We squelched through the mud at the gateway to the field, following the fence down to a tiny stone circle that is unknown to most casual visitors. Just a third of a mile from its big sister, the tiny cairn circle of Little Meg is one of the least known circles in the area and yet it is, with Long Meg and nearby Glassonby, one of only three in the area that has ancient carvings on its stones.
Technically, Little Meg is not a stone circle. When it was first discovered by antiquarians, it was buried within a mound of earth, making it the internal structure of a burial mound and the excavations revealed bones, charcoal and an urn, buried in a cist at the centre. The stones may, perhaps, have originally been a circle that was covered over, but the preservation of the symbols on one of the stones suggests that they were carved not too long before it was buried. There were once two decorated stones at the site, though only one now remains, carved with a spiral that flows into a series of concentric circles. The second is in Penrith museum and is carved with deep cups surrounded by concentric circles.
There is no way of knowing for certain what these carvings represented to our ancestors, and many theories have been put forward, from simple decoration to seasonal, star and energy maps. The odd thing is that, if these were purely decorative, why go to the trouble of carving into stone what could have been painted? And why were they buried beneath the mound of earth that once covered this cairn, where only the dead would see them?
We believe it was for this very reason, so that the dead… who were not thought of as ‘entirely’ dead, but were seen as Ancestors, with a presence and purpose within the clan… could see them. Were they, perhaps, a map for the journey home?
Whatever their purpose, when we had first visited the circle on our ‘recce’ trip, expecting only a few tumbled stones, we were wide-eyed at what we found. The carvings are quite crisp considering that they date back to the Bronze Age…and standing in their presence, under an open sky, is a strange and awe-inspiring feeling.
The stones were moved somewhat from their original positions during the excavation, and yet the familiar form of the ‘tailed’ entrance into the circle remains. There was a report of another and similar cairn close by, but no trace now remains of this. Not far away is the small Glassonby circle that we would not have time to visit. It too has a stone carved with concentric circles and angular patterns…and here too, the design is placed so that only the dead will see it.
For now, though, and in spite of the remains of a bird within the circle, this was a place of the living, not the dead, where the ends of time could be connected through the medium of the human heart and voice.
Once more we sent our companions out into the field to speak their words to the winds. This time, however, we had asked them to seek the ‘seed’ of their word… the seed of words in general. At a previous workshop we had considered how, if you knew how to ‘send’ and ‘receive’ along the leys, one might, theoretically, be able to send a message by a type of Morse code, interrupting the current and letting it flow into the energetic ‘dots and dashes’ that could be interpreted when it reached its destination. We compared this to the role of vowel and consonant in words. The vowels flow while the consonants interrupt the flow. We have experimented with chanting at ancient sites over the past few years; was this, we wondered, relevant to why some chants work better in certain places? Those that are made up of pure vowel sounds, in contrast to those where the flow is ‘cut’ by consonants.
Gathering once more, we shared a short meditation, building upon the imagery of the web of light, connecting it to the realm of the stars… and wondering how closely the constellations of stones might shadow those of the heavens if we but knew how to look…
To be of ‘one mind’: it’s an expression we don’t hear a lot of, nowadays, though it remains available to us in the language. Historically, it was used to describe an intensity of opinion, or – even stronger – belief, that something was so important that several key figures united in a single ‘front’ of solidarity behind whatever was being endorsed.
Perhaps our vision of truth has become dulled, and it is considered that there are few such ‘black and white’ moments… In line with the complexity of our world, it may be that nothing truly ‘is’ anymore, there are just shades of ‘isness’.
Over the ages, philosophers have ventured into the waters of the human psyche and grappled with the idea of single-mindedness. To be of ‘sound mind’ has always been important; and that implies being single in our interior nature. That unity expressed by a group of people being of one mind now applies, at least within the world of psychology, to a healthy state for the individual.
But are we ‘single’ within ourselves?
For example, we can resolve, going to bed, that we will rise early and finish off that important piece of writing for which we need a snappy ending. We may reinforce that intent by assuring ourselves that famous writers often speak of the inspiration and clarity of mind to be found when the night’s rest has cleansed the mind.
And then, tired, we fall asleep…
But do we get up that extra hour early to avail ourselves of what we know to be advantageous? Usually not, if my experience of human nature is correct, including my own. So, how can one ‘part’ of us have such a clear resolution of what we want and need to do, and another part (the tired bit) decide to ignore it. I am reminded of the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ tarot card in which various mythic beings are seen rotating to a point of ‘uprightness’, in what fits well with the idea that only one of them can have precedence at any one time, though they all belong to the notional ‘self’.
The key to examining this – as much as the mind can examine itself – is in the word ‘self’. We all consider that we have a self. It is our identity, a stable entity with a name and memories… and, a body, which, though constantly changing, gives us the sense of continuity of being. We can come to terms with biological ageing as long as we have an inviolate ‘self’ within this collection of cells.
And that’s where it gets a bit tricky…
We need to look at what we can count on: we have the memory of being a straight line of biological life through our ‘timeline’. We have a body that changes, and a name, but apart from that it could be argued that we are simply a point of perception that sustains an illusion that we have a single, undivided self, or mind or brain, call it what you will. Whatever name we use, we are very attached to it. Any lively debate between people beginning a study of the esoteric will throw up strong opinions, as the inviolate ‘self’ is encroached upon!
And yet, that notion of the importance of being ‘single minded’ is deeply important to us; and that, like so much else that drives us, is based on a fear of it no longer existing… the reality of our existence suddenly ending. To counter this, we may postulate that there is a ‘heaven’ somewhere separate to life, perhaps where our kindnesses will be remembered and will outweigh our bad bits. The human psyche needs such edges or the fear might just become overwhelming. I do not mean to disparage religion, here. Religion helps many people to live deeper and more self-less lives. I’m just examining the psychology of it all. If the idea of an eternal self is real, why is that which is considered ‘holy’ associated with the self-less, rather than the super-self?
Can we get closer to something ‘real’ by investigating how we might deepen this sense of a united self? Certainly, this has been the approach of many leading thinkers over the past two hundred years. They point out that the weakness of our personalities in holding to a true and single self is something we can examine, on a daily basis. The dispute comes, not in being able to study ourselves, but rather in terms of how we respond to what we can so easily find.
To make a study of ourselves we need to have a vantage point from which we can make these (initially hypothetical) observations. To create this interior space, we have to allocate it certain properties. The first of these is how we react. When we study our reactions we find that none are more powerful than the shock of seeing ourselves as we really are. When we find our constant contradictions to that ‘image of me’ that we carry around, we begin to wonder how we have lived a life that was so shallow in this respect. We can be objective about others, but when we turn that spotlight on ourselves… em.
This interior space, this ‘tower’, if you like, has to be a place in which only the truth is allowed. We can keep it secret, of course, so we don’t need to feel shame as we watch ourselves lying, for example. But, sooner or later, this internally honest viewing platform will begin to develop, for the want of a better word, its own interior feelings. One of them will be a quiet revelation that the truth has a profound power all of its own; and that it lights the way into a deeper state of real self that we had never even suspected was there…
It’s a gateway that we can only approach when we are truly ready… like the resolve that will get us up on a dark winter morning to finish that story…
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.