Emergence

The dragonfly perched on the sun warmed granite of the bench… more than I am allowed to do, as it  still has to be drilled and fixed immovably in place. I was precariously perched on the edge of a flowerbed, camera in hand, watching my son hand-feed the huge sturgeon in his pond…not exactly comfortable, but perfectly placed to watch the fascinating creature that had come to visit.

My son’s garden is in the town and we live in an area with little natural water, so every dragonfly we see here is exciting. This year, with the pond’s new and more open aspect, we have seen more than usual, from the tiny, iridescent demoiselles with their velvet-dark wings, to the big hawkers, but this was the first darter we had seen here. With its stained glass wings and deep red body, it was a beautiful visitor and one that showed no inclination to leave.

There are over fifty different types of dragonfly and damselfly in Britain, some of which are now on the red list as endangered species. Like many other insects, they are suffering from changes in land use and management as well as the problems cause by pesticides. It would be a tragedy to lose any one of these gorgeous creatures, each of which play their part in our lives as part of the balancing act of Nature.

They have been around an awfully long time. Their ancestors, the griffinflies with wingspans of up to thirty inches, ruled the insect kingdom around three hundred million years… long before the advent of the dinosaurs, when humankind was no more than a whisper in Nature’s dreams. Today’s dragonflies have changed little since then, so in many ways, they are a glimpse of Earth’s distant past.

In England, they were once known as the Devil’s darning needles, and it was thought that if you fell asleep by a summer stream, they would sew your eyelids shut.  This old legend, at least as it now stands, sounds like the kind of tale you would tell to youngsters to stop them lazing in the sun instead of working, and yet, to the Zuni, dragonflies were messengers between man and the gods. Perhaps, as eyes closed in dreaming can also see across the boundaries of reality, the two stories are not as far apart as they might at first seem.

I watched the brilliant little creature exploring the garden… a whole new and undiscovered country  for a being so recently emerged from the world in which it grew. Dragonflies hatch in water and spend most of their lives there as larvae, only emerging at the end of their lives as the glorious winged beings that delight our eyes. They can live years as larvae, just feeding and growing, before their transformation, but most live only weeks as dragonflies.

I think this little dragonfly was but newly emerged as he seemed content to be still and gather strength from the light. I couldn’t help thinking how beautifully Nature illustrates our own journey when we see the similarities, rather than the differences, between the lives around us and our own.

Most of us spend the early parts of our lives ‘underwater’. For many of us youth can feel cold and dark, a time of insecurity and fear that only takes on an alluring sheen when seen through nostalgic eyes. The earlier parts of our lives are about learning to survive, both physically and in society.

Many feel themselves lost, tangled in the choking weeds of suppression, victims of circumstance or the control of others. It is only with age that many of us begin to emerge as our true selves and it can be a struggle to break free of the shell that life and conditioning has built around us.

We may then cast around, looking for a place our new self can feel at home, seeking a new path or direction to replace old habits and outworn patterns… until we realise that all we need to do is to be still and gather strength from the Light. When our wings have dried and our true colours glow, then, perhaps, we can be our true selves… and the latter part of our lives may teach us how to soar.

Vexed by the Tribe 2 – the fabrication of complexity

Image © copyright Stephen Tanham

We’re visiting relatives. It’s friendly. We have a light meal and some cake to follow. But then someone mentions Brexit and a cold frost descends on the room…

My wife and I bite our tongues, knowing our hosts are firm believers that Britain’s post-colonial destiny lies in a renewed ‘Little England’ reborn from some poster of decades ago. Until my wife’s uncle says, “Besides, the EU isn’t democratic..”

If you know her, you can hear something snap. She leans forward to take another piece of cake and refreshes her tea from the beautiful Royal Albert tea service. “Who is your MEP (Member of European Parliament), Uncle Norman?” she asks.

