Dandelion Clocks

It’s that time of the year in UK, where dandelion clocks appear in abundance, to the great delight of children, who love to blow the seeds away. I must admit to tending to take them for granted, but when you really take a good look, how amazing are these crystal-like spheres suspended over the grass.

They’re also not that easy to photograph close up with an instant camera. I managed the following with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom by using the ‘post-focus’ facility, whereby you can select the best from several frames taken at the same time.

dandelion clock

As a child I once had a project to take dandelion clocks into school for the lesson in the morning. Sadly it was a very windy that morning, and I don’t think any clocks arrived at school intact! Rather traumatic for us children!

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Large Red Damselflies

Lots of pairs of Large Red Damselflies flit around our pond this sunny Sunday morning, aiming to create the little pests that sometimes take bites out of fish. There I am trying to get a reasonable shot, without much success – they’re always too far away, moving about too much, difficult to focus, awkward background… Then along comes wife: “I’ve got a pair on my hand!” Suddenly it’s easy to get a reasonable photo of those colourful bodies and lacy wings.

damselflies

The female has the yellow in the stripes, and the male is a darker red.

They do come in handy, wives!

Henryk Skolimowski

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Henryk Skolimowski, 1990s

I was sorry to hear that Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski (1930-2018) died in April this year, but happy with the memories of his fruitful life. I first came across Henryk via his books, including Living Philosophy, in the early 1990s, and made the effort to attend one of his seminars in London around 1994. At that time we were running The Knutsford Lectures on the theme of Visions of a New Renaissance, and Henryk’s visionary work seemed be moving in a similar direction. I plucked up courage to invite him to give one of our lectures. Henryk accepted with alacrity. After some correspondence with him in Warsaw we eventually agreed a date. It turned out that Henryk gave the very last Knutsford Lecture, in Knutsford’s oldest building, the Unitarian Church, in May 1996.

The theme of his lecture was The Participatory Mind, corresponding to the title of his book published in 1994. I don’t now recall much of the lecture itself, save that the content was somewhat intellectually challenging. The back cover of the book of that title gives an idea of its scope:

“In a Grand Theory of participatory mind that builds on the insights of such thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin and Bergson as well as contemporaries Dobzhansky and Bateson, Skolimowski points to a new order, one brought about by a Western mind returning to, then reintegrating, the spiritual…”

I do very much recall the essence of this charming, gentle, wise and spiritual gentleman, who we were delighted to host overnight. As we discussed our Lectures venture he wisely pointed out that I had established them in order to educate myself, as well as others.

Henryk was kind enough to sign a copy of his book EcoYoga: Practice and meditations for walking in beauty on the Earth, with the following beautiful inscription:

skolimowski inscription

 

Let yourself be moved. | 024/100

Great post by Joe Hart, and the Brené Brown video on vulnerability is well worth the 20 minutes it takes.

The Ink

This installation, by artist Matej Kren, is in the lobby of the Municipal Library in Prague.

Glancing over the edge, down into what looked like an infinite vortex of books, I felt something stir within me. I don’t know what, exactly. It was kind of emotional: something about all that I’ve read, a lifelong love of books. I had vivid recollections of my grandma reading The Iron Giant to me in bed, as a four or five year old.

I like to think of myself as a pretty hard-headed, rational thinker. But humans aren’t emotionless robots (or homo economicus, as my textbooks would have me believe). I think it may come across in this blog sometimes that I purely view humanity as conduits translating inputs into creative output, disregarding our feelings and weaknesses. I don’t.

We’ve got to leave yourself room to feel, to be moved. As the incredible…

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Wild Parsnip

On our recent visit to Devon we saw lots of these yellow flowers that look otherwise like the white cow parsley, wild carrot etc. A bit of web research suggests that this is wild parsnip.

wild parsnip 2

Although the root of wild parsnip is edible, the shoots and leaves should be handled with caution as their sap contains photo-sensitive chemicals which can cause a reddening, blisters and burning of the skin. It is regarded as an invasive species in parts of North America.

It occurs to me that I have a similar looking umbellifer in the back garden, a fennel plant, but fennel does not have such poisonous attributes and flowers much later in the year.

 

Absurd Brexit Process

I have to keep coming back to Brexit from time to time, this time inspired by ex-UK-Foreign-Secretary David Miliband on today’s now-biased BBC radio 4 programme, Today. Basically time is slipping away and negotiations within the UK cabinet have not yet concluded, let alone those with Europe. Time is running out fast.

Miliband suggested that the UK is being held hostage to the hard Brexiteers in the cabinet, who do not mind crashing out of EU, despite the untold misery that is likely to cause.

The cabinet argues over two possible ‘solutions’, neither of which EU thinks will work. The so-called max-fac ‘solution’ has a hardish border, but some magical technological fix will avoid it becoming a major bottleneck. No max-fac is going to stop border smuggling in Ireland by legions of white vans. Even minimal delays will destroy ‘just in time’ supply chains. This seems like cloud cuckoo land to me.

The other solution appears to involve UK acting as a tax collector for EU, but being otherwise disengaged. Well maybe, but that would involve a huge amount of trust, which will come under great strain when the UK starts making separate trade deals to EU’s disadvantage. (What is this big deal about trade deals? UK will clearly never get a better deal than the larger EU would.)

Basically the UK cabinet collective appears to be disconnected from the real world.

The position of the Labour Party and some moderate tories on retaining some form of customs union seems the best way forward, as does membership of the European Economic Area – if we must proceed with this absurdity of Brexit.

Oh, and it was nice to hear, in David Miliband, a politician speaking with the gravitas and understanding you might expect of a prime minister. What a shame Labour drove him away.

Welcome back, little critters

A beautiful post by Butterfly Mind, which expresses more intently than I could the pleasure and importance of gardening. Get rid of those boring lawns, decks, paving…

Butterfly Mind

A friend asked recently what it is about gardening that I love so much, and with such intensity. What is so compelling? What do I get out of it?

When we moved into our house, it was surrounded by nothing but mowed grass. A vast expanse of green blades, all the same height, all the same color. No flowers. No birds. No butterflies. It was uninteresting. When I’d go out on our back deck, there was nothing to watch except the clouds. Though the grass itself was living, the landscape didn’t feel alive.

What I love with intensity is life. Life is miraculous to me. I grew two human beings in my body who are now teenagers. Fifteen years ago they didn’t exist. They were nothing. Now, they walk and run and talk and laugh, they think, they create, they have ideas. They’re baking cakes and learning Spanish and riding bikes…

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Maps and reality

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, 1931

In his excellent book Taking Appearance Seriously, Henri Bortoft expresses succinctly the effect of the brain’s left hemisphere in overriding the lived experience registered by the right hemisphere (in line with Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary):

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for experience itself.”

Not only does this result in scientists confusing their maps of reality with reality itself (see earlier post), it leads to much of our lives being led at second hand, as we focus on our conceptual maps of what is going on, rather than on the real lived experience. This is perhaps a contribution to the disconnection from body mentioned in my post reviewing In Touch.

This is not intended as a criticism of the left hemisphere, indeed this is where social media such as blogs largely reside. It is just that we do need to be aware of what is going on and ‘remember’ our real selves.

Featured image by Allan Ajifo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/125992663@N02/14414603887/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35380022

 

Seven billion

Respectable statistics show that the number of humans on earth now exceeds 7 billion, an almost unimaginable number. I often think of this when faced with the decision on whether to throw away or recycle a metal bottle top.

Suppose 7 billion people recycle one bottle top each. From the internet I discover that a tin or aluminium bottle top may weigh around 2g. So that’s 7 billion * 2g = 14,000,000,000g = 14,000 metric tonnes of metal. That’s a hell of a lot of metal! If done every day for a year that makes around 5 million tonnes.

Other statistics show that the annual global production of metals is around 131 million tonnes (steel), 57 million (aluminium), under a million (tin). So that one bottle top (times 7 billion times 365) corresponds to a significant percentage of global production.

Of course, not everyone on the planet has a western standard of living, and not everyone in the West uses a disposable bottle top daily, so this is not a realistic sum. I don’t even know if it’s practical to recycle all bottle tops. (It seems that individual small metal caps may not get automatically recycled by current household recycling systems; they may need to be collected in a larger container.)

This trivial example points the way to much more serious questions. Consider air travel or sports that involve killing animals, or eating lots of meat… If everyone aspires a Western style of living there is just no way the earth can support the realisation of this.

Maybe we just need to start thinking ‘7 billion’ in all key personal and political decisions. But maybe that’s just too hard. In the end nature will take its course…

Featured number was at time of writing,
from the website http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

In Touch

51cz8w0hvrl-_sy346_In Touch: How to Tune In to the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself
by John J. Prendergast

One of my recurrent themes on this blog is that we have lost contact with our connection with others, and with the natural world. But worse, have we lost contact with our own body and inner self? This is precisely the subject of In Touch, by psychotherapist John Prendergast.

The premise is in the book’s publicity material:

“Your body has a natural sense of truth. We can feel authenticity in ourselves and in others. However, this innate wisdom is obscured by our conditioning—the core limiting beliefs, reactive feelings, and somatic contractions that fuel our sense of struggle and veil who we really are.

