Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

I saw this woman yesterday standing outside a supermarket in the middle of town. I was struck by the size of the books she was holding, and which she couldn’t resist opening and starting to read. It turns out they are a trilogy of YA fiction by a famous French author, the third volume having just been published, which is maybe what inspired this woman to buy all three.

I understand this compulsion. I’ve always had way too many books on my shelves….well, way too many in the sense that I couldn’t read them all in one lifetime. But that doesn’t stop me buying new ones. Suffice it to say I read a LOT!

I’ve had a fascination for stories all my life. In my earliest years I remember my Grandpa reading to me – he read me all of Walter Scott’s “Tales of a Grandfather” and he read me collections of myths, legends and fairy stories which he bought for me when I was born. My mum used to have a photograph hanging on the wall of her living room. It was a black and white print showing my Grandpa reading in the local library. I guess I got that gene!

I’ve told countless people that when I worked at the NHS Centre for Integrative Care (which I did for the latter two decades of my career), I used to look forward to meeting a new patient every Monday morning because I knew they would tell me a unique story – one I’d never heard before. In fact, story was the very heart of my engagement with these patients who, largely, suffered from long term conditions which had failed to respond to drug treatments.

Did it surprise me that they had failed to respond to drug treatments? Nope. Because there aren’t any drugs for people, there are only drugs for diseases and drugs to suppress symptoms. Drugs don’t heal. At best they create an environment conducive to healing. It turns out it’s people who heal, not drugs. It’s people with self-defending, self-repairing, self-balancing, self-creating and growing interwoven complex systems who heal.

I found that stories were the way to understand a patient. Not symptoms.

I read a piece about a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Karl Deisseroth, yesterday, and in that interview he said

Anybody can read a diagnostic manual and see a list of symptoms, but what really matters to the patient is a different story

see it here

which reminded me of a passage by the English philosopher, Mary Midgely, which I read many years ago –

One cannot claim to know somebody merely because one has collected a pile of printed information about them.

Wisdom, Information and Wonder. Mary Midgley

and of this passage from philosopher Richard Kearney

Telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating. More so, in fact, for while food makes us live, stories are what make our lives worth living.

On Stories. Richard Kearney

In fact, that latter passage came into my head as I took this photo – here’s a woman absorbed in stories, standing next to empty supermarket trolleys and with her back to the stalls of food laid out in front of the shop.

Stories, I found, weren’t just the way to understand a person (to make a diagnosis even), but they were also the way to heal. By helping someone create a new story, I could stimulate that complex of healing systems within them, and spur them on to more than relief from suffering…….More than? Yes, to more self-awareness, more self-compassion, and to a re-evaluation of their life choices, habits and behaviours.

Stories can set us free.

Mind you, it’s also true that we can get trapped by stories – the stuck, multilayered ones we’ve been taught as children, or been brainwashed into believing by others. But even then, the answer, the release, the movement forwards, lies in the creation of new stories……our own, unique stories which allow us to realise our hopes, express our singularity, and live the life we want to lead.

Stories, you see, have a magnetic pull. We don’t live without them.

Read Full Post »

I walked into the courtyard of a temple in Kyoto one day and saw this display of flowers. Well, actually, this first photo is what I saw once I got closer to the display which had caught my attention.

When you look at these flowers, all you see is some flowers. It’s not possible to see the pattern which is revealed only from a distance.

This is what you see when you stand back…

Isn’t this amazing?

Actually, whether you encounter the full image first, then get closer in order to realise that it is constructed from hundreds of flowers, or whether you start close up seeing only the flowers, and gradually stand back to see the full image, the two positions are a huge contrast, aren’t they?

These are the two perspectives we bring to everything. We use the left cerebral hemisphere to zoom in on individual elements. To do that it focuses on parts and identifies them, matching them up to whatever we have previously encountered and categorising them. In this case, it identifies the objects as flowers and labels them according to their colour. But at the same time, we use the right cerebral hemisphere to take in the whole picture, to see whatever we are looking at within its contexts. To do that it focuses on the connections and relationships, and, at the same time brings a heightened awareness for novelty – it homes in on whatever is new, whatever is unique, whatever is special.

You’ll know already from my writing that I believe the principle of “and not or” is a good one in life, and that’s in no small part due to the fact that this is exactly how we have evolved. We don’t have only one way of looking at things. We have multiple ways, and we throw them into the complex mix of reality so that we can do more than perceive the world in which we live, we explore, play, learn and create. We adapt, we grow and we evolve.