“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t bother with that sort of thing,” he says, wrong-footed by the lack of the simplest fact. But the question was designed to show that the EU is as democratic as it’s possible to be… It ‘s just that Uncle Norman can’t be bothered to invest even that much effort in what it’s trying to do – what it has done, very successfully, since Europe emerged from the ashes of World War II.

But none of that matters. Nor does the fact that Vote Leave – the organisation behind Brexit, has just been fined the maximum possible for electoral over-expenditure. The mere twenty thousand pounds is a tiny expense to the billionaires who want to jerk Britain out of Europe so they can make even more money in a less regulated world.

The exchange is typical of a vicious polarity that has divided Britain down the middle (52% to 48%, plus or minus the fraud). Towns, counties and families find themselves on one side or the other of the great divide. Everyone knows something vast is happening.

Some people find it exciting… ‘It’s time for a change..’

Other people understand history… and manipulation… and don’t.

But all the above is just me expressing, as honestly as I can, one side of that polarity.

Someone on the ‘excited’ side of the equation will tell you that Britain has been ‘shackled’ by the EU (our main trading partner, and supporter of our poorest regions) for decades and that vast, new trade deals will be available to a plucky and rejuvenated England.. sorry, Britain… Donald Trump is excited about Brexit. He’s publicly stated that he has his eyes on our National Health Service…

It’s too late to change what Brexit has done to Britain. But it’s not too late to examine the fault-lines that led nation, industry and families to be ripped apart. In my opinion, this is critical, since we are being manipulated on a scale never seen before – and the Tribe is at the centre of it all.

In Part One, we looked at how an approach like that of the famous psychologist Maslow, could be used to explain ‘Tribal’ influences being preyed upon by political strategists seeking to implement radical changes in our political systems – leading to increasingly authoritarian governments within the western world.

Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs diagram’ Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is reproduced above with an explanation in Part One. The pyramid diagram below is my own attempt to create a schematic for what I see in Britain, and also what seems to be happening in the USA. See Part One for the details.

We face an ultimate choice of society: the Tribe or the Individual

Western civilisation has taken a long curve to get to where it is today. Its ideal, at least until recently, has been freedom for the individual. The freedom to live a life as we each choose, supported by a state which offers a balance between individual effort and financial return, is central to this ethic. But, when 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the people, something’s going to break.

The old industrial regions of the north and midlands of England and the American ‘rust belt’ have a lot in common. They are both examples of peoples with strong backgrounds – and self-belief. Their identity is related to the landscape in which they live, the hard jobs they have traditionally done and the family values they inherited. Such people (and I am from the north of England, so this is not said negatively) have a strong ‘Tribal’ presence, in the way I described it in Part One.

Their anger seeks expression. They are fed up of buying into an economic system that has left them behind; fed up of political rhetoric that forgets its promises the minute the elections are done – because it never had any intention of honouring them, once it had won the vote.

Success, measured by the human heart, is hard and never quick. It takes a long, considered view and cares.. Anything less is someone else’s agenda for more power.

But people believe in instant fixes – given the right hero. So, when there comes an opportunity to give the system a kick in the teeth, they take it…

I cannot speak for the USA, but it is certainly true in Britain. The ‘will of the people’ (one of the new hypnosis words) arose and kicked out the villains… or perhaps not. What did happen is the ‘will of the people’ was cleverly manufactured by people who understood that the world had changed, but not that much; who understood that the twin powers of social media and good old-fashioned hatred of ‘them’ could be harnessed beneath a flag that promised ‘freedom’.

Tribes have flags. What could be easier in a complex world?

Even before Britain reaches the ‘final, final’ departure date from the EU (the last day of October, 2019), Britain’s car industry is in crisis… Companies like Nissan, General Motors and Honda, who had made huge investments in Britain on the basis that it was a civilised and educated ‘gateway’ into Europe have done or are in the process of doing what any business would do. There is no longer anything ‘too big’ to fail in the world of global business.

