Same old, same old

February 7, 2015

Every cricket team leaves our shores with much hope, promise and high expectancy to win an ICC tournament, only to return with regret, failure, disappointment and shock.

The 2015 World Cup team left with a send off that usually only champions receive on their return, after winning a major tournament. So much pomp and ceremony and embarrassing speeches from dignitaries about losers, winning, uniting our nation and slogans were the order of the day. There was lots of winning talk, lots of excitement, lots of hype. Our team was paraded on a stage wearing designer sunglasses and jewelry, supporting the latest fashion hair styles, and smiling and waving to the adoring crowd. Interviews were conducted and television cameras rolled to record all the positive, obvious and meaningless talk from the players.

I remember the acknowledged embarrassment of the successful Brazilian soccer coach Carlos Parreira, when our national soccer team paraded through the streets of Sandton before the start of the 2010 World Cup. When asked what he thought of the parade, he stated that he had never been involved in a pre-tournament parade, without any results to warrant it.

At a press conference the South African cricket coach stated that the Proteas were mentally strong. He made a similar comment in November last year on his team’s return after losing 4-1 in a series against Australia. The captain, AB de Villiers stated that his team should have beaten the Australians since they were always in winning positions but the critical moments in the matches went against them. If what they were saying is to be believed, then without realising it the coach and captain were in fact inadvertently acknowledging that the team had actually choked in their matches against Australia.

It seems that the leadership in the team do not have any idea about how the self-fulfilling prophecy of choking gets perpetuated. Adamant denial, exaggerated expectancy and intense desperation to prove one’s worth are the nutrients for sustaining the choking issue at tournaments.

There have been comments made that this cricket team is different from those in the past. I am not too sure what criteria has been used to draw such a conclusion. While we do have our match-winning super stars in AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the choking issue by-passes the individual level and instead exists in the unconscious, group psyche of the team.

There are going to be many unexpected, critical moments during the tournament that will test the psyche of whoever is in the middle of that particular unfolding event. The choking process can be likened to a haunted house. While there may be bravado while the sun is still up, at the stroke of 12 at midnight the nerve of whoever is in the haunted house will be severely tested.

I wish our cricket team the best of luck in the tournament. However, I feel that there is so much of the ‘same old, same old’ again in how the team and its leadership and administration have gone about speaking about the need to bring the trophy home. Such words are the building blocks of creating the very reality for us to fold under pressure again. Having said this, I hope that I am proved wrong.

During a recent visit to the Kruger National Park, I watched in amazement at how a little pied kingfisher hunted for its trophy. It was rewarded with a trophy that I couldn’t believe that it was capable of getting. It was a real treat just watching it enjoy its meal.

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Abstraction and projection

January 28, 2015

While doing some abstract photography, I could not stop thinking about the phenomenon of projection and creativity when encountering abstraction.

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The mind does not like ambiguity. Instead, it wants to get closure and definiteness, as quickly as possible. The mind finds it difficult to accept open-ended processes that may not have a clear, defined goal.

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When your mind confronts an abstraction or an ‘unknown’ entity, there is a tendency to project your own interpretation onto the situation based on your assumptions, unique cognitive structures and past experiential knowledge. This interpretation tells you more about yourself than the actual situation you are trying to make sense of.

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Many years ago, I underwent professional training into interpreting the Rorschach test responses of clients. The Rorschach test is a projective test of images that the client has to interpret and tell a story. That interpretation was then interpreted and analysed by the psychologist and certain hypotheses and inferences were drawn about the functioning of the client and the potential emotional struggles that the client may be encountering.

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According to the psycho-dynamic theory of Freud, projection is considered to be a defence mechanism. When utilising this defence mechanism, a person projects an unacceptable, negative unconscious part of him/herself onto another person. For example, if a person is very judgemental, he/she may deny this and instead project this onto another person and state, ‘you are judgemental’ (as opposed to acknowledging this aspect within him/herself).

