The fabric of being

We all know them, that handful of people who cling to a reactionary refusal to own a mobile phone… or turn it on when they do… or bother to check it. Or they don’t really like computers or social media. You can’t get hold of them, they pass their lives in a state of technological invisibility and you wonder how on earth they can survive…

Or… you secretly envy them their anonymity and accepted state of unavailability…

It is not so very long ago that communication was less intense, relying on ‘local’ calls and handwritten letters. The reliability of the mail was legendary, if slow, and such missives could be cherished or responded to in a timely fashion… say, a week or two. And that was okay. These days, ‘radio silence’ presses the panic buttons… people, including ourselves most of the time, expect an instant response. We have, very quickly, learned to live in a world that responds at the touch of a button and very often we seem to expect people to do the same. It is all about ‘now’.

Technological advances have not only changed our world, but our expectations, both of ourselves and others. We have, over the course of a couple of generations, seen a complete redesign of our daily lifestyles. We no longer have to beat carpets or black lead the range. Laundry is done, and even dried, at the touch of a button instead of the labour intensive wash-day that saw, even in my own childhood, coppers boiling, wash-boards and mangles at dawn and the flat irons heating in the embers of the black-leaded grate. Food no longer needs to be grown or prepared and ‘gourmet’ meals can be purchased ready-made from the supermarket chiller cabinet. And although, with the loss of cooking skills, the understanding of food and nutrition is being eroded, we can, of course, always take supplements…obviating even the need to chew.

Our days… assuming that our technologies are working as they should… have been freed of many constraints. We have more potential leisure time than we have ever had in the history of mankind… and many of us ironically turn to some kind of technological gadgetry with which to fill it. Meanwhile old skills are becoming obsolete… how many of us still know how to starch a shirt, for example? Do we need to know… do we even care? Most of us would emphatically answer in the negative… but are we really right to do so? Because it isn’t just the skills that are lost…

It isn’t exactly about how to dress a flawless shirt that crackles when you move… what I am thinking of here is the amount of care we put into the small, humdrum acts of daily life. The generations-old christening robe or wedding veil would not have survived this long had someone not learned to understand its fabric and spent time and effort on its care and preservation. With today’s wash-and-go fabrics, would we do the same? Do our email conversations hold the same place in our hearts as the bundle of faded, handwritten letters? Time and attention, a learned skill, a labour of love…

Anyone who has ever created a work of art or craft will know that feeling of pride and satisfaction when it is completed and you step back to look at the finished article. Anyone who cooks from scratch or watches the slow growth and ripening of fruit in the garden knows they taste different from their pretty, shop-bought cousins. Not just because of the obvious commercial factors, but simply because you have come to know the tree, the plant and the soil… you have watered and fed and watched as they grew and the relationship thus built with the fruit is personal. The care, time and attention we give to any object or task has a direct correlation to the value we place upon it and the relationship we build with it… a relationship that involves us on all levels, from the physical work involved, to the mental use of knowledge to the emotions it engenders. What we really earn, we value. What is done with love… like a child’s first scrawled painting of a parent… is valued. For the rest, we live in a society that allows for few things to impinge upon our hearts; our possessions often little more than visible symbols of our success that we can wear as a badge of status to convince others, and thus reassure ourselves of our worth. It sometimes seems that the biggest loss of all over the past generation or two is a lack of true value for ourselves.

We no longer know how to define ourselves; there is a lack of confidence in our identities, a pervasive uncertainty in our relationships with ourselves. Perhaps this is one reason why more and more people are turning towards the many spiritual paths made more accessible by the very technology that allows us the time to study them. Sadly, there are all too many pseudo-spiritual schemes on the market, profiteering from this need and offering little more than comforting reassurance, usually at a premium price. Or ways to achieve all with minimal effort… well, someone is doing well from these schemes, but it is seldom the sincere seeker of inner truth and harmony who profits…

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The spiritual journey is almost like laundering a garment. What we do will depend on what we seek from and for it in the longer term. Is this something we would wear for a season and discard, or something we hope will last a lifetime and beyond? A garment can come in every shade of the rainbow and the method of care of cotton is unsuitable for silk. Each is unique, yet shares a common underlying need.

