Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

I don’t deny there is a beauty in fog.

But when I looked out the window this morning and saw that the vineyard covered hillside had disappeared, the word “obscured” popped into my head.

Fog “obscures”. It prevents us from seeing the world so clearly. It draws the horizon closer, sets a nearer limit to our perception.

Well, with that in mind, I spotted an article in Wired magazine……”To fight disinformation we need to weaponise the truth

Through social media, mainstream media and mass media, we are being manipulated on a daily basis. We are bombarded with propaganda and advertising, trying to get us to think what someone else wants us to think, to buy what someone else wants us to buy, to believe what someone else wants us to believe, to vote they way someone else wants us to vote.

When I started this blog over a decade ago I chose the title “Heroes not Zombies” because I had an idea that we tend to drift through life on autopilot, but that if we wake up, become aware, and claim the authorship of our own stories, then we become the heroes of our own stories. But, of course, it’s not just that we drift along on autopilot, it’s that we allow others to sit in the driving seat.

So, here, in that Wired article, is a wake up call, but also a kind of education. The author explains how we are being manipulated.

Cybersecurity researcher Ben Nimmo describes Russia’s approach in terms of the “4Ds”: dismiss critics, distort facts, distract from other issues, dismay the audiences. And indeed Russia has been leading the way in using disinformation-based warfare against other nations. But others are now joining them.

The article is worth reading but I thought I’d summarise the 4 “Ds” here. Just so they are nice and clear. Just so that I don’t forget them.

  • DISMISS critics
  • DISTORT facts
  • DISTRACT from other issues
  • DISMAY audiences

So, as you browse through your timelines on your social media accounts today, or read the headlines on the front pages of the newspapers, or watch the news on TV, why not write these four words down on a post-it and see what the messages you are reading look like in the light of the 4Ds?

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I was out looking at a particularly spectacular sunset the other evening then I turned around to look in the opposite direction and saw the birch tree at the other end of the garden.

Look at the colour of it!

Yes, the colour of the sky is pretty gorgeous too, but look how the normally almost black and white birch tree has turn shades of pink and violet.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you’ll know it’s pretty common for me to have two main streams of experience in relation to my photos. The first stream is beauty. I just love this for itself. It’s what someone might describe as “uncommonly beautiful” because it’s beautiful AND it doesn’t look like this on most days. When I see something like this, it stops me in my tracks. I had turned around to head back into the house but I stopped walking when I saw this, took a photo, then stood for a while just admiring what I was looking at. It seemed to me that this part of the world had momentarily been transformed by a Celestial Painter. I think what I’m trying to say here is that sometimes I am entranced by the beauty of the world I live in. Not just that I’m in admiration of it, or even that I’m having one of those moments of “emérveillement” that I keep mentioning here. I am “entranced” by it. It’s beauty like this, moments like these, which re-enchant the world for me, and I think that’s something we could all do with – more experiences of enchantment.

The second stream starts up when I’m at my computer, looking through the photographs I’ve taken. Slowly. When I got to this one I had the following thought-stream start up –

You know that phrase “seeing the world in a new light”? Well, usually it’s used when we have a new insight, a different, deeper, understanding of something or someone. But this literally looks like “the world in a new light”! So what? Well, when we have an insight, or a revelation, a lot changes. Not only does the world seem different now, but we are changed too. We’ve changed our perspective perhaps, or we’ve changed our opinions, our beliefs or even our values? Maybe not changed them from something into something else, but changed them in their intensity, their prominence, their power.

The truth is the world is in a new light every day. There’s been much talk these last few days about this being the beginning of a New Year, 2020, and the beginning of a new decade. I wonder if it feels like that to you? I do have a heightened sense of change underway….change in me as well as change in the world.

Isn’t this reality?

That today is a day which has never occurred before. That today is a day you are going to experience for the very first time. That today is a day which will never be repeated (Groundhog Day being a fiction). I think it’s very, very easy to forget that. When we get caught up in the “stuff” inside our heads, the repeat loops of ruminations and fears, we just don’t see reality any more.

Our internal fantasies mask our lived realities.

So, sometimes we need something remarkable to happen. I like that word, “remarkable” – something which induces comment, inspires us to make a “remark”, to pause, to reflect, and then to share that experience with others. Something which prods us into noticing.

Look! This is new! You haven’t been here before, in this very place at this particular moment. Savour it. Enjoy it. Then reflect.

The world looks different in the light of awareness.

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Just before sunset I looked across towards the horizon and saw first of all a winter vineyard, the old vines standing dark and bare on the earth, then just beyond them a vineyard of young vines, still in their individual protective cylinders.

Beyond them things begin to appear less distinct. I can see a tree just before the next vineyard over, then there is a blanket of smoke from peoples’ chimneys mingling with the last few minutes of sunlight before the sun sinks over the horizon.

I think it is beautiful.

It’s what winter looks like around here.

As I stand watching the changes in the light and colours as the sun sets, I feel a certain timelessness. Well, I think its because I look at the foreground, the mid ground and the far ground and I see the past, the present and the future. But in that same moment, it is all in the past, all in the present and all suggests a future.

I enjoy that particular sensation of time. I think I’ve had many days where time feels linear and running fast. The future rushing towards me, the present gone before I really see it, and the past receding off into some dusky distance. But time doesn’t feel linear here. It feels cyclical and co-present. It doesn’t rush towards me, through me and behind me. It lingers, inviting me to savour each and every moment.

How delightful. No need to measure time, just live it.

Time past and time future

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Burnt Norton. T S Eliot

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It’s almost the end of the year and a few days I go something caught my eye when I walked out into the garden here in the Charente – daisies!

I don’t know why, but I’ve always associated daisies with the summer, and I don’t remember ever seeing them flower around the time of the winter solstice, but, who knows? Maybe they do! Perhaps if you’ve more botanical knowledge than I have you’ll be able to enlighten me. However, what I’m saying is this is the first time in my life that I’ve been aware of daisies flowering in the winter time.

So what, you might ask?

Well, here’s why this interests me……

I find that when I notice something different, something new to me, that it slows me down, draws me into the here and now, makes me more present. I felt compelled to turn around, get my camera, then go back out and take some photos of these daisies. I enjoy getting down in the grass to take a close up of the small flowers which grow there, and for a few moments, as I frame and focus, I lose myself in this action. Lose myself in the sense of interrupting the almost chaotic nature of the endless flow of thoughts which seem to occupy my busy brain, and focus for a bit, on looking, on discovering, on photographing these little flowers.

So, there’s the first thing. They take me to another place, to another pace.

Second, as is often the case when I slow down, notice, savour and become absorbed by something, I find a sense of wellbeing, of joy, and of transcendence occurring. I feel nurtured by that.

Third, I start to think about what I know about this family of plants – the daisy family – what I know about them is that they have been used by humans, for hundreds of years, to treat injuries. They have a reputation for stimulating and encouraging repair and recovery. Bellis perennis (this common lawn daisy), Chamomilla, Calendula, Echinacea, Millefolium, Arnica, are all members of what we now call the Asteraceae (the daisy family). And they are all members of Nature’s Pharmacy of healing plants, used particularly in the treatment of injuries. There’s an interesting quality which many of the flowers share which relates to this repair-ability they seem to have – when you walk across the grass, standing on daisies as you go, if you stop and look back, it’s hard to see which ones you stepped on – they have great resilience, great ability to withstand and recover from trauma. Isn’t that interesting?

Fourth, and this is because of what I’ve learned over the years about these little plants, as I wander around the garden, crouching down to take the photos, I start to wonder about resilience. How resilience, which incorporates both an ability to withstand trauma, and an ability to recover from it, is much neglected in Medicine. Even in the treatment of injuries, I wasn’t taught much at Medical School about resilience or how to stimulate and nurture it. But isn’t this an essential part of all healing? This poorly understood phenomenon of self-defence, self-regulation and self-repair. I know now it’s a common feature of all “complex adaptive systems“. But that’s not something taught at Medical School either…..

Fifthly, and, if you are familiar with my thought from other posts on this site you’ll see this one coming, I feel humbled. I feel humbled by the astonishing phenomenon of the lives of these pretty flowers. I feel humbled by the realisation of the limits and partial nature of all human knowledge, and, certainly my own! I feel humbled to be in touch with the natural phenomenon of resilience, and ponder what I can do, what we can do together, to stimulate and support the resilience of ourselves, our loved ones, of other living creatures, of ecosystems, of Nature, of our planet Earth.

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Last weekend we heard a tremendous noise. It was like thunder, or maybe an earthquake, but the storm hadn’t arrived yet, and we’d felt no earth tremors. When we went outside to look we saw this…..

(and for comparison, this is how the wall looked before it fell)

My first thought was thank goodness nobody was hurt. Quickly followed by remembering how many times in the last five years I’ve stood at the very top of a tall ladder trimming this vine. So, lucky it didn’t fall while I was doing that!

Practicalities aside, I’m quite surprised by the strength of the emotional impact of this collapse.

It feels like a huge loss. Over the seasons, I’ve watched the phases of this incredible vine, from leafy green, to reds and golds, to the phase where the leaves fall and the bright yellow stalks are left behind, to the purple berries on bright red stems becoming more obvious as the leaves and stalks fall. I’ve heard the sound like waterfall as the millions of seed pop out from their capsules and cascade down the wall in late summer. I’ve heard the really loud buzzing choir of thousands of bees gathering the pollen in peak summer. I’ve seen the blackbird pair make their nest and spend several minutes hopping around the grass trying to figure out where they’d put it. I’ve seen the handful of nests left behind in the winter. I’ve seen flocks of starlings descend on the purple berries. In short, the collapse of the wall, taking the vine with it, feels like the collapse of an ecosystem. And ecosystem which became part of my everyday experience. That feels like a tragedy. But, probably, the wall will be rebuilt, and, in time, the vine will recover. On the other hand, maybe the neighbours will decide not to build such a big wall after all. What then? We’ll see.

It also feels like an ending. Maybe because we are rushing towards the end of a decade, in the midst of environmental, social and political upheavals, but I happen to be reading an edition of a French journal which is featuring “collapsologie” – the phenomenon of “collapse” and the various experts and thinkers who are reflecting on it. So, probably my current reading heightens my sensitivity to this wall collapse feeling like an ending. But added to that, our landlord sold the neighbouring field earlier this year and now someone has started building a house just on the other side of the fence. So I can see heaps of stones and earth on two sides of the garden now. It feels like these last five years of open, tranquil living might be about to end. Of course, what comes with endings are beginnings…..so my mind turns now to “what next?”, “where next?” and “how to live?” (as it often does, to be honest). This mixture of endings and beginnings sure feels unsettling, as, I suppose does all change. There are the gradual changes which we only really notice in looking back, but there are the more substantial, sudden, or at least, relatively quick ones, where it all feels more acute, more powerful, more vivid.

So, I was a little surprised, a couple of days later, when I looked at the remains of the wall, and saw blue sky, and, somehow it seemed brand new. Somehow I knew I’d never quite seen that extent of blue sky in that direction before. It inspired me to take a photo –

Then later that day, after sunset, when I went out to close all the shutters (which has been part of my ritual of living since I moved here five years ago, shutting the old wooden shutters on all the windows at night, and opening them all to let the sun stream in, every morning). I looked up and the sky was absolutely clear. A deep, wide, all-encompassing black, studied with millions of sparkling stars. I’ve seen that many nights in my time here. We are right at the end of a village and there is very little light pollution, especially after midnight when the single street light goes out for the rest of the night. I looked up and reflexly spotted the small handful of constellations which I know so well, and have known even since I was a teenager. Then I looked at the sky where the wall had been and I saw a vertical line of bright stars. I immediately thought they must be part of a constellation but it wasn’t one I’d ever seen before. I know it won’t be a “new” constellation, just formed, but it was new to me. In fact, I think this might be the first time in my life I’ve spotted a constellation I didn’t know the shape of before I looked. Do you know what I mean? It’s one thing to see the shape of a constellation on a star chart then to seek it out in the night sky, but this was the first time I remember seeing a group of stars in the sky and thinking “that must be a constellation”. What a thrill!

It turns out the constellation is “Aquila” and I’m pretty sure I’ve never ever heard of it. It means “The Eagle”, the bird which carried the thunderbolts of Zeus. Usually, according to what I’ve now read, it’s visible fairly high in the sky in the summer, but at this time, in midwinter, you only get a glimpse of it just above the horizon before it disappears for the night.

Wow! What a mix of emotions indeed! This wall collapse has certainly got me thinking about the whole “constellation” of feelings of loss, sadness, disturbance, and uneasiness, combined with thoughts of the future, of potential, of possibility, of discoveries and experiences still to come, of the unpredictable, messy complexity of life here on Earth.


