Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Category

Here they come! The first little crocus flowers.

It’s the middle of January, and here in the Charente we have blue skies and a bitingly cold wind blowing from the North East (the literal opposite direction from the prevailing winds which come from the South West).

Every year in late autumn I poke some more holes in the grass around the mulberry tree and plant some crocus bulbs. Last time I planted about fifty of them. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve planted in the last five years. We have an image in mind of a carpet of yellow, purple and white crocus flowers covering the ground at the foot of the tree, but, so far, it’s never looked remotely like that, so I just keep adding a few more every year.

Did you know that there is no scientific way to tell if a seed is dead or alive? No way to know which have the potential to burst out of their shells and make their way through the soil towards the Sun. Any botanists out there can correct me, but I suspect the same applies to bulbs. There’s no way of knowing which will produce full-blown flowers, and there certainly is no way of knowing which of them will appear first.

That means that every single year the sight of the first crocus is a surprise and a delight. It’s like making a discovery. Even if I know it’s me who planted the bulbs there. That delight doesn’t go away with the appearance of the first flower either. Every single new plant brings an equal measure of delight. It’s the gift that goes on giving!

This is one of the occasions where I am struck by how we humans can welcome and embrace uncertainty. We’d like to think we can control things. We’d like to think we can predict things. And there are certainly cases where we can, but more often than not, we can’t. I worked as a General Practitioner for four decades of my life, and the core skill of a GP is to be able to handle uncertainty.

In the Primary Care setting, a GP (Family Doctor), tends to be one of the first to be consulted when a patient becomes unwell and can’t manage their illness by themselves. In my training I was taught this meant I’d see a lot of patients with “undifferentiated illness” – because in the earliest stages of illness things can be pretty vague. There might be a bit of a fever, or just a symptom or two….feeling tired, or achey, of slightly nauseous. In these early hours or days there might not be much to find amiss on a physical exam, or at least, not much to find which is distinctive of any specific disease. A few days, or even hours, later, it can be glaringly obvious! Which is why GPs learn to assess the severity of a patient’s symptoms, the over all level of their health, and the need for any urgency. We learn to review the situation as quickly and frequently as appropriate. We also learn that the future is not predictable at the level of the individual patient. We can have a good knowledge of the likely progress of certain pathologies, but we can’t predict the future path of an individual’s illness. Same thing goes for any treatment. Whether or not a certain treatment is so-called “evidence based”, only the unfolding story of this particular patient in the days and weeks ahead will reveal the course of the illness and the appropriateness of the treatment.

I can see that you might read that and despair, thinking, surely the doctor can do better than that? Surely they can predict the future with certainty. Well, nope, they can’t. What that means is that the uniqueness of the individual can never be set aside. The particularity of the person can never be replaced by the categorisation of their illness by diagnosis, or by the likely effectiveness of any treatment. At all the times, the GP has to make a judgement, based on knowledge and experience, use that judgement to decide what to do, then, crucially, follow up.

That’s why I don’t think it’s a good idea to chop the delivery of health care into little pieces. Dealing with the whole person has got a time dimension to it. We need to know how things are progressing, and make another judgement, another decision, in the light of the changes.

So, I might have started writing this thinking about a little yellow crocus popping up, by I find my train of thought exploring uncertainty, unpredictably and the Practice of Medicine, (who saw that coming?!)

Where that takes me to is – I think there are at least three crucial elements to good Medical Practice –

  1. Time – sufficient time for the patient and the doctor to get a good understanding of what’s going on
  2. Continuity of care – follow through of every event into an emerging story over hours, days or weeks
  3. Open minds – never closing down the thought processes by ticking a box, or issuing a prescription, knowing that the future, in all individual circumstances is uncertain.

I’ll leave you with one of the “new”, newly emergent, crocus flowers, by which I mean one of the new variety I planted last year which has just popped up to say hello!

Read Full Post »

Do you do that “word of the year” thing? Where you choose a word at the beginning of each year, a word which will be some kind of touchstone, theme or “north star” for you?

This year, I’ve decided to choose two…….because I received two books as presents for Christmas and it immediately struck me that between them they lay a foundation for a way of living I highly value.

These are French books, so here’s another innovation for me…..up until now my Word of the Year has been an English word, but, hey, I’ve been living in France for the last five years and I’ve read a LOT of French, so, I reckon it’s high time I choose a couple of French words.

Here’s where things start to get interesting, because I can’t find direct, single word translations of these two words into English. Perhaps, more accurately, I should say I can’t find any direct translations into English which I find satisfying. I think that’s a great example of how learning a second language can both widen and deepen your world.

If you’ve read other posts on my site here you’ll have come across my use of the term “émerveillement” already. The first time I read the phrase “l’émerveillement du quotidien” I was entranced by it. It sort of means “the wonder of the every day”. The word “émerveillement” captures my core value of curiosity, of amazement, of awe and of wonder. I adore those moments when you notice something and it stops you in your tracks, where you pause, savour, and reflect. The more that happens in my life, the better my life seems to me. To really experience “émerveillement” you have to be open minded. You have to be curious, aware and non-judgemental. So the pursuit of “émerveillement” every day brings along with it a whole set of other attitudes and behaviours which I value.

Here are a couple of pages from the book which give you a flavour of why it entrances me –

The second word is “bienveillance” which could be translated as “well-meaning” but again, that direct translation doesn’t quite cut it for me. It is used to cover well-meaning and well-wishing, but also kindness, gentleness and care. So, another set of values and behaviours I really rate and aspire to every day.

Here a couple of pages from that book which might stir the same feelings in you. If they do, then, yet again, a picture will have proven to be worth a thousand words.

That quote in the middle image is from the poet Felicia Herman and it translates as “Happiness doesn’t grow in the gardens of anger”, which is an interesting line to consider in these days of conflict and polarisation.

Read Full Post »

I remember how surprised I was to discover how the days of the week share a naming tradition across many languages. The key to understanding the links is to see how each language attributes the same planets to the same days.

Starting with Sunday, the sequence is the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. It’s consistent across many, many languages. Learning a little about the symbolism and mythology of each of the planets allows us to create a rich daily experience with a different theme, or focus, for each day of the week. Try it for yourself. Get yourself a notebook or diary and pick a theme related to each planet and note the themes for each day, then return to that theme throughout that day and see how it colours your experience.

I have since felt quite frustrated that the same principle can’t be applied to the months of the year. Not only are the names of the months not shared through the various languages of the world, but the European model isn’t even based on a consistent naming system. Some of the months are named after Gods, like March, named after Mars, some are named after Roman Caesars, like July and August, and others just get a number, as we see in October through to December. I don’t like it! It feels clumsy and inconsistent. Especially in the light of the names of the days.

I’ve looked around but haven’t found any alternative naming system. What was I looking for? Well, a set of names which had symbolic or mythical meanings, as we have with the days of the week, so that I could play with the themes each month which related to those symbols.

So I came up with my own set of themes, one for each month of the year. Here they are, each one with a sentence or two to explain why I came up the particular theme for the specific month.

January is the start of the new calendar year. It’s named after Janus who faced both forwards and backwards, and can be symbolically represented by a gate. At a gate, we stand on a threshold, about to step from one place to another. January is like this. It’s the time of taking an overview of the year, of starting a new calendar, a new diary, a new journal. It’s a time of reflections and resolutions, looking back at the year just finished and forward to the one beginning.

February has Valentine’s Day right in the middle, but why restrict this loving theme to only one day? How about making February the month of acts of loving kindness?

March is named after Mars, the God of War, or, perhaps more positively, of strength and power. This would be a good month to pay attention to your personal autonomy and your strengths. Maybe a good time to explore the “Signature Strengths” of the Positive Psychologists.

April is the month of the tree blossoms. In Japan, it’s the month of the annual appearance of the Cherry Blossom. This month is a month to celebrate transience. As we celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of transient blossoms, we become aware of the transience of everything in life, not something to fear, but something which enhances our appreciation of every moment. It’s a time to celebrate and enjoy what we have for just a short time.

May is the month of the flowering buds. It’s a time when Nature reveals some of her potential. Make this the month you do that too. Make May the time to wonder about what may come to pass, to imagine how things in your life can flourish.

June is the month of midsummer. The month with the longest day. This can be the month to celebrate the light.

July is the beginning of the second half of the year and for many, is the beginning of the holiday season. This is a month to consider rest. A time to take a break, to pause, relax, and take it easy for a while.

August is “Le Grand Depart” in France, the month when everyone sets off to have a holiday somewhere. To get there, they have to travel. It’s good to enjoy your home, but it’s also good to broaden your outlook by travelling and discovering other places.

September tends to be the start of the academic year. Schools, colleges, universities begin their year here. But you don’t need to be a student to learn. We can all learn throughout our whole lives. What would you like to learn this year? Are there any courses you’d like to take? This is the month to plan and begin new skills and new knowledge.

October is a month of berries. It’s a time of fruition. Maybe this is a good month to celebrate that aspect of life? A time to enjoy what’s come to fruition. A time of congratulation.

November can be a time to reflect as the year draws towards its end. This reflection can be on any, or all, aspects of your life. How is your year going? How are you?

December is the month for gratitude and giving. What are you grateful for, and how could you give to others?

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »