Midnight Mask

I’m not a fan of horror films. Many are simply exploitative, and the genre in general has normalised extreme violence.

But once in a while I come across something that, to me, is exceptional, and only in the genre of ‘horror’ out of misunderstanding; or even better, because the ‘film’ has two layers of meaning… and if you stick with it, you get to the second, deeper one.

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, although sci-fi and not horror, was a case in point. It was really about the ultimate evolution of the human race – in the face of its imminent extinction, though that was much easier to ‘get’ if you’d read Arthur C. Clarke’s book – which came after the film, which was jointly produced by Kubrick and Clark. Many people who watched the film had no idea what was really going on…

We’ve recently finished watching the Netflix series of ‘Midnight Mass’, and, though this is classified as a horror/mystery film, it’s really something a lot deeper.

A charismatic young priest arrives on an island some miles off the coast of Maine on the eastern seaboard of the USA. The small Crockett Island is much diminished from its former days of being a fishing haven. Spillage from an oil tanker several years prior has reduced the standard of life to general poverty.

The Catholic Church on the island used to be the centre of its life, but is now sparsely populated. Drugs have found their way into the lives of the younger people; ‘pushed’ into their meagre existence by a couple of low-life types who masquerade as fishing boat mechanics.

As if that wasn’t enough, all the cats on the island are disappearing.

The film’s opening takes place in a quite different location: New York. We later find that the man siting in handcuffs on the pavement between his wrecked sports car and the police vehicle is the emigrated son of one of the fishermen on Crockett Island. Across the glass and metal strewn street, we see the dead body of the girl he’s just killed in the crash – caused by his being drunk. The image of the newly-dead girl, her face encrusted with fragments of shimmering glass, reflecting like jewels, is to haunt him for the rest of the film.

Later, we discover that he’s a successful investment banker on Wall Street… was a successful banker, because he’s sent to jail for several years for causing the death of the girl whose image now follows him.

We fast-forward to the day of his release from prison, when he arrives on Crockett Island on the mainland ferry, to return to life with his ‘only friends’ – his parents. His arrival coincides with that of the sudden appearance of a charismatic young priest, whose mission is to revitalise Crockett Island’s small church, and restore the once-vibrant spiritual life of the remote community.

The banker is now reduced to living with his family and being a poor fisherman, again. While the priest enjoys enjoys a rise to local fame – and a full church – with the aid of a series of miracles, although his health seems strangely suspect. As the congregation grows, we see the rise of the usual suspects – the zealot (a woman Deacon) who considers the rest are not holy enough; the town mayor, getting in on the act and asserting his temporal importance; the local violent drunk, whose only soft spot is for his beloved dog.

But the priest keeps ahead of this, and, each week, challenges the congregation to increase their efforts to ‘imitate Christ’. Soon, the church is full. Even the disgraced banker attends; at the behest of his father, though he will not take the communion wine.

Gradually, the entire life of the island gets drawn into this new pattern of life and worship; until, one morning after a storm, the beach is found to contain a long line of all the dead cats that had gone missing…

I’ll not spoil the story, whose plot is clever and surprising. But, throughout the film (series) you can feel what’s happening, even if you don’t understand it. The direction is subtle and sinister – while remaining deeply understated.

Sufficient to say its conclusion is shocking in the extreme, but not for the sake of it. It becomes the meeting and clash of two worlds: the vision of the priest for his flock versus the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes.

The dreadful confrontation between what’s been killing the cats and the full congregation is difficult to watch, but has a purpose way beyond violence. In that conflagration is shown all the best and worst of human nature and the crisis results in a condition where most of the island’s people are faced with possible death.

At the centre of this is the relationship between the disgraced banker and his former girlfriend, from when he lived on Crockett Island, There is a beautiful late-night scene where the two of them talk about their respective views on death and the afterlife – a motif repeated at the very end of the film, as the sun rises on the beach, where the remaining islanders are lined up to greet it…

The purpose of this blog is not, generally, to promote films, but the underlying wisdom of ‘Midnight Mass’ is beautifully and bravely crafted, and results in an ending filled with hope and wisdom, rather than the usual ‘vengeance’ aftermath of such scripts.

The film is also about ignorance, and those who follow what they want to hear, rather than seeking the reality – the truth.

