In awe

I stood in silence in the darkness of night.

I had just taken a photograph that had taken my breathe away. I felt in awe as I looked at the photograph. It had captured a story that reflected my life philosophy in my work as a psychotherapist.

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My story:

The church, which should not be interpreted in a religious sense, reflects being grounded and anchored on earth. It shines brightly, yet is not able to move. It offers security in the darkness. It belongs on earth and is a manifestation of your creative endeavours. It also is the source of your philosophy and world view of life and how you want to live it here on earth.

The comet reflects your uniqueness as you journey in life. It is moving and radiates its light. It does not see its own light; yet its beauty is seen by others as it passes by. The comet also links you to your history. Scientists believe that the last time it passed by, was approximately 6000 years ago. It is believed that it will return again in around 6000 years time. Given this, it reminds you that every moment in time is special, since that moment can never be experienced again. A moment that is lost, can never be regained. Knowing this, remember that the present moment is all that you have – it is a gift to reveal your uniqueness and creativity.

The vast expanse above and the twinkling stars reflect the potentiality and creativity of your life. There are many possibilities that present themselves to you, as you journey in life. The stars can be thought of as ideas. And if you join some of the stars, it is like joining the dots when you create new meaning in your understanding. I have previously written about space in conversation.

The complexity of life encompasses these three dimensions. As you journey in life, be grounded and balanced. Be compassionate. It is impossible to see your own light, but others will notice it in the darkness. Join the stars in whichever way you may like to create new meaning in what you are experiencing or have experienced. Remember that there are many ways to join the stars. How you are going to interpret your experience, is your decision. However, remember that ideas need to be actioned so that they can manifest themselves on earth.

I looked up into the sky at comet Neowise in wonderment. My over-riding feeling was one of deep connection to the beautiful fabric of life and all of its mysteries.

 

 

Take care

Our illusion of feeling safe most of the time in our lives, has now been shattered.

For the first time, every single human being is realising and experiencing that we do not actually live in a safe world. We are all feeling vulnerable, uneasy and at risk.

Many of us are now saying or writing ‘stay safe’ or ‘keep safe’ when saying goodbye to loved ones or when ending emails to friends or business associates. While this highlights a high level of concern for the well-being of those we know and love, it also seems to suggest that the world was considered a safe place before the coronavirus outbreak.

For most people, the harsh reality is that the world has never been a safe place. War, poverty, abuse, corrupt government, racism, sexism, xenophobia, ageism, pollution, nuclear threats and famine have all resulted in the majority of human beings constantly feeling unprotected and unsafe (not to mention our wildlife and the environment).

For the first time, we are experiencing what a global crisis truly feels like. Global issues have no respect for wealth, status, political power or entitlement. We cannot buy ourselves out of this problem, or impose laws to silence protestors, or quieten the voices of the abused.

In this time of crisis, we all need to fully appreciate the intricate, interdependent fabric of life. Everything is connected. Someone’s poverty may be connected to our wealth. Someone’s pain may be connected to our pleasure. This is now a time to become more sensitive to the fabric of our relationships with others and our environment.   

As we grapple for answers and take stock of our lives, maybe we should try and align to one simple principle as we navigate our way through this crisis. And that is the principle of ‘taking care’. ‘Take care’ is an extension of ‘keep safe’.

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Nibbling each other

Take care of yourself, take care of your family, take care of your neighbour, take care in how you interact with others. take care of the environment, take care of birds and animals, take care of anything that you are connected to.

The foundation of care is gentleness, respect, gratitude and humility. In this regard, you are no better or more important than anyone or anything else that is living on our planet. ‘Take care’ counters arrogance and entitlement. 

We are living in uncertain times, dealing with many unknowns. However, as a collective it is not necessary to intensify and escalate fear. Instead of worrying about your safety, rather commit yourself to taking more care of anything that you are in relationship with. 

There is no need for the government to protect you and keep you safe. This is an illusion. If they had the power or the honest desire to keep you safe, then why do they start wars, abuse power, avoid global issues or selfishly only look after themselves? 

While your primary responsibility is to keep yourself safe, now is the opportunity to expand this into taking care of the living fabric that exists around you. As we move through this global crisis into the future, the challenge is to make our new world order a safer place for everyone and everything to live in.

