The Wrong Queue

We were sitting on the M6 motorway. The car was stationary, as it had been for the previous thirty minutes. Ahead of us was the next junction, within sight, but closed off. Beyond that there was a wall of standing traffic. The motorway was closed but we – the stranded – were still on it.

The fourth ambulance came screaming up the thankfully empty lane next to the central reservation. It had been closed for resurfacing; a miracle, really, given the likely mayhem that lay ahead of the wall of silent cars in front of us.

More for something to say than any real content, we began to talk about how it had been ‘one of those days’ and how we were always unlucky in trying to pick the fastest queue for checkout at CostCo, the place from which we had just come, only minutes before hitting the brakes at the sight of the wall of cars and trucks going nowhere.

We do a lot of our monthly shopping there. Like most warehouses, it’s not pretty, but it is functional, and allows us to buy in bulk, rather than shopping every weekend. The collie and her need for lots of exercise usually dictates the nature of our days. We’re probably a lot healthier than we would be without her. We’d rather spend our time dog-walking and writing than shopping. So CostCo serves us well.

Our chosen queue, moving efficiently when we switched to it, had proved the very opposite in the few minutes afterwards. I knew how sensitive the northern M6 would be to peak traffic, and we were about to enter that period of almost exponential build-up. I had muttered under my breath; eager to be checked out and on our way back to Cumbria.

Now, sitting on the vast tarmac strip that is a modern motorway, we could see movement. Two of the traffic policemen were removing the barriers to the exit road – an escape that would at least allow us to find another route home. In less than a minute, we were moving and driving up the ramp, from where we could see the carnage that had been just around the shallow bend of the carriageway.

And then the revelation struck me. At 70 miles per hour we would have been at what had become the crash scene a few seconds ahead of where we were. In other words, we would have been in the middle of it…

Switching queues, with our usual dismal result, might not have been so bad, after all. The wrong queue had, quite possibly, saved our lives.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

A Song with Sue Vincent (2) – from the eyes of another

Sue and Stuart moved forward from the start of the Silent Eye to become a formidable writing team, beginning with their book, The Initiate, published in September 2013.

(Above: a very dynamic combination – Sue Vincent and Stuart France, photographed in 2014. You can find a list of their prolific writings at France and Vincent.

In this extract, Sue describes the 2013 ritual birth of the Silent Eye, but through the eyes of an ancient female priestess she felt she knew, psychically. This figure – later named ‘Bratha’, was to be an often present figure in her later writings, and in the workshop “The Feathered Seer’ that she and Stuart created in 2016.

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There was smoke again, and flames, but this time they were for her alone. The fire had claimed her and images rose and fell within the orange glow.

She gave herself to the moment, seeing with inner eyes a strange scene unfolding.

Far below, it seemed, a golden vortex drew her, sending up motes of light like the ash from the burning wood, rising into the night. She followed their trail in vision to the centre of the maelstrom of power whirling deosil, an island of Light in the darkness…

A sacred space…

The golden robed figure sat veiled and alone in the centre of a strange symbol. It reminded her of a great, winged bird, its wings wrapped around the seated priestess. At her feet a golden chalice held a single flame, while around her invisible gold flowed in a river of power.

The figure was immobile as a statue, her robes catching the light of the flickering flame, only her breathing, slow and steady, made her seem alive. A man approached through the base of the winged symbol, a great Eye on his breast. He sat before the silent figure, taking her hands and speaking words unheard into the night. The golden one bowed her head in acknowledgement and he took up his place to her right, one hand outstretched on her shoulder.

There was a new shift in the swirling vortex as they waited in silence. She could sense the streams of colour spiralling around the enthroned Priest and the Lady. They could not see her. They saw nothing but the Purpose they served.

Another joined them, a younger energy flowed in as he too sat before the priestess. He took the hands in a silence that sang to the morning, bowing over them and placing a kiss on each. Three pairs of eyes, shining with Love… He took his place on her left and rested his hand on her shoulder.

