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Archive for the ‘from the living room’ Category

I saw this door panel in the Chateau Chenonceau. Isn’t it wonderful? What an incredible piece of craftsmanship carving this scene. I love the waves below the characters and the clouds above them, and I especially like how the clouds break out of the frame.

The scene is Poseidon and Amphitrite (I think!), the God of the Sea and his wife. They are being blessed with a wreath and a flower (a lily perhaps?) by two creatures with human bodies, fish tails and wings……nymphs I presume…from Amphitrite’s ancestry.

Apart from the beauty of this image in it’s own right, it is laden with symbolism, as are many of the carvings and tapestries of that period. Exactly what the significance is of each symbol and, indeed, of the myths of which they are integral part can be uncovered to a certain extent with study and research.

I invite you explore this for yourself. What can you find out about the characters represented and what stories are there about them? What can you find out about the nymphs, about the cupid figure, the trident, the bow, the wreath and the flower?

Some historians say that in their time the people who had these works of art created were well versed in the answers to all those questions. They could “read” a scene in the light of the knowledge they’d gained. They had been told these stories, taught these symbols, and they wouldn’t just look at an image like this and think “how beautiful” – the work would evoke whole sets of emotions, memories and fantasies for them. When I think of that I feel we’ve lost something because most of us haven’t had the education which allows us to have a similar experience.

Symbols and myths are an integral part of human life. Creating works of art is fundamental to our nature. I was listening to a BBC podcast the other day about cave art and the experts said the wall drawings of bulls, aurochs, deer and so on date way back to the times of not just the earliest humans, but to neanderthals too. Some of the cave art was created in caves so deep that not only were they in perpetual darkness but there could be no real reason for human beings to go there….other than through sheer curiosity, or to hide and protect their art works.

Who were those images created for, and what part did they play in their lives….of both the artists and the spectators? We don’t really know. But whatever the answers to those questions there is no denying that we are a species which does more than hunt, gather and farm. We create and live with art. It’s in our bones!

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A couple of years ago I took this photo from my house. I suppose it was actually the Moon which caught my eye, but, hey, an iPhone isn’t that great for capturing images of the Moon, is it?

However, as is often the case, once I loaded the photo onto my computer, I noticed something completely different – an orange face at the right hand side of the trees and bushes at the end of the field. Do you see it?

It’s not just an orange face, it looks like something with a wide open mouth, either in amazement, or in fear? By the way, the face is facing West which is where the orange glow comes from, as the Sun was starting to set as I took the photo.

Once I’d seen this face-like image I couldn’t ever un-see it. It’s the first thing I see now every time I look at this photo. Our brains function this way. From our very first days we have the ability to notice faces, and it doesn’t take long for a baby to be able to distinguish mum from other people. But it’s not just that we have a great ability to recognise individual faces, we seem to have the ability to see faces even where none exist. We see them in rocks, in trees, in bushes, in clouds, in the landscape….you name it.

Faces. Don’t you think that’s significant? We see faces way more than we see feet, or hands, or even whole human bodies. We are particularly attuned to seeing faces and face-like patterns. Surely that is linked to the fact that we are such incredibly social creatures. We are able to see a friendly face, or to be wary of an unfriendly one, almost in an instant. We don’t just have the ability to pick a familiar face out of a crowd, but we are able to “read” faces unconsciously. We “read” the emotion on a face, and we respond to faces with emotional reactions. We know there are people we like at first glance and those who we are immediately wary of. In fact, we have a tendency to rush to judgement, and it might take quite an effort to move past a “first impression”.

You know the phrase “if your face fits”, for example. We judge faces pretty much instantly. Again it might take quite an effort to move past that “prejudice”, that “pre-judging”.

Fortunately we do have those skills too. We are able to learn and to adjust. We become familiar with certain people and change our opinions of them as we experience them to be friendlier, or the opposite….un-friendlier, than we found them to be at first. This learning and adjusting is, however, not all about faces. It’s about behaviours, actions, words, conversations and shared experiences. Then we might begin to see someone differently.

It’s Halloween at the end of this week, so that’s partly why I thought I’d share this particular image with you today….it’s kind of a Halloween face, don’t you think? Or am I thinking that just because Halloween is approaching?

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Every living organism has the capacity to stay healthy and to repair any damage it incurs. In other words, they all share the ability to survive. Plants, micro-organisms, animals, humans…..every creature which lives has the ability to survive. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

We’ve discovered a fair number of the processes which enable us to survive and to repair when we are damaged. A whole bunch of these are called “homeostatic” processes – they are complexes of cells, chemicals and feedback loops which maintain a certain stability of the “internal environment”. They keep the working relationships between all the cells, tissues and organs in balance. Things tip too much one way or another, the homeostatic system kicks in and returns the organism to a more balanced state. When we are damaged, for instance, when we break the surface of our skin, or break a bone, then the body mobilises “inflammatory” processes to pour cells and chemicals into the damaged area, seal off any breaches in the defences, and start to lay down repair tissue.

Isn’t it amazing how the body does this?

There’s a huge tree just behind my neighbour’s house. One day about three years ago, in a storm, a large cluster of branches were broken off at the top of the tree, turning it from a pretty symmetrical plant into something that looked like a giant had taken a big bite out of it. Now that gap has gone. The tree has repaired the damage and has, almost, become symmetrical again.

Survival and repair. These are the fundamentals of life aren’t they? But they aren’t enough to fully describe Life. There’s a third element in every living creature – growth.

This rose in the image above is unfolding the petals from one of its buds. The unfolding is like a spiral, like one of those paper windmills you used to play with as a child. It’s utterly beautiful. This unfolding is an expansion, an opening up, a revealing and a stretching out to manifest itself. This rose is declaring “Here I am!” This rose is showing the world she exists by performing the third element of Life – growth.

Not just growth which is about becoming bigger, taller, thicker. Not just growth which expands the reach of the plant into the surrounding territory. But growth which reveals a whole new aspect of the rose. Before the flowers open up like this, the rose looks quite different. Green, leafy, thorny. But without flowers.

My littlest grandson is just seven months old now and seeing him start to “flourish”, start to “unfold” and “reveal” himself is like watching a miracle. Those first new behaviours and sounds are such a thrill, that emergence of interaction, of recognition and connection…..it’s breath-taking.

I used to find a similar awe and wonder when witnessing the unfolding and revealing of a patient as they moved beyond survival and repair into the fullness of health……seeing in that process the revelation of their uniqueness.

I think we tend to take these things for granted, because they happen all the time….these processes of survival, of repair and of growth.

But it’s worthwhile pausing from time to time and becoming aware of them….in the flowers, the trees, the birds, the other animals which share your world……in people you meet, people you love and in yourself.

It’s beautiful.

It’s inspiring.

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Andrea Guenther

Sometimes we just need to pause, slow down, step off the wheel, take a few deep breaths.

There are many ways to do that, but one I find effective is to contemplate a peaceful scene. Here is one such scene. I love the calmness of the sea, the green of the water, slowing morphing into blue the further we look (the distance is usually blue isn’t it?) then on the horizon I see where the deep blue sea meets a golden bank of air before my eyes ascend towards the deeper and deeper blue of the heavens. I see long, flat, smooth rocks, languishing on the golden horizon and soaking themselves in the peaceful green water in the middle of the scene. I see some breaking waves splashing white where the green water turns blue, and these are pleasing waves, the kind you hear breaking with sighs as the ocean exhales on the beach.

Find your own way around the scene. Take your own route. But just spend a few moments, or even minutes, allowing yourself to take it all in……..

…..there, doesn’t that feel good?

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I know it’s tempting to think of time as a straight line, running from then, through to now, and onto whenever. But what pleases me so much more is to become aware of phases and cycles……those circling, looping, spiralling movements of Life.

In this photo, the first thing I see is the Moon…..that celestial object which never stays the same. Every single night or day when we look at the Moon we see its shape is a little different from what it was yesterday. Surely this must be one of our most ubiquitous examples of constant change….the phases of the Moon.

We know that a lot changes here on Earth in sync with the Moon phases. We see the effect on the tides as the oceans and seas reach further up the beach, or recede away from the land to a greater distance. We know that there are rhythms of change in incidence of psychological phenomena too…..the old word “lunacy” is not without foundation in reality. We also know from “biodynamics” that seeding, planting and harvesting at different moon phases can produce different results. Yet, somehow, perhaps because night skies above cities are rarely clear, many of us have lost touch with our knowledge of Moon phases.

Do you know what phase the Moon has reached tonight?

Check tonight and see if you are right.

The second thing I see in this photo is the vines. There are vineyards everywhere in this part of France. Each of these lines is called a “wire”, and each vineyard has several “wires”. Here, near the town of Cognac, almost all the grapes go to the production of the drink of that name – “cognac” (but also to another product called “pineau”). The big “cognac houses” have contracts with many local growers, each of whom dedicate the harvest of a certain number of their “wires” each year to the distillery. By selecting particular amounts of the harvest from several, diverse regions within this grape growing area, they get a mix of flavours….some from land which is near the sea, some near forests, some very high in calcium content, and so on.

Watching the phases of the vine growth and grape production over the course of a year brings a certain rhythm to life. A rhythm attached to the seasons. In this photo the vines are all turning gold as they do every autumn. I love this season of the year for its glorious colours.

Attuning ourselves to natural phases and rhythms sets a background sense of time which stretches over longer periods than how long it take the hands of the clock to make their way right round its circular face. And it sets a rhythm completely different from the rigid, relentless movement of our digital devices as they show us what number of hours and minutes, or even seconds, have “passed” since we last looked!

Phases and seasons……cycles and rhythms………which ones do you attune to?

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We often look at the world this way….just a peek through a narrow gap. We can see a bit this way. It’s a way of being focused. If we narrow our gaze we can ignore everything except what’s in the target zone of our attention.

You know we have “two brains”, right? I mean the recognition that we have a cerebral cortex which is divided into two, non-symmetrical parts. Why do you think the brain is like this? Why not just have one, whole brain? Why did evolution prefer to develop the cortex in two significantly different hemispheres?

Well a lot of people have tried to claim that the right half does these things, and the left these other things….like the right is what we use to “do art” and the left is what we use to “do logic”. But we know that’s not true. The brain is not like a clock, a car, or a computer. It doesn’t function with one part doing “this” all by itself whilst other parts do “that”.

But Iain McGilchrist figured it out. In his “The Master and His Emissary” he lays out what I find to be a convincing thesis – each hemisphere engages with the world differently – in other words, each hemisphere gives us a different way of approaching, understanding and interacting with, the world.

What the left hemisphere allows us to do is like what you see in this image. We use it to narrow our gaze. We use it to focus in on “parts”, to analyse them, label them, categorise them, in order to try and “grasp” and manipulate them. The right hemisphere, on the other hand (see what I did there?), is used to enable a broad gaze. We use it to focus on the connections, to explore the bonds and relationships, to discover what’s new, and to see things in the broader view, or in “the whole”.

What amazes me about this is that we use both halves simultaneously pretty much all the time. They are in constant interaction, giving us the ability to “integrate” and “synthesise” what they focus on.

The trouble comes when we fail to pay enough attention to one of the halves – actually, in our modern world, it’s the right hemisphere we fail to attend to sufficiently. We get stuck in our world view of seeing reality as composed of separate parts which we can label, categorise and control. We get hooked on a mechanistic model. And, well, reality is not like that. That picture is incomplete and can lead us astray.

So, we do need these abilities to focus narrowly, to separate out elements, analyse them and organise that knowledge, but we ALSO need to be constantly aware of the big picture. We also need to see the contexts, the connections and the circumstances. It’s this that enables us to see uniqueness.

When it comes to this pandemic, we need to understand and analyse the COVID-19 virus. It will be a real boost to us to discover how to improve our treatment of people who are infected with it to try and reduce the potential damage they might suffer. But we need to use that other half of the brain too and see what the circumstances are in which this pandemic has arisen. We need to join up the dots. We need to see the connections and the contexts.

Isn’t it clear that one reason why this pandemic is so damaging is that we don’t have enough good health care? I think this issue is the same whether you live in the UK, France, the US, Spain, Belgium….you name it. It’s not the sheer number of people who are suffering from significant effects of this virus – after all, it seems about 80% of those who catch it don’t even get any symptoms. It’s that the small percentage of people who DO suffer serious effects from it still constitute numbers potentially too big for our health services to cope with.

Why do you think there is this constant message about “protect the NHS” in the UK? The NHS shouldn’t need “protecting” from sick people! It’s very purpose is to treat them. But the truth is there aren’t enough staff, there aren’t enough hospital beds, there isn’t enough equipment, there isn’t enough PPE, there aren’t enough testing materials, or laboratory resources.

There isn’t enough decent, safe social care available for the elderly. There isn’t sufficient support for people whose incomes are hit by forced closures of their workplaces. There isn’t enough decent housing. There isn’t enough decent nutrition because the current model of industrialised farming and processed food production is feeding both obesity and nutritional deficiencies of important vitamins and minerals which are needed for healthy immune systems.

And so on……

Unless we use our whole brains and address the underlying weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insufficiencies and injustices in our societies we will find not just this pandemic hard to handle, but we’ll set ourselves up for more of the same.

It’s time to change.

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It’s ten months now since the wall fell down. I’m sure that the pandemic has slowed up almost everything this year, but it sure takes a long, long time to get things done in this neck of the woods!

I strolled through the garden the other day and took this photo at the lowest part of the gap in the wall. As it’s autumn now, the vine which used to cover the entire wall has now started to turn from green to red and gold. The stones have lain where they fell for months now and the vine just grew over them. You can see in this image the remnants of the wall, the living vine, the fruit it produces (It’s “Boston Ivy” by the way, or “False Vine”) and the gorgeous autumn colours of the leaves as we move towards winter.

I think this image is just beautiful. I love it. I love how much there is to see in it and I adore the overall combination of elements. It reminds me of the four stages of the cycle of reality – growth, maintenance, falling to pieces, emergence.

Using the lenses of “systems science”, “complexity science”, and, in particular “CAST” – “Complex Adaptive Systems Theory” (which is my MAIN lens for understanding reality) I can see that this image represents the stage where things are falling to pieces. All systems undergo this. After a stage of fairly stable fulfilment, as we see in summer and early autumn, there is a stage of letting go, of order crumbling to be replaced by something more chaotic, more wild, more “disordered”. Well, this is it.

What comes next? Emergence, novelty, a new phase, a stage of “reorganisation” building on the path followed so far. Almost always this new phase is unpredictable. Always it is unpredictable at a detailed level, but almost always it is unpredictable at a macro level.

This pandemic feels like a phase where the old order dies. It feels like a time of change. And we are all wondering “what comes next”? Can we play an active role in creating the new phase, you and I? I hope so. Because the old order got us to where we are and we want to move on from there now, don’t we?

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Yesterday I was putting forward the idea that instead of “nationality” and “citizenship” we should think of “habitat” and “inhabitants”.

Today I came across this photo from a couple of years ago and it struck me that in this one image are four entirely different types of dwelling…..a house boat, two old but different detached houses, one very symmetrical with a central door, a window directly above, and two windows, one on each side, at both ground floor and first floor level, the other house tall, brick, and really unusual window frames, one per floor. The behind these a modern three or four storey apartment block.

Imagine what it might be like to live in each of these places. Don’t you think the experience would be quite different in each one?

Of course, a lot of modern housing is very “standard” with identical layouts and architecture, but even if that’s the kind of place where you live, don’t you think that kind of “habitat” influences both your daily experience of life, and, probably also, your world view.

I wonder how much our immediate “habitat” of the building we dwell in influences how we experience life? I suspect it’s quite a lot.

Of course, we can then expand our view and take in more than the house or flat where we live, to see the street, the neighbourhood, and the town or city. We can expand it further to consider the country where we find that town or city, which takes us beyond the physical environment of land and nature to the social values, habits and laws.

Finally, let’s expand that idea of “habitat” artificially bound by invented invisible borders and consider the entire “biome” of planet Earth, because we all share that particular habitat.

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Here in Europe autumn is a season of great change where we move from summer to winter. One of the most astonishing phenomena of this season is migration. Look at this fabulous flying V of cranes heading south! I wish I could let you hear the incredible noise they make, but my little phone recording really doesn’t do them justice.

These are only one of the species of bird which migrates. The hoopoe and the redstart have already left my garden and I still have no idea where they go or how they manage to find their way back to exactly this small square of the Earth every Spring. The other birds I see around here flying in similar great V shapes are geese, but I haven’t seen any passing by yet.

Don’t you think it’s an astonishing phenomenon, this ability of these little creatures to navigate and fly across thousands of miles from one exact place to another? As far as I know nobody has managed to fully understand how they do that. But it’s also amazing to me that they have the energy and the determination to make the huge effort of flight over these enormous journeys.

Birds, of course, are not the only creatures to migrate. Many others do, from fish to butterflies. So it’s an important, significant natural phenomenon of Life. Many many more creatures migrate in the sense of moving from their original habitats to other ones, but don’t do this regular back and forth seasonal migration. In fact whilst millions of creatures live their entire lives in on physical location, or niche, millions of others either travel long distances within their lifetimes or over generations…….like humans, for example!

The BBC show, “Who do you think you are?” is often fascinating, tracing someone’s ancestors over centuries past. Normally, the stories take the subject to several countries, and as they tend to focus on only a small number of this person’s ancestors in a one hour show, we know that if they explored more fully they’d find origins in multiple and diverse locations.

The only living creatures to experience nation-state borders and barriers to this freedom of movement are human beings. Why do we do that? Why do we erect these utterly artificial and pretty arbitrary barriers to human movement, if it’s in our nature, as it is in so many other species, to migrate?

I find the rules and regulations around “citizenship” difficult, confusing and unjust. I don’t understand why two families living in the same street, with children in the same schools, adults working, shopping and enjoying life in the same offices, factories, stores, cinemas, theatres and sports halls, should have different rights and responsibilities. It sets up discrimination, prejudice and resentments.

Why don’t we change that? Change it to habitats. Why can’t we have the same rules, rights, obligations and responsibilities for all the inhabitants of the same habitats? Call that habitat a nation state if you must, but the important point is to treat all inhabitants equally under the same law.

I know that the whole issue of borders and migration is a difficult one, and I’ve read Rutger Bergman’s “Utopia for Realists” where he advocates no borders. Maybe that’s an aim worth having, but I think it will be a long and difficult road to get there. However, would it be so difficult to argue that all the inhabitants of the same habitat be given the same right and obligations?

This isn’t an issue of “nationality”, not even of an individual’s life story of several “homes”, or of ancestors from particular areas of planet Earth. It’s about how we live together in the present time, based on the present, not the past. It’s about developing fraternity, solidarity, equality, justice, fairness, and freedom. Can’t we learn this from Nature?

What do you think of this idea?

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I’ve stumbled across trees like this a number of times. The first time I saw a tree trunk taking such a convoluted, twisting path I was quite astonished, but more than not I see such patterns not just in a single tree, but in a tree’s relationship to another tree.

It’s not that common to find trees entangling themselves in each other like this. Of course, there are other plants, for example, “climbers”, which have the ability to entwine themselves on whatever they can reach, as their core characteristic. But in trees, it’s not so obvious. You know why? Because they do most of their entanglement below ground….in their root systems, which we now know from forest studies, are vast entangled webs of connections between trees with microfibres and fungi creating most of the functional connections between them.

We humans are perhaps the most sociable creatures of all. We certainly have the most highly developed systems within our bodies and brains to enable us to pick up signals, make responses, create bonds and connections, and to co-operate with others.

A bit like with the trees, most of those connections go on underground. Well, not below the soil, as they do in tree world, but in the sub-conscious. I think we tend to forget that. Our oldest, most developed, most evolved systems of function are unconscious. From everything to do with maintaining a healthy living body, to the detection of information and energy, to the whole vast world of emotions. It mostly happens below the level of consciousness.

We don’t have to think about making our heart beat. We don’t have to think about releasing insulin or adrenaline. We don’t have to be conscious of our processes of digestion. Our emotions, like our dreams, emerge from our sub-conscious.

Neuroscientists have discovered that our conscious thought making processes are actually much slower than our unconscious ones. Much slower, and starting just a bit later than the unconscious ones.

That’s quite something. We tend to imagine that we are primarily conscious, reflective, analytic, critical, rational creatures. But actually our survival, and our maintenance of healthy life occurs below the level of conscious awareness. We interact with, form bonds with, relate to, and entwine ourselves with other humans and with the rest of the “more than human” world through ancient, highly evolved un- or sub- conscious processes. They work. They are highly refined and they are fast.

I think it’s a mistake to think of our conscious processes as “superior” or “higher”. Rather, they give us the ability to create spaces, to stand back, to pause, to see, hear, become aware and reflect, and then to make choices and express our will. They are wonderful processes and we wouldn’t be fully human without them.

But let’s not dismiss or belittle our processes of entanglement which connect us to all that is more than our individual selves. Let’s not dismiss them, because if we do, we delude ourselves into thinking we are completely separate, isolate individuals existing as if in a vacuum.

We aren’t. We emerge from, and exist within, all that exists. We are entwined.

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