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’.

drkenjen@gmail.com
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.

Soften the eyes and extend the gaze

Elite athletes will tell you how important it is to have ‘good body language’ during competition.

Under stress, the energetic system of the athlete tends to tighten and rigidify. In extreme cases of stress, the athlete can get immobilised and stuck at critical points during the competitive contest. This hinders the spontaneous movements that are required to execute complex physical actions. In such cases, there is greater possibility that the visual system misjudges the movement and distance of the ball and/or the movements of an opponent.

When dealing with stress during competition it is important that the athlete learns to (a) soften the eyes and (b) extend the gaze.

In stillness: Two klipspringers extending their gaze
In stillness: Two klipspringers extending their gaze

Many years ago, I did a night walking exercise with my friend, Dr Ken West (who specializes in sports vision). Before the walk, I learned that there were two types of photoreceptors in the retina, (a) cones, that were condensed in the centre of the retina, and (b) rods that covered the rest of the retina. The cones were responsible for color and daylight vision and provided us with our sharpest vision, or highest acuity of vision. The rods did not detect light as sharply as the cones did, but were more sensitive to low light levels than the cones were. Finally, there were many more rods than there were cones in the retina.

From a sporting perspective, the cones are used to focus eyesight in a concentrated way (watching the ball), while the rods are used for peripheral vision (broader awareness of the surroundings). Of interest, I established that the reaction time for spontaneous action of motocross racers at the start line was significantly quicker if peripheral vision was used (as opposed to focused vision on the start gate). The fundamental reason for this difference in reaction time is that the cones are linked to conscious thinking, while the rods are associated with the unconscious (which bypasses logical thinking).

During the night walk, we had to utilise our rods (peripheral vision) to navigate our way. The purpose of the night walk was to activate the unconscious and stimulate creative thinking (via the use of peripheral vision). While asleep that night, I had such vivid dreams, that to this day, I can still remember them. My friend, Ken, also reported having vivid, unusual and intense dreams.

Precision in action: A green backed heron striking a fish
Precision in action: A green backed heron striking a fish

During stress, intense focused vision tends to gets over-activated, which in turn, tightens the visual system. To soften the eyes, the athlete needs to go into peripheral vision at times when there is no activity or concentration required. In cricket, for example, the batsman can go into peripheral vision between the balls that are bowled. This helps the eyes to relax and also stops the mind from thinking too much or too logically.

The eyes can help improve the body language of an athlete. When dealing with failure, an athlete’s body tends to cave in, with the head and shoulders dropping (indicating heaviness). As this unfolds, the vision is directed down, almost in shame. This sinking sensation in the body can be countered if you look up or extend the gaze. By looking up, I don’t mean staring up into the heavens, but rather lifting the gaze. As you do so, the eyes lift the body as well as the spirit.

An elite athlete needs a visual system that is alert and relaxed in order to perform optimally. Softening the eyes by activating the peripheral vision and extending the gaze into the distance will help the athlete to achieve this.

Scarcity and unpredictable intrusion

Food is scarce in the cold, snowy regions of Germany. The climate is harsh and the challenge for most of the living species is to ensure that they can survive this unforgiving environment. While the survival of the fittest and strongest definitely applies, there may be one or two unexpected moments in getting or losing food that becomes part of the story.

The steal

The group of crows were happily feeding on a small piece of food. Out of the blue, a red kite descended onto the group, stealing what little food was available. The sudden, unexpected arrival of the red kite was its main weapon as it activated a chaotic reaction within the group.

Just as quickly as it arrived, the kite was off again making its way into the sky with the food in its mouth.

The steal

The pursuit

One of the crows was able to orientate itself quickly and gave chase. It had some distance to make up, but seemed to have a focused determination to catch the intruder.

The pursuit

The drop

The crow managed to get close to the kite and did everything to harass it. After a couple of seconds of harassment, the crow seemed to tire, lose heart and/or lose interest in challenging the bigger predator, and turned away to fly towards the group still on the ground.

