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This collection of mailboxes in the hallway of a building in Marseilles caught my eye. I was really taken by the diversity of the collection and the uniqueness of each box. Usually mailboxes at the entrance to a building look pretty much the same. Often they are an array of identical boxes, distinguished only by numbers, or, slightly better, nameplates. But here it seems everyone chose and placed their own box.

This image says something similar to the ones I used yesterday, the ones of a meadow of diverse, glorious colourful flowers. But it brings something else to the table. There is a clear element of individual expression here. Not only has each person chosen their own style of box, but everyone has labelled and/or decorated them according to their own preference. By doing that they are presenting something of their uniqueness, their singularity, to the world.

It was only much later that another thought occurred to me – maybe these are not functioning mailboxes at all. I mean, look at the large wooden one with the label, “Galerie Accord” on it. Does it even have a slot to post mail into? Maybe it does. Maybe it’s in the top where I can’t see it, but noticing the got me wondering. The box declaring “Osteopathe”, for example, seems to have a bell push under it. That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it? But the one at the bottom, marked “B Aegerter” says – no advertising materials please – so, it’s definitely a mailbox.

Well, whether they are functioning mailboxes, or fancy nameplates, it does strike me that this is a great example of the diversity of human expression. Which got me wondering – what “face” do we present to the world? And, how do we present that “face”?

How about you? How do you present yourself to the world? I’m not just thinking of the way we present an “image” or a “front”. I mean more than that. I mean how do you express yourself to the world? Do you think you don’t? Well, the truth is, you do. We all do. We do it through our behaviour, our actions, our words, our choices and preferences, the way we dress, how we furnish, decorate and live in our homes, the way we eat. If you are alive, you are expressing yourself. Do you ever stop to think about that? To wonder what you are “putting out there? To wonder what impacts your life is having on the world? To wonder what ripples of information, energy and substances you are sending out, just by the way you live?

It also makes me think about how we connect. How we choose to connect. There are so many ways now, aren’t there? Not many people communicate only by letter any more. Although in a recent critique of the difficulties which have emerged during the pandemic in France, there was a description of how the two main, most devolved parts of government here, the “Prefecture” and the “Mairie” (I won’t go into the technical details of who does what here), the relationships between the people in these two organisations are described as “epistolary” – they write each other letters. The article quoted mayors (who are elected to work in the town hall, or “mairie”) as saying they had never ever even spoken to the “prefect” (who runs the “prefecture”) on the telephone, let alone having ever met. Kind of astonishing really. Yet the government claims the duo of the “mairie-prefecture” is apparently the key to the delivery of national policies in local areas.

However, not many of us only communicate through letters now, and postcards have all but disappeared (apart from on the stands outside newsagents) – do people still buy them? Do they send them, or collect them in a box? Or do they just take photos with their mobile phone and share them online now?

How do you like to connect to the world?

Phone calls? Text messages? Video calls? WhatsApp? Messenger? What about Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr? Facebook or Twitter? TikTok or Youtube? Goodness, that’s only scratching the surface, isn’t it? But I’m not focussing on the exploration of tools here. I’m wondering about how we present ourselves to the world, and how we connect. I’m wondering if we present different aspects of ourselves when we use those different tools? I know all us have a “multiplicity of selves”, that we assume different roles in different situations and relationships. But how is that translating into the world now, with this explosion of channels and tools?

Do you present and/or express yourself differently through different channels? If you do, (and I’m going to bet that you DO), can you see the over all picture? Can you imagine what your “wall of mailboxes” would look like if it was a collection of they ways you present and express yourself? Your WhatsApp here, your Facebook there, your Twitter here, your Instagram there….and so on.

I don’t have answers to these questions. I’m just wondering….

But as I wonder about it, what about “feeds” and “streams”? I know there are ways to collect various feeds and streams to scroll through them as a collection, (I use Flipboard for example), but is there a similar kind of service or tool for expression and connection? Rather than for just “consuming”?

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Diversity catches my eye. I look across a field and see a multiplicity of plants and colours and I think, “How beautiful!”

Even when I look closer the diversity and beauty remains.

Maybe there is something intuitive, or innate, in us which makes diversity so appealing and beautiful. Maybe we don’t all value diversity to the same degree. However, it’s a strong value preference for me. I don’t find monocultures and sameness attractive. Perhaps that’s because I spent my working life relating to patients, one at a time, and finding that every single one of them was unique. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe my preference for variety and diversity led me into the particular strain of Medicine which required one-to-one working?

It’s funny how the mind gathers various bits and pieces from different sources to create its own connections and syntheses. I’ve been bothered a bit recently by the UK’s new immigration rules, and, in particular the policy of charging “essential workers” who were born somewhere other than the UK several hundred pounds to access the NHS despite the fact they are paying National Insurance and Income Tax. That doesn’t seem a fair rule to me. I don’t see why those particular workers are treated differently just because they were born somewhere other than the UK.

I also have a pattern of waking up some mornings with a phrase or a sentence in my head. I’m not sure if the particular words come up in dreams then I wake with them, or my sleeping brain creates them from my waking amalgam of thoughts and images, but, the actual phrase or sentence is usually crystal clear. The most recent one has been –

Where you live now matters more than where you are born.

When I look at images of healthy, vibrant diversity like the ones in this post, that phrase pops back into my mind. It actually matters little where each of these flowers came from. Maybe some came from this field or nearby fields. Maybe some were scattered by birds and animals which had carried them across great distances. Maybe some were even imported by seed-gatherers from far away lands. It doesn’t really matter all that much. For them to survive and thrive every single one of them needs to adapt to the environment it finds itself in. Each and every one of them grows in inter-dependent relationship with the soil, the other plants, the bacteria, fungi and the climate where it is living now. That, it strikes me, is true for all of us.

I was born in Stirling, Scotland. I went to university in Edinburgh, spent a working life as a doctor in a handful of towns and cities across Central Scotland. But when I retired six years ago I sold up and moved to France, where I live now. I did that because I wanted to spend a part of my life fully immersed in a different place. A different geographical place, a different climate, and a different culture…..a different language even. I thought it would create the conditions for my ongoing growth and development. That is exactly my experience of these last few years.

I am a Scot. I spent my first 60 years in Scotland and can trace back my ancestors to different parts of Scotland over three centuries at least. I’m not trying to become French. But I am now an “inhabitant” of France. I live here. I rent a house here. I buy my food and drink here. I’ve learned to speak French and read French newspapers, magazines and books. I have conversations with French people. I bought and drive a French car. I’ve adapted my diet and eating habits in the light of thriving local markets and a tendency for certain foodstuffs to be presented seasonally here. I look forward to the first asparagus of the year, the first “gariguette” strawberries, the first Corsican clementines, the first “Charentaise” melons. I’m delighting in the harvest of the cherries and the figs from the trees in my garden just now, and will look forward to harvesting the courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins later in the year. I never did any of those things in Scotland. So what matters most to me these days? The fact I was born in Scotland or the fact I’m living in France? Maybe you’d argue that’s a false choice, and I have some sympathy for that argument because I’d say I am still a Scot, just one who lives in France now.

So what? you might ask.

Well I think this informs my values, beliefs and thoughts. I think every country should treat all its inhabitants equally. Same laws, same freedoms, same rights, same responsibilities, same opportunities.

I don’t think there should be different laws, freedoms, rights, responsibilities or opportunities dependent on where an inhabitant was born.

Note – I am VERY carefully choosing that word – inhabitant.

I think that’s the key. It’s not about “citizenship” for me. Or “nationality”. Or “tax payer”. Or “consumer”. Or whatever other terms are used to set rights and freedoms. It’s “inhabitants” – the people who live in a shared place, a shared community, a shared society, at the same time.

I know, I know, that’s all a bit utopian and there isn’t a nation state on the planet where that principle applies. But I still wish it did. Because where we live now matters more than where we were born.

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Continuing my little series of patterns to look for, today I’m going to share circles with you. I know, there’s probably a bit of overlap between spirals and circles, but I’m going to try and stick with the more obvious circles and not wander down the spiral path!

There’s an old tower near me, up in one of the neighbouring vineyards. I don’t know its history and I don’t know what it was used for, but it’s now just a circular stone tower with a doorway, a couple of spaces where windows used to be, and no roof. When I step inside it and look up, this is what I see! I’ve loved this photo from the day I took it. The circle itself is hugely appealing, and the blue sky sure adds something. I often look at this image (in fact I have it on the lock screen of my iPad) and it reminds me of my limits. I know I can only see within the parameters of my beliefs, values and personal experience. I know too, that I can never know EVERYTHING there is to know about ANYTHING – including about any of patient I ever saw, about any friend or relative I ever knew, and about myself. I like to remind myself of that. Isn’t it kind of odd that I use a circle to remind myself of that, because a circle, traditionally represents wholeness or completeness. Somehow I’ve done something quite different with it.

This is a round window in a little house in a village just outside of Kyoto. Well, is it a window? Or is it a lamp? It’s on the outside wall, but you can’t see through it. It’s also got a lamp, or a bulb, behind it, so that it is shining out onto the street. Why is it there? I’ve no idea. But, again, I’ve loved this image from the day I saw it. I satisfies me enormously.

This particular circle is, of course, one I see every month. I am unceasingly fascinated with it. I love to follow the phases of the Moon over each 28 day cycle, but I especially love the full moon. The Moon stirs the energy of the Divine Feminine for me. It reminds me how we all have both of those universal energies coursing through our lives. Maybe it’s because I am a man, but I feel the Moon completes me somehow. It makes me feel more whole.

Most stones are not circular. They are not spheres. So when I come across one like this I am struck but how entrancing it seems to be. With the patterns of the lichen on its surface, this looks like a small planet to me. A whole world mapped out right before me.

There’s something magical about a circular bowl filled with water, reflecting the sky, and the forest which surrounds it. This conjures up the image of Galadriel’s mirror (from Lord of the Rings) for me. I have an ancient well in my garden. It’s got a metal lid, locked with a padlock to keep it safe. But if you open the lid and peer down, more than twenty metres in the dark, you can glimpse lights and movement on the round surface of the deep water. I think of those things when I see this circle. It excites me, stirs my imagination, provokes thoughts about magic and divination.

I saw this circular window at a temple in Japan. Of course, some of you will look at this and say, “It’s not whole. It’s got a piece cut off the bottom!” but that’s the typical Japanese aesthetic, never seeking to present “prefection” as something complete, but preferring the dynamism implied by asymmetry and “incompleteness”. Well I love it. And I’ve wondered ever since why we don’t have more circular windows in our buildings. Wouldn’t it be great to have a circular window in your house? (Maybe you’ve got one!)

Finally, here’s the setting Sun. I have seen SO many spectacular sunsets in my life. I see LOTS of them here in the Charente. And I never, ever tire of them. I am entranced by the setting Sun. If the Moon is the Feminine Principle for me, the Sun is the Masculine one. I love to connect to both.

Once I read that the Sun doesn’t actually set. It’s we, on planet Earth who are moving, not the Sun moving in relation to us. So, a better term for this time of day would be “Earth Rising”, because that’s what is happening. The horizon of the Earth is lifting up into the sky as the Earth turns, giving us the sensation that the Sun is setting.

Well, whichever way you think of it. It is utterly entrancing, isn’t it?

Have you got any favourite circles to contemplate?

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“There are no straight lines in Nature”

I don’t know where this teaching comes from, but it’s not true.

