I have previously written of the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Amboise. Recently we again tarried in that crossing point of the River Loire, to be impressed this time by just how photogenic Amboise is. The featured image shows what is left of King Francois I’s chateau, and the bridge over half of the river from the island, beautifully enhanced by modern lighting. Here’s a larger version.
Go onto the bridge and look to the right and you see the beautiful sunset over a wild part of the River Loire, ‘Europe’s last untamed river’.
There were plenty of cormorants and gulls on the river, too, but I didn’t get any shots worth sharing this time.
“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”
In a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.
The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:
ravens have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are very intelligent, using their beaks much as we do our hands.They and other species that live in social groups can match, and in some cases even exceed, the mental prowess of primates.
wild boar know exactly which other boar they are related to, even if the connection is a distant one. Indeed, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. They teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life. They and other animals understand their own names, and thus have some degree of self-consciousness.
crows are known for recognising people and for having strong emotional reactions to those they don’t like.
horses know just by how tense their rider’s body is and enjoy being directed and exercised.
doe’s grieve for their dead offspring.
shame and embarrassment are evident in dogs, and function as a kind of act of contrition – they are mechanisms for asking for forgiveness.
animals are capable of empathy, and experience fear and pain.
it’s quite clear to foresters and hunters alike that wild animals learn from experience. Wild boar hunt at night when they themselves are hunted, but not otherwise.
As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?
For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.
In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.
Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.
Our scientific society denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.
Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.
We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:
“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”
My post on Competition and Co-operation touched on cultural differences between The UK and the US, so I was attracted to read Jon Sopel’s recent book ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, which explores the differences Jon has found during his long stint as the BBC’s North America correspondent.
Jon’s book confirms that the US is a very different country, quite alien in many ways to a European perspective – resulting of course from a very different history and geography. A list of the subjects covered by chapter gives an idea of its scope:
the anger felt by many Americans, the ‘losers’ in the globalising project
the pervasive influence of race and discrimination
the evident patriotism
the system of government, and the current neglect of public infrastructure
the continued major influence of religion and God
the issue of guns and the right to bear arms
the easily aroused anxiety felt by many Americans
the ‘special’ role that Americans feel they have with the world, and the supposed ‘special’ relationship with UK
the increasing loss of contact with truth in the political arena
the descent into chaos with the Trump administration.
There is much insight here, although interestingly he does not focus on issues of competition vs co-operation. The book provides a stimulating read. And Jon warns that we should not expect major change or realignment; these are real differences. We really are confused by a common language, to suppose that the differences are not as great as they appear – they are.
At the end of the day, although Britain aspires to provide a bridge between Europe and America, our culture is much more European than American. Attempts to move us in an American direction must be seen in this light. Americans think we’re socialists, and most Brits don’t really want to change the current settlement and, for example, lose our NHS. Brexit puts this all in jeopardy, engineered as it was on a misleading and false prospectus of supporting the NHS.
The so-called royal family in the UK appear to support a practice that ensures we do not see many raptors in England – the said raptors are too inconvenient for the gamekeepers responsible for supplying grouse to be shot. Just see what we are missing in this post, written as a letter to the latest royal child being indoctrinated into this backward-looking tradition.
I understand that Mummy took you along to a grouse shoot in Scotland a few days, so that you could watch Daddy killing lots of birds which were flying up into the sky.
He was shooting them dead, along with lots of other people. These people say that shooting birds in this way is sport, so I took a look in my dictionary (it’s a bit like the first dictionary you will have at school, but without the pictures) to find the definition of “sport”.
It says Sport: A game or competitive activity, esp. an outdoor one involving physical exertion, e.g. cricket, football, racing, hunting. (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
Two words jump out when I think of the grouse shooting you went to see Daddy taking part in. One of them is competitive, the other, hunting.
If something is competitive it usually means there is a contest between two people…
Our greatest opportunity to feel good and maintain happiness is to constantly seek to uncover a lesson in every condition we encounter in life.
If you’re not learning something, life will teach you a lesson.
Looking for a lesson is the equivalent of instigating change. Just as it feels better to resign than be fired, or to break up rather than be dumped, the one who finds a lesson finds a reason, which removes the sense of helpless that often accompanies unanticipated conditions.
We will not be able to control everything that we encounter, so we must take responsibility for what freewill we do have.
Mindfulness is a tool for helping us recognize our relationship with time. If you are reading and it takes 30 minutes to get through one page, it becomes obvious that your mind is wandering. This is mindfulness.
(1.25) Thought is transmuted into character and character…
I have a vibrant memory of Sunday evenings in the 1950s, walking home after visiting grandparents in the nearby village. We walked on the pavement in almost complete darkness through the countryside. The stars were so bright, and my dad pointed out the common constellations (the Plough/Big Dipper, Orion…) and the Milky Way.
There were street lamps, still gas powered in those days. They cast small oases of light in the pervading darkness, an essential aid when the Moon was not up. As we navigated from oasis to oasis, they gave a feeling of security.
In later decades street lights became ever brighter, until more recently people realised that this over-brightness was polluting any chance of being aware of the majesty of the night sky – the pervading influence for all earlier human generations. So, they’ve become more subdued and direct light downwards rather than everywhere. On our residential estate there’s now a small sense of those earlier oases of light in the darkness – although the power of modern leds is inevitably much stronger than the old gas lamps.
But there’s a new kid on the block: a proliferation of lighting from residential houses, notably porch lights, and lights at the end of the drive. Some throw stronger light than the actual street lighting. My senses are repelled by this unnecessary brightness and the accompanying waste of energy. Why? When a cheap sensor could turn the light on only when needed. If every house did the same we would rarely experience the darkness of night.
We need to make friends with the darkness, it is as much a part of life as the light. Only then do we and our children see those gems in the sky, perhaps inspiring an interest in astronomy or its twin astrology.
Human eyes are actually very good at seeing in low light conditions. So please can we turn those lights out, except when needed.
And make friends with the dusk, one of the truly magical parts of the day (I’m sure the dawn is also, but I rarely make it.)
Featured image of gas lamp by Tulane Public Relations (Uploaded by AlbertHerring), via Wikimedia Commons
Image of The Milky Way by John Fowler, via Wikimedia Commons
There’s a lot of nonsense currently being put forward about ‘no deal’ being a viable Brexit option. It is not. Chaos would clearly ensue across so many areas – products, services, health, fisheries, policing, finance, etc. The list is almost endless. Governments that created such chaos both in UK and Europe would not last long.
In any case there will still need to be a deal in each of those areas. The idea of ‘no deal’ is fanciful.
If UK just walked away from all its commitments and relationship with Europe, which country would subsequently have any confidence that UK would stick to any deal?
There’s also a lot of nonsense that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – in an environment where there is clearly insufficient time for every detail to be resolved. Sensible politicians will make agreements of principle and resolve the detail later.
The true cost of this crazy Brexit enterprise is becoming increasingly apparent.
In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.
This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later. So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]
It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.
And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!
Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons
The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.
They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.
There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.
Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.
The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.
It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.
When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.
Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.
Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.
If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.
These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.
Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons
I was interested in this post from The Two Doctors which brings philosophy into the consideration of wine tasting. He writes of the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704):
“Among Locke’s simple ideas is a distinction between those experiences that are primary qualities of objects and others that are secondary qualities. The distinction divides those qualities thought to be essential and inherent to all objects and those that are apparent only on account of the effect that the objects have on our senses. Primary qualities include solidity, shape, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities are those such as scent and taste. These are secondary because, according to Locke, they do not inhere/reside in the objects themselves, but are causally produced only in our minds by the effect of an object’s primary qualities upon our senses. Another way of conceiving them is to say primary qualities are objective (really exist) and secondary ones subjective (only exist in the minds of observers).”
This suggests an interesting point in history, where a judgement is applied to the inner/outer or subjective/objective polarity that lies at the heart of existence. In defining the objective (left brain) stuff as primary, and the subjective (right brain) stuff as merely secondary, Locke is applying a judgement that resounds in history, leading to the modern materialistic world and much denial of interiority and spirituality.
Locke could have expressed it the other way round, ie that the subjective is primary (really exists) and the objective merely secondary (only exists as a mental construct). This might have led to a world view where consciousness is seen as primary, rather than the material world. How different history might have been!
Of course, actually there’s no question of primary and secondary, we are speaking of two aspects of a fundamental polarity of existence.
The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.
Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.
Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.
Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.
The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.
Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons
At first sight this image looks rather dark and unpromising, and yet on the other hand I find it a very pleasing composition. It was taken in the deep gloom of gathering dusk; the ability of a handheld modern camera to give a image of this level of brightness and detail in such circumstances is quite amazing.
The featured image shows a cut of the original image, centred on the two human figures and their dogs. The lack of detail due to the low light gives a rather impressionistic picture, which is also quite pleasing.
Picture taken end June 2018 in auto mode by Panasonic ZX100
on the Wirral Way near Thursaston, Wirral, UK.
The fennel flowers in our garden seem to get larger year by year, and prove a great attraction for bees and hoverflies. These are honey bees (check this Woodland Trust guide or Nearby Wild to distinguish from hoverflies).
The flower heads provide a fine picture, even without the bee.
Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor, a message to all of us embedded in the constant involvement with media and other busyness:
“Be gentle with your mind.
Don’t overload it with demands
or fill it with too much information
or pressurise it with too many deadlines
until it frazzles with strain
and refuses to work for you anymore.
Your mind isn’t a machine; it’s a sensitive artist.
It gets agitated easily, if conditions aren’t right.
And then it can’t think clearly, or give birth to new ideas and insights.
The energies of your mind are pure and powerful, like a clear fresh stream,
but they get polluted easily, if you don’t protect its environment.
And then you feel uneasy, as if your life is out of harmony,
and the world is conspiring against you.
So be gentle with your mind.
Give it time to rest and regenerate.
Allow it to be filled with space, not clogged up with information.
Allow it to be soothed with quietness, not bombarded with stimuli.
Let it be open and clear, so that you can feel its ease and stillness.
Let it be a pure channel, so that the universe can flow through it,
directly into you.”
Featured image shows Dee Estuary when sun going down
At first sight you might think this is an old and rather scraggy butterfly, but it’s actually a comma in rude health. With wings outstretched this butterfly is quite spectacular. This one wouldn’t co-operate, but the underside of the wing visible here is also rather beautiful, and the white comma is clearly displayed.
I found an article in the 21st July edition of The Economist quite intriguing. It analysed the results of a YouGov poll in June 2018 which actually did a 3-way poll on preferences for Remain, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit (as suggested in June by MP Justine Greening). The intriguing part was that several voting systems were used.
First past the post: 1. Remain 40, 2. Hard 37, 3. Soft 14
Shows the country deeply divided. Few people profess to want the soft Brexit being pursued by Theresa May.
Alternative Vote: 1. Hard 47, 2. Remain 44
When the 14% soft votes are apportioned according to second preferences, the result is reversed and Hard wins. Of course, this pretty well reflects the result of the 2016 referendum.
When people are asked to compare the options, two at a time, Soft comes out as the winner. So deep down this suggests that the soft Brexit being pursued by Mrs May is the compromise that in the end satisfies most people.
Beware voting system!
Although plausible, a three-way referendum could actually be rather problematic and totally dependent on the voting system used, let alone the interference effects of Big Money and Russian Bots!
I think this is a red legged shield bug or forest bug, which appeared on granddaughter’s hand in Chirk. Being around 1cm long, it proved quite difficult to photograph with my travel zoom. This was the best shot.
These common bugs are sap feeders often seen on oak trees, which were prevalent where we were.
I’ve long found inspiration and sustenance from the beauty and simplicity of the Cistercian abbeys, still found in various states of repair across Europe. For me their simplicity of form is unfailingly beautiful.
In this context I’ve also been aware of the towering spiritual figure of St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the main instigators of the Cistercian movement, and wondered what sort of person he might have been.
So I couldn’t resist the book ‘The Spirit of Simplicity’, being translations of classical French texts by that modern spiritual seeker Thomas Merton. The book is in two parts. The first part is a text with the book’s title, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Chautard in the mid 1920s. The second part contains selected texts by St Bernard himself on Inner Simplicity. Could this explain what lay behind the beauty of those old Abbeys?
The original Cistercian movement was one of renewal, aiming to return to the Rule of the monastic life originally established by St Benedict (c. 480-550 AD). Inner simplicity was a founding principle, and from this flowed the external simplicity of the forms created. The fathers of the first Abbey at Citeaux in the early 1100s were dedicated to this.
Chautard suggests that there was a golden age of 150 years for the Cistercian movement, when this simplicity was effectively maintained. This was followed by a silver age of another 100 years when it was not so effectively maintained and embellishments crept in. After the middle of the 14th century decline set in – with several causes: the Black Death, religious wars, and then the Reformation. (Paradoxically, Protestantism saw a return to simplicity in the form of religious buildings. Many of the older decorated Gothic buildings now show an almost Cistercian simplicity.) Another renewal movement at the end of the 19th century ensured that there are still some Cistercian Abbeys operating today.
St Bernard himself is regarded as the finest exemplar of the movement. The second part of the book contains his reflections on that simplicity, the need for humility, and obedience in the context of the monk’s life, the importance of the monk knowing himself – so actually quite modern psychologically – the overcoming of pride and dedication to the love of God.
I was quite struck by one particular quote:
And what greater pride is there than that one man should try to impose his own opinion upon the whole community, as if he alone had the spirit of God?
Modern dictators and populists please note. Pride always comes before a fall.
So the outer simplicity of the Cistercian abbey is a reflection of the inner simplicity of the monks. The evident beauty is a reflection of the inner beauty of their souls.
I would not suggest that the life of a monk is right for everyone, but it is clear that this dedication to inner simplicity produces this wonderful contribution to the beauty in the world. Go see some of these superb buildings for yourself – Fountains Abbey in UK, Fontenay, Senanques, Silvacane, Fontfroide, Pontigny and many others in France, Orval in Belgium. There are far too many to list them all. Here are just a few random selected photos.
Orval chapter house
For most, you must travel to less frequented parts of the country. The communities were built to be self sufficient, away from centres of population. These journeys provide a scenic mini pilgrimage in themselves. Even the less well preserved abbeys, such as Abbeycwmhir in an isolated valley in mid-Wales, once one of the largest abbeys in the UK, have a special atmosphere about them.
And the book is certainly very readable if it aligns with your interest. Merton knew his stuff.
Ideas from a talk given by Patrice Brasseur at 2017 World Goodwill seminar, summarised in World Goodwill Newsletter. The quotes are from Patrice’s talk.
Truth is only a symbol or representation of reality, which is always something more.
“The quest for truth is a mental process of discerning, of understanding the fundamental laws of the Real; and this Real is always beyond the truth we are to approach.”
Until we become genuinely intuitive, we will struggle with the many different symbols of truth in the mind. All truths are partial and need to be grounded in personal experience to work out.
For example, if we hear that “Everything is one”, can we integrate this understanding into daily life? If we do so, we may find that our attitudes to others change, with increasing interest in cooperation and a broader expression of brotherhood. It is by applying truths in this way that we can convince ourselves of their validity “we must become scientists of the inner life.” In so doing we learn that every truth forms a part of a wider truth, and our understanding can continue to widen:
“At whatever level we may be, the truth is always the next step.”
So we may say that we do not go from error to truth, but that we progress from smaller partial truths to larger ones. In that sense the truth is everywhere, no matter where we stand on the path of the evolution of consciousness.
“Truth is the certainty to which everyone has access according to his or her level of consciousness, the certainty that serves as a basis for his or her evolution, up to the next step.”
This helps us to understand that every teaching is true, as all are useful at specific points on the evolutionary journey; and once a teaching has been integrated, one can move on to wider truths, but those teachings still remain useful to those who have not yet encountered them. This underlines the need for continuing education.
All truths are not equal – the more global in application a truth is, the more important it is. But we should not neglect smaller local truths because of this. The main question we should ask ourselves regularly is “What useful truth am I willing to implement?”
The global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are not the final truths for the planet, but are a very useful stepping stone that everyone can grasp.
It seems the indoctrination starts early. At six-and-a-half years old, granddaughter brought home from school some beautifully drawn pictures marked with whether the objects shown are living or non-living. Trees, bushes and people are living; necklaces, houses, chairs and flags are non-living. We all recognise this because this is how we were brought up. It’s so obvious to us it even feels intuitively ‘right’. Yet does it bear scrutiny? Or is it part of the materialistic backdrop to our culture that has no basis in reality?
Consider the well-accepted theory of evolution, and the story of coalescing of planets around our solar system, the combination of atoms into molecules, molecules into bigger molecules, into viruses, bacteria, fungi and other primitive life forms, gradually increasing in complexity to plants, fishes, birds, animals and eventually human beings. At precisely what point in this process did the ‘living’ start? How can there be an answer to this question?
This is related to my post on materialism – if we accept that everything has an inner and an outer, then there is no artificial boundary between the living and the non-living. Obviously there are qualities of ‘livingness’ in those interiors that we recognise with immediate perception. There are other qualities that we have maybe become desensitised to, compared to earlier cultures that were more embedded in the stream of being, or perhaps the imaginal world in the terms of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book reviewed in another post. (Maybe some of them were called gods?)
Let’s just consider the example of a river. Rivers are clearly coherent wholes that exhibit apparently intelligent activity, changing flow, changing channel, increasing or decreasing width according to circumstances. We even personify them, eg ‘old man river’. But the interior of a river is something we cannot logically comprehend. It does not mean it is not there, but it is well beyond petty human concerns. Just sit by the river for a few hours and you might begin to comprehend.
Then there is the earth and the solar system itself. How can we say these are not living beings, which has always been well understood in the ageless wisdom?
And then there’s the question of death, and what happens to the inner livingness…
The mystery is always greater than our verbal comprehension of it.
Featured image shows bonnet mold on feces, with dew
by Andrea massagli via Wikimedia Commons