Isolation or soul-elation?

Caroline Ormrod is one of the Companions of the Silent Eye working through the first year of the three-year journey towards the real nature of the individual Soul. I am delighted to be her supervisor for this process. Her brief and light-hearted bio is appended to this post. Recently, along with her weekly email ‘journal’ of progress and experiences, she sent me a short article she had written inspired by the upside of what we are all going through with the Covid-19 virus and its imposed social isolation.

(Above: Caroline Ormrod, the author of the rest of this post)

In this, she used the words ‘I-soul-ation’ (to replace isolation), and ‘In-soul-ation’ (to replace insulation). I asked if she would consider contributing it to our weekly cycle of posts here on the Silent Eye. She did this with gusto, and also provided the photographs and quotations used here.

I hope this gives the reader as much inspiration as it did me. Our thanks to Caroline for this important contribution to the Silent Eye’s Work.

Here is her article…


The Gifts of I-soul-ation and In-soul-ation

During this time of global uncertainty, we are being gifted a brief glimpse into possibilities and the wonder of the Universe.  Many of us are in isolation, insulating ourselves from the daily habits and interactions to which we have become accustomed.  Now, we are being required to slow down and reassess, to connect with and re-experience our Selves; to take into account the words of Ralph Waldo Emmerson who warns ‘But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation’. (see Ref 1, below).

(Above: Figure 1 – Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

The act of isolation is becoming one of i-soul-ation in which ‘I’ gets to tear off the mask of our habitual being and dive down deep into that which makes the ‘I’ unique – the purpose and goal of your Essence.  Isolation is alternatively, ‘the  condition of being  alone, especially when this makes you  feel  unhappy’ and ‘the  fact that something is  separate and not connected to other things’. (Ref 2)

(Above: Figure 2 – Photo by the Author)

However, neither of these definitions is ever true.  Although we may physically be separated (and, therefore, the ‘other’ may not even exist), we are intimately connected, not only to each other, but also to the whole world and Universe, as the spread of the C-19 virus demonstrates.  Just as we cannot see the threads that connect us to each other – or even, really, see each other at all – in times of isolation, the threads are present and gifted to us, just as they are present in our connection with our Soul.  This gift of i-soul-ating is donating time, space and direction to our ultimate goal of soul-connection. 

(Above: Figure 3 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)

We have been offered a choice here – we can buy into the propaganda which declares that isolation is horrific and we should be struggling and unhappy with the situation or we can be proactive and productive and buck that perspective by utilising this time offered to refine and condense our Selves into ourselves. 

(Above: Figure Four – Taken by the Author)

Similarly, the act of insulation, in-soul-ation, asks that ‘I’ find that which warms and comforts the Soul; in reality, that ‘I’ who finds warmth and comfort from the Soul like a big thick blanket and a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day.   Insulation is ‘the act of covering something to stop heat, sound, or electricity from escaping  or entering, or the  fact that something is covered in this way’. (Ref 3)  These aspects that we are stopping are our energies, our life resources that, although they may be invisible (like the threads joining us all), are vital to our survival, not only physically, but our whole being on all levels, especially those that access hope, faith, joy and love.  By in-soul-ating, we invite our Soul to join us in our daily physical lives, to merge with the already-well-practiced physical being who feels disconnected and alone.


(Above: Figure 5 Photo courtesy of Kristie Virgoe)

We are back-end co-ordinators – and, if you are reading this, then you are too, whether you recognise it immediately or not – and we are being called to our Work at this time.  We are being offered an opportunity, not only to i-soul-ate and in-soul-ate personally and individually, but also to support the whole population of the Earth, all her beings and the larger, wonderfully expansive and giving Universe of which we are a part.  In i-soul-ation, we move inside to explore our gorgeous inner Soul; in in-soul-ation, we encompass that energy and allow it to expand into the farthest reaches of our Cosmos, insulating all.  We are being summoned by the words of George Bernard Shaw who said ‘I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can’. (Ref 4)

It is time for us to practice our own privilege.


