… a thousand words?

Johannes Gumpp, painting his self-portrait

I was reading an article that tells how much a picture can attract our attention. The inclusion of a single image can increase the likelihood of someone stopping to read an article, sharing it or, indeed, making it go viral. It isn’t difficult to understand why… an image needs no words to convey a message. It has no language barrier…. And, in this day when we all read onscreen, skimming most of the content, according to all the research, rather than carefully reading each word, images appeal to our need for speed. Interesting enough on its own, but as usual, it got me thinking. In itself the words called up images in my own mind that sparked of a whole other train of thought.

In one of those random moments, I realised that if I were but an image of myself, I would hate to live in a photo frame, no more than a two-dimensional representation, bounded by straight edges and right angles of rigidity. I’d rather be a movie. Even that lacks the extraordinary depth of life. Yet it is through images that we learn about our world… visual representations registered by our own eyes, non-visual ‘images’ formed by our other senses, or even those scenes painted by imagination on the screen of the mind..

I take a lot of pictures… I am not alone in that. The digital age has made photography accessible to all. We take them for many reasons… perhaps to capture a magical memory, document a trip, or to share the wonder we feel in this beautiful world. Sometimes we film videos… sweeping panoramas, or the antics of a small dog, maybe… yet neither photograph nor film can ever truly catch the essence of a moment. They lack the depth, the dimensions brought to an instant by emotion. They do not catch the scent of a rose or the subliminal buzzing of life in a meadow. They cannot capture the taste of salt spray on your lips or the wind in your hair… or the warmth of a baby’s fingers clutching yours.

Professionals, and those gifted amateurs who have a real feel for photography, can capture something that conveys the idea of those feelings, often so sublimely that they evoke a deep response. A smile for the cute kitten whose fur looks so soft… a yearning for a much-loved place… the tenderness known only by the heart. They evoke, beautifully, poignantly, but they can only be an impression of experience.

Some of those images though can change the world. Few who recall the BBC images from Biafra in the 60s will ever forget them. They brought home to us, quite literally as we sat down to dinner with the TV in the corner, the plight of children starved to little more than skin and bone. It changed the way we thought. It changed the way we chose to believe in the world.

Adverts… Shots of movie stars that change fashions. The Earthrise picture taken from the moon… Mother Theresa, Churchill, Picasso… iconic figures and defining moments, both good and tragic, that delight, shock or move the world to action. Images of beauty and destruction have altered our view and our stance on ecology, far faster than a mere governmental report or two could do.

Images can unite us. Princess Diana, Kennedy, 9/11… when the world stood still and watched… People and governments have been galvanised to respond to tragedy worldwide. Images change things.

In the same way, our governments have always used imagery to change public opinion, a legal technique of mass manipulation…propaganda or censorship, often imposed ‘for our own protection’. I think of the images of the bombing of Hiroshima. My mother had an old film projector and footage of the Enola Gay and the mushroom cloud. I remember watching it when I was young and being told of the destruction. Yet, for a quarter of a century the full picture was hidden and we were only permitted to see the material devastation, not the human horror of atomic warfare. Why? Because it was too horrific… and besides, they were still making atomic weapons… Such footage could change our minds. Yet the Allied governments felt able to show newsreel footage of the atrocities perpetrated by our enemies in that same war. The history we were shown was the truth, perhaps… but not the whole truth. But images ensured we felt the way we ‘should’.

At the other end of the scale there are the less warlike pursuits. Meditation techniques, like those we use in the Silent Eye, that draw images in the mind, bringing an understanding that is experiential, even though it is lived only in the mind. The symbolism of our varied faiths sustains us on a personal level.. from the dove to the star; the statue of Buddha, the pentagram or an icon of the Madonna… Not in themselves objects of worship, but images of something too great to constrain in physical form, but which we can understand when imagination speaks to the heart. Such things use imagery to bring peace to the individual…and yet can be misappropriated to inflame a nation to war.

Artists of all kinds… writers, photographers and filmmakers, poets, sculptors and musicians…all create images, just as you and I do, all day and every day, within our minds. Such images are born of observation and imagination. That word itself says it all. We have the power to shape reality for those who find our work or are touched by our vision of the world. There is a responsibility that goes with that. Whatever world we shape speaks to the imagination of others. We may seek only to record. Or to entertain and amuse. Perhaps we teach, question or educe. It doesn’t matter. Whatever we create carries something from the deepest levels of our own being out into the world. We cannot take responsibility for what the minds of others do with our work… once it has been set free, our creation responds only to those who look, read or listen. The responsibility we have lies in our own intent and from which part of ourselves we create… and why.

