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Archive for the ‘from the living room’ Category

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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One of the things I love about living here in Cognac is the availability of different, fresh, locally produced food. I popped into one of the market-style shops here this week and discovered it was “Fete du Pommes” week – a celebration of apples. Because, of course it’s autumn now here and apples are available in abundance. I know I can go into one of the big name supermarkets and select a plastic bag of shiny “perfect” same-size, same-shape apples of a big name variety (“Pink Lady” anyone?) which have been shipped here all the way from the Southern Hemisphere but look what I can get when I go local instead?

I selected four different varieties, none of which I’ve heard of before, and placed them in the cardboard box from the stack at the entrance. Even within each of the many varieties available I could choose big apples, small apples, round apples, wonky apples! What a delight!

Diversity is a core feature of Nature.

There are no two of us the same. The Universe celebrates diversity by bringing to life millions and millions of unique plants, creatures and forms.

Nature abhors mono-cultures. They die out, taking the richness of the soil with them.

I delight in the diversity of human beings. During my four decades of work as a clinical doctor I looked forward to the start of each week when the next patient in the door would tell me an utterly unique story, one I’d never heard in my life before.

I wonder if it’s possible to respect uniqueness and diversity if Clinical Practice is determined by guidelines and protocols for patients who are even more diverse than the locally grown apples in the market.

There’s a beauty in diversity, as you can see from my photo, but it’s a fundamental tenet of reality too….

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Walking through Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh recently I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning display of Rowan berries.

What a colour!

What an abundance!

It felt like the tree was saying “Here’s a gift from me to you”.

I know, you’ll be saying berries are the way trees spread their seeds. It’s not altruism. And while I’m not going to anthropomorphise here, I think there is a Life Key on display here.

How to survive and thrive?

Give.

Make an unconditional offer.

Express yourself as fully and as beautifully as you can.

And you will thrive.

Yes, these berries are there to tempt birds to come and eat them so that the seeds of the plant can be dispersed helping it to reproduce and to spread. But berries are just part of a cycle of Life. They are an essential part of the cycle of Life. If these trees all stopped producing berries yet another species would disappear from our beautiful planet.

Are they the end of a process? A coming to fruition? Yes. But aren’t they also a beginning? The start of an adventure? The launch of the NEW, of the next generation?

Seriously, isn’t this a Life Key?

That to live (by which I mean to survive AND thrive) we have to give. Not hold back, negotiate, set limits and conditions, but give – wholeheartedly, unconditionally, joyfully and abundantly.

Because that’s what makes Life so beautiful, so amazing….that’s what makes others stop in their tracks and connect. That’s what weaves us into the Web of Life.

 

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When I opened the shutters this morning I saw mist. OK, so I saw more than mist, but the mist was pretty dense. It was hiding all the surrounding vineyards, and, normally, I see vineyards straight ahead, to my left and to my right. I knew, of course, that the vineyards were still there. John O’Donohue came to mind, talking about the imagination and how we can’t see the mountains when they are hidden by the fog, but that we still feel their presence, still know they are there……

“You know it’s there, but you cannot see it with the eye. This is a wonderful living metaphor for the imagination. Around every life are these adjacencies–these huge, invisible presences that you can’t pick up with the human eye, but that you can connect to viscerally and affectively through the power of imagination. This is the threshold where polarities can enter into conversation with each other, and take us to new levels of complexity, differentiation, and integration.”

Then I noticed, directly opposite the front door, a sparkling jewel of a spider web adorned with water droplets. I find those serendipitous gifts of Nature irresistible.

Look at it! Just look at it! As far as I know (and correct me if you know better) spider webs are made by single spiders. These little creatures don’t work in teams. So ONE spider must have created this astonishing, complex web. Just look at the number of filaments, look at the junctions, the nodes, the points where the threads meet. Maybe this web was there the day before but because there were no water droplets on it, I didn’t notice it. Or maybe it’s the result of a single night’s work. Either way, I would have completely missed it, had it not been for two more phenomena – water and light.

Let’s start with the water. Where did this water come from? It wasn’t rain. It wasn’t a hose-pipe. It appeared, right out of thin air. We call it dew. Don’t you think dew is gorgeous? Whether its on a patch of grass, delicately outlining some petals or leaves, or adorning the work a spider. How incredible that it exists, invisibly, in the air, and that when the temperature and wind conditions are right, it precipitates out onto the surfaces, revealing itself.

Water reveals itself as thick mist, draping over the landscape like a heavy, dense, grey curtain. But it isn’t heavy, and it isn’t dense. When it reveals itself on the surface of flowers, leaves and spider webs, it reveals itself as droplets. Look at that image again.

How many different sizes of droplets are there? How many droplets are there? I guess that, theoretically, you could measure them, count them, add them up and tabulate them, but, well, hey, life’s too short. I just stand there, transfixed, in awe of them. Each one a tiny lens, showing me the world around it upside down.

I look at this and I think about the Milky Way which arched over my house last night, forming a dense, white carpet of stars stretching from one horizon to the other. You know what it’s like when you look at the Milky Way on a clear night. The longer you gaze at it, the more stars you see. The closer you look, the more the carpet dissolves into individual stars…..a bit like these individual droplets on the web.

It’s easy to get lost in the Milky Way.

It’s easy to lose yourself in a water adorned spider’s web, shining, sparkling, with the light which begins to penetrate the fog.

A couple of hours later, and this phenomenon has gone. The fog has receded into the invisibly watery air. The droplets have evaporated, leaving the thin threads of the webs harder to see.

You’d think that the sunlight would make the world clearer. But somehow, this morning, it was the fog, and brief appearance of the air’s water, which made the world much clearer, by reminding me, as the fox reminded the Little Prince , that

“What is essential is invisible to the eye”

And, oh, how wonderful it is, when what is invisible is revealed.

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I’ve been away visiting family in Scotland. When I returned to the Charente today I noticed that the Boston Ivy in the garden is just beginning to change colour. I also read today that the clocks go back this coming weekend….the end of “summer time”. So, I’m very aware that we are on the cusp of a seasonal change.

Has anyone every asked you which season is your favourite one? And, maybe, why?

I don’t have a favourite, but I do have a particular affinity for both Spring and Autumn because those are the seasons where I am most aware of change. I have a notion that Life is about change. We change constantly throughout our entire lives. We move constantly throughout our entire lives. Every breath we take changes us, and changes the world around us. I love to see change occur right before my eyes. I delight in the appearance of blossom and of buds in the Spring, and the leaves which go from green to red, brown or gold in the Autumn.

I find that the model of reality described by complexity science helps me to understand why things are the way they are. In complex systems, like our planet, the entire system tends to move towards “far from equilibrium” points. It doesn’t sit quietly, static and unmoving. We live on a dynamic Earth speeding through a dramatically dynamic Universe.

As complex systems move towards those edges it experiences “phase changes” and “bifurcation points” – the times and places where change becomes more dramatic, and places where it can go one way or another.

Autumn feels like one of those zones to me – a time and a place where change becomes more obvious, more widespread, and more dramatic.

That excites me!

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As I was driving into Cognac early in the morning I noticed this ribbon of low mist lying on the fields just in front of the vines.

I pulled over and took a couple of photos.

When I look at them again I’m drawn into the flow of wonder, to awe, to transcendence.

I begin by wondering how the air is full of water even when the sky is blue and there’s no hint of dampness to feel. How this invisible water condenses to become visible and lies along the face of the earth for a short while before evaporating back into the invisibility of the air.

I find that amazing.

I’m reminded of the writings of the physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who described how what we see as solid substance looks as if it is made of molecules when you look closer with a microscope, how those molecules look like separate atoms joined together once you examine them even more closely. How, with the ability to look inside atoms, once considered “indivisible”, the fundamental building blocks of reality, we discovered many other smaller “particles”, right down to protons, electrons, neutrons, which, in turn seemed to be made up of even smaller “quarks”. But that now we can see even closer and what we see is……nothing. What we see are waves and particles shimmering and sparkling into, and out of, existence.

That fills me with awe.

That provokes the sense that reality is all One, that the so called boundaries and barriers are artificial, transient, insubstantial, and in that moment I feel a dissolving of the Self, a feeling of One-ness with the Universe, a moment of transcendence.

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When I looked out of my window the other day I saw a butterfly sunning itself on the wall. I carefully took my phone out of my pocket and photographed it through the glass. Then I opened the window carefully to try for a better shot, and the butterfly flew off. Gone.

So, here’s the photo I took. It’s not going to win any wildlife photographer of the year awards but look carefully…..you can see the shadows of the butterfly’s antennae.

Isn’t that amazing?

Maybe I’ve seen this before but as far as I can remember this is the first time in my life that I’ve seen the shadows of a butterfly’s antennae.

I’m struck by the sense of delicacy and fragility in this image. A butterfly’s life is not a long one, but a butterfly’s shadow is even shorter! A cloud just has to pass over the sun and the shadow has gone. The butterfly just has to do what butterflies do….flit off somewhere else….and it’s gone.

This sense of impermanence coupled with the delicacy of the tiny slim antennae of the small fragile butterfly combine to make this a very special moment.

It’s one of those intense fleeting experiences of “first and last”. It’s the first time I’ve seen this, and could be the last – both in general terms, and, of course, this is the one and only opportunity to see this specific, this unique butterfly in this particular place at this particular time.

Life if full of these moments. If only we can be aware of them.

Here’s something else I think about this…..in the midst of all this impermanency, ¬†all this transience, all this fragility, I see the vibrant, colourful, intense flow of LIFE – the LIFE that flows through every living creature, every moment of every day. The Life Force. The “green fuse that drives the flower”. Spinoza’s “conatus” – by which he meant the “striving to survive” which separates the living from the inanimate.

It never fails to astonish me. It never fails to stimulate my sense of wonder, of marvel, of “√©merveillement du quotidien“.

Life is full of these moments. If only we can slow down and pay attention to them.

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