Field of dreams..?

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Long, long ago, when the world was still young and I was younger still, I moved into a house with a garden. It wasn’t much of a garden, long-deserted, overgrown and gone to seed, but my mind painted it in rainbows. Since getting married, we had lived in a flat and a ‘street house’ that opened straight onto the pavement. My only forays into gardening had been herbs on the kitchen windowsill. It was the first time I’d had a garden of my very own, though there had usually been one at my parent’s home and my grandparents’ long-established gardens were places of magic and mystery.

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It is odd to think that although I remember every home I have lived in very well, as well as those of my grandparents,  I remember the gardens better. I have but the vaguest of memories of my father’s family home. We probably did not visit all that often as my father was stationed in Kent where we lived in married quarters and I cannot have seen Longfield after I was about three years old. I recall the tiles on the floor of the porch, the billiard table in the cellars, and being helped to slide down the great oak bannister that framed the huge staircase in the hall. Outside, though, my mind still paints the shadows cast by the rhododendrons, the slopes that ran down the hillside into the woodland and the wide expanse of the croquet lawn below the terrace.

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I can still see the garden of the married quarters where we lived in Maidstone until I was three and  where I searched for an absconding tortoise. I could sketch, plant by plant, the gardens of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. It was here that I first began to learn the names of plants as a child and had my first lessons in herb-lore. I learned which were poisonous, which could be eaten or used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes, and best of all, some of the folk traditions that went with the plants.

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When I finally had a garden of my own, I remember standing outside the back door one winter morning and looking at the mess we had acquired. I had no gardening tools other than a trowel, no plants and no money. All I had was a dream of life and colour.

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I took the kitchen shears to the vast meadow that had once been a lawn and to the overgrown privet hedge twice as tall as me. It took me days to cut the stuff back. Then I started on what had once been flower-beds, removing the obvious weeds, softening the hard, squared corners and trying to identify what might be in there that was worth saving. Dead wood was removed from old roses, unidentified shrubs pruned and woody stems that still bore traces of life cleared of bindweed. By the time I had it tidy, the snow was falling… and I was in love.

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My love affair with plants blossomed through the dark winter days as I read every gardening book I could get my hands on, delved deeper into herb-lore and planned impossibly expensive planting schemes in my mind. In reality, our meagre budget would not run to plants, so I set about nurturing cuttings, raising seedlings and collecting spare plants from everyone I knew. Even so, the huge empty beds were going to look bare for a long time to come.

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As winter deepened and turned the corner into spring, I began to learn the most valuable lesson of gardening…patience.

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With the winter rain and snow, Nature watered the mutilated garden well. The threadbare hedge I had hacked put out new leaves, filling the bare patches and becoming a dense, dark backdrop against which my few flowers would glow. As the seasons turned, the lawn became a vivid green starred with daisies and crocus. Self seeded lupins, dug up from the old railway line, were steadily filling out and patches of pretty ‘weeds’ I had encouraged to grow, like yarrow and loosestrife, were showing promise. I planted what I had acquired and waited.

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Spring brought clumps of snowdrops and aconite, followed by daffodils and tulips. They had been hidden, invisible beneath the soil and were a beautiful surprise. I recognised the poisonous but beautiful leaves of monkshood. The scarlet leaves that had prompted me to leave an untidy clump of plants alone in winter revealed themselves as geraniums. ‘Dead’ roses and an ancient hydrangea recovered and bloomed and a drift of lily of the valley filled the air with fragrance and memory. By midsummer, the dismal mud-patch had become a riot of life and colour, buzzing with bees and a paradise for butterflies. It had done most of it itself, in spite of the efforts of the novice gardener. All I had done was the groundwork.

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I learned a lot from that garden and the lessons have stayed with me, rooting themselves and flowering, bearing fruit that I have plucked and tasted in many areas of my life. The perfect visions I had created in my mind were surpassed by the hand of Nature when she was allowed free rein. But, no matter what had been hidden in that garden, it would not have thrived, nor would I have been able to see it, had I not cut back all the dead and dying material, letting in the light.

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I had worried about the empty beds; I did not realise that the seeds of beauty had been sown long ago and were silently waiting to bloom. So often we think we must strive to achieve something, only to find it is already there, dormant within us, waiting only for our care and attention to grow.

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In the movie, Field of Dreams, there is a phrase oft-misquoted as ‘build it, and they will come.’ I have read the sentiment before, if not the exact words, in Dion Fortune’s book, Moon Magic, when ‘Lilith’ speaks of building the temple in order for it to be indwelt by the gods. No sacred space, be it temple, church or our own being, is truly alive until it is a home for something more than its physical form, no matter how beautiful. No gardener creates the beauty of a flower. We can only clear and create a space, enabling the conditions in which it can grow and bloom.

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Where I now live, I have a small space I laughingly call a garden. I have planned the garden I would like to make, right down to the last detail… knowing it will probably never be anything other than a dream. For now, there are only a handful of rescued plants, no flower beds to speak of and a threadbare patch of grass that cannot be called a lawn. I doggedly exercise a gardener’s patience, waiting to see ‘what happens next’, trusting that when the time is right, the seed of purpose will grow and reveal itself.

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Even so, there is beauty. I need not lift a finger to see the seasons turn, the light change hour by hour or the stars illuminate the night. I need not dig and toil to create what is surpassed by every blossoming dawn. I need only watch to see the birds and insects at work, the dew scatter diamonds on the grass or the small dog fill the space with joy. Dreams are wonderful things, but you have to choose to make them happen, and you have to work to bring them into being. And sometimes, we work so hard chasing dreams that we forget to see the beauty of what is already there.

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Deportment for the soul

Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky
Image by ADiamondFellFromTheSky

He passed me the disc, about the size of a small dinner plate and quite heavy. My hands were full of things needing to go through to the kitchen. There was only one thing for it, I placed the disc on my head and walked through that way, thinking how the lessons learned when we are younger than we are today still have value and inordinately pleased with myself that I could still do it without effort..

My mother used to tell me about good posture when I was small and it was fun trying to walk around with piles of books balanced on my head. We had to do the same at dance class. We had it in school and in the gym too back then. For my mother, it was about deportment; the way a lady carries the body. For my teachers, the idea was that by developing balance we would be able better able to perform the movements that were required of us with grace and poise. Nowadays, it is simply about good posture and, hunched over a keyboard far too much of the time, I am grateful for those early lessons and still prefer a straight back.

Good posture stays with you. It is not something that you lose like the beauty of dewy skin or the lustre of youthful hair. Something of it remains. Even my great grandmother, her spine bent under the weight of almost ten decades, still held herself well. Those we deem elegant seem to have something in their carriage that stays noticeable for the rest of their lives too, even when the years have erased all outward sign of youth.

When I was fifteen, my grandfather gave me a copy of Dion Fortune’s Moon Magic. There is much to be learned from the psychological journey of the two protagonists and it is still one of my favourite and best-thumbed books. Being young and on the verge of womanhood, however,  one small phrase took my eye that had nothing to do with the story itself. “… the body should swing and balance from the waist and that is worth more in beauty than a slender line.”  I think this is true and it gives an impression of balance and grace.

We learn very early in our lives the mechanics of sitting, standing and walking and, once learned, we seldom give them another thought until we begin to suffer the consequences of what we failed to learn to do well. Then we get back-ache and have to learn anew, starting with the core muscles, as often as not. Yet the body is designed to both respond to and create those minute shifts and adjustments that are required in order to maintain perfect equilibrium. Until it knows a poised centre of balance, it cannot create it.

Our inner balance is very similar… we learn as children our techniques of how to deal with the world and though they may be perfectly serviceable for years to come, evolving as we grow, they may also come back to haunt us as emotional aches and pains. The accumulated effects of the years gradually throw the balance even further out and it may take going back to the beginning to put things right, through therapy or through the self examination we do when we seek to understand why. It is only in doing so that we begin to see the repetitive scenarios and reactions that have been there all along, but which themselves are no more than a symptom of something we learned awry  early in life. Once we find the starting point, we can begin too to straighten things out.

The spiritual life is little different. Spirituality does not necessarily mean religion, although religious faith should mean spirituality. The spiritual life is that very personal relationship we may each seek with whatever greater reality we come to know. We have all met those people who seem to radiate joy, no matter how hard their lives may be, no matter their age… they have a glowing beauty for which there seems no reason and they find a beauty in life that may seem to pass us by.  We may ask ourselves why here too. We absorb what we are taught as children and it serves us as children. As we grow, so do our thoughts and beliefs change and grow with us. There usually comes a point where we may feel spiritually off balance and start to examine those deep-seated beliefs, tracing them to back to their beginnings. We may find that the spiritual ‘muscles’ were never fully flexed, that we simply accepted what we were given because it worked for us then, but now the core needs some work and the source  does not seem to show us the Source we feel may be there.

