Alternate Realities

Nightingale Centre morning ace shot 2011 copy

We have a pretty good idea what reality is, don’t we?

It’s something that relates to what we already know. It follows the same behaviour, roughly, each time it happens. It has a familiar ring to it. If I were to get into my neighbour’s new car, and it slide out of the drive on an anti-gravity cushion, I would probably feel slightly sick and worry that I was ill. ‘This cannot be“‘would echo in my head and I would begin to doubt my sanity.

Yet, this coming weekend, in the depths of lovely Derbyshire, a group will gather whose purpose is to travel back before recorded time, uniting around a strange, nine-pointed symbol that purports to be a pretty good map of the human consciousness; and a route-planner to the way of getting beneath that everyday consciousness and to the ‘spiritual realms’ beneath. The event is called ‘The Feathered Seer’

SE17 ST Feathered Seer image

They will meet in the comfort of a familiar retreat centre, with an equally familiar pub, the Queen Anne, a two-minute walk away. The food will be good, the accommodation excellent for the inclusive weekend price, and the company will be brilliant. Serious work will be mixed with much humour and convivial reunions, and a few new people will be warmly welcomed into the expanding fold. Many will be returning for their third or fourth such weekend, some of them will be crossing continents or oceans.

They will be doing what some people would think is ridiculous for a bunch of intelligent adults – playing… But this playing is a serious business. There is a slight pun in the word, since we could more accurately have said ‘play acting’. For a weekend we all become actors (carrying our scripts with us) in a five-act drama that begins on Friday night and ends, with great sadness and often a few tears of departing cameraderie, in the early hours of Sunday afternoon, after a feast of a Sunday lunch that will ensure that most of them have to stop for a short nap in one of the many cafes, service stations or airport lounges that dot the map of their return journeys.

We can imagine approaching one of them to talk.

“Sorry to disturb you, I believe you have just come from a Silent Eye weekend – The Feathered Seer?”

Opens sleepy eyes and puts down coffee. “Yes,” smiles knowingly. “I have…”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Laughs… “Oh, very much. I got to play an ancient light of consciousness – one at the heart of what we now view as behaviour, buried deep within us, but recoverable…”

“But you were just playing, surely?”

“Oh no…” sips coffee. “Not at all…”


Details of our Feathered Seer weekend are available here. Next April will see us stage another one, this time an Elizabethan-based drama of magic, science and political intrigue: The Jewel in the Claw. Details will be available on our website

The Flowers of Mistrust – #Silenti

We live, increasingly, in an age of mistrust. It can be seen as cool, savvy, to doubt what we hear–an expectation of deceit in the ‘other’, as though trust belonged to the infant’s playground; something to be outgrown in the face of maturity in the world and in life.

As ‘humanity’, if such a concept is meaningful, we yearn for the true values of early childhood, where we could trust. To have to live in a world of its opposite is foreign to our natures and invokes one of our fundamental shared attributes – fear. Fear teaches us that mistrust is necessary to protect ourselves… and it is, until it comes time to be bigger than both.

Anyone who considers they are on their own spiritual path – and by that I mean simply a journey within themselves for the truth of their lives – encounters this lack of trust, sooner or later. Many, who have been working on themselves for a number of years, need to come up against this – often with the help of true friends, no matter how that looks at the time – before they can see that much of their lives is characterised by a lack of trust.

We build little islands within. We compartmentalise, thereby allowing mistrust to fragment what should be a whole nature…

It’s not as though we don’t have trust in parts of our lives; we have lots of it in family situations; and good, strong families are based on it. Only by showing a child that you trust them can you ever invoke that powerful sense of its loss when they do something that hurts its essential nature. This is an example of how the positive dynamic is so much more powerful than the accretion of the negative. Sadly, societies so often display the opposite.

Sadly – or perhaps, inevitably – politics across the world is increasingly based on lack of trust. The most powerful nations on earth can seem the most paranoid, and yet their civilisations grew from a history of trusted, social achievements.

