The stories we heard as children remain with us as we grow. We know them well and, at need, can dredge from memory all the salient points to retell them to a new generation of children. The characters are familiar and many of them, such as the Fairy Godmother or the Big Bad Wolf, are archetypes that suggest their role within each tale as soon as their name is mentioned.
It matters little if the words we speak differ from those we heard; the story remains, a living thing that defies our attempts to re-frame it. A little girl wearing a red hood will always meet a wolf on her way through the forest to Grandma’s house and a woodcutter will always use his axe to rescue Granny from a fate worse than death.
But why do we tell such stories? Why do we recount tales of darkness and danger to our children…and why do images of a world not our own survive, generation after generation, to delight and terrify a child cuddled safe within a parent’s embrace?
Long before literacy was a common skill, such tales would be shared by the fireside. They could be carried the length and breadth of the land without effort, passed from imagination to imagination, where the seeds that were sown could take root and grow, quietly and without being noticed until their fruits were needed.
We think of them as children’s stories and yet, within their fantasy, many life lessons could be hidden and the kernel of a deeper story concealed.
We may have lost the keys that allow us to unlock fairytales with ease, but it is still possible to unravel their tangled threads and glimpse a world beyond our own… only to find that it is our own after all.
Sleeping Beauty forms the basis of our weekend workshop in April 2020. It is not just the tale of a disobedient princess, ignoring parental advice and suffering the consequences. Nor is it merely the story of her romantic awakening by a charming prince. Aurora, our Beauty, does not die…she merely sleeps for a hundred years. But… have you ever wondered what dreams may come when Beauty sleeps?
Join us for a weekend in the heart of Derbyshire…
17-19 April, 2020
Awaken the beauty that sleeps within.
Details of the fully catered, residential workshop are available HERE.
I was talking with a friend, as you do, comparing notes over coffee and a few thousand miles. He described his own spiritual tradition as ‘walking in Beauty’. That, I thought, was a wonderful way to describe any path. Yet it came to my mind that if I had to describe as simply the path that has drawn me, the path we seek to share with the School, I would have to say that we ‘walk in Love’.
For me, there is little difference in essence between the two. They are, perhaps, facets of the same thing seen through a different lens. As with many concepts, the words carry some powerful personal emotions. Beauty looks different to each of us, though there may be common points between observers where all will recognise something that goes beyond time, culture and the rest of the conditioning filters that superimpose themselves upon our eyes. Not everyone will see beauty in the barren rocks and treeless landscape of the high moors, but most will see it in the trusting smile of a child.
Love, too, covers a huge emotional landscape. Again, there is the common ground that seems to speak to the heart of humanity and again it is stretched across the extremes from the nurturing and caring to the catabolic. While love may lift us to the heavens, it may not, at first glance look like love when it strips us bare and leaves us naked in the desert, in a seeming act of cruelty. But ultimately, even these dark and painful moments can be a great gift of Love, for in that vast emptiness we may find the core of Being.
With the Silent Eye, we needed a way to carry the student beyond these filters, beyond thought and logic, beyond the personal emotions that may be associated with a particular word, system or concept towards something more universal. We seek to speak to a deeper level of consciousness, leading the intellect to the heart and the emotions with the mind and imagination. So what else would we do in a modern Mystery School than fall back upon probably the oldest way we know? The power of stories.
Storytellers have woven their magic across all ages and cultures. The bards of old carried wisdom and knowledge in their tales from fireside to fireside. Many of these tales still linger in our cultures and societies, and the roots of myth and legend weave through our lives no matter where we live.
If you think back to childhood, your own childhood, there will be great swathes of time you do not remember. There will be snapshots of memory here and there, but most will have merged into the mists. Yet if I were to ask you what was your favourite story as a child, ask you to tell me about it, I’d be willing to bet that you could. And in that retelling you would see the mental pictures you saw as a child. It would recall time, places, people, emotions… and it may even remind you of what you learned from it. But then again, it might not, as children absorb the lessons so simply from a story… they do not analyse every word, wanting to know why the writer chose this phrase or that… they just embrace the magic of the moment.
