‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.
When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words, that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.
It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.
It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.
We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.
It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?
Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.
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.
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’.
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 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.
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!
Would not we shatter it to bits – and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
– Omar Khayyam
“I wish….” How many times have I heard that phrase? How many times have I said it, with irony or with longing… or both… wishing that the world was somehow different? Wishing it would shape itself more conveniently… just for me? From that big win on the lottery we do not play to the weather over which we have no control, wishing things would change seems to be part of the human outlook.
There are many who make that wish and revisit it wistfully from time to time, still hoping vaguely that things might change, but doing little or nothing to make it come to pass except relying on life to arrange itself for them. This passive wishful thinking is not the same as trusting that life will bring us what we need, it is a hankering born of dissatisfaction… an uneasy state of mind and heart in which to live.
There are others who will take this desire for change and move heaven and earth to make it happen, spending all their focus on that goal. In one respect at least, success or failure matters little, either way they…we… are missing something.
Change is happening all around us, all the time. We do not have to go out looking for it…it is occurring with utter disregard for our desires or our wishes, right here, right now. From the life cycle of the cells which make up our own bodies, to the ticking of the clock as it slides present into past with regulated inevitability, everything is changing. And we change with it.
Whether change appears to us as good, bad or indifferent…whether we accept it with grace or rail against it, making resistance drag us along unwilling, we cannot escape. Most of the time, we do not even notice it is happening, because we are so accustomed to our entire lives being built upon it and we live within an ever-changing world. It is only when we notice change occurring that we develop an opinion and choose how we will face it.
If we start to take note of that continuous state of change in which we live, we begin to notice the details. Dissatisfaction with the state of what is becomes a little pointless when now is already in the past before we can even name it. And those details begin to take on new depth and meaning when we are aware of how transient they may be.
The last day of the holidays, the last mouthful of dessert, the last kiss… as soon as we know that something is finite, it takes on greater importance and touches our emotions at a deeper, more visceral level. We savour those moments, investing ourselves in them wholeheartedly and carrying away an emotional memory of joy, delight, pleasure or pain, that etches itself on consciousness. Good or bad, those moments are lived with a vividness that makes them stand out from the grey routine of our days.
When we learn to become aware of our surroundings as a continually changing chain of finite moments, each a mere scintilla, unique in the vastness of eternity, then each detail takes on that same depth and meaning, stirring something in heart and mind into acute and thrilling awareness. From the beauty of a sunrise, to the spots on a ladybird’s back… from a small act of kindness to an unprovoked smile, we begin to take note of the richness of life and experience.
He carried the box over to the old table and set it down. Despite its modest size, it was heavy. He reached for the Stanley knife and slit the old tape that held it together, then prized open the dusty lid, revealing the contents.
Immediately, he knew what it was: his old trophy box. He couldn’t believe it was still here? Surely he had thrown it away long ago. He had a half-memory of carrying it out to the recycling – five, maybe ten years ago… or had that just been a dream?
How many years had it languished, dusty and increasingly dirty, on one of the top shelves of the shed? The kind of shelf that you’d use for paint, or an expensive picture frame the wrong shape for any of the photos you had. He had been looking for a pair of snipe-nosed pliers; something you didn’t need every day, until the day you did. The top shelf in the shed was the last resort; the last chance to find a half-remembered tool.
Instead, he’d found the trophy box.
Wiping away the dust that had fallen into the box from the fragile lid, he let his fingers slide down the inside edge of the box, feeling into the layers like a geologist would dig down into layers of sedimentary rock. Four, five, six wooden frames came to life under his scrutiny. He knew what they were: wooden-backed achievement awards from the days of his corporate life. They were in reverse order. The one in front of him was gold.
“Someone else’s idea of gold,” he whispered, surprising himself with the depth of the observation…
The fingers dug deeper. The wooden frames gave way to paper. He smiled as the paper got older and crisper, remembering the earliest days of receiving praise and prize from people he respected, deeply – back then.
They were all part of the rich tapestry that is a life. Meaningless, now. Just layer upon layer of a dead past. Entirely valid back then, but without purpose now other than a set of steps that had got him here, in the old shed, looking in the wrong box…
The best of them had once hung on the walls of his office, in the way that people do when they want to impress visitors.
“Hollow,” he said, softly, watching the motes of dust spin and curl in the the air of his out-breath, in the golden light of the summer sunset.
His fingers had reached the bedrock of the base of the box. They curled, one last time, around the heavy upper rocks of the awards, ready to lift them all out and drop them into the waste-basket. Then stopped…
The card was smaller than the wooden frames; smaller than the letters of congratulation from the oldest of times.
“Zap!’ It read on the back. On the front was an image of a clown with a sad face, his lips curled down in the manner of circus performers. He never found out who sent it. Who had darkened his first day of real victory with a sour note. He looked at it again… The lips were curled down on the white and red face, though the eyes were warmer and kinder than he remembered. Perhaps the clown had grown old, too?
He let the layers of his life fall back into the dusty box, burying the mystery clown, forever.
“Enough!” He shouted, standing up and tucking the box under his arm. He opened the shed door and strode across the garden to the recycling bins at the back of house. As he turned the corner, a breeze blew dust in his eyes, and he had to put the box down to use a handkerchief to wipe them.
Straightening, he saw the smiling face of his wife coming out of the greenhouse with the first of their own tomatoes. She placed one in his mouth, laughing, and was about to turn when she pointed at the box by his feet. She reached down to pick up the lid that the breeze had blown from the top of the box.
“Who’s the laughing clown,” she asked.
Chewing the tiny tomato and shaking his head, he looked down to where she held the card of the clown. Above the striped red and white outfit were the bright eyes… but beneath the laughing eyes was a laughing mouth.
“Will you just hold that for a moment,” he said, wondering if all of this was a dream. The dream held while he took the box and dropped it in the refuse. It held while he walked back to his bewildered wife, and gently took the card from her confused fingers.
The clown was still smiling… He thanked and kissed his wife and dropped the card into his pocket. From now on, it would be all the trophy he needed.
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.
“One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste–” Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
It was one of those thoughts that flash through the mind in a millisecond. The kind that leaves behind a flood of understanding so complete that you instantly know the whole story… and just as instantly lose your hold on it at the thought passes, as insubstantial as a rainbow. You are left with no more than the conviction that you have realised and understood an important concept… and you couldn’t put it into words to save your life.
I had been leafing through a book I haven’t read in years and was thinking about it on the drive to work. Nothing special, just an old favourite that held a phrase I wanted to put in context. Skimming through the text, I was aware that in the years since I had read it first, I had learned a good deal more about the subject. That accumulated knowledge, now brought to bear upon the page, changed my own understanding of what I was reading. I suppose that’s what started me thinking.
I had understood the book perfectly well when I had first read it. It had sent my thoughts off into several directions and made a huge impact on me at the time. Yet, I now realised that I had only understood it to the limit of my knowledge. When you think about it, that is as far as we can ever go. It was only in revisiting the book later with greater knowledge that it could open the doors to further understanding. Obvious really, so obvious that you probably never think about it.
You can see it in action all the time. We are constantly doing things we have done before and with practice, we learn more and we get better at them. We know this and simply don’t question it. What we don’t seem to bear in mind is that the same thing applies to more abstract skills, like thinking and understanding. We get better at that too. The mind ties itself in fewer knots and even learns to unravel them. The more off-the-wall the thoughts, the more possibilities we can see opening up for us as we bring everything we have learned so far to what we are doing.
But… and this is where it went off at a bit of a tangent… if it applies to everything else, it has to apply to living too. How often do we feel overwhelmed or seem to face insurmountable problems? How often do we feel too small to count in the greater scheme? Or face a moment too hard to contemplate? And it was the whole ‘in the moment’ thing where it all seemed to click into place.
Experience is gleaned over a lifetime but an experience lasts from moment to moment. We deal with each one as it comes, with nothing in our armoury except what we have learned in our own lives to this point. But… whatever we have learned, everything we have lived, whatever we have understood… we bring into this moment. We have the weight of our entire existence behind us and every second we have lived and therefore learned, is at our fingertips. That is a formidable thing. How many moments, how many seconds, how much have you lived and learned so far?
Living in the moment does not mean leaving past or future to fend for themselves… it means, for me at least, bringing ourselves complete and whole into every instant… and that includes all we have known until now and all we might hope for in the future.