How did this happen? My personal view is that we, as ‘cells’ of society, have, essentially, three natures. We have ‘the good’ and we have ‘the technology’; and, beneath them both we have the ‘fear’. The ‘good’ is, for the want of a more modern word, the ‘moral’ side of us – the goodness that the church used to address, back when we allowed moral considerations to belong to someone else. The ‘technology’ is the machinery, in all its forms, that we like to surround ourselves with to make life more comfortable and pleasant. The ‘fear’ side of our natures is what keeps the animal part of us alive. Our psychological side – the self that we worship in this age – only persists because of that animal nature’s ability to preserve itself as a base-layer. This is dilemma we face when we look at ourselves, honestly. We can dress it up in fancy terms, but, deep down, that’s what it is…

‘Comfortable and pleasant’ are what the ‘fear’ nature in us strives for. We want to be warm, we want to be clothed and fed, we want to exert ourselves less for more. These are not morally wrong things, they are what happens when the lower levels of our Maslow hierarchy gets a chance to surpass its fear and mistrust.

Two things happen as we rise up this hierarchy of needs: we get more comfortable, which takes us away from the rawness of experience; and we develop technology – and sell it to lots of other fearful people. At the group level, some of the technology removes the other, threatening people, before they can do it to us… Mistrust can be a very effective weapon for the ‘fear’ nature, but it’s by no means a spiritual quality – though it can be a great catalyst…

To cut through any of this requires that we do two things: we need to re-learn the value of the ‘good’. We don’t need religion to do this, though there’s nothing wrong with finding it there. Secondly, we need to believe that we can extend that sense of personal good into our societies; and to do that means we need to be prepared to face the terrible arsenal of technology that has done what all intelligent machines do – protect itself at all costs. At present, there is very little belief that human good can achieve this. But, that is an illusion. ‘There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come’, to quote Victor Hugo.

In a wonderful act of synchronicity, my smartphone has just beeped with an updated message. I’m following a blog about the ‘olden days’ in my home town of Bolton, Lancashire. It was a very working-class place, but it had good aspirations and some very good schools. One of the respondents to the blog has just replied: ‘Yep, that was us… happy days, true neighbourhood – all one big family.’

It was true. Life was poorer, very much poorer, but the neighbourhoods were much closer – often intrusively so. Education and technology have ‘raised’ many of us out of that world – but only in the prosperous western world.

We can’t go back. The kind of nostalgia that so infects the elderly end of some counties’ populations is a useless emotion. But we do need to find a way to believe in goodness, again, and then to trust in its power…

The deeper spiritual journey is marked by a stage where real, inner trust is essential – indeed, is an attribute of the developing soul. And, collectively, that is a fire which will test what we are truly made of…

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham.

Intimate Flames – #Silenti

What is it to be intimate? The touch  of a lover’s hand or lips, perhaps?  Two bodies locked together in desire for a common fulfilment; the intellect muted while the emotional and sexual energies dance their own bolero?

We generally associate intimacy with the body, but it’s not always so, and the exceptions can point the way to something much deeper…

The body has its own wisdom, and lives by an organic truth. We can play all sorts of games with our minds, but a bodily ‘state’ is just that – an undeniable and persistent experience that has no form outside of its representation as pleasure or pain. As such it exists at a level beyond misrepresentation. 

The ability to move, especially two beings together – like when we dance – might be considered another physical aspect of intimacy, and certainly forms an abiding part of physical passion.

Can we move beyond the physical and retain intimacy? Can intimacy also be exchanged around a dining table, when the pressures of the day give way to a sudden sharing of moment? Or at a meeting with a close, but non-sexual friend, one that we might not see for another decade or so?

Encounter is a good word to set the scene for real intimacy. It implies something new in that meeting of body, heart and sometimes mind – although our usual level of mind can introduce as many problems as it seeks to solve. 

We might substitute encounter for what happens in this intimate context; yet how can there be anything new from two organisms that have shared much, before? We could have said ‘different’ and our minds might have felt more secure. Mind can understand different – it builds its picture of the world – our lives – out of differences…

The essence of these kinds of intimacy lies in their potential for opening a new level of awareness – even if that lasts only for seconds or less. In that moment we can glimpse a far more peaceful, harmonious and ‘speaking-to-me’ level of life, as though a liquid nectar has poured from another world into this one.

