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Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

Last week, one day, while sitting in the garden having a coffee, we looked up and saw what looked like a rainbow all around the Sun.

Have you ever seen anything like this?

I hadn’t.

Do you know what it is called?

A corona.

Can you believe that? A corona round the Sun during a pandemic of coronavirus.

Seriously?

There it is, up there, behind the mulberry tree, clear as anything in the morning sky.

Now I think that’s pretty spooky.

But there’s more…..because don’t you think this looks like a giant eye? Doesn’t it look like a iris, with a white pupil?

Well, you know what? This is reality. These are the kinds of things which actually happen. Maybe only once in a lifetime. But they happen. And it feels special, feels a privilege, to witness it.

Reality looks like this. It’s amazing every day. You just have to be present and aware and you’ll see, hear, smell, taste, or touch something wonder-full every day. Everything you notice will seem to connect to something else, and those connections, echoes, memories, symmetries, imaginings…..well, they are quite simply breathtaking.

If you don’t believe me. Just try it. Find out for yourself.

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I took this photo at noon one January 1st.

You might think its pretty much just a photo of some grass, so, hold on, let’s look more carefully, and consider the contexts. If it was simply a photo of a patch of grass it wouldn’t be particularly interesting but what caught my eye wasn’t the grass, it was the interplay of shadow and light.

Despite it being noon, the Sun is still pretty low in the sky. Well, it’s taken in the wintertime in Scotland, so that’s normal. But, normal or not, the effect of the low sunlight streaming through the trees is spectacular. The angle of the light makes the shadows SO long and the spaces between the trees show frosted grass sparkling brightly.

I love the forms and the patterns of the shadows, the light, the frost and the grass. It takes all of them together to create the scene.

Here’s another scene –


This is a huge puddle which is there more often than it’s not in this particular field. I once saw swans swimming on it! But today, what makes this image so beautiful is the trees and their reflection. Without the trees, the clarity of the light and the stillness of the water, this just wouldn’t be the same. It has echoes of the previous photo but it’s completely different. However, both photos were taken within minutes of each other, the flooded field lying just a short walk along the road from the shadowed park.

I’m struck by how important the contexts are in these photos. If I’d “abstracted” just one element in each – a grassy patch, a section of the puddle, a single tree – I’d lose all the context. It’s the interplay of all the elements which makes these images more than the sum of their parts.

Life is like that.

When we focus too narrowly, when we consider only a part in isolation, we achieve only a partial understanding. It’s the whole experience, in all it’s contexts and environments, with the story which holds them together, and the remembered subjective experience of being there which makes them so unique, so particular to me.

So, if I am to share any of that with you, I need to show you, and tell you, at least some of the contexts. That way, you’ll come closer to experiencing what I experienced.

That was my everyday working reality. Every single patient who came to see me had a unique story to tell. If I were to understand them I had to hear their story. I had to try to have some experience of their experience, to feel what they were feeling, to know what they knew, if I was to understand, diagnose and help them.

But it’s the same for all of us. If we are to understand anyone, friend, relative, colleague, stranger, we have to hear their story, and try to experience some of their experience.

It’s always partial. It’s never fixed. It’s never completely knowable. But there’s no substitute.

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This is a spider web, but doesn’t it look spooky?

It looks like the big hole in it is an eye socket and the central lower part looks like a beak, or a nose.

I see a mask when I look at this.

And a pretty disturbing mask at that!

I think this is a bit like one of those drawings you look at which at first glance might be an abstract pattern, but once you’ve seen a face or something in it, you just can’t unsee it ever again.

It really can be hard to see something “as if for the very first time” when you’ve already seen it and “made up your mind” what it is you can see.

 

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I can remember science lessons in High School where we studied waves. I thought they were fascinating. I still do. All kinds of waves. Waves in the sea

waves in a pond

the electromagnetic spectrum which includes the light and colours we can see, the radio waves we can tune into and many other varieties of invisible waves which affect us.

the waves produced by our hearts and brains which we can’t see, but we can measure and represent on charts (did you know that when your heart rhythm emits a wave pattern which can influence the heart rhythms of people who are physically close to you? 

Even the representation of waves drawn in the stones in a temple or shrine (like the one at the start of this post).

Waves change us.

Waves carry energy and information.

As energy and information reaches into our bodies and minds it changes us.

I read the other day that “influencers” are having a hard time. Bear with me, I’m 66 next month, and “social media influencers” are not my specialist subject, but as best I can tell people who make a living from advertising and marketing revenues from companies by sharing pictures and videos of themselves wearing or using those companies’ products have seen a sharp decline in their income.

