Archive for February, 2022

Take a moment

Maybe when you were a child you would blow on a seed head like this one. You’d blow it to see how many times you’d have to blow to send every single seed flying, a bit like you’d blow out the candles on your birthday cake.

Maybe you’d make a wish. You would use the seed head to strengthen your hopes.

Maybe you’d ask a question and the number of blows would be the answer – you’d use the seed head to predict the future.

Maybe you’d try to tell the time from the number of blows you needed (something that only worked by chance or if you knew the time in advance)

When I look at a seed head like this one I see abundance. Nature isn’t a machine. She doesn’t use the least possible resources to survive and thrive – she doesn’t follow that idea of “efficiency” stripping everything back to the bare bones, delivering “just in time”. We saw this kind of “efficiency” collapse during the pandemic because we didn’t have enough health carers, didn’t have enough PPE, had supply lines easily disrupted and depleted stores.

In Nature, and in our own human lives, we thrive better when we have abundance, when there is “redundancy” in the system.

Does the plant really need all these seeds? Yes it does if it is to survive and thrive.

I remind myself of that when I gaze at this beautiful seed head, replete with hope, with desire, and with potential.

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Perfect fit

You couldn’t have a better shaped beak than this to get to the nectar. You couldn’t have a better shaped flower than this to tempt these birds to pick up and share your pollen.

Isn’t it amazing when you see such a perfect fit – where the plant world and animal world help each other out so beautifully? The last Attenborough series was about plants (Green Planet) and time and again he showed such astonishing relationships between plants and insects, birds or animals. One scene which particularly amazed me was of a desert where there had been no rain for over twenty years. Not only was there a sudden explosion of flowering plants when the brief rain eventually appeared, something quite remarkable in its own right. But the exactly best adapted insects and birds to pollinate these flowers appeared too. Where did they come from? Where had they been for the last twenty years??

I know that competition, “the survival of the fittest”, and ideas like “the selfish gene” have dominated our culture and thinking for a long time now. But isn’t it clear that without cooperation, co-evolution, and what Kropotkin called “mutual aid”, Life just wouldn’t exist.

This thought came to me this morning after browsing my photos, seeing this striking bird, listening to the BBC podcast, “In our Time” episode about Kropotkin, remembering the Green Planet which I saw recently, and hearing the stories about Ukraine this week.

What the Russian government is doing is the worst of the competitive aggressive violent aspect of Life, but what ordinary people are doing is opening their houses, donating food and clothes, welcoming refugees and voicing their support for Ukrainians.

I heard someone say it’s the elites who behave so badly and the ordinary people who behave so well. Too black and white perhaps. But it was the same in the pandemic. People helped each other out, got shopping for the elderly and vulnerable, whilst the elite…..well they had parties and were granted exceptions to enable them to continue to travel and grabbed multimillion pound or dollar contracts to enrich themselves.

Mutual aid, generosity, co-adaptation and “interbeing”……maybe it’s time to change the dominant narrative.

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Attention grabbing red

For most of us the colour red grabs our attention. It’s used pretty universally on warning notices, fire alarms and so on.

I took this first photo one February many years ago in Capetown. The red car sitting in front of the red building captured my attention. I focused my camera and just before I released the shutter this couple walked into the shot, he with his red hat on, and she wearing her red apron. I mean, what are the chances?

This second photo is one of many sunsets I’ve photographed over the last seven years here in France. I love those moments when the sun turns the entire sky red just before it sinks below the horizon for the night.

What is it about red? Is it because our blood is red so that is the colour of Life (and also, under normal circumstances we don’t see our blood so when it appears alarm bells ring?)

Red is love. Red is passion. Red is energy. Red is Life.

Red says Be Aware! Wake up! Take notice!

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I often think the fundamental principles of health, at an individual or collective level, can be found in Nature.

Difference and diversity are two of those key fundamentals.

Vast acres of fields given over to growing single crops year after year aren’t healthy. They need to be artificially maintained with ever increasing amounts of chemicals.

Individuals and small businesses innovate and adapt but vast multinational corporations grow towards monopoly positions and reduce diversity and choice.

A healthy organisation is one which encourages diversity and supports difference. Healthy societies are the same.

So if we want healthier organisations, societies, individual lives, we should be moving towards, not away from, differences and diversity.

In the pursuit of control, maximising profits for company owners and so called efficiency, we’ve seen increasing centralisation, standardisation and monopoly or near monopoly positions.

Diversity is beautiful. And it’s healthy.

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I think this looks like a weird lizard creature with extremely long arms wrapped around a huge pieces of fruit.

But it isn’t. It’s a plant wrapped around a rock. Perhaps the remains of a plant’s roots wrapped around rock.

I love it when I see something which challenges the classification of the world into three kingdoms – animal mineral or vegetable – whether that challenge comes from my imagination or from the structure or behaviour of what I’m looking at.

These metamorphoses highlight the interconnectedness of all that exists. There wouldn’t be any animals without plants and minerals after all, so to understand any of them we need to see them in their contexts, exploring their interconnections over time.

All that exists emerges within the flux of constant flows, some moving very slowly, others at speed, each stream changing the others.

Becoming not being.

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I’m not especially aware of framing my shots when I take them but, clearly, composition is important to me. I don’t press the button until what I see in the viewfinder pleases me.

We frame what we look at all the time, and, mostly, we do it unconsciously.

Framing is a way of directing our attention. We include what we want to focus on, and exclude from the frame, what we wish to ignore.

We humans have many ways of creating frames, not least by telling stories and by deliberately pointing towards whatever we want others to notice.

Magicians pull off their tricks by diverting the audience’s attention, by getting them to “watch this”, not that.

Politicians do the same. Whether we call it “spin” or “setting the agenda”, they frame what they want us to pay attention to, and exclude what they hope to hide.

Advertisers tell stories, direct attention, create frames, to get us to pay attention to particular products.

PR companies portray for their clients the images, the stories, they want the public to pay attention to.

There are lots of people busy creating frames for you to look through. Again, for the individual viewer, that’s mostly unconscious. So, sometimes it’s a good idea to notice the frames, to become conscious of where we are directly our attention, what we are including, and what we are excluding……whether we are the ones doing the framing, or somebody wishing to influence us is doing the framing on our behalf.

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Continuity of care

I took these photos one February a few years ago while visiting Bormes-les-Mimosa in the south of France. How many towns do you know which include a plant in their name? I’ve taken a number of photos of the mimosa blossoms there at this time of year. But I’ve visited this town at various other times of year as well. I love the colours used on the walls of the houses and the pastel shades used to paint their shutters. But perhaps one of the things I like best about this town are the citrus trees everywhere. Aren’t they beautiful?

One of the interesting characteristics of the citrus family is that many of them produce fruit several times a year, so there isn’t a single season to see the trees laden with all the fruit. So when I visit a town like this I’m struck by a certain consistency and continuity.

Consistency and continuity.

I’ve often been told those are two of my strongest characteristics. Despite the fact that I have ups and downs, good days and bad ones, and that I experience every day as different and every person as unique.

I read an article by Dr Clare Gerada today in the Guardian. She’s a GP and at one time was President of the Royal College of GPs. In her article she was reflecting on the changes in General Practice over the last 30 years, and reflecting with sadness over what had been lost. Her main point was that continuity of care had gone almost completely and that with that caring personal relationships built up over many years.

That’s an observation I’ve heard others make. It’s the experience my elderly relatives have had and it’s the experience I had during my dad’s final illness.

She said continuity had been sacrificed in a drive towards “efficiency” and I think that’s the hub of the issue. I’ve read a number of terms to describe the current system – “evidence based care”, “efficient care”, but also, “protocol, guideline and target driven care”.

Also, “industrialised” and “taxi rank” Medicine. These two latter terms capture key features. The health care system has been transformed by applying the practices used in industry where tasks and procedures take precedence over human beings, and where cost managent and/or profit becomes the goal. Where quantities, what can be measured, is given priority over qualities and experience. Taxi rank medicine is where you receive care from whichever doctor happens to come along next. Whether or not you’ve ever seen that doctor before, or will do ever again, is considered irrelevant.

If there is one single change I’d like to see in health care it would be to prioritise continuity of care. The more continuity there is, the more personal the care can be, the more relationship based, the more “joined up” and “holistic”. The more human.

Continuity of care requires putting human beings at the centre of Medicine. It matters who this patient is, who this doctor is, who this nurse or therapist is. We are human and each of us is unique.

We are not interchangeable machines.

Is it really a revolutionary thought to say that people matter more than procedures, profits or data in Medicine? (By the way I’m not saying data doesn’t matter, it’s just that, like fire, it makes a better servant than a master)

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We, most of we humans, live together. Not many of us don’t have any neighbours. Many live in cities, and most of the rest live in towns, villages and hamlets. Some live in much less densely populated areas where the nearest neighbour is a field away.

But none of us live in isolation. To have power, clean water, food, housing, clothes, health care, education etc we live in societies of networks.

So here’s a fundamental paradox of human reality. We are all separate and unique, yet we are all interconnected and have shared interests and needs.

When I look at this photo I see diversity and uniqueness in a tight cluster. I zoomed in to frame this little group of dwellings because I liked the colour palate but the rest of the town where I saw these particular houses looked quite like this.

I emigrated from Scotland to France about seven years ago. I’ve felt welcomed here. My daily experience is of friendly, helpful neighbours. My learning French so we can chat to each other has, no doubt, helped.

Since coming here the U.K. government decided to “end freedom of movement”, so it’s not so easy for people to travel to and from the U.K. for fun, work, education or even love any more. There is a lot more paperwork, tough “criteria” of acceptance, and financial barriers now.

Around the world most states seem to be tightening their borders, trying to control the flow of human beings and even once accepted across the border people don’t become “citizens”, either ever, or only after a few years and certain tests.

So the people living in these houses next to each other, neighbours, or inhabitants of the same part of this world, are classed as different – nationals or foreigners.

How is that helpful?

Maybe it’s always been this way, but my impression is that division and opposition is getting worse, that societies are becoming more divided and people are becoming more angry and aggressive.

Well that’s the impression I get from the media. It’s not my daily experience which continues to be one of welcome, friendship and care.

I just wonder if it would be possible to build a society on the human values of care, acceptance, cooperation and collaboration instead of on division and competition.

It seems possible at the neighbourhood level. What if we could scale that up?

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A grey day

What does the exclamation“What a grey day!” conjure up for you? Something bleak? Something a bit miserable, bland, boring? Something colourless and interesting?

Grey gets a bit of a bad reputation I think. Now let me be clear I love colour, and I’ll share some gorgeous colours tomorrow, but look at this first photo. I took it on a visit to the South of France. It’s the Mediterranean coast. It was a grey day. Blanket, thick grey cloud covering the sky. But it was beautiful. And the light was beautiful.

I can gaze at this image for ages and lose myself in it. I love the curves, the gentle slopes, the shades of grey, dark in the foreground, bright on the horizon. It draws me in, calms me and delights me.

There’s nothing really “clear” or “sharp” about this image and I think that explains a lot about its power. We are drawn to mystery. Curiosity is one of our core features. It’s a characteristic with which I identify strongly. I love it when something catches my attention and my enthusiasm for knowledge and understanding start to surge.

I love to be fascinated. I love to be intrigued. The world brims with questions, puzzles and mysteries to me.

I love to wonder in this wonderful world.

One of the things I loved about medical practice was that every single patient would tell me a unique story, a story which stirred my curiosity. I always wanted to understand, to know what they were experiencing and to explain why.

And here’s the thing….knowledge and understanding were never an endpoint for me. They were a beginning. I loved to make a diagnosis, to be able to see and understand a certain illness. But diagnosis was a starting point. It was the beginning of something. It opened the door to finding the underlying causes, the factors which were contributing to this current suffering, and to finding the best ways to help.

Knowledge and understanding are not goals, in the sense that they are not destinations. I get frustrated with the insistence on outcomes, on measured end points, because life is not a series of end points. It’s a process, and ongoing, complex, multiply connected flow.

I love that life is curious and unknowable and that every day is filled with wonder. The desire to explore and discover is present all the time. Isn’t that fabulous? Isn’t that delightful? Isn’t that amazing?

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Flow all the way

The sea isn’t a “thing”. The water isn’t a “thing “. A wave isn’t a “thing”.

We talk as if we and the world we live in are objects, “things”, entities with clearly defined boundaries. Fixed. Or changing only through a sequence of discrete steps and stages.

But none of that is true. You, me, everyone else and all that exists in this world are constant flows of energy and information.

All that exists is a constantly changing flow responding, adapting and interacting with all that exists.

Nothing exists in isolation.

Nothing is fixed.

“Things” are a delusion. Or, at best, a partial appreciation of a small aspect of the greater “all that is”.

I feel very aware of that when I stand at the water’s edge gazing out towards the horizon, breathing in time with each breaking wave.

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