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How to catch the bird flying upside down in you

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

Here is an open page of my jotter. Drying on the sand. A tiny glistening of very dilute still-wet white ink is just visible.

Recently, this jotter comes with me down to the sea. You can see some random notes along with pencil drawings. As you're probably aware, I research water via art, and lately I have been making studies of waves with pencil and photography. I notice that they vary from day to day, moment to moment, and also that they respond to other elements in them, such as rocks, wind, tide, the wake of boats, and swimmers... Yesterday, I noticed two whirlpools going in opposite directions in the wake of a swimmer.

Leonardo da Vinci made some famous pen and ink studies of flow patterns of water.

He is identifying universal patterns of fluid mechanics. Here at the sea, I notice that there are so many variables, that it seems they do not want to resolve into any recognisable or knowable pattern. I find, in any moment, there seems to be something else going on as well - it seems to be more of an idiosyncratic event.

Obviously, waves are water - they are a 'thing', and yet, they are also 'happenings'. They are a bit like us, and if we were language, we would be both verb and noun, and like us, also adjusting our responses to the nuances of environment. Light on our feet. Aware in the moment. Ideally.

I make work with water in order to learn something from water - water as guru. I need to learn water's language - it's fluency if you like. I find, as a human being, at times, I lack fluency. I can falter. I can become rigid.

Humans beings are generally good at mimicry, and a useful tool in learning to communicate is by mimicking another's language (including mannerisms, gestures, facial expressions, voice, turn of phrase). But, we can be so good that we forget our own natures, especially women, who for safety's sake we have learnt to please, be polite, look small, laugh don't laugh..., and I believe this underlies the primary reason for the recent pull of so many people, both men and women, to 'nature'*.

We are wanting to venture off into quiet places in order to unearth who we really are; to develop a relationship with the self, become fluent with it, and then return to be with others in light of that - from a place of integrity. And our true nature seems to be most at ease to be itself in nature, with nature, in the company of nature, through the eyes of nature, and crucially, by being present. Have you noticed, how nature kind of demands us to be present - in its presence?

One Buddhist philosophy teaching is to cultivate a 'beginner's mind' - to aim not to rely on preconceived notions, rather to aim to experience life attentively in the moment and with an open mind. Eastern philosophies teach that in order to be present, we need to calm our minds. It's almost as if our minds were water, and that we need to calm it to a still pool before being alert and aware enough to clearly catch that bird flying upside down in us.

* 'Nature' is a beautiful word as it brings vast wildernesses together with our own intimate human nature, but it is also tricky word. What do we mean by 'nature'? Do we mean lots of green things out there through the window? or do we mean in here too, and the whole of existence? Do we mean pristine rainforest kind of nature? or do we mean the world not messed around with by human beings (Where's that then?)? Do we just mean the non-human-ed world? And how could we exclude ourselves? In which case, when are we our true nature?


Michele Mossa. The recent 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death: a reminder of his contribution in the field of fluid mechanics.

Beginner's Mind or, Shoshin.


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