Making sense of it (2) – hidden capabilities

Our five senses may not be five at all… It turns out we have far more capabilities than we thought…

(800 words; a seven-minute read)

We all have our favourite concepts of physical capability – breathing, flexibility, strength and such like. But what if the power of our senses extended far beyond what we know? This is not about the historic idea of a sixth-sense, though that can be entirely valid. I’m referring to the kind of synthesis that enables things to work together as a ‘whole system’, in the way that the science of Emergence has shown us that ‘mere matter’ can become self-organising and apparently exhibit ‘intelligence’; the very same way that the first protein-based RNA molecules formed into life-repeating chains and gave rise to our DNA, the very substance of life’s persistence…

In a age of fast-paced scientific discovery, we are learning that what we think of as our separate senses are capable of ‘raising their game’ so that they become the basis of new levels of feeling and action in the world.

Philosophers have long postulated this; and psychology has shown us that, though it is often hard to see what others are thinking and feeling, we can train our senses to enable us to ‘see’ into the bubbles that are their worlds – with much deeper empathy.

The model of the five senses I wrote about in last weeks’ Thursday blog is derived from no less a figure than Aristotle. Though easily understood, it has been shown that the five-sense model of consciousness undervalues and underestimates how and how far the human being can ‘sense’.

I learned about the advances in this field from an article in the British Psychological Society’s online magazine. This is free to subscribers and offers frequent insights into how the science of mind and behaviour is progressing. A recent edition showcases an article from author and researcher Emma Young. She writes, ‘We have many more than five senses – here’s how to make the most of them’, she discusses such mechanisms as Proprioception – the sensing of the location of our body parts in space.

We take this for granted, but try closing your eyes and extending a hand or leg. You can no longer see the limb, but your mind has a good idea of where it is. The accuracy of this sense, known as ‘proprioception’, is vital to our physical wellbeing, and saves us from what would be frequent injury without it.

To get an idea of how automatic this skill is, try closing your eyes and walking around a familiar room – much as a blind person learns to do – and you will find a very different ‘self-process’ is engaged.

Emma Young references how Covid has eaten into the degree to which we make use this extra sense. She suggests we use artificial exercises, such as making up stepping-stones from mats placed in the garden or home. This will replicate the under-used activity of proprioception and help restore this hidden but vital part of being alive. The benefits go further, and according to recent American research, such exercises actually stimulate working memory in the brain.

The problem with our eyes is that they are open all the time. We depend on them too much – a sentiment no-doubt echoed by Shamans of all ages, who have always taught that we can have total knowledge of things only by embracing them as both the ‘now’ and as vividly alive in a holistic way – allowing the higher consciousness mechanisms to engage and ‘self-organise’ at a level above the individual senses.

If it is safe to do so, try moving around your house with your eyes closed – or even blindfold! Who does not remember the intensity of consciousness generated by the child’s game of ‘blind man’s buff’?

One of the levels of synthesis available to us is the result of the body’s vestibular system, used by our minds to establish both balance and the sense of being located and homed inside a physical body. We take this for granted, and it is undoubtedly one of the ‘senses’ that make us feel settled and calm. But many people faced with unusual conditions – such as undergoing surgery – report ‘out of body’ experiences that may relate, directly, to the suppression of the vestibular self-locating mechanisms that are fundamental to our normal consciousness.

Emma Young references the particular efficacy of exercises that move the head, such as Pilates, or Tai Chi, in addition to any action that challenges our balance, such as walking along a rope placed on the floor.

It has been shown that psychological well-being is greatly assisted by the correct use of our eyes, in the sense of what kind of light we ‘take in’ at differing times of day. Bright and ‘sunny’ light is really good for us in the morning; while the more restful evening should be bathed in muted, soft lights, and we shouldn’t stimulate our senses by using computer screen before we go to bed.

Research is showing that an acute sense of smell – such a that possessed by wolves – is still with us, despite evolutionary fears that we have such capability. We just need to begin using it, again. For all we know, much our society’s depression may come from ‘tech smells’ that have a semi-poisonous effect on our lives. “If you see a rose,” says Emma Young, “stop and smell it…”

Apparently a ‘fishy smell’ improves our critical thinking; and people who are more sensitive to smell have better sex lives…

Emma Young goes on to talk about our ability to ‘inner-sense’, including our own heart-beat, without the use of external devices. I remember an exercise from my youth where we had to use the second hand of our watches to time a six-second period and count the heart beats by placing a finger on the back of the wrist. Multiply the result by ten, and you have your heart rate.

With a little effort (and I’ve tried this) you can feel your heartbeat quite easily simply by ‘listening within’. If you add the second-hand technique, you can measure it… or you could just bask in its magnificent presence and thank it, knowing that some day, it will have finished its loving and dutiful job… to carry our outer ‘self’ through the continuity of life.

———————

References:

British Psychological Society’s weekly online digest:

Digest.bps.org.uk

Emma Young’s article

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2021/04/01/we-have-many-more-than-five-senses-heres-how-to-make-the-most-of-them/

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

A Song with Sue Vincent (2) – from the eyes of another

Sue and Stuart moved forward from the start of the Silent Eye to become a formidable writing team, beginning with their book, The Initiate, published in September 2013.

(Above: a very dynamic combination – Sue Vincent and Stuart France, photographed in 2014. You can find a list of their prolific writings at France and Vincent.

In this extract, Sue describes the 2013 ritual birth of the Silent Eye, but through the eyes of an ancient female priestess she felt she knew, psychically. This figure – later named ‘Bratha’, was to be an often present figure in her later writings, and in the workshop “The Feathered Seer’ that she and Stuart created in 2016.

——-

There was smoke again, and flames, but this time they were for her alone. The fire had claimed her and images rose and fell within the orange glow.

She gave herself to the moment, seeing with inner eyes a strange scene unfolding.

