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I noticed this on a wall recently. First, I find this beautiful. I find it very appealing. Second, it expresses one of the commonest, most fundamental patterns in the universe – let’s refer to it as branching.

Because I’m doctor, I often start by thinking about the human body, and in the body there are many, many examples of this branching structure. Perhaps the most obvious in the respiratory system. We breathe in air and it travels down the trachea (some people call the trachea “the windpipe”). After a short distance it branches into two tubes, one heading to the left lung and one to the right. From there on there, the pattern repeats, branching into smaller and smaller passageways, until, the smallest ones end in little bunches of grapes, called “alveoli” (OK, I know, they aren’t actually grapes! They just look a bit like that!) Similarly, the vessels which distribute the blood around the body, start from a big one right out of the heart, which branches into smaller and smaller vessels, the further away it gets from the heart, till in the tips of our toes and fingers, in the skin, the vessels become hair like (“capillaries”). The blood then gets back to the heart following a similarly patterned set of vessels (“veins”) coursing along the tiny ones, which join together to make bigger and bigger ones, till one big one channels all the blood back to the heart.

Does that pattern remind you of anything? The journey from mountain springs to river estuaries perhaps? Or trees!

Sometimes I wonder if that’s one of the reasons we find trees so appealing? That they echo one of our most fundamental internal structures.

This made me stop. It looks like two trees who got together a long time ago, and have continued to grow, relate, entwine, even dance and kiss together ever since!

The physicist, Carlo Rovelli, says “the universe is made up of networks of kisses, not stones

He also says

I think that quantum theory can make sense as it is: we just have to give up some cherished metaphysical prejudices and accept the deep relational aspect of nature that the success of the theory has revealed

Another physicist, Lee Smolin, says “the universe is a network of events”.

Asked about his theory he says

It’s a theory about processes, about the sequences and causal relations among things that happen, not the inherent properties of things that are. The fundamental ingredient is what we call an “event.” Events are things that happen at a single place and time; at each event there’s some momentum, energy, charge or other various physical quantity that’s measurable. The event has relations with the rest of the universe, and that set of relations constitutes its “view” of the universe. Rather than describing an isolated system in terms of things that are measured from the outside, we’re taking the universe as constituted of relations among events. The idea is to try to reformulate physics in terms of these views from the inside, what it looks like from inside the universe.

 

Aside from physicists, daily life begins to take on a different flavour altogether when we shift our focus from things to events, from objects to relationships, from separate items to connected contexts.

Try it for yourself, see what’s it like to focus more on kisses, relationships and events than on “stuff”.

Do you know what I said just before I took this photo?

“Look at the light!”

It stopped me in my tracks as I was walking down this narrow road. I took that photo, then I stepped forward and took this one –

I don’t know which one I prefer so I thought I’d share both.

I know, you’re thinking…..was it the light which caught your attention or the colours and shapes of the wall?

The truth is, I’m not so sure. But I do know that the first thing I said was “Look at the light!”, so there was something about the light itself which caught my eye. Of course, as I look at these images now I see the amazing, subtle colours, and the higgledy-piggedty (is that a word??) nature of the stones, bricks, tiles and mortar which have been put together to make this wall. Was it build like this from scratch? Or is this some kind of repair job? Does this particular section of wall have a story to tell, a history? What events has it experienced, and who made this wall like this anyway?

It’s easy to get lost in these questions which we have no possibility of answering….except with our imaginations.

But this is beautiful to me.

This is a moment of experiencing beauty.

It’s also a moment of experiencing light. And, to be frank, the photograph doesn’t capture that experience. You had to be there.

When I think about this dual experience of witnessing light, and what it illuminates, I remember an old essay written by C S Lewis. Oh goodness, I read that when I was a teenager. Can I remember it clearly? I think it was called “Meditation in a tool shed” – off to google it (actually, I shouldn’t use “google” as a verb like that. After all, I have “duckduckgo” set up as my default search tool) – I mean off to duckduckgo it!

Oh, yes, here it is! 

Gosh, it’s quite dated now. The references to “savages” kind of took me by surprise there! Still, the basic idea is still clear. In this essay, Lewis is thinking and writing about seeing a shaft of light coming into his dusty toolshed, then moving to look along the light itself and seeing the sky and trees outside. He uses this experience to juxtapose two kinds of experiencing – looking at an object, something “outside” of ourselves, and experiencing as a “subject”. Well, I don’t think he actually uses that language but that’s what I’ve always taken out of it.

There’s a difference between observing and experiencing.

We do both all the time of course, and the objectivity of observing continues to be debated, but nobody can deny what you experience as a subject. That’s all yours. Or, in my case, all mine!

I think of myself as a realist. I’m not convinced by the arguments that there’s nothing “out there”, that everything comes into existence only in the moment of being observed. After all, the universe has been around for a heck of a long time before human beings emerged to observe it! As best I know!

I’m not really convinced by the relativist arguments either….that there is no objective truth, that truth is different for each and every one of us. But it seems kind of obvious to me that my subjective, day to day, moment to moment, experience is unique. As is yours.

More than that, this subjective experience I have of my one unique life is inescapable for me. I can’t avoid it. I can’t stand apart from it and take another view entirely. That’s partly why I take these photos and write these words.

I’m just expressing my unavoidable uniqueness.

I should also stress, however, that I absolutely love it when others express their uniqueness too.

Go on….share what only you can share!

On one side of the cathedral in Segovia there are a number of statues of lions. What struck me as strange the first time I saw them was that they have their tongues sticking out. Sticking out quite a long way! I don’t remember seeing that in images of lions elsewhere. What’s that about? Is it because they are so hot? I was certainly hot the day I was there.

I decided to take a picture of one of them and try and figure out later why it had its tongue sticking out. But when I framed the shot I saw the blue sky filled with puffy, light, white clouds up behind the lion. Perfect! Click!

So, what does it look like now?

Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like the lion is licking the clouds – as if they are ice cream! Well, clouds are just water aren’t they? So maybe the lion is licking them because he’s hot and thirsty?

Ha! Ha!

You see, the brain loves connections. At least, the right hemisphere does. It seeks them out and when it can’t find any easily it makes some. It creates.

There’s a lesson there about creativity don’t you think?

It involves making connections……

PS Ok, having written this post I then googled lions with their tongues sticking out and it turns out its way more common than I realised! I’ll need to look more closely next time I see a statue of a lion!

Waves and pieces

I reckon I come across something amazing every day. Maybe I’m easily amazed! But in French, the phrase, “l’émerveillement du quotidien” (the amazement of the every day), is one which has made its way to the core of my being. I don’t know if you’d call it a value, or a principle, but it shapes my life, moment by moment, day by day.

This photo is of something I noticed the other day, something which attracted my attention, then stimulated my thinking. That’s the kind of amazement I like best!

What I saw first was the sky. Just a bit of the sky between two buildings. The clouds looked unusual and pleasing, so I framed the shot, taking in the silhouettes of the buildings on either side of the patch of sky. I liked it the moment I saw it. And I clicked.

When I looked at the shot later it pleased me even more. Not least, I think, because of the contrasts. There’s the contrast between the blue and white of the sky, and the dark browns and grey/blacks of the buildings. But there’s another contrast too.

Look at the shapes.

There’s the shape of the stepwise construction of the building, the bricks laid, one by one, each one separate from the other. It’s like a stair case, isn’t it? A stair case you climb one step at a time. The shape, it seems to me, is typical of what we’d call “discrete”. Each step is distinct from, separate from, the others. And each one adds in a pretty linear, arithmetical way to the others.

But then there is the shape of the clouds. They look like waves. They emerge out of the invisible, out of the blue, each one becoming less distinct, less separate, than the other, till at the top of the image the waves merge into a patch of cloud, almost like waves disappearing into the sea.

I find that pleasing.

I find that appealing, attractive and it make me wonder. Isn’t that the essence of amazement? Of “émerveillement”?

I find that thought-provoking. It seems to me that the left hemisphere of the brain is great at seeing patterns, great at breaking the whole down into individual, discrete parts, great at constructing, building, step by step. Whilst the right hemisphere is busy seeing the whole, seeing the context, seeing the connections, great at finding what’s new, great at engaging with waves which emerge from the whole, (from the sky, from the sea, from the Earth) and dissolve back into it again.

How amazing. To have two brains working away at the same time, enabling us to see and appreciate this universe so uniquely.

This small street in Segovia doesn’t look like much but up on the wall is this plaque –

Now, my knowledge of Spanish is very limited but I can see this is the name of the street – it’s the street of the door of the moon. The “Door of the Moon”! Oh, now, doesn’t that change things? What a name!

