Archive for the ‘narrative’ Category

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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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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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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Irises are the most astonishingly beautiful and attractive flowers. Whenever I see them I think of the story ‘Iris’ by Herman Hesse where he wrote this –

He had a great love for this flower and peering into it was his favourite pastime; sometimes he saw the delicate upright yellow members as a golden fence in a king’s garden, sometimes as a double row of beautiful dream trees untouched by any breeze, and between them, bright and interlaced with living veins as delicate as glass, ran the mysterious path to the interior. There at the back the cavern yawned hugely and the path between the golden trees lost itself infinitely deep in the unimaginable abysses, the violet vault arched royally above it and cast thin, magic shadows on the silent, expectant marvel. Anselm knew that this was the flower’s mouth, that behind the luxuriant yellow finery in the blue abyss lived her heart and thoughts, and that along this lovely shining path with its glassy veins her breath and dreams flowed to and fro.

oh, I loved that the first time I read it and it’s stayed with me for over forty years now.

Iris, in Greek mythology, was the messenger of the gods. Her symbol was the rainbow, which in many cultures is the symbol of hope. But her main role was in carrying messages from one to another. She connected the sea to the sky. She was a bridge builder (not literally but in terms of making connections).

When I thought of her role in facilitating connections I thought of flow, of the to and fro of communication and I thought how much do we need that now? In a time where politics has become more about hate than love, where there are calls for more walls when we need more bridges, when there are demands to close down, isolate and see the ‘other’ as an enemy or a competitor to be defeated.

Oh, how we need Iris, to open peoples’ hearts and minds and to facilitate communication between them.

How we need her, the idea of her, the energy of her, the meaning of her, to create mutually beneficial relationships between different peoples with different ideas, different world views. To make the case for constructive co-operation rather than destructive competition and division….

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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.



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Twelve project Day eleven.jpg

On a wall which runs the full length of one side of my garden grows a plant which isn’t like any other plant I’ve ever seen. It’s name in English is “Boston Ivy”, and its a kind of vine. One of my friends calls it “mile a minute” referring to its speed of growth.

One of the things I like most about it is its complexity. At different times of year its shape, colour and appearance is completely different. Right now in the winter when it’s lost all of its leaves it is a web of stems, creepers and woody trunks. In the height of the summer its lusciously green and is literally a-buzz with bees while providing protected hidden spaces for blackbirds to build their nests. There’s a point in the summer where the seed pods all pop and the sound of millions and millions of the pod shells falling through the leaves to the ground sounds for all the world like a waterfall. The first time I heard it I actually went to look for where the water.

But it’s in the autumn when the leaves turn these glorious shades of red, yellow and gold. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Then once the leaves fall the plant reveals its gorgeous little bluish black berries on bright red stalks. The birds come in their dozens for those!

Having lived here for two years now I see every one of these phases in the context of the ones which came before and the ones still to come. It’s a very physical experience of the reality of stories, or better, of storied reality.


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Day ten of my “twelve project” brings me to this photo which I took in October last year. It’s a picture of the river Charente as flows through the town of Jarnac, which is about a half hour’s drive from the village where I live.

The river gives its name to this whole region, the “Charente” and it flows to the Atlantic passing through the neighbouring region of the “Charente Maritime” on the way. But the river does more than give its name to this region. It is symbolic of, or maybe more accurately, it creates, the pace of life here. People say it flows steadily and calmly, just as you can see in that photo. I’ve been here just over two years now and I’ve never seen it churned up or terribly disturbed. It might happen sometimes but I’ve never ever seen it. Normally when you walk along its banks or look down from one of the bridges, it looks like this.

I encounter the river most commonly in three different towns. My “home town” of Cognac, half an hour to the East in Jarnac, where this photo is taken, and half an hour West to Saintes. In all three of these towns the Charente looks like this. Yet in each of these towns it is also unique and different, because a river isn’t just the water, it’s the banks and the land around the water.

I think it’s not just that it is calming to watch the water flowing so steadily, it slows you down. It slows you down by capturing your attention so that you stand and gaze at it for a while, or you are drawn to wander along one of the miles and miles of footpaths which follow its course, and as you wander it seems the river is keeping pace with you. It’s wandering too. Or is it the other way around? Do we unconsciously fall into step with the river? It slows you down another way too, because when it flows this way the surface is typically highly reflective. Look at the reflections in this photo. It was the sparkle of the sunlight on the lily leaves which initially caught my attention this day, and it was only just after that that I noticed the reflections of the little clouds floating by. It inspires you to reflect.

I love rivers. I grew up in the town of Stirling in Scotland. The River Forth winds its way towards, through and beyond Stirling like a great ribbon, or maybe a snake. You can see it best from Stirling Castle. Standing at the castle gazing down to the Old Bridge, following the curves of the river with my eyes as I look towards the Ochil Hills is one of my strongest memories. It’s one of those scenes which embeds that place in my identity.

I love the symbolism of rivers, how they are never the same two days in a row. As Heraclitus said “you can never step in the same river twice”, reminding us that every moment changes and every moment is unique. I love how you can’t look at a river without imagining both where it has come from and where it going to. It’s like a story. It is present in front of you now, but it brings into this present moment, the past, from the springs in the hills, through its journey of days or weeks, and it holds within it all the potential to become the river it will become as it flows towards the sea.

I can’t think of rivers without thinking of the incredible water cycle of the Earth. How the rivers flow to the sea, how the wind and the sun lift the water into the air, how it condenses to make clouds which then dissolve into rain on the hills and the mountains to create the streams which flow together to create the rivers again. I like that I can see at least part of that in this photo with both the river and the clouds sharing the same space in my picture.


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