The Entered Dragon (5) : a seat in the gods

Continued from Part Four

The stage is set. The feeling of expectation is deep. In the darkness of the auditorium, we cannot see those sitting beside us.

The stage is dark, yet the darkness is not empty; in fact the darkness is full of that which is not yet formed, but can be. None of our senses can yet register what is happening. But something within us at the deepest place that we can call our selves is filled with this potential. But the potential is not dark, in fact, The potential has an unseen brightness and a powerful sense of immanence.


In this series we have examined the nature of what the early psychologists called the unconscious. We have considered that the conscious part of our existence is like the visible part of an iceberg seen above the water. Most of its mass and energy and potentially dangerous presence lies beneath.

In the last post we encountered Carl Jung’s  dramatic conclusion that all consciousness emerged from this ocean of unconscious being. What does that mean? We can be without there being any differentiation between what is perceived and what is considered a centre, an us

The world is a continuous creative explosion of events, which to us forms a screen of experience around what we call ourselves. This self isolates part of the happenings and calls it its own. As this analysis proceeds the separated being becomes more sophisticated in the way it divides self and not self. It’s crowning glory is to give the things it has perceived names, and language is born.

After a while the self becomes so fascinated with the power of its own separated existence that it does not want to relinquish what it sees as a gain. But the costs of separation are hidden and subtle. Once part of an ocean of creative and continuously changing being, the small self is is now responsible for the maintenance of its entire psychic ecosystem. Its creativity may be bright, but eventually the separation from that which gave it birth becomes painful and depressing. The things of the self-world lose the sparkle; and yet there is the ghost of a memory of what a world filled with joy was like…

Here we have the vast theatre which is mankind on Earth. On the one hand the creation of something so precious that it was worth this lonely journey. On the other the anguished separation from a creative, all-powerful vastness which longs to reconcile it’s ennobled child. It’s a paradox… as so many things of a spiritual nature are.

Going far deeper into this mystical vision Carl Jung made it his life’s work to provide us all with a language to map this ‘fall’ and separation from the glory of all-being.

But the journey that mankind undertook was and is not taken in isolation. Throughout our history artists, writers and mystics have spoken of a deep kind of communication from an inner state of ‘holiness’ carried out by beings whose role was to be communicators of hope and inspiration. Sadly, religious metaphors do not always communicate well, nowadays, so a different set of words is needed.

One of the best names for these beings is the word Messengers… 

The Greeks had no difficulty in describing a real, but inner, world populated by Gods – plural. To them, the inner experiences of a lifetime had a pattern and were overseen by powerful inner forces that could be courted or challenged. The essence of this inner world was that it was already there… Scholars had not invented in an academic or poetic exercise. If you could find inner quietude, and you were gifted in sincere two-way communication, then you could converse with this inner world. Those with deep skills were cultivated and asked to communicate for others less able – Oracles – but the essence of this inner land was that it was and is there for all of us.

The west’s age of enlightenment, ironically, put an end to this world of ‘myth’, consigning it to the realm of fantasy. In separating it from the ‘demonstrably real’ world of brain-knowledge and quantity, we lost the glory of personal contact with figures from the inner which were sharable among us all.

Carl Jung’s work in psychotherapy – whose main purpose was to restore the ego (self) to health and stability – gave him access to a base of scientifically recorded information of patients’ inner states. He observed that there was a pattern of images described by those he was treating, a commonality of experience, or, rather, a commonality of the inner characters they met within their own mental and emotional worlds. Far from being schizophrenic, these characters enabled a healthy communication with the patients’ inner states, from which Jung was able to provide healing patterns of reconciliation.

As he ventured deeper, he realised that these healing forces had a purpose: that they were actively communicating with their own ‘host’ personality, though the patient might have seen them as fantastical. Further work showed him that the nature of many, but not all, of these inner characters was shared… by all people. Most of us did not seek this active inner communication with the messengers, but some did. After all, the greater part of mankind’s history had revered them. Psychology had provided at least a partly-trusted window back into the ‘realm of the personal gods’ to combat the creeping coldness of the scientific view, though the latter was providing the basis for much more comfort and security in our daily word… as long as you forgot its power to destroy that world, entirely-–in itself, a form of global schizophrenia.

Over many years, Jung got to know these inner figures, and named them ‘Archetypes’, a word overly familiar to us now, but dramatically new in Jung’s time. Freud would have nothing to do with such a concept, which, to him, smacked of mysticism.

Today, through the writings of such authors as Robert A. Johnson, anyone can discover the nature of these inner messengers – whose role is to help us heal our self’s divisions – and work with them, if we are bold enough…

Next week, we will consider some of the faces of our Messengers, and the precious gifts they bring.


The stage is so quiet, it is almost painful. We look into the darkness to see a kind of swirling. Within seconds the smiling face of a King emerges, and behind him, a figure of pure love, so beautiful that tears are unavoidable, rests her gentle hands on his shoulders…

They have come…..

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four this is Part Five.


©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Entered Dragon (4) : the world within

Continued from Part Three

I know these posts, so far, have been intense. The picture painted by Carl Jung and his Jungian successors of our linked internal and external lives is a detailed and vivid one. We began by looking at the Shadow, that suppressed ‘mind’ of parts of our psychological self (psyche) that have been pushed, by conditioning, society and personal choice, from our everyday lives. Censored might be a good word to describe their fate… or exiled, perhaps.

By way of a more gentle read, this post will set the scene for the space in which the relevance of Jungian thought is unrivalled in all of psychology – the Unconscious.

The Shadow lives in the unconscious, but so do many other energy patterns waiting to play their parts in our life’s story…

The unconscious is very much present in our lives, and might be said to ride alongside us, in quiet presence… until it interacts, often without our knowing.

We think of such things as distant, as though there is depth to the place of the unconscious. In fact, we can easily see how close the unconscious psyche is to our ‘normal’ state by reference to a simple example.

Imagine I am playing a game of tennis. I swing my arm back to take the forehand to win the point, but just at that moment, a family member calls to me from the side of the court. My conscious attention is diverted to this ‘high-priority’ interrupt. The relative is simply delivering an unfortunately-timed hello, so, smiling in acknowledgment, my alerted attention is relaxed.

But while the head turns to acknowledge the arrival of the family member, the arm continues its arc. In what seems like a fraction of a second, I re-engage my consciousness with the court to find the ball, bouncing inside the baseline and winning the point.

I nod, sheepishly, at the person across the net. The opponent may have grounds for thinking I am showing off! What’s really happened is that my unconscious, ‘shadowing’ me and able to take over from its normally recessed position, has helped my body to complete the desired action.

Have you ever been lost in an extended creative thought on a car journey home and arrived at your dwelling with no active memory of the last mile? It’s not an ideal way to drive, but our ‘autopilot’ has got us home, safely, once our primary attention wandered…

From these examples we can see that our initial ‘dark’ picture of the personal unconscious may be far short of both its capabilities and its intentions… To get the whole picture, we need to begin with Carl Jung’s radical view (for a psychologist) of the place of consciousness in the story of the universe.

Jung was a religious man in the widest sense, though he often ridiculed the actions of the church. Today, we might call him a ‘mystical psychologist’, but, back in the early years of the last century, mysticism was little known outside of academic circles. His professional work led him to see the unconscious as the real source for all human consciousness. In the unconscious, he saw the origins of our capacity for all awareness, orderly thought, reasoning and feeling. In short, that the unconscious was the original mind of the human species; a matrix of energy that took millions of years to develop a body, then a conscious mind – a stage very different from just awareness…

Jung saw this as a creative force at work in all nature. He envisaged every element of our complex consciousness being born in the unconscious before reaching for the full ‘light’ of human consciousness. Indeed, it might be said that the latter stage created the human…

Put another way, the vast unconscious ‘self’ of nature has slowly made a part of itself conscious. He believed that mankind had a unique potential to carry the evolution of the universe forward – such was the preciousness of consciousness.

Each of us has the capability of reliving the entire history of life and its associated ascent to self in one lifetime. When we do this, we connect with that which gave us life and that which can take us so much further than we know.

To do this requires that mankind understands this vision – gaining power and inspiration from it; and reconciling the unconscious with the conscious. Modern society created science; and science, having given us so much, superficially, has, tragically and unknowingly, cut us off from the very practices which facilitated integration with the reservoir of the unconscious, branding them superstition… Many of them may have been so, but their origin and essence was from a much deeper wisdom than we commonly possess, now.

The plan for our individual potential in this lifetime is contained in the unconscious. We need to work with our own unconscious to realise this. In the course of that work, we will find a vast reservoir of energy and insight waiting for us, just below the surface…

Having shown in the first three posts the power of one element of the unconscious – the Shadow – to affect our conscious lives, we must now venture deeper into the map of the unconscious and its interactions with what we consider to be ‘us’. In this place of liminal energy, we will find keys to our future.

Next week, we will look at the nature of what Jung called ‘the inner life’, and explore more deeply the relationship with our usually quiet companion who is capable of winning our tennis point and driving our car…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, This is Part Four.


©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Entered Dragon (3) : beauty and the beast

Continued from Part Two

The dream continues…

We are frozen, the dragon and I. He cannot be seen, as he is mirroring my every move, behind me. My fingers explore the tip of the spear, the only movement left…

I press the sharp tip into the skin of my right thumb. There is a slowing of time as the ancient metal pierces the flesh. Then I can feel the tiny warmth of blood dripping from the wound.

“Don’t…” comes the hissing red voice from behind my head. “Please don’t…”


The holding of values must be ranked as one of the highest achievements of civilisation. From the perspective of religious morality, each human is born with a challenge: to choose which side of their nature to supply with attention and therefore energy – the man or the beast.

But the Jungian psychologists discovered it was by no means that simple…

Within mankind are represented all the kingdoms of matter and life. We are made from supposedly inanimate matter at the atomic level. Biological life, based – apart from viruses -entirely on cells, is an organisation of that matter into self replicating structures. Over billions of years, these became plants, then animals, then humanoid bodies.

Sophistication through evolution produces higher levels of creature intelligence, but we do not lose the supposedly lower aspects of our physical being. As the brain and mind mature, the choice of internal government is ours, just as it is within society.

Something is trying to express itself through increasingly higher levels of organisation. Concordant with that should be an external level of civilisation that mirrors the sophistication of the inner, creative urge.

But we experience, at both the individual and societal levels of our lives, continuous challenges to our ideas of society. These cyclic challenges are not based upon forces separate to those in the individual human psyche. What we see in darker ages, such as the one we are living through, is a collective externalisation of the shadow within each individual being.

Examined in this way the legacies of deceit, populism and authoritarianism are simply an externalisation of the darker side of our psyche. Within darkness like attracts like, for its nature is weak and it seeks collective strength against what it knows to be superior yet repressing higher intelligence.

“I’ll show them!”