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I came across a Royal College of General Practitioners document recently – “Fit for the Future” – It is a vision of General Practice in the UK for 2030. There is a lot in it that I’d support but one of the statements is this –

An overhaul of the GP-patient record into a personalised ‘data dashboard’, accessible by healthcare professionals across the NHS, and that will draw on data from the patient’s genomic profile and wearable monitoring devices.
Now, maybe you read this and it excites you, but it made me stop and think “Hang on a minute! A ‘data dashboard’?”
I remember a line from the English philosopher, Mary Midgely, in her book, ‘Wisdom, Information and Wonder’.
One cannot claim to know somebody merely because one has collected a pile of printed information about them.
She wrote that back in 1989, and it’s clear that, since then, we have, to some extent, replaced the piles of printed information with hard drives full of data. But the point remains the same – you won’t know somebody just by looking at data.
One of my roles when I worked at the ‘NHS Centre for Integrative Care’ in Glasgow was to train young doctors in holistic practice. They’d be allowed to spend as long a consultation as they wanted with a patient then they would come to “present the case” to me. In other words, they’d consult their notes (often several A4 pages of notes) and tell me what they’d learned about the patient. At times what they actually communicated to me were detailed descriptions of the patient’s symptoms. Sometimes so many symptoms in such detail that the amount of information was quite overwhelming. By the time they’d finished I would find myself saying “Well, you’ve told me a lot but I don’t know who this person is'” I had no picture of the patient, their life, how illness came into it, how they’d coped, or the effects the illness had had on them, their family and their friends. A holistic case history is not a “pile of printed information”.
Data, or information, as Midgley pointed out, makes “much better sense when [it has] a context”. The context is revealed by the story. I don’t see how you fully understand a person without hearing their story.
Yet, one junior doctor told me she was being taught elsewhere “Never believe patients. They lie all the time. You can only believe the data” (meaning the results of investigations). That appalled me. What kind of Medicine can we practise if we think “patients lie all the time”? What kind of Medicine can we practise if we distrust their personal, unique stories, but trust only in “data”?
Now, I’m not saying that data isn’t useful. It can be. It would be daft to ignore that. But putting data up front and centre to the point where it replaces the relationship and the story? That’s my fear. That someone will think, “all we need is good algorithms and they will deliver all the right answers once we feed the data in.”
I’m sceptical. It doesn’t seem rational to me. It doesn’t seem realistic to me. And it risks shoving aside human values and the crucial importance of relationships.
Then, just yesterday the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, put forward an aspiration for every newborn child in the UK to have their genome sequenced.  Interestingly, a poll of doctors revealed – “>2000 responses. Only around 10% of doctors would find genetic data more useful than postcode in planning the care for a newborn baby.”
I think we have to claim the ground for the importance of the unique human story. If, as doctors, we fail to consider the environments and circumstances of an individual life, we will fail our patients.
Data without contexts has some use, but it is not a full understanding of, or even a “knowledge of”, a patient.

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I took this photo over five years ago but it’s still one of my favourites. One of those photos I return to and spend some time with. It does more than please me. It brings back memories of that day. It activates connections I have deep inside. It inspires me.

What do I notice?

Well, the largest part of the image is taken up with rock, and just look at that rock! It flows and it folds as if it is pliable. But, take it from me, that rock feels as hard as ….. well, rock! It must take aeons to shape it like this. What shapes it? I’m not a geologist but it seems pretty obvious to me that the major creative force here is water. See the river rapids just beyond it? That lively, foamy, energy-charged flow of water? That’s the main sculptor here. Moment by moment, day by day, year by year, era by era, it persists, crashing against the rock, flowing over it, caressing it, smoothing it, shaping it.

There’s something else in that interaction of rock and water which is not so obvious from this image…..the water and the rock change each other. The content of the water is changed by the elements washed out of the rock. The direction, the speed and the force of the water is changed by their encounter.

The look directly in front of the rock at the log…..this log which is the remains of a tree which fell who knows how long ago and who knows where? It looks like it has been carried downstream to here. Is this where its journey ends? It too has been shaped by the river. It brings its own structure, its own patterns, but it now reflects the flow of the water and the markings on the rock it lies next to.

Each of these, the river, the rock, the tree, are interacting with each other, exchanging atoms and molecules, intermingling their energies, influencing and shaping each other.

In front of the tree is more water, this time less energetic, less white and foamy. This time pooling more peacefully, almost resting between the tree and some smaller rocks. And look at that rock in the front of the photo….a striped rock, a history of millennia running right through its middle, reminding us just how ancient this world is.

When I look at that striped rock I see a hint of a baby elephant. Now there’s one creature which has never been known to stroll through the forests of Scotland! But that’s how we function, we humans, isn’t it? We are continually being influenced by and interacting with everything we see, everything we hear, smell, taste and touch, and by all those invisible flows of microbes, molecules, and energies that continuously shape us, just as we shape them.

That’s what this image leads to, for me ……. a sense of the Life Force, the Creative Force of the Universe …… active, dynamic, flowing, shaping, influencing and interacting.

That delights me.

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