The deeper level of  ‘speaking-to-me’ is not an experience, it is a certainty. There is no room for doubt in one who finds it. The finder moves from possibility into knowing. 

Many kinds of love can point the way. Some of them, like the moment of orgasm, are brief, though wonderful. Others are calmer and longer-lasting. Mysticism is founded in the the personal unveiling of the deep intimacy of something behind the self. Many words have been used to describe the qualities of what is found, yet all are doomed to be approximations. Words come from the mind, and the mind is incapable of experiencing what is known without reason. 

Only the heart, understood fully and not the subject of romantic trivialisation, will take us there. This is true meditation. To follow that path is to take the openness and trust that normally accompanies physical intimacy and offer it, internally, to that which lies above the mind and is wedded with the heart. This state, if spoken of at all, is referred to in hushed or symbolic terms. One of the best of these is what the Sufi mystics have called ‘The Beloved’.

There is a deep mystery about the beloved that can only be found through a personal journey. She has always been present. She waits; and the only key that will open her chamber is that offering of love, trust and presence spoken of above.

We may think that we already possess these qualities, but life, in its development of the personality, takes the ‘brilliance’ away from our existence – it becomes more important to be secure than to be occasionally touched by the inner parts of who we really are. A certain resolve is needed to re-learn the essential qualities, and then refine them from the darker clay that the outer ‘us’ has become. It’s not an easy journey, but it is mapped out, in many reliable forms, including the Silent Eye’s three-year correspondence course.

We might liken the quest for this deepest of intimacies to the re-finding of a ruby jewel, given by Mother to us in childhood, and which was subsequently lost. For years we searched for it, gradually surrendering to the fact that the vague and fading memory of its glory was all we had left of what was once so precious.

And then, one day, we enter a room in a strange and quiet inner state, to find a drawer in an old cabinet whose existence we had forgotten. Inside is a glowing red jewel, more intimately connected to everything in our lives than we could possibly have imagined.

From then on, the journey becomes one of the heart rather than just the mind, though the mind also finds renewal in the ruby rays, allowing something special to happen to its nature, too…

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Steve Tanham is one of three directors of the Silent Eye School. Steve updates his personal blog several times a week at

Dominions of Cnut – #Silenti

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

The Finding of Polarity (3) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

In parts one and two of this set of three posts, we have examined how the development of the individual, the ‘self’, is a different process from the development of our young bodies, and relies upon our departure from ‘oneness’ in the womb towards a reaching for individuality – a process that eventually matures into what psychology calls the ego.

From a psychological perspective, the scientific definition of the ego is in terms of a ‘self-image’, increasingly strengthened and stabilised as we grow through childhood. Various problem conditions, from aberrations to pathologies, are related to how well this ‘self-image’ takes hold and becomes the centre of our ‘me’ existence in the adult world. Narcissists, for example, often reach senior positions because of their extreme need to define themselves by projecting their self-worth onto what they do, rather than what they are. More rounded psyches are grounded in true relationship, whereas the narcissist relies upon a perceived and  constant reflection of their own worth in the world around them.

Western civilisation places enormous value on the achieving of individuality, particularly emotional and physical individuality; and glorifies financial independence above all else. Success in society is generally equated with such independence.

Here we have an increasingly agonising divergence: the world’s spiritual traditions have, for millennia, equated individual progress towards a spiritual state (one that is more real) with the diminishment, and, in some cases, the complete annihilation, of what we now know as the ego… the very centre of western culture’s mark of achievement.

We can take the view that the ancient knowledge of the inner states of our ‘selves’ is past its sell-by date and that modern thinking, based on science, is much more in tune with the truth of things. The majority of the population do just that, if they think of it at all. Many see spirituality as religion, only, and conflate the latter’s diminishing importance as mirroring its relevance – a view understandably fuelled by the constant headlines from the extremes of fundamentalism.