When we are new and unworn, we are fresh and unblemished. Everyday life gradually adds its creases, stains and soiling and there is a point where we realise that we must do something about it or watch a steady deterioration that takes the garment beyond beauty. The first turning towards the path of the soul is comparable to a light wash… an initial cleansing that can be enough to freshen and maintain the garment in serviceable condition. We can go on that way for a long time, but without proper care the garment will, inevitably, begin to fade and pass a point where it will appear able to be restored to its pristine condition.

If, on the other hand, we look at the garment and take careful stock of its condition, learning to understand its fabric, identifying the damage and the individual stains and learning what they are so we can then learn how to remove them specifically, we can cleanse the garment with thorough and loving care. If we want to restore its pristine nature, we might learn how to properly ‘dress’ the garment… realising that its newly cleaned brightness may have to go back to the water to be dipped and soaked in starch… wrung into further creases and left to try in its own time, before being carefully smoothed with the heat of the iron. We may not know how to proceed… but we will know who will or where to search for those skills forgotten or unlearned. There is always someone to turn to who can guide us through the process, though sometimes the advice may seem strange.

It is a long process and there is much to be learned. It isn’t always an easy task, nor is it always a pleasant one. Many give up or prefer to believe that the stain on the front of the garment is something else entirely, not the ketchup they themselves had dropped there. Yet the longer we wait to begin, the more stains and moth-holes we may have to tackle. Restoration takes time, care and attention… which are, oddly enough, the very same qualities that allow us to engage with the things that matter to us most deeply… and which bring a true sense of achievement, value and identity.

In our society we are fast learning to want everything ‘now’. Yet the things we still value most are those that we work for, those we earn… those things that are worth waiting for. We do not expect to get such items without care and effort, nor do we expect to see the fruits of such long-term labours materialise immediately, though we may be working hard towards them. Nevertheless, we will see the savings in the bank grow, find our knowledge expanding or our skills improving, day by day, month by month as we turn our efforts and attention towards our goal. There comes, though, a moment when we realise that there was a ‘now’ where we made a start… and there will be a ‘now’ when we achieve our dream… but meanwhile our ‘now’ must be devoted to what we are doing right at this moment on the journey between the two.

The journey through life is unique for each of us, a turning point that may come early or late… some seem born with the starry heavens in their eyes and pursue that vision with all that they are, others seem to seek nothing until the silence of their last moments. Yet all of us, at some point, will question the stains and creases we acquire as life wears our soul. Sometimes, all we have to do is ask…

Sowing seeds

The spiritual journey is simple, beautiful and full of Love,” read the meme. Perfectly true, but taken out of context it doesn’t actually tell you all that much, does it? Not really. Like so many of the quotes out there on the internet, usually displayed against the background of a sunset, dove or some other visual symbol of serenity, it simply drops a seed into the mind and allows it to grow… or not, as the case may be.

I remember studying the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Religious Education in school, long ago. It tells of how when the Sower sows the seed, it may fall upon stony, barren or fertile ground and where it falls will determine how the seed grows. It is a well-known story, easily understood in symbolic terms, though there are many deeper elements involved in the imagery than may at first appear. Re-reading the passage I fell to thinking about how ideas are seeded and more specifically about those beautifully presented inspirational quotes that abound across all the platforms of social media.

Such phrases, thoughts and quotes may come from the heart and be personal glimpses of understanding offered in all simplicity and with no other motive than to bring hope or share beauty. Many come from the writings of established spiritual teachers, from ancient texts or those to whom the world has attributed the mantle of wisdom. They carry with them the aura of authority; these people, we are assured, knew something, had attained something to which, perhaps, we aspire.

Sometimes they worry me.

Not so much on their own, but as a symptom of a disconnected spirituality that seems to be scattering fragments of light like glitter. And yet…

The proliferation of such illustrated quotes shows how deeply ingrained is our need for understanding, but as most offer little in the way of practical instruction, they carry the risk of misinterpretation. They may make the whole spiritual journey seem like sweetness and light; something so otherworldly and ethereal, in fact, that it seems impossible that it should be integrated within the harshness of ‘real’ life. For me ‘real life’ is a spiritual journey, and like any voyage, it can be hard, painful, exhausting and confusing. It takes effort, will, and commitment to get from one end of it to the other.

