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Archive for the ‘from the living room’ Category

A couple of little finches have built an astonishing little nest almost at the very end of one of the branches of the mulberry tree. The next looks pretty precarious but actually it’s well hidden amongst the leaves and it’s brilliantly woven. Just how do they do that? How do these tiny little birds gather bits and pieces from around the garden and actually weave them into these tight, sturdy nests? I mean how do they manage that with just their beaks? And where do they get their knowledge from? I can’t see that they learn it from any older birds. Is it actually programmed into the DNA sequences of their genes? Really? Isn’t that utterly mind-boggling? I’ve read similar musings about spider webs. Because every single web, and every single nest, is created in a unique circumstance. A new circumstance of time, place, wind, rain, sunshine, heat, cold…..I could go on. So even with a DNA coded programme for web creation, or nest building, each creature has to adapt that knowledge to the present circumstances. Honestly, I’m amazed!

But my amazement doesn’t stop here, because after finding about four little light blue eggs in this nest a wee while back,

Now they’ve all hatched, producing these chicks. What on earth do they look like? This is one of them about a week old. Now, about two weeks old, they are starting to develop feathers. If I understand it correctly, within the next two, or three weeks, they’ll fly. You get that? They will fly! From emergence from the egg to FLYING in about four weeks.

Now, embryology has always fascinated me. Probably my most favourite teacher at Medical School was the professor of anatomy who drew the stages of development of the human embryo on a giant blackboard using a pack of multicoloured chalks. Wow! How impressive was that! Sheer works of art, lecture by lecture. Sadly, we didn’t have mobile phones in those days, so none of us were able to capture those blackboard works. But I do still have them in my memory. Beautiful as they were I still remain utterly astonished that the cells of an embryo can replicate and differentiate and move into entirely the correct places to develop a human being with all the organs, tissues and networks of systems which form the new born child. When I look at this tiny chick I think the same. I think how on earth does the fertilised egg develop this head, this beak, these eyes……and now, the beginning of feathers and wings. And within two weeks from now these chicks will launch out of this nest and fly. How long does it take for a human baby to walk by him or herself? This little bird takes a month from “birth” to flying.

If you don’t find that astonishing and amazing…..well, you do, don’t you?

We take so much of our lives for granted. There’s so much we don’t know and don’t understand. But, can I recommend this?

Take a moment or two to reflect on how one cell (an ovum), joins with one other (a sperm), to become ONE cell which almost immediately becomes two, which become four, then eight, then sixteen……and hour by hour, day by day, a unique creature emerges, with millions and millions of cells, different kinds of cells produced from the original ONE, producing a body, with eyes, a mouth, all the necessary organs……You don’t have to go any further. Just consider any stage along this path and wonder.

Doesn’t it make you feel awe?

Doesn’t it make you feel humble?

Just allow yourself to enjoy that for a moment or two.

It’ll shift your perspective on the world.

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I see this sort of thing a lot when I look at old buildings in either France or Spain. This one is in Segovia.

What’s the first thing you notice?

The window?

Or the window in an arch?

See, when I look at something like this I really get to wondering….how did this come about? Did the original builders build a nice big entrance way, two verticals and a horizontal? Building a frame like a picture frame for an entrance? Maybe not….well, maybe not exactly anyway, because it looks like exactly the same bricks have been used to make the archway and some of the bricks seem to run between the two frames….the square frame and the arched frame. So maybe the original builders built an arched entrance and surrounded the arch with a frame?

But then it looks like somebody decided not to have an entrance there after all and filled in the space.

Then somebody else thought, hey, wait a minute, I’d like a window here and put in the window….but did they fit bars around the window at the same time?

So, has this window, this barred window, emerged over many years from a wall which was built in the space formed by an arched doorway?

And what was the thinking behind each of those steps in the development?

Make an entrance, an attractive, obvious entrance…..then block it up…..then make a window, but not one for letting that much light in, and certainly not one somebody might climb into, or out of…..was that, is that, a problem around here? People climbing in and out of windows?

Bear with me here but because I worked as a doctor for almost forty years this image sparks my thinking about patients and the problems they talked about in the consulting room. They’d bring the equivalent of this window….let’s say they’d talk about a pain (instead of a pane….ha! ha! sorry!)…..and I’d ask about the pain, asking them to describe it….its features, its characteristics, its exact location, what surrounded it, or accompanied it……and then I’d want to know how it arose. Tell me when it wasn’t there. What was there before it? What was happening when it began? And so, gradually, what a first glance might be a simple symptom turned into a unique, never before told, story…..and that’s where I began to understand what the problem might be.

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Poppies are such striking flowers. They radiate colour and they pull you towards them to have a closer look, or to take some photos. Their petals are often huge but somehow delicate and fragile, and they don’t last very long.

I do adore these flowers, not least because they offer you a second chance to be entranced by them after their petals fall.

Wow! Just look at this! Click on the photo to get a closer look! Isn’t it just a perfect design? A glorious pattern?

It’s like a jewel, isn’t it? Something precious, something valuable, something simply beautiful.

So here’s an impossible question…..what is more beautiful?

The petals of the poppy, or the poppy after they fall?

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We all live embedded in multiple environments, or contexts…..webs of connected flows of energy, information and materials. I wonder how aware we are of them? I wonder how conscious we are of the signals and messages we are receiving as we go about our every day activities?

When I was in Segovia recently I took a couple of photos, which, with hindsight, I think say something important about one kind of environment – the cultural one. By that I mean the web of meanings and values which bathe a town, a city, or a region in waves of a certain kind….the kind which contribute to what someone means when they talk about “a way of life”, or “an identity”.

The first photo is of these two nuns walking around the corner of a building. Segovia has a history of convents, and many of them are still active.

The second is more secular.

The matadors. Local heroes. Bull fighting evokes strong reactions in people, with some deeply attached to it, and others considering it barbaric. Whatever your reaction, however, you can’t deny this aspect of the cultural environment in a place like this, exerts a powerful influence on the minds and lives of the people who live here, and the people who visit.

I was born in Scotland, in Stirling, the city on the edge of The Trossachs, an area rich in lochs, forests and hills. Stirling Castle stands on a rocky outcrop high above the town and casts its own historic influence on it, and on the people. My gran used to tell me that boys born in Stirling were “Sons of the Rock”. Is there any better example of how culture and place intermingle to create influential environments where ideas of how to live and who I am have their roots?

What is your cultural environment like?

Could you take a photo or two which would give someone else a sense of it?

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I noticed this emblem in the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain. This is where Isabella “The Catholic” was crowned queen Isabella I of Castille in 1474.

The most prominent part of this image is the magpie. So, here’s my first question – what is the symbolism of the magpie in this context? I know the magpie represents both good luck and bad (the old rhyme starts “One for sorrow, two for joy….?) but what’s it’s significance here, in the Alcazar? Secondly, there are two trees, clearly different species. The one on the right looks like a palm tree, but the one on the left? What is that? What are these trees symbolic of? The tree of life and the tree of knowledge? Islam and Christianity? Does anyone know?

Finally there is the five pointed star. A symbol of the Divine?

I’d love to hear any ideas or insights you might have……

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There’s an ancient philosophical “spiritual exercise” known as taking the “view from on high”, or “the view from above”.

It involves casting your imagination and thoughts high up above the Earth to see the world as a whole and to see how small people look as they busy about their daily activities on such a tiny speck of a planet in the vast universe.

When I stood above the aqueduct in Segovia I got one of those experiences. It’s an immense structure built in the late first century AD using stones which were carved to fit precisely on top of each other. There is no mortar or cement holding this together. It’s like a giant “dry stane dyke” (as we say in Scotland).

Although the structure itself is astonishing, what amazes me is how the town of Segovia grew up around it. You can see, in these two images, both to the left and the right of the aqueduct and you can see how small the people look, living their lives in their cafes, their shops, houses and streets around this structure. In this second photo you can see the mountains beyond, and you just know that if you were standing up there, how small the aqueduct and the whole town of Segovia would appear.

This view from on high somehow transports us into not only an overview of the present, the here and now, but above the flow of time, seeing centuries of human life and activity laid out before us.

Isn’t that quite a perspective?

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When I stroll along a quayside in any fishing village, I frequently come across heaps of nets, and bits of nets. There’s something engagingly beautiful about them.

One of the thoughts they provoke is the idea of the red thread…..that essential whatever it is that runs through our lives. There’s a red thread which ties all of our experiences and stories together. It’s a kind of metaphor of the self, the narrative self. For each of us that red thread is unique. No two threads have exactly the same point of origin, the exactly same length, twists, turns and knots.

And the red thread doesn’t exist in isolation. There is no red thread which doesn’t weave itself through all the other threads….the fibres which make up existence.

Whether those fibres are neurones, or storylines, or energy flows, or manifestations of “String Theory”, none of them are unconnected to others. It’s a kind of essential Truth of the Universe isn’t it? That every single thread is connected to others, and ultimately, if we start to follow one thread it will lead us onto and along ALL the others?

There are layers upon layers of these webs and nets. More dimensions than we can imagine, intersecting, co-existing, inter-acting, producing both wholeness and uniqueness.

There are more colours, more shades, more thicknesses and lengths than we can imagine. The diversity which exists in the universe is astonishing. And don’t you think this diversity is beautiful? Doesn’t it thrill you?

Whenever I see nets like these I think of the two fundamental elements of all webs – nodes and links. I find that such a helpful way to see Life, to see a human being, a community, a city, a planet……

Have you come across the increasingly large number of words which end in “-ome” these days?

Genome – the network of genes

Proteome – the network of proteins produced by our cells

Microbiome – the network of bacteria which co-exist with our own cells in and on our bodies

And other networks too – of the nervous system, the immune system, the hormone system.

Of family networks, of social networks, of cultural networks….

Of biomes – the environmental niches, each nested in ever larger networks of biomes.

As we evolve our understanding of the universe from the simplified, reductionist model of separate entities floating in empty space, we are moving towards a more holistic, more realistic understanding based on the inter-connectedness of everything.

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