Who?

 

“You’d make a lousy feminist!”

My son’s words followed me down the garden path as I left. As a child of my generation, I am used to the changing face of the familiar, but his throwaway comment of, ‘It’s a female Doctor!’ had shocked me profoundly.

‘I suppose it had to happen eventually…’ and ‘Shouldn’t be allowed…’ were my immediate comments upon hearing the news. The thought of a female Doctor just seems plain wrong to someone who was around for the very first episode of Doctor Who. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, John Pertwee and Tom Baker… it was bad enough when the face of the Doctor changed back then, but to have a sex change as well just doesn’t sit right, even though I know the storyline allows for it.

Personally, I gave up on Doctor Who after Tom Baker, though I did see the odd episode here and there. Even so, and although opinions vary on the acting, production and characterisation, Hartnell remains the Doctor for the child in me.

The parting rejoinder from my son, though, did make me think. He is quite right. In spite of the many battles I’ve fought for equal rights over the years, as a worker, a woman and as senior management, I would make a lousy feminist.

While I am a firm supporter of equal rights and the continuing need to address the political, economic, personal, and social discrepancies that still exist between the sexes, I am also of the opinion that the same level playing field should be extended beyond gender to include all human beings, not just women, regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation or any other of the false separators that currently cause the divisions and inequalities between us.

I have been refused jobs on the stated grounds that, being a young woman, they wouldn’t want to waste their time training me, only to have me go off and have babies. I have been given jobs where I earned three quarters of the salary of the men I was employed to train. I remember the bra-burning years, when women fought to be allowed to do ‘men’s jobs’ such as working on building sites… and even demanded the right to work shirtless like their co-employees. I agree with wanting the right to be able do so, but have to question the practicalities of bra-less building, if only on safety grounds.

In the same way, the morals and social mores that have been acceptable for the male of the species from time immemorial should be equally permitted for women… sauce for the goose, and all that… but there are few things more unattractive than a drunken young woman, senseless and vomiting in the gutter outside a bar. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should… and it certainly doesn’t mean you must. Equal rights, in essence, means having the legal, political, social and economic right to make that choice for yourself.

I do not see roles as gender-defined… there are women who can hold a household together through the darkest times, wield an axe or a power drill, or reach the top of ambition’s ladder, just as there are men who are more tender mothers than their partners, and others who lead armies, in the workplace or on the battlefield.  Who we allow ourselves to be should not depend upon the body we wear, its gender, age or race. The expectations of societal norms are moulds made to be broken.

The thing is, I suppose, that I have never seen women as being inferior in the first place, except in legal and social terms, but as equal partners in the dance of life and creation. The gifts and strengths of the sexes complement each other; we are not opposites, but necessary parts of a whole.

Being male or female is not only a physical attribute, but an energetic one too. There are feminine women with a dynamic, masculine energy and as many strong men with a receptive and gentle aura… and both are as valuable in the wider world as their more stereotypical counterparts.

The moon could not illuminate the night without the existence of the sun… but the sun does not shine at night. The brilliance of the stars could not be seen without the blackness of space, but would we be aware of the darkness without the light it holds? Strength that does not know how to be gentle becomes brutality, just as emotion without discernment descends into sentimentality. Each one of us is a unique cocktail of masculine and feminine elements and, when we can accept those elements for the gifts they are, they enable both ourselves and those around us to shine.

My son is right, I am a lousy feminist, I am more egalitarian than that. The human race is a single picture made of a myriad small pieces. Subtract but one piece and the picture is incomplete. Seek to change one piece and you change the whole…and in that lies hope for the future and equality of humankind as well as possible seeds of destruction. Change your piece of the picture and you can begin changing the world for the better, but devalue any piece and you damage the whole.

It all comes down to having the right to choose…and even in the most restrictive societies, we each have the right to choose what is in our own hearts, where no legislation is needed, nor can it be imposed unless we allow it. We travel together on a journey through life and time, companions on the road. There are those upon whom we can lean when our steps falter, others to whom we extend a helping hand and yet others who make travelling a chore or a delight… but we all share the same journey in the end. Man, woman, young or old, it matters not at all… unless, of course, you happen to be playing the new Doctor Who.