The landscapes thus created in the mind are given life by the child’s belief and become real on their own plane. To the child, there is truth in Aslan, or King Arthur and Camelot, or dragons and griffins. And I think something of that reality remains with us as we grow up. Regardless of the dawning awareness of historical accuracy and the distinction between fact, fiction and fantasy, there is a hidden place within us that still believes in that childlike truth, for it marks us at a very deep level. And in that place, they are still real for us.
Stories bring the world to life in a very special way for a child. I know a huge number of adults to whom the back of a wardrobe is still a magical place… and I count myself among them. From folk tales to fantasy, through science fiction and film there is something in the essence of a story that reaches beyond logic to a subtler level of meaning and which speaks to us more deeply than conscious understanding. Stories engage the imagination in a way few other things can and this opens a whole new world of possibilities.
In the Silent Eye, we use a family of archetypal figures to tap into the unconscious understanding of the Beyond. They accompany the student on a symbolic journey into the Self on a quest for a truth we cannot give, but only find, each of us, for ourselves. The symbols of the journey are an expression of the essence of something higher and finer and we use the tools of fantasy so that the student does not become fixated on the symbols themselves, trapped behind the walls such limited vision can build. We allow them to find out for themselves the difference between looking at the pointing finger and the moon…
So in April, we will delve into the mysterious realms of story, heading back to a time beyond time. The archetypes will wear the faces of the Big Bad Wolf, the Pied Piper and a Beauty frozen in sleep. In a reality one step removed from our own, yet which finds its echo in every life, every day, we will seek meaning in the old, familiar tales.
Join us for a weekend in the heart of Derbyshire…
17-19 April, 2020
Awaken the beauty that sleeps within.
Details of the fully catered, residential workshop are available HERE.
As soon as you start to mention the whole mind over matter thing, scepticism immediately cuts in like an automatic safety mechanism to keep you on the right side of reality and sanity. Vague visions of objects floating across a room by the use of telekinetic powers are accompanied by the eerie strains of 70s sci-fi TV and straight away, you are unconsciously looking for the wires.
As an idea, it isn’t quite so far-fetched though. There are good reasons to believe that the mind can influence matter and that the body can influence the mind.
Smiling is a good example. We smile when we feel happy, yet it is equally true that we feel happy when we smile. Even if it is a forced smile, by activating the muscles around the mouth and eyes in imitation of a smile, the brain is fooled into thinking we must have something to smile about. Our internal chemistry adjusts accordingly, stress levels drop and we actually feel happier. Research done over the years suggests that the smile, even forced or faked, can affect how we interpret and feel about the world around us too. The facial feedback hypothesis suggests that we create a feedback loop with our facial expressions that are not just an effect of emotions, but which, in their turn, affect emotions.
It is well-known that depression alters our appearance. So does happiness. Even simple things, like the way we dress, can influence our mood and self-confidence dramatically and, in turn, that influences the way we see ourselves in face of the world and crucially, how the world then sees us.
In this day and age where so many of have access to the latest scientific theories, we can hardly avoid the debates that rage around certain areas of science. Most of us, for example, will have at least a passing acquaintance with the idea of the observer effect in quantum mechanics where it is postulated that the act of observation alone may alter the movement of particles. The scientists get very excited about the whole idea and the philosophers pile in with their speculations on the nature of reality. The trouble is that for the vast majority of us, such high-flown stuff is of little practical use and, regardless of how fascinated we might be by the theories, they are unlikely to change our day-to-day lives any time soon.
There are areas of science, though, that do profess to be able to do just that. One of the most popular TED talks is a presentation given by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, where she discusses her findings about the effects of non-verbal communication, or body language to the majority of us. Although her scientific findings have been questioned by other scientists seeking to replicate the results, the talk is interesting in itself. It highlights the use of posture and how, even by faking it, we can make ourselves feel more confident and, as she puts it, more powerful. She looks at the way the animal kingdom uses posture to express personal power and relates it to human body language. It isn’t at all far-fetched… we too are animals and there is no reason to suppose that Nature has given us a special dispensation to break away from the basics of animal behaviour.