Paradoxes, borders and runaways

Since my first post dealing with the impact of coronavirus, the death rate in the USA has increased from 93 to 217 (average of 32 deaths a day), while deaths related to the ‘gun virus’ have increased from 8144 to 8460 (105 deaths per day).

The whole world now seems to be in lock down, with border closures preventing the movement of people. In addition, many towns and cities are ghost-like as people have gone into self quarantine, and bunkered down. The family system has now also closed its borders to the outside world.

Over the past week, our global system has gone on a runaway in its efforts to deal with the coronavirus. We have never experienced such a challenge before. We are in an unbalanced state as the domino effect kicks in on all levels of society. When one country closes its border, another follows, with the rest following rapidly. This cascades down further, within each country itself. If one restaurant closes, the domino effect kicks in and the rest follow. If one sporting code decides to cancel a season, other sporting codes follow. No one wants to be seen to not be responding. While these decisions might be imposed by government or reached by the respective institutions, a runaway gets triggered. This is the process of how a system implodes.  

Runaways are activated when a system loses its ability to self regulate and to be in balance. Extreme actions and excessive gyrations of extreme reactions are activated as processes get unleashed that impact all levels of the system. Everything that constitutes and defines the system is affected. In this regard, it is interesting to watch the financial markets, since they reflect these uncontrollable swings in a system that is on a runaway.

This runaway is usually internally triggered by an unhealthy system that needs to change.

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Rushing for water

In time, systems do eventually find a new equilibrium. Ecological systems have a deep wisdom of their own. We need to trust this. New patterns of interaction, new ways of thinking and acting start to emerge as the system searches for a new balance. In the process, the system undergoes a significant change.

Many paradoxes come to the fore when dealing with ecological crises. The reason why paradoxes emerge is that the interdependence, interconnection and circularity of processes that exist in a system, have not been fully understood or respected. Further, these delicate interconnections are not always evident when a system is in equilibrium. In fact, a healthy system seems to function and evolve effortlessly, with checks and balances in motion.

Limiting the movement of people, and reducing contact with others by creating social distance, is the most effective way to tackle any virus (not only the coronavirus). However, the closure of borders (within countries, societies and families) has created a world that feels so unnatural and strange. The imposed restrictions go against our deep need to connect and to feel a sense of belonging with others, since loving touch and physical contact with others is a vital part of remaining healthy.

Closing borders between countries is a necessary global response, but in doing so we are in fact experiencing, first hand, the sort of world that nationalistic, populistic leaders are advocating for, in times when there is no global crisis. The closing of borders in the present crisis, however, does not mean that we are fighting each other, but rather paradoxically we are working with each other. It is not a ‘them versus us’ response. In this regard, we are all in the same boat, existing in our closed political and social systems.

As families close their own little borders, separating themselves from the wider community, internal stresses unfold. As parents try to work from home, work and family dynamics may clash. The line between doing work and dealing with family demands, gets blurred. Depending on the developmental stage of the family, parents will be stressed further as they may need to take on educational duties in order to keep their children busy and stimulated. Allocating time for work, play, study, leisure so that the family system can fully function, is a fundamental challenge for parents during this time. New patterns of interactions and routines will need to be found as the family experiences the challenges of blurred boundaries between work and family demands, fun/play time and ‘school’ time, exercise time and quiet time. This may require parents to work while children are sleeping, which in turn eats into their ‘sleep’ time. This could result in fatigue as time goes on, as the family has only its own internal resources to call on.  

At the moment, the medical system is under severe stress and is vulnerable, since no vaccine has been developed yet, to treat the virus. In time, however, the scientific and medical system will ‘catch up’ in its understanding and in the process find the ‘formula’ to treat coronavirus effectively. Until then, we need to wait for science and medicine to unravel the ‘complexity’ of the virus. As we wait, we will encounter our own stresses as we try to deal with the abnormality that every country finds itself in.

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A man made cloud

 

Suspicion and a dark place

Fear thrives on the unseen, the unknown and the uncertain. Given this, it is understandable that there is so much panic about coronavirus.

Since my last blog article (posted yesterday), the number of deaths in the USA due to coronavirus has increased from 93 to 116 (23 increase), while deaths due to the ‘gun virus’ had increased from 8144 to 8247 (103 increase).