This is the true arena of events within which we as a species have always struggled. It may be necessary that each ‘third generation’ fights once again for the values of good, truth and vision. Values, like any organic fruit, decay over time when the source of their vitality ceases to pulse.

The Jungian model of the psyche, which includes the shadow, is of great value in understanding what happens within an individual life and within the life of that person’s country.

It would seem that humans as a species are forced to live within a continuous paradox. Individually, we seek to better our circumstances and provide for our families. Collectively, our animal-derived focus on success and individual supremacy produces a society with an increasing lower tier who struggle to survive in a medium where the nutrients are syphoned off to furnish luxury at the top.

‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Can Jungian thought suggest answers to a life of paradox? In looking at this we come face-to-face with our own past. The age of science has worked wonders for the physical side of our lives, but has emasculated folklore and tribal practices that were exactly designed to balance the individual and collective forces of chaos generated by a suppressed and unheard shadow.

The answers lie in the functioning of consciousness. We have seen that what we call the subconscious or unconscious is simply that from which we have withdrawn attention. Few people, for example, study their dreams, and yet dreams are the other half of our lives. This does not mean that we should fret and go without sleep, simply that a parallel sleeping consciousness – a kind of night eye – exists within our being which can gain great insight into the truth of what is happening to us in our day world.

This night eye may be much closer to the creative forces of nature than we have ever envisaged.

We cannot hope to examine the shadow of a society without first understanding our own. To do this we must know it and then make peace with it. Once we have achieved that the power of its friendship is immense.

Does this mean that we have to release its chaotic wildness into our world? Thankfully not. The processes of the subconscious do not differentiate between our waking and unconscious existences. The way we regain the conscious and positive friendship of the shadow is to ‘dance’ with it. Dancing can be any creative act which allows it to exist in an un-persecuted state. Actual dance, theatre movement, poetry, visual art are all examples of a kind of ritual which opens the harmonic door to the other half of our being.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud parted company because their understanding of the unconscious became fundamentally different. Freud considered the subconscious to be largely concerned with the energies of sex. Jung saw the subconscious as the gateway to the spirit… and the history of non-dogmatic spirituality would agree with him.

The temples of the ancient world were focussed on loosening the intellect and giving the ‘other half’ of us life; and opening the gate to spirit in the process…

Next week, we will look at the nature of the paradox in which mankind lives, and ask if we must be eternally trapped between its twin polarities, or whether their inescapable presence is the gateway to something else…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, this is Part Three

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Entered Dragon (2) : dancing with shadows

This time the dream is different. I know the dragon is there, but can’t see it. But I can see the heavy spear on the ground in front of me…

I bend to pick it up. Something moves behind me, something heated and red, but no matter how fast I turn or twist, I can’t get a glimpse of it.

Until I touch the tip of the spear… then, I feel the presence behind me still itself.

In triumph, I will my body to turn… but it won’t. My hand is held rigid to the very tip of the spear and my body flexes out in immobility behind it.

“Mmmm?” says the dragon, behind me, revealing itself by sound, alone. But now there is a feeling of consideration, of weighing up the options, though they are few. The immediate threat is gone, but so is the ability to change anything.

My fingers explore the tip of the spear, the only movement left…

——-

He was about a foot taller than me. Rugged and athletic, but dim. He hated that I wasn’t…

It would have taken three of us to subdue him, but that wasn’t an option; not at age twelve. He was captain of the school football team and he and his mates made our lives miserable. In the large playground of the secondary school he loved to slam into you from the side while you weren’t looking, causing muscle damage and a big bruise and resulting in having to limp to the bus stop to get home that evening.

And he loved to spit in your face… I remember that, vividly. Somehow that was worse than the pain.

He was a thug, and, I suspect – unless he got into the armed forces – remained that way. After I got transferred to a grammar school in the next town I never saw him again. On my final day in the old school, the form teacher organised a football match for all the tough guys and let the rest of us go early. I suspect they had been tipped off about plans to beat me up on that last journey home.

Unsurprisingly, I was conscious of what civilisation was from an early age. It was a place where the majority stopped the thugs, where there was respect for the individual being different, as long as they contributed to the society. It was a place of caring and consideration. In short, it was a place where something invisible called ‘values’ mattered. They didn’t earn you money, though money could buy you a place to live where the risk of living near to a large thug was minimised.

When I got a bit older, my uncle, who had emigrated to California, spoke about the American’s right to bear arms. He said it helped the good guys defend themselves and the neighbourhood. I asked what happened when the bad guys had guns, too.? Was the answer that the rich folks had better guns?

If we’re lucky enough, rich or poor, to be brought up in a loving home, then we have a series of expectations placed on us at an early age. “Nice children don’t to that, Stephen!”. The love of our elders binds us to adhering to this code. Eventually the code of expectation locks itself into our lives and becomes how we live… mostly.

The problem is all those wild things we came into the world inclined to do are still there… down in the supposed vault where we keep this ‘other side of us’ locked away. A metaphor of light and dark is used both in spirituality and in early psychology – the time before WW1 when Carl Jung introduced his ideas on the ‘self’ to the world. Dark forces were certainly at work, then…

Carl Jung’s ‘Analytical Psychology’, to give it its full name, was the first modern science of motivation and behaviour to recognise the significance and breadth of this dark force in our lives – and in our societies. The name he gave it was the Shadow Self... usually known as just the Shadow.

Our reasonable assumption might be that, given we had locked the bad bits of us into our internal vault, never to be seen again, we might expect they would function as prisoners. And this they do – ragged, desperate and deadly. But, instead of being hidden ‘down there’ they have found a way to be ever present in our lives, hidden in plain sight, so to speak.

To their immense joy, there is no prison at all, just the light and dark. The light is the light of understanding created by consciousness. The dark is the withdrawal of that consciousness in a deliberate act; like the horrible childhood practice of ‘sending someone to Coventry’ – cutting them off from conversation and acting as though they weren’t there. It’s not just children of course. Its a standard management technique when a senior bully wants to get rid of or undermine a subordinate…

‘Subordinate’ – there’s a name from the dark side if every there was one…

But back to our prisoners who aren’t really in prison, just ignored. By repeatedly learning to take away consciousness and interaction from them, they become ‘dark’. We learn to make them disappear.. except they are still there. Moreover, they are the key to a vast reservoir of our energy, and our ‘aliveness’ and so our world becomes paler and thinner, until, usually in middle age, we begin to question the validity of how we have lived our well-behaved lives.

But what of the dark ones?

If these dark creature were weak, it wouldn’t be a problem. But they’re all a foot taller than we are and like spitting in our faces… And they’re not at all passive.

The prisoners know that if they were to appear as we knew them when they were sentenced, they would be locked and bolted down even harder. So, they use a technique where they project themselves onto our world instead of onto our faces. They are so powerful that they can take over another person in our lives and wear them like a mask…

This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We create our world in the first place. Those flavours of courage and fear, like and dislike, anger and pleasure, all go to colour a world perceived as ours. The fact that something untended in our depths has the capacity to change key parts of that ‘willed’ world is entirely logical.

This is all very scary… And so it should be, though we are working towards a deeply positive ending to the journey of the next few weeks.

The above process of conscious and subconscious works within each individual, but more powerfully within our carefully controlled and regulated societies. To counter this requires the fine tip of a heavy spear… And a different way of viewing the self-created dark ones.

In the next post, we will examine the nature of these matured dark creatures and the essential relationship they have with our emotional, mental and spiritual health…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, This is Part Two

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Entered Dragon (1)

Like waking within a dream – or, at least, the point where the lucidity begins…

I turn my head in the small theatre, expecting others to be smiling, if not laughing. But no-one is, because no one else is here…

Just me and it…where ‘it’ is not the theatre.

The curtains part and what I knew to be behind them takes centre stage. Leathery pads, soft on the well-trod wood, make a sliding sound as it turns to face me. The eyes are glittering, but not as much as its breath, gathered to strike in elongated curls of superheated air.

The redness is appalling. So filled with force, so intimate…such a deadly embrace.

At its feet is a long, metal object – a spear, shaped in a very modern way, with a thick shaft at the back, full of mass and purpose, tapering to a tip so fine you can actually see the point at which its material ends and the menacing presence of ‘nothing’ begins.

The crimson creature shuffles forward, its walk a deliberate caricature of panto.

The glittering breath hisses, “Your move, surface child…”

To the hoots of its laughter, I force myself to a waking dominated by an even, thin film of sweat on all of my skin.

——

Increasingly, I read that we ‘live in an age of evil’. The state of the world’s politics is close to turmoil. Dictators dominate nuclear states and elections are warped from near and far by digital manipulation. The elusive ‘man in the street who can’t be fooled all the time’ is, sadly, absent. The drums and revenues of war are more important than the deaths of the millions of children crushed in its wake.

Perhaps they have a point; those who proclaim evil is with us as never before – evil armed with the power to finally destroy the world?

It’s a striking feature of the technological age that we don’t talk about nor believe in evil as a real thing – a real force, in itself. And yet, for most of the world’s history, that’s exactly how it was viewed. Today, we may adopt the maxim that evil is simply ‘the absence of good’. Hitherto, I might have agreed with this, but the ‘New Age’ dismissive approach to evil has, in my opinion, been shattered by the acceleration of dark deeds as we race towards the victories of ignorance on a grand scale.

But deep considerations of such things have a home, and the word for that home is ‘psychology’. As a lifelong mystic, I may feel that psychology fights shy of embracing spirituality. It seems frightened of losing its respected ‘ology’ and remains detached and clinical, treating our deepest contacts with a creative source as just another interior experience. And if you use the language and precepts of psychology, itself, you would find this hard to rebuff.

It is only when we dare to take up and trust the poetry of being that the walls begin to shake…

There is, though, a branch of psychology that dares to deal with evil; that declares that our turning away from an active ‘dark force’ within us costs us dearly – as individuals and societies. The science of such encounters was created by Carl Gustav Jung – Jungian Psychology. Most people have heard of it. Many know of the wrok of

Jung was a contemporary of Freud, the most famous of the 20th century founders of modern psychology. Freud gave us the Ego and Superego as the first structures of the ‘psyche’ – the internalised sense of self, the ‘me‘. Beneath them, he placed the dangerous powerhouse of ‘inner self’ and named it the ‘Id’ – literally the ‘IT’. From Jung’s perspective, Freud was obsessed with showing that the sexual force was the driver for the Id. Carl Jung accepted the existence of the Id, but set out to show that its power and expression was far more sophisticated than just sex. Even then, Jung had glimpsed the place where historic evil entered the life of mankind, if the whole of the psyche – ‘the whole of me’ was not understood and given life… The imposed societal pressures of the Superego were at odds and often at war with the needs of the complete human.

Our everyday experience as a ‘me’ is dominated by an ‘in-here’ and an ‘out-there’. During the day, we are bombarded by sense impressions, and, in secondary fashion, by the responses to those. Such responses can be physical (such as pain or pleasure), or psychological; affecting the wellbeing of our sense of self. Thus a ‘bad’ experience, like being degraded by our boss, can make us feel internally diminished or smaller, regardless of whether or not it has actually ‘hurt’ the senses.

Until the last century, no-one thought it possible to create a map of why this happened, It just did. Strong people figured out their own rules, and thrived. More sensitive people didn’t fare so well.

But the pre-psychology age inherited millennia of reflection about good and evil. Those who embodied good were considered to ‘shine’ – attracting and encouraging others to an inner yardstick of wellbeing shared. Those from whom evil flowed would pursue their selfish aims, regardless of the cost to others, who were crushed beneath the wheels of the advancing personal ambition.

As ‘society’ became more mechanised, expanding and changing the individual’s emotional and physical landscape, the principles and methods of industrial organisation were encouraged to overtake any notion of societal good – unless it happened to be a happy by-product. There were always exceptions; the local civic authorities of the nineteenth century did much to improve the lot of the ‘common man’. Such works were often the result of ‘societies of good’ like the Quakers and the Cooperative Society in Britain. There were many more.

There is a common thread here. Today, we would say that those who pursued their own ambitions, mindless of the costs to others, had huge ‘egos’. At the time there was no such thing as an ‘ego’. Our sense of the ‘selfish-selfless‘ balance at work was simply an expression of the evil or the good. Poor people of any age of mankind have been habitually pummelled so that they were incapable of questioning why the ruthless rich had so much more than they did…

Nothing changes until that difference in wealth becomes a living force of widespread dissent, itself, and people actually begin to ‘taste’ it. At that point the consciousness of unfairness spreads to include those who also used to be comfortable but whose own hard-working prosperity has now faded. As a man on a plane – an American – said to me not long ago, “Don’t let them tell you that the USA is prosperous. The guys in the middle who used to have a good living are desperate…”

The answers to such deep issues are often revolutionary… If we could actually see that the psychological forces at work are reflected in the whole of society, we might be able to recognise why egoic monsters can take our beloved countries swiftly into decline and why the country’s core can be polluted in a way that takes decades to redress… If they are fortunate.

In Part Two, we will look at how the work of Carl Jung and many in the mystical traditions pointed to this process of devolution, and how it throws light on the ‘awe-full’ power of the hidden parts of the ‘me’, singly and collectively.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Tango in the key of sorry

As the years pass, I continue to wonder at the marvel of human communication, and the sadness of how little we use its potential…

The world appears to be full of conflict and strife. But much of it is happening at the psychological level. The Trump era in America and the Brexit ‘civil war’ in the UK were both fuelled by similar (if not the same) media barons, but they continue to feed on two common elements of human nature – hatred and anxiety; in most cases related to things that were not present.

The power of fear plus the well-placed myth of taking back control are a potent brew… and a complete lie.

This lowest state, in which our desire for real interaction with those of other opinions drops to zero, is easily kindled in people who have limited awareness of the complexity and interaction of modern societies. The populist dictator always sows ‘his’ seeds among the weak-thinking, the people who believe in black and white solutions. But that state of mind is driven only by despair at their own situation.

A wise and enduring society ensures that, though there may be layers of prosperity, no-one is in that lowest position of helplessness.

For good or ill, our societies have evolved into enormous machines of interrelated complexity. All attempts to disengage with internationalism are doomed to the same sad death – costing the inhabitants of the country decades of repair in wealth and reputation. In many cases our societies may never enjoy the prestige they had, before.

But to blame the car which has just driven into a line of innocent people, where the bodies lie, broken across the pavements, is equally wrong. Complex machines require sophisticated pilots. There is no equivocation about a pilot’s science: the plane lands, successfully, or it crashes. There are no ‘alternative facts’ about whether it landed; just like there are no alternative facts about how a virus rips through an innocent and unguided population.

Populism dies in the face of such disasters… and for those who still persist with alternative facts there is, simply, no hope. They are to be shunned by the ‘healthy cells’ of the society to which they represent such a threat. The society – the ‘body’ – remembers health, and yearns to return to it. Only the routes back are seen differently.

In this deadly tango, which now embraces us all, are the seeds of despair and hope. The despair will take us all down – like the car without a driver, or a driver who chooses the fundamentalism of alternative facts over the power of the real and chooses to die in an orgy of ego.

Hope requires that, as individuals, we all take responsibility for listening to others’ point of view – no matter how antithetical they seem to our own minds. All counselling is based, first, upon listening.

There may be a ‘special place in Hell’ for those who engineered the chaos in which we find ourselves. But the greater power lies in the word ‘sorry’ – said from the heart opened with empathy.

It is the beginning of that special state that repairs a world.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a ‘school of the soul’ that offers a three-year, mentored path to personal, spiritual growth, independent of religion.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details.

Never West…

I’ve always loved maps…

I can remember, when a child, being bought a fold-out schematic of a town with streets, main roads, a river, a hill and a railway line. It was just a layout – a map – but I had lots of my own cars, a model train and some small figures of the right scale to populate the town with activity.

“Where are you?” my mother asked, shortly after I became joyfully lost in the richly-featured landscape on the carpet. I looked up, puzzled by the question. I picked up a plastic farmer and offered it to her.

“Are you there or here?” she asked. My mother was always good at making you think…

I can’t remember what my reply was – probably just to keep holding out the plastic farmer.

I grew up with a love of walking and cycling… and maps. I would spend my own pocket money to get a walkers’ map of my favourite places so I could pore over them, imagining, with increasing accuracy, what the landscape would look like. It never occurred to me to ask why north was at the top of the map. I knew from my spinning globe of the planet that the north-pole was at the top of the world, so, of course, all maps would be oriented with north as the top.

But it’s not always been so…

Understanding where we are in the world is fundamental to our survival.. and our sanity. It has psychological implications, too – most of them subconsciously acted on. Our brains are specially ‘wired’ to provide us with a continuously changing ‘map’ of where we are – usually relative to safety or ‘the known’.

Have you ever awoken from a disturbing dream and not known where you were for a second or two? It’s can be frightening; and gives us an insight into why our children cry when faced with the same or similar experiences. A dream has taken them out of the ‘familiar’ and they fear what is new, especially, as in the dream state, when rational thinking is unavailable.

The need for that ‘place of safety’ is hard-wired into our brain’s cognitive mechanisms. In so-called primitive mankind, the place of safety was a physical thing: a cave, or a dwelling in a sturdy tree, perhaps. It’s taken us thousands of years to become happy with the idea that we are somewhere safe (for example, staying in a hotel), rather than the actual location of the home.

Perhaps, seeing this, we become more sympathetic to those who lose their homes through economic or political upheaval. There are likely to be many more homeless people as the present Corvid-19 crisis works its way through our societies.

We are almost unique in trying to share the directions to home with others. The only other species with this is the honey bee. Insect species, like ants, leave chemical trails, but they don’t try to communicate through a language of place. Just us and the bees…

Humans have a long history of creating maps. The oldest examples discovered on cave walls are 14,000 years old. During that time, maps have been drawn, etched or scratched on stone, paper and, now, screened on computer devices – particularly portable ones, like phones and tablets.

(Above: This famous 1973 shot of the Earth, done by an astronaut who was upside down, was actually taken with south at the top. NASA decided to flip it to a normal north-up orientation before its release. Image NASA)

If we were to examine the Earth from space, we would immediately see how difficult it is to identity north. Unless you are long way from the Earth, there are no visual clues, apart from the point of a theoretically huge pencil around which the Earth rotates – the physical (geographic) ‘North Pole’. But this is not the same as the ‘north’ reading on that little pocket device the boy holding the plastic farmer would have got. The two would have been close, but not identical, as the vast and surging currents in the Earth’s iron core creates fluctuations in the magnetic field that swings the little needle on a magnetic compass.

The compass has been an essential part of the story of maps. It’s interesting that its inventors, the Han Dynasty in China (2nd century BCE to 1st century CE), used compasses that pointed to what we now view as south. South was the direction taken by the naturally occurring lodestone used in these early instruments. In ancient China, the ‘top’ of the map was therefore south.

Christian maps from the time of the Crusades were known as Mappa Mundi. East was at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre – the geographic focus of their ‘holy wars’.

(Above: the Hereford Mappa Mundi, with Jerusalem and the east, at the top of the map, Source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

In ancient Egypt, the ‘top’ of the world was east – the position of the sunrise. The Islamic empire placed south at the top, like China. Most of the Islamic population lived north of Mecca, so it was natural to ‘look up’ to the south.

The west was left out of this history. The place to which humanity ‘looked up’ – the top of the map – was never west. So-called Pagan culture was and is closely aligned with all four cardinal directions, and the west is traditionally the point where the day ends, and mindful humans reflect and later sleep to renew. It also marks the end of the force of life (Solar), for that day, and by inference, eventually, the end of life.

It seems no-one wanted to ‘look up’ to the place where the Sun set.

Governments and their military forces have always been interested in maps. Battles are not always won with good maps, but they are certainly lost with bad ones. Google now dominates the world of computer maps, though there are alternatives. Google acquired a private company named Keyhole, who had US military backing to refine and develop the technology that became Google Maps. It’s a powerful product, and most of us have used it in one form or another. Google’s model with all its ‘Apps’ is to give them away and make revenue by selling your location and preferences to its advertisers. The financial cost is low, but it takes us into potentially murky waters. The average person knows little about what really happens with such data, nor who has access to it. Google recently fought a protracted revolt by its own employees, who considered its mapping developments were in danger of breaching the company’s famous ‘Do No Harm’ ethic…

Apple is the other big Tech player in this field. Apple’s business model is to charge more for premium devices but then guarantee to protect the user’s data. Apple did not back down on this – even when heavily pressured by the US government who wanted a ‘back-door’ into its primary security features for ‘anti-terrorism’ purposes. Many of my friends switched to Apple at that point and now view it as the only ‘safe haven’ for their information.

I use products from both sides of this divide. I like Google’s email and and spreadsheet products. But I use them only on Apple technology, then, at least, I have the tested integrity of its privacy promises. Google’s entire model is web-based, so their applications are not hosted in the device; only the browser is.

But the world is changing fast, as illustrated by Google and Apple now working together in the Covid-19 arena to provide a user-secure, distributed framework for ‘contact tracing’. Interestingly, the French government, one of the first to take this up, immediately demanded that the private user data be made available to their authorities. Both companies refused and the demand was eventually withdrawn. Even non-authoritarian societies struggle with these complex issues of privacy vs policing.

Science, like maps, doesn’t give us hard and fast answers. It provides a better-than-last-time fit of what might be happening, knowing that this iteration, too, isn’t perfect. For politicians to quote that they are being ‘led by the science’, as though that were a binary truth or falsehood, is a lie to an unknowing public.

Maps have become far more potent and powerful things. A map is a world. A map allows us to see a whole. A map invites us in… In many ways, it takes three ‘faces’ to make it work. The first is the nature of what is being mapped; the second is the style of representation, for example, figurative or actual.

We need to become the third face in the success of the map. We should enter into all these things, mindfully, knowing that commerce exploits without morals, that insular politics always leads to Fascism, and that the silent and caring voice of the majority cannot stay silent while our civilisation morally burns.

My mother, who now has dementia, wouldn’t understand the answer, but if she asked the boy-become-man studying the larger map of today’s political world the same question about where he was on that map, I might respond that he had to quickly outgrow the plastic farmer – the replica human – and become the fully empowered and fully responsible human by putting the small figure to one side, standing up and looking down at the whole map. If we don’t, then our star may set in the unsung west and humanity become a footnote in Great Nature’s experiments with Life.

That western horizon of our map is just around the corner… If we love the light, then we had better start running towards the ‘east’, and now.

(Opening picture: author-created overlay of two images from Pixabay. Originators: Skease and Philim1310)

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Old One and the Gatekeeper

Part One

The Old One crested the rise in the road and turned to look back at the land he had loved. If all went to plan, it would be the last time he saw his home.

The breeze that should have been summer-warm was cold and frigid, yet carried the warm stink of corruption. He could no longer breathe its air. He had to leave; had to find a new home for the few years that remained. The low nature of man had triumphed. Now, only nature, herself, could return the rotted civilisation to the country’s soil and make it fit for fresh seeds.

Ahead of him the final barrier to his exile loomed in the near darkness. The old tower that guarded entry and exit along the western road spanned the track, its heavy wooden gate lowered to forbid the unbidden. High up in a recess in the black stone, a single light burned. Had he been seen? The skin on the back of his head began its familiar sensation of ripples in the sand, as though an incoming tide was patterning his mind, as in the paintings he had seen of beaches…

There was no escaping the onset; in the other world, he was being eaten by the way, the path, the track… In the other world; the one that flowed over and alongside this seemingly fixed and rigid one. The one that was more real than this land of rocks could ever be.

Ahead of me a lamp in one of the high windows burns. The thought would not leave, the rippling scalp remained. Its signature was on this moment. There would be no escape from the payment demanded.

Before he could cross the short distance to the gatekeeper’s door, the heavy portal opened and a kindly face – at least as old as his – peered out, straining to see in the half-light.

“Is it you?” the voice croaked at his approach.

The Old One was startled… and began to laugh at the sentiment. Is it me, indeed?, he mused, tripping over an unseen stone by the roadside and landing in the dust at the other’s feet.

“It would appear to be me… arrived in all my diminishing glory.”

The Gatekeeper smiled down at him, extending his hand to a man he did not know, but had wanted to all his life. The Old One took it, grateful, and they came face to face.

“I saw you once, passing through the royal courts. You’re the Royal Archivist, yes?”

“I was…” The Old One replied, returning the gentle fire in the other’s eyes. Glad to be with a man he hoped would not only understand but become a friend. “Now I am nothing… and hope to stay that way…”

The Gatekeeper nodded. “Many now leave the realm by this west gate. Have no fear. My respect for you is as great as my thirst for your knowledge of the Way.” He looked down, embarrassed at what he was about to say. But the old eyes blazed with fire and resolution.

“I will give you food and shelter and in return I ask that you teach me a little of that understanding.”

“You cannot teach understanding,” the Old One said. “But I will pass to you some knowledge and we will see if you can begin the Way… for those whose first steps are firm may find the Way teaches them.”

The Gatekeeper nodded and they climbed the wooden stairs together – slowly, for the four legs had seen younger days…

——-

The warm fire smouldered in the grate. The wooden bowls contained only crumbs – and few at that. Before them, the two wooden goblets of huangjiu, the local yellow wine, lay untouched; to be savoured during the discourse to come. The Gatekeeper’s eyes were fixed on the Old One, but he said nothing to his guest, who appeared to be sleeping in his chair.

“I am not asleep,” the Old One remarked, eventually. “I am listening to the Way, and how it will approach the task of leaving you something meaningful.”

The Gatekeeper bowed and remained silent.

“Do you remember how I fell over the rock in the road?” The Old One smiled at the memory.

The Gatekeeper shook with mirth. “Solid things, rocks…”

The Old One’s head nodded. “More sense to go around it, had I seen it at all!”

The Gatekeeper was seized with a sudden depth of understanding. “And you speak, not just of that rock, perhaps Lǎoshī!”

The teacher smiled at the use of the formal name. “Good. The Way is a flow, it does not resist, for to resist is to increase the ‘me and it’ : the opposition of the situation. Action belongs to The Way, and so, in any situation, it will seek the flow by which the resistance is made small…When we are aligned with The Way, then we become it, in action – which is its own fulfilment.”

The Gatekeeper bowed his head, again, understanding. He was silent for a while, while the Old One watched. Then he asked, “How do I come to know The Way, Lǎoshī?”

“You must talk with it, Gatekeeper.” said the Old One. “You must read its thoughts and let them guide the changes in your life.”

“And how will I read those thoughts, Lǎoshī?”

“You will consult a book of its wisdom, and in that way become a Man of Calling.”

“And where will I find this book, Lǎoshī?”

“When you wake in the morning, you will find it waiting for you… Now drink your yellow wine and sleep.”

“And what will you be doing, while I sleep, Lǎoshī?”

“I will be writing the book!” said the Old One, furrowing his brows in mock anger.


When he awoke in the morning, the Gatekeeper found what became known as the Dao Book of the Way (Dao De Jing) on his table. There was no sign of his guest, whose last action was inaction – leaving no trace. No-one ever met Lao Tzu, (literally, the ‘Old One’), again, though many, including Confucius, had known and respected him.

In the next few posts, we will explore Lao Tzu’s astonishing legacy, beginning with some of the fundamental principles that informed his view of life, the universe and the meaning of ‘meaning”.

We will also look at the second such ‘book’ of ancient Chinese wisdom, the more familiar ‘I Ching’ – Book of Changes, and consider the process and power of divination using such treasure-chests of wisdom.

We’re all going to need access to wisdom in the coming years of turmoil – much as Lao Tzu did in the face of a collapsing society whose values had become meaningless.

30 April 2020

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Wisdom Breathes Out?

(Above: the sculpture to commemorate the executed members of the Resistance in Arras, Northern France)

We seem to be wrestling with the recognition that an age is coming to an end, and that strange forms are filling the world with casual madness, behaving as though nothing hangs over, us; no piper calling for the line to the clifftop.

The word ‘wisdom’ is to be used cautiously. It is subjective. One person’s wisdom is another’s folly. And yet, looking back on a series of events, we can clearly see where something was ‘wise’. Perhaps we don’t see as clearly where something was unwise? Maybe we don’t feel good if our opinions were part of something that led downhill… we’ve all been there.

Wisdom implies a developed sense of consequence. The ‘wise’ woman or man has enough information to have formed a mental and emotional model of what happens in a given set of circumstances. They can play, with some success, the game of consequence, running events forward in their heads (and often hearts) to see what the pattern of results would be.

Emotions can run away with us. We can wilfully turn away from that small voice of learned consequence to embrace the rush of something wonderful, knowing that it has the potential for chaos, but makes us feel good at the time – especially when our lives are hard and we can see the opulence of others. To lash out is satisfying if you live in a state of constant struggle. These states can be, and are, exploited by those who can spend vast sums getting into our minds…

Information can be facts or opinion. The entire history of science has been a struggle to establish facts – repeatable, dependable… and sometimes ‘boring’ – but only because the truth is becoming complex; and black and white may be fun to as revenge, but deadly when exploited by those who know their own wealth was built on the most subtle of decisions. But facts are the basis of truth, though the finer levels of truth involve a state of mind in which there is another kind of knowledge – or perhaps ‘presence’ would be a better term.

One fact is that we live in a complex world. A world so evolved in its social and political systems that solutions to societal or economic problems are, themselves, necessarily difficult. Ascending populist politicians are keen to present themselves as ‘disruptors’. Their ‘unique’ insight into tangled and emotive situations is popular with supporters when they pronounce that something should be smashed to make way for that which is self-evidently more vital.

Like the best lies, there is some truth in that. Throughout mankind’s comparatively short history, the idea of necessary destruction has haunted us. The ancient Hindu civilisation even codified this phase of a society’s changes by allocating it a god – Shiva, partnered by Vishnu, the preserver on the opposite side of the sentiment. The two were not at war, but rather Janus-like faces of the essential processes of ‘development’.

All these things are at the heart of how mankind thinks and feels about itself at present. No-one would deny that we are living through a period of ever faster change. The sense that no-one is really driving the bus is everywhere, just as it would be in a stock market at times of market ‘peaks’ when traders know that things have gone too far, and instability is about to wreak its consequence, but the first to lose their nerve will lose face and money if their caution is premature.

We have little idea how much of our society, our world, is build on confidence. Tumbling confidence snowballs like an avalanche. The landscape looks very different when the work of the falling ice and snow is finished…

An important part of any society is the idea that there are ‘elders’ of that civilisation. Elders, in this context, can be political or specialist. Either way, they will have gained this status through being wise in what they do. We could characterise the present stage of western politics by saying that we suffer from a lack of elders – at least elders in power.

Elders in a specialist sense are those who are genuinely experts; the kind of people you would expect a parliamentary enquiry to summon to assist. Their knowledge would be wide and their wisdom greater. Their approach would be characterised by an absence of self-interest, a sense of them having glimpsed another world, one in which the act of selflessness was inherent for the greater good.

There are pressures in modern society that have resulted in us facing new challenges, some of which are severe and from which we may not recover. In the opening paragraphs, we looked at how wisdom is based upon the mixture of knowledge and experience – leading to a developed sense of consequence. The societal structures that support these in a healthy society collapse if the fundamental respect for truth is eroded. For the first time, we face a barrage of populist opinion eager to rubbish facts as ‘fake news’. The consequences of this are dire, and may take whole generations to correct.

The way we communicate has also changed. The online world has given our children limitless access to the apparent glitter of ‘celebrity’, a world where you can be famous for simply being famous. This vacuous layer of society distracts from the real and important issues into which each new generation needs to be carefully inducted – if they are to contribute to the age to come with their fresh viewpoints and, eventually, mature wisdom. The world of celebrity, like that of media, is owned by billionaires who have their own agenda for how society should develop.

I’ve written, elsewhere, about the corrosive effect of social media when it encourages people to seek out the virtual company of those of like opinion. The ‘echo-chamber’ is well documented, and is the very opposite of that which fosters wisdom; in which the open exchange of views and experience is central to societal maturity.

We face many challenges, but the human species has proved resilient in the past. Let us hope that there is still enough wisdom extant in the planet to engender a spirit of unity to face what lies ahead.

As individuals and families, we need to look to our own values and invest, selflessly, in that which is true and that which endures in that truth.

Either way, our future is going to look very different.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.