One of the phrases that Ms Cuddy uses takes the idea of faking it one step further than the usual ‘until you make it’. “Fake it until you become it”, she suggests. It is an excellent phrase with which to end the presentation, but as an idea, it is far from new. Íñigo López, better known as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who was instrumental in the founding of the Society of Jesus in the mid 16th century, suggested that we should put ourselves in the position of prayer and we would soon pray, which is simply another way of saying the same thing. The Jesuits, following the principles outlined in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, engage the imagination in order to enter into creative visualisation and experience, rather than simply read about, the life and mission of Jesus. The psychological principles are sound as the brain and emotions react to what is seen and experienced by the mind’s eye in a very similar way to how it reacts to a more concrete reality. This is why guided journeys such as we use in The Silent Eye, meditation and creative visualisation are such powerful exercises… and why the pictures of the feelgood ‘cute kitten’ is always a winner on the internet; both allow us to experience emotion in the safety of our own imagination.
In the Mysteries we learn the techniques for the creation of the ‘magical personality’. It is through this that we learn how to function effectively in our role. On one level, this persona is a no more than a construct built in the imagination, but imagination alone is not enough to make it real, for it to be effective in the ‘real’ world, we must believe in it and the strongest belief in ourselves comes from seeing that belief mirrored back at us through the eyes of others. Just like the smile, a feedback loop is created that, once set in motion, picks up momentum and continues to reinforce itself.
Just as an actor dons a mask of wears the make-up and costume of his character in order the ‘feel the part, we too can assume a mask. Not to hide behind or pretend that we are something we are not, but to show to the world and ourselves what truly lies within, buried beneath the fears and insecurities that have held us back and stifled our possibilities. We can change our own perception of ourselves and how we face the world.
Does it matter if scientists and philosophers spend their time arguing and seeking the validity of reproducible evidence or demonstrable theories? All most of us want is to feel better about ourselves, more confident, happier. We want to feel we can face the world with our head held high and a smile on our face that comes from the heart. Maybe all it takes to begin that process it to wear the smile we want the world to see and, looking into the mirror of each other’s eyes, we too can see that smile and begin to believe it.
My mother was not quite seventeen when I was born. She and my father, just three years her senior, had married early as he had joined the army. They were still living close to home when I first came into the world, but it was not long before they moved to married quarters at the other end of the country. My father, though, was not around for long as his unit was sent on active duty overseas, so my mother, still just a teenager herself and with a small child to raise, became effectively a single parent with no family close enough to offer the support and advice she needed.
In spite of being very young at the time, I have very clear memories of where we lived, the things we would do together and the places we went. We lived in a small, top-floor flat in an old building on Tunbridge Road; just four rooms and long flights of stairs down into the garden. My mother painted all the characters from Disney’s Snow White and pinned them to my bedroom walls. The bathtub was in an alcove in the kitchen and covered with a wooden lid. Almost every day, we would feed the swans on the Medway. My mother made friends with the old man who hired out rowing boats and, on quiet days, he would let us take a boat out onto the river. It must have been a lonely existence for a young mother who had barely left her own childhood behind.
It did not occur to me until my eldest son was born how difficult she must have found those years. By that time, I was older than my mother had been by almost a decade and, although I was living in France and even further from my family than she had been, I did have a husband who was there and I did not live in constant dread of an officer turning up on the doorstep with the news that he had been killed in action. For my mother, it must have been a lonely and frightening time.
The deaths in that particular arena were counted in hundreds, but both my parents had lived through the last years of WWII where the casualties were counted in millions. Their parents, my grandparents, had lived through the horrors of Great War too, seeing their own fathers march away in uniform and, when the call had come, had served their country, each in their own way. Both my grandfathers had been soldiers and fought overseas, one against the forces of Nazi Germany, the other against the Japanese as part of the ‘Forgotten Army’ in Burma. One grandmother donned a uniform and served on the home front, another took in refugee children.
The bombs fell even upon the northern city where my mother was raised, including one through the roof of their home. Rationing continued for many years after the war had ended and even I can remember the swathes of devastation left behind by bombing and the air-raid shelters crumbling into decay.
The after-effects of those two horrific wars shaped everyone who lived through them. So much residual fear must have played on my mother’s emotions as she lived through my father’s tour of duty. How much more had their mothers and grandmothers felt when their husbands and sons had answered the call to a war that claimed so very many lives?
Generation after generation, century after century, men have suffered and slain one another at the behest of power-hungry leaders or to defend their homes against them. Century after century, women have waited in fear to see whether their menfolk would return, or return whole in body, for few remained unaffected in heart and mind by the horrors they both saw and perpetrated on the battlefield.
Generation after generation, the after-effects of conflict have been passed down to their children, insidiously and unconsciously shaping lives, undermining trust in stability and the permanency of all we might hold dear. It may even be that the very insecurity created by war is one of its causes, a self-perpetuating monster that feeds on all we love.
The official definition of war is a conflict that takes more than a thousand lives. That seems wrong to me, because for every soldier who falls in battle, there will be a family whose lives will never be the same again. Civilian casualties tend to outnumber military losses too.
If, instead, we take war to mean any conflict in which the many die for a power struggle between the few, I wonder if there has ever been a time in human history when this planet has not suffered the effects and after-effects of war?
But for those who serve, it is seldom the politics of power that matters. They serve to protect their homes, their families and their way of life. And, although all have tales to tell, their words focus on the better moments as eyes cloud with unspoken fears and unspeakable horrors. It is in the quiet arena of the home front, as well as on the battlefield that many of the better traits of humanity come to the fore… courage, endurance… compassion, hope and selfless heroism. And these are the men and women who are remembered as poppies are placed at every cenotaph and memorial and worn over so many hearts.
Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of emails from people trying to find their way through the maze of possibilities now available to those seeking their spiritual path. Tap ‘spirituality’ into the search bar of Amazon and you will be faced with around half a million choices. Not so very long ago, you could trawl every bookstore in town.. and most towns had a fair few to choose from… and you would be lucky to find anything more than a bible. Ask for the esoteric section and the assistant would look at you with a blank expression and/or back away from the weirdo before directing you towards the poetry shelves. There were books… but not many, and they were both hard to find and expensive because of their rarity. The best places to look were the scruffy, second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, invariably tucked away down a side street in a seedy part of town. When you found a good one, you didn’t forget.
These days, it seems as if everywhere you look there are books, CDs and videos promising you the earth and the heavens… or heaven on earth… or ascension… or, well, you get the idea. Spirituality has become big business.
I have lost track of the number of Avatars and Ascended Masters currently plying their trade. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a deep distrust of anyone who has to tell me they are such a thing. Inspire me, make me think, lead by example and show me the results made manifest in the way you face your life and the way you inspire others… ‘show, don’t tell’ is as important in the spiritual world as it is for writers. The true spiritual teachers I have had the privilege to know would never see themselves as any more than students sharing a journey towards the Light.
While there are some excellent books, many reputable schools and organisations and a handful of genuine spiritual teachers, it is very difficult to wade through such a plethora of promises and find the ones that speak to the heart. It becomes even more confusing when the lines have become blurred between the truly spiritual and those books and systems guaranteeing worldly happiness and success. Many of the techniques employed are very similar; indeed, many of the ‘feelgood’ systems appear to have hi-jacked magical techniques lock, stock and barrel, repackaging and rebranding them as something new and unique that will bring the subscriber their heart’s desire. The trouble is, they have taken the heart out of the practices to do so.
The true intent of those ancient techniques that work upon the personality is not to hone and polish it for worldly success and a happy life. The need to ‘Know Thyself’ is at the core of all spiritual paths, but not in order to make money or attract a mate, though your life will change if you follow the old teachings and find yourself opening up the greater potential of your own being. Such studies give access to great joy as inner balance is real-ised. Confidence comes with the knowing and eyes come alive with wonder. ‘Success’ may well come too because of the expansion of understanding of yourself and your world, and though it may not always be measurable in worldly terms, by the time it arrives, you value each experience for its true worth.
The purpose of such study has a higher aim than filling a bank account or an empty space in the bed. Sadly, there are many self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who seem all too happy to fill their own at the expense of the true seeker, confused by the sheer amount of information and promises now available to them.
Mankind has always recognised that there is something beyond himself. For some the highest good is seen in the heart of humanity and how, beyond the petty griefs and greeds that shadow his days, humanity can know compassion, generosity and love. For others, that ‘something’ is reflected in the small gods of hearth and home and the spirits of Nature. Still others raise eye and heart towards a universal Intelligence. While the beliefs of individuals differ, there seems to be a common need to perceive and acknowledge a higher good.
For much of humanity’s history, that higher good has been found through the direction of bodies of religious knowledge. For centuries, religion and politics were closely aligned and until relatively recently, it was simply not good for your health to question the prevailing belief of your country. Those who did so publicly suffered for their freedom of thought. Sadly, there are many places where this is still true today and the emergence of a genuine and global freedom of belief is an ongoing process still far from its goal.