But absolutely none of this makes us happy… or even fulfilled. Something is missing if a person living a simple life in humble conditions can get more from life than those with an array of possessions and achievements.

The conventional response by those believing themselves on a spiritual path has been to attack our way of life. Only radical philosophers like Gurdjieff dared to consider that we might actually be on a perfectly valid spiritual path of our own.

The egoic nature of the western world has not stopped people from being caring individuals. Political societies might cycle through a lack compassion, but there is always a great degree of kindness in the family units that comprise them. The hunger for the personal truth and meaning that drives us may well be of a different nature. What if the ego’s development were necessary as a ‘fuel-tank’ for another journey? Suppose that the seeming negatives of the egoic self, with its anger, selfishness, avarice, pride, lust and the rest of the well-categorised deadly ‘sins’, were really signposts to what was missing – in effect the way home…

We’d have to want to be ‘home’, as in somewhere else, inside ourselves, of course. But if we are truly at the point where increasing our store of what society views as the stuff of happiness was simply producing more angst, then where else is there to go?

The key is not to find someone else’s truth; it is to find our own. The value of what psychology has given us lies, ultimately, not in the production of stable egos – though that is an important goal for anyone in whom that vital stage has not crystallised; the value of it lies in the clarity it has provided for the inner meaning of those ancient traditions and their relevance to those who would find their own spiritual path, today.

The founders of the Silent Eye gained their experience within a varied and mixed background of mystical traditions ranging from Rosicrucian, to Qabalistic to Fourth Way. We had all experienced the real power of people working together in a group aimed at ‘raising the consciousness’ of each individual, without drugs, so that we could begin to perceive deeper realities. We established the Silent Eye School using a core set of teachings that combined everything we knew to work, including mystical drama, and based it around a symbolic variant of the enneagram – a nine-sided kind of star that has evolved to describe and illustrate how ‘nature’ works the world and, latterly, how psychology’s map of the inner human maps into the heart of this. Only our synthesis of this is new; all the components were there before, though not in the form we gave them for our symbolic and inner three-year guided journey which is at the heart of the correspondence course.

The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram

Our journey begins with this quest: to find and understand the ‘gap’ between the western self as described by psychology and the ancient wisdom of the ‘no-self’. Our goal as been to show that the value of the egoic nature can be preserved, but that its nature has to be healed rather than polished. Instead of retaining its desperate role as the ‘captain of the ship it must keep creating’, it can now relax into knowing that it is really only a picture – an image of our outer reactiveness, useful in terms of its skills, but redundant in terms of its knowing the answers about our real coming-into-being.

Those answers lie in a personal journey which unzips the ego, carefully and with love, using its restlessness (and suffering) to point to how those elements of unease are generated, in each part of its psychic anatomy, by a lack of something else. That something else eventually takes shape, and that is where the enneagram has its unique value – it acts as a map of the homeward journey, a journey in which the real characteristics of a true Self become apparent, requiring no validation from the material world. This newly discovered entity, which many call the Soul, is perfect in its individuality; is supported in its vivid feeling of being truly alive; and is secure in knowing, beyond question, that it is already a child of those formless realms spoken of so long ago…

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

The Finding of Polarity (2) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA


‘As I begin to understand how ‘I’ am made I begin to see that infinity can largely be equated with what is formless and not with some mathematically and useless hugeness’

I wrote that down some time ago. From one perspective, it describes the beginning of the real search for what uncovers the heart of polarity – rendering it useful, at last.

We live in a world of what mystics call ‘form’. Form gives us separate ‘things’. Without separate things the mind cannot function in the way it has been taught. Without things, mind begins to panic – though it need not; but our training in perception (in how to see) is received and deep, and conditions the self and the society in which that self grows.

Self is the continuity of thought. Self clings desperately to that continuity, thinking that this massively heavy baggage is its life. Unless I keep this picture of ‘me’ vividly alive, I will lose my life, it says… Even in writing it down we can sense the frailty of the mechanism. Thought is a continuous narrative around the supposed centre of the self – the picture, the emotional and physical image of a ‘me’ at the heart of things; and it’s made of memory. This construct generates all the problems that life contains: It separates an assumed ‘me’ from the rest of experience. That experience is real, but the packaging of duality we divide it into is not.

This is the heart of the twin concepts of duality and polarity. These concepts are the true, mystical endeavour. The separation of ‘me’ from my experience distorts the reception of my experience, for which ‘I’ as an unique point of perception in the universe, am beautifully equipped – we all are. Over a lifetime, the nature of that experience becomes entirely conditioned by the layers of this assumed ‘me’. Only careful unwinding of this dirty bandage will reveal where we – Life – really live.

Life grows through a gradient of awareness. We, the humans species, are said to be the pinnacle of that awareness. Through evolution, primitive awareness of the survival of a separated centre becomes, eventually, the accretion of a self, as like and dislikes come to define who ‘we’ are. To evolve intelligence, we have to be capable of manipulating the external. We examine it and need to separate its components, because we can’t ‘eat the whole elephant’. To do this, the mind takes a giant leap and names things… And, of course, one of the things it names, or is given a name for, is itself. The naming, praising or denigration of this self becomes the ego.

The way our minds work mirrors, and derives from, the survival instincts that protect our animal – and there can be no escape from the fact that a considerable part of us is animal in its nature. I like warmth, I hate cold, though I have to learn that there are degrees of things, and that too much warmth can hurt me – probably a lot more than cold, so paradoxes become frequent and the complex logic of mental words accommodates them. This duality of like and dislike, pain and pleasure, expands into a spectrum of preference in the adult -and preference brings with it an implication of dissatisfaction with what is.

These are all the product of the animal part of us. We have, by then, developed a strong sense of self-image, and the assertion of this is the key to our success in the world. That has to be based upon agreed advantage, so we quickly learn that to be successful we have to fit in.

And then, one day, we might wake up and realise that something very deep is, increasingly, being lost. That vividness of experience and honest feeling we had as a child has been clouded over, like a blue sky gone grey and without its sun. At that point we see that we have made a world for ourselves; that the egoic self-image has become the centre of our lives rather than the reality of undivided experience all around us. This world, seen as it is, in Reality – was not and cannot be created by use in this constant anxiety of the success-mind and so the estrangement grows and grows.

It’s quite a moment – in the Silent Eye we call it the ‘turning point’. Many people register it but do not act on it. Over time, it can be numbed by the usual diversions of the sensual world. For the small number who choose to act on it, a path awaits that will challenge everything they think they know – to paraphrase the Sufi mystics.

Firstly, we have to recognise that our lives are filled with duality: me and it. ‘It’ is the world, ‘me’ is the self-image. This duality robs our experience of its true life (Reality) and that dirty bandage must be carefully unwrapped, without destabilising the animal or losing the hard-won skills that give us power of action. Secondly, we come to realise that what gives us the most real excitement is not the self-image but the power of the experience of being alive. When we shut down our inner judge we begin to let reality flow in us, again. The original shutting off of that flow is the cause of most of our sadness, dissatisfaction and illness.

One very good way of sampling this for ourselves is to look at a familiar object – a tree is good subject – and say its name (eg ‘Oak’) over and over again until the world – the agent of thought- becomes meaningless. At that point of no-longer-knowing-anything about the tree, go closer to it and be with it. Walk around and touch it, smell it, see it from deliberately different angles, use all your senses and try to suppress anything that smacks of the past. Most of all, shut of like and dislike and any inner dialogue based on previous experience of trees.. This exercise will bring you into contact, however fractionally, with the Being of the Tree. There’s nothing ‘new-age’ about this, its the science of experience, though we should feel free to hug the tree if  we like! It will also show us that, once we turn off the habitual mechanism of the ‘word’,  the substance of thought, we begin to see that the duality of ‘me and it’ is entirely false, and that our real life is in the harmonisation of experience and the diminishing of the false self.

