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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

We’ve had a very hot, dry spell recently here in the Charente. Temperatures rising to the mid or high 30s (centigrade) each day which made the leaves of the plants curl up and wilt. Then this last week we’ve had rain, wind and storms. Yikes! What chance have they got?

Well, look what all that varied weather has done to this bush in the garden.

First it suddenly bloomed, going from zero flowers to dozens of them over about 48 hours. Then the wind and rain has knocked off more than a few of them.

But when I walked outside yesterday evening and the bush caught my eye I was transfixed.

Just look how beautiful this is! Not just the bush itself but the way the fallen flowers have made a pinkish purple circular rug on the grass around it.

This is the kind of beauty which Nature makes.

In “The Great Work”, Thomas Berry talks about the interplay between discipline and wildness…..between order and chaos (or disorder). This is a great example, I think, of the beauty the wildness and disorder brings…..effortlessly.

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We all live embedded in multiple environments, or contexts…..webs of connected flows of energy, information and materials. I wonder how aware we are of them? I wonder how conscious we are of the signals and messages we are receiving as we go about our every day activities?

When I was in Segovia recently I took a couple of photos, which, with hindsight, I think say something important about one kind of environment – the cultural one. By that I mean the web of meanings and values which bathe a town, a city, or a region in waves of a certain kind….the kind which contribute to what someone means when they talk about “a way of life”, or “an identity”.

The first photo is of these two nuns walking around the corner of a building. Segovia has a history of convents, and many of them are still active.

The second is more secular.

The matadors. Local heroes. Bull fighting evokes strong reactions in people, with some deeply attached to it, and others considering it barbaric. Whatever your reaction, however, you can’t deny this aspect of the cultural environment in a place like this, exerts a powerful influence on the minds and lives of the people who live here, and the people who visit.

I was born in Scotland, in Stirling, the city on the edge of The Trossachs, an area rich in lochs, forests and hills. Stirling Castle stands on a rocky outcrop high above the town and casts its own historic influence on it, and on the people. My gran used to tell me that boys born in Stirling were “Sons of the Rock”. Is there any better example of how culture and place intermingle to create influential environments where ideas of how to live and who I am have their roots?

What is your cultural environment like?

Could you take a photo or two which would give someone else a sense of it?

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I noticed this emblem in the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain. This is where Isabella “The Catholic” was crowned queen Isabella I of Castille in 1474.

The most prominent part of this image is the magpie. So, here’s my first question – what is the symbolism of the magpie in this context? I know the magpie represents both good luck and bad (the old rhyme starts “One for sorrow, two for joy….?) but what’s it’s significance here, in the Alcazar? Secondly, there are two trees, clearly different species. The one on the right looks like a palm tree, but the one on the left? What is that? What are these trees symbolic of? The tree of life and the tree of knowledge? Islam and Christianity? Does anyone know?

Finally there is the five pointed star. A symbol of the Divine?

I’d love to hear any ideas or insights you might have……

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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 Segovia last week and I noticed quite a few towers had stork nests on them, and the nests had adult storks as well as chicks

Then as I looked one of the adults (the mother?) brought home some food

Wow! Amazing, huh?

There’s been something rattling around in my head for a while. It’s related to the ideas of the left and right hemisphere ways of engaging with the world, as described by Iain McGilchrist, but also to the ancient traditions of yin and yang, of the divine masculine and the divine feminine, of the Emperor and the Empress in the Tarot Majors, of alchemical and spiritual practices of bringing together two halves to make a whole…..and to my thoughts about two fundamental forces of the universe.

Here’s what’s been cropping up – (NB this is thinking about the psyche not about gender…..whilst our societies might ascribe clearly different tasks and roles to men and women I believe for each of us to be whole we need to integrate the male and female within us all – the anima and animus if you wish (I know that’s not quite the same) )

There are two pairs of behaviours, functions, activities which we ALL need to access….not just farm out one pair to someone of the opposite sex while keeping the first pair for ourselves!

The two pairs are –

Provide and Protect

and

Nourish and Nurture

I think we all need all of these behaviours in the adults around us or we won’t grow into healthy adults ourselves. And when I look at these storks in Segovia I see the incredible, huge structures of the nests, built to provide a home and shelter, built up high to protect from predators. And I see this adult feeding the chick directly – providing nourishment and nurture both at the same time (food and loving attention)

Maybe each of us specialise in, or concentrate on, one of these pairs – we are the providers and protectors OR we are the nourishers and nurturers – but I feel it’s becoming clearer to me that all of us need to develop both of these pairs….that with only one, we are not whole.

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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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