Over the past few decades, much of the world has seen a real, noticeable increase in the freedom and desire to question dogmatic teachings. More and more people are recognising that the key to spiritual development lies in their own hands and heart. It is not necessarily a turning against the traditional teachings, but a desire to understand their inner truth and deeper meaning, as well as an acknowledgement that to follow the rules blindly is a far cry from taking personal responsibility for our own lives and actions.
Our personal relationship with our own spiritual nature and our concept of divinity is unique. Whether we look to the heart of humanity or a higher Source does not matter if we truly seek to grow into the best of ourselves. There is no lid on the sky and no limit to the inner vision that can lead us forward.
No book, no school, no one human being can teach you ‘spirituality’. What they can do is share knowledge, experience and a system that has been found to work and give results. They can be your guide, hold your hand on the journey and share it with you until you reach a door through which you alone may walk. It is not always a comfortable journey to examine your self and begin to fit the fragments of your being into a bigger picture, becoming part of something whole. Not for nothing is it called the Work. But it is always worthwhile. Spirituality cannot be sold any more than you can sell a sunset… but you can be shown where to stand and in which direction to look. And no-one, no matter how much they charge, can teach you to be a spiritual being… because that is something you have always been.
There has been a bit of a preoccupation around here lately with stone. Between the recent and forthcoming workshops we will have visited a fair number of stone circles, standing stones and burial chambers and it might be tempting to think we are simply indulging our curiosity or even wafting around the stones of the past, in denial of the fact that evolution has taken humanity thousands of years away from the time and spiritual climate in which these stones were erected.
There is a temptation also to look at these stones and call them primitive constructions, or crude symbols, yet the planetary and seasonal alignments present at many of these sites, let alone the scale and sheer number of them across the landscape, suggests we need to reassess that misconception. While arguments smoulder about their purpose and significance, their beauty, mystery and the power of standing in their presence is undeniable.
We look upon these enigmatic stones from a position of greater knowledge of the world and indeed, the universe than at any other time in human history, yet we still look at the precision and beauty with which they were built with awe… and wonder if, for all our knowledge, we may have lost something. Did the Old Ones understand the world in a way we have forgotten? There are so many questions that will remain unanswered and any answers we are given will be accepted or denied according to our own predisposition.
Yet there are still things we can learn from looking at these monuments to our own distant past. Not all of those lessons need to be about the stones themselves, even if we simply observe through modern eyes, the stones can act as catalysts for our own progress towards understanding.
I remember a very interesting talk given by Steve some years ago, based on the work of Maurice Nicoll, in which he looked at some elements of the Gospels from a symbolic, rather than a literal viewpoint. He suggested that certain words refer not to physical objects, but to more abstract concepts. Three of the words he looked at were wine, water and stone. I can’t recall the exact terms he used, but roughly, wine symbolised spiritual truth, water living truth and stone the rigidity of dogma. Within the context of the Gospels stories, those terms work to shed an extra level of illumination on the parables. Such apparently coded symbols may have been common knowledge in an earlier era, much as the symbolism of the medieval wall paintings that look so strange to our eyes yet conveyed a clear message, in their day, even to the unlettered peasantry. Like any code of symbols, though, just because it works within one era and arena, it does not necessarily follow that the same meaning would be applied across all others.
Of the three words that Steve examined, his symbolic definition of stone is closest to our general use of the term. We speak of things being ‘written in stone’… like the Ten Commandments that were inscribed on the tablets… and therefore both unchanging and unchangeable. It is for this reason that it is so apt for describing the decline of living truth into mere dogma. Yet, I wonder if even the common definition of ‘written in stone’ should be set in stone?
Rock is part of the very fabric of our planet. You could say that it was formed from cosmic energies operating in earth. The elements that existed before the formation of rocks were gradually solidified to form the basis of our lands. Man recognises stone as a symbol of solidity and permanency; even today, we use it for our monuments because of its longevity and durability. In a more abstract sense, because of these same qualities, it represents truth and it is true that the truth as we see it, when it is set in stone and not allowed to grow can indeed become dogmatic.