We have spoken here, mainly of duality; so what is polarity? Are they the same? Mystics speak of a subtle difference. Polarity is seen as a deeper understanding of the construction of form – objects with purpose being grouped together. We did not create such purposes in our own minds, we discover them through knowledge – the real purpose of science. With new eyes, we build new relationships with the natural world, seeing a much bigger will than ours at work.

There comes a moment when we see that the subtle difference between duality and polarity lies in the latter’s possession of an intelligence of reconciliation, and a realisation – like discovering a natural spring in the landscape – that this polar intelligence is there to take us home…

What, then, is the usefulness of a ‘self’? Has Nature spent billions of years evolving us from star-stuff to find that the self is not fit for purpose? The answer is an intriguing paradox that we will consider in the concluding post, next week.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

The Finding of Polarity (1) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

We can speak of mysticism, of magic, of meditation, of psychodynamics and many other labels, but all these refer to the attempt by the human consciousness to become aware of a deeper level of existence than our normal day-world.

In dreams, we experience another ‘world’ but it is often confusing and seldom follows the laws of cause and effect with which we try to control what happens to us in our day-world.

A more accurate word to describe this quest is that we seek to enter the world of metaphysics. Meta, in this sense, implies a greater or underlying understanding. Physics speaks for itself, but only since the age of ‘rational science’ has it excluded the aspect of consciousness. Meta-physics, then, is the search for laws that involve the whole human in a deeper understanding of action, reaction and possible reconciliation.

Today, more than ever before, these concepts and experiences are important. We live in an age where the citizens of some of the most developed nations on earth are polarised against each other, not by physical harm being done – in the sense that a tribal feud would bring – but by an antithesis of idea…

Person ‘A’ sees that what is happening is against the very core values of their being, and turns the collective clock back for the county, in terms of its part in the world. Person ‘B’ see that ‘A’ is soft, susceptible to external persuasion and that things can be only be solved by self-based firm action and unity of purpose – and if there are casualties, well, they had it coming. Both sets of people are sincere in their beliefs. There are no laws of physics to describe such divergence of heated opinion; they are a complex mixture of logic, emotion, culture, and the invocation of ancient survival traits in the lower parts of our brain-stems.

Physics speaks of action and reaction. These have psychological equivalents as well, but the same laws are not followed. My beliefs may change tomorrow, but the angle at which a ray of light will be refracted through the same piece of glass will not.

Is there a science of how and why things happen? At a physical level the answer is a definite yes. Considered from the perspective of the whole of Life on Earth, the answer is not so simple. Metaphysics begins with a set of core principles – technically an ‘ontology’ or study of Being. Being is what is. Its attributes are to be rather than to do. If you believe in a human soul, an inner, deeper part of our being, then that soul may be said to live in world of Being, though we may pass the whole of our life without knowing of its presence.

Being does not need reason – it knows itself to be the child of a perfect universe.

Being underpins Doing. Doing is the unwinding of potential to do. Intelligence ‘aims’ that potential where it knows the most good can be done. In physics the ‘most good’ is the desired result – the football in the back of the opposition net, for example. In metaphysics, the idea of doing cannot be separated from the experience of moral good – as seen at the highest level of that person’s consciousness. Psychology sees ‘good’ in a similar way to physics, in that it is a relative quality. In metaphysics, good is a real thing and pervades the universe, waiting for its children of consciousness to wake up to its guiding presence.

We need not speak of God, here. But we can if we wish. We must, though, speak of Life. The Good is that which serves all Life as equitably as the distribution of potential for action will allow, looking after the developing consciousness as much as the physical vehicle which houses it.

The inner core of many of the mystical or magical traditions is the idea of polarity. Something is polarised when it exhibits an extreme of a certain quality. The ‘poles’ of such qualities might be easy to understand, like life and death or black and white, or hot and cold, or wet and dry. Many of these qualities are relative to the observer, in other words relative to the way we are affected by them. We are reactive to such things – they originate elsewhere and with a greater cause.

The word ‘spiritual’ simply means something that affects all the levels of our Being. The idea of spiritual polarity begins with the Will, or, in physics, the set of laws, that comes into existence at the birth of the ‘world’. We can define the ‘world’ as we wish. It can refer to the arising of life on Earth or to the Big Bang of the whole universe, depending how far back in time we wish to go. Time is, of course, not what it was. Einstein re-wrote the laws of classical physics with his proven theories of space-time within relativity.

The laws of consciousness describe increasing levels of awareness – from the simplest single-celled organisms, whose main property is to continue to exist as something separate, to the complexity of the human being, with the history of its entire evolution written in the increasingly sophisticated levels of its nervous system and brain. The story of Life on Earth is written along the human spine…

When Life is examined in this way, we begin to see the evolving climb of consciousness; and the importance of the polarities which drove its evolution. Something with increasingly powerful ‘eyes’ is being produced in the biosphere of the Earth. That original ‘Will’ of the universe, as seen on this planet, has resulted in the consciousness of mankind.

In the next post, we will ‘Look back along the telescope’ at the core polarities of how things happen, relating these principles to what is revealed in the depths of the human consciousness.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Freedom via Relationship -#Silenti


The pre-born, living within Mother, but increasingly alive, knows only the dual world of She-and-me. The new-born, finding itself in an undefinable aloneness yet reassured by a Mother now separated, clings to her now-externalised warmth and nourishment. But a dramatic change has taken place. There is an imprinting within consciousness of separation and the key to the rest of life will be the question “Who am I?”

The pre-born starts off not knowing there is such a thing as separation. Souls entering the physical life have no choice but to experience it. Mystics seek to return to the source and transform it and them at the same time…

The birth is a combination of organic life given by Mother as part of her life, plus the character of the infant, genetic and egoic, as that sense of self is slowly realised, consolidated and acted upon. We have come to expect that the word ‘ego’ will be used negatively, yet it is the most essential of things in the formative stages of life. Without the experience of the growing self, there would be no growth of capability in that life, since we would not be able to harvest and keep the fruits of experience.

Spiritually, there comes a time when we question the validity of that (till then) lifelong separation – ‘in-here and out-there’. Working backwards through what is sensed as the ‘false self’ we come to the base survival conditioning that is associated with the issues of fear and trust. If there is enough force in our search we can see something shining in those waters…

From the time we emerge as infants, our discovery of our world is a matter of relationship.

Pleasure, pain and fear are low-level, survival-based drivers and essential to our physical existence. Consciousness, such as we use the word in self-development, is seen as an ‘upward’ extension of awareness, but can also be seen as a growing-back movement from the edge of the circle of raw experience towards the centre of a circle. That centre is our spiritual goal, the core of our real self.

We are not speaking of regression therapy here. The adult mind is essential to this quest and needs to be held, like a bright torch, against the still-present fears that disproportionately coloured our early experiences – and hence our lives. Like re-examining the stuff of early nightmares, we come to see how trivial were those fears, and yet their effect persists in our egoic makeup.

All this is a journey of self-knowledge. There are no Gods in this path, save those we create for our own use. Real self-knowledge can come only when our world ‘speaks’ to us about our selves – and that is only possible through relationship…

Why, then, do our relationships not propel us, immediately and continuously, back towards the centre of that circle we seek? In the last article of the #Silenti series, we considered the way the human mind constantly identifies with the external objects it considers desirable, seeking to define itself externally. Such ‘objects’ may be people or things or beliefs or even states of mind. The world of ‘Object Relations’ is a key part of modern psychology, though approached from the perspective of stable personality rather than the search for the missing/forgotten ‘heart’ of a non-egoic self.

The reactive brain has spent a lifetime equipping us with personal history. That history forms the basis of a continuously-updated database against which we evaluate experience. Conditioned by the pre-processing of this historical patterning, we lack any freedom to actually experience, since our brain-selves are busy liking or not-liking what’s happening to us.

In other words, we constantly judge our experience based on a subjective edifice of pre-conceptions, shutting out our own precious reality – a reality that, alone, has the power to transform us.

Do we have the ability to shut down this edifice?

Those who have trod this path tell us we do, but it requires a revolution in our thinking. Instead of considering the world as separate, we need to come to see it as a reflection of ourselves – not our perfected Selves – that is something else at the level of the soul, but our egoic selves. By seeing our subjective confusion reflected in the world, yet not reacting to it, apart from truly seeing, we come to realise that this duality of life is false… and that there is only one life.

As Krishnamurti said:

“…however learned or however petty the mind may be, it is consciously or unconsciously limited, conditioned, and any extension of this conditioning is still within the field of thought. So freedom is something entirely different.”

Krishnamurti, J. The Book of Life

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017


The Holes in the Boat -#Silenti


I remember my first journey into the world of being conscious of identification.

I had been particularly struck by its description in the book In Search of the Miraculous, by P D Ouspensky – considered to be one of the key works in the exposition of Gurdjieff’s ‘4th Way’; a path of psychological and spiritual self-exploration that caused great interest in the first half of the last century.

The essence of the 4th Way’s teachings is that we have forgotten ourselves. At first, this sounds absurd; how can anyone say that when we, visibly, live with constant awareness of what we are doing, and need to be doing, at any point in our busy lives?

Our anxious state of busyness is the first clue to a door-opening discovery about our lives – if we can find some attentive time to examine it – because what we take for our ‘self’ in this relationship of self to world is in fact just the world… Or, more factually, our picture of it…

As our lives develop from infancy to self-conscious young person to adult, we coalesce our energies around those things that give us a return on our investment or which provide a natural pleasure. The former might be working for a promotion; the latter, good food from well-badged restaurants, nice cars or sex-as-achievement.

It’s an interesting exercise to sit down in quietness and write down what we have ‘achieved’ so far in our lives. Next to each of these note the objects: a good watch or jewellery, a better house than we started out with, regular holidays in the sun, etc.

Later, we find that more subtle things, like the way we look at groups of people with a certainty that they are bad, or not up to standard, or even really good, despite what others say, are parts of our perception of life that take up a large amount of our precious personal energy.

As we do this, we might dare to imagine each one of these things we identify with being ‘taken away’ and see if there’s anything left of ‘us’. There might come a feeling of being starved of oxygen if we are honest enough. So why should anyone go anywhere near this painful self-inquiry which clearly runs counter to the general view of success?

There are at least two parts to the answer. The first is that each one of these things has a potentially terrible hold over us, defining who we are by this process of identification. The second is that none of these things make for lasting inner happiness.

Happiness, in itself, appears ‘suspect’ to those who have spent some time considering what matters in their lives. Its fickle appearance and disappearance in our lives may not conform to any repeatable laws that we can control. No-one is suggesting that we should counter this by trying to be unhappy, but there is an ‘in-between’ space that we can wisely step into if we can self-observe at such times. This place of deeper awareness contains the certainty that the pendulum of happiness is a trap – a dependency built up over time, whose main secret agent is the process of identification.

These objects of identification are knitted together to form a ‘ship’ in which we sail ‘on’ our lives. Seeing their power is only half the problem. When we think that we might remove them or, more likely, lessen their importance, we are immediately confronted with a terror that we could sink, could cease to exist, unable to breathe.

This is a profound moment, for it reveals, in all its brutal power, that we live in a picture of self rather than our real self. We have all built a life conditioned by identification and it has robbed us of our real vitality.

That sense of panic, of not being able to breathe, is key to discovering what has this power over us. Humour is vitally important, too, in such a self-quest. We might decide that, somewhere deep within what we have made ourselves, there is a secret Organisation for the Numbing of the Conscious Mind. Let’s play with the letters and call it SONCOM.

For now, let’s just speculate that the opposition to our self-inquiry is so powerful that viewing it as an organised opposition is quite justified – if humourously so.

Any true unravelling of the power of identification requires companionship and a gentle approach. That’s the basis of the gentle, but nurturing methods we use in the Silent Eye.

Let’s park that and get back to our little boat. What happens if we are courageous enough to kick a few holes in our own hull? The water will come in, of course. But then we might just discover that we were really water creatures, after all…

More on SONCOM next week in #Silenti.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017