Yesterday a young friend came to visit me. As I interacted with him, I became aware of a feeling of suspicion. I also became aware of his discomfort as he spoke to me. He probably was also feeling suspicious of me. The suspicion was wrapped up in a fundamental question of: ‘I wonder if he has the virus?’. He was probably thinking the same of me. In our conversation, I was also judging how close or far I should be to him as we spoke. This was an interesting feeling for me, which highlighted the impact that coronavirus was having on our relationships with others.

This morning I was invited to the home of an 82 year old friend to listen to some classical music that will be played by a couple of her other friends. She told me that there will be  5 people at her home.  I spontaneously accepted her offer, yet after saying goodbye I have been having second thoughts about my decision. Again questions of trust and suspicion about who would be there, and where had they been and whether any of them would have the virus.

In talking to her, she made an interesting comment about the virus. She said it came from a ‘dark place’. On further reflection of her comment, she did not actually mean that the virus came from a dark place, but rather how we as a collective have responded to it and in particular the anxiety, fear and panic that we carry around with us.

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Comfort

Given these two human encounters over the past day,  I have reflected on how best to move forward in my human contact with others. This is what I have come up with:

  1. We are all in the same boat together. Your panic and anxiety is no different from anyone else you encounter.
  2. Consciously try and relax and lower your panic when interacting with others. Since we are energetic systems, this will help others to relax more.
  3. Move out of the ‘dark place’ and lighten up a little. Be kind, smile more, laugh more. Laughter and humour have been scientifically proven to boost the immune system, improving health and well-being.
  4. Keep a safe physical distance (which you need to gauge), but do not shy away from emotional closeness and speaking about vulnerabilities and worries with others.
  5. The fundamental panic around the coronavirus is the worry about death. This creates deep fear, since the ego continually tries to repress and avoid thinking about it. Constantly remind yourself to live each day as if it was your last. Fully embrace every moment. Smell the roses, listen more intently, look at detail around you, engage all of your senses more acutely. Wake up to the present unfolding moment.
  6. In your spare time, connect to activities that bring you joy. Read more. Exercise more. Take on responsibility to be both emotionally and physically healthy. With this healthy energy, your interactions will be enhanced.
  7. Keep perspective.

Each one of us will respond to this crisis in our own personal way. Become aware of your anxiety (which is understandable), but do not relinquish your own personal power to make a meaningful impact in your interactions with others.

At present the sun is shining brightly in Germany. I have the gift of some free time and have decided to go for a long mountain bike ride. Enjoy your day.

 

 

Keep perspective in the panic

The Panic

The world is in a panic about coronavirus.

It is scary when group panic intensifies. People cannot think straight. Common sense gets thrown out of the window and weird behaviour occurs, such as hoarding excessive amounts of toilet paper. While this seems laughable, it may reflect a metaphor that has the fundamental message of that ‘we are in deep shit’.

One of the major difficulties in dealing with coronavirus is that it is a global issue. By nature, global crises cut across borders, and require an integrative approach to resolve them. In this regard, the coronavirus is similar to the global warming crisis that science has been flagging for us for a number of years now.

The Political Response

In the initial stages of dealing with the outbreak of the virus, politicians escalated the panic by comments that had not been carefully thought through. Statements were made without any scientific backing, coupled with more and more talking in an attempt to correct past inaccuracies. Instead of calming and reassuring people, politicians added more fuel to the fire. Unfortunately, there are not many politicians who are systems thinkers. Politicians such as Trump, for example, have no understanding of the interconnected and interdependent nature of global issues. In his national address, the public and media sensed that he was out of his depth in dealing with this crisis. The result? More panic, and no confidence in his leadership. 

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A new day, a new beginning

The Scientific Response

One has limited understanding of the nature and complexity of any virus in its infancy stage. There are many aspects of a virus that need to be researched first, before a clearer picture emerges. In this regard, viruses are one step ahead of the researchers. In time, however, the scientific system is able to unravel the complexity of any virus. So in this regard, our scientific system will in time, offer us deeper understanding and also resolution of the crisis at hand. 