I’m very wary of black and white, rigid, fixed, narrow views of reality. The world is richer than any of us can conceive. The universe has more potential than any of us can imagine. And there is much to gain from diversity and tolerance.

Read Full Post »

Does the sky ever surprise you?

That’s a trick question really, because if it doesn’t, I have a hunch that you’re not looking!

The sky often surprises me. Sometimes it catches my attention because it is blue from horizon to horizon, or it is covered in fast moving, rapidly shape-shifting clouds, or because it catches fire and turns crimson as the sun sets. But other times it’s because something appears which I’ve never seen before.

This sort of rainbow is one of those. Two of them appeared at the same time, but in different parts of the sky, a couple of days ago. I guess it’s not really a rainbow because it isn’t a bow and it wasn’t raining! Perhaps it is more like what you would see if light is passed through a prism.

Given the age I am, it might not surprise you that when I think of light passing through prisms I think of the cover of Pink Floyd’s album, “Dark Side of the Moon” (google it, if you don’t know it)

I have a fascination for kaleidoscopes and one day I was in Kyoto and it started to rain quite heavily. We noticed that the building we were passing was called “The Museum of Kaleidoscopes” so we dashed in to get out of the rain. When we signed the visitors book and put our country of origin as “Scotland” the staff all gathered around and excitedly welcomed us. It turns out that the inventor of the kaleidoscope was a Scotsman, Sir David Brewster. Ha! Who knew? Not us! Well, I’ve never seen so many different types of kaleidoscope in my life, and if you ever visit Kyoto, I recommend a visit to that museum. I bought a couple of different types while I was there and I still enjoy looking through them, watching the patterns change before my eyes.

Well, those are some of the thoughts which came up for me as I looked at this colourful, but pretty subtle, display in the sky.

As I look at the image again now it seems that the colours are pouring out of a spout-shaped cloud – and one of my friends said it looked like a rainbow genie escaping from a bottle!

Ooh, I love that! So, have a look at this rainbow genie and make a wish. Let’s see this as a good omen, a symbol of hope, a sign of better days ahead.

Read Full Post »

Wow! Just look at this poppy which has opened up in the garden a couple of days ago. I went in close to take this photo because I think when you look really closely you see an astonishing creation.

This is like a work of art. In fact, who would have imagined something like this if they hadn’t seen a flower before? I was thinking, what if an alien landed on Planet Earth and encountered this poppy, wouldn’t they be utterly amazed?

Actually, I’m not an alien here on Planet Earth but I am totally amazed by this. Look at the details! As well as the gorgeous red petals, right in the centre we can see this rich, dark array of structures which make up the reproductive system of this flower. The thirteen stripes on the seedhead – what are they? And why are there thirteen? Don’t you think thirteen is a strange number?

Honestly, I think you can lose yourself in contemplation of a glorious flower like this. On single plant, one single blossom, totally captivating.

And it won’t be here for long. Within a few days, all the petals will fall to the ground, ultimately only leaving the seedhead behind. I think it’s amazing. I’m transfixed! In fact, a simple, astonishing, utterly beautiful, intricately complex flower like this, can make me lose my sense of boundaries and separateness. I can experience transcendence in moments spent with a flower like this.

I guess we humans have been, and continue to be, pretty blasé and unthinking about the plant kingdom. But without it, none of us would be here. It’s the plants which capture and transform the Sun’s energy. We can’t do that. We eat the plants, or eat the animals which eat the plants, so existing a bit further along that chain of energy transformation to get what we need to survive and thrive.

It’s not just that there is an emerging consensus that plant-based diets are best for us in terms of health, they are best for us in terms of the planet too. I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. But I don’t eat meat every day, and in all the studies I’ve read over the years, time and time again, the conclusions seem to be, if you want a healthy life, and if you want a long life, you could do worse than to limit your meat consumption and move towards a plant-based diet.

There are many many studies now which also show us the benefits to our immune systems, to our inflammatory systems, and to our mental health, of spending time in, and connecting with, the natural world. Primarily, that’s the plant world of trees and flowers. So, it’s not just about seeing plants as a source of nutrition. Engagement with the plant kingdom is good for us every day – noticing, stopping, gazing, contemplating, wondering about, and, especially caring about, flowers, plants, trees is one of the best ways I know to increase the quality of everyday life, and to set yourself up to live as healthily as possible.

Glory to the plant world!

Read Full Post »

What are some of the core characteristics of being human?

Well, this photo reminds me of two of them.

Observe and create.

We are great at observing. When we slow down, take our time, and really pay attention, then we notice details, see connections, discern patterns, understand underlying themes and aspects of reality. I think this is one of our key powers. Yet, too often, we are too busy, or too distracted and life passes us by.