(Above: Figure 6 Photo courtesy of Ramona Thiessen)  

Author’s Bio:

Caroline Ormrod is an eternal student, questioning and exploring all aspects of this marvellous universe in which we live.  She is proud to be a Companion in The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, having graduated from, among other things, the Servants of the Light New Main Course and achieving a Masters’ in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.  Mother of four home-schooled young adults, Caroline enjoys spending time with her family, writing and editing and contemplating the mysteries of the Universe.  During this time of i-soul-ation and i-soul-ation, Caroline is reviving her love of yoga and keeping the candle industry strong and vibrant!

Caroline lives in Canada and is currently anchoring an etheric ‘Indigo Energy Tsunami’ at 1:00 p.m. E.S.T.  to in-soul-ate the world. All are welcome to take a seat, light a candle and send prayers, love, grace and gratitude to all the beings of our planet, to our beloved Mother Earth and out into the magnificent Cosmos.

References:

[Ref 1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841), [accessed March 30, 2020] https://emersoncentral.com/ebook/Self-Reliance.pdf p. 16. [1] (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

(Ref 2) (Cambridge Dictionary Online, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/isolation, accessed March 25, 2020).

[Ref 3] (Cambridge Dictionary online https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/insulation accessed March 25, 2020). 

[Ref 4] George Bernard Shaw, As referenced to a private conversation with Professor Henderson and quoted in Edwin Björkman, ‘The Serious Bernard Shaw’, The American Review of Reviews (1911), 43: 425 [accessed March 30, 2020] https://todayinsci.com/S/Shaw_GeorgeBernard/ShawGeorgeBernard-Quotations.htm

©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 predator within

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“Don’t worry…”  “It’s probably nothing…” “I’m probably just being daft but…”  How often do we hear words like these, keeping a bright smile firmly glued to immobile faces as fear strides in and starts clawing at our entrails? We recognise fear at those moments, we know its name. It is uncompromising, blatant, uncaring of our fragile mask of polite pretence. We want to act, do something… yet nine times out of ten we are shackled by circumstance, powerless to do anything at all except sit and wait, hoping, praying that the fear is groundless.

There are the fears we call worry that stalk us, like feline predators, silent and sure footed, circling ever closer while we are frozen, eyes locked on those of the beast, waiting for attrition to render us helpless, prey to our own imaginings and anticipation.

Sometimes it feels like we are being slowly gnawed, nibbled away from the ground up while we are chained in a dungeon of other fears… all our attention on the teeth that bite, not seeing that the chains we believe hold us are illusions, wisps of smoke born of unnamed terrors we refuse to look at.

Fear, in all its guises, is a dreadful thing to feel.

Of course, it has its uses. Fear was a very early part of our evolution and served to keep us alive in a hostile world. It still does… though we may not be running from a sabre-toothed tiger, we are beset by physical dangers we barely even notice, being so conditioned to care by our fears at an early age. We don’t consciously fear crossing a quiet, village road… but we still check for the truck that could squash us.

We are very conscious of the ‘big’ fears… and are acutely aware of those which are ‘lesser’, though they may not feel that way when they have you in their grip. They do not have to be reasonable to be painful and punishing. Anyone who saw Jaws when it first came out will probably have thought twice about sea bathing regardless of the fact that the chances of being a victim of a shark attack are one in 11.5 million, whereas one in ten thousand will die of flu, which we regard as a misery rather than a danger.

Fear can be useful in keeping us alive. It is, after all, what evolution designed it to do…protect us from danger. With our complicated lives, however, those primal fears have mutated and gone underground, taking us by stealth like an assassin in the darkness of our minds and emotions; silent, deadly and with little warning or chance of escape. We are conditioned by our own inner ninja.

These fears are more insidious, very difficult to pin down and understand; elusive shape-shifters that are so good at changing their outward appearance that they can be as difficult to see as the wind… we see them only by their effects, when they ruffle our branches or slam our doors. They clothe themselves in other guises, pretending to be things they are not… a fear of flying that is more likely the fear of crashing, a fear of dentists that may be the dread of pain, helpless at the hands of another… and they are just the simple ones.

What of the fear of death? Do we fear death itself… or what might come after? Is it the fear of hellfire, or the loss of our own identity… the ‘who will I be if I am not I’? The fear of commitment that may be the fear of losing control… or of being left alone again. The loss of status, things acquired that show who and what we are… yet mask the true fear that we are not. The layers of fear are so intertwined with our individual experience that they may be impossible for another to unravel completely, triggered as they are by unique combinations of events and experiences. Rather like making a cake. The same basic ingredients, varied infinitely by proportion, skill and the inclusion of flavourings.

It is said there are only five basic fears: extinction, loss of autonomy, separation, mutilation and ego-death… and that all can be attributed to one or the other, or a combination of these. When you think about it, in spite of our seeming multitude of fears, they all fit within these frames. The thing is, we seldom do really think about our fears, we react to them, allowing them to lead us blindly, often preferring to accept the apparent fear than to look beyond to the true root cause. In their purely physical terms they are easily understood, justifiable in the evolutionary attempt to secure survival. Yet they are far more insidious at the emotional levels.

Extinction… worse than just dying; ceasing to be. It is, from the level of our consciousness, unthinkable. Autonomy… powerlessness… to be restricted, subject to the will of a force beyond our control. Separation… utter aloneness, abandonment, exclusion… no longer a person. Mutilation… the loss of self-image through physical, emotional or social damage. Ego death… shame, dissolution of the image we build for  and of ourselves… leaving us unfit, unworthy, unloved. These fears, unrecognised, unseen, affect almost every corner of our lives, shaping our actions and interactions.

When you look at them from this angle, all the emotional fears lead back to one thing… the way we see ourselves. Yet, just as the fear that makes us run from a predator can save our lives, or pain alert us to a potential problem that needs to be addressed, so can these quiet, insidious fears be used to show a way forward. Our fears may stop us falling off a cliff top, but they may also hold us back when adventure beckons. Every good sword has two edges.

Our fears give us something to learn from. They are signposts that we can read, following their trail and finding their lair. As with many things the fear itself may be far more intimidating than the cause, bigger in appearance than in actuality. A mouse wearing giant boots and leaving a false trail.  Finding the mouse can be the beginning of an adventure, a voyage of discovery. Unravelling the tangled web we may face our fears, one by one, measuring ourselves against mouse or monster, and finally learning to see who we really are… and who we might become.

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All of Them

“Grandad,” said Jessica. “Can we have the Hoovid story, again?”

Her hazel eyes, wise beyond their five years, twinkled at him. He put down the book of the forest, with its fold-out leaves and simulated bark, and smiled at her.

“Okay,” he said. “Of course we can…ready?” He bounced her up and down on his knee: their chosen method for settling in for a story. She squealed. Her curls shook as she shouted,“ Story…story…stor–“

“Once,” Grandad said, capturing the silence. “there was a good bacteria named Hoovid.”

“Are all bacteria good, Grandad?” The earnest young voice asked.

“Well, no… lots of them are bad, but only to us humans. The bad ones can be very good for other forms of life… but Hoovid was good… and very special.”

“Why was he special?”

“Because he had been born very small, and he could see the nasty ghost organisms that were too tiny for even the good bacteria to worry about.”

“Were they ghosts because they were tiny bacteria?” Jessica asked. Then added, “And you could hardly see them?”

“No,” said Grandad. “They were ghosts because they weren’t actually a creature at all, but a chemical that was clever, and could invade the bodies of other creatures and take them over, turning them into bad ghosts, too!”

“Did Hoovid save the world?” asked Jessica, remembering.

“He saved a lot of the world, yes.”

“How did he do it, Grandad?”

“One very special day,” he said, “Hoovid was hungry and he came upon a group of ghost chemicals that were called viruses.

“Are there any good viruses, Grandad?”

“All things have their place and purpose, Jessica, or they wouldn’t be here on the Earth.” He paused, remembering. His eyes turned misty – something he didn’t want Jessica to see – so he pretended to cough.

“Did Hoovid do something else?”Jessica asked. Filling the silence.

Grandad cleared his throat and continued. “He ate the bad viruses…”

“All of them?” asked Jessica, bouncing, again, and swinging her arms.

“All of them,” said Grandad, emphatically.

“All of them in the world?” Jessica said, her tone rising in wonder.

“No… just the ones he’d found… but then, something remarkable happened!”

Jessica’s joy could barely fit on his knee…

Grandad continued. “The good bacteria can do a wonderful thing.”

Jessica had stopped all movement; she knew how important the next bit was.

“When they have learned something, the tiny coils of who they are can adapt to hold that learning… and automatically share it with all their relatives.”

“So all the other bacteria could eat the nasty viruses, too?” she shouted in wonder and excitement.

“Yes… and they did.”

“All of them?”

“All of them!”

A few minutes later he was tucking her into bed.

“Grandad, was Grandma a microbogist?”

“A microbiologist, darling, yes she was. She was the one that discovered and encouraged Hoovid, but not in time to save herself…”

Can I be a micro…biol…gist, Grandad.”

“That would have been your Grandma’s deepest wish, Jessica,” he said, turning out the light. “Sweet dreams.”

As he walked across the landing, he heard the little voice whisper into the gentle darkness. “Night, grandma…”

©Stephen Tanham 2020

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Making waves

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I’ll do it.” I found myself with empty hands as my son took over, concern for my dodgy back making him move the heavy sack of soil. There will be many things he cannot help with as we begin to edge the pond with flowers, but this he could manage and, knowing that I would struggle, took matters into his own hands. It was a small thing, but it shows an awareness of the problems faced by others and a willingness to do something about it.

Just as the pebble that is tossed into a pool will create a wide circle of ripples, so do tiny acts of kindness and consideration add up, producing a cumulative effect far greater than the sum of its parts.

It is the small gestures that make a difference, just as it is from seemingly insignificant events or simplest of phrases from which understanding may be born. It doesn’t matter where you hear them, or read them… the right words may spark a train of thought that will unfold like a forest from scattered seed. It may take no more than a moment, or it may take a lifetime… sometimes the transmutation of knowledge into understanding is a very long process as it waits for more threads to settle into place… like the flower that may only grow in the shade of the forest floor, beneath a canopy of ancient oaks.

Everything we do or say is the cause of an effect. Good or bad, the consequences of every moment may be far-reaching. We never know just how far the story that begins in this moment may reach, nor do we know what other strands of life may be interwoven with them.

‘How can anything I do really make a difference?’ We have probably all asked ourselves that question when faced with global events and concerns. Alone, few of us carry enough weight on the world stage to change anything, yet we are all drops in an infinite ocean and, when we move together, the weight of the wave can carry all before it.

The value of fluff…

Any journey has to start somewhere…and the only place you can start is at the beginning. For each of us, the spiritual journey will look very different… but at some point along the way, we all encounter what is known in esoteric circles as fluff.

I was always going to end up what my sons call ‘weird’. I was lucky, being born into a family where the term ‘spiritually eclectic’ was the understatement of the century. I was encouraged to question and learn from a wide extended family and, when the time was right, venture out into the unknown and find my own direction.

Between them, my family seemed to cover most spiritual and religious bases. One set of grandparents were a minister and psychic in the Spiritualist Church who, recognising nascent weirdness, wanted me trained as a medium. My other grandfather was a magician. Not the kind who pulls rabbits out of hats, but one who follows the magical path and learns to live by its tenets. His study, forbidden to most, but a place of delight for his small, curious granddaughter, was, had I but known it, a fully equipped ritual space. To me, it was just a magical place where wonderful things lined the walls. Strange diagrams, Egyptian gods, intriguing symbols… and a black mirror, the surface of which became a portal to a land where the rules of reality were other than those I knew.

It was this magical path that spoke to me. As a teenager, taking my first uninformed and tentative solo steps, I read everything on the subject that I could find. My grandfather’s books, the few rare volumes the local library could provide, odd tomes picked up in dusty shops and anything I could persuade the reference library to disgorge from the deepest, darkest vaults.

You soon learn which writers have something to say and which are simply riding the waves of curiosity. There has always been a market for books on magic; the majority are simply fictional or sensational. Some fictional works, written by those who have lived and worked with the magical systems, use storytelling as a way to explain and illustrate spiritual and magical concepts in action. Most of it, however, is written with little practical knowledge, often with one eye on entertainment and the other on the royalty cheque. Beyond fiction and sensationalism, though, there is a core of writers who genuinely walk the path and whose work may point you in the right direction. Sometimes, that direction is not what you first think it to be.

In any area of study, garnering knowledge via the intellect is an empty pursuit unless it is put to work. Until it is used, there can be no real understanding of its wider implications and true value. You may read as many books on plants and soil types as you wish, but you will not become a gardener or understand the beauty of encouraging a plant to grow, until you put your hands in the soil. For many who begin on the esoteric path, knowledge itself can be a trap. Magical systems and correspondences make a fascinating study and can occupy the whole attention until you forget why you began in the first place.

Looking for practical applications of what I was learning, I realised that, without joining a school… for which I was still too young… there was little I could do.  So, faute de mieux, like many who are drawn to this path, especially as youngsters, it was the readily accessible things… like tarot, palmistry and numerology… with which I started.

And… at least as I first began to use these applications… they were spiritual fluff.

‘Fluff’ is a derogatory term for those things which, although often rooted in something much deeper, are either being glossed over and played with like bright, shiny toys or are being used with neither desire nor intent to delve into their deeper meaning. Many such things are widely known only in their degenerate and superficial forms and, as such, are dismissed as having no value. Even fluff, though, may serve a purpose.

By my mid-teens I was reading palms, working with numbers and reading the cards. It was never about fortune-telling, even then. I had at least grasped that much. For me, they offered windows into human nature, including my own. It did not take long, however, for the gaps in knowledge and understanding to start letting in the light.

Hands have always fascinated me and this extra dimension of observation offered a real insight… but it was also the first area where I learned that the insights you gain may not be what you expect. Mention palmistry, and many will hold out their hands, expecting an instant reading of their future. Offer a character reading and you soon realise that, no matter what you say, people will only hear what they choose. Palmistry was the first to be discarded.

Numerology was another excellent way of beginning to understand character and also the relationships between numbers. It was a good introduction to working with their symbolism and correspondences too. But it did not take long before frustration set in… I wanted to understand why the numbers had their meanings, where they came from and what they had to teach about a life greater than that of one human being. That too was discarded.

When you buy your first Tarot, it usually comes with a little booklet giving basic meanings. Your first ‘spread’ will doubtless ask a fairly predictable question, relating to some current issue. The answers can be surprisingly revealing and helpful, but even here, there was a sense of frustration. I did not believe that I could ‘magically’ choose the cards to give me the ‘right’ answer… nor did they choose themselves. I soon arrived at the conclusion that I was missing something.

And this was where the fluff became useful. Frustrated by the limitations of what I had learned, I sought to understand what value these practices might truly hold…and where they could lead.

Palmistry rehabilitated itself for me, though I never took it up again, when I learned that physicians use hands in diagnosis. In the West, this is limited to things like colour, temperature and anomalies of the nails, but in both China and India, the lines themselves are used. It had also taught me how blinkered we can be regarding our own self-image and how impossible it is to change what we refuse to see.

For me, the Qabalah held the keys to unlocking a deeper use for the Tarot and the beginning of a more profound understanding of numbers. The cards have never been discarded, but I use them for a very different purpose these days, as gateways to the subconscious and their images form part of a map of existence. Numerology I think must be a degenerate form of gematria; both are based upon the fact that in many ancient languages, letters also have a numerical value. But, where numerology skims the surface and holds a mirror up to life, gematria seeks to elucidate those hidden and inner meanings pertaining to Life.

The frustration of fluff and the desire for understanding that it engendered set my feet firmly on a path that continues to evolve.  Looking back at my inexperienced self, I would shake my head in despair, except for one thing… fluff served me well. Without its limitations, my journey would have been much poorer and my spiritual landscape would look very different.

Some of the things we encounter are, undoubtedly, no more than fluff… far too light and insubstantial to hold meaning in and of themselves. Even so, we should not dismiss them as being of no value. For some, they may represent the first step to climb a personal Everest and a journey that will last a whole life long.

 

Living knowledge

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“Crepuscular!” He was getting desperate now, having exhausted his list of the most obscure words. His face fell as I gave him the definition. He tried another and scowled… “How do you do that?”

“I read.” The words he dangled before me, trying to catch me out, may not be common in verbal usage, but they have cropped up often  enough in books to learn their meaning through meeting them in different contexts and from different angles. Except for unfamiliar technical terms, I don’t look up words when I read. It isn’t necessary to fully understand every word to experience a story… you need, instead, to enter fully into the tale and feel it as you read.  Over decades of reading, you encounter words in so many phrases that your understanding of their layers of meaning evolves and eventually becomes clear.

For me, that seems the best way to expand the vocabulary. It is easy to reach for a dictionary and have some else tell you the skeletal meaning of a word, but a dictionary can only go so far. It cannot teach you about the way an individual writer used the word… or the feelings their characters were going through… the personal interpretation or emotional overlay that goes with a word when it used rather than taught.

A dictionary is a useful tool that gives a cold, clinical definition that gives you a basic sense of a word… a story makes it vivid, bringing a depth of emotion and association to the self-same word. The one teaches from someone else’s perspective, taking a consensus of meaning that allows you to learn about the word, the other allows you to learn from experience and makes it personal… and experience is always the most effective teacher.

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I watched my granddaughter learning the other day. “No!” said her Mum as the little one extended a tentative finger. “It’s hot.” The small explorer has no concept of ‘hot’. So far, she has not burned herself. She did stop though, because she does have experience of that firm ‘no’. She will undoubtedly burn her fingers one day regardless of parental vigilance… hopefully no more than it takes to understand that ‘hot’ is not good in that particular context. Yet she will also learn that a hot day means sunshine and ice cream…  and that eating dinner while it is hot is also good. One day, she will grow up and learn that ‘hot’ can have a whole other connotation of which she had no idea too.

Life teaches through a process akin to osmosis. It is a natural learning that nourishes understanding, rather than being force-fed and learning by rote. Experience teaches with an immediacy and conviction that cannot be found in knowledge alone. Yet add knowledge to experience and understanding is deepened and enriched, the two working hand in hand to elucidate and illuminate.

When we began to build the Silent Eye, it was this dual approach that we felt would be most useful for those who decided to seek answers through the school. It is of no use to offer answers where there is no question. By the time you are able to formulate a question, you are already aware of a very particular gap in what you know…  and the questions of the spiritual seeker are born largely from pondering a life experience that is unique and personal.

In order to ensure that we could structure the course, Steve created stories, with characters, landscape and scenarios that exemplify and illustrate the spiritual principles we share. These are read and ‘lived’ in the imagination, with intent, and provide a way of exploring things that would be impossible in daily life as, to the mind and emotions, the engaged imagination makes the experience of these inner journeys real. Each month, over the three years of the course, another chapter of the journey is added that deepens the experience… and each month, knowledge is shared that allows the student to add another dimension to their understanding.

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The student submits a brief, weekly journal, working closely with their personal supervisor, a companion who has already walked that part of the path themselves. There is a shared experience that forms the basis for exploring individual experience of the shared journey.

It is a system that not only works well, but expands the creative imagination while adding to understanding… and can be fun too. Instead of dry facts dogmatically taught and learned by rote, the student ‘lives’ an experience, adds knowledge and draws their own vivid and vibrant understanding from each lesson. Such understanding is then as unique and personal as their life experience and far more relevant than the imposed view of another.

Since the birth of the Silent Eye, we have had the privilege of seeing students unfold and stepping into a life both full and aware. It is not by what we teach that we measure the success of the school, but in how the course allows our students to realise their own potential in their daily lives and embrace their own inner joy.


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A change in the weather

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There was something wrong… something missing from the world as I walked the few paces to the car. I couldn’t put my finger on it at all, but I was very clear on the essential fact. There was something … different.

It wasn’t until I turned the key in the ignition that I realised what it was; it had stopped raining. And the sky was clear.

The rain has been almost constant for weeks now. The area in which I live has little in the way of rivers. Usually, I miss them and would wish for more. I know of no natural waterfalls around here at all and the streams are no more than tiny, silver threads. At present, though, they are roiling, muddy streaks, spilling over into the flood plains and sodden fields.

So the clear skies and cessation of rain were a welcome change, even if it had taken me a few moments to pinpoint what was different this morning.

What surprised me the most was not the transient burst of sunshine, but my own acceptance that the bad weather was the norm. It may be England, but even here winter is not normally uniformly grey and wet. We have glorious frosty mornings with pristine skies and soft dawns too. We had even had one a few days ago. But… the pallid shades of gloom have settled in to become ‘normal’ somehow.

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It is not unusual though; life itself often takes on those grey shades where the clouds loom dark and heavy, carrying worries and stress in their nondescript pall. That too can very quickly become the norm and its very familiarity comforting in a strange and perverse way. We don’t always notice when the clouds lift from our days here either… it just feels odd and unusual… possibly uncomfortably so; just because it is different, and we know that, but cannot see why… and do not stop to enjoy the moment.

The sunshine was beautiful, but it didn’t last long. By the time I had driven the five miles to work through the early morning traffic, the skies had darkened once more and the clouds were speeding to cover the cold blue, positioning themselves to release the heavy rain and hailstones they were carrying. Even so, seeing the colours of the dark, rain-damp earth stark against the greens and russets of winter, watching the sparkle and sheen of the rain capture the sunlight as the birds played in the morning air… seeing the first touches of spring green highlighted by the sun… it had made my heart sing.

I wondered how often in the grey monotony of life we miss such moments, as I had ‘missed’ understanding the changed weather, just because we are so used to what we know that we can no longer see or appreciate those flashes of beauty that can come in to illuminate our days at any moment.

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Filling the cup

Poised to write, I leafed through the notes scrawled on my pad. I remembered the conversation and context… it was worth writing about. Given the sketchy nature of what I had written, it was a minute or two before I recalled that I had already done so. It isn’t the first time that has happened. I turned the page, skimming through scribbles meant to be informative reminders, but whose meaning evades me. Which bones at Newbury?

Odd phrases jump off the page. “Atoms on the body of God, unable to see, not noticed when sloughed…” That sounds like a conversation with my son. “Steal standing stone.” That was for But ‘n’ Ben. “Castigated as outlandish and irrelevant in their time, raised to beatitude when dead. Their beliefs can no longer be questioned…”  Each scribbled phrase a reminder of a conversation, condensed into a few words that convey both much and little.

Some I remember better than others. “Systems are two-dimensional, experience is three-dimensional.” By extension, gnosis, that indefinable grace that comes through no logical channel, could be said to be four-dimensional. It had made perfect sense at the time. Any system of teaching, no matter how beautiful, is of itself, flat. No more than transmitted knowledge. It is not until someone works with a system, experiencing it, that it takes on depth and meaning. It comes to life for them, as a seed comes into bloom with all its colour and perfume. Yet without the seed there would be no flower. Knowledge can be shared, but understanding has to grow and it can only do so through experience.

Then “no problem with memory, just retrieval” seemed rather too appropriate. That was another conversation with my son, but if ever I needed an illustration of what we had been talking about, this was it.

The scribbles in the notebook are just snippets of conversations that lasted hours. An odd phrase that stuck in the mind that was written down later… notes on works in progress… isolated ideas that made it to the page. Yet without the context of the conversation, they relay but the tiniest fraction of what was said and often seem to make little sense. For a while, that bothered me. These were conversations that lit up the mind and sent it spinning down unexplored pathways… and I’d lost them!

Or had I?

Without the step by step volley of ideas, it might be difficult to pin down exactly what we had been talking about and how we arrived at those realisations. It might be hard to put them into meaningful words… the details may fade…but the essence of the experience remains.

Somewhere in the vaults of the mind, every moment is neatly filed away. We could not handle so much detail on the surface of memory. Only those things we need to remember remain at the most immediately accessible level, the rest is buried deeper, requiring a trigger to bring it to the forefront of consciousness. Ideas that accumulate like pennies are exchanged for the banknote of understanding. The pennies are not lost, but they look different and take up less space… we do not need to carry their weight.

No experience, no conversation is ever lost or wasted, even if it seems forgotten. The essence of what we can draw from each moment is added to our store of knowledge and understanding. We would not even try to identify each individual drop that makes up a glass of wine… and how could we, when there is neither beginning nor end to any drop that is part of the whole? Experience fills the cup of life, each moment melding with what has gone before, another drop in the Cup. And sometimes, it sparkles.

Looking for answers…

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It wasn’t a dark and stormy night… this book that lies open on my desk begins with a rather less evocative phrase. More mundane  and far less atmospheric…though the writer who had penned them both was the same. I’ve never really seen what was wrong with that opening, though it has passed into the realms of ridicule as ‘purple prose’ and the Right Honorable Lord Lytton now has an anti-literary prize named after him, awarded for the worst opening phrase of a story. A tad unfair, I feel. His style was the product of a bygone era and a society that held different tastes close to its tightly corseted bosom.

