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Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

There’s an ancient philosophical “spiritual exercise” known as taking the “view from on high”, or “the view from above”.

It involves casting your imagination and thoughts high up above the Earth to see the world as a whole and to see how small people look as they busy about their daily activities on such a tiny speck of a planet in the vast universe.

When I stood above the aqueduct in Segovia I got one of those experiences. It’s an immense structure built in the late first century AD using stones which were carved to fit precisely on top of each other. There is no mortar or cement holding this together. It’s like a giant “dry stane dyke” (as we say in Scotland).

Although the structure itself is astonishing, what amazes me is how the town of Segovia grew up around it. You can see, in these two images, both to the left and the right of the aqueduct and you can see how small the people look, living their lives in their cafes, their shops, houses and streets around this structure. In this second photo you can see the mountains beyond, and you just know that if you were standing up there, how small the aqueduct and the whole town of Segovia would appear.

This view from on high somehow transports us into not only an overview of the present, the here and now, but above the flow of time, seeing centuries of human life and activity laid out before us.

Isn’t that quite a perspective?

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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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I was in Saint Jean de Luz last week and the colours of the lichens and mosses on this old bridge caught my eye. Then I noticed the ruler and I wondered if the river had ever reached the “59”, or even higher? And if it had, that would have been written down somewhere and compared to the water levels in previous months and years. Maybe “59” was a record. Maybe it’s only ever reached “49” or even less. Whatever the numbers, people would have their stories to tell. There would be stories of “the great flood”, of rooms, shops, maybe even whole houses submerged under the water. Stories of desperation, of fear, of rescue, of heroism and of hope. Then the waters would have receded again, down to a lower number, and once cleaned up and dried out, the townspeople would “return to normal”. (Whatever a phrase like that can ever mean!)

For me, the beauty in this image lies in the stones, the green and orange life growing on the surface, in the shape of the arch (with most of it left implied), and the dark river running beneath. But it’s the ruler that I return to and I wonder how we choose what to measure and what those measurements mean to us.

In health care we carry out lots of measurements. There is even a movement of people dedicated to recording figures for many of their daily bodily functions. “The Quantified Life”. Does that appeal to you? Can we adequately capture the experience of being healthy with a data set?

All these measurements, these figures, that data…..it gives us the sense of “having a handle on” something….even “having the measure of something”. And we use the numbers to rank experiences and events. The warmest day, the highest river level, the least rainfall. Is that how we remember our past? Is that how we tell our individual stories to others? Recounting the records, telling the numbers, reading out the data? Or by sharing the stories of our experiences?

Thing is, for me, there’s so much more in a life of qualities, than quantities. So much more to tell of beauty, of love, of wonder and amazement. So much to make sense of, to try to understand the meaning of, the purpose of. So much to experience, moment by moment, without a ruler in sight.

But you know, when I return to this image I see again that I have both. The qualities and the means to record the quantities. And isn’t that how to live a full life? To use both halves of the brain? The side which measures, and the side which experiences? The side which concentrates on the parts, and the side which pays attention to the “between-ness”, the connections, the whole?

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There’s a climbing plant making its way along the fence and when I stopped to look more closely I was amazed to see the structures it creates to get a grip of the ironwork. There are many tight, strong, spring-like spirals of bright green like this. Mostly the cross a space diagonally, not straight up, or straight down. That surprised me. I was taught that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points. It seems that plants aren’t that interested in shortest distances, and don’t do straight lines.

I read somewhere, long, long ago, that there are no straight lines in Nature. If you see straight lines, you can be pretty sure that humans have had a hand in their creation.

Life doesn’t go in straight lines either does it? I sets off along unpredictable paths, spiralling as it goes……

Despite our constant seeking out the so-called simple insights of “this causes that”, when it comes to living organisms, it’s always a bit more complex, a bit more nuanced, a lot more unpredictable than that.

And here’s something else – isn’t the shape of this just stunningly beautiful?

I mean, its enough you’d think, to be in awe of just how a plant actually creates a structure like this (from sunlight, air and water) and uses what it creates to anchor itself, to get a hold on its environment. I mean, how on earth does it do that? But, that aside, just look at it! Isn’t it gorgeous?

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When I saw this fountain inside a stone arch in the Place Colbert in Rochefort I liked it immediately.

I’m often drawn towards something, feeling almost compelled to photograph it. If I pass up on such a feeling I instantly regret it. Sometimes I have to stop, go back, and just take the photograph because it’s bothering me that I didn’t. I had that experience here. First time I saw it I paused, gazed for a few moments, then moved on. But I stopped, turned around and went back, taking my time to get exactly the shot I wanted to get. I knew I wanted to capture the fountain but I didn’t want the fountain without the stone arch which surrounded it. I was also very conscious of what I could see “through” the frame of the arch. The Mairie at the back is an impressive building. In fact, even in the smallest towns in France, the Mairie is often the most impressive building. I’ve never seen one that looks neglected. The French flags flying help you to know what country you are in, and the blue sky is what I’ve become used to living here. I like the reflection of the building in the pond of water on the far side of the fountain, and the pigeon sitting waiting to take a drink. I like the tree in the right hand corner of the square and how someone has parked their car right underneath it. That’s so common here. I’ve learned that one already. When parking your car, try to find the space under one of the trees. It’ll stop the sun turning your car into an oven! I love the shape and sparkle of the fountain itself, and the choppy surface of the foreground water contrasting with the still, reflective surface behind. I like the colour of the stone, the worn edges and weathered surface.

I can only describe these things now as I look at the photograph. At the time, the scene just “caught my eye” and I framed the image and captured it without being aware of any analytical thought.

When I look at it again now, it seems to me that this work of art, this fountain inside an arch, is symbolic of the two most fundamental forces in the universe – structure and flow.

What forms would exist without the integrated play of these two forces? The structuring force which builds through repetitions, creating crystals, stones and bones. And the flowing force which surges through all that is, constantly changing, never still, producing life itself.

These two forces lie in the heart of all the diversity, the uniqueness and the beauty of all that exists.

That delights me.

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I come across something new every day.

You do too.

Some of those new things are so startling they make us stop and look more carefully.

Often when I stop and look more carefully I’m filled with wonder, awe and amazement……and loads of questions!

I mean, look at this photo here! What, oh, what, is that??!!

It’s a small collection of eggs on a leaf. But look at the arrangement. Have you ever seen anything like this before? What kind of creature laid its eggs in this tightly fitting symmetrical pattern? A geometry bug? An insect with OCD?

And look again, a little more closely time, because on of the eggs is out of place. It’s either failed, or it’s hatched already leaving just the casing to become a bit unstuck. So the pattern doesn’t look as “perfect” as we might like. There are quite different cultural responses to something like that. Some people find complete symmetry the most pleasing. Others would look at something like this and see the one egg which has “broken” the pattern and see that as “natural”, as “alive”, even as a symbol of transience, of change, and of “becoming not being”. And it will look all the more beautiful for that.

How do you feel when you look at this?

What thoughts, memories, emotions or imaginings does it spark?

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Whether you use your phone or a camera to take photos, standing straight holding your device at face level and pressing the capture button isn’t the best way to get great shots.

We have a mulberry tree in the garden and this year, our third year here, it is producing an abundant crop of mulberries. I don’t think I’d ever seen a mulberry in real life till I moved here, but over the last couple of years I’d become aware the tree could produce these strange, almost insect-like red fruits. Until they turn black they have virtually no taste. But this year they are literally dropping off the tree every day. And they’re sweet and juicy!

I decided to take a photo of how we are finding them in the grass but as I looked through my viewfinder the scene was decidedly underwhelming. So I got down on my knees in the grass and took these photos (the one above and the one below)

 

I know they don’t show dozens of fruits lying in the grass but don’t you think these shots are more engaging?

The first one is of two mulberries and you get an idea of the scale from the size of the daisies in the background. The second image is just of one mulberry in all its strange and beautiful ripeness.

What do you think? Try for yourself next time you’re out taking photos. Don’t you think changing YOUR position before you frame your shot opens up a whole other, more interesting, world?

Thought for the day – I think this applies in life too.

When we change OUR position to look at anything from another angle, we see MORE, and can understand more deeply – whether that’s changing our physical position, travelling to see the world (other towns, other countries, other cultures) from other perspectives, or trying to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to gain a better understanding of what life is like for them.

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