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Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

I remember how surprised I was to discover how the days of the week share a naming tradition across many languages. The key to understanding the links is to see how each language attributes the same planets to the same days.

Starting with Sunday, the sequence is the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. It’s consistent across many, many languages. Learning a little about the symbolism and mythology of each of the planets allows us to create a rich daily experience with a different theme, or focus, for each day of the week. Try it for yourself. Get yourself a notebook or diary and pick a theme related to each planet and note the themes for each day, then return to that theme throughout that day and see how it colours your experience.

I have since felt quite frustrated that the same principle can’t be applied to the months of the year. Not only are the names of the months not shared through the various languages of the world, but the European model isn’t even based on a consistent naming system. Some of the months are named after Gods, like March, named after Mars, some are named after Roman Caesars, like July and August, and others just get a number, as we see in October through to December. I don’t like it! It feels clumsy and inconsistent. Especially in the light of the names of the days.

I’ve looked around but haven’t found any alternative naming system. What was I looking for? Well, a set of names which had symbolic or mythical meanings, as we have with the days of the week, so that I could play with the themes each month which related to those symbols.

So I came up with my own set of themes, one for each month of the year. Here they are, each one with a sentence or two to explain why I came up the particular theme for the specific month.

January is the start of the new calendar year. It’s named after Janus who faced both forwards and backwards, and can be symbolically represented by a gate. At a gate, we stand on a threshold, about to step from one place to another. January is like this. It’s the time of taking an overview of the year, of starting a new calendar, a new diary, a new journal. It’s a time of reflections and resolutions, looking back at the year just finished and forward to the one beginning.

February has Valentine’s Day right in the middle, but why restrict this loving theme to only one day? How about making February the month of acts of loving kindness?

March is named after Mars, the God of War, or, perhaps more positively, of strength and power. This would be a good month to pay attention to your personal autonomy and your strengths. Maybe a good time to explore the “Signature Strengths” of the Positive Psychologists.

April is the month of the tree blossoms. In Japan, it’s the month of the annual appearance of the Cherry Blossom. This month is a month to celebrate transience. As we celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of transient blossoms, we become aware of the transience of everything in life, not something to fear, but something which enhances our appreciation of every moment. It’s a time to celebrate and enjoy what we have for just a short time.

May is the month of the flowering buds. It’s a time when Nature reveals some of her potential. Make this the month you do that too. Make May the time to wonder about what may come to pass, to imagine how things in your life can flourish.

June is the month of midsummer. The month with the longest day. This can be the month to celebrate the light.

July is the beginning of the second half of the year and for many, is the beginning of the holiday season. This is a month to consider rest. A time to take a break, to pause, relax, and take it easy for a while.

August is “Le Grand Depart” in France, the month when everyone sets off to have a holiday somewhere. To get there, they have to travel. It’s good to enjoy your home, but it’s also good to broaden your outlook by travelling and discovering other places.

September tends to be the start of the academic year. Schools, colleges, universities begin their year here. But you don’t need to be a student to learn. We can all learn throughout our whole lives. What would you like to learn this year? Are there any courses you’d like to take? This is the month to plan and begin new skills and new knowledge.

October is a month of berries. It’s a time of fruition. Maybe this is a good month to celebrate that aspect of life? A time to enjoy what’s come to fruition. A time of congratulation.

November can be a time to reflect as the year draws towards its end. This reflection can be on any, or all, aspects of your life. How is your year going? How are you?

December is the month for gratitude and giving. What are you grateful for, and how could you give to others?

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I get the chance to see a lot of lovely sunsets in this part of the world. I find them compelling. Every time. I just catch a glimpse of pink in the sky and I’m up looking out the window for a better look, then, as often as not, picking up my camera and heading out to the bottom of the garden.

Well, the other evening there, I just framed the shot, but as I pressed the camera shutter release I slipped a bit. When I checked the LCD screen at the back of the camera I could see the picture was very, very blurred, but decided to keep it and look more closely once I’d uploaded it onto my computer.

Look what I saw…..!

Well, I know, you could argue this is a mistake. You could argue that I failed to capture the sunset as it “really” was. But I absolutely love it.

See how the red colour pours over the vineyards as if it is a pink fog (there wasn’t any fog there.)!

It’s like a painting….a watercolour with the water seeping over the canvas.

It seems transcendent to me – transcendent in the sense that the boundaries are dissolving. There are no hard edges. No barriers. No limitations. It looks fluid, flowing, dynamic, evolving before my eyes.

I started by thinking I’d made a mistake.

But it turns out I’d made something unique. Something I’d never made before. Something very, very pleasing.

What does that say about “perfection”?

What does that say about “creativity”?

What does that say about “serendipity”?

When I saved the image to my hard drive I started to name it, and, without really stopping to think or consider, I named it “Red shift”.

PS that title takes me right back to 1974 and album by Peter Hammill….The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage

Funny the way the mind works…….

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Maps…..representing the world by making maps is one of the most characteristic skills we humans possess.

We don’t just draw maps on paper, but we make them inside our heads. Dan Seigel, who wrote “Mindsight” says we create three particular maps in the most forward part of our brains – the prefrontal cortex. He says we make a “me map”, a “you map” and a “we map”. He means we have an image, a pattern, or some other form of representation in our minds by which we recognise ourselves, the people we meet, and the relationships we have with them. These maps do more than allow us to recognise ourselves and others, they enable us to navigate our way around them. They help us predict, plan and choose which actions to take.

I don’t know about you but I LOVE maps. There’s something magical about them. I love to see maps over the ages which reveal how we have come to make sense of the world. So, when I was in Tordesillas, Spain, earlier this year I was delighted to find a whole host of astonishing maps in the Museo del Tratado de Tordesillas.

Look at this one, pictured above, it’s part of the Quesques Abraham map, otherwise known as the Catalan Atlas, from 1375. These first couple of sections depicts the world around the Mediterranean. You’ll probably recognise the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula, the land we now call Italy, the North of Africa and so on. It’s pretty fascinating but it’s typical of the kind of geographical maps with which we are familiar. I think the Catalan Atlas gets even more interesting in the next set of panels –

This is the world to the East of the Med. The physical structures are way less recognisable, and that’s largely due to the fact that the world to East of the Med wasn’t known very well in those days. In fact, this section of the map is drawn from stories. It’s drawn from the stories of Marco Polo and other explorer/adventurers who travelled in the East and then wrote their travel journals, and from stories told in religious texts and passed down in various oral traditions.

I don’t think I’ve seen a map created that way before.

A map made from stories!

But then, I thought, isn’t that exactly what we do when we create these “inner maps”? The “me map”, the “you map” and the “we map” that Dan talks about?

So, I wonder……what stories do I draw on to create my “me map”? What stories do I draw on to create the various “you maps” and “we maps”? The stories of our encounters? The stories of other peoples’ encounters? Wow! What an idea!

I think I’m off to explore that further…..I wonder what those maps look like, and what stories created them?

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“And not Or” is one of my favourite principles. It’s the basis of integration, synthesis and creative evolution. “And not Or” deals with paradoxes and opposites, not by eliminating one of them, but by relating the one to the other.

I took the photo above in the Santa Clara convent in Tordesillas. The building is one of those many examples you can find in Spain where a sacred space created by one religious group is taken over by another one, but instead of destroying the previous architectural and artistic features, the new group adds their own.

What you see today is the result of centuries of art and belief, creating something quite unique, something which has a narrative quality. You can read the story of the place and the cultures into the what we can see now.

There are obvious Islamic art motifs and designs in this panel (although, as a Scot, I’m always reminded of Celtic designs when I see these looping, intertwining designs in Islamic art). I’ve seen that kind of art a lot. But in this particular panel there are three creatures in the central strip. That’s very, very unusual for Islamic art, and the guide book tells me they are “medieval” or “gothic”. They are a really odd group of creatures, each one a “chimera”, an imaginary creature which has body of parts of completely different creatures. In the middle is a mermaid, on the right a centaur, and on the left, well, I don’t know what you call this sort of chimera, but it’s a human-lion hybrid. Chimera are particularly strange examples of “And not OR”!

Throughout the Santa Clara convent there are very strong elements of Islamic, Catholic and Gothic imagery and design. It can be jarring in place, and it can be quite sublime in others. I’m not sure what makes the difference. The main chapel has an astonishing gold ceiling of elaborate “mocarabes” design, with an enormous altarpiece of Mary, several saints and other biblical figures facing you as you enter. There are ceiling to floor drapes of deep red cloth covering the rest of the walls. I must say, on seeing the red cloth hangings I was instantly reminded of the scene towards the end of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” where Agent Cooper has a very disturbing dream!

The synthesis, or evolution of the building through different cultures and religions also reminded me of the Santa Maria La Blanca church in Toledo. Here’s a photo of took there a few years ago…

This synagogue was built with muslim architects and was later turned into a church. Now, that must be pretty unusual. It’s a remarkable space, produced, surely, according to the same principle of “And not Or”.

The main reason I’m attracted to “And not Or” is that it is creative. It builds, develops and evolves through the relationships between the past, the present and the future.

“Or” divides. It sets apart and, all too frequently, opposes. It seems to me we have way too much of that in the world nowadays – “us or them”, “immigrants or nationals”, “Leavers or Remainers” (Brexit), “Pro-Trump or Anti-Trump” – fill in your own pairs of divided groups here!

I don’t think these divisions are healthy. We all share this one small planet, all emerge from the same astonishing Universe Story. Cooperation is at the heart of evolution. Yes, competition exists too, but it’s rather over-emphasised in human history. Without the cooperation of atoms, molecules, cells, organs, systems, organisms and environments, none of us would exist.