Far below, it seemed, a golden vortex drew her, sending up motes of light like the ash from the burning wood, rising into the night. She followed their trail in vision to the centre of the maelstrom of power whirling deosil, an island of Light in the darkness…

A sacred space…

The golden robed figure sat veiled and alone in the centre of a strange symbol. It reminded her of a great, winged bird, its wings wrapped around the seated priestess. At her feet a golden chalice held a single flame, while around her invisible gold flowed in a river of power.

The figure was immobile as a statue, her robes catching the light of the flickering flame, only her breathing, slow and steady, made her seem alive. A man approached through the base of the winged symbol, a great Eye on his breast. He sat before the silent figure, taking her hands and speaking words unheard into the night. The golden one bowed her head in acknowledgement and he took up his place to her right, one hand outstretched on her shoulder.

There was a new shift in the swirling vortex as they waited in silence. She could sense the streams of colour spiralling around the enthroned Priest and the Lady. They could not see her. They saw nothing but the Purpose they served.

Another joined them, a younger energy flowed in as he too sat before the priestess. He took the hands in a silence that sang to the morning, bowing over them and placing a kiss on each. Three pairs of eyes, shining with Love… He took his place on her left and rested his hand on her shoulder.

They were an arrow, she the point, they her strength and source of flight. Another three added to the symbol traced on the ground around them. They waited and the power grew. Three strands now entwined in the vortex.

Others came, men and women in strange garb, one by one. Hesitant, awed by what they felt as they entered the sacred circle. In turn they stood in silent offering before she who held the moment, giving of themselves to what stood before them… The One that was Three.

The priestess in gold held each pair of eyes, accepting their gifts with Love and silence, bowing her head to each in thanks and blessing. They took their seats to either side, forming great wings of life around the three.

She did not understand, but she recognised.

When all had entered, she too, invisible and beyond time, entered the circle, stepping across the worlds, it seemed. She too offered to the Mother and the eyes that met hers were her own. There was a shift, a dizzying moment, when she felt herself seeing through both pairs of eyes and looking into her-self across millennia.

She joined the Vigil and wore silence.

After a time the priestess stood, taking up the light in the cup, placing a cloak of white fur about her shoulders. Holding the power and wrapped in silence she led the way into the pre-dawn light, her companions following in silent procession. It seemed to the watcher that they walked within a globe of golden light.

The temple building was strange to her eyes, but not as strange as the sleeping landscape into which the priestess led them. Tall huts of stone, square and angular beside a hard, unnatural path, disconnected from earth. Shiny chariots with black wheels lined the path. She felt sick with shock, yet curious about this strange world.

They saw no others as they walked, climbing the path towards the tree-line. The silence was broken by the bleating of a new lamb. It must be spring, she thought. The lamb watched, meeting their eyes and bleated again, three times in all. The companions shared smiling glances. They understood this. It meant something to them.

They turned to the left between trees and were walking in dew-drenched grass, sparkling with rainbows and diamond droplets, climbing the hill. She felt better on the grass, the earth touching her feet. It felt like home.

Up they climbed, beyond a tree to a small plateau in the hillside. A board of black and white squares held bread and the cup was placed there on the ground. The golden one and the priest of the Eye stood facing the coming dawn, a pale glow on the horizon heralding its birth. The Man-Child stood behind them, with their companions arced at his back.

She watched as priest and priestess raised their arms in unison, greeting the sunrise. This she understood. Her own priests greeted the dawn thus. As the sun rose, and with their hands still raised, they turned to each other, becoming an arch, gate of the morning, through which the first rays of the sun could touch the company.

Thus they stood as the Man-child crossed his hands on his breast and bowed. Then he dared to pass through into the Light. As he did so, a strange sound rang out, a sound chanted by the two who were the gateway…

The gathered silence finally split and broken by a two-fold word of power… A mingling of energies that she could see…

Birds sang and a hawk flew from the rising of the sun, spreading its wings over those below in benediction. This too they understood.

Each then passed in turn through the gateway, to that strange chant. Each spoke words she could not understand into the morning. The first were anointed with fragrant oil. Some were not, yet all gave themselves to the Light. She could see it in their faces, read it in their hearts as they stepped forward in joy.

She too passed through that gateway invisible and silent, feeling the change, joining them across time and space, knowing somehow that neither existed, only the moment in which she stood, the reality in which she was.

Dream or vision, it mattered not.

Here, now, she was.

The arc had shifted to stand in the sun. Now facing the priest and priestess, behind the man-child…

Something new was born into the world, a beacon of Light and she felt herself part of it.

The priest carried bread to the companions, each taking a small piece and breaking the fast of a new dawn. The priestess carried the cup, sharing the blood red contents with each. Then the two shared also, with each other and with the earth.

For a moment she shared their joy as the ritual ended. They were smiling, laughing and embracing each other, the release of power at the birthing leaving them light as feathers. And light as a feather she felt herself begin to drift back to her flames in the darkness.

As the vision faded into embers, the ground hard beneath her, the wind cold beneath the stars, she held out her hands over the dying flames and sent her own blessing upon that bright company. In whatever realm or world they moved whatever time or place, what they had wrought in the dawn light was sacred. She did not understand, but she knew and recognised her kin…


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

(Above: The Song of the Troubadour book and script is available on Amazon, priced at £5.99. Click the image


ISBN-13: 978-1910478035)

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 

Making sense of it…

We have this interesting phrase: ‘Making sense of it…’ But we may never stop to think of its origins, or what logic is behind it.

(870 words; a five-minute read)

(Above: the setting sun reminds us that there is a single reason why all things are ‘seen’.)

There are at least two interpretations of what ‘sense’ means. The first refers to the domain of our five physical senses: sight, hearing touch, smell and taste – all but one of them centred directly in the head – the seat of most of the brain.

Physics tells us that we really live in a vast electromagnetic world, and have a meagre five narrow windows onto its expanse. Whatever our true ‘beingness’ is, these five windows are obviously important… to us, and possibly beyond. We pride ourselves on being a ‘dominant species’ of life on Earth, so we assume that the five senses and the information and context they bring are an important part of that eminence.

