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Archive for the ‘video’ Category

Sheer beauty.

What is it that I love so much about this world?

The wonders of the everyday. Or “L’émerveillement du quotidien”. It’s normal for me to find myself wondering about something I’ve just seen or heard.

I suppose for most of my working life my days were filled with patients. I never tired of that. I never got bored of that. Every day each patient would present to me a unique a story, a new, and singular problem, puzzle or conundrum to unravel. Each patient would be asking me to help them make sense of what they were experiencing and to support their abilities to heal, to cope, to adapt. Maybe they didn’t quite use that language but that’s always what I heard.

Before I became a doctor, way before, right back as early as I can remember I was driven by curiosity. I wanted to learn, discover and explore. It strikes me now that it isn’t a long way from curiosity to wonder.

People have always amazed me. They still do. Life has always amazed me. This Earth, this planet, the solar system, this universe which we all live in have always amazed me, filling me with an infinite supply of curiosity.

But there’s something else.

Beauty.

Look at this photo of a glorious, immersive sunset, where every single element of the sky and the Earth changes colour. Look at the palette! It is just breathtakingly gorgeous.

I see beauty everywhere. Which isn’t to say I find everything I see beautiful, I don’t. But there is “so much beauty in this world” (do you know what movie that comes from? Here’s the answer).

I am a very visual person. I think visually. I sketch and diagram as I think. I love photography and I think I “have an eye for it”. I see what I find amazing, curious or beautiful and I try to take a photo or two. Then I return to those images again and again, year after year, and I find that, like with this one, the delight, the pleasure, the amazement in beauty like this never fades.

Of course there are other senses and I don’t just experience beauty visually. I love music. I collected “records” long before people starting calling them “vinyl”. I still have them. I still play them. I spent hours and hours ripping CDs onto iTunes and I don’t even know where those libraries are any more! But I stream music now. Every day. Several times a day. I used to discover new music on the radio. I took the back off an old radio when I was a teenager, attached two wires to the speaker using clips, and fed the audio directly into a cassette recorder. I still have some of those recordings…..studio sessions on John Peel’s programme on Radio 1.

I’ve long had a love for movies. I love them for their stories and for their beauty, oh, and I often love them for their music. I compiled short clips of about a hundred movies to teach doctors and other health care workers about our unique human strategies for coping and adapting. I could have taught those strategies without movies but the beauty, wonder and emotional engagement which came with the movies made them much easier to learn and to remember. I probably have a whole vocabulary of coping and adapting based on movie characters, scenes and plots.

There is beauty all around us. I delight in images. I delight in music. I delight in movies.

Where do you find beauty? Where did you find beauty today?

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The tendency to think that whatever we see is made up of small parts goes back a long, long way. You can trace it at least back to the Greek concept of the “atom” – that basic unit, or building block, from which everything else is made.

Well, maybe it took the 20th century splitting of the atom to discover that there are no basic units after all…..that when you look inside the “smallest” component part, there are even smaller ones inside, then when you look inside of those, there is……well, it all fades into invisibility somehow. Turns out there are no fixed, fundamental building blocks after all.

The Italian Physicist, Carlo Rovelli, who wrote “Seven Brief Lessons in Physics”, and “Reality is not what it Seems”, describes this well. Here are a few passages from him…..

The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.

The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events. The difference between things and events is that things persist in time, events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical “thing”: we can ask ourselves where it will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not stones.

A handful of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and non-existence and swarm in space even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies, of the innumerable stars, of sunlight, of mountains, woods and fields of grain, of the smiling faces of the young at parties, and of the night sky studded with stars.”

“Elementary particles which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and non-existence” feels like a totally different universe from the one built from indivisible, fixed, discrete atoms.

The deluded idea that the universe is made of bits was compounded during the Industrial Revolution where the machine became the dominant model for interpreting the world. It still is.

Human beings are not like this.

But we still interpret experience using this lens of the machine. We want what was described by Arthur Frank as the “Restitution Model” in Medicine – just fix the broken bit and I’ll be on my way – Diagnosis is finding the wonky part and sorting it or removing it. A patient with multiple disorders is compartmentalised with each disease treated by a different team of specialists….some to deal with the heart, another one to deal with the stomach, yet another to deal with the bones and joints. We even turn symptoms into parts, treating “pain”, for example, with “pain specialists”, as if pain was an entity in its own right.