So maybe it’s time to tip the scales a bit, and give more energy to cooperation than competition.

“And not Or”

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We humans are pretty good at making maps. We do it all the time. Dr Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, describes the three commonest maps we make in the frontal cortex of the brain – a “me” map, a “you” map, and a “we” map. You might wonder about the use of the term “map” there, arguing that we create “images” rather than maps, but let’s not get bogged down on that one. I like both terms (one of my favourite principles in life is “and not or” – 🙂 )

The thing about a map is that it shows contexts and connections. It shows us where we are, where we might want to go, and helps us to imagine how to get there.

I was in Tordesillas, in Northern Spain, recently and visited the “Treaty House” which displays a number of ancient maps. Here’s one set which particularly grabbed my attention.

It’s a set of panels describing the known world at the time – the world of the “Occident” followed by a set describing the unknown world – the world of the “Orient”. Take a look –

In this first section you can clearly make out Britain (although Scotland hasn’t really become known yet!) and you can see the areas we now call Portugal, Spain, France, Scandinavia and so on.

The next one extends the first one to show Italy, Greece, Turkey, “The Middle East” and also more of the North African coastal countries.

For a medieval map it’s surprisingly accurate. It might even have helped people to find their way from one place to another.

But then check out these two panels of the “unknown”, “Orient” –

At first there are elements we recognise – The Nile, The Caspian Sea, but the further East we go, the more the map becomes an expression of a creative imagination.

Isn’t that fascinating?

I’ve never thought of mapping out what I don’t know before. After all, where would I stop? The older I get, the more I realise how much I don’t know – how much WE (we humans) don’t know. But it might be a fun idea, don’t you think? To sketch out some maps of the unknown…..

The personal maps of “me”, “you” and “we” are constantly being updated, constantly evolving, and we create them from both what we know, and what we don’t know…..from our memories, our present day experiences, and our imaginations.

Map making turns out to be a dynamic and fundamental ability. I wonder how aware we are, on a day to day basis, of the maps we have made, the maps we are making, and the influence they have on our lives.

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The front door of the house where I live opens directly onto a south facing garden. You could say there is grass covering most of this part of the garden, but I tend to think “diverse living ground cover” is somewhat more accurate. You see, I don’t tend it as a “lawn” trying to get it all uniform and regular. I do cut it with a lawnmower, and if there are any particularly jaggy thistles or the like, I might dig some of them out. Apart from that, I leave it do its own thing. And it is always surprising me!

Yesterday morning I opened the shutters, stepped out, and immediately in front of me was this little display of flowers. Aren’t they beautiful?

Of course, I took a photo. Just as well, because by the evening I could find no trace of them whatsoever.

So, this morning when I went out I saw this….

A single flourish!

This time, I paid closer attention and went out again to see how it was doing at 3pm, by which time the shadow cast by the sprawling mulberry tree was covering this whole plant.

Here’s what I saw….

Like yesterday, the show was over!

Goodness! How brief! What a spectacular creation of petals and colour! And what a disappearance!

If you look closely you can see (sorry, slightly out of focus I notice) a small cluster of pale beige petals where the bright colourful display had been. How does this happen? How does this plant create and display with such a flourish (get it? “flourish/flowerish”!) and how does it bring the display to an end?

You know, I think we often have the idea that plants are pretty static…..well, they aren’t! They are dynamic, vivaceous, always changing, living creatures!

One more thing……this was a great real life example for me of how the Japanese valuing of impermanence works. That little flower has somehow just become a bit more extraordinary, a bit more special, to me!

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Sometimes we stumble across patterns which catch our attention. I think we humans have a tremendous ability to spot patterns. We see them in clouds, on pebbles, cliff faces, well, pretty much everywhere. Here are some on a single tree.

That first one looks like an owl to me. The next one looks like an angel.

And the third one, looks like one of those ancient Chinese drawings of mountains.

I suppose what we see is influenced by what we’re already familiar with, and I suspect it’s influenced by a host of other factors too.

But what particularly delights me about these serendipitous discoveries is that seem a kind of art. Not the kind of art a human being makes with a brush, or a pencil, or even a musical instrument, but the kind of art which we make by noticing. It’s the weaving of perception, memory and imagination, and it has the power to delight, to astonish, to move…..as all art can do.

It’s also an incredibly collaborative form of art. It’s the tree, the rock, the shell, the cloud, forming in constant interaction with its environment over time, coupled with the human perceiver.

Would it be art if no human noticed it?

I wonder.

That’s a bit like the old “does a tree falling in a forest make a noise if there’s nobody there to hear it”, isn’t it?

Well, it seems to me that this particular kind of “found art” is like seeing a rainbow. It wouldn’t exist without the observer.

I don’t want to wander too far down a philosophical road here….I just want to share a moment or two of delight. Enjoy!

 

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