Gilgamesh descending (2)

I enter the temple at the head of the twin columns of the Dancers of Fate. Those of the kingdom enter behind their King in silent reverence as we pass the Guardian and bow our respects.

Alone, but knowing they follow, I cross the centre of the exotic floor and move towards the east of the temple. The gold-draped chair is waiting. I turn and stand, watching the precise formation of Fate Dancers peel away left and right, to literally flow down the circumference of the large circle that is the enneagram; the heart of this temple of the mysteries.

All wait for the King. I take a deep breath before beginning. He is waiting in the space around the golden chair… The familiar feel of an autocratic king from thousands of years ago.

I realise that I am the break in his continuity. Settling into the seated vessel, once more, this ancient king breaks with tradition and gazes across to look at the woman who is half human, half goddess – Ninsun, his mother. The memory is still fresh in his mind: the dream of the rock that fell from the sky to the ground, the way it was adored – the way he hugged and loved it! His strong body curls with the strangeness of it; the embarrassment of how he knelt before her as in a trance, asking her to tell him what it meant…

A friend, Ninsun had said. Even a man capable of being a brother! He was to come into my life… I can feel the King’s astonishment, even though I know he is cuniform words in clay from nearly three thousand years ago. And then the separation leaves us… and there is just Gilgamesh the King on his large throne, whose arms curl up into two wooden hands that hold his beloved sword. He is calm… purposeful. But the most powerful man in the world knows that world is changing.

He was beloved of the Gods, he knew. Why else had the world fallen at his feet? Surely, he had nothing to fear.

Now, there is no more time to indulge the mystery. The women are dancing again and he must watch, captivated. The women known as the Fate Dancers had devised these movements for his pleasure, though he divined the hidden hand of the gods in the way it stroked his heart, like a lyre whose music was not heard, but felt.

Everyone in the royal palace loved the hypnotic flow of the Fates’ dance. Shamhat had even petitioned him to let them make its gliding patterns permanent in the floor of the royal chamber. And he had agreed; at a great cost to the royal purse… for the dancers, but most of all for her. For Shamhat.

But that had been before she refused his advances, saying she had served her time and no longer answered to him but to the Divine Council, alone. His fingers grip the blade of his sword. No other circumstance in the world could have frustrated him like this! The Fate Dancers dance on… unperturbed.

“Shamhat!” He spits out the word. The High Priestess’s name etches a bitter taste on his tongue… Before him, like flickers of half-seen light, the Fate Dancers maintain the perfection of their movements; but Gilgamesh, with his hawk-like vision, sees their eyes flicker, before, smiling, his fingertips bid them continue.

Shamhat! He would make her pay for her public refusal to share her bed with the God King. But it would have to be subtle. Like him, she was partly God, partly human… and clever.

He looks down from his throne at the elegant and beautiful movements across the glistening white floor of his chamber. The Fate Dancers’ feet follow a pattern of lines that intersect the large circle at nine points. Three of them are formed into a triangle bounded by golden stars set into the white crystals. The other six lines intersect like the ghostly pattern of a gemstone and their intersections with the circle are marked with stars of dark blue lapis lazuli.

All this had been created for Shamhat, working – he now saw – to aid in this strange contest of the mind and body with which she saw fit to challenge his authority. But he loved the movements of the dancers. So much so that he could feel his world shifting each time they began to flow across the magical glyph before him.

There would be time to fix this, he thought to himself, settling back into his throne and reaching for his golden cup of mead.

He must have dozed off… Before him, the floor design glitters in the flickering light of the tallow candles. A rough man dressed in furs kneels at the edge of the court and he could sense another behind him. Gilgamesh reaches for his sword, but the vizier’s hand stops him, gently.

“My apologies, King Gilgamesh, I sought not to disturb your rest. There is no threat.”

Gilgamesh lets go the grip on his sword. “That is a dangerous place to stand, even for a royal vizier!”

The vizier bows and points at the kneeling supplicant. “He has news we felt you would wish to know, especially in these… uncertain times.”

Gilgamesh can taste the dawning of the new in the air all around him.

“Speak, man!” he shouts at the trapper. “If what you say is true, let us have no ceremony. What is it you have seen?”

“Why, I have seen a giant, my king!”

The king laughs, refreshed, relaxed and alert. He is amused. Good-naturedly, he tells the trapper that he has been listening to tavern stories. The man protests and the king is about to dismiss him as a fool when he realises that the description of the powerful and fleet wild man is remarkably close to how he, the king, would be described by a stranger, had he lived from the land.