With every second that passes we see more, hear more, learn and understand more… on levels we may not even know exist yet within the limit of our knowledge. There are realms in the mind science has barely touched. There are the abstract aspects of human nature that are hard to pin down… things like courage, love and compassion. There are our immeasurable dreams and hopes. There is our essential connectedness and belonging within the universe… and that which we may call the soul or the spark of divinity within. And if we have the boundless weight of all that behind us, then we bring eternity itself into every moment…
It is undoubtedly an incredible piece of craftsmanship. It is unbelievably impressive, designed specifically to be awe-inspiring, streaming light and colour into the great cavern of Bath Abbey. It is also just too big to be able to make any sense of the images it contains. Had I not seen other Tree of Jesse windows before, recognising the recumbent figure of the dreamer, I would have had no clue what it was I was looking at. It is only later, with the help of the camera, that I am able to see the individual scenes depicted in the great, towering window of the south transept of the Abbey… and the east window is even harder to decipher.
You have to wonder why.
Politics, probably… the intent of the builders hovering somewhere between raising an edifice of the utmost beauty to the glory of their God and the desire to impress upon all who entered its portals the power and supremacy of the Church itself. In so doing they seem to have forgotten that the primary function of both the images and the Church itself was supposed to be to teach the words of a humble Man to other humble men.
Given that the stained glass and the earlier wall paintings of these magnificent and beautiful churches were designed originally to convey the stories of the Bible, the saints and the virtues of the faith to the faithful, it seems rather pointless to make them so grand they cease to fulfil their function. Their very magnificence renders them indecipherable to the naked eye… in effect, their stories become so remote and impersonal as to be invisible.
It is only when you can actually get close enough to see the painted faces that any connection is made with the subjects they portray and it is through the emotional connection that religious teaching has always been promulgated, either with the gentle message of Love or through the fear of hellfire and brimstone. It has to be personal. Without that contact with the emotions, such teachings remain too distant to take root in the heart, where faith must grow if it is to be a true and personal relationship with the divine by whatever Name we come to know it.
The same concept applies to all our life-lessons. Unless they touch our emotions in some way, we take little note of the events, great and small, that make up our lives, events that may be there and gone in an instant. There are 31556952 seconds in a single year… each one already in the past before you know it is there… each one capable of being a pivotal point of understanding, of change, of realisation. Multiply that by our traditional ‘three-score years and ten’ and the number is just too great to comprehend… too distant to seem as if it has any relevance in our lives… too big to know how to even read the number correctly… Yet we will grumble at wasting two minutes of those lives… a mere 120 seconds… in a queue. Those seconds are relevant because they are small enough for us to come to terms with… small enough to understand their waste on something annoyingly unimportant, yet big enough for us to see what else they could have been spent upon. Annoyance and frustration make them real to us.
There are 3600 seconds in an hour… and an hour spent with someone you love, doing something you love… even dreaming about somewhere you love… is an hour well-spent. It makes you smile, relax, feel good about life. We can understand the passing of an hour. It is small enough to be personal and yet it can hold enough to make life feel as if it is pure gold and we the richest of creatures.
There are 2.208e+9 seconds in seventy years. Except for the mathematicians amongst us, such a number holds neither warmth nor possibility… it is too far from our everyday comprehension to hold any relevance. It is too big… too impersonal.
Our way of life is becoming more and more remote. The personal touch is being lost to scripted phone calls, self-service checkouts, automated business… even our social lives are now lived largely online. Youngsters will even text each other when they are in the same house. The distance between human hearts and the lack of contact in a society that shuns the intrusion of personal space can isolate us insidiously. Automation is saving money for businesses and organisations to the point where fewer people need to be employed and I wonder how far society is moving towards losing the ability to connect with each other and solve problems through building a personal relationship that starts with a simple smile.
This is especially worrisome now, when both fear and imposed restrictions limit our movements and mask our faces, isolating the hard of hearing by making lip-reading impossible and making it far more difficult to make that contact between eye and smile that warms the heart and creates an atmosphere of possibility.
It doesn’t really matter if it is a beautiful edifice divorced from the heart of its purpose by its own grandeur, or the two pairs of eyes, gateways to the soul, that slide away from each other for fear of an illusory intrusion… without that personal touch, we cannot reach each other and we are prisoned in glass stained by our own tears.
I have spent a lot of time lately working with two-dimensional representations of multidimensional states. No, I don’t mean anything arcane and mystical… or something that belongs in the realm of science fiction either. I’ve been working with pictures.
We tend to think of dimensions in spatial terms of height, length and depth. That is how we are first taught about the whole affair in school and why would we question it? We simply accept that we live in an apparently three-dimensional universe, and that an image, for instance, is only a two dimensional representation of a wider reality… a symbol, if you like. It has become widely accepted that ‘time’ makes a fourth dimension… the difference between how things were and how they are. Time travel has become such a popular idea through literature and entertainment that none of us boggle at the possibility… even while we accept it may well be impossible in practical terms. Time, after all, although an abstract idea, is something we can observe in action. Or perhaps have simply learned to accept.
The Quantum branch of scientific thought throws other dimensions into the mix… it gets more abstract the deeper you go, but even here it can be simplified into the scales we understand through our own experience in many ways. The next two dimensions take into account the idea of the future… again, something that simply does not exist that we take on trust will occur.
According to the theory, an infinite number of futures may exist and the determining factor is the act of choice. For example, there may be a perfect three-dimensional cream cake in front of me, placed at this moment in time right within my reach. The future now depends from the point of choice… do I choose to eat it or not? Further futures may run off in all directions from this moment… it may be the tipping point for my waistline or cholesterol levels, it may be the only thing I eat today and so be fuel rather than fancy… or I could feed it to the dog… give it away or drop it on the carpet… you get the idea. My choice determines the future path of the universe, even on this infinitesimal scale.
Except that the scientists then go on to posit multiple possible universes too, each with their own branching futures from points in time. Last time I looked at the research and theories we were up to a ten-dimensional reality and it seems that science is finally catching up with ancient esoteric thought that captures just such concepts in symbolic imagery. You have only to study some of the pictorial symbols to understand how those multiple dimensions can be expressed in two.
I was wondering about even further dimensions we can add to the list… okay, perhaps, they are not strictly scientific examples of dimensionality. They may, however, be sub-headings of others, but they are just as abstract, invisible and yet observable. They are closer to home too. Maybe they correlate to the different ‘worlds’ of esoteric thought… modes of expression or levels of function. However you look at them, they are certainly contributing an added dimension to how we observe past, present and future. Not only that, they are determining factors in how the microcosmic universe that is ourselves moves through the fourth dimension of time and, more pertinently, they shape our future as effectively as the act of choice.
I, for example, have been working with photographs the past few days. Opening each image there is immediately the dimension of memory. With it comes the attendant dimension of emotion… the emotions associated with that captured moment and also with the people and events that cluster around it in memory too. One image of a hillside, for example, recalls both the event, my companions and the warmth of the emotions attached to all of those. I see the image from several perspectives, through the lens of a present now past… yet which is no longer past because it is once more present; the emotions and thoughts that were then and which are once again now. Yet I also see them from the perspective of now and the passage of time may have altered those emotions, so that the past itself takes on a different hue. This is the dimension of perception… personal perspective.
Those are personal dimensions we bring to every single second of our lives and they are different for each of us. That same image will, to another observer who participated in that same moment, bring completely different memories, associations, perspectives and emotions. To one who was not present, the view will be different again. The experience and its interpretation… and therefore the effect upon the future… is unique for every one of us. Every time.
There has been a lot of research done on the nature of perception and memory and their critical link to attention, which seems to be yet another dimension. Basically, it appears that our brain takes shortcuts and the physical world we perceive and believe we interpret is based upon a mixture of actual sensory input, such as an image for example, and our own preconceived beliefs built up over a lifetime. The brain has to both perceive and believe… and if the two don’t match up we either change our beliefs to fit the reality we perceive… or we change reality to fit our beliefs… and behave accordingly. We then simply perceive only that which we allow ourselves to perceive. The trouble with that is the attention we give to the conclusion of that alchemy; once a belief is formed in accordance with our perception it sticks and there is little we can do about it. And whatever our perception of now… even if we have drawn incorrect conclusions… our point of choice starts here and defines our future.
Considering this, I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe where “Mice are merely the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who, unbeknownst to the human race, are the most intelligent species on the planet Earth. They spend a lot of their time in laboratories running complex experiments on humans.” Just how many dimensions do we live in at once? How many other layers, less scientifically provable are there to our existence? And it begs the question… are we the man or the mouse in the equation of own pan-dimensional reality?
These incredible examples of optical illusion are the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Shuplyak.
One of the most wonderful elements of being Human is the sense of self; yet there is great confusion as to what the ‘self’ really is… even whether it exists at all.
Something harvests the experiences of each day yet declares itself separate from them. This accumulation is deemed to be a living entity – the ‘me’ – resplendent with a memory of having lived it, rather than the actuality of what was lived, and containing a trace of the story of that day, which, over time, is consolidated into ‘like’ experiences.
Language cements this relationship with experience. In western languages, we have the basic construct of ‘I do this’: subject, verb and object. Some older languages – often associated with highly spiritual societies – do not have this structure. Sanskrit, for example, the ancient language of India, would say “This is being done”.
It is memory that gives us this certainty of self. Its power of continuity becomes vital to our wellbeing. We take this completely for granted. We do this because we have no choice – it became our dominant perspective at a young age, typically before the age of seven. Because we ‘live in it’, we no longer see it – like so many aspects of our individual worlds.
Although wonderful, it is also a spiritually-deadly perspective, because it separates ‘us’ from the rest of our world.
Let’s consider the elements of this.
Having a sense of Self means that I separate out parts of my experience and call them ‘me’. This act, alone, is quite remarkable. On what basis did my young self determine which bits were me and which were something else?
Vividness of experience must have played a big part. What my attention is drawn to becomes that which I focus on. My attention is grabbed by immediacy and there is nothing as immediate as my body. Continued focus on my body dulls the attention given to the rest of ‘my’ world, even though it is still there with all the power it had when I was a new-born.
This sense of my body becomes, in many ways, my first self – and this will remain dominant for the rest of my life. Spirituality in all its forms, faces this as the first barrier to development. We have to come to see that the solid reality of our own cluster of matter – our bodies – is only one reality; and that the dominance of this in our consciousness is due to habit, rather than any superiority of existence.
The dominance of self as body has another consequence – it locks us into pain. When the body is in pain, so becomes our whole self, if it is focussed in this way. Pain in the body will always be real, but its effect on our overall aliveness is determined by our attention. This discipline is one of the tenets of Buddhism.
The founding psychologists of the early part of the last century worked hard to establish a structure of the Self, or Psyche, so that they could truly investigate its workings. This was a giant leap in mankind’s ability to analyse its own existence. Freud is somewhat dismissed these days, largely because of his singular focus on the sexual power as the dominant ‘drive’, but he gave us a lasting legacy and some major insights into how the self develops and sustains itself. These are of great service to the spiritual seeker.
His description of the structure of the self is of great use to those pursuing a spiritual path; and has echoes across traditions as varied as the Kabbalah and Sufism.
Freud proposed a three-layer hierarchy for the psyche. The first of these was what became known (in English) as the ‘Id’. The translation serves us badly, because the native German was much more instructive. This word, (Das Es) was, literally, the ‘It’.Using the word ‘it’ distanced the observer of her own psyche from this ‘beast’. The sentiment being: “I may need it for my survival, but I don’t have to suffer its beastiality in my normal life.”
And yet, the beast of the Id contains all our energy . . . Coming to terms with it is really important, if we want to lead a vital life. The sad part of this rejection is that it also locks away our younger self, with all its innocence and its delight – because it had appetites for things the subsequent world found ‘antisocial’.
This act of staring at the Id generated a kind of second self, known, in English, as the ‘Ego’. The native German, again more helpful, was ‘The I,’ (Das Ich). The ego’s job became to manage the monster below, allowing us to fit into society without picking our noses all the time – feel free to substitute your own metaphor . . .
But the Ego borrows all its energy from the Id, which it then seeks to manage . . .
The final layer of the Freudian self is, in English, ‘the Superego’; in German, the Uber-Ich (the over I). This is largely concerned with the ‘should-dos’ of our lives – the development of morality; that which is handed down to ‘well brought-up children’. Again, the Supergo borrows all its energy from the Id, to give the final structure and management to the concept of the self.
So… we have a beast and a trapped child, not allowed to develop into an adult self because we have rubbed up against the edge of acceptable society. Above that we have a parentally-created pattern of authority, that lives with us all our lives until we decide to break that ice ceiling and see the sky . . .
None of these things have been created by bad people. They result from two things: the commonly accepted concept of Ego, which is really the Personality; and the nature of Society – which centres itself around consensus and power, and therefore cruelly robs the individual of full life. If mankind has a purpose, it is to reconcile these forces, for the good of the life that follows.
These elements of the greater Self can be ignored – in which case the patterns of ego-driven personality will return to haunt us all our lives, producing similar patterns of events as the years progress. The alternative is to embark on a journey into the self; spiritually, we would say to go in search of the Self.
There are many trials to such a quest, the biggest being the act of turning away from the chosen path when the going gets difficult. The ego, which, remember, is a mental and emotional construct and has no real existence, has an armoury of below-the-radar weapons against such a frontal assault on its (false) kingdom.