This is maybe one of the best ways I know to improve the quality of every day life – observe – just notice – just pay attention – just become aware. When we interact with whatever we pay attention to, we develop a deeper understanding – a deeper understanding of what we are observing, of reality, and of ourselves.

We have tremendous powers of observation, which entwine perception with analysis, re-cognition and imagination. Observation can spark insights, connect us to meaning, purpose and sense, and so enrich the every day.

We just have to slow down, set our intention, and raise our awareness. And like all strengths and abilities the more we practice those the easier they come to us.

This man is sitting on his traveling chair with paper on his knees, and he is drawing, or painting (I can’t quite remember which). In other words, he is doing more than observing. He’s creating. We are creators. We create all the time. We bring memories and imaginings together to express ourselves, to solve problems, to invent, to make art. We humans have painted on cave walls, constructed great stone circles, and buildings, developed tools and shared our knowledge and skills with each other right from the beginning of our lives on Earth.

I know sometimes we think of creativity as being the reserve of great artists, musicians, poets and so on, but it’s more than that. It’s something we all posses and something we all use every day….whether that’s in cooking, caring, dressing ourselves, nurturing and nourishing, communicating and connecting, or in our ways of thinking. We engage with the world creatively. We make each day, each experience, each moment our own. That takes creativity.

So, here’s a good place to start if you want to increase the quality of your every day life – observe and create.

Read Full Post »

At one point in my life I was reflecting on what I was trying to achieve as a doctor. Maybe that seems an odd statement to you, but I think we fall very easily into routines and paths which we then “live” largely unconsciously. That’s what’s behind my “heroes not zombies” blog title. Whether it’s about saying “an unexamined life is not worth living”, or it’s simply about wanting freedom and autonomy, I’m wary of the automatic pilot approach to life. I want to be aware, to understand and to consciously choose, as much as I can. I want to move from being a zombie, controlled by hidden, and some not so hidden, forces, to being the hero of my own story – the main character, the subject, the one who is living this life.

I’m sure we all go through cycles and phases of self-reflection. For many people there is a peak of this around the age of 40, but, really it can happen any time and at any age. I believe it’s a good thing to pause and reflect from time to time. I think that’s essential to our personal growth.

So, as I reflected on that question which would appear to me from time to time – “what does a doctor do?” – I looked at a spider web like the one above, early one morning as the dew drops sparkled on it, making it all the more beautiful, and revealing both its presence and its structure. What struck me was that whilst there were many elements coming together to make this web appear as it was, that morning, one element, light, suddenly seemed the one I wanted to focus on.

As I played with the words we use which are based on light, I hit upon three which I thought captured some of the most important aspects of my job.

Lighten. In all cases, I saw my job as trying to lighten other’s load. Maybe this was the first, and most important, part of all that I did. My job was to alleviate suffering. When someone left my consulting room, their life should feel a little lighter than it was when they entered. Certainly, it shouldn’t feel darker, and it shouldn’t feel heavier. Even when I’d had to give news of a serious disease. Giving news wasn’t enough. I needed to lighten the burden of that news by increasing how much the person understood, helping them to make more sense of what was happening, and helping them to realise that they were cared for, that they weren’t alone with this.

In fact, “diagnosis” is a big part of that. To me, diagnosis is not simply an act of labelling and categorising. It’s an act of understanding. It’s taking the messy chaos of experience and saying “I recognise this pattern” “I know what’s going on here”. What I found, time and time again, was that the very act of diagnosis lightened the load. Almost universally people start to feel better once they have a sense that they know what they are dealing with. Understanding, in my experience, shines a light.

Brighten. But then I thought, that’s not enough. Well, maybe it’s enough for some people who will go off with their new understanding and deal with it in their own way, but for many patients, I could do more. I could start to relieve the suffering, but I could also begin to help them build the positives in their life. I could help to actually brighten their days, both by giving reasonable hope, and by establishing an ongoing relationship of care focused on identifying and supporting their inner strengths, and teaching, coaching and enabling them to begin to grow in the light of this illness. This was a kind of turning a negative into a potential positive, because I’d find that for many of us, an illness was telling us something. It was suggesting that we should change something. And that required a development of strengths and skills.

