Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘from the viewing room’ Category

Sheer beauty.

What is it that I love so much about this world?

The wonders of the everyday. Or “L’émerveillement du quotidien”. It’s normal for me to find myself wondering about something I’ve just seen or heard.

I suppose for most of my working life my days were filled with patients. I never tired of that. I never got bored of that. Every day each patient would present to me a unique a story, a new, and singular problem, puzzle or conundrum to unravel. Each patient would be asking me to help them make sense of what they were experiencing and to support their abilities to heal, to cope, to adapt. Maybe they didn’t quite use that language but that’s always what I heard.

Before I became a doctor, way before, right back as early as I can remember I was driven by curiosity. I wanted to learn, discover and explore. It strikes me now that it isn’t a long way from curiosity to wonder.

People have always amazed me. They still do. Life has always amazed me. This Earth, this planet, the solar system, this universe which we all live in have always amazed me, filling me with an infinite supply of curiosity.

But there’s something else.

Beauty.

Look at this photo of a glorious, immersive sunset, where every single element of the sky and the Earth changes colour. Look at the palette! It is just breathtakingly gorgeous.

I see beauty everywhere. Which isn’t to say I find everything I see beautiful, I don’t. But there is “so much beauty in this world” (do you know what movie that comes from? Here’s the answer).

I am a very visual person. I think visually. I sketch and diagram as I think. I love photography and I think I “have an eye for it”. I see what I find amazing, curious or beautiful and I try to take a photo or two. Then I return to those images again and again, year after year, and I find that, like with this one, the delight, the pleasure, the amazement in beauty like this never fades.

Of course there are other senses and I don’t just experience beauty visually. I love music. I collected “records” long before people starting calling them “vinyl”. I still have them. I still play them. I spent hours and hours ripping CDs onto iTunes and I don’t even know where those libraries are any more! But I stream music now. Every day. Several times a day. I used to discover new music on the radio. I took the back off an old radio when I was a teenager, attached two wires to the speaker using clips, and fed the audio directly into a cassette recorder. I still have some of those recordings…..studio sessions on John Peel’s programme on Radio 1.

I’ve long had a love for movies. I love them for their stories and for their beauty, oh, and I often love them for their music. I compiled short clips of about a hundred movies to teach doctors and other health care workers about our unique human strategies for coping and adapting. I could have taught those strategies without movies but the beauty, wonder and emotional engagement which came with the movies made them much easier to learn and to remember. I probably have a whole vocabulary of coping and adapting based on movie characters, scenes and plots.

There is beauty all around us. I delight in images. I delight in music. I delight in movies.

Where do you find beauty? Where did you find beauty today?

Read Full Post »

The tendency to think that whatever we see is made up of small parts goes back a long, long way. You can trace it at least back to the Greek concept of the “atom” – that basic unit, or building block, from which everything else is made.

Well, maybe it took the 20th century splitting of the atom to discover that there are no basic units after all…..that when you look inside the “smallest” component part, there are even smaller ones inside, then when you look inside of those, there is……well, it all fades into invisibility somehow. Turns out there are no fixed, fundamental building blocks after all.

The Italian Physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who wrote “Seven Brief Lessons in Physics”, and “Reality is not what it Seems”, describes this well. Here are a few passages from him…..

The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.

The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events. The difference between things and events is that things persist in time, events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical “thing”: we can ask ourselves where it will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not stones.

A handful of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and non-existence and swarm in space even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies, of the innumerable stars, of sunlight, of mountains, woods and fields of grain, of the smiling faces of the young at parties, and of the night sky studded with stars.”

“Elementary particles which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and non-existence” feels like a totally different universe from the one built from indivisible, fixed, discrete atoms.

The deluded idea that the universe is made of bits was compounded during the Industrial Revolution where the machine became the dominant model for interpreting the world. It still is.

Human beings are not like this.

But we still interpret experience using this lens of the machine. We want what was described by Arthur Frank as the “Restitution Model” in Medicine – just fix the broken bit and I’ll be on my way – Diagnosis is finding the wonky part and sorting it or removing it. A patient with multiple disorders is compartmentalised with each disease treated by a different team of specialists….some to deal with the heart, another one to deal with the stomach, yet another to deal with the bones and joints. We even turn symptoms into parts, treating “pain”, for example, with “pain specialists”, as if pain was an entity in its own right.

We take the same machine model and apply it to society as well, reducing human beings to mere cogs in the great machine.

The English philosopher, Mary Midgley, in her “Beast and Man”, said

I had better say once, that my project of taking animal comparisons seriously does not involve a slick mechanistic or deterministic view of freedom. Animals are not machines; one of my main concerns is to combat this notion. Actually only machines are machines.

Animals are not machines, human beings are not machines, and society is not a machine. Using machine models to understand and create institutions, policies, methods of health care, education…….I’d like to see all that disappear.

Life is not machine-like.

You think you can understand, and explain the existence of, a creature like this by seeing it as a machine?

Read Full Post »

Quite a lot of people, me included, are saying this pandemic is throwing a light on certain things – how fragile our systems of health care and social care, how poor the safety nets are, how interconnected the world is, how the instincts to collaborate and connect are so strong in human beings, how much we humans move around the Earth……[add you own here]

But today I stumbled across some old photos of reflections and I realised that the reflections are a different sort of light.

A direct light brightens and maybe even makes more clear the object it is shining on. That’s useful. Though it immediately brings to my mind that question I have about Scandi-noir crime drama – why does the (usually female) detective always go down into the basement or the abandoned warehouse at night, all alone, with just a torch to light up little bits of the room? Well, I suspect I know the answer to that one already.

Reflections are different.

They turn things upside down.

They give us an unusual and different take on reality, which lets us see beyond what the light is illuminating.

Look at this one, for example –

lily leaves on a still pond which is reflecting the blue sky and some clouds.

Or this one –

the edge of a Scottish loch where the still water is reflecting the clouds

Or, this one –

the solitary flamingo doubled by the water’s surface

In all these cases the reflection does something special I think.

It literally turns something upside down which immediately makes us look more carefully.

It changes our perspective whilst keeping our default one. In other words, it increases our perception and understanding by doubling our perspectives.

It shows us connections we were happy to ignore as long as we focused solely on the central subject. It connects the sky to the water, the water in the clouds to the water in the loch, for example, reminding us of these cycles and links and interconnections which are the most fundamental characteristic of Nature.

It increases our experience of beauty. Each of these photos could have been beautiful without the reflections, but I think that including the reflections make them exponentially more beautiful.

All of which brings me to my main thought today – shining a light on something helps us to understand it, promotes analysis and clarifies what has been obscure or forgotten. Reflecting adds in something completely different – it promotes our perception and understanding by changing our perspective, highlighting the connections, and increasing our senses of wonder and delight.

“And not or” is my moto – analyse and reflect. Actually, as I write that sentence I’m reminded of Iain McGilchrist’s Divided Brain thesis and how the left cerebral hemisphere is great for zooming in, analysing and cataloguing, while the right seeks out the connections, the specific and the unique.

 

Read Full Post »

Do you get those experiences where something catches your eye, then when you stop to reflect on it, its significance gets deeper and deeper?

Last week I was in Paris, and on one of the rainy days was heading for a restaurant at lunch time but this scene caught my eye. Despite the fact it was raining, I stopped and took a photo. In fact, I took two….the first time my camera slipped as I pressed the shutter and I only caught the top of the scooter!

These electric scooters are everywhere in Paris just now. You can hire one using an app and drop it off anywhere you like. In fact, that’s become a bit of a problem. People are falling over them on the pavements and sustaining injuries, so the authorities are starting to consider new regulations to control them.

I took the photo because I thought it looked funny. To see this serious gentleman either looking down at the scooter somewhat disdainfully made me smile. Then I thought maybe he’s actually thinking about jumping down onto it!

When I got home, I decided to find out who this man is – turns out he is “The Marquis de Condorcet”, a leading Enlightenment thinker and writer, a mathematician and philosopher. One of his most deeply held beliefs was “progress”. He thought we humans, through learning and communicating with each other, would steadily increase our understanding of the natural, social and political worlds, continuously progressing and improving society. “However, Condorcet stressed that for this to be a possibility man must unify regardless of race, religion, culture or gender”

The wikipedia entry on him goes on to say this –

Condorcet was concerned with individual diversity; he was opposed to proto-utilitarian theories; he considered individual independence, which he described as the characteristic liberty of the moderns, to be of central political importance; and he opposed the imposition of universal and eternal principles.

He was a champion of diversity, equality and individual freedom. But he was also a champion of thinking – that progress required us to deepen our understanding of the world and of each other, comparing and reflecting on our individual experiences. He campaigned against slavery and for women’s civil rights.

So, it took an electric scooter to get my attention, but I’m glad I’ve discovered Condorcet. I think we could learn something from him about the importance of values, diversity and justice.

Read Full Post »

Every year I’m amazed to watch the butterflies appear in the garden the very same day the buddleia bushes flower. I’m convinced they both appear at exactly the same moment. No idea how that happens! Are the butterflies just hanging out around the corner somewhere waiting for the blossoms to appear, then zip round as fast as they can the moment that happens?

However it happens, it’s a delight to see so many varieties of butterfly (and the hummingbird moths, which are incredible creatures!), to watch how they fly in such utterly unpredictable directions, how they spread their wings in the sunlight, or close them up so they look like little leaves.

But here’s one thought which comes up for me time and time again when I see butterflies….they make me more aware of the cyclical nature of life. These little creatures have such different life stages, so different you wouldn’t realise they were stages of the same life. Do we think of them as having a beginning and an end? Starting with an egg, progressing through their caterpillar stages, becoming a chrysalis, then emerging as a butterfly which lays eggs, then dies. Is that the life?

I suppose we do all think of ourselves as having a beginning and an end. But where do we begin, and where do we end?

It depends on whether or not you want to reduce a person to just a physical body. My physical body began with a single fertilised egg and this body will die.

But what about ME?

Do I really think I’m only a physical body? Don’t I have a sense of something immaterial too? A consciousness? A sense of Self? A personality? Characteristics, behaviours, values, beliefs, creative acts, destructive acts? Is there anything I can do which doesn’t ripple out into the world beyond me?

When I look at Rodin’s “The Kiss”, or “The Thinker”, what do I see? The product of the imagination and creative skill of the man called Auguste Rodin. When I listen to music composed and performed by people who are long since dead, isn’t there something I’m sharing there which only they could have created? Aren’t these great works of art the ongoing ripples of unique human beings? Or do you think these are just their footprints? (It doesn’t seem that way to me….these works seem full of life and the potential to continue to create and send out ripples into the universe)

And what about those characteristics, quirks or tendencies that I have which others in my “family tree” also exhibited, even perhaps before I was born? Anyone who explores their genealogy encounters remarkable “coincidences”, talents, life events, behaviours which echo down through the generations. Weren’t those threads present even before the egg which became me even existed?

I think it’s inadequate to narrow a person down to a physical body.

But even if we did, there is still the fact that the body changes continually. It never stops. There is a constant turnover of cells, new beginnings, new endings, every hour of every day. There is a continuous exchange of energy, materials and information between my body and my environment, and we all share the same environment, the same atmosphere, the same air, water…..we are all made from the same molecules, all created from the same “star stuff”.

So it seems to me that beginnings and endings are everywhere……wherever, and whenever, we happen to look.

But it also seems to me that they are nowhere. They just don’t exist. We all emerge from, and dissolve into, the great cycles of the universe.

Beginnings and endings are just where we choose them to be. But we can always make a different choice. We can always take a broader view, a bigger view, a longer view, a more holistic view.

