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Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Lighthouses are fascinating aren’t they? It really felt as if we had lost something when they all went automatic and the lighthouse keepers disappeared. Well, maybe there are still lighthouse keepers who look after the lighthouses but they don’t live in them any more. Putting aside the questions about what kind of life that was lighthouses make me think about the significance of light.

I mean, lighthouses were never intended to be giant torches lighting up the night sea so a sailor could see where he was going! They are warnings. They say “Beware! There are dangerous waters around here!” They also acted as navigation points. My maternal grandfather was born on the island of South Ronaldsay, in a little croft. From his house he could see nine lighthouses at night. I remember trying to count them when I visited there as a young boy.

In a very real sense the purpose of the light from the lighthouse was to convey information. This is something very human. I think of us as vibrant, living creatures embedded in constant flows of materials, energy and information. The materials bit is perhaps the most obvious. We ingest and inspire molecules from the environment, process them inside our bodies then expel them back into the environment. What we can’t see are the energy flows, but we are aware of some of them because we have sensory cells to pick them up. We see light, we hear sound, we feel heat and cold…and so on.

Information is something of yet a third quality. It wouldn’t exist without our bodies and brains to process the other two flows. So when we see the light of the lighthouse we don’t just see light, we interpret it. It tells us something.

In the case of the light from the lighthouse this is still quite a utilitarian phenomenon. We USE the it to guide us, or to orientate ourselves. But we interpret everything, and we surely don’t reduce all information to the level of utility.

This is moonlight on water.

On this particular night (a 14th of July) there was a full moon so the intensity of the light was great. You could actually see objects illuminated by it. But that wasn’t its attraction.

Moonlight on water is beautiful to us. It’s romantic, perhaps. It’s inspiring, even. Maybe it makes us think of Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty. Maybe it stirs our memories and our imagination to inspire certain emotions. Looking at the moonlight can induce feeling.

Moonlight, it seems to me, isn’t primarily a practical light. It’s purpose, if I could call it that, is more to inspire reflection. And that’s especially interesting, isn’t it? Because moonlight IS reflected light.

Do you see what happened here? I started with a light which I claimed was primarily practical, then went on to consider a light which was primarily inspirational. But if you go back and read the beginning of this piece again, you’ll see that much of what I wrote about the lighthouses came from my memory and my imagination. It inspired wonder. It generated feelings.

Nothing is really so binary in real life, is it?

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When I noticed this stone on the beach I was entranced. It looks like a whole small world. Look at the layers of minerals, their colours, their extent and shape. Look at the top of the stone with several species of lichen and/or seaweeds living there.

It makes me think of illustrations I saw when I was a child. Colour drawings of the Earth with a segment removed to show you the multiple layers all the way down to the core.

It also makes me think of the concept of the ecosystem, or even a biosphere….a complex of elements, some living, some non-living (which reminds me….I came across a quotation yesterday which said the opposite of “life” is not “death”, it’s “non-living”……must look that up!)

The idea of networks of connections and relationships between minerals, uni-cellular and multi-cellular organisms, air, water and sunlight co-creating the reality we live in…..I just love that.

It makes me think of the idea of viewing whatever we are looking at from different scales, because everything which exists, exists in nested layers of everything else……remember the old funny story about the teaching that the world floats on the back of a turtle? How the enquirer asked “And what does the turtle sit on?” The answer “Another turtle”. To which the enquirer asks “What does THAT turtle sit on?” The answer “Another turtle”. After a few minutes of this exchange continuing along the exact same question and response, the teacher finally responds to one of the “What does THAT turtle sit on?” with “It’s turtles all the way down, son. It’s turtles all the way down.”

On a more serious note, I found Lynn Margulis’s theory of “endo-symbiosis” hugely convincing. Briefly, she claimed that all multi-cellular organisms (that includes you and me) are made up an incredibly complex co-operating network of single cells, and that inside each of our cells are individual elements, like mitochondria, for example, which, way back in history were single celled creatures in their own right. She hypothesised that the evolutionary path of development was driven by collaboration and co-operation, with single celled organisms combining to live together at new levels. In other words all the different elements of a single cell came from smaller single “celled” creatures merging. Maybe that idea was a bit too challenging for some people, but it’s pretty undeniable that multi-cellular organisms like humans can actually be understood as whole worlds of vastly networked individual cells. It’s reckoned that only a tenth of the cells of your body are genetically “you”, the other ninety percent being bacteria and other unicellular organisms. Pretty mind boggling isn’t it? But it seems to be true all the same.

This idea of scale…..a long time ago I created a “human spectrometer” to help me discuss a patient’s issues with them at different levels of scale. Here it is

I’d start in the middle with the “person” because that’s where we met, person to person. Then I could move left zooming in on smaller and smaller parts of the person to consider the problems and their effects….perhaps in the “nervous system”, or the “digestive system”, then further “in” to disturbances in particular organs, “the heart”, or the “liver”, then further in yet to consider the role of cells, like white blood cells, or the cells of a specific organ, or, at an even smaller level the circulating levels of individual molecules, like hormones, antibodies, chemical messengers and so on.

I’d then return to the “person” and start moving right to consider the person within their significant relationships, within their family, within society, considering cultural, economic and work issues, or, finally within the “world”, by which I meant the environment.

I didn’t usually work through this whole thing methodically, step by step, but used it as an illustration to consider everything from pathology, to pathogenesis, to the impacts from and on the vast networks of life in which an individual lived.

I created a post about it back in 2007, so patients could explore the idea a bit more in their own homes.

It’s only now, many years later, after reading Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary“, that the left hemisphere zooms in to consider the parts, while the right zooms out to consider the connections, the relationships, the whole! Funny, how the universe works!

This notion of nested scales was also explored by Arthur Koestler who coined the term “holon” to describe the idea of multi-level hierarchies. You can read a bit more about that here.

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Life is tangled.

Every one of us is a multitude. Check out Bob Dylan’s new release “I contain multitudes” for a very recent expression of this idea. In fact, as he sings it, maybe we are multitudes, plural.

The Scottish psychologist, Miller Mair, coined the term “community of selves” back in the 1970s. It remains a powerful metaphor for the complexity of an individual personality. That idea made a lot of sense to me, and helped me to understand not only my patients but also myself. We all have that experience of at very least tapping into different strands of our lives when we act within our different roles – parent, child, friend, neighbour, employee, professional, artist, consumer etc etc. We know all those roles are just a part of who we are but it can be very hard to untangle them, to see how they inter-connect.

The French philosopher, Deleuze, wrote about “multiplicities” as a way of understanding the complex universe, and described any particular instance as a “singularity of multiplicities”. I liked that idea the moment I read it. I happened upon his writings at the same time that I was exploring the new “complexity science”, and in particular the concept of the “complex adaptive system“, which fundamentally changed how I saw our lives and our world.

I once spoke to a “Chef de Service” at a Parisian Homeopathic Hospital and he described to me that he saw each patient as like a diamond, with multiple facets shining, each one different, but together all part of the same individual. He saw his therapeutic strategy as being based on addressing several of the most prominent of a patient’s “facets”. A rather poetic way to think of the same underlying issue.

What is the underlying issue?

Life is messy.

On the “inside” and the “outside”. I put those words in quote marks because I’m pretty sure that frequently there is no clear boundary between the two. I think wherever we look we can find multiple threads to follow. We can identify particular paths, storylines, themes, chains of cause and effect, which run through a lifetime.

And, here’s the important point, brought back to the front of my mind by this photo today, all those paths, storylines, threads or whatever, are entangled. They are connected. They are inextricably interconnected, astonishingly woven together to create a unique, beautiful tapestry of a single life.

I’m not a fan of labelling a patient with several different concurrent diagnoses then sending them off to separate specialists to have each disease treated as if it exists in isolation. In Medicine this is referred to as “silo-ing“, a strange word which means separating out someone’s problems into separate baskets, boxes, or “silos”, then treating each one separately. Most of the evidence used in “Evidence Based Medicine” comes from trials where patients have been selected on the basis that they have only the single disease which is under study, and that they are receiving only the single drug which is being trialled. But the real world isn’t much like that. Much more common is the finding that an individual patient will have several different diagnoses active at the same time and that they will already be on a cocktail of drugs. Medicine is more messy than some people would have you believe.

So what? Is this a counsel of despair? Am I saying life is too complex and entangled to make any sense of it? No. Absolutely not.

What I find is that this complex entangled life is beautiful. That it manifests in the most unique, most varied, most astonishing individual narratives you could imagine.

What I find is that when you look for the connections between the parts, you get insights and understanding which you’d miss if you kept your attention only on single parts.

What I find is that it’s best to use your whole brain, not just half of it, as Iain McGilchrist, author of “The Master and His Emissary“, would say. It’s not enough to separate out the threads and elements and study them. You have to weave them back together to see the contexts, the contingencies and the connections. In other words, you need both your left hemisphere ability to see the threads, and your right hemisphere ability to weave them together into a whole.

What I find is that when you look at life this way, then you encounter the “√©merveillement du quotidien” – that you find yourself wondering and marvelling every single day. You find diversity and uniqueness. You find infinite trails of connections. You find that curiosity is constantly stimulated and never ends. You find that you are humbled by how little you actually know. You find that you doubt predictions and develop a distaste for judging people.

You find that Life is astonishingly, endlessly, fascinating.

What a delight!

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Not all days are the same.

Not all changes are significant.

But when you look at a tree like this you realise something has happened, not once, not twice, but several times. This tree seems to have started growing pretty normally but then, for unknown reasons, has take a right angled turn to grow horizontally for a bit. Was that a storm? A strong gust of wind? An animal or a human who bent the young tree over like that? Then a little later, the tree keeps on the horizontal but takes another right angle turn. How do you explain that one? I can’t. But surely we’d agree both turns were significant. On both occasions the future path of the tree was changed enormously. Not long after this second swerve, it starts on an upward path again, as you might expect any tree to do. But we can’t explain why it happened then.

You know, I think life is often like this.

Here’s one of the most useful questions I’d ask a patient – “When did you last feel completely well?” I liked that question because over the course of weeks, months and years an illness changes. It can change so much that at the point of presentation it looks quite different from how it began. So, I didn’t ask “When did this [insert diagnosis here] start?” Or, “When did you get sick?” Those questions often missed the origins of the illness. Also, many times, people would present with more than one diagnosis. Human beings can’t be compartmentalised into neat separate diagnostic boxes without losing sight of them as human beings. Sometimes a story, or narrative if you prefer that word, would begin with a certain illness, but then others would emerge on top….either replacing the original one, or blending in somehow. It was, therefore, more revealing to ask “When did you last feel completely well?”

You’d be surprised how often that was a difficult question to answer. Often I needed to prompt and coax, sometimes going right back to early school days, before someone would say, yes, that’s when I last felt completely well.

Once they’d told me when they had been well, we’d then start to discuss two things. Firstly, what was happening in life around the time you began not feeling well, and, secondly, tell me about what you experienced when you first started to feel unwell. I don’t claim that the revelation of significant traumatic events, be they accidents, infections, emotional traumas or abuse, then enabled me to say it was this or that event which caused your illness. But pulling together these pieces of a person’s story frequently opened up a new level of understanding. And, actually, somewhat surprisingly for the patient, it often revealed just how amazingly they’d coped with significant traumas.

So when I look at an image like this tree, I’m immediately wondering what the story is……how did the tree develop in this particular way? What was going on when these dramatic twists and turns took place?

I’m not finished yet…….because the other thing this tree tells me is to consider the wider, fuller picture. It’s hard enough to unpick key events, but you need a longer view, a more holistic view, to make sense of the fuller life story.

Here’s what seems to have happened next…..

That upward movement we looked at a few moments ago continued until the tree managed to contact its neighbour. Then they bonded. They made a connection. And they grew upwards together for the rest of their lives (OK, I don’t actually know how much longer these trees lived so maybe it wasn’t for the rest of their lives, but we say that when we tell stories, don’t we?)

We still don’t know what happened in those early phases of life, but with this longer, fuller view, we can at least make sense of the final turn upwards. We can see what appears to be a seeking for a connection, a movement towards an-other. Or at least, our story-telling brains make it easy to make sense of what we are seeing by interpreting it this way.

I don’t think you ever fully know another person. I don’t think anyone can ever make complete sense of another person’s life. In fact, I’m not sure we can even do that for ourselves. But we can spot patterns. We can see shapes, and movements, and directions, and rhythms. And when we weave those together into a lifetime narrative they really can help us to make sense of our experiences.

At least, that’s what I found.

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In several parts of France, usually along a river bank, you might find “bouquinistes”….second hand, and antiquarian booksellers, each with a wooden box, or a number of wooden boxes, which contain their books for sale. They close these up and lock them when they aren’t there, and open them up for browsing and sales while, usually, they sit nearby on a camp chair, or in small clusters with other bouquinistes, until somebody appears to want to buy something.

The most famous are in Paris, and the Seine has even been described as “the only river in the world which runs between two bookshelves”. The Parisian ones are the first ones I saw but these photos of mine are from another town, in the West of France. The term applies a lot more widely than just to the ones with the boxes along the river banks, however. You’ll often see a “bouquiniste” advertised and usually it’s a second hand, and/or antiquarian bookseller’s shop in a town centre.

I think their highly visible presence says something about French culture though. Books remain hugely popular in France. So are magazines and graphic novels. In fact, pretty much every town has a “Maison de la Presse” or something similar with a huge range of weekly and monthly magazines covering an incredible range of subjects, from hobbies, politics, design and art, to science, philosophy, history and geography. I just love those shops. There is something special for me about the way French magazines are produced. The graphic art, use of photography, diagrams and images are just superb. And there are plenty to choose from if you want to learn about something. I delight in the fact that so many aren’t “dumbed down” but assume readers with some intelligence and education.

I know there’s an ongoing debate about the subject of e-books. Some people love them, others hate them. I’m in neither camp but I certainly have my issues with e-books – number one being that they tend to be tied to specific “platforms” and you can neither give them away nor sell them second hand once you’ve read them. I don’t like that the only model for most e-books is rental, not ownership. However, I do read a fair number of non-fiction books as e-books. I love being able to highlight passages with my finger then use the references later when I am writing. In fact, that’s probably my favourite feature. I very rarely read fiction as an e-book, but I’m not really sure why!

Well, you know me, my favourite phrase is “and not or”. That’s exactly my position with books. I have LOADS of hardback and paperback books. I buy new, and I buy second hand. But I have also read a lot of “Kindle” books, and enjoy listening to audiobooks using “Audible” (especially when cutting the grass, or travelling in my car).

I retired from the NHS in Scotland where I’d lived and worked my whole life up until I was 60, then I sold up and emigrated to here, Nouvelle Aquitaine, in South West France. One of the many reasons I had for moving here was language and reading. I wanted to live part of my life in another language, and French was the one I was at least a bit familiar with. But I was also attracted to the French cultural tradition of books and learning. In fact, I often find I learn something in a French article which refers to a writer, thinker, scientist or whoever who is English speaking, Italian, Spanish, German or African (to name a few!). I then go exploring, perhaps reading further works by that author in their native English, or translated into English. However, I frequently seem to be able to find French translations of non-English speaking authors who have never been translated into English.

Books, magazines, and newspapers, in a second language have opened doors for me, widened and deepened my knowledge and understanding in ways I don’t think would have happened if I’d spent my whole life in a single-language culture.

How about you?

Do you read and/or speak more than one language? What’s been your experience of that? Have you found that it opens up whole vistas of knowledge and thought? Have you found that it’s brought you experiences you think would have been impossible if you’d remained with only your Mother Tongue?

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Have you ever noticed how we like to complete what we see?

This photo which I took turns a semi-circular bridge into a complete circle by including its reflection in the water. I like it better that way!

That makes me think of two things – how our vision works, and what kind of symmetry pleases us.

The simple way to think of the eye is that it is a kind of prism….that the light enters through the pupil and then casts an upside down image onto a screen – except where is the screen? At the back of the eye ie the retina? Or at the back of the skill ie in the brain? Whoa! Not so fast! Because that’s already NOT what happens.

Light enters the eye through the pupil and stimulates specialised cells embedded in the retina – rods and cones. When they are stimulated they send electrical signals along the “optic nerve” directly into the brain where different parts of the signal are processed in several different regions scattered across the back of the brain. The brain then merges all the processed information and, somehow, (we’re not quite sure how) turns it into a complete image. So we have the experience of seeing the world as if its a photo or a video.

Now, quite honestly, I think that is mind boggling. I think it is utterly incredible. But it’s even more weird than light being turned into electricity then split up, processed and merged, apparently instantly, to create whole images. Because for all the signals to travel from the retina to the brain they have to pass along the “optic nerve” and this “optic nerve” obviously doesn’t have the rods and cones which the rest of the retina has. It’s literally a blind spot. In other words, at no point does our eye, or our brain, “see” a whole image the way a prism, or a mirror would. We literally create what we see. Moment by moment, second by second. Astonishing huh?

Symmetry. In Western civilisations it’s common for people to prefer symmetry. By that I mean the typical “classical” symmetry of whole circles, balanced pillars and so on. But in Japan, for instance, such symmetry seems too static for most folk. They prefer things to be left a little “incomplete” or “asymmetrical” believing that such a view is more dynamic, and more TRUE because reality is never static or complete. You can read more about that if you explore “wabi sabi“.

I can find both pleasing. Lucky me, huh?!

But when I stop to think about it, the Japanese idea of leaving the mind (including the imagination) to “complete” an image is actually a more true representation of our vision functions.

How about you? What do you find most pleasing? The symmetry which looks balanced and “complete”, or the symmetry which encourages you to “complete” the vision with your own creative mind?

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When I look out at a view like this I see the ancient teaching about the four elements – air, fire, water and stone.

I suppose the most obvious one is the water – just look at it! Look at the rich palette of colours! Look at the expanse of it! I heard someone the other day say we shouldn’t say “Planet Earth” we should say “Planet Ocean” because much more of the Earth’s surface is covered with water than with land. As best we know Life began in the sea and evolved from there.

Above the sea, the next most obvious element is air – well, we say sky really, because we can’t actually see “air”. Look at the colour palette there too, and the expanse. That unbroken horizon where the sky meets the sea with no land in-between has some kind of magical attraction for us, doesn’t it? Do you remember the story about “The Green Ray“? It’s based on the old belief that if you watch the sun setting on a horizon of sky and sea alone then for a brief moment before the sun disappears a bright green ray of light might appear. I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve never seen it. The story goes on to suggest that whoever you see next, after seeing the green ray, will be the love of your life. Romantic, huh? Eric Rohmer made it into a beautiful movie. Another thing we can’t see in the air is wind. We can only infer it from its effects on other elements. We can watch it blow the clouds (and what are clouds other than the temporary appearance of otherwise invisible water molecules which saturate the air?). We can watch it whip up waves.

The element of fire comes from the Sun. We can’t look at it directly without damaging our eyes. But we can close our eyes, turn our faces towards the Sun and feel the heat of the incredible furnaces and explosions which send out waves of energy to our Earth. Waves, without which there would be no Life. And in that air that we can’t see are gases we can’t see, including ozone, which, when it breaks down, allows way too much of the Sun’s fire through. We can’t see the carbon dioxide building up and trapping the energy of the Sun’s fire between the sky and the sea and earth, warming the oceans, the lands, and threatening the existence of all that lives.

Finally, there’s the earth, or stone. If you look carefully at the front of this image you can see the colour of the sand under the water. Isn’t it amazing that those un-countable grains of sand are created by the constant moving of the water? That they started out as rock and ended up almost too small to see. Well, of course, sand is more than little rocks. It’s got gazillions of tiny shells and pieces of shells in it too. Those protective homes created by billions of tiny sea creatures – all without the use of machines or technology!

I love to stand at the edge of the beach and harmonise my breathing with the rhythm of the breaking waves. Breathing out as the water breaks on the sand, and breathing in as the ocean draws its edges back in towards itself. When that harmony falls into place its one of the most calming, centring, but also expansive boundary-dissolving experience I know.

The four elements.

Always a rewarding contemplation.

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What instruments do you have, and use, to help you make your way through this life?

Although our smartphones have compasses in them, how many times do you actually use one? I’ve used both Google Maps and Apple Maps to help me find my way through a city, and while they both let you mark, in advance, a place you want to visit, I’ve found that several times, when I come out of a metro or a station, that I set off in totally the wrong direction! Maybe I need to use the compass to figure out where north, south, east and west are…..but I haven’t done that so far.

Many of us have GPS in our cars now, and a couple of years ago we had a visit from some friends who live in Provence. Their car had GPS but they’d never used it because they are both a bit resistant to new technologies. However, I took the time to show one of them how to set her destination in her in-car GPS, then asked her to choose whether she wanted “the fastest route”, “the shortest route”, or the “optimised route” (which I explained balanced the other two options). She said, “I want to take the prettiest route”. Well, the Michelin maps in France mark many roads with green lines along each side. These “green roads” are the “prettiest” or “most attractive” ones, so I knew what she meant. I told her the GPS didn’t offer that option. She replied, “Well I don’t want to use it then”. I’ve been thinking that the “prettiest route” option is THE big missing function in most (all?) in-car GPS units ever since…..

Clocks or watches must be amongst our oldest, most used, instruments for helping us to get through life. There have been town clocks since the thirteenth century, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that personal watches became common.

I once organised a weekend workshop at the hospital where I worked and invited a Dutch colleague to come to Scotland to deliver it. He stayed with me for the weekend and we travelled to the venue by train. On the first day, the train got held up, then moved a bit, then got held up, and so on. I was getting increasingly anxious, checking my watch every few minutes. My friend said to me “Relax, in all the times I’ve been presenting workshops, they’ve never started before I arrive!” He then went on to explain to me that about 15 years earlier he had removed his watch because he thought that constantly checking it just made him anxious. He pointed out that I could look at my watch as often as I liked but the train wouldn’t go any faster. I took my watch off that weekend and haven’t worn one since.

However, it’s not that I never check the time. There are plenty of clocks and timekeeping devices around us all the time – especially as most of us have phones which show the time now. But I definitely cut back on my watch/clock/time checking after that.

The French philosopher, Henri Bergson, wrote clearly about the difference between measured time and lived time (duration). My normal working day centred around fully booked clinics, divided into regular time slots. I found that I didn’t need to check the time in the consulting room. I had developed an unconscious ability to “know” how much time had passed, and, normally, my clinics ran to time. I used the same skill when teaching. If I was given a 30 minute slot, I’d deliver my lecture, then check the time, and 30 minutes would be about to lapse. If I was given an hour, I’d deliver my lecture, check the time, and the hour would be about up. Not always. But usually. So, I understand this phenomenon of lived time, and I don’t need a device to measure it.

I have seen some utterly beautiful public time-keeping devices however.

Before the invention of clocks, we used sundials. Some of them are delightfully beautiful.

Here’s another clock, this one in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It’s a favourite of mine…not least because you can look through it, out across the city.

This next one shows the days of the week, representing each day according to the planet which gives the day its name (you knew that’s where the names of the days of the week came from, right?) I like this, because it suggests a slower pace of living – knowing the day, rather than knowing the hour, minute and second!

Another type of instrument we use is the barometer.

When I was a young boy, I had a “weather station”, which included a barometer, a thermometer, an anemometer to measure wind direction and speed, and a hygrometer to measure humidity. I learned how to recognise different kinds of clouds and I measured the daily rainfall. Not sure I ever learned how to predict the weather though!

Nowadays, it’s back to that smartphone with its weather apps! What strikes me about the one I use which shows predictions for the next ten days, is just how often the prediction changes before the day arrives. If rainy, stormy days seven days ahead turn into dry days with sunny spells before the seven days are up it feels like I’ve gained something. It feels like a win! How weird is that? I get to avoid the bad weather that was never going to happen anyway!

Which instruments did you use in your life in the past, and which ones do you use now (or do you only use apps on your smartphone or smartwatch now?)

And what do you pay most attention to? Direction, time, weather….or what? I’ve often thought that what we pay attention to influences what we experience.

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One of my most favourite phrases in French is “L’Emerveillement du quotidien” – which translates as something like “the wonder of the everyday”, but actually there are other layers of meaning which I find hard to capture in English.

I suppose the thing I love about the word “wonder” is that has several connotations. It suggests a certain curiosity, a “wondering” what something is, or how it came about. But it also suggests a kind of awe, something amazing, astonishing, or, at very least attention-catching. The sense of “everyday” also has a couple of nuances. It means something common, as in something you might encounter any day, and it means something ordinary. So you immediately find yourself dealing with a paradox – how can the “ordinary” seem “extraordinary”? How does something “common” become both “particular” and “special”?

I’ve come to believe that there is always something extra-ordinary in the ordinary, and, after working with thousands of patients over four decades of clinical work, I’m convinced that every human being is “special”. Special not in the sense of above or superior, but in the sense of particular and unique. In fact, I think it a dehumanising act to reduce any person to “ordinary” or “common”. It’s a failure to really meet and get to know the individual.

So, although these terms seem somewhat paradoxical I find no conflict in them. I find that every single day I can have my attention captured and feel a sense of wonder and amazement develop inside me, just by living my “ordinary”, “normal”, “everyday” life.

I think there are two important principles to bring to this idea and practice – attention and imagination.

We humans have remarkable powers of unconscious and subconscious functioning. We can easily slip into auto-pilot. Have you ever had that experience of driving somewhere with you head full of thoughts to such an extent that on your arrival you have virtually no memory of the actual journey? This happens especially if your trip is one you have taken many times before. You navigate, without much conscious thought, from one familiar landmark to the next, through one well known intersection to another, but you might be hard pushed to describe any of the details of the journey. We are equally great at acquiring habits, and once we set those routines off, unless anything interrupts the expected flow, then we cruise through those activities, “without a second thought”, or, maybe more accurately, without a first one!

These are great powers and they enable us to get on with living without having to stop and make sense of life in every lived moment. But it comes at a price. We miss a lot. In fact, it comes at another, perhaps even greater price. We open ourselves up to being controlled. There are vast industries of advertising, propaganda, and persuasion designed to hustle us along towards somebody else’s desired goals without stopping to consider them.

So, how do challenge that? By slowing down and paying attention. OK, maybe not all the time, but more than we are in the habit of doing. The more often we slow down and pay attention to what is here and now, the more we notice. And, my contention is, the more we notice, the more we wonder.

Repeated experiences of wondering undermine the belief that there is nothing interesting or different about any individual, that all flowers are the same, that nothing changes, or that generalisations are more true than specificities. In fact, repeated experiences of wondering create the exact opposite. They affirm, every single day, that every person is unique, that every plant is unique, that no experience is ever really repeated, and that the truth is always found deeper than in a surface generalisation.

When I walked along the banks of this stream, which you can see in the photo at the start of this post, I noticed rocks and water. Everywhere I looked the rocks looked different, and I spent a long time mesmerised by the flow of the ever changing water.

Have another look at this particular shot. Don’t you find yourself starting to wonder? Starting to wonder about the shapes of the rocks? How smoothly they have been carved by the water. Don’t you start to wonder how each rock becomes this particular shape, and how the rock got to this position in the stream in the first place? It’s pretty easy to let a whole river of questions pour through your mind, and even without answers, those very questions start to stir a sense of amazement, of awe, of wonder.

The second element is imagination. We humans don’t just “see” the way a camera “sees”. We select, represent and interpret. We pick certain elements out of the immense flow of materials, energy and information which constantly course through our minds and bodies. We re-present those original flows and turn them into mental images, thoughts and ideas. And we interpret those representations, colouring and shading them with meanings which we draw from our memory banks and conjure up with our imagination.

I look at these particular rocks and I see a giant wide open mouth. I can imagine that some great monster fell, or was thrown or chased, into the water some time in the distant past. I can imagine that “once upon a time” something happened here, and there’s a story to be told to “explain” what we can see now. In Celtic traditions there is an abundance of such stories about the landscape. The mountains, rivers, forests, lochs, boulders, trees and ponds have stories attached to them, names given to them. Those stories and myths enrich the landscape, and add an extra, invisible layer to Life on Earth. Some people refer to this phenomenon as “enchantment” and I rather like that.

Here’s to a life of wonder and enchantment bursting up into our consciousness every single day.

Here’s to finding our inner heroes and discarding our inner zombies!

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At the beginning of the year I received an invite to speak at a conference in Canada. The invitation was to talk about my experience of four decades of work as a doctor who used homeopathy. I was surprised, but it was a very kind invitation and I accepted.

The way I prepare for talks is to let some ideas and questions rattle around my brain for a bit, then start making notes. The kinds of notes I make are sort of mind maps. They aren’t as formal as those you’d find in books about the mind mapping. I just put down key words and phrases on a page, then draw circles, squares or diamond shapes around them and link them up. I’ll do a few versions of that, then I open up “Keynote” and I make a slide for each element in the mind map, pull in images from my photo library, write a few words (not many) on some of the slides, then arrange them to create a sequence which enables me to tell the story I want to tell. Well, I ended up with a set of three presentations, each of which would take about an hour to tell. I’d been told I’d be allocated two 90 minute slots in the schedule.

Then before the time arrived for the conference, along came COVID-19 and the event was cancelled. Maybe it will happen some other time, but maybe not. I’d enjoyed putting the presentations together so that gave me an idea. Why not write a book covering the same ground? I’d had an idea for a long time that I should tell my own story. I didn’t want to write a textbook, or a polemic, an argument for a way to live, a way to practice Medicine, or even make the case for the use of Homeopathy. I just wanted to make a record of my own life, my own experience.

I’m sure if any of us sat down to write our own story we’d immediately come up against the question, “But which story?”, because there are many stories of our lives. I didn’t want to write an autobiography which told the story of my family, my relationships, and my personal development. I wanted to tell the story of why I became a doctor, what kind of doctor I became, and how that came about. Not least because I thought it would help me to understand my own life better. I suppose it’s my “professional story”, but really, it’s the story of my “calling”.

I wanted to publish the book too, because I wanted others to be able to read it. Not to earn money from sales, nor to try to convince anyone of anything, but more to add to my over all project of sharing my personal experience of curiosity, wonder and joy – that’s what this blog is all about – and that’s what I committed to do daily from the day of lockdown. I’ve been writing a post based on one of my photos every day since the middle of March and I don’t feel like stopping any time soon. I already know, from feedback from some of you, how much you appreciate these posts and that completely delights me. Writing them adds to my life, so I’m very, very happy if reading them adds to yours!

Now, more than ever, I want to set off some positive, loving, inspiring waves. I’ve no idea where they will go, or what effect they will have, but it feels like a way to make a positive contribution to our times.

With lockdown, with the presentations already mapping out a story, and with the daily practice of writing for the blog, it all came together and I wrote this book – “And not or” – “A calling and a listening”.

This is how I did it, the tools I used, and what I had to learn.

I wrote the text using an A4 sized notebook and a pen. I wrote and wrote and wrote, till I thought I’d written all I wanted to write. Then I used that handwritten text to write the digital version using a program called “Ulysses“. Listen, before I go any further, I’m just laying out what I did, not saying you should do exactly what I did if you want to write your own book! But, on the other hand, I’ve always found it helpful to read what other writers have done. So, you could use any software you want. I started with Ulysses. I use this program on my desktop Mac, as well as on my iPad (for which I have a proper Bluetooth connected keyboard).

When I wrote the first digital version, I didn’t just copy out all the words I’d written in my notebook. Instead, I’d read a section, then start to transcribe the words into the wordprocessor, but I found I often decided to write it differently, to leave out whole sentences or passages, and to write brand new ones instead. By the time I’d done that I had what I called “draft 2” (the written text constituting “draft 1”). The way Ulysses works is that you write “sheets” – for me, each “sheet” was a chapter. I like the simple markdown language you can use with Ulysses. If you put a # sign at the start of a line it turns that line into a heading. If you put two ## signs it turns that line into a secondary heading. I only used those two levels of headings. The first level heading were the chapter titles, the second level to navigate sections within a chapter. The other main markdown tools I used were for inserting images (hey, you know how much I love my photos!), for marking a paragraph as a quotation, and for creating lists. That’s pretty much it. Ulysses presents you with a left hand column of your sheets, each one showing just the first line or two. I used that to get an overview of the whole book. That let me see what I thought was repetitive, and what I thought was missing.

Next step was “draft 3” – read through the whole digital text, correcting and editing as I went. Once I got to the end of that, I felt, well….dissatisfied! Something wasn’t right, and I couldn’t see what it was. So I put the whole project away for a week. Then when I came back to it I saw there were half a dozen chapters which seemed problematic. They were in two groups of three, and each group had overlap and repetition in it. I still couldn’t see the way ahead though. So, here’s the next neat thing about Ulysses, you can select whichever sheets you want to review and print them off. I printed off the six in question. Then I read through the printouts with pencil in hand, scoring out, adding in, and linking up different paragraphs. Once I’d done that I went back into the program and changed the text according to that latest “edit”. I also chopped out three other chapters that just didn’t seem to fit well at all. What do they call that? “killing your darlings” – dropping some of the sentences you love the most – because they just don’t fit. I guess I now I had gone through “draft 4”, to “draft 5”.

Time for another complete read through, correcting and editing as I went – “draft 6”. OK, this felt good now. Time to try and turn it into a published book. I decided I wanted a physical, paper version, and a digital version (and not or….get it?).

For the paper version I decided to use Blurb. This is a company I’ve used about once a year to make a photo album of my best, or most memorable photos of that year. I love their quality of print. And I’d already taught myself the basics of their software – “Bookwright“. Now, I’m sure with all the software I use that I’m no expert and there are probably easier ways to do things, but, hey, I only know what I know, so I don’t know any easy way to import all the text into “Bookwright”. Instead I created the pages, inserted either text or photo “layout boxes” onto each page, copied and pasted the text, chapter by chapter into Bookwright, imported all the photos I’d used, and dropped them into the right places, then ran the “preview” option, and the error checking, both of which identified things that needed fixed. Then I uploaded it to the Blurb site and ordered up my proof copy.

Meantime I had to think how to produce a digital version. Apple have something called “iBooks Author” which I’d used before, (I’ve since learned Apple are about to discontinue that software) and there were ebook creation tools I knew existed to produce “Kindle” or “ePub” versions.

Whoa! Too much to think about it! I then discovered that Amazon had produced new software called “Kindle Create“. I downloaded it, discovered you could import a “Word” file into it, make a cover, preview it, then upload it to Amazon. Ulysses makes it easy to export your sheets as a single “.docx” file so I did that, opened it up in “Pages”, then exported the document from there as a “Word” doc into Kindle Create. It was easy, and straightforward, just took time and care.

Now, I’m sure if you use Windows your workflow and the tools you can use will be different, and maybe some of you know a lot more about these programs and methods than I do – and if that’s true, please go ahead and share what you know in the comments here, or share links to your own articles if you’ve written them.

Well, this is where I’ve got to now – a paper version – you can get it from Blurb at https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10155078-and-not-or

and a Kindle version – https://amzn.to/2UozjIw – if you are in the UK. If you are not in the UK, go to your local Amazon site and search for “Leckridge” – you’ll find it quickly that way (let me know if you don’t!)

Here’s my summary of the book –

Why become a doctor? This is one doctor’s response to that question. It begins with a calling, then continues through listening. Patient after patient, over four decades of Practice, tells their own unique story. Each one is an attempt to find healing. To find healing, the doctor and the patient embark on a relationship which allows them to uncover Nature’s pathways to health. 
Each pathway is a life of adaptive strategies revealed through the body, the emotions, and in patterns of behaviour, language and thought.
Two small words open different doors of understanding.
“Or” divides, separates and focuses attention on single parts.
“And” connects, integrates and focuses attention on the whole.
We need both approaches but if we are to heal, individually, together, and at the level of the planet, we need to shift the balance away from “or” to “and”. 
Through an exploration of narrative, psychoneuroimmunology, neuroscience, complexity and complementary medicine, this is one doctor’s experience of shifting the balance from “or” to “and”.

If you fancy reading it, go ahead, and if you’d like to give me feedback you can find me most places by searching for “bobleckridge” – I’m here on WordPress, but I’m also easily found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and I use gmail.com (just put “bobleckridge” before the @ sign)

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