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I read Barrie Condon’s, “Science for Heretics” a few years back and returned to it recently. The subtitle of the book is “Why so much of science is wrong” and his aim is to provoke the reader into questioning both the claims of science and its methods. He uses the device of three characters, The Believer, The Sceptic and The Heretic, throughout the book as he considers several fields of science including mathematics, physics, and medicine.

The Believer is one for whom science reveals the Truth and will one day enable us to understand everything in the universe. The Sceptic accepts the basic tenets of science but retains some doubts about whether of not we will ever be able to understand everything. The Heretic doesn’t buy the whole project. He thinks the universe is not completely knowable and that our scientific theories which shape our views of what we see are simply the projections of our human brains.

He particularly attacks the use of theory in science which tends to be translated into “laws”. He clarifies that no such “laws” exist and sets out the case for a return to observation and experimentation instead. I really enjoy his writing style and some passages particularly stood out for me.

For centuries we have been measuring all sorts of things but generally only recording the results we expected and ignoring the rest.

This captures two of my main objections to so much of medical practice – the reduction of human beings to measurements and the belief that the particular measurements which are made allow us to completely understand a patient and their illness. Although I have heard of a medical teacher say “Don’t listen to patients. They lie all the time. You can only trust the results.”, my own experience of doctoring couldn’t be more diametrically opposed from that view. ONLY the patient’s experience can be trusted. Measurements, sadly, frequently mislead, and ALWAYS need to be set in the context of this individual patient.

Life saving claims for medicines need careful examination. Drugs do certain things which are beneficial to the human body in disease, but they inevitably have other effects which can be deleterious or even fatal.

I wish more doctors made that more clear every time they write out a prescription.

He’s even better on physics and cosmology.

For me, the two most important things he has to say are, firstly –

Science gives us theories that purport to explain how the universe works. This breeds confidence in scientists who then go on to do things that carry certain risks. These risks are rationalised away on the basis of existing theory. Even if our Heretic is wrong in saying that all theory is actually erroneous, history shows us that most or perhaps all theories ultimately prove incorrect. Our perceptions and calculations of risk are therefore also likely to be erroneous. Science generally also assumes a high degree of control over experimental conditions and again this faith seems misplaced. While we may routinely underestimate risk, we also routinely overestimate our ability to control it.

This is SUCH an important point. He’s arguing for a greater use of the “precautionary principle”. Instead of assuming that everything we produce, all our chemicals, all our technologies are safe until proven otherwise, we should be more wary. What we need is a whole lot more humility and the ability to confess that we really don’t know very much at all. And we certainly way overestimate our ability to control things. It’s the arrogance of believers which frightens me most – people who are so sure that they, and only they are right – I’m on the side of the Heretics in Barrie’s terms. It’s likely that what we think we know at any point will be proven not to be quite right in a few years time (or, indeed, to be completely wrong).

The second important conclusion he reaches is that there are no fundamental laws of the universe…..apart from, maybe, two –

As well as a possible law for uniqueness, the Heretic is open to the possibility of a second law governing complexity, namely that it increases with time.

Well, there he puts his finger on what I’ve written about many times on this blog – that the most important characteristics of the universe are its tendency to create uniqueness and its trend of ever increasing complexity.

Take those two undeniable features on board and try and practice science or medicine by measuring, generalising and trying to control the future! Good luck with that.

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Common sense would tell you the world is made of things. We are objects surrounded by other objects. The left hemisphere of the brain is great at narrowing our focus so we can separate some of what we are looking at from its environment, and its connections. So I can stumble across this beautiful dandelion seed-head and focus the lens of my camera right onto “it”. Isn’t “it” gorgeous?

But then and object, or a thing, needs to have some kind of consistency for us to see it. I mean, look what happens a second or two later, when the wind blows –

It’s changed already! And why did it change? Because something happened. Some of the seeds blew away when the wind blew. So if I want to understand this “thing”, this “dandelion” that I’m looking at, I need to see more than what the first image can show me. I need to know that these plants we call dandelions have evolved a method of multiplying and thriving – they have created these astonishing little means of dispersal of their offspring, of their seeds. So when the wind blows, as it always does, these children of the parent plant will fly away to land somewhere else, maybe far away, maybe close by –

and then the cycle starts again with each seed germinating, pushing its roots down into the dark earth, and it’s leaves and flower up to reach the sun, and the bees and the butterflies and who knows how many other kinds of insects will come along and spread the pollen in the yellow flowers to fertilise them and produce these magnificent seed-heads again.

So this is what this object, this thing, called the dandelion does. And it’s hard to know to where to begin its story, but maybe we begin by following one single seed, blown on the wind. We don’t know which way the wind will blow, how far the seed will travel, whether or not the ground it lands on will enable it to germinate and whether or not it will be able to successfully grow into a green leafed, deep rooted, yellow flower and whether or not the insects will cross pollinate it with its neighbours, whether near or far, and produce seeds of its own.