But what about the journey itself? Even a straight race, where the winner is determined at the finish line, can only be won by what happens between the starting block and the tape. It makes little sense to me to think that the only goal is at the end… To ‘real-ise’ the divine within, however we may define It, and to live it daily seems, to me, a better option.

These inspirational quotes may also, silently and quite unintentionally, imply that those of us who have not yet attained such mystical mastery have way too far to go to be able to reach spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps we have, but believing in ourselves can be hard enough in the mundane world; I am not sure that questioning our worthiness to progress is helpful. I wonder if these wonderful phrases sometimes make the goal seem just too distant and unattainable. A goal which, I believe, is not far away at the end of some lofty quest, but already within us, waiting quietly to be known.

This seeding of ideas and phrases without context is a traditional technique that can have enormous value as a meditation. Usually, however, when such a technique is used, it is within the framework of a predetermined belief system. This is where schools such as the Silent Eye and other spiritual systems have their place in what is always and ultimately a personal journey, by providing structure, background and points of reference … a jumping-off place from which to begin and a whole set of symbolic signposts by which the seeker can navigate.

We each have our own beliefs. None of us are without some kind of framework, whether it is pan-, poly- or monotheistic, atheist or agnostic or any shade in between… we have our own personal context which is the ground into which such random seeds fall. We interpret them against that backdrop, dismissing them or shaping our understanding of them in a way that fits with the other pieces of our personal puzzle. There is, however, always the possibility of misinterpretation or missing the true depth of such phrases, simply because we lack context. It may only take a single phrase, rightly understood, to change our view of the world and our concept of our place within it. Yet we have to see it clearly in order for it to be able to have an effect.

And yet, we all use quotes, even inspirational ones. And there is value to them. Why struggle to explain what someone has already phrased perfectly in a few words? They may be perfect illustrations of a point we have to share. But more importantly, when they speak to us, they may become the very first burgeoning fragment of light that awakens the seeds of awareness.

The Mysterious Self

One of the most wonderful elements of being Human is the sense of self; yet there is great confusion as to what the ‘self’ really is… even whether it exists at all.

Something harvests the experiences of each day yet declares itself separate from them. This accumulation is deemed to be a living entity – the ‘me’ – resplendent with a memory of having lived it, rather than the actuality of what was lived, and containing a trace of the story of that day, which, over time, is consolidated into ‘like’ experiences.

Language cements this relationship with experience. In western languages, we have the basic construct of ‘I do this’: subject, verb and object. Some older languages – often associated with highly spiritual societies – do not have this structure. Sanskrit, for example, the ancient language of India, would say “This is being done”.

It is memory that gives us this certainty of self. Its power of continuity becomes vital to our wellbeing. We take this completely for granted. We do this because we have no choice – it became our dominant perspective at a young age, typically before the age of seven. Because we ‘live in it’, we no longer see it – like so many aspects of our individual worlds.

Although wonderful, it is also a spiritually-deadly perspective, because it separates ‘us’ from the rest of our world.

Let’s consider the elements of this.

Having a sense of Self means that I separate out parts of my experience and call them ‘me’. This act, alone, is quite remarkable. On what basis did my young self determine which bits were me and which were something else?

Vividness of experience must have played a big part. What my attention is drawn to becomes that which I focus on. My attention is grabbed by immediacy and there is nothing as immediate as my body. Continued focus on my body dulls the attention given to the rest of ‘my’ world, even though it is still there with all the power it had when I was a new-born.

This sense of my body becomes, in many ways, my first self – and this will remain dominant for the rest of my life. Spirituality in all its forms, faces this as the first barrier to development. We have to come to see that the solid reality of our own cluster of matter – our bodies – is only one reality; and that the dominance of this in our consciousness is due to habit, rather than any superiority of existence.

The dominance of self as body has another consequence – it locks us into pain. When the body is in pain, so becomes our whole self, if it is focussed in this way. Pain in the body will always be real, but its effect on our overall aliveness is determined by our attention. This discipline is one of the tenets of Buddhism.

The founding psychologists of the early part of the last century worked hard to establish a structure of the Self, or Psyche, so that they could truly investigate its workings. This was a giant leap in mankind’s ability to analyse its own existence. Freud is somewhat dismissed these days, largely because of his singular focus on the sexual power as the dominant ‘drive’, but he gave us a lasting legacy and some major insights into how the self develops and sustains itself. These are of great service to the spiritual seeker.

His description of the structure of the self is of great use to those pursuing a spiritual path; and has echoes across traditions as varied as the Kabbalah and Sufism.

Freud proposed a three-layer hierarchy for the psyche. The first of these was what became known (in English) as the ‘Id’. The translation serves us badly, because the native German was much more instructive. This word, (Das Es) was, literally, the ‘It’.  Using the word ‘it’ distanced the observer of her own psyche from this ‘beast’. The sentiment being: “I may need it for my survival, but I don’t have to suffer its beastiality in my normal life.”

And yet, the beast of the Id contains all our energy . . . Coming to terms with it is really important, if we want to lead a vital life. The sad part of this rejection is that it also locks away our younger self, with all its innocence and its delight – because it had appetites for things the subsequent world found ‘antisocial’.

This act of staring at the Id generated a kind of second self, known, in English, as the ‘Ego’. The native German, again more helpful, was ‘The I,’ (Das Ich). The ego’s job became to manage the monster below, allowing us to fit into society without picking our noses all the time – feel free to substitute your own metaphor . . .

But the Ego borrows all its energy from the Id, which it then seeks to manage . . .

The final layer of the Freudian self is, in English, ‘the Superego’; in German, the Uber-Ich (the over I). This is largely concerned with the ‘should-dos’ of our lives – the development of morality; that which is handed down to ‘well brought-up children’. Again, the Supergo borrows all its energy from the Id, to give the final structure and management to the concept of the self.

So… we have a beast and a trapped child, not allowed to develop into an adult self because we have rubbed up against the edge of acceptable society. Above that we have a parentally-created pattern of authority, that lives with us all our lives until we decide to break that ice ceiling and see the sky . . .

None of these things have been created by bad people. They result from two things: the commonly accepted concept of Ego, which is really the Personality; and the nature of Society – which centres itself around consensus and power, and therefore cruelly robs the individual of full life. If mankind has a purpose, it is to reconcile these forces, for the good of the life that follows.

These elements of the greater Self can be ignored – in which case the patterns of ego-driven personality will return to haunt us all our lives, producing similar patterns of events as the years progress. The alternative is to embark on a journey into the self; spiritually, we would say to go in search of the Self.

There are many trials to such a quest, the biggest being the act of turning away from the chosen path when the going gets difficult. The ego, which, remember, is a mental and emotional construct and has no real existence, has an armoury of below-the-radar weapons against such a frontal assault on its (false) kingdom.

Enneagram Reflected copy(Above: The Silent Eye’s own version of the traditional Enneagram has additional elements to enhance the deeper understanding of the Self, and its relationship to the self)

Techniques can help. One of the most powerful tools for providing us with a personal map of the journey is the Enneagram. Originally developed by Gurdjieff as a key to how the world ‘unfolded’ in its process (the spiritual ‘Word’), it was added to by deeply spiritual teachers, such as Ichazo, Naranjo, Alamass and Maitri, to become the basis of a way of understand the ‘whole in diversity’ in the sense of how the human personality obscures the greater part of the Soul, within.

The Silent Eye has combined this knowledge with the insight from a triad of mystical and magical pasts, to offer the student (we prefer Companion) a three year guided journey, taken by monthly correspondence course with personal supervision, where every aspect of the Self is encountered, deepening each year as the journey takes us to the realm of the soul-child and beyond.

Companionship is one of the keys. Schools like the Silent Eye offer this even more than they offer teaching. This is because the journey can only belong to the one taking it. In the real journey of the true Self, which brings us face to face, via the Soul-Child, with the Essence (Being) from which our Soul formed itself, we reach a point where no system or religion can have any power over us. We come, quite early on this path, to a place where we know that truth belongs to us, and only truth learned and experienced in this way has any value.

To stand alone and look out at that which we distanced ourselves from, when the founding layers of our personality separated us from the “Other”, is a moment that brings us to stand before reality – possibly for the first time. The new Self generated at that point is one of immense power . . . and intense humility.

10 June 2020

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Steve Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit, teaching organisation which delivers stages and mentored lessons via correspondence course. For more information contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com

A clear draught

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I came across an old photo quite by chance, putting things away in the loft. It set me off thinking, as such things do. In the picture my late partner is holding a coffee cup… You can’t see it, but I know precisely what it looked like all those years ago. White with a blue rim and dots, with three tiny flowers, red, yellow and blue.

I remember it because it meant something. Not in itself, of course, but because of circumstance. When he died I had just made his morning coffee. There was a moment when it was all ‘over’, when the ambulance men had left and I waited for the undertaker, and I picked up the cup, still bearing the last traces of warmth, and I finally wept.

I used that cup for a long time afterwards… just me… even when it was chipped and the handle dangerously cracked. I used it till I didn’t need to… then it went in the cupboard. It stayed there until I didn’t need it to be there anymore. It took a while.

Why? Because it had held more than coffee for me and it had become a symbol of something more than its physical form.

As I drove into town, I got to thinking…

We can be picky about cups and glasses, those vessels which seem to epitomise that which they hold. Champagne… a rarity, of course… I like to drink from a flute, red wine from a deep bellied glass. Tea must come in a china cup with a saucer… or a big mug filled with a deep mahogany brew.  Coffee, to be fair, can be administered through an IV drip for all I care… but my preference is for the tiny cups of espresso.

There is a reason beyond habit for these things. Champagne really does taste better in a flute… honestly, there have been scientific analyses done to prove it… something to do with the way the gas bubbles collect in the glass. The same for red wine, though more to do with the warmth of the hand that holds the bowl. Tea ? Let’s not go there… I’m a Yorkshire lass… it isn’t up for discussion.

I do wonder though if the vessel holds expectation just as much as liquid. We see the shining silver and porcelain of a tea-room and expect good tea… A tiny cup and a pavement café in Paris are synonymous with that certain je ne sais quoi. The misted surface of a cold glass of beer simply invites thoughts of a hot summer’s day… We see and expect even before we taste.

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Yet, if we are thirsty, truly thirsty, do we care about the vessel that holds the water? The vessel merely contains, so that what is held within may be moved from source to lip, it gives the water shape… may even seem to colour it… but what lies within the vessel is still water.  Do we need crystal glasses or fashionable plastic bottles? A cracked mug, a paper cup, our hands… or even, perhaps especially, just plunging our face into a mountain stream  and drinking from the earth. All will serve, for it is not the vessel that counts, but what it holds. To those whose thirst is urgent and visceral even a muddied puddle holds salvation.

In many of the Sufi poems we ourselves are likened to vessels shaped by the Hand of the Potter. It does not matter if, as Khayyam wrote, the Hand shook in the making, nor if  the vessel has been chipped and cracked by usage. It matters little if it thinks itself fit for champagne, comfortable enough for tea, or as holy as a chalice… it is filled with what is needed to quench the thirst of the one who drinks. The pot has no say in the matter. It is filled by another Hand.

When we are seeking the clear water of inner truth we can find it in many unexpected and unlikely places and the expectations we have for the vessel may not reflect what it holds. The draught in the chalice may be wine or bitter herbs, the clay bowl hold pure water, we cannot know until we raise it to our lips and taste what lies within.

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Questions

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What are the most important human characteristics?

Love, kindness, joy, honesty, integrity, compassion?

Who are we, why are we here, what is the Purpose of all this… and what do we do with it?

We have questions…we all do.

We seek a path through life that allows us to find our own answers, a path that makes sense of the universe and our place within it. A path that takes us beyond the bounds imposed by our three dimensional reality and the daily necessity through which we move towards a ‘something’ we sense may lie just beyond our vision. We may not know what that ‘something’ is, but we know enough to realise there are gaps in our knowledge and in our understanding …and we begin to wonder.

Ultimately, it is said, that whatever belief, faith or reasoning calls us the path we choose must be walked alone. Yet how do we define ‘alone’? Conscience, that intangible presence, is a guide and constant companion we are all familiar with. What is its source? The conditioning of our upbringing and culture can explain the majority, but occasionally we simply ‘know’ in a way that seems to go beyond what we have learned. Perhaps there is a deeper level of being than we are aware of on a daily basis?

There may come a time when we reach a turning point, a moment when we become conscious of a need to set our feet actively on a path that leads towards a greater awareness. There are many such paths to choose from and no one is better than another; all are right for those who choose to walk them with a whole heart. Like spokes on a wheel, they may begin at different points and take different directions, but the goal, that central point, is the same. All paths, spiritual, humanist or religious seek a spark of inner Light, and whether we think of that as Spirit, Divinity or simply as the highest aspects of human consciousness, our quest must begin in the same place… within ourselves.

This is where we begin in the Silent Eye.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Black Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

 

 

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Cycle of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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.

 

That still, small voice…

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As we each begin the conscious journey of the seeker we may become aware of a sense of presence; a realisation that seems to spring from a place deeper than thought. We may have spent a lifetime in study, engaging the brain and its processes, bringing them to bear on the abstract concepts of existence and creation. We apply logic, lose ourselves in meditation, we learn and collate techniques and information, examine perspectives and points of view. We assimilate the useful, discard the inappropriate and file what seems to be correct for our own understanding in the index of the mind. We may hold the acceptance of what we have learned close; guarding it as a precious thing or we can set it free and feel its flight.

There may come a moment when instead of ‘just’ thought, instead of a reaching outwards towards a line of reasoning, there is an opening inwards for inspiration. And this opening brings with it both conscience and imperative…. And yet further questions. What is this awareness and where does it come from? Many names have been given to this presence that seems both separate and part of our selves. Some systems have named it in angelic terms, many feel it is a higher aspect of the self, others perceive the hand of external divinity or a bridge between the human and the divine; many simply call it ‘contact’.

Much is written in esoteric literature about contact. It is something many strive for, seeking perhaps for something that is already there, waiting behind a door that is closed in the mind. We seek and try, looking towards what appears to be a distant goal, yet it is possible that like the guardian angels much loved by Victorian illustrators it stands quietly by until we notice its presence.

We do not know what exactly we are to feel or what to expect if we achieve this contacted state. Some will speak of it in ways that make us feel we are somehow lacking until we attain it. But it need not be such a complex thing.

I can only tell what it feels like subjectively. It is a Presence in whose shadow we stand and learn. Whether this presence is seen as a Being, an Archetype, a divine Intelligence, as part of the psyche or the inner Self, or indeed as something quite different depends, perhaps, on perspective and semantics.

Whether it is seen as external or interior, in practical terms, does not seem to matter. What matters is the relationship one develops with it and the quality of the realisation that comes.

Working with contacts we tend to feel them as distinct personalities, often taking on the form of an ancestor or an ancient godform, created by the created to represent and embody a very real aspect of the divine forces, but animated and vivified for us by a spark of Light.

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We can communicate… some do so in a very direct fashion, some simply feel the brush of a consciousness against their own and learn almost by osmosis. And every shade in between, it seems. Those familiar with esoteric thought will have heard of the mind touch, overshadowing, indwelling, perhaps… there are many terms that have been coined in an attempt to describe something that is ultimately too intimate for words.

At the end, the method or names do not matter any more than the apparent form. It is a Knowing. An understanding that passes the bounds of thought or education, a certainty without references or footnotes. An unshakeable, life-changing conviction that proves itself in the living of it.

We clothe our contacts in forms we can understand and that are congenial to the nature of the forces they embody. For all practical purposes we see them as individual characters. Yet it is not what they are. In fact, even in this we fall into an ever present error, marking a separation between Them and us, between the divine and man. For both they, whatever they are, and we, are but tiny refractions of Light in the multifaceted Jewel that is the One.

In pursuing the dream we have been given, we are challenged to step outside of our comfort zones, forced to reassess and re-examine cherished and long held beliefs. We find ourselves walking paths we would never have expected and which require us to question our own preconceptions. It is right that this should be required.  Setting our feet to the path before us and listening to the whisperings of that still, small voice, should not be seen as an end in itself, but as a beginning.

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