When our ancestors built their monuments they began by using wood, a material in plentiful supply and relatively easy to work. Traces of vast monuments, such as Woodhenge and Seahenge, still remain. Yet timber circles were not enough. Our ancestors too chose to build their monuments… and in Britain that means the circles, the monoliths, cairns and chambers… in stone. The organisation and work involved with the simple tools we are told they had available at the time is staggering. You cannot imagine that they would have cut, shaped and carried up to eighty stones weighing up to four tons each, over the 150 miles from Wales to Stonehenge, for instance, unless they saw some great virtue in doing so.
It can have been no arbitrary decision. Perhaps it was something to do with the Prescelli hills where the stones were formed, perhaps something to do with the qualities of the stone itself. We may never know. Either way, it was an incredible undertaking. The precision of the stones at Stonehenge, both their crafting and their placement, is well documented and many books have been written exploring the astronomical alignments built into the circle. It can only have been conceived with some kind of sacred purpose in mind, especially considering the labour it took, the manpower and the time, in order to raise the monument and the vast, sacred landscape in which it stands. Stonehenge may be the best known and visually the most impressive, yet there are over a thousand stone circles in Britain.
You can imagine the Old Ones lifting the stone with reverence from the earth, shaping it both to their needs and to its place in the landscape. You can see them placing it with care to exemplify and illustrate a living truth which made sense of their world, raising their beliefs to be written in the permanent language of stone.
Yet stone is continually open to change. It is constantly being eroded and reshaped by the weather, even by the touch of human hands. It is destroyed by progress, cleared away, moved, re-used to suit the needs of later generations. Its meaning, both as a symbol and as an exemplar of our ancestors’ beliefs, may be lost. Yet, the original message… the essence of what was ‘written in stone’… although invisible to later eyes, still remains encapsulated in the living stone they raised.
We will continue to build our monuments in stone to the truth that we see and their meaning too will one day be lost in the mists of time. Unlike our ancestors, we record our world… with new technologies that will also become obsolete. Five thousand years from now, there may be some knowledge left of the meaning and purpose of what remains of what we now build, but the true import, the understanding of the emotional, social, religious and political context, will have been lost. Stone is not a permanency, it just has a longer, slower life than we mere humans. It is in a constant state of change, just like the truth it symbolises. Even dogma will have its day and either self-destruct or slowly fade, replaced in the heart of Man with a new paradigm. But behind the truth and the reality we know and profess, there is a greater Truth, eternal and immutable. We may not be able to see it, but somewhere beyond our differences and arguments, beyond our ever-changing beliefs, doubts and systems, we know it is there. It is in this greater Truth that understanding grows and sometimes we may be able to catch a glimpse of it, written in the very stones of this little planet we call home.
When we were creating the Silent Eye’s mentored correspondence course, we envisaged a three-year journey through a mental, emotional and spiritual landscape which would evolve as the Companion’s learning and depth of ‘being’ increased.
This landscape was to be internal – an active, meditative experience, whose presence would extend into the daily life as learning of true cause and effect deepened, and different aspects of modern living were brought into harmony. In the true and ancient meaning of the word, this would become a very magical journey.
Lately, we have begun to re-examine the idea of actual landscapes being used as teaching aides; not passively, but inviting – invoking – them to work with the noble intentions of the workshop in question.
I’ve been to many workshops over the years. Many of them were good. Some of them were very good. Two or three were life-changing…
What’s the difference?
Good ones were well structured; you had a clear idea -going in – of what would be taught and what effort you would have to put in if you wanted to succeed. What was success in this context? Success has to be ‘something added’ to your life; possibly an additional skill, something to be dropped into that ‘kit bag’ that is us; a bit like the tarot Card of the Fool (below), striding, unafraid, into the morning of Life with a little dog nipping at his heels and his few important possessions slung over his/her shoulder…
Very good workshops were those in which you discovered that, whatever you thought in the first few minutes, it deepened way beyond that as the agenda developed. This might have been the appropriateness of the subject matter, or even the approach of the teacher.
A workshop that is life-changing is one in which the attendee immediately feels at home with the event and the inner process of the teaching – generating a hunger. That sense of ‘coming home’ is difficult to pin down, but deepens with each stage of the event.
Why this happens may not be apparent in the early stages; indeed I’ve been to a couple of such weekends where I still don’t know how that sense of sheer magic was created… But I know itwas. And the fact that the memory still generates a sense of wonder, years later, shows the power they had.
‘Let go and get out of the way’…
It’s a deeply mystical insight, and it may have a lot to do with the life-changing workshops. There’s an enigma at work, here: you have prepare the ‘skeleton’ of the event in sufficient detail for it to be viable. At the same time, the structure and keys of the weekend should only be the ‘tinder that lights the greater fire’. When this works, it’s obvious that something is happening beyond the planning and the preparation. It is as though an intervention is taking place that broadens and deepens a kind of group presence…
In the Silent Eye, this is what we aim for; that the landscape, itself, becomes the teacher, gradually aligning and moving forward each person to the degree that they are able to be receptive to it. More blogs will follow as we develop this theme.
Whitby is the location for our next weekend. Above is a taste of the opening day (Friday 6th December, 2019)… a few places are still available. You can click here for our website’s events page.
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.
I slowed to let the young lad on the bicycle pull out onto the roundabout. That looks like… I raised my hand to wave to my son’s friend and instantly realised my mistake. It might have been his son, but it certainly was not the boy I had known. It couldn’t be… he would be in his thirties now and this youngster was little more than a child. Even worse, he looked like my son’s best friend when we had first known him, almost twenty years ago, not as I had last seen him a couple of years ago, well over six foot tall and as broad as a tank.
Memory is a funny thing. I recalled a recent conversation where we had discussed how the images that we hold in our minds of people we know are not always accurate. Sometimes we picture them from a single moment in time, often the first time we met them. Sometimes we build up a composite picture, snapshots from across the years we have known them, all melded together and occasionally shifting from one angle to the next. Then again, we always look through the eyes of emotion, seeing a face that may reflect more about the true depth and nature of our feelings for that person than what they actually look like.
Memory and emotion are intimately linked. When we look back from the now, we see both events and people through the emotional eyes of the then. Our memory of events will inevitably be skewed, coloured by the emotions of that moment, rather than being the accurate record we think we hold. In many ways, that does not matter; what we remember is true… for us, as whatever we recall is what will have affected us as we moved through that moment and forward into the rest of our lives.
Some of those impressions will change us for the better, teaching us love, happiness, hope and understanding. They are gifts upon which we will build, little by little, for we are made of such fragments of memory, each one adding, as we grow, to the picture of who we will become. Some of them will leave a darker mark and a deeper scar, especially when we are very young, when we are not always equipped with the experience to see beyond the surface and simply react to the emotions.
Take, for example, the very small child who does something to upset his parents. He does not truly understand, only that he has upset them. He may feel he has let them down and disappointed them. His parents may simply be doing their best to teach the child or keep him safe… but the child cannot comprehend the adults’ motives. He only knows he has failed them…and that is what he feels. He feels it too when he knocks a glass of water over at school and the teacher is disappointed in him… That feeling is stored away as memory and becomes one of the most formative moments for him, though his parents may well have forgotten what was to them just a minor incident.
The child grows, always feeling that he can/has/will let his parents down. He does not necessarily remember the incident either, but its effects are carved on his heart. He tries hard, harder… so much so that he almost inevitably ‘fails’ to achieve his goals, in his own eyes at least, though to all others he seems to be doing well. That insecurity, that feeling of never being able to make his parents proud may go on to colour the rest of his life, actions and future relationships… and neither he, nor his parents, will ever know where it came from.
It is a tragedy that is played out in a hundred different forms, through almost all of our lives.
It is not always what we do that matters, but how it makes other people feel. It is that which imprints itself on their memory. Yet we are not responsible for how others interpret our words and actions, that responsibility lies solely with them. For ourselves, we can only act with consideration and thought, letting empathy be our guide. We will not always get it right… and if we did, we would learn nothing, but we can try.
But what to do about all those invisible scars that have formed and created fragile places in our hearts and minds? A trained therapist might take you safely back into the trauma of childhood dealing with the perceived events and the misconceptions that may have arisen. For most of us, that is probably a step too far and rather unnecessary… we are who we have become, based on our experience of life so far. It doesn’t really matter what or where the cause, what matters is to see the patterns that have formed and begin to address those that are having a negative impact on our lives and wellbeing.