A Simple Comparison

Statistics about the (a) contraction, (b) spread and (c) mortality rates of a virus need to be carefully examined. Due to its chaotic, fractal and exponential nature, viruses are notoriously difficult to monitor. Given this, it is important to question statistics and not to assume that whatever statistic is presented to be representative of the actual reality.

While I do not want to downplay the potential threat of the coronavirus, it is interesting to note that if you live in the USA, you may have more chance of dying from a gun than from coronavirus. While I know that viral contamination can increase exponentially, depending on movement and contact of people, and you cannot compare oranges with apples, I would like to do a simple and crude comparison of the number of deaths caused by guns, to the present mortality rate of 93 deaths from the coronavirus in one month

At the time of writing, there have been 4748 reported cases of coronavirus in the USA, 4569 people are in mild condition, 12 people are serious and there have been 93 deaths (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/).

In 2019, https://www.thetrace.org/2020/01/gun-deaths-2019-increase/ stated that there were 15,292 gun fatalities (excluding suicides) in the USA. That translates to 1275 deaths by gun per month.

As of 17 March 2020, the Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2020 there have been 8144 deaths through gun violence (5082 were suicides). This translates to 3257 deaths by gun per month (if you include suicide). 

While the comparison of ‘gun virus’ with coronavirus is not actually statistically possible, I wanted to do it in order to put the present crisis into some sort of perspective. 

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Keeping the chicks safe, as they cross the road

Keep Perspective

A global crisis disrupts a system on all levels. Financial, political, social, educational, medical and scientific systems all are impacted, each in turn, affecting the other. A system in crisis can respond in paradoxical ways to ‘injected’ help from the outside. Take the US Federal Reserve Bank, for example. After cutting the interest rate to zero in an attempt to offer financial assistance to the market in distress, the NYSE dropped 10%.

With regard to the coronavirus, we are all in the same boat together. Due to the nature of the virus, the decision to close borders and to encourage everyone to keep some social distance and limit social contact is necessary. On another level, it offers all of us the interpersonal space to pause and to take stock. It also allows time for the dust to settle, and for us to gain a better perspective of what is unfolding. In a panicked state, one loses perspective. We become blinded and are unable to step back to reflect on the process in a logical way. The mental challenge is not to get ‘contaminated’ by the social drama and the propensity of people to exaggerate during times of crisis.

The coronavirus surfaced quickly and has disrupted the established order of life. It is now time to pause. Things will never be the same again. Unlike the ‘gun virus’, the coronavirus has created unprecedented panic on all levels of our global system. A new order is wanting to emerge and this paradoxically, may be the systemic gift resulting from coronavirus. 

How are you being influenced?

Besides being an energy system, you are also an information system. How you interpret and give meaning to information you encounter is determined by your unique cognitive structure – your experiences, knowledge, beliefs, perceptions and assumptions. As an information system, you are constantly integrating and splitting up pieces of information in unique ways to create new meaning. This is the fundamental nature of consciousness.

Information cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs an interpersonal context that offers meaning and value. There is no absolute truth when it comes to ideas and perceptions. Instead, there is a movement towards truth which is dependent on a process of unspoken consensus.

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A contrast between rock and water

In the scientific community, there are strict protocols to follow for ideas or hypotheses to be accepted and considered worthy. In such a community, no piece of information is immune to being scrutinised and re-evaluated over time. This is because technical and scientific information is evolutionary by nature, moving towards more complexity over time.  

When it comes to social contexts, information and influence are intricately interwoven. Who is saying what to whom, how is it being said and received, when and why is it being conveyed, are all aspects of the dynamics of influence. In social contexts, ‘truth’ is determined by the dominant opinions that exist in the community in which the information is exchanged.

In today’s information age, one needs to understand the influential power of how peer groups participate on social media. Over coffee when discussing his difficulty dealing with his teenage daughter, a friend reacted with surprise when I mentioned that his daughter’s peer group probably had more influence over her thinking and behaviour than what his opinions, values and family norms had. 

Social platforms can become all-consuming and addictive. This is largely due to the need to be accepted and validated by the social group that one is part of. On all of the social media platforms there are influencers, shaping the thinking of those who follow. There is an illusion of having an individual perspective on these platforms. However the need to fit in and conform are actually the deeper processes at play.