Identified Flying Object

Indentiy ConsoleAA

One of the key understandings in mystical thought is the idea of identity. Words morph their meaning over time, and identity is a classic case.

We might think of the police knowing the ‘identity’ of a person they want to speak to. We would find it in fashion magazines for both genders in the context of a garment to reinforce our identity in line with a progressive trend.

Both these show how the word identity means either a unique description or a close bond through some sort of ‘mapping’ of properties by adoption. The central theme is that of a chosen closeness. If I buy a new car and feel very good when I drive it, I’m identifying with an object that adds to my identity and makes me feel good.

The car analogy is a good one – and a very good way of studying one of the 21st century’s fault lines – in the sense that, if ten miles down the road, someone deliberately races past our new sports car, we may well feel aggrieved that we have been deliberately ‘slighted’ and that our inflated identity, centred on the car, has been wounded.

At such times, if we could step back and imagine we were flying above our shiny new car and watching the whole drama unfold, we might be a little ashamed by how we chased after the errant teenager and nearly caused a crash by proving that our new vehicle was superior.

It’s easy to insert the word ‘ego’, here. We all know the difference between driving our shiny new car and the theoretical view from above it. In the latter we are detached because we can see a bigger picture. In the former we are somehow compressed into a smaller space where the red mist of anger is a frequent consequence.

Most drivers have had that ‘red mist’ moment; particularly men, with their overdoses of testosterone. Young male drivers have an horrific accident rate precisely because, after yearning to drive for years, they suddenly get wheels and have to prove to the world that they have always been a better driver than anyone else… or, at least, their mates.

When recalling full story of accidents of this nature, the accused often say they did not know what came over them; the red mist descended and they went to war. Going to war is a good link to what’s underneath of all this, and we go to war for our country – because it’s a primary part of our identity.

The path to self-knowledge begins with such constructs. When I see that my stupid reaction to the teenager overtaking me was a reduction in consciousness, despite the elation beforehand, I might begin to investigate how such identification is at the root of many of the negative things I do, and the cause of much of the energy loss that I might suffer on a daily basis.

This type of identification is inherited from lower levels of our evolution – but not too far back. In anything but an age of true plenty, the possession of objects of visible status was a sign of rank and personal worth. You were important if you had them. Modern advertising works very hard to keep this alive in our societies, and the cult of celebrity is an even worse example of how someone here today and gone tomorrow can be all but worshipped; as can everything they are seen to drive and wear…

When we have to add objects to our selves for that good feeling, we are showing that the self does not have enough worth. We want the object because it will signal to the world that ‘I’ have grown along some axis of importance. In this way we see that much of what we are taught, by education, by family and by employment, is based upon an inherited sense of worth that is not related to the unique and precious self with which we came into the world and this life. That self is taught that it can feel ‘bigger’ if it acquires ‘classy’ things. But such objects do not actually make us feel a lot better – In fact the gain is often way out of proportion to their true cost.

There is a paradox at work here, and the shock generated when this is seen can be, and should be, life-changing…

Here’s the first part of the shock: the things we use to define ourselves need not be physical objects at all. We can be attached to our likes and dislikes, our hatred, our politics, our favourite food… or even our suffering. Identification, seen from the most powerful height above that speeding car, is a label saying ‘this is me’. The flow of life’s events, over which we have little or no control constantly brings us up a filmstrip of images, smells, tastes and other sensations. This filmstrip was originally seen by us the infant as a passing show. We did not attach ourselves to its display until we became more conscious of the link between ‘me’ and that filmstrip. But, and here’s the key, we had to be taught that – by others whose lives were already bound up with the film. Once tied in this way, any change to what is being ‘viewed’ is capable of taking us into sadness, anger, hatred or a dozen other negative states.

The two perspectives are radically different: one is that life is happening; the other that life is happening to us.

To break free of this, whilst still retaining the hard-won discrimination of adulthood, is the work of mystical development, under whatever banner. To break the link with the filmstrip’s negative power we need to open up a space within ourselves and move into it, in the sense that, from then on, we watch both the filmstrip and our own reaction to it – without allowing identification to take place. We watch the flashy car, we register it as a quality thing, but we do not allow that habitual effect of ‘yes, that’s me’ or ‘I would be a better me if I had it’. We do this because we know the real value of an awakened Self.

