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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Meeting the master

When we wake up in the morning, we never quite know how the day will unfold.

Yesterday was a special day – one that I will always remember.

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The work of Erwin Rehmann

I woke up having the luxury of free time. There were no pressing demands to attend to. No deadlines to be met. 

I eased into the morning, having a leisurely breakfast. I intentionally extended the usual time that I take to enjoy my coffee. But as I did this, I became aware of some anxiety building within me. 

As the morning progressed, I became more and more agitated. A part of me felt that I was wasting the precious commodity of time, not being engaged in a meaningful activity.

There is a challenge when you have free time, since you have the responsibility of creating your own structure in which time can flow in a meaningful way.

In sharing this feeling with my wife, it became clear that there is an internal drive within us that wants to create, expand and produce. It is this energy that drives the evolutionary process as (a) new creations unfold through our endeavours, (b) new understandings emerge from our learning, and/or (c) new relationships are established as we share personal stories with others.

I sensed my agitation wanted me to move and act. Being still and doing ‘nothing’ was intensifying the feeling. After further introspection, I decided that the best way to deal with my agitation was to visit a place of creativity.

The Erwin Rehmann museum is about 30km from where I live. It is situated in the Swiss village of Laufenburg.

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The village of Laufenburg

Erwin Rehmann is a sculptor who works predominantly with iron and brass. He believes that one needs space around the art piece so that one can breathe and move around it while looking at the piece from many perspectives.

The museum is at his studio and home and still has the furnace where he melted the material to create his art.

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The work of Erwin Rehmann

Many of his pieces are exhibited in the garden. As you walk around in the garden connecting with the art, you physically feel the space and freedom that Rehmann believes is necessary to appreciate the beauty and understand the meaning of the art form that he has created.

My wife mentioned to me that an old man, sitting in a living room that looked onto the garden, had waved to her as she passed by. We knew that Erwin Rehmann was alive and we wondered whether it was he, who had waved. I felt a sense of excitement as we pondered this possibility.

We made our way inside and ordered a water as we shared our thoughts about the beautiful sculptures.

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The work of Erwin Rehmann

I looked up and saw an old man with a walker making his way towards us. On arrival, he introduced himself and listened intently as we made ourselves known to him. He ordered a coffee and sat with us. We had the most remarkable conversation with Erwin Rehmann. He is 97 years old, alert and coherent. He shared stories of his works and his experiences in his travels working with other artists from Paris, London and Tuscon.

He spoke freely and openly with us. There was no hesitation or censorship in his sharing. In all of what he was saying, there was a deep wisdom in his philosophical worldview. His statement of ‘Why do you search for a master when he in fact resides in you‘ continued to echo as I absorbed all that he was sharing with us.

After about 45 minutes he called the museum manager to our table and asked her to bring his book that detailed his works and entries into a personal journal. He autographed the book, addressing it: ‘For my new friends, Dellené and Kenneth’ and gave it to us as a gift.

He looked deeply into my eyes for the photograph. He did not seem interested to pose and look at the camera. As I looked into his eyes, I felt a strong bond that went far beyond the 45 minutes of us meeting. Age, experience, education and expertise had no relevance at that moment of time as we looked into each other’s eyes. We seemed to have been friends forever.

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Meeting a master artist

My wife and I left the museum in silence. We were in awe. How could one explain or interpret what had just unfolded? We had had a transformational encounter with a master artist. Our meeting Erwin Rehmann could never have been planned. It was a gift that we would never forget.

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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Enhancing quantum performance

I am constantly being asked questions about the psychology of performance and the ‘state of mind’ that is necessary to ensure success in competition.

Many athletes adopt a mechanical approach to their mental preparation. Specific goals are set which the athlete then strives to achieve. While this sort of approach offers structure and clarity for the athlete, I feel that it only taps into the logical part of the brain. Further, this approach is outcome based and does not embrace the fluidity and ever changing nature of competition.

Exceptional performance that catapults the athlete onto a new level requires an added dimension that incorporates an approach that taps into imagery and creativity. This approach is based in a philosophy of quantum thinking in which mental energy is seen as having properties similar to water, where multiple levels of thinking are integrated into a holistic focus.

The nature of this approach is nonverbal, intuitive and story-like in which ideas generate powerful meaning that the athlete can connect with. In line with this way of thinking, photographs, images and/or meaningful stories can help crystalise mental energy that will help the athlete reach higher levels of performance in a spontaneous and creative way.

On a recent walk I took three photographs that best illustrate ideas regarding the integration of three mental processes, that if one taps into, will assist the athlete during the unfolding process of competition.

Three inter-connected mental components form the holistic model that embraces quantum thinking. These three components should co-exist and be utilised at the appropriate time, depending on the nature of the challenge that is being encountered:

  1. The optimism and joy of a dog on a walk
  2. The alertness of a cat ready to pounce
  3. The freedom and flow of a bird in flight

In a conversation with an iron man triathlete, I was explaining that it was necessary to remain present in the unfolding moment of competition. The three dynamics mentioned above, are ever present during the race.

There needs to be an overall optimism in the way that one approaches and deals with challenges, particularly in the tough, down periods of a race. Remaining connected to the joy of a dog on a walk supports the athlete at times when doubts, despondency or fears creep in.

A cat that is ready to pounce is in a proactive state of readiness. The alertness of a cat helps the athlete deal with the unexpected. To be successful, it is important to trust your abilities and to respond immediately and spontaneously to a threatening or challenging moment. In order to respond in such a way, the athlete needs to be in a concentrated state of alertness, where nothing is taken for granted. Nothing should distract the athlete from the present moment of focus.

Many athletes go into competition with a definite, structured game-plan having specific outcomes. While this may offer the athlete security, the challenge during competition is to be able to adapt and be flexible to change. Trusting your instincts and being able to change strategy at critical moments of the unfolding process is a skill that champions possess. If the mindset is too rigid, the athlete is likely to hold onto a game-plan that was formulated before the start of the race, but may no longer be working due to changing conditions and/or opponents that have found a way to neutralise or defeat you.

In summary, the table below captures the holistic, and integrated mental state that will offer you the best chance of a quantum performance:

Aligns you to:

Counters:  

Dog on a walk

Optimism, Joy, Support

Despondency, Fear, Stress

Cat ready to pounce

Alertness, Concentration, Discipline, Stillness

Lethargy, Complacency, Distraction

Bird in flight

Flexibility, Flow, Freedom, Creativity

Rigidity, Tightness, Limitation

The column of counters highlight the mental challenges that negative energy activates. If you are feeling despondent during competition, then tapping into the theme of walking the dog will help you. If you become aware that you are getting too tight or rigid in how you are approaching the challenges, then linking to birds in flight will offer you the necessary flexibility of movement to navigate around the obstacle.

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Each new day begins with a sunrise, that brings light and warmth.

A new beginning or a new way depends on new insights that help direct your energy into a new direction. The model above does not only apply to elite athletes that are constantly working on expanding their expertise and skills to master taxing challenges in the heat of competitive battle.

A client of mine revealed that she was aligning herself to the themes of freedom, fearlessness and joy, as part of her change process, in how she wanted to live her life going forward. She stated that she wanted to better utilise and embrace opportunities that crossed her path. Such is the way to lead a more fulfilling life where your light can shine in its own uniqueness.

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.

Abstraction and projection

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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Researcher of self – a journey into the unknown

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