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Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

The phrase “everything is connected” immediately appeals to me and strikes me as true.

The first thing I think of is the human being.

Although I was taught Medicine in parts, learning about cells, tissues, organs and even systems separately, it was an almost unspoken given that all the parts were connected. In Second Year of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, one of the main subjects was Anatomy and we were put into groups of six to spend a year dissecting a human body. Our guide was a three volume textbook, “Cunnigham’s Manual of Practical Anatomy”, along with “Gray’s Anatomy” (probably the most beautiful textbook I ever possessed). I was a bit overwhelmed with the sheer number of pages in these texts and asked one of the tutors “Which bits of this book do we need to learn?” He replied, “Which bits of human beings do you think patients will ask you about once you’re qualified?” “Ah, you mean we have to learn it ALL?” He smiled and walked away.

It would be a full two years after that before I met an actual live patient, but, hey, they don’t teach Medicine that way any more do they?

I don’t remember a single lecture about holism, but somehow it was a core value for me right from the start. However it was over a decade after graduation before I came across “Psychoneuroimmunology” and “Psychoneuroendrocrinology” which were fields of study looking at the connections between the Mind, the Nervous System, the Endocrine System and the Immune System. I think that’s where I first encountered a more holistic science, one focused on “systems” not “parts”.

It was much, much later when I encountered “Complex Adaptive Systems” and both “Chaos Theory” and “Complexity Science”. Somehow I think we are still in pretty early days of developing the sciences of the connections. But it sure still excites me!

As a GP I also had to be aware of the individual patient’s connections between themselves and the rest of the world….their relationships, their work, their housing, their family and so on. Those are threads you never quite get to the end of. I think that makes us humble, that knowing that we will never know all there is to know.

Sometimes it seems to me that our minds are like fractals, vast webs of mirrors reflecting similar patterns of reality to each other. Actually, as I write this I remember “Indra’s Net” – where every drop reflects every other drop. I think we humans are great at spotting patterns, and regularities, and that, combined with our ability to use metaphors and symbols enables us to appreciate the incredibly rich, dense nature of reality.

When I saw this shape on the surface of the water I wondered if it had been caused by a boat, or was it something lying on the river bed? But look at the shape drawn by the farmer who has been working this field. What a gorgeous echo of the shape on the river. One of the things that happens when we appreciate these connections is an experience of beauty and wonder intimately entwined.

One time when flying over the English Channel, I looked down and saw the shadows of the clouds on the water’s surface just before the coast. Ooh, that still pleases me so much to contemplate this image! I love the fragility and impermanency of the little clouds. I love the even more ephemeral nature of their shadows on the Channel. And I love that transition of density of the clouds from the area above the water to the area above the land, how you can see in that the dynamic, ever moving dance of the land and the water and the air. Magic!

What connections have you spotted today?

 

 

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I don’t think of myself as a separate object any more. There is a constant stream of materials, energies and information flowing into me. I ingest some when I eat, I breathe some into me when I inspire. Heat, light, sound, gravity, and many other energies I can’t detect, influence and shape me, some stimulating my senses, some influencing the flow of fluids and elements around my body and into and out of my cells. The way my body and brain have evolved allows my whole being to interpret all these flows, to make sense of them, attach values to them, to allow me to respond and react.

I am changed.

Second by second, minute by minute, day by day and year by year, I am changing. Not a single cell remains the same over my life time. The idea of an “internal environment” is quite an old one now, but more than ever we understand that this is a dynamically changing environment, not a fixed one.

We process all these streams and flows. We create new cells, break down some molecules, make some new ones. We make new connections in our brains, strengthen some feedback loops in our body and weaken others. We make sense of now in the light of the past and the myriad of possible futures.

Then these streams continue on their way. We breathe out certain molecules, subtly changing the mix of gases in our immediate environment. We radiate heat, make noises, and we act.

We send out materials, energies and information into the universe every single moment of our lives.

These flows influence, disturb, change and shape our environment, other people, and all the other forms of life we share this planet with.

So, sometimes, I think it’s a good idea to pause, take stock, reflect, and ask ourselves – what shape are the waves that I’m making?

Because these shapes repeat and echo and ripple out way, way beyond the worlds we can imagine.

What kind of world do we create when we send out angry waves? Waves of fear? Waves of kindness? Waves of joy?

I was thinking about this today because I came across this photo I took at Dunrobin Castle many years ago. The concentric shapes of the ripples in this fountain completely fascinate me. It’s mesmerising. Alongside that, I heard from a couple of people in the last couple of days how much they enjoy my blog posts, and how they have been reading them for years. I didn’t know that. Like any author who publishes a book, I don’t tend to hear from my readers. Yes, I know, some of you hit the “like” button, or make a comment, but I have realised before that only a tiny minority of readers do. And that’s how it should be. After all, when I think of all the books I’ve read and enjoyed in my life, how many of those authors (even just the living ones! ūüėČ ) have I contacted to let them know that? Almost none.

I know people blog, and tweet, and put posts on Facebook for many reasons, but I think it’s always important to wonder about what shapes the waves are that we are sending out into the world. They will travel further and for longer than you think.

I hope I’m sending you some waves of wonder, some waves of joy, some waves of kindness and some waves of beauty. Because that’s my intention.

