Winter with the Silent Eye…

Full Circle?  – Finding the way home…
Penrith, Cumbria
Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018

castlerigg

Home. It is an evocative word. The images it conjures are different for each of us, yet few other words touch heart and mind in quite the same way. Birth and death, laughter and love, longing, fear and aspiration… the cycle of human life plays out within its walls.

For many, there is another ‘home’ beyond the physical confines of this world. That too may seem different for each of us and the path to its threshold is shaped by dreams. Few places illustrate this as clearly as Castlerigg, an ancient stone circle ringed by mountains and one of the most spectacular sites in the country.

 

The people who have walked this world before us have left traces of their lives and belief, written in stone upon the landscape. From church to stone circle, castle to cavern, finding the way home has always been intimately linked with the land. Join us in a winter landscape to explore these hidden pathways of mind and heart.

cumbria-castlerigg-22

The Silent Eye hosts a number of events each year, from our annual Weekend Workshop in Derbyshire to our ‘Living land’ and ‘Walk and Talk’ gatherings. All events are open to non-members and Companions of the School and they are a great way to meet us, explore the teachings we share and spend time with fellow travellers. The weekends are relaxed and informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.


Workshop costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation in Penrith are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com


Our next event…

Castles of the Mind

Seahouses, Northumberland

Friday 14th – Sunday 16th September 2018

Bamburgh Castle smaller

Do we have ‘castles of the mind’?

Traditionally, ancient castles were build where there was trouble… Do we have the equivalent in our minds and emotions? Have we, over the course of our lives, built up strong fortifications with which to repel those intrusions which, as children, we considered frightening?

Our ‘walk and talk’ events are friendly and informal. We ask those attending to bring one or two readings from their favourite books, poems, or other sources of inspiration. We listen and talk… and share. If someone is ready to enter their personal borderlands, we hold their hand and walk with them.

The cost per attendee is £50.00. This is an administrative cost, only. All personal costs and bookings, such as hotels and meals, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are generally shared in a local pub, and the cost divided between those partaking.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Enquiries: rivingtide@gmail.com.

Lord of the Deep – Workshop April 2019

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

*

The glories above were unamed.

The word for that world beneath, unuttered.

Source and time, unfettered, merged…

From the mingling waves-of-water came mud and slime.

Enshar and Kishar, twin halves of the globe, shone out of them.

*

THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

*
‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

Drawing a dark veil…

“Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” Pope Gregory’s letter to Abbot Mellitus, 6thC, on the conversion of Britain.

***

You have to admit, Pope Gregory was sneaky. The mission to bring the blessed isles of Britain into the Christian fold was not to be accomplished so much by conversion as subversion. To ‘convert’ means to turn in a new direction, to subvert means to destroy from below… and that, is pretty much, the definition of sneaky.

The instructions to the missionaries were clear… take and use the old sacred places for the new worship. The letter was quite detailed in how this should be done, but basically it meant allowing the people to celebrate the same festivals, in the way they had always done, and in the same places. The only difference wa that, while they were doing so, the clergy of the Church could gradually add a Christian gloss to the festivities. Many of the old gods were adopted as Christian saints and their stories rewritten accordingly, magical places were rendered ‘officially’ sacred by appropriating them for Christian myth and the symbolism of ancient festivals was reallocated to the Christian story.

Gregory was right. The people were soon turned to the new religion.

They may have neither noticed nor cared; when you worship God made manifest in Nature, the names and stories of the gods matter less than natural and cosmic force they represent… and Britain already had a long history of accepting ‘foreign’ gods into the pantheon. The new Jesus-god was little different from many who had come and gone before, after all. Miraculous births abound in religious history, across the globe and throughout the ages. Gods who walk the earth as men are not uncommon, nor are the gods who come to teach. Saviour gods and sacrificed gods were ten a penny, and Jesus was not the first to be hung upon a tree.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Gregory must have been well aware of this ready acceptance of new gods into the pagan fold. Throw in a few incentives…and eternal life isn’t bad for starters… add a dash of hellfire and brimstone to put the fear of God into the laggards, put learning, healing, economic and political power into the hands of the priests, and he was right; within a generation or two, the conversion was pretty much complete. The old gods faded into myth and their altars were forgotten…or repurposed.

But, let’s be honest, Gregory was not exactly the first to bring Britain to Christianity, whatever his letter might suggest. The process had been going on for quite some time. There were already Christians in Britain before the Romans left in 410AD. The very earliest missionaries, according to the legends, had arrived much earlier than that, when Joseph of Arimathea had come to Glastonbury, bringing with him relics of Jesus’ life and mission, and founding the first Christian oratory there. Joseph, according to the Bible, was the man who asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the Cross… so, if the legends are true, then Christianity came to these shores within a few years of the Crucifixion.

Celtic Christianity, which carried a greater love and respect for the natural world, was already firmly entrenched in these isles before Gregory wrote to Mellitus. The last pagan warrior-king was Penda of Mercia…and he died in 655AD. So it was not so much Christianity that Gregory wanted to bring to the land, but Roman Christianity. be that as it may, after the Synod of Whitby in 664, Britain was officially under the sway of the Bishop of Rome and the spiritual landscape was confined to the churches and chapels.

For those who seek a greater understanding of our spiritual past, Britain is particularly rich in archaeological remains dating back thousands of years. There are over a thousand stone circles, innumerable barrows and many other ancient monuments to baffle, intrigue and illuminate the seeker. Sacred sites continue to document the evolution of belief throughout the Roman Occupation, then you hit what was known as the Dark Ages (until political correctness renamed it the Early Medieval period) and nothing much remains except the imported Norse and Saxon gods and the earliest beginnings of the Church. The lines between them blur as the one blends with the other and our original spiritual story sinks further into myth… and the seeker is left with the task of unpicking the resulting tangle.

Unfortunately for Pope Gregory, his directive had an unexpected result. By building his churches on sites of a far more ancient sanctity than the sanction of Christianity, many of those sites were preserved. We not only know where they were, they are still there.

There are barrows in churchyards, ancient yews, once held sacred, still cast their shadows on holy ground, sacred springs run beneath foundations and local saints with strange names and even stranger stories leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow.

And follow them we do, finding mysteries and motes of ancient light as we delve into the origins of belief. Why do we search? What can such ancient beliefs offer us, and how do they relate to the modern world? You have only to look at the political evolution of ‘official’ faith to see how murky the waters can be and how the minds and hearts of a nation can be quietly subverted.

But somewhere beyond all the chicanery, beyond dogma, beyond all organised religion, when we reconnect to our ancestors, we touch a time when the questions we still ask today were first being explored. Their world was simpler… everything was either sacred or magical, or both. There were spirits in stone and tree, there was healing in the waters. Everything was seen as connected. Animals, even the hunted, were held in reverence and the green and growing land was the body of a goddess. Nature was the self-expression of divinity and mankind no more than a part of that expression. With humankind seemingly determined to despoil and destroy our home, I believe that perspective to be more than relevant today.

You’ve got mail…

I thought it was too easy.

A week of long, fraught hours, early starts and late finishes, coupled with some bug or other to sap my remaining energy, ended with technical glitches… and, just for good measure, the internet went down too. By the time I got all that sorted, I was about ready to call it a day, grab a hot water bottle and retire, but I still had all the catching up to do…

Except, somehow, it didn’t seem to take long.  An hour later and I was left only with the photo -prompt entries to read.  That was a result!

It was also weird. My inboxes do not get away lightly as a rule, but they have been very quiet the past few days. Suspiciously so. Then I noticed the number of unread emails in my spam folder and groaned… for some reason, hundreds of the things had been automatically routed there, and I was going to have to go through the lot.

Cursing and grumbling, I went through the sender and subject of every darned email, returning each one to the appropriate folder. It took a while. I have not had much energy left at the end of the day, so for the past few days, I have not emptied my spam and delete folders before bed as I usually do. And apparently, this problem has been going on for several days.

I double-checked what was left, making sure that any personal, important or school-related stuff had been safely sequestered, and hit delete on the rest, trying not to feel guilty.

I thought, as I did so, how instant communication has changed our lives. We can speak to people across the world in real time… even face to face with free video calling if we choose… and couldn’t help thinking about how our emotional response to communication has changed too.

I used to love getting letters, because… unless they were bills… they were always full of news and details about friends, family and loved ones. Some I would read and re-read… savouring them… and some have been kept for decades as tangible pieces of personal history, love and friendship. I actually got a letter today… with a proper, handwritten envelope and an intriguing postmark… and felt the once-familiar quiver of excitement. It was such an unusual occurrence that I left it on the desk for a while unopened to prolong the sensation. I could not imagine who it might be from, and when I did open it, was thrilled with the unexpected contents.

You seldom get that feeling from an email. In fact, the two most prevalent sensations, for me at least, seem to be a feeling of obligation to respond immediately and guilt if I don’t.  And then I feel guilty that I am feeling guilty, because I know that any pressure is coming from me rather than from the sender’s expectations… and I should know better.

On the other hand, I love being able to stay in touch so easily, with no waiting on tenterhooks for replies that took weeks by snail mail. I would hate to lose the ease of communication we have today… even a few hours with an enforced lack of access feels strange and frustrating. Yet, most email communication is pretty terse and to the point, including mine. Most of us use a different ‘voice’ with electronic communication than we would use in writing a letter. There is less of ourselves on the screen than there is on the page. Perhaps it is a hangover from many of us having first used email for business purposes.

I always found a personal letter to be a very different thing from an email, and emotions are often easier to express in writing than they are in person. Face to face, many of us find our words constrained, out tongues tied, and our feelings difficult to express… even with those to whom we would say the most if we could only find the words.

And yet, (apart from the dratted bills, which I am convinced are sent by demons with a warped sense of humour and execrable timing) behind every communication, in no matter what form it arrives, is another human being. ‘To communicate’… it is a verb, a ‘doing’ word, and comes from the Latin for ‘sharing’ and that should say it all really. Communication is always a sharing… there may be as much being shared in the space between the words as in the words themselves, and even a delayed response may tell its own story.

We may not pour our hearts onto the screen in the same way as we might once have poured them into our letters, but there is always a heart behind the fingers that type. Each heart has its own story, and while some may be closed or hardened, others stand wide open, waiting to share all they hold. Whether we communicate with laughter or with silence, in clipped phrases or in flowery periods, we are always speaking heart to heart, even if we do not realise it at the time.

Wilfully blind…

I may sit with my back to most of the house a lot, but I still have to do the housework. I can’t ignore it, even though I can’t necessarily see it. I know it is there and, if I leave it too long before getting started on the daily chores, it is as if something is staring at the back of my neck. I can’t settle to anything productive until it is relatively tidy…  which is as tidy as living with the small dog will allow.

So, I came home from work, played with the dog and her ever-present ball while I had a coffee, then went through to make the bed. As I shook out the covers, a shiny black spider stared back from the place where I lay my head. Now, I have no problem with spiders wandering around any other room, but me and spiders do not share the bedroom if I can help it. And I have no intention of sleeping with one.

I know they lurk in dark corners and under the bed, but as long as I do not see them, I am okay with that. I can pretend they are not there. This one, however, was not allowing me that illusion and had to be evacuated. He escaped en route to the window and scurried off who knows where. So I know that I still have a shiny black spider in my bedroom… but as I cannot see him, he doesn’t exist.

It was the same when my son brandished his leech-encrusted gloves under my nose. It is not easy to screech quietly through gritted teeth, but I consider that I managed it admirably, telling him politely to remove them from my sight as, if I looked at them…properly looked and registered what I was seeing… I would not have been able to continue with the job in hand.

And that is a completely illogical reaction, on a par with the dog hiding her eyes under a cushion. Small dog or not, she does not fit under a cushion and most of her is very visible. But, as far as she is concerned, if she can’t see me, I can’t see her.

It is like sweeping the dust under the carpet. The expression has found its way into common language, but we wouldn’t actually do it. For a start, we know that would be unhygienic, and if we did it too often, a few specks would soon become a pile, and an even messier job to clean that it would have been at the start. But we are good at doing it nonetheless and, like the dramatic trope of the unopened letter so beloved of cinematographers, there is a self-preservation mechanism that kicks in to protect us; what we do not see or acknowledge does not exist for us, so we often choose not to look.

We know about the spider, the leeches, the contents of the mythical envelope or the dust bunnies under the bed. We may even have seen them. But, unless we choose to look in such a way that what we see imprints itself on our reality, we can behave as if we have not seen anything at all. We know what is, we know what we are choosing not to see, and know that choice does not change reality one whit. But it changes our version of reality.

We see it happening all the time. We do it ourselves… and I doubt any one of us can say, with absolute honesty, that we have not. Whether it is a bill left unopened, a news item we don’t want to know too much about, the junk drawer that is quickly closed because it is in need of sorting, or avoiding the eyes of someone whose story we do not wish to know, be that a beggar in the street or the little old lady who can talk for hours.

There is no denying that it can be a useful thing, this refusal to acknowledge reality. We won’t miss your bus talking to the little old lady. We will sleep at night in spite of sharing the room with a spider. Some ancient skeletons are better left in their cupboards. And if we never look at the grass, it will never need cutting…or, not for us, at least.

It is often said that we ceate our own reality and, in this respect at least, it is true. Everything we experience through our senses changes our perception of reality. And what, of that reality, we allow to be acknowledged by consciousness, changes us.

A well-known prayer asks for the ‘serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference‘. Apply this to perception, and the ability to ‘know the difference’ is clearly the key, especially is we paraphrase a little and think about the things we need to see and the things we can choose whether to see or not. Our conscious mind is where we store the things we will act upon, while the things we choose not to acknowledge are filed ‘safely’ away. In many ways, what we allow into consciousness defines who we are choosing to be.

Just what are we sweeping under the carpet of consciousness? Whose eyes do we refuse? And how many of us will be sleeping with worse than spiders under the bed tonight?

A practical course…

“…am I missing something?” The frantic voice on the phone made it quite clear that he really hoped he was…
“There’s a grey ring with symbols on it. Turn it to the one with parallel lines.”
“Okay, done that.”
“Then, above where the ‘U’ shaped bit of red plastic is, there is a red slider. Push it to the right.”
“Whew… That’s got it. Thank you!” He hung up to deal with the piscine emergency and, while I threw on some clothes to go and join him, it occurred to me that this was a really useful example of one of the exercises we use in the Silent Eye to build awareness.

The gadget in question is nothing interesting, nor is it one I own, but it isn’t something I have to think about either; operating a hosepipe is just one of those things you do on autopilot. I cannot recall ever having particularly examined the fancy nozzle-that-does-everything-except-feed-the-cat, but I was, thankfully, able to conjure its image in sufficient detail to be of use.

I am lucky in this respect; my imagination and memory work with visuals and, while I may be utterly useless at remembering anything to do with numbers these days, what I have seen I can usually picture with clarity. Part of that is just down to how my mind functions; where some people remember the spoken word accurately and others have a gift for recalling numbers, I tend to remember what I have seen. Except numbers. But part of it too is down to training.

I have been working with the Mysteries for nearly half a century. Early in my studies, it became evident that there were two basic choices open to anyone seriously following that path… study for knowledge or study for application, and it seemed to me that the two needed to work in tandem.

While you cannot put into practice what you do not know, and therefore knowledge is necessary, the acquisition of knowledge alone serves no purpose unless it is used, except to satisfy the hunger of the inquiring mind and foster understanding. But as real understanding comes only with experience… so the most practical course would be to learn all you can, extrapolate the practical uses and apply them. And, as the lessons learned studying the Mysteries must be applied to life, it is through your own life that you learn.

Right from the very beginning of my own studies,there were exercises in awareness, even though, ironically, I did not realise it at the time. From simply visualising your room as you drift into sleep, to noting new details in familiar places, or playing memory games with yourself… they were simple enough exercises. It is difficult to gauge the cumulative effect, especially if your mind works best in pictures, until something makes you take note.

The hosepipe was an insignificant example, but the clarity with which it was brought to mind was striking. Places I have visited once, maybe thirty years ago, are still very clear. I drive thousands of miles on obscure roads and seldom look at a map… and if that kind of thing is a practical result of my studies, then I am happy to have spent so much time on ‘awareness’ exercises.

When the Silent Eye was founded, we wanted to create a distance learning course that was, above all, of practical use to the seeker, so it is no surprise that amongst the earliest exercises, we included those designed to stretch the unused mental muscles of simply noticing. They seem such simple exercises that most students approach them lightly…and yet, without exception, those same students find them a revelation, either through how many physical details they have been overlooking or how what they discover connects with other areas of their own experience. Almost all the journals about these exercises contain one common phrase… “I never noticed that before.”

Deliberately taking notice of something is only one step on the journey to awareness though. It goes much deeper than that, or there might seem little point in chasing this elusive state. It extends beyond the obvious, through an awareness of oneself, to that awareness of others that we call empathy. It opens you to emotion, and you may laugh and weep more readily, especially at the touch of beauty. It opens you to the natural world, so that its details are not missed and its creatures are seen in all their amazing complexity. Beyond that, too, until all you know of creation joins in a single, magnificent, delicate web of life. It opens you to life.

Birds eye view

Diana and co north 030

There must have been thirty starlings, mainly youngsters, in the garden at my son’s home today. The great tits and blue tits are very tame and happy to peck away at the feeding stations even when you are very close. Robins, thrushes and blackbirds are regular visitors, along with the many sparrows, the inevitable pigeons, magpies and doves and the clever jackdaws that fly in. I often see the wrens, I think I spotted a dunnock, and there are buzzards, red kites and the local heron flying over daily.

ayles 001
The heron can see the pond, but it was constructed to make it almost impossible for it to land, which is just as well given the monsters that lurk in its depths. My son keeps some rather large sturgeon as well a plethora of other fish. The other birds bathe in the corner of the stream overhung with plants and the kites sail over, watching.

Diana and co north 010
There have been a lot of birds over the past couple of weeks. Not ‘just’ birds… they are always there… but ones you seldom see, or that were very tame… or just a sheer delight. There were cuckoos, woodpeckers and a tree mouse in the woods, plus this little guy, caught on zoom. I’ve seen peacocks and swallows, ibises, robins, grouse and an owl. And birds have a habit of making me think.

diana nick ashridge 094
I suppose because they are wild, free creatures, that when they come so close within our lives, or seem to allow us into their world for a moment, we are touching nature in a way our towns and cities seldom let us do. They wake us from our complacency with their presence and song and remind us of the changing seasons of the year. In general their lives are much shorter than ours and they use them busily, especially this time of year when the young need to be fed and educated.

ayles 015
It has been lovely watching the young family of starlings with their parents, from the first, curious visits to the bird table, where, still yellow around the beak, the babies sat open mouthed and waited for their parents to feed them, to their growing confidence as adolescents, still in the family group, still under the watchful eye of parents who encourage them now to fend for themselves. They were clumsy when they first came, flying awkwardly and frequently falling off their perches. Now they are confident, though they still stick together and several families seem to be merging into a larger flock.

Diana and co north 054
Watching the young birds find their feet… and their wings… has been a joy this spring. They were made to fly… streamlined, graceful and swift in flight. Yet leaving the egg, instinct or not, is something they have to do under their own steam, breaking out of the shell when the moment is right, into a world unknown. Ii it a scary place for them or an adventure? Is it fear or curiosity that they feel?

Diana and co north 068
I think it was C.S Lewis who wrote that it has to be hard for a bird to leave the egg, but it would be an awful lot harder learn to fly if it stayed in there. He went on to compare human beings to eggs… saying that we cannot remain eggs forever, even perfectly good ones; we either change, or go bad. And to be honest, there can be few things worse than what is locked inside a decomposing egg.

Diana and co north 008
Once our shell is cracked, though, there can be no going back… we must break out, and breathe the air… and the egg is empty of anything that will nourish us. The only way forward means a dramatic change in everything we have known so far. There will be predators, there will be the risk of the unknown to face with ecxcitement or fear. Yet it is our nature too to fly. We are children of the sun and our soul has wings; and while we may be awkward and clumsy as we grow, the heavens are waiting for us to spread our wings and fly.

hawk (3)

Milestones

I came across an old post while I was rummaging through the files. It looked at the decades of an ordinary life…my life… and how the things that seem ordinary to you, while you are living them, can look very different to an observer. As I skimmed back through the paragraphs, I was watching the fish in the aquarium out of the corner of my eye. Two of the little loaches had ventured out to feed. They are shy creatures and I seldom see them, so I stopped to watch.

One of them was the original hitchhiking loach that had survived an almost waterless journey on a plant, the other was one of the juveniles I had procured to keep him company. The original loach has grown, losing the ‘vermisimilitude’ that had horrified me when I found him, and is looking far more like a fish, while the smaller of the two still looks very like a brightly coloured worm. In all other respects, they appear identical… time is the only difference between them.

Together, the fish and the article got me thinking about the process of growth. We never notice it happening, we only notice when it has happened. From child to adult, we grow…some of us more than others and each at our own pace. We notice when we have grown tall enough to do certain things, like reaching the pedals on that new racing bike you were given for your birthday. Or not, in my case; I never did grow into it. But we are not conscious of it actually happening while it happens.

We see ourselves in the mirror and wonder when we got old. Even though we knew the time was passing, the years were stacking up and things had begun to ache that never ached before, we are unaware of it occurring.  The process of growth, be it upwards, outwards or in age, happens behind our back; we are unaware of it, regardless of its known inevitability, until something brings the results of that process to our attention.

Equally, growth of a less positive kind can creep up on us too. The negative self image that is imposed or self-generated, the fears and fragilities we are bear, they seldom spring fully formed from the mists…they grow slowly, chpping away at our confidence and self-worth, until we are confronted by the ruin of what we once were and what we still could be. The process of healing such wounds takes far longer than it does for a careless word to cause them.

Change happens, whether we notice it or not. One day we will find that we can reach the cookie jar at last, or our jeans no longer fasten, or, in a land of wishful thinking, they are suddenly too big… We become conscious of change only when its effects are forced upon our notice, not as the process of change happens. We need milestones to measure the progress of process.

There are other growing processes that also need milestones to measure their progress. The acquisition of knowledge is measured by examinations or our ability to apply it to practical situations. A new skill is set against the completion of a project. But how can we measure the growth of more abstract qualities, like wisdom, understanding or compassion?

It serves little to listen to the words of others, be they complimentary or derogatory; for growth to have happened, we must be more than we were, and unless the other person has watched us grow, they cannot know what we used to be.

The loaches are twice as long as the tetras in the aquarium. The tetras are twice as fat as the threadfins and yet the pleco could eat the lot in one gulp. They are all fully grown, and it is simply how they are supposed to be. In the same way, our own nature, and the nature of our personal growth, cannot be measured against that of anyone else.

We are who we are and, whether or not we are aware of the process, we are in a state of constant growth and change. Each day adds something to the sum of our knowledge, each moment offers the chance of a new beginning and every experience may add to the store of wisdom and understanding.

Our physical growth may be finite… we may reach our full height before we reach the pedals of that bike, or end up towering above our parents, but our personal growth knows no such limits and we will always be works in progress. Our capacity for growth, like our ability to embrace change seems infinite, even when we do not notice the ongoing process, but only blink at the milestones.