The Cycle of Life

The approach of the autumn always makes me reflect on the nature of life; in particular the way the mysterious essence of life takes form and shape, ‘living’ for a while, then giving up its life and surrendering the elements of that form back to the earth from which it arose.

We all feel the poignancy of life’s seasons, but it’s useful to align ourselves with the processes of the autumn and reflect more deeply on the ‘life lessons’ that nature lays before us… quite literally.

Soon, I will walk in my muddy boots, through crisp and cracking leaves; leaves that, a few short months ago, glowed with the mysterious and magical green of the spring. These days, I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with their fate, as the inevitable process of attrition by the wind, rain…and my walking boots, crushes them into smaller and smaller particles of their former selves, ready for the chemical dissolution that will complete their natural recycling.

But is it just the leaves that are recycled in this way–or something else? The form is a container for the indefinable ‘aliveness’ of what is inside it: its essence. We never actually see this essence, but we feel it – and it glows with the joy of being alive within that spring green which heralds the return of collective outward life. This capacity to feel what we cannot see is an important part of being human – and is really another sense.

Spiritually, we can learn from each season. We can also use our feelings to see a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The four seasons offer us the following parts of this whole:

In spring, we feel the freshness, the new light, the change of colours, the return of milder weather. We also feel a surge of new energy as the Earth extends itself – through nature – into all the inherited forms of life. Like the leaves, each of these forms is unique; no two of them are exactly the same and yet each follows a type. The type is inherited through nature’s coding of evolution, and makes us what we are – physically.

The spring contains joy, a fundamental characteristic of being. In the spring it is made manifest.

The summer that follows is a time of fulfilment. The promise of the spring is carried to fruition beneath the calm, blue and golden skies above us. There is a feeling of completeness, a deep sense of inner rightness. The fruits of nature’s beauty are there for us to consume, so that we, in turn, partake of the bounty of fullness. In summer, we have that feeling of going outwards into the world.

The autumn is a time for reflection. Winter is around the corner but not yet with us. It is a time for gathering-in; preparing our selves – and those who depend upon us – for the harshness ahead. Our feeling of openness is replaced with the poignancy of knowledge of what lies ahead and a saying goodbye to the forms of things which have shared the spring and summer with us, such as the leaves falling from the mighty and enduring trees. Winds begin to pick up, again, completing the process of outer reduction, and the shaking free of the old.

But the autumn is also a time of harvest. We ‘plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground’ as the harvest hymn goes. Animals scatter the seeds of life for the natural world, ensuring life’s best chance for continuation away from the ‘tree’ from which they fell.

Finally, winter ‘reaps’ that which is no longer fit to contain the invisible life. But the strong things remain. The starkness of the outlines of bare trees dominate the natural landscape… but we cease to see them after a while. Trees are wonderful structures. Ouspensky described them as ‘living four-dimensional patterns’ because they show all the stages of their personal evolution.

We each have a winter tree inside us. It is the pattern of logical and emotional learning in our minds. Like a physical tree it shows us the forking and branching that our life’s journey has taken. It is a friend, an inner book; and we can learn much from its contemplation.

Nature’s key processes in the winter are beneath the ground – within the roots of organic life. They cannot be seen or felt, except by contemplation of the innermost purpose, while the bare structures of the trees above endure the cold, rain, ice and snow.

There will come a time to lay down that personal tree – to offer it and our life’s history to the greater cycle of life. We will have reached a different point of completion in this winter journey, and what we really are – invisible and ineffable – will return to the state from which it can begin a new life, restored, recharged and refreshed. Our small tree of experience will merge with the universe’s story, adding a tiny but important contribution that truly belonged to us, but which now may be read by all life.

©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.

Primal Screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understanding of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© 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 Finding of Polarity (3) – #Silenti

Arrows of polarityAA

In parts one and two of this set of three posts, we have examined how the development of the individual, the ‘self’, is a different process from the development of our young bodies, and relies upon our departure from ‘oneness’ in the womb towards a reaching for individuality – a process that eventually matures into what psychology calls the ego.

From a psychological perspective, the scientific definition of the ego is in terms of a ‘self-image’, increasingly strengthened and stabilised as we grow through childhood. Various problem conditions, from aberrations to pathologies, are related to how well this ‘self-image’ takes hold and becomes the centre of our ‘me’ existence in the adult world. Narcissists, for example, often reach senior positions because of their extreme need to define themselves by projecting their self-worth onto what they do, rather than what they are. More rounded psyches are grounded in true relationship, whereas the narcissist relies upon a perceived and  constant reflection of their own worth in the world around them.

Western civilisation places enormous value on the achieving of individuality, particularly emotional and physical individuality; and glorifies financial independence above all else. Success in society is generally equated with such independence.

Here we have an increasingly agonising divergence: the world’s spiritual traditions have, for millennia, equated individual progress towards a spiritual state (one that is more real) with the diminishment, and, in some cases, the complete annihilation, of what we now know as the ego… the very centre of western culture’s mark of achievement.

We can take the view that the ancient knowledge of the inner states of our ‘selves’ is past its sell-by date and that modern thinking, based on science, is much more in tune with the truth of things. The majority of the population do just that, if they think of it at all. Many see spirituality as religion, only, and conflate the latter’s diminishing importance as mirroring its relevance – a view understandably fuelled by the constant headlines from the extremes of fundamentalism.

But absolutely none of this makes us happy… or even fulfilled. Something is missing if a person living a simple life in humble conditions can get more from life than those with an array of possessions and achievements.

The conventional response by those believing themselves on a spiritual path has been to attack our way of life. Only radical philosophers like Gurdjieff dared to consider that we might actually be on a perfectly valid spiritual path of our own.

The egoic nature of the western world has not stopped people from being caring individuals. Political societies might cycle through a lack compassion, but there is always a great degree of kindness in the family units that comprise them. The hunger for the personal truth and meaning that drives us may well be of a different nature. What if the ego’s development were necessary as a ‘fuel-tank’ for another journey? Suppose that the seeming negatives of the egoic self, with its anger, selfishness, avarice, pride, lust and the rest of the well-categorised deadly ‘sins’, were really signposts to what was missing – in effect the way home…

We’d have to want to be ‘home’, as in somewhere else, inside ourselves, of course. But if we are truly at the point where increasing our store of what society views as the stuff of happiness was simply producing more angst, then where else is there to go?

The key is not to find someone else’s truth; it is to find our own. The value of what psychology has given us lies, ultimately, not in the production of stable egos – though that is an important goal for anyone in whom that vital stage has not crystallised; the value of it lies in the clarity it has provided for the inner meaning of those ancient traditions and their relevance to those who would find their own spiritual path, today.

The founders of the Silent Eye gained their experience within a varied and mixed background of mystical traditions ranging from Rosicrucian, to Qabalistic to Fourth Way. We had all experienced the real power of people working together in a group aimed at ‘raising the consciousness’ of each individual, without drugs, so that we could begin to perceive deeper realities. We established the Silent Eye School using a core set of teachings that combined everything we knew to work, including mystical drama, and based it around a symbolic variant of the enneagram – a nine-sided kind of star that has evolved to describe and illustrate how ‘nature’ works the world and, latterly, how psychology’s map of the inner human maps into the heart of this. Only our synthesis of this is new; all the components were there before, though not in the form we gave them for our symbolic and inner three-year guided journey which is at the heart of the correspondence course.

The Silent Eye’s version of the enneagram

Our journey begins with this quest: to find and understand the ‘gap’ between the western self as described by psychology and the ancient wisdom of the ‘no-self’. Our goal as been to show that the value of the egoic nature can be preserved, but that its nature has to be healed rather than polished. Instead of retaining its desperate role as the ‘captain of the ship it must keep creating’, it can now relax into knowing that it is really only a picture – an image of our outer reactiveness, useful in terms of its skills, but redundant in terms of its knowing the answers about our real coming-into-being.

Those answers lie in a personal journey which unzips the ego, carefully and with love, using its restlessness (and suffering) to point to how those elements of unease are generated, in each part of its psychic anatomy, by a lack of something else. That something else eventually takes shape, and that is where the enneagram has its unique value – it acts as a map of the homeward journey, a journey in which the real characteristics of a true Self become apparent, requiring no validation from the material world. This newly discovered entity, which many call the Soul, is perfect in its individuality; is supported in its vivid feeling of being truly alive; and is secure in knowing, beyond question, that it is already a child of those formless realms spoken of so long ago…

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two.

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017

Land of the Exiles 2014 – a vision of the hillside ritual

A fictionalised account of the hillside rite from the Land of the Exiles workshop 2014, extract taken from Doomsday: Dark Sage.

land of the exiles great hucklow devils rock 001 (27)

The seeing stone is chill against my spine as I wait for the dawn.
Their shades are close this night.
They are Wakeful.
I hear their whispers on the wind as the shift comes and I find them across the ages.

…She paints his eyes, smearing shimmering colour across the lids with gilded fingers. They work in silence in the yellow false-light. Garbed in black, they are not themselves. I feel them, yet something else overlays them, shadowing forth into the world; latent, coming, but not yet…not yet.

He leaves the place where she did not sleep; she looks into the cold surface that hangs like ice upon the wall, seeing other souls not her own. She is many, she is Three. I look through her eyes, as she looks through mine… seer and priestess… and the ‘Other’.

We are the Three that are ‘One’.

Painted eyes stare back, black rimmed. About her neck a heavy collar, she is crowned and winged with gold and power, girdled with stars. She steps back into the shadow of herself, opens her heart and I feel the shift once more, this
time through her. It is time.

***

…Their world seems strange to me… all sharp angles and smooth walls reflecting light, yet I read it through her, know its ways somehow. It is stranger still on this dawning when they have brought the ancient into the new… She knocks on the wood that hangs in a portal, three times. It is opened by the Green Man, robed in white and veiled, hooded perhaps, I do not know. His eyes show fear and his breath is sharp, ragged as she summons him to his death. Down they walk, he behind she. He is strange to me, this other one. Yet I know him, he too is of the three and power flows between. They enter a closed space, dimly lit with flames in the circle. The other one is there, yet he too is ‘Other’, robed in midnight, tall as the trees and masked… a black beast with golden eyes. They stand silent in the circle… three, six and nine I see, all the levels of their being that wait in abeyance while others come in. Black remains to call them to the rite, one by one. Gold and Green face the morning, walking silent through stone to the hillside starred with swallow-flowers and wet with dew. Higher they climb to the mound that looks out across the valley. Shaped like a tomb, a place of death in life and life in death. Beside them is a tree… and on it a crown of thorns.

She binds him; the black cords of death that tie him to life, the cords of life that tie him to the Mother. In his hands a crystal like the moon and at his feet the crown and the waiting earth. Power flows, around and between, cloaking them in its mists from the eyes of the profane. Eyes lock and she raises her wings, golden in the morning, taking him into her silence.

The Black Jackal, cloaked in night leads them to the rite, a dark snake of figures huddled against the chill of a spring dawn. Their garb is strange, the colours of summer flowers, stark against the green. They walk in silence as the Black One opens the way for them to pass. Higher still until they reach the mound and there they wait, looking up.

***

He circles, prowling the bounds of the sacred space, marking the circle with his footsteps in the dew, once around, bowing as she turns, revealing the Green Man to the Companions. The Jackal climbs the mound and Black and Gold salute each other, sparking lines of power crackle silently between them, bright white and gold, seen only through a seer’s eyes. They bow to the immobile, verdant form, locked in the lightless stasis of death until his heart is opened. The Black One speaks out “Let the star rise, let the flame leap!” His voice shatters the silence, opening the way on yet another level. The Golden One takes the crystal from the heart of the Green Man, raising it to the Sun, “Ours if the heart is wise, to take… and to keep!” As she speaks the sphere is returned, earth to earth accepted, while the Green Man stands empty.

On each side of him they stand as pillars of light and darkness. Deeper I look and see them night and day, the birthing of the golden sun held in the heart of darkness, the shadow of its death cased in gold. Three that are ‘One’, inextricable, interdependent for their being, and purpose, while overhead the Hawk flies free. One by one they come, called by the staff of the Jackal, close in his shadowed Light, held in his cloak. Softly he whispers to each of their destiny, of the Hawk that waits in their hearts, anointing them with fragrant oil that fills the morning with perfume. The Golden One takes them into her wings and as they pass before the Green Man they are held, poised between Light and Dark as they bow and gaze at the earth-held crystal, into the Heart of the Rose. The Golden Mother blesses them with the warmth of touch on each heart and the promise of life on her lips. From the heart of the Green One she takes a heart, entrusting it to their keeping, a symbol of awakening to Light and Life. Eyes meet eyes, heart meets heart, and life touches Life. Clasping the symbol they move beyond, standing on the other side of death… a true initiation for those who can encompass it. But one remains; the silent sacrifice, bound and immobile in the frozen morning. Black and Gold they turn to him. The Walker between the Worlds anoints his brow and, holding his eyes whispers his journey to the stars, the Mother warms his heart and with her touch come the words of life. He cries out, the Father who is the Son, like a babe’s first breath, wakened from death to the life of the heart.It is done. Golden wings enfold him, shrouding him in Light and one by one they leave the hillside silent, the rite accomplished.

Three remain, silent still, feet wet with dew. Three are quiescent, watching their Selves. The Three remain Other and holding the power for what is to come. Nine that are Three that are One.

… And I, shivering in the rain-damp morning against the Telling Stone, miles and ages apart, I am their witness.

LEAF AND FLAME : An Introduction to the Dynamics

As far as we know the Enneagram was born with Gurdjieff, however he claimed an ancient yet secret heritage for it.

It is true that ‘the nine’ appears, in one form or another, in nearly all the traditional mythologies.

With the possible exception of the Egyptian’s, where the Ennead of ‘Divinities’ plays a central role, in most of the others ‘the nine’ appears to be ‘peripheral’ and a somewhat hazy conception.

This may suggest that the matrix for these forms was indeed by this time secret and possibly far too secret to be passed down in anything other than a rudimentary form.

The Matter of Britain derives from the Celtic Mythos and in the Celtic Mythos we have the conception of Nine Maidens around a Cauldron of Inspiration.

This could refer to the Enneagram.

The Celtic Cosmology utilised a three-fold pattern of worlds which with the advent of Celtic Christianity came to look a little like this:

1. The Stellar World of the Constellations. (Universal Being)

2. The Solar World of the Sun and visible Planets. (Christos and Angelic Powers)

3. The Lunar World of the Moon and Earth. (Saints and Humans)

It is tempting to depict this triadic cosmology thus:

1Figure 1

And even more tempting to stand that figure upright, which here for both spatial and psychological reasons, for the moment at least, we will not do.

But this conception rests upon a far older one and is really merely the exoteric rendering of that esoteric truth which recognises a far more complex pattern thus:

2Figure 2

In this cosmology we have:
1. The Over-World of cyclic patterns visible above the horizon and symbolised by the Moon, the Sun and the Stars.

2. The Mid-World of Flora and Fauna and other entities which within it reflects the triadic pattern as;
A. An Upper Zone of Climatic Conditions and augury through bird flight.
B. A Middle Zone of Four Directions which delineates a model of the Sacred Realm.
C. A Lower Zone, of caves, wells and springs.

3. The Under-World of ancestral beings and other entities controlling the mysteries of life, death and re-birth.

Clearly each world and zone depends upon the other.

Thus far then the Macrocosm…

For the Microcosm we turn to Gurdjieff…

To be continued…


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Post originally published on Stuart France