I’ve had a bit of a hunt online but I can’t find out much information about this street, or about the “door of the moon”, but I did discover there is also a “door of the sun” (of course!). When Segovia was a fortified town it had a wall around it, and to gain entry there were a number of “doors”, some of which were I think just wooden gates, and, as best I can tell, “the door of the moon” was one of those gates.

I haven’t come across any stories associated with these doors yet, but if any Spanish speaking readers here are inspired to do a bit of investigating I’d be delighted to hear what you discover!

For me, this is just such a romantic name. It inspires. It activates my imagination. Does it active yours?

See what a name can do? Doesn’t it whet your appetite for some stories? The stories which explain, or give meaning to, whatever has been named.

There’s a very human tendency to view ourselves as outside the world. What I mean is that we feel we are IN the world, but we remain APART from it. We are dualists. We think “there’s me” and “there’s the world”.

How did we get here? Just parachuted into it? Dropped down from outer space? We talk about “Nature” or the “the natural world” as if that’s something other than ourselves. As if it’s a place we can visit, and then leave again.

But that’s all a sort of delusion, isn’t it?

There is no “me” separate from “the world” or from “Nature”. We didn’t land on Earth from an alternate universe, we emerged within it, live within it, die within it. There is nowhere else. (Or if there is, we have no way of knowing that)

Yet, this sort of division persists, doesn’t it?

In fact, it seems this is a crucial and necessary part of being human. Our brain has evolved the ability to create what some call, “a necessary distance” between the flows of energy, information and materials pouring through ourselves and the planet we live on.

We are great pattern spotters, we humans. We see patterns, analyse them, name them, categorise and label them, then we can re-cognise them very quickly. We create maps in our minds. We create a “you map”, a “me map” and a “we map”, as Dan Siegel says in “Mindsight”. These maps contribute greatly to our sense of self, as well helping us to recognise others and develop confidence and belief in our relationships.

Our linguistic abilities are used to create the names and labels and to think about whatever we are applying them to, as well as enabling us to communicate about them. We use words, symbols and metaphors to take these processes of analysis and recognition to whole new levels. These are some of our super-powers as humans. They enable us to literally, and metaphorically, grasp the world in which we live.

To do all those things requires us to step back from the flow of experience. We use this “necessary distance” to momentarily step aside, to enable us to see more clearly, understand more deeply. With this comes this sense that we are “apart”. That there is “me” and “The Other”. When, in reality, there is only ONE, and we live inextricably IN the flux and the flow.

I don’t like judgements. They stop thought. But we need them. It’s just we need to be able to let them go more easily than we make them as our understanding deepens, as we see more and more connections, envisage the contexts in which whatever we are examining exists.

So, it’s interesting to me, to take the old school philosophical spiritual practice of “the view from on high”, literally from time to time. To climb up somewhere, to take the time to gaze towards the horizons, to see the landscape unfolding in front of me. To see the “bigger picture”.

This photo is one I took the other day when standing outside the Alcazar in Segovia. I’m pretty sure that what caught my eye was the church. It seems to stand alone. Almost in the middle of nowhere. But as I framed the shot my eye was led from the church to the winding road which my mind then followed to the top of the hill. Up on the ridge I could see buildings. A lot of buildings. So not a church in the middle of nowhere at all. But still, a church set apart somehow. The curve of the road was immediately appealing and I made sure I included it in the camera frame.

Now that I look at this image I see, yes, the church, that physical symbol of the spiritual connected to the village at the top of the hill by a winding, beautifully curving road. You could argue the road leads to the church. Or you could see the road as leading from the church to the town where people live. In other words, you can see the church, the town AND the connection all at once. I find that immensely pleasing.

I don’t know if that will get you thinking about the place of the spiritual in human life. It might. Or maybe it will get you thinking about connections, contexts and the illusions of separateness?

Ah, before I go, one other thing……see the wall someone has built just to the left of the church and the road? Someone has claimed this piece of the Earth as their own and built a wall around it to strengthen their feeling of separateness. Most people live in the village on the ridge, or so it seems to me. Not many live behind the wall.

Oh yes, walls again. We are hearing a lot about them these days. Both literal walls, to separate Americans from Mexicans, or Palestinians from Israelis, and the toxic and divisive “US AND THEM” walls which divide “natives” from “immigrants”.

But it’s all one world, huh? We share the same planet, the same air, the same water, the same place in the evolutionary path of Life.

It’s a bit of a challenge isn’t it? To see differences and separations but to see them as inextricably connected in a bigger picture.