We take the same machine model and apply it to society as well, reducing human beings to mere cogs in the great machine.

The English philosopher, Mary Midgley, in her “Beast and Man”, said

I had better say once, that my project of taking animal comparisons seriously does not involve a slick mechanistic or deterministic view of freedom. Animals are not machines; one of my main concerns is to combat this notion. Actually only machines are machines.

Animals are not machines, human beings are not machines, and society is not a machine. Using machine models to understand and create institutions, policies, methods of health care, education…….I’d like to see all that disappear.

Life is not machine-like.

You think you can understand, and explain the existence of, a creature like this by seeing it as a machine?

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One of my favourite parts of Cognac is the Place Beaulieu (“beaulieu” means “beautiful place”). When I was there the other day I was struck by the shapes of the pruned trees. It’s not uncommon to see trees pruned as hard as this, and I thought they looked both beautiful and rather shocking.

One glance and you know these are not trees allow to grow free and wild. Someone has a clear vision of what shape they’d like them to be, and cuts them back severely each year to channel their growth, to become the shape which matches the clear vision.

I remember thinking only human beings interfere this much with other parts of Nature, to make plants grow where they want them to grow, to weed out the ones they don’t want. Only humans create gardens and tame animals to make “pleasing” spaces and comforting pets.

But is that true?

Suddenly I remember a scene from one of David Attenborough’s films – the puffer fish –

I mean, that’s pretty something, huh?

Then I thought I’d find a wild tree in my own photo collection. A tree which is obviously untamed. Two sprang to mind.

This one, which I saw a while back in the Charente Maritime. I mean, what’s been going on here? Just what’s the story this tree could tell if only we spoke its language?

And, this one…..

…which I photographed twenty years ago, in Scotland, on a trip to Skye.

When I glanced at this photo I thought to was two or three separate trees on the horizon. Then I looked more closely, and in the underexposed foreground you can see this is a single tree, growing at the side of the road. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s really a classic of the “tree-shape”, of that iterative branching and re-branching that creates a pattern we can see rivers make as they approach an estuary, when we look at them from high above, like from a plane or a satellite. The exact same pattern we can see inside us when we look at the anatomy of our lungs, or our circulatory system, because both the air and the blood flows around inside our bodies along channels which look a lot like this.

See where a thought can go? This one just started with looking up and noticing the shapes of the pruned trees against a blue sky. I think it’s good to let your thoughts flow. I mean, who wants clogged up thoughts?

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Every year I’m amazed to watch the butterflies appear in the garden the very same day the buddleia bushes flower. I’m convinced they both appear at exactly the same moment. No idea how that happens! Are the butterflies just hanging out around the corner somewhere waiting for the blossoms to appear, then zip round as fast as they can the moment that happens?

However it happens, it’s a delight to see so many varieties of butterfly (and the hummingbird moths, which are incredible creatures!), to watch how they fly in such utterly unpredictable directions, how they spread their wings in the sunlight, or close them up so they look like little leaves.

But here’s one thought which comes up for me time and time again when I see butterflies….they make me more aware of the cyclical nature of life. These little creatures have such different life stages, so different you wouldn’t realise they were stages of the same life. Do we think of them as having a beginning and an end? Starting with an egg, progressing through their caterpillar stages, becoming a chrysalis, then emerging as a butterfly which lays eggs, then dies. Is that the life?

I suppose we do all think of ourselves as having a beginning and an end. But where do we begin, and where do we end?

It depends on whether or not you want to reduce a person to just a physical body. My physical body began with a single fertilised egg and this body will die.

But what about ME?

Do I really think I’m only a physical body? Don’t I have a sense of something immaterial too? A consciousness? A sense of Self? A personality? Characteristics, behaviours, values, beliefs, creative acts, destructive acts? Is there anything I can do which doesn’t ripple out into the world beyond me?

When I look at Rodin’s “The Kiss”, or “The Thinker”, what do I see? The product of the imagination and creative skill of the man called Auguste Rodin. When I listen to music composed and performed by people who are long since dead, isn’t there something I’m sharing there which only they could have created? Aren’t these great works of art the ongoing ripples of unique human beings? Or do you think these are just their footprints? (It doesn’t seem that way to me….these works seem full of life and the potential to continue to create and send out ripples into the universe)

And what about those characteristics, quirks or tendencies that I have which others in my “family tree” also exhibited, even perhaps before I was born? Anyone who explores their genealogy encounters remarkable “coincidences”, talents, life events, behaviours which echo down through the generations. Weren’t those threads present even before the egg which became me even existed?

I think it’s inadequate to narrow a person down to a physical body.

But even if we did, there is still the fact that the body changes continually. It never stops. There is a constant turnover of cells, new beginnings, new endings, every hour of every day. There is a continuous exchange of energy, materials and information between my body and my environment, and we all share the same environment, the same atmosphere, the same air, water…..we are all made from the same molecules, all created from the same “star stuff”.

So it seems to me that beginnings and endings are everywhere……wherever, and whenever, we happen to look.

But it also seems to me that they are nowhere. They just don’t exist. We all emerge from, and dissolve into, the great cycles of the universe.

Beginnings and endings are just where we choose them to be. But we can always make a different choice. We can always take a broader view, a bigger view, a longer view, a more holistic view.

I’m reminded of a song from my school days….it’s by Jeff Beck, and it’s called “Hi Ho Silver Lining” – he sang this truth right there in the opening line of this song…in the first five words……

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I suspect a lot of us have a lot of music in our heads. Sometimes we start to hum a tune or sing a song and only after we’ve started do we become aware that we’re doing it. Then we might pause to wonder “why did that particular song, or tune, come into my head just now?”

I find that when I look at some images something similar happens. Take this for example. I took this photo of an old couple sitting in a public park in Limoges a few weeks ago. They are both engrossed in their books. Their body positions and their physical closeness tell us they are close, that they are connected, as well as the fact that they are both enjoying reading in the park.

As I saw them, and as I looked at this image again just now, certain songs popped into my head and I could hear them as clearly as if I was playing them on a stereo.

This because of the line “You read your Emily Dickinson and I my Robert Frost. We mark our page with bookmarkers which measure what we’ve lost”

And, by the same musicians….

 

“sat on a park bench like bookends”

OK, so that example was a pretty obvious one, but sometimes the music which starts to play in our heads is not so easy to nail down. Sometimes we just enjoy that it’s there without even wondering “why this music?” “why now?”

I know I can use music to match or create mood, but this phenomenon of the music just seeming to appear has all the quality of somebody else hitting the “play” button. Even if that somebody else is also me!

What music started to play in your head today, and do you know why?

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There’s an old ruined tower in the middle of one of the vineyards nearby. The other day there I went inside it, looked up, and took this photo.

My first thought was, wow, what a beautiful blue sky! How perfectly framed!

Then I thought, whoah, wait a minute, this is a metaphor isn’t it?

Because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we define who “we” are. I’ve been getting disturbed with all the xenophobic comments flying around the world these days. The people who say they don’t like “foreigners” and want them “to go back to their own countries”, or want to “close the borders” to protect “us” from “them”.

See, there’s at least two questions there. There’s how shall we live together? And who is included in that classification “we”?

Imagine you live in that tower. How big does your world appear? Where are your boundaries, your walls? If “we” are the people inside these walls, then “they” are the ones who live outside.

And don’t we all set our walls?

Don’t each of us feel similar to certain others, and maybe even connected to certain others, or maybe even in relationship with certain others?

Are those just the people who live in the same house as us?

Or those in the same street, the same town, or city, or nation state?

Or do we set the walls around those who are similar to us in some other way? Same sex, same religion, same ethnic group, born in the same nation state?

Isn’t the kind of world do we create for ourselves at least partly down to where we set those walls? How narrow we create our perspective? Or how wide?

How do you feel when you broaden your perspective? When you can see further, see wider, see deeper even?

I don’t know about you but I feel I breathe more easily. I feel my body, my mind, my soul, is nourished by the broader, more expansive view.

Let’s take this a wee step further and look at the famous “earthrise” image.

The earth rising over the horizon of the moon.

What if we think of “we” as being all of us who live on that beautiful, small, blue, white and green planet?

Because we do.

Every single atom in your body has previously been shared with other people, or other animals, or other plants, or other rocks or gases in this one small planet.

Every breath you take, draws in molecules from the same atmosphere as every other living, breathing form of life.

Every breath you breathe out contributes to that very same atmosphere.

We all share the same air.

We all share the same water.

We all share the same sunlight.

Don’t we all share the same earth?

Why divide it artificially into boxes? Little boxes marked “my country”, “my race”, “my family”, “my religion”?

If we are going to divide this planet up into these little boxes, then we still have to answer the question of how we can best live together – box to box. From within my walls, to you, within yours.

Here’s two short videos which changed my perspective on these questions…..

 

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Last November I was invited to address the Faculty of Homeopathy at their Congress in Belfast. I prepared a talk entitled “Images of Health. Pictures and stories” based around some of my own photographs and covering the key principles of health which guided me through my career as a doctor.

Here’s the video of that talk. I hope you enjoy it, find it interesting, or even inspiring. (by the way, if Google pops up any ads along the bottom of the video, just click the “x” box to make them go away 😉 )

I wrote a book to accompany this talk. It’s called “Escape to Reality” and I’ve published it (so far) only as a Kindle e-book. You can find it on Amazon.

 

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red-veg

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the outgoing chairman of Nestlé’s intention is for Nestlé to develop food scientifically – synthetic food which will be better than “natural food”. He rejects the notion that food grown in the ground is best for us. He says

Nature is not good to human beings. Nature would kill human beings. The reason why homo sapiens have become what we are is because we learned to overcome nature.

What do you think when you read this?

Is “Nature not good to human beings”? Does Nature seek to “kill human beings”?

I was pretty astonished at this claim because I think human beings are part of Nature, not something outside of “it”. If we want to learn what’s good for us my own feeling is that we should look to the rest of Nature. As Idriss Aberkane says of “biomimicry”, Nature is a library, a source of knowledge, not a source of repository of fuel to burn.

So where does this idea that Nature is trying to kill us come from?

Well, as chance would have it I read an interview with the French philosopher, Michel Onfray, at the weekend, and he mentioned the definition of life given by Bichat, the physiologist

Life is the sum of the forces which resist death

That’s an interesting definition of life – life is resistance. Is death constantly attacking life? I think that’s a pretty miserable and negative understanding of life. But I think it might come from the notion of entropy. You know about entropy? Entropy is “the gradual decline into disorder”. The second law of thermodynamics states “entropy always increases over time”. You can probably see how this observation can lead you to think that we are only alive as long as we resist death, disorder, and decline. But is that enough to lead you to conclude that Nature is trying to kill us?

It seems to me that this entropic force in the universe is only one of the major forces at play. What Thomas Berry referred to as “wildness” is another way of thinking about this force. It’s the chaotic force. If this was all there was, or if this was the dominant force, what would the universe look like? Would there be stars? Would there be galaxies of stars moving together? Would stars have planets? Would there be any complex living organisms? How could there be? There is a second force. One Thomas Berry calls “discipline”. It’s the ordering principle, the structuring principle, which contains, limits and holds together. But what if that was the only force in the universe? What would the universe look like then? Would it be any more than a dense ball of energy? Would it be expanding? Would it show diversity? Or would whatever existed by “more of the same”?

I think there is a third force at work in this universe, because it seems to me, without it, there is a tendency for the first two forces to cancel each other out, or for there to be a significant tendency towards either chaos or uniformity.

That third force is creativity. The creative force is a force of integration – it integrates the two forces of wildness and discipline to produce astonishing levels of complexity. Look at the history of the universe. Is it a history of endless decline and degeneration, or one of stasis and constriction? Or is it a story of ever increasing complexity and diversity?

It’s this latter, isn’t it? The universe is on a course of increasing complexity. We humans, with our bodies, our brains and our consciousness, are the most complex phenomena the universe has produced so far. But we haven’t been about for very long.

cosmic_calendar

(the cosmic calendar)

The universe is on a course of increasing diversity. Not just the rich diversity of species and life forms on planet Earth, but in the diversity of unique human beings. Not one of us ever repeated. No single experience of a whole life ever duplicated.

So is Nature a threat to us? Or is Nature a manifestation of the creative force of the universe?

I’m opting for the latter view. And I’m going to continue to enjoy the fruits of that rich creative diversity, just like you see in my photo at the start of this post. I won’t be swapping “real food” for synthesised, chemically “enhanced” stuff any time soon!

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fields of gold

Fields of gold….this is what they look like where I live. Aren’t they spectacular? And don’t they go so well with a wide blue sky?

wide field

The first year I came to live here I kept driving past them thinking, must stop and take a photo sometime, but, somehow, I always had something more important to do. “I’ll catch them next time I pass by” I thought. But I didn’t. And when finally I decided to make a special trip out to photograph them, they were gone. Or almost. Heads down and turning brown. Just didn’t have the same appeal. So I missed them. Didn’t take long to miss them. It turns out they don’t look like this for very long.

I learned that lesson.

So when this caught my eye recently……

individual

….I pulled over and took a few photos.

As I stood looking out across the field up to the top of the hill I recalled the scene on the beach at dawn in the movie, “City of Angels”, and I thought, “How amazing that this field of little seeds transforms into a carpet of tall green stalks and leaves, which, one day (or at least it seems to happen in one day), the sun comes up and these glorious golden flowers unfold to greet it, bathing their petals in its rays which warm their rich, abundant crops of seeds.”

Flourishing.

How flower like.

I believe we are here to live like that. To flourish. To reach up, unfold, respond to the sun, the rain, and the wind. To emerge and to engage with a full becoming….becoming the unique and singular creatures which we are, and to express our uniqueness in full awareness of our communion with the rest of nature.

There are terrible stories around just now. Stories of acts of cowardice and killing. How are we to respond to them?

With fear? Closing down? Making our lives smaller?

Or with LIFE? Opening up, living our lives to the full?

Maybe I can learn from the sunflowers. Maybe I can stand up, radiate with the beauty of the life force which surges through me. And flourish.

Let me use that astonishing capacity which I share with all human beings – the ability to make conscious choices.

I choose to relish this moment, this day, this present, because if I put it off, I might miss living altogether.

I choose love instead of hate.

I choose to create instead of destroying.

I choose to be grateful for this “one wild and precious life“.

I choose to share my delight.

 

 

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night sky flower.jpg

I’ve just finished reading Andrea Wulf’s “The Invention of Nature” which is her biography of Alexander von Humboldt. I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a big read but a great one. I must confess I’m one of the apparently many who has never heard of Humboldt but am I glad I know something about him now.

One of the most amazing things about Humboldt is how he saw, described and wrote about Nature as a complete interconnected web, and he did this at the end of the 18th, and beginning of the 19th centuries. What an insight! What a vision! What an understanding! His enthusiasm for Nature and his insatiable curiosity are infectious, even now. But it’s his underlying fundamental insight which thrills me most. He describes ecology before the word was even invented. He sees the damage caused by short term economic greed and, more than that, he describes the environmental consequences of these short sighted actions. He demonstrates how the interconnected web of Nature means that these simple minded grabs for wealth will produce long term, far reaching negative consequences for many.

Seeing our world and everything in it as intimately, inextricably interconnected is the basis of holistic science. This is a science of wonder, exploration and discovery. He uses the best scientific instruments of the time to measure whatever he can measure, but he does something which scientists today so often fail to do. He uses the measurements to discover the connections. He puts things together rather than dividing them up. He sees nothing as existing in isolation. In other words he uses reductionist methods in a holistic way.

Reading about him is one of the clearest examples ever of integration. The two halves of his brain both worked brilliantly together. He pursued the new and climbed the highest mountains to see the world as a whole (right cerebral hemisphere). He measured, analysed and categorised (left cerebral hemisphere). Then he put it altogether in a vast web of contexts (right cerebral hemisphere again). What a great demonstration of using the whole brain. Of course I’m simplifying here. I’m sure he didn’t use his brain in such a linear fashion, but, still, I think it’s magnificent.

I thought about him again as I looked at this wonderful flower (see the image above). It’s called “Night sky”. Isn’t it stunning? Doesn’t it immediately show you how the human brain both discovers and creates connections?

That we can see the starry heavens in the soft purple petals of an earthy flower…….


 

Here’s a short video clip of Andrea Wulf talking about her book –

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