Techniques can help. One of the most powerful tools for providing us with a personal map of the journey is the Enneagram. Originally developed by Gurdjieff as a key to how the world ‘unfolded’ in its process (the spiritual ‘Word’), it was added to by deeply spiritual teachers, such as Ichazo, Naranjo, Alamass and Maitri, to become the basis of a way of understand the ‘whole in diversity’ in the sense of how the human personality obscures the greater part of the Soul, within.
The Silent Eye has combined this knowledge with the insight from a triad of mystical and magical pasts, to offer the student (we prefer Companion) a three year guided journey, taken by monthly correspondence course with personal supervision, where every aspect of the Self is encountered, deepening each year as the journey takes us to the realm of the soul-child and beyond.
Companionship is one of the keys. Schools like the Silent Eye offer this even more than they offer teaching. This is because the journey can only belong to the one taking it. In the real journey of the true Self, which brings us face to face, via the Soul-Child, with the Essence (Being) from which our Soul formed itself, we reach a point where no system or religion can have any power over us. We come, quite early on this path, to a place where we know that truth belongs to us, and only truth learned and experienced in this way has any value.
To stand alone and look out at that which we distanced ourselves from, when the founding layers of our personality separated us from the “Other”, is a moment that brings us to stand before reality – possibly for the first time. The new Self generated at that point is one of immense power . . . and intense humility.
Steve Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit, teaching organisation which delivers stages and mentored lessons via correspondence course. For more information contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I came across an old photo quite by chance, putting things away in the loft. It set me off thinking, as such things do. In the picture my late partner is holding a coffee cup… You can’t see it, but I know precisely what it looked like all those years ago. White with a blue rim and dots, with three tiny flowers, red, yellow and blue.
I remember it because it meant something. Not in itself, of course, but because of circumstance. When he died I had just made his morning coffee. There was a moment when it was all ‘over’, when the ambulance men had left and I waited for the undertaker, and I picked up the cup, still bearing the last traces of warmth, and I finally wept.
I used that cup for a long time afterwards… just me… even when it was chipped and the handle dangerously cracked. I used it till I didn’t need to… then it went in the cupboard. It stayed there until I didn’t need it to be there anymore. It took a while.
Why? Because it had held more than coffee for me and it had become a symbol of something more than its physical form.
As I drove into town, I got to thinking…
We can be picky about cups and glasses, those vessels which seem to epitomise that which they hold. Champagne… a rarity, of course… I like to drink from a flute, red wine from a deep bellied glass. Tea must come in a china cup with a saucer… or a big mug filled with a deep mahogany brew. Coffee, to be fair, can be administered through an IV drip for all I care… but my preference is for the tiny cups of espresso.
There is a reason beyond habit for these things. Champagne really does taste better in a flute… honestly, there have been scientific analyses done to prove it… something to do with the way the gas bubbles collect in the glass. The same for red wine, though more to do with the warmth of the hand that holds the bowl. Tea ? Let’s not go there… I’m a Yorkshire lass… it isn’t up for discussion.
I do wonder though if the vessel holds expectation just as much as liquid. We see the shining silver and porcelain of a tea-room and expect good tea… A tiny cup and a pavement café in Paris are synonymous with that certain je ne sais quoi. The misted surface of a cold glass of beer simply invites thoughts of a hot summer’s day… We see and expect even before we taste.
Yet, if we are thirsty, truly thirsty, do we care about the vessel that holds the water? The vessel merely contains, so that what is held within may be moved from source to lip, it gives the water shape… may even seem to colour it… but what lies within the vessel is still water. Do we need crystal glasses or fashionable plastic bottles? A cracked mug, a paper cup, our hands… or even, perhaps especially, just plunging our face into a mountain stream and drinking from the earth. All will serve, for it is not the vessel that counts, but what it holds. To those whose thirst is urgent and visceral even a muddied puddle holds salvation.
In many of the Sufi poems we ourselves are likened to vessels shaped by the Hand of the Potter. It does not matter if, as Khayyam wrote, the Hand shook in the making, nor if the vessel has been chipped and cracked by usage. It matters little if it thinks itself fit for champagne, comfortable enough for tea, or as holy as a chalice… it is filled with what is needed to quench the thirst of the one who drinks. The pot has no say in the matter. It is filled by another Hand.
When we are seeking the clear water of inner truth we can find it in many unexpected and unlikely places and the expectations we have for the vessel may not reflect what it holds. The draught in the chalice may be wine or bitter herbs, the clay bowl hold pure water, we cannot know until we raise it to our lips and taste what lies within.