The other use of the word is when we get a ‘sense’ of something. This refers more to understanding than any individual sense, like taste. A novel may refer to a character, say a detective, ‘smelling fear’ on someone; a phrase that evokes a whole series of images in our minds. These draw on our past direct experience of such things at the composite level. We may well have been in fearful situations and ‘smelled’ our own fear… Sensory experience can often be unpleasant, so we build a life in which this aspect is minimised.

It’s a useful exercise to go through a week and deliberately try to experience one or two key situations with all the senses alerted. We may find connections we hadn’t thought about as the delicate hues of the rose blend with the ‘ebb and flow’ of its perfume, and the tiny noise as the breeze vibrates its petals.

The five senses continually ‘stream’ a vast amount of information to the brain, whose initial job is to get rid of most of it. If it didn’t filter it in this real-time way, we would go insane. To do this for us, unconsciously and continuously, requires that the brain learns what is important for us. These ‘heads of importance’ (the expectations of our mother, for example) become central to how we collect, filter and refine our experience. The refining stage recognises that the heads of importance may change over time – my mother may become old and suffer memory loss, so the way I gather and process her ‘data’ may need to revert to a more child-like model, effectively reverting backwards in time.

Making sense of our world, and continually refining it, is therefore a high-state process centred on memory. The structures in the memory – these heads of importance – are sophisticated ‘silos’ of information that go to make up living images of our world; in fact, they are our world…

Our ‘self’ is derived very much from how we feel about theses images. Those to which we have attached importance have a sense of belonging to us and we move towards them. Things we don’t like will be attached to a sense of rejection, and we move away from them – often building sophisticated barriers so we never have to meet them, again. As children, we may not have had that luxury… and suffered in silence. But our adult life is entirely shaped by being able to put force behind these preferences.

From a brain perspective, this is all well and good. We feel protected as much as our lives can allow. Poor people may live a life of horror, in which they are forced to live adjacent to the unpleasant. Very rich people may live in gated communities and feel a sense of disconnectedness with their worlds. This is not moral comment, simply how our brains are wired to drive our lives.

The problems arise with the self. The self is a composite image we hold of what is really important to us. It is what we identify with: ‘Yes, that’s who I am’. The self is double edged sword. A strong sense of self is essential to have a stable and successful life.

But… by its nature, being based upon memory’s structures, it is formed only from the past. Our existence in the present – in the now – is not consciously lived.

Thankfully, our senses are still working in the present; still gathering and passing data to the brain so that our heads of importance can be updated and fine-tuned (‘that Tony Johnson has turned out to be okay, despite my initial dislike of him!’)

One of the long-standing exercises in mystical training is to deliberately dwell on the senses, as we mentioned in the opening. When we first approach this, we may think we are ‘going the wrong way’; dwelling on the mundane and physical rather than turning to elevated thoughts and concepts. It is only when we experience the sudden influx of the truly new that we gain the contrast between our supposedly present state and the truly present

We may, then, have some life-changing choices…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

A Song with Sue Vincent – the birth of the Silent Eye

In the near darkness, the woman’s gentle right hand came down on my shoulder from behind. It was the signal that she was ready, that we could begin either the bravest or the stupidest thing we’d ever attempted.

(With the giant enneagram lovingly ‘taped’ onto the carpet of the Nightingale Centre, the cast of ‘The Song of the Troubadour’ begins the Silent Eye’s opening workshop)

It was April 2013. Sue Vincent and I were about to sing the opening of a temple ritual drama. Sitting on a small stool in front of her, I took a breath and let my fingers rest on the nylon strings of the Spanish guitar…

We were on our own, as Troubadours had often been, in history, conveying their truths as songs.

Around us in the half-light, lit only by a few electric candles and one small real flame in a glass lantern, people were pretending to be asleep, their heads nodded downwards, The hoods of their robes were pulled up, monk-wise, into a universal symbol of withdrawal from the everyday.

Their sleep was symbolic of a shift in consciousness: the essence of what the Silent Eye was going to try to achieve over the weekend.

The workshop was to mark and celebrate the launch of the new School. Many of those present were from other esoteric organisations. All had come to wish us well and to celebrate the birth of something spiritually new.

(Above: Sue’s artistic skill allowed her to create variants of our enneagram for specific roles – in this case, a painted image of the soul)

Within the ‘sleeping circle’ was Stuart France, the third Director, who was to play the role of a mysterious ‘child’ protected from dark forces by the two Troubadours, and, eventually – having reconciled their differences – the whole cast.

It was no time to mess up those precious guitar chords. I strummed the strings into life. The gentle but tones filled the large room in the Nightingale Centre with a soft and haunting sound. You could feel the intake of breath around the circle. Then our two voices rose, in harmony in the darkness as Sue and I sang the Song of the Troubadour; something we had written for the workshop, but never performed in public, though Sue’s ‘learning by repetition’ technique, practised while looking after her son, Nick, caused him to create a rap version, just so he could play it back to her with equal frequency…

(Above – Sue Vincent, taking a break. Ever mischievous…)

Beginnings are powerful things… Looking back, the coming together of Sue Vincent, Stuart France and myself within the Silent Eye was hardly an accident.

We had known each other previously through the Servants of the Light (SOL) – Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s celebrated school of the Western Mystery Tradition. I had joined SOL in 2006 and stayed seven years, helping to computerise the ageing administration and membership systems. Sue and I had met there, but not known each other well.

Prior to our time at SOL, Stuart and I had been long-term officers within the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC.

For the three of us, our participation in these organisations had given us a rich perspective on the teaching of practical mysticism. In particular, Dolores had taught all of us that the use of drama, played out with the sacred in mind, could be a powerful tool on many levels.

In my own case, I had deeply enjoyed every one of these journeys into different organisations, gaining in knowledge and confidence with each move. I was not in any way unhappy with any of them, but I felt there was another, and more ‘direct’ way of going about it. I had studied the work of Gurdjieff in some detail, and a group of us had piloted a novel ‘magical’ approach to the use of his nine-pointed figure: the enneagram.

(Above: the final version of the Silent Eye’s enneagram, a figure that combines enneagram theory and personal, mystical practice

The enneagram had been created to show how nature’s processes flow and reset themselves, much as the seasons do, but generalised in a deeper way. A group of psychologists in California had merged a deep theory of the arising of personality with the use of the enneagram to make visible our deeper natures… eventually knocking on the door of the personal ‘soul’.

That became my trigger for establishing the Silent Eye, a school of consciousness that would combine this use of the enneagram with our ‘magical’ training of the mind, heart and instincts. In 2012, I left SOL to to this, hoping to keep the wide circle of friends I had made, there.

Sue Vincent had been helping me become a Facebook user. She joined me shortly afterwards, in the soon to be Silent Eye, though we had not discussed it prior to my leaving SOL. My wife and I hosted a party for the creation of the new school at our newly-finished house in Kendal. Everyone enjoyed the evening and wanted to stay over. A small army of sleeping bags were deployed.

The day after, Sue Vincent (in her own words) kidnapped Stuart France, and the two of them spent the day driving around her native Yorkshire and talking about the potential of the Silent Eye. I’d already made the offer for him to join us. The day cemented their friendship, which was later to develop into much more, plus a most productive writing team.

Towards the end of 2012, Stuart confirmed he would join us. In April 2013, we launched the Silent Eye with the ‘Song of the Troubadour’ workshop, viewed by all attending as a success… and a new thread in the teaching of practical esoteric knowledge in a modern world.

The Song of the Troubadour was the story of a group of travellers trapped by a snowstorm in a remote monastery, high in a range of mountains between two lands. The Keepers of the monastery gently engineer inter-personal conditions that bring each traveller face to face with their own inner natures. The workshop pioneered the Silent Eye’s use of the teaching enneagram as a mystical tool for dramatic, ritual movement. To our knowledge, no-one else in the world uses this combination.

(Above: the creation and management of an event like ‘The Song of the Troubadour’ is a complex fusion of movement and position. Everything in such a temple signifies an aspect of the human being)

The Troubadours sang their song. The workshop was a warm success and became the blueprint for another six years of spring events. Some of these will be discussed in the next post.


If you would like to read the story of the Song of the Troubadour, as given in the workshop, Sue Vincent helped to turn the workbook for the event into an Amazon book, available in paperback and Kindle formats. See below.

(Above: The Song of the Troubadour book and script is available on Amazon, priced at £5.99. Click the image


ISBN-13: 978-1910478035)

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern yet mystical journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being. 

The Ferocious Healer

Healing can be gentle and tender; but certain healing acts on an inner level of the self, racing like a cold wave to resolve us, before washing us up on the beach called tomorrow, but under a different sun…

(1000 words, a ten-minute read)

We all progress through an inner journey in our lives. We may not work with any specific system of self-development, but we come to the same perspective about ourselves. We come to know, with certainty, that there are things about us that have far more importance than anything else. These are qualities, rather than things. They do not relate to things; to what we might have, how secure we are. They are concerned with an ‘easiness’ (or not) of our inner state, our ‘me-ness’.

When we enter this awareness, usually in our middle years, we are on a path to self-knowledge, whose gravitational force becomes stronger as we age. True, there is a contest between bodily health and focus at that point – as shown by the increasing take-up of combined Eastern systems, such as Yoga, or derivates like Pilates. A daily walk confers much of the same benefits. Whatever method we adopt, the gains are reflected within as a calmer interior.

If we inquire into where unease comes from, we are pointed at a many-coloured quilt of mind and emotions, made from pieces of our experience, solidified as responses. There are desires, regrets, resolutions and powerful insights woven into this fabric. The whole of it comprises the self, the personality, and, although it feels complicated, it really isn’t – once we find the dynamic states in there, and begin to separate the dross from the real.

The real is vitally important, and we are compelled to approach it in stages. These stages reveal a pattern of ‘really important things’ – things with a power to change that interior state and make us renewed, within – which then changes the without…

The real is based on truth. Our relationship to truth is subtle, and, initially at least, learned. We are brought up in societies where many of the most important ‘powerful people’ lie. They lie all the time, carving and shaping the societal world in a way that protects their existence as liars. We all lie, but becoming aware of our lying is a key part of putting real life, as opposed to illusion, back into our interior state. We may not have the power to make our societies true, but we do have the power to make ourselves true.

We don’t want zealots here. There’s nothing as deadly as a zealot, clinging to his or her first vision of real truth and preaching how important it is to give up our present lives. We want gentleness, we want sharing and, above all, we want compassion…

Compassion is one of the great discoveries of the land inside us. Like anything else we presume to know, compassion has hidden depths. Compassion has two apparent faces: the one that soothes the friend who is going through illness, providing a reassurance that things will be okay, when we know they will not; and the the other, deeper face, that acts like a silent twin of truth.

If we have any ‘spiritual’ intentions, we must find our own truths. I’m not talking about the methods of development we may choose. I’m referring to an interior capability to ‘feel’ the truth of any situation. It can come as a shock to find out that we have an inner organ that knows when something is true or not; that knows when we are bending our complex and sophisticated past to accommodate something that is really an indulgence, rather than what we have set ourselves to do.

This is hard, really hard. But it is the way forward, and no amount of false compassion, the pat of self-reassurance that we have lots of life left to get it right, will substitute. Conditions arise in our lives for a reason. Life is an interior school of self-development, as millennia of wisdom has taught. People on a path of self-development are wise, no matter how far along that path they are. They listen to life, reading in its events, good or bad, what they should be learning on their individual journeys.

And it is here that the little-known power of real compassion comes into play. Compassion for ourselves will help us face the truth of our lives. It acts like a ship that reveals a bigger world. But its direction can only be towards the Truth, and in that powerful voyage, its engines have to be merciless in carrying us forward.

Once we face truth, nurture it and and learn to make it our constant advisor, we are set on a course, and the mighty engines of self-compassion, matched to the compass of truth, assume their real power, which is to make the brave happen… eventually healing the wounds that seem less and less important as we gaze out on a truly new day.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being

The Belief Tree

It might be thought that, in our technology-driven age, the concept of belief has become less important. If we go back fifty years, belief was still central to most people’s lives; so what has happened to change that?

(1000 words, a ten-minute read)

A friend of mine suggests, slightly tongue in cheek, that the biggest factor in religion’s decline is shopping… We might substitute football for shopping, to even up the gender sheet. The principle is the same: occupation of the mind and emotions by identifications with things of a tangible nature. If we’re fortunate, these may be luxuries. If less so, they are the passions generated by, say, our favourite team, of whom we are a loyal and devoted follower.

Passions for the less tangible things of life seem to be fewer, in this more advanced age…

Life is a struggle towards maturity and the personal crown of independence, which may be achieved in various degrees. Being self-supporting would be a key stage. Having a good job and ‘a place of our own’ would be important milestones.

At the end of decades of life we might find ourselves truly independent and able to choose how we dedicate our energies. This freedom from the influence of others can prove an arid place, however, when we realise that sea of experience in which we now swim reflects only our personal likes… and not the rich tapestry of challenge that it used to contain. ‘Beware what you wish for’ can be appropriate words, here.

Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs showed us that we only get to develop a depth of understanding of ‘higher things’ when our basic survival and comfort needs have been met. Yet religion usually features in the lives of the poorest people.

Is this a sign that the ‘undistracted’ are closer in their simplicity to where the spiritual originates? It may be that the closer-knit societies of the poor – outside of the developed West – have tightly woven communities where worship and neighbourly care go hand in hand. In this sense, religion is not chosen, it is a given, perhaps reflecting life in the West from a previous era, but with different religions at its heart.

Our societies have lost coherence and become a hotch-potch of identifications, desires and fears. The solid, if imposed, set of values that religion used to provide as life-basis has been replaced by a gradient of thoughts ranging from life purely as consumer, to the deepest explorations of a variety of philosophies, some linked to disciplined exercise regimes, as with Yoga. Seldom in our history have more people been seeking…

Science generally mocks religion. I once watched a whole programme by one of my favourite scientists: the astronomer professor Brian Cox, who filmed religious worship around the world – particularly funerary rites – just to say, at the end of programme, that God, and associated life after death, had no basis in demonstrable fact. I remember feeling sad that so much energy had been spent negating the basic and genuine needs of so many subsistence-level people.

Not all scientists feel this way, as individuals. Psychologists work at the known frontiers of the mind, stabilising the all-important sense of ‘self’ that arises when the individual works successfully towards maturity and individuality. We might say that all the gains and many of the ills of the modern world have resulted from the cult of the self, allied to consumerism.

How is the young, thinking person to approach this, if they decide there is more to life than comfort and the personal prestige of accomplishment? We might say they will be met with three concepts: to believe; to have faith; and to know

The tree of wisdom has, throughout the ages, and within all the world’s systems for studying a ‘supreme being’, begun with belief; asking the aspirant to adopt a deeper, more values-based approach to their lives. We are urged to do this as a trial, setting aside our established thinking, to consider that there might be states of mind and heart that are truly ‘higher’.

Some systems of development, such as Buddhism, advocate no such supreme being, rather focussing on the potential of the individual human, instead.

Belief traditionally provides no proof, except for reference to ‘good people’, but offers a path of focus on an ideal that may have the power to change the aspirant. The majority of people satisfied with belief, alone, are ‘woven’ together in a community centred on some kind of church or other centre of worship. A belief system with associated values may cause us to examine whether our lives are ego-centric. It’s a useful truism that a good way to lessen your troubles is to take on the troubles of others. It is sufficient for many people to remain in this state of belief, helping and serving their communities and enriching all our lives with their kindness.

Those who want to go beyond this and access the often referenced higher states of consciousness are first faced with the question of whether these actually exist. Fortunately, life provides each of us with moments of extreme and unusual lucidity, called ‘peak experiences’. These are so different in terms of ‘quality of consciousness’ that they point to something very real in the human potential. In simple terms, the memory of these states is vivid and we want to be back there…

Sufficient work on the self, at this level, reveals there to be a related family of such states of the higher Self, all ready to host our active consciousness, if we can find the way to them. Once ‘tasted’, these states of what are commonly called ‘Essence’, entice us back, because they contain something that can only be describes as a certainly of rightness.

We simply know, beyond question, that we are in a mental and emotional place that has an extraordinary level of clear thought and feeling; indeed, that the word thought is no longer sufficient to describe how we ‘see’ the world.

This new state of consciousness, albeit it temporary, takes us beyond belief and faith and into a place where the words, essence and spirit are seen for what they have always been, ready for our own interpretation into the language of our age, thereby perpetuating a tradition of teaching and learning whose only goal is the service of our fellow human beings – because we all share this potential, which only needs awakening.

We have travelled from belief, with its fine community spirt, through faith that there is a higher consciousness available to us, and worth the work, to the place of knowing, or gnosis, as the ancients rightly called it.

And all of this is the birthright of mankind, and always has been. It is available to every man and woman, regardless of race or creed. The language used to describe it is different in each culture, yet the experience is the same. In the place where there are no words, the language of experienced certainty is universal… and startling in the new world it unveils.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a modern journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being

The Big Picture (6) : Unshakable Mine

I am the child of two loving parents. One gifted me a living background in philosophy and mysticism; the other gave me the gift of verbal conceptualisation… talking.

(1500 words; a ten minute read)

My father passed away a decade ago. We’re still clinging on to mother, who at 91, is robust only in her ability to talk. She is in our care for the foreseeable future and I would like nothing better than that she passes away gently, in that state of being loved and cared for… if not always understood.

Neither of my parents had a clue about the sciences, yet I, despite being a moderate folk-singer in my youth, I eschewed the rock star dream and headed for a Computer Science degree, achieving it after four years (the old-style ‘sandwich course’) of struggle at a Polytechnic in the north Midlands.

I was not a gifted student, but I could talk. Also, I noticed I could explain complex things quite well – finding analogies, new words and metaphors, not to mention humour, to make the complex comprehensive and… fun. I was a vice-president of the local Student Union – a natural fit with talking, I suppose.

Only one of my lecturers understood fun, and I cherish his memory. He knew I wasn’t a good student, and that my final grades were not going to rocket me into a starring role in the emerging world of computing. Remember, this was 1977, and the world of business computing was an exciting (and brutal) frontier.

My fun-loving lecturer called me into his office one day. There, opened on his old, metal desk, was a huge centre-page advert placed by a well-known computing company named ‘Burroughs Computers’.

“Look at the headline,” he said. “They need a thousand graduates in computing to sell their computers… Looks a good package, too.” He rocked back in his chair. “Be a tough first year of survival, mind you…”

He leaned forwards, placed his giant hands on the desk and fixed me with his dark eyes, suddenly full of ice.

“Now get out of here and make something of that wonderful ability to talk!”

Two months later, clutching my degree certificate of under-achievement, I sat down in the cold kitchen of our greengrocer’s shop in Bolton and began to ring every computer company with a office in Manchester. Fifth on the list was a German company called Nixdorf, with a regional office in Sale, Manchester.

Minutes later, the office secretary put me though to the branch manager. I recognised a scouse accent, and the friendly but challenging voice that, bluntly, meant business.

“Why the hell would I be interested in a grubby ex-student like you? Did I mention I hate students,” he snarled, in a passable likeness of John Lennon on a bad day. I tried not to be sick with tension – which resulted in my first ever example of what I later learned was the sales ‘power of silence’. In truth I was choking and had taken my head as far from the phone as possible.

A door in my consciousness opened. I actually heard the ‘crack’. A rush of blood to the head and lungs and then: “Because I can talk well,” I said, clearly and slowly. I sounded calm… I wasn’t.

All I could hear was his laughing. “Bloody hell, I can‘t fault that,” he laughed. “Be here next Monday morning at 7:30. Let’s see if you can get up, as well as talk.”

He put the phone down. “Bloody hell”, I repeated to myself. My best and worst attributes in the same adrenaline rush.

I was there at 07:25 on that Monday. My orange VW Beetle, part financed by my Dad, but now my own responsibility, was parked discretely behind the office.

I stood by the door, but not blocking it. Not overly familiar but not looking like a ‘bloody student’ either. I stood aside as he passed me. He issued a small but rueful-sounding “Good morning”, injected with a tiny degree of irony. Nothing else.. But he let me see his smile as he swung the door open.

I got the job. The first year didn’t go according to his plans, as I was courted and, frankly, seduced, by a divorced senior lady systems analyst who had a sporty BMW. She toyed, elegantly, with my affections and other things. She was great and we had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t learning the day job. The Branch Manager tried to warn me off. Headstrong, I wasn’t listening.

Of such things are harsh lessons made…

At the end of the year, with little sales success, I knew the manager was ready to fire me. I sank into a depression. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying – I hadn’t let the high-octane fraternising frazzle all my brains. It seemed that no-one would take me seriously – out there in the boardrooms where people brought expensive computers. Was I just too young? Had my ability to talk failed me?

That evening, I had a pub meal with a new friend I had got to know through working in my parents’ shop. I liked Ian a lot. He had a tough but humorous, no-nonsense manner and he liked BMW cars – though he couldn’t afford one. He had been a chef, but had swapped it for a job as a salesman in a catering engineering company who made high-end industrial cookers.

I was explaining my imminent demise and he listened, deeply, reading my face. For the past few months, over several evenings, he had coached me in the nitty gritty of ‘selling the person, not the product’. He finished his drink, but continued the silence.

I went to the bar for the second round.

“Do you know,” he said, as I set the drinks down. “that selling is the only profession that gives free consultancy?”

The sentiment was new to me at the time. It hit me like adrenaline. “Look at all your training,” he continued. “Four year computing degree; ‘sandwich-course’ during which you gave up your summer holidays to work in industry. Smart, well spoken… “Whereas, half the people you are selling to are dull, imagination-less lickspittles…”

It was the first time I’d heard such sentiments. Looking back, they were designed to fire me up, but much of the sentiment was true. You had to learn to value yourself if you hoped to sell anything. I knew that, I just hadn’t ‘actualised’ it. Later, I found a better word for that.

“What are you doing tomorrow morning?” he asked, sipping his beer.

I drank mine, conscious of the importance of the day to come. “Final attempt to close the deal at a wholesale Painting Suppliers in Salford. My last chance.”

He looked at me, eagle-eyed. “What are your chances? Really?”

I drank some more beer. “Not brilliant – but there’s a nice BMW in the car park. I’ve noticed that there is definitely a correlation between that and what kind of reception we…. I… get; German company and all…and the Operations Director’s a nice bloke and gets me a coffee.”

“Good,” said Ian. “Then use it. Make it count.”

Mr Johnson, the Operations Director, was a man who combined warmth and acute intelligence. His office was classy but minimalist – quite avant-guard in Salford. He watched me, intently, as I worked to summarise my proposals and tell him why now was the right time for him to sign the deal. I felt I’d done a good job and sat back, ready to use the power of silence to its best effect.

After twenty seconds of mutual silence, he rocked his chair back and let me have a half-smile.

“Steve,” he said softly. “I like you… the financial director likes you. We think we have an honest soul, here. Someone who will work with us to deliver this… beyond the selling.’

He let his chair rotate forward so his arms could lie on the desktop, and fixed me with eyes that contained a different sentiment to any he had displayed to that point. I knew something completely new was about to happen in my life.

“Now let me tell you how you’re going to sell this to us…”

In those few seconds, my entire world changed. It was the beginning of the sense of worth solely related to my-self. Mr Johnson was going to instruct me in how to use that because he felt I was was worth it. That sense of worth – in this adult context – was dramatic and life-changing. I’ve never forgotten it… I’ve never wanted to. I think of it as ‘unshakable mine’.

