Archive for August, 2022

The Midnight Library

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig is my favourite book of the year so far (I know it was published back in 2020, what I mean is my personal favourite of all the books I’ve read this year so far).

The story centres around the multiverse hypothesis, with the lead character choosing different books in the library she finds herself in after she dies. Each book allows her to experience one of the alternative parallel universes which spooled out with each particular choice she makes in life.

There’s one book she keeps coming back to which is The Book of Regrets. This book gets thinner each time as each alternative life allows her to let go of regrets about paths not taken.

I find this story really thought provoking, challenging me to think about the place of regrets in life as well as about all those “if only….” lives we often think about.

But what I liked best about it is how it gradually built up the insight that every day is full of potential and every one of us, similarly, is full of potential.

Because by the end of this story I’m thinking “why not?” Why not imagine, not paths not taken in the past, but just how abundant are the many different paths which still lie ahead?

Because it’s TODAY when I have access to the multiplicity of potentials in the rest of my life. Just imagine what some of them might be!

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For your eyes only

What are you seeing today?

Only you can tell the world because nobody else sees exactly what you see, hears exactly what you hear, touches, tastes or smells what you experience today.

We bring our whole selves into every single daily experience. My present moment is rich with my memories and impacts of past experiences. My present moment contains a multiplicity of possible futures only I can imagine.

Every one of us is truly unique.

If I want to know what you are experiencing I have to listen attentively and non-judgementally to what you tell me. Machines are not a substitute. Blood tests, scans, can’t tell me what it’s like to be you.

Listening empathically is the only way to understand the experience of the other.

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Poetry, music, art

This is one of my favourite photos. I took it one evening in the Plaza de Ana in Madrid. In the middle of the square is this statue of the poet, Lorca. I had noticed some parts of the statue seemed highly polished, the consequence of the touch of thousands of hands over many years. I then noticed that lots of children seemed drawn to this statue.

Look at this little girl. How affectionate, how gentle, how delighted, she is, giving Lorca a cuddle.

How many statues have you seen where people, especially children, interact with it this way? Quite extraordinary. And the fact that this is a statue of an artist, a poet, playwright and composer makes this all the more wonderful.

To be fully human we need the creative arts in our lives.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll be familiar with the theory of left and right hemisphere imbalance, (if you’re new here, hi, welcome! Put “hemisphere” into the search box, top right of the home page, and have a browse through what comes up).

We use our right hemisphere when we listen to music, when we read poetry and when we focus on the personal, so one way to get a better balance might be to read more poetry and listen to more music. And, hey, even if you don’t accept the hemisphere theory, I reckon you can still improve the quality of everyday life by setting aside some time to enjoy poetry and music.

Let’s celebrate our poets, musicians and artists. They change lives for the better. They help our society to be more human.

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Creativity and art

The dominant mind set for a long time has been a materialist rationalist one. In this way of thinking roads, flyovers and bridges are built right through the middle of cities “to enable vehicles to cross the city quickly and easily”. Whilst this might make sense logically and functionally it often dehumanises living spaces, creating ugly “redundant” areas which degrade the lived environment.

Here’s a photo of some beautiful wall art painted under an urban roadway in the city of Bilbao. I suppose a materialist functionalist urban planner would say “what’s the point?” But I think art like this is beautiful and is a great example of that human characteristic of creativity and artistic expression.

I’m greatly saddened to hear that universities are closing down Humanities departments and that one Tory leadership candidate has said he’ll close any university course which doesn’t lead to graduates making a significant income within six months of leaving university.

These developments seem barbaric to me. They deny what it is to be fully human. If we reduce education to training for jobs with salaries of a certain size, and if we make our decisions about the lived environment on the basis of short term materialist goals then we will experience more and more dehumanisation of society.

Can’t we have a richer, more beautiful, more compassionate view of what it is to be human? I think we need to shift our emphasis away from this narrow, limited agenda if we’re going to create a better world which will enable more people to do more than survive – to enable them to grow and to flourish.

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I find webs fascinating. It astonishes me that a single spider can spin such a creation with her own skill and with material produced by her own body. I’m especially drawn to the webs which are bejewelled with water droplets. But this one is quite different from all of those.

You might have to look more carefully, or to zoom in, but you can see rainbows of colour in this web. It’s acting as a kind of prism or crystal and revealing the colour spectrum which makes up the light of our world.

It’s a colour catcher. Or a colour revealer. Or a light catcher and revealer.

Light is such a fundamental part of life but for much of the time we’re not that aware of it. Perhaps we are most aware of it when it’s not there…when we are in the dark. Or most aware of it when a small amount of it appears in the dark, the way we can spot a lit window or a car’s headlights from far, far away, at night.

Or perhaps we become aware of it when it’s intense….when we have to shade or close our eyes, put on dark glasses, or pull down a visor.

But mostly I think we become aware of light when it changes, when a cloud moves in front of, or away from, the Sun. We are instinctively drawn to sunsets and sunrises where the changing light is most dramatic and often most colourful.

There are other times we are aware of the light, times associated with particular places. How many artists have sought out places such as towns on the coast in the South of France “because of the quality of the light”?

When are you most aware of the light? When and where?

And why not consciously notice the light somewhere today? Where did it catch your attention? Where did your attention catch the light?

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We are in the midst of historically high temperatures here in South West France. The ground is parched and cracked, the grass has turned brown and crispy, the water in the “source” is so low it’s no longer flowing over into the Roman aqueduct.

This week we have several days where the temperature reaches 38 degrees centigrade and there are restrictions on water usage. As you might imagine it’s hard, often impossible to keep plants in the garden alive in such circumstances.

Yet as I crossed the crackling grass yesterday I noticed a splash of purple and green. I stopped, knelt down, and took this photo.

As a Scot, it made me a little proud to recognise this hardy wee plant was a thistle. And I was delighted to see it not just grow but flourish in such adversity.

Seeing this one plant reminded me of the astonishing powers of resilience and adaptation which are so characteristic of Life. It’s like when you see a flowering weed growing in a tiny crack in the pavement. You stop and wonder at its opportunism, at how it can turn so little in such adverse circumstances into something beautiful.

It also reminded me how this world is complex and diverse. We should always be wary of sweeping generalisations which exclude the individual experiences. Different plants respond to similar conditions differently.

It’s the same for human beings. Even in the same time and place we all respond differently. Every one of us is unique.

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Morning dew

Look at these beautiful sparkling drops of water adorning this flower like jewels. This is morning dew and it fascinates me.

Where do these water droplets come from? They just appear “out of thin air”. Isn’t that a strange phrase? What’s “thin” about air? Anyway, the point is, all the water which is sparkling now was invisible in the air until it appeared on the plant. In other words, it was already present in the air. It was just invisible.

It’s quite magical isn’t it? It enchants me, delights me and sparks my natural reaction of wonder. It gets me wondering about how the everyday phenomena of life come into being, exist for a short while, then disappear again. Because within a short period of time all these droplets will evaporate. The water will become invisible again.

It fascinates me that modern physics has moved on from the atomistic model of material being made up of indivisible solid pieces – atoms which join together to make molecules which join together to create unconnected solid objects – to a concept of energy fields which vibrate. Every atom is an interaction of energy fields flickering in and out of existence.

As Physicist, Carlo Rovelli, puts it, in his “Reality is Not What it Seems”…..

“It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.”

“The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

As I stumble across this sparkling plant I’m privileged to be participating in an event, not standing “outside” gazing at an “object”.

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Celtic knots

I was born in Scotland and lived there for the first sixty years of my life. So these Celtic designs are very, very familiar to me. They aren’t quite a symbol in the way a Christian crucifix or the Asian yin yang symbol, but they have the power of a symbol for me. They are more than just a design or a pattern.

For me they convey two fundamental characteristics of reality – interconnectedness and flow.

You can’t see a start or a finish in any of these typical Celtic motifs – whether you look at a small one, such as the three loop structure on the horizontal arms of this cross, or at the larger ones which cover the uprights. You can start anywhere, follow with your eyes, or trace with a finger, and you’ll eventually end up back where you started.

This demonstrates a third feature of reality. The constant flow along a completely interconnected system produces a rhythm of cycles, or of seasons. It inspires me to think of both dynamic complexity and non-linearity, both of which are key to understanding living creatures.

The smaller designs on this cross are three interwoven loops, and this motif of a triad is very, very common in Celtic art. In fact they have a special name – a triskele. Google that word and see how many variations there are.

I’m particularly fond of the triskele – it speaks to me of wholistic perspectives, of body, mind and spirit, something which is at the heart of my understanding of human beings and human health.

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Be more natural

One of the most amazing, wonderful sights in the world is where you see the perfect co-evolution of two entirely different species – a particular bird and a particular flower. The perfectly shaped beak to get nectar out of a perfectly shaped flower.

This is one of Nature’s most important lessons – integration – the formation of mutually beneficial bonds. Both parties in the relationship benefit. They aren’t competing with each other.

Doctors often say their best teachers are there patients and I’d agree with that but before I encountered patients I was taught about the human body – the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry of the body – and there’s where I return to find my teacher – the human body.

The essence of a healthy body is integration – the well differentiated parts…..cells, organs and tissues, working in perfect harmony with each other through the creation of mutually beneficial bonds.

So here’s my question – why don’t we create our societies in the same way? The more we create mutually beneficial bonds with each other, the healthier we will all be.

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We are complex adaptive systems. So are all living organisms. So is every ecosystem. So is our planet. So is our universe.

One of the characteristic features of a complex adaptive system is an attractor. An attractor organises the flows which surround it, whether they be flows of energy or molecules.

Three kinds of attractors have been described. Point attractors, which look a bit like what you see in this photo. They are a single point of attraction, pulling everything around towards it, creating the impression of a drain, a hole, a dent, or a single magnetic pole. Loop attractors have two points, often polar opposites and whatever comes within their sphere of influence develops dual or oscillating states. The third kind is called a Strange or Chaos attractor. These have multiple interacting points of attraction creating immensely complex, even chaotic patterns within their domains.

Ok, this is an over simplification. You can probably read whole textbooks on complex systems and their attractors. However I’ve often found this to be a useful model for understanding some of the phenomena of Life, of health and of illness.

There’s no doubt that we, or parts of us, can get trapped going round and round the same circuit of habit again and again. Or we can experience swings back and forth from one pole to another, from highs to lows, from hyper to hypo, and back again. And from time to time we feel lost, trapped in chaos, unable to make sense of our experience or to escape it.

Understanding these patterns and, if possible, uncovering the events, experiences or traumas which created the attractors, helps us to break free, to move on, or to create our own more liberating, more joyful, more creative attractors to organise our lives around.

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