On the balcony – Introduction

November 26, 2014

I have decided to embark on a photographic journey.

The project will be called ‘on the balcony’. My task will be to take one photograph from my apartment balcony, every day between 18h00 and 19h00 for 30 consecutive days.

Being ‘on the balcony’ will mean that I will be in the same place and at the same time everyday to look out and to see what I see. This will challenge me to look out into the world through the lens of diversity and expansion.

While I do not know what is going to emerge in the creative process, I am keen to see what visual possibilities become a reality over the 30 day period. I believe that each day will present its own image to me. I just need to be open to what is  going to be presented. Zen philosophy talks about the beginners mind as being open to all the possibilities that are in front of you. I know that this is easier said than done, since we become accustomed (and rigid) in how we view (and think about) our world around us. The project is going to challenge my usual perspective and require that I look out into the visual space in a different way each day. I am excited at this prospect.

I am also hoping that each photograph will sensitize me to a simple, yet meaningful life lesson. But I am not too sure if this will occur. So I will see what unfolds on this level.

I will present the photographs in five weekly posts of 6 photographs. I intend to follow up the photographs with a concluding post, trying to capture what I experienced and learned in the process.

I do not have any particular view about how this project will unfold. There is actually nothing hinging on it. Unlike a school project, there will be no grades of pass or fail. I am thankful for that. I will trust the process and try as best as I can to be open to all that is in front of me.

Let’s see what happens. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

The balcony

The balcony


Researcher of self – a journey into the unknown

November 21, 2014

On a fundamental level, scientific research requires that the researcher move from the known into the unknown. Dr Uri Alon, believes that scientific research is an emotionally taxing process due to the necessity of this movement.

However, it is interesting that this emotional component of the research process is not usually discussed, revealed and/or acknowledged in the final published research article. In fact, the published article usually presents a rather cold, detached perspective of the process. This belies the intensely personal and emotional dimension of the research journey.

By its nature, research needs to reveal what has not yet been discovered. Present understanding (and knowledge) of any phenomenon is based on what is already known. However, what is already known offers no security to the researcher as the research process moves into the unknown. That is the paradox of the process: ‘knowing what exists, does not offer any comfort for what needs to be discovered’.

While the researcher will have a hypothesis (research question) that will guide the investigation in the beginning, it cannot be relied on to offer emotional support to the researcher when he/she is confronted with messy data and information that may not make any logical sense based on existing knowledge. Given this, researchers need support and encouragement at a time when they are most confused in the process; since it is in this confusion that the seeds of new insights and discoveries exist.

I consider the ‘unknown’ to be a vast undiscovered, undifferentiated world of complexity and paradox. While the scientist may enter this world with a hypothesis, he/she actually needs a huge amount of courage and persistence to deal with the complexity of the unknown. Feelings of confusion, doubt and uncertainty will reign supreme as the researcher steps into this world. In addition the ‘unknown’ is a master at blocking the movement of the researcher, often causing immobilization and despair.

But paradoxically, the ‘block’ in the research process is actually the most significant feedback loop to the researcher. It tells the researcher that (a) a new way of thinking is required, (b) existing assumptions need to be examined, (c) new information or considerations need to included, and/or (d) the direction of the inquiry may need to change.

Skyline drive, Virginia

Skyline drive, Virginia

As a clinician, I believe that each of us is an unique, evolutionary unfolding of integrated energy and information. Our uniqueness is expressed in how we reveal our energy to others; as well as, how our worldview (deepest beliefs and assumptions of ourselves, others and life) influences our thinking and interaction patterns, which in turn determines how our life unfolds.

A healthy energetic and informational system expands in a balanced, creative way, moving towards more diversity and complexity. In addition, at the core of the system, there is a dynamic balance of opposites that co-exist.

There are times, however, when you may feel blocked, stuck and see no possibilities/potentialities ahead. Feeling blocked is life’s feedback message that says: ‘you cannot continue with your old ways or old path’. A new way forward, which still needs to be discovered, is required.

On a general level, you may feel stuck over time if you do not:

  • consider all the relevant complexity of the situation that you are dealing with,
  • examine some of your tacit assumptions that may unknowingly be causing the self-defeating and destructive behaviours,
  • acknowledge your own part in creating the problem,
  • step back to reflect on the process, instead of repeatedly trying to force your perspective onto the situation that you are encountering,
  • loosen the rigid perspective that you may have and instead consider the exact opposite of what you believe,
  • have the courage to become the researcher of self.

As the researcher of self, you will be challenged to examine your thinking and interaction patterns in a reflective way. Just as in the scientific research process, you will be required to expand your knowledge of self, and move into the yet to be discovered, unknown parts of yourself. These aspects or dynamics of yourself may appear to be confusing or unacceptable, thus making it difficult to acknowledge. This will be an emotionally challenging process that requires courage and persistence as you explore parts of yourself that may not make logical sense initially. But as the reflective process unfolds and you gain deeper insights into the dynamics of self (which were previously unknown and undiscovered), a new understanding and respect of self starts unfolding. And with this, new potentialities to move forward come to the fore.

Ongoing journey

Ongoing journey


The complexity of diets

November 6, 2014

Magnus Heystek wrote an interesting article in which he questions whether the fad diet of low carbohydrate, high protein, high fat (LCHF Banting diet) that Tim Noakes has been so outspoken about and strongly crusading for, is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.

Ponzi schemes activate a fanatical, excessive, ‘all-knowing’ feeling that underpins a belief that exponential growth is guaranteed. It is a scam in which gullible public are enticed with the promise of very high returns in a very short time. It is also purported that these higher returns could not be found elsewhere for the investment being made. The power of the Ponzi scheme is the certainty, confidence and persuasiveness in how the founders and disciples of the scheme convince others to join the party.

Twenty odd years ago, Noakes was a proponent of carbo-loading for endurance sports. Only protein was eaten 3/4 days prior to an event, followed by the excessive consumption of carbohydrates a day or so before the day of competition. At the time, Noakes backed up this theory with lots of ‘scientific’ research in a book that he had written. He believed and made it known that this regime would guarantee improved performance. Most athletes followed this practice, no questions were asked. It was considered ‘fact’ because it was being advocated by a renowned scientist.

There are three sources of energy that humans consume and food is actually the least important. Breathing and drinking are more fundamental and significant than eating. If you stop eating and only breathe and consume water, you would probably live for about 60 days (depending on your constitution and the reasons for the extreme fast). If you stopped drinking water, you would probably last for 7 days. And if you stopped breathing? Probably 5 minutes? This was a well known fact that many of the wise masters/teachers understood many, many years ago. Conscious, mindful, relaxed breathing was considered an essential part to sustain health and enhance energy levels. Softer, internal exercise such as yoga, tai chi and meditation are embedded in the practice of breath.

Clean, unpolluted air and water is a bigger global issue than food and diets. Our environment has become toxic. Many of the dams, lakes and rivers in South Africa are polluted. Acid water from mines and bacterial E coli are frequently found in the water. Of greater concern, however, is the shortage of water being experienced in the country. Not many South Africans are even aware of this major problem.

There is a big psychological component to eating and dieting. This is more evident in societies that have an abundance of food. Obsessiveness, self-image and control issues can play themselves out around what we eat, when we eat and how much we eat.

Rousseau (2012) mentions a research study that examines four different diets that were tested on 811 overweight adults over a two year monitoring period. The diets varied in the amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of the four diets. The conclusion of the research was that ‘any type of diet, when taught for the purpose of weight loss with enthusiasm and persistence, can be effective’. Further, ‘reduced-calorie diets resulted in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macro nutrients they emphasise’. In other words, eating less is the important thing when it comes to weight loss, rather than what you eat.

In the 1990’s sport science was becoming more and more prominent in the world of elite sport. Technical and tactical information, video analysis, specially designed training programmes, conditioning, nutrition and dietary supplements all became part of the athlete’s preparation. In 1992, the Kenyan middle/long/marathon distance runners were dominating world events to the extent that 2 or 3 of their runners ended up with medals time and time again. I was interested in this and did some of my own research to investigate what was behind this success. I found that if their diet was measured according to our Western standards they would be considered undernourished. They did not go to gyms for training. They did not know how to work the sophisticated machinery that populate our gyms. They had no scientific training programmes, nor had any conditioning coaching. While there may have been physical and physiological factors that favoured them, these were not clearly measurable, and/or so vastly different from all the other athletes they competed against. So what then was underlying their success? They lived and trained at altitude. As children they ran everywhere. Running was their only mode of transport. More importantly, they trained together as a pack under the supervision of a catholic missionary who offered them emotional support. In their training they acquired a pack mentality where there was co-operative competitiveness in the group. During races they broke down their opposition much the same way as a pack of wild dogs do while hunting down their prey.

On a fundamental level, most modern industrialised societies eat too much refined and processed food that contain corn syrup and sugar, causing health issues. The addiction to sugar and processed food has a physiological and psychological component. Most processed foods are comfort foods. Prepared processed foods are readily available in vast quantities as well. In a consumer driven society, processed foods are convenient and are guzzled at a rapid rate. In today’s world, there is constant rush and ‘quick meals’ on the run, are the order of the day. Proper preparation of food usually takes time and effort. It has also been said that proper preparation of food is an endeavour of love and care.

By definition, healthy eating will exclude refined, processed foods as much as possible. This is pure common sense.

As a clinician I have noticed that a person’s relationship with food is driven by a personality dynamic that matches (or reflects) the way a person (a) deals with life demands and (b) interacts with others in life in general. For example, if a person is controlling and obsessive in his dealings with others, he/she will most likely be controlling and obsessive about food and diet.

My own personal philosophy is what dictates my eating habits, and the attitude and relationship I have to food. I have been following a vegetarian diet for 30 years. This decision was not due to poor health, but rather was based on my own personal philosophical view of life. I do not eat red meats, chicken or fish. I believe that I have managed to get all of the necessary nutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) eating all of the diverse foods that are available. Throughout this time, I have not put on weight and am blessed with good health. However, I do not take my health for granted, since I see health as an ongoing, never-ending mindful process of care of oneself. I exercise regularly and my eating habits are based on moderation, balance and simplicity.

Our competitive industrial Western societies do not take easily to the ideas of moderation, balance and simplicity. New ideas or fads that make you feel that you are one-up or better than others are quickly embraced and gobbled up in a fanatical frenzy, especially if significant rewards are received in the short-term. Quick fixes and short-cuts often lie at the heart of a fad. At present, there is just too much talking, selling and hype that surrounds the LCHF diet. It is for this reason that Heystek suggests that the LCHF diet that is being so strongly advocated by Noakes feels like a Ponzi scheme.

I recently watched a pied kingfisher dive and dive for food. Despite his numerous attempts no food was forthcoming. That is the harsh reality of nature. Despite this, nature continues to sustain itself in a dynamic way since the food chain is interwoven in a delicate, inter-dependent fabric. There are no excesses. Everything is in balance.

Never-ending persistence...

Never-ending persistence…

Working for food

Working for food…

Again and again...

Again and again…


Before and after can assist in understanding the tragic moment

May 14, 2014

This morning, the judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial will decide whether he will be admitted for psychiatric evaluation in a mental institution.

When asked to comment about the prosecution’s intention to file for a court order to have him undergo psychiatric evaluation, Oscar Pistorius revealed a part of himself that concerns me. He stated that it was ‘a joke’.

While I know that this comment has an interpersonal context of meaning that should be considered, the words ‘a joke’ tells a story about Oscar that suggests that he has absolutely no idea of the severity of the death of Reeva Steenkamp and the present situation that he finds himself in. I feel that his comment reflects little or no remorse, little or no respect for the legal process, and actually suggests that he believes that there is nothing wrong with him psychologically. This suggests delusional thinking and indicates that he may have narcissistic tendencies, coupled with an inability to assume responsibility for his actions.

According to the defence psychiatrist, Oscar Pistorius has been suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) from a young age. The report presented by the forensic psychiatrist was based on an evaluation of Oscar Pistorius that was conducted after he had actually testified in court.

Based on (a) the evidence given by the defence psychiatrist and (b) how the defence has been perceived to be tailoring evidence as the court proceedings have unfolded, the prosecution has responded by filing for a court order to have him undergo psychiatric evaluation for a minimum of 30 days in a state mental institution. A full psychiatric evaluation can then take place that will offer a deeper and broader insight into the personality and emotional dynamics of Oscar Pistorius.

The mental state of a person is fairly fluid and forever changing. While there may be a predominant tendency in the way a person interacts, it is always necessary to look at: (a) the before and (b) the after; in order to fully understand the mental state of a person at a particular ‘moment in time’. In this way, mental dynamics are considered to be fluid and evolving over time.

In trying to piece together some of the information that has unfolded during the case some tentative ideas are forwarded:

Before the shooting

In an article on the tragedy of Oscar Pistorius, I stated that there were a number of smaller incidents leading up to the death of Reeva Steenkamp that were indicating that a destructive cycle was unfolding. I believe that these warning signs were driven by a complex dynamic between his feelings of vulnerability and his feelings of omnipotence.

