The Mystery of the Soul-Child

One of the most enigmatic mysteries in spirituality is the idea of a ‘soul-child’ – the finding within us of a spiritual figure whose characteristics are those of purity and youthfulness; untainted by the world, yet somehow immature within it…

To approach a deeper understanding of this – one beyond the fanciful – we need to consider the words ‘soul’ and ‘child’, and set them within a context of both spiritual growth and modern psychology.

The word ‘soul’ may have started its long life in our learning as a word of precise meaning, but having passed through the fluffy ‘new age’ of spirituality, its definition is anything but exact.

Ask a person from a hundred years ago, and they would have said it was simple: a person has a body and a soul. When we die, if we’ve been a good person, we go to heaven – a place where the soul has a natural home, free from the harshness and temptations of the everyday world, rewarded for its goodness.

Psychology, more than anything else, taught us to use look beyond limitations of formal religion to use our minds to explore how we were made, not from a physical point of view, but from how we feel inside; how we think of our-selves as we grow and develop into a useful human. In short, to become our own priests.

The word ‘self’ is pointed to, here. Somewhere around the age of seven, we typically find ourselves in a moment within which we know we have suddenly gained a strong sense of identity with some state within us that we know to be ‘me’. Once won, it is never lost… and its emergence gives us an apparent centre of awareness and, eventually, power in our lives. It emerges as the personality.

This sense of ‘me’ is the product of the massively sophisticated machine in our head – the brain. But we don’t like to attribute our aspiring ‘spiritual self’ to the brain, instead reserving another invisible space, usually co-existent with our bodies, that we view as the actual or potential soul.

Our self or personality becomes the garment on which we paint the attributes of like and dislike; on which we pin the badges of achievement… and the fears of rejection. The self becomes an increasingly specific entity, until, with success in the face of effort, we become an adult – brave, powerful and capable… at least in our own minds, if not always recognised in the world.

The primary measure of this is how others view us; how much influence we have in the small world of our lives.

Sigmund Freud was the first popular psychologist to blaze the trail of understanding that this ‘self’ had at least three elements:

The Ego (Das Ich ‘I’ ); our centre of identity and consolidated awareness – what everything else affects.

the Uber Ich; Superego, ‘Over-I’ – an idealised and authoritative figure that is a composite of all the ‘should-dos’ of our life; constantly chiding us to do better and live up to our moral potential… the personal ‘road to Saint Me’. A road on which we are always destined to be disappointing.

The Id: a monster lurking in the basement. A collective of all the unhealthy, yet somehow natural traits and appetites of our nature. The ‘animal within us’, the beast…the wolf.

Freud was deeply engaged with the idea that the sexual force lay at the source of mankind’s motivations, and was an escape of energy from all this structure of societal expectations that frames our outward lives. The ego spends much of its life resisting the Id, thereby forcing the personality to life a divided life. Other psychologist, such as Carl Jung saw a spectrum of motivations, rather than just sex.

We can see in this an echo of the more lurid fairy tales that have been with us for hundreds of years. Of course the bad lone wolf wants to eat the desirable maiden! And which maiden has not wanted to run through the forest, chased by the (right) wolf! Only grandma, that usually dependable friend, spoils the action… But as crone – wise woman, she has another role harvested over a much longer time frame than the lovers.

Our emerging ‘self’ – the ego – wants, above anything else, wholeness; yet it knows it must divide its world and create a threefold castle in order to protect itself. Within this structure, it cannot be seen, but its presence will define ‘me’ for the rest of that life, and more importantly, it will determine how we act, how we behave… how we are. I may never know that it is a machine and not really me.

But for all that, it is a reflection of something very powerful and utterly real. A reflection of a Self that redefines the word ‘identity’.

But we did not choose to have this body, this wolf, this red-riding hood, this devil and angel. Worse, it is made up from the very substance of this dirty, beautiful and growth-driven planet…as though the very material of its ‘stuff’ wanted a vehicle to get back to the wholeness of which it had a primal memory…

Real spirituality is about – and only about – the relationship of this stressed ego with something found in the very heart of it-self. Eventually tired of the societal ‘joys and pastimes’ it notices that its greatest delight actually lies within and not without. With a shock, it begins to have a conversation, then a relationship with something within the self that is more ‘me’ than the personality. At this point we should swap the me for I, and begin adding a capital letter to the word Self.

The Self of the self is not fantasy, nor is it a product of the mind- much to the mind’s astonishment. Whether the personality is strong enough to take on itself will determine whether it can enter the forest and find the soul-child within. If it does it may find itself being taught by a loving symbolic child-mother-crone that seems to know everything about it…

Coming?

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

One step…

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I was going through the files and came across a picture… which inevitably sets off a chain reaction…

We never really know where the road is going to lead us as we face the mysteries of tomorrow.

It seemed appropriate too as we approach September and the Silent Eye’s Harvest of Being weekend at Ilkley, where, in what seems like a complete lapse from sanity, I crossed these same stepping stones blindfold. That was an exercise in trust, a very visible one, guided by my two fellow directors, Steve and Stuart.

The trust goes deeper than friendship with these two, but there is a trust deeper still that carries me forward, one foot in front of the other, every day. Even when things get rough.

With my eyes covered, my usual mode of moving through the world was taken with my vision. Strangely enough, the blindfold also took the fear. I no longer had any other options than to trust and move forward or refuse a challenge I, myself, had chosen. I was responsible only for my own actions… all I could do was be aware and respond to the hand and voice that guided.

Some stones are far apart, worn and slippery. The water gushes between them and, even under normal circumstances, the step is a stretch for legs as short as mine. Here I was almost hauled across. My fingers, I recall, crushed and pained by the strength that pulled me to safety. Most gaps were attainable… but only by stretching forward , leaning into the air above the water until my foot touched stone.

As an analogy for the way life can seem to drag us onward over rough ground, or demand a leap of faith into an unknown future, it worked beautifully. As an illustration of how serenely we can travel through such times by trusting that the universe knows what it is doing… even if we cannot see it at all… it was perfect.

If “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”, then the distance decreases with every step forward… no matter how difficult the terrain. If we walk it with trust in a purpose unknown, but known to be of value, then our feet do not resist and may find a smoother way.

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Midnight Mask

I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.

But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…

We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.

A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.

The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.

The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.

Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.

We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.

The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.

But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.

Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…

I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.

Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.

The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.

At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…

The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.

The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.

You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The second before the shutter of life

We were spending a few days in Alnmouth, a tiny Northumberland village with one of the best beaches in the country. I rarely get to swim in the sea these days, but such things are of vital importance to our Collie dog, Tess, who loves to chase a ball down a beach and into the waves.

(One very happy Collie)

It was early morning. I was enjoying our walk. Tess was already wet through and dripping with morning-sun happiness. There were only four of us on the entire beach: a middle-aged couple were walking towards us, along the line of the sea.

I looked at them, then looked again. The woman was carrying two large-lensed cameras, and slightly stooped with the weight. Such heroism demands recognition, so I laughed across at them as they drew level.

“Those are mighty-looking lenses!”

At first, they looked troubled, as though I were some English football hooligan, about to rob them. Then the man said something in broken English and I realised they were Dutch… and I had spoken rather quickly and in a quick-fire humorous way, typical of the English in that situation. The cameras straps were wrapped across and beneath the lady’s breasts, and I realised with horror that my gesticulations might have been horribly misinterpreted.

I back-tracked quickly and explained my admiration for the camera gear, and they began to smile, sharing the humour instead of being anxious about it. I took my rather smaller (iPhone) camera from my jacket pocket and laughed about the comparative size of the photo equipment.

They warmed to the stranger, and for the next five minutes we talked and laughed, as I helped them to say what they wanted to. I speak a little German and French which helps with translation, even if I can’t find all the right vocabulary. People from the Netherlands are often able to converse in three or four languages, but these two had little English. Between us, we persevered and had a pleasant and informative exchange. They went on their way smiling at the early morning encounter with the dog and the man who turned out not to be a football yob…

But the initial look on the face of the lady carrying the massive cameras across her shoulders and chest stayed with me for the rest of the day, and caused me to formulate this post.

Had there been no way of breaching the language gap, they would have left with a very negative view of the encounter. And yet they would have been wrong… Like all of us, their lightning-fast perception and conclusions would have determined how those few minutes of conversation were entered into.

In my head, I could play back the encounter and run it in different ways. Reality, in real-time, doesn’t do that. We might say, traditionally, that the ‘now’ comes at us from the future with a content we can’t fully predict, but which is subject to probabilities. If my last footstep was on a beach in Northumberland, my next footfall is unlikely to be in Utrecht. The world around me is stable – to a degree. But nothing is entirely determined.

This is particularly true of our interactions with others…

We can’t go around greeting each new person as though we were a child, bright with life and openness. In an ideal world we might, but maturity and discretion teach us that human manners have a purpose – not least of which is to prevent us getting thumped.

Over the years of our life, we have built a kind of ‘perception wall’ around us. This wall of sensibilities – an extension of our mind, recognises ‘types’ of events – and people – coming at us from the immediate future. Our enemies or likely potential enemies are well identified, and invoke a whole set of protective behaviours. The violent drunk staggering out of the pub and lurching towards us, swearing, is an example of the invoking of avoidance.

Others are not so well defined. We all use different classifications to mark the approach of that near-future. This creates a gradient of relaxation-warmth at one end, and potential violence at the other. One of the most important human conditions is to be able to exchange positive humour with a stranger; based on a shared set of current circumstances; a shared misfortune of a mild nature (like just missing that bus) is an example.

These occasions leave positive feedback and good memories of those well-spent moments, when vocal and non-vocal cues act as a binding framework for a good-natured encounter. They are like good food. We need them, if only to re-assert our level of humanity and our belief in the goodness of others… something that we be starved of.

Could we take it further and suggest that we actually create our future? My footfall is never going to land in Utrecht, but my pre-judgement of the person approaching me along that pavement has enormous control over the approaching ‘now’.

If you can, try this for a few days. Study the facial expressions of people coming at you, with the willed intention of making a new friend – if only for a moment. Don’t pick someone you like the look of; select a person you wouldn’t normally speak to, but, obviously not one who gives you the chills.

As the very last moment before your ‘meeting’, hold the thought that you have something warm in common. Look onto their eyes, smiling and see what fills that brave space you’ve just created to hold ‘the link’.

You might be surprised what happens, and how you can look back on something that could not have come into existence unless you had altered your expectations…thereby changing the probabilities within the approaching ‘now’. In reality, of course, there is no approaching now, there is only now, filled with constant changes. We do not move into the future. What is around us ‘morphs’ into its new form and we call it time. We measure time by the those changes. Clocks are a form of special agreement as to what the changes represent…

The world is really our world, ‘projected on’ by our expectations, fears and joys.

The Dutch lady with the big lenses didn’t allow for this. The ill-spoken potential ‘English yob’ with the ‘big dog’ had, smilingly and sinisterly, said something abusive in a way she didn’t understand. They were set on leaving the scene, as fast as possible.

I had to use intelligence, charm and sincerity to dig back to the words of that moment and show that only warmth and shared humour were intended. Our wonderful minds allow for that – and our astonishing language that can hold and describe concepts as vast as present and future.

That next second in all our lives is coming around that corner, now, and its nature is significantly undetermined… until we act with familiarity or with self-defence. And mind precedes action. In that sense, creating our own future is a very real thing.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The Last Post?

This may be the final post that I get chance to write for the Silent Eye… that decision has been taken out of my hands. I spent much of last week in hospital, having, as many of you know, been diagnosed with incurable small cell lung cancer last September. It has been an interesting and informative journey on so many levels as familiar things have been stripped away and a gift of love left in its place… rather like the tooth fairy leaving something of real value in place of a discarded incisor.

First to go was the illusion of near-immortality that gets us through life, one way or another. We know there is a certain inevitability about life leading to death, but we tend not to apply it to ourselves until we are forced to pay attention. Dealing with the situation that made me sit up and listen meant that the body came under attack. As its fitness levels diminished, my job went… and so did my face and figure. All core things with which I have identified myself over the years.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Even language conditions you to that… ‘my face’, ‘my body’… ‘my life’, forgetting that we borrow the raw materials of our physical existence from Mother Nature and that they will, one day, have to be returned.

Bit by bit, the human version of one’s identity is stripped away. You are too weak now to dance, couldn’t climb a slope, let alone a hill, if you tried and are going to have to be pushed in a wheelchair… the way you have done for your son all these years, in a complete role reversal. Except that he is still stuck in the wheelchair and you can’t even trade places to make it a good deal. Because there are no ‘deals’ at the end of life.

So, eventually you accept that you won’t make it to retirement. Your voice changes, disappearing every so often. Then, an eye goes… and not in some fixable way. So you can no longer drive the thousands of miles that have been your joy. Or see to paint or write with ease, or even watch the birds on the feeder. And while you are given lots of hope about the outcome while they wait for test results, it is not a surprise when you are told that the cancer that had started in your lungs has now set up multiple homes in your brain.

Or that the ‘months’ you had been given have now been reduced to ‘days to weeks… if you are lucky’.

If you haven’t started to let go of the identification of yourself by what you have done, the definitions of ‘self’ imposed by language, role and label, then having them forcibly torn away is really going to hurt. The human personality is programmed for survival, and the possibility of extinction… like a candle flame forever snuffed out… is anathema to the ego.

The ego… the personality we wear like a protective shell as we walk through the world…  wants to have mattered, to be remembered, to have made a difference. Sometimes it has… and may learn before life ends that it did. And that is a joy, although it comes with a certain regret. How would life have been different had you always known that you were so loved and made a difference? Yet each one of us, every one of us, does so…simply by being present in the world, we change it indelibly. By reaching out to a friend, by comforting a child, by simply being human, sharing life and love and laughter… and tears… we each make the world a different place, moment by moment. We may never see the ripples of what we do or say, or know how far we can shape a day or a person by our actions. We each have that power… and responsibility.

But if we had known how much we mattered in the world, or how much love might be out there waiting for us to let it in, would we have tried to become better at being human? A better vessel for the spirit that animates Mother Nature’s gift of form? Who can say? But I suspect that complacency could be a real danger.

And then you reach the real goodbyes, realising that letting go of the illusions of identity which have, inevitably, helped get you through life, was just a step towards learning how to look at someone you love and say goodbye for the last time. We say goodbyes all the time… it shouldn’t be so hard. But that ‘last time’ seems awfully final. You look at the spring flowers and know you will not see the heather bloom again, or look up at a full moon and know, with a fair amount of certainty, that it will be your last. That ‘tomorrow’ is now an uncertainty.

There is grief at leaving behind the human loves, the beauty and all the things that make our experience on earth so rich and varied. There is, for many, a clear roadmap of where we go next. For those who hold such beliefs close to their heart, there is no ego-fear of annihilation. Nor is there an ending…

Spring is the time of rebirth and the daffodils are in bloom here. I hold to an inner certainty of an existence beyond this one. It is more than belief, but if there are those who choose to call it an expression of that very ego-fear it erases, that is their privilege. I have experienced enough ‘otherness’ to know the difference.

I believe that we are all expressions of the One, by whatever name, story or symbol we seek to understand It. Talking with my son today, he compared us to a microbe on our skin trying to understand the workings of our universe. So much we may be able to deduce, sometimes we are granted a glimpse beyond the Veil… but for the most part, we are far too small to see the Design or know its reasoning in its entirety.

From its essence we are brought into manifestation, still part of the One… and when we depart this world, we are still part of the One. As the components of our bodies are returned to earth, so is the animating spirit returned to its source, carrying with it the fruits of our learning and adding to the store of Creation’s understanding. If the One is All, then it can be no other way and the separation we feel through loss or death is an illusion, painful to the human side of us, but perhaps with a purpose too. If we are here as ‘crystallised spirit’ as some have called it, then we are here to learn things that spirit alone cannot learn and we cannot do so without seeing both sides of life, bright and dark, joyous or sad. How would we know how deep love goes without the grief of loss?

Like many others these days, I have been given the privilege of being able to say goodbye. To leave those I love with memories of smiles and laughter, fierce hugs and gentle tears… for, when you know in advance, the grief of letting go works both ways.

I watch as those I love and am leaving find their own place within themselves and within the circle of love that surrounds them unseen, knowing that they will grow through the grieving, and that anything I could have done to help is done. In the end, as friends, teachers, partners or parents… we can only ever guide faltering footsteps and hold a hand along the way. Choosing the way forward and having the courage to take that chosen path is always down to the individual and when they realise that, they also begin to realise how strong they can be.

And now, for me, comes a time of gratitude, where I look back at what an amazing life I have been granted… for they all are, even when they seem small and pale against the big screen of fame or notoriety. And I can wonder at how much I have learned from the living of it. And how much love it has held… and then find that there was even more than I could possibly have believed.

This may be the last post I write for the Silent Eye, a school with which I have worked for years and which has given me so very much more in return than I could have dared to dream. I would not have missed this adventure for the world. And any time now, I will embark upon the next… and all I will take with me is love. And that is always enough.

The Entered Dragon (3) : beauty and the beast

Continued from Part Two

The dream continues…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll show them!”

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

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

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

‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, this is Part Three

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Entered Dragon (2) : dancing with shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

——-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of the dark ones?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other parts in this series:

Part One, This is Part Two

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Entered Dragon (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Wisdom Breathes Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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