Enlighten. In some cases, that work went to a whole other level. Someone would get nothing short of a revelation. They would suddenly understand the origins of their suffering, and they would gradually become aware of their own thought patterns, their own behaviours, and of the conditions in which they were living which were impacting on them so adversely, and they would say “That’s it. I’m changing.” Not just they would change some habit or other, but they would change direction. Get out of a toxic relationship. Leave a soul crushing job. Enter into education or training, or take the leap to begin something their heart had longed for, for many years. It was like they had a sudden enlightenment and said “I’m not going to live my life this way any more. I’m going to choose this other path instead”.

So, there I had it. My three light-based verbs. Lighten, brighten and enlighten. And of course, what happened from there? I applied those same three verbs to myself. That’s how I made the biggest changes in my life…..seeking some understanding which would lighten my load, turning towards positives, strengths, and emotions like joy, awe and wonder to brighten my days, and thinking outside the box I’d built, to change direction in the bright light of enlightenment.

Read Full Post »

My daughter, Amy Palko, who produces a knitting blog on youtube, entitled “The Meaningful Stitch” did a poetry advent in the month of December with one of her online friends from the knitting community, Jackie, of Cady Jax Knits. You can find their videos here

One of the things they discussed was creating a personal anthology of your favourite poems. I thought that was a great idea and got out this handmade notebook which my wife, Hilary, had created and given to me, and started writing some of my favourite poems in it.

I think it’s important to actually write the poems in, not to print them out from the internet and paste them in, though, if that would work better for you, then go ahead. I find that taking the time to hand write each poem enhances my experience of the poem itself.

I keep this notebook on my desk beside my computer and from time to time I read a poem or two, or I copy in another poem that I really love.

I really recommend this. It’s one of those practices which takes something meaningful and enjoyable – in this case poetry reading – and increases the time and attention you give to the poems you select. In the process you create a unique collection of exactly the “best” poems for you.

If you’ve read a few of my posts on this blog, I’m sure you’ll be aware of how Iain McGilchrist’s thesis on the differences between the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Well, if he’s right, which I think he is, then there is an imbalance for each of us, and for our wider societies, between the approaches, the world views, or the ways of engaging with reality, which each hemisphere offers us. We have become left brain dominant, and it would be much better to use our whole brain more, and re-set the balance, to put the right brain back in its rightful role as “The Master” and use the left brain “Emissary” to do what it does best. Since I came to understand that thesis, I’ve been more aware of trying to support and develop what the right hemisphere can bring to my life.

Well, there are many ways to do that, but I’ll just share three with you here.

The right brain loves novelty and finding connections, so as I practise curiosity and the sense of “émerveillement du quotidien” I’m building up the right hemisphere.

The second thing is music. The right brain relishes music – both creating music and listening to music. I play music a lot. Mostly I listen to music, but I also try to play a bit of piano and guitar from time to time. Music is very personal and what I like, you might not like, but I’ve recently discovered Paradise Radio, a commercial free, internet radio station from the US, and I love, love, love it. You can select between “main mix”, “mellow mix”, “rock mix” or “world mix”. Check it out.

The third thing I’ve identified is poetry. We activate our right hemispheres a lot when we read and write poetry. More so than we do when reading stories, or articles.

So, there are my three daily practices, which I hope lead to development of a more whole brain way of living……curiosity, music and poetry.

Read Full Post »

Look at this amazing pattern left on the sand by the action of the water after the tide has gone out again at the beach.

When you look at this you know immediately that the sand has been shaped by the water, although, to be honest, I don’t understand how water manages to make such intricate patterns like this on the sand. Maybe somebody does!

There are other striking patterns on the wet sand at the beach, some clearly made by plant material, seaweed I expect, and some obviously from the imprints of shells, some little worm-shaped piles caused by burrowing creatures throwing up the sand behind them, and often many footprints of birds which have run across the beach.

What impresses me most about all these patterns is that they are the traces left by some activities which occurred a little while ago. They are the evidence of the past imprinted on the present. That reminds me of how we are shaped by the events and experiences of our lives. Our encounters with others change us. Our experiences don’t just create memories, they set up patterns of chemical, electrical and cellular response in our bodies.

We can become aware of some of that in bodily changes, from tightenings of muscles, to changes in heart rate and breathing, to sweating and trembling, and so on, usually before we are even aware that we reacting to something.

I spent much of my career working with patients who had chronic, long-standing illnesses, and we could often make some sense of what was going on by teasing out the threads and themes which ran through their stories over many years. It certainly wasn’t always the case, but sometimes the actual disease and its precise location in the body was clearly related to the body’s responses to events or experiences long forgotten.

It’s pretty clear to me that just as the movement of the water shapes the sand in the way you can see in this photo, so do our experiences and relationships shape us. Realising that makes me want to be more aware of my own actions and words. It makes me want to choose to spread constructive, supportive and creative waves in the world. After all, whatever we do, whatever we say or write, has effects far beyond the limits we could imagine.

Read Full Post »

Last time I went to the coast was about a month ago, and the time before that was probably about a year ago…..because of the restrictions on movements due to the pandemic. So, when I went I was struck by just how much had changed. There had obviously been high tides and storms and the whole area between the beach and the dunes which lead to the forest had been completely reshaped by nature. Gone were the wooden walkways, and gone were the slopes down to the sand, replaced with steep, cliff-like edges which were impossible to traverse.

This photo here is of a the coast much further south from here, but looking at it again today I was struck by the evident power and activity of the sea, and the shaping of the rock.

We tend to dismiss rock as something static, but you only need to have a long enough interval between visits to see more clearly just how much it changes. On this particular cliff you can so many layers. When we walk on the layer of soil over the rock we aren’t aware there are so many layers beneath us.

I like the image of the layers, partly because I think they act as a metaphor for our life experience. Beneath the surface of our conscious daily behaviour and character lie layer upon layer of memories, emotions, ideas, beliefs and values. The layers constantly shift on each other and every day we lay down new ones. Every layer has an effect on the others and the totality of them all shape and influence our perception, our world view and our responses to daily events.

This particular cliff seems to have the shape of a face. Do you see that? Our brains are great at seeing faces….we even see them where there aren’t any present! Like here! That’s partly because social connections, relationships and the ability to interpret the inner lives of others is so, so important to we humans.

Then I look at the sea, and it isn’t a quiet, passive sea. It’s full of energy. It’s constantly shaped by the winds, the tides and the energies carried across oceans in the water’s own version of layers. Maybe the layers in water don’t look like the ones in rock, but they are layers, all the same, each with their own ecosystems and each in constant interaction with the others.

The water and the rock are also in constant communication, also permanently changing and shaping each other, which is what life is like for all of us too. We are constantly being changed and shaped by our environments and by others, and, in turn we are constantly shaping them.

So, that brings me back to why I’m sharing these photos and these reflections. I hope to put something positive out into the world. I hope to send out energies, emotions, perceptions, and thoughts which will touch you, dear reader, and stir something creative, something delightful, in your life today.

Read Full Post »

We planted a little fig tree a few years ago. It grew very quickly, didn’t produce much fruit the first year, produced more the next year, and here we are this year with what looks like is going to be bumper crop.

Abundance.

Maybe that’s not a word we think of on a daily basis, but maybe we should. For many reasons we are in the habit of living with a scarcity mindset. We feel we never have enough, we are always lacking something.

Whole economic systems and societies have been constructed on the foundation of the scarcity mindset. Already, even before this pandemic is over, you’ll read economists and politicians saying what we need now is to get people out to the shops and start buying. Buying what? Stuff. Doesn’t matter what. Just consume more, buy more, get more, have more.

And then what? All will be well?

Advertisers stir up discontent and desire, trying to convince us that unless we buy what they are selling our lives will be empty, devoid, incomplete. Trying to convince us every day that we lack…..

What do we lack?

Whatever they are selling.

But what if we lived with an abundance mindset instead? What if we realised that the universe had created the ideal conditions for Life to emerge? What if we realised that Planet Earth has evolved to allow Life to proliferate?

The issue isn’t one of scarcity. It’s one of uneven and unequal access. We could create societies where everyone had access to clean air, clean water, healthy food, comfortable homes, caring relationships, satisfying work.

Couldn’t we?

I just don’t believe the issue is scarcity. Because the universe didn’t just create the conditions for Life to emerge. It sustains Life. It develops Life. It proliferates Life.

I find that when I get in touch with an abundance mindset, I feel more gratitude. And gratitude is good for both mental and physical health. It’s one of the easiest and best things we can do – start a gratitude journal, and note down two or three things daily for which we feel grateful.

I find that when I get in touch with an abundance mindset, it opens my heart to others. It makes me more likely to be generous, kind and tolerant.

I find that when I get in touch with an abundance mindset it’s easier to enjoy the present moment, anxieties and fears start to settle, and creativity begins to flow.

I know that there is a lot of poverty, hunger, violence, cruelty and greed in this world. But I believe it can be different. Not least because we live in an abundant universe.

Is it hard to imagine a better world? Is it hard to believe we have the skills, the abilities, the knowledge and enough love in our hearts to make it happen? What do we need to make it happen? Intention, desire, determination and patience? If we bring those to bear with an abundance mindset, who knows what we could achieve?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »