The plan was to base our inaugural public ‘solstice’ event at Avebury and thus it seemed natural to book a room at the Public House which is situated in the centre of the Stone Circle…
Only, The Red Lion no longer provides B&B so we ended up instead at a hotel some ten miles away in Ogbourne St George.
Now, Ogbourne St George is a curious name and one redolent of both mystery and intrigue, and given our literary proclivities, we thought it might be possible to find something of interest in the village to occupy our Companions for at least one of our allotted slots over the weekend.
We had stayed in Ogbourne… before and had a visual memory of a strange mound-like structure in one of the fields lying adjacent to the hotel and had pinned to it an accompanying mental note which ran, ‘…must have a closer look at some point.’
A little research in the form of flick through the ley-line dowsers’ classic, The Sun and the Serpent by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, confirmed both the visual memory and our hunch that the structure would hold some interest for us.
It was not a prehistoric construction at all but a ‘folly’ built sometime during the Second World War by a local farmer but somewhat amazingly it had, according to our venerable authors, been constructed over a node which marked the crossing of the Michael and Mary currents.
This, it seemed to us, was very curious…
The mound now looked like nothing so much as an overgrown hillock with its spiral causeway, rising twenty feet in height, all but obliterated by trees, bushes, and shrubs and there was a picture of it in the aforementioned tome which approximated with the mental image which had been stored in my mind for future reference all those years ago.
It was in this respect reminiscent of another of the mounds we planned to visit over the weekend.
The now slightly more famous, but equally tree-infested Merlin’s Mound stands in the middle of the private grounds of Marlborough College beset by houses of learning and no doubt deliberately dwarfed by both the sheer bulk and the lofty spires of the College Chapel.
This mound is a prehistoric structure and has recently been given a date of construction commensurate with Silbury.
As we had been unsuccessful in our request to the authorities concerned to climb the mound and as the third of our mounds, the aforementioned and world-famous Silbury Hill is now fenced off and no longer accessible to the public we were hoping that our unobtrusive poor relation in Ogbourne St George would afford our Companions the chance to scale its relatively modest sides and experience the dual currents of the Michael and Mary leys.
In this, though we were destined to be disappointed…
In the near darkness, the woman’s gentle right hand came down on my shoulder from behind. It was the signal that she was ready, that we could begin either the bravest or the stupidest thing we’d ever attempted.
It was April 2013. Sue Vincent and I were about to sing the opening of a temple ritual drama. Sitting on a small stool in front of her, I took a breath and let my fingers rest on the nylon strings of the Spanish guitar…
We were on our own, as Troubadours had often been, in history, conveying their truths as songs.
Around us in the half-light, lit only by a few electric candles and one small real flame in a glass lantern, people were pretending to be asleep, their heads nodded downwards, The hoods of their robes were pulled up, monk-wise, into a universal symbol of withdrawal from the everyday.
Their sleep was symbolic of a shift in consciousness: the essence of what the Silent Eye was going to try to achieve over the weekend.
The workshop was to mark and celebrate the launch of the new School. Many of those present were from other esoteric organisations. All had come to wish us well and to celebrate the birth of something spiritually new.
Within the ‘sleeping circle’ was Stuart France, the third Director, who was to play the role of a mysterious ‘child’ protected from dark forces by the two Troubadours, and, eventually – having reconciled their differences – the whole cast.
It was no time to mess up those precious guitar chords. I strummed the strings into life. The gentle but tones filled the large room in the Nightingale Centre with a soft and haunting sound. You could feel the intake of breath around the circle. Then our two voices rose, in harmony in the darkness as Sue and I sang the Song of the Troubadour; something we had written for the workshop, but never performed in public, though Sue’s ‘learning by repetition’ technique, practised while looking after her son, Nick, caused him to create a rap version, just so he could play it back to her with equal frequency…
Beginnings are powerful things… Looking back, the coming together of Sue Vincent, Stuart France and myself within the Silent Eye was hardly an accident.
We had known each other previously through the Servants of the Light (SOL) – Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s celebrated school of the Western Mystery Tradition. I had joined SOL in 2006 and stayed seven years, helping to computerise the ageing administration and membership systems. Sue and I had met there, but not known each other well.
Prior to our time at SOL, Stuart and I had been long-term officers within the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC.