One of the ways we begin that journey in the Silent Eye is to break down the human personality into ‘bite-sized’ pieces so that we can learn to understand them, relate to them… and see how, where and if they relate to our own lives.
We do not have to delve into the deep and murky memories that are buried beneath the weight of years. We do not have to reopen painful wounds. We can simply find the effects and work with them until we can see that the bars they have placed around us no longer hold us. We can learn to see them as gifts, for every experience adds to the richness and depth of our personalities and our possibilities of understanding both ourselves and each other. In this way we can free ourselves from old misunderstanding and, like a flower when the shadows of weeds are removed, grow to our full potential with a better knowledge of who we truly are.
I stared at the page, knowing what I wanted to say, but unable to find a story, the right words, or some way to give form to the nebulous idea. I had written a few sentences and deleted them just as quickly. They weren’t right somehow. Eventually, I took the hint, closed the page and watched, once again, the video of my first waltz in decades. If I couldn’t write, at least I could smile.
Eventually, I decided to write about pigeons instead of what I’d had in mind. Not as odd an idea as it may seem. Stuart and I had been talking about them a while ago as he had not realised just what amazing creatures they are. I had held my first pigeon when I was very small. Great uncle Wilfred had a pigeon loft at the bottom of the garden and had let me hold a handful of squabs while he cleaned out their nest-box… baby birds with closed eyes and a few yellow tufts of down. I never forgot the feel of their skin, the dark smudges of their closed eyes and the smiling, open beaks waiting blindly for food.
Years later, my father kept racing pigeons and Waterloo Lofts had something of a reputation for breeding winners in the pigeon-racing world. The birds would be trained by taking them, say, thirty miles away in a basket before releasing them to find their way home. Apart from the odd bird who fell foul of guns, wires and poisoned grain on the way, they always came back.
Their homing instinct is not well understood, but it is thought that they use the sun’s position for mapping and the lines of the earth’s magnetic field as a compass. From thirty miles away and from the vantage point of flight, that doesn’t seem so difficult. But, once a week during the racing season, each fancier would pack up a basket of their birds with water for the trip. They would be loaded into a lorry and sent over the Channel to France before being released.
They were transported overnight, as one basket amongst hundreds stacked in a curtained lorry, with no chance of tracking their position relative to the sun. Yet, within hours of their release, every pigeon-fancier would be out at the loft, waiting to clock in the bids with their special racing rings. It is a passionate business. Racing pigeons have an average speed of around sixty miles per hour over a distance of six hundred miles, though they can fly at up to a hundred miles an hour. The most successful birds can later be sold for breeding for enormous sums, even topping the million mark. But that only explains why racing pigeons is such an absorbing pursuit… not how the birds find their way home.
The ‘map and compass’ theory did not go down well as we discussed it, although the idea of a specialised centre in the brain that can read the earth’s currents was a little more acceptable. Sight and smell probably play their part too, especially helping to locate their own tiny loft roof in a big city. Even so, there is still a mystery that science has yet to satisfactorily explain about their invisible guidance system. To Stuart, though, it was simple; they know what home feels like.
As I watched the video of the waltz and thought about pigeons, I realised that I was seeing the same thing in action with the dance, though at a different level; one partner leads, the guidance so subtle that it remains unseen. The pressure of a hand, the turn of a shoulder… and a good dancer can lead his partner around the floor as together they create a pattern of movement in harmony.
The invisible guidance that allows the pigeon to find its way home or two strangers to dance as one is perfectly natural, even if it is not fully understood. Both logic and science will find ways to describe it… even though such descriptions are not always or wholly right.
I had wanted to write about the inner guidance that is there for us in the silent recesses of the mind and heart, where science is less confident and logic takes us only to knowledge, not understanding. It occurred to me that I had, unwittingly, done so with both pigeons and dance. Unconscious chains of association had joined dots my conscious mind had failed to see; even a scientist would be happy with that explanation.
But there are things still far beyond our understanding and those mysteries add depth and colour to the tapestry of life. When we feel called to a particular place or path, when we find comfort or joy within, when we are sure of the innate rightness of the choices we make, not because of our moral code or upbringing but because we can feel ourselves aligned with a purpose beyond our own, we may seek to understand what it is that calls us. Perhaps there is, like the dancer, an unseen hand that guides. Or maybe, with the pigeons, we are just remembering what Home feels like.