Out with the Old?

It is not my intention to talk non-stop about my current health problems. But, even just a few days into what promises to be a rather long haul, so many things have been brought to my attention that I feel need to be highlighted. I’ve already mentioned the hospital food, albeit briefly compared to what could have been said, but that… although nowhere near as minor as it might seem… is as nothing compared to some of the other concerns that were raised.

Let me say straight away that I am not blaming the grossly overworked nurses; the care from individual to individual was, in most cases, superb. I am questioning a shift in our attitude as a society that allows unnerving changes in the way we deal with older and more vulnerable people.

After spending time in the Rapid Response unit and then in Resuscitation, I was eventually wheeled into a private room for the night, which was most welcome. Next day, I found myself on a ward. There were several other patients whose stories I could relate, but the saddest case was the old lady in the bed opposite mine.

Scrunched up into a little ball, the old lady barely moved. She would not speak, would not eat or interact… or so it seemed. But, just after two, her husband came in… and she came to life. The two of them were as much in love as when they had first met, nearly half a century earlier. They had shared a bed for forty seven years and the separation now was almost killing them both.

He had walked into a village dance one evening, caught her eye and winked at her. She winked back… and they were both lost to a lifelong love.

We learned how close they had become when a car had ploughed around a corner, ripping into her legs…and killing their children in the pushchair. We learned how their lives had been lived for each other from that day onwards…and how very deep the love between them still ran.

It was beautiful to see them together. She, all girly, wearing the special earrings the nurses had been forbidden to remove, he, dapper and smart, dressed for a date, bullying and cajoling the girl he loves into swallowing a little water or lunch. Honestly? They glowed. Both of them.

But that brief hour together was all they had… not even that much at weekends, thanks to Covid. He hoped to take her home… we could see him making plans for holding her in that bed together… and were worried that her almost catatonic state would prevent that.

It was the care of one or two of the nursing staff that made all the difference. In particular, the ones who took the time to talk to her, treating her like a human being with hopes, emotions and memories… talking about her husband, the cruise they had shared, the things they had done and life they had built. It was all it took to turn the silent, closed-in mannequin into a shyly proud bride, flashing a cheeky eye at her love.

Is there always time for this on our wards? No, of course not… but there should be. Perhaps with fewer managerial tiers and less red tape there would be more funding for sleeves-rolled-up nursing staff with time to help heal a patient through loving and personal care.

On Tuesday, I was told there was nothing they could do for me. That it would be a case of making me comfortable… no more. I could not speak to my family or see them. Could not comfort them. I could not be held. I could not cry on any shoulder or rail against the verdict. A lonely and impersonal death… separated from all I love…that was hard to deal with. I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt for that poor old lady.

I am so grateful that verdict seems to have changed for me at least, but this is the reality Covid is imposing in our hospitals. At a time when warmth, humanity and compassion are most needed, restrictions are pushing us further apart, and when hopelessness is added to despair, there can seem little left to live for. It does not seem right that policy is doing this to our oldest and most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable moments.

It is from our elders that we learn… have always learned. It is from them we see how to treat others, how to cherish life and love and laughter, how to value toil and continuation and courage. It was, I believe, Gandhi who said that ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. If that small cross-section of people is representative, I can only say that if we were to have been measured we would have been found wanting.

For many, especially older patients, technology is a mystery to be accessed only with the help of those visitors who are now banned. With no ability to leave the ward, thanks to Covid, no books or even television screens, there is nothing to do except sit and wither away. I felt it myself and I am lucky. I understand how to use technology. My granddaughters waved to me over the telephone, my email and messages were seldom quiet and although there would be no hugs, the voices I love were never more than a call away.

Surely, after all our older generations have done… the least we can do is warm their final days with a little love and compassion?

Chalice

                                                 Expansion, sculpture by Paige Bradley

“Empty your mind… empty yourself…you are nothing and nowhere… just floating in the embrace of the universe…” It is a nice idea and one I have heard at the start of many a meditation… and in meditation, such a vision has a place. As a way of living, it is not particularly practical though. Someone has to walk the dog, take out the trash and clean the bathroom… and a person wafting through life being ‘nothing and nowhere’ is unlikely to be getting down and dirty with a scrubbing brush or chasing a recalcitrant hound across a muddy field.

It is such concepts that, for some, consign the whole idea of spirituality to the odd corners of life. It becomes a pastime, something to ‘do’ in spare moments or with a group. It isn’t reality, is it?

For many others though, it is just that… the most eminently practical way to live… not something to do, but something to Be.

But just how can you reconcile the nitty-gritty needs of everyday life with living a spiritual life? Especially when the daily grind seems to get in the way and haul you forcibly back from the Threshold you long to cross?

As a young mother with two small boys creating daily havoc and a longing to pursue my own spiritual studies, I read a chapter in ‘The Training and Work of an Initiate’ by Dion Fortune, one of the most respected esoteric teachers of the past century or so. She wrote of the Path of the Hearthfire and how each moment, each task, every dirty cup or grazed knee could be part of the bricks and mortar of a spiritual life. She explained, with her customary clarity, how every experience and every chore, if the attention is focussed and the intent conscious, becomes a rite… and is, therefore, a very real part of the spiritual journey. She wrote of the Unseen Guest for whom we may keep a place beside the hearthfire and, slowly, I began to understand.

Everything we do, learn or feel becomes part of the fabric of our being. Every choice we make takes us to another fork on that personal road and leaves its mark on who we are and who we will become. Our lives, our experience and our actions are a spiritual journey, whether we recognise it as such, or not. The only difference between those who walk a deliberately spiritual path, regardless of its name, and those who do not, lies in conscious choice, awareness and intent. Each of us may learn and grow without turning our backs on everyday life. All of us have the same rich vein of experience from which to extract alchemical gold.

There comes a point in most of our lives when we begin to question and may turn to whichever spiritual path seems to call us.  It is at this point we are also called to question the nature of the vessel we have formed from the gold of experience. ‘Know thyself’, phrased in innumerable ways, is a core tenet of the Mysteries, whatever path we choose.

We learn to see ourselves as a chalice, a vessel made from the raw materials of our personality and experience into which the wine of life has been poured. That vessel may be a thing of beauty… but is more likely to be a little skewed and battered. It may be jewelled with knowledge or made of an earthier clay. It matters little… we do not taste the vessel, it serves only to hold the wine.

There may come a moment when we wish to offer that vessel in dedication, to serve the Light we see.  To hold up that vessel and allow the Light to fill it… and to do so, the vessel must first be emptied. Many texts seem to teach that we must turn away from the world, ‘rise above’ our flawed humanity or become detached from the humdrum life. I do not believe that this is so.

Detachment is a cold thing, very different from the non-attachment that embraces all but is enslaved by none.

We are what we are… fully human, full of flaws and imperfect. Yet there is purpose to our imperfection for without it we could neither learn nor grow. Our imperfection is perfect in its design and mirrors something greater. To turn our backs on our humanity is to deny our nature and refuse the value of our unique experience upon this earth.

We craft the vessel from the sum of our experience, its light and its darkness, our gifts and our knowledge, bringing all that we are to its making. We offer our whole self willingly and with love…and such a dedication empties us of the fears and desires of the fragile and transient personality that thinks itself king. There is no ruler in unity.

To be no-thing but whole, to be now-here instead of nowhere… to be present and conscious within the universal embrace… empties the mind of who we think we should be… and allows us to be what we are.

The Entered Dragon (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Sensory Deprivation?

I was no more than five years old. We were staying with one of my great-grandmothers for a while. She was an old lady by that point, with a sharp mind and a wicked sense of fun. She was also blind, having lost her sight quite suddenly one day on her way to work. We were there to make sure she would be able to manage on her own. My mother had gone out to get some shopping and Grandma and I were alone.

“You’d better go watch the cat,” she said, quite suddenly. Whether it was her hearing or her sense of smell that had alerted her, I never thought to ask, but she knew the moment that the resident moggy went into labour. The cat was curled up a cardboard box lined with clean rags. Grandma had me watch and keep up a running commentary, explaining to me what was happening and what to watch for in case the little mother needed help. Thankfully, she seemed to know what she was doing and, before my mother returned, six damp balls of fur were being licked clean and stretching uncertain limbs. It was the first time I saw a creature born into the world, the first time I held a newborn being. The second came soon afterwards when her son, great-uncle Wilfred, placed a half-hatched egg in my hand and I felt the new life emerge. Warm and damp, the tiny, ugly squab was the most beautiful thing in the world.

Five years later, I was privileged to help my baby brother into this world. I will never forget the wonder of that moment, nor that mine was the first loving touch that he felt. Later, I gave birth to two sons of my own, and the breathless magic of holding them for that very first time is etched in my memory. Many people will experience and recognise that feeling, but each time that ‘feeling’ is ours alone as it is through our senses that we experience the world as a unique and personal journey.

My sons, growing up, would bring me all sorts of injured creatures they had found. Some we could help, others died in my hands and I felt the life leave them. It seems more than the cessation of breath and heartbeat; one moment there is a living thing in your hands, the next, no more than an empty shell. When my partner died of cancer many years ago, it was the same. The much-loved shell remained, but holding his hand as I waited for the ambulance, I could feel the last flicker of life leave him and knew the moment of that final parting.

I have known the beauty of the sense of touch at both ends of life. I have clung to a hand that called me back from the confusion of illness and the blackness of grief and held out that same hand for my sons. I have known the gift of a friend’s arms, the warmth of a lover’s embrace and the joy of a child’s hand in mine. Touch is our first welcome and our last farewell in this world. It is a common human language that, in spite of cultural differences, we all understand and respond to at a level deeper than logic.

Our sense of touch is incredibly important. While the simple, sensory function allows us to learn about and navigate our world, the type of touch that evokes an emotional response plays a huge part in our health and wellbeing. An affectionate hug or a hand holding yours can change everything, from offering reassurance to easing both emotional and physical pain. It alters the levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as having a beneficial effect on blood pressure and helps protect the heart’s physical health.   It helps shape our children’s ability to interact with the world, bolster our own self confidence and sense of self-worth and creates the social bonds of trust that we, as a species, all need.

I remember a time when I had first moved to Paris, wandering the streets… loving every minute, but desperately missing contact with another human being. It took all my self-control not to hug a stranger in the street… a wholly inappropriate impulse, but one that arose from a primal and gut-wrenching instinct. That feeling too is etched in memory.

I recognise the beginnings of that feeling now, when touch is being denied to so many, especially those who live alone and who rely on time with loved ones to fulfil this human need. People are beginning to notice and talk about the lack of affective touch and the longer this situation goes on, the worse it will feel. It is one of the tragedies of the pandemic that so many people are being starved of its comfort and reassurance.

I wonder how much collateral damage is being done to our mental and emotional health, just for lack of a hug. How much less stressful the current situation would be if we could hold those we love, instead of being taught to fear any kind of physical closeness. And, perhaps more importantly, how much damage prolonged social distancing and emotional isolation could inflict upon young children, learning to live and love in a world kept two metres apart.

When you open your arms to someone for whom you care, you are opening your heart to them too as you welcome them into your personal space. It is a gesture of trust and acceptance, a sharing of life and love, even just for a moment. For those who see Love as the heart of Creation, it may go deeper still, expressing and affirming the oneness of all.

Eyes to See

“By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation,
nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I remember one hot, summer’s day as a child, laying in the long, tickly grass of the field behind my home, watching the clouds race. All around me I could hear the bees and insects buzzing away, drowning the distant traffic noise and the passing train. As I write I can smell again that particular perfume of hot earth, sweat and new mown grass, with a little tang of melting tar hovering as an afternote. I watched as a ladybird and a very strange caterpillar made their way to the tip of the burdock, neither bending the leaves, but moving lightly as if that was where they belonged.

I knew, even then, that I was lucky. I had been raised in a family where belief in the unusual was as commonplace as knowledge of the divine, yet there were never any labels affixed that limited those beliefs and I was free to find what spoke to my own heart.

I did not know what God might be, nor did it matter… It just Was. Some saw Him as depicted in the Churches, others had a more abstract idea…some took a more pragmatic view, others a spiritual one. But though I learned of their ideas, none told me this was what I had to believe. So, for me, I could, on that day, look up at the heavens from my cocoon of grass and feel myself held in the hand of a God of which I was a part.

As I grew older and learned to live with others, growing as I was, I watched and learned how beliefs are imposed by parents and teachers, even by culture. It is natural, of course, for a parent who, through faith, feels they have found the answers they have sought to pass these to their children as a gift, hoping, perhaps, to gift that beauty and spare the child the quest for answers.

But I saw, too, where people were forced to accept beliefs that did not sing to their own inmost heart and, in accepting them, lose the light in their own eyes. The faith, for these, goes little deeper than the lip-service and they are left adrift, serving an ideal from which they feel divorced.

Through my teenage years, I shied away from the word ‘God’, as do many who follow an esoteric path. It conjured too many conflicting images in my own mind, from the gentle Jesus to the avenging and jealous God that I could not reconcile. Then, too, in a nominally Christian country, I realised it would do the same for others, and each would bring their own interpretation to any conversation where the Name was used.

But I never really found another way of referring to It that everyone would understand. It is easy to write and avoid the word, a capital letter here and there makes it plain. But in speech it does not work that way.

So now, I look around me at the beauty of the world, trying once more to leave the imposed definitions behind me and simply see the glorious details with the eyes of that child, so long ago. And I can speak of God, for whatever It is to another’s heart, It is the One to me, and we are part of It and so is the world in which we live. I do not need to explain or define, I do not even need to understand. Just to perceive It and know It is enough.

A sense of home

I spent the afternoon with my great grandparents. The fact that their ashes were scattered to the winds over thirty years ago seemed irrelevant. My home, a place they never saw, was full of their presence as the years slipped away and I became a child once more.

It had been a pretty rough week, what with one thing and another. Chilled and aching when I came home from work, I had a sudden craving for comfort food. The pantry, as usual, was full of dog food and little else. The fridge yielded only the bare essentials. But the baking cupboard held exactly what I needed, although I hadn’t known what that was until I looked at the spices…

Rice pudding, sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg and baked till it formed a thick, golden skin… just like great-granny used to make.

I hadn’t made one in years. It took seconds to throw everything into a dish and hours to bake, slowly and gently, to creamy perfection. And all the time it was cooking, the scent of home filled my little flat…

Great Grandma in her nineties

I close my eyes and sit once more at the old oak table with its barley-twist legs, set beside the window in the dining room. The table, covered with a heavy lace cloth is laden with square, Art Deco dishes, printed with daffodils, and the big silver and cut glass cruet that Grandma loves. Behind me, I know, is her treadle sewing machine, with all the fascinating odds and ends tucked away in its many drawers and a golden sphinx on its shiny, black surface. I can hear her in the kitchen…

Opposite me sits my great grandad. His hair has been silvery-white since his youth, his cheeks are rosy with tiny thread veins… but the blue eyes have never lost their twinkle or mischief. Behind him, on the old wooden radio, is a bronze and crystal inkwell. I clean it sometimes, along with the brasses and copper from the kitchen, loving the smell of the polish. The inkwell is shaped like a red setter… and three of them, Bonnie, Meg and Rory, sleep in a tangle on the hearthrug in front of the range. I polish that too, helping great grandma apply the black lead and buffing it till it shines.

Great Grandad and two of the setters

The air has the faint smell of this morning’s new bread, baked in the range, mixed with the tang of the coal fire and the warmth of baking rice pudding…

For a while, I am lost in that memory, transported to a time and place when there is neither worry nor pain, where I am just an innocent child, and where everything around me speaks of love

When I opened my eyes, in spite of the odd tear on my cheek, I was smiling. The tension had left my body and the worries of the day had melted away, as if I had once more been held by my great-grandparents… which, in a way, I had.

I thought how acutely we experience life through our senses, even though we are so used to them that we pay them little attention most of the time. Yet the memory of those experiences stays deeply ingrained, so much so that a simple smell can call them up on the screen of the mind, so immersively and with such precision that we are there.

It is, I suppose, a kind of time travel. If we allow the sensory memory to meet the emotions, we can be once more with people, or in places, that we have loved. Even when they are no longer in this world.

I know what my great grandparents believed they would experience after death and I know what my own beliefs are…and that the two are very different, at least at first glance. I would say that none of us can know for certain what lies beyond that portal…but great-grandma did. She died on the table during one of her many operations… and what she saw beyond the veil was beautiful, even though she was told her work was not yet done. What she described was so far from her lifelong belief that it was utterly convincing… and it brought her back for another twenty years of living, loving and teaching the next four generations of her family.

She believed, as do I, that we are supposed to be here, learning and teaching within this world, experiencing all life’s gifts through the senses. Through memory and emotion, we can revisit the past, touch the ‘unreal’ and feel it as acutely as the present moment.

There is an ancient belief that while ever a name is spoken, the person to whom it belonged still has a place in the world. I believe that is also true of a love that is remembered. Everything my great grandmother saw beyond the veil, just like everything I ‘saw’ when I closed my eyes, spoke of love. Love once known is never lost or wasted, it lives within every fibre of our being, becoming part of who we are and who we can become… and my great grandma said that love never dies.

I believe her.

Close to home

scotland trip jan 15 481

I had occasion recently to talk with someone whose actions had once caused me a good deal of pain. I was asked, in the light of later maturity, if I could ever forgive them.

I found that I could not.