I’m reminded of a song from my school days….it’s by Jeff Beck, and it’s called “Hi Ho Silver Lining” – he sang this truth right there in the opening line of this song…in the first five words……

Read Full Post »

Last November I was invited to address the Faculty of Homeopathy at their Congress in Belfast. I prepared a talk entitled “Images of Health. Pictures and stories” based around some of my own photographs and covering the key principles of health which guided me through my career as a doctor.

Here’s the video of that talk. I hope you enjoy it, find it interesting, or even inspiring. (by the way, if Google pops up any ads along the bottom of the video, just click the “x” box to make them go away 😉 )

I wrote a book to accompany this talk. It’s called “Escape to Reality” and I’ve published it (so far) only as a Kindle e-book. You can find it on Amazon.

 

//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=leckridgecom-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=B01LZE4UVL&asins=B01LZE4UVL&linkId=&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true

Read Full Post »

twelve-project-day-eight

Day eight of the Twelve project takes me to August 2016 (I’ve selected one image for each month of 2016 and I’m posting one a day for twelve days). The big thing for me in August was my first ever visit to Spain. The Spanish border is just four hours drive from where I live in France so you can leave first thing in the morning and have lunch in Spain. I’m not going to write about that whole trip and all the places I visited here but I’ve selected this one image because it captures one of the main threads of that story.

This photo is taken in the Alhambra in Grenada. If you’ve ever thought of making a “bucket list” of places you want to visit before you die, then I highly recommend putting the Alhambra on that list. It’s best to buy your tickets in advance (here’s the official site for buying them online) and you have to select both the date and the time you want to visit. There are a limited number of tickets for each half hour period of the day to manage the flow of visitors. Here’s the number one tip – buy tickets for the 0830 entrance – its the first entrance of the day before it starts to get too busy and way too hot.

This one photo reminds me of several of the things I loved best about my visit.

The shapes of the windows and doors. There are so many in the Alhambra and Generalife site. You can wander from room to room as you wish, unless you are on an organised tour in which case you have to go with your chosen crowd. I prefer to explore freely. Every room you enter has beautiful, enticing windows and doors. You’re drawn to them, both to look through to see what’s on the other side, and to pause and admire their shape, design and decoration.

The decoration – there are just the most astonishing patterns in the stonework and the plaster everywhere. They reminded me of the Celtic knots and Pictish patterns on the ancient stones in Scotland but they are different from both of those. One glance at them captures you. They are beautiful at that very first look, but then you’re drawn into them, exploring more of the detail and noticing how the patterns both repeat and evolve. If you look at the walls, archways and frames in this photo you won’t see a single area left unadorned. The whole place is like that. Room after room. But look down too under the double window and to the left of it….see the mosaic pattern of the tiles? That’s the other major design feature here, the tiles. There are so many different tiles creating so many different patterns in so many different combinations…..the diversity, the creativity, the workmanship….breathtaking.

Through the double window here you can glimpse a garden and that’s one of the things I loved best about the Alhambra….the courtyards and gardens, with trees, flowers, bushes, fountains, pools, paths and benches. The fact that the windows and doors are all wide open to the outside spaces breaks down the boundaries between the inner and outer parts of the palace.

Light and shade – the shadows, the reflections, the contrasts of light and shade are as varied as the patterns on the tiles and walls. I don’t know if they designed the place to give you that experience of light and shade but I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

I know there are many, many, beautiful places to visit in the world. Too many for any of us to experience in one lifetime. But despite the crowds the Alhambra made a huge impact on me. A lot of my photography is of Nature  but this was one of the places where it was the unique creativity of human beings which was almost overwhelming.

We humans really can create the most beautiful, varied, delightful world when we work together with focus and determination.

Patience and persistence – I’d say these are two of the skills I learn to practice every day living in the Charente – and those are the very two skills needed to create beauty. Slowing down, paying attention to the details and enjoying every single moment to the full.

Read Full Post »

Day one January.jpg

Towards the end of the year we tend to come under the influence of Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, who is usually represented as having two face, one facing back, and one facing forwards. That’s where we get the name of the month “January“. He is also god of gateways, doorways and transitions. As I transition from 2016 into 2017 I decided I’d look back over the twelve months of the year and select one photograph I’d taken for each month. I’d choose on the basis of liking the photograph as an image, but also because that moment in my life was a special moment, a day I want to remember because it was an “ordinary day” where it felt “extraordinary”.

I’ve been living in France for a couple of years now so I thought this would also be an opportunity to share something of my experience of the quality of life I’ve been blessed to find here.

Here’s my moment from January.

I’m living in rural France, in a traditional Charentaise style of house at the end of a short road which becomes a trail through the surrounding vineyards. Having lived in a second floor apartment in Scotland for many years before moving here, living in a house with a garden on the edge of the countryside is a huge change for me.

Maybe on the main differences is how much I notice Nature now. There are a lot of birds around here, and many of them are species I’ve never seen before. I’m learning not just what their names are, but what their French names are too, and I’ve bought a beautiful huge book about the birds which live in this part of France. Sometimes its their movement which catches my eye, the way they fly over the garden, or the way they hop back and forth between the trees, the bushes and the grass. Sometimes its a flash of colour, a splash of blue, or yellow, or red. Sometimes its their song or their call which grabs my attention and I scan the landscape to see who it is who is calling.

I discovered that you can buy bird food in the local garden centre, so I bought a bag of these “fat balls” and hung them from the mulberry tree which had shed all its leaves at this time of year. I found that if I hung the balls from the branches, it was mainly beautiful tits and finches which came and clung on to the netting while pecking away at the food.

Look at him. Isn’t he beautiful? Life astonishes me. Every day. I look at a little creature like this and I’m in awe. I wonder at the diversity of Life, at the emergence of Life in the creation of the Universe. I wonder at the beauty we can see wherever we look. It delights me.

Thank you, little bird, for sharing this part of the world with me.

Read Full Post »

 

I recently rediscovered Charlie Chaplin’s “great dictator speech”. I’ve never seen the full movie but this scene is where the man who looks like the dictator makes a speech to the country and says what he actually thinks (not what the actual dictator thought!)

There are a couple of sections which really stand out for me and seem more relevant now than ever.

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

I believe that. We seem to live in a time of rising hatred and fear, of increasingly divided societies, but is it helpful to generalise so much? To see a world of “us” and “them” rather than a world of richly diverse individuals? There may be individuals who do really want to live by others’ misery, not their happiness, but that’s not been my experience in life. It’s not hard to encounter everyday, simple acts of kindness. But there’s not enough emphasis on that is there?

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

We humans have created a way of living together based on competition and greed. But aren’t we just as capable, if we so choose, to create a way of living together based on kindness and gentleness?

Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

You are not machines! You are not cattle!

Well that is right at the heart of the reason why this blog is called Heroes not Zombies. We humans are unique, amazing, fabulous creations. The machine model goes nowhere near an explanation of what we are like. We are not like machines. We are more like “complex adaptive systems“. And by saying “you are not cattle” he means you are not “the group”, “the herd”, “the tribe” even, or any such generalisation. There has never been anyone identical to you, not now, not before and there never will be. Your personal experience of this life is utterly unique. You can’t be reduced to a statistic.

You are a “one off“, not a “one of”, a unique human being, not an example of a “kind”.

I don’t know, but I think it’s worth remembering that these days…..

Read Full Post »

img_5491

I recently came across Rebecca Solnit’s contemplation of the colour blue through the Brainpickings site.

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.

and

img_5450

If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away.

I got to thinking about a couple of photos I took recently in Spain, one in Grenada and one in Segovia.

dscn7483

dscn7509

She talks about how artists used the colour blue, and cites the following classical paintings amongst her examples –

img_5534

img_5531

img_5533

img_0100

Isn’t the blue of distance in these paintings really beautiful?

Here are another few examples from an old French book which we have at home –

img_5512

img_5515

img_5510

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »