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Archive for the ‘from the dark room’ Category

Picking up on yesterday’s post about threads and weaving life stories, I thought I’d share this photo I took in an old weaving factory in Aubusson. Isn’t this a fabulous stock of yarns? Look at the colours!

Probably because I was thinking about the metaphor of threads and weaving in the way we create our reality through our stories, I looked at this image again today and thought “Well, that’s what they have to work with. That store of colours and shades” So what if we think about how that idea might apply to how we create our daily experiences?

What is there in your palette? What can you select to weave together to create your unique, singular experience of today?

What if these yarns are like beliefs, ideas, thoughts and emotions? Which ones do we have to draw on, and which do we keep going back to, perhaps over-using, when we could be shifting our attention and using a different section of the palette if we want today to be really different?

I remember reading about a theory, which seemed to be validated by studies and observations, that when a baby is born, at the moment when the umbilical cord is cut, they experience their first existential threat. In those first few seconds if the baby doesn’t take their first breath, they won’t live. Perhaps, in those few seconds, the baby experiences certain strong emotions. We don’t have access to those memories because in our early years, our consciousness and memory functions haven’t formed to allow us to access them, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t happening, all the same. After all, most emotions occur below the level of consciousness, and becoming aware of them takes time, attention and practice.

So, what emotions might a baby experience in the midst of this first existential crisis? The theory proposes three – fear, anger or separation anxiety. Makes sense to me. So, the idea is that maybe which of the three dominates is genetically determined, but, whether it is or not, that particular pattern of those three emotions sets itself up as a core as we continue through life and try to make sense of our experiences.

So, some people have fear at the core, and that’s the main colour they use in their daily palette. For others, it is anger, and for yet others it is separation anxiety. You can try this for yourself. See if you can think back to your very earliest memory. Preferably one form before the age of five, from before you started school. When you recall that event, what emotions do you associate with it? Is it fear, anger or separation anxiety? I found with patients that some would identify one of these very clearly, some would identify a mix, or find more than one strong early memory, each with a different dominant emotion. Others would find none. They either couldn’t access any early memories at all, or they wouldn’t be able to say which emotions they associated with any they could remember.

For people who can find one, it is interesting to then follow that thread through life. To what extent does that emotion seem a foundation to other significant life events? Remember that with each emotion, we might suppress it, express it, or deal with in some hybrid way. So, if it is fear, then both fear and courage might appear. If it’s anger, both temper and avoidance of conflict might appear. And so on…..

Well, that’s one way to start to think about what palette you have, and what section of the palette you draw upon most frequently to create your daily reality.

You can also become aware of your dominant emotions, thoughts and beliefs by journaling….for example by doing “morning pages”. In fact, there are many ways to become aware of our habitual patterns of emotion, thought and belief.

I think it’s good to explore this, but we can take it a stage further by deliberately choosing certain part of the palette, or even adding new sections. We can decide we want to colour each day with more joy, more wonder, more love. We can decide we want to see each day through more half full glasses than half empty ones. We can do that with affirmations, with visualisations, with making more conscious choices about where to focus our attention, our time and our energies.

But all that is maybe for another day. Today, I’m just suggesting an exercise in awareness. Can you become more aware of what your personal palette looks like? Can you become more aware of which sections of that palette you keep going back to again, and again, and again? Finally, which underused sections of your palette would you like to pay more attention to? Or as you look at the vast range available, which colours of yarn would you like to add now?

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I love stories. I always looked forward to hearing the stories patients would tell me, and I’m sure a significant part of my work was to be an active co-creator of stories. It would be common for a patient to sit down next to me for the first time, and I’d begin “Tell me your story”. Quite often that opening would be met with surprise or even some puzzlement, but I’d just stay quiet, maintain eye contact, and show I was waiting with undivided attention. Sometimes people would ask “Where will I start? How I am now, or what went wrong first?” I’d suggest there wasn’t a right or wrong place to start so just choose to start wherever they like.

The first part of the story would be up to the patient, but then I’d ask certain questions to explore particular aspects of the story, or to open up other areas which hadn’t been covered. So, together, we’d enable the telling of a unique story, a life story, with a certain focus – health and disease. Because, I am a doctor after all.

Now when I see this photo of threads beginning to be woven into a tapestry I think that rather than “focus” in that last paragraph, maybe I’d be better using the word “thread”. Because often the life story of health and disease is a story which needs unravelled, untangled, to identify the important threads, colours, textures, and images, or the important events, themes, experiences and patterns.

Maybe, in fact, the life story of health and disease is just one of the tapestries we create from all the threads and colours which allow us to create and experience our one, unique, and singular life.

So, threads, tapestries and images turn out to be as important for me as stories.

Where do the threads come from? The ones we weave into our personal experience? Some come from our genes. There are threads of lineage which run through each of us. Some come from our birth experience, and our response in those first few seconds to the cutting of the umbilical cord. Others come from our experiences, from the events of our lives and both our reactions and responses to those events. Yet others come from our relationships and from the physical environments in which we live.

Then there are other kinds of threads which we pick up and make our own. The threads of myths and legends. The threads of other peoples’ stories, beliefs and values. The threads of culture, music and art. In other words, the threads of our collective imagination.

Finally, as well as threads, the weaver has to have some idea of what they want to create. They have to have a vision, have imagination, maybe even have a pattern or a plan to follow.

I wonder what threads you can find in your life. I wonder what visions, thought patterns, feeling patterns, behaviours and influences create what you do with those threads…..

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I find that sometimes when I look at the bark of a tree I see eyes, or faces, or other recognisable patterns. This tree definitely seems to have the outline of an owl! Do you see it?

I like owls. I know the symbolism of owls is different in different cultures and that for many people they are associated with death and/or bad luck. But for others they are symbols of wisdom.

That difference reminds me of two other superstitions – there’s the thing about a black cat. Some people say they are sign of luck, but coal miners would turn back if a black cat crossed their path while they were on their way to work. So for some, they are lucky, and for others, very unlucky. Similarly, the horseshoe has opposite meanings, especially when it comes to which way up to hang it on a wall. Some say if you have the opening at the top then it is a witches swing and will bring bad luck, whilst others say if the opening is to the bottom then all your luck will run out.

I suspect the truth is that all of these beliefs and superstitions are social and cultural creations. But I also think they have power. When we get into a mindset of bad luck or being a victim, then it seems to bring more of those experiences into our lives. Luckily, the opposite works too, which is why I am such a big fan of positively valued symbols. So for me, I stick with wisdom, and have a notion that strengthening my connection with owls helps me to develop my wisdom.

Which positive symbols work for you?

I look for those to do with love, hope, wisdom and wholeness. Well, that’s a start anyway……

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Have you ever grown any beans? You know there’s something really wonderful about choosing different kinds of beans from a seed supplier, planting them, watching the little green plants poke up through the earth, then following their incredible climb all the way up to the top of a wall, or a fence, then seeing the long skinny pods form and hang down. Breaking open the dry pods to scoop out the beans is such a thrill.

Here are a few beans from just two pods. First of all, don’t you think they are beautiful? They are like tiny works of art. Second, isn’t it incredible that every single one of them is different? The particulars of the patterns on each bean are unique. Is this always the case? I don’t know. But it kind of looks like each bean is as unique as a fingerprint. Have you ever tried to find even two completely identical beans which are patterned like this? I mean, imagine, this level of uniqueness and diversity in beans! How much more amazing are the depths of uniqueness and diversity in human beings (or human beans if you like 😉 )

Thirdly, do you know that it is impossible to tell which of these beans is alive? There isn’t a single scientific test which can correctly tell if a particular seed is alive or dead. There is no way to know that this one will germinate and grow, but that one will just decompose. There are some statistical methods which can attach a figure suggesting the chances of a certain portion of seeds in a batch being “viable”, but no way to tell for each single, unique seed. Don’t you think that’s astonishing?

But I guess Life and Death have always astonished me. I’ve been present at the births of many children, and I’ve been present at the deaths of many people too. But that first breath a baby takes, and that last breath a dying man or woman takes, astonish me every time. Both these events seem mysterious to me. When does life begin? And when does it end? You’d think those would be simple questions, but they are not.

Then what about levels of consciousness? After all, aren’t many of these beans sort of sleeping, just waiting to wake up and start to grow when the time, the place and the conditions are right? How do we humans change consciousness every night and every morning? How do we slip from being awake to being asleep? And how do we wake up when we do?

I expect a lot of people are finding they don’t need their alarms to wake them up in the mornings any more, during these periods of lockdown. When our daily routines have been put on hold, for many of us, our patterns of sleeping and waking have changed too. Maybe for you, you are waking now without an alarm? What wakes you, and when? Sure, sometimes it’s a noise, isn’t it? Even though we are sound asleep, we are still aware of our environment somehow. I remember waking one summer morning in an apartment we rented in Carcassonne. As I woke I heard a nearby church bell ringing the hour. I counted, “seven, eight, nine”, then the bells stopped. I checked my phone and, yes, it was nine o’clock. How did I do that? How did I wake up thinking “seven, eight, nine”? When did I think “one, two, three, four, five, six”? I had absolutely no awareness of the first six bells. Well, not absolutely no awareness of course, but no conscious awareness and no accessible memory of them. I find that astonishing.

So these are still quite miraculous to me – these moments of coming to life, these moments of dying, these moments of falling asleep and those of waking.

Maybe that’s ok. Maybe that just keeps me curious. And maybe it actually adds some quality to everyday life to be aware of the mysterious, the unexplained, and the wonderful.

Hey, isn’t it amazing where a handful of beans can take your mind? How did that happen?

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The sky above where I live often used to look like this.

It doesn’t any more.

It hasn’t looked like this since March, and, frankly, it feels like it might never look like this again.

I guess you’d call this a busy sky, and even though trains and cars and boats don’t leave visible trails like these, the same phenomenon must be repeating itself everywhere. We humans are just not moving around the planet this year in anything like the numbers of the previous few years. For obvious reasons of course – COVID!

Here in France we are in “Confinement” 2.0 – totally locked down with only essential shops and services open, the need to print out an “attestation” if you go out at all – that’s a sort of permission slip where you have to say what you are going out for (there are only a limited number of legitimate excuses), and if you’re going out for exercise you can only be out for a maximum of an hour and not further than one kilometre from home.

Well, I’m retired, so I don’t commute any more – which is one of THE biggest differences in my life. But many people are either now working from home, or have been laid off, temporarily hopefully, but many businesses are folding up and those jobs will be gone for good. I have travelled quite a lot since I retired – mainly by car, with trips to explore different parts of France and Spain – but some flights back to Scotland to see family and had plans to attend a conference in Toronto last week but that was cancelled months ago.

On the plus side I suppose it’s good for the planet that there are less planes flying here and there, and several people I’ve spoken to find the opportunities to work from home at least part of the time a real bonus. I’m not sure many people regret not having to spend so many hours commuting each week.

But the main thing I thought about when I looked at this photo today was how this pandemic is doing more than give many of us an opportunity to reassess how we are living our lives….it’s forcing us to. By applying the brakes to what we came to know as normal we have the time and space now to ask “how do I really want to live?” – and/or “how can I live now in the light of this 2020 year of pandemic?

What about you?

How is commuting less and travelling less affecting your life? And, once this pandemic is over, do you think you’ll choose to re-establish those old patterns if you can? Or have your values and priorities changed now?

Have you already started to live differently?

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How much do you think love motivates you to do what you do, to say what you say, to think what you think?

Are there serious arguments against making love our priority, our touchstone, our foundation, our core?

What couldn’t be improved by bringing a loving attitude to bear?

I think good health care requires love….love in the form of caring about, caring for, and wanting the best for, every patient. Love in the form of non-judgemental listening and attending. Love in the form of respect for the unique individual. Love which values personal relationships above techniques, tools and processes.

I think good education requires love…..love for children, love for knowledge, love for wisdom, love for growth, development and maturity. Actually, education isn’t something we should restrict to children, we could all do with learning all our lives. We could all benefit from life long education based on loving each person and wanting to try to help them realise their potentials.

I think good work requires love….love for craft, for skill, for quality, for service to our fellow workers, our families and our communities.

So how about a politics of love and an economics of love ….. love of Nature, of Planet Earth, of our fellow creatures, and of other people? What would that look like?

Maybe it’s time for us to be less shy about love. Maybe it’s time for us to speak up and say it’s important. More than important….essential.

Can we learn from this pandemic and move towards a society based more on creativity and care, than the present model which is based on consumption and competition? Can we move towards a society based more on qualities than on quantities, challenging the current dominance of figures, statistics and “data”, and insisting instead on loving, caring relationships, on experiences, on individual uniqueness, and on diversity?

I’d like to see that. How about you?

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I love to be able to look over the vines and see the rain falling in the distance. Where I’m standing it’s dry. No raindrops keep falling on my head. But across there towards the horizon I can see where the rain is falling….and where it isn’t falling.

It looks like I can see the edges of the rain. The rain is appearing as sheets, veils, or fingers reaching all the way down from the clouds to the ground. You can see it too, can’t you? You can tell that some parts of the land are getting wet, and that some aren’t.

In other words it appears that we can see the boundaries of the rain – it’s reach, not just vertically from cloud to soil, but horizontally, over a certain distance, left to right, or west to east, or whatever. If we see these boundaries so clearly, then surely, we could measure them. I could find out exactly the height, the breadth and the depth of that rain over there.

The thing is, as best I know, I can only do that approximately, and only if I stay at a sufficient distance from the rain. Because the closer I get, the harder it is to see exactly where the rain is falling, and where it isn’t falling. If I did do a measurement then something interesting happens. I have the impression of exactness. I have the impression that I have a more accurate, more complete knowledge.

But that’s a delusion.

We can prove it’s a delusion just by actually standing in the rain. When we are being rained on, it’s pretty impossible to know if we are in the middle of it, at the beginning of it, or nearing its far edge. It’s a lot easier to see a shadow approaching or receding, than it is to see the rain. That’s at least in part due to the fact that the rain has no hard edges. Those clear boundaries we can see in the distant rain, disappear the closer we get. By the time we step into the rain, the boundaries dissolve. We can no longer see where the rain begins and where it ends.

Yes, I know, there are two exceptions to that……if we look far enough away through the rain we can sometimes see outside of it to land where the rain isn’t falling. That can give us an idea of the rain passing through, knowing that in a short time, it will be gone again. And the other exception is sometimes rain falls in intense highly localised bursts. I’ve been able to see the rain pouring down just outside my garden while I stand, perfectly dry, inside the garden. But that’s rare. And even then, the exact boundaries are far from clear as I approach them.

What this image and these thoughts inspire in me is wonder……wondering about how everything is connected, and how it only looks separate if we don’t look closely enough. The closer we look the more the boundaries dissolve, the more connections and gradations we see.

It also inspires me to think about the difference between observing an object and experiencing an event. I can see the rain in the distance as “something”, maybe even something I could measure. Certainly something with particular dimensions. I see it as an object. But when I stand in the rain I experience it as an event. I don’t see it as an object. I can’t measure it. I can just live it.

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This is a machine. It is manufactured by human beings. It has a number of solid, pretty unchanging parts (ok, they all gradually wear out with use), which are assembled into fixed relationships with each other by other parts…. nuts, bolts, springs, cogs and hinges.

These parts don’t grow. They don’t develop or mature. They don’t develop new ways of connecting to each other and they don’t change their function. Their relationships are linear. A always leads to B.

This machine looks a bit complicated but everything can be taken to pieces and understood. We can learn how it works and predict how it is going to work. It does what it was designed to do and if it stops doing that we can find the parts which are “defective” and replace them with new parts.

Living creatures are not like this. Human beings are not like this. We are not manufactured by human beings. Every cell, every tissue, every organ within the body changes all the time. The massive network of inter-connected feedback loops create relationships in the human body between cells, tissues and organs. These relationships are non-linear. A influences B in the presence C, D, and a host of others, whilst B, in turn influences A. These relationships are not fixed. They are not predictable.

Living creatures, like human beings, are “Complex” not “Complicated”. You can’t take them to pieces and understand the whole.

We are all “complex adaptive systems”, constantly bathed in flows of molecules, energies and information, which we transform within ourselves before contributing to their onward flow into others.

Machines can exist in isolation. Human beings cannot. We live only because we are embedded in the complex biosphere of Nature, dependent on the lives of a myriad of other forms of life, dependent on our relationships with others.

Machines are not unique. You can produce millions of identical machines. Human beings are unique. There has never been “YOU” before in the whole history of the universe, and there will never by “YOU” again, once you die.

The truth is every one of us is special, and every one of us deserves to be treated as unique. Every one of us deserves to be understood within our individual web of connections, relationships and life story.

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Pumpkins are one of the most prolific and successful plants in my garden. They appear even where I haven’t seeded them (they must be in the soil now after five years of planting) and once they start to grow they spread across the entire vegetable patch reaching out towards every border.

On their way around and over the other plants they send out these tendrils which catch on to whatever they can touch. The tendrils then spiral intensely creating these powerful bonds which the plant uses to anchor itself and pull itself up on the surrounding plants, fences, walls and so on.

I think these bright green coils are astonishing. I’m amazed by them. How does the plant know when it’s touched something else….another plant, a part of the fence, or whatever, and then how does it move its tendrils to wrap around whatever it has connected to, and then how does it “wind itself up” like this?

Plants don’t have brains. We know that. But they sure have the ability to sense – they can sense touch, they can respond to light, to gravity, and as far as I know can seek out the nutrients they need. They can unfold their leaves to gather up the Sun’s energy to transform it into sugars and structures. They can fold their leaves up to protect the plant from too much sun. We tend to think of plants are creatures which stay put, but I can tell you pumpkin plants to anything but stay put!

I think we under-rate the plant world. It is astonishingly diverse, incredibly resilient and is far more sentient than we realise. Plants have the ability to move much more than we realise because we don’t see them walk or run anywhere, and we know they don’t have muscles or limbs. But, goodness, they are not still. They reach out, spread, grow and seek what they need to survive and thrive.

I wonder how they communicate with each other? I wonder if the pumpkin here in this photo communicates with the tomato plant it has found and fastened itself onto? I don’t reckon they “think” or “speak” like we do, but they surely make connections, exchange energy, chemicals and information, and doesn’t that amount to a vast amount of communication?

Seeking, connecting, communicating, pulling together……..I guess we’re at our best when we do that too, aren’t we?

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Sometimes the colours in the sky and those in the garden just match so beautifully it’s breath-taking.

Here’s my scene to share with you today – glorious pink in the sky and glorious pink blossom on the bush, with the petals falling in a perfect circle on the grass.

I didn’t take this photo today of course but it’s one which delights me every time I look at it. And, hey, why not share was spreads delight?

Here’s my question for you today – what will you choose to share with the world today? Because, the truth is, we share what we think, feel and do all the time. We might do that unconsciously most of the time, but we always have the opportunity to choose – to share consciously. It’s this conscious sharing that I’m interested in today…….which I why I hope this image brings you some joy, delight, and tranquillity. It’s a beautiful world.

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