Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

Do you know what I said just before I took this photo?

“Look at the light!”

It stopped me in my tracks as I was walking down this narrow road. I took that photo, then I stepped forward and took this one –

I don’t know which one I prefer so I thought I’d share both.

I know, you’re thinking…..was it the light which caught your attention or the colours and shapes of the wall?

The truth is, I’m not so sure. But I do know that the first thing I said was “Look at the light!”, so there was something about the light itself which caught my eye. Of course, as I look at these images now I see the amazing, subtle colours, and the higgledy-piggedty (is that a word??) nature of the stones, bricks, tiles and mortar which have been put together to make this wall. Was it build like this from scratch? Or is this some kind of repair job? Does this particular section of wall have a story to tell, a history? What events has it experienced, and who made this wall like this anyway?

It’s easy to get lost in these questions which we have no possibility of answering….except with our imaginations.

But this is beautiful to me.

This is a moment of experiencing beauty.

It’s also a moment of experiencing light. And, to be frank, the photograph doesn’t capture that experience. You had to be there.

When I think about this dual experience of witnessing light, and what it illuminates, I remember an old essay written by C S Lewis. Oh goodness, I read that when I was a teenager. Can I remember it clearly? I think it was called “Meditation in a tool shed” – off to google it (actually, I shouldn’t use “google” as a verb like that. After all, I have “duckduckgo” set up as my default search tool) – I mean off to duckduckgo it!

Oh, yes, here it is! 

Gosh, it’s quite dated now. The references to “savages” kind of took me by surprise there! Still, the basic idea is still clear. In this essay, Lewis is thinking and writing about seeing a shaft of light coming into his dusty toolshed, then moving to look along the light itself and seeing the sky and trees outside. He uses this experience to juxtapose two kinds of experiencing – looking at an object, something “outside” of ourselves, and experiencing as a “subject”. Well, I don’t think he actually uses that language but that’s what I’ve always taken out of it.

There’s a difference between observing and experiencing.

We do both all the time of course, and the objectivity of observing continues to be debated, but nobody can deny what you experience as a subject. That’s all yours. Or, in my case, all mine!

I think of myself as a realist. I’m not convinced by the arguments that there’s nothing “out there”, that everything comes into existence only in the moment of being observed. After all, the universe has been around for a heck of a long time before human beings emerged to observe it! As best I know!

I’m not really convinced by the relativist arguments either….that there is no objective truth, that truth is different for each and every one of us. But it seems kind of obvious to me that my subjective, day to day, moment to moment, experience is unique. As is yours.

More than that, this subjective experience I have of my one unique life is inescapable for me. I can’t avoid it. I can’t stand apart from it and take another view entirely. That’s partly why I take these photos and write these words.

I’m just expressing my unavoidable uniqueness.

I should also stress, however, that I absolutely love it when others express their uniqueness too.

Go on….share what only you can share!

Read Full Post »

On one side of the cathedral in Segovia there are a number of statues of lions. What struck me as strange the first time I saw them was that they have their tongues sticking out. Sticking out quite a long way! I don’t remember seeing that in images of lions elsewhere. What’s that about? Is it because they are so hot? I was certainly hot the day I was there.

I decided to take a picture of one of them and try and figure out later why it had its tongue sticking out. But when I framed the shot I saw the blue sky filled with puffy, light, white clouds up behind the lion. Perfect! Click!

So, what does it look like now?

Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like the lion is licking the clouds – as if they are ice cream! Well, clouds are just water aren’t they? So maybe the lion is licking them because he’s hot and thirsty?

Ha! Ha!

You see, the brain loves connections. At least, the right hemisphere does. It seeks them out and when it can’t find any easily it makes some. It creates.

There’s a lesson there about creativity don’t you think?

It involves making connections……

PS Ok, having written this post I then googled lions with their tongues sticking out and it turns out its way more common than I realised! I’ll need to look more closely next time I see a statue of a lion!

Read Full Post »

I reckon I come across something amazing every day. Maybe I’m easily amazed! But in French, the phrase, “l’√©merveillement du quotidien” (the amazement of the every day), is one which has made its way to the core of my being. I don’t know if you’d call it a value, or a principle, but it shapes my life, moment by moment, day by day.

This photo is of something I noticed the other day, something which attracted my attention, then stimulated my thinking. That’s the kind of amazement I like best!

What I saw first was the sky. Just a bit of the sky between two buildings. The clouds looked unusual and pleasing, so I framed the shot, taking in the silhouettes of the buildings on either side of the patch of sky. I liked it the moment I saw it. And I clicked.

When I looked at the shot later it pleased me even more. Not least, I think, because of the contrasts. There’s the contrast between the blue and white of the sky, and the dark browns and grey/blacks of the buildings. But there’s another contrast too.

Look at the shapes.

There’s the shape of the stepwise construction of the building, the bricks laid, one by one, each one separate from the other. It’s like a stair case, isn’t it? A stair case you climb one step at a time. The shape, it seems to me, is typical of what we’d call “discrete”. Each step is distinct from, separate from, the others. And each one adds in a pretty linear, arithmetical way to the others.