You can’t describe it as a ‘feel good’ film, because it’s too shocking. But you can describe it as a brilliantly crafted story – filled with redemption, in the deepest sense.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

sweet soup and pot dogs

(Above: the scene of the salt massacre…)

I usually do serious posts on this Thursday slot. They are generally aimed at the Silent Eye audience, so involve mystical perspectives on some of life’s challenges.

But sometimes one’s own life drops a ‘corridor’ over you, from which there is no escape, and you have to take a withdrawn and usually humorous view of events… or go completely insane.

She passed me the fragile blue bag, stuffed, now, with second-hand paperbacks, each only a pound. Morecambe market is like that: full of old fashioned value, full of lovely people who care. It’s also one of the sites for the town’s growing network of food banks.

Her eyes had spotted a quite decent pot dog in a glass display case on the next stall. Dementia is like that; constant flitting from one objective to another, small attention span. But at least my mother has some concentration left. That will fade, of course. But we make the best of the present.

“We have to meet Bernie (my wife) and Joanne (her sister) at the Midland, in half an hour,” I said. This bag won’t take any more, it’s already starting to come apart.”

I looked through the display case at the pot dog – a cairn terrier of quite good quality, and was about to speak…

“If I don’t get it now, “ she said. “It will likely have gone next time we are here. It will make the perfect Christmas present for Doreen.”

Doreen is mum’s best friend, still living in Bolton, our old home-town – but largely immobilised after encephalitis. Their relationship is now entirely phone-based: one of the miracles of hope over expectation is the success of that little mobile whose recharging cradle she can still work…

I had to think fast. The pot dog would still be there when we came back. But I didn’t want to upset her spontaneous generosity to the woman she has shared all of her life with – they used to live across the cobbled street from each other in the early 1930s (the place I was born) and have spent most of the intervening years protesting against the obscenity of fox-hunting, even being rounded up and nearly crushed by police horses.

“Well, let’s get you a tougher bag, then we can have that cup of tea at Meg’s Corner Cafe and return to buy the dog before we meet the girls.”

(Above: despite it being only September, it was freezing outside the market cafe)

It was, I admit, duplicitous… The tea was much needed, though the alleyway in which the cafe sits was freezing. Lunch at the wonderful Midland’s Rotunda cafe was imminent, she wanted something to eat to go with her two cups of tea from the ancient chrome pot.

Fifteen minutes later, tea and (her) Eccles cake duly consumed, we crossed the road to the Midland. She had been in a new lock-down at the home after an outbreak of Covid on one of the upper floors. Three weeks of the outside world being closed. I wanted to provide a big treat to celebrate her restored freedom. She normally walks a mile or two along the promenade each day. For a ninety-one year old, she’s in remarkable condition…

We left the market cafe. The pot dog forgotten.

The Art Deco Midland Hotel

Joanne had nabbed us a circular booth. We sat, smiling at the thought of delicious food to come. The Rotunda cafe shares the same chefs as the more expensive restaurant that is justly famous as the heart of this Art Deco masterpiece.

Mum wasn’t hungry… the Eccles cake had filled her up. We ordered her soup, and Bernie and I chose a chicken club sandwich and some thin chips. We had gone without breakfast to better enjoy the treat.

Mum’s soup arrived – looking and smelling delicious. Butternut squash and honey, plus a few spices to gently enhance. Some chef-made wholemeal bread, still warm from the oven, finished the presentation. I could smell how good it was…

“It’s sweet!” She wailed, dropping her spoon back into the offending liquid. “Soup’s not supposed to be sweet!” I could hear the rumbling of doom, and feel my club sandwich going cold, the chips withering.

I leaned over to extract some soup with my teaspoon. It was heavenly.

“Some of the best soups are sweet,” I ventured. “Spain is famous for its variety of soups, including sweet ones… and this has honey in it – your favourite thing on earth!”

It was never going to work. A passing waiter spotted our agony and offered to help. Before we could say anything, she shouted to him: “Can I have some salt, love. This soup’s not right…”

It results in a kind of paralysis – watching these events unfold; yet wanting to be constructive and see it ‘from above’. I watched her pour two sachets of salt into the sweet soup and stir it. I knew it would be inedible.

Her face when she tried it confirmed my diagnosis. I had to do something.

“Mum, you have my club sandwich and I’ll have your soup… I like…sweet soup…”

I tried it. It was beyond dreadful, but would have made a beautiful meal in its former state.

I watched her smile and tuck into the chicken of my club sandwich. Bernie cut me a piece of chicken from hers and I made an impromptu open sandwich with the still-warm bread.

“You’re not eating your soup,” mother said. Then added “I like it here…”

Somewhere across the road, a pot dog was smiling…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

The second before the shutter of life

We were spending a few days in Alnmouth, a tiny Northumberland village with one of the best beaches in the country. I rarely get to swim in the sea these days, but such things are of vital importance to our Collie dog, Tess, who loves to chase a ball down a beach and into the waves.

(One very happy Collie)

It was early morning. I was enjoying our walk. Tess was already wet through and dripping with morning-sun happiness. There were only four of us on the entire beach: a middle-aged couple were walking towards us, along the line of the sea.

I looked at them, then looked again. The woman was carrying two large-lensed cameras, and slightly stooped with the weight. Such heroism demands recognition, so I laughed across at them as they drew level.

“Those are mighty-looking lenses!”

At first, they looked troubled, as though I were some English football hooligan, about to rob them. Then the man said something in broken English and I realised they were Dutch… and I had spoken rather quickly and in a quick-fire humorous way, typical of the English in that situation. The cameras straps were wrapped across and beneath the lady’s breasts, and I realised with horror that my gesticulations might have been horribly misinterpreted.

I back-tracked quickly and explained my admiration for the camera gear, and they began to smile, sharing the humour instead of being anxious about it. I took my rather smaller (iPhone) camera from my jacket pocket and laughed about the comparative size of the photo equipment.

They warmed to the stranger, and for the next five minutes we talked and laughed, as I helped them to say what they wanted to. I speak a little German and French which helps with translation, even if I can’t find all the right vocabulary. People from the Netherlands are often able to converse in three or four languages, but these two had little English. Between us, we persevered and had a pleasant and informative exchange. They went on their way smiling at the early morning encounter with the dog and the man who turned out not to be a football yob…

But the initial look on the face of the lady carrying the massive cameras across her shoulders and chest stayed with me for the rest of the day, and caused me to formulate this post.

Had there been no way of breaching the language gap, they would have left with a very negative view of the encounter. And yet they would have been wrong… Like all of us, their lightning-fast perception and conclusions would have determined how those few minutes of conversation were entered into.

In my head, I could play back the encounter and run it in different ways. Reality, in real-time, doesn’t do that. We might say, traditionally, that the ‘now’ comes at us from the future with a content we can’t fully predict, but which is subject to probabilities. If my last footstep was on a beach in Northumberland, my next footfall is unlikely to be in Utrecht. The world around me is stable – to a degree. But nothing is entirely determined.

This is particularly true of our interactions with others…

We can’t go around greeting each new person as though we were a child, bright with life and openness. In an ideal world we might, but maturity and discretion teach us that human manners have a purpose – not least of which is to prevent us getting thumped.

Over the years of our life, we have built a kind of ‘perception wall’ around us. This wall of sensibilities – an extension of our mind, recognises ‘types’ of events – and people – coming at us from the immediate future. Our enemies or likely potential enemies are well identified, and invoke a whole set of protective behaviours. The violent drunk staggering out of the pub and lurching towards us, swearing, is an example of the invoking of avoidance.

Others are not so well defined. We all use different classifications to mark the approach of that near-future. This creates a gradient of relaxation-warmth at one end, and potential violence at the other. One of the most important human conditions is to be able to exchange positive humour with a stranger; based on a shared set of current circumstances; a shared misfortune of a mild nature (like just missing that bus) is an example.

These occasions leave positive feedback and good memories of those well-spent moments, when vocal and non-vocal cues act as a binding framework for a good-natured encounter. They are like good food. We need them, if only to re-assert our level of humanity and our belief in the goodness of others… something that we be starved of.

Could we take it further and suggest that we actually create our future? My footfall is never going to land in Utrecht, but my pre-judgement of the person approaching me along that pavement has enormous control over the approaching ‘now’.

If you can, try this for a few days. Study the facial expressions of people coming at you, with the willed intention of making a new friend – if only for a moment. Don’t pick someone you like the look of; select a person you wouldn’t normally speak to, but, obviously not one who gives you the chills.

As the very last moment before your ‘meeting’, hold the thought that you have something warm in common. Look onto their eyes, smiling and see what fills that brave space you’ve just created to hold ‘the link’.

You might be surprised what happens, and how you can look back on something that could not have come into existence unless you had altered your expectations…thereby changing the probabilities within the approaching ‘now’. In reality, of course, there is no approaching now, there is only now, filled with constant changes. We do not move into the future. What is around us ‘morphs’ into its new form and we call it time. We measure time by the those changes. Clocks are a form of special agreement as to what the changes represent…

The world is really our world, ‘projected on’ by our expectations, fears and joys.

The Dutch lady with the big lenses didn’t allow for this. The ill-spoken potential ‘English yob’ with the ‘big dog’ had, smilingly and sinisterly, said something abusive in a way she didn’t understand. They were set on leaving the scene, as fast as possible.

I had to use intelligence, charm and sincerity to dig back to the words of that moment and show that only warmth and shared humour were intended. Our wonderful minds allow for that – and our astonishing language that can hold and describe concepts as vast as present and future.

That next second in all our lives is coming around that corner, now, and its nature is significantly undetermined… until we act with familiarity or with self-defence. And mind precedes action. In that sense, creating our own future is a very real thing.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Childhood’s end?

Some experiences are tiny and subtle; you don’t expect to remember them. But, days after, I was still thinking about that line of writing on the wall, in the last of the summer sunshine…

I’m a north-west lad; deeply Lancashire in my roots, though well-travelled from a business perspective. But one of my favourite parts of the UK is the North-East coast, from Whitby all the way up to Scotland, most of it in Northumberland.

This land of history and mystery used to be its own kingdom. To my mind, there is still a sense of the otherness in its hills and perfect beaches – and the people are friendly and usually welcoming.

(Above: the iconic houses and dunes of Alnmouth’s headland)
(Above and below: Alnmouth,, and Tess’ favourite beach in the whole world…)

We were spending a few days in Almmouth, that harmonic delight of estuary village meeting sea; en-route to a reunion in Edinburgh.

(Above: one of Alnmouth’s famous bridges and the River Aln)

The oldest of the Alnmouth bridges crosses the River Aln to give the village its main access to the mainline East Coast railway station (Edinburgh in 60 mins), and the beautiful ancient town of Alnwick, ancestral home of the Percy family, who kept out the marauding Scots… Say it quietly, a good number of my cousins are Scottish.

As we often do on these trips, we were catching up with a diverse group of people, dotted along our route, including Cathy, a long-standing friend of my wife, Bernie, from the time they both worked in Bournemouth.

A few years ago, Cathy, now approaching retirement from the NHS, relocated to Whitley Bay, north of Newcastle. She had always wanted to live by the sea, and settled in Weymouth for a while, but found it too far from other places she needed to be.

Then she found her eldest son was planning to move in Teignmouth, just north of Newcastle, where he had been at university. Like his mum, he was attracted to that stretched of what was the Northumberland coast.

Cathy had a limited budget, but was delighted to discover that nearby Whitley Bay was not only affordable, but undergoing a resurgence and considerable ‘gentrification’. Formerly the haunt of the worst kind of drug dealers, facsimiles of whom seemed to feature in the ever-popular Vera detective series, it now teems with individual boutiques, quality cafes and restaurants, and coffee shops.

Locals say Whitley Bay is now safe and prosperous, yet hasn’t lost it’s common touch…

After refreshments in her sea-facing garden, Cathy took us on a guided tour of the promenade and resurgent town – the last stop on the northern leg of the Newcastle Metro line.

(Above: Beach, sea, lighthouse. I had glimpsed a photographic opportunity!)

For a while we alternated descending and climbing back up the various sections of the expansive promenade. The sea is a long way below this section of coast road, and I wondered whether my iPhone camera would do anything useful at that distance?

(Above: Spanish City – the former jewel of the resort)

After about 30 mins of walking, it was obvious that we were approaching the centre of town. Two things were of immediate interest to my photographer’s eye: a giant white building looking like a Moorish palace; and a wonderful view down to the beach, framed by curving stone walls.

(Above: one of the white towers of Spanish City, resplendent in the sunshine, with its ‘Angel of the morning’)

Spanish City – the large white ‘palace’ – used to be the main tourist attraction of Whitley Bay. It was built 108 years ago as a ‘resort within a resort’, and offered cafes, restaurants, entertainment and a set of rides for the young and the young in heart. For the sixteen years prior to 2018, it stood derelict, until being restored and refurbished.

In July, 2021, the listed ‘Dome’ was reborn and re-opened by the local council after a £10million restoration, which included contributions of £3.47m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a £2.5m Coastal Communities grant. It’s never looked back.

Cathy announced it was time for an ice-cream. There was a chorus of approval, especially when she crossed the coast road at speed and installed herself at the back of a short queue outside the famous Di Meo ice cream parlour. When we caught up with her, she explained that the queue was normally fifteen people deep, and she’d rushed to take advantage of this astonishingly smaller one – give it was one of the finest days of the year.

While she was queueing, I strolled quickly back to try the possible photo I’d seen. Two women were talking across a gap on the edge of a set of steep downward steps. Beyond was a panoramic view across the beaches and sea towards the distant St Mary’s lighthouse. Even in the bright sunlight of a pristine September day, it didn’t look as emotionally warm as it felt; so I took the shot with a view to editing it in a new (free) App I’d been recommended called Snapseed, made by Google.

(Above: Bernie outside Di Meo’s)

That done (which was the work of a minute only) I crossed back over the road, just in time to collect my ice cream. We meandered slowly back, with Cathy telling the story of how the original Spanish City was etched into the memories of generations of both locals and visitors. She said there had been a famous quote, but couldn’t remember it.

Later, I remembered that I had taken a few random shots of the promenade’s slope near the ‘Dome’. One of them had Cathy’s quote. It reads:

“Whitley Bay… The Dome! the white Dome. It was the Taj Mahal to us…”

Some would laugh at it, but I thought it was a beautiful sentiment. Bolton didn’t have much in the way of glamour. But I remember the sheer sense of sophistication going into Bolton’s Navada roller skating rink as a child. I was entering a new world; and what the people of the old Whitley Bay felt about their dome must have been the same.

Bolton’s Navada roller rink after the fire that closed it…

Now the people of Whitley Bay had their dome back, renewed and whole. It was a lesson in what we all experience – the familiarity of what we’ve grown used to versus the fading through time of what was once great. The ‘Spanish City’ had been wonderfully conceived, over a century ago, and its original vision had miraculously survived the inevitable physical decline.

The right energy and determination brought it back, justifying the sincere words on the curving wall.

My story ends there… apart from the editing I did that evening on the iPhone, using Snapseed to transform that view.

Above is the result: a picture more in tune with what I felt about the two women, the ornate steps, the sunny beach far below, filled with happy people in what was probably the last really hot day of 2021.

And in the distance the white St Mary’s lighthouse, surely one of the most beautiful symbols we have.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

‘The Book of Assassinations’

sheffield chesterfield hare 003

We were determined not to get wet, so we went to Chesterfield, on the general principle that there would be both indoor parking and a cathedral big enough to keep us both dry and occupied for some time. We got those points right… but we failed miserably in the staying dry department as the heavens open and the chill, northern rain pelted down. As my companion made a judicious dive for the porch, I found a convenient tree under which to shelter the camera and get some shots of the famous crooked spire.

sheffield chesterfield hare 004The church dates to the 13th Century and the tower was added in around 1362. The tower is twisted by 45 degrees and leans 9’ 6” from true centre. Several local legends tell how it became so contorted, many have to do with the Devil and the purported virginity of brides. Wikipedia says : “One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only 3 weddings in 2010 in the church it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape.” There are others, and it is well worth looking some of them up.

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I didn’t linger too long under my tree. It was raining quite heavily and my feet were already squelching in the little slippers I habitually wear for some strange and unfathomable reason. You would think I would have learned by now… Even the pigeons had given up and had taken shelter where they could, so I too followed their example.

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For all the church has been embellished over the centuries, being the foremost building in the area, it still retains its atmosphere of calm peace, and every nook and cranny inside hides symbols and artistic treasures, bits of history and the evidence of the faith of hundreds of years.

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The Lady Chapel, as so often for me, had the most attraction, and a curious Revelations window in the north chapel too had us thinking. There is an eclectic mixture of styles here, from a dreadful neon cross to lovely sculpture with an African feel, from medieval marble tombs to a modern St Francis window full of gentleness.

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The place was full of visitors, though, and that always ends up with me documenting as much as I can with the camera while my companion wanders in search of his own inspiration… we then adjourn, usually to a local pub, and compare notes; knowing we have enough to go on in order to make a decision about coming back on a quieter day. It is these subsequent visits where you begin to really get to know a place, both by its details and by its feel.

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Today was no exception, but, unfortunately for us there was a bookshop and we became a tad sidetracked as we delved through the shelves, exiting with what rapidly became known as the Book of Assassinations as we trawled its pages under an awning while the rain still fell.

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It is odd, of course, we think we are going to places for our own purposes, but so often, if you are open and ready to go where you are led, you end up finding far more than you had envisioned. We had gone to see a cathedral, but came away with a couple of years of speculative thought confirmed by the well-thumbed pages of a dog-eared book. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday in Chesterfield.

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WHAT’S UP DOC? Lines of communication III…

*

… Bugs… The small rabbit came closer to his companion, lolloping on long hind legs.

“Let’s go a bit further, Hazel,’ he said. “You know, there’s something strange about the warren this evening, although I can’t tell exactly what it is. Shall we go down to the brook?”

*

Cara… “All right, Fiver,” answered Hazel, “and you can find me a cowslip when we’re there. If you can’t find one, no-one can.”

*

Bugs… Hazel led the way down the slope, his shadow stretching behind him on the grass.

They reached the brook and began nibbling and searching beside the wheel-ruts of the track.

It was not long before Fiver found what they were looking for.

Cowslips are a delicacy among rabbits, and as a rule there are very few left by late May in the neighbourhood of even a small warren.

This one had not bloomed, and its flat spread of leaves was almost hidden under the long grass.

They were just starting on it when two large rabbits came running across from the other side of the near-by cattle-wade.

Fiver had already turned away.

*

Cara… Hazel caught up with him by the culvert, “I tell you what, let’s go across the brook. There’ll be fewer rabbits and we can have a bit of peace, so long as you think it’s safe?”

*

Bugs… “No, it’s safe enough,” answered Fiver. “If I start feeling there’s any danger I’ll tell you. It’s not danger I feel tonight, it’s, oh, I don’t know, something oppressive, like thunder. I’m not sure what, but it worries me. All the same, I’ll come across the brook with you.”

*

Cara… The two rabbits ran over the culvert.

The grass was wet and thick near the stream and they made their way up the opposite slope, looking for drier ground.

Part of the slope was in shadow, for the sun was sinking ahead of them, and Hazel, who wanted a warm, sunny spot, went on until they were quite near the lane.

As they approached the gate he stopped, staring…

“Fiver, what’s that? Look!”

*

Bugs… A little way in front of them, the ground had been freshly disturbed.

Two piles of earth lay on the grass.

Heavy posts reeking of creosote and paint, towered up as high as the holly trees in the hedge, and the board they carried threw a long shadow across the top of the field.

Near one of the posts, a hammer and a few nails had been left behind.

The two rabbits went up to the board at a hopping run and crouched in a patch of nettles on the far side, wrinkling their noses at the smell of a dead cigarette-end somewhere in the grass.

*

Cara… Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down. “Oh, Hazel! This it where it comes from! I know now – something very bad! Some terrible thing – coming closer and closer.”

He began to whimper…

*

Bugs… “What sort of thing – what do you mean?  I thought you said there was no danger? “

Cara… “I don’t know what it is,” answered Fiver wretchedly. “There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming – it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered in blood!”

*

Bugs… “Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of the sunset. Fiver, come on, don’t talk like this, you’re frightening me!”

*

Cara…The sun set behind the opposite slope.

The wind turned colder, with a scatter of rain, and in less than an hour it was dark.

All colour had faded from the sky and although the big board by the gate creaked slightly in the night wind, there was no passer-by to read the sharp, hard letters that cut straight as black knives across its white surface.

They said…

to be continued…

WHAT’S UP DOC? Lines of communication II…

*

…Cara: If we can’t trust the written word what can we trust?

Bugs settles at the West and Cara at the East.

Bugs: Vertical Polarity!

Cara: recites…

OL SONUF VAORSAGI GOHO IADA BALTA.

ELEXARPEH COMANANU TABITOM. ZODAKARA,

EKA ZODAKARE OD ZODAMERANU. ODO KIKLE

QAA PIAP PIAMOEL OD VAOAN.

Bugs: (Addressing the Companions) Don’t say what this is but if anyone does know what it is please raise your hands. (If any hands are raised to each of those who raised their hands) – Just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you know what it means? (if so) – Please don’t take part in the next bit. So, everyone else.  Those of you who feel that this piece holds power, raise your hands.  (If any hands are raised) Would anyone like to expand on that? Would anyone like to categorise how that made them feel.  In a general way was that feeling Good or Bad? We’ll come back to this…

Cara: But first…

Cara walks to the central altar and removes the cover from the Top Hat and Ears, lifting out the rabbit ears in time honoured fashion they are revealed to be part of two rabbit masks…

Bugs: For those with ears to hear…

Bugs walks to the central altar. Cara hands one of the rabbit masks to Bugs (Black) and keeping the other for herself (White) they both don them.

Cara (now wearing a white rabbit mask) … A story about rabbits…

Bugs: (now wearing a black rabbit mask) … ‘What’s up Doc!’

Bugs explains that the cards have two inscriptions, one on either side but that the companions must not turn the cards over to read the second inscription until directed to do so by the utterance of the ‘Trigger’ word- ‘Carrots’ as Cara hands out the cards. After handing out the cards Cara returns to the central altar. Bugs and Cara circle the altar and then Bugs retreats to the east, while Cara retreats to the west.

TO EACH READ, IN TURN, WHILE CIRCLING…

*

Bugs… The primroses were over…

The May sunset was red in clouds, and there was still half an hour to twilight.

The dry slope was dotted with rabbits…

Here and there one sat upright on an ant-heap and looked about:

ears erect

nose to the wind.

The blackbird, singing undisturbed on the outskirts of the wood, gave lie to their caution.

There was nothing to alarm the peace of the warren.

*

Cara… At the top of the bank where the blackbird sang was a group of holes hidden by brambles.

In the green half-light, at the mouth of one of these holes, sat two rabbits side by side.

The larger of the two came out of the hole, slipped along the bank, hopped down into the ditch and then ambled up into the field…

A few moments later the smaller rabbit followed.

The first rabbit stopped in a sunny patch and scratched an ear with rapid movements of a hind-leg.

He looked as though he knew how to take care of himself.

There was a shrewd, buoyant air about him as he sat up, looked round and rubbed both front paws over his nose.

Once satisfied that all was well he laid back his ears and set to work on the grass.

His companion seemed less at ease.

He was small, with wide eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested a sort of ceaseless nervous tension.

His nose moved continually and when a bumble-bee flew, humming, to a thistle bloom behind him he jumped and spun round with a start…

*

to be continued…

WHAT’S UP DOC? Lines of communication…

Presentation from, The Jewel in the Claw workshop, April 2018…

 

*

For those with eyes to see…

*

Floor Set up

Altar, placed centrally on chequered floor and covered… With, placed on it, top-hat, upended, with, placed in it, rabbit mask and ears x2, and ‘pack-of-cards’, all also covered. South and North lined with nine chairs for Companions.  Adjudicator 1 (male) to sit on central chair of South. Adjudicator 2 (female) to sit on central chair of North. Two chairs in East. One chair in West.

Bugs and Cara initially sit on chairs in East. When all Companions have entered and are seated Cara and Bugs rise to stand, simultaneously, and Cara walks clockwise to stand in front of the west chair.

*

Bugs: Friends, Britons, Countrymen…Welcome to our presentation. In keeping with our Shakespearean theme this year, we have determined to develop some of the concepts of the weekend…

Cara: Horizontal Polarity!

(Bugs and Cara walk anti-clockwise. Bugs to stand before West chair. Cara to stand before East chairs. On the way, Bugs hands Adjudicator 2 Gold Parchment with a sonnet printed on it. On reaching the West Bugs declares…)

Bugs: Love!

Cara:  recites the Shakespearean sonnet as a ‘lover’…

Being your slave, what should I do but tend

Upon the hours and times of your desire?

I have no precious time at all to spend,

Nor services to do, till you require.

Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour

Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,

Nor think the bitterness of absence sour

When you have bid your servant once adieu;

Nor dare I question with my jealous thought

Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,

But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought

Save, where you are how happy you make those.

   So true a fool is love that in your will,

   Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.

(Adjudicator 2 ‘follows’ the recital from the Gold Parchment. On finishing the reading Cara and Bugs switch positions again but this time they move clockwise. On the way Cara hands Adjudicator 1 Silver Parchment with the sonnet printed on it. On reaching the East, Bugs declares…)

Bugs: Loathing!

Cara: recites the same Shakespearean sonnet but this time as a ‘loather’…

(Adjudicator 1 ‘follows’ the recital from the Silver Parchment. On finishing the reading Cara moves clockwise to the South to collect Adjudicator 1 and leads him to the central altar. Bugs moves clockwise to the North to collect Adjudicator 2 and leads her to the central altar. Both Adjudicators follow the central line of the ‘board’ and square corners around the altar, to stand facing each other centrally as directed by Bugs and Cara. Once at the altar they are asked to verify that both the scripts are the same. When they have done so they swap parchments and then are led to opposite seats and re-seated.)

Bugs returns to East.

Cara returns to West.

(During the following exchange they circle the altar, alternating between East and West as they speak.)

Bugs: Ladies and Gentlemen, please, a hand for our adjudicators…

Cara: And so, we see, that, Horizontal Polarities are interchangeable, and represent two sides of the same coin…

And we can also see, that, opposite ‘emotions’ can be evoked by the self-same words?

Bugs: The written word, it seems, needs context…

Cara: But if we cannot trust the written word what can we trust?

to be continued…

Radiance of the Invisible Pearl

(Pearl image: Pixabay. Background by author)

Certain internal ‘states’ are realities deep within us. Love, strength, and boundlessness are examples of levels of conscious experience that are not simply psychological constructs; they indicate that our ordinary ‘day-consciousness’ is in contact with the deepest parts of who and where we really are.

These deepest layer of self – Self, as we write it, in order to differentiate this from the egoic ‘me’- are more real than the outer identity, but we have tuned our reality to our outer experience, only, so miss their significance and spend our lives struggling to interpret them.

The mystical journey of self to Self is one that restores the balance between the reactive ‘me’ of the egoic personality and the sheer belonging of the inner Self. Both are important. Without the egoic nature, and its attunement to the world, we wouldn’t have a mechanism for the inspired Self to ‘do’ in the world.

One element of this inner Self is the experience of contentment: literally, without wishes, as often discussed in ancient mystical texts. This is described as a peaceful state of a meditative nature… and so it can be. But it also has a dynamic side, and this expresses itself in an active state of completeness, rather than a withdrawn contentment.

To experience completeness is to be entirely ‘full with oneness’ in the moment. This changes the nature of our desires, in the sense that whatever happens to us is the very nature and gift of the now. To resist this is to place ourselves in a position of thinking we know better than the universe what we most need to experience next…

To cease this resistance to reality is like being held by a lover. Indeed, there is frequently a ‘glow’ in the upper front body and arms that accompanies it.

The inner reality of the now gently peels away what would have been the reactive layers of memory-based perception, replacing them with a freshness and sureness in which our core is not only central to the experience, but is secure enough to meet anything we may face in life – but in a new and more measured way.

For many of us, the sheer presence of that feeling may be the first proof that there is more to us than the physical body. Though this state of warmth in the chest and upper arms may feel entirely physical (which is a good thing!) its energy originates at a higher level of what we might think of as the ‘super-physical’.

The familiarity of its co-existence through the levels of our Self-self is a wonderful and warm experience. This experiential evidence that we are more than we thought we were, is a moment gifted from within to show we have embarked on something truly real that belongs, without any doubt, to us.

This ‘empowering by completeness’ can become a compass-needle for the further journey into the real Self, via its essential properties.

Essence is the term used for the inner architecture of our Being. This first experience triggers the opening of a whole path before us, one filled with delight and, above all else, a sense of personal truth and self-belonging…

If you’d like to approach this via a guided mediation, try this:

Sit quietly in a place of calmness. Close your eyes and imagine a wide circle around you at a distance of about 10 metres in radius. Breathe in so that you are gently filling about half your chest capacity, then breathe it all out, holding the final ‘empty-state’ for a second, before taking in a full breath that begins in the lower lungs and fills like a curve, upwards, until you are charged with fresh air.

Expel the new air gently, and, as you do so, move your inner vision, clockwise around the circumference of the visualised circle, placing on the circle all the valued physical things in your life, like your home, your car, your best clothes, your warmest winter coat, and so on.

When you’ve finished populating the circle, come back to the start point and draw another series of breaths, as before.

Then see each of these precious objects gradually fading over time, losing their specialness and disappearing as the inevitable processes of form and decay take their toll. Let your circle devolve to a state of emptiness.

Now, begin to feel a warmth from this ‘nothing’ as you circle clockwise in your mind.

Halve the diameter of the circle and feel it closing this loving warmth around you. Halve it again and feel it like a skin, warming as it approaches your skin. Close your eyes and enjoy the warm belonging. Remove any desires from your mind and let this new and joyous place of completeness be a temporary home to which you can return whenever you wish, just by triggering the memory of that warmth in the upper arms and chest.

The exercise is self-contained. Its context and deeper understanding is part of the Silent Eye’s three-year distance-learning programme.

©Stephen Tanham

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

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk