that collectively too. This is a time to create, to invent, to have new ideas, and to share them. This is a time to put out into the world the behaviours we want to see more of….to love more, to care more, to share more, to tip the scales back from quantities to qualities. It’s a time to think and talk about what kind of societies we have and how we want to share this one small planet with each other and all the other creatures which live here.

Is it a time to shift the balance from competition and selfishness to co-operation and compassion?

I think it could be.

What might we begin to see blossoming if we started to make some of these changes in our lives?

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With all the “social distancing” that is going on, and being urged upon us, I thought it might help to remember this line from Saint Exupery’s “The Little Prince” –

The important things in life you cannot see with your eyes, only with your heart.

I don’t really like the term “social distancing” because I think we need each other now more than ever.

What’s important during this pandemic is to reduce the time you spend in the same physical space as other people. The more physical contacts you have, the more chance you will catch this virus and spread it to other people. A French official put it well the other day when he said – don’t think how can I avoid catching this, think how can I avoid spreading it to everyone else?

I think that’s a useful flip because people spread this virus without having any symptoms, and while, chances are if YOU get this virus then it won’t be serious, for about one in every five people it will be. Reducing your physical contacts now is the most caring thing you can do.

But that does NOT mean to minimise your relationships.

More than ever this is a good time to tell the people you love, that you love them.

Now more than ever this is a good time to share…..to share thoughts, to share feelings, to share our stories.

We humans are perhaps THE most social of all creatures. We die without social contact. So let’s pay attention to that and increase our communications. Phone more, text more, FaceTime, or Skype more, blog more, instagram more, WhatsApp more…….whatever means you have at  your fingertips use them now.

Have you seen any of the video clips online of Italians or Spaniards on their balconies? Singing, cheering, banging pots and pans…….all saying “we are here, and we are in this together”.

As we minimise our physical contacts for now, let’s over-compensate for that, by increasing our “invisible” ones, the ones we can see only with our hearts.


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