Death and the Salesman

We need to understand death and not fear it…

In a few short weeks it will be September. We (the Silent Eye) have been invited to speak at the Unitarian Society of Psychical Studies annual conference at the Nightingale Centre in Derbyshire.

We use this lovely place for our main annual event in April each year. We had our official ‘birth’ there in 2013. It is a very special place to us, and so we were delighted to be asked to be one of this year’s speakers. The Unitarians are an open-minded church and for their annual Psychical Research event they wanted to have someone give them an ‘esoteric view’ on their key topic… which is Life after Death.

The lovely Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow

It’s useful to spend some time establishing our own thoughts on this – and hence this blog. The Silent Eye does not have specific ‘death teachings’, but that’s only because each person needs to approach what should be life’s most spiritual event for themselves. Throughout our folk-history, tales have been told that it is only possible to accompany a dying person ‘so far down that valley’. After that, we must journey alone…

To have a clear mind on death, we need to hold a number of perspectives, and then try to synthesise them. They include the question of what life is, and how its is organised – biologically and psychologically. Then there is the very real idea of the self and the notion of the Self – the higher ‘self’, built during life by what the Buddhism calls ‘right action’, and driven by impulses that are not purely biological. This latter consideration brings with it the idea of the falling away of the boundaries of the body, but the potential of the retention of the essence of a person, albeit without the ability to ‘do’ any longer – at least in the world of the physical.

One thing is certain: to begin to understand death, we must have a deep understanding of life. They are often referred to as opposite sides of the same coin, but, as with many sayings, the over-familiarity of the metaphor takes away what should a trigger to a depth of thought. If death is the twin of life but different, then what’s the difference?

The most precious attributes I possess are my living vitality and my sense of self. The body is a precious gift from all the life that has gone before me on the living Earth. My body is made up of cells, each of which carries in its DNA the organic wisdom – or success story – of what has worked before. I am therefore the inheritor of literally billions of years of ‘what works’, passed through to me by the ones who loved me the most, by a planet which, in my beliefs, also has a composite intelligence and whose life is part of the Sun’s life, as a member of the solar system – the balancing ‘negative’ to the solar positive.

My immediate experience of life is that of my body, but layered over by my self. I’m likely to be far more concerned with the fact that I’ve just cut my face shaving, than with the inheritance of billions of years of biological continuation. I shouldn’t be, but that’s the truth. The self has inherited a complex response network, centred in the brain, that behaves as though the organic mechanisms are there for its entitled continuance and shouldn’t bother it – while it gets on with drinking that favourite red wine with a well cooked steak for dinner…

The self has likes and dislikes. Some of them are linked to survival and are very strong – like the reaction to being burned as a child, which drives my future relationship to flame or heat. This goes beyond preference (French mustard or not with my steak) and into the ‘keep me alive and healthy’ mechanisms. Only when the flow of my normal day is interrupted by, say, the arrival of the knowledge that I have a serious disease, do I begin to expand my sense of self to include all the worlds that are ‘me’. That’s not strictly true, of course. I can seek that expansion any time I want… but I’ll have to work; to put effort into something that is not normally part of my reward system.

In doing that, I might be considered to be ‘growing my soul’, my highest nature. There is a sense of permanence about what is produced when we invest in a higher purpose like this. That feeling of inner growth stays with us, like a the learning of a new language. Our organic nature has not changed, but our sense of self – of Self, possibly – has grown.

Religions are someone else’s idea of spirituality. The only one that should really matter to ‘me’ is my own, because my own will become my truth of dying, whether I like it or not… and most of us try to avoid that for as long as possible, because dying appears to be the end of everything we love, struggles and all.

Religions can create caring communities and have great value if seen like this; but they can also be prisons of someone else’s values. At the same time, the moral values of the west have seldom been under as much threat as they are at present, and we can clearly see how the ‘good’ is being tested in the face of a chaos driven by out of control egoic behaviour.

Wisdom is a hard thing to define, but essential for civilisation; and civilisation is our only hope of working in truth with our beautiful planet.

What am ‘I’, then?

‘I’ am a unique collection of cells made up, literally of the stuff of exploded suns from billions of years ago. In many important ways, my life as a ‘bubble’ seems to mirror that of the smallest cells of which I am composed, and which learned to work together to form what is now my body, hundreds of thousands of years ago.

There is a mirror of learning between the objective (the physics, chemistry, biology and what demonstrably is) and the evolving self – singularly and in society – civilisation. This process of learning is based upon a separation. I live within an ‘in-here’, believing that I am separate from the ‘out-there’. This experienced and very real division is necessary for me to strengthen a self that can describe and hold the essence of its relationship with what is my world. This living description is of great value – and not just to myself.

Many years ago as a Rosicrucian student, I read this sentiment: “Some would say that, in the reverse of what is normally believed, a person is an island of death in a sea of life.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but now, finally, I do… And what it means is the secret to the the end of all fear.

Some of the most powerful truths of what we are have come to us from the civilisation that gave us Yoga – as both inner and outer disciplines. ‘Discipline’ is important, for we must work to find and then strengthen what we ‘are’ – truly and not with self-illusion. The word ‘yoga’ means union.

The Silent Eye’s enneagram is used as map of the journey from personality to soul, or expressed more accurately, from self to Self

In our own system of self-discovery the Silent Eye uses certain archetypes, found within a map of our lives called the Enneagram (above). Each person has a unique map. Once these are discovered within us, they become friends on an inner journey; gradually revealing their deeper natures and showing us the keys to our own being. Over time, one of these will become a dominant figure, revealing our own driving characteristics, positive and negative.

In my own case, I am (to give it a self-deprecating title) the ‘salesman‘ of this inner pattern of the egoic self. I’m lots of other things, too, but that remains the pattern of my egoic nature, my personality… and this, with some of the dross burned away, has formed the toolset with which I now work to teach the directed evolution of the life-balance of outer and inner living. Each of us has this dominant (but different in each case) set of characteristics. Its refinement is empowering and involves a deep contact with the individual soul whose outer layers it is…

The system known as Yoga has also given the western world many gifts. A good example is the secret of looking at breathing differently. Put simply, each breath is a mirror of the whole of life. We take into our ‘selves’ what is not us. Breath belongs to a collective life that excludes none. When we breathe in, it lends itself and its life-sustaining force to this bubble of individualised life that is us. For that to be so, there must be a great importance – to Nature – about what happens inside that bubble, that ‘in-here’. The harvest of the higher, non-organic things inside that bubble is the justification of the great cost to Nature of sustaining that individual life…

At death, the individual life inside the bubble drops away, opening to the magnificence of the All-Being. There may still be important divisions in that realm, but they will not work as the brain works. The brain is gone, as is our personal memory. Reasoning from cause to effect is gone. Time will be a different thing. The Universe is Life and does what it wills, creating the new now, eternally, in a realm where everything is interlinked. Fear will be a distant and fading memory… but joy won’t.

I have resisted personal ‘pictures’ of what happens at death. But, in writing this, a great sense of both belonging and humour arose in me… and with it a picture. I must speak symbolically, and in the language of one of my favourite life-affirming cultures: ancient Egypt.

At my death, an Isis-like figure will undress me, discarding the layers of my physicality, like used bandages. Possibly with a bit of help , she will open my eyes and turn me to face the great father of the deep who will smile and ask me if I have a heavy or a light heart. If my heart is light with the joy of the life lived, he will ask me to tell him about my life, so that he may add my story to his vast collection of how the Creation looks from within. After that, there will only be his voice, with the dancing and eternal presence of my song as an added part of what he is… But the salesman’s story will have made a small but important difference… As will yours.

©Copyright 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 Way to Dusty Death?

We were in Ulverston, Dean and I. We’d just climbed the famous ‘Hoad’ – a tall monument on the top of a tall hill that looks like a lighthouse… but isn’t. There’s some important symbology in that, but we’ll return to it later.

Light and dark….a walk in Glenlivet…including a view from the stone circle at the Doune of Dalmore toward Drumin castle…both scenes of coming derring-do on Sunday. Photo: Dean Powell.

He was on his way back from Somerset to northern Scotland – the Glenlivet area of the North Cairngorms, where he and his loved ones have their home. Our house in Cumbria is en-route, so the door is always open to break his journey. After a night involving Bernie’s excellent cooking and a glass of red wine or two, we decided that a local (ish) walk would put some air into the bloodstream for his second leg and return to the far north.

Ulverston is one of our local favourites. It’s about a half-hour journey up the fast Barrow road. A coffee in Ford Park and then the short but taxing climb up ‘The Hoad’ to get to the famous lighthouse that isn’t. It can be seen all over the expanse of Morecambe Bay. It’s actually a monument to the famous engineer Sir John Barrow.

We’d got our breath back by the time we got to the monument. The Silent Eye had recently carried out the ‘Jewel in the Claw’ spring workshop at Great Hucklow – our annual biggie. We had used a Shakespearean theme, casting one of our Californian visitors as Queen Elizabeth – ruling over a giant chessboard which was the royal court; and upon which the players moved with great caution… under her watchful eye.

Dean and Alionora had played two of the central characters: Lord Mortido and Lady Libido – death and life in the fullest sense. They were superb. Leaving the tiny village Dean had reflected that there might be scope for doing something else ‘Shakespearean’, in the form of a journey around Macbeth Country, centred in Grantown-on-Spey, not far from where he and Gordon live.

Now, on top of the world and next to the faux lighthouse, we began to discuss it in earnest.

It would involve several kinds of journey. First, it was a long way to travel; but we had all driven down to Dorset the year before for the similar summer weekend, so we knew we’d get the support from our hardy regulars…

Second, there had to be a dual journey in terms of both spiritual discovery and visiting the landscape. The event was to take place in a triangle of land between Grantown, the Findhorn Coast and the Macbeth castles just south of Inverness. There would be no lack of scenery! Dean had already assembled a set of places with that ‘special feel’, including a mysterious old church and a stone circle. Within this combined landscape he proposed leading a journey of self-discovery using an ancient magical symbol. Macbeth’s ‘witches’ had to be honoured – they were a very real force in the time of James VI of Scotland – and subsequently the English king on the death of Elizabeth I. Dean has an intensely esoteric background and is a qualified NLP therapist and teacher as well as the local leader of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. He has recently developed the idea of the ‘magical matrix’ and proposed to use this to accompany our journey in the highland landscape.

I hadn’t realised until he told me that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. The event would mix his Scottish team and the Silent Eye, and we proposed it be called the Silent Unicorn.

Somewhat pleased with the plan, we took the long and winding path down from the Hoad to have a fruitful cafe lunch in Ulverston.

And now it is upon us. Like Macbeth we must earn our keep (sorry) and ‘strut and fret’ upon the magnificent stage of the highlands. Our weekend’s tower must be a true one and not false. Only with that intent – that something deeper is afoot, will we attract the intellectual and emotional harmony that so typifies these Silent Eye ‘landscape journeys’. By the time this is published, we will be leaving Cumbria, to join up with friends old and new from across the UK. We all face a long journey; but a very rewarding one.

For more information on joining us for one of the Silent Eye ‘discovery in the landscape’ weekends, click to see our forthcoming events, here.

The road to Inverness awaits….

©Copyright 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.

Small steps…

“I need to do something.” Clinging to a lifestyle in which they felt themselves to be stuck, the person concerned said that a change was needed… a break in the pattern of their days, for to break just one link in a chain is to break free of it. But where to start? What if it wasn’t enough? The fear of failure was holding them back from taking even the smallest step forward that could potentially change everything.

I know that feeling. I imagine that most of us have felt it at some time in our lives. Change and failure can be two of the scariest monsters we have to face and maintaining even a painful status quo can feel like a far better option than scaling a mountain of fear. Still, you never know what you can do until you try…and you cannot take a second step until you have taken the first, no matter how small a step it may be.

I remembered climbing a mountain a couple of years ago. At fifteen hundred feet, it just about graduates from a hill to a mountain and to my eyes, it looked like one… especially as our route would take us up very a steep incline. I really wanted to visit a stone circle I had heard a lot about, but, recovering from a serious chest infection, I wasn’t sure I would make it.  I was at that stage where I could walk easily on the flat, but any kind of climb, be it hill or stair, left me fighting for breath with heart pounding. Standing at the bottom of a slope that appeared to be almost vertical, I was quietly convinced I would fail… and afraid that in doing so I would let my companion down and spoil the day.

It was hard going, especially as it was a hot and sunny day. Every few yards I had to stop and gasp for breath under the pretext of taking pictures.  It wasn’t just me, though, my companion was struggling too… and in an odd way, that made me feel better. The slope seemed endless, and even when we reached level ground, the hill still climbed steadily in front of us. We managed to lose the footpath and had to clamber over rough ground, climb a rickety gate wrapped in barbed wire and, at one point, found ourselves wading through a field strewn with bones.

And yet… we were in a landscape that was incredibly lovely, with bright blue sky above the hills and deep blue sea below. The heather was in flower, the sheep were purest white and there were wild horses watching as we climbed. After the initial climb, the going was easier, even though it was all uphill, and, when we arrived at the plateau below our destination, it was sheer beauty that took my breath away.

It had been worth it. The last climb brought us to a superb stone circle, with panoramic views… and not only that, there were other circles and stones all around us. Not only did we see what we had come to see, we were showered with so many other wonders, from the stones to the hunting hawk that we watched… gifts we could not have expected rewarded us for our efforts. And the way back would be all downhill…

I remembered too taking my younger son up Ben Nevis when he was a boy. We knew before we started that we would fail to reach the summit that day; there was no way we would make it to the top in the few hours we had at our disposal, but we would at least get a feel for the mountain and see beauty we would never have seen had we not made the attempt.

I thought back too, to the first time I had attended an event with an esoteric school similar to those run by the Silent Eye. I was scared stiff of what I might find or whether I would fail to fit in… and was met with open arms and hearts, laughter and friendship. Or the time I had arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, terrified, owning nothing more than the clothes in my suitcase. I had left everything behind… home, friends, family, language… and was about to embark upon an unknown future. It could have been a disaster… and yet my years in France became the happiest I have known until recent years.

Whenever I feel fear of change or failure weighing me down, I look back at all those times I have taken that first, small step. It can be as simple as a phone call, a break in a routine, or the determination not to let someone down. It need not be a big thing at all. Yet, as soon as you have taken it, one foot in front of the other, your world and your view of it has already changed. Even if you fail, you will have seen and experienced something new along the way… and going back to the starting point for another attempt or a different route is always easier ‘downhill’.

There are so many possibilities for wonder out there and we never know what the next step may show us. The only guarantee that we have is that we will not see them at all unless we take that first step beyond fear…

Great Expectations..?

It had been a month since I had last been in the north and, as I took to the road once again, there was the familiar frisson of excitement that always runs through me as the journey begins. This time, however, there was something more… a longing that hovered between fear and anticipation. Last time, the heather had just begun opening its petals… and we had enjoyed a month of unusually hot sun. Would it still be in bloom?

The moorlands that I love are where the heather flowers. Most of the year, the moors are brown and gold. When the bracken unfurls its fronds, they glow with a vivid green… and when the heather blossoms, it paints whole hillsides with its distinctive hue; the air is fragranced with honey and the land wears its soul, at once regal, soft and earthy.

The road led me through six counties and a change of season. In the south, the trees still wear the deep greens of midsummer. Further north, and the touch of ochre dapples the leaves… barely visible yet but assuring me that autumn is not far away. Wildflowers still bloom, vivid against the dry stalks of gilded grasses and clouds of downy seeds follow the breeze in search of a home.

I love the autumn, and I feel in tune with the change in the air, as my own seasons turn with those of the year. But, for once, I hoped autumn would stay its hand, just a little while longer… just for the heather. As I round a bend near Bakewell, there is a far-distant hill that gives me my first glimpse of the moors. When, at this time of year, there is a sunlit streak of purple, my heart lifts and sings. This time, there was only an unrelenting smudge of brown and for a moment I felt near to tears.

Perhaps I was wrong… maybe it was just the dark grey clouds that robbed the hills of colour. But no, my next glimpse confirmed my fears… the best of the heather was over and I would not see it in full bloom this year. For a moment, the disappointment was all I could feel… and a wry acknowledgement that I was being ungrateful. I almost carried on driving.

Instead, I turned the car up towards Curbar Gap and found a place to park. I had an hour or so before I was meeting my friend in Sheffield… and although the heather was over, I love the moors. It is a place where the earth sparkles with quartz from thousands of years of wind and rain whipping the surface of ancient stone. A place where the cobwebs of the journey and the tatters of my disappointment could survive no more than a moment in face of its beauty.

Only expectations lead to disappointment. I have been blessed by past summers… I had seen the first buds break this year. I let the wind blow away my silliness; I need only be grateful for the beauty I have seen… and for this moment… and enjoy my hour amongst the stones of the high places of the moors that I love. I let disappointment go. I have seen enough heather to bring me joy for a lifetime. To see it just once would be enough to imprint it forever in memory, and yet I have seen it bloom for more than half the summers I have lived. I have walked in it, slept in its fragrance, laughed, loved and learned within its misty haze. I can call it up in my mind’s eye and paint the mountains purple. If I close my eyes and conjure a vision of some personal heaven, it holds the perfumed bluebell woods of spring and the fragrant heather of summer.

And yet… there was heather. Not the great, glorious swathes I had hoped for, but the last, tenacious shreds of beauty, sheltering in the lee of the stones as the wind whipped over the Edge. I walked between the gritstone boulders, drinking in the distant hills and the green of a landscape undaunted by drought. Stern iron skies reached down to embrace the earth and, in that moment, there could be no finer place to be. I was content.

The land is a wonderful teacher. Had I succumbed to the disappointment engendered by expectations, I would not have walked the land here, nor been open to its beauty… nor the heather nestled between the rocks.  As I turned to retrace my steps to the car, a rift opened between the clouds. A stray sunbeam touched the hills below me… and where the sunlight melted the shadows, there was one brief flash of glory that lit the land for me… and the last of the heather.

Odd socks and the mummification of rats…

bald tailed squirrel 037

I couldn’t put it off any longer, bad back or not…  the sheets needed changing and the mattress was overdue to be turned. My son, for reasons best known to himself, chose to furnish himself with one of those huge beds of the mega-super-king variety that are the size of a small playing field. The kind that is so heavy, it is impossible to move without a crane and which has a solid-seeming base that extends between mattress and floor.  He is also furnished with one very small mother. Changing the bed is a job I dread as, given my vertically challenged status, I could use the duvet cover for a bivouac and still have room in there to party.

The very idea of turning the mattress makes me break out in a cold sweat. It is not a job I can easily do alone at the best of times. This time, however, the bad back was going to come in handy. There is always a silver lining somewhere, if you look hard enough. My son would have to help.

This is not as simple as it might seem, considering that standing and balancing are things he cannot do well, especially while trying to do something else. But I saw no reason why that should get in the way.

Stripping the bed was easy. It was when we came to turn the mattress that things took a turn for the worse. Halfway round, the edge of the mattress caught the slats on the bed base and pulled them out of place, unclipping them from the centre of the bed. The only thing for it was to balance the mattress as best we could, while I tiptoed between the remaining slats to put things right. All well and good… until I lifted one offending slat from the floor.

There, before my poised toe, and right beneath where my son lays his head, was a rat. Not just any rat either. Both it and its population of insect casings were mummified. I may have squealed. When I gingerly picked it up by its tail, it was a stiff as a board and the mummification process left a rat-shaped stain on the carpet.

bald tailed squirrel 024

Many things made sense. My son has a well-stocked bird table that attracts a lot of wildlife… including the creature he had watched, fascinated by its agility, before calling me to ask if there were any such thing as ‘a bald-tailed squirrel’. Boots, the first cat my son had taken pity on a couple of winters ago, is a huntress and, for the first few months of her residency, had regularly brought ‘gifts’ to his bedroom door. Usually birds, occasionally a mouse and once a full-grown rat. Or, as we now knew, twice.

After one particularly bloody episode, Boots had finally understood that her gifts were not appreciated and had given up, much to the relief of the cleaning lady… I hated seeing those poor creatures torn to shreds, though the rats she had killed and left intact.

cat2

That spring, while my son was away, I had taken the opportunity to deep clean his home and garden… everywhere except under that mountain of a mattress, which had been declared out of bounds. I did the bedroom first, shut the door to keep the cat out and started on the rest. A week or so later, I had arrived to feed his fish and found his bedroom window swarming with huge black flies. I had looked everywhere for the source of the problem… except under the bed. I let the flies out, but the same thing happened for several mornings thereafter… then nothing. Not one. I cleaned the windows again and thought no more about it. Flies nest in window frames sometimes. I’d had that happen at my own home one year.

Tim

Oddly enough, Tim, the tomcat who has also adopted my son, and who is also known as Frank and Nigel to the neighbours where he deigns to dine, has been trying to get under the bed for a while. This morning, we had found out why.

I disposed of the mummy, cleaned under the bed, fixed the slats and together we remade the bed, finding, in the process, a lost favourite sock that had lodged itself in the corner of the duvet. Bonus!

It was odd that the poor rat had lain hidden for so long, slowly decomposing while my son was away and thus not plagued by the smell. The timing of the burial beneath the bed had allowed it to pass unnoticed… until I began to see the flies. Even then, the source of the problem lay hidden until we finally found the corpse and disposed of it once and for all, cleaning the mess left behind.

I wondered how often the same thing applies to the hurt, guilt and fears we bury in the shadows of the mind and heart? We may not even know they are there… or, if we suspect their presence, choose not to look too closely, knowing that it will be unpleasant. Although we may be unaware, there is something about such things that may draw others to us, for all the wrong reasons.  Such things fester and rot, eating away at the soul, leaving behind immovable stains and providing a breeding ground for darkness and pain that can cast a cloud across our own lives and those of the people we love.

No matter how unpleasant the task, it is better to delve into the dark places, tackle the mess, and decently dispose of the copses. We never know what we might uncover, or how much we will ache as we essay the task. There may well be uncomfortable surprises, but as we allow light into forgotten corners, there may also be a gift just waiting to be uncovered… even if it is something as simple as a favourite sock.

bald tailed squirrel 001

Deep and Personal

Deep and Personal - 1

“At what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal?

The red-haired man in the corner had asked the question. He always sat in the corner of the room at the talks and always asked a stupid question.  I could feel my lips curl… As a field officer in this particular mystical organisation, I had the notional responsibility for making sure such events went smoothly; and that such dumb questions were kept to a minimum.

I half turned from my reserved seat at the front and shot him a look – the kind of look that  said, listen, fella, you should know better…

He always sat in the rear left corner, always asked the kind of question to which you could not supply a clear-cut answer. Deep and personal! Who did he think he was, a guru or something?

Of such occasions is wisdom made; but often, not until much later. The character of the red-haired questioner did not fit the usual profile of those following the course of study that the venerable organisation provided. He was not exactly a trouble-maker, but had the potential to be so. I didn’t want anyone of that ilk upsetting my carefully constructed agenda.

Of course, that was exactly what he was doing: upsetting my carefully constructed agenda. He was trying – and succeeding – in injecting a real question of the spirit into the mechanical, though precise, vision that I had of how the teachings should be discussed.

It’s a classic question: at what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal. A scientist would very likely hate it. It would imply the kind of soggy thinking that, in such a mind, typifies mysticism. We might follow his train of thought thus:

‘The universe is an ongoing sequence of events, triggered by the Big Bang. Life on Earth began through a random creation of a self-sustaining proto-cell, probably in the deep oceans, near a thermal vent; and the long cycle of increasingly intelligent life began with primitive awareness of inside and outside, which eventually gave rise to consciousness as we know it. None of this requires a belief in there being intelligence behind such an event. The notion of a personal relationship of the distant relatives of such a single cell with the mechanical universe that gave it birth is nonsense.’

Deep breath… because there’s nothing wrong with that view, except the findings of consciousness, itself; and thankfully, science can’t get hold of that or measure it.