“There is truth in your voice,” Gilgamesh concludes. Reluctantly, he asks the trapper why this has such importance that he risks his life coming to the royal palace to report it.

“My Lord,” says the trembling man, “he could be your very twin.”

Gilgamesh takes a breath and gazes upwards, letting it out slowly. No-one can see his smile.

Time passes. The royal chamber is empty, apart from the king. The tallow candles have burned low. They are making sputtering noises in their flickering death. Gilgamesh follows the spirals of soot high into the dimness of the chamber.

He is pleased with himself. The trapper has been despatched to find the high priestess, who will be told that she is to use her divine arts to seduce and civilise the wild twin. He knows that this action will open up a new sea of possibilities, but he does not care.

All that matters is that he will have vengeance on the woman he used to love…

Other parts in this series:

Part One,

Lord of the Deep, the Silent Eye’s 2019 April workshop, was adapted from the Epic of Gilgamesh by Stuart France, and Sue Vincent.

This narrative is a personal journey through that ritual drama in the persona of Gilgamesh.

Header image by Sue Vincent, copyright the Silent Eye.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

“The best day, ever” in Eden

They were watching me from the side of a steep bank that frames the inner edge of a huge surface of concrete which will soon be Eden North, replicating – but with differences – the internationally famous Eden Project in Cornwall.

The space used to be Bubbles swimming pool and, before that, was the renowned Super Swimming Stadium, the centre of so many children’s holidays before their parents discovered you could get more reliable sunshine than Morecambe’s on a suddenly affordable Spanish Costa Brava.

They all died a kind of death, then, the Victorian seaside towns… But some of us keep the faith, if only for that steaming mug of a ‘milky coffee’ in the depths of freezing winter, when we’ve finished the dog-walk.

The two young girls. I had seen them arrive a few minutes, before – with their mother. She looked the very picture of care-worn but caring. It’s a look you see a lot in poor seaside towns… Morecambe has been a long time in the doldrums, but there is a light on the horizon; one begun by Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the Midland Hotel – a surviving Art Deco masterpiece.

We had the first night of our honeymoon there, in 2010, a year after its opening. Bernie is from Morecambe… well, actually, Heysham, its sister town a few miles to the south. It’s pronounced Hee-sham, not Hay-sham. She’s very particular about that, so I thought I’d better include it! We both love Art Deco, and had followed the hotel’s rebirth with a great deal of pleasure.

The new Eden North promises to make a great difference to this once-proud resort. It can’t happen soon, enough. The Eden people know what we have never forgotten; that across the vastness of Morecambe Bay lies the whole vista of the Lake District…

It takes a seed of something to bring true life back to a place or a person who has become sad… in body, spirit, career, in their home, in their life… Sometimes, you don’t know you have the power to do this until you find yourself equipped – often in the most unexpected way.

I looked at the frustrated collie and I threw the cheap frisbee again. The wind was behind me and defeated what little aerodynamic soundness it had. You don’t get much from the seafront beach stop for three quid. It had been two, but I decided to add another two ‘tennis’ balls to the bag so that we had a spare in case Tess (the collie) lost one. Her frustration with Dad had begun when we got to North Beach for her usual ball or frisbee session of sandy madness and discovered that the ball and chucker were still in the back of the departing Toyota, now too far away towards Sainsbury’s and shopping to call back. “Perhaps a stone or two?” I had said, weakly, into the betrayed hazel eyes, knowing the result…

Now, twenty minutes and five hundred yards further south, the cheap frisbee was suddenly seized by the wind and carried along the vast concrete expanse in a motion that I can only describe as ‘skittering’. Round and round it turned, whilst travelling at increasing speed towards the grassy boundary – within sight of the Midland Hotel.

The collie’s interest was renewed by this magical motion and, howling, she sped after it, only to snap her strong jaws over its momentarily upended motion and break it in two.

You don’t get much from the beach shop for two quid.

The two young girls were now only yards away from me – and squealing with delight at Tess’s antics. I turned to look at their joyous faces – full of simple happiness – and asked if they’d like to have a go… but I could see the disappointment as they gazed on the distant plastic ruin, now in two bits and still being blown onto the distant grass.

The tennis balls! I had forgotten those…

“Would you like a go with Tess and a tennis ball?” I asked, looking up at an anxious Mum still on the promenade. I smiled and waved, showing her that her lovely kids were in safe hands.

“Could we?” asked the eldest girl.

“Of course,” I said, delving into the bag and extracting one of the new tennis balls. The eldest sister smiled and took it.

“We’re on holiday,” she said.

“I’m on holiday, too,” added her younger sister, looking very proud of the fact that they were in this adventure together.

“How about you take turns,” I said, gently.

The eldest bobbed her head. The youngest almost bowed hers. Tess trotted up to her new friends, tail wagging, mightily. Things were looking up… The girls stared adoringly at the collie.

When both girls had taken a turn, the eldest offered me back the ball.

“You can have a few more goes if you like?” I said.

And that’s when it happened… The elder sister looked across at her mum and turned back to me, saying, as she danced a step, “This is the best day ever…”

I can only say that I was broken at that moment; and fought to suppress the tears that formed, not wanting to spoil their fun. That such a simple act of kindness could have brought them so much joy was so very… unexpected.

I pretended to fumble with the ball and composed myself.

“How about we have one go each and three rounds of it all?” I asked.

“That would be nine chucks!” said the younger girl, laughing at the chance to show off her arithmetic.

Nine chucks later they looked up at their mother, who was moving slowly along the prom and waving at them. She looked happy with the turn of events, though she had kept her distance.

The youngest gave me back our ball. “Thank you!’ she beamed. “We’re off to the beach, now.”

I could see the excitement on their faces at this further delight. And then I remembered the small carrier bag by my ankles.

“Do you have your beach tennis balls?” I asked, conspiratorially.

Two earnest little heads shook, negatively.

“Better take these, then,” I winked, passing them the little white bag. “Go now! Your mum is waiting!”

They danced off, but the eldest turned to wave, one final time, before they took their mother’s hand.

My own young grandchildren – two girls – live in Australia. One day when they visit, I hope to bring them to see the new Eden; and point down to where the barren concrete was; on the best day, ever…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

The Ship

This morning, I will drive to the family home town of Bolton, in Lancashire to collect my mother who is coming to spend Easter with us here in Cumbria.

The journey is straightforward: fifteen minutes will take me from the outskirts of Kendal to the M6 motorway, southbound. After that, at least conceptually, it’s a straight line to the intersection with the M61, which will take me south-east to within a few miles of my destination.

Yesterday, I was musing about a conversation I had with a friend where we related our lives to the voyage of a ship. For mankind, there has always been something romantic – potentially grand – about the notion of a sea voyage. My car journey this morning will be very tame compared with what the ‘ancient mariners’ faced. My car may be wobbled by high winds, but is unlikely to be blown off course. The road completely maps to the journey; I will not find myself having to navigate across strange hills and fields as I struggle to hold a course.

My ship – the vessel of the car – is designed to protect me in the event of a crash; in a way that few such vessels of the past did. And yet, at any time, the several tons of hurtling steel, glass and explosive liquid could do untold damage to others on the road. I may be safer, but the exposure to my own errors or lack of concentration is significant.

Can we compare the journey of our lives to the voyage of a ship? Is life in modern society making us more of a car than a free-sailing ship? Does that mean that where we go is completely pre-ordained by the equivalent of ‘roads’?

It’s a good question… And, often it helps to think in these stark terms…

The first question we might ask is: do we have a ship at all? Are we not simply a point of consciousness moving from a past, through a present, to a future? That is certainly how physics would describe it.

Do we really have any free will in that journey? Or does having to fit in with our world, our society, make us as conditioned as my car will be on its fixed road? Subject only to the weather, the fuel in the car, the attention I must place on the road and the behaviour of others on its length…

From a mystical perspective, we may say that we need to learn to have a ship in the first place. We have body, but that may not wholly equate to a ship. The captain of a sailing ship truly had the skills to take that vessel anywhere on the seas. He may have been under orders to adopt a certain route, but his freedom of choice was absolute.

Beneath the captain and the wood of his vessel was the ocean, a constantly changing surface beneath which he did not wish to go… Staying afloat meant playing by some hidden but very special rules learned over many centuries, if not millennia. Can we compare this to our lives?

The road of ordinary life is there to protect us. It serves us well. But we may choose a seemingly riskier path, one that leaves the road in a seemingly tiny vessel called the Self; one that has no fear of the sea and its ever-changing faces…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Light between the Railway Carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Dancing with the ghost in the machine

If you’ve ever been involved with anything of an ‘amateur dramatic’ nature, you will know that moment: the protagonist, hated until the final few moments (when the greater picture is revealed) shuffles off, in rags, to his doom; and the shared and questioning silence longs for the gentle and poignant soothing that only the right music can bring….

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. .

Frantic sound of fingers fiddling.

Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. and then the final piece, a gentle Sufi melody cuts in… only it’s about twenty decibels too high in the flying fingers’ frantic search for sound… any sound.

The much maligned King Gilgamesh (who turns out to be only 99% schmuck) looks to the heavens in an unscripted gesture. Everyone is stunned… but for all the wrong reasons.

It didn’t happen, not yet… but it’s time to make sure it can’t…

Amateur actors – our annual workshop participants – such as the Silent Eye seems to be able to attract year on year, are wonderful people. They are enthusiastic, flexible and multi-tasking. They stand, clutching their scripts, in the middle of a space invested with spiritual emotion, power and purpose and give their all… to such an extent that, come the start of Sunday afternoon, no-one wants to leave and break up the intense camaraderie that these warm and mystical adventures generate.

There are no mistakes, just real-time variations in the script. Like Jazz, the best bits can be improvised, often with humour from above… Ask Barbara, who we once completely lost, Schrödinger-like, in the middle of Act Three in the centre of the room. To this day, no-one knows where she went.

Being the technician can be a difficult job. And, it’s near impossible to be one of the characters in the mystery play and the technician. So, the partial answer is to make the soundtrack as free-standing as possible.

The problem is the technology, or, rather, the combination of technology and the media – sound – that is required to be ‘piped’ through the technology. Most domestic music players are just not up to the job.

The epic stories of Gilgamesh the King are the oldest known legends on Earth. Using this as a basis, Stuart France has re-envisaged the story in five acts of ritual drama, where everyone attending plays their part, large or small. Stuart and Sue Vincent have crafted a workbook of nearly two hundred pages of beautifully laid out script.

I have been volunteered to play the part of Gilgamesh, but since I have taken our technology forward, too, I’m taking no chances…

Gone are the multiple CD machines, laid out at strategic points in the temple space of the mystery play; each one involving a lightning sprint from compass point to compass point. Gone, even, is the use of an uncooperative Apple iTunes with its incomplete staging of cues. Gone is any notion of carrying around the sound with a portable speaker – one of the past’s more heroic failures…

Instead of Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence, we have this on the iPad screen:

It’s a deck… a sound-deck in software. It’s what professionals use to control the music and lighting for stage shows, moving with consummate timing from event to event as the production progresses. If you were into William Gibson’s sci-fi (Burning Chrome etc) it’s what the pre-internet generation used to ‘jack into’ the ‘net and control the world with…

Tired of playing games that couldn’t really argue back, they began to design real software; masterpieces that really could kick-ass… but in a good way.

This scaled down masterpiece of software, called iMiX Pro, runs on an Apple iPad – mine. This is not to say that it does all the work for you. Oh, no… shoot, man, there’s a bucketload of stuff y’all need to do up frooont! (Sorry, that’s my inner Texan coming out). I’ve been sitting at this ‘deck’ for two days and only now… am I winning. And that’s the thing with these systems, you have to get the music into the machine before the ‘ghost’ that is the combination of producer and good software design come together in glorious expletives that do sound decidedly Texan.

In the beginning, there is the raw music, or other sound files; so, as before, you have to get them onto (in my case) your Mac and into… Hmmmm iTunes.

In the process, you have to re-name the tracks you want to use so that, when they re-appear in the iMiX software, they are recognisable. So, lovingly and carefully, you work out a naming scheme that shortens the track names in order to see something of their name in the individual panels on the iPad screen. The above first window is the result.

Next, you need to take the original files and convert them into one of Apple’s ‘Playlists’. These are just collections of songs. So it’s easy. You group all the original tracks and select ‘Add to Playlist’… and off she goes. You then have all your music in a second and more pliable container.

The use of a Playlist is essential because they have to be in this format to get the group of tracks across to the iPad. Along the way you get to put them in order – no mean feat with over twenty tracks. But, finally, they are ready to be beamed (okay, wired) across to their new portable home – a bit like the NASA lunar lander making a bid for freedom from the orbiter module. Once you’ve set off for the weekend, the iPad is on its own.

An hour later, you finally figure out how you did it last time and the transfer is complete… except the Apple transfer software has lost your carefully constructed sequencing and you’ve just got the order it decides you need on the iPad. They’re all in there, somewhere, you’ve just got to find each one again. So, you think about making paper list – or contact Sue, who recognises sleep-deprivation and provides one as a list of what should be happening in each act.

A small bottle of gin later, you realise that it doesn’t matter what the Apple software has done to your weekend’s sequence because the iMiX’s colossus of a DECK is about to rescue you!

Look back to the original diagram. Each of those vertical ‘pods’ is a beautifully programmed home for your hard-won music and sound tracks. And it offers you total control over how and when that track is played…. heaven.

You can control the volume; you can trim the clip regardless of what any other piece of software has done to it. You can select its unique fade-in and fade-out. And written up the side of the ‘pod’ is the full name of the track you so lovingly created…Texan sounds…

So, two days after I began, we have the Deck, fully programmed and ready to be operated, in lightning-fast real time, by our mega-techno dude who insists on being nameless.

But he’s related to one of the Directors.

There will be no ‘Screech, click, screech, ping, wheeeeeedle…. or just plain silence’. So, while I won’t actually be operating the Deck, I’ll be the ghost in the machine…

Houston, we’re good to go.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to best play that ego-maniac, Gilgamesh…There are lots of ego-maniacs in the world at the moment. Very timely, that, Stuart…

Wish us luck… please. Even better, come and join us. We can fit in a few more people if you’d like to join this merry but sincere band. And we promise that you, too, won’t want to leave, come Sunday lunch…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The What of Life (2)

I want to like you, she thought, loudly.

Please don’t spoil it by picking on science in a stupid, fluffy way… but don’t stop challenging, either… find the villains…

She listened, intently, as he talked about the need to ‘see’ it all differently – Life, biological life, not separated from spirituality, but part of a bigger whole that encompassed them both…

“There is something in the human soul that formed and forms an angry and energetic response to reductionism: that the answers are to be found in the dissected, colourless and cold parts…”

He was right… so right. And biology had become the hidden champion of that. Late to the party, having spent a century emulating a physics-derived worldview from which physics was already trying to escape…

The problem was something called emergence. The beautiful patterns of a snowflake, seen under a microscope, were an example of emergence, but there were thousands more. Biologists were used to something ‘higher’ than the dissected bit emerging in front of their gazes. To the classical physicist, this was anathema. Everything, they said, could be solved by the bits… But even physics was changing, as the power of emergent forms began to grow in evidence and presence; but sadly not in time to prevent the widespread adoption of the ‘reductionist mindset’ in education, science in general and in life.

Seized upon by materialists, they used it to savage any example of the ‘mystical’ that dared say it was of the truth… And it took a hundred years before the ‘reductionist fundamentalists’ came to see that their own disciplines were, in this respect, crumbling beneath them. When that day came, the world of biological ‘form’ – the shapes and organisation that life takes, were seen to be a paramount example of how the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts… and this gave a new dimension to what was driving life along its mysterious road.

“Science’s models of how evolution works are incomplete,” said the speaker. “Or rather, the reductionist view of it – not the nonsense of Creationism – though, at the human level, we can understand the need for a compassionate view of our place in the universe, and the person who gives that away is a fool, for we – the human mind – invented that quest for understanding…..”

Dead right, she thought. Okay, I like you… Now, go where I haven’t … don’t blow it….

The session broke for coffee. She sat there, deep in thought, unaware that she was alone… until the woman in the red hat came over and gently touched her shoulder.

—————

Darwin’s theory of evolution was and is brilliant, but it is only half of a ‘ruling dynamic’ that plays the music against which our slow dance of evolution proceeds. The powerful idea of ‘natural selection’ destroyed much of religious thought – but not completely. Within us all, there is a burning need to reinforce our sense of belonging with the natural world – teacher and exterminator that it is.

With ‘reductionist’ thought, which seeks answers by breaking things into their smallest parts, we have trees – but no forests… The reductionists of biology found they had no language to describe them, so, metaphorically, disregarded their existence…

The ecosystem of the forest is as much a guiding principle as the tree. The huge advances in microbiology have shown the brilliance and the limitation of the reductionist view. So it is with the ‘natural selection’ model of evolution, which threw away any idea of a determining principle beyond random mutation of genes, resulting in a new creature that beat its competitors to the bed-chamber. Nature became a thrower of dice, where it didn’t matter what the result was.

But then there were the gaps in the fossils, in the timeline, where entire species came into existence ‘overnight’. Eventually, these became impossible to ignore and it was apparent that something was working alongside selection to change life.

But, before we look at that something, we need to admire what microbiology found in the small, the ‘atomic’, the reduced. What it discovered was the cell, the glorious ‘bubble’ of organic life in which the entire blueprint of the organism was written. This inner code was the gene: both ‘plan’ and ‘means of delivering the plan’ – gene and machine for the expression of gene.

Deep in those life-cradling ocean vents, where the gradient of heat to cold was so intense that something that became organic life had the energy to come into being, we find that the core principle behind what became life was ‘born. That ‘living’ principle was persistence.

Life does nothing if it cannot persist. ‘We’ persist – and yet we change, constantly. Something within us – related to and harvesting our experience of the world – stays ‘me’. This is true at the organic level and at the psychological level. Some ‘pattern’ that is me moves forward in time, with persistence. Imagine waking up each day and thinking we were a new-born.

We are vastly more complex than the first containers of life. We have memory and therefore identity. Yet the same principles are seen to apply. In the oceanic depths, there were no cells, only chemicals: atoms and atoms grouped into molecules. The forerunners of cellular life were chemical chains of proteins that could self-replicate. With self-replication, they could persist .

The fundamental principle of life had been established, but this was just the beginning. Our self-replicating molecules were still part of their environment. To become more ‘complex’ – more organised, they had to begin to separate themselves from the world around them – yet still feed from it… Next week we will look at the birth of a world within a world; as mysticism calls it, a ‘microcosm within the macrocosm’. In terms of organisation and complexity, two of the building blocks of the new picture of life were about to come into existence…

Other parts of this series:

Part One,

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

The What of Life (1)

She was sitting in the front row – the car had mysteriously failed to start for the first five minutes of the would-be journey, as though projecting her future to this point with a mechanical will of its own. This point: the front row of a group of about twenty people, possessing a collective warmth – she had to admit – within which she was a complete stranger.

They had sounded interesting. Not presumptuous, not critical, just friendly and intelligent.

The speaker was talking; a man with kind eyes. He had the relaxed manner of one who had given many talks. He looked at her, smiled and asked the question, “What is Life?”

It was the end of a miserable event curve that had begun with the car’s idiocy. Now, she felt nineteen pairs of eyes and ears upon her and she wished herself away. Instead, she breathed, wishing to rise to this double challenge of being unknown and facing a question to which there was no complete answer – itself an unknown…

But his eyes – which had been on her – were moving away.. Had his question been rhetoric? The speaker raised his voice to address everyone. “We all need to ask ourselves that, for it is the basis of any spiritual exploration…” he said.

His head turned towards the back of the room, where she could feel someone straining to answer. There’s always a resident swot, she thought, recalling her school days…

“I would say that….” rose the voice from the back. Then it paused….

It was the pause that did it, she would later reflect. The pause that spoke to her and said here’s a gap. You can fill it with what you know. Damn it! She had studied biology in some depth; had created a synthesis in her own head, mixing it with her belief in universal kindness at apparent war with the eternal process that was the unfeeling universe…

“It’s a mysterious continuity,” she said, firmly – filling the gap.

She didn’t need to see to know that all eyes were upon she of the intervention. His eyes, too, restored to her – dancing with mirth at her interruption, nodding at the depth of her answer.

“Yes?” he said, inviting her…

She would apologise to the interrupted man at the back, later… For now, she had something to say… to share.

——————

So… what is life? It’s an obvious question that has taken us thousands of years to approach. Even philosophers have argued over its tangles, unable to frame the properties of ‘living’.

As a child, and keen on cheap horror films, we would go out into garden with old milk bottles filled from the kitchen tap and create coloured mixtures of soil, bits of plants and various other substances – bits of old cement from the builder’s yard next door, that sort of thing. We’d jam our palms over the neck and shake the contents for all we were worth. Eventually, and exhausted in arm, we’d watch the swirling mass of usually dark liquid spin like its own speeded-up universe.

Was it alive?

Of course not. But a billion years ago, above the broken fractures in the middle of the deep sea oceans, with their bubbling, muddy vents, powered by the intense heat from a gap in the Earth’s crust, something did live – according to the most likely theories on the origin of life.

What lived there that contrasted with our dead but sincerely shaken bottle soup? What was it that came into existence and sustained itself, miles from the surface of the sea, coaxed into life by the energy of the volcanic deep-sea trench?

The answer is fascinating and multi-faceted. One very good answer is that we did. We came into existence in that deep ocean trench, a billion years ago. The chain of life that began then resulted in us – a being that can actually look back, with some authority, on the history of life on Earth. But it doesn’t just look back; it asks whether this was a unique, freak event, or whether the universe is teaming with life…

The growing mind that resulted from that self-sustaining life-form can still only describe what life is, not why. The ‘what’ is wonderful and mysterious, but the why is either ignored with disdain or avoided. Science is not good at sharing the ‘truth’ with anything not based on its rigorous, but limiting principles. There are good reasons for this. The ages before the birth of rational thinking were marked by sheer fantasy and religious dogma as to what life was. The resulting materialistic swing of science was a natural reaction – and a good one. Perhaps now, though – as the questions of consciousness pile higher – there will be a loosening of what has become science’s own dogma, and a much deeper sharing of what it means to be human. After all, the human mind invented science, not the other way round.

Over the next few Thursday posts, we will take a journey from those ocean vents where life began, making the leap from chemical to organic – and watching it change its relationship with ‘the world’ forever.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Reality TV?

Wharf TV for blog cropAA

 

It’s full of trivia and artificial things; things which have arisen in the name of entertainment. Everywhere you look there is a stream of mindless celebrities willing – some would say desperate –  to eat tropical bugs to give themselves a chance of being famous, again. It reminds me of a sad film I once saw called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”.

There are also some of the best and most informative documentary programmes we have ever seen. Such a mixture, and, as usual, it’s a matter of personal choice – and a bit of effort…

Television. It’s changed a lot since I was a boy… Perhaps not all for the better. But it’s not the purpose of this blog to complain about the ‘box’. We are all entitled to our leisure time and to choose how we spend it. To me, there is a sense here of a ‘race to the bottom’ about a whole layer of modern entertainment. This seems to go hand in hand with a view of life as a comic strip, where there must be good guys and bad guys and violent resolutions. Superhero movies don’t help. The truth is complex. Resolution of problems always involves compromise. There is no black and white.

How about considering the humble TV in a different way: as a reflection of the mind and human consciousness, it’s an experiment that opens up a set of parallels that are fascinating.

The TV shows us a flat screen that our minds have learned to convert back into our native 3D. With a well made drama programme that we can be ‘lost’ in, the experience is a good approximation of being there. Children can be traumatised by scary TV programmes. Adults sometimes forget the degree to which they cannot separate it from reality. Only later in life do we see that the ‘scare’ can be switched off inside ourselves, but only if we ‘pull back’ from the flat screen experience and deny it its imaginative power. My wife still can’t and hides her face behind a cushion with really scary films…

In ‘switching off’ what appears to be present lies a mystical parallel. Can the television teach us to do the same thing with life, itself?

I’m watching a bunch of gym-obsessed twenty-somethings flaunt themselves on an island in the sun. The women are blonde and beautiful; the men shaped like Greek gods… But their conversation could be from a junior school. The whole thing is entirely artificial. I mutter under my breath and switch it over. It’s a documentary about plastic waste and what we are doing to our oceans. I care about this, so I sit down and watch, clutching my cup of tea. This is real… and painful. I wish the perfect sun worshippers were watching this, too. We could us their energies…

Can we, in life, switch over channels? To do this we have to find the equivalent of us being on our comfy chair and watching the TV. This is entirely possible and is one of the basic techniques that we teach in the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

We need to, literally, push the world away from our eyeballs. Sound crazy? Well, the reason the world is painted on our eyeballs is that we identify with what we see. Like the child with the television, we can’t see the screen and ourselves at the same time. By developing this dual consciousness – which is the work of only a few months – we  can begin to watch our own life as though it were a screen. In fact it is a kind of screen, one on which we project much of our existence. We see this as happening to us, but, really, we are happening to ourselves. At least at the mundane levels of life.

Once we begin to penetrate the understanding of the ‘world as television’ we can start to look for the truly real…. and that is a very different journey.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Rotating Blade of Meaning (8) – Final Part

helicopter-meaning blog - 1

In the preceding parts of this series (see below for full list) we have seen how Arthur M. Young, inventor and chief engineer of Bell’s early helicopter design, was convinced that it was possible to construct a ‘map of human meaning’, a graphic figure that would show the relationships between the laws of physics and the observer in a new way.

In its experiments, science had always tried get rid of the observer; and yet it was the observer’s mind that constructed the experiment in the first place…. How odd, thought Young, to try to get rid of the core animating principle behind the whole thing!

His early confirmation of this came with a new analysis of the common forms of motion, starting with the idea of distance from a point, then examining the relationship between distance travelled and the time taken (velocity); then considering the rate of change of such velocity when more force (pressing the accelerator in a car) was applied to create acceleration.

Each of these could be laid out on a circle, with distance being at the right, horizontal point. Each of the others came into existence at a right angle – ninety degrees – to the previous. In parts two and three, we saw how velocity was distance (a straight line) divided by time; acceleration was distance divided by time squared (an area); and that there was something missing at the final point (the upper vertical), which would equate to distance divided by time cubed – a 3D cube – the foundation of our physical world.

As an engineer, Arthur M. Young knew that he had used formula that divided by things cubed in his control systems for the helicopters he designed. He realised that this was the point at which the observer interacted with the system, in the form of control.

His task was now to extend this circular mapping to integrate all the other equations of ‘motion’ in the greater sense. These included all the remaining formula used by physics to describe aspects of motion.

First, he had to reconcile the properties of ‘fourness’ that had led to the mapping of general meaning with the key mystical concepts of ‘threeness’

The diagram above shows the process whereby something of a ‘higher nature’, spiritually, divides itself into two ‘children’ in order to come into manifestation at a ‘lower’ level. This is a deeply mystical idea and is the basis of most of the world’s metaphysical thought.

The key to understanding this is the realisation that the ‘above’ does not entirely remain there, it ‘enters into’ its creation – the lower. Nothing is lost… in fact much is gained. The whole, the One, becomes Two, but does not lose its oneness, when seen at the original level. The result is Three… represented by the triangle, which can direct itself up or down. If down, it is in the ‘God-descending’ process of involution. If upwards, it is the planetary process of evolution.

The One undertakes this transformation only because it can extend itself in the process. The potential role for mankind is to bring this intent to fruition; matching the microcosm (us) to the macrocosm (the creator). To ‘God’, there is an involvement with the creation. Mankind has to learn first to ‘see’ God in the multiplicity of the world. To do this requires the undoing of much of our ordinary learning, based upon the desire be a living part of unity.

Sadly, it is beyond the scope of these few blogs to provide more of the mathematical and logical mapping that Arthur M. Young carried out. Many of the techniques were invented by him. He was seeking what he called his ‘Rosetta Stone of Meaning‘. We can, therefore, cut to the chase and show the finished thing:

The figure comprises the original square cross of our original process of human meaning overlaid with four triangles. The result is twelve points on the circumference of the circle – exactly the number that astrology uses in its map of the year and the signs.

What had Arthur M. Young achieved with this reconciliation of physics, metaphysics and the place of the observer within both?

First and foremost, he had shown that our state as observer of ‘the’ world was not a single state, that there were incremental stages of consciousness corresponding to his maps of meaning. He showed that raw experience was the first product of our perception and that it occurred before our consciousness of anything. Whatever is ‘out-there’ has to register before our mind can begin to process it. After that, as the Rosicrucians often said,  ‘mind assigns it dimension’. This produces a literal depth of perception that a different part of the mind can then categorise.

It does this so it can group like things, giving related sets of experience. As an infant (as discussed in Part 7) the most important of these is what will hurt us. The organism has to endure, and there are many things in the out-there that can hurt or kill it.

Over time, we confuse the two organic fear of survival with what we like and dislike. In this way our registered experience become confused with what is being ‘valued’ as good and bad – in the Genesis story this is the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Ultimately, there is no good and evil, only what is. But our personal growth demands we take the long learning curve to real knowledge of our place in existence: gnosis, as the ancient teachers named it.

Arthur M. Young showed us that our consciousness – that jewel at the centre of our organism, needs threeness and fourness to divide its ‘circle’ of meaning into twelve parallel aspects. Once these are known, there is nothing that can fall outside their realm. The totality of our existence is mapped into this glyph – and it is of great significance that this corresponds with the twelve-fold divisions of the wheel of astrology – the most ancient of the ‘power-glyphs’.

What is humanity in this picture?  As organic beings, we are wholly of this planet. The good Earth lends us her bright materials, and the seed from afar takes root and grows. It’s highest function is to be fully conscious, and, within that, to use the inbuilt gradients to set a course for ‘heaven’. Many storms await, but captains are made of storms, not books on navigation – though the latter are vital if this life-layer of humanity is to learn to give its fullest love back to the globe that nurtured it.

Information about Arthur M. Young, 1905-1995

This series of blogs are based upon the book: The Geometry of Meaning, by Arthur M. Young.  ISBN 1-892160-01-3.

Many of his talks are available on YouTube.

Previous posts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part ThreePart Four

Part Five   Part Six

Part Seven

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.