As the very moment when the crow turned its attention away from the kite, I saw it drop the piece of food. Maybe it lost concentration or maybe it was the unexpected relief that it was not being continually attacked by the crow that resulted in the drop. While there also may be the possibility that the food may not have been to its liking, the shocked look in its eyes suggested otherwise.

The drop

As the food landed on the ground, the group of crows made their way across to its location and continued their meal as if nothing had ever happened. Such is the nature of nature; harmonious energy returns without any indication of that past moment when the sudden explosion of unpredictable intrusion disrupted the natural relaxed order.

Seeing is believing: In search of the beavers

I had been sitting patiently at the wetlands along the Rhine for about two hours waiting to photograph some of the birds that frequent the river. The place was beautiful, with mist hanging over the tree tops. To the naked eye, however, it seemed as if all living creatures had abandoned this part of the river.

I had seen another photographer in the distance also waiting patiently for nothing to happen. I was about to leave when he walked across and joined me for some conversation. We spoke about photography in general, and more specifically about our experiences photographing nature and wildlife. He told me that there were beavers in this area, yet he had never seen them. I asked him how he knew. He said that the farmer had told him, since his crops had been eaten by them. However, the farmer had also not seen them. He knew that there were beavers since there were trails of bits and pieces of crop that were left between the farmland and the river, in the mornings.

He then proceeded to take me on a guided tour along the river showing me evidence of the existence of the beavers. He pointed out burrowed tunnels on the bank of the river. He showed me the trails of foliage across the gravel cycle path that separated the farmland and the river. He also showed me huge sculptured indentations on the trunks of large poplar trees. As I looked at the trees, I couldn’t imagine an experienced lumberjack doing a better job of chopping the trunk with such grooved precision.

As I was shown all of evidence, I felt a strong desire to see and photograph the beavers. Being told and shown evidence of their existence was not enough for me. I needed to witness and experience the beavers for myself. As a psychologist, I knew that the most effective way to learn about anything is to move into the experiential domain and to personally witness and observe what is being spoken about. Telling and showing are only secondary levels of the learning process. The primary and most impactful level of learning is to go through an experiential process.

Many years ago, I saw a film called Searching for Sugar Man, which documented the search for the poetic singer Rodriguez, who had disappeared into obscurity after producing a chart winning album.

After reading up about beavers and their habitat, I felt compelled to go back to the wetlands in search of the illusive beavers. Beavers are nocturnal rodents, but can be seen at dawn or dusk. In the 1900’s, they were hunted to near extinction for their coats. They were reintroduced into a number of European countries in 1960-1970.

Before sunrise every morning for a week, I sat patiently waiting for the beavers.

My first sighting felt surreal. The beaver seemed to emerge out of nothingness, swimming across my line of vision. Throughout the week, the sightings were sporadic as they swam passed me, or emerged from the burrows on the opposite bank of the river. There was only one morning in the week that I did not see them. I felt satisfied that my search for the beavers was so richly rewarded. I now knew that they definitely existed. Seeing was truly believing.

img_8571

Galloping into 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

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

Love bird fish eagles

In the bush you can be a witness to many wonderful moments that nature ‘decides’ to share with you. However, you may need to be in the right place and at the right time to be part of the unfolding process. Some call this luck; since you generally do not have to wait patiently for nature to reveal itself. During a recent visit to the Kruger National Park I was given the gift of being part of a special moment when two fish eagles were mating. It all happened so quickly.

While it is said that every picture can tell a story; a series of pictures helps to enhance and enrich the narrative.

IMG_1469-1

IMG_1471-1

IMG_1472-1

IMG_1477-1

IMG_1479-1

IMG_1480-1

IMG_1481-1

The over-riding feeling of being in awe enters one’s being after you have witnessed something special in nature. There is also a need to share the event with others; to talk about it; to re-live the moment over and over again. But words are generally unable to fully describe the experience and/or do justice to the unfolding process. I was thankful that I was able to photograph the two love birds and I am happy to be able to share this with you.