For the three of us, our participation in these organisations had given us a rich perspective on the teaching of practical mysticism. In particular, Dolores had taught all of us that the use of drama, played out with the sacred in mind, could be a powerful tool on many levels.
In my own case, I had deeply enjoyed every one of these journeys into different organisations, gaining in knowledge and confidence with each move. I was not in any way unhappy with any of them, but I felt there was another, and more ‘direct’ way of going about it. I had studied the work of Gurdjieff in some detail, and a group of us had piloted a novel ‘magical’ approach to the use of his nine-pointed figure: the enneagram.
The enneagram had been created to show how nature’s processes flow and reset themselves, much as the seasons do, but generalised in a deeper way. A group of psychologists in California had merged a deep theory of the arising of personality with the use of the enneagram to make visible our deeper natures… eventually knocking on the door of the personal ‘soul’.
That became my trigger for establishing the Silent Eye, a school of consciousness that would combine this use of the enneagram with our ‘magical’ training of the mind, heart and instincts. In 2012, I left SOL to to this, hoping to keep the wide circle of friends I had made, there.
Sue Vincent had been helping me become a Facebook user. She joined me shortly afterwards, in the soon to be Silent Eye, though we had not discussed it prior to my leaving SOL. My wife and I hosted a party for the creation of the new school at our newly-finished house in Kendal. Everyone enjoyed the evening and wanted to stay over. A small army of sleeping bags were deployed.
The day after, Sue Vincent (in her own words) kidnapped Stuart France, and the two of them spent the day driving around her native Yorkshire and talking about the potential of the Silent Eye. I’d already made the offer for him to join us. The day cemented their friendship, which was later to develop into much more, plus a most productive writing team.
Towards the end of 2012, Stuart confirmed he would join us. In April 2013, we launched the Silent Eye with the ‘Song of the Troubadour’ workshop, viewed by all attending as a success… and a new thread in the teaching of practical esoteric knowledge in a modern world.
The Song of the Troubadour was the story of a group of travellers trapped by a snowstorm in a remote monastery, high in a range of mountains between two lands. The Keepers of the monastery gently engineer inter-personal conditions that bring each traveller face to face with their own inner natures. The workshop pioneered the Silent Eye’s use of the teaching enneagram as a mystical tool for dramatic, ritual movement. To our knowledge, no-one else in the world uses this combination.
The Troubadours sang their song. The workshop was a warm success and became the blueprint for another six years of spring events. Some of these will be discussed in the next post.
If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.
There are good days and bad ones, and some that are just plain odd. Waking this morning in a cosy bed, emerging from dreams of light and beauty, I lay there in the pre-dawn softness feeling that today was going to be good. Images forming in my mind of the painting to be done, the colours already occupying the table downstairs… all ready for an early start. Time to stretch and get moving. And I’ll finally get my car back today, all fixed from the garage.
I open my eyes… well, that was the general idea. Only nothing much happened.
Any lingering visions of beauty from my dreams faded in front of the bathroom mirror as I contemplated a reflection I was none too keen on. Dripping icy water, the eyes opened just enough to show me it wasn’t a good idea to look. Vanity was not happy with the sight. They were swollen shut. And my hands were as bad. Novel, though. I sort of look as if I’ve done ten rounds in a prizefighter and lost.
Cold compresses for the next hour, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines to be on the safe side, and I could just about switch the computer on, if not actually see it much. By eight, the eyes were open a bit and the hands moveable. The head and neck aches made their presence felt and a call to the doctor was in order. So I await yet more results. Why am I surprised….?
So painting has gone out of the window so far today and writing is a bit of a struggle… but I can’t just sit and twiddle my thumbs and the mind doesn’t switch off regardless. So I await two phone calls… one from the doctor and another from the garage where my little car is in for repair.
I was thinking about the current physical hiccups, all more annoying than anything else, much like the car. She drives like a dream and is my pride and joy, elderly and shabby as she is. The repairs are just down to age and wear. I saw the comparison of course and got to wondering what the purpose might be, what I am supposed to learn and take away from this passage. Quite apart, of course, from the simple realisation that I will not get any younger, even if my mind appears to.
One thing, of course, that stands out in sharp relief is the contrast between my body and I. It is not ‘me’. I am full of energy, raring to go, bursting at the seams with ideas and feel younger and more vibrant than I have for a very long time. This past year seems to have vivified me in some indefinable way and I feel alive and full of laughter, a sort of beaming smile of the soul. The body, however, seems more inclined to indulge in a wry and mocking grin. That it is merely the vehicle in which I move through the world seems patently obvious as I look at the discrepancy and wait for the repair guys to fix it.
I remembered a picture I had seen somewhere a while ago, an example of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken vessels. The broken pot is fixed together with a lacquer that looks like pure gold, rendering the object even more lovely and precious than before. Almost celebrating the breaking as, it is said, the damage means the vessel has a history and survived to grow in beauty. Someone cared enough too, to undertake the delicate work.
It is not quite that simple but is analogous, perhaps, to the human condition. In order to grow in beauty through any kind of suffering, we have to pick up the pieces and be prepared to fashion them into something new, taking a little time and care, holding the cracks together with the gold of joy, hope and purpose.
It may be an odd day today, but it is still a good one, even though my plans have changed and I will probably not paint. However, I do need to go and bring my little car home…. And that is a joy in itself.
We were talking today about how much is lost in translation. This was being discussed from an abstract, as well as a literal viewpoint.
It started with a conversation about books and moved on to language in general and thence to poetry and song. I mentioned Jacques Brel, a poet, singer and performer of, in my opinion, utter genius, who wrote almost exclusively in French. Many people know the songs for which he was best known, even though they are generally known best in English as cover versions.
To take one of the original songs and translate it into literal but literate English is fine.. it allows access to the meaning, but not the poetry. To take the original and make it into a song that has rhyme and rhythm is wonderful.. but it then loses must of the lyricism and the depth of meaning and emotion created by the choice and juxtaposition of words that create that unique imagery.
Yet Brel sang with absolute passion and emotion. I would point the curious in the direction of the incredible recording of his concert at l’Olympia, available piecemeal on Youtube. Each song is a showstopping performance and portrayal of human emotion. Even when the lyrics are not understood, one cannot help but be moved by the emotion. Understand the words and it is simply stunning. Look for ‘Ces gens la’, ‘Jef’ and ‘Ne me quittes pas’. I remember well the first time I saw that last recording on TV. I knew the song word for word. My husband, himself a singer/songwriter, sang it frequently. Yet, I sat, mid dusting, mouth open in utter amazement and with tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched and listened.
I have to say that I think Brel understood living with passion.
Of course, the discussion then moved on to how other things are lost in translation. Especially the abstract personal concepts that deal with the evolution of the self. It is not a secret that that SilentEyeSchool seeks to promote a way of living in vivid colour, a way of moving through life with passionate awareness and on to another level of being. It is exceptionally difficult, sometimes impossible, to share in words the depth of emotion a spiritual realisation can give. There are expreiences off the normal scale for which there are no common phrases or images. And they are uniquely personal.
Yet, as teachers we have to find the words, the images, the scenario that will illustrate and suggest to the mind of the student something abstract and subjective. We have to describe a spiritual ‘taste’, and if you think about it, even that sense of taste, something we are all very familiar with right from birth, carries impossibility.
How can you describe a taste? You can compare it, say it is similar to or different from.. you can generalise and say it is sweet, acid, savoury… but you cannot describe a taste accurately. Nor, if you think about it can you describe an emotion. It is something you can only learn for yourself through experience. Although you may be able to learn if it will be pleasant or painful in advance, you cannot know how it feels until you feel it. Sometimes the best way to share it is to show it, allow it to be observed and witnessed. Sometimes all you can do is point the way.
The School takes students down tried and tested pathways. We walk them ourselves. It gives a map and a companion, and, if you will, a set of tools to use along the way.Yet ultimately the experience will be as different for each of us as we are from each other, and each will find they take their own unique journey with its own flavour.
Healing can be gentle and tender; but certain healing acts on an inner level of the self, racing like a cold wave to resolve us, before washing us up on the beach called tomorrow, but under a different sun…
(1000 words, a ten-minute read)
We all progress through an inner journey in our lives. We may not work with any specific system of self-development, but we come to the same perspective about ourselves. We come to know, with certainty, that there are things about us that have far more importance than anything else. These are qualities, rather than things. They do not relate to things; to what we might have, how secure we are. They are concerned with an ‘easiness’ (or not) of our inner state, our ‘me-ness’.
When we enter this awareness, usually in our middle years, we are on a path to self-knowledge, whose gravitational force becomes stronger as we age. True, there is a contest between bodily health and focus at that point – as shown by the increasing take-up of combined Eastern systems, such as Yoga, or derivates like Pilates. A daily walk confers much of the same benefits. Whatever method we adopt, the gains are reflected within as a calmer interior.
If we inquire into where unease comes from, we are pointed at a many-coloured quilt of mind and emotions, made from pieces of our experience, solidified as responses. There are desires, regrets, resolutions and powerful insights woven into this fabric. The whole of it comprises the self, the personality, and, although it feels complicated, it really isn’t – once we find the dynamic states in there, and begin to separate the dross from the real.
The real is vitally important, and we are compelled to approach it in stages. These stages reveal a pattern of ‘really important things’ – things with a power to change that interior state and make us renewed, within – which then changes the without…
The real is based on truth. Our relationship to truth is subtle, and, initially at least, learned. We are brought up in societies where many of the most important ‘powerful people’ lie. They lie all the time, carving and shaping the societal world in a way that protects their existence as liars. We all lie, but becoming aware of our lying is a key part of putting real life, as opposed to illusion, back into our interior state. We may not have the power to make our societies true, but we do have the power to make ourselves true.
We don’t want zealots here. There’s nothing as deadly as a zealot, clinging to his or her first vision of real truth and preaching how important it is to give up our present lives. We want gentleness, we want sharing and, above all, we want compassion…
Compassion is one of the great discoveries of the land inside us. Like anything else we presume to know, compassion has hidden depths. Compassion has two apparent faces: the one that soothes the friend who is going through illness, providing a reassurance that things will be okay, when we know they will not; and the the other, deeper face, that acts like a silent twin of truth.
If we have any ‘spiritual’ intentions, we must find our own truths. I’m not talking about the methods of development we may choose. I’m referring to an interior capability to ‘feel’ the truth of any situation. It can come as a shock to find out that we have an inner organ that knows when something is true or not; that knows when we are bending our complex and sophisticated past to accommodate something that is really an indulgence, rather than what we have set ourselves to do.
This is hard, really hard. But it is the way forward, and no amount of false compassion, the pat of self-reassurance that we have lots of life left to get it right, will substitute. Conditions arise in our lives for a reason. Life is an interior school of self-development, as millennia of wisdom has taught. People on a path of self-development are wise, no matter how far along that path they are. They listen to life, reading in its events, good or bad, what they should be learning on their individual journeys.
And it is here that the little-known power of real compassion comes into play. Compassion for ourselves will help us face the truth of our lives. It acts like a ship that reveals a bigger world. But its direction can only be towards the Truth, and in that powerful voyage, its engines have to be merciless in carrying us forward.
Once we face truth, nurture it and and learn to make it our constant advisor, we are set on a course, and the mighty engines of self-compassion, matched to the compass of truth, assume their real power, which is to make the brave happen… eventually healing the wounds that seem less and less important as we gaze out on a truly new day.
Good morning. It is sunny today, with the sky a clear cerulean blue. My grandmother always said it was going to be a fine day if there was enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers. Today I could probably kit out the entire navy. If the makers of paint could capture this colour in all its transparency, they’d make a fortune. Not that they don’t already, given the price of artists colours.
There is a heavy frost this morning though and the cold has me by the throat, both literally and metaphorically. The dog has the door standing wide open, the heating has gone on strike again and my son’s prayers have been answered. I will not be singing today. My throat is as swollen as if I’d talked all through the night. I vaguely remember that scenario.
I am lucky at present. I see my son every day and the depth of the conversation we share can be astonishing for stone-cold sober and mid-morning. We can cover ground from the most ridiculous to the deepest philosophical debate, passing via music and neurology, pizza and sturgeon to the nature of God and the soul. But other than Nick the majority of my days are spent in silence, apart from a very dear friend on the phone from afar and my conversations with the dog.
There are few things I enjoy more than settling down to long, varied and frequently random discussions over a bottle of good wine with a friend. Living in France was a perfect introduction to that, because there is always cheese. If there is cheese left, it is almost obligatory to open a second bottle to accompany it, and if there is bread left, one needs more cheese… it would be wasteful not to… and so it goes on, sometimes all night. Conversations can go very deep at these times.
