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Crystal and Dragon

This is one of my favourite photos. It isn’t a snowflake but a single water droplet which has frozen into this leaf-like pattern.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Doesn’t it make you want to pause and wonder, to be amazed at the pattern and form?

It always reminds me how the universe creates uniqueness everywhere. No other icicle will look exactly like this one. It will have appeared over a few hours, then it’ll be gone again as the ice turns back to water, and the water evaporates into the air. It’s like a kind of magic…..from the invisible, to the visible and back again.

One of my all time favourite books I’d recommend to anyone is David Wade’s Crystal and Dragon: the Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness. Wow, that’s quite a title, huh? It’s a brilliant exploration of how the opposite forces of order and disorder, of discipline and wildness, play together to create all the beauty which surrounds us.

I’m convinced that both what we see/notice and what we experience are heavily influenced by the circumstances, the environments and contexts in which they occur. In other words, what frames our view or experience influences not just what we see, but what we “make of it”.

Two extreme points are the pessimistic one where everything seems bleak, life seems to be against them, and they notice all the negatives, and the ultra optimistic one, where they always see the silver lining, are permanently hopeful and notice all the positives.

You might argue these dispositions are innate, even genetic, but whatever their origins, there’s no doubt they create very particular frames through which to view the world.

Even if the origin is genetic, it’s my experience that the frames can be changed. We can choose a frame of beauty, goodness and truth. We can choose a frame of kindness, love and care. We can agree with Einstein that the universe is a friendly place.

What frames do you use most frequently? And what frames would you like to use next year?

Love is the only light

Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul.

John O’Donohue

How can you ever get to know another person? It’s not easy, and it takes time, but more than anything it takes love.

I’m not going to write a big essay on love here, love takes many forms, and whole books have been written about it, but it’s something everyone understands. We know when we feel love, care or compassion for another. We know when we feel loved and cared about. It doesn’t need a lot of dissection.

There seems to be ever more division, hatred, fear and judgement these days, but the counter to all that is, and always will be, love.

When we suspend judgement, refuse to generalise and categorise, then we can open our hearts and minds, and with good intent, listen to “the other”, who will always have a unique story to tell us.

Here’s a wee recommendation for the holiday season. On YouTube you can find a remarkable series of films called “Human”, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. He filmed people from all walks of life, in a wide variety of countries and cultures, getting them to speak directly to camera, and to say a little about their lives.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and have watched it all the way through, as well as returning to particular interviews again and again. Each person looks directly at you, which carries a very particular power. It’s moving, engaging and frequently challenging.

It’s a huge project, but I recommend you check out “Volume 1”. Treat yourself to some time spent in the light of love.

Was that a kind thought, a kind word, or a kind action?

I think kindness is a good standard for us to measure our thoughts, words and actions against.

I’m more impressed with a reflection on how kind something was than how it fits in a batch of statistics. I know kindness is not measurable, but then neither is love, care or respect, but that doesn’t matter. We don’t need to attribute a number to it to know just how kind, loving or caring a thought, word or action was.

And let me be absolutely clear here – “you have to be cruel to be kind” is utter nonsense. You have to be kind to be kind.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the stories of cruelty, violence and neglect in the world, but we are surrounded every day by ordinary people acting kindly towards others.

And hey, even if we don’t seem to be, you can still choose to be, yourself.

So when you’re thinking of starting a new journal in the new year, maybe you’ll include a gratitude section to note what you’re thankful for, but I think it’s also good to note what kind thoughts you had today, what kind words and kind actions you experienced today – both those carried out by you, and by others.

Here’s the mirror I want to look in each day next year – the one that inspires me to reflect on kindness, love, care and respect.

What lies below

This photo takes a little bit of working out. It’s the “source”, or natural spring which lies just a few steps from our house. The water in the source is the clearest water I’ve ever seen. This is a photo of some of the leaves which have fallen into the water, the ones on the right still lying on the surface, and the rest lying on the bottom of the pond.

The leaves on the surface are still brown, but those which have been submerged for some time have turned a pale green colour.

I find this effect quite mesmerising. It feels as if I’ve been given the chance to glimpse what is usually hidden. It’s like a moment of enlightenment, where suddenly I have the chance to see more of the whole, to peek into the collective unconscious, to look directly into the soul of the world.

This experience reminds me that what we see, hear and sense on a daily basis is only a tiny portion of reality. Out in the universe dark energy and dark matter, invisible to us and our instruments is thought to make up the vast majority of all that exists.

And within each of us, only a tiny fraction of what goes on, moment by moment, reaches the conscious mind. All those billions of neurones firing, all those trillions of cells constantly metabolising, all those immune cells busy defending the whole being, all those muscles tensing and relaxing, the smooth muscles beating out their own rhythm……all that lies below the surface.

It’s pretty astonishing, don’t you think?

With the recent COP on diversity there are clearer calls for we humans to change our attitudes towards “Nature”. You know, I never used to think of “Nature” as a controversial concept, but I’ve come to understand it is…..primarily because we humans separate ourselves from the rest of the planet by calling everything around us “Nature”, and seeing “it” (reducing nature to a thing or object) as “a resource”, or “a place to visit”, or, worse, and enemy to be fought or controlled.

When the leaves all fall in the autumn I can understand this perspective of trying to control “nature” as I try to make my garden tidier. So I set about sweeping up the leaves. Again. Though this time the leaves are soaking wet from rain and melted frost, so I gather a lot of them and put them in a sack, leaving a stuck wet carpet of them on the ground.

I tell myself I’ll return to sweep up the large remainder once they’ve dried a bit.

This morning I decide the time has come and step outside to get the big brush.

But look!!

They’ve all gone. After a couple of days of strong west winds, there are none left for me to sweep up! And in the moment I stop, and I smile, and I think, there’s no “controlling” or “tidying” “nature”……instead we have to find a different way of living, within Nature, not apart from “it”. We have to learn that WE are nature too, and that this vast complex web of relationships between the human and the not human needs to be understood, to be admired, to be beheld in wonder and awe and joy and delight and acceptance.

“Nature” will always surprise us. And if it doesn’t, we need to reconsider the way we live, because we’re living a delusion.

Sensitivity to change

If you look carefully (you might have to zoom in) you can see that white light in the top right hand corner of my photo is a crescent moon. It’s the almost gone waning sliver of the moon.

This view really struck me this morning. In this one moment I could see close to the end of a moon cycle and the first traces of dawn as the sun turned the sky pink before it climbed over the horizon to begin a new day.

I love this concurrence of an ending and a beginning. It reminds me of the “as one door closes, another opens” saying. But it especially makes the reality of change more vivid.

Maybe it’s because I worked as a doctor, spending my time, one to one, with individuals every working today. Every single one of those people came to me hoping for change. One of the ways I understood what my work was, was to see myself as an agent of change.

I know that too much change is uncomfortable. I know that sometimes it’s brutally painful. But, ultimately, change is the one constant, so to speak, and the silver lining of painful change was always the fact that “this too shall pass”….that the potential for change for the better, that some relief, some comfort, was always there.

Whatever the reasons I have become very aware of, and very sensitive towards, natural change – the dawns and the sunsets, the phases of the moon, the cycle of the seasons.

I find all of that, and more, fills me with awe and wonder.

The music in my heart I bore, 
Long after it was heard no more.

These are the last two lines in Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. (I’ve developed a habit which I recommend – reading a poem every day. Poetry activates the right cerebral hemisphere, the half of the brain which has been neglected, and so left underdeveloped, in our very materialistic, mechanistic and utilitarian societies. I reckon it’s a better idea to have both halves of our brain equally well developed so I’m practicing the common activities which stimulate and activate the rather neglected right hemisphere – poetry, music, relationships and wonder).

Music has the power to touch us, to move us, to reach right into the depths of the soul. How many of your memories have a piece of music attached? So much so that just a few bars of a particular song or tune opens the floodgates to images, and, more importantly, intense feelings which a specific memory evokes?

When those notes begin to play we don’t just remember in the way we’d remember a fact, we remember by re-living the event, feeling again exactly whatever it was we felt before.

It works both ways, doesn’t it? A particular song can evoke particular memories, but so also can particular memories evoke specific phrases of music.

So it’s true that the music lingers in our hearts long after the song is over.

What music is lingering in your heart?

When I opened the wooden shutters this morning this is what I saw….a frost covered grass and a dawn pink blush in the sky.

I do two things at this point. First quickly take a photo, and second, stand still and watch the colours change before my eyes.

It’s good to pause. It’s good to stop and savour the moment, to allow yourself to sink into it, to feast your eyes, and simply lift your awareness out of the semiconscious time which lingers between sleeping and waking.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, in this second half of December, as 2022 recedes and 2023 begins to colour the morning sky pink, you start to move into that blended mode of memory and imagination….with reflections on the year gone by, and wondering about possibilities about to emerge in the year to come.

I’ve been writing this blog for over a decade, and gone through several phases of focus and publication frequency, but on the first day of lockdown, or “confinement”, as we say here in France, on 17th March 2020, I committed myself to publishing a positively focused post each and every day. I had the idea that in the midst of a pandemic with all the uncertainties and fears it would be good to start each day with a positive thought and to send that out into the world in the hope that some of those ripples might wash up and touch the lives of others near and far.

Well this week I realised I’ve been doing that for just over 1000 days.

I don’t think I ever had a particular end point in mind but I feel there is a change coming and it’s time to embrace that, so, shortly, I’ll stop posting every single day.

There are thousands of posts here and they don’t follow each other in any strict chronological sequence – at least, not usually. I think everyone reads these posts in their own way. Maybe you read one every day as it is published, maybe you dip in once a week, once a month, or just occasionally. All of those are fine.

So you can still read them with the frequency which works best for you, but what I recommend you do now is scroll down till you see the list titled “archives”, and pick a month, any month, and read whatever catches your eye there.

I intend to continue creating new posts but with a much reduced frequency in 2023, as I explore other possibilities….a podcast, a newsletter, videos perhaps…..I don’t have a definite plan yet, but that’s ok, this is the time around the turn of a year when change comes calling, and I’m gazing out of the window at the pink sky and frosted grass and wondering just what changes I can embrace……

No man is an island

….we with our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest. The maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves….but the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean’s bottom.

William James

The more we understand about the nature of reality the clearer it becomes that an atomistic, reductionist viewpoint is an illusion.

Of course we can distinguish one individual from another….one island from another, one tree from another, one person from another…but no island, tree or person exists in isolation.

There’s a Hugh Grant film which lots of people watch at this time of year, “Love Actually”, but perhaps my favourite Hugh Grant film is “About a Boy”, which starts with his character delivering a soliloquy, responding to a question on a tv quiz show about “who said No Man is an Island”. He answers correctly. It was John Donne. But he dismisses the phrase as rubbish, claiming he, himself, is not just an island, but in fact he’s like Ibiza! It’s a very funny movie with some intensely moving scenes and it delivers a clear message – “No man is an island”.

A lot of the problems in the world stem from a failure to understand that everything and everyone is connected. Our lives are intimately very entangled. The individual threads of our lives weave together ever more complex, creative and beautiful tapestries of shared existence.

Hyper individualism, egoism and narcissism are the scourges of the world, and I lose nothing of my uniqueness, or my agency, by embracing my connectedness. In fact, how can I be fully me without seeing myself as an inseparable part of the whole?