Where can we look to find the answers to those questions we begin to ask, to find that poise and grace that comes from spiritual equilibrium? We need only look within. The questions we ask are unique to every one of us, the answers we seek are part of us all. It matters little if we give what we find there a Name and a Story… it is the essence of what lies at the heart of us that straightens the spiritual spine and brings back the balance.

The Entered Dragon (6) : figures in the mist

Continued from Part Five

Centre stage, the King smiles at us. His gaze is strong but gentle. As our eyes touch his, we feel the sense of purpose he holds. Courage and force reflect in the subtle colours that draw us into his very being. We feel renewed by this contact, shown that the burden of what we must face in the day-world is only a necessary stage in our lives; that the sense of inner royalty he represents will carry us far beyond its confines – if only we will hold those eyes…

The scene pans backwards from the purposeful orbs. The gentle hands of the Queen still rest on his shoulders. She smiles, knowing that we have absorbed the essence of this encounter. She brings her face closer to that of the King, and, as their skin touches, we feel her perfumed presence close to our own. It races through our being, filling us with a love and longing that leaves us agape.


In this final part of the series, we examine the nature of what Carl Jung named the ‘Archetype’. Archetypes are an active part of our shared unconscious. They are energy patterns at work within the most fundamental part of us. When we come into contact with them, we are seeing a personalised representation for our life, alone. But the type of figure, represented, for example, by a King, is shared with all humans. In this we can see why such types have been with us in myth, legend, poetry and song for as long as we have remembered and recorded our most meaningful experiences.

We have seen that the whole of the human unconscious is simply the other half of what we are, consciously. Our lives contain what is embraced and what is rejected. But what is rejected does not go away. It is part of our experience and was/is there for a reason. Like the ancient yang and yin, it is the rhythm of alternation of dynamic and passive – simplified, often, as male and female, but more subtle in reality.

(Above: the yin/yang symbol, ancient symbol of permanent, harmonic change)

Both have their own power, there is a time to be resistant and a time to embrace, we need to know when to use both, and watch the flow and dance of the harmony of our lives, free, within their selves, of society’s expectations and rules. The unconscious gives us this power, liberating and releasing its vast energies… if we can learn to communicate with it.

There are two techniques we may use to allow the unconscious to communicate with our waking intellect and emotions. The first is by being more conscious of our dreams; the second is a technique known for thousand of years and held sacred within the heart of whole civilisations: active imagination.

Our personal unconscious tries to communicate with us using images and symbols. It does not use our daily language. Dreams are full of images. We normally dismiss these as simply a stream of random recollections from a brain that is half-asleep. But investigation will reveal that they are more than that. They are our own unconscious trying to communicate important perspectives to us. These might include the deeper nature of a current problem causing us great distress.

Habitually, we pay little attention to the detail of dreams. We have to relearn to be aware of the content of dreams, and allow a residue of what we observe to lie in a part of our memory from which we can retrieve it in the morning, writing it down as soon as we wake so that we have a record. Later in the day, its vividness will have faded, but, if we get used to a personal way of noting down the details, we can return to their important points.

As an example, one of my recent dreams was of a black and white comic book. In the dream the actual events of my life were being rendered as part of this book. What did this mean?

Here we enter a second stage of understanding our dreams. We need to take that ‘kernel’ of the dream and let the conscious mind ‘fly free’ with it so that it may make an interpretation. This is not a matter of intellect. Our intellectual minds are used to dominating how we perceive. We should try to maintain a gentle and passive state, forcing nothing, but allowing a reflective part of our minds to ‘mull over’ the stored nugget of the dream. If we make this a habit, the dream kernel will become a trigger and suggest to us the personal relevance of the image or symbol, without needing the use of reason. In my own example above, I concluded that the part of my life illustrated in the ‘black and white comic’ was not receiving the attention it deserved, and would shine in colour if I corrected this…

The other route by which we may converse with our unconscious is what Carl Jung called Active Imagination. Here, we deliberately let our waking consciousness follow a conscious script of imagination. This may be provided for us by a book, or be part of a series of imaginative journeys created by a school such as the Silent Eye. The essence of the induced, inner experience will be a journey of some kind. In that journey we will find archetypal figures like, for example, Kings, Hermits, Warriors, Lovers and Chaste Maidens. We may encounter withdrawn figures who hide from life, but whose knowledge is great. We may find that our King is withdrawn, but strangely not defeated. We may find that he (or a corresponding Queen) is waiting for the arrival of a Hero, one uniquely equipped to heal a rift in the land.

Such an inner journey of active imagination needs to be based upon time-honoured principles in order to engage the unconscious. It is the true work of any school of the mysteries to provide these, and guide others through the journeys – though the real value is the unique experience to be had by the ‘hero’ of the hour – the person carrying out the active imagination.

I suspect that Carl Jung did know of the ancient use of such techniques within magic and the mystical. His great gift was to investigate it, rigorously, and describe it in terms acceptable to the world of psychology. We owe him a great debt for his insight and the descriptive language he bequeathed.


The stage is quiet. The King and his Lover have gone. But one image remains, that of a pair of eyes. Unafraid, we draw closer, finding them strangely familiar. As the swirling mist clears, we realise that they belong to us, that they are a living mirror, yet subtly different, of our self’s eyes. They have much to say to us, as we come together in the laughing depths of our own most secret place..

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five This is Part Six, the final part.


©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.

Lenses

Orion Nebula

“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”

Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.

Growing up, I loved the stories that Naomi Jacob wrote about the Gollantz family. I am not Jewish, though some of my forefathers were. Reading Jacob’s books gave me an insight into part of my own family’s culture and recent history. One passage has come to mind a lot lately. Emmanuel, the lead character, is struggling to come to terms with pain and loss. Hannah Rosenfeldt, an old friend, tells him that he must learn to say, ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. Emmanuel cannot bring himself to say the second part, as he cannot bless a God who allows tragedy to happen. I was way too young to fully understand the stories, but this particular dialogue stuck, as some things do. There was an awful lot in that short passage and it reminds of a similar conversation with my grandfather.
I asked him why… how could the loving Father of whom we were taught in Sunday School permit so many horrible things to happen? It is a question most of us have asked. My grandfather was not a religious man, though he had a belief in the sentience of a Divine Light. These days, many would say he was ‘spiritual, not religious’. Even that would not be the entire truth, for he had walked some dark paths and his convictions were hard won. ‘Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion…’ . He had tasted and had chosen. I was allowed to grow up with the same freedom, with an incredible cross-section of knowledge and experience from which to draw the raw ingredients of my own diet.
It was my grandfather who gave me the first hint of understanding… that we are too close to events in this human life to be able to see what purpose may be served by them. But that there is purpose, he was sure of. That hint came when he gave me my first microscope.

Mouse cells
Mouse cells

Looking through the eyepiece I found a strange world opening before me… blood cells, plant cells, the scales of the human hair, an insect’s wing. Peering at this magical world through the lens was a wonderful experience for a child… yet I realised there was no way for me to identify what I was seeing unless I already knew all their patterns and learned to understand them. I could see they were cells, but I was looking far too closely to see what they were part of. I could see them, but had no idea what they made.
Then Grandad built a telescope. A big one, with a lens the size of a dinner plate that he ground himself on a pedestal in his study. I remember it well; the black squared surface of the plinth, the pots of jewellers rouge, the steady motion that polished the glass…and while he worked he told me stories of gods and giants, of the fae and the otherworlds and the stories of the stars. He told me of radio waves… he had been a wireless operator in the army… and built me a Wimshurst machine to teach me about electricity. He showed me, from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives, how it was possible for different forms of matter and energy to occupy the same space. I had a fantastic education and did not know then just how lucky I was!

Wimshurst machine
Wimshurst machine

 
When the telescope was finished the whole affair was huge. Somewhere there is a picture of me standing with it… a great metal structure that captured the heavens for me to see. When elevated, it was much taller than me. We projected the sun’s image onto card; it was too bright to look at directly… and that was a lesson in itself. Some things are beyond the compass of our senses. We see only the effect, not the source. I saw the landscape of the moon and watched the stars wheel across the heavens, learning that much of what we saw through the lens was a past millennia old. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away… the light we could see was that old. It had taken that long to reach us, so we were looking at the past! Yet time just was… wasn’t it?

Tycho supernova
Tycho supernova

 
It was odd too how similar the view through the two lenses were… microscope and telescope. How could we know that the heavens themselves were not simply the cells of a greater being we were too small to see? Something whose pattern we were too small to understand?
Then there was a time of loss, and that phrase I had learned stayed with me… The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… Blessed be the name of the Lord. By this time my spiritual diet no longer included the confining thought of the orthodox Christianity we were taught at Sunday School, but the certainty of the One, by whatever name It is known, remained unshaken and unshakable.
I began to wonder if the lens through which I looked at events in my grief was too close? Or its purpose to big, too far away from my understanding? Was there some pattern that I was simply unable to see through the myopic vision of human eyes? Yet I do not believe that each step of our lives is foreordainedI believe in free will…in the gift of being able to choose our paths, gain understanding or make mistakes, learning from the experience of living. That makes a Divine Plan a little hard to reconcile at first glance. How can we have the freedom to choose and yet believe there is a Purpose to the events and circumstances of this life we live?
We need to step further back… away from our involvement with the heartaches of the mundane world and see from a different perspective. This conviction has grown over the decades as, from the hardest, the worst and most painful events of life I have seen much beauty unfold. From the loss or surrender of things to which I have clung, allowing them to define me by their habitual presence, I have found new directions, new doors opening before me. And I have watched this unfolding, this flowering of possibility, in others too.

Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula

We all face the heartaches and trials of life every day and we often do not understand the ‘why’. When we are facing that unscalable mountain that blocks our path, makes us change course and curse under our breath, how can we know it does not protect us from a lifeless desert or a valley of wild beasts? We can never know for sure, but we can learn how to plan a better route and to understand the landscape in which we find ourselves.
It is impossible to trace the beginning of a series of events with our ‘what ifs’…really trace them back to cause and effect. There is always another ‘what if’ even further from the moment. Nor can we see into a future unknown and know what will come of any given event. Events cascade, creating a domino effect of circumstance and possibility that disappears beyond the borders of our imagination into the unseen millennia to come.
Only a being vast enough to bring the lens to the right focus on time and space would be able to see the beginning and the end of the existence we know… and it would have to know our pattern, like that of the cells under the microscope, and understand what we are in order to see what we form as a whole.
Such a being we could only conceive of as god-like and as such infinite. Yet infinity means there are no boundaries, no borders… no alpha and omega, it would itself be both beginning and end, and yet endless. And if it is endless and All, then we and all we know must be of It. And perhaps It knows the Purpose in ways we cannot imagine.

Horsehead nebula
Horsehead nebula

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 walking dead…

We had been engaged in one of those long existential debates, discussing life, death and the possibilities of what might come before and after. The debate had gone on for some time, discussion had gone deep and we had covered some serious stuff, including the changing perspective of the years, fuelled by my impending birthday and the universal fragility of life.

“You should make a video,” said my son.

For a moment, I was flattered, feeling that perhaps I had acquitted myself so well that he saw my thoughts as worthy of being shared. But that moment was a fleeting one… he took out his phone.

“What, now?”

“Yeah.”

“But I’m a mess…” Vanity is universal when faced with a lens. Or that’s my excuse.

“Well, I’d rather you were sort of natural anyway…” It all clicked into place then. So much for flattery.

“You mean, for when I die?” My health may be a bit unstable at present, but I’m certainly not planning on dying at the moment. He had the decency to look a tad embarrassed.

“Well, yes… but don’t feel obliged to die anytime soon…”

“Thanks…”

“…I haven’t given you permission yet.” This is true. As he is both my son and my employer, such an extended leave of absence requires his approval and he has made his feelings quite clear on the matter.

By this time, the camera is running and I face the immortalising lens with no make-up, haystack hair and wearing my oldest clothes. We continue the debate, though in a far more lighthearted manner. Even so, it feels odd. Bad enough being recorded, which I dislike at the best of times, but to know you are being filmed as a memory for when you are dead is quite a strange feeling.

One of the things we had been discussing was the value of remembering that physical life is finite. It is a concept that must be taken from rather abstract idea we generally live with and transformed into a practical application. It is not a morbid or depressing perspective, as some might think, but is actually liberating as it shifts the focus from the transient to the eternal.

With a conscious awareness of the inevitable ending of this phase of existence, life and every experience in it, good or bad, takes on a new depth and richness. Nothing is to be missed through inattention, every experience is to be savoured and appreciated, because there is an awareness, a backdrop to living, that constantly reminds you that each moment could be the last.

And, as the camera captured our laughter, I was getting a graphic lesson in bringing that concept into reality.

It begs the question of how we want to be remembered when we are no longer in the world. Do we want to leave a mark on society? Be missed? Create immortality through art or a legacy of scientific thought? Maybe our immortality comes through our bloodline… our children and their children? Or perhaps we wish only to be remembered with a smile.

But why should we want to be remembered at all? Perhaps it is the fear of utter annihilation. Or simply the ego, the personality we wear in life, programmed for its own survival, that  seeks to perpetuate itself… and cannot accept that life as we know it can carry on without us? No matter how well-known or well loved we are, unless we do leave some kind of concrete legacy to posterity, in a few generations we will be no more than an entry in a ledger or database somewhere.  And even that will one day disappear.

Whether we believe there is no more than this physical existence, or in the survival of the soul, we cannot escape the cycle or the recycling of life.  One thing is certain, in the physical universe, nothing is ever utterly lost. From plankton to planets, everything that comes into being will evolve and come to an end. Its component parts will be returned to whence they arose and become the building blocks of something new. Personally, I believe that also holds true of the soul. We do not need to seek immortality. We carry eternity within us.

Outside in

Image result for cat and lion mirror

It was odd. I look at this particular blogger’s page every day…and every day there is a reblog button. On every post. Except today. I clicked into the title, hoping that by going deeper, I would find what I was looking for. Nothing. I couldn’t understand it at all. There were, in fact, few of the usual options and I could not imagine what had prompted the blogger to make this particular piece unshareable. Or why I suddenly had to fill in a form to leave a comment. Or why, when the theme had not been changed, it should look so different.

They must, I decided, have been the victim of some online horror… trolls, ID theft, hackers… all sorts of scenarios began to roil around in my mind. I thought about my own online presence and its security and wondered if I ought to take the hint and tighten things up. I hoped my friend was okay. These things can be nasty and upsetting. Perhaps I should email to check?

In those few seconds, my reaction to the lack of a simple button was going a long way…and the possible causes and consequences were already starting to pile up in my mind and imagination. Until I realised what the problem was. Between clicking the link in the daily email and arriving at the site, somehow, I had been logged out of WordPress. There was nothing wrong with my friend’s page at all. What was wrong was how I was seeing it; as an ‘outsider’.

I was looking at the page in the same way as any casual visitor to a WordPress blog, if they had no account and therefore did not possess the magic password that admits them to the privileges of the ‘inner circle’. It was an interesting lesson. Because I remain logged in unless WP logs me out, it is a world I never see. Equally, there is a world unseen by non-account holders that contains much more than they would see or could know. They might get intimations of it… reading references to reblogging perhaps or seeing the ease with which the exchange of comments can flow, but it is a world to which they do not have the keys. For a moment, I had joined them, looking at my ‘world’ from the outside in and not only was the perspective strange, but it made me realise  how quickly I had accepted a different reality, becoming used to what I do know and forgetting that I haven’t always been ‘on the inside’.

It was obvious as soon as I realised. With any group, of any kind, those on the inside are privy to knowledge that the uninitiated cannot see clearly, even if there are clues of its presence. It doesn’t have to be anything of great importance… it can be as simple as showing the office newbie where to bang the coffee machine to get it to work…. but there is always some level of inner knowledge that brings a group together and binds the individual threads to a common centre.

We’re all aware that looking at someone else’s life from the outside in only shows us part of the picture…and not always a true one. Even though we know that we cannot see the whole story, we can forget it too. We may not see the tenderness of a father when we look at tattoos and bling…yet it may be there. We do not always see the hidden grief behind the outward smiles. As a species, we are not only adept at assuming masks, but we are pretty good at forgetting they might be there and react by forming an opinion based solely upon the surface; for reaction is instinctive, not considered, and springs from that basic fear that fuels our instinct for survival.

It seems even worse in some ways when you consider how often we judge ourselves in the same way. Even just looking at physical surfaces, how many of us feel we are the ‘wrong’ shape, size or style to fit the mould that others deem good? How much more confidence would we have if those comparisons were never made or thrust upon us?Instead of looking at ourselves from the inside out, we rely on the world to mirror ourselves back at us, accepting that incomplete image as the whole truth and basing our actions upon it. We learn to value ourselves by the reactions of others to the partial person they can see, instead of looking at ourselves as whole and unique, with inner depths not visible to those who see only a glimpse of our true selves.

We are not our reflections, we are ourselves. The world looks from the outside in and sees but a fragment of our being. We can learn to look from the inside out, privy to all our secret depths and gifts; knowing that for every weakness there is a strength that is ours alone and that we are more than the two-dimensional trigger of reaction seen by a passing stranger. And if we look deeper still, to the very core of being, we may find that we are more than we had ever thought.

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.

Chalice

                                                 Expansion, sculpture by Paige Bradley

“Empty your mind… empty yourself…you are nothing and nowhere… just floating in the embrace of the universe…” It is a nice idea and one I have heard at the start of many a meditation… and in meditation, such a vision has a place. As a way of living, it is not particularly practical though. Someone has to walk the dog, take out the trash and clean the bathroom… and a person wafting through life being ‘nothing and nowhere’ is unlikely to be getting down and dirty with a scrubbing brush or chasing a recalcitrant hound across a muddy field.

It is such concepts that, for some, consign the whole idea of spirituality to the odd corners of life. It becomes a pastime, something to ‘do’ in spare moments or with a group. It isn’t reality, is it?

For many others though, it is just that… the most eminently practical way to live… not something to do, but something to Be.

But just how can you reconcile the nitty-gritty needs of everyday life with living a spiritual life? Especially when the daily grind seems to get in the way and haul you forcibly back from the Threshold you long to cross?

As a young mother with two small boys creating daily havoc and a longing to pursue my own spiritual studies, I read a chapter in ‘The Training and Work of an Initiate’ by Dion Fortune, one of the most respected esoteric teachers of the past century or so. She wrote of the Path of the Hearthfire and how each moment, each task, every dirty cup or grazed knee could be part of the bricks and mortar of a spiritual life. She explained, with her customary clarity, how every experience and every chore, if the attention is focussed and the intent conscious, becomes a rite… and is, therefore, a very real part of the spiritual journey. She wrote of the Unseen Guest for whom we may keep a place beside the hearthfire and, slowly, I began to understand.

Everything we do, learn or feel becomes part of the fabric of our being. Every choice we make takes us to another fork on that personal road and leaves its mark on who we are and who we will become. Our lives, our experience and our actions are a spiritual journey, whether we recognise it as such, or not. The only difference between those who walk a deliberately spiritual path, regardless of its name, and those who do not, lies in conscious choice, awareness and intent. Each of us may learn and grow without turning our backs on everyday life. All of us have the same rich vein of experience from which to extract alchemical gold.

There comes a point in most of our lives when we begin to question and may turn to whichever spiritual path seems to call us.  It is at this point we are also called to question the nature of the vessel we have formed from the gold of experience. ‘Know thyself’, phrased in innumerable ways, is a core tenet of the Mysteries, whatever path we choose.

We learn to see ourselves as a chalice, a vessel made from the raw materials of our personality and experience into which the wine of life has been poured. That vessel may be a thing of beauty… but is more likely to be a little skewed and battered. It may be jewelled with knowledge or made of an earthier clay. It matters little… we do not taste the vessel, it serves only to hold the wine.

There may come a moment when we wish to offer that vessel in dedication, to serve the Light we see.  To hold up that vessel and allow the Light to fill it… and to do so, the vessel must first be emptied. Many texts seem to teach that we must turn away from the world, ‘rise above’ our flawed humanity or become detached from the humdrum life. I do not believe that this is so.

Detachment is a cold thing, very different from the non-attachment that embraces all but is enslaved by none.

We are what we are… fully human, full of flaws and imperfect. Yet there is purpose to our imperfection for without it we could neither learn nor grow. Our imperfection is perfect in its design and mirrors something greater. To turn our backs on our humanity is to deny our nature and refuse the value of our unique experience upon this earth.

We craft the vessel from the sum of our experience, its light and its darkness, our gifts and our knowledge, bringing all that we are to its making. We offer our whole self willingly and with love…and such a dedication empties us of the fears and desires of the fragile and transient personality that thinks itself king. There is no ruler in unity.

To be no-thing but whole, to be now-here instead of nowhere… to be present and conscious within the universal embrace… empties the mind of who we think we should be… and allows us to be what we are.