Archive for February, 2022

Extraordinary birds

I have loads of photos of flamingos. I think they are such extraordinary birds. Look at the way they stand on one leg and wind their long necks around to tuck their heads into their feathers in order to sleep!

These ones in the Camargue have beautiful shades of pink feathers, some, suddenly richly red, but mostly more subtle pinks.

They are amazing to watch taking off and landing too. Their long gangly legs and super long necks make them appear prehistoric and really not suited for flying at all, but once in flight they stretch out like Concorde.

As with all birds which flock the way different individuals behave in relation to each other is unceasingly fascinating. Look at the mirrored patterns in these photos.

Birds really do seem to capture that essential paradox which we share – the need to be separate individuals and the need to belong and share.

What are your favourite birds?

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Look behind you

When this caught my eye I thought it looked like a stained glass window. The metalwork formed a frame and the coloured light seemed perfectly contained within it.

But in fact the stained glass window was behind me and as the shaft of sunlight shone through it, it channeled directly through the ironwork onto the back wall of the church.

I like stained glass windows. They are often my favourite feature in a church building. But this particular experience was different. What I was looking at was the result of the sun, the window behind me, the wrought ironwork in front of me and the pale stone of the church wall.

To see the actual stained glass window I had to look behind me, but, somehow, the view straight ahead was way more captivating. It was more subtle, more delicate and more beautiful.

Sometimes life is like that. What lies behind us colours what lies ahead and makes it more interesting, and even more beautiful.

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Transient beauty

One of the most impressive phenomena in Japan is the season of cherry blossom. The newspapers cover its progression across the country on the front page and the tv news shows a sort of weather map which actually tracks the appearance of the blossom from the south of the country to the north. Families gather for picnics under the trees and millions of people go out to take photos.

I was told that it is, at least in part, the transience of the blossom which makes the phenomenon so important and beautiful.

Here in France we have the mimosa blossom. It’s just as spectacular and lasts only three or four weeks. Having lived here for seven years it’s something I’m now very aware of, and look out for.

Isn’t it beautiful?

I’d never seen a mimosa tree before I came to France but already I feel this annual blossom enhances my life. I enjoy the beauty of it and it inspires me to reflect on the glory of seasonal change, and how transience, even our own transience, can heighten and deepen the intensity of each moment.

Seize the day! Or, as I prefer, Relish the day!

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Enchantment and mystery

Near the place where I lived for seven years here in France I could walk up through the vines and see this “dolmen”, a prehistoric stone structure. The first thing that strikes you is the size of the top stone. How on Earth did the ancient peoples manage to lift that immense slab of rock up onto those standing pillars? In fact, how did they get the pillars to stand up? And how did they get all those rocks up to the top of the hill from wherever they found them, or, imagine, quarried them out of a rock face?

You just stand and look at this and you’re filled with awe and curiosity. So many questions. So many “how did they do this?” questions. Even if there are theories or traces of evidence which might give some answers to those questions you’re then faced with all the “why” questions.

Why did the ancient peoples go to such effort to construct this? A question which would be answered, at least in part, by knowing what activities were carried out in there. Was it a burial chamber? A place of worship? A place of celebration and/or ritual?

There are a lot of structures like this in this part of rural France and they all feel familiar to me. They are familiar because I grew up in Scotland with some Orkney heritage so standing stones, stone circles and burial chambers are all part of my personal landscape.

I think all such prehistoric creations inspire awe, curiosity and a deep knowledge that there is so much we can never know.

That not being able to know transcends any frustration at our ignorance and transports us into enchantment and mystery.

I enjoy living in an enchanted world.

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Isn’t this a beautiful window? Some windows are best for looking out through, whilst others are mainly for letting light in, but I really like a window like this one which surpasses any mundane utility.

It’s beautiful to look at. I don’t know what it’s like to look through or what this frame does to the light as it pours into the building but it certainly fires up my imagination.

What strikes me most about this is how the window has become multiple instead of single, and that reminds me that our individual experience of reality is multiple, made up of an infinite number of complex flows of energy and information. How our multiple experience of reality is created by the web of relationships we establish with the world.

And how our collective experience of reality expands this complexity, this multiplicity, to an unimaginable level.

None of us has the final understanding of anything. Knowing and truth is always a work in process, never complete, but constantly moving towards something more whole, something more nuanced, something more coherent.

Time and again, in consultation after consultation, I found myself learning something new, something significant, about this patient (and often about myself!). One thing I learned from a career in Medicine was there was always more to learn, always more to discover and that understanding was a never completed process. That’s one of the reasons why I appreciated and valued continuity of care so much.

Over time, through multiple experiences, and consistent engagement, I’d get to know a person better – and that was at the heart of good diagnosis and care.

Multiplicity is a concept and a phenomenon. I delight in it. It shows me uniqueness, keeps me alert to change and reminds me to be humble in my conclusions and perspectives.

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Making a splash

We all love to watch breaking waves, don’t we? There’s something quite mesmerising about them. The higher the spray when the water hits the rock the better!

There’s something both beautiful and awe inspiring about them. Maybe it’s that sudden appearance of a mass of brilliant white erupting out of the blue green sea, or the way the sunlight catches the foam making it shine so. It’s delightful.

I think it’s also awe inspiring because we intuitively know that we are witnessing the power of the sea. It’s a sudden revelation of hidden energy.

Energy isn’t something we normally see. Well we can when it manifests as light but other forms of energy are invisible. But it’s something we can be aware of all the same. We feel it in the strength of a muscle. We witness it in the destruction of a storm, the eruption of a volcano, or in the size, height and noise of a wave crashing onto rocks.

We know our own energy levels too. For instance, if I asked you to assess your current overall energy level right now, and to give it a number from 1 to 10 where ten is the greatest energy you can imagine having and one is the least, you could tell me straight away. You’d say “6” or “9” or “3” or whatever.

But how would you come up with that number? What would you measure and what would you use to do the measurements? You wouldn’t have to check your blood pressure, your pulse, or your blood sugar level. You wouldn’t need any instruments. You’d do an instant, holistic, intuitive assessment and you’d know straight away. You’d give the number which conveyed your current energy state.

Isn’t that interesting? That we can sense and assess energies that way?

I think there’s another reason we are fascinated by these breaking waves. They are about impact, about “making a splash”. And that feels good – to have an effect, to make something happen, to “make a splash”.

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A sense of humour

I know there are many serious problems in our lives, in the situation of the whole planet even. I know there is a lot of terrible suffering. There’s plenty to get angry about. Lots to be afraid of. Much to be upset about.

But we humans still need to celebrate our sense of humour. I don’t know who was the first to say that laughter is the best medicine but we know that laughter increases levels of healthy and protective chemicals in our bodies. It’s good for us.

It’s just not possible to be happy all the time, but actually it’s not possible to be angry and upset all the time – not without seriously harming ourselves.

So I thought it might be an idea to pause today and think about what makes us laugh. Sense of humour is very personal and also very cultural. Scottish, French and American humour doesn’t always translate well. It’s difficult to tell a good joke in a different culture. But I believe we have more in common than we sometimes realise.

This photo is one I took a few years ago in a pretty village in France. It still makes me smile.

The village I’ve moved to has some fun, light hearted “sculptures” around and they make me feel glad I’ve moved here. I like that there’s that light heartedness, that sense of fun.

Here’s my recommendation today – allow yourself some time to watch a video, or a movie, or to read a book or a poem, that makes you laugh. Or enjoy sharing a funny memory or story with someone who shares your sense of humour.

It’s good for you!

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Music of the cosmos

The first thing I thought of when I noticed the pattern on this bark was morse code. It seemed that if I only knew the language I could read the message.

Then I thought of those musical scores cut into rolls of card which a pianola turns into music.

The idea that Nature was communicating, either by a message, or, better, through music thrilled me. It does again as I look at this photo today.

Yesterday was a sunny, surprisingly mild day here and I was able to sit outside in the garden for lunch. I can’t remember a time I heard so much, and such diverse birdsong. The garden was full of it. I hear them again as I write this at dawn. The morning is filled with the sounds of many birds calling and singing.

The ancients believed that the cosmos was filled with music, created by the planets and the stars in their heavenly spheres. Our understanding of the universe has reached the point where we see it isn’t a big empty space with various fixed objects scattered across it. Rather, we know now, it’s a symphony of vibrating energies, constantly interacting, constantly in flow.

The sound of the universe is the music of the cosmos, created, not just by stars, but by all the energy flows, all the vibrations, and, here on Earth, the songs of living creatures, expressing themselves and communicating with each other.

Listen. It’s beautiful, and astonishing.

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The map is not the territory

I think this old photo of moss on a log looks a bit like either a satellite photo of part of the Earth, or the “satellite” view on Google maps.

Which brought that old phrase to mind – “The map is not the territory”.

Are you familiar with that saying? It’s used a lot in NLP circles but I first came across it in the writings of the General Semanticists who wrote their books decades before NLP was invented.

It’s designed to remind us that reality and our representations of reality are not the same. Our left cerebral hemisphere works this way all the time – it “re-presents” the information it receives. Our frontal lobes are also where we make maps – as Dan Seigel wrote, they are where we make a “me map”, a “you map” and a “we map”.

Maps are great. I love them. They can help you explore unknown territory and help make it become familiar. But they are an invention.

It’s too easy to slip into autopilot and navigate our every day using our pre-formed maps (either ones we invented earlier, or the ones given to us by others). But when we slow down, become deliberately aware, then we find the territory is richer, more complex, more dynamically changing, than any of the maps led us to believe.

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One February several years ago I was walking along the beach at Royan in the south west of France. The beach is long and wide at that point but there were barely half a dozen people on the beach. It was very cold!

Then I spotted these two old ladies on their beach chairs! Now that’s an impressive piece of planning and preparation!

Who said “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”?

Well I guess these two ladies enjoyed sitting in the sunshine on the beach – while staying cosy – not to bask in the heat, because it wasn’t even warm, nor to get a suntan, except maybe on their faces, nor even to boost their vitamin D levels, because they weren’t exposing their skin.

Nope, they weren’t there for utilitarian reasons. Just because they plainly enjoyed sitting on the beach in the sun.

I was impressed!

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