In Part One, we looked at the anatomy of relationships, in a general sense. We considered how the birth separation from our mother sets off a chain of reactions that strengthen us – as individuals in the world – but isolate us in a bubble of self, from which we form more distant relationships, perhaps only really opening ourselves to our world and others a few times in our lives…
Does our self’s journey hold an invitation to do more than this? There is a contradiction in our lives: the developed sense of self protects us from, among other things, emotional hurt. But it also ‘numbs’ the quality of experience, since everything is seen with reference to this self rather than being experienced for what it is.
Philosophers have always postulated that there is a world ‘out-there’, but that we abstract it within the mind and so deal only with a copy of reduced intensity; our minds filled with ‘routines’ that recognise a situation and replay what we historically feel about it.
In this way, we live in the past rather than the present. It’s a sobering thought…
To consider that there might be something that ‘is’ beyond the ‘me’ is challenging. The me has been carefully nurtured into our maturity so that we have fortress of self, where only what we choose can reach us – in the sense of affecting us. Even those choices become habitual, resulting us being almost machine-like, though few of us are brave enough to contemplate that.
There are various methods to loosening this barrier of self and world. One of the simplest is to learn to look again. Consider an object; say a flower. Let yourself look at it in the habitual way, but then go back, a second later, and look again. Deliberately pick out details that you missed in your usual cursory inspection. The changing hue of colour, the fragrance, the nature of the flower’s centre… Make them all vivid and challenge your mind’s usual perception.
With a little practice, you will be able to literally ‘lose yourself’ in the flower or whatever object you’ve settled on. Traditional approaches to consciousness state that we create an internal representation of the flower in our minds. The flower has reality – it’s really ‘out there’, but our consciousness of it is largely historical. Our look-again flower has much more vividness than before.
At this point, we face a challenge: do we content ourselves with the brightening of our world by doing more of the look-again process? Or do we plunge much deeper into ourselves to discover some startling truths about the very nature of awareness, itself.
In final part of this series, next week, we will look at the journey into our own consciousness in search of the real nature of awareness – and the dramatically different picture it paints of our outer lives.
Our two-week trip, ending in the Hebridean Island of Lewis, was coming to an end. The following morning, we would be on a ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool, then a fast route directly to Inverness, where we could pick up the main A9 to Perth, stopping in a travel motel, before setting off early for Cumbria and home.
We decided to spend our last day in the Western Isles (we had adopted the native name for this beautiful place) exploring the island of Bernera. Two of the party had a specific interest in the story of the Picts, a tribe of skilled and artistic people who settled across northern Scotland in the period 200-800 AD. We were intrigued to find that a Pictish settlement had been uncovered and excavated on Bernera.
We hadn’t taken the title ‘Isle of ‘Bernera’ too seriously, but, arriving at the long stretch of ocean in our path, the dramatic presence of two bridges, one built in 1953, the other recently, brought home to us the changes made to life by such structures…
The two bridges literally cross the Atlantic- a part of it – and say so on their notice boards!
Having ‘crossed over the Atlantic’ we now stood on Great Bernera, looking back at the ‘mainland’.
The welcome board gave a helpful greeting:
‘Having crossed over the Atlantic you are now standing on the beautiful island of Great Bernera. There is much to see and explore on this small island, starting with the unique semi-circular standing stones just above Bernera Bridge here at the southern end, and ending with the Iron Age House and village site at Bosta Beach in the north.
Along the way there are marked walks to Dun Bharabhat (a well-preserved small broch), the renovated Norse Mill and the west coast circular walk starting at the Community Centre and going via Bosta.
The scenery is amazing with moorland, lochs, coves, hills and cliffs to find and watch out for some truly wonderful wildlife including Otters, Seals, Dolphins, Golden and Whitetailed Eagles and many bird species.
The Community Centre, café and museum are centrally located and are open during the summer season. There you will find more detailed information on places to visit on the island.’
Once on the island of Bernera, we headed for the small village of Bosta, (see map, above) on the north coast and opposite the smaller island of Little Bernera. Beyond here is only the Atlantic Ocean.
We were here to see the ancient Pictish village, but the first thing we noticed was the quality of the many beaches; even better than those at Uig!
The Labrador and the Collie loved the beaches. Getting the ‘Lab’ out of the clear blue sea was a challenge. Tess the Collie is more of a paddler…
Then it was time to make our way along the path to the Pictish village we had come to see…
The Pictish house that can be visited is a reconstruction based upon what is known about the tribe, plus artefacts found at the site.
The guide explained that the Picts’ closeness to nature is helping archeologists understand that style of living, which may prove useful to mankind’s future!
The reconstructed house is made in such a way that you can see how it was built. Certain sections are left bare to emphasise this. The house is a reconstruction of one of the late Iron Age ‘jelly baby’ houses excavated nearby. It was built using the techniques that were available in Pictish times. The excavation site is not yet open to visitors.
No physical evidence of the design of the original roof survives. The style of the roof was dictated by the shape and strength of the walls. For this reason they were built high, so the roof could be kept simple. Also, high walls, surrounded and banked by earth, would keep the interior warmer in the winter.
The dividing walls between the two ‘cells’ of the interior would have been too weak to support a superstructure. The ridged roof found in Pictish houses of later periods is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional ‘roof’ was we know it.
The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. The purpose of the small secondary chamber is unknown. The main living space may have been subdivided into living and sleeping areas. The small space may have been used by the women for their work.
The central hearth is aligned north to south. This may have been for practical or ritual purposes. It is not known if there was any form of lighting. The summer nights are very long, the winter darkness can be total. This was – and is – a place of beautiful extremes… Parts of the roof may simply have been lifted – or not – to suit each day.
The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.
Soon it was time to go. We had spent half our time on the wonderful beaches, and the dogs were delighted and sleepy. Tomorrow would see the start of our long journey home.
We treat the word ‘relationship’ casually. We don’t mean to – we probably don’t know we are dealing with one of the most fundamental parts of our existence. If we could see the full implications of the idea of relationships, we might be better equipped to see how much symbolic ‘gold’ there is in them.
To consider this, we should step back and examine how we come to have any relationships at all…
Relationships, as we know them, exist because of certain assumptions we make from our early years onwards. We are born into a world where an unthinkable separation is happening.
Our mother – the mother that has nurtured ‘us’ as part of her, must, for our own future, distance her body from ours; connecting us, instead, with warmth and sustaining milk as substitute for a shared existence.
Our lives in the world begin with a biological separation, and, though we are not conscious of it at the time, there is already a duality which, until we mature spiritually, will never equal that former unity.
This is tightly related to the mystery of the feminine principle and its power in our consciousness and our relationship with Nature.
If I didn’t have a strong sense of ‘me’, there would be no-one else with whom to have a relationship. Because I am certain there is a me, and that this me is separate from everything around me, I create an other, which is not-me.
From that point on, I live in a world which is largely body-centric – the body being the identified boundary between the me and the other.
The adult has fixed this into a worldview. The child, however, still lives in a world where there is magic…
That magic is part their sense of connectedness with ‘out there’, which is seen as far closer (particularly emotionally) than the adults’ picture where ‘me’ ends with the edges of the body- or the body of a lover. For the adult, the majority of ‘food’ for the soul comes through the senses and the intellect, leaving a chasm of ‘hunger’ at a deeper and unconscious level of the self.
Early psychologists, like Carl Jung, made much of this archetypal ‘divine feminine’, and its part in each of us in the shape of the anima and animus.
But not everything begins in the body.
‘I’ have the keenest senses to tell me what are my thoughts, emotions and hungers – all of which have a self-evident nature, and what are the secondary things that emanate from the world around me – the other.
Much of my education in life is about learning the logic of how other things affect me, in-here, from sources in the apparent out-there. There is great wisdom in investigating these channels of perception and finding the truth about what we actually know of the out-there objects, and what is the automated result of our world-picture…
The generic ‘relationship’ has a central part to play in our understanding. It could be said that having any relationship has the capacity to put the magic back into our worldview… That is, if the relationship is explored to the full, in a spirit of self-truth.
Coughton Court in Warwickshire, fifteen miles from Stratford-on-Avon, is the ancestral home of the Throckmortons, one of the UK’s oldest catholic families and a place of great intrigue during the time of religious persecution. It still possesses some of the best concealed ‘priest holes’ in the country.
It also boasts a beautiful walled garden, worth visiting in its own right…
The name Coughton (pronounce “Coat-un”) is believed to mean a settlement or farm known for the hunting of game birds. I’m no fan of the hunting-shooting-fishing brigade but I can separate out the experience of the beautiful gardens from such traditions.
It is believed that there was a medieval house on the site when John de Throckmorton arrived in 1409 to marry into the de Spiney family. Since that time, Coughton Court has been home to the Throckmortons, one of the UK’s oldest catholic families and a major name in the City of London’s development as one of the world’s most important financial centres.
Coughton Court still has many of its original features including its flamboyant sixteenth-century gate tower. It is one of the last remaining Roman Catholic houses in the country to retain its historic treasures, housing one of the very best collections of portraits and memorabilia of one family from the early Tudor times.
Alongside family items on display, there are pieces such as the chemise reputedly worn by Mary Queen of Scots when she was executed and a bishop’s Cope, with intricate needlework, believed to have been worked upon by Catherine of Aragon.
I will do a separate post on the interior of the house. We were so impressed with the gardens, I felt it was worth a photo-tour, if only to show the best of the photos taken on the day.
Coughton Court was gifted to the National Trust in 1946 by the Throckmortons, the family continues to live there, extending a staggering six centuries of unbroken tradition.
From the road that curls around the small hills on the way to the beach at Reef, in the Uig district of Bhaltos, it looks like a large cairn. The second time we drove by we saw the noticeboard and stopped to take a closer look.
We climbed up the path to find a beautiful and touching monument on the hilltop, whose design was not visible from below. It was surrounded by views on all sides. Two things strike you, immediately: The isolation of the hill, itself; and the ancient connectedness of the people to this place – suggested by what looks like a giant tau-cross, but is based upon a stone construction method used in Neolithic times.
The curse of constant rain seemed finally behind us. We had become more relaxed and able to take in the beauty of the lochs, as in the view from the monument’s hill, above.
The Highland Clearances are well known as a dark period in Scotland’s history. They were the evictions of a significant number of tenants, many of them small-holding crofters, in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, mostly in two phases from 1750 to 1860.
The goal of the rich landlords was to replace humans with sheep, which were more profitable than the small rents charges to the farmers, whose only real assets were their culture, small-scale farming skills and love of the land. The crofters had lives, jobs, songs, families and folklore… and this was the only landscape they’d ever known.
A group of them refused to leave.
The notice board reads:
“To the memory of the men and women who resisted eviction from Reef before being forcibly removed in 1850-51…”
For three years, ending in 1850, 28 Reef families peaceably resisted all attempts by the estate of Sir James Matheson to remove them:
We had no arrears of rent and therefore we refused in a body to do this and stood out against it for three years, when Mr Scobie’s (the factor) term of office expired…”
The ‘factor’ was the man who enforced the land management and the will of the landowner. The following entry shows both the honesty and the naivety of the crofters:
We naturally expected justice from the next factor but, on the contrary, he took up at once the work his predecessor had begun and at last got us forcibly evicted”
In 1850, they were dispossessed of their homes and removed from the land of their ancestors. Some were scattered throughout the Isle of Lewis and others sent as far as America.
The following year a further fourteen families were evicted from Bhaltos and Cnip. By the late 19th century, the remaining population of this peninsula, in the district known as “fourteen penny lands” were crowded together in two villages with no access to the land surrounding them, which had been deliberately added to large farms. Those crowded onto the single village included 31 squatter families, who owned nothing.
The resolute resistance continued and, in 1884, HMS Assistance, with a force of up to 100 Marines, arrived in Loch Roag to arrest eight Bhaltos men accused of placing animals on the offshore islands for grazing, not paying rents and ‘deforcing’ Sheriff’s Officers.
The men were sent for trial to Edinburgh and served time in prison. The following year ten men and seven women were fined for separate but similar actions. The women were charged with “mobbing and rioting and breach of the peace” and their fines, 5/- (shillings) each, were paid by the London branch of the Highland Land Law Reform Association, an influential organisation that was fighting for fairer land rights to reflect usage as well as ownership.
In 1891 and again in 1896, the Deer Forest Commission recommended that Reef should be scheduled for re-settlement…but no action was taken.
On 28th November 1913, 15 landless squatters from Bhaltos and nip drove the farmer’s stock fromReef to Timsgarry Farm. Alasdair MacKay, one of the raiders, told the parish Policeman:
“You can have plenty of prisoners now. We’ve waited too long. Reef was promised us long ago and now we have made up our minds to take it, whatever may happen to us.”
Interdicts were issued against them in February 1914 and when these were defied the raiders were cited to appear for trial in Edinburgh where the Court of Session sentenced them to six weeks imprisonment. This gave rise to much indignation throughout Scotland and a campaign led to them leaving prison after two weeks. Most of the raiders went off to fight in the Great War and those who survived came back more determined than ever to claim their own “land fit for heroes.”
In February 1920, 11 of the original raiders wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland:
“We are demobilised soldiers and sailors unemployed since September …. we are compelled to begin Spring work on Reef Farm. If you will send the Commissioners of Small Holdings to us for the purpose of dividing the farm into crofts and putting us in possession as we trust you will, we will delay our operation to the 1st of March. If they are not here by that time we will be under the necessity of beginning work as a means to our livelihood”
Finally, in 1921, the land was restored to crofting tenure. The fact there is a population here today and a future for this community is due to the struggles undertaken by those who secured a just outcome at that time. As so often happens, the right outcome is fragile and often hangs by a thread.
The monument ‘An Suileachan’ was commissioned by the Bhaltos Community Trust and designed by artists Will Maclean and Marian Leven. It was constructed by island craftsmen – the stone circles by John Crawford, the iron brazier by John Macleod and the woodwork by John Angus Macleod.
The An Suileachan memorial is only seen in its full extent when you are on the high level. There is a central path that links two separate areas. At the central point of the path is what we named the ‘Tau gate’. You have to pass through this to see both ‘faces’ of the structure.
At the seaward end is a brazier, a beacon that gives off heat and the light of warning and preparedness.
At the landward end is a circular stone plaque around which are carved the names of all those brave souls who were evicted from Reef by the second ‘Factor’. In one sense, the light and heat of the brazier-beacon highlights and protects them. They did not know that the great wrong done to them was to be corrected by friends and relatives after their deaths – to the great benefit of their community.
Their only weapon was the sense of truth and rightness they felt in their cause. A rightness much like the Biblical story of David and Goliath, where the monstrous apparent power of the giant is overcome by the simple stone of truth…
We can only aspire to such courage. You can tell in the quality of the monument how precious the memory of those brave souls is…
We had wondered about the real nature of this landscape. On this our third day on the Hebridean Island of Lewis, we paid a long-anticipated visit to Callanish, the place of the famous stones – though the main site is not a stone circle. There, I came across a sign that perfectly described the rather barren landscape all around us.
The sign read: Welcome to the Drowned Lands…
Welcome to the Drowned Lands:
Following the last Ice Age, 14,000 years ago, the sea level rose, giving us the rather barren landscapes of the lochs and drowned valleys of the Western Isles – the local, and preferred name of the Outer Hebrides. They were, quite literally, drowned by the melting ice, having been crushed and worked by the glaciers.
The Callanish Stones are an arrangement of standing stones – but placed in a cruciform pattern with a small central stone circle at the cross point.
They were erected in the late Neolothic era (new Stone Age – 8000-3000 BC) and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age, 3300 BC – 1200 BC. This immense age means we have little understanding of their beliefs and spiritual methods, but we know that following nature in the form of the seasons, and studying the movements of the heavens were central to those beliefs. The cycles of crop planting and harvesting were likely to have been central to their myths.
You arrive at the site via the famous visitor centre – sadly closed on the Sunday we visited for religious reasons…something amusing about that! The ancient stones are obviously not looked upon as sacred places…
In Part One, we looked at how most of our daytime consciousness is made up of actual words that are spoken within. This can be quite a revelation if we have become used to them but never really observed the fact. This flow of internal language is busy narrating the events of our existence, our opinions and our reactions, as though we carried it as a kind of ‘robot’ in our heads.
This robot forms part of our self, but it is a lower part compared to what is available to us. Studying this robot can teach us a lot about how we live our lives; and particularly about how we react.
But our true ‘selves’ are not far away. The robot has created its reactive maze over our lives, but beneath this domain, in a place it cannot reach, is the realm of the Real.
The Real is our realm of Awareness, which we do not realise is a separate place from the spinning wheel of noisy and intrusive thoughts.
Awareness exists in many forms. We can say the most primitive cellular life-forms have awareness of their physical or chemical environment. There is a hierarchy of knowing above this base level comprising: Information; knowledge, wisdom and eventually something that the ancients knew as gnosis – an intimacy with the truth of a situation that is self-evident and powerful.
The world of gnosis, or self-evident and self-powerful knowing, lives beneath our world of thoughts and personality. When we are able to stop the flow of verbal thoughts, we immediately sense its presence. The quiet sweetness of this place is like a summer breeze. There is no hurry or need to do anything. We have entered a state of simply ‘being’.
The mind has always bothered itself with the stuff of our lives, and primarily, the product of the senses – the most important of which is the concept of the whole body. In that ‘sense’ the body is ‘me’.
And for many people that is enough. They accept that the body will one day die and ‘take with it’ the psychological personality that has sustained a sense of self through that lifetime. We may choose to believe in a religious form of death in which that personality – refined to its soul essence – enters another Kingdom, after a suitable period of review of the life lived.
For others, there comes a strong sense that what might survive death is already here; already part of our daily life – but not the personality. Many who have been raised in conventional religious backgrounds struggle to grasp what the non-Abrahamic ‘religions’, such as Buddhism, are proposing as the deeper truth about life. The essence of this alternative approach to consciousness-development is to get ‘beneath’ thought; to find that quiet place where the chatter stops.
We can compare ‘being’ not to the letter three, but to the zero. Zero, becomes the final part of our One-Two-Zero sequence. We are not used to thinking about nothing: literally no-thing. Our minds are used to a flow of subject-object relationships: I make the tea. ‘I’ is the subject; ‘tea’ is the object. It’s the way we use language and is deeply useful for the level of thought needed in everyday life.
But I can’t say ‘I make nothing’. I might get away with it if I mean it humorously. But apart from that, ‘nothing’ is not an object the mind understands. It cannot fashion or describe no-thing. Mind is the organ of experience, and none of its body-facing experience has been about ‘nothing’. As Jung said, only deep sleep has brought it into contact with the infinite.
And now some blog-writer wants your mind to think about nothing; no-thing. And it can’t. But the value of attempting to think about no-thing – or zero – is that it trips up the normal processing of the mind and makes it think about what might underpin the world it constantly describes in worm-word chatter.
I can’t have zero carrots. But if I had seven carrots and someone took all of them from me, then the accuracy of now having zero carrots – in view of the fact that I did have seven, is useful. Someone might now owe me for seven carrots, for example…
The mind is capable of interacting with far more than just the body. But the finer realms in which it can fly freely are not those those of daily life and its habitual thought processes.
Which is what we have been doing in these three posts…
The deeper and largely unseen secret nature of awareness will be the subject of another series of posts.
The ‘One’ exercise in Part One is aimed at showing us the truth of this realm that lies just below our regular consciousness. All we have to do is to suspend the regular flow of thought (and keep doing so) to enter its beautiful space.
You may think access to ‘being’ is a lifetimes’s work, but it’s not. It is right there, right now. The seeing that looks out on the world through the lenses of the personality is at the heart of both our body and spirit. All we have to do is to shift habit with enough force to get the beautiful mind to drink the zero.
To paraphrase the Sufi mystic Rumi; All you need to do to get to love (the joy of reality) is to remove the barriers you have carefully erected against it…