They were an arrow, she the point, they her strength and source of flight. Another three added to the symbol traced on the ground around them. They waited and the power grew. Three strands now entwined in the vortex.

Others came, men and women in strange garb, one by one. Hesitant, awed by what they felt as they entered the sacred circle. In turn they stood in silent offering before she who held the moment, giving of themselves to what stood before them… The One that was Three.

The priestess in gold held each pair of eyes, accepting their gifts with Love and silence, bowing her head to each in thanks and blessing. They took their seats to either side, forming great wings of life around the three.

She did not understand, but she recognised.

When all had entered, she too, invisible and beyond time, entered the circle, stepping across the worlds, it seemed. She too offered to the Mother and the eyes that met hers were her own. There was a shift, a dizzying moment, when she felt herself seeing through both pairs of eyes and looking into her-self across millennia.

She joined the Vigil and wore silence.

After a time the priestess stood, taking up the light in the cup, placing a cloak of white fur about her shoulders. Holding the power and wrapped in silence she led the way into the pre-dawn light, her companions following in silent procession. It seemed to the watcher that they walked within a globe of golden light.

The temple building was strange to her eyes, but not as strange as the sleeping landscape into which the priestess led them. Tall huts of stone, square and angular beside a hard, unnatural path, disconnected from earth. Shiny chariots with black wheels lined the path. She felt sick with shock, yet curious about this strange world.

They saw no others as they walked, climbing the path towards the tree-line. The silence was broken by the bleating of a new lamb. It must be spring, she thought. The lamb watched, meeting their eyes and bleated again, three times in all. The companions shared smiling glances. They understood this. It meant something to them.

They turned to the left between trees and were walking in dew-drenched grass, sparkling with rainbows and diamond droplets, climbing the hill. She felt better on the grass, the earth touching her feet. It felt like home.

Up they climbed, beyond a tree to a small plateau in the hillside. A board of black and white squares held bread and the cup was placed there on the ground. The golden one and the priest of the Eye stood facing the coming dawn, a pale glow on the horizon heralding its birth. The Man-Child stood behind them, with their companions arced at his back.

She watched as priest and priestess raised their arms in unison, greeting the sunrise. This she understood. Her own priests greeted the dawn thus. As the sun rose, and with their hands still raised, they turned to each other, becoming an arch, gate of the morning, through which the first rays of the sun could touch the company.

Thus they stood as the Man-child crossed his hands on his breast and bowed. Then he dared to pass through into the Light. As he did so, a strange sound rang out, a sound chanted by the two who were the gateway…

The gathered silence finally split and broken by a two-fold word of power… A mingling of energies that she could see…

Birds sang and a hawk flew from the rising of the sun, spreading its wings over those below in benediction. This too they understood.

Each then passed in turn through the gateway, to that strange chant. Each spoke words she could not understand into the morning. The first were anointed with fragrant oil. Some were not, yet all gave themselves to the Light. She could see it in their faces, read it in their hearts as they stepped forward in joy.

She too passed through that gateway invisible and silent, feeling the change, joining them across time and space, knowing somehow that neither existed, only the moment in which she stood, the reality in which she was.

Dream or vision, it mattered not.

Here, now, she was.

The arc had shifted to stand in the sun. Now facing the priest and priestess, behind the man-child…

Something new was born into the world, a beacon of Light and she felt herself part of it.

The priest carried bread to the companions, each taking a small piece and breaking the fast of a new dawn. The priestess carried the cup, sharing the blood red contents with each. Then the two shared also, with each other and with the earth.

For a moment she shared their joy as the ritual ended. They were smiling, laughing and embracing each other, the release of power at the birthing leaving them light as feathers. And light as a feather she felt herself begin to drift back to her flames in the darkness.

As the vision faded into embers, the ground hard beneath her, the wind cold beneath the stars, she held out her hands over the dying flames and sent her own blessing upon that bright company. In whatever realm or world they moved whatever time or place, what they had wrought in the dawn light was sacred. She did not understand, but she knew and recognised her kin…


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

(Above: The Song of the Troubadour book and script is available on Amazon, priced at £5.99. Click the image


ISBN-13: 978-1910478035)

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 

Making sense of it…

We have this interesting phrase: ‘Making sense of it…’ But we may never stop to think of its origins, or what logic is behind it.

(870 words; a five-minute read)

(Above: the setting sun reminds us that there is a single reason why all things are ‘seen’.)

There are at least two interpretations of what ‘sense’ means. The first refers to the domain of our five physical senses: sight, hearing touch, smell and taste – all but one of them centred directly in the head – the seat of most of the brain.

Physics tells us that we really live in a vast electromagnetic world, and have a meagre five narrow windows onto its expanse. Whatever our true ‘beingness’ is, these five windows are obviously important… to us, and possibly beyond. We pride ourselves on being a ‘dominant species’ of life on Earth, so we assume that the five senses and the information and context they bring are an important part of that eminence.

The other use of the word is when we get a ‘sense’ of something. This refers more to understanding than any individual sense, like taste. A novel may refer to a character, say a detective, ‘smelling fear’ on someone; a phrase that evokes a whole series of images in our minds. These draw on our past direct experience of such things at the composite level. We may well have been in fearful situations and ‘smelled’ our own fear… Sensory experience can often be unpleasant, so we build a life in which this aspect is minimised.

It’s a useful exercise to go through a week and deliberately try to experience one or two key situations with all the senses alerted. We may find connections we hadn’t thought about as the delicate hues of the rose blend with the ‘ebb and flow’ of its perfume, and the tiny noise as the breeze vibrates its petals.

The five senses continually ‘stream’ a vast amount of information to the brain, whose initial job is to get rid of most of it. If it didn’t filter it in this real-time way, we would go insane. To do this for us, unconsciously and continuously, requires that the brain learns what is important for us. These ‘heads of importance’ (the expectations of our mother, for example) become central to how we collect, filter and refine our experience. The refining stage recognises that the heads of importance may change over time – my mother may become old and suffer memory loss, so the way I gather and process her ‘data’ may need to revert to a more child-like model, effectively reverting backwards in time.

Making sense of our world, and continually refining it, is therefore a high-state process centred on memory. The structures in the memory – these heads of importance – are sophisticated ‘silos’ of information that go to make up living images of our world; in fact, they are our world…

Our ‘self’ is derived very much from how we feel about theses images. Those to which we have attached importance have a sense of belonging to us and we move towards them. Things we don’t like will be attached to a sense of rejection, and we move away from them – often building sophisticated barriers so we never have to meet them, again. As children, we may not have had that luxury… and suffered in silence. But our adult life is entirely shaped by being able to put force behind these preferences.

From a brain perspective, this is all well and good. We feel protected as much as our lives can allow. Poor people may live a life of horror, in which they are forced to live adjacent to the unpleasant. Very rich people may live in gated communities and feel a sense of disconnectedness with their worlds. This is not moral comment, simply how our brains are wired to drive our lives.

The problems arise with the self. The self is a composite image we hold of what is really important to us. It is what we identify with: ‘Yes, that’s who I am’. The self is double edged sword. A strong sense of self is essential to have a stable and successful life.

But… by its nature, being based upon memory’s structures, it is formed only from the past. Our existence in the present – in the now – is not consciously lived.

Thankfully, our senses are still working in the present; still gathering and passing data to the brain so that our heads of importance can be updated and fine-tuned (‘that Tony Johnson has turned out to be okay, despite my initial dislike of him!’)

One of the long-standing exercises in mystical training is to deliberately dwell on the senses, as we mentioned in the opening. When we first approach this, we may think we are ‘going the wrong way’; dwelling on the mundane and physical rather than turning to elevated thoughts and concepts. It is only when we experience the sudden influx of the truly new that we gain the contrast between our supposedly present state and the truly present

We may, then, have some life-changing choices…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

One of our mounds is missing!…

2

Silbury Hill

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The plan was to base our inaugural public ‘solstice’ event at Avebury and thus it seemed natural to book a room at the Public House which is situated in the centre of the Stone Circle…
Only, The Red Lion no longer provides B&B so we ended up instead at a hotel some ten miles away in Ogbourne St George.
Now, Ogbourne St George is a curious name and one redolent of both mystery and intrigue, and given our literary proclivities, we thought it might be possible to find something of interest in the village to occupy our Companions for at least one of our allotted slots over the weekend.
We had stayed in Ogbourne… before and had a visual memory of a strange mound-like structure in one of the fields lying adjacent to the hotel and had pinned to it an accompanying mental note which ran, ‘…must have a closer look at some point.’
A little research in the form of flick through the ley-line dowsers’ classic, The Sun and the Serpent by Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, confirmed both the visual memory and our hunch that the structure would hold some interest for us.
It was not a prehistoric construction at all but a ‘folly’ built sometime during the Second World War by a local farmer but somewhat amazingly it had, according to our venerable authors, been constructed over a node which marked the crossing of the Michael and Mary currents.
This, it seemed to us, was very curious…
The mound now looked like nothing so much as an overgrown hillock with its spiral causeway, rising twenty feet in height, all but obliterated by trees, bushes, and shrubs and there was a picture of it in the aforementioned tome which approximated with the mental image which had been stored in my mind for future reference all those years ago.
It was in this respect reminiscent of another of the mounds we planned to visit over the weekend.
The now slightly more famous, but equally tree-infested Merlin’s Mound stands in the middle of the private grounds of Marlborough College beset by houses of learning and no doubt deliberately dwarfed by both the sheer bulk and the lofty spires of the College Chapel.
This mound is a prehistoric structure and has recently been given a date of construction commensurate with Silbury.
As we had been unsuccessful in our request to the authorities concerned to climb the mound and as the third of our mounds, the aforementioned and world-famous Silbury Hill is now fenced off and no longer accessible to the public we were hoping that our unobtrusive poor relation in Ogbourne St George would afford our Companions the chance to scale its relatively modest sides and experience the dual currents of the Michael and Mary leys.
In this, though we were destined to be disappointed…

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1

Merlins Mound

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A Song with Sue Vincent – the birth of the Silent Eye

In the near darkness, the woman’s gentle right hand came down on my shoulder from behind. It was the signal that she was ready, that we could begin either the bravest or the stupidest thing we’d ever attempted.

(With the giant enneagram lovingly ‘taped’ onto the carpet of the Nightingale Centre, the cast of ‘The Song of the Troubadour’ begins the Silent Eye’s opening workshop)

It was April 2013. Sue Vincent and I were about to sing the opening of a temple ritual drama. Sitting on a small stool in front of her, I took a breath and let my fingers rest on the nylon strings of the Spanish guitar…

We were on our own, as Troubadours had often been, in history, conveying their truths as songs.

Around us in the half-light, lit only by a few electric candles and one small real flame in a glass lantern, people were pretending to be asleep, their heads nodded downwards, The hoods of their robes were pulled up, monk-wise, into a universal symbol of withdrawal from the everyday.

Their sleep was symbolic of a shift in consciousness: the essence of what the Silent Eye was going to try to achieve over the weekend.

The workshop was to mark and celebrate the launch of the new School. Many of those present were from other esoteric organisations. All had come to wish us well and to celebrate the birth of something spiritually new.

(Above: Sue’s artistic skill allowed her to create variants of our enneagram for specific roles – in this case, a painted image of the soul)

Within the ‘sleeping circle’ was Stuart France, the third Director, who was to play the role of a mysterious ‘child’ protected from dark forces by the two Troubadours, and, eventually – having reconciled their differences – the whole cast.

It was no time to mess up those precious guitar chords. I strummed the strings into life. The gentle but tones filled the large room in the Nightingale Centre with a soft and haunting sound. You could feel the intake of breath around the circle. Then our two voices rose, in harmony in the darkness as Sue and I sang the Song of the Troubadour; something we had written for the workshop, but never performed in public, though Sue’s ‘learning by repetition’ technique, practised while looking after her son, Nick, caused him to create a rap version, just so he could play it back to her with equal frequency…

(Above – Sue Vincent, taking a break. Ever mischievous…)

Beginnings are powerful things… Looking back, the coming together of Sue Vincent, Stuart France and myself within the Silent Eye was hardly an accident.

We had known each other previously through the Servants of the Light (SOL) – Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s celebrated school of the Western Mystery Tradition. I had joined SOL in 2006 and stayed seven years, helping to computerise the ageing administration and membership systems. Sue and I had met there, but not known each other well.

Prior to our time at SOL, Stuart and I had been long-term officers within the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC.

For the three of us, our participation in these organisations had given us a rich perspective on the teaching of practical mysticism. In particular, Dolores had taught all of us that the use of drama, played out with the sacred in mind, could be a powerful tool on many levels.

In my own case, I had deeply enjoyed every one of these journeys into different organisations, gaining in knowledge and confidence with each move. I was not in any way unhappy with any of them, but I felt there was another, and more ‘direct’ way of going about it. I had studied the work of Gurdjieff in some detail, and a group of us had piloted a novel ‘magical’ approach to the use of his nine-pointed figure: the enneagram.

(Above: the final version of the Silent Eye’s enneagram, a figure that combines enneagram theory and personal, mystical practice

The enneagram had been created to show how nature’s processes flow and reset themselves, much as the seasons do, but generalised in a deeper way. A group of psychologists in California had merged a deep theory of the arising of personality with the use of the enneagram to make visible our deeper natures… eventually knocking on the door of the personal ‘soul’.

That became my trigger for establishing the Silent Eye, a school of consciousness that would combine this use of the enneagram with our ‘magical’ training of the mind, heart and instincts. In 2012, I left SOL to to this, hoping to keep the wide circle of friends I had made, there.

Sue Vincent had been helping me become a Facebook user. She joined me shortly afterwards, in the soon to be Silent Eye, though we had not discussed it prior to my leaving SOL. My wife and I hosted a party for the creation of the new school at our newly-finished house in Kendal. Everyone enjoyed the evening and wanted to stay over. A small army of sleeping bags were deployed.

The day after, Sue Vincent (in her own words) kidnapped Stuart France, and the two of them spent the day driving around her native Yorkshire and talking about the potential of the Silent Eye. I’d already made the offer for him to join us. The day cemented their friendship, which was later to develop into much more, plus a most productive writing team.

Towards the end of 2012, Stuart confirmed he would join us. In April 2013, we launched the Silent Eye with the ‘Song of the Troubadour’ workshop, viewed by all attending as a success… and a new thread in the teaching of practical esoteric knowledge in a modern world.

The Song of the Troubadour was the story of a group of travellers trapped by a snowstorm in a remote monastery, high in a range of mountains between two lands. The Keepers of the monastery gently engineer inter-personal conditions that bring each traveller face to face with their own inner natures. The workshop pioneered the Silent Eye’s use of the teaching enneagram as a mystical tool for dramatic, ritual movement. To our knowledge, no-one else in the world uses this combination.

(Above: the creation and management of an event like ‘The Song of the Troubadour’ is a complex fusion of movement and position. Everything in such a temple signifies an aspect of the human being)

The Troubadours sang their song. The workshop was a warm success and became the blueprint for another six years of spring events. Some of these will be discussed in the next post.


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

(Above: The Song of the Troubadour book and script is available on Amazon, priced at £5.99. Click the image


ISBN-13: 978-1910478035)

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 

The Ferocious Healer

Healing can be gentle and tender; but certain healing acts on an inner level of the self, racing like a cold wave to resolve us, before washing us up on the beach called tomorrow, but under a different sun…

(1000 words, a ten-minute read)

We all progress through an inner journey in our lives. We may not work with any specific system of self-development, but we come to the same perspective about ourselves. We come to know, with certainty, that there are things about us that have far more importance than anything else. These are qualities, rather than things. They do not relate to things; to what we might have, how secure we are. They are concerned with an ‘easiness’ (or not) of our inner state, our ‘me-ness’.

When we enter this awareness, usually in our middle years, we are on a path to self-knowledge, whose gravitational force becomes stronger as we age. True, there is a contest between bodily health and focus at that point – as shown by the increasing take-up of combined Eastern systems, such as Yoga, or derivates like Pilates. A daily walk confers much of the same benefits. Whatever method we adopt, the gains are reflected within as a calmer interior.

If we inquire into where unease comes from, we are pointed at a many-coloured quilt of mind and emotions, made from pieces of our experience, solidified as responses. There are desires, regrets, resolutions and powerful insights woven into this fabric. The whole of it comprises the self, the personality, and, although it feels complicated, it really isn’t – once we find the dynamic states in there, and begin to separate the dross from the real.

The real is vitally important, and we are compelled to approach it in stages. These stages reveal a pattern of ‘really important things’ – things with a power to change that interior state and make us renewed, within – which then changes the without…

The real is based on truth. Our relationship to truth is subtle, and, initially at least, learned. We are brought up in societies where many of the most important ‘powerful people’ lie. They lie all the time, carving and shaping the societal world in a way that protects their existence as liars. We all lie, but becoming aware of our lying is a key part of putting real life, as opposed to illusion, back into our interior state. We may not have the power to make our societies true, but we do have the power to make ourselves true.

We don’t want zealots here. There’s nothing as deadly as a zealot, clinging to his or her first vision of real truth and preaching how important it is to give up our present lives. We want gentleness, we want sharing and, above all, we want compassion…

Compassion is one of the great discoveries of the land inside us. Like anything else we presume to know, compassion has hidden depths. Compassion has two apparent faces: the one that soothes the friend who is going through illness, providing a reassurance that things will be okay, when we know they will not; and the the other, deeper face, that acts like a silent twin of truth.

If we have any ‘spiritual’ intentions, we must find our own truths. I’m not talking about the methods of development we may choose. I’m referring to an interior capability to ‘feel’ the truth of any situation. It can come as a shock to find out that we have an inner organ that knows when something is true or not; that knows when we are bending our complex and sophisticated past to accommodate something that is really an indulgence, rather than what we have set ourselves to do.

This is hard, really hard. But it is the way forward, and no amount of false compassion, the pat of self-reassurance that we have lots of life left to get it right, will substitute. Conditions arise in our lives for a reason. Life is an interior school of self-development, as millennia of wisdom has taught. People on a path of self-development are wise, no matter how far along that path they are. They listen to life, reading in its events, good or bad, what they should be learning on their individual journeys.

And it is here that the little-known power of real compassion comes into play. Compassion for ourselves will help us face the truth of our lives. It acts like a ship that reveals a bigger world. But its direction can only be towards the Truth, and in that powerful voyage, its engines have to be merciless in carrying us forward.

Once we face truth, nurture it and and learn to make it our constant advisor, we are set on a course, and the mighty engines of self-compassion, matched to the compass of truth, assume their real power, which is to make the brave happen… eventually healing the wounds that seem less and less important as we gaze out on a truly new day.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being

The Belief Tree

It might be thought that, in our technology-driven age, the concept of belief has become less important. If we go back fifty years, belief was still central to most people’s lives; so what has happened to change that?

(1000 words, a ten-minute read)

A friend of mine suggests, slightly tongue in cheek, that the biggest factor in religion’s decline is shopping… We might substitute football for shopping, to even up the gender sheet. The principle is the same: occupation of the mind and emotions by identifications with things of a tangible nature. If we’re fortunate, these may be luxuries. If less so, they are the passions generated by, say, our favourite team, of whom we are a loyal and devoted follower.

Passions for the less tangible things of life seem to be fewer, in this more advanced age…

Life is a struggle towards maturity and the personal crown of independence, which may be achieved in various degrees. Being self-supporting would be a key stage. Having a good job and ‘a place of our own’ would be important milestones.

At the end of decades of life we might find ourselves truly independent and able to choose how we dedicate our energies. This freedom from the influence of others can prove an arid place, however, when we realise that sea of experience in which we now swim reflects only our personal likes… and not the rich tapestry of challenge that it used to contain. ‘Beware what you wish for’ can be appropriate words, here.

Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs showed us that we only get to develop a depth of understanding of ‘higher things’ when our basic survival and comfort needs have been met. Yet religion usually features in the lives of the poorest people.

Is this a sign that the ‘undistracted’ are closer in their simplicity to where the spiritual originates? It may be that the closer-knit societies of the poor – outside of the developed West – have tightly woven communities where worship and neighbourly care go hand in hand. In this sense, religion is not chosen, it is a given, perhaps reflecting life in the West from a previous era, but with different religions at its heart.

Our societies have lost coherence and become a hotch-potch of identifications, desires and fears. The solid, if imposed, set of values that religion used to provide as life-basis has been replaced by a gradient of thoughts ranging from life purely as consumer, to the deepest explorations of a variety of philosophies, some linked to disciplined exercise regimes, as with Yoga. Seldom in our history have more people been seeking…

Science generally mocks religion. I once watched a whole programme by one of my favourite scientists: the astronomer professor Brian Cox, who filmed religious worship around the world – particularly funerary rites – just to say, at the end of programme, that God, and associated life after death, had no basis in demonstrable fact. I remember feeling sad that so much energy had been spent negating the basic and genuine needs of so many subsistence-level people.

Not all scientists feel this way, as individuals. Psychologists work at the known frontiers of the mind, stabilising the all-important sense of ‘self’ that arises when the individual works successfully towards maturity and individuality. We might say that all the gains and many of the ills of the modern world have resulted from the cult of the self, allied to consumerism.

How is the young, thinking person to approach this, if they decide there is more to life than comfort and the personal prestige of accomplishment? We might say they will be met with three concepts: to believe; to have faith; and to know

The tree of wisdom has, throughout the ages, and within all the world’s systems for studying a ‘supreme being’, begun with belief; asking the aspirant to adopt a deeper, more values-based approach to their lives. We are urged to do this as a trial, setting aside our established thinking, to consider that there might be states of mind and heart that are truly ‘higher’.

Some systems of development, such as Buddhism, advocate no such supreme being, rather focussing on the potential of the individual human, instead.

Belief traditionally provides no proof, except for reference to ‘good people’, but offers a path of focus on an ideal that may have the power to change the aspirant. The majority of people satisfied with belief, alone, are ‘woven’ together in a community centred on some kind of church or other centre of worship. A belief system with associated values may cause us to examine whether our lives are ego-centric. It’s a useful truism that a good way to lessen your troubles is to take on the troubles of others. It is sufficient for many people to remain in this state of belief, helping and serving their communities and enriching all our lives with their kindness.

Those who want to go beyond this and access the often referenced higher states of consciousness are first faced with the question of whether these actually exist. Fortunately, life provides each of us with moments of extreme and unusual lucidity, called ‘peak experiences’. These are so different in terms of ‘quality of consciousness’ that they point to something very real in the human potential. In simple terms, the memory of these states is vivid and we want to be back there…

Sufficient work on the self, at this level, reveals there to be a related family of such states of the higher Self, all ready to host our active consciousness, if we can find the way to them. Once ‘tasted’, these states of what are commonly called ‘Essence’, entice us back, because they contain something that can only be describes as a certainly of rightness.

We simply know, beyond question, that we are in a mental and emotional place that has an extraordinary level of clear thought and feeling; indeed, that the word thought is no longer sufficient to describe how we ‘see’ the world.

This new state of consciousness, albeit it temporary, takes us beyond belief and faith and into a place where the words, essence and spirit are seen for what they have always been, ready for our own interpretation into the language of our age, thereby perpetuating a tradition of teaching and learning whose only goal is the service of our fellow human beings – because we all share this potential, which only needs awakening.

We have travelled from belief, with its fine community spirt, through faith that there is a higher consciousness available to us, and worth the work, to the place of knowing, or gnosis, as the ancients rightly called it.

And all of this is the birthright of mankind, and always has been. It is available to every man and woman, regardless of race or creed. The language used to describe it is different in each culture, yet the experience is the same. In the place where there are no words, the language of experienced certainty is universal… and startling in the new world it unveils.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being

‘Fly away home…’

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The ladybird was swimming desperately as I scooped it out, feeling that little rush of warmth at having rescued the tiny creature from a watery death. It wasn’t happy, but I placed it on the side of the sink to dry out while I soaked. I would take it outside when I was clad in something more decorous than a towel.

From my supine position in the steam, I could see it begin to move, flexing its legs and shifting on the slippery surface; a tiny splash of colour against the porcelain. I like ladybirds. As a child, they always fascinated me and I was almost offended when I read that they could bite. Surely… they wouldn’t?

They are called ladybirds, apparently, for the Virgin Mary, who was often shown cloaked in red in the early paintings. The seven spots of one of the commonest types were said to symbolise her joys and her sorrows. There is an older association, with the Norse goddess, Freya too; it is said the ladybird came to earth riding a bolt of lightning There is a lot of old lore about them… as predictors of weather, for instance. It would rain if one fell into your hand. It is true they do not fly when the world is chilled.

This one, however, was recovering nicely in the warmth of the bathroom. As I dried and dressed I thought that perhaps I would only need to open the window for it shortly for it to ‘fly away home’… I watched it flex the fragile wings, glad to see it unfurl them. A short flight and it landed in the bowl of the sink as I was running the tap… and slid straight down the plughole, carried by the force of water into oblivion. There was nothing I could do, the little creature was gone.

I waited a while, hoping to see it re-emerge in the manner of the spiders that hide there when threatened. Nothing. There would be no happy ending for this harbinger of good fortune. I was, I admit, quite upset by the incident, having saved it from drowning just minutes before, only to have assisted its passing with the running water.

I couldn’t help but think about it though. It is said in many cultures that the number of our days is predetermined. If it was the ladybird’s time, then perhaps there really was nothing I could have done. Perhaps it only mattered that I had cared enough to try.

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I thought of the verses from Ecclesiastes, relevant regardless of faith:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

I am not a believer in strict predestination, though I do subscribe to the belief that we choose the broader outlines of our lives in order to provide us with the opportunities we need that we may learn and grow; a vessel into which the wine of life is poured. I am a firm believer in the gift of free will and the ability to shape our lives and futures within a greater Perfection. I do, however, feel that there is ‘a season and a time to every purpose’.

There is an intuitive understanding of when the time is ‘right’ that most of us feel; a tide of possibility that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives, and while some things carry an air of obstinate inevitability, others open before us as new landscapes full of adventure. At these moments we have a choice, whether we retreat to safe familiarity, or move forwards, through the open door into the unknown. At such times we cannot know whether a dragon or a pot of gold awaits us, only whether or not we have the courage to find out.

Yet there are other times when we know we simply need to be still, to find an oasis of calm within ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of a world that moves too fast around us. A place to breathe and simply be… right here, right now.

And then there are the times when events move beyond our control and we can do nothing to change them. Yet even here we do have choices… we can ride that ever-flowing wave of time and tide and face inevitability in a manner of our choosing. And we can choose to learn and grow, even from the smallest event. In this way, even the seeming vagaries of fate are at the mercy of a reality altered by will. When the ladybird goes down the plughole, in spite of all your efforts, you have a choice… will you simply shrug and move on, grieve and salute the passing of a life, however small… and will you have learned to ensure that the plug is secure next time?

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