This particular book, I haven’t read in a good many years, but as it is fairly obscure yet has been mentioned by three people in as many weeks, I thought I should rummage through the shelves and find my battered and dog-eared copy. I’ve always liked the work of Bulwer Lytton, a prolific novelist and playwright.  His style, I grant you, is heavy and sometimes ponderous… like many writers of his epoch, he will seldom use one word when five will do. His storytelling, however, is a different thing and he manages to evoke times long past and populate them with unexpected characters. Little known today, his ‘dark and stormy night’ is not the only phrase he has added to the language. His novels were hugely influential when they were first published. ‘Pelham‘ changed fashionable dress. Verdi, Wagner and others wrote operas based on his historical works. His friend, Charles Dickens, changed the ending of ‘Great Expectations‘ on his suggestion and Bram Stoker was inspired to write ‘Dracula‘ after reading Lytton’s ‘A Strange Story’, which was the first of his works that I read. The Hollow Earth theory was also popularised by Lytton in ‘The Coming Race’, published in 1861 and was credited with helping to launch the science fiction genre. 

I was barely fifteen when my grandfather gave me two of Lytton’s works. ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ and ‘A Strange Story’. The books could not have been more different. One, a vividly portrayed piece of quasi-historical drama, the other a dark and unsettling tale, set in what seemed to be my own backyard. The locations were referred to only by their initials, but the town sounded remarkably like my own and the Abbey and the old house sounded like those at Kirkstall, Simply because of that, I ploughed through the heavy prose when most of my contemporaries were turning to Barbara Cartland for ‘historical’ fiction.

The tale tells of youth and ego that seeks to perpetuate itself through the fear of not-being, drawing on the life of others in true vampiric style, though without the blood. It is one of those stories where nothing happens… yet lives are changed as the characters act out their fate. The reader may be changed too, as questions begin to form in the nether regions of the mind and parallels are drawn with less lurid occurrences in daily life. I went on to read his ‘Zanoni’,  where a choice between immortality and humanity lifts the veil on many arcane themes; that book also brought questions and my grandfather’s library was a gold-mine.

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Dion Fortune, Robert Graves, Aleister Crowley and MacGregor Mathers were probably not average teen reading. Many of the books my grandfather gave me raised questions. Some gave me answers too, or better still, were signposts that showed me where to look to find my own. In that I was lucky; far luckier than I would realise for many years. At the time, I just assumed that when such questions arose, everyone would have someone with whom to discuss them. It was not until much later that I found that my situation was the exception rather than the norm. In those days, books on alternative approaches to spirituality were still rare and hard to find and, even today, many will have no-one with whom they can explore the deepest thoughts that arise within the hidden regions of the soul.

We all have questions. Many people still turn to books to explore their ideas and seek inspiration, but with the advent of the internet it has become even simpler to tap in a query and see what comes up. The problem is that there is just so much information out there…and most of it conflicting. From the strangest concepts to the harshest diatribes against them, the genuine seeker will find every possible shade of opinion, every argument for and against and every wild and wacky theory there is… and where do you start to sift through them?

Common sense is usually a good place to begin and filters out the worst offenders. Anything that promises the earth will probably not deliver. Especially if it says all you have to do is sit back and pay your hard earned cash for them to wave a magic wand that makes the world right. The wonderful and inspirational sites that tell you that all is right and beautiful have a point; I would agree with them in principle… but when you are stuck in confusion or a dark place in your life, that isn’t really all that helpful. Abstract ideas are all very well, but sometimes what you need is a stout rope… an idea of what you can do to climb out of the hole and there are many excellent schools, groups and systems out there who will throw that rope to you. But how do you know which one?

The best advice I ever read on how to find the school, organisation or system that would work for you came from Dion Fortune when she wrote that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. She advised that the seeker look at those who are part of those systems … not those who have gone a little way and left for one reason or another, but those who have walked the path and stuck with it. Look and see whether those people have something that speaks to you, something you can trust.

The best advice I have ever heard, was simply to ‘ask the question’. Turn your attention to the quiet place within and listen to the prompting of the heart. The spiritual seeker has already knocked on the door and the wordless inner voice, that expression of the higher self, is waiting to answer.

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