It was only years later that I realised it had a spiritual dimension. One of the key stages in our individual development is to realise that each human has a great importance to the cosmos. This is something that can trigger a fundamental change in ourselves – and link us more closely with everything that is creative in life.

It’s a Little Us that carries a spark of something almost beyond belief. But the journey to that realisation is the story of how we get there, in a weird and wonderful paradox, full of divine humour and discovery.

We are all born with amazing potential, but we have to realise our relationship to the world we live in – the whole, vast universe of it…

Finding that deep sense of self, beyond the ordinary egoic concept, is central this journey.

A week later, as promised to the Nixdorf Branch Manager, the deal was signed. It probably wasn’t the thing that saved me. The outspoken manager had fallen out with one of the senior managers in Germany and had resigned… The man who took over had warmth and had seen the effort I was making. I lived to fight – and learn – another day.

Next week, in the final part of this series, we will pull together the threads through these posts, and summarise the truly ‘big picture’ of Self-development.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, This is Part Six.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

The Big Picture (5) : A glass of silver wine

One of the ancient mystical traditions that has turned out to be startlingly modern is that of the Sufis. We may be familiar with Sufi thought in the form of its often quoted poetry, such as that of Rumi, or the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the ‘Astronomer-Poet of Persia’, whose work became widely-read in the west, following its translation by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859.

(900 words; a ten minute read)

The Sufis used the wine glass or wine jug as a subtle motif. The delicate glass may be filled with any liquid, but water or wine features in many of the teaching tales. We take such a vessel for granted, but it merits closer investigation…

The glass is fixed. If we try to insert something hard into it, like a stone, it will break. But if we pour a liquid into it, the result is harmonious. What actually happens? The liquid takes the shape of the glass, filling every cavity to such an extent that the two are practically the same… But we know they are not; the obliging liquid has taken on the shape and contours of the container into which it has been poured. If the wine were white and not red, it might be difficult to even know of its existence. The glass, though more ‘basic’ in its nature, is necessary for the wine to exist in a drinkable form. If the glass is finely made, it reveals the depths of beauty in the shimmering wine, and even allows reflections of the world back to itself.

Let’s imagine our wine is beyond ‘white’ and has a mercurial quality that makes it look silver…

(Above: the first edition of Fitzgerald’s ‘Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’, from 1859, a book that introduced the western world to the mischief and subtleties of Sufi spiritual thought. Image Wikipedia, public domain)

Our silver wine not only fills the vessel, it also reflects the colours, lights and shadows of what flows through the glass from outside, but reversed. They become an imprint of each other, but the silver wine is fluid and flexible, whereas the glass is fixed and brittle.

If the glass is scratched or dirty, the light being reflected from within the vessel is less bright than it could be. But our silver wine still needs the holding power of the glass if it is to remain effective in the world of solid things. It is the glass which collects and transmits the light from the ‘outside’, giving the glassy material all its life, and the silver wine half its life.

In our continuing exploration of the nature of self, we can use this Sufi image to great effect, especially if we make it a bit more sophisticated. Let’s bring our glass alive… and give it feelings and the ability to react, making it it an engine of perception, reaction and response to the physical world.

Our new glass is evolved. It is made of the substance of the world, whereas our silver wine is from another place. To function in the world, the silver wine needs the cooperation of the glass, allowing its will to be guided by the sparkling liquid within.

Our new glass is imbued with the power of reaction, in the form of like and dislike to everything it experiences. The silver wine within the glass does not need to like or dislike; it is completely at peace with whatever happens, living in an ocean of wonder and reflecting it. But its life is now so closely mirrored with the glass, that it begins to absorb the reactions that the glass experiences to the outside world. It remains dutiful to the glass and its perceived world, but knows it could do much more for the glass than just receive and reflect its life. But the silver wine cannot function in the world of the glass without its container…

The only chance the silver wine now has for a greater life within the glass is for the outer vessel – the glass – to get to a point where it knows that it has tired of its reactions to the world and needs to get back to the limitless and unjaded level of life that is the silver wine’s inner vitality – a world the glass knew well when it was young and the silver wine had just been poured into it.

The glass represents the reactive life of the personality with its body, informed by its brain and will. The experience of the world passes through these and forms the life of something in the glass that is the mirror of the silver wine. This is the self, and it is only ever a lesser reflection of the shining inner liquid.

In mystical learning, we work to move the seat of the consciousness from the glass to the silver wine, quietening the reactive self, and allowing the consciousness to have dual centres, each used within its own realm.

We can take this exercise deeper by making it into a meditation. We first imagine that there are two worlds, one filled with light and fluidity, the others more bound by physical laws of form. We then imagine two streams of life meeting up, one as an inherited form being blown, beside a furnace, into a beautifully curved wine glass; the other becoming the finest silver wine and being poured into the beautiful glass. Together, they have the potential of perfection, but only the glass keeps the wine composite, whole and drinkable.

The analogy is ultimately limited, but contains some deeper symbols hidden in the story. At the right point these can speak directly to our own ‘silver wine’ triggering far-reaching events for both glass, wine… and the ultimate wine-lover.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, This is Part Five

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

The Big Picture (3) : objects of desire

The word ‘object’ has many meanings; but none more mysterious and potentially wonderful as the meeting of spirituality with the findings of psychology’s Object Relations Theory…

(1400 words; a ten minute read)


Everything in our daily world comes from them; they are the highs and lows, the anguish and the triumphs, the misery and the joy… and above all else, the overwhelming violence of the world, permeated, occasionally, by the heroic kindness of someone selfless, someone who only wants to add a little love to the sad garden.

But it may not be entirely so…

Our world reflects our thoughts. Our thoughts are mainly habitual reactions to conditions, some are pleasurable but many induce a sense of anxiety, if not actual fear.

If we are fortunate, our inner relations are within a harmonic family – though this is by no means guaranteed. When we are older, we look back on our lives and sigh at what might have been, but also take some pride in what was.

Yet, through all of this, a sense of ‘I was there’ prevails. We can see the key decisions we made; can wince at the costly mistakes, and bask in the sometime triumph over adversity that we – often in concert with others – made happen.

We feel a pride in that accomplishment. The aspect of us that feels this pride is the self.

When the world of psychology came into existence in the early years of the last century, it caused quite a stir with its promise to accurately explore what it meant to be a self.

A ‘self’ is a permanent place of accumulated beliefs, views and and reactions that crystallised into a sense of ‘me-ness’ around the age of seven. One view, developed by Sigmund Freud and still used as a basis for much of modern psychology, is that our sense of self is threefold and divided into an energetic under layer – the id; an overbearing ‘should do’ layer – the superego; and a core of ‘conscious me’ stuck in the middle and attempting to mitigate between the wild, energetic and sexual creature and the overbearing tut-tutter that society might expect.

Anyone who tries to understand the world sees that our societies are also a response to the collective presence our psychologies – our selves. The individual adds their own psychological presence to the society in which they live. The pressures, norms, expectations and authoritarian tendencies of our societies can be a heavy burden throughout our lives.

We can retreat from the world, or we can face it with an intelligent and loving intent to react differently to it… or not react at all. By reducing our direct reactions to the world, we generate more power of self, and often find the world has changed, accordingly… which can be surprising, to say the least.

To live a life within a new ‘chamber of calmness’ is not to cut ourselves off. Rather, it requires the will to introduce a ‘catching gap’ between experience and reaction. In creating this, we begin to notice how powerful certain aspects of our lives are, and how difficult it is to control the reactions to them.

Sometimes, it is all we can do to watch this taking place. Any idea of control needs to be a secondary stage. Often, in watching deeply and not needing to react, the present reveals itself in a different way, perhaps not requiring our active participation at all… There is always a third force at work; the power of the ‘present’ helps us to recognise this, as we develop this side of our minds and hearts.

What we react to, and the way we react, became the subject of a new branch of psychology, beginning in the 1930s and extending to the present day. It is called Object Relations Theory. It developed from and extended Freud’s psychoanalytic theory into a more detailed view of how we visualise what affects us.

It also provides a shared space of understanding in which mysticism and psychology may meet and harmonise.

In 1975, physician turned psychiatrist Margaret Mahler wrote a radical and seminal work: ‘The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation’. The title surprised people – as it was meant to, implying that the physical birth of the body is not the same, nor synchronous, with the birth of the child in the sense of what will become the personality.

The personality develops from the mixture of experience and reaction. But the idea that the infant is simply a junior ‘us’, issuing automatically from the body, is wrong.

The psychological infant has to develop in parallel with the healthy body, but its development is of an entirely different order to the biology of cells. The essence of this – ultimately the goal of present day psychology – is the development of a strong and stable self. The goal of spirituality is to investigate the deeper mysteries of actually having a self.

Mahler showed that the infant exists, pre-birth, in a state of parallel life with the mother, knowing nothing else. This is bliss to the unborn soul. When birth occurs, the infant slowly discovers the sadness and dissatisfaction of separation, which is essential for its growth towards what Mahler called individuation.

It is important to grasp this; the unborn infant does not exist in a state of oneness with mother. It exists simply in a state of oneness… There is no knowledge, and no presence of anything but this.

In terms of the world’s myths and religions, we might reflect that, at this stage, the infant knows nothing of the father, though his contribution was the seed that found its place within the ‘ground’ of the mother, triggering the process of new life and contributing half its DNA.

Mother and child move from oneness to a separation in which the child must increasingly come to know the world as an ‘other’ from itself, in order to fulfil its needs. The oneness becomes, first, two tightly-coupled entities, then two separate beings. How well and harmoniously this is achieved shapes the rest of our lives. The physical side of this is obvious to us, but not the stages of the psychological progress. Mahler revealed this in detail, and analysed the criticality of each aspect of healthy physical, mental and emotional development.

Within Object Relations, the word ‘object’ is used to describe an ‘other’ – typically a person, and this is not meant derogatorily, it is simply a notation. Our world comes to be populated with ‘others’ as we develop an inner vocabulary of ‘types of other’. Within the mind, such objects are always seen as pictures, as images. These images can be rich, with all manner of sensory information attached.

Mother is the first ‘other’, and definitive. Each subsequent stage bears the imprint of the mother experience. Mystically, we can also equate Nature with mother, a model that implies that the life-force may come from somewhere else…

The child comes to recognise another object called Father. Though there is no consciousness of shared origin in the same sense as that of mother. Father becomes important, ideally, as role model for individuation – making our own way in the world.

So far, you may rightly ask what this has to do with mystical development of the self. The key is that the early infant, although not individuated, is in touch with the states of inner beauty and completeness that are also the goals of all spiritual quests. What the child cannot do is function in the world. This must be learned, and as it is achieved, the beautiful early states of essence are gradually lost in the stuff of outer life, though, as Wordsworth wrote, we come into this life ‘trailing clouds of glory’.

As a mature person, of whatever age, we have a strong sense of self. We know, to some degree, how to work the world. The early lessons of survival are long behind us, and their wisdom is embedded in our matrix of stored reactions. At a certain age, we may feel that the early vividness of the world is gone; that life and duty are making us dull.

When faced with this, we are at what we call in the Silent Eye, the ‘turning point’. We now have the chance to take all our worldly competence, our balanced ego, and embark on a search for those ‘clouds of glory’ that still inhabit our innermost spiritual rooms.

Next week, we will look at how we begin such a quest – among the ‘objects’ our life has gathered. We will examine the nature of the new world we encounter as this unravelling begins. We are not talking about becoming an infant, again. We are looking for adult experiences of the active imagination that will act as triggers for a vast and excitingly new state of Self. The ‘objects’ we already carry with us will provide the fuel…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, This is Part Three

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, A journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.