Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category


I find patterns utterly fascinating….wherever they are. Look at this blend of textures and colours on the surface of a tree. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s as if some artist has been doodling or a sculptor has been running his or her fingers through wet clay.

Here’s another one.

This one looks like an infinity loop to me.

It reminds me of some of the cup and ring markings on the rocks in the Kilmartin Valley in Scotland. Here’s a photo I took of one of them.

The cup and ring markings in Kilmartin are really impressive and challenging. As best I know absolutely no-one has managed to explain them. Are they maps? Are the signatures? Are they messages from one person or tribe to another? Are they symbols, and if so, of what? Or are they doodles?

We humans have a particular kind of creativity. We imagine, we play and we make marks. I love all of that. But then I look around me and I see that making marks is embedded in all kinds of natural phenomena. It’s as if the whole Universe just loves to make marks.

We live an a creative universe.

Creativity runs through us the way our blood runs through us, the way our breath runs through us, the way we are infused by the streams of materials, energies and information which run through us, the way our spirit runs through us.

We react and we act. We engage and we respond. Catabolism and anabolism (biological terms related to our metabolism….how we break down materials which we consume and fashion them into the things we need to live) are at the core of our being.

Just by living, we create, but isn’t it such a thrill when we create consciously?

Isn’t it such a delight when we stumble across the works of creation?



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When I took this photo I was attracted to the white flowers, but when I looked at it on my computer it seemed to me that the white flower in the middle of the shot had turned into a butterfly.

When I looked closer, it hadn’t.

But like some of those optical illusions, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it! So, now whenever I look at this image the first thing I see is a white butterfly, which transforms itself before my eyes into a flower. Given that perhaps one of the key characteristics of butterflies is transformation, that seems strangely appropriate.

OK, I know butterflies don’t transform into flowers, or vice versa. Well, not directly anyway. (You could argue that everything which exists on Earth is made from the same atoms which have made everything else) However, just seeing that has taken this image to a new level for me.

In a few short moments I can let my mind follow the path of a butterfly, its eggs, its caterpillar stage, its chrysalis, and on to a new butterfly. And I can let my mind follow the path of the flower, the insects which come seeking sweetness, the pollen spreading, the new seeds forming and scattering, a green plant shooting up through the dark earth, and a new flower stretching out its petals under the warmth and light of the Sun.

And it all seems WHOLE. I see an intertwining of Nature’s cycles and rhythms unfolding before my mind’s eye.

I hope you can too.

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I took this photo recently when visiting the Caumont gallery in Aix en Provence (before France closed down!).

I was attracted to the light shapes on the wall of the building opposite. The one on the right looks like a cocktail glass, but the other two are vaguely like kanji – which, given that the gallery had a special show of Japanese prints, is highly likely!

When I look at the photo now I’m reminded of two things – a famous painting by Magritte

And, a photo I took in the New Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen of ancient biblical scripts written in Aramaic and found in Palmyra.

The room with the scripts showed the letters projected across the images on the walls as a soundtrack played of someone speaking words in Aramaic from the book of Genesis. That was one of those moments where the hairs on my arms stood up on end and my eyes got watery.

I have long since had a love of words. I have hundreds of books. I read all the time, often several books at once. I love stories and I am insatiably curious. When I qualified as a doctor I bought a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica with my first month’s salary. I know wikipedia might have surpassed that now but I can still get the thrill of serendipity by leafing through its pages and falling down a knowledge rabbit hole. At work I looked forward to every Monday morning because I knew it was the start of a week where patients would come and tell me their stories. Every single one of them unique.

I taught in Japan at one point and tried to learn a little Japanese. I didn’t get very far but I am still enthralled by their three alphabets – yes THREE! I chose to emigrate from Scotland to France when I retired to have the experience of living in another language and I’ve got a little collection of favourite French words for which I can’t find any direct English translations, or where the English translation feel somewhat inadequate. I love that. (Emerveillement would be my first example!) I’ve also been trying to teach myself Spanish over this last year, just because I’ve discovered Spain since moving to South West France, and have had a number of fabulous road trips there (I’m using the Duolingo app).

Words, and stories.

I’m also quite an avid reader of poetry, and I recently heard a fantastic interview with the American poet laureate, Tracy K Smith, on Ezra Klein’s podcast. Highly recommended!