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Abstraction creates an unease on one level, yet intrigue on another. It is in the interaction of unease and intrigue that creativity exists.

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The creative process is an expansive process where the mind projects new meaning onto the ‘unknown’. Creativity does not lose interest in abstraction. It thrives on it.

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A creative mind always looks at the ‘ordinary’ in a different way. Creativity is meaningful projection that adds a different perspective to the situation being encountered.

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Four perspectives, one reality

January 22, 2015

When consulting with my clients, I am acutely aware that a single fixed reality does not exist when it comes to perceptions of experiences in relationships. I have heard the old adage that there is always two sides to a story, being expanded to include a third perspective which is ‘the truth’. I wondered about ‘the truth’ aspect after taking some photographs of the reflections of water.

As humans, we are complex informational systems that use language to convey our perspective. However, language falls short to fully explain and describe what we are truly seeing, hearing, thinking and feeling. In addition, our perspective of our experiences depends on our worldview and life philosophy, which is derived from our accumulation of knowledge, experiences and historical family values and interpretations about the nature of life. Our worldview is unique as each one of us is unfolding and evolving in a unique way.

Four reflections, one water.

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The photographs above were taken of the same water in a dam, within a 15 minute period. What I saw in the water depended on where I stood, and where I looked. In addition, the reflections were influenced by whether there was sunlight, and if there was, the amount and the direction of the sun rays. The wind also played its part in influencing the ripples.


On the balcony – Reflection

January 16, 2015

Zurich put on a beautiful fireworks display to usher in the New Year.

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Zurich – heralding in the New Year

Zurich - Welcome 2015

Welcome 2015!

Being on the balcony seems in the distant past. While there is a part of me that wants to leave it there (especially since I have been away), I did commit to do a reflection of the process in order to tease out some of my most significant learning. I want to honour that commitment.

How it started

The first thought that I have as I begin writing, is that the project started as a personal, private endeavour. I took my first photograph looking out into the distant, expansive East. After taking the photograph, I remember reading about a photographer who took (I think) 30 photographs of the same scene, in the same place, at the same time, and looked at the change that unfolded across the photographs taken. While this activated my thinking regarding the project, I felt I needed a slightly different challenge. I did not feel inspired to always set up the camera in the same way, with the same lens, and take the same scene with the same camera settings.

As I looked out from the balcony, my predominant thought was that there was so much in front of me. I wondered what I would capture if I took 30 photographs from the same place (on the balcony) and at the same time period (18h00 – 19h00)? There was a vast, complex sea of visual information that surrounded me. The question of where my eyes would look and what photograph would emerge intrigued me.

I wanted the process to expand and challenge my usual ways of looking at the world.

After taking my first 3 or 4 photographs, only then did I decide to share my experience through my blog articles. As part of my blog, I also decided to extend the challenge and see what meaningful life lesson (if any) would be triggered by the photograph that I had taken.

Walking onto the balcony

Before walking onto the balcony, I never could anticipate what photograph I would take. So I could not plan for each day. In fact, the process called for me to do the opposite and walk onto the balcony with no preconceived thoughts about what would unfold.

As I walked onto the balcony, I thought of myself as a blank, clean canvass that was going to be imprinted. I needed to be open to what the visual field would offer me.

Being on the balcony

Once I stepped onto the balcony, my intention was to create. A significant part of the creative process is performance. On a basic level, performance and creation are processes that have an end result. Since the end result is a consequence of the dynamic interaction between oneself and the environment (while doing a task or playing a game against an opposition), it is impossible to know exactly what the end product would be.

On a general level, I experienced one of three emotional and mental states during the creation (performance) process. Before walking onto the balcony, I could not predict what mental and emotional process I would go through. In other words, I never knew what was in store for me.

  1. There were about 5/6 photographs that I almost instantaneously knew that I would take as soon as I stepped onto the balcony. It was as if my visual and mental system connected immediately to a certain aspect of the vast visual field that was flirting with me. It acted as a magnet, which seemed to result in an immediate picture in my mind, which in turn, gave me clarity of how the photograph should be. These were powerful synergistic moments, where little effort or thought was required to take the photograph. I was mentally clear, emotionally calm and had no doubts that my mental map and the actual photograph (end product) would match. This could be defined as the calm, clear, knowing state that is in touch with the unfolding reality just before it manifests itself. It can be likened to a premonition.
  2. There were other days when I just sat and looked around not knowing if I would be able to get a photograph. I found myself searching and looking around to see what I could photograph. It was hard work during these times since I seemed to be consciously forcing the process. I was trying too hard. I felt an inner panic as I searched. This process was emotionally taxing.
  3. There were times, when I patiently sat on the balcony, not knowing, yet not worrying about what sort of photograph would emerge. This was a calm, not-knowing emotional and mental state. While waiting patiently in this state, something invariably jumped out of the visual field and caught my eye. It was as if the visual world presented me with a gift.

To expand further, if I had to quantify the percentage of each of the above states that I found myself in, I would say approximately 20% (6 out of 30 photographs) was in the clear, knowing state; about 50% was in the panicked, not-knowing state; while 30% was in the patient, calm, not-knowing state.

The second state was more dynamic, fluid and/or chaotic than the other two states. The challenge for me was to see if I could shift my panic into a more calmer place. I would guess that I was probably successful in about 33% of the cases. For the rest, I had to learn to live and embrace my unease as the process unfolded (and not to panic about the panic). This is a mental skill that many top athletes possess: the ability to embrace the internal panic without dropping the standard of their performance.

Despite being in one or other of these states, I was still able to produce a satisfactory, meaningful photograph at the end of every day. If I had known this before, it may have helped me to relax more in those times when I had so much doubt about not being able to produce anything.

Taking the photographs

My first and last photographs were the easiest. The first photograph was an obvious one. Our eyes always see the obvious first. As I walked onto the balcony for my last photograph, I knew that I wanted to incorporate and capture all that was before me. While it may not have been obvious, my mindset was very clear about what I wanted to do. My clear mindset, created a clear picture that could be translated through my eyes into my environment, to create the photograph that I envisioned.

On some days, I took a number of shots of one particular scene (maybe using different lenses and focal lengths) and then decided on the best one once I had loaded them onto my computer.

On other days, I took some shots of one scene, then changed my focus and shot another scene and so on; eventually arriving at a scene that felt right to me.

I noticed a number of patterns while on the balcony. There were bird patterns, plane patterns, sun and moon movement patterns. Certain birds, for example, flew overhead at approximately the same time every day, flying in the same direction. Once I had photographed a plane, for example, the possibility of taking a photograph of another plane was excluded in the future. This was a self-imposed decision that I took since I did not want repetition and instead, wanted my photographs to reflect the diversity of reality that surrounded me. While this decision made it more difficult for me since I was reducing my options over time, it forced me to look in different places thus opening up other possibilities.

Taking the photographs reminded me of the mining and exploration process (for resources). In the beginning, you have a vast expanse of easily accessible resource. But as time moves on, you are challenged more and more to refine your search of the resource since you have already consumed or exhausted what was easily accessible.

Loading the photographs on the computer

The number of photographs taken on each day varied. Understandably, there were more photographs taken on those days when I was consciously searching for a scene to take. It was as if my panic had increased my efforts and in turn increased the quantity of photographs taken.

However, having taken more photographs did not seem to improve my chances of finding better quality. The idea of just shooting as much as you can to eventually find the winner did not apply to me.

The life message of the photograph

The life message jumped out at me as I saw the photograph that I wanted to post in my blog article. For me, the words and the image seemed to complement each other. I felt that this integration helped to convey a meaningful message.

Recently, I spent an afternoon in a skate park in Zurich. Taking some photographs of one of the skateboarders reminded me of the excitement, challenge and joy of the creative process. Outstanding performance has no limits, it is an ongoing endeavour.

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On the balcony – Part 5

December 21, 2014

12 December 2014

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Looking out west

Today was going to be the 25th photograph in the project. As I walked onto the balcony I was aware that I had yet to take a photograph looking out west.

The vision out towards the east is more expansive, while the view towards the west is more restrictive. Given this, my dominant tendency (and perspective) was to look out towards the east. Setting my camera to face west, was breaking my dominant perspective.

13 December 2014

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A gift

One of my wife’s students gave her this Christmas reindeer as a year end gift to thank her for everything she had done. Giving a gift is an act of appreciation and gratitude.

My wife was inside putting up some Christmas decorations. She joined me on the balcony and playfully placed the little reindeer in the bush. She had brought me a gift to photograph. We smiled as I focused the camera on the little reindeer. One of the most powerful gifts we can give to others is a smile.

14 December 2014

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Same and different

I took this photograph of a small succulent plant we have on the balcony. Each stalk is unique, yet has the same structure.

As humans, we are unique. Yet, we are no different from each other regarding our basic needs. In addition, each one of us needs acknowledgement, respect and most importantly love, to grow.

We all have 24hours available to us each day we live. Our uniqueness unfolds depending on how we utilise this time.

For me, the photograph also reflects over-population and lack of space, which lies at the heart of our biggest global concern.

15 December 2014

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My neighbour

Sitting on the balcony, looking at me on the balcony.

In South Africa, we tend to live behind high walls, which separates us from our neighbours. The challenge is to re-connect to our neighbours and to build communities that are supportive and respectful.

16 December 2014

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Taking care

The garden below is beautiful.

Processes that are taken care of, usually result in beautiful outcomes.

17 December 2014

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Integrating everything around me

Today is the last day of my project. As I walked on the balcony I knew what type of photograph I would like to take, but I didn’t know how it would turn out. I needed to wait until it was dark.

I wanted to include all that exists before me in a single photograph.

Integrative thinking connects parts into a complex unified whole.


On the balcony – Part 4

December 16, 2014

4 December 2014

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Shine your light

Eskom has been load shedding, and candles are playing a bigger and bigger role in South African lives. Candles bring light into darkness.

The candle on the table on the balcony reminds us to shine our light when interacting with others.

Life is not always easy and we may encounter many dark moments. Candle light in darkness can be likened to a lighthouse during a storm where visibility and navigation is severely impaired as ships pass by. The candle light reminds us to always try to see ourselves in our highest light, especially during those difficult times in life.

5 December 2014

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Moon energy

I took this photograph at 18h46 on the 5 December. It preceded the full moon, which was to occur at 14h25 in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 6 December 2014.

I have been told that from an astrological perspective, that this full moon is in Gemini. According to astrologers, it is time to celebrate your life, and even your smallest accomplishments are worth noting. As you focus on what is working in your life, a positive energy is awakened allowing good things to flow to you. In addition, it is recommended that you open your heart and speak your truth and also make space to receive the truth of others.

The moon reflects the yielding feminine or yin energy in each one of us, and reminds us to be gentle and caring in our relationships with others.

The moon also rules our emotional, and at times, darker, shadow side which we tend to repress and deny. To feel whole and integrated, the full moon reminds us of the necessity to acknowledge and embrace the darker side of who we are.

6 December 2014

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Confusion and not-knowing

This was the third consecutive evening that Eskom was load shedding. Coupled with this, there was a huge storm developing in the East.

For this photograph, I decided on a long shutter speed and then panned across the horizon to cause the blur to reflect confusion, uncertainty and not-knowing. These are mental states that are activated when we confront problems and/or paradoxes that life throws in our path.

I knew that the beautiful full moon was shining brightly behind the clouds. I just couldn’t see it.

7 December 2014

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A rainbow the next day

How quickly things change. Yesterday the air was laden with dust, confusion and uncertainty. Now a beautiful rainbow. A rainbow is synonymous with having a dream. But there is no easy short cut to success. A dream will only be realised if you are prepared to do the hard work to get there. In particular, this applies to young aspiring athletes who want to reach the top in international sport.

8 December 2014 – Out of town

9 December 2014 – Out of town

10 December 2014

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A healthy ecosystem

Many birds fly over the balcony. Above, an African sacred ibis flew by.

A healthy ecosystem supports a complex web of inter-connections of all living things. The diversity of birds flying around remind us of this living web. We are only part of this web. We do not own the web.

Unfortunately, many species are threatened by man’s actions.

11 December 2014

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Thumbs-up attitude

I was standing on the balcony contemplating today’s photograph when Freddy, our complex maintenance manager, walked past. I enjoy interacting with Freddy. He is optimistic and always approaches issues with a thumbs-up attitude. A couple of days ago I was talking to Freddy about the nature of problems and how as humans, we tend to create the very problems that we then seek to solve. Freddy’s comment to me: ‘Don’t trouble the trouble until the trouble troubles you’.


On the balcony – Part 3

December 9, 2014

28 November 2014

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Respond immediately to crisis

I did not take a photograph today. I had to deal with a crisis and take Humfrey, my bull terrier, to the veterinarian. Dealing with the crisis took precedence over my project, resulting in me not being able to be on the balcony during the allocated time period.

Dealing with this crisis was the opposite experience that I had a couple of days ago when I was surprised by the balloons flying in the sky. Surprises/miracles and crises/accidents are opposite sides of the same coin. They arise from the random, unpredictable nature of life.

29 November 2014

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Reflection

I felt unsettled and despondent today. I was searching for a meaningful photograph and nothing was emerging. Time was moving on and there was about 10 minutes left to get a photograph.

We have a red, glass table on the balcony. I don’t know how it happened, but as I looked ‘into’ the glass table top, I saw the reflection of the moon. I felt a jolt and immediately knew that I had seen my photograph. The photograph has a simple, yet surreal feel.

Taking time to reflect on our actions or on experiences that have had an impact on us, help us to gain deeper insights and understanding of ourselves. As part of my clinical work, I often ask my clients to take a moment ‘out of the conversation’ and keep silent and to reflect on some of their thoughts and feelings that are unfolding within them at that given moment in time during the consultation.

30 November 2014

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The qualities of water

We had a downpour around 17h00 today. When I walked onto the balcony, I noticed the droplets of water still hanging from the leaves of our plant. As I focused on one of the droplets I could see the reflection of the building and the setting sun within the droplet.

Water is precious. It supports life as we know it.

Water is soft, gentle, flexible and flows. Despite its yielding nature, you should not discount the power of water. It has the ability to overcome hardness and rigidity over time.

The qualities of water, when experienced in a relationship, are likened to love – soft, gentle, yielding and flow.

1 December 2014

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Fly

The photograph activated two predominant thoughts.

Firstly, we need to fly into the possibilities that exist in our lives. In order to do this, we need to remove the mental restrictions we may have placed on ourselves.

Secondly, the eyes of a fly are very large in comparison to its body. Being a ‘fly on the wall’ suggests that we need to be more receptive and open to what is unfolding around us. We need to listen and watch more, so that meaningful learning can occur.

2 December 2014

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Memory and transience

The camera was set for a long exposure and I walked into the frame very slowly.

The photograph reminds me of the transient nature of life. Nothing lasts forever. However, we carry with us the memories of our experiences.

3 December 2014

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Clear focused intention

As I walked onto the balcony today, I was immediately captivated by the moon and I knew exactly what photograph I would like to take. I focused on the moon and just had to wait patiently. About ten minutes passed and then two rose-ringed parakeets flew up towards the moon. This was exactly what I had been waiting for.

Setting a clear intention is linked to the idea of ‘ask and you will receive’. This reflects a sense of knowing that the reality that you have visualised, will manifest itself. But you have to be ready to embrace the unfolding moment.

A Tribute to Humfrey

‘You turned heads where ever you went. You were a true champion. We will miss your uninhibited energy and love for life. Thank you for all of the joy you brought to us. We love you’.

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