A good course of mystical study will not actually be study. It will be involvement. If it’s really good you may not know that’s happening, as you investigate how the part of you that considers itself to be a ‘self’ is put together. You will find that, as you journey into or alongside your self, the world begins to look different. This strange occurrence produces the beginnings of a question: where, exactly, is the world… and where am I?

Everything we know, or think we know, derives from signals received in the brain. These signals are the fruit of our senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Each takes a section of the ‘out-there’ and feeds it to the magnificent super-computer that is the brain. Our lives are programmed to enable the question ‘who am I’ to be answered. Our own arising is the biggest mystery of all. What was I before I was born, cries our self; what will I be after my supercomputer dies?

Fear is at the root of much of our ordinary learning. A better equipped machine can defend itself more capably. The human race mirrors this at the national level. Fear is the key to most madness.

A truly mystical journey must concern itself with the dismantling of fear, and that requires an understand of where the notion of ‘authority’ comes from in our developing consciousness.

In our search for the true Self we encounter the false self – false only in that fear made it the centre of the only universe that counts – ours. Finding the edge of that cellular bubble called organic life brings us face to face with the division that never was…and then things can really begin to unfold.

The irritating man with the red hair knew this. He knew that we do not become real mystics by knocking on the edge of the cellular universe; we do so when that universe gets deep and personal and knocks on our door…


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

Remember…

Paper poppies bloom, as fragile as the lives they represent. Every year it is the same, I try to find some way of saying what is in my heart and the words will not come.  I was not there, I have no right to speak of war and its atrocities. I have not seen it with my own eyes. I have never aimed a gun at another human being and been faced with the choice whether to kill or be killed. I have not tried to sleep in cold mud made from the earth of a foreign land mingled with the blood of my comrades. I have not lost my child to war.

I have no right to speak, but nor have I the right to remain silent when the price of my freedom to speak was so high. I have a duty to my own conscience and to all whose lives were given in service to their country or lost to the horror of some political expediency written in blood.

There are many tales of heroism and valour in the field, tales that highlight the beauty and nobility the human spirit can attain. But war is never beautiful, nor is it the glorious myth we have historically created when we need recruits.  War is born from the desire for power. Whether a formal declaration of war is made by the aggressor or the defenders, whether the war is fought for necessary or political resources, to uphold an ideal, for the betterment or protection of a way of life or for its imposition, the cause of every war is an idea…and ideas are born first in a single mind. For this single idea, or because we feel we must defend ourselves against it, we are prepared to sacrifice an entire generation, yet we will read about  tribes who sacrificed a single human life for the good of the community and call them barbaric.

Today, with our so-called smart weapons, we can obliterate a whole city remotely, not just one person, not even one generation, with the touch of a button.  Gruesome death is a constant on our TV and cinema screens, we even play games with it. The gift of life is cheapened and our reverence for human life seems a thing of the past. Yet that life is our own… and ironically, our fear of death seems to be greater now than ever before.

This year sees the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele. There is no accepted figure for the number of lives lost in that one, appalling battle, though it is certain that over half a million men were killed, maimed or wounded. That we do not even know how many is perhaps commentary enough.

Harry Patch, who was the last surviving, fighting soldier from WWI, fought in that battle. He died in 2009 at the age of 111, and was given a military funeral at which he requested not even ceremonial guns be present. He had spent eighty years trying to forget the horrors of war, but when he reached a hundred years old and was brought to the eyes of the media, he was once again asked to remember…and for the last years of his life, he spoke of little else.

Harry believed that war was wrong and that a war that would eventually be settled around a table should be fought there and not cost millions of lives in something he saw as “nothing better than legalised mass murder”.

Harry was wounded at Passchendaele by a shell that killed three of his friends. A short while before his death he was asked what it felt like to be the last man alive to have fought in the trenches.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I sit there and think. And some nights I dream – of that first battle. I can’t forget it.

“I fell in a trench. There was a fella there. He must have been about our age. He was ripped shoulder to waist with shrapnel. I held his hand for the last 60 seconds of his life. He only said one word: ‘Mother’. I didn’t see her, but she was there. No doubt about it. He passed from this life into the next, and it felt as if I was in God’s presence.

“I’ve never got over it. You never forget it. Never.”

He spoke of how, from arriving on the battlefield to leaving it, wounded, months later, he never had a bath or a change of clothes. He spoke the fear and of the choice between shooting to kill or to wound and the pact he had made with some of his comrades never to kill… a pact that could have had them shot by their own commanding officers.

He spoke of a horror many of us will never know or understand. He hoped we never would.

Across the world we turn to remember with respect those who served their countries or their ideals in the Great War ‘to end all wars’ a hundred years ago and in all the arenas of war ever since. Regardless of the reasons for going to war, the valour, the sacrifice and the suffering of those who serve cannot be denied. Every year, there are those who call for an end to our remembrance, saying that it is now old history and as relevant to our lives as the wars of Rome or ancient Greece. I will wear my poppy with millions of others in the hope that in remembering, we can learn from our bloody history… for we continue to write it.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. Over 16 million died and over 20 million were wounded.