  • Ongoing incidents that suggest that a destructive cycle is unfolding
  • Obsession with guns
  • Paranoia regarding his security
  • Feelings of vulnerability
  • Self-absorbed, narcissistic tendencies
  • Competitive and dominant
  • Issues of abandonment
  • Issues around his disability
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

After the shooting

  • An intensification of his generalized anxiety disorder
  • Dealing with post traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Inability to fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation he finds himself in

I believe that Oscar Pistorius is presently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; and has been over the past 15 months since the shooting. Throughout the court case he has had to relive and replay the tragedy over and over again. The vivid images of the crime scene are powerful visual stimuli that would continually reactivate the experience for him again and again. In the process, there is no respite and relief from the trauma.

At the moment of the tragedy

I hypothesise that Oscar was having to deal with intense emotionality just prior to the shooting that may have caused a moment of irrationality. More specifically, I believe that he was having to deal with either intense anger or intense fear at the very moment of the shooting. He was unable to control these intense powerful feelings. This inability activated him to act out. To shoot another human being requires that you be in either one of these two extreme emotional states (unless you are a psychopath with little or no conscience). While the shots were being fired, I believe that there may have been a dissociation that took place. Dissociation is a defence mechanism that acts like a ‘trip switch’ on a electrical circuit board. During this dissociation, very little memory occurs and the event is experienced as a blur.

In trying to explain to the court about what happened on that night, Oscar came across as being inconsistent, evasive and defensive. In listening to his testament, there was a pervasive feeling that there is a hidden truth that has not been fully revealed.

I feel that a full psychological evaluation of Oscar Pistorius would go a long way to help the court gain deeper insights into his functioning at the moment of the shooting and the detail leading up to the tragedy. Undergoing such a thorough assessment will not be a joke – if anything it highlights the seriousness of the tragedy.

Desolate

Desolate


A traumatic 3-0 whitewash will usher in a harsh winter

February 15, 2014

Before the start of the cricket test series against Australia, captain Graeme Smith stated that his team would do the talking on the field of play. This was in response to some of the media comments that the Australians had made in the build-up to the series.

The severe defeat that the South Africans suffered at the hands of the Australians in the 1st test raises the question of whether they will be able to do much talking on the field in the next two tests. The manner in which the team capitulated in the heat of battle must now be of much concern to the players. This loss may have caused significant emotional and mental damage. Only time will tell the extent of the wounds that this defeat has caused.

The South African cricket team are in a vulnerable, unstable state at the moment – this may be a watershed test series for them.

In the past, the South African team has been able to recover from their pattern of having a poor start in a series. This time, it may be one too many of those poor starts since it is unlikely that this Australian team will offer them any respite from the bombardment on both the batting and bowling fronts. There will be no place to hide during the battle.

I have doubts about whether the South Africans will be able to recover from this 1st test defeat. A 3-0 whitewash is a serious possibility, if the team is unable to respond quick enough to the situation they find themselves in.

On the batting front, most of the batsmen seemed afraid, uncomfortable and ill equipped to deal with the pace and bounce of Johnson. It was interesting to see how one opponent was able to unsettle and cause terror in a group. Much courage will be needed from the batsmen.

The bowlers seemed ineffective and lethargic. The attack was totally dominated by the Australian batsmen, with three centuries being scored against them. Greater intensity and consistency will be required from the bowlers.

A 3-0 whitewash will usher in a harsh winter for the South African test team.

Seasons can change dramatically for teams. The England cricket team is a case in point. Everything seemed rosy at the start of their Ashes tour, only for powerful downward vortexes to destroy the holistic fabric of the team. The casualties suffered by the English team highlighted the severity of a harsh, unexpected winter. It usually takes a couple of years for a team to recover from such a traumatic event.

All teams go through processes of decay – no team can escape it. As part of the decay, the older experienced players decide to retire, get dropped or get injured. They are no longer up for the fight. Years of battle have made them weary. Some start feeling afraid and vulnerable, but cannot show it. This is a very difficult period in the natural phases of a team’s evolution. It can be likened to the start of a winter, where there is very little growth.

Seasons come and go and fortunately spring follows winter. But usually spring does not follow quick enough since the re-building phase that is necessary in a team just before the onset of a winter is invariably delayed since management tends to hold onto the ‘old’ for too long, thus prolonging the severity and length of the winter period that the team will have to endure.

On a recent visit to the USA I experienced extreme winter temperatures below -20C that were caused by, what meteorologists termed, an ‘Arctic/Polar Vortex’. The frozen water feature outside the house was testament to the severity of the cold. As South Africans, we are seldom faced with such extreme weather conditions.

The frozen grip of the Polar Vortex - Richmond, January 2014

The frozen grip of the Polar Vortex – Richmond, January 2014


Galloping into 2014

January 7, 2014

In the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the year of the horse. In it’s wild, untamed state, the horse is a noble, independent animal that enjoys the freedom of movement.

Chincoteague and Assateague are islands, situated on the Atlantic east coast of Virginia, USA are known for their herds of wild horses. On a recent trip to Assateague I wondered if I would be lucky enough to spot one of these elusive horses. As it so happened I was gifted with a rare sighting.

A wild horse on Assateague island

A wild horse on Assateague island

While travelling to Assateague the car broke down. We were forced to re-plan, to deal with this mishap. Being stranded in an unfamiliar place kicked up anxiety. We felt vulnerable. It is only in times such as this that one realizes how important having independent transport is and how this enhances and supports ones feelings of security and strength. However, after hiring a car and having lost a large chunk of time we were back on the road towards our destination.

After this hiccup in our journey there was discussion in the car, about modes of travel, horses, and hindrances in reaching our destination.

We were only staying one night on the island of Chincoteague, since Assateague was a nature reserve that did not offer any accommodation.

While standing on the balcony of the hotel room in Chincoteague, I looked to my left. It was just before sunrise, overcast and cold. I focused on a house in the distance that was on the edge of the water. Above the house, the clouds filled the sky. The was no possibility for a single sun ray to penetrate the thick cloudy blanket. The water in front of the house was still. It offered a perfect mirror to create a dreamy, fluffy reflection that matched everything that existed above.

Looking to the left just before sunrise

Looking to the left just before sunrise

After an outing, I returned to my room mid-morning. Once again standing on the balcony, I looked out to the right. A beautiful perspective of lines and simplicity was in front of me. The full blanket of clouds had broken. The natural clear blue sky was coming through. A bridge surrounded by a strip of golden coloured reeds and marshy vegetation separated the distant sky from the still water.

Looking to the right at mid-morning, 10h30

Looking to the right at mid-morning

Perspective and point-of-view are what determines our explanations and interpretations of the experiences we have in our lives. As we gallop into the new year, we will no doubt encounter our challenges and mishaps. Our journeys may be temporarily halted. It is during such times that we need to be aware of our perspective. The two perspectives standing on the balcony highlighted the following for me:

  • Conditions change as time unfolds
  • A clear distant goal emerges out of a sea of murky possibilities
  • There are at least two perspectives when standing in one place – try and access both of these
  • Look for a clear, simple straight line to your goal
  • Look for the bridge that joins two distinct (and maybe opposing) worlds
  • Keep still to allow reflection
  • Try and access the beauty that surrounds you

Wishing you all an exciting new year.


Battle for food

December 17, 2013

I was out walking the streets of Richmond in Virginia looking for urban art to photograph. Out of nowhere, a raptor (which I later identified as a red-tailed hawk), with prey in its talons settled on the top of a street pole right in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes (and luck) as I witnessed this sighting. This was such an unusual sight in the middle of an urban context of a city, where wild life seldom ventures.

IMG_0717

IMG_0726

I only had my 50mm lens on my camera and couldn’t get closer to the action. While this lens was perfect for the intended use of street art, I hankered after my telescopic lens while snapping away at the raptor as it was eating the squirrel it had caught.

And then…the attack.

IMG_0732

IMG_0733-2

The hawk enjoying its meal spread its wings over the prey as its competitor descended. A brief scuffle ensued, with the intruder being driven off. The hungry hawk found its own perch as it re-assessed its next move.

IMG_0755-2

The attack came again…

IMG_0768-2

IMG_0767-2

IMG_0769

And off they flew over the high rise buildings; the ‘have’ fleeing the ‘have not’.

While not so openly evident, the tense dynamic between ‘those that have’ and those that are in desperate need, also exists with humans. In the USA, for example, statistics show that the few rich are getting richer, while the many poor are getting poorer. And of concern is that the gap is widening as time unfolds.

As I gathered myself, I re-focused on my original task…looking for urban art.

IMG_0357


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers