Archive for July, 2022


I found this in the forest yesterday. One of Nature’s serendipitous creations. I was struck by how delicate and beautiful the feather and the leaf were together.

The feather is soft and downy. An early feather, lost before it develops into a stronger, longer lasting one, perhaps? Or shed to be replaced by a more mature one? I don’t know, but it makes me thinking of an early chapter in a life story.

The leaf has fallen as it is browning. There are still traces of green chlorophyll but the leaf has been damaged by the intense heat of the sun, or has otherwise reached a late chapter in a life story.

Early and late, finding themselves together, at the same place, at the same time.

Both speak to me of transience. Of how all lives flow through stages of birth, growth and withering. Of how nothing stays the same. Of how every living form manifests itself as if appearing from nowhere, the life force pushing us from formlessness to material existence. But only briefly. Soon dissolving back into the one-ness from which we emerged.

Transience is a key feature of what makes something beautiful according to Eastern values. I learned that in Japan where they celebrate the cherry blossom every year.

No two feathers, no two leaves, share an identical life story. Although similar to other feathers and leaves, every one is unique and I’ll only find these two particular ones together at this very moment. A gift. A present. A moment to slow down, admire, and wonder. Special.

What an astonishingly wonderful, transient life we live.

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The forest

I’m no gardening expert. I’m not even very knowledgeable about plants. But I love spending time in natural environments. As I’ve got older I’ve become ever more interested in the vegetable kingdom.

Back in my teens and twenties I was interested in ecology, joining Friends of the Earth, and reading books like “Limits to Growth”. Then as a GP I became a member of the British Holistic Medical Association, following a direction of travel towards holistic care with more of a focus on human beings than on the rest of the natural environment. I began to learn homeopathy in my thirties and as many of the remedies were prepared from plants those studies furthered my interest in and knowledge of ethnobotany.

Well, now in my sixties, I have a garden which has a wooded area. It’s really not big enough to be called a forest but I’m calling it one all the same! It’s very, very overgrown with ivy, brambles and creepers, but I’ve already forged some paths by cutting back and removing tangles of thorns, then mowing a route through the ivy. I’ve planted a few shade loving plants and here’s one of the first to flower – a wood anemone. Isn’t it beautiful?

My little forest is bringing me great joy. Some days it’s hard work, other days sit on a lounger in a clearing, listen to the birds and watch the branches of the trees high above swaying in the breeze.

Maybe I’ll learn a bit more botany and horticulture, maybe even learn more about the relationships between certain plants and human beings, but, mainly, this is a space which nourishes me.

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Have you ever grown a pumpkin? They can be the most incredibly prolific plants. From a single seed they throw out feelers and spread in every direction until they find some walls to climb up.

Here and there along the way they put down more roots and throw up ever bigger leaves. One plant can produce several pumpkins.

I can’t believe just how much and how quickly they can grow.

But sometimes the seed doesn’t sprout or the plant doesn’t thrive. As best I can tell it depends on the circumstances. If you tend to the soil, adding nutrients from good compost, and if the weather conditions are favourable, the plant thrives. Without that, it doesn’t.

I’ve often wondered about that in relation to how we doctors treat our patients. Modern Medicine has developed along a technological fix it trajectory. We isolate problems then try to directly counter them. But the truth is that healing is always a natural process. Drugs don’t heal. Surgery doesn’t heal. At best they reduce the impact of a problem enabling the body to get on with what it does best – self repair, self regulation, self healing.

The only way I know to promote healing directly is by paying attention, to both the patient and their circumstances. To help them find and experience what stimulates and supports self healing – time spent in Nature, forest bathing, good nutrition, hope, care and love. But they didn’t teach me that in Medical School.

If we want healthier populations we have to address poverty and environmental issues. We have to address poor housing, hostile social environments and job insecurity. We have to address food production. We have to address loneliness and stress. In other words we have to tend to the circumstances if we want the people to thrive.

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Shadows and maps

As I looked at the moon I noticed that the clouds which drifted by made what seemed like shadows passing over the moon’s surface.

As I look at this again I think it looks like a globe with the shapes resembling perhaps North and South America.

As we gaze at the moon I think we often drift into reveries. The Moon stirs our imagination and conjures up images and stories.

What do you see when you look at this photo? Does it inspire you….perhaps to draw, to paint, to write a poem or tell a story?

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Isn’t it wonderful to stand on a beach looking out over an ocean? There is such an incredible variety of colours to see, and the water is never still, so the swells, the waves, the breaking surf, all contribute to a dynamic spectacle of constant movement.

I can be transfixed by the shapes which appear and disappear. I can be transfixed by the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. The ebb and flow sounds like breathing to me and, unconsciously, I align my breath to that of the ocean. I tune in to the harmonies of the never ending sea.

I especially like an ocean view where I can see no islands, no coastlines, all the way to the horizon. And as I gaze at the horizon I think of how people used to wonder if that was the edge of the world. Once we learned that this little planet was like a sphere we sailed with increasing confidence towards an edge which couldn’t be reached.

There isn’t an edge. The ocean just keeps going.

But when we mapped out the world we split the water up into separate oceans and seas. This one is The Atlantic.

I start to wonder, where does the Atlantic begin and end? Where are the edges? Where’s the edge, the border, between the Atlantic and the North Sea? Or between the Atlantic and the Pacific? You get the idea…..

There are no edges between the oceans and seas. We humans just made them up. They aren’t visible. We’ve made up a lot of edges, borders and limits, we humans….the borders on land are just as imaginary as the ones on the oceans, on lakes and in rivers.

The reality is everything in this planet is connected and everything flows into everything else – ignoring the imaginary edges.

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When I retired from medical practice in 2014 I sold my flat and moved to France. A long time ago I decided I would like to spend part of my life living in a different country, immersed in a different culture, from that of my native Scotland. We had taken many family holidays in France over the years and I fell in love with the country. I enjoyed the food and wine, the pace of life in the countryside and the language.

It was a huge move but I thought of it as a kind of mixture of an adventure and a way to develop and grow (the opposite of what many people envisage about later years in life which can easily become about the world getting ever smaller).

There have been many challenges and learning the French language is certainly a project for the rest of my life. I continue to learn skills I never knew I’d need and daily life is filled with new discoveries, delights and wonders.

There’s something remarkable about living in a different culture and language. It opens up whole new dimensions to life, completely different ways to see the world, and challenges many beliefs and values which I had adopted unconsciously.

Maybe one of the most important things I’d say about spending part of life in another country and culture is that it inspires me to appreciate difference over preference. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes I’m asked which I prefer – Scotland or France – and my answer is I don’t have a preference. I continue to enjoy and value both countries. I don’t think France is a “better” country than Scotland and I don’t think Scotland is a “better” country than France.

There’s no doubt my life is richer, bigger, and deeper because I’ve made this move. I will always be an advocate of “freedom of movement”, and will always extol the benefits of migration, which, let’s face it, is something we humans have done from the earliest days of our emergence in planet Earth.

Here’s the key though – it’s about integration – building new, different, mutually beneficial relationships and bonds.

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Ripples in stone

Yesterday I wrote about ripples on the surface of water and how they emerge from the turbulence which appears as flow meets resistance, and how that resistance is an integral part of the flow itself.

When we look at water we see change happening right before our eyes so it’s easy to be aware of flow and turbulence. But what you see here in this photo looks like a very similar pattern. Very similar because these are very similar processes – the result of the interaction between flow and resistance.

Flow, change, and the emergence of patterns all occur much more slowly in stone than they do in water….but it’s just the timescale which is different.

This is one of my favourite stones because as well as revealing the underlying principles of flow and resistance, it focuses my mind on how massively interconnected the universe is. It boggles my mind to think of the individual atoms produced in the furnaces of distant stars which ended up on our little planet and combined to make this particular stone.

It also reminds me of the ridiculous over simplicity at the heart of understanding our world as made up of separate objects each the result of a single chain of cause and effect.

Reality isn’t like that.

Instead we see and experience events which emerge from the vastly interconnected web of all that is. The connections are non linear. The system is open, not closed. So there are no utterly separate objects and there is no simple chain of cause and effect.

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Light on water. Isn’t it mesmerising? Water has fascinated we humans for centuries. The constantly changing shapes which appear on the surface are an art form, and a metaphor for all of Life. Schelling wrote….

Think of a stream, which is itself pure identity. Where it meets resistance, it fiend an eddy. This eddy has no permanence, but it is constantly disappearing and reappearing. Originally nothing in Nature is differentiated; all that she produces is at that point unseen and dissolved in the general productive potential. Only when there are points of resistance are Nature’s products gradually precipitated out, emerging from the general identity. At every such point, the flow is broken up…but at each moment he swell renews, and fills the sphere afresh.

I’ve been fascinated by both concept and phenomena of flow for a long time. I’ve often explained how it seems to me that we are all like waves which appear on the surface of the ocean of Life, manifesting as unique, different beings for very short periods of time before we are reabsorbed back into the Flow.

I’ve also been convinced for a long time of the idea of a vital force, not as a mysterious invisible entity, but as the very life energy within which we all exist.

But I haven’t really properly considered the issue of resistance. This image, and Schelling’s observation, make me think about it more seriously. The principle is recognition of how resistance occurs within the flow itself. It needn’t involve any obstacles. Isn’t this a fascinating idea?

All that exists emerges from the flow as the flow itself interacts with its own existence.

Life is inseparable from the Universe. Everything is a unique, temporary emergence within the whole. Everything really is inextricably interconnected.

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Our worlds

Look closely and you’ll see who has woven this web.

Webs fascinate me. I love when they sparkle when covered in morning dew, and I love when they catch the light this way.

Water and light together make the webs much more visible. I notice that every morning as I walk through the garden spider webs tickle my face and arms, but unless the sun is shining in the right direction I don’t see any webs at all.

When I look at this spider sitting in the middle of her creation I am astonished by her abilities. She inspires me and sets off a train of thought about how we create our own worlds.

Every one of us weaves a web of relationships, experiences, stories, thoughts and feelings around us every moment of every day. We co-create the reality of our daily existence.

Every one of our webs is unique. I hope yours sparkles and gleams today.

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How little we know

Butterflies amaze me. When I see one flying in the garden I am astonished by their flight. They seem to fly in such irregular, even random, ways. You just can’t tell where they will go next. However they also fly with fantastic accuracy, landing exactly on a particular flower to suck up its nectar. When you see two or more of them flying together they seem to dance around each other at great speed without crashing into each other.

The colours and patterns on their wings are beautiful and I was amazed to read that the colours are created by a sort of prism effect in their structure, not by pigments! At least, if I understand it correctly, that’s true of iridescent ones.

When I get a chance to look at one up close I marvel at the shape and form of them. If you were to try and imagine an alien creature nobody had ever seen before would you come up with something as elaborate or complex as this?

And I can’t see a butterfly without thinking of how radically different it is in each of its life stages. Does anyone understand how it undergoes such profound metamorphoses?

Beautiful and awe inspiring. Such common yet such extraordinary creatures. They delight me and make me so aware of the limits of human knowledge. How little we know about the everyday world we live in.

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