The total number of casualties in WW2 is thought to be between 60,000,000 to 85,000,000. Such was the scale of that conflict there is a gap where we simply do not know… a gap of some 25 million. As if the entire population of New York simply disappeared.

And that doesn’t include the casualties who suffered horrendously but survived their wounds.

It doesn’t include those who suffered the emotional damage, the mental scarring, the recurrent nightmares, the fear. It doesn’t include the orphans.

It doesn’t include the long term suffering of poverty, dispossession, or the racial and religious hatred that engenders or is engendered by war.

It doesn’t tell of the personal loss that touches all victims on all sides of a conflict… for they are all human beings, like you and me. It does not count the heartbreak of those who waited in vain for their children, siblings, parents and lovers to come home.

It doesn’t show the damage to the land, the mines that take lives long after the conflict has moved on, or the animals and birds decimated by bombing or being drafted into service.

The figures are cold and clinical. They do not dream. They do not wake up screaming.

The counts vary, depending upon who is doing the telling and why, but one thing they seem to agree on is that in total over 240 million men, women and children were killed in war in the 20th century.

And still it continues. Every day.

Since the beginning of recorded history major wars have killed an estimated four billion people… That figure is too vast for the mind to encompass. It is the equivalent of over half the human race alive today. Erase half of your family, half of the people you know or have ever known, half your friends… half your children. Then look at the cenotaphs or the names in the books of Remembrance. War does that to people.

We like to think of ourselves as an advanced civilised society… there has to be a better way and I hope and pray that, one day, we may find it.

The Feathered Seer – The bitter drop

‘If you have not lived through something it is not true’

Kabir

The fourth ritual took us to a place of fear. Within the local landscape there is a high place that had, for a long time, remained hidden from notice, even though we had passed it many times over the years. It was never hidden from sight… there are no trees to give seasonal camouflage, no houses or obstructions…it was only, somehow, hidden from awareness. Even though we must have seen it, the mound had never impinged upon consciousness. And it is really too big, too imposing, to miss.

It was inevitable that, once noticed, we would visit the site. The story that was born of that first encounter has been told elsewhere. The encounter itself was unlike any other, beginning an unease that grew with each successive visit and leaving me an emotional wreck. The tale that the hills whispered would furnish the inspiration for the fourth ritual.

Prior to that, however, Morgana was to speak to the group of soul-lineage and the work of the psychopomp. It was one of the many striking synchronicities of the weekend. We had issued the invitation but had no idea what subject she would choose, what she would say or how she would present it. The subject could not have fitted more perfectly had it been pre-planned and scripted… and the symbols beside her as we walked in, black  and white, would exactly mirror what we had planned for another unscripted sequence in the very next ritual and about which only two of us knew. In such seemingly impossible ‘coincidences’ there is a reassurance that we are doing something right.

Fear was addressed on many levels throughout the weekend, from the fragilities of the ego that affect our day-to-day lives and the way we perceive the world, through to the deeper, often unspoken fears that hide in the shadows. Morgana spoke of death and dying and, for many those are the ultimate fears.

To those for whom death itself holds no fear, the manner of dying is one of some concern. We seldom have a choice in the manner of our passing and for most, if not all of us, there is the conscious hope of a gentle ending for ourselves and those we love. Death itself may be feared because we do not know what lies beyond… it is unknown territory and even our certainties cannot be proven before we pass beyond that veil. Death may also be feared because we cannot imagine a place or state of being when we are not. The ego is designed for life; it clings to its familiar state of being and, for existence to continue without its presence in some form or another, is an unencompassable idea to many.

The initiatory theme of the ritual took us to a place of fear… and moved beyond it. The word ‘initiate’ means ‘to begin’  or to ‘set in motion’ and, as there can be no beginning without the ending of a previous state, the symbolism of death and birth into a new state of being, of the fear and its facing, is an apt analogy. In the Tarot, the Death card symbolises not only physical death, but also endings and change… and a change is a new beginning.

Our society has, in many ways, become inured to death. It’s horrors are so often in our homes through the news and media, both in reality and as ‘entertainment’, that we no longer recoil from many of the images with which we are confronted. Yet both the fear and the mystery of death remain.

Before the workshop, I spoke with someone about the value of life and, in particular, about the role of its limits. Would we achieve anything much if we were immortal, beyond the ability to perfect the art of procrastination? With unlimited time, would we seek a cure for cancer or a path to peace? Our limitations may give our lives meaning. By being aware of and accepting our mortality, we create a virtual time machine for ourselves. We are all aware of how time itself seems to slow or speed up depending on our levels of boredom or engagement with the moment. By acknowledging the finite nature of our lives, time takes on a new level of meaning and we live each moment with greater intensity. Kahlil Gibran said, “It is life in quest of life in bodies that fear the grave.” The sadness is that our very fear of death is caused by our consciousness of life and, in turning away from its inevitability, perhaps we are also failing to embrace life as fully as we could.

The positives in negativity

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings

hast thou ordained strength…”

KJV Psalm 8:2

I passed the entire night in the hinterland between sleep and waking. It is that odd state where the body rests unresisting but the mind wanders down strange pathways, making connections between seemingly random things and finding answers to questions we did not know we needed to ask. Therefore, when I woke, exhausted and feeling rather low, I simply blamed the fitful night.

It had not even occurred to me to take the leaflet that seriously. I don’t like the things, but I am only going to be taking the damnable pills for a short while and adding steroids to the current handful of pills, as opposed to being waltzed off to hospital, seems a far better option. I had them once before for pneumonia and, beyond the usual sleep disruption and digestive problems, I was fine. I simply dislike steroids on principle.

By the time I arrived at my son’s to make his morning coffee, I was feeling lower still and, when I received a surprising and very worrying message about my finances, that was enough to tip me into feeling royally depressed. It was not until much later that I realised the depression was probably chemically induced and not ‘me’ at all. In the meantime, however, I went from bad to worse and spent much of the morning fighting back or giving way to tears.

My son is, by no stretch of the imagination, a babe. On the other hand, he is my junior by some thirty-three years and we have known each other all his life. Over the past few years, given the unusual circumstances, we have learned how to talk to each other at a level that often goes beyond the mother-son relationship and into that of friends. Those discussions have led us deep into the realms of psychology, at both general and personal levels, especially since Nick took conscious control of his inner life and started down a path to greater awareness and understanding of what makes life ‘tick’.

Unsurprisingly, many of our discussions have focussed on his journey. Today, he turned the tables on me. As neatly as any surgeon, he stripped away the veneer, the excuses and justifications we are all able to come up with. He pointed out that the life I have lived, though not always either easy or pleasant, has been lived with a capital ‘L’… the fight or flight response, when it cuts in, always allows us to live at a higher octane and heightens experience. He looked at the passions in my life, referred to the gratitude I have for every experience, good or bad, that has helped me grow or allowed me to be of use with a real understanding. And, after pointing out all the things I am grateful for in my life, managed to sum me up concisely.

He even, and deliberately, said some things I can only take as the ultimate compliments… but which he refused to commit to paper and would probably have to kill me should I repeat them…but which meant an awful lot.

By this time, I was in tears again…for several reasons. Firstly and foremost because I could see just how much he has grown by applying what he has learned to his own life and journey, not just reading about it or knowing the words. Then he spoke of the suit of armour I wear to face the world… armour I have had to build in order to be a partner, daughter, mother and friend. He took it further, suggesting that the armour was not just there to face the world, but to protect the ‘hurt, fragile little girl’ who still lives in me, and who ‘just wants to be loved and cared for.’

We discussed that little girl, because he is right. She is still there. We spoke about her in some depth and honesty. I denied that I needed to forgive her when he suggested that might be the case. There was nothing to forgive, I had realised long ago that the little girl had no reason to feel guilty. We had already agreed that as we grow, we do the best we can with who we are at the time and that hindsight sees events differently, and with a wider view, than the person we were when we experienced them.

“That little girl we are talking about in the third person?” he said. “You need to forgive her for feeling  that guilt.” And as I write that, the tears come again… because he is right.

It doesn’t take much sometimes, just a few words, rightly placed, can open what you thought was a proverbial can of worms and show you that it was empty all along. It is seldom a Big Thing that changes a person’s perspective for the better. Life is made up of chains of tiny things, pearls and pebbles strung together, that heal or hurt. This was one of the pearls and without the imposed depression, the tears and utter negativity with which I had faced the day, it would never have happened.

I wandered to the shop to pick up a few things for Nick and the dog, so deep in thought that it was not until later that I realised I seemed to have been charged ten pounds less than expected for my purchases. It is a tiny amount, compared to the problems I will have to sort out after that message, but it is also a tangible reminder that the universe has a way of giving us what we need, even if we do not get what we think we want. Trust in the rightness of life goes a long way.

It was not until I was obliged to lift something heavy that I realised the third gift the universe had given me this morning. For months I have been unable to lift so much as a cup without horrid pain from an RSI… the lousy steroids I had been cursing must have taken the inflammation away, completely, and with it the pain, even from all the other dodgy joints. You truly do not know what you have until it is gone… and being free of pain after so long, even temporarily, is wonderful.

And as three is a magic number, it was no surprise when a Raven, displaying white feathers under its wings, landed in the tree beside us with an astonishing aerial display, cawing and clicking fit to burst.

What had begun in darkness and depression became a morning of gifts and gratitude. Although the depression continues, now that I know its true source, I can only be grateful for the opportunity it has opened for me to see a little clearer. We can never really tell whether any event may be good or bad until we are able to step away from it and see it from a different perspective and then, the very darkness that descends from time to time serves only as a foil against which we can see the light.