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.

drkenjen@gmail.com
A man made cloud

 

Perspective and movement in your personal landscape

It was a cold, misty, frosty morning.

I had traveled up the mountain, where mist, frost and sporadic sunshine were interacting with the environment.

I made my way over the frozen ground towards two trees that were barely visible in the distance. I set up my tripod and took a photograph, shooting into the sun.

Early morning mist

The mist was moving rapidly, coming and going. At times, it was thick, reducing the visibility to a couple of metres. And then there were times, when the sun appeared, bringing with it beautiful light and clarity. There was an on/off process as mist and sun appeared and disappeared. It was a random dance of coming and going. There was no pattern.

Fifteen minutes had passed, since I took the first photograph.

I made my way around the trees and walked down a road that passed by the trees. The mist was retreating quickly. The sun was now 90 degrees to my right and shining brightly. I set up my tripod on the road and took a photograph. Soon after, the mist returned.

Blue skies and frost

The visual reality in a landscape is constantly changing. The same could also be said about one’s own personal landscape.

I have previously written about how time and diversity have an impact on our experiences in our landscapes. Perspective, movement and change should also be considered when examining your experiences in your relationships with others.

If you are feeling stuck in a relationship, you will be locked into one dominant and rigid perspective of (a) yourself, (b) the other person, and/or (c) the nature of the relationship that you are participating in. In such a relationship, it will feel as if there is little or no movement (growth). You will most probably experience a predictable pattern of interaction that closes down or limits your ability to be flexible, playful and/or creative. You may have the feeling of walking on egg shells. Little or no new information will be generated and in conversation, the same things will be said over and over again. On another level, a lot will remain unsaid.

But how can you change your viewpoint in a relationship that you may find restrictive? Depending on the complexity of the issues that the relationship may be struggling with, this may not be easy to achieve. However, below are some guidelines that will help you shift your perspective, as well as offer you the feeling that there is movement in your relationship as you strive to open up new possibilities.   

  • Try to discard the assumptions you have of the relationship, since it is usually your own assumptions that limit and restrict your perspective. Your assumptions are the lenses that you view life through.
  • In order to change your viewpoint, ask yourself to look for something new in the person who you are interacting with. Slow down and do not draw conclusions too quickly. A conclusion closes down a perspective. Instead, give yourself some space and time to look, without judgement. Try and understand more, without drawing any conclusions.
  • Ask questions instead of making statements. This helps to open up new perspectives and encourages movement. Listen more, talk less.
  • Breathe and let go of tension. Lighten and relax.
  • Let go of your ego and one-upmanship. There are no rights or wrongs or truths. There are only perspectives, and these are subjective reflections of one’s inner world.
  • Finally, since you have decided not to walk away from the relationship, be gentle, careful and loving. Remember that relationships are fragile.

When I walk into a landscape to take photographs, I do not have a preconceived idea about what the landscape will offer me. So I walk into the unknown with an open mind, which in turn, opens up possibilities in what I could see. While I  am aware that there are an infinite number of photographs that can be taken, I find myself getting drawn into the landscape where the light is.

Move into the light!

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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Shine your light in winter

Growth is not possible during a severe winter. The predominant concern for all living things during this period is one of survival.

Metaphorically, I feel that we are in a global spiritual winter at the moment. This feeling is exacerbated by the way many political leaders are conducting themselves at present. Ethics have given way to lies, corruption and manipulation. In the process, trust no longer exists and hope fades quickly as the harshness of the winter reality hits everyone. Darkness descends, and the possibility of sustainable growth wanes as the system struggles to sustain the values of honesty, courage and compassion. There are many weak enablers that add to (and benefit from) the wintery conditions; running and hiding for shelter while looking after their own comforts.

Over the weekend, I was outdoors taking photographs of the snow, wintery landscape. In late afternoon, I walked passed a small field of dead sunflowers as the sun was trying to break through the dense cloud cover. As the rays gained strength and penetrated the cover ever so slightly, I felt light and joyful.

As I looked at the sunflowers, I knew that each one of them contained the seeds of new life. The potential energy of growth existed in the seeds that lay dormant during winter. Nature is self-generating and in times of winter, it is not necessary to lose hope in a future that is still to unfold.

As the sun broke through, I was reminded of how light changes one’s perspective. During cold wintery days, everyone hankers after light. Feeling the warmth of the sun, just for a couple of minutes, helps to lift the spirit.

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When reflections in the water are added to light, the snowscape is enhanced dramatically.

Walking in the wintery landscape in Germany over this weekend helped remind me of the power of light and reflection when interacting with others and dealing with challenging situations.

Shining one’s light in wintery conditions lifts spirits. Being emotionally light, honest, compassionate and courageous in one’s relationships brings warmth and hope to others.

Part 1: Relationship

Relationship
Relationship

The sun had just set. The couple sat motionless on the secluded beach. They were all alone in the privacy of their relationship. An hour or so ago, this beach was packed with other people.

When I took the photograph, he was staring pensively out to sea, she had her head resting on his shoulders. She seemed despondent. He appeared burdened. Despite this, there was a serenity to them. Their stillness offered them a moment of intimate connection.

Relationship is about the nature of the connection. On a fundamental level, energy flow and information flow determines the nature of the relationship between two people. Given this, every relationship is unique.

According to Gregory Bateson, a biologist, relationships are the essence of the living world and one of the best ways to describe and understand relationships is by telling stories. ‘Stories are the royal road to the study of relationships,’ he would say. ‘What is important in a story, what is true in it, is not the plot, the things, or the people in a story, but the relationships between them’.

There are no absolutes when it comes to a relationship. There is no truth that defines a relationship. Instead, perceptions are the creative building blocks of an evolving relationship.

Experiences in a relationship are interpreted and understood from at least two perspectives. And it is in the difference of these perspectives that a ‘pattern of interaction’ unfolds.

By nature, a relationship is a learning system. A healthy relationship is creative and should be evolving to more and more complexity. As part of this evolution, the challenge is to navigate through uncertainty and unpredictability. This may be particularly pertinent as a relationship ages, since old established assumptions may block new ideas from emerging. The ability to generate newness is necessary in order to (re)solve problems and struggles.

There is always more to a relationship than what may presently exist, just like there is more to who you may think you are. In other words, a healthy relationship is expansive.

All humans have an inherent desire and need for love, belonging, and harmony. A relationship offers the possibility for these needs to be fulfilled. For this reason, a relationship needs to be nurtured since there is also a fragility to it. Given this, nothing should be taken for granted in a relationship.

Besides having relationships with those around you, you have an even more complex inner relationship with yourself to deal with. What is the nature of your relationship with yourself? Do you feel comfortable with yourself? How critical are you of yourself? Do you care for yourself? Do you encourage yourself in times of difficulty? Answers to these questions emerge when you are all alone in your own silence. It is then that the true nature of your relationship with yourself becomes clearer.

Four perspectives, one reality

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.