Seems one of the things during this pandemic is that people are consuming less “stuff”. Well, given that around the world millions of shops are closed and production lines are at a standstill, maybe this is no surprise. But there’s another element to this story which seems to be a sort of re-evaluation that’s going on. Less people seem interested in the lives of “celebrities” (ie people who are famous for being famous) just now. Priorities and values are changing.

However you want to look at this, the underlying reality is that we are all influencers. There is nothing I do, from the breaths I take, to the beating of my heart, to the communications I make and the behaviours I show, which doesn’t change the world. OK, yes, of course, not the whole world! Well, probably a very small part of the world actually. But collectively we are all influencers.

We send out materials, energy and information into the world constantly. Unceasingly.

What materials do you send out? What “waste” do you produce and what do you do with it?

What energy do you send out? How does that energy affect your relationships?

What information do you send out? What are your messages? How do you say them? Are they based on kindness or hate? Hope or fear? Anger or Joy?

You cannot escape being an influencer.

The question is – what waves are we making? You and I.

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There’s something of this shrub that makes me think about the human brain. The leafy cortex forming a curved border and the mesh of branches, twigs and stems which look a bit like a neural net.

Deleuze and Maturna wrote about two common models we use to organise our world view – the arboreal and the rhizomal. They described how we use the former to create tree structures everywhere…..those hierarchical constantly branching sets of binary choices. Think of a genealogy chart, and how we refer to it as a “family tree”. But think also of “organisation charts” which lay out the positions within a company, and show the power flows, with the “Chief Executive Officer” at the top. We see it in protocols, guidelines and algorithms, which proscribe the actions to take at every point to get from a starting position to an “outcome” or “goal”.

I love trees, but “arboreal” models of thought and world view make me uneasy. They are too binary for me. At every stage you can go this way or that way, and there is often an implication that there is only one way which is the right way. It assumes that the starting conditions are exactly as the author expects them to be, and the goals or outcomes which the model maker identifies are the best, or most relevant, or most “efficient” ones, so everyone should share them. Like all models the people who make them have certain values, beliefs and world views, but, rarely are those things made explicit. They are also too hierarchical for me. I’m not a fan of strongly hierarchical, centralised power structures.

On the other hand, there is something very appealing about these tree-like diagrams. I probably drew little family trees every working day. I found it helpful to chart a patient’s relationships, siblings, parents, grandparents, partners and children. They often revealed patterns which shone a light on this patient’s illness. And there is no denying the tree-like branching structures within the body – particularly in the lungs and the circulatory system, but not only there.

In Jacques Tassin’s “Pour un Ecologie du Sensible”, he uses a variety of metaphors to show how interconnected all of life is. One of his metaphors is the tree. He says all life is like an invisible tree rooted in the Earth, each branch, each leaf a living being, a part of the same tree. I like that. If each of us is a single leaf, then, obviously we are connected to every other leaf through the over all structure of the tree. I also like his reference to the roots, which we usually don’t see, because it seems very true that we are vastly interconnected in invisible ways.

The rhizome model is more like grass. There isn’t a single trunk, or root. It’s massively interconnected. It’s a “distributed network” as opposed to a “hierarchical structure”. The brain is probably more like that. Every one of our millions and millions of neurones makes up to 50,000 connections with other neurones. Trees don’t do that. I find the network model very appealing. I love the way it reveals a multiplicity of equally “good” pathways. I love how it doesn’t pre-determine either the starting points or the end points. In fact, it’s kind of impossible to see where a brain begins and ends. It’s not even fenced off in the skull!

When I look at this shrub, then, I actually see elements of both of these models – the branching tree structure, and the presence of multiple, connected pathways.

OK, maybe only up to a point, but, hey, at the end of the day, it’s a pretty appealing and inspirational shrub!

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When I looked at this image I saw an earthy path with a puddle lying on it. The puddle is beautifully blue because it is reflecting the sky above. There’s an enticingly intricate pattern of shadows on the earth, cast by the sun shining on the leaves of some trees. At the edge of the puddle the reflected green of the leaves borders the sky.

Then, I thought, hold on, there’s something odd about this. That puddle is a really, really strange shape. It’s almost a triangle. Something’s not right here.

So, I looked more carefully, and a different interpretation leapt out at me.

This isn’t an earthy path, and that isn’t a puddle.

This is a photo of a pond. The water is so clear you can see right through to the muddy floor. The shadows are cast right through the invisible water and the reflected sky is on the surface of a pond, not a puddle lying on the earth.

When I realised this I was quite surprised. No matter how hard I look I still can’t see any water lying over the earth. The reflected sky, however, reveals the water. It makes it more obvious.

This got me thinking (well, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ll be familiar with how my images provoke my thoughts). It got me thinking, I wonder how often I don’t see reality because I don’t look carefully enough? I wonder if taking my time allows me to notice the peculiar, and how often it’s the peculiar, the strange, the thing that doesn’t fit, which is the key to the door of perception.