So many unknowns.

But also, and here’s the point, so many happenings.

So many events.

So many occurrences.

This object, this thing, which we call a dandelion. Is it really reasonable to think of it as a thing? Or is it more useful to consider it as so many happenings.

That’s the point I heard the physicist, Carlo Rovelli, make in his interview with Krista Tippett, in an OnBeing podcast. Have a listen. He puts it more beautifully than I do. He says the universe isn’t made of stones, its made of kisses. (Not things, but happenings)

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It strikes me that the practice of Medicine (I’m specifically referring to the world of Medicine for humans here), begins and ends with a relationship between human beings.

I’ll just focus on the doctor-patient relationship here, because that’s how I spent my working life. But I suspect that much of what is relevant to this relationship is also true for other health care workers, and perhaps even in other areas of human life.

When I say the practice of Medicine begins and ends with a relationship between human beings, I mean that the whole, unique person who is the patient has to be understood, cared about and attended to, by the whole unique person who is the doctor. Both individuals are important. I think this is partly why there are no doctors who are the best doctors for everyone, and I think it explains how in a group General Practice, each of the doctors in the partnership will have a specific loyal cohort of patients who always seek a consultation with that one particular doctor.

I also think this means that the whole person must always be considered. Anything less is reduced, and anything reduced is less than human.

In this context, I recently read “A General Theory of Love”, by Drs Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. [ISBN 978-0-375-70922-7]. This book describes the model of the triune brain, which you might have come across elsewhere. (My introduction to that model was Dan Seigel, and later, Rick Hanson). It’s the observation that we have three brain regions – the brain stem, which is responsible for survival, and is found even in reptiles (henceforth to be known as the “reptilian brain”), the limbic system, which is responsible for memory processing and emotions (called the “mammalian brain”, because all mammals have this part), and the neocortex, which is massively developed in humans and seems to give us the capacities for abstract thought, conscious decision making and rational analysis.

In “A General Theory of Love”, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues focus on the limbic system – they describe in detail how this part of the brain helps us to “feel” other people’s feelings. It’s the kind of phenomenon that others call “heart feelings”. Without this part we’d have the reptilian survival strategies or the cold, analytic distancing of the neocortex. Let me be really clear here – this is a simplification and human beings are a lot more complicated than that. But this is a useful simplification which clarifies certain truths about what it is to be a human being.

In this post, I want to just bring to your attention some of the points the authors make when taking this perspective on the practice of Medicine, because I think health care is in a dire and degenerating situation in the world.

The last century saw a two-part transformation in the practice of medicine. First, an illness beset the relationship between doctor and patient, then radical restructuring attached the residual integrity of that attenuated tie.

I think the illness and the radical restructuring they refer to developed from a general reductive de-humanising of health care. Iain McGilchrist has shown how a “left hemisphere approach” has come to dominate society and I find that explanation helpful. Lewis says

American medicine has come to rely on intellect as the agency of cure. The neocortical brain has enjoyed a meteoric ascendancy within medicine even as the limbic star has fallen into disfavour.

Whilst this focus is a little different, the basic point is actually the same. By coming to rely on data, figures, statistics and techniques, we have reduced the human-ness of medicine. We’ve increasingly denigrated the patient’s narrative, the individual’s subjective experience, and the place of heart felt caring.

The limbic brain has a crucial role to play in attachment, and Lewis describes attachment theory along with the physical and social consequences of disordered attachment incredibly clearly. And here’s one of the most important points in this book – the physical reality and hence importance of relationships, emotions and attachment –

Medicine has lost sight of this truth: attachment is physiology

The radical restructuring they refer to is seen throughout Western Medicine – its the rise of bureaucracy. We see it in the proliferation of protocols and guidelines, of the prioritisation of measurement – what others have referred to as “Taylorism 2.0” (the modern equivalent of Taylor’s “scientific management”) – at the expense of what cannot be measured – the lived experiences of the patients and the health care workers.

Good physicians have always known that the relationship heals. Indeed good doctors existed before any modern therapeutic instruments did…

For many years, the medical community hasn’t believed that anything substantive travels between doctor and patient unless it goes down a tube or through a syringe.

They neatly sum up their thesis with

medicine was once mammalian and is now reptilian

Corporations and organisations have taken the high ground imposing their limits, their rules and regulations on those who try to care.

A corporation has customers, not patients; it has fiscal relationships not limbic ones.

The use of terms “customers”, “clients” and “consumers” in the area of health care has always disturbed me. Now I think I understand more clearly why!

I concur with this conclusion –

Before it is safe to go back to the doctor, a mammal will have to be in charge. And before that can happen, our physicians will have to recapture their belief in the substantive nature of emotional life and the determination to fight for it.

