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Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

This photo has always fascinated me. At the time I took it the sunlight reflecting on the blue waters as they nestled at the foot of the wooded cliffs was what caught my attention. The whole scene is beautiful and it evokes a sense of peace and contentment in me. But from the first time I looked at it on my computer, what has struck me most has been that line on the surface of the water. Do you see it? It’s pretty much right in the middle of the image. It’s like a path, a blue path cut through the glistening white of the sunlit waters on either side of it. It is shaped like a bow, curving round from just over half way along its length to head towards the cliffs. The surface of the water in the path seems calmer than that on either side….it’s smoother somehow.

Clearly this is the trace left by a boat, but there is no sign of the boat. So when did the boat sail this way? A few minutes ago? An hour ago? Longer?

I suppose it could be caused by something which lies beneath the surface rather than by a boat, but what would run a length like that and have such straight parallel edges? No, I think it’s a trace, not something sitting below the surface.

I find that pretty amazing. If there was a boat at the leading edge of it I might not be so impressed, because all boats leave a wake, don’t they? But this is like a wake without a boat…..or a visible wake left by an invisible boat!

I always think of how we humans change the planet by living in it when I look at this photo. Just by moving from one place to another we change the surface, leaving a trail, leaving a trace. It reminds me of Robinson Crusoe finding a human footprint in the sand on what he thought was a deserted island. These traces say “you are not alone”, and that can be both a reassurance and somewhat unsettling.

Of course, this particular trace won’t last very long. It won’t be there tomorrow, or probably not even later today. But other traces we leave change the landscape for decades. Whether through deforestation, through mining, agriculture, or be the creation of living spaces, we change whole landscapes forever…..well, if not forever, then at least for generations. I’d argue it’s forever, because the changes don’t go away.

Changes don’t go away? Surely they do? Well, I’m not so sure. It seems to me that changes just change into something else. Time doesn’t reverse and we don’t return anything in the world to how it was before…….how it was before has gone, so the changes, if they do disappear, only do so by changing into something else. You know what I mean? Landscape changes produce biosphere changes, which cause further changes in the landscape. I see change as more a ripple than an event. I don’t see changes with definite beginnings and endings, but as emerging differences which cascade outwards through the infinite web of inter-connectedness.

Not all changes are as visible as the ones we see on surfaces, or in landscapes, of course. I know I change all the time. My consciousness changes all the time. My emotional state changes all the time. I think, I act, I communicate, I respond and react. Those waves of change ripple out through my connections. Like the one I have with you. When you stop by to read this today, some of what I’ve been thinking, some of what I’ve been feeling, or something that I’ve seen and shared with you today induces some change in you. Maybe a different thought, maybe the start of a different feeling, or the deepening of an existing one. Maybe this experience you are having reading this post, will ripple out into conversations you have today, or into what you choose to do, or, maybe even what you notice as you live your own life in the days ahead.

Of course, I don’t know.

But I’m aware of the possibility. And that awareness is at the heart of why I create these posts. My intention is to share some of my wonder, my amazement and my delight in daily living. To share from my heart with positivity. I hope this leaves a trace, or sets off some waves to ripple out into our shared and wonderful life together.

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What strikes me about this photo is that I can see two completely different kinds of threads which bind. There is the wire wound round and round the wooden poles to create a fence, holding the cross posts tight to the upright. And there is the web.

I like the words entwined and entangled, because I think they highlight an often invisible aspect of reality. We are, all of us, inter-connected. We all exist in vast webs of relationships. You can’t really see a relationship. It isn’t measurable, but it is still the basis of reality. We are constantly exchanging materials, energy and information with others. Our relationships are between us and other humans, between us and other creatures, and between us and the planet.

Perhaps the most fundamental characteristic of our relationships is that they change us, and we change the others. It’s never one way. We absorb, are stimulated by, penetrated by, elements, molecules, and organisms. We exist in energy waves which penetrate us, changing our own energy patterns as they do so. We live in a continuous flow of information, picking up signals, responding to signs, symbols and stimuli, moment by moment. At the same time we send out molecules in our breath, in our body fluids, from our skin. We emit energies produced by the beating of our heart, by the activity of our brain, and by the rhythms of our cells. We send out information, signals, and signs all the time.