Complexity can be manipulated to thwart maturity

Which brings us face to face with the behaviour of the Tribe. I am born into a Tribe. Our individual, ‘private self’ goal is to break through this, taking what is good from our Tribe, but claiming our freedom to follow our own path… a path that may see us diverge from that taken by the unquestioning Tribe. This is the core dichotomy of the world to come: can we mature beyond the Tribe to real and powerful individuality?

That may be the most important question of our age.

The bullies – the aggressive ones with guns or equivalent, discard the facade of democracy and proclaim the time-consuming processes of real consent as ‘weak.’ All authoritarian regimes reject the individual quest. This should be sacrificed, they say, for the collective.

This is the cross of Socialism, whose fundamental lack of fit with ‘today’s’ world is individual, not collective, intelligence, despite its admirable and caring values. But political identities are constantly evolving…

I know the world of ‘Tech’ well. It used to be called either computing or technology. I have spent most of my adult life in this sea. Tech has become a force of power in politics because in allows massive reinforcement of what the Tribal values are at any time.

The most potent power in the Tech world is the ‘Like‘ button. I don’t need to worry too much about the working out of something if I like its colour. I don’t need to worry about the truth of what someone said if it is associated with an advert for my football team. If my favourite things weren’t there, it would be a harder medium to be in. And so, those of great intelligence have placed before me what I may easily like. In so doing, I can be linked to those of like mind… and lied to. I will not question it, because my friends are there…

All of these ‘Tech’ processes were used in both Brexit and America’s presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica, a UK company, pioneered the use of ‘extracted’ social media data to achieve the results their customers wanted. The results are history…. and our present.

In sport, when someone cheats, their gold medal is taken away. In politics we shoot the drug that gave them the advantage and leave intact the sport’s result.

All of this is summarised in the diagram below. Which show how our real maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is easily manipulated to exclude the ‘common man’.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and educate the tribe, itself.

Modern complexity is being fabricated. Education could be used to illustrate the lies. The effect of complexity is a negative one and drives people back into a tribal mode of behaviour. I believe this to be happening across western societies, today, and it partly accounts for the rise of both nationalism and populism, and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

We still have the choice as to what we belong. We can belong to the values of our Tribe and be safe: “Well, we all did that…” Or we can belong to the truth, and seek it out with all our being. It is real, it has power, but it must be embraced, loved and understood – in a way that makes modern politics its opponent. But politics is just the will of the people, and, ultimately, though it may take a long time, that will not be fooled.

In Part Three, the conclusion of this series, we will look at the dynamics of polarity, and how opinion is not so black and white as we may think.

© 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.

Off duty…

After driving for four hours on the road north, there is a brief glimpse of a hillside on the horizon which, at this time of year, is the one thing I am waiting to see. If the light is right and the weather kind… and if the heather is in bloom, the shadowy hilltop wears a faint purple smudge.

It doesn’t take much for this smudge to be hidden or indistinct. Without it, I have to drive another half an hour before seeing the first possible patch of heather. On days like this, that means an anxious wait. I usually have just one chance every year to see the heather in full flower.. and this was it. I had missed it last year, seeing only the tail end of glory and was really hoping that this time, the timing would be right.

Ever since I moved away from Yorkshire, first to France and then to the south, the moors have called me home. In spring, when new life is beginning to break through the winter pall…even though the moors seem to change little at that time of year… and again mid-August.

It is a curious yearning. There is beauty enough in this land to heal any heart, without purple hills, but if you have heather in the blood, no other sight fills you with quite the same joy and sense of homecoming. When you are far away, it tugs at your heartstrings and I held my breath as I crested the hill.

I was out of luck. Low clouds and racing shadows obscured the view of the distant hills. I would have to wait until I rounded the corner below Gardom’s Edge… and there, the dull, faded purple was a body blow. Either the heather had not yet reached its full flowering or I had missed it…and it looked like the latter. The extremes of weather this year have thrown the flowering out of its usual pattern. I would see no vibrant purple hilltops, no seas of colour…and I was devastated.

It rained all the next day and we had meetings cross-country. The following day, I had an unexpected day to myself. A day when I had absolutely nothing to do except rest, potter and read, with no clocks to watch, no-one waiting and nothing at all demanding my attention.

It was odd, because I had said only the day before that I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, at least, not without me first having to be at death’s door. And it was weird. I am so unused to being free of all duties, responsibilities and time-constraints that I barely knew what to do with myself… until the sun came out and I went out to play.

A little warmth had dried the sodden heather. It was definitely not at its best and hilltops that should have been brilliant with colour were a dull, reddish hue. Even so, this is a landscape I know and love… and it is never less than beautiful. I took the hidden backroads that are usually empty of all but a few walkers, even in summer, and drove out towards the Snake Pass that links Yorkshire and Lancashire across the Pennines.

It is a road I love to drive, being full of twists and turns that lead up from the valley onto the highest moors and back down again on the other side. There, I would turn around and drive back. There are few places to stop, but I know them all… and each one unveils a vista very different in character from the rest. There are green vales, high moors, silver streams and tumbling waterfalls… and, when the season is right, whole hillsides covered in heather and perfumed with honey.

I had to laugh at myself. Only desire and expectation were responsible for my disappointment. I had focussed solely on the heather and forgotten the beauty that surrounds it. How could I possibly be disappointed when I had a day to play in such glory?

I drove on, stopping here and there to contemplate the view, drinking from a stream whose golden waters taste of home and memory…and found swathes of almost perfect heather on sheltered hillsides. It felt as if I had only needed to realise the lesson I had been offered before the gift was given.

Expectations narrow the parameters of hope. Expectations restrict the possible to a mere fragment of what it could be, leaving disappointment to become almost inevitable. Hope is expansive by nature…it takes in as many possibilities as we will allow and, if we let it blossom, we remain open to wonder. Once again, the land had been my teacher, reminding me to focus on a wider picture… to be not just grateful for what was, but to revel in it. And once I had been reminded, I lost myself in joy.

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The edge of the precipice

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Driving home, there was one of those moments of sheer, unadulterated joy when the fields were lit with pale sunshine, the sky a clear blue and the feel of the car around me occupied my whole being. I can’t think of a better way of putting it. It is one of those things for which words seem too small. Yet, you could argue, it is only a car… getting on a bit, less than perfect and just a machine.

On the other hand, what it means to me, personally, is something quite different. The world inside the car is a place out of the ordinary. It is a haven from importunate necessity, an oasis of silence in spite of the roar and rattle it carries with it; a place where thoughts can blossom and bear fruit. It is possibility, control and freedom… and sometimes escape. It allows me to serve the needs of everyday life, as well as to follow my heart into the hills.

In itself, it is none of these things. It is just a metal box on wheels. It becomes, however, the symbol for all these things and more because it is the vehicle of my choices.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to learn to drive. I had started… had my first lesson… in my late teens just before a drunk driver ploughed into the car in which I was a passenger. A fractured skull and a rearranged, reconstructed face left me too afraid of cars to try and drive again. The blow to the fragile self-confidence of a teenager was profound and the scarred face itself a major life-lesson it took many years to appreciate for the gift it was.

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Over the years many people encouraged me to try and learn to drive. It was nearly twenty years before I found the courage to try again and only then because I felt it necessary when my partner was terminally ill. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise… I was too scared and had absolutely no confidence in my ability to become either safe or proficient. Fear had me completely caged, but I came to a point where I felt ready to tackle the bars of my self-imposed prison.

Perhaps those who had encouraged or pushed me to learn earlier were right. Or perhaps I would not have had the confidence to learn before I did. I may have missed years of enjoyment… or avoided a potentially lethal fear hitting the road. Who knows? Be that as it may, I made a decision and went for it.

All I do know for certain is that by the end of that first month’s lessons I was hooked. I loved it. These days, even some twenty years later, there are few places I am happier than behind the wheel. I love driving. Facing the fear had proved it to be no more than a shadow and, critically, one I finally realised that I had adopted and accepted as a habit. The car, previously a symbol of distress and panic, became a thing of confident joy.

It is often the way. There are choices we have to make, fears that we have the opportunity to face; personal precipices where we stand on the edge looking out over what seems to be a huge gulf of terrifying uncertainty knowing you can only fall or fly.

There is a moment of calm and clarity when you know that you can choose your course of action. There may be those who urge you forward or who seek to pull you back, holding you in safety away from the edge. Yet while their advice and counsel may inform your decision, you are the only person who can make that choice. You are the only one who has the power to choose what course of action is really right for you at that time. It is only necessary to be genuinely prepared to face the moment and make a conscious choice.

You may choose to turn away from the edge… to step back into the safety of the known. You may choose to step off the edge of the precipice, knowing that you may fall.

And sometimes you find that you have wings.

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Vexed by the Tribe

I am vexed…

It’s a word you don’t hear much, now. Old English, I believe. It describes an agitated state of mind – and possibly body – when something nagging can’t be solved.

What I’m vexed about is the entrenchment of nationalistic opinion across the world, in the face of much more important issues – like the world’s climate problems and the undermining of democracy as a new type of war carried out by authoritarian regimes.

I’m vexed because I think I’ve seen beneath this to the psychological mechanics of something that has the potential to kill the world.

In Britain, with Brexit, we are marching, like lemmings, towards a clifftop that will bring chaos and self-inflicted harm to not only this generation of voters, but our children and their children. They will look back at the devastation and ask why somebody didn’t do something to avert it.

Friends in the USA describe a similar situation, there. My intention with this blog is not to discuss politics, but to examine the entrenchment of views that underlies these vast shifts in ‘normality’. This is closely linked to the use of ‘fake news’ as a defence against the truth…

The psychologist Maslow did some ground-breaking work on developmental psychology, particularly human motivation, back in the 1940s. His celebrated diagram of the “Hierarchy of Needs” is reproduced below:

Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s idea was that the lower needs in the pyramid had to be satisfied before the higher and more creative functions would manifest. It has been modified since the 1940s but remains a popular and intelligent way to understand some of the ways societies evolve – or devolve.

In Maslow’s scheme, the ultimate state of the human in a society is one of ‘Self-Actualisation’ – the top of the pyramid. This is built on ‘Esteem’, which grows in the soil of ‘Love’. Only below this level do the ‘fear-factors’ come into play.

There is an upward current which is enabling. But any downward movement in the lower levels is capable of de-stabilising the whole thing. It would be difficult to put a complex political situation like Brexit into the above pyramid, since this is based upon a society’s condition rather than that of an individual. But we can identify ‘what’ happens in such upheavals, and that may serve to illustrate the forces at work.

If a majority of people vote for something, then we in the West believe they have ‘spoken’ and we honour the result – unless there has been electoral fraud or other fundamental abuses. And this is a big ‘if’. With every such new generation of abuse the perpetrators show they are cleverer than the regulators.

But Western Government is still based on the principles of democracy. So the motivation behind how people vote is a vital thing to understand – and it may help us to come to terms with the often self-destructive basis of such individual decisions. This is where it could be illuminating to consider a scheme similar to Maslow’s at work at the heart of how countries evolve their governance.

A person is born into a ‘tribe’ not into a society

We are all born into a family of some sort. We know nothing of the society in which that family exists. If we are lucky, the family will be loving and caring. In honouring that we will wish to reflect the inherent but often unstated values that the family subscribes to. These are powerful things, and much more akin to how tribes used to, and still do, work. The Tribe will have a relationship to the geography in which it exists. This may be cooperative or antagonistic.

The route of the person from birth, through the values of the tribe and to real individuality may not happen at all. True individuality requires knowledge, judgement and a high degree of self-reliance. We all know Tribes in which such a rise to the ‘freedom’ of individuality would be frowned upon – to say the least.

Complexity, of the sort we experience today, is a relatively modern thing

Despite this, the wisest of individuals have, throughout history, risen to think for themselves and brought great change to the overall society in which they lived. Their upward journeys have been struggles of courage against both circumstance and prejudice.

I believe we now face new forces which are abusing and mis-shaping our countries. They are driven by the relatively small number of people who understand the ‘Complexity’ of our worlds. Our societies have changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years, largely driven by technology. Tech can be and is an enabler, but it is also a generator of fear for those left behind as powerful entities dominate the way in which such Tech is used…

Tech is also an ideal basis for placating the masses. Television soap operas and dating shows, for example. Thinking is hard, that is the simple truth. Thinking for yourself is very hard…

The above diagram illustrates the idea that, while maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is a negative one and drives people back into a tribal mode of behaviour. I believe this to be happening across western societies, today, and it partly accounts for the rise of nationalism and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and educate the tribe, itself.

So, what can we do about what is happening in Western democracies? We may be unable to do anything. There are tectonic forces at work, both economic and political, which are de-stabilising for their own advantage. We can at least be aware that this is taking place and consider how Tribes are ‘played’ by such forces.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and thereby educate the Tribe, itself. If this is not present, and any alternate thinking is given the ‘fake news’ treatment, then the element of ‘belonging’ will be invoked near the base of the pyramid and we will be collectively dragged back to the vexed lower land of our birth and not the potential of our individualities.

© 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.

Exploring reality?

flowers moon 020

It was one of those conversations where a simple thought ended up taking us a long way. There had been a dream… one of those where it seems more real than reality and a lifetime is lived in the space of a night, and though completely out of context in terms of the waking self, it has its own validity and depth.

In such dreams you have relationships… ones that feel, to the dreamer, to be as full and rounded as in an ordinary day. That’s where the discussion started. How do relationships work in dreams? They are built on memory… How can a dreamer have memories of events neither their dream-self nor their day-self has experienced? And if that is impossible, how can there be relationships of love, friendship, fear? And yet, when we dream, we feel them. An interesting one to ponder…

You could put it down to a ‘straightforward’ psychological ability to synthesise emotional relationships in dreams based on experience in ‘real life’. You might consider past life memories if you believe in that possibility. We considered the theory of parallel and multiple realities where a dream might be a glimpse through a rift between them… We came to no conclusions except that the phenomenon is strange, whatever the cause and must be akin to what is felt in full awareness with those who have visionary experiences.

The more you think about it, the odder it seems. Most of us can call up the image of a face of a stranger… any face will do… probably one you have seen but taken no note of that has lodged in the photographic part of the memory. The image may be sharp or hazy… but the emotions are basic, little more than a gut reaction, if that. What you are calling up is a deliberate construct. Nothing more than a mental photograph about which you know nothing.

It made me think, for some reason, of my experience with PTSD. The flashbacks take you into a snapshot of emotion… the images, sounds, sights and smells are all ‘real’ during an episode, a moving image in which you walk… but the memory is false, being stuck in a scenario that has lost its connection to time and cannot therefore move forward or be filed in the past.

When a face to which we have a connection already comes unbidden to the mind, it brings with it a whole raft of response based on the span of time and emotion shared up to this point as well as our feelings for what the future may hold. It calls up their history, our own and our shared story; you know so many things about that person… not just that face.

And that is where the problem of dreaming takes you; if a dream is no more than a mental construct, how can it have such depth? How can there be past and future? You know nothing of the past, present or future… you have no memories, no experience of the people you meet in sleep. They should be ‘flat’… their stories as empty as if you tried to show the whole of an epic trilogy in a single photographic frame… yet instead there are those who imprint themselves on our memories and find a place in our hearts or our fears, because, somehow, we know them.

Dreams bend the rules of normality in so many ways and the most ridiculous situations can seem absolutely feasible. The most meaningful of relationships can flower in what may be measured as the blink of a sleeper’s eyelid. We did come to one conclusion; perhaps, just perhaps, our dreams serve other purposes than those posited by psychologists and scientists… maybe they allow us to explore the impossible and through their very impossibilities and give us space to question our perception of reality itself.

Slimegrobbels and custard…

“Tell me a story…”

My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.

The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.

By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the smallest of chefs. I could only be thankful that the meal was imaginary… and delight in the serious expression with which Imogen, barely two years old, ‘cooked’ and ‘ate’ the ‘food’ while Hollie supervised. Watching a child’s imagination begin to flower is a beautiful thing.

As we settled down in the pink palace built by a besotted father for his princesses, Hollie asked what we should play next. I asked her to tell me a story.

“I don’t know any stories…” She held up empty hands, but that, I knew, was far from the truth. Not only can Hollie tell a good story from those she has heard, she also creates whole imaginary worlds for us to play in.

“You know lots of stories…” Hollie sighed and rolled her eyes in a manner that will serve her well when she has children of her own.

“Just pretend I don’t know any stories, Grandma… so, you’ll have to tell one.” I had walked into that, so we snuggled up and I began with the traditional words…

“Once upon a time, on the edge of a forest, there lived a little girl. She was as pretty as a princess and loved to wear a red riding cloak with a hood. Her name…” I could see the satisfaction as Hollie recognised the tale, “was Fred…”

Fred???”

“Fred.”

Hollie, her interest well and truly caught, sat forward in her armchair as I told how Little Fred Riding Hood had gone to visit Grandmother in the woods, carrying a basket of slimegrobbels, because Grandmother’s best friend, the Wolf, was poorly…and how, when she arrived at the cottage, Fred found that the wicked witch, disguised as a woodcutter, had changed them both into gingerbread men who had been packed in a giant’s lunchbox and had to be rescued by the fairy godmother who turned them into pumpkins by mistake.

Imogen was almost asleep, but Hollie had listened to every word. She sighed again.

That was just a pretend story, Grandma. Now tell me the real one…where Red Riding Hood isn’t called Fred… or anything else…” She went on to give me a synopsis of the whole adventure so that I would not miss any of the important details.

I smiled and told the story, pleased that my little granddaughter could tell the difference between a ‘real’ and a ‘pretend’ fairytale. It wasn’t simply that she knew the original plot well, she recognises that such tales have to be told in a certain way… ‘properly’, she called it. That is a common thing for children. The words and how a story is told matters.

What struck me most, though, was that from the way she was telling me the storyline, she also seems to understand, at some instinctive level, that while fairytales are not true, they are real in their own way. They have their own integrity and, when ‘properly’ told, they are important. Arbitrary changes are not allowed as they alter the essence of the story completely and, at the heart of every old fairytale, there are lessons to be learned whose sense will be lost if the salient details are altered.

In the days before the majority could read or write…and even further back, to a time before the written word was invented, storytelling would have been very much a part of the life of the tribes and families as they gathered around the light of the hearthfire. Stories would have been valued, from the anecdotes the old ones told of their youth, to the tales of the hunters, to those told by the shamans and teachers.

Much wisdom can be concealed within a story… and such tales would have been learned young, perhaps long before they were fully understood. Because they were stories, not obvious lessons, they would have been remembered and both the stories themselves and the hidden wisdom they held would have been passed down through the tribes and clans, just as we still remember the fairytales of childhood and tell them to the children at our knees.

As I sat there with my granddaughters, I felt that we were part of a story that goes back to the earliest human lives… and forward into a future that will one day leave even our memories behind. I remembered my own early years, looking up at great grandma and saying those same words. Images flitting across the screen of memory like gentle ghosts… a child absorbing lessons unawares, their stories attached to the emotions they engendered… and to the love of the storyteller .

Will Hollie tell her granddaughters about Little Fred Riding Hood one day? Will Imogen teach her grandchildren to make slimegrobbels and custard? How far into the past do we reach with that one simple phrase? How far into the future will one shared fairytale carry us as children uncountable say the magic words…

“Tell me a story.”


There is a lot more to fairytales than the wide eyed child understands, especially in the older versions. The archetypes we meet in these old stories echo many aspects of the human condition and the journey of the soul.

We are born into a magical world, where our childhood is peopled with wonders. We are given gifts and talents yet our soul is held within the body, like the princess in the castle. As we grow to adulthood the magic fades…or more precisely, our awareness of it fades. Like the princess, we fall asleep, lost to the song of the soul as the ‘curse’ takes hold. Alive but slumbering, waiting…

Join us next April to explore the hidden beauty of fairytales… and awaken the beauty that sleeps within.

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Primal Screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understanding of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© 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.

Growing emotional…

It is the end of a long day; one of those days when many small things have seemed to go wrong and a few bigger things cast dark shadows on your horizon. You are tired…not the pleasant kind of snuggle-up-in-bed-with-a-book tired either, but the kind that begins to question and ask ‘why does it have to be like this?’

It comes to most of us at some point; that emotional bone-weariness. Chances are, you are too tired to even begin looking for answers and past thinking about them if you fell over them. But you are going to find things that look like answers wandering through your mind just the same.

Under stress, they will probably be the wrong ones. Anxiety and fatigue cloud thinking, and what may appear to be a perfectly logical train of thought can begin from a single skewed idea, from a slight misapprehension or misunderstanding. Pursue them and you could end up very far from the truth and casting blame in all the wrong directions, even, perhaps, where there is no blame at all. Life just throws things our way sometimes.

Why does it have to be that way? The most likely answer is that this is a path we have chosen for ourselves. Not, perhaps, with any conscious volition, but through the gradual shaping of our worlds over a lifetime, allowing it to become what it is today. Some events may be beyond our control; there may be no choice in whatever it is we are facing at any given moment. But how we react to it is a choice and one we may have been unconsciously making for a long time.

Our very earliest interactions with the world around us begin to shape how we will react throughout our lives. The nurture or lack of it that we receive as we grow, the people in our lives, our circumstances, all combine with the raw materials of who we might become to make us who we are. Our reactions to any given event are born from this accumulated and integrated input of experience. Our character and the way we walk through life devolves and evolves from the life we have lived so far and therefore we shape many facets of our own lives in what has been called a mechanical fashion.

That is a cold way of expressing it. We could equally and simply say that our reactions are determined by who we have become. It may sound like a negative assessment, yet it is not necessarily so. Reactions that lash out at the world in hurt or anger stem from here, but it is also from here that the means to express the generous impulse is born; the act of kindness and empathy, the outstretched arms… We all know someone who is, or perhaps hope we are, that person who instinctively reaches out to others when they are hurt or in need. What is that if not reaction?

 

For those who seek to understand a little more of how they themselves have come into being there are many systems, beliefs and paths available. Within the Silent Eye we use the enneagram, placing upon it archetypal figures that express the basic ways in which we function… the chief impellers of our choices. These are not cold caricatures…they cannot be, for all we do stems from emotion. Whatever is behind our public face, whether we are creatures of laughter and tears or intellectually focussed, emotion is the prime mover at the root of all we are.

Imagine working backwards from the very tip of a branch, retracing the intersections from the finest twig, back to the bough and eventually to the heartwood of the tree. The deeper we consider what moves us to be who we are, the fewer possibilities we are left with. The closer we get to the source, the more I am convinced that even from a purely psychological standpoint, love can be seen as the root of all we are. Whether we know it or lack it, feel it or feel its absence and a yearning towards it, whether we feel it must be earned or deserved, or run from it in fear of the demands it might make… whether we clothe it as a need for admiration and respect… even whether or not we feel love for ourselves…Whichever way you look at it, love seems to be the central fact of our existence.

From a spiritual perspective, many have never doubted that this is so. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, “The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe.” When you see that the Source of all Being, and the source of our being as one and the same, it changes the way you see the world, yourself and your fellow man… and leads you towards a threshold of understanding that surpasses knowledge. And perhaps it is here we will find our answers.