But then there is the shape of the clouds. They look like waves. They emerge out of the invisible, out of the blue, each one becoming less distinct, less separate, than the other, till at the top of the image the waves merge into a patch of cloud, almost like waves disappearing into the sea.

I find that pleasing.

I find that appealing, attractive and it make me wonder. Isn’t that the essence of amazement? Of “√©merveillement”?

I find that thought-provoking. It seems to me that the left hemisphere of the brain is great at seeing patterns, great at breaking the whole down into individual, discrete parts, great at constructing, building, step by step. Whilst the right hemisphere is busy seeing the whole, seeing the context, seeing the connections, great at finding what’s new, great at engaging with waves which emerge from the whole, (from the sky, from the sea, from the Earth) and dissolve back into it again.

How amazing. To have two brains working away at the same time, enabling us to see and appreciate this universe so uniquely.

Read Full Post »

This small street in Segovia doesn’t look like much but up on the wall is this plaque –

Now, my knowledge of Spanish is very limited but I can see this is the name of the street – it’s the street of the door of the moon. The “Door of the Moon”! Oh, now, doesn’t that change things? What a name!

I’ve had a bit of a hunt online but I can’t find out much information about this street, or about the “door of the moon”, but I did discover there is also a “door of the sun” (of course!). When Segovia was a fortified town it had a wall around it, and to gain entry there were a number of “doors”, some of which were I think just wooden gates, and, as best I can tell, “the door of the moon” was one of those gates.

I haven’t come across any stories associated with these doors yet, but if any Spanish speaking readers here are inspired to do a bit of investigating I’d be delighted to hear what you discover!

For me, this is just such a romantic name. It inspires. It activates my imagination. Does it active yours?

See what a name can do? Doesn’t it whet your appetite for some stories? The stories which explain, or give meaning to, whatever has been named.

Read Full Post »

There’s a very human tendency to view ourselves as outside the world. What I mean is that we feel we are IN the world, but we remain APART from it. We are dualists. We think “there’s me” and “there’s the world”.

How did we get here? Just parachuted into it? Dropped down from outer space? We talk about “Nature” or the “the natural world” as if that’s something other than ourselves. As if it’s a place we can visit, and then leave again.

But that’s all a sort of delusion, isn’t it?

There is no “me” separate from “the world” or from “Nature”. We didn’t land on Earth from an alternate universe, we emerged within it, live within it, die within it. There is nowhere else. (Or if there is, we have no way of knowing that)

Yet, this sort of division persists, doesn’t it?

In fact, it seems this is a crucial and necessary part of being human. Our brain has evolved the ability to create what some call, “a necessary distance” between the flows of energy, information and materials pouring through ourselves and the planet we live on.

We are great pattern spotters, we humans. We see patterns, analyse them, name them, categorise and label them, then we can re-cognise them very quickly. We create maps in our minds. We create a “you map”, a “me map” and a “we map”, as Dan Siegel says in “Mindsight”. These maps contribute greatly to our sense of self, as well helping us to recognise others and develop confidence and belief in our relationships.

Our linguistic abilities are used to create the names and labels and to think about whatever we are applying them to, as well as enabling us to communicate about them. We use words, symbols and metaphors to take these processes of analysis and recognition to whole new levels. These are some of our super-powers as humans. They enable us to literally, and metaphorically, grasp the world in which we live.

To do all those things requires us to step back from the flow of experience. We use this “necessary distance” to momentarily step aside, to enable us to see more clearly, understand more deeply. With this comes this sense that we are “apart”. That there is “me” and “The Other”. When, in reality, there is only ONE, and we live inextricably IN the flux and the flow.

I don’t like judgements. They stop thought. But we need them. It’s just we need to be able to let them go more easily than we make them as our understanding deepens, as we see more and more connections, envisage the contexts in which whatever we are examining exists.

So, it’s interesting to me, to take the old school philosophical spiritual practice of “the view from on high”, literally from time to time. To climb up somewhere, to take the time to gaze towards the horizons, to see the landscape unfolding in front of me. To see the “bigger picture”.

This photo is one I took the other day when standing outside the Alcazar in Segovia. I’m pretty sure that what caught my eye was the church. It seems to stand alone. Almost in the middle of nowhere. But as I framed the shot my eye was led from the church to the winding road which my mind then followed to the top of the hill. Up on the ridge I could see buildings. A lot of buildings. So not a church in the middle of nowhere at all. But still, a church set apart somehow. The curve of the road was immediately appealing and I made sure I included it in the camera frame.

Now that I look at this image I see, yes, the church, that physical symbol of the spiritual connected to the village at the top of the hill by a winding, beautifully curving road. You could argue the road leads to the church. Or you could see the road as leading from the church to the town where people live. In other words, you can see the church, the town AND the connection all at once. I find that immensely pleasing.

I don’t know if that will get you thinking about the place of the spiritual in human life. It might. Or maybe it will get you thinking about connections, contexts and the illusions of separateness?

Ah, before I go, one other thing……see the wall someone has built just to the left of the church and the road? Someone has claimed this piece of the Earth as their own and built a wall around it to strengthen their feeling of separateness. Most people live in the village on the ridge, or so it seems to me. Not many live behind the wall.

Oh yes, walls again. We are hearing a lot about them these days. Both literal walls, to separate Americans from Mexicans, or Palestinians from Israelis, and the toxic and divisive “US AND THEM” walls which divide “natives” from “immigrants”.

But it’s all one world, huh? We share the same planet, the same air, the same water, the same place in the evolutionary path of Life.

It’s a bit of a challenge isn’t it? To see differences and separations but to see them as inextricably connected in a bigger picture.

Read Full Post »

I’ve recently realised I have a dual speed approach to photography.

First of all, something catches my eye and I stop to take a photograph. Normally, I don’t spend long over this part. I see something. I stop in my tracks. I get my camera or phone out of my bag, frame the shot, and click. Photo taken. That’s the fast part.

Secondly, I upload all the photos I’ve taken that day, or that week, onto my computer. Then I make a first pass, deleting the ones which are just awful, and adjusting others, cropping, straightening, lightening, deepening…whatever seems to need done. That takes time. It’s the first phase of the slow part. As I do that, certain images strike me more than others do, and I mark them as “favourites”.

Thirdly, and this might happen, days or even weeks afterwards, I browse through them, or find myself searching out a particular photo because I’ve been thinking about something and that image has come to the front of my mind. I pick out the one I’m looking for, or I pick one that strikes me in that moment, and begin the fourth stage.

Fourthly, I upload the photo to my wordpress account and paste it into a new post. Then I take my time to look at it more closely and write what thoughts arise. This is the final slow part.

Here’s an example. I was in Paris for a few days a couple of weeks ago and one of the days as I was crossing a road I noticed this huge mural above the shops. I stopped (deciding not to cross with the green man yet!), took out my camera, framed the shot and clicked, then I continued on my way. Once I returned home I uploaded all the photos and when I saw this one I cropped it a bit to focus on the artwork itself. Then I inserted it into this post. The thoughts which have arisen included what I’ve just written about the dual speed nature of my photography, which, strangely, are a set of thoughts about thinking about this photo…..a kind of meta-view……an overview, if you like. Then I returned to the image itself.

This image intrigues me. It’s a huge flight of stairs. I was exploring Paris at the time and that always involves a LOT of walking and a LOT of stairs if you use the metro. I checked my phone and it told me I’d climbed 14 flights of stairs that day! Wow! In that sense, this image was a great motif – this is what a visit to Paris entails – lots of steps! By the way, have you ever climbed the steps up to Sacre Coeur? That’s quite a climb. Or made your way up the crowded Spanish Steps in Rome? Or have you climbed any of the long stairways in Edinburgh up to the Old Town? (You’ll have figured out by now I’m remembering some of the long stairways I’ve climbed. I could add a lot more, but I’ll leave you to add your own).

I’m of a certain age, so a particular piece of music pops into my mind at this point. Yep, Led Zeppelin, ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

And then I return to the image…..

Could the musicians be playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’? If not, what might they be playing?

What other characters are in this mural? There’s a young girl at the top. She’s looking pretty happy and welcoming, and there’s the central character, the man with the suitcase. I realise I’ve immediately identified with the man with the suitcase. Isn’t that something we do quite a lot? Identify with the hero? The central character in the story? Isn’t that how we make sense of our lives actually? Telling ourselves the stories where we are both the author and the main character? Which gets me wondering about the stories we tell. Maybe the man’s suitcase is full of stories? Maybe he’ll be telling some of them to his child (that is his child at the top isn’t it?) once he gets to the top. I suppose there are a lot of life stories about uphill struggles. And lots which are about things “all going downhill” too!

One of my greatest joys throughout my working life was to hear people’s stories, the stories of the patients who came to see me. I never heard too many. Maybe I could even say I never heard enough of them? I loved to sit and listen to them.

Hey, the other night there I watched the movie “Hector and the Search for Happiness“. Seen it? I recommend it. I laughed! And it’s gently thought provoking too. Well, one of the lines in that movie is “Listening is loving”. I liked that line.

I get the feeling that this man is coming home, don’t you? The girl looks like she’s gesturing “welcome back!”

But wait, there are two other characters in the image. Near the top of the stairs there are two statues, both of which seem to have just come to life, and are about to step out from their little platforms. Doesn’t it look like that? I mean, they could just be two statues, each captured in an action pose, but I don’t get that impression. It looks like they are starting to move. Are these two goddesses? If they are, then what are they about to bring into this man’s life, into his story?

What do you think?

……well, this is what I mean by dual speed photography – from noticing to contemplating.

I recommend it.


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 »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »