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Enchanted

I stopped to take this photo because I thought the way the sun lit the fountain was beautiful.

It was only once I’d framed the shot that I noticed the woman standing by the tree.

After taking the photo I sat on a park bench for a while gazing at the glistening water and I noticed that the woman stood there unmoving for a long, long time. She was alone, not checking a phone, not looking around, not wandering about. She was just entranced, enchanted, zoned out into a special place.

So there’s a mood which goes with this image. A mood of calm, ease, contentment and probably amazement. It takes the presence of the sunlight, the water, the autumn leaves, and the human being, altogether to create these feelings.

There is an enchantment which emerges when we let ourselves be absorbed by the wonder and the beauty of this world.

Sparkle your day

Dew in the morning and water droplets after rain. They both make the world sparkle. They catch our attention.

I think these sparkles are a good example of the two way nature of connection. First I notice them but it feels like my attention has been drawn to them. Do I notice the water, or does the water and the light catch my eyes?

Then I step towards the petals, lean in close and take a photo. As I gaze at the tiny beads of light, the little bubbles and spheres of shining water, I feel a settling, a calming, a cantering. In the same moment I feel a grounding and a lightness which connect me to the Earth and float my soul towards the sky.

For a long time I understood perception less interactively. It seemed to me I was the observer and whatever I noticed was outside of me, separate from me.

It doesn’t feel that way any more. The boundaries don’t feel so clear. Life feels more whole.

Together

Sometimes I see flocks of starlings create murmurations in the sky above the vineyards. They seem to love the few trees which stand at the top of the hill. I hear the noise they are making before I see them arrive and settle into the branches of the trees. They land in their thousands making the bare trees appear as if they are fully leafed again. The noise tails off and in a single moment they go utterly silent for a second or two, then they take to skies as one.

I have no idea how they coordinate so brilliantly and I don’t know why they go silent before they take off in a single surge but it astonishes me every time.

All forms of life coordinate and collaborate.

Yes, competition exists too, but I think we focus on it too narrowly. We often fall into the trap of thinking that competition is the most important feature of life, the thing that drives all of creation to “improve” and evolve.

But we are seriously off course with that view. Without collaboration there would be no life. It’s the ability to connect and coordinate, to care for and learn from each other, which is our core super power….not just we humans, but all forms of life.

Outstanding

What do you see when you look at this photo?

I’d be surprised if you didn’t say the sunflower. In fact, you may well have noticed the sunflower before you “saw” anything else.

Of course you also see the rest of the scene. The field of purple flowers, the trees in the distance, but this sunflower captures your attention. It stands out from everything else.

We have a highly developed capacity for noticing difference. We notice what has different features or characteristics. We notice different behaviours. We notice change.

Change is difference over time. How many times have you noticed a noise when it stops? How many times do you turn to look at whatever has moved. Movement really attracts our attention!

We need these differences around us. We need movement. We need change. How many people have complained about forgetting what day of the week it is during this pandemic? In lockdown we really did get the chance to experience “a month of Sundays” and we began to crave something different, something new, some movement, something to distinguish this day from all the rest.

The truth is there are no two days the same. The truth is this present moment is always unique. It is always different from the past, and every future present moment will be different too.

One thing which makes life appealing, fascinating, engaging, is to notice what’s different. What stands out today? What is “outstanding” in this present moment?

Paying attention to, and becoming aware of, differences is a core human skill. Practicing it feels delightful. It puts us in touch with the deepest truths about reality – every moment is unique, every flower is unique, every person is unique, change is constant and everything is connected.

Tell someone what stood out for you today.

I took this photo because I liked the way the shafts of sunlight were shining between the trees but when I looked at it later I was struck by how the main sunbeam was lighting up a couple holding hands.

I’ve returned to this image many times.

This is what we humans do. We connect to others. We interact. We form bonds and make relationships. Scientists describe us as “social animals”. Over millennia we have evolved complex systems within us to help us to be aware of others, to learn from each other, to care for each other, to love each other.

During this pandemic, just like during other emergencies and crises we see people put themselves out to care for and help others. In fact, it seems like there has been a heightening of our awareness of our need to connect, belong and interact with others.

The development of the dominant social and economic model based on selfishness and competition has made us all vulnerable to this pandemic.

I hope we grasp this opportunity to change direction and work together to build a different society – one based on collaboration, cooperation and care.

If our core evolved way of living is “social”, then let’s create societies which prioritise that. Let’s make our systems, our laws, our politics and economics support and enhance these fundamental human characteristics.

What would the world look like if we did that?

How’s your sleep pattern recently? A lot of people are discovering new rhythms or developing new habits since this pandemic began. If you’ve lived through a lockdown in your country then it’s highly likely your work life and social life norms have been enormously disrupted. How has yours changed?

Maybe you’re waking up and/or getting up at a completely different time and, if so, you’re probably finding your bedtime has changed too. What’s interesting about this is that it could well be that your body has eased itself into its natural diurnal rhythm.

So what? you might ask. Well I think we can learn a lot about ourselves by paying attention…..paying attention to our bodies and what they are telling us.

One thing that might have become clear is how much sleep you actually need. That’s something you can take forward because even when life opens up and your need to be out of the house at a particular time returns you now know when you should head to bed each night.

Another thing that might have become clear is when your “best” times are….are you more a “morning person” or a “night owl”? Knowing that helps you to decide when to do certain tasks (up to a point!)

A lot of people are finding that this period of stepping out from their norms and from their externally imposed tasks and schedules is leading them to reconsider a lot of aspects of life. Some people are thinking about moving, hoping never to be trapped in an inner city flat with no outside space again. But that’s tied up in work, income, schools or all sorts of other aspects of life.

How about you? What new life patterns have emerged for you, or old life patterns been rediscovered?

What are you reassessing, and, importantly, what are you going to do about that?

There will be no “return to normal” so what changes would you like to make?

Creation

I love a sky like this. It’s so richly textured. The clouds look both solid and insubstantial at the same time covering the entire sky yet somehow hinting that they could disappear in minutes.

I always find that combination of the ephemeral yet solid reality so appealing. It seems to capture the core characteristic of life – brief, fragile and transient AND filling the entire moment with substantial touchable feel-able presence.

I also adore the rich patterning of a sky like this. Not a featureless grey cover stretching from one horizon to another but shaped and varied and changing over every square metre of the sky.

What creates a pattern like this out of water? How do those millions of normally invisible little water molecules link up and shape themselves into those delightful shapes?

I don’t know

The essence

Certain images capture something of the essence of a place. Or, maybe better, capture some of the most prominent themes of a place. This is one such image for me.

I took this from the window of my study. It shows an old Citroen 2CV car in the middle of the vineyards. Both the vineyards and this particular model of car are SO French!

I used to have a car very similar to this one. It was my first brand new car and probably one of the most fun cars I ever had. You could roll the roof back on sunny days and you could lift out the back seat to either carry bigger objects or use it to sit on while having a picnic. I transported a far too large Christmas tree in it one year, with most of the tree sticking out through the roof!

As was typical of 2CV owners of the time I had a bright yellow “Nuclear Power? No thanks!” sticker on the back. I guess people probably thought they had a good idea of my values when they saw me in that car. And maybe they were right!

Somehow cars have become way more indistinct these days. Do you agree?

I live in a small village near to the town of Cognac and the entire countryside around here is vineyards. Cognac production is THE major industry in this part of the world with dozens of distilleries, barrel-making and bottle making plants, stores selling tractors and other vineyard machinery, factories which make corks and so on.

Cognac is the essence of Cognac!

Since this pandemic began our horizons seem to have shrunk and expanded all at once. Shrunk because we have been spending our lives within tighter limits, traveling less, visiting less, shopping closer to home. It’s kind of refined our habits I think. You might say it’s “distilled” them!

On the other hand it’s expanded our consciousness making us more aware than ever of how interconnected and interdependent we all are on this one small blue marble of a planet.

What would you photograph to capture an essence of the place where you live?

Impossible

Some boats have such great names. This is one of my all time favourites. I can’t see this without thinking someone likes to prove the impossible is, actually, possible after all!

Maybe one of the reasons that I like to claim that the impossible isn’t impossible is that through my working life as a doctor I was frequently surprised by the turn of events.

I know that prognosis is one of the skills doctors are taught. However my experience was that individual patients didn’t conform to the predictions we’d make based on our knowledge of pathology and the natural history of disease.

I learned that the hard way. In my first few days as a junior hospital doctor I admitted a seriously ill elderly lady to a ward. Her two, also elderly, daughters were sitting in the corridor visibly distraught. They asked me if their mum was going to be ok, and wanting to reassure them, I said “Oh yes, of course.” The words were no sooner out of my mouth when one of the nurses called me over to tell me the old lady had just died. I didn’t make that mistake again!

Of course none of us can predict the future. One day one of patients told me her husband had recently been told he had only three months left to live. I asked her how that made her feel. She replied “Really angry”. That wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “Why angry?” I asked. She replied “Well why does he get to know how long he’s got and I don’t know how long I’ve got?”

I guess a lot of impossible things are impossible but it’s just hard to know what the future holds so, sometimes, what seems impossible isn’t impossible after all.

I think of that these days when the world seems so full of crises and difficulties. Can we make a better world? Can we learn from these crises and change direction?

I think we can.

I don’t think it’s impossible.

There was a craze hundreds of years ago for “chimera” – originally an idea from Greek mythology, medieval peoples took it a whole stage further and created all kinds of bizarre animals.

The chimera is an invented animal made up of the parts from other animals…so maybe a human head, a lion’s body, wings, a serpent tail etc. You can see lots of them carved onto the sides of old churches, and they illustrated old texts as well.

What do you think of them? Are they horrifying? (I think they were often intended to be so) or are they fun? Fascinating?

They just aren’t “natural” are they? You would never imagine that a creature like this existed anywhere. Maybe, once upon a time, some people did. Maybe they believed that they lived in unexplored regions…..remember the old maps with the unmapped areas labelled “Here Be Monsters”?

Probably the commonest reaction to them is a sort of disgust. We find them a bit repulsive….even the more beautiful ones!

I wonder if both chimera and genetically modified plants and animals touch that same core discomfort in us. There’s something a bit unsettling about cutting some DNA out of one creature and splicing it into another, don’t you think?

I think it’s no surprise that many people want GM foods labelled so they can choose not to buy them if they don’t want to. I think it’s not a surprise either that many people think there are complex ethical challenges to be addressed, and a need for intense oversight and control of the whole business of mixing DNA from creature into another……