There are two lessons in that thought…..slow down, and be open to what’s different, what seems peculiar.

I guess a lot of the way I engage with the world is at a superficial, faster level, with an eye open for what’s familiar, what I know already…….that way I can quickly tell myself I know what I’m looking at, and move on. I’m sure those mental behaviours are valuable, but I do think they are over-used.

That’s my lesson to myself today –

Remember to slow down and savour.

and

Remember to look out for what is strange, rare, or peculiar.

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When I stepped out to close the shutters on the windows a couple of nights ago I looked up and saw Venus and the Moon shining so brightly they were almost dazzling. When I looked closely I could see the full black disc of the moon with just a thin silver crescent on the lower right edge. Above the Moon sat Venus, like a queen on her throne.

Both Venus and the Moon are symbolically and mythologically linked with the feminine. And, oh how we need that energy now. Actually, oh how we are seeing the flourishing of that energy now.

Taking a perspective from myth, symbol and spiritual experience, I have always found it helpful to think of two energies, two streams or channels of flow, within each of us at an individual level, within our societies, and, within Life. We call these two forces the masculine and the feminine. I’m not talking about gender or culturally determined social roles for men and women here. I’m thinking instead of something much deeper, something more fundamental.

I wear a yin-yang symbol around my neck. I’ve worn it for decades. Although I was born in Scotland and brought up in the Church of Scotland during my childhood years, by the time I was a teen I discovered Buddhism and Taoism. I bet the way I came across those schools of thought is pretty unusual. It was in reading the novels of Jack Kerouac. Books like Dharma Bums and Satori in Paris. I guess we all have our own particular paths and stepping stones which we’ve followed to develop our beliefs and values. I have never called myself a Buddhist or a Taoist but I’ve read a lot of books about these and other Asian philosophies. They are a constant source of inspiration for me.

Probably the single most powerful and useful concept I learned in those readings was idea of yin and yang. The feminine yin and the masculine yang, sometimes referred to the receptive and the active principles. I don’t intend exploring these ideas in detail here but when I look up at the Moon like this I immediately think of the yin-yang symbol.

Interestingly, when I looked up a couple of night ago and saw what I’ve photographed in that image at the start of this post, I saw vastly more yin than yang.

That seems appropriate. I see signs of a strengthening feminine energy all around.

I’m sure there are whole books exploring these two forces but one simple version which I’ve found helpful is to think of the male energy as “provide and protect”, and the female as “nurture and nourish”. Remember, I’m not talking gender or gender-based social roles here. I think these two forces exist in all of us and an imbalance produces illness and dysfunction at both the levels of the individual and of society.

In the UK Thursdays at 8pm have become the time for people to get to their window or front door and “Clap for the Carers”. This is an astonishing new level of recognition and collective expression of support and gratitude. It’s not only happening in the UK. It’s happening around the world. And it extends out from front-line nursing, medical and care staff to all kinds of workers who are now seen as “essential” – all the people without whose daily efforts society would collapse. I saw a photo online today of someone’s garden gate in a French town. The person living there had made a variety of posters, covered them in plastic to protect them and pinned them up on their gate post. One said thank you to the refuse collectors. One said thank you to all the health workers. One said thank you to the postie.

I’m seeing those sentiments expressed every day now. I’m seeing and hearing people say thank you to others every day now. Saying thank you and declaring support. Showing appreciation. How ironic, you might think, given how under-valued these very jobs are. Often they are poorly paid with precarious job contracts and work which is under-resourced. If there is one sliver of silver lining (like at the edge of that moon up in the sky just now) then I hope its a re-evaluation of what is important in society and how we resource and reward those who make life possible.

How often are women the ones who are the carers – both from nursing and caring professions, but also in child care, teaching, in nurseries, and on the checkouts in the supermarkets? This is a strong feminine energy and these new “heroes” we are asked to clap for, are more often “heroines”!

Of course, there are many, many men who are doing essential jobs too, from the refuse-collectors to the lorry drivers, delivery men, farmers, emergency services and those who keep the power supplies and communication systems flowing. Employment and work activity is too gendered. Are we ready to recognise that more clearly?

There’s much to think about and discuss about the economics of work and social life, and I do really hope this pandemic is shining a light on the dysfunctions which have made us more vulnerable as well as laying out new paths to follow as we go forward.

I think there is a surge of the yin – we are seeing an increased emphasis on the importance of relationships, of caring and of collaboration.

Can that surge flourish? Can it change the landscape? Can it move us away from acquisition, consumption and competition? Can we build a new world by pouring our energies and resources into nurturing and nourishing…not just bodies, but minds and spirits too?

Venus and the Moon…..your time has come!

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