Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

I’m convinced the images we encounter daily influence what we feel, what we think and how we behave. In fact, I don’t just mean images such as artworks, adverts or photos. I mean how things look – including the shapes and sizes of buildings, the presence of trees, flowers and bushes, the colours of walls, the landscape or the cityscape, depending on where we live, and the decor, light and shapes of the rooms we live in, as well as the objects which surround us.

All of these images influence us deeply, and, largely unconsciously, creating moods, emotions and feelings which stimulate or inhibit well-being, and which change the course of our lives.

One dramatic example of that is in hospital design. There is a lot of research about this, but, to give one example, it was found that patients who had a view of nature from their hospital bed recovered more quickly, needed less painkillers, and had less complications than those who only had a view of a wall.

Of course the advertising industry is well aware of the power of the image. These days there is even a specialist area of knowledge and advised described as “neuro-marketing” which seeks to employ the findings from neuroscience to persuade customers to buy certain products. These things work at the level of image, sound and smell. Mostly, they work unconsciously.

So, I think it’s good to notice our here and now, our everyday reality. I think it’s good to be aware of the images we absorb as we work, play and relax in our home and shared environments.

Taking photos is a good way to become aware. When you look around, or go out somewhere with a conscious intention of photographing what you notice, then your awareness is automatically heightened. These days most of us have smartphones which are more than ably equipped to take photos. You don’t have to have a fancy camera.

These two photos I’m sharing today are of street art I noticed as I walked around the streets of Salamanca one day last year. The image on the left is like a work of modern art. It looks a bit “Miro” to me! What I really notice about it is how the artist has used the walled off entrance as a frame, using the concrete filling the space as a canvas, but, he or she hasn’t stopped there. They’ve spread their artwork beyond the bounds of that frame….reaching out to cover the left hand pillar. I like that. I like how it demonstrates how creativity can be opportunistic, inspired by what is already there (the walled-in entrance way), and how that inspiration can come from the most unlikely places. Would you have thought that entrance way represented a canvas? I like how the artist isn’t bound by that either. How they kept creating outside of the frame – thinking and creating “outside of the box”. This work inspires me to be creative, to see opportunities for creative work, and to refuse to be constrained by other people’s frames.

The second photo shows the power of stencil. I mean just look at this person holding their head. Are they in despair, or are they trying to figure something out? I can see both. So it’s an image of hopelessness which reflects something we all feel from time to time, but, instantly, it’s also an image of someone thinking, someone deep in thought, trying to come up with a solution. At least, that’s what I see there. How about you?

I know, with every interpretation we bring our own standpoint, our own sets of values and beliefs, our own moods and preoccupations. But that’s one of the great things about art, isn’t it? It isn’t just the power of the work to convey “percept and affect” (as Deleuze would say). It offers us the chance to wake up and change by engaging with it. And even if we don’t wake it, it influences us without us realising. It interacts with us, and we interact with it. It’s a relationship.

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Picking up on yesterday’s post about threads and weaving life stories, I thought I’d share this photo I took in an old weaving factory in Aubusson. Isn’t this a fabulous stock of yarns? Look at the colours!

Probably because I was thinking about the metaphor of threads and weaving in the way we create our reality through our stories, I looked at this image again today and thought “Well, that’s what they have to work with. That store of colours and shades” So what if we think about how that idea might apply to how we create our daily experiences?

What is there in your palette? What can you select to weave together to create your unique, singular experience of today?

What if these yarns are like beliefs, ideas, thoughts and emotions? Which ones do we have to draw on, and which do we keep going back to, perhaps over-using, when we could be shifting our attention and using a different section of the palette if we want today to be really different?

I remember reading about a theory, which seemed to be validated by studies and observations, that when a baby is born, at the moment when the umbilical cord is cut, they experience their first existential threat. In those first few seconds if the baby doesn’t take their first breath, they won’t live. Perhaps, in those few seconds, the baby experiences certain strong emotions. We don’t have access to those memories because in our early years, our consciousness and memory functions haven’t formed to allow us to access them, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t happening, all the same. After all, most emotions occur below the level of consciousness, and becoming aware of them takes time, attention and practice.

So, what emotions might a baby experience in the midst of this first existential crisis? The theory proposes three – fear, anger or separation anxiety. Makes sense to me. So, the idea is that maybe which of the three dominates is genetically determined, but, whether it is or not, that particular pattern of those three emotions sets itself up as a core as we continue through life and try to make sense of our experiences.

So, some people have fear at the core, and that’s the main colour they use in their daily palette. For others, it is anger, and for yet others it is separation anxiety. You can try this for yourself. See if you can think back to your very earliest memory. Preferably one form before the age of five, from before you started school. When you recall that event, what emotions do you associate with it? Is it fear, anger or separation anxiety? I found with patients that some would identify one of these very clearly, some would identify a mix, or find more than one strong early memory, each with a different dominant emotion. Others would find none. They either couldn’t access any early memories at all, or they wouldn’t be able to say which emotions they associated with any they could remember.

For people who can find one, it is interesting to then follow that thread through life. To what extent does that emotion seem a foundation to other significant life events? Remember that with each emotion, we might suppress it, express it, or deal with in some hybrid way. So, if it is fear, then both fear and courage might appear. If it’s anger, both temper and avoidance of conflict might appear. And so on…..

Well, that’s one way to start to think about what palette you have, and what section of the palette you draw upon most frequently to create your daily reality.

You can also become aware of your dominant emotions, thoughts and beliefs by journaling….for example by doing “morning pages”. In fact, there are many ways to become aware of our habitual patterns of emotion, thought and belief.

I think it’s good to explore this, but we can take it a stage further by deliberately choosing certain part of the palette, or even adding new sections. We can decide we want to colour each day with more joy, more wonder, more love. We can decide we want to see each day through more half full glasses than half empty ones. We can do that with affirmations, with visualisations, with making more conscious choices about where to focus our attention, our time and our energies.

But all that is maybe for another day. Today, I’m just suggesting an exercise in awareness. Can you become more aware of what your personal palette looks like? Can you become more aware of which sections of that palette you keep going back to again, and again, and again? Finally, which underused sections of your palette would you like to pay more attention to? Or as you look at the vast range available, which colours of yarn would you like to add now?

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How much do you think love motivates you to do what you do, to say what you say, to think what you think?

Are there serious arguments against making love our priority, our touchstone, our foundation, our core?

What couldn’t be improved by bringing a loving attitude to bear?

I think good health care requires love….love in the form of caring about, caring for, and wanting the best for, every patient. Love in the form of non-judgemental listening and attending. Love in the form of respect for the unique individual. Love which values personal relationships above techniques, tools and processes.

I think good education requires love…..love for children, love for knowledge, love for wisdom, love for growth, development and maturity. Actually, education isn’t something we should restrict to children, we could all do with learning all our lives. We could all benefit from life long education based on loving each person and wanting to try to help them realise their potentials.

I think good work requires love….love for craft, for skill, for quality, for service to our fellow workers, our families and our communities.

So how about a politics of love and an economics of love ….. love of Nature, of Planet Earth, of our fellow creatures, and of other people? What would that look like?

Maybe it’s time for us to be less shy about love. Maybe it’s time for us to speak up and say it’s important. More than important….essential.

Can we learn from this pandemic and move towards a society based more on creativity and care, than the present model which is based on consumption and competition? Can we move towards a society based more on qualities than on quantities, challenging the current dominance of figures, statistics and “data”, and insisting instead on loving, caring relationships, on experiences, on individual uniqueness, and on diversity?

I’d like to see that. How about you?

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This is a machine. It is manufactured by human beings. It has a number of solid, pretty unchanging parts (ok, they all gradually wear out with use), which are assembled into fixed relationships with each other by other parts…. nuts, bolts, springs, cogs and hinges.

These parts don’t grow. They don’t develop or mature. They don’t develop new ways of connecting to each other and they don’t change their function. Their relationships are linear. A always leads to B.

This machine looks a bit complicated but everything can be taken to pieces and understood. We can learn how it works and predict how it is going to work. It does what it was designed to do and if it stops doing that we can find the parts which are “defective” and replace them with new parts.

Living creatures are not like this. Human beings are not like this. We are not manufactured by human beings. Every cell, every tissue, every organ within the body changes all the time. The massive network of inter-connected feedback loops create relationships in the human body between cells, tissues and organs. These relationships are non-linear. A influences B in the presence C, D, and a host of others, whilst B, in turn influences A. These relationships are not fixed. They are not predictable.

Living creatures, like human beings, are “Complex” not “Complicated”. You can’t take them to pieces and understand the whole.

We are all “complex adaptive systems”, constantly bathed in flows of molecules, energies and information, which we transform within ourselves before contributing to their onward flow into others.

Machines can exist in isolation. Human beings cannot. We live only because we are embedded in the complex biosphere of Nature, dependent on the lives of a myriad of other forms of life, dependent on our relationships with others.

Machines are not unique. You can produce millions of identical machines. Human beings are unique. There has never been “YOU” before in the whole history of the universe, and there will never by “YOU” again, once you die.

The truth is every one of us is special, and every one of us deserves to be treated as unique. Every one of us deserves to be understood within our individual web of connections, relationships and life story.

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It strikes me there is a paradox at the heart of what it is to be human. We each have a sense of being different from other people. We experience what Freud termed “the ego”. It’s a sense of “self”, of a kind of centre of the universe from which we observe and interact with everyone and everything else. Our immune system is finely tuned to quickly recognise anything that is “not me”, to identify it as a potential threat and to mount inflammatory and/or allergic responses to contain and/or expel it. We need to know that we matter, that we have value and worth, and whilst some of that comes self-referentially as “self-belief” and “self-worth”, a lot of it comes from that other, somewhat paradoxical theme – the fact that we are social creatures.

We need to belong. Complete isolation is a punishment – we call it “solitary confinement”. We need to find common ground with others, to be accepted by a family, a group, or a community. We need to find and express what connects us to others so that we can share our experiences with them.

This paradox of separateness and belonging is never “resolved” if we see them both as opposite, unconnected poles. Although they are undoubtedly difficult to reconcile, they need to be “integrated” – in other words we need to find how we can connect them to each other in ways which will enhance and develop both.

It’s important to grow and mature as an individual. It’s important to feel free, to have personal autonomy. It’s also important to grow as communities, as a species, (if we want to evolve), and even as an integral part of all Life on Planet Earth. We share the same air, the same water, the same limited “resources”. We create waste which cannot be contained. What I do affects others. There’s no getting away from that.

If an individual takes a strong exclusive position on one of these two needs, they lose their necessary connection to the other one. That results on the one hand in selfishness and narcissism, and on the other, as auto-pilot, group-thinking, which sets them up for domination and manipulation by others.

These things make us sick. They set in train the forces of dis-ease.

To be healthy and fully human we need self-belief and self-knowledge. We need freedom and autonomy. We need to belong, to form loving, caring and mutually beneficial relationships. We need to find common ground with others. And we need to see ourselves as inseparable individuals emerging from, and embedded within, the whole – the whole species, the whole living planet, the whole universe.

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One day in Paris I came across this electric scooter sitting just beside this rather imposing statue of Condorcet. I had the notion that the serious thinker was looking down rather disdainfully at the scooter.

Even as I framed the shot I thought this was an interesting juxtaposition. Condorcet was a leading thinker of the Enlightenment, a champion of rational thought. That’s one large, heavy tome he has in his hand there and he has the air of someone who goes through life, eyes downcast, as he thinks seriously about everything.

For the Enlightenment thinkers rational thought was the way to liberate mankind, to free them up from the chains of superstition and enslavement by autocratic powers.

The electric scooter, on the other hand, is our right up to the moment symbol of autonomous freedom. In a city like Paris you can pick one up wherever it’s been left, pay your hire price using your smartphone, step on, and away you go whizzing along streets and passageways faster than pedestrians, weaving between static traffic jams of cars, pretty much as free as you’d like to be.

Yet a scooter, for many of us, is a sort of toy, isn’t it? I had a scooter as a child, as did my sister. In fact, just the other day there she found an old black and white photo of us both on our scooters, and sent it to me. Scooters back in the 1960s of course weren’t electric, but, apart from that is the modern version really that different?

I have a notion that one of the appeals of the electric scooter is something to do with play. Think back to childhood, or observe a child in your own family. From the very earliest of years children learn and develop through play. They explore, they discover, the try things out, pressing, pushing, bending, tasting, touching, looking and listening. They are like little sponges aren’t they? Absorbing every possible experience they can have minute by minute through the entirety of their waking hours.

Curiosity, then, that fundamental building block of learning, is expressed, first of all, through play. But there are three other qualities to play which come to my mind as I write this.

Play develops the imagination. Children create whole worlds to inhabit. Worlds of creatures, monsters, fairies, heroes. They dress up and assume roles. We even retain the phrase “role play” as an adult activity, don’t we?

Play encourages creativity. Children express themselves through drawing, singing, and making. Play is the medium through which creativity is released and nurtured.

Finally, play is social. Although a lot of play can be solitary, children adore games – games played with others. They are always asking to play games. Come and play this with me! Let’s play…..! They learn to connect, to interact and form relationships through play.

So, yes, the Enlightenment thinkers promoted liberation through rational thought, but are we missing a trick by reducing play to something less important, something somewhat trivial, even “childish”, to be left behind as we grow and mature into rational, thinking human beings?

Hey, you know me, and my “and not or” mantra – don’t we need BOTH? Don’t we need to inhabit, live, develop and grow both our “play” skills and our “rational” ones?

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

There’s such a push now, during this pandemic, for people to work from home, and already it’s easy to find a host of articles about the dangers this poses to work-life balance. Yet, “home-working” could be liberating. I had a telephone conversation with a government worker recently and I could tell from the background noise that he was at home, not in an office, so I asked him if that was the case. He replied yes and said how much he loved it. He no longer had to commute for 90 minutes to work and another 90 minutes back home every day – so he felt he had gained 3 hours. And, he said, when he wanted a coffee he didn’t have to stand in line and pay a hefty sum for a cup any more, he could just reach behind himself to where he’d placed his coffee machine.

I’m exploring a new way of organising my time, and I’ll share it with you once I’m happy with it, but today I realise I need to factor in something else, something a bit more liberated, something a bit more imaginative, something a bit more fun – play!

Why don’t you join me, and spend at least a little bit more of today in play?

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I guess none of us really paint scenes onto our actual windows these days but isn’t this beautiful? It gets me wondering what kind of scene or image would I like if I were to get, or make, a window like this? I wonder if I’d want a natural image of a beautiful tree, flower or bird, perhaps? Or would I want something highly symbolic, something resonant of myth and memory? Or would I want something visionary to inspire my thoughts of the future?

I suppose that in some ways a painted window like this could be a sort of vision board…..one of those walls where you collect images which inspire you in an attempt to inspire and focus your attention, desire and will to achieve what you want in life……or to attract it, “manifest” it…..or, at very least to colour your thoughts and your days.

I’m not a hugely goal-orientated person. I don’t set myself targets and “SMART” goals. But I know those things work for a lot of people. I suppose I prefer to set my values, my attitudes and my intentions, then open myself up to “emergence”…..to the realisation of experiences which I couldn’t have predicted. Maybe I prefer that to any attempt to force the world to deliver what I’ve already decided I want. After all, it turns out this universe has way more potential than any of us humans can imagine. So, I don’t really try to alive by organising my life around pre-determined end points.

What I do like to do is to repeatedly reflect and re-orientate my life around curiosity, wonder, joy, love, kindness and positive intention. So, that’s what I should represent on my painted window (or my “vision board”) – the images, symbols, stories and myths which stimulate and inspire my curiosity, my sense of wonder…..which bring me joy…….which stoke my feelings of love and kindness…..and which strengthen my intention to act, speak and think positively.

All of this constitutes a kind of “conscious creation” I think. A deliberate choosing to make and maintain reinforcing loops of the attitudes, values and behaviours which I want to experience in the world….which I want to manifest in the world.

Ok, folks, here’s my list (for me to return to as I move this idea forward, but also, if you wish, for you, if this inspires you or resonates with you).






Positive intention

I’m going to use this list to consciously create the world I want to live in.

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Every living organism has the capacity to stay healthy and to repair any damage it incurs. In other words, they all share the ability to survive. Plants, micro-organisms, animals, humans…..every creature which lives has the ability to survive. Otherwise it wouldn’t exist.

We’ve discovered a fair number of the processes which enable us to survive and to repair when we are damaged. A whole bunch of these are called “homeostatic” processes – they are complexes of cells, chemicals and feedback loops which maintain a certain stability of the “internal environment”. They keep the working relationships between all the cells, tissues and organs in balance. Things tip too much one way or another, the homeostatic system kicks in and returns the organism to a more balanced state. When we are damaged, for instance, when we break the surface of our skin, or break a bone, then the body mobilises “inflammatory” processes to pour cells and chemicals into the damaged area, seal off any breaches in the defences, and start to lay down repair tissue.

Isn’t it amazing how the body does this?

There’s a huge tree just behind my neighbour’s house. One day about three years ago, in a storm, a large cluster of branches were broken off at the top of the tree, turning it from a pretty symmetrical plant into something that looked like a giant had taken a big bite out of it. Now that gap has gone. The tree has repaired the damage and has, almost, become symmetrical again.

Survival and repair. These are the fundamentals of life aren’t they? But they aren’t enough to fully describe Life. There’s a third element in every living creature – growth.

This rose in the image above is unfolding the petals from one of its buds. The unfolding is like a spiral, like one of those paper windmills you used to play with as a child. It’s utterly beautiful. This unfolding is an expansion, an opening up, a revealing and a stretching out to manifest itself. This rose is declaring “Here I am!” This rose is showing the world she exists by performing the third element of Life – growth.

Not just growth which is about becoming bigger, taller, thicker. Not just growth which expands the reach of the plant into the surrounding territory. But growth which reveals a whole new aspect of the rose. Before the flowers open up like this, the rose looks quite different. Green, leafy, thorny. But without flowers.

My littlest grandson is just seven months old now and seeing him start to “flourish”, start to “unfold” and “reveal” himself is like watching a miracle. Those first new behaviours and sounds are such a thrill, that emergence of interaction, of recognition and connection…..it’s breath-taking.

I used to find a similar awe and wonder when witnessing the unfolding and revealing of a patient as they moved beyond survival and repair into the fullness of health……seeing in that process the revelation of their uniqueness.

I think we tend to take these things for granted, because they happen all the time….these processes of survival, of repair and of growth.

But it’s worthwhile pausing from time to time and becoming aware of them….in the flowers, the trees, the birds, the other animals which share your world……in people you meet, people you love and in yourself.

It’s beautiful.

It’s inspiring.

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We often look at the world this way….just a peek through a narrow gap. We can see a bit this way. It’s a way of being focused. If we narrow our gaze we can ignore everything except what’s in the target zone of our attention.

You know we have “two brains”, right? I mean the recognition that we have a cerebral cortex which is divided into two, non-symmetrical parts. Why do you think the brain is like this? Why not just have one, whole brain? Why did evolution prefer to develop the cortex in two significantly different hemispheres?

Well a lot of people have tried to claim that the right half does these things, and the left these other things….like the right is what we use to “do art” and the left is what we use to “do logic”. But we know that’s not true. The brain is not like a clock, a car, or a computer. It doesn’t function with one part doing “this” all by itself whilst other parts do “that”.

But Iain McGilchrist figured it out. In his “The Master and His Emissary” he lays out what I find to be a convincing thesis – each hemisphere engages with the world differently – in other words, each hemisphere gives us a different way of approaching, understanding and interacting with, the world.

What the left hemisphere allows us to do is like what you see in this image. We use it to narrow our gaze. We use it to focus in on “parts”, to analyse them, label them, categorise them, in order to try and “grasp” and manipulate them. The right hemisphere, on the other hand (see what I did there?), is used to enable a broad gaze. We use it to focus on the connections, to explore the bonds and relationships, to discover what’s new, and to see things in the broader view, or in “the whole”.

What amazes me about this is that we use both halves simultaneously pretty much all the time. They are in constant interaction, giving us the ability to “integrate” and “synthesise” what they focus on.

The trouble comes when we fail to pay enough attention to one of the halves – actually, in our modern world, it’s the right hemisphere we fail to attend to sufficiently. We get stuck in our world view of seeing reality as composed of separate parts which we can label, categorise and control. We get hooked on a mechanistic model. And, well, reality is not like that. That picture is incomplete and can lead us astray.

So, we do need these abilities to focus narrowly, to separate out elements, analyse them and organise that knowledge, but we ALSO need to be constantly aware of the big picture. We also need to see the contexts, the connections and the circumstances. It’s this that enables us to see uniqueness.

When it comes to this pandemic, we need to understand and analyse the COVID-19 virus. It will be a real boost to us to discover how to improve our treatment of people who are infected with it to try and reduce the potential damage they might suffer. But we need to use that other half of the brain too and see what the circumstances are in which this pandemic has arisen. We need to join up the dots. We need to see the connections and the contexts.

Isn’t it clear that one reason why this pandemic is so damaging is that we don’t have enough good health care? I think this issue is the same whether you live in the UK, France, the US, Spain, Belgium….you name it. It’s not the sheer number of people who are suffering from significant effects of this virus – after all, it seems about 80% of those who catch it don’t even get any symptoms. It’s that the small percentage of people who DO suffer serious effects from it still constitute numbers potentially too big for our health services to cope with.

Why do you think there is this constant message about “protect the NHS” in the UK? The NHS shouldn’t need “protecting” from sick people! It’s very purpose is to treat them. But the truth is there aren’t enough staff, there aren’t enough hospital beds, there isn’t enough equipment, there isn’t enough PPE, there aren’t enough testing materials, or laboratory resources.

There isn’t enough decent, safe social care available for the elderly. There isn’t sufficient support for people whose incomes are hit by forced closures of their workplaces. There isn’t enough decent housing. There isn’t enough decent nutrition because the current model of industrialised farming and processed food production is feeding both obesity and nutritional deficiencies of important vitamins and minerals which are needed for healthy immune systems.

And so on……

Unless we use our whole brains and address the underlying weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insufficiencies and injustices in our societies we will find not just this pandemic hard to handle, but we’ll set ourselves up for more of the same.

It’s time to change.

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It’s ten months now since the wall fell down. I’m sure that the pandemic has slowed up almost everything this year, but it sure takes a long, long time to get things done in this neck of the woods!

I strolled through the garden the other day and took this photo at the lowest part of the gap in the wall. As it’s autumn now, the vine which used to cover the entire wall has now started to turn from green to red and gold. The stones have lain where they fell for months now and the vine just grew over them. You can see in this image the remnants of the wall, the living vine, the fruit it produces (It’s “Boston Ivy” by the way, or “False Vine”) and the gorgeous autumn colours of the leaves as we move towards winter.

I think this image is just beautiful. I love it. I love how much there is to see in it and I adore the overall combination of elements. It reminds me of the four stages of the cycle of reality – growth, maintenance, falling to pieces, emergence.

Using the lenses of “systems science”, “complexity science”, and, in particular “CAST” – “Complex Adaptive Systems Theory” (which is my MAIN lens for understanding reality) I can see that this image represents the stage where things are falling to pieces. All systems undergo this. After a stage of fairly stable fulfilment, as we see in summer and early autumn, there is a stage of letting go, of order crumbling to be replaced by something more chaotic, more wild, more “disordered”. Well, this is it.

What comes next? Emergence, novelty, a new phase, a stage of “reorganisation” building on the path followed so far. Almost always this new phase is unpredictable. Always it is unpredictable at a detailed level, but almost always it is unpredictable at a macro level.

This pandemic feels like a phase where the old order dies. It feels like a time of change. And we are all wondering “what comes next”? Can we play an active role in creating the new phase, you and I? I hope so. Because the old order got us to where we are and we want to move on from there now, don’t we?

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