This reality of inter-connectedness underpins our inter-dependency. Not one of us could exist without the entangled webs and ecosystems in which we live. There’s a strange fantasy about space travel…..that you could take a human being, build them a house on the Moon, or on Mars, and start to create a new place to live. But human beings live as only one of hundreds of inter-dependent species on planet Earth, and take one species out (if such a thing were possible – it’s not – you exist with more micro-organisms than you do with ancestral cells), and then see how it can survive, let alone thrive. It’s a fantasy.

We don’t choose most of our entanglements. Not consciously. We are born into many of them, nurtured within them, and live within them. We are so unaware of the rest of Nature that we think of ourselves as outside, apart from, separate from, all of existence. We aren’t. We all exist inside, a part of, integrated within Nature, and Nature is a vast, complex, interconnected web of ties, of bonds, of connections and relationships. We are so unaware of Society that we think of ourselves as separate individuals, as if nothing others do could affect us, as if nothing we do could affect others. But we exist socially, culturally, economically, in one vast, interconnected system.

But we can choose some of our entanglements. We can become more aware of our day to day reality, and, then, when we pause to reflect, and observe, we can learn, see, hear and know more. Only then does conscious choice have a chance. Only then can we develop responses on top of all our reactions. (reactions being automatic)

There’s something to think about – what are my entanglements? How and with whom am I entwined? How do those connections and relationships change me, influence me, move me? And how do I change, influence and move them?

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Have you ever thought “What the world could do with is a bit more love in it?”

When I saw this graffiti a few years ago it reminded me of the late, great John Peel, whose radio show I used to listen to regularly in my teens. I remember him one year saying he enjoyed picking up autumn leaves, writing “Hello” on them, and dropping them back down on the ground, because he could imagine the joy and surprise it would bring people who came across them.

Well, how about, today, you say “I love you”?

Say it to someone you love. Or say it to your cat, your dog, or any other animal you love. Or say it to your favourite tree, or a beautiful flower which is blooming in your garden.

Or say I love you to the Earth or to the Universe.

You choose.

Whoever, or whatever, you choose to say “I love you” to, really mean it. Don’t just throw the words away. Feel the love in your heart, and visualise radiating that love outwards. Unconditionally.

Write it down if you want. This graffiti artist certainly wrote it big, but you can write it any size…..in an email, a message, on a leaf, a piece of paper…..you decide.

If we all do this today, there will be more love in the world. Not one day, not just sometime, but today.

And you know what? Nobody can stop you. Nobody can prevent it. It’s up to you to become aware of the love in your heart, and to choose to radiate that love outwards.

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In my photo library I’ve named this “waterfalls”. Yep, plural. And when I looked at it again this morning I thought it seemed a great image to stimulate thought about working together…..in fact, “flowing together” was the phrase which popped into my mind. I slowed down the shutter speed for this photo so the water would blur like this. I think the whole sense of movement and flow is captured better that way. There’s a power in this scene, and that power lies in the water itself. Or, at least, that’s how it seems at first.

So I look at this and think, this is what we are like together…..when we flow together…..when our energies, our focus and our direction all align. Isn’t that beautiful?

I’d almost be happy to leave it at that. Just to put this image in front of you and hope that you’ll think of the power and the beauty of harmony, resonance and alignment.

But, then I wondered why I’d called the photo “waterfalls”, plural. Isn’t it just one waterfall? After all most waterfalls don’t have a single stream of water falling over a specific rock. Rather, most waterfalls are made up of multiple paths where different amounts of water channel through particular spaces, and tumble over specific rocks. We don’t look at a waterfall which has six streams of water falling and think, oh look at those six waterfalls, do we? Or maybe we do.

So that’s where my mind went next. It went off to reflect on our very human capacity to separate out whatever we are looking at. To break the whole down into parts. There are a number of words for that – abstraction is one. Abstraction is where we abstract, or remove, something from its context. Our left hemisphere is brilliant at doing that. Indeed it seems that’s the normal process……the whole flows into the right hemisphere which hands off some of that flow to the left so it can abstract the components, the parts, the pieces……abstract them, label them, categorise them. And, yes, what’s supposed to happen next is that the left passes the results of that analysis back to the right for it to re-contextualise it. It’s just, if Iain McGilchrist is right, that this process has broken down and we have developed the habit of giving priority to the work of the left hemisphere…….too often we see only the parts, and forget to re-contextualise them.

If we don’t allow ourselves to use our whole brain, then we see two waterfalls here, where, seeing the whole would mean we see just one.

I don’t know what works best for you, but I’ve had a lifetime of work refusing to rest with reductionist abstractions, and always striving to see and hear the unique whole person every time. Yes, I’ve had to focus down onto parts, perhaps listening to someone’s lungs or heart, perhaps measuring the level of a component in their blood, but, I’ve always preferred to re-contextualise whatever those abstractions reveal.

I think we need to do more of that.

I think we need to see the whole, to see the contexts, to seek the connections and relationships, and to realise that every experience we have changes us…..just as this beautiful waterfall constantly changes, moment by moment, month by month, year by year.

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When I look at this photo the leaves seem like pieces of gold at first. Perhaps golden coins. But then I quickly see that they are fallen autumn leaves, with gold, brown, yellow and even green ones. The rock they have landed on, or stuck onto, seems like a collecting point, or a resting point. Maybe the leaves fell here from overhanging trees, but, in fact there weren’t any trees directly overhanging this rock, so maybe they were blown onto this rock. Alternatively, maybe they were swept downstream on the fast flowing water. Whatever their origin and mode of transport, they stuck to this wet rock.

Here’s what comes up for me as I reflect on this image……

Life flows past fast. It rushes by, moment by moment, day by day, even year by year. It never stops. Life is continuous and full of movement, just like this tumbling highland stream. There are places, however, where we can pause. Places or moments where we can step out of the rush and flow of things for a moment and take a breather. It’s important to do that.

When we do step onto the rock, which represents the time out moment, we find that there is some gold there. We find that stuck onto that place of rest there are some golden moments, and some of the gifts from golden moments, from the past. This reminds me of gratitude practice. Many people have demonstrated the benefits to our mental health and wellbeing of doing regular gratitude practice.

Quite simply, there is much to gain from taking a pause, a few moments, and either writing down some of the experiences, events, relationships, gifts for which we are grateful, or even calling them to mind, re-creating them in our imagination, and stirring the benefits of those special times all over again.

The rock, in these musings, becomes a place in the mind. A place where I rest, stand apart for a moment, create what Iain McGilchrist calls “the necessary distance” which allows us to reflect, to set new perspectives, and to see the whole. It’s a place of integration……where I reinforce the mutually beneficial bonds between me and “the other”.

Then I step off into the stream again, and flow off onto the next part of the journey.

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The Fushimi Inari temple just outside Kyoto is quite unlike any other place I’ve visited. It’s an experience which was unique and which remains vivid in my psyche many years later. You follow a path through a forest, up a hill until you get to the top. The path has hundreds of these “Torii” gates enclosing much of it.

You’ve probably seen photos of these types of brightly coloured gateways from Japan. I think they are amazing. They are simple, beautiful and magical.

As you walk up the path you pass under one gate after another, and it never becomes “same-y”. It seems that you can experience the uniqueness of each gate, one at a time, and, of course, if you stop, look ahead, turn round and look back, then you see these long snaking tunnels…..because although the gates are clearly separate from each other, as you look at a number of them extending into the distance, the spaces disappear and they seem to form a continuous arch.

Maybe the closest thing to this in Europe would be a cloister with multiple arches, but, even that is not quite the same.

If I stand here and look back, I see a trail of events and experiences represented by each of the gates. Each event was unique, every experience changed me. Some of them stand out in my memory and I can see them clearly, others have fused with the ones around them to create a longer period of my life which I remember with only some representative details.

If I stand here and look forward, I see a cascade of events and experiences lying before me. Not fully formed, and not realised until I reach that point in my path. The ones closer to me lie in my immediate future and I see them fairly clearly. The further out ones are hard to distinguish, hard to know in their details.

Both of those orientations seem right to me. Both of them influence and inform the point where I have reached, the present time and place, under this one torii gate we call this moment.

As I reflect on my life this way, I realise that every event has its unique context, every experience comes into being as I live it, and transforms me, and my life. I realise I can’t see very far into the future, that the future is not lying fully formed ahead of me, but that some aspects of the future are already in place, waiting to create my next, singular, and special experiences of what will become “now” when I reach them.

I can reflect on the larger scale this way too, looking back over the last 18 months of this pandemic, remembering some of the events which changed me, and straining to look ahead, having, yet again, that feeling of uncertainty, of doubt, and wonder……knowing that none of us know, but that we have a pretty good idea of how the near future will look, all the same.

Perhaps this is not the most creative way to think about the past and the future, but I like it. It brings together the connectedness of events and experiences. It reminds me how every one of them changes me. And it reinforces my understanding that I need to be humble, flexible, and adaptable, responding to each gate as I reach it.

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I have a life long love affair with books. My grandpa used to read to me when I was young, working his way through books like “Tales of a Grandfather” by Walter Scott, and collections of myths and fairy tales. I’ve always been intensely curious and had a fascination for both the local “reference library” and for story books from the “lending library”. Goodness knows how many books I’ve bought in my life, and I really don’t know how many I still have. I do know that most people who have come to my house seem surprised by just how many books there are, so I guess I have more than most people do.

I love bookshops, old and new, and I adore browsing around the booksellers at fairs and markets. It was a market like the one in this photo which caught my imagination whilst on holiday in France many years ago, and probably seeded my idea to retire when I did, and come to live in France. I had decided I wanted to live part of my life not just in another physical part of the world with a different geography, climate and history, but I wanted to live in a different culture. In particular I wanted to immerse myself in the language and literature of France…..it seemed to offer both different ways of seeing and understanding the world, and to open up whole areas of thought and observation which was unknown to me.

But I didn’t switch away from English to French. I still read a lot more English than I do French. I’ve been here just over six years now and it’s fulfilling all I’d hoped for. Of course, with the pandemic even bookshops were closed, and certainly markets and fairs were cancelled, but that hasn’t slowed down my reading.

There are a couple of very famous French books I’d recommend to anyone – they are so famous that they’ve been translated into many languages so chances are you won’t need to learn French to be able to read them. They are “The Little Prince” by Saint Exupery. It’s a brilliant, thought provoking story, beautifully illustrated. Many, many years ago I found a book in a bookshop in Aix en Provence. It’s called “Donner un sens à l’existence” by Jean-Philippe Ravoux. He’s a professor of philosophy in Aix, and the subtitle is “ou pourquoi Le Petit Prince est le plus grand traité de métaphysique du XXe siècle” – so, it’s, roughly, “Making sense of existence” – “or why The Little Prince is the greatest work of metaphysics in the 20th century”. It’s a brilliant little book, which draws on Saint Exupery’s story to enable the reader to explore a philosophy of life. I love it. Sadly, I don’t think it’s ever been translated into any other languages. However, don’t despair, just read The Little Prince. I really, really recommend it.

The second very famous French book which I recommend is Montaigne’s Essays. OK, the full collection is HUGE, and the original in Old French, beyond me. But I have copies in both French and English. However, what I’d recommend to absolutely anyone is Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live. A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer”. It’s brilliant. It’s really an easy read and I think it makes an utterly fabulous introduction to the life and work of Montaigne. The man was a genius and his essays have been translated into many languages and still stand the test of time.

If I really get into recommending books I’ll never stop! But I thought I’d just share these two works with you today – because they continue to be my favourites, I have never stopped re-reading them, and you are likely to be able to find translations into your own language.

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At the edge of the sea where the waves break onto the sad, sometimes you find an area like this, filled with pebbles and bubbling, foaming water. The hissing sound of the water as thousands of bubbles burst, and the clattering sound of the pebbles as they are tumbled back and forth by the waves is a beautiful sound.

When I look at this image I see the contrast between the foam and the stone. The foam lasts seconds, maybe a couple of minutes at most. The stones look permanent. They seem unchanging. But of course, they’re not. The reason that they are so smooth and rounded and glistening is due to the fact that they are undergoing constant transformation by the water. As they are washed and soaked by the water and rattled over each other by the waves, they change all the time, losing atoms to the sea, having their rough surfaces smoothed, and gradually, gradually, being reduced to sand.

The big difference between the foam and the stone is one of duration. Both are impermanent. Both are constantly changing. It’s just that the water does all that much more quickly than the stone does. In fact, the stone does it so slowly that we are mislead into thinking that the pebbles are permanent, eternal, unchanging. They’re not.

The other thing which strikes me when I look at this photo is how it reveals the fundamental truth that everything that exists is constantly being transformed by the encounters it makes with other things. We tend to think of the world as being made up of separate, easily identifiable, different objects – whether they are stones, trees, lakes or creatures.

But what about thinking about the world as made up of subjects, not objects? If everything (I really need to find another word for “thing” because just by using that I turn the world into a collection of objects!) which exists is in constant relationships with others….similar others, and totally different others…..and if those relationships change each of the partners through their encounters and experiences then maybe its better to think of the world as a community of subjects.

The world – not a collection of disconnected objects which can be standardised and replicated, but a community of subjects who co-inhabit the same planet and who resist standardisation through the perpetual transformations of being which emerge from their encounters.

Becoming, not being.

A finite, temporal world of encounters and experiences.

When I think of life this way I find a feeling of resistance arise in me – a resistance in the face of commodification, objectification, standardisation and control. It drives my desire for freedom, feeds my curiosity and opens me to the formation of new relationships and the experience of new encounters, every, single, day.

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Why don’t I just keep my photos in albums which I flip through from time to time?

Why don’t I just write my thoughts and ideas in a personal journal which nobody can read but me?

Because I’m driven to share.

We humans have developed as intensely social creatures. We haven’t evolved to survive as independent, isolated creatures. We have one of the longest dependent infancies on the planet. The little birds I see hatching in nests in the mulberry tree go from looking like small bald dinosaurs with open beaks, to feathered individuals which fly from the nest, successful on first flight, within days. It takes babies many months to walk, to speak and to be able to feed themselves with the food which they have no ability to find by themselves.

You know what I mean. We are created with the social means, the relationship-forming means, to survive and thrive.

Look at these wee girls. I don’t know what they are sharing but you can tell just from their body language how enthusiastically they are sharing. This is a basic, fundamental, necessary drive in all humans.

OK, I know, some people prefer to be more private, to limit their sharing to one or two, or a small handful of, people. But if we have no-one to share with, then, over time, that becomes a problem. We feel alienated, separated, lonely or abandoned. Depression sets in as a kind of implosion obscuring our view of others and of the rest of the world. When I worked at the Centre for Integrative Care in Glasgow, we would sometimes take a patient into the garden and sit with them noticing…..seeing the flowers, the bushes and trees, hearing the birds, spotting the squirrels and the fox. Those times enabled people to safely take the first steps out of the dark hole of depression. Their attention was captured by the natural world and their energy and focus began to flow back into a positive form of connection.

I made a commitment to write a post every day when the first lockdown came in here in France. I suppose, like all of us, I had no idea how long this pandemic would last, and so, it’s something of a surprise to find I’m still creating these daily posts. My thinking was to share one of my photos and also some of the thoughts and feelings which came up within me when I looked at particular images. The main reason to do that was that I find these photos and the reflections they elicit, a source of joy, wonder, delight and positivity.

So, this was my original thought – what if I shared something positive every day? What ripples might that set off? Whose lives might they touch? Might the joys, the wonders and delights become magnified in the sharing? I think they do. Because that’s the really fascinating thing about sharing – it’s not giving away – it’s not losing something that somebody else gains – it magnifies its positive effects on both or us. My life feels better at least in part because of this daily sharing. And I hope yours does too.

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What makes this photo special?

For me, it’s the sort of symmetry you can see here between the rows of vines covering the hillside and the rays of sunlight shining down through the gaps in the cloud.

There’s a resonance there. A sort of harmony which catches my attention. I think “as above, so below”, which is an old esoteric teaching about the way in which this physical world and the spiritual world are connected….or, if you prefer, how the Earth is connected to the Sky or Heavens.

Our brains are brilliant at spotting patterns. In fact, we don’t just spot patterns in the way that a mirror might reflect what stands in front of it, we create patterns. We learn patterns. We remember patterns. Think of the night sky, for example. Once you’ve been taught to see the invisible lines between some of the stars you call them constellations. And then you can find them again much more easily in the millions and millions of stars shining down on a clear night. But someone imagined those lines. They aren’t the same as the threads which make up a spider’s web, or the lines of minerals running through stones you find when you are out for a walk. Our ancestors created those patterns, and told stories so that others would be able to see them and share them.

So we are brilliant at spotting “similars” – we see patterns and attempt to match them to ones we know already, or others we can see, or create in the same moment. When we spot a similar it’s exciting. It’s “remarkable” – it’s attention grabbing and potentially meaning-creating – because that’s something else we are great at – making experiences and perceptions meaning-full. We constant attempt to make sense of the world we are living in, and to connect our experiences to a sense of purpose.

Some of these matches, these “similars” are like resonances – and this is one of those. Resonances are like harmonies. They delight. They spark a little joy, set off some feelings of awe or wonder. They are special.

This is one of the ways in which we can live a more “enchanted” life. A more “meaningful”, “rich”, “deep”, life. A life of soul. A life of spirit. A connected, “integrated” life. A healthy life. A life of flow and movement.

What patterns do you notice today? And what resonances, or similarities, do you see between those patterns, both between them and ones you already know, and between them and the others around you today?

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