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Look at these rocks, dropped here by the river. What caught my attention were the colours. It’s too easy to dismiss rocks as grey and just move on. When I stopped to contemplate them I then started to notice the range of sizes and forms. Some are on the way to becoming pebbles, others are rocks way too heavy to lift. I’m not sure I can even begin to describe all the different shapes.

This, to me, is simply beautiful.

So is this…

….the harvest of tomatoes from my garden with their astonishing variety of shapes and colours, and, take it from me, tastes! (Oh, and, yes, I know that one on the left isn’t a tomato. There are some chilli peppers in this shot too!)

and this…

The Hanbury Botanical Gardens in Ventimiglia – one of my most favourite gardens in the world exactly because of the beauty which emerges from diversity.

Even when you stop to look at the sea (don’t tell me the sea is blue) you can’t help but notice the incredible range of colours and shades. It’s all the more beautiful for it.

Diversity is natural.

Uniqueness is everywhere.

Variety is all around us.

The world is all the more beautiful for its absence of mono-cultures.

I wish our societies were more welcoming, not just tolerant but communities which encouraged uniqueness, which relished the rich and beautiful phenomenon of diversity.

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Yesterday I wrote about sunsets. This morning when I opened the shutters I saw the most gorgeous example of “The Belt of Venus”.

It was every bit as compelling as the sunset I had just described…..and it was in the exact same direction…..looking West.

If the Sun was the greatest magnet we’d be drawn to watch it rise at dawn (if only we were awake and up early enough!), and it’s true that the rising of the Sun can be every bit as impressive as its setting. In fact, that phenomenon often makes me think of the scenes from “City of Angels” where the angels stand on the beach to watch the dawn. But the dawns are not usually as colourful as the sunsets, are they? When they are, when they fill the sky with rosy pink clouds, then what pops into my head is “Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.” I know there are other variations of that saying in different parts of the world, but it does somewhat detract from the delight and attraction of the dawn sky versus the one at dusk, doesn’t it?

Most mornings, however, the sky isn’t pink and I’m not that aware of the Sun rising above the Eastern horizon. After moving here to the Charente I began to notice that the Western horizon was definitely pink some mornings and that spiked my curiosity. It turns out to be a phenomenon called “The Belt of Venus” and it comes about just as the Sun rises in the East but casts a shadow of the Earth just above the Western horizon. Well, both the phenomenon itself, and it’s rather romantic and glorious name, really engaged me, and now I’m much more likely to spot it. (That makes me wonder just what else we miss every day because we don’t recognise it. How much is invisible to us, passes us by, because we don’t pay sufficient attention, and we don’t know what we are looking at?)

Well, this is February now, and according to my monthly themes, February is the month of Love. So, how appropriate that Venus should make herself known so clearly this morning. Actually, we’ve had really clear skies these last few nights and one of the brightest objects in the night sky here is currently the planet Venus, so she’s around at night, as well as leaving her mark on the dawn.

So, I’m just reminding myself of all this today…..that February is a month to practice love, and loving kindness. That fits in with one of my two words of the year as well…..”bienveillance” – which is about “meaning well”, or acting with good intentions.

I like it when things come together like this….a phenomenon, how we name that phenomenon, and all that we attach to that name, the stories which spin off in all directions along a common theme, and the influence all that has on our daily behaviour.

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One of my favourite parts of Cognac is the Place Beaulieu (“beaulieu” means “beautiful place”). When I was there the other day I was struck by the shapes of the pruned trees. It’s not uncommon to see trees pruned as hard as this, and I thought they looked both beautiful and rather shocking.

One glance and you know these are not trees allow to grow free and wild. Someone has a clear vision of what shape they’d like them to be, and cuts them back severely each year to channel their growth, to become the shape which matches the clear vision.

I remember thinking only human beings interfere this much with other parts of Nature, to make plants grow where they want them to grow, to weed out the ones they don’t want. Only humans create gardens and tame animals to make “pleasing” spaces and comforting pets.

But is that true?

Suddenly I remember a scene from one of David Attenborough’s films – the puffer fish –

I mean, that’s pretty something, huh?

Then I thought I’d find a wild tree in my own photo collection. A tree which is obviously untamed. Two sprang to mind.

This one, which I saw a while back in the Charente Maritime. I mean, what’s been going on here? Just what’s the story this tree could tell if only we spoke its language?

And, this one…..

…which I photographed twenty years ago, in Scotland, on a trip to Skye.

When I glanced at this photo I thought to was two or three separate trees on the horizon. Then I looked more closely, and in the underexposed foreground you can see this is a single tree, growing at the side of the road. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s really a classic of the “tree-shape”, of that iterative branching and re-branching that creates a pattern we can see rivers make as they approach an estuary, when we look at them from high above, like from a plane or a satellite. The exact same pattern we can see inside us when we look at the anatomy of our lungs, or our circulatory system, because both the air and the blood flows around inside our bodies along channels which look a lot like this.

See where a thought can go? This one just started with looking up and noticing the shapes of the pruned trees against a blue sky. I think it’s good to let your thoughts flow. I mean, who wants clogged up thoughts?

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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‚Äôs approach in terms of the ‚Äú4Ds‚ÄĚ: 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 “em√©rveillement” 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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