In Touch is a groundbreaking, experiential guide to the felt-sense of our inner knowing—the deep intelligence available through our bodies. Each chapter presents moving stories, helpful insights from spirituality, psychology, and science, and simple yet potent experiments for integrating the gifts of inner knowing into every aspect of daily life.”

So the book takes this forward and explores this inner felt sense, which is found through connection with our own body. It aims to ‘help you recognize your own natural sense of inner knowing by showing you how to listen to your body for guidance.’ We are not just a mind that happens to sit in a relatively independent body; we are one integrated organism, and forget that at our peril. It very much reminded me of the book Bodymind, written by Ken Dychtwald in the 1970s and still gracing my shelves.

I read this book on Kindle, for convenience when travelling. I don’t recommend this, but it did give me easy access to quotes from the book highlighted in the following. Far better to read the real book.Read More »

The end of the road

Quite a shock to see an A road just disappeared. Climate change = more extreme weather = more threats to our taken-for-granted infrastructure, like this.

Eyes in the back of my Head

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The A379 between Dartmouth and Kingsbridge in south Devon took a big hit at Slapton Sands during the winter storms. We’d wondered why the road was closed, and thought it was because a lot of sand and gravel had been thrown on to it. It was only as we walked past the barriers and continued along the road that we saw why.

The road was gone.

P1050597Slapton Sands has a large, attractive beach. It is backed, across the road from the shore, by Slapton Ley, an area of inland lakes with a nature reserve. The sands themselves have got some history, as the beach was used as a training ground for the D-Day invasion of France in 1944. Locals were relocated as the top secret preparations for D-Day were made and trial manoeuvres were carried out.

It was quite a shock to see the road so damaged. Will it be…

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Spring Butterflies

It’s but a memory now, but last week was very cold but sunny at the extensive Slapton Ley NNR in South Devon. These butterflies gave a first taste of the warmer weather that is now with us.

First a rather battered looking peacock, which had probably been tempted out by a sunny day after overwintering. Then a very fresh looking green veined white, and finally what is probably a small white, although there appear to be no black spots on the wings?

The photographs could be sharper but these butterflies were not very cooperative.

The relative proliferation of wildlife at these nature reserves shows just how important they are, and suggest that we need many more to ensure the preservation of these and other species.

New isn’t always better. | 010/100

I like this post by Joe Hart. The consumer society always wanting something new to keep the engine of growth going…

The Ink

We’ve got an obsession with ‘newness’. We’ll take the fresh-off-the line, shiny iPhone any day of the week, despite the last year’s model still working perfectly. We’re enamoured with constant progress – or what we see as progress. This rapacious desire for more, newer – why is it our instant assumption that this means it’s better?

It’s incredibly tricky to focus on anything for anything length of time in this age of instantly accessible information. We haven’t evolved to deal with the amount of stimulus we’re dealing with, especially in the way we’re being bombarded with it (more on this here).

I’m currently in the midst of revising for my final exams. Revision is a slow process, little by little strengthening the neural pathways between ideas, seeing how they work together, relaxing and tightening assumptions as you move towards understanding.

I’ve experienced a lot of long, frustrating hours before…

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Falcated Duck

falcated duckThe falcated duck is a migratory Asian species with threatened survival status. Watching these beautiful birds at WWT Slimbridge, it was easy to see why they have been hunted by humans over the ages. Those stripy feathers over the tail have been particularly prized.

With so many people now on the planet, attitudes to such birds must rapidly change, or they will be lost forever. Places like Slimbridge provide a reminder of what is in danger of being lost.

Although the green head and neck with brown crown look a bit like a mallard, these ducks are actually closely related to the European wigeon, with which they have been known to interbreed.

 

Eider duck

There is something quite magical about Eider Ducks; they convey such a peaceful quality.

Eyes in the back of my Head

P1040770

Currently on a short visit to the south west of England, we stopped off at the Slimbridge Wetlands Trust reserve where I was able to indulge in observing my favourite duck, the Eider.

The male, shown above, has striking black, white and pistachio green plumage; the female, less showy but just as beautiful, is patterned with shades of brown feathers, arranged in attractive patterns.

I’ve written about these favourite ducks of mine before, and I have no idea why they come out top of my list, as there are many beautiful, attractive, humble, ordinary, interesting etc. others to choose from.

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It’s something to do with the shape of the Eider’s head and beak that I find attractive – maybe it’s the pleasing curve – but, without knowing what their temperament is like in reality, they always look rather benign and friendly to me.

I suspect they are not particularly aggressive…

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Character

9780375501203-it-300The Force of Character, James Hillman, Ballantine 1999

Reviews of James Comey’s recent book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership brought to mind this article I wrote, that first appeared in Conjunction Issue 40, July 2006.

The later years of life have a bad press in the modern world. Whereas in the past the aged were revered and respected, in today’s youth-oriented culture they tend to be seen as simply past it and somewhat irrelevant. Yet we live longer and longer. Why is this, and what is the purpose of such long life?

Psychologist James Hillman addresses such questions in The Force of Character. He takes us through many of the apparently negative aspects of aging and tries to draw lessons on why we go through these experiences. The body gradually declines, memory becomes unreliable, sometimes is largely lost, mental faculties may be impaired. But this is all part of a life process that does not have to be seen as negative. There is wisdom and learning to be gained from these challenges, just as with the different challenges of earlier life. And Hillman characterises three stages of this later life process – lasting, leaving and left.

This is not the place to explain these stages, but the key insight Hillman puts forward is that this is all about the development of character – as we get older the inessentials are gradually stripped away and what remains is the essence of the person, the character. Character is what makes us different from others, the essence of our uniqueness and “what gives sense and purpose to the changes of aging”.

This is a different concept to ‘personality’ or ‘ego’; it is almost impersonal. Hillman likens this to the bringing of ‘fate’ back into psychology: “Psychology shorn of fate is too shallow to address its subject, the soul.”

Character can influence events and people. Hillman quotes cases where the emphasis of particular characteristics by a strongly developed character has an unexpectedly significant effect on others. Dennis Skinner, the MP for Bolsover, comes to mind!

Character cannot be objectivised; it requires descriptive language to describe it – adjectives such as ‘stingy’, ‘sharp’, ‘opinionated’, adverbs such as ‘slowly’, ‘carefully’, ‘deliberately’.

This is starting to sound a bit like astrology, and in particular astrological psychology. [Non-astrological readers ignore this paragraph!] Where the Natal Chart provides a sort of map of the essence of an individual, the aspect structure highlights basic motivations at a deep level, the planets, influenced by the signs, show how we most effectively operate in the environment represented by the houses. I could even extend this to suggest that the three charts provide a sort of map of Hillman’s concept of character. And the Life Clock identifies those times in life that are most propitious for the development of character, for becoming what we are in our essential selves.

Hillman’s book is an interesting read, although its origin as a stitching together of separately written pieces is sometimes apparent. You may well learn something about aging that you didn’t know. And it’s interesting to come across the development of some new psychological thinking that is totally consistent with the viewpoint of astrological psychology. Indeed, Hillman recognises the link with astrology:

“Character had [its oldest] refuge: astrology, where it still thrives today.”

Mallard Iridescence

The mallard is so common in the UK, such a successful survivor, that I often overlook it when taking photographs. But it really is a rather beautiful bird.

Particularly striking is the iridescence (surfaces that appear to gradually change colour as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes) in the head and neck of the male. This was particularly apparent at WWT Slimbridge recently, with the colours on full show for the breeding season, and the sun still quite low on an April afternoon.

The male appears sometimes green, sometime blue, and colours in between.

mallard iridescenceIt’s not just that the back of the head is blue and the side green, see for example this otherwise undistinguished shot of resting males. The apparent colour really does depend on the angle of view and of the sun.

 

Because of the easy availability of food, mallards are very tame at Slimbridge, so you can get close. These shots are of the female, also attractive but more by patterning than by colour.

Measurement and Targets

Measure an aspect of a system and you will change it. For example, I once included a graph of number of people late for a regular meeting; the tardy individuals soon began to arrive on time and the measure ‘improved’. So measurement is a great management tool.

Set a target on that measure and you (possibly aim to) fundamentally change the system. The target becomes a part of the system.

If the system is one involving human values and relationships, it is likely to be thus dehumanized. It is quite apparent that immigration/removal targets set at the UK Home Office led directly to the inhuman practices that feature in the current ongoing ‘Windrush’ scandal.

The interesting thing about targets is that, if the target is the main way of measurement of staff (or of a separate subcontractor), then they are effectively being pushed into behaving in a value-free and inhumane way – and, when this is discovered, the management can hold up their hands, say ‘not me gov’, and blame the lower level operatives (or subcontractor) whose jobs depended on meeting the targets.

This is the dirty secret of much high level management, and of course politicians. Management by numbers alone is, at the end of the day, not management at all, but abdication of responsibility.

A target is a good servant, but a poor master.

Of course, profit and other financial numbers are measures, and our current capitalism depends on using them. Use them as the main incentive for senior management, and what do you get? Enron, banking crises, bribery, corruption, all sorts of value-free behaviour…