I could not forgive because I had never really blamed. I cannot blame what I can understand. That does not mean that I condone, accept or agree with harmful actions. It simply means that if I can see why it was, for that person and at that moment, the only thing they felt they could do, I cannot truly blame. If I were them, I would be in their shoes at that moment and would I have acted any differently? Probably not.

It is something none of us can know. We will never be in their precise position and can only hope that if we were in a similar situation, we would do otherwise. That does not make any of us better than another, or any more likely to take the best course instead of a reactive one. It just means that we approach each moment with a different arsenal of experience with which to make our own choices… and our own mistakes.

“I forgive you.”

The word sounds like the giving of a gift, doesn’t it? In some respects, that is true. But what exactly are we giving… and to whom?  A full pardon for an offence? An assurance that we will put the memory of that offence behind us? Or a complete forgetting of all that the offence engendered? Whatever those words mean for each of us, the simple fact of choosing to forgive implies that we feel a wrong was done and that some aspect of that injury remains. If not, there would be nothing to forgive.

By offering forgiveness, there is also an implication there has been an admission of guilt… a mutual accord that wrong has been given and received.

Is it even humanly possible to choose true forgiveness and forgetting in a single moment? To wipe the slate clean with three words, leaving no trace of hurt, resentment or guilt? I don’t think it is. We may be able to maintain an attitude of forgiveness and genuinely act from the heart, as if it were true, but all hurts take time to heal and memories need time to fade.

The only way I have found to really forgive a perceived injury is to change my own relationship to it. Sometimes a little human understanding is enough and the old platitudes about ‘walking a mile in their shoes’ and ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’ can be enough to create that change. Many injuries are not what we feel them to be but have their cause rooted somewhere beyond the obvious.

Sometimes the change may come with a flash of understanding sparked from an outside source, like the words of a friend or a chance phrase you have read. Most of the time, though, you have to dig deeper, realising that in hanging onto your resentment, the only person who is suffering may be yourself.

We learn such a lot through our interactions with each other. When someone has harmed us in any way, we will, in an ideal world, learn from that experience and not allow ourselves to be in that position again. In reality, we tend to meet variants of these same situations over and over again, each of them dressed differently so that we are fooled into thinking them something new. It is only in looking closer that we see a common thread…and that thread may be traced back through the labyrinth to its source, which is often some aspect of our own personality.

That is not to say that we are to blame for the actions of others, but it is we ourselves who open the doors of experience and any repeating pattern holds a clue to who we are, how we show ourselves to the world and how others will see us… including those who would hurt us.

Learning to really understand ourselves and what is behind our actions can be one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake…and the most rewarding. Systems such as the one we use in the Silent Eye can help give a structure to that quest and hold up a mirror in which we can begin to see ourselves more clearly, identifying the cracks and vulnerable spots in our characters and emotions and allowing us to address them. There is no blame where there is understanding…and the empathy and compassion that leads to real forgiveness must start with ourselves.

Four letter word

stonehenge 003

“Who do you love best?”

I overheard a conversation between mother and her small child and remembered my own sons asking me this question when they were very small. I imagine it is one many children throw at their parents and we reassure them, almost automatically, that we love them the same. It isn’t true, though is it? We may love them equally… in fact, I think by the very word love we are assuring them that we do, but we don’t love them ‘the same’.

Have you ever stopped to think about it? Such a small word for such a range of human emotions! The love we have for parent, sibling, friend, child or lover is always different. The colour of love may change, but it is impossible to quantify and all its colours, like those of the spectrum, blend and merge to make a love that encompasses all. There is no loving more or less… it simply is. There are no two loves alike, just as there are no two people identical, not even twins. Everyone is unique and so are our relationships with them.

We can like someone more than another, we can relate to them better, we can feel that odd attraction/repulsion that can be so strong… we can apply all sorts of other emotional overlays, both negative and positive, to the relationship; respect, sympathy, compassion… and all the rest. We can prefer the company of one, know light-hearted laughter with one friend, share an interest in books or butterflies with another, feel tenderness towards a child or a lover, fall hopelessly… or hopefully… in love, or burn with the flame of passion. We can be dutiful as children, loyal as friends… We can even find that miracle that seems to complete us. Or we can love in the hope that love will be returned. So many aspects to something both so simple yet so very complex it seems, yet it is the foundation of every human relationship by its presence… or absence. And it is such a small word.

The Greeks did it better… Four words instead of four letters, each with its own distinct meaning. Storgē is the love that accepts, and the love for what is. Philía is affection, friendship… the love for family, something to be shared. Éros, usually understood as the sensual and physical passion, falling in love through attraction and without thought, the desire of the senses. Yet Plato saw it as more than that… through the perfection of the physical form and its attraction he saw a pathway for the soul to remember beauty and through it find Truth. Agápe, the unconditional, selfless love that seeks nothing… only to be; the spiritual love for the Divine, or the purity of love for the child.

While we use that four-letter word so often, we seldom think about what it actually means and when we are asked ‘who we love best’ we give the answer that reassures. We do not stop to ask ourselves if we love our ‘best’ or could love ‘better’. Not in terms of quantity for I do not believe love can be measured, but in how we love and what we give… or seek.

Looking at the meanings behind the Greek words is revealing. In them, we can see a pathway to something more. In learning to accept what is, to love life without judgement, recognising both the good and the bad for what they are, what they might be or what they can teach, we could learn how to move through the world creating change. Through sharing… being able to give and receive what is given in friendship and affection… we can open ourselves to life and become part of a wider family, learning to understand the nature of love as we did as children, in innocence and trust. In seeking the beauty that sings to us, that embraces our whole being body, heart and mind, as deeply as we would a lover, we find a place of beauty within that simply wants to give love. It is enough. And when love ceases to seek anything in return it comes close to the Divine.

It is such a big thing, this little word, and we may all mean something different when we use it. It has become an everyday word used lightly… or it can be the deepest gift we have to give. It challenges us, holds up a mirror, breaks our barriers and sometimes our hearts. It can leave us wide open to hurt, yet to live it is to know the greatest joy.

Land of the Heart

This is a self-help exercise I developed recently. I call it ‘Land of the Heart’

It’s an exercise that involves the surrender of the small self that feels so much pain and anguish, especially at a time of national division, such as we have on both sides of the Atlantic, today.

It’s an exercise that addresses that feeling of helplessness that many of us are enduring as we watch our civilisations change. We have been raised in an age that encourages us to take responsibility for things. On a personal level, this is healthy; but when confronted with the kind of societal change we now face, we can become narrow and negatively focussed by thinking we should be making a difference. In truth, we can only make a difference to our selves.

But the power of that should not be underestimated…

This exercise involves packing all those troubles – many of which are imagined, for we are seldom in real pain or danger – into a little mental kitbag and carrying that ‘wrapped’ bag with us into the world – our daily world – in a very special way.

At this stage we don’t surrender those troubles, feelings or anguish; we just keep them wrapped. But we carry in our hearts a conviction that there is somewhere else they belong.

As we set off into our daily world, we think of that little kitbag, perhaps slung over our shoulder like the Tarot card of the Fool.


The Original Rider-Waite Tarot card of The Fool, by Pamela Coleman Smith. Source Wikipedia

The Fool card, with its happy and ‘naive’ figure has different levels of significance. It would take a full blog just to provide an outline of them. It is the first of the Major Aracana of the Tarot and sits on the Tree of Life in a position that links the place of the Crown of consciousness with the place of the first emanation in the act of cosmic creation.

 

For the purpose of our exercise, the naivety of the supposed Fool is important. He has no fear of what lies ‘beneath’ him (or her) in the creation. This is because he IS the unfolding act of creation…

One more thing remains before we can take the walk of the Fool into the Land of the Heart. We need to find an old leaf, or a dead or dying flower… or something similar, that has experienced the glory of life, but is now fading… Its pattern remains, to show us something important; but a higher pattern that imprinted it has departed, to return to its pre-life potency.

Above: Find a leaf, flower or other organic vehicle, now discarded

Our final search is to find (or ask to be show) somewhere of great beauty. We need not be physically there, though that’s wonderful if it is possible. A photo of such a place works well, as does an abstract image. If the first photo in this blog moves you (as it did me) then feel free to have it and hold it.

We now have everything we need to carry out the exercise. In our minds we become the Fool in the Tarot card. Walking forward into our new day. We take the old leaf or flower and hold it in one of our hands, feeling love for the wonder of its life, but knowing that what it really WAS is gone… to become another IS.

Looking at the view or image of the place we have selected, we surrender our small self and the kitbag into the image of the eternal and constantly changing world of which we can only ever have a tiny amount of knowledge.

And then, crushing the remains of the leaf or flower, we return the pieces to the ground, to feed what needs to grow next, thinking of the Fool’s kitbag as we do so.

We have freed ourselves from the contents of the kitbag. We have embraced and surrendered the smallness of our personal self. In so doing we have become a living part of the Land of the Heart.

©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.