Wayland: The White Horse…

*

But according to some, Wayland has far more onerous

responsibilities than shoeing the horses of passing way farers…

*

A group of local lads were enjoying a drink

one evening at the White Horse Inn, Woolstone,

when an unknown man wearing old fashioned garb

entered and ordered a pint of the local beverage.

*

He wore a leather apron, a tall hat,

and he took his drink and sat

to one side of the ale-house by himself…

*

After awhile the sound of a horn rang out

and could be heard

echoing eerily through the vale…

*

Startled from his reverie by the horn,

the stranger leapt to his feet and hobbled

out into the night, his pint unfinished.

*

As the uncanny sound faded over the downs

the locals looked out and up to the hillside

to find that the White Horse was gone!

*

When dawn broke the following day

more than a few of the previous night’s imbibers

looked out of their windows

and up at the hill with some trepidation…

*

Only to see the White Horse

back where it should be on the green hillside

but with feet-tips

that seemed to shine in the morning sun light.

 

*

 

The Elusive Shrimp

Caridina-multidentata-ingestion.jpg Shrimp by Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak via Wiki. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
Image: Richard Bartz

They seek him here, they seek him there...” I couldn’t help thinking about Baroness Orczy’s Elusive Pimpernel as I watched the translucent creature foraging in the corner of the aquarium. He’s not exactly scarlet, being more of a watery pink, but he could certainly be the ‘shrimpernel’ of the tank.

Quite where he came from, or how long he had been in there, I’ll never know. I can only assume that he hitched a ride on one of the plants I brought home from the fish place. I didn’t even know I had him until he was discovered, lurking in the bottom of the old tank when I transferred the fish to their new home some months ago, and it had been months before that when I had last bought plants.

I saw him again the following morning, swimming merrily across the glass of his new home and really hoped I would see more of him; they are fascinating to watch. I even bought another half dozen shrimps to keep him company, knowing them for social creatures. But, despite cleaning the tank at least once a week, I hadn’t seen him or his fellow crustaceans since. They just disappeared into the undergrowth, never to be seen again.

Until last night, that is, when, bold as brass, a shrimp sauntered out to raid the fish food that had fallen at the front of the tank. I had been convinced for some time that I had lost them all. I had seen the vacant exoskeleton on the sand one day, just after I had medicated the tank. Invertebrates are not good with many aquarium treatments and I was convinced he had been a casualty of the war on white spot. And shrimp are a delicacy for bigger fish too.

No matter how carefully I look, though, or how assiduously I peer into the plants, nooks and crannies, there are no shrimp to be seen. It is nice to know he is there, though, quietly working behind the scenes, doing what nature intended. I only know he is still in there because he allowed me to catch that one, fleeting glimpse. It was enough to reassure me that he is alive and thriving, but it also makes me wonder what else might be in there, present but unseen.

There is something about the tranquillity of watching fish that can induce a meditative state. Or maybe I just indulge in weird trains of thought. But it seemed to me that the presence of the invisible shrimp could serve as an illustration for other unseen presences.

We cannot see love or hope, but we feel them, and see their effect on the world around us and in our own lives. We cannot see the wind, but we watch the trees bend before it and their leaves dance in its breath. We cannot see yesterday, but we know it was there… and we trust that tomorrow will come. We live our lives trusting in the presence of the invisible.

Neither deity nor the soul are visible to us, even when we have faith in their presence and existence. Without direct experience, we may trust that they are there, but we cannot know for certain; that is the very nature of faith. But, every so often, we are granted a fleeting glimpse of something beyond the scope of the everyday world.

It may be the beauty of a sunset or the first rosy blush of dawn, the perfection of a newborn babe, an act of love, or the whisper of that still, small voice within that holds a wisdom far beyond our own. These things can all be explained away as mere manifestations of a prosaic reality, but when they touch your heart and fill your being with wonder, you are gifted a glimpse beyond the mundane realms of fact and know that you have been touched by grace.

Wayland: The Blessed Isles…

*

The tone of the tale once Britain is reached,

becomes very different…

*

Alighting on Berkshire’s High Downs,

Wayland came upon an ancient chambered tomb,

and made it his home.

*

Tradition now has it,

that if ever you are riding the Ridgeway,

and your horse loses a shoe,

you need only tether it nearby,

 leave a silver-sixpence on the uppermost stone of the tomb,

and on your return your horse will be shod and your money gone…

*

Wayland, it seems, never works while being observed.

*

 

 

Wayland: Silver-Smith of Souls…

*

There are a number of intriguing aspects to the legend of Wayland Smithy…

The earliest written sources appear late and are decidedly piecemeal.

*

Wayland is the son of a God, Giant, or King of the Otherworld.

He is schooled in metallurgy by Dwarves, whom, in skill, he quickly surpasses.

He lives, hunts, and works alone in a region associated with wolves and bears.

One day he comes upon a swan-maiden bathing skin-less.

He finds her skin, appropriates it, and she lives with him for nine years.

At the end of which time she discovers her hidden skin and flies away.

*

Wayland is then taken captive by the King of Sweden,

maimed to prevent escape and set to work on an island…

Wayland surreptitiously kills the king’s sons, turns their skulls into goblets

and presents them to the king and queen.

Their teeth he turns into a brooch for the king’s daughter.

The king’s daughter has a ring of Wayland’s, stolen from him by her father,

and when it breaks she asks him to mend it.

Wayland inebriates the king’s daughter and fathers a son on her.

*

At this point, in the tale, Wayland’s swan-wife returns,

with a swan-skin for him and they fly away,

to the Blessed-Isles of Britain, together…

*

 

 

Principles of Fire (2) belief-faith-knowing

Continued from Part 1.

Before me on the table is an electrical device. It needs a new battery and to do that I have to remove the cover. The small screw holding it is of the type that requires a screwdriver with a cross-head. My mind is intrigued that this illustration of ‘knowing’ has come into the ‘now’, but it has, and I’m grateful.

I open my domestic toolkit that lives beneath the shoe polish in the utility room. Inside is a group of small cross-headed screwdrivers. As long as the size of the head is correct, I know this will open the battery cover of the clock. How do I ‘know’ this for a fact? And how did I come to have such a certainty of success that I can lay aside everything else I’m doing to focus all my energies on this simple but important task?

In Part 1, we spoke of belief and faith – but not in terms of religion; rather in terms of psychology and a more general spirituality. In that post, I said that belief advanced to faith, but that there was something beyond faith. Now we come to what that something is, and it may come as a surprise that is knowledge – or, rather, the act of knowing; something we take for granted… but shouldn’t.

I ‘know’ because I’ve done it, before. But even that is not the start of the trail. I only know this because someone once showed me how to do it. Even then, we haven’t finished chasing this back. Someone showing me is not the same as doing it myself. When this happens, successfully, I get more than a mental tick in the box; I get the rush of entry into a new world. This may be a small victory, but think back to bigger examples, like the first time your parents removed their supporting hand and you rode your bike…wobbling off into your excited future.

Science might say you that your brain and muscles simply added a capability. This is certainly true, but is that how it felt? And doesn’t our motivation to try for other expansions of self get driven by how it feels?

For spirituality to have any real meaning – beyond the intellectual ‘purity’ of the zealot – it should take us into a newer world each time we make a breakthrough. Belief and faith are not exempt from this expectation. The belief in an ‘afterlife’, where we live in a state of bliss, free from our ‘lower’ natures, has caused more heartache than can be imagined. Life is now, life is here. We know that the biblical parables spoke in metaphor, yet we don’t always think to apply this to the meaning of life and death.

Death happens, there is nothing we can do to change that. Biologically, we are programmed to die. The forces that shaped us could have made it differently, but didn’t. So we can say that death is part of the cycle of life; or that the two are day and night in a revolution of the personal planet. The personality is produced by cumulative effect of our reactions to life, going right back to the fundamental experiences of being ‘one with mother’ and the inevitable separation and lack of satisfaction engendered. And so our individual lives began, never able to be reunited in that total oneness and belonging that brought us into the world.

Is this just a tragedy, or a longing that can take us, like the Prodigal ‘Son’, home? And what sort of maturity and home would that quest involve?

For what do we exchange this inevitable closeness with mother? Something wonderful, certainly: the ability to self-direct our lives – to go out there and ride that bicycle, change that battery–things which are mundane at that level, but very different if we see that there is a wholly new way of living associated with spiritual growth. That is the goal of real spirituality: personal transformation. What passes from this life at death is a different consideration, and not one within the scope of this post.

Let us continue the bicycle metaphor. We become competent riders. We can ride in a very straight line. We become qualified to ride, with thousands of others, along large, adult roads. The bicycle becomes more complex, heavy and sophisticated; and faster, ever faster. Riding along is filled with excitement, and we carry on letting the clever machine do more and more for us. One day, we don’t even notice that there is an us and a bicycle, we just see our lives as movement in a straight line, along the road followed by so many other bicycles.

Then, one day, we speed past a person of great interest who is cycling very slowly at the side of the road. We don’t know why she or he is of great interest, but we know they are… There is, perhaps, a calmness, or even a sense of adventure about them. They have an air of being slightly different, detached from the world of the straight line road we take for granted. The next day we see them again, but we have time to slow our bicycle down to stop next to them. They smile. They may even say they have been expecting us…

They invite us to ride with them, but, immediately, they race ahead and turn off onto a track that runs through a beautiful forest. We only know how to ride along the road, so, in a panic, we stop at the point where they left our road and stare at the wonderful strangeness of what’s happening. Were we not so bored with the straight line of the road, it might seem frightening. But it’s not frightening, it’s exciting, and it tastes of the same kind of newness as when we first got on our bike, knowing that the world of our self was about to get much bigger.

Other bikes and riders are flashing past us. Some may disapprove of us standing there, feet on the floor. We look along the track into the forest. Far ahead, the stranger is standing next to his bike but has turned back to face us. He is smiling. How can this be? Bike and rider are one, surely? To get off would be like… dying.

There is a lightness of laughter as we flex our feet, secure on the ground. All the riders with whom we were cycling have gone. There’s just us, the empty straight road and the enigmatic stranger on the path in the forest, inviting us to join him or her on that mysterious path.

Since we got on the bike, so many years ago, we have never been off it. We look at the figure in the forest and see that rider and bike can be separate things; that we can live perfectly well off the bike. More importantly, we can see that the massive cycling highway, with its shared straight line that misses so much of the beautiful land, is not the only way to travel in this wonderful landscape.

In a moment that will change our lives, we examine the mysterious stranger’s stance, and get off our own bicycle. For a second, we mirror his pose, then, we begin to walk towards him, pushing the bicycle, whose direction we now control. After a few steps, an idea comes to us: we get back on the bike and cycle towards him, achieving the power of the machine plus our own choice of direction, freed from the habitual highway. The very air around us sings with the intensity of what we are doing. Even without a destination, we are somewhere new… and it feels so much like home.

Like any metaphor, this can only be taken so far, but it contains many truths about human life and its spiritual psychology. More importantly, it contains, by analogy, the elements of how belief grows. The child we were believed that it was possible to ride a bike. In the hands of a good teacher – our mum or dad – we extended that into faith that we could do it, too. When we finally wobbled away into the world of riding, we took a step beyond faith into the world of knowing… The theoretical belief evolved into the empowering faith, which, with a deep breath, became the spiritual world of knowing.

In the last stage of our metaphor, above, we jumped, deliberately, to a different level of meaning. The child-become-adult riding along the shared highway became a higher level model for how our lives as a personality exist in parallel to others – the other riders on the highway. In this we had forgotten that we and the bicycle (the personality) were actually separate. Meeting the mysterious stranger showed us that there were other roads and tracks we could travel; without losing the carefully cultured ability to ride within our evolutionary arena of time, space and body.

So, what will you do when you step off your bike and begin to push it along a different track and into that wonderful forest? The first thing you will discover is that it was your strength that gave the bike its power. Smiling with this knowledge, you might get back on the bike and cycle towards the stranger on the path; not only free of the common highway, but able to use everything you have learned, before, in the service of your newfound spiritual freedom, and its ability to choose in a very different way.

This second, this moment, this now contains all these things; and they are real. You only need act with enough resolve, and in the right way, to enter that magical path into the forest of personal potential and real individual freedom… and for that, you will need a very deep breath. But you need not fear you will be alone…

One final thought to consider is this: when we experience that rush of knowing, and enter that new world, are we really adding something to our lives and selves, or are we recognising the truth of a world we never left, but just forgot? Have we become ‘bigger’ because we are nearer to home?

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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

 

The peripatetic ant

The ant crawled across the windscreen of the car, right in my line of vision. Ever since the spider-bite incident, I am wary of creatures that have any kind of personal arsenal hitching a ride, so my first thought was to defenestrate the little blighter. It was only a split second later that I realised how far he was from home.

I had been driving a good half an hour without stopping, so he had probably hopped aboard before I left. Ants are social creatures, pretty much defined by their role within their community. What, I thought, would a lone ant do if he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, miles from home?

Would his sense of belonging be so decimated that he would curl up and die? Would he find another community… and if he did, would he be accepted or slain as an intruder? Or would he begin the long trek home, drawn by some unseen force to the place of his beginnings?

I couldn’t do it. I left him to wander the dashboard, hoping he would understand that all he had to do was let the journey take him where it would, before it carried him home.

I thought about him a lot as I drove, wondering what his reception would be after the journey? What tales might he communicate to his nest-mates about the big, wide, world out there and all the things he had seen. Could they believe him? Like the fantasy hero who steps into a magical time and place, he would have been gone no more than an hour or two from his home, yet his odyssey would have carried him as far as a worker-ant might walk in a dozen ant-lives. Would they accept his fantastic story or think him delusional?

Ants who had never set foot outside the colony would almost certainly dismiss his tale. Those who had ventured out, but only within the known confines of their territory, might doubt. Some would be envious, others would scoff. The likelihood is that only those who had themselves risked stepping beyond known ground, exploring the world on behalf of the colony, would see the glimmer of truth and recognise an echo of their own explorations in the traveller’s tale.

And what of the little ant? Was he afraid of the unknown, or excited to explore new and unimagined realms? Did he recognise the landscape that flew by at such speed as being akin to his home, or did he feel as if he had been plucked out of his world and transported to some magical otherworld by a giant with a roaring steed? How would he see life-after-journeying? Would it seem flat and boring, or safe and comfortable? Would he cower in corners, afraid of stepping outside his comfort-zone ever again? Would he ‘dine out’ on his travels, boring is nest-mates with tales of ‘when’ and ‘where’? Or would the change in his circumstances and perspective have been so dramatic that he would spend the rest of his life pondering existential questions or striving to be worthy of the privilege he had been accorded?

Such musings occupied my mind until we once again reached home and I set him down on the grass beside my parking space. Like the ant, I had taken a journey, within the journey that is my life. Because this was ‘my’ world, the destination and the route were both familiar to me, though there are always unknowns on the way and no-one can predict what will happen, or how the comfort-zone of familiarity will be challenged… especially when you look at life as a journey.

There is beauty to be witnessed, there are mysteries and magic to be found; we never know when or where, nor do we know how we will greet them or how others will react if we try to share such experiences with our own community.

I watched the tiny creature scurry away into the grass. I suddenly wondered what I had done and whether my interference, though well-intentioned, had produced the right effect. Had I set him down anywhere near his home? What if he’d been with me a while… had come from my son’s home or the supermarket… and was now lost in some strange landscape? Had my intervention caused more harm than good? Or was he destined to be a blackbird’s breakfast no matter where he wandered?

To some questions we will never have answers, but I felt a keen sense of kinship with the ant as he disappeared beneath the grass. We are both on a journey. It will carry us where it will and we will experience what we must… and we are both on a greater journey still, finding the way back to the beginning.

Glimpses Beyond…

*

‘A wonder of a land,

the land of which I speak.

We behold but are not often beheld.’

*

Perfected art can accentuate things,

and make them more attractive to the eye and mind,

but it cannot enhance the innate spirituality which men of all ages have held.

*

There seems never to have been a time

when tribe, race or nation did not hold

some sort of belief in an unseen world

inhabited by unseen beings.

*

Everything which can be said to exist is natural,

yet the Holy-Man who experiences the spiritual condition of ecstasy

cannot adequately explain it to the man who has not known it.

*

If the Ancients possessed an arcane language

to encompass such psychical experiences,

it still remains a secret.

*

But the natural aspects of the countryside impress Man

and awaken in him the Subliminal Self

which in turn inculcates an ability

to first feel, and then know,

otherwise subtle influences.

*

What is there in cities to awaken Man’s intuitive powers,

which is comparable to the magical solitudes of Nature’s environs?

*

Whenever a multitude of men and women are herded together

one finds an unhealthy psychical atmosphere,

never to be found in the countryside,

which tends to inhibit the Subliminal Self

in its attempts to manifest itself in consciousness.

*

Instead of Nature,

men and women living in cities

have civilisation and culture.

*

The spiritual minefield

“’Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,’” said my son, reading out the daily inspirational quote he has delivered to his phone. “It says it is by Basho. Who’s he?”
“Seventeenth century Japanese poet.” It was a short answer, but enough for the question.
“Okay, Google,” he said with disgust. He was not using voice commands…that is one of the politer names he calls me.

It was a good quote though, when I had just been writing up another of our visits to an ancient sacred site. It summed up perfectly why these places matter so much to us and what it is we find there. We do not seek to return to an earlier time or belief system, but to move beyond the imposed and acquired dogma of our times. Somewhere, beyond both the beliefs of the ancients and our own, is the source of the questions mankind has asked of both his heart and the heavens; whatever path we have chosen to follow and in whatever era we have lived, ultimately our goal is the same.

The symbols we use, the stories we believe, or in which we have faith, all arose from a need to understand. We want to know about the origins of life and our planetary home, our place in the cosmos and the forces that shape all we know. We want to know why we are here, and what is the purpose of it all.

We have sought answers to how we should live and developed moral codes by which we are supposed to abide. Some are practical… if we must live as part of a community, then there are basic behaviours by which we abide. Other rules we have made and think of as universal, yet across time and culture, they too have changed and shifted their parameters so much, and so often, that mankind starts wars because we cannot agree on the basic details of how we ought to live. Or how our gods should behave.

At one point in history, gods could be vengeful, jealous, permissively polyamorous and sometimes downright vicious. Another era sees its gods…or at least their priests… exercising strict control over every aspect of their people, while yet another time sees the gods as loving, forgiving and nurturing. And sometimes, the same god, over the course of time, will run the gamut of all of the above.

Within their time and place, all these manifestations were acceptable to the populace. They filled a need that matched the era and culture… and when they ceased to fill it, new gods came in to supplant them. But the same questions remained.

There is knowledge to be had about our planet and solar system. We now know a great deal about how nature actually works. We can see brain activity and are busily engineering nano-robots to send into the body to fix its problems. The scope of human knowledge is vast, even if there is still far more to learn than we can know or imagine at this moment. But all these things are just facts.

The questions held in the recesses of the human heart and mind cannot be answered so simply and the answers must be found by each of us, in our own way and our own time. Only knowledge can be transmitted. Knowledge may point a way, but it cannot grant understanding, only show us what and where someone else sought and found their own answers.

And then there is the dichotomy of seeking and not-seeking. The only way we know how to find anything is to look for it, or stumble across it by accident. We are told by spiritual teachers and philosophers that we should seek and strive to grow… and told by just as many of them that we should neither seek nor strive, but just be. We are promised paradise if we adhere to one set of rules or another, and a thousand shades of torment if we choose the wrong path. And that path can be any or all of the ones who promised paradise in the first place.

Spirituality is a minefield. So, what is a seeker, especially when we are not supposed to seek, supposed to do?

Seek what they sought. Look beyond the stories to why they were told… beyond the dogma, the rules and conventions and listen for what sings to your heart. We may be too small to encompass the entire understanding of Creation, but we may get a glimpse that sheds enough light on our path to carry us forward. It matters little upon which path we begin, for once we have found a song of the soul that calls to us, the path chooses us and it lives in truth within us.