With more and more of us having to put our normal lives on hold and stay at home I think this is a great opportunity to explore more books, more poems, more stories, words and art. Are you finding that too?

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I can’t remember if I took this photo as I was on my way towards the mountains, or I was leaving them behind me. So, I thought I’d imagine it both ways.

I remember leaving home for the first time when I was 18. Leaving to catch the train to Edinburgh where I was about to start six years at university learning Medicine. As I walked down the empty road I had the sensation of suddenly leaving my body, soaring high up into the sky, and looking back down at what seemed a tiny figure walking along the road. In that instant I felt very small and very alone. I turned and looked back. Even my house seemed small now. As I look at this photo I’m reminded of that day, even though this is not a photo of my house, nor of the road I walked down. It’s just that as my eye is drawn back down that deserted road past a tiny white house, that I see the centuries old mountains standing there, as still and as familiar as ever, but obscured today by insubstantial, wispy clouds of water, thoughts and memories.

The past fades behind us as the clouds of time veil the once clear outlines of our memories. But the past is still there. Still exerting its gravitational pull. Still anchoring us, reminding us of roots, and ancestors and belonging.

I sit here today looking forward. Sometimes I see the future looming large ahead and I strain my eyes to make it out, but it hides, or is hidden, behind my anxious thoughts of what if, and what if not, and who knows? These ever changing thoughts and concerns floating in front of my destination. Or my destiny? Walking along a clear, straight road without knowing where it will lead, when it will turn, or dip, or rise.

Maybe the years and experiences which have shaped me give me a new confidence now. An acceptance of not knowing. A humility from not being able to predict. An excitement about the mysteries and wonders which, undoubtedly, lie ahead.

I find myself looking forward to these moments when I’m able to look back. And I love how I my attention can float, like those wispy clouds in front of the immense unknowns of the mountains, allowing me to appreciate the past, the future, and this flitting, yet eternally present moment.

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I don’t think of myself as a separate object any more. There is a constant stream of materials, energies and information flowing into me. I ingest some when I eat, I breathe some into me when I inspire. Heat, light, sound, gravity, and many other energies I can’t detect, influence and shape me, some stimulating my senses, some influencing the flow of fluids and elements around my body and into and out of my cells. The way my body and brain have evolved allows my whole being to interpret all these flows, to make sense of them, attach values to them, to allow me to respond and react.

I am changed.

Second by second, minute by minute, day by day and year by year, I am changing. Not a single cell remains the same over my life time. The idea of an “internal environment” is quite an old one now, but more than ever we understand that this is a dynamically changing environment, not a fixed one.

We process all these streams and flows. We create new cells, break down some molecules, make some new ones. We make new connections in our brains, strengthen some feedback loops in our body and weaken others. We make sense of now in the light of the past and the myriad of possible futures.

Then these streams continue on their way. We breathe out certain molecules, subtly changing the mix of gases in our immediate environment. We radiate heat, make noises, and we act.

We send out materials, energies and information into the universe every single moment of our lives.

These flows influence, disturb, change and shape our environment, other people, and all the other forms of life we share this planet with.

So, sometimes, I think it’s a good idea to pause, take stock, reflect, and ask ourselves – what shape are the waves that I’m making?

Because these shapes repeat and echo and ripple out way, way beyond the worlds we can imagine.

What kind of world do we create when we send out angry waves? Waves of fear? Waves of kindness? Waves of joy?

I was thinking about this today because I came across this photo I took at Dunrobin Castle many years ago. The concentric shapes of the ripples in this fountain completely fascinate me. It’s mesmerising. Alongside that, I heard from a couple of people in the last couple of days how much they enjoy my blog posts, and how they have been reading them for years. I didn’t know that. Like any author who publishes a book, I don’t tend to hear from my readers. Yes, I know, some of you hit the “like” button, or make a comment, but I have realised before that only a tiny minority of readers do. And that’s how it should be. After all, when I think of all the books I’ve read and enjoyed in my life, how many of those authors (even just the living ones! 😉 ) have I contacted to let them know that? Almost none.

I know people blog, and tweet, and put posts on Facebook for many reasons, but I think it’s always important to wonder about what shapes the waves are that we are sending out into the world. They will travel further and for longer than you think.

I hope I’m sending you some waves of wonder, some waves of joy, some waves of kindness and some waves of beauty. Because that’s my intention.

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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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