There are plenty of straight lines in Nature. OK, maybe they don’t cover great distances in the way manufactured lines do (I’m thinking railway lines and Roman roads) but they are everywhere, all the same.

One typical expression of straight lines is “radial” – they start at a centre point and radiate out in many directions from there. This poppy bud in the image above is an example of that.

Not straight enough for you? Well, how about this?

Do you know what that is? Let’s look from the other side….

Plants show this “radial” spread of straight lines too.

As do shells…

and spider webs

Seeds designed to be carried by the wind use this pattern of radiant straight lines from pointed origins too.

We pick up on these patterns and use them in our art and architecture.

Have a look around today and see where you can spot this pattern. When you do find it, do you think it is beautiful?

One of the things I really like about these “radiant” straight lines is that each line has a beginning and an end, just like a good story. You can see where it has come from and you can see where it is going. It reminds me of a concept from Deleuze and Guattari, which they named “lines of flight”. When I read about this I saw its relevance to complex systems. You might have read elsewhere on this site about “complex adaptive systems” (if not, why not pop that phrase into the search box on the top right of the page and see what comes up?). The complex systems model does more than explain living organisms, it reveals a lot about the underlying structure and function of the universe.

Complex adaptive systems tend to move towards “far from equilibrium” zones. This is what gives them their dynamism, their points of growth and their ability to change. But how do they get there, to those “far from equilibrium” zones? By following particular “lines of flight”.

One of the reasons I liked that so much was it helped me unravel the stories my patients told me. One of my most favourite questions to ask was “When did you last feel completely well?” It often took patience and time to get a clear answer to that question, but time and time again it revealed that the chronic ailment from which the patient was suffering, began either after a particularly severe trauma, or from a phase of life where the traumas piled up on each other, one by one. I wasn’t trying to prove causation, but following the narrative line from that time forwards to the present often revealed both the nature of the traumatic impacts, and, crucially, the adaptive strategies the person had employed (probably mostly sub-consciously) to cope.

Lines of flight, and radiant lines, are typically multiple, and they are also highly unlikely to exist in isolation. However, unravelling what they are, where they intersect, and how they influence each other, is, I believe, at the heart of understanding a person and their life.

I’ll leave you today with another depiction of lines – well, two pictures actually, and neither taken by me –

On the left is the image of Mumbai at night, photographed from a satellite. On the right and image of neurones in a section of a brain. Interesting to think how this structure of intersections and nodes connected by straight lines scales up and down through the levels and dimensions. But I’m taking the original idea of straight lines a step further now, by seeing them in their context.

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Yesterday I was looking for spirals, one of my most favourite shapes in the universe. Today I’m looking for circles, or more specifically, concentric rings. They are another of my most favourite universal shapes.

I’ve taken a lot of photos of spider webs over the years, and, believe me, they are very, very different. This one is a classic of type, though, isn’t it? You can see how ring after ring has been spun to create this fabulous pattern.

The commonest place to see this pattern is on the surface of a pond or a still lake. It always reminds me of the basic fact of influence – how whatever we do or say ripples out into the universe, connecting with, and influencing whatever the waves reach. That’s one of the main reasons I’m so particular about what I write and share. I always hope that whoever encounters these words and images is stimulated in some positive way.

This is one of the most impressive examples I ever came across, in the gardens of Dunrobin Castle in the north of Scotland. What really grabbed my attention in this one was, firstly, the completeness of the pattern, the concentric circles filling the entire pond, and, secondly, unlike where there is a fountain setting off the waves by dripping water into the centre of the basin, in this one there is no fountain. What’s making the ripples?

This is the pattern created on the sea bed by a little Puffer fish. It makes this beautiful pattern in the sand to attract a mate.

I recently saw a concentric circles pattern in the sky, when the Sun appeared with a corona – yes, a corona during the corona virus pandemic!

And, it’s not hard to find this type of pattern in wood, is it?

or even in rocks

You can see that I’ve extended the symmetrical concentric ring idea to a much wider variety of irregular ripples, but I think those two patterns are really just different expressions of the same underlying force – the end result depends on the context, the borders and limits set by the environment.

Japanese art combines spirals, concentric circles and ripples to create a beautiful and very distinct style.

It even influences what I can see on the surface of the Earth when I’m flying above it in a hot air balloon!

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How about you?

Have you seen any beautiful spirals, circles or ripples recently?

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Sometimes I like to collect images of similar shapes or patterns. Today, I’d like to share some spirals.

The spiral is one of the most beautiful forms in nature and art. I think it is at the heart of our universe and tells us something interesting about the course of a life.

It seems to me that rather than running along a straight line, our lives often follow more of a spiral pattern, revisiting old issues and events time and time again, but each time from a different perspective. If we are growing those spirals drive forward movement and a deepening of our understanding. If we aren’t then we spin round and round the same issues until we learn from them.

That first image is on a window fitting in the chateau where Montaigne lived. Here’s one from a mantelpiece inside that same chateau.

Some spirals you could draw with one line, but what appeals to me so much is how this enfolds two spirals into the one motif.

Here’s an example, found commonly in Japan, of three entwined spirals.

And, here’s a triple spiral where each one is spirally outwards, rather than in towards a central point. Although I completely agree you could see that in completely the other direction….as a gathering from three directions towards a single, common, point.

That’s a simple doorknob, but how beautiful is it? Especially with its triple spiral shadow cast onto the door.

Nature loves spirals too. Here’s a section through a seashell – I found this particular one in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

At the opposite end of the scale, here’s a photo of a star being born….

I saw this while browsing the web this morning, and I think it’s what set me off in this spiral-gathering exercise!

Do you have any images of favourite spirals?

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I took this photo seven years ago. At the time my daughter and her family were living in an apartment on the waterfront along from Leith. There was a whole development of towers of apartments in that area and, obviously, plans to build a whole lot more. But the market collapsed and the other buildings were never constructed. Seven years on, I’m pretty sure nothing much has changed there.

At the time I thought this was a pretty powerful image of unfulfilled plans. The developers created this junction in the road, and even painted the give way marks on the road for anyone arriving here from the road which hadn’t been laid yet. They must have been pretty confident the rest of the development was going ahead, but it didn’t.

Here we all are in the midst of this pandemic and what’s happened to our well laid plans for 2020? I had a couple of visits to family and friends booked, and we had arrangements in place for some friends to visit us here. All of that has been cancelled.

What plans did you have for 2020 which you’ve had to cancel?

I’m sure we’ll all be sharing feelings of disappointment and frustration because of our cancelled plans. But in the big scheme of things, for me, at least, it could have been worse!

What can we do when plans get cancelled?

Accept and adapt. There’s no point raging against the universe, the virus, the government, the airline, or whatever. This is just how things are. I can’t change any of that.

What I can do is adapt.

That’s not just a matter of making new plans to replace the old, cancelled ones though, because we are still in the midst of heightened uncertainty. Nobody knows how long this is going to last or what the “new normal” will look like the other side. So, it doesn’t feel like a time for making detailed new plans.

Here are some of the ways I’ve been adapting. Firstly, savouring the day. I am noticing more, delighting in small every day experiences, relishing small pleasures. Secondly, I’m creating more. In particular, I’m writing a lot. I’m enjoying that. Thirdly, I’m not making detailed plans for the future but I’m actively engaged in reflecting on what’s important to me and how I might like to live in the immediate few years ahead.

As restrictions ease, and the “new normal” emerges, I hope I’ll be better placed to live a life filled with enhanced daily wonders and delights, a healthy flow of creativity, and the ability to make and prioritise good, achievable plans based on my own personal values.

Here’s where the title of this post came from………..

From – To a Mouse, by Robert Burns

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
          On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
          I guess an’ fear!

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