Going Viral

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There’s nothing funny about Covid-19, the Wu-Han-originated Coronavirus that has just been declared a global pandemic. But the explosive spread of the infection throws a lot of light on the state of human nature. A friend of mine said, recently, that, according to some 1960s comic books he had found in his loft, we should all be getting our personal flying cars by now; instead we are still persuading people to wash their hands after visiting the toilet…

Like any ‘aggressive’ aspect of nature, a virus can teach us a lot about life. The virus may sound like the work of the Devil, but it may also represent a key stage of the evolutionary path of life on Earth prior to the dominance of cellular organisms.

What is a virus and how is it different to a bacteria? One is an organism – the bacteria – and the other is not. On that basis, the bacteria is the more sophisticated, yet the most deadly of the two is the virus because if it succeeds in attaching itself to a living host, it will always cause a disease. A bacteria is not necessarily harmful and is formed from cells – the same structure of life that we all share… and the virus does not.

A cell has different functions. Firstly, it must persist for as long as it can, and be able to reproduce itself. a cell reproduces by dividing itself to form new cells. Each new cell contains a full copy of all its genetic material – its chromosomes, which are coils of DNA; the same DNA shared by all organic life on the planet.

The cell must be able to exchange material with its surroundings. Food is taken in, and waste is extruded – to form food for other, different kinds of cell, as in all nature.

Cells can also choose to die… Each ‘normal’ cell has a ‘death pathway’, called Apoptosis, which it initiates if it senses that its genetic material has been damaged, and it can no longer safely reproduce. The latest research into cancer cells indicate that the rogue cell is able to prevent the death pathway from being triggered – a little like a dictator locking himself into a nuclear weapons control room so that he can destroy the world. The rogue cell is then able to reproduce and create the ungoverned growth that is cancer. That so much of life remains orderly is a tribute to the usual integrity of the humble cell.

The normal cell is therefore a very stable and benign organism – even bacteria, most of which forms an essential catalyst in the vast cycles of life. The foundations of our evolutionary story are closely related to the simple cells of early ‘bacteria’; indeed, the planet that became the Earth we know was transformed around 2.3 billion years ago by single-celled cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to create the oxygen-bearing atmosphere that now sustains life on the planet.

To achieve this, the cyanobacteria consumed methane – a far more deadly greenhouse gas – to produce the safer carbon dioxide which has become today’s ‘problem’. We worry about the levels of CO2, but, just prior to the industrial revolution (source Dr. Gary Vasey) the level of CO2 had dropped to a point where life would not have been able to continue. Industrialisation ‘fixed’ the problem.

Food for thought…

But, what about viruses?

Their structure is unlike the single-celled bacteria that transformed the Earth’s atmosphere. They comprise a protein shell that surrounds a nucleus of genetic material in the form of DNA or the simpler RNA – but none of it is alive. It is essentially a chemical missile designed to inject itself into the heart of another living cell. Once there, it uses the life of the host to make copies of itself, eventually bursting open and triggering whatever disease it carries. Viruses are found throughout our environment and all organisms can be affected by them. They are usually specific to a certain type of animal. Occasionally, such as happened with Covid-19, they cross the species boundary and become a deadly agent of disease for mankind.

But it may be that viruses hold a deeper link to our organic past, and that their presence in our world is not random, at all. They may even hold the key to some of our future.

All life on Earth is linked. All life on Earth began with the same cellular building blocks. We are all children of a single first-cell life form that crossed the boundary from molecular (chemical) to living, thereby laying down the rules and the elementary functions of life. This primary forebear has even been given a name: LUCA – Last Universal Common Ancestor.

Evolutionary biologists, who defined the founding principles on which organic life is built, established persistence as the primary determinant. The ability to endure – within a given form – is the building block of everything that follows. Above that is the ability to replicate that form. The cell does this, but the principle of replication, based on the genetic component at the cell’s heart, is the property of its DNA. In other words, the DNA, itself, is the material, the molecule, that made the transition from pre-organic to organic form; and therefore life.

The theories are constantly being challenged and updated, but biologists believe that the precursor to DNA was a similar but less sophisticated structure of spiral ‘genetic acid’ called RNA, and RNA is the predominant material at the centre of the virus, wrapped in its protein shell. In the envisaged RNA world, the primary need was to find a structure that could reliably reproduce itself.

It had always been believed that viruses had to come into existence after bacteria because they needed to be parasitic to the existing cellular world. That, is after all, how they exist today. Some scientists began to speculate that viruses might have existed before cellular life.

A major argument against this was the comparative size of the virus vs single cell. We are about 100,000 times bigger than our cells, a million times bigger than bacteria and 10 million times bigger than the average virus (source). Bigger meant more highly evolved, to a point, so the virus was assumed to have come much later.

Then, in 2013, evolutionary biologists Chantal Abergel and Jean-Michel Claverie of Aix-Marseille University found a sample of Siberian dirt that had been frozen for more than 30,000 years. It contained a new virus they named Pithovirus. (Source)

Pithovirus is the largest virus ever discovered and is even larger than some bacteria. Even stranger, Pithovirus has over 500 genes, some of which replicate the core function of cells. Most startlingly, and seeming to break all the rules, Pithovirus is able to reproduce itself, like a cell, without invading a host’s organism. Since then, more and more examples of ‘giant viruses’ have been found. There is increasing evidence that they may have preceded cellular life: that they are older than LUCA and have continued to evolve in their own right. As the two French researchers said: ‘It may be the reason we haven’t found them is that they are everywhere…’

Yet, they are not cellular. They appear to have followed a parallel evolutionary tree – in effect, a new form of life…

Covid-19 is not a giant virus. It’s a new-to-humans attacker of lungs, similar to any other flu-like germ. It’s very virulent and deadly and it may be about to change the world’s economic and politics. But the order of life to which it belongs may challenge the science of life as we know it. Who knows what miracles of medicine may result from that future study?

©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.

Echoes of the Bunkermen

I was born in the 1950s. It was an age riven by anxiety about nuclear war. Ten years after the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been destroyed by the first use of atomic-powered warfare, the west was still consumed with the horror of seeing Oppenheimer’s equations translated into an explosion that ripped apart buildings, adults and children on a scale envisaged only in science fiction.

The threat of this has not gone away, though it can be argued that the deadliness of what the American ‘war games’ strategists termed ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ – MAD, has maintained the peace.

Some of the fiction of the time reflected the idea that the only survivors of an active MAD scenario would be be those ‘high’ officials important enough to warrant a place in a nuclear bunker. These were (and are) actual buildings set deep underground and stocked with everything such a group would need to survive the nuclear winter, as it was called, and re-emerge, years later, pure of creed, to begin civilisation, again.

Quite what mother nature would think of such beings was never discussed. But in my own heart, I developed a loathing for such a concept and the ludicrous politics that created such an idea in the first place. My pet name for these high-caste survivors was ‘the bunkermen’. I thought it appropriate, since it seemed always to be men, rather than women, whose aggression led to war, and whose willingness to lie about the facts, inequality and the complexity of human decision-making mirrored their lack of empathy.

As a long-departed aunt once said to me “The men were good at banging the drum, but not so good at mopping up the blood, afterwards.”

Fast forward half a century and, within the invisible bubble of the nuclear MAD, wars continue on a near-global scale. Nuclear-level money is spent on a second level of warfare that targets humans deemed worthy of assassination by descending missile, guided from satellite or drone control systems. Countries which possess the MAD systems may not use their own flags to fight wars, but ally themselves – often covertly – with proxy armies through which they operate on the ground. The past forty years of Afghanistan’s history are a perfect example of how this operates.

The last decade has been a difficult period to live through. Much of what we took for granted as ‘established and stable’ has been or is being swept away by authoritarian politics. To me, it feels as though the spirit of aggression moves through increasingly confrontation politics, designed to follow an age old model of mobilising hatred to create majorities in a politics that would seem dangerously out of touch, were there any alternatives that didn’t sweep away democracy in any form. That may follow, of course…

The results are focussed in two ways. Domestically, the sense of caring is diminished, and public institutions that support it are deliberately weakened. But a far more corrosive effect is being played out on the world stage, in which areas like parts of the Middle East become the point of focus for the most heartless policies – reducing the value of human life to nothing.

It may be that human life has no value to those who control this new order. Our worth may now be measured only in the sense that we are ‘economic units’ in a monetary world where increasing power is vested in fewer and fewer people. There is a certain logic in that being the end point of a system where the measure of value has become so singular. In those ‘fewer and fewer’ controllers I see again the bunkermen, safe in their gated estates, mixing only with their fellow bunker dwellers and exploiting their vast wealth in the cementing of the newly established status quo – in which everyone but them is poorer.

Against this tide of warped materialism stands the silent outrage of those who remember how much work it took to initialise the post-WW2 landscape of social institutions such as the provision of universal healthcare and the establishment of a minimum level of welfare that would provide the basics of living to those who were suffering through no fault of their own.

It’s a truism that ‘change is inevitable’. We can choose to believe that the state of the Earth is a soul-less cycle of cause and effect or we can see that nature has true cycles of evolution beyond the Darwinian model of biological mating and survival. Bigger factors can and do change the course of the planet’s history. The current, bleak outlook of the Covid-19 virus is an example of how something unforeseen a few months ago is changing the entire ‘health’ of the commercial world. I am not proposing that any kind of ‘divine intervention’ is behind the virus’ mutation into the human ecosystem, simply that the palette of such unforeseen and deadly triggers of chaos is much larger than mankind has ever considered – and therefore that our perceived ecological and societal stability may be an illusion we can no longer afford.

Against this background, the breakdown of the old order of ‘caring and inclusive’ societies may need to be re-evaluated. The nature of survival against, say, a deadly virus, requires us to work together, regardless of wealth or rank in society. The rich or powerful man is as much at risk as anyone else. True, they could retreat into a bunker of their own making, as continues to be the doomsday scenario in a post-nuclear holocaust, but who would want to emerge into the poisoned dust of such a world?

We have become disconnected from outrage. In Syria, children are freezing to death in their thousands on a nightly basis as they flee the barrel bombings of their own president; and this is just one example of many. Think Yemen or Myanmar and we will find the same deadly cocktail of a poor part of the world within which authoritarian powers play out ‘strategies’ of control that have failed us for the past century.

The bunker is our enemy more than those who inhabit it. It is state of mind as much as any other. The future of life on Earth is surely that we recognise our connections to every other member of the human race, and act in way that begins to include rather than exclude. In that, we will change the nature of mankind and face the real challenges at the microbial, viral and economic levels in a very different way. If we cannot offer support, then, at least we can turn to face suffering and offer awareness.

That is so much more than nothing… and, for a while we may have the freedom to open our personal bunkers and step out into the complex sunshine of a world not yet destroyed.

©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.

Divide and be Conquered

It’s a funny thing, division – its principles apply to many aspects of our lives. We can cut something up, but its original ‘wholeness’ persists in ways we may never have considered.

Wholeness as a concept is worth some thought. Can we step back and consider why we think something is whole? Is it simply that ‘it works’ – in the way that a car works because all the pieces are in the correct working order and create a functioning machine?

Humanity has an innate skill in its ability to decide something is whole. Maturity teaches us that our individual life’s learning leads to a degree of wisdom. This is reflected in what we admire. Music is a good example of this. If we are considered person, whose state of mind is calm and searches for insights into the world and how it impacts us, then we will seek out music that – in its wholeness – reflects this. If we are a younger or less mature person, our state of agitation or angst might be reflected in a love for a more discordant style, whose essence is rebellious… or even violent.

The songs or instrumental tracks we seek out will have a certain resonance with how we feel about life, and , importantly, how we choose to extend our experience. In this way our ‘comfort level of wholeness’ will guide how we allow experience to make our life ‘bigger’.

Experience is, potentially, so vivid that, if we have the means, we may end up rejecting it and turning away from the new. Most adults do this to some degree; indeed, we may consider society’s measure of maturity to be the ability to throw a kind of ‘shield’ in front of the stream of life experience that would otherwise come at us – like a gale-force wind.

In so doing, we are saying to the universe ‘I have enough. I’ve learnt what I need to, I don’t want to go back into that fearful place where what I have stored up as ‘me’ can be threatened by change…’

And then we stop and look at that last sentiment: ‘threatened by change’.

It’s a frightening moment in itself. Are we to cast off the defences we have constructed over a mature lifetime? We will, at the end of our lives, go through an enormous change, as our physical mechanisms lose their ability to stabilise the flow of apparently chaotic universe coming at us.

Yet, people report seeing great peace on the faces of those loved ones they have partly accompanied on that journey. I have watched a small number of people die, and seen nothing but peace in that passing.

But, such considerations are for the end of our lives. What about the catastrophes that seem to triumph against our values, against what we call our civilisation? There is a widespread feeling that our beloved planet is beset by these from both political and environmental sources. New super-powers are arising, often with very different value systems to those we respect in the so-called West. Even within our societies, there is a renewed arising of populism, which seeks to throw away that which is established, simply because it is so.

I suspect it had always been that way; that we have lived through an unparalleled period of post-war prosperity and stability. Sadly, the lessons of the major wars of the past one hundred years seem to count for nothing within whole sections of our world. A historian friend once said to me: ‘When you forget about the real horror of societal chaos, it is free to live again…’

It may be that our coming struggle with what we are doing to the natural systems – wholeness – of the Earth are a kind of final maturing of the being and consciousness of its dominant life form. But, it is hard to see how our present political systems would permit the needed changes.

Perhaps even this is wrong. Maybe when what seems like self-evident goodness is swept away it is because it has been passed on as learning and opinion and not as experience. But, how could we pass on experience? It is impossible – and therefore eternally transient and changing. Its value is to the individual who collects it, consciously – who seeks it out. When enough such people combine their selfless desires and experience, a new civilisation is born.

When the dams break we may face our greatest test; and it may not be further resistance, but ‘going with the flow’ and being a true ‘elder’ in a world that will desperately be seeking a living memory of the former wholeness – even though the age may need a new one… It’s own.

It is a vast wheel – as depicted in the sacred literature of the ancient ones. The only bit of it we are in control of is our refection of that whole, filtered by the lenses of perception we have established from what has happened to us.

In that there is a great key to our lives.

In our forthcoming weekend workshop: The Keys of Heaven – In the footsteps of St Cedd, 6-8 December, we will be considering these deepest of questions from the perspective of the spiritual psychology of mankind, and its ability to interact with our fate. A few places are still available.

©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.

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.

Bean-Stalker…

bea

One of the ‘Cove Stones’ from the Avebury complex.

*

…Crisis!
The milk cow has finished giving…
Akin to a second weaning, but worse, this is a call to arms.

‘Go forth young man and make your way in the world,’ says Mum.

Jacques is anything but worldly.
He believes in magic.

He believes to such an extent that he is willing to give everything he has in return for five beans… magical.

Mum knows better and now she has her answer…

‘…Five beans… magical? Bah!’

Jacques will never amount to anything so she casts the beans aside without a second thought and banishes him to the attic supper-less and badly beaten…

Jacques’ tears of pain at his worthlessness activate the beans in the night and in the morning a stalk stands proud in the ground outside his window yoking Earth and Heaven…

‘Up the stalk then young Jacques, my lad, and see what you can find.’

‘… As if it were not enough to have yoked the two spheres,’ mutters Jacques but secretly he is thrilled that his ‘faith’ has paid such dividend…

*

…Heaven turns out to be just like Earth only everything is bigger.

At the top of the stalk is a Big Woman…

‘Mum’ Jacques calls her, cleverly, and then plays helpless, asking for food.

Like all ‘mums’ everywhere she is only too happy to oblige the little fellow, she leads Jacques into the kitchen perhaps thinking he will grow to be as big as her own man… who eats everything… including ‘young men’…

‘Quick, he’s coming’ cries the Big Woman as the heavenly-ground starts to shake…
‘Into the cooking pot, he’ll never think to look in there.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Blood of an earth-bound ‘un,
if he be living or if he be dead
his bones I’ll have to grind my bread…’

He does not think to look in the cooking pot for food though and after consuming what is put before him he falls asleep whilst counting his gold pieces and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the cooking pot and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the gold pieces…

*

Mum is pleased but like the milk the gold pieces soon run out.

Now what?

Jacques climbs back up the stalk to see what else he can find…

This time the Big Woman is a bit suspicious, ‘do you know anything about missing gold’ she asks, ‘I do actually ‘ says Jacques cleverly as the ground starts to shake again, ‘keep me safe and I’ll tell you where it is’ so the Big Woman puts Jacques in the oven, ‘he’ll never think to look in here.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum,’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Soul of an earth-bound ‘un,
if he be free or if he be caught
his flesh I’ll have to nourish my heart.’

He does not think to look in the oven for food though and after consuming what is put before him he falls asleep whilst petting his golden-egg-laying hen and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the oven and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the golden-egg-laying hen…

Mum is pleased, the golden eggs never run out but the hen eventually dies.

Now what?

*

Jacques climbs back up the stalk to see what else he can find…

This time Jacques waits until the Big Woman goes out then sneaks into the kitchen just as the ground begins to shake. He leaps into the copper and pulls the lid over himself thinking, ‘he’ll never think to look in here.’

‘Fee Fi Fo Fum,’ says the Big Fella,
‘I smell the Spirit of an earth-bound ‘un
if he be moving or if he be still
I’ll take a draught and drink my fill…’

He does not think to look in the copper for sustenance though and after consuming what was left out for him he falls asleep listening to his self-playing harp, and starts to snore…

In a flash Jacques is out the copper and out the door and hurtling back down the stalk with the self-playing harp…

…But the harp calls out to its Master, ‘Wake up, wake up!
The earth-bound lad is stealing away with me.’

So the Big Fella wakes up.

Quick as a flash he comes charging down the stalk after Jacques.

But Jacques is too quick and Jacques is too nimble and he reaches the earth before the Giant and takes an axe to the bean-stalk so that it comes crashing down with the Big Fella still clinging to it… and in the fall… the Big fella breaks his crown, and wakes Jacques up!

***

 

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 What of Life (2)

I want to like you, she thought, loudly.

Please don’t spoil it by picking on science in a stupid, fluffy way… but don’t stop challenging, either… find the villains…

She listened, intently, as he talked about the need to ‘see’ it all differently – Life, biological life, not separated from spirituality, but part of a bigger whole that encompassed them both…

“There is something in the human soul that formed and forms an angry and energetic response to reductionism: that the answers are to be found in the dissected, colourless and cold parts…”

He was right… so right. And biology had become the hidden champion of that. Late to the party, having spent a century emulating a physics-derived worldview from which physics was already trying to escape…

The problem was something called emergence. The beautiful patterns of a snowflake, seen under a microscope, were an example of emergence, but there were thousands more. Biologists were used to something ‘higher’ than the dissected bit emerging in front of their gazes. To the classical physicist, this was anathema. Everything, they said, could be solved by the bits… But even physics was changing, as the power of emergent forms began to grow in evidence and presence; but sadly not in time to prevent the widespread adoption of the ‘reductionist mindset’ in education, science in general and in life.

Seized upon by materialists, they used it to savage any example of the ‘mystical’ that dared say it was of the truth… And it took a hundred years before the ‘reductionist fundamentalists’ came to see that their own disciplines were, in this respect, crumbling beneath them. When that day came, the world of biological ‘form’ – the shapes and organisation that life takes, were seen to be a paramount example of how the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts… and this gave a new dimension to what was driving life along its mysterious road.

“Science’s models of how evolution works are incomplete,” said the speaker. “Or rather, the reductionist view of it – not the nonsense of Creationism – though, at the human level, we can understand the need for a compassionate view of our place in the universe, and the person who gives that away is a fool, for we – the human mind – invented that quest for understanding…..”

Dead right, she thought. Okay, I like you… Now, go where I haven’t … don’t blow it….

The session broke for coffee. She sat there, deep in thought, unaware that she was alone… until the woman in the red hat came over and gently touched her shoulder.

—————

Darwin’s theory of evolution was and is brilliant, but it is only half of a ‘ruling dynamic’ that plays the music against which our slow dance of evolution proceeds. The powerful idea of ‘natural selection’ destroyed much of religious thought – but not completely. Within us all, there is a burning need to reinforce our sense of belonging with the natural world – teacher and exterminator that it is.

With ‘reductionist’ thought, which seeks answers by breaking things into their smallest parts, we have trees – but no forests… The reductionists of biology found they had no language to describe them, so, metaphorically, disregarded their existence…

The ecosystem of the forest is as much a guiding principle as the tree. The huge advances in microbiology have shown the brilliance and the limitation of the reductionist view. So it is with the ‘natural selection’ model of evolution, which threw away any idea of a determining principle beyond random mutation of genes, resulting in a new creature that beat its competitors to the bed-chamber. Nature became a thrower of dice, where it didn’t matter what the result was.

But then there were the gaps in the fossils, in the timeline, where entire species came into existence ‘overnight’. Eventually, these became impossible to ignore and it was apparent that something was working alongside selection to change life.

But, before we look at that something, we need to admire what microbiology found in the small, the ‘atomic’, the reduced. What it discovered was the cell, the glorious ‘bubble’ of organic life in which the entire blueprint of the organism was written. This inner code was the gene: both ‘plan’ and ‘means of delivering the plan’ – gene and machine for the expression of gene.

Deep in those life-cradling ocean vents, where the gradient of heat to cold was so intense that something that became organic life had the energy to come into being, we find that the core principle behind what became life was ‘born. That ‘living’ principle was persistence.

Life does nothing if it cannot persist. ‘We’ persist – and yet we change, constantly. Something within us – related to and harvesting our experience of the world – stays ‘me’. This is true at the organic level and at the psychological level. Some ‘pattern’ that is me moves forward in time, with persistence. Imagine waking up each day and thinking we were a new-born.

We are vastly more complex than the first containers of life. We have memory and therefore identity. Yet the same principles are seen to apply. In the oceanic depths, there were no cells, only chemicals: atoms and atoms grouped into molecules. The forerunners of cellular life were chemical chains of proteins that could self-replicate. With self-replication, they could persist .

The fundamental principle of life had been established, but this was just the beginning. Our self-replicating molecules were still part of their environment. To become more ‘complex’ – more organised, they had to begin to separate themselves from the world around them – yet still feed from it… Next week we will look at the birth of a world within a world; as mysticism calls it, a ‘microcosm within the macrocosm’. In terms of organisation and complexity, two of the building blocks of the new picture of life were about to come into existence…

Other parts of this series:

Part One,

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

The What of Life (1)

She was sitting in the front row – the car had mysteriously failed to start for the first five minutes of the would-be journey, as though projecting her future to this point with a mechanical will of its own. This point: the front row of a group of about twenty people, possessing a collective warmth – she had to admit – within which she was a complete stranger.

They had sounded interesting. Not presumptuous, not critical, just friendly and intelligent.

The speaker was talking; a man with kind eyes. He had the relaxed manner of one who had given many talks. He looked at her, smiled and asked the question, “What is Life?”

It was the end of a miserable event curve that had begun with the car’s idiocy. Now, she felt nineteen pairs of eyes and ears upon her and she wished herself away. Instead, she breathed, wishing to rise to this double challenge of being unknown and facing a question to which there was no complete answer – itself an unknown…

But his eyes – which had been on her – were moving away.. Had his question been rhetoric? The speaker raised his voice to address everyone. “We all need to ask ourselves that, for it is the basis of any spiritual exploration…” he said.

His head turned towards the back of the room, where she could feel someone straining to answer. There’s always a resident swot, she thought, recalling her school days…

“I would say that….” rose the voice from the back. Then it paused….

It was the pause that did it, she would later reflect. The pause that spoke to her and said here’s a gap. You can fill it with what you know. Damn it! She had studied biology in some depth; had created a synthesis in her own head, mixing it with her belief in universal kindness at apparent war with the eternal process that was the unfeeling universe…

“It’s a mysterious continuity,” she said, firmly – filling the gap.

She didn’t need to see to know that all eyes were upon she of the intervention. His eyes, too, restored to her – dancing with mirth at her interruption, nodding at the depth of her answer.

“Yes?” he said, inviting her…

She would apologise to the interrupted man at the back, later… For now, she had something to say… to share.

——————

So… what is life? It’s an obvious question that has taken us thousands of years to approach. Even philosophers have argued over its tangles, unable to frame the properties of ‘living’.

As a child, and keen on cheap horror films, we would go out into garden with old milk bottles filled from the kitchen tap and create coloured mixtures of soil, bits of plants and various other substances – bits of old cement from the builder’s yard next door, that sort of thing. We’d jam our palms over the neck and shake the contents for all we were worth. Eventually, and exhausted in arm, we’d watch the swirling mass of usually dark liquid spin like its own speeded-up universe.

Was it alive?

Of course not. But a billion years ago, above the broken fractures in the middle of the deep sea oceans, with their bubbling, muddy vents, powered by the intense heat from a gap in the Earth’s crust, something did live – according to the most likely theories on the origin of life.

What lived there that contrasted with our dead but sincerely shaken bottle soup? What was it that came into existence and sustained itself, miles from the surface of the sea, coaxed into life by the energy of the volcanic deep-sea trench?

The answer is fascinating and multi-faceted. One very good answer is that we did. We came into existence in that deep ocean trench, a billion years ago. The chain of life that began then resulted in us – a being that can actually look back, with some authority, on the history of life on Earth. But it doesn’t just look back; it asks whether this was a unique, freak event, or whether the universe is teaming with life…

The growing mind that resulted from that self-sustaining life-form can still only describe what life is, not why. The ‘what’ is wonderful and mysterious, but the why is either ignored with disdain or avoided. Science is not good at sharing the ‘truth’ with anything not based on its rigorous, but limiting principles. There are good reasons for this. The ages before the birth of rational thinking were marked by sheer fantasy and religious dogma as to what life was. The resulting materialistic swing of science was a natural reaction – and a good one. Perhaps now, though – as the questions of consciousness pile higher – there will be a loosening of what has become science’s own dogma, and a much deeper sharing of what it means to be human. After all, the human mind invented science, not the other way round.

Over the next few Thursday posts, we will take a journey from those ocean vents where life began, making the leap from chemical to organic – and watching it change its relationship with ‘the world’ forever.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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 Rotating Blade of Meaning (8) – Final Part

helicopter-meaning blog - 1

In the preceding parts of this series (see below for full list) we have seen how Arthur M. Young, inventor and chief engineer of Bell’s early helicopter design, was convinced that it was possible to construct a ‘map of human meaning’, a graphic figure that would show the relationships between the laws of physics and the observer in a new way.

In its experiments, science had always tried get rid of the observer; and yet it was the observer’s mind that constructed the experiment in the first place…. How odd, thought Young, to try to get rid of the core animating principle behind the whole thing!

His early confirmation of this came with a new analysis of the common forms of motion, starting with the idea of distance from a point, then examining the relationship between distance travelled and the time taken (velocity); then considering the rate of change of such velocity when more force (pressing the accelerator in a car) was applied to create acceleration.

Each of these could be laid out on a circle, with distance being at the right, horizontal point. Each of the others came into existence at a right angle – ninety degrees – to the previous. In parts two and three, we saw how velocity was distance (a straight line) divided by time; acceleration was distance divided by time squared (an area); and that there was something missing at the final point (the upper vertical), which would equate to distance divided by time cubed – a 3D cube – the foundation of our physical world.

As an engineer, Arthur M. Young knew that he had used formula that divided by things cubed in his control systems for the helicopters he designed. He realised that this was the point at which the observer interacted with the system, in the form of control.

His task was now to extend this circular mapping to integrate all the other equations of ‘motion’ in the greater sense. These included all the remaining formula used by physics to describe aspects of motion.

First, he had to reconcile the properties of ‘fourness’ that had led to the mapping of general meaning with the key mystical concepts of ‘threeness’

The diagram above shows the process whereby something of a ‘higher nature’, spiritually, divides itself into two ‘children’ in order to come into manifestation at a ‘lower’ level. This is a deeply mystical idea and is the basis of most of the world’s metaphysical thought.

The key to understanding this is the realisation that the ‘above’ does not entirely remain there, it ‘enters into’ its creation – the lower. Nothing is lost… in fact much is gained. The whole, the One, becomes Two, but does not lose its oneness, when seen at the original level. The result is Three… represented by the triangle, which can direct itself up or down. If down, it is in the ‘God-descending’ process of involution. If upwards, it is the planetary process of evolution.

The One undertakes this transformation only because it can extend itself in the process. The potential role for mankind is to bring this intent to fruition; matching the microcosm (us) to the macrocosm (the creator). To ‘God’, there is an involvement with the creation. Mankind has to learn first to ‘see’ God in the multiplicity of the world. To do this requires the undoing of much of our ordinary learning, based upon the desire be a living part of unity.

Sadly, it is beyond the scope of these few blogs to provide more of the mathematical and logical mapping that Arthur M. Young carried out. Many of the techniques were invented by him. He was seeking what he called his ‘Rosetta Stone of Meaning‘. We can, therefore, cut to the chase and show the finished thing:

The figure comprises the original square cross of our original process of human meaning overlaid with four triangles. The result is twelve points on the circumference of the circle – exactly the number that astrology uses in its map of the year and the signs.

What had Arthur M. Young achieved with this reconciliation of physics, metaphysics and the place of the observer within both?

First and foremost, he had shown that our state as observer of ‘the’ world was not a single state, that there were incremental stages of consciousness corresponding to his maps of meaning. He showed that raw experience was the first product of our perception and that it occurred before our consciousness of anything. Whatever is ‘out-there’ has to register before our mind can begin to process it. After that, as the Rosicrucians often said,  ‘mind assigns it dimension’. This produces a literal depth of perception that a different part of the mind can then categorise.

It does this so it can group like things, giving related sets of experience. As an infant (as discussed in Part 7) the most important of these is what will hurt us. The organism has to endure, and there are many things in the out-there that can hurt or kill it.

Over time, we confuse the two organic fear of survival with what we like and dislike. In this way our registered experience become confused with what is being ‘valued’ as good and bad – in the Genesis story this is the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Ultimately, there is no good and evil, only what is. But our personal growth demands we take the long learning curve to real knowledge of our place in existence: gnosis, as the ancient teachers named it.

Arthur M. Young showed us that our consciousness – that jewel at the centre of our organism, needs threeness and fourness to divide its ‘circle’ of meaning into twelve parallel aspects. Once these are known, there is nothing that can fall outside their realm. The totality of our existence is mapped into this glyph – and it is of great significance that this corresponds with the twelve-fold divisions of the wheel of astrology – the most ancient of the ‘power-glyphs’.

What is humanity in this picture?  As organic beings, we are wholly of this planet. The good Earth lends us her bright materials, and the seed from afar takes root and grows. It’s highest function is to be fully conscious, and, within that, to use the inbuilt gradients to set a course for ‘heaven’. Many storms await, but captains are made of storms, not books on navigation – though the latter are vital if this life-layer of humanity is to learn to give its fullest love back to the globe that nurtured it.

Information about Arthur M. Young, 1905-1995

This series of blogs are based upon the book: The Geometry of Meaning, by Arthur M. Young.  ISBN 1-892160-01-3.

Many of his talks are available on YouTube.

Previous posts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part ThreePart Four

Part Five   Part Six

Part Seven

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.