Archive for July, 2020

A different angle

This morning there were masses of spider webs in the garden. But only this one was stretched over the horizontal plane. At that moment I realised all the other webs were on the vertical plane, hanging like works of art in a gallery.

Sometimes we need to notice something different in order to notice what’s common.

During this pandemic, both in lockdown phases and during the times when restrictions are eased, I think this has been happening. We are noticing things which are different and that’s making us much more aware of what we’ve been living with and accepting unconsciously as “normal”.

We don’t have to accept the ordinary and the routine as normal.

Sometimes it takes change, it takes a change of perspective or angle to see clearly what has faded into an “zombie” style of autopilot living.

What are you seeing more clearly now?

What would you like to change about the “normal” ways we’ve been organising and living our lives?

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Separate and together

I’ve often had discussions with patients about one of the most important paradoxes at the heart of human existence…….separateness and belonging.

We can’t choose between the apparent opposites of identity and self which we can explore from these two perspectives.

I am unique. My DNA is unique. My immune system is fine tuned to identify and react to whatever is “not me”.

I am also uniquely who I am as the subject at the centre of a vast, ever-changing network of relationships.

All of this has been thrown into a stark light with this pandemic. Separation has been pushed further with social and physical distancing. However, at the same time, belonging and connections have been shown to be even more crucial than we realised.

I think it’s really important for each of us to understand ourselves in our uniqueness, to have a sense of autonomy and difference.

I think it’s equally important for each of us to understand ourselves in our connections and relationships. We exist indivisibly embedded in families, communities, societies and ecosystems.

This photo of the flamingo standing apart from the flock always inspires me to think about these things. It captures the phenomena of reflection, separateness and belonging, all in one image.

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When I started this blog, many years ago, I called it “heroes not zombies” to capture the idea that we are all the authors and central characters (heroes) of our own stories but if we aren’t aware of that then we tend to drift through life on autopilot, driven by the actions and desires of others in a society of sleepwalkers (zombies).

Right from the start I put a subtitle under the main heading – “becoming not being”.

This photo is a good example of why I continue to use that subtitle. It’s taken from my garden, looking over the surrounding vineyards towards the horizon. In this one image we can see bright sunshine, dark storm clouds and several fingers of rain reaching down from the sky to soak the earth below.

It’s an image which can’t be reduced to a single element without diminishing it. What makes it so beautiful, so attractive, so engaging, is the presence of all the elements together…the sunlight, the storm clouds, the rain.

What kind of day is this?

A sunny day? A stormy day? A rainy day?

Or all of the above and more?

This day can’t be reduced to a label. We can’t say it “is” this or that. This day is “becoming”, evolving, changing, developing. It’s multiple and diverse and multi-dimensional.

This day, like all days, is “becoming not being”.

So am I. So are you. So is all of life. So is this planet Earth and the Universe which stretches away in every direction at once.

I’m uncomfortable with labels, with rigid boundaries of time and space. I’m uneasy with categories and classifications, with the tendency to put “others” into separate boxes. I’m suspicious of “outcomes” and “goals” and “endpoints”.

I prefer to be aware of connections, of flow, of change, dynamics and relationships. I prefer not to judge, dismiss or ignore.

Wherever I look I see multiplicities. I find puzzles, curiosities, peculiarities. I see uniqueness. I see that nothing ever ends because everything, every moment, every experience is becoming something else, flowing from the present into the future and changing my understanding of the past.

I see that life is a continuous, complex process of becoming. I don’t see life as a series of separate unconnected units.

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I’ve never seen a seedhead just like this before. I’ve seen lots of dandelions with a seedhead something like this but this isn’t the same.

When you look closely you can see how there’s a centre of radiating stalks making the shape of a star or a sunburst. Attached to each of its rays are delicate, fine spindles each carrying a single seed and the soft threads which will carry it far away when the wind blows.

Then there’s another layer of complexity as every seed attaches to its neighbours entangling its own threads with the others to create an ephemeral globe.

The overall appearance is like that of a snow globe, or a crystal sphere.

It’s unique.

There won’t be another seedhead absolutely identical to this one, with the same number of stalks, seeds, threads, each pointing in a specific direction and each with exactly the same number of connections.

It’s our connections and contexts which really make us unique.

I know people try to capture the essence of someone or something by picking a characteristic and classifying them but all of that just separates us into artificial boxes. Our true natures, essences, selves are unique. And they emerge from our constantly evolving, growing, developing lives.

My story is unique.

Your story is unique.

We create them by weaving together the unique events and relationships of our lives.

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Nature therapy

Once travel restrictions were eased we took the chance and made a trip to Scotland from our home in the Charente. It was a long trip. We decided the safest way to travel was the one which minimised time spent in the presence of strangers. That meant avoiding airports, planes, railway stations, trains, and buses. What’s left? Driving. Well you can’t drive all the way from France to Scotland. So we booked overnight journeys on the ferry. On the ferry we went directly from our car to a cabin and in reaching the other side directly from the cabin to our car.

All that comes with certain consequences. There’s a kind of heightened awareness of “the other”, a wariness of strangers, and a sense of, if not quite alienation, then, at very least, of separateness.

I suspect the world is going to feel odd and awkward this way for a long time.

My daughter and my son live in the city but luckily Edinburgh has an abundance of green spaces ranging from parks and gardens to forest trails.

Walking along winding paths under tall, ancient trees is a particularly good healing activity. It connects us to the natural world.

Spending time in Nature has been shown to be so good for us that it’s even been called “Vitamin N” and the lack of time spent in Nature has been termed “Nature Deficit Disorder”. Time spent amongst forests has been shown to have particular benefits as we breathe in a range of molecules produced by the trees…..molecules which boost our immune system and lower our inflammatory levels.

I’ve been lucky to have access to a garden throughout this pandemic but there’s something extra, something special, about the activity of “forest bathing”. Was it really a good idea to keep everyone at home? I can’t help feeling that it would be a better plan to allow and encourage everyone to access Nature Therapy.

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I stopped to take this photo because I thought the way the sun lit the fountain was beautiful.

It was only once I’d framed the shot that I noticed the woman standing by the tree.

After taking the photo I sat on a park bench for a while gazing at the glistening water and I noticed that the woman stood there unmoving for a long, long time. She was alone, not checking a phone, not looking around, not wandering about. She was just entranced, enchanted, zoned out into a special place.

So there’s a mood which goes with this image. A mood of calm, ease, contentment and probably amazement. It takes the presence of the sunlight, the water, the autumn leaves, and the human being, altogether to create these feelings.

There is an enchantment which emerges when we let ourselves be absorbed by the wonder and the beauty of this world.

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Sparkle your day

Dew in the morning and water droplets after rain. They both make the world sparkle. They catch our attention.

I think these sparkles are a good example of the two way nature of connection. First I notice them but it feels like my attention has been drawn to them. Do I notice the water, or does the water and the light catch my eyes?

Then I step towards the petals, lean in close and take a photo. As I gaze at the tiny beads of light, the little bubbles and spheres of shining water, I feel a settling, a calming, a cantering. In the same moment I feel a grounding and a lightness which connect me to the Earth and float my soul towards the sky.

For a long time I understood perception less interactively. It seemed to me I was the observer and whatever I noticed was outside of me, separate from me.

It doesn’t feel that way any more. The boundaries don’t feel so clear. Life feels more whole.

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Sometimes I see flocks of starlings create murmurations in the sky above the vineyards. They seem to love the few trees which stand at the top of the hill. I hear the noise they are making before I see them arrive and settle into the branches of the trees. They land in their thousands making the bare trees appear as if they are fully leafed again. The noise tails off and in a single moment they go utterly silent for a second or two, then they take to skies as one.

I have no idea how they coordinate so brilliantly and I don’t know why they go silent before they take off in a single surge but it astonishes me every time.

All forms of life coordinate and collaborate.

Yes, competition exists too, but I think we focus on it too narrowly. We often fall into the trap of thinking that competition is the most important feature of life, the thing that drives all of creation to “improve” and evolve.

But we are seriously off course with that view. Without collaboration there would be no life. It’s the ability to connect and coordinate, to care for and learn from each other, which is our core super power….not just we humans, but all forms of life.

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What do you see when you look at this photo?

I’d be surprised if you didn’t say the sunflower. In fact, you may well have noticed the sunflower before you “saw” anything else.

Of course you also see the rest of the scene. The field of purple flowers, the trees in the distance, but this sunflower captures your attention. It stands out from everything else.

We have a highly developed capacity for noticing difference. We notice what has different features or characteristics. We notice different behaviours. We notice change.

Change is difference over time. How many times have you noticed a noise when it stops? How many times do you turn to look at whatever has moved. Movement really attracts our attention!

We need these differences around us. We need movement. We need change. How many people have complained about forgetting what day of the week it is during this pandemic? In lockdown we really did get the chance to experience “a month of Sundays” and we began to crave something different, something new, some movement, something to distinguish this day from all the rest.

The truth is there are no two days the same. The truth is this present moment is always unique. It is always different from the past, and every future present moment will be different too.

One thing which makes life appealing, fascinating, engaging, is to notice what’s different. What stands out today? What is “outstanding” in this present moment?

Paying attention to, and becoming aware of, differences is a core human skill. Practicing it feels delightful. It puts us in touch with the deepest truths about reality – every moment is unique, every flower is unique, every person is unique, change is constant and everything is connected.

Tell someone what stood out for you today.

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I took this photo because I liked the way the shafts of sunlight were shining between the trees but when I looked at it later I was struck by how the main sunbeam was lighting up a couple holding hands.

I’ve returned to this image many times.

This is what we humans do. We connect to others. We interact. We form bonds and make relationships. Scientists describe us as “social animals”. Over millennia we have evolved complex systems within us to help us to be aware of others, to learn from each other, to care for each other, to love each other.

During this pandemic, just like during other emergencies and crises we see people put themselves out to care for and help others. In fact, it seems like there has been a heightening of our awareness of our need to connect, belong and interact with others.

The development of the dominant social and economic model based on selfishness and competition has made us all vulnerable to this pandemic.

I hope we grasp this opportunity to change direction and work together to build a different society – one based on collaboration, cooperation and care.

If our core evolved way of living is “social”, then let’s create societies which prioritise that. Let’s make our systems, our laws, our politics and economics support and enhance these fundamental human characteristics.

What would the world look like if we did that?

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