Dominions of Cnut – #Silenti

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image source CC BY-SA
Pity poor King Canute (Real name ‘Cnut’ pron: Kn-ootr). He went down in English history as the King who was so self-important that he sat in a ceremonial chair, on the beach, ordering the tide not to come in…

Only, according to many leading historians, he didn’t…

This intelligent eleventh century ruler of England, Norway and Denmark – the ‘North Sea Empire’, as it was known, had conquered the English by force of arms, but sought to rule with fairness. The gesture with the incoming tide was to illustrate that the only Will that really mattered was of a much higher nature than his own. He carried out the quoted royal act to illustrate his impotence in the face of God’s will, expressed through nature’s forces, to show that even Kings were subject to higher laws.

We could call this the art of ‘acceptance’, but there is a modern use of the word ‘allowing’ that ascribes a more potent meaning. Potency is the key, here; one will subsumed into another – a greater flow that we are all part of – one whose nature, though often unpredictable, is both to support and teach us…

Many would dispute that, believing that the hostile world of nature is one which teaches us only survival – and devil take the hindmost. It’s an attitude prevalent in some sections of modern political life, who feel that liberal values and compassion have gone too far and it’s time to look after ourselves.

We can liken life to a river. We can stand on the riverbank and observe a part of the river that constantly changes as it flows past, or we can jump in and be part of the river’s life, taking our chances. In the former, we are completely passive to the great flow, and likely to have a stagnant, if safe, existence. In the latter, we can, at least, exercise our own choices about how we navigate the fluid body around us – and to recognise that we are very much made of the same stuff, with one special attribute.

We can swim – that act of staying alive is analogous to surviving to reproductive maturity. Better swimming produces the art of direction: we can choose where in the immediate flow we wish to be. But we can’t choose (unless we want to daydream) to be somewhere unrelated to where we already are; we can only get there by a series of heres. And there may have changed from our perceptions when we get to it… You can’t anticipate reality, you can only be it.

We can do nothing about that nasty fork in the river’s flow, just ahead of us; nor the rocks we narrowly avoided a minute ago. We have our dominion, and it’s largely around our intimate space. If that floating log behind us gets any closer, we have the right and the ability to fend it off, but not to choose whether it’s there or not.

The ‘Life in a River’ idea can teach us a lot, but it’s finite in its extensions. At the heart of all the world’s truly deep spiritual traditions is the idea that things are really perfect if we can only see them objectively. Nothing I know of causes more unrest in the modern intellect. We cry out that we haven’t come this far in evolution to surrender to blind and stupid forces, intent on eroding our values and way of life. We’ve climbed out of that bloody river, says the angry self, and there’s no way we’re going back – even if most of humanity are still in there…

At the heart of this tale of the riverbank is an erosion of fundamental trust. Psychologically, we come into our lives with total trust, experienced as oneness in the womb. This absolute trust is eroded shortly after birth when the harsher, separated world – even with Mother’s help – cannot satisfy all our needs. The egoic self, (used, here, in its positive connotation), develops from this, shedding trust and learning fear as it develops to fend for it-self.

Civilisations go through this kind of cycle, too, though the cycle time is very much longer. Families understand compassion, but extending that boundary into a society involves bumping into power and greed and they often have guns and want to control through trust in fear.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example of a wisdom-story designed to help those ready to understand what happens if you leap into the river. The symbolic son, leaving home, has to make his/her way in the world, but eventually comes to realise what a store of providence was already on the table at home. The price of that return is his experience, bitter and wonderful, which he ‘lays’ on his Father’s table, while his uncomprehending brother looks on… from the riverbank.

In mystical terminology, the Prodigal Son flows out, at the end of the river’s course, into the sea, realising that what he/she truly is, is the water made conscious – infinitely changing and unending. The ‘forms’ of those left on the riverbank lose their vitality, eventually, and decompose to become part of the life of the soil, again. Nothing wrong with that, but we can imagine that the sparkling sea is more fun?

To even speak of such things can mark you out as crazy. To be a King and attempt to demonstrate them may always be doomed to failure. But what’s the harm in trying to be a misunderstood Cnut once in a while…

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

10 thoughts on “Dominions of Cnut – #Silenti

  1. I’m currently re-watching several ‘favorite’ documentaries that cover the centuries of time round Cnut’s reign – seriously, despite all that, I never knew to put an ‘r’ at the end of the pronunciation – but, figure it’s okay – at least I get why he sat by the river – – LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “We can only get there through a series of heres.” Wow! You nailed it. I like the river as the collective unconscious and our external journey as a result of going with the inner flow…..which is always in the direction of becoming one with all.

    Liked by 1 person

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