We don’t talk enough. Or not about things that really matter. We chatter about the simple things, mundane problems, the latest news but we seldom seem to have time to sit and simply listen to each other these days. Or even to listen to the world around us. One of the downsides of electronic conversation is that it is often so short and factual. We cover the necessities and rarely allow heart to speak to heart, sharing the inner depths of who we are and what matters, really matters, to us as a person.
Listening, I think, is one of the greatest gifts we can give. To listen, with ears and heart and mind while someone shares themself with you is a beautiful thing. And you can hear as much in the silence between the words as you can in the words themselves.
Mind you, I have no objections to silence either. It is, after raising a family, a luxury. I have always loved silence and it was a rarity in a household full of growing children. It is an animated silence, my mind seldom quiet, pursuing trains of thought down convoluted alleyways, imagination always online and seeking ways of expression. There is a richness in this type of silent working that can be drowned in the normal noise of everyday life. One can see the value of the contemplative life. Though, as a friend has said on many occasions, I was not cut out to be a nun. I would be constantly doing penance…
There are also, though, moments where the internal dialogue stills into quiet. The dog is usually asleep at these times, the distant road noise hushed and the only sound in the village the song of birds. At those times the surface mind is silent and something deeper still can speak in the heart. There are no words, just a knowing, yet it is communication. There is something within that reaches inwards and upwards, deeper and wider than the conscious chatter of mind, and it is answered by something deeper still that seems to be waiting with arms open wide. It comes out to meet us like a friend and lover that has been waiting for our presence and listens in the silence of those moments only to the murmuring of the soul.
That the birds were there first means little to Ani. It is, as far as she is concerned, her garden and she decides who gets to play in it. Apart from the stray babies, those she makes an exception for and will even call the cavalry to their rescue. There is no malice in her vociferous warnings to the feathered fiends who invade her space. In fact, she grins all the time she is chasing them off.
The cat next door, on the other hand, stalks them silently, moving a whisker at a time, closing in for that final, fatal pounce.
Me, on the other hand, I like birds. I love to hear them herald the morning as I wake, the first light washing the bedroom in pale colour. I love to watch them darting around the garden, or soaring in the blue above. They are creatures of grace and beauty who carry music within and rise above the landscape, seeing it with eyes other than my own. In quiet moments imagination lends me their wings and I can rise with them to greet the dawn.
The three of us watch the same sparrow on the fence from completely different viewpoints, with different emotions and imperatives fuelling our actions. I suppose we are simply following the dictates of our own species and nature. Yet these are neither inevitable nor unchangeable. There are many cats that never chase a bird. There are probably few dogs who warn them off quite so joyfully. And as a human being, I could simply ignore them, see them as a source of food or raw materials, or even through the eyes of myth and legend.
The three of us are not so very different after all. It is a personality shaped by instinct and experience that impels our individual reactions to the birds every day. Ani sees them as both invaders to be warned away and playthings with which she can have fun. The cat I don’t know personally… for some reason, Ani refuses that acquaintance… so I cannot say whether it is the thrill of the chase, or a quest for dinner that drives it. For me it is many things. Memories of being taught their names and stories as a child, the simple love of their beauty and the knowledge of the thread of life that binds us, associations that run deeper than the surface, perhaps.
I remember my grandfather explaining a picture in a book to me, when I was very young, where the heart was weighed against the feather of truth. There is more to that than the simple lightness, for Horus, the Divine Child of the Egyptian faith, was depicted as a hawk and truth was a goddess with a feather in her hair. The Egyptians, indeed, had many birds associated with divinity, from the Benu bird, a symbol of rebirth, to the protective vulture goddess Nekhbet. Odin had his ravens, a story brought to life for me on a first visit to the Tower of London, observing their curiosity and intellect in action. Christianity has the Dove and the Pelican. Symbolism, folklore and fairytales are littered with feathers.
Experience shapes us in ways we often cannot see. The innate nature can be overridden by learned behaviours, habits and acquired reactions that may seem obvious to those looking on, but to which we ourselves are blind until something throws them into sharp relief. These habits can be both positive and negative, overcoming inner battles or seeing us lost in a sea of fears. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.
But we do not have to be a slave to our reactions, there is always that poised instant when we stand at the crossroads of choice and can break the cycle if we so will it and, to paraphrase the famous quotation, be the change we wish to see in ourselves.