I was late into the coffee shop that Monday morning. My black briefcase was stuffed with information about the Greek myths that I’d printed from the internet. There was a lot on the net about the Labours of Hercules – or Heracles, to give him what I assumed to be his rightful name.
He was sitting at our usual table; two lattés in front of him, one of them half drunk, the other half cold. He smiled as I appeared in a whirlwind of apologies.
“Sorry,” I blurted out. “Nothing simple …”
He got the drift. “Morning Alexandra. One of those days where a series of small disasters conspire?” he said.
It was the perfect description, but I refused to go into detail. Our meetings were brief enough, without wasting time on trivial things. I looked across at his calm face. I had known him for a long time and our relationship had spanned many incarnations – from friend of the family to the present state of ‘mystical teacher’; a title he had always resisted, saying that he was simply sharing a journey.
“Particularly now,” he said, out of the blue, in the way he could, sometimes. “You were, perhaps thinking about the changing relationship we enjoy and our new agenda?”
I took a deep breath. Sometimes, there was about him a sense of timelessness, as though the ‘now’ were filled with something far bigger than he was. Not that he cut a particularly imposing figure, anyway. He was of medium height and had lost most of the hair on the top of his head. The skin on the back of his hands had started to wrinkle with age and he didn’t walk with the same spring in his step that I remembered from my teens. I supposed he was a perfectly average sixty-year old; but inside me, I hadn’t wanted that; hadn’t wanted him to age, since I had always looked up to the sort of person he had been to me – someone who was that bit different; someone who would cut through the sort of trivia that the rest of the world seemed to enjoy, and describe how you were feeling in a simple word or two – as he had just demonstrated.
“The Greek Myths?” he asked quietly. “You wanted us to explore the possible deeper meanings of the Twelve Labours of Hercules?”
“Heracles,” I interjected. “Hercules is an unnecessary westernised change.”
“I agree,” he said, easily. “Let’s use Heracles, then. I can see your homework–“ he pointed at my bulging briefcase. “–it looks like you’ve done a fair amount of research?”
I was both pleased and irritated by the mountain of information in the bag. “I have, but it’s all facts; whereas I have the feeling that what you want to steer me towards is of a different order to mere facts.”
He sipped his coffee and answered gently, “So tell me what’s wrong with facts?”
I thought carefully before answering. There was something fundamental to the understanding of myths in what was wrong with facts. “They don’t represent understanding,” I said. “Something else has to happen to facts to turn them into understanding.”
“Why don’t we just learn understanding?” he asked. It sounded such a reasonable question.
“Can you teach understanding?” I asked.
“You tell me – can you?”
I thought about this. What was the difference between the two? Education was filled with the cramming of facts into young heads; exams were all about their regurgitation. Did that produce understanding? I thought not; understanding was about something different, something ‘higher’ that used a working of the facts to produce something more fluid; more powerful.
“You can transmit facts,” I said, triumphantly. “You can’t transit understanding – that has to be earned by an alchemy of the consciousness which uses facts as fuel …”
He widened his eyes and smiled, “I’d say that was a very good answer.” He paused and seemed to be listening to the moment, again. “So what does understanding have to do with myth?”
I was on the trail of something. We could both feel it, even if he already knew what it was. I tried to find words that would express this glimmer I had glimpsed.
“Myth is like a machine – a living machine that works with the layers of the mind associated with understanding and wisdom.”
“I would agree,” he said. “It’s a bit like having a language that describes a language.”
“I’ve met that in the law,” I said. “There are constructs that are referred to as a meta-form whose job is to hold anything that belongs in that form.”
“A bit like an equation in maths?”
“Exactly so,” he said, smiling. “Though that might frighten most people!”
“Yes …” I thought back to the struggles I had endured with maths; and yet the concepts were so beautiful when you grasped them.
“But we don’t need to be that rigorous with myth,” he said, finishing his coffee. “We just need to ensure we speak the same language as the originators …”
“So what now?” I asked.
He looked at his watch. “So now you need to leave to catch your train.”
I groaned and looked at my own watch – an expensive Cartier in black and gold. He was right. In my intensity of thought, combined with my late start, I had run out of time. I slurped the rest of my coffee – now luke warm, and picked up the heavy briefcase.
“Facts are like that,” he said, looking at the overstuffed case under my arm. “It’s much better to carry understanding. That way, you can deal with any fact …”
I looked down at my uncle John. Since my father had died, prematurely, in my mid-teens, he had always been there – but never before like this … we were entering a new phase of working together in this unexpected realm. I leaned over and planted a quick and cheeky kiss on the bald top of his head. “Next Monday?”
He looked up, warily, laughing at my affection, but not wanting it to be misinterpreted. “Most certainly,” he said. “wouldn’t miss it for the world …”
Nine Deadly Sins with Coffee is usually published on Thursdays.
All images and text ©International copyright, The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, 2015.
Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness; a place of companionship, sharing and the search for the real in life, using the loving techniques and insights of esoteric psychology. He retired from a life as an IT entrepreneur to establish the School in 2012, and, having persuaded Sue Vincent to . . .