Archive for December, 2020

This is one of my most favourite photos of a seed head. When I was a child I guess the “dandelion clock” was the seed head we all knew best, but as I’ve got older I’ve realised there are an immense diversity of “wind dispersal” structures and systems used by a variety of plants. I do find them truly beautiful. But they do more than entrance me, they inspire me too, and perhaps this one more than most.

I love the whole phenomenon of wind dispersal. This is the way a plant handles that most crucial aspect of life for any species – expanding its reach physically (to other fields, other landscapes, even other continents), and expanding its reach temporally (by reproduction – by reaching into the future and create the generations to come).

No species of life would survive unless it did this – yet look at the way these plants handle it – not by setting goals, measuring and calculating and trying to control all the variables – but by trusting to the planet – by holding their seed high and waiting for the wind to come, pick them up and carry them to their future destinations.

This is SO different from our drive to be in control of everything. I’m not saying our controlling drives aren’t useful, I’m sure they are, but I am saying we should learn from the rest of the natural world sometimes and pick up this principle of letting go, of trusting that when you live in harmony with the rest of Nature, then you will survive and thrive.

Of course this is not a way for we humans to procreate and raise children – leaving them outside for the wind to carry them away! But that’s not what I’m saying…..we are not adapted to survive through the specific method of wind dispersal! No, what I think we can learn from this is the deeper, more widely applicable lesson – that we should live in harmony with, in tune with, in association with, in collaboration with, the rest of the natural world, rather than seeing the rest of the planet as something outside of ourselves just waiting to be plundered, consumed and controlled.

But there’s something else in this particular seed head – that glorious spiral shape. It seems to me that the spiral, looping model of time makes a lot of sense….the way the cycles of Nature appear – from seasons, to moon phases, to birth, growth, maturity, decline, death and birth again……

A spiral is also a very dynamic shape – it looks like it is moving. It captures that truth that change is constant, that nothing every stays the same.

I hope you find something inspiring in this photo today – it really is one of my favourites.

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I love a blue sky. There’s something incredibly uplifting about seeing blue filling your whole view from horizon to horizon. But of course, not many places in the world see blue skies like that every day, and those which do, tend to suffer from a lack of clouds and, so a desperate lack of rain. So, it’s not that we should want blue skies every day. There’s a lot of wisdom in the observation that we need contrasts, that we need the dark to appreciate the light, and the light to appreciate the dark. There’s a Scandinavian wisdom in plunging into the snow and ice when you step out of a sauna!

I understand the need for these opposites and contrasts. But that takes nothing away from the joy and delight in what is….right here, right now.

Today the weather forecast is wrong again. I went to bed expecting to have a day of rain when I woke up, but instead I’ve woken up to a blue sky. I can see white clouds making their way across the low horizons, and maybe they will spread and bring rain later, but, for now, I’m enjoying the blue.

Perhaps that’s why this particular photo caught my eye this morning. You see these gloriously faded, distinctively blue signs all over France, but especially in the South. I’m no expert in colours but there is something about this particular shade of blue which evokes a whole culture for me. It’s the colour of France, the colour of the Med, it evokes memories of cafes and bars, of village squares and tables under spreading plane trees. It evokes vineyards, fields of sunflowers and hillsides of lavender. It entices me to buy a bottle of Rosé and a small bag of olives.

Amazing what a colour can do……

So, here’s my challenge for you today – find a colour somewhere – in the sky, in the garden, on your bookshelf, on your wall, in your closet……just find a colour that attracts you, that brings you joy, that stirs your heart and lifts your spirits, and allow your mind to recall the times and places that colour evokes, allow your mind to re-create those moments of beauty and happiness. Allow yourself to bask and bathe in those experiences for a little while. I have a hunch, it’ll do you good.

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Here’s what Nature does. She reaches out.

Here’s what Life does. Life expands.

There are many stories of the Universe, many Creation stories. We discover the Universe in those stories. We tap into Creation. We uncover the themes, the characteristics, the features, the behaviours and the phenomena of reality in those stories.

One of those stories is the story of Evolution. It’s the story of Life on Earth. In this story there is one particularly striking feature – there is always more life. Life creates life. Life replicates, reproduces, expands, connects, complexifies, diversifies, multiplies.

Look at these two photos – on the left, a plant with two sunbursts of seeds held up as high into the air as it can. Reaching for the sky, reaching for the Sun, reaching for the wind, reaching out for other creatures, birds and other animals, to come along, to help her spread her seeds, to send her offspring far and wide, seeking new places to settle, take root, and to thrive. On the right a tree in the middle of a forest, a tree with branches reaching out in every direction. Every year adding rings to its trunk, every year sending out new branches to hold leaves closer to the sunlight, closer to the other trees, inviting birds, insects and other creatures to come and find home, to make their nests, to find shelter, in order to nurture their own.

We used to think of forests as collections of individual trees, but we know now that forests are not quite like that. Instead every single tree has multiple connections through a hidden root system interwoven with a myriad of fungi creating a “wood wide web” of connections. Each tree learns to find its share of sunlight and holds back from interfering with its neighbours. Each mother tree protects her young, nurtures them, in ways we never knew before.

Every year there is more Life on Earth than there was the year before. Yes, we have species loss, and we lose habitats. But from the beginnings of the Earth until now, Life has spread to every nook and cranny, adapted to every possible environment, diversified, evolved and spread.

It’s something which evokes wonder and amazement in me. After all, we know that when it comes to elements, the elements we have ordered in the Periodic Table, that pretty much all the atoms of all the molecules which exist on this planet, have been here since the beginning. The Earth doesn’t make more gold, more silver, more lithium. All the elements we know were created in the great furnaces of distant stars, and all came together here to form this little planet. But Life isn’t like that. Life expands, doubles, multiplies.

From the time Life emerged this direction of travel hasn’t stopped.

Life, it seems, makes life out life.

I think that’s pretty amazing.

It strikes me that if I want to be in tune with the planet, if I want to live in harmony with Life, then I need to pay attention to this characteristic of reaching out, connecting, expanding…..I need to focus my energies on nourishing and nurturing, on protecting and providing, this living planet. What does that tell me about the choices I should be making, the directions I should be following, as 2021 rises above the horizon?

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This is a very common pattern of spider web, and in the early morning the dew hangs in sparkling droplets creating these beautiful strings of glittering crystal balls.

But this particular web attracts me especially because of the parts I can’t see. There is a whole central section between the outer rings and the middle of the web which have not held onto any water droplets (or hardly any) so there are many strange of the web that, at least at first, you can’t see.

That reminds me of constellations – how we create the designs and symbols in the night sky by “seeing” the invisible connections between particular stars. It was the artist John Berger who first pointed that out for me when I read his “Ways of Seeing”.

Artists are also the people most likely to be aware of “negative space”. Only yesterday I came across an article which pointed out that if you look at an “8” of diamonds in a pack of cards, you can see the figure eight in the negative space between the red diamonds.

It’s clear once it’s been pointed out to you, isn’t it?

Iain McGilchrist describes how the right hemisphere is brilliant at enabling this kind of observation. Whilst the left hemisphere zooms in on the parts, the right has a preference for connections, for “the between-ness”, and for patterns.

Finally, this web makes me reflect once more on perception, and how what we “see” in our minds, is not a simple optical image cast onto the brain by a lens, the way a camera works. It’s a far more complex phenomenon, an act of creation, where we use sensations, memories and imagination to deliver the exact image which we “see”.

Turns out there is always more to be seen that we realise at first, it’s always worth exploring the “gaps”.

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Can you see the two owls?

The “Little Owl” sitting in the plum tree at the corner of my garden is watching me, watching him…..as usual! On the right is a photo I took in a forest in Southern France last year. Can you see the carving of the owl at the top of the tree? Instead of just cutting the branches (I don’t know if there was something wrong with them, or they broke in a storm), someone has carved an owl at the top of one of the stumps.

These two photos make me think of our relationship to the world…..just how interactive that relationship is. I have many experiences now of noticing another creature noticing me. Maybe it just makes sense that we would both have the natural ability to be aware of each other, but when it happens directly like this, it shifts the experience into another gear. It’s a bit like when I do a whistling “conversation” with the Redstart who lives in the garden every summer. Those “call and response” sessions are delightful and they really do give me a deep sense of connection to the non-human, living world.

The carving speaks to another aspect of our relationship with the world brought about by our powers of imagination and creativity. The truth is we change the world every second just by living….just by breathing, just by walking, gathering, eating and drinking, just by our behaviour which is determined by our values, beliefs, our thoughts and our bodies. But this conscious interaction, again takes our relationship to another level. This fashioning of an owl changes the experience of this tree, and so, too, of the whole forest. It’s a point of wonder, of delight. It made me pause, raise my camera and take a photo. It made me wonder about the artist….who he or she is, when they did this, and why……what did it mean, and what does it mean, to them? The sculpture raises the awareness of the observer to the fact that the forest is full of life, not just of plant life, but of birds and other creatures, but given the symbolism of owls, for me, at least, it also raises my awareness of the wisdom of the forest, and the wisdom of Nature.

Seeing this example of human imagination and creative expression in Nature reminded me, also, of an article I read in “Le Monde” a few days ago, about another cave complex full of wall art in the Dordogne. This one near Cussac. It isn’t open to the public and has still not been completely excavated but has many, many drawings of animals, just like in nearby Lascaux, but in addition they have found the skeletons of six Paleolithic human beings. There’s something else different about Cussac – (click that link if you want to read a good English language article about this cave complex) there are, so far, four clear drawings of the female form. Yep, that’s right, the female, not the male, form…..gets you wondering, huh?

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I have to go back about forty years or more to remember a collection of short stories I read. It was called “Strange News from Another Star”, by Hermann Hesse. Those stories made a big impact on me….so big, I remember most of them even now. Oddly, I haven’t re-read them over the years, but I did read them more than once back in my student years.

One of the stories from that book is entitled “Iris” and I always think of it when I see a flowering iris like this one. I remember the boy Anselm describing how he could follow the little yellow stalks as if they were a picket fence marking a path which led deep down into a secret garden. That image of looking at a flower really close up and losing yourself in the depths of that one flower has stayed strong in my memory and imagination. It feels like a description of one of those moments when you lose your boundaries and connect with another living creature so completely that you begin to experience the reality of the wholeness of everything.

Here’s a passage from that story (I looked it out today to write this post)

Iris smiled at him as he stood there at a loss, rubbing his forehead with his hand. “I always feel the same way,” she said to Anselm in her light, birdlike voice, “whenever I smell a flower. My heart feels as though a memory of something completely beautiful and precious were bound up with the fragrance, something that was mine a long time ago and that I have lost. It is that way too with music and sometimes with poems – suddenly there is a flash for an instant as though all at once I saw a lost homeland lying below in the valley, but instantly it is gone and forgotten. Dear Anselm, I believe we are on earth for this purpose, for this contemplation and seeking and listening for lost, far-off strains, and behind them lies our true home.”

I mean, how magical is that? Do you believe we are on this earth for a purpose? Do you agree that at least part of that purpose is “contemplation and seeking and listening….”? Because I’m pretty sure that those three things….contemplating, seeking and listening…..open us up to see more than what just flashes before our eyes.

Isn’t that ability to weave stories into our experiences of everyday encounters one of the key ways in which we make this a more enchanted life?

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I love forests. I love how the sunlight filters between the trees, drawing my attention from shadows and patches of sunlight, up towards the trees themselves, and further up to the Sun itself.

It’s one of those magical, enchanted scenes we encounter in life. It takes the Sun, the trees, the forest, and an observer (in this case me) to have this encounter, to experience this event, to delight in this moment.

I know it’s said that a rainbow only exists with the triad of sun, rain and observer are in place, so that we need to be standing at a particular angle to the sun and the rain to see the rainbow appear.

I think the light in the forest is like this too. The world is not an object “out there” waiting to be seen by me “in here” witnessing everything from disconnected observer’s box, like a birdwatcher crouching in a hide.

No, I am the co-creator of this life I am living. These experiences I have come into being, emerge, if you wish, from the interactions of everything that is……from the Sun, the trees, the forest, from consciousness. Everything changes in that moment….my consciousness, the forest, the trees, and even the Sun. We “commune” together.

You would have a different experience from me. Maybe you have had similar ones, but, we never have the same ones. I have had similar experiences at different times, but they are not the same experience, because I can only have this particular, this special, this unique, experience one, single time.

How wonderful, how amazing, how delightful…….I hope I don’t miss it next time.

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When I looked up and saw these black and white clouds I immediately thought of the yin yang symbol….that brilliant representation of wholeness, the union of opposites, and the permanency of change.

I think those are three of the most significant principles I return to again and again to make sense of the world, of life, of other people and of me.

Wholeness because all reduction, every move to separate and isolate, every attempt to disconnect, to abstract, to re-present, is fraught with the potential for delusion. There are no separate, isolated, disconnected phenomena in Nature. All our abstractions and re-presentations which we carry out with our left hemispheres are a step away from reality. Which is not to say they aren’t useful. They are. But you can’t rest there. You have to re-contextualise, to hand back the analysis to the right hemisphere to understand what you are looking at as only an aspect of the whole.

The union of opposites because we humans, Nature, Life and the Universe are full of opposites….dark and light, heat and cold, attraction and repulsion, organisation and disintegration. In fact it seems that there is no universe without opposites. We are tempted to construct the myths of competition and conflict from that fact, but we must not miss the deeper understanding – that all of existence emerges from the integration of opposites, not from the elimination of one pole by another, not from the unchallenged dominance of one over another.

The permanency of change because that’s the nature of reality. There is nothing fixed, nothing which is not in the process of growing, or adapting or degenerating, whether we see that as three Gods, or as the natural cycles of the biosphere and of the seasons.

So when I look again at these clouds, these beautiful black and white clouds, I am captured by their beauty and entranced by the teaching they can give me.

Read more about this in my book, “And not Or”. You can get it from Blurb at https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10155078-and-not-or

There’s also a Kindle version – https://amzn.to/2UozjIw – if you are in the UK. If you are not in the UK, go to your local Amazon site and search for “Leckridge” – you’ll find it quickly that way (let me know if you don’t!)

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In the exact same place this year I saw two strikingly different birds. Of course, not at the same time! But standing on the same tile on the same roof.

The pheasant on the left, and the “Little Owl” on the right, are both delightful. But don’t they both transform the same view?

The bright colours of the pheasant are in striking contrast to the browns and greys of the owl, and despite the fact that the tiles, the lichen on the tiles, and the background vineyards are pretty much the same, each image is strikingly unique.

It’s not just the image though….it’s the experience. My experience. The day I saw the pheasant and the moment I saw the owl were completely different for me. Each thrilled me, but each in its own way. They were great examples for me of how our being in the world is not something fixed, not a collection of objects waiting to be discovered, but, rather is constantly changing, and teaming with qualities. We co-create our lived experiences with all the other creatures who also inhabit this little planet, Earth.

I was very struck by how the owl seemed to be looking directly at me looking at him. But I didn’t have the same experience with the pheasant. However, looking more closely, I can see that pheasant, too, is looking directly at me. The difference is that because it is a predator, the owl has both eyes on the front of his face, whereas the pheasant has its eyes on the sides of its head. You can see the pheasant has turned his head to look at me with his right eye.

Now, according to Iain McGilchrist birds, like humans, have two asymmetric halves to their brain. The left eye is controlled by the right hemisphere and is used for broad vigilant awareness, whereas the right eye, controlled by the left hemisphere focuses right in on things and is used to clearly find food, for example. I don’t think the pheasant was regarding me as food, but I do think it interesting that he turned to get a better a focus on me using his right eye!

Well, I had another reason to share these photos with you today – they are two of my most favourite shots of 2020! I just think they are beautiful, and I hope you do too.

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Aix en Provence is a city of fountains. There are dozens of them throughout the town. This one, in the Cours Mirabeau, is a simple bubbling up of water in the middle of a round basin. It’s not a dramatic spray or jet of water, but I love it. I can sit and watch the patterns on the surface of this water for ages. They are mesmerising.

At first, you could have the impression that there is one main point of activity, where the water emerges from the bottom of the basin, sending out concentric rings of ripples towards the outer edges of the fountain. They look like the rings inside a tree, and they remind me of how a small action spreads its effects over the whole body of water.

But, you don’t have to look terribly closely to notice that there is more than one centre of action in this fountain. I’ve zoomed in on just one of the several points where the water bubbles up onto the surface. Up in the top left of the image you can see some of the ripples which are clearly coming from another source. Those ripples interlace themselves with the ones from the centre focus, reminding me of a lesson I learned in school when we were studying waves – it’s called “interference” – two concentric circles of waves meeting each other, with two peaks creating a big peak, two troughs creating a deeper trough, and peaks and troughs cancelling each other out when they meet in the same time and space. It’s a beautiful pattern and you’ll be familiar with it.

This image of “interference” from two sets of ripples already demonstrates the beauty of interaction and complexity. It reminds me of the “attractors” we see in all complex systems, and also reminds me that “attractors” do not necessarily pull everything towards them the way the pole of a magnet does. Rather, they are organisational centres, influencing the structures and patterns of the environments in which they exist.

But, wait a moment, we aren’t done. Look a bit closer and you see a number of smaller circles dotted across the larger pattern of the concentric circles. Each of these is caused by a drop of water falling from higher up in the fountain, or from a splash which releases a few water molecules from the mass, a few molecules which fly through the air, then fall onto the surface a short distance from their origin. Look how each of those circles enhances the beauty and complexity of the overall pattern.

In the real world, in the natural world, there is no such thing as simple cause and effect. Everything which happens, occurs within an interconnected web of events, influences and forces. There is always this interplay. There is always this complex beauty which renders the future unpredictable.

What we experience, our health, our illnesses, our joys, delights, our sorrows and pains, are always multi-factorial, always complex in origin, always multiply connected. We pull out some of the threads, focus on some of the events and factors, and create a story which helps us to make sense of what we experiencing. that story is necessarily always complex, always changing, always developing.

I read a passage written by Umberto Eco the other day –

Per ogni problema complesso esiste una soluzione semplice. Ed è sbagliata. (For every complex problem there’s a simple solution. And it’s always wrong.)

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