Due to the nature of the information flow on these social platforms, opinions and judgements are usually offered immediately without censure. In addition, these opinions unfold in the public domain, which in turn, activates further comments from those who need to add their voice to the story (see Discernment, drama and deception).

Social platforms offer a 24/7 service to those who want to offer their opinions and judgements on any issue. They cater for the immediate desire to ‘have your say’. These platforms spew out information at an alarming rate. For those involved, there is no escape from the drama of the process, especially if there are personal, contentious or sensitive issues at play.

Due to the malleable nature of informational feedback loops, ‘like attracts like’ when it comes to what you say. Given this principle, aggression will be matched with aggression. If what you say, is driven by a feeling of entitlement and arrogance, you will probably get caught in a cycle of constantly trying to prove your importance.

One of the major concerns regarding these platforms is how information can get distorted and vindictively used to emotionally bully others. Despite his age and standing, Donald Trump, is an example, of how a person uses social media to feed an insatiable desire to be worshipped and validated. This, coupled with his propensity to bully and divide, if his opinions and desires are opposed, are at the heart of of how destructive these platforms can become (see Trump trumps politiciansDealing with an aggressive, self-opinionated energyLeading a Divided States of AmericaStruggling to gain credibility).

Move into the light

In landscape photography it is light that enhances and ‘uplifts’ a photograph to a new level. The eyes are naturally drawn to the light and when the eyes are directed to points of interest from a compositional perspective, the photograph has an emotional and meaningful impact.

When it comes to light in relationships, being emotionally light has the characteristics of creative playfulness, optimism and openness. Light is the energy of love which is up lifting.

Light is also the interpersonal space where meaning gets created. Light offers the fabric on which diversity of perspectives can be embedded.

IMG_5929-4There may be times in your life when you have to deal with trauma and/or uncertainty. In such times, you will probably feel as if you are trapped in darkness.

img_6683The metaphor of darkness implies that you do not know what to do, where to look and in which direction to move. This activates caution, which in turn, restricts your ability to move. Feeling stuck can cause a downward spiral of helplessness and despondency to unfold.  

Lack of movement will activate your survival instincts, heightening stress and intensity. This tightens  and rigidifies your energy system.

img_5549In times of despair, look for the light and move towards it. Trust the light, it will help guide you when you find yourself in the darkness of ‘not knowing’.

img_7376Let the light draw you into the landscape of your experience. Move in a gentle and loving way. Small steps towards the light. There is no need to rush. The destination is not important. Instead, it is the movement towards the light that eventually offers clarity to your experiences. 

IMG_7539-2When out in the landscape, the light can be illusive. At times, you will have to be patient and wait for the light to arrive. Waiting for the light will highlight aspects of yourself that may need to be addressed. Rigidity of perspective, unrealistic expectations, or self-absorption are likely to emerge during this period of waiting.

In times of darkness, you may question the existence of light. 

It is important to remind yourself that light is a gift that arrives in its own way and in its own time. It is not a mechanical phenomenon that can be directed by your expectations or needs. 

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Have a strategy and be open to the potentiality

To be successful in your endeavour, you need to have a clear intention that directs your energy. This can be termed your plan of action or your strategy. This creates a structure and focus in which to operate, practice and compete.

Coupled with this focus, you also need to be open to the potentiality of possibilities that are unfolding in the present moment. It is in this potentiality that unpredictability resides.

This potentiality will not manifest into a reality, unless you spontaneously and consciously respond to it. In fact, it requires a creative response. You may need to expand or adjust your original strategy in a creative way to make room for a ‘detour’ in your journey.

There are many possibilities unfolding in the present moment. The reality that you experience depends on where you look (your perception) and on your decision whether to act or not (which is predominantly driven by your assumptions and beliefs).

I wanted to photograph the full moon rising above trees in the black forest. This was my vision. I did my research regarding locations and about the time and the direction of where the moon was to rise. This took time and effort, especially looking for a row of trees that could act as the foreground to the rising moon.

I arrived at the location 30 minutes before the moon was to rise. I set up my tripod and attached my camera, and waited. I was ready.

As I stood there gazing in the direction of the expected moonrise, other potentiality existed around me that I had not planned for or had anticipated. As I looked to my right, the beautiful Alps where revealing themselves. I was standing about 50 km inside Germany and the Alps were another 100km or so into Switzerland. The föhn was blowing and with it, the usual haze that normally acted as an obscure blanket, had disappeared.

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To my left, I noticed how the light was striking one of three trees. It was such a simple scene. And in the simplicity lay the beauty.

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Time was moving on and the sun was just about to set. The row of trees from which I was expecting the moon to rise, was bathed in golden light. I put on my telescopic lens and took the trees.

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There was a thick layer of clouds that had formed just above the trees. I was worried that the clouds may drop and hide the rising moon. As I waited, I hoped that the clouds would remain still to provide a window of opportunity for the moon to seize.

There was a 15 minutes period for me to enjoy the full moon rising. And then the moon disappeared as it ascended behind the clouds on its upward journey. 

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If I had not acted on my intention, I would not have experienced all of the photographic gifts that had presented themselves to me. Without acting or doing, not much is possible.  

Change positions to access the diversity

Landscape photography has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of how time, space and object, interconnect to create and define the reality that we observe.

If you go to the same place over and over again, and keep your focus on a specific object of interest, you will notice the impact of time. The belief that you know the place due to the familiarity, gets challenged when you consider how time changes the landscape. From a psychological standpoint, the person you are today, will not be exactly the same person you are tomorrow. While you may think or believe that you are the same, small (and maybe unnoticed) changes are unfolding as you evolve over time.

In a previous article, I mentioned that a beginner’s mind (that makes no assumptions when you encounter sameness or familiarity) gets cultivated when you are open to ‘seeing’ the ever changing dynamic of time.

So what do you experience if you keep time constant (which is not actually possible) and then change space or perspective of the object of interest? You get diversity.

At any given point in time, when a group of people are discussing a specific topic of contention, different perspectives (or positions) will emerge. Diversity is all about viewing the same object but from different positions in space. Space is context. Context defines meaning.

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There are daily patterns of events that recur at approximately the same time everyday. The A380 Airbus passing overhead at approximately the same time of day, everyday, is a case in point. It is a beautiful plane and has such presence when flying above.

To reveal the diversity of perspective of the plane in different contexts, I set up my camera in different places and waited for the plane to pass by.

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IMG_8464-2When considering any issue, try and shift your position or perspective so that you get a more ‘richer’ understanding of the complexity that surrounds the issue. However, this requires that you give up your usual perspective, which feels safe, comfortable and ingrained. That is why most people find it extremely difficult to let go of the familiar position that they take. Holding on to one’s perspective is driven by fear of change, or fear of losing oneself, or fear of being negatively influenced by another perspective. It is this fear that rigidifies and intensifies a stance or position, which then increases the possibility of conflict and blockage.

A dominant voice that prescribes to others closes down possibilities and increases feelings of resentment and anger. All perspectives need to be seen and considered in order to gain a deeper understanding of an issue. The challenge is to then integrate this diversity (incorporating all perspectives), so that more complex solutions can be formulated for a resolution to unfold. This is especially true when dealing with global concerns that do not have a ‘simple, one answer’ which is driven by a one size fits all, type of thinking.

Photography helps to instill a beginner’s mind

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The normal response when you deal with a situation that is familiar to you, is to assume that you know everything about it. As you do this, you cut off and exclude so much information (and potentiality) that exists without you knowing it.

Many old relationships become rigid and stale because those in the relationship feel and believe that they know everything about one another. The belief that ‘I know exactly who you are, what you are thinking and how you are feeling’, inadvertently creates restrictions and limitations in the relationship as time unfolds. In the process, the relationship loses its generative ability to create new insights and understandings. Conversations grind to a holt and it seems that there is nothing new, different or more that can be said.

Going to the same place (location), time and time again, and to walk away with a different perspective has been the gift of landscape photography.

My photography has rekindled my beginner’s mind.

The challenge when dealing with sameness, is to notice the small changes that are unfolding (or have unfolded) over time. These offer the seeds for new knowledge and deeper understanding of the evolutionary complexity that exists. 

Being open to a new experience in the same old place (or in the same old relationship) requires the zen attitude of having a child’s mind when dealing with what you may believe is ‘the familiar’. The beginner’s mind has no assumptions, no preconceived ideas about how things should or should not be. Instead, it allows you to be open to the ongoing changes that are unfolding right in front of your eyes.

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