To do this is to be at odds with the world, to a certain extent, though that can be viewed with humour, too.  But in a time when the world appears to be on the edge of insanity, might not being at a slight angle to it be the saner option?


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 low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

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

©Stephen Tanham, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Going viral…

Image: Pixabay lenalindell20

When I was small and faced with a plate piled with the over-boiled cabbage I detested, my grandmother always told me to eat it first… get rid of it… so I could enjoy the rest of the meal… and to save my favourite bits till last. Like many of the things she told me, I never forgot that advice. She was right too; doing it that way means there is always something left to look forward to… even when life gives you cabbage.

When there is something we really don’t want to do there are, on the whole, two ways of handling it… other than simply getting on with it! We either dive in head first or put it off as long as we can. I prefer to dive in. It isn’t always pleasant but it has its moments and at least the worst is out of the way.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I put things off, whether through distaste for the job in hand or fear of the possible unfolding of a train of events I cannot predict… or through the fear that I can foresee all too well the consequences of initiating action. Yet the consequences of action are seldom half as bad as our imaginings, and even the worst task will eventually be over, leaving, hopefully, a sense of satisfaction as we stand back and regard our handiwork.

The trouble is that procrastination of this kind can be contagious, spreading, once begun, like a virus to other areas of our lives. Speaking for myself I know this happens sometimes. I avoid one action, finding, to begin with, perfectly legitimate reasons why I ‘can’t deal with it right now’. There is a letter I have to write, another job to prioritise… I’ll do it later… tomorrow perhaps… And maybe I will. Or maybe I will find yet another reason for ‘later’, reasons that quickly degenerate into excuses. And that is bad enough, but next I may find that my avoidance of the main task has spilled over into a kind of lethargy that infects the rest of the day, or I may manage to remain hugely busy, or so it seems, and yet still achieve nothing of what I know I need to do. I doubt I am alone in that. I hope not anyway…

When I realise what I am doing, I have to stop and think. I need to know why I am allowing the situation to continue without dealing with it. I may simply be feeling lazy or tired and that is okay. But there are a number of other things that can cause us to avoid a task.

What is it that can make us put things off when we know that getting them done and out of the way will lighten the load and make life easier? The longer we delay these things that worry us, the more they snowball, adding pressure to whatever it is that is making us avoid them in the first place, setting up a vicious circle that eventually harries us into anxiety.

Sometimes there are valid reasons; pain, depression, illness, fatigue to name but a few. But often it is simply our imagination that holds us back. We paint a mental picture of the horrors of the job ahead, whether it is cleaning the oven or making that awkward phone call, and then add to it multiple scenarios of what might go wrong or what the possible consequences might be and then fear comes into play, freezing us like rabbits in its headlights of our own imaginings, even if we choose not to call it by that name.

We can, however, use that same faculty to break the stasis and get moving. By imagining the clean oven, for example, quietly sparkling away while we put our feet up… or the relief of having made that phone call we’ve been worrying about that is no longer hanging over us like the fabled sword of Damocles. By doing so we acknowledge the presence of whatever is holding us back, and quietly take the control from its grasp.

With every step we take in our lives, we have the opportunity for growth and change. Change will happen whether we take conscious control, or are blown like a feather on the breeze. How we embrace those changes is always within our control. These days, I am rather fond of cabbage. I think of my grandmother and smile… I still eat the cabbage first, but only so it won’t go cold…

The land of the ‘stone father’

At the heart of an ancient landscape is the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas. The village grew up around a Benedictine Abbey founded there over a thousand years ago and it is still a place where folklore, myth and legend come together…and few of them agree.

The holy spring rose from where St Augustine struck the ground… or where St Edwold saw a vision, depending on which story you prefer, just as the giant on the hillside dates from the Iron Age… or is a seventeenth century political statement. The mysteries here are real… but underpinning them all is the fact that the place was undeniably seen as sacred.

The name is interesting in itself in that respect; ‘Cerne’ is believed to come from a Celtic word for ‘stone’ and ‘Abbas’ is the Medieval Latin ‘abbot’, which means ‘father’. Does the name refer to the Abbey, or did the abbey take its name from the chalk-cut Giant? If so, would that make him the ‘Stone Father’? Some have likened the image to that of Hercules, and there are traces of what could have been a lion skin draped over his arm. In Arabic, ‘abbas’ means not only ‘father’ but can be used to speak of the lion, while in French, ‘cerne’ means circle… and the imagery of the golden-maned lion as the sun is present in many cultures.

Add to the mix that Cernunnos is the name of a Celtic god of fertility, and even the name of the village itself becomes an intriguing mystery. But…if all the tales point to the ‘father’ in the landscape… where do we look to find the Mother? Perhaps we must first look for the Maiden? And what other secrets does this landscape hold?

It is at the heart of this land of wildflowers, myth and mystery that the Silent Eye will be holding its June workshop weekend. Join us this summer on our pre-solstice event for an interactive excursion into the Living Land of Dorset…

The Giant and the Sun
Cerne Abbas, Dorset
Friday 15th – Sunday 17th June 2018

The weekend is informal and open to all, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

Workshop costs £50 per person. Accommodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Cerne Abbas should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

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

Broken Village

Etal et al - Castle reduced

The beautiful Northumberland village of Etal, one of a local twin, has a fine ruined castle; but this blog is not entirely about castles…

The picture above is the castle at Etal. It was constructed in the middle of the fourteenth century by Robert Manners, a Norman descendant. It consists of a residential tower in the ‘Pele’ style; a gatehouse and a corner tower of small proportions. The whole is protected by a curtain wall. The castle has a ‘bloody’ past, being close to Branxton, the nearest settlement to the site of the Battle of Flodden (September 1513), at which the English King Henry VIII’s forces under the Earl of Surrey prevailed, after a long and bloody battle, over those of James IV of Scotland.

A few days prior to the battle of Flodden, King James had stormed Etal castle and added it to the many others captured in the most audacious invasion of England ever undertaken by a Scottish army.

History judges the English King to be the primary aggressor, since the whole war was prompted by Henry tearing up the Treaty of Perpetual Peace which had previously been in place between the two countries, and with which the Scots were perfectly happy, since it recognised them as a nation.

James IV was killed at Flodden, which saw almost one-third of the 34,000 Scottish soldiers killed. Etal was a short-lived prize…

We have forgotten the emotional taste of ‘wholesale slaughter’. Like many words that are supposed to trigger a moral response, wholesale slaughter can now be rendered ‘over there’ by television. If the news is terrible we can change channel… the choice is ours. We think it’s an escape, but, really, it eats away at our collective soul… we feel we can do nothing, so we don’t try. We accept horror – real horror, as way of life. The cost is that we become farther from reality – and reality is true life…

Ten thousand Scottish men (and thousands of English soldiers, too). What does that number mean? If we asked them to come back from their dark, Northumbrian graves to help us understand this horror, and line up in rows of ten, how long would it take a firing squad to kill them again? Let’s assume that the modern firing squad uses machine guns that can kill ten men in a minute. It might take four more minutes to have them march to their positions and another five to clear the bodies away. That’s a rounded ten minutes per squad of dead men. To do this to ten thousand would take 10,000/10, which is a nice and easy one thousand minutes. There are sixty minutes in an hour, so the firing squad, with its modern automatic weapons, would be continuously active for nearly seventeen hours – most of a day, if you include the English soldiers too. Imagine being there, and watching all of it? We might get a new appreciation for ‘wholesale slaughter’, and this is a minor example…

Northumberland is full of castles. Castles and ‘Pele’ Towers: tall, fortified dwellings, less than luxurious, but safe – in which a besieged family could live for many months until help arrived. Wars, family and tribal conflicts helped create a very chequered past for this beautiful county, which holds the North East border with Scotland. When there weren’t wars between England and Scotland there were the reivers – bloodthirsty family gangs, ready to attack, plunder and kill in these historically un-policed borderlands.

512px-Reivers_raid_on_Gilnockie_Tower
Border reivers at Gilnockie Tower, from an original drawing by G. Cattermole (Wikipedia Public Domain)

The Roman emperor Hadrian had found it difficult, too. So difficult that he had ordered the construction of a wall that ran coast to coast, from the Solway Firth, near Carlisle to Wallsend, near Newcastle. It has been described as the greatest engineering feat of the Roman world, but, as is the case with walls, it didn’t really work.

A different approach and smaller than a wall is the idea of keeping people in… Being inclusive, looking after them. It’s an idea seemingly at odds with our go-getting, every man and woman for themselves, pursuit of excellence, kill the bastard, commercial world.

The reivers just killed their enemies; and were killed in return. Vendettas, feuds, usual cycles of endless violence. It makes good television and rotten societies.

Caring requires that we believe in Good. Not just as an idea but as a force, an ideal, a state to be drawn on when we are pressed or outnumbered or in despair. The people who established modern Etal believed in good. They twinned it and the neighbouring village of Ford together, establishing a ‘Model Village’. This is not to be confused with a miniature village. An model village was a term coined by entrepreneurs like Robert Owen (who wrote ‘A New View of Society‘) and William Hesketh Lever (founder of what became Lever Brothers – Today’s Unilever). It was place where, alongside work, decent housing and education were provided on the basis that, if you looked after people, you could expect them to look after that which employed them.

The village of Etal is beautiful and has a presence not entirely due to the castle.

Etal main street reduced

The main street of Etal is clean and pretty, with a lovely Post Office cum tea room. Many of the buildings are thatched. This includes the Black Bull – centre in the picture above – the only thatched pub in Northumberland. The pub is being restored and is an example of what’s still very good about Etal and its nearby twin village of Ford. Nowadays, the twin villages are part of a managed country estate owned by the Joicey family. One striking thing about Etal and Ford is that no-one but the controlling family is allowed to own property. The houses, the shop and the Black Bull are only available to rent. Tenants are expected to look after their properties and everyone feels included. it’s a happy place and proud – you can feel it as you walk through on your way to the bloody castle.

About a half-hour’s drive away from Etal is the Bambrugh coast, a very beautiful place. We were staying a few miles away in a newly resurgent village with a great beach, and eating our evening meals in a local pub about a mile away, to which we walked, in the January darkness, enjoying the sound of the sea hitting the stone harbour in the inky darkness. Photography was well-nigh impossible but this shot illustrates the point I want to make:

Etal blog dark shore

It was only on our second journey back to our holiday cottage that I realised how dark the cove was – totally dark, in fact, apart from that one street lamp. The reason was simple: there was no-one living there. The most expensive properties in the village – facing the sea – were all empty on that week in January. They had been bought as holiday homes, busy during the summer, no doubt, but a dark and ominous shoreline in winter.

Etal is not the bustling village that the the poster below records it as being in 1820, but it’s not broken, either; not like that winter shoreline a few miles away.

Etal old poster history reduced

Of that list, there remains a church, a post office/excellent tea room, some well-kept and lovely houses, a caring landlord that ensures that everything fits; and, oh yes….a ruined castle.

Inclusion is everything…

The thought brought to mind something I read on a plaque within the gardens of San Jose University, many years ago. I didn’t write it down at the time and had to struggle to remember the gist of it, but it went something like this:

He drew a circle to keep me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had a plan to win

We drew a circle to keep him in

It’s a lot better than a dark shoreline and empty houses, or a line of doomed people seventeen hours long condemned to die by the actions of a psychopath…

We think of our world as much bigger than villages. But the villages of our communities need not, ever, be broken. We just have to be inclusive…


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 low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

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

©Stephen Tanham, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

 

 

 

Frankenstein, Gollum and the unseen will…

“I’m re-reading Tolkien,” said my son.
“Cool. How far have you got?”
“The riddles in the dark bit.” That made me smile, as we’d taken inspiration from that chapter for the December workshop.
“What do you reckon… when Gollum says ‘my precious’, is he talking to the ring or himself?”
“I asked myself the same question when I first heard that story.”  Our teacher, Miss Bedford, had read The Hobbit to a class full of ten-year-olds, sitting silent and enrapt on the library floor. I remember quite vividly being struck by that anomaly, even then. “Both.”
“Hmm…” said my son, settling back with his morning tea. “Elaborate…”

The character of Gollum is a moral tale all on its own. Greed and desire cost him his home and his place amongst his people. He murders his best friend to obtain the ring and is driven to slink away invisible, into the roots of the mountain. There, under the cloak of darkness, his only company is the ring and himself; his personality fragments, with the Gollum aspect taking precedence over the lonely Sméagol. Falling ever further away from his origins, he feeds on raw fish…or whoever else he can catch… and considers the more civilised idea of frying fish as ‘spoiling’ it. He is, in every way, an outcast from his own kind… and from himself, for deep down, Sméagol remembers another way of living.

The name, Gollum, always intrigued me. Given the magical background against which I was raised, I was already aware of the Jewish tradition of the golem… a man-form made of clay, animated and controlled by another will, usually via a magical charm. There is a theory that Mary Shelley drew upon this tradition when she created Frankenstein and the monster… and I have often wondered whether Tolkien too found inspiration in the tale. The tradition carries echoes of the biblical creation of Adam and it is not dissimilar from our own earth-born state, animated by the living soul via the intermediary of heart and mind.

It is an interesting concept. Some see the creation of a golem as representing hubris; bypassing both the natural process of generation and the spiritual aspect of creation. Some have seen it as an attempt to eradicate the role of Woman… though they still cannot dispense with Mother Earth if clay is needed. Others see it as Man setting himself as equal to his God. While Dr Frankenstein uses a more scientific method for the creation of his monster, he still robs the earth of her dead for the components of his creation. The role of the mother may be disguised, but She still plays an integral part in the generation of life. And while science seeks to deny the role of deity, even Frankenstein relied upon an unseen force to animate his creation… a force whose effects are known but whose nature remains a mystery.

Sméagol, through his own actions and desires, is all but consumed by the Gollum aspect of himself and, in turn, Gollum becomes little more than a golem… animated by the will of the Dark Lord through the medium of the ring. He no longer sees himself as independent of the ring… calling both himself and the golden shackle his ‘precious’. He identifies with the ring and in doing so, he is lost.

Identification, in the psychological sense, means to be transformed by taking on qualities, property or attributes from another. As we grow from infancy, through childhood and into adulthood, this kind of identification contributes to how our personalities are formed. We observe, learn from and emulate those around us and react to circumstance. It is a natural process, though it is easy to see how a dominant character or traumatic event may skew what we absorb and change the way we are growing. When the ring called out to Sméagol, something within him was ripe to answer…but we do not know the story of his early years or what made his character fertile ground for corruption. Knowing that would not excuse his actions…but it might explain them; bullies are usually weak characters who have themselves been damaged by the actions of others.

We can identify too with inanimate things… like the roles, the labels, the societal expectations that are imposed upon us, or which we choose to impose upon ourselves. If we define ourselves by our roles, we become subservient to them and, like Sméagol, we are lost to ourselves.

Yet, by the end of the story… when the ring must be destroyed, it is not the apparent hero of the tale who is able to act. Although he knows best the destructive power of desire, he too has fallen prey to the lure of the ring. Even the best can be corrupted and twisted by the illusion of power. It is a battle of wills, the triumph of despair, that inadvertently saves the day. Gollum’s life is forfeit… as is Frodo’s ring-finger; an interesting bit of symbolism in itself.

And the Dark Lord? So complete was his identification with, and investment in the ring that its destruction brings about his utter annihilation.

The real hero, I have always thought, was Sam… the simple gardener whose loyalty and quiet courage cared for Frodo, every step of the way. At the end of the tale, it is he who, exhausted, carries both Frodo and the ring the final steps of the journey… and he who comes home to heal the ravaged Shire. Sam had no desire for the ring, though he had both witnessed and felt its power. His heart was in the green earth and the woods of the Shire. Love for another set his feet on the road… and love carried him home.

Saving for a rainy day …

The fish need feeding… their food cannisters need refilling too. The bird feeder needs completely restocking…and it is freezing outside. Not only is it cold enough to make a snowman shiver, it is raining… the kind of rain that falls as stinging darts making the presence of each drop sharp and immediate. I shiver, watching the blood withdraw from my fingertips, feeling them shrink and stiffen with the cold and I wrestle with the frozen metal of the lock. Raindrops trickle across my scalp, slithering down my neck. It is not a day to be outdoors… but the fish and the birds need to be fed, regardless of my misery.

Opening the shed, I squeeze past my son’s wheelchair to reach the feed. I remember, just for a moment, coming onto the hospital ward one day and seeing the longing on his face as he watched the raindrops on the window pane. I’d give anything to be out there, he had said. To feel the rain on my face again. Back then, we had no idea if he would ever be able to do so…at least, not without help.

What if, I wondered, this were the last time I ever felt the rain? I know, all too acutely, how life can change between one moment and the next. How normality, freedom…even life itself… can be snuffed out without warning. Such thoughts may seem morbid to some, but I have found that an awareness of the finite nature of the life we know only enhances our ability to appreciate its beauty. Yet, here I was complaining.

I asked myself the question once again. What if this were to be the last time I ever felt the cold of winter or the rain on my skin? Would I really want to remember it through a veil of misery? Or would I want to remember the clarity of the moment? The sparkle of rain on the first, burgeoning leaves of a nascent spring… the ever-expanding circles drawn by the raindrops on the silver surface of the pond… the aliveness of my skin, tingling beneath the touch of winter… the freshness of the rain-soaked garden and the smell of wet earth…

Some ‘last times’ we are aware of… we know they will be the last. We see them coming and they make an indelible impression on memory. I will never forget my last, tear-blurred glimpse of the Sacré-Cœur as we left Paris, thirty years ago. I didn’t know then that it would be the very last time… I still do not yet know if it was, for that matter… but it was the end of a chapter in my life and the beginning of a new story. I remember the final hug shared with a friend and his final words to me, hours before he died, as clearly as I recall the last time I closed the door on the family home.

Sometimes we only realise it was a ‘last time’ once the moment has passed… and those memories too entrench themselves, kept alive by emotion. But most ‘last times’ only become clear in retrospect… we will not know until it is too late to give them our attention and store them up in memory.

As we grow older, any farewell, no matter how temporary, takes on a new layer of meaning; as the years pass, the chances that some of these farewells will be ‘last times’ cannot help but increase. I would not wish to waste such moments in sentimentality, regret or in the imagining of some dire future… I want to enjoy them, storing them up in a treasure house of memory where life, love and laughter are the true riches of living.

There is a reason we are here, in this life, in these bodies and with these senses. Our lives are short… seconds, minutes and hours tick by, heading towards an unknown point, for few know the span of their days. For any one of us the world can change at any moment… yet we live our lives taking so much for granted or, as I was doing, railing against the downside instead of carrying away with us all the moment has to offer.

Living in England, the chances are that I will see and feel more rain than I could possibly wish for… but I do not know what the future holds. Would I really wish to be stuck behind glass watching the rain fall beyond my reach… and knowing I had wasted my ‘last time’ grumbling?

I fed the fish and the birds, smiled at the Indian airline label still attached to my son’s wheelchair… and went out to enjoy the rain.

All images in this post were taken in India by my son…where he felt the rain.

Castles of the Mind

Bamburgh Castle smaller

Do we have ‘castles of the mind’?

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

The foundations for such things can begin very early, and be formed of some very primitive fears and, even, strong dislikes. That dark green colour of the man in the long raincoat who collected money and caused mother great distress. The child would see the pain of a caring parent whose finances were stretched to the limit; the deeper truth that it was a door-to-door insurance man, making his Friday call in time to tap into the new pay packet would not be seen until later in life… but the coloured raincoat would be remembered…

We smile at such memories, now, but their effects can linger, unseen, becoming the bedrock of fear and prejudice.

Fear is a topical subject. We live in a world where some of the artificial ‘bogeymen’ have taken flesh, become leaders of what we assumed were states governed by some sort of ‘reasonableness’. When that is blown away, we are left staring at the ragged ruin of the personal safety blanket behind which we have lived most of our lives.

We’d be living a life at the edge if what we did, individually, could repel the kind of boarders that strut their aggression and lack of compassion on the world stage, today. But confronting those fears in our own lives, and holding them up to the light of adult reason and mature feelings is an essential practice for anyone treading a ‘non-fluffy’ mystical path.

Bamburgh beach

To do this alone is very difficult. To do it in a group of trusted friends, new and old, is an empowering thing. In the Silent Eye, we offer this when we can construct an environment that is conducive to trust and empathy, and in which we can share examples of these powerful structures in our personal histories. We are modern mystics, not psychotherapists. Our method is for each of us to work with their own individuality to increase stability and confidence – enough to invite the deeper parts of ourselves to extend their loving reach into our everyday ‘selves’.

The ‘borderlands’ between our carefully-controlled ‘normality’ and the effects of those early experiences are the places where we can widen the paths of light which drive mature and reflective energy into the murky places of unresolved immaturity.

So, we thought, why not run one of our ‘walk and talk’ weekends in a part of the UK associated with borderland of its own?

Northumberland is one of Britain’s most wild and beautiful counties. It shares the Scottish border with Cumbria in the West and extends, on the map, far into what appears to be Scotland. Until Anglo-Saxon times it was an independent kingdom, and later, was the seat of important families whose role was to ‘police’ the borderlands from such castles as Alnwick (home of the Percy family) and Bambrugh.

Northumbria coast smaller

Northumberland’s landscapes vary from rolling hills and river valleys, to wild coastlines and castles – castles which have been used to enforce a borderland between the Scots and the English for hundreds of years. Thankfully, things are more peaceful, now, but the history remains written in the land…

Not everything in this ancient landscape was devoted to warfare. The island of Lindisfarne, which will form an important part of the weekend, is famous as one of the original homes of British Celtic Christianity.

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

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

Come and join us for our September event. Weekend of 14-16 September, 2018, based in the beautiful town of Seahouses on the Northumbrian Coast.

Bamburgh Castle+Text smallerAA

To register your interest, send us an email at rivingtide@gmail.com.


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 low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

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

©Stephen Tanham, Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Walking the line…

“… so fear was originally there to help us survive.”
“Yep… and with not many sabre-tooth tigers roaming the suburbs, we found other things to fear. And fear is intimately linked to how we judge people.”
“How so?”

It was one of those early morning conversations over coffee and from the nature of fear we had progressed to how we unconsciously judge the people that we meet. It is all very well to say that we should not judge…but we do. At least to a certain degree. Sitting in moral judgement upon someone’s actions is a slightly different matter, but we do seem to be programmed to make judgements about the people who arrive in our lives. It comes from the same primitive survival instinct as fear and is part of the same process. If a hunter comes face to face with another spear-wielding man, that snap judgement would be the deciding factor; does he run from a foe, throw his own spear, or welcome a fellow hunter to the chase?

stickman-310590_1280

Our need for such judgements may not be so acute these days, but the instinct remains. We just use it in a more abstract way. A new person arrives on the scene… a new colleague, perhaps… and an immediate reaction determines what we see as our best approach. How we judge them then determines, rightly or wrongly, what we expect of them too.

But how do we make that judgement? Against what measure are we holding them? We only have our own normality, our own world view, with which to work… and that, of necessity, becomes our median line. Some people will quickly climb high in our estimation, others will let us down.  People will either surpass our expectations or fall below them…and hopefully we can rejoice at the one and learn from the other.

The problem here is that if we let the uncontrolled ego have its way, by setting ourselves as the median line, we may also be setting ourselves in a position of unconscious superiority. If that happens, then everyone else starts at a disadvantage… the people we meet will start from a ‘lower’ place than that which the ego sees itself as occupying. This means that before anyone can begin to meet our expectations, they have a steep climb ahead of them before they can hope to meet us on an even playing field.

The higher our ego sets us on that scale, the lower are the chances of people fulfilling or exceeding our expectations. If someone does manage to climb above our median line, the chances are that the owner of a ‘superior’ ego, instead of applauding that success, will feel themselves weighed down by it… and look for ways in which they can bring that person back down to, or below, the median line of ‘normality’…at least in their own mind.

The ‘superior’ ego fears being overshadowed by the success of others and reacts to any inkling of such success with resentment and prejudice. The higher the other person is perceived to climb… and it may be no more than a perception… the more the ‘superior’ ego looks for them to fall. These are such destructive emotions that, while the other person continues with the normal ups and downs of life, embracing both successes and failures, the ‘superior’ ego finds itself on a slippery slope of its own creation.

We cannot abstain from judging altogether…it is an instinctive function of our safety mechanism. We should not have to lower our hopes for people either… for in trusting and hoping for their success we help ensure it. Imposing our expectations, though is a different matter… expectations breed disappointment.

Stickman, Handshake, Gun, Aiming, SmileWhat we can do is remember than our own median line is not a straight path, but meanders with every step we take, and we can fall or climb just as easily, and as often, as anyone else. No matter where we stand in terms of our social position, educational achievements, affiliations, beliefs or ethnicity, we are equal partners in the human family. Our median line should not be drawn by the ego, but from the one thing we all share… our humanity. We are each as fragile, as fallible, and as capable of reaching the heights as each other… and regardless of the judgements passed upon us, we share a gift of possibility that allows us to walk our own path.