I’m not sure I’ve heard any politician, manager or profession leader say this so clearly – the problems facing health care are not ones of efficiency, targets and “better” guidelines. The problem is we need to make health care more human.

We need Medicine based on love, care and attention….where the heart is the keystone.

 

 

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Points. When I look at this photo of a bifurcation of a railway track into one to the left and one to the right the first thing which comes to mind is playing with an electric railway set as a child. A single oval track which just went round and round was no fun. Once you added a set of points the whole thing became far more interesting. There was more than one route your train could now take, and you were the one who decided which way it would go, just by flicking a little lever.

The second thing which comes to my mind is a flood of memories of many, many delayed train journeys to and from work due to “points failure”, almost always in exactly the same place. Over the years I often wondered why they couldn’t fix those particular points for good. I wonder if they’ve done it now.

But then my mind goes off down some different tracks altogether…..the tracks of decisions, FOMA, and singularities.

Decisions – we are faced with many decisions to take every single day. The first time I visited a coffee shop in America many, many years ago, the wall behind the counter was covered with descriptions of all the options. At that time, all I had known in Scotland when it came to coffee choices was “black or white”! I heard customers in front of me ask for their favourite coffees choosing size of cup, type of coffee, type of milk, amount of foam, various toppings or additions…..my mind was boggled! Since those early days, this kind of coffee choosing has become routine. I don’t even think about it any more. That’s one thing about decisions…..we make the repeat ones easier by turning them into habits, and then we don’t even realise we are choosing any more. Think of the number of automatic decisions you are taking every day in this way. Choosing when to get up out of bed, choosing the various elements of your morning routine, choosing your commute to work…..and on it goes. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make our lives easier by turning repeat choices into habits. I’m just saying it’s interesting to pause sometimes and become aware of some of our automatic choices. It’s only when we do that, that we discover there are other ways to do things, other decisions which can be taken.

FOMA – first time I saw this acronym I had to look it up! Fear Of Missing Out. It’s apparently a big thing! Sometimes we decide to do, or to have, what everyone else is doing or having, because we are afraid that, if we don’t, then they’ll all be benefiting from something and we won’t. I guess this is a variation on the age old “keeping up with the Joneses”. This is a manifestation of the power of social connectedness which has evolved in the human species. We really are intensely connected into our webs of social relationships and they influence our decisions enormously. Advertisers play on these fears to manipulate us and influence us to choose their products or services. Instagram, Tik tok, Facebook……they all ramp this one up to the max!

Singularities – I’m no expert on quantum physics but as I understand it scientists current understanding of how the universe works involves something like this – there is an infinite number of possibilities in front of us – as best I understand it, this is like the philosopher, Giles Deleuze’s idea of “the virtual” – all these possibilities, collectively can be described as a “multiplicity of singularities”. In quantum physics, at the moment of observation, this infinite multiplicity collapses into “the actual”. At that moment, all the other options disappear. They’re gone. Some suggest they play out in the “multiverse” which is the idea of an infinity of parallel universes, each one following a different path. Not sure what I think about that, and, hey, its kind of hard to prove, isn’t it? Well, I find, that whether I’m coming at this from the quantum physics angle, or from a philosophical one, reality seems to be that the moment we decide, the moment we choose, all the other options or possibles are gone – at least for me in my one, unique, single life. I like this idea of a “singularity” – of the one unique actual which emerges from the vast web of possibles or “the virtual” every moment of every day. It reinforces my feeling that the present is special.

My goodness…..wasn’t expecting to go wandering down those tracks when I saw this photo!

How about you? What comes up for you when you see a bifurcation of the ways ahead like this?

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If you look carefully at any flower, the chances are you’ll see at least one insect there. Often it’s a bee, our best known pollinators, sometimes a butterfly, but, on this occasion it’s a ……. (can anyone help me out here and tell me what this is??)

The first thing that struck me in this photo was the symmetry, or echo, between the shape of the head of the insect and the ends of the pistil and the stamen. That resonance of form seems to emphasise the type of relationship which flowers have with such insects.

There are, of course, some startling examples of really high degrees of resonance between shapes of flowers and pollinators, and we know that in many cases the relationships are highly specific – one particular species of flower existing really only because of the presence and actions of one particular species of insect…….and vice versa. The one could not exit without the other. At very least, not in this manner, but, in reality, not at all.

This, it strikes me, is the fundamental basis of reality and Nature.

Relationships.

It’s like that word “ubuntu”, which, if I understand it correctly, means “I am because you are”.

Not a single living creature in this world, not a single human being, exists in any way other than in constant relationship with a myriad of others – others of the same species and others of utterly different species. These relationships are active ones. They change both beings constantly.

I am changed in my interactions with you, and you are changed in your interactions with me.

We are better understood as a community of subjects, than as a collection of objects.

Life is an experience and every individual is constantly evolving, developing and growing. That’s why I have that byline at the top of my blog – “becoming not being”.

Becoming not being – all of us, are fully becoming who we are, moment by moment, experience by experience, in a vast, interconnected web of others beings, also in the process of becoming.

Is that a radical idea? Not really, but it sure shifts our consciousness and attention away from the reductive, materialistic, atomistic, quantifiable aspects of life towards the whole, the subjective, the experiential, the flow, the movement and the interactive nature of relatedness.

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I stumbled across these two photos today and was immediately struck by the similarities between them. The one on the left shows a flower with a fabulous array of stamens, spreading out like whiskers, each one just waiting for its pollen to be collected, then hopefully used to fertilise some new seeds. The one on the right shows a single seed with its wind catching fibres reaching out, again, just waiting to be collected and transported somewhere else.

In both cases there is something astonishingly passive about these important features. I suppose passivity is much more obvious in plants than it is in animals, but looking at these images reminds me just how much of Life is dependent on chance and good fortune. But is this really passivity? Or is it maximising their chances?

The plants have no way of ensuring either their fertilisation, nor the successful dispersal and future growth of their seeds, but they have invested all their energy and evolutionary development into maximising their chances.

I’m struck by the rise of uncertainty in recent times, by how nobody seems to know for sure what’s going to happen next in this pandemic, or even how best to respond to it. And, yet, alongside that heightening of uncertainty there seems to be an increase in the numbers of people claiming certainty……whether it’s government ministers claiming that at all times they are taking, and have taken, the absolute best decisions, or it’s experts confidently predicting what’s going to happen next.

Maybe uncertain times increase dogmatic, authoritarian voices to meet the unmet need – the need we all have for a degree, at least, of certainty and predictability in our lives. But surely another way is possible. Surely we could opt for transparency, honesty and humility?

In several spheres at once…..Public health, the environment and climate, the economy, politics and society…….we are more acutely aware of uncertainty and unpredictability than ever before. So, maybe instead of seeking false reassurances we’d be better investing our time and energy in developing resilience and adaptability.

Isn’t that a better way? Like these flowers we can do our best to maximise our chances of both surviving and thriving…….not by seeking certainty, but by focusing on the underlying principles of Nature – diversity, adaptability, flexibility, and making “integrative” connections (mutually beneficial bonds between diversely different parts).

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I took this photo in Ueno Gardens in Tokyo. It’s the centrepiece of a peace memorial and I think it’s utterly beautiful. I love the design of the dove whose curves suggest the flowing shapes of the yin yang symbol and the little flame flickering in its heart, or soul, is very moving. Isn’t it wonderful?

When I look at it, it stirs feelings of peace in me, but there’s more than that, which I think comes down to the nature of the little flame. It looks vulnerable. It’s not a raging fire. It’s a flickering light. It looks as if it could be blown out by not too strong a gust of wind. That moves me too.

That small, flickering flame, contains two polar opposites for me…….the energy which is at the heart of all Life, in other words the power of Life, and, on the other hand, the vulnerability and transient nature of every individual life.

When my daughter was small and had an illness which seemed to flatten her I told her to imagine a small candle flame inside her which would grow in brightness and strength as she paid it attention. That helped her to recover and it’s a practice we’ve used at other times as we’ve needed it.

There used to be a belief in an entity called “the Vital Force” which was an invisible spirit-like force which kept us healthy and restored us when we were ill. “Vitalism” fell out of favour a long time ago, even if it is kept alive in certain healing traditions. As far as I know there is no such entity, but the concept remains a good one. As I understand it now, human beings are “complex adaptive systems” which have the capacity to be “autopoietic” – what all that means is that biologically our systems and responses enable us to protect ourselves on a daily basis…..our immune systems are a part of this natural defence. And we have systems which enable us to repair any damage which occurs….our inflammatory systems are part of that. We also have the abilities to learn, change and adapt. Putting all that together, we have something which isn’t a “thing”, something which we can’t see, can’t measure and can’t pin down which is like an inner flame – it’s the flow of Life energy which pulses through our whole being from conception to death.

In short, we have the capacity to self-heal, and all “treatments”, in every stream of healing tradition, work, only if they support and/or stimulate that capacity. There is no artificial healing. There is only the ability of the living organism to heal itself. We can learn to nurture that, to support that and to stimulate that. That, for me, is what Medicine should be about.

Some philosophers have described human beings as “symbolic beings” – because we are only the creatures which seem to create and handle symbols. Symbols are a powerful tool for us. They help us to connect with each other, to communicate and to learn. They can help us to thrive. In fact, I believe, they can help us to survive.

So this work of art, in Ueno Gardens, works for me as a powerful combination of symbols – ones which activate the forces of both Peace and Life.

I hope this works for you too.

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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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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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