In part one, we travelled through a world of autumn’s dying colours to consider the continuing life beneath the earth – the world of the root. There is an inevitable sense of loss as the warm months fade away, leaving us with memories of pale blue skies and the perfume of the summer days… and the fullness of life.
We are presented with a ‘bare’ world, where only evergreens break up the grey and ochre of the wet and frozen world of winter. But we know that life continues beneath the damp earth, indeed, we can say that the very foundation of upper (or outer) life is approaching a subterranean frenzy. The beneath is also the world of the ‘blind creatures’ such as worms, whose role is essential to the quality of the soil and hence the continuation of life on earth.
We are not present to this world, though it supports our life. Even if we could see into it, our normal range of bright and varied colours would not be present. It’s a good illustration of how fundamental colour is to our sensory existence. We associate colour with life and health; we say ‘you’re looking’ pale. And mean that someone is ‘off-colour’.
Much of our existence is based on seeing the colour of things; so, let’s have a closer look at colour. We all remember the school experiment where a beam of light is separated into the colours of the rainbow as in the image, above.
We can probably name the colours if this rainbow, and in right order, but, if asked to name the single colour from which they came, we would reply, ‘white light’. If, at night, we employ a domestic torch and point it at an object, we would see its features and colours highlighted in the circular beam. But we may not stop to consider what colour that beam is before it reaches the objects.
If we stand back, holding out our torch arm, what we see is a beam of light made slightly visible by tiny dust particles in the air. In all other respects, the beam is colourless and invisible. It is not white light, it is bright light. Light is visible to our eyes as brightness, but only visible as colour when it reflects off something else.
The property of colour is a puzzle for science. It can be described, mathematically, as a vibration – a wavelength and frequency; and even a particle – but its experience in consciousness cannot be described in scientific terms. To our minds, the idea of a warming red is the simplest of experiences but our consciousness of it remains outside of the descriptive powers of science. It is as though its realm existed before science… and has never been subject to the powers of number as quantity.
The fact that light has no colour except ‘bright’ might make us think that nature has set a trail for us to follow? When bright light strikes an object, its ‘rays’ are reflected. Used to our scientific thinking, we assume this reflection is to ‘everywhere’ within range of the object; but the experience of colour is present only in ‘your’ eyes – and each human has a unique experience of their own colours.
The meanings of the word ‘reflection’ are many. The mechanism for colour’s perception is only one of them. Psychologists have long detailed the mechanism of ‘projection’, which externalises powerful aspects of our conscious and unconscious natures onto other people. The implications of this are seldom discussed as part of everyday life, and yet they are as important as the fact that the traffic-light ahead has just changed to red.
Everywhere, there is reflection. In the summer, we drink the colours, yet we are the source of their meaning and effect, the sea in which they generate their emotive results. In the winter, we are robbed of this brightness… perhaps to make us look harder?
The winter takes away much of nature’s outer colours. The solar brightness fades and we are left to explore the life that is ‘dormant’ yet busily unseen beneath the earth. It was no accident that many of the ancient religions and mystical schools had their most potent rituals in association with this period approaching the shortest day and longest night. Sunrise on the winter solstice was considered one of the most powerful times of the year. Its effects were on the natural world, most certainly, but also on the inner person, the one from whom the ‘colour of life’ originated. Infused, he or she would be filled with power seeded in the deepest winter. Thus, the priest earned his influence and his respect.
Just as the summer solstice celebrated and enjoined the powers of the full visible outer cycle of nature, so too did the winter solstice celebrate the height of the invisible powers of nature at work in that which is fundamental to – and the basis of – the inner life.
It’s not obvious, but we have the deep, ancestral and unforgotten ability to attune with this profound time in the spiritual calendar. All we need to do is open different eyes to the Sun behind the Sun.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.