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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Walking through Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh recently I was stopped in my tracks by this stunning display of Rowan berries.

What a colour!

What an abundance!

It felt like the tree was saying “Here’s a gift from me to you”.

I know, you’ll be saying berries are the way trees spread their seeds. It’s not altruism. And while I’m not going to anthropomorphise here, I think there is a Life Key on display here.

How to survive and thrive?

Give.

Make an unconditional offer.

Express yourself as fully and as beautifully as you can.

And you will thrive.

Yes, these berries are there to tempt birds to come and eat them so that the seeds of the plant can be dispersed helping it to reproduce and to spread. But berries are just part of a cycle of Life. They are an essential part of the cycle of Life. If these trees all stopped producing berries yet another species would disappear from our beautiful planet.

Are they the end of a process? A coming to fruition? Yes. But aren’t they also a beginning? The start of an adventure? The launch of the NEW, of the next generation?

Seriously, isn’t this a Life Key?

That to live (by which I mean to survive AND thrive) we have to give. Not hold back, negotiate, set limits and conditions, but give – wholeheartedly, unconditionally, joyfully and abundantly.

Because that’s what makes Life so beautiful, so amazing….that’s what makes others stop in their tracks and connect. That’s what weaves us into the Web of Life.

 

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When I opened the shutters this morning I saw mist. OK, so I saw more than mist, but the mist was pretty dense. It was hiding all the surrounding vineyards, and, normally, I see vineyards straight ahead, to my left and to my right. I knew, of course, that the vineyards were still there. John O’Donohue came to mind, talking about the imagination and how we can’t see the mountains when they are hidden by the fog, but that we still feel their presence, still know they are there……

“You know it’s there, but you cannot see it with the eye. This is a wonderful living metaphor for the imagination. Around every life are these adjacencies–these huge, invisible presences that you can’t pick up with the human eye, but that you can connect to viscerally and affectively through the power of imagination. This is the threshold where polarities can enter into conversation with each other, and take us to new levels of complexity, differentiation, and integration.”

Then I noticed, directly opposite the front door, a sparkling jewel of a spider web adorned with water droplets. I find those serendipitous gifts of Nature irresistible.

Look at it! Just look at it! As far as I know (and correct me if you know better) spider webs are made by single spiders. These little creatures don’t work in teams. So ONE spider must have created this astonishing, complex web. Just look at the number of filaments, look at the junctions, the nodes, the points where the threads meet. Maybe this web was there the day before but because there were no water droplets on it, I didn’t notice it. Or maybe it’s the result of a single night’s work. Either way, I would have completely missed it, had it not been for two more phenomena – water and light.

Let’s start with the water. Where did this water come from? It wasn’t rain. It wasn’t a hose-pipe. It appeared, right out of thin air. We call it dew. Don’t you think dew is gorgeous? Whether its on a patch of grass, delicately outlining some petals or leaves, or adorning the work a spider. How incredible that it exists, invisibly, in the air, and that when the temperature and wind conditions are right, it precipitates out onto the surfaces, revealing itself.

Water reveals itself as thick mist, draping over the landscape like a heavy, dense, grey curtain. But it isn’t heavy, and it isn’t dense. When it reveals itself on the surface of flowers, leaves and spider webs, it reveals itself as droplets. Look at that image again.

How many different sizes of droplets are there? How many droplets are there? I guess that, theoretically, you could measure them, count them, add them up and tabulate them, but, well, hey, life’s too short. I just stand there, transfixed, in awe of them. Each one a tiny lens, showing me the world around it upside down.

I look at this and I think about the Milky Way which arched over my house last night, forming a dense, white carpet of stars stretching from one horizon to the other. You know what it’s like when you look at the Milky Way on a clear night. The longer you gaze at it, the more stars you see. The closer you look, the more the carpet dissolves into individual stars…..a bit like these individual droplets on the web.

It’s easy to get lost in the Milky Way.

It’s easy to lose yourself in a water adorned spider’s web, shining, sparkling, with the light which begins to penetrate the fog.

A couple of hours later, and this phenomenon has gone. The fog has receded into the invisibly watery air. The droplets have evaporated, leaving the thin threads of the webs harder to see.

You’d think that the sunlight would make the world clearer. But somehow, this morning, it was the fog, and brief appearance of the air’s water, which made the world much clearer, by reminding me, as the fox reminded the Little Prince , that

“What is essential is invisible to the eye”

And, oh, how wonderful it is, when what is invisible is revealed.

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I’ve been away visiting family in Scotland. When I returned to the Charente today I noticed that the Boston Ivy in the garden is just beginning to change colour. I also read today that the clocks go back this coming weekend….the end of “summer time”. So, I’m very aware that we are on the cusp of a seasonal change.

Has anyone every asked you which season is your favourite one? And, maybe, why?

I don’t have a favourite, but I do have a particular affinity for both Spring and Autumn because those are the seasons where I am most aware of change. I have a notion that Life is about change. We change constantly throughout our entire lives. We move constantly throughout our entire lives. Every breath we take changes us, and changes the world around us. I love to see change occur right before my eyes. I delight in the appearance of blossom and of buds in the Spring, and the leaves which go from green to red, brown or gold in the Autumn.

I find that the model of reality described by complexity science helps me to understand why things are the way they are. In complex systems, like our planet, the entire system tends to move towards “far from equilibrium” points. It doesn’t sit quietly, static and unmoving. We live on a dynamic Earth speeding through a dramatically dynamic Universe.

As complex systems move towards those edges it experiences “phase changes” and “bifurcation points” – the times and places where change becomes more dramatic, and places where it can go one way or another.

Autumn feels like one of those zones to me – a time and a place where change becomes more obvious, more widespread, and more dramatic.

That excites me!

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As I was driving into Cognac early in the morning I noticed this ribbon of low mist lying on the fields just in front of the vines.

I pulled over and took a couple of photos.

When I look at them again I’m drawn into the flow of wonder, to awe, to transcendence.

I begin by wondering how the air is full of water even when the sky is blue and there’s no hint of dampness to feel. How this invisible water condenses to become visible and lies along the face of the earth for a short while before evaporating back into the invisibility of the air.

I find that amazing.

I’m reminded of the writings of the physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who described how what we see as solid substance looks as if it is made of molecules when you look closer with a microscope, how those molecules look like separate atoms joined together once you examine them even more closely. How, with the ability to look inside atoms, once considered “indivisible”, the fundamental building blocks of reality, we discovered many other smaller “particles”, right down to protons, electrons, neutrons, which, in turn seemed to be made up of even smaller “quarks”. But that now we can see even closer and what we see is……nothing. What we see are waves and particles shimmering and sparkling into, and out of, existence.

That fills me with awe.

That provokes the sense that reality is all One, that the so called boundaries and barriers are artificial, transient, insubstantial, and in that moment I feel a dissolving of the Self, a feeling of One-ness with the Universe, a moment of transcendence.

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When I looked out of my window the other day I saw a butterfly sunning itself on the wall. I carefully took my phone out of my pocket and photographed it through the glass. Then I opened the window carefully to try for a better shot, and the butterfly flew off. Gone.

So, here’s the photo I took. It’s not going to win any wildlife photographer of the year awards but look carefully…..you can see the shadows of the butterfly’s antennae.

Isn’t that amazing?

Maybe I’ve seen this before but as far as I can remember this is the first time in my life that I’ve seen the shadows of a butterfly’s antennae.

I’m struck by the sense of delicacy and fragility in this image. A butterfly’s life is not a long one, but a butterfly’s shadow is even shorter! A cloud just has to pass over the sun and the shadow has gone. The butterfly just has to do what butterflies do….flit off somewhere else….and it’s gone.

This sense of impermanence coupled with the delicacy of the tiny slim antennae of the small fragile butterfly combine to make this a very special moment.

It’s one of those intense fleeting experiences of “first and last”. It’s the first time I’ve seen this, and could be the last – both in general terms, and, of course, this is the one and only opportunity to see this specific, this unique butterfly in this particular place at this particular time.

Life if full of these moments. If only we can be aware of them.

Here’s something else I think about this…..in the midst of all this impermanency, ¬†all this transience, all this fragility, I see the vibrant, colourful, intense flow of LIFE – the LIFE that flows through every living creature, every moment of every day. The Life Force. The “green fuse that drives the flower”. Spinoza’s “conatus” – by which he meant the “striving to survive” which separates the living from the inanimate.

It never fails to astonish me. It never fails to stimulate my sense of wonder, of marvel, of “√©merveillement du quotidien“.

Life is full of these moments. If only we can slow down and pay attention to them.

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See this large rock just above the harbour in Biarritz? How does the sea make it to the shore when this rock is in the way?

The most obvious way is to go around it.

And that’s what most of the water does. It makes it way towards the shore, and back out to sea again by breaking against the rock and flowing around each side of it.

That’s one way to deal with an obstacle, with something standing in your way…..find a way around it.

But, wait, look at this…..

…the water has found another way as well.

It goes THROUGH the rock!

I suspect this has taken a very, very long time for wave after wave to make its way through a small crack in the rock, widening the gap slightly every time it passes through. But look at it now. Sometimes when a more substantial wave hits the far side of the rock it flows directly through the gap. Doesn’t happen every time. Just when the waves are big enough.

So, there’s the other solution. Keep going. Keep pushing up against the obstacle, looking for a gap, an opportunity, a way through, and once you find it, come back again and again. Each time, it’ll get easier. Each time the gap will get wider, the way will become broader.

Something else…..this is just beautiful to watch. Mesmerising even. Over the course of a few minutes you can see how the rock and the sea sculpt each other. It’s a delightful relationship.

Oh, and something else……Michel Serres, a French philosopher who died recently, used to describe human beings as “anticipation creatures”. I recently listened to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Onbeing, where the science journalist, Erik Vance, talked about “the drugs inside our head”. He was discussing the poorly understood but fundamentally important phenomenon known as the “placebo effect”, and one thing he said was that our brains are “prediction machines” (well, I hate the metaphor of “machine” applied to living organisms, but you get the point…).

Both Serres and Vance are talking about our incredible ability to spot patterns, so that we can predict the future. OK, not too far into the future, and not with 100% accuracy, but we don’t just notice the world, we anticipate it.

As I stood watching this phenomenon of the white surf gushing out of the mouth in the rock, I was quickly captured by the experience of anticipation, watching the swells on the surface of sea further out, trying to predict which would turn into waves big enough to pour through the rock.

It was hard to stop.

It was delightful.

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The front door of the house where I live opens directly onto a south facing garden. You could say there is grass covering most of this part of the garden, but I tend to think “diverse living ground cover” is somewhat more accurate. You see, I don’t tend it as a “lawn” trying to get it all uniform and regular. I do cut it with a lawnmower, and if there are any particularly jaggy thistles or the like, I might dig some of them out. Apart from that, I leave it do its own thing. And it is always surprising me!

Yesterday morning I opened the shutters, stepped out, and immediately in front of me was this little display of flowers. Aren’t they beautiful?

Of course, I took a photo. Just as well, because by the evening I could find no trace of them whatsoever.

So, this morning when I went out I saw this….

A single flourish!

This time, I paid closer attention and went out again to see how it was doing at 3pm, by which time the shadow cast by the sprawling mulberry tree was covering this whole plant.

Here’s what I saw….

Like yesterday, the show was over!

Goodness! How brief! What a spectacular creation of petals and colour! And what a disappearance!

If you look closely you can see (sorry, slightly out of focus I notice) a small cluster of pale beige petals where the bright colourful display had been. How does this happen? How does this plant create and display with such a flourish (get it? “flourish/flowerish”!) and how does it bring the display to an end?

You know, I think we often have the idea that plants are pretty static…..well, they aren’t! They are dynamic, vivaceous, always changing, living creatures!

One more thing……this was a great real life example for me of how the Japanese valuing of impermanence works. That little flower has somehow just become a bit more extraordinary, a bit more special, to me!

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