Vexed by the Tribe

I am vexed…

It’s a word you don’t hear much, now. Old English, I believe. It describes an agitated state of mind – and possibly body – when something nagging can’t be solved.

What I’m vexed about is the entrenchment of nationalistic opinion across the world, in the face of much more important issues – like the world’s climate problems and the undermining of democracy as a new type of war carried out by authoritarian regimes.

I’m vexed because I think I’ve seen beneath this to the psychological mechanics of something that has the potential to kill the world.

In Britain, with Brexit, we are marching, like lemmings, towards a clifftop that will bring chaos and self-inflicted harm to not only this generation of voters, but our children and their children. They will look back at the devastation and ask why somebody didn’t do something to avert it.

Friends in the USA describe a similar situation, there. My intention with this blog is not to discuss politics, but to examine the entrenchment of views that underlies these vast shifts in ‘normality’. This is closely linked to the use of ‘fake news’ as a defence against the truth…

The psychologist Maslow did some ground-breaking work on developmental psychology, particularly human motivation, back in the 1940s. His celebrated diagram of the “Hierarchy of Needs” is reproduced below:

Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s idea was that the lower needs in the pyramid had to be satisfied before the higher and more creative functions would manifest. It has been modified since the 1940s but remains a popular and intelligent way to understand some of the ways societies evolve – or devolve.

In Maslow’s scheme, the ultimate state of the human in a society is one of ‘Self-Actualisation’ – the top of the pyramid. This is built on ‘Esteem’, which grows in the soil of ‘Love’. Only below this level do the ‘fear-factors’ come into play.

There is an upward current which is enabling. But any downward movement in the lower levels is capable of de-stabilising the whole thing. It would be difficult to put a complex political situation like Brexit into the above pyramid, since this is based upon a society’s condition rather than that of an individual. But we can identify ‘what’ happens in such upheavals, and that may serve to illustrate the forces at work.

If a majority of people vote for something, then we in the West believe they have ‘spoken’ and we honour the result – unless there has been electoral fraud or other fundamental abuses. And this is a big ‘if’. With every such new generation of abuse the perpetrators show they are cleverer than the regulators.

But Western Government is still based on the principles of democracy. So the motivation behind how people vote is a vital thing to understand – and it may help us to come to terms with the often self-destructive basis of such individual decisions. This is where it could be illuminating to consider a scheme similar to Maslow’s at work at the heart of how countries evolve their governance.

A person is born into a ‘tribe’ not into a society

We are all born into a family of some sort. We know nothing of the society in which that family exists. If we are lucky, the family will be loving and caring. In honouring that we will wish to reflect the inherent but often unstated values that the family subscribes to. These are powerful things, and much more akin to how tribes used to, and still do, work. The Tribe will have a relationship to the geography in which it exists. This may be cooperative or antagonistic.

The route of the person from birth, through the values of the tribe and to real individuality may not happen at all. True individuality requires knowledge, judgement and a high degree of self-reliance. We all know Tribes in which such a rise to the ‘freedom’ of individuality would be frowned upon – to say the least.

Complexity, of the sort we experience today, is a relatively modern thing

Despite this, the wisest of individuals have, throughout history, risen to think for themselves and brought great change to the overall society in which they lived. Their upward journeys have been struggles of courage against both circumstance and prejudice.

I believe we now face new forces which are abusing and mis-shaping our countries. They are driven by the relatively small number of people who understand the ‘Complexity’ of our worlds. Our societies have changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years, largely driven by technology. Tech can be and is an enabler, but it is also a generator of fear for those left behind as powerful entities dominate the way in which such Tech is used…

Tech is also an ideal basis for placating the masses. Television soap operas and dating shows, for example. Thinking is hard, that is the simple truth. Thinking for yourself is very hard…

The above diagram illustrates the idea that, while maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is a negative one and drives people back into a tribal mode of behaviour. I believe this to be happening across western societies, today, and it partly accounts for the rise of nationalism and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and educate the tribe, itself.

So, what can we do about what is happening in Western democracies? We may be unable to do anything. There are tectonic forces at work, both economic and political, which are de-stabilising for their own advantage. We can at least be aware that this is taking place and consider how Tribes are ‘played’ by such forces.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and thereby educate the Tribe, itself. If this is not present, and any alternate thinking is given the ‘fake news’ treatment, then the element of ‘belonging’ will be invoked near the base of the pyramid and we will be collectively dragged back to the vexed lower land of our birth and not the potential of our individualities.

© Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Primal Screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understanding of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Way to Dusty Death?

We were in Ulverston, Dean and I. We’d just climbed the famous ‘Hoad’ – a tall monument on the top of a tall hill that looks like a lighthouse… but isn’t. There’s some important symbology in that, but we’ll return to it later.

Light and dark….a walk in Glenlivet…including a view from the stone circle at the Doune of Dalmore toward Drumin castle…both scenes of coming derring-do on Sunday. Photo: Dean Powell.

He was on his way back from Somerset to northern Scotland – the Glenlivet area of the North Cairngorms, where he and his loved ones have their home. Our house in Cumbria is en-route, so the door is always open to break his journey. After a night involving Bernie’s excellent cooking and a glass of red wine or two, we decided that a local (ish) walk would put some air into the bloodstream for his second leg and return to the far north.

Ulverston is one of our local favourites. It’s about a half-hour journey up the fast Barrow road. A coffee in Ford Park and then the short but taxing climb up ‘The Hoad’ to get to the famous lighthouse that isn’t. It can be seen all over the expanse of Morecambe Bay. It’s actually a monument to the famous engineer Sir John Barrow.

We’d got our breath back by the time we got to the monument. The Silent Eye had recently carried out the ‘Jewel in the Claw’ spring workshop at Great Hucklow – our annual biggie. We had used a Shakespearean theme, casting one of our Californian visitors as Queen Elizabeth – ruling over a giant chessboard which was the royal court; and upon which the players moved with great caution… under her watchful eye.

Dean and Alionora had played two of the central characters: Lord Mortido and Lady Libido – death and life in the fullest sense. They were superb. Leaving the tiny village Dean had reflected that there might be scope for doing something else ‘Shakespearean’, in the form of a journey around Macbeth Country, centred in Grantown-on-Spey, not far from where he and Gordon live.

Now, on top of the world and next to the faux lighthouse, we began to discuss it in earnest.

It would involve several kinds of journey. First, it was a long way to travel; but we had all driven down to Dorset the year before for the similar summer weekend, so we knew we’d get the support from our hardy regulars…

Second, there had to be a dual journey in terms of both spiritual discovery and visiting the landscape. The event was to take place in a triangle of land between Grantown, the Findhorn Coast and the Macbeth castles just south of Inverness. There would be no lack of scenery! Dean had already assembled a set of places with that ‘special feel’, including a mysterious old church and a stone circle. Within this combined landscape he proposed leading a journey of self-discovery using an ancient magical symbol. Macbeth’s ‘witches’ had to be honoured – they were a very real force in the time of James VI of Scotland – and subsequently the English king on the death of Elizabeth I. Dean has an intensely esoteric background and is a qualified NLP therapist and teacher as well as the local leader of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. He has recently developed the idea of the ‘magical matrix’ and proposed to use this to accompany our journey in the highland landscape.

I hadn’t realised until he told me that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. The event would mix his Scottish team and the Silent Eye, and we proposed it be called the Silent Unicorn.

Somewhat pleased with the plan, we took the long and winding path down from the Hoad to have a fruitful cafe lunch in Ulverston.

And now it is upon us. Like Macbeth we must earn our keep (sorry) and ‘strut and fret’ upon the magnificent stage of the highlands. Our weekend’s tower must be a true one and not false. Only with that intent – that something deeper is afoot, will we attract the intellectual and emotional harmony that so typifies these Silent Eye ‘landscape journeys’. By the time this is published, we will be leaving Cumbria, to join up with friends old and new from across the UK. We all face a long journey; but a very rewarding one.

For more information on joining us for one of the Silent Eye ‘discovery in the landscape’ weekends, click to see our forthcoming events, here.

The road to Inverness awaits….

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (2)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunflower-sm-wiki-sa-by-cc-2.5.jpg
Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence, with different values for clockwise and anticlockwise rotation. Image Wiki CC by SA 2.5 L. Shyamal – Own work.

In Part One, we looked at a very simple sequence of numbers that ‘orbited’ or homed-in on a certain value. Now we need to examine that value and look at the sheer magic of what it represents.

 

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The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

This new number was 1.618. It’s derivation is summarised in the diagram above, and described in the previous post. Simply: (red numbers) we add the two previous numbers to get the next. Next: (green numbers) we offset the first line of numbers one place to the right and, using a calculator to three decimal places, we treat the offset numbers of fractions, one number above the other. The third (black) line gives the calculator results, which stabilise at 1.618.

The ‘series’ that generates it – known as the Fibonacci series – came into existence at the time the world was abandoning the old and (by then) clumsy Roman notation (I, II, IV etc) and moving to the Arab-derived numerals that we use today.

The special number 1.618 is known by many names, such a the Golden Ratio and the Golden Mean. It is a number that shows us how we can divide something to protect its ‘wholeness’ in a harmonic way. By doing this, the divided figure will always exhibit pleasing proportions when placed next to (or within) the ‘parent’ figure. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci used it, extensively, in his most famous pictures.

But there are much deeper implications to this than something that looks or feels good, important though that is.

The materialist sees the world as having numbers by virtue of an ‘accident’ that they fit how we see and describe things. The mystic looks for the experience of ‘oneness’ with the processes that created the universe. You can’t find that experience unless you look for it. The universe owes us no debt of making it happen in our minds and hearts – the search must be ours… then the doors of perception will be opened.

Imagine that we have a strip of paper that we are going to divide by cutting with scissors. Let’s say the length of the initial strip is represented by the letter ‘A’. When we cut the strip we will have three values: the initial length (A); and the lengths of the two pieces we produce. We can name the two ‘child’ pieces (a) – the longest, and (b) – the shortest.

Under all circumstances, the original length (A) would be equal to the sum of the two children (a+b) . We can write this A=b+c, the most simple kind of ‘equation’ we could every want to see.

The miraculous Fibonacci number (given the name Phi in the 20th century) gives us the means to divide the original strip of paper such that the longer of the two child pieces bears the same relationship (ratio) to the original strip, as the larger child does to the smaller…

We can keep on doing this – cutting each successive larger portion – with smaller and smaller divisions of the original strip of paper. The whole ‘creation’ will be in harmonic proportions. This generation of smaller and smaller ‘harmonic’ children is called self-similarity.

Nature uses ‘Phi’ all the time. The recent science of Fractals shows how essential self-similar division is for nature to achieve its purposes. A tree is a fractal, for example, as are our lungs. Our blood vessels can carry oxygen to our cells because they follow fractal rules of becoming smaller and smaller within the finite space of our bodies. Only by using such structures can incredibly large processes fit into small spaces. The generation of Phi is not a fractal process, but it perfectly illustrates the marvel of the related fractal structures in nature.

Examples of this in nature include the petals of flowers, such as the sunflower, and the spirals of nautilus sea shells… But there are innumerable examples.

So, how would we actually work out the Phi-derived point of where to cut our twenty-unit strip of paper? We can arrange the self-similar formula so that we have a quadratic equation to solve, but where’s the fun in that!

Instead, we can look at the workings of the older graphical method carried out with the use of compass and straight edge. This brings home the inclusive and ‘connective’ nature of working by hand and is illustrated below:

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The horizontal line A-B is the length of paper we wish to divide into the harmonic proportions given by the Fibonacci-derived Phi number 1.618. In this example, the length is 20 units.

To begin, we imagine we have turned the base line (A-B) into a square of four sides and select its right-hand vertical halfway point.

To shorten this, I have simply created point C at the correct half-value (10). The compass is placed on point C and set to the distance of C-B. We begin to draw an upward arc from B to the intersection with the hypotenuse A-C. We then set the compass to a base at the origin – A, and extend its pencil to the previous intersection with the hypotenuse. This time we draw downwards until the curve intersects with the original length A-B. The point of crossing is the length of the largest ‘child’ as above.

The length value, the golden ratio, gives us a new ‘longest child’ length of 12.36 units. We could cut at this point. The relationship of the larger child to the smaller is the same relationship as the original full length to the largest child.

This process could be repeated to infinity using the successive larger pieces. The entire family of larger pieces would inherit the divine proportions of the ‘mother’ length.

In the final post, next week, we will examine how the pentagram combines all the above properties into a single figure of dynamic value to mankind.

Other posts in this series:

One This is Two.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

“The best day, ever” in Eden

They were watching me from the side of a steep bank that frames the inner edge of a huge surface of concrete which will soon be Eden North, replicating – but with differences – the internationally famous Eden Project in Cornwall.

The space used to be Bubbles swimming pool and, before that, was the renowned Super Swimming Stadium, the centre of so many children’s holidays before their parents discovered you could get more reliable sunshine than Morecambe’s on a suddenly affordable Spanish Costa Brava.

They all died a kind of death, then, the Victorian seaside towns… But some of us keep the faith, if only for that steaming mug of a ‘milky coffee’ in the depths of freezing winter, when we’ve finished the dog-walk.

The two young girls. I had seen them arrive a few minutes, before – with their mother. She looked the very picture of care-worn but caring. It’s a look you see a lot in poor seaside towns… Morecambe has been a long time in the doldrums, but there is a light on the horizon; one begun by Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the Midland Hotel – a surviving Art Deco masterpiece.

We had the first night of our honeymoon there, in 2010, a year after its opening. Bernie is from Morecambe… well, actually, Heysham, its sister town a few miles to the south. It’s pronounced Hee-sham, not Hay-sham. She’s very particular about that, so I thought I’d better include it! We both love Art Deco, and had followed the hotel’s rebirth with a great deal of pleasure.

The new Eden North promises to make a great difference to this once-proud resort. It can’t happen soon, enough. The Eden people know what we have never forgotten; that across the vastness of Morecambe Bay lies the whole vista of the Lake District…

It takes a seed of something to bring true life back to a place or a person who has become sad… in body, spirit, career, in their home, in their life… Sometimes, you don’t know you have the power to do this until you find yourself equipped – often in the most unexpected way.

I looked at the frustrated collie and I threw the cheap frisbee again. The wind was behind me and defeated what little aerodynamic soundness it had. You don’t get much from the seafront beach stop for three quid. It had been two, but I decided to add another two ‘tennis’ balls to the bag so that we had a spare in case Tess (the collie) lost one. Her frustration with Dad had begun when we got to North Beach for her usual ball or frisbee session of sandy madness and discovered that the ball and chucker were still in the back of the departing Toyota, now too far away towards Sainsbury’s and shopping to call back. “Perhaps a stone or two?” I had said, weakly, into the betrayed hazel eyes, knowing the result…

Now, twenty minutes and five hundred yards further south, the cheap frisbee was suddenly seized by the wind and carried along the vast concrete expanse in a motion that I can only describe as ‘skittering’. Round and round it turned, whilst travelling at increasing speed towards the grassy boundary – within sight of the Midland Hotel.

The collie’s interest was renewed by this magical motion and, howling, she sped after it, only to snap her strong jaws over its momentarily upended motion and break it in two.

You don’t get much from the beach shop for two quid.

The two young girls were now only yards away from me – and squealing with delight at Tess’s antics. I turned to look at their joyous faces – full of simple happiness – and asked if they’d like to have a go… but I could see the disappointment as they gazed on the distant plastic ruin, now in two bits and still being blown onto the distant grass.

The tennis balls! I had forgotten those…

“Would you like a go with Tess and a tennis ball?” I asked, looking up at an anxious Mum still on the promenade. I smiled and waved, showing her that her lovely kids were in safe hands.

“Could we?” asked the eldest girl.

“Of course,” I said, delving into the bag and extracting one of the new tennis balls. The eldest sister smiled and took it.

“We’re on holiday,” she said.

“I’m on holiday, too,” added her younger sister, looking very proud of the fact that they were in this adventure together.

“How about you take turns,” I said, gently.

The eldest bobbed her head. The youngest almost bowed hers. Tess trotted up to her new friends, tail wagging, mightily. Things were looking up… The girls stared adoringly at the collie.

When both girls had taken a turn, the eldest offered me back the ball.

“You can have a few more goes if you like?” I said.

And that’s when it happened… The elder sister looked across at her mum and turned back to me, saying, as she danced a step, “This is the best day ever…”

I can only say that I was broken at that moment; and fought to suppress the tears that formed, not wanting to spoil their fun. That such a simple act of kindness could have brought them so much joy was so very… unexpected.

I pretended to fumble with the ball and composed myself.

“How about we have one go each and three rounds of it all?” I asked.

“That would be nine chucks!” said the younger girl, laughing at the chance to show off her arithmetic.

Nine chucks later they looked up at their mother, who was moving slowly along the prom and waving at them. She looked happy with the turn of events, though she had kept her distance.

The youngest gave me back our ball. “Thank you!’ she beamed. “We’re off to the beach, now.”

I could see the excitement on their faces at this further delight. And then I remembered the small carrier bag by my ankles.

“Do you have your beach tennis balls?” I asked, conspiratorially.

Two earnest little heads shook, negatively.

“Better take these, then,” I winked, passing them the little white bag. “Go now! Your mum is waiting!”

They danced off, but the eldest turned to wave, one final time, before they took their mother’s hand.

My own young grandchildren – two girls – live in Australia. One day when they visit, I hope to bring them to see the new Eden; and point down to where the barren concrete was; on the best day, ever…

©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.

The Light between the Railway Carriages

The light between the railway carriages…

It was one of the best analogies I ever had given to me; yet it took me years to grasp its fullness. Like any true seed of ‘spiritual’ insight, it was strong enough to lie on the rock till a little pocket of earth developed beneath – a receptive place into which it could extend its roots.

We all grow up thinking, without question, that ‘thought’ is continuous, and the basis for our ‘in-here’ existence. It may take a lifetime to see that the thought-machine that fronts our world is our own creation and coloured with our thinking and emotional history. This colouration paints ‘the’ world, making it our world, familiar in its likes and dislikes, fears and moments of courage – many of them unobserved, except by that mysterious watcher within us.

The world we inhabit is therefore the sum total of our reactions to everything that has happened to us. Many of these reactions protect us – like knowing not to put our hands onto something burningly hot; others fill us with prejudice against threats that are not present in our moment.

The ocean in which this history exists is the internal ‘field’ of our thoughts.

‘Look, there’s a cherry-blossom tree!’ We cry, imposing the history-carrying words over the raw and beautiful experience of the reality. Names are useful, but they also pre-program our seeing. Knowing this, we can work backwards if we choose, and repeatedly use the word so that it temporarily loses its meaning. We may then find ourselves on the edge of a kind of fear. Have we damaged our brain’s memory of what a cherry-blossom tree is?

Of course not… but staying within that uncertainty may teach us something.

Just seeing how the mind takes that defensive stance is instructive. If, instead of allowing that fear, we carry on with the exercise and spend a ‘mute’ few minutes next to the ever-changing perfection of the tree, we may experience the gap – the light – between the railway carriages of the train of consciousness thundering by on its eternal and dominating journey.

In those precious moments, we may see that there is a landscape beyond the noisy and flashing train, one that comes slowly into focus and reveals itself as a very different place, yet one to which we are, most certainly, closely related – since we and it are now still… gazing upon each other in a new way.

©Stephen Tanham

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

Bill and Ben?

“Stand still…” I placed the newly-found basis of a godly crown upon his head.

“I am not wearing a plant pot on my head!” To be fair, I should probably have waited until there was nobody else in this section of the garden centre, but we were on a mission. And I needed the right sized plant pot.

“No-one will ever know.” He had little cause for complaint… I’d be wearing one too, seeing as I could not have the glorious golden crown of ancient Sumer.

It would be my job to make sure that we did not end up looking like a latter-day Bill and Ben… but a little ingenuity and gold paint should do the trick.

“Well, our ‘Ben’ will be playing Gilgamesh…”

“…and Gilgamesh was called Bilgamesh in the Akkadian version of the story…”

“Wiki says that translates roughly as ‘the ancestor was a young-man.'”

“Or Old-Man-Young.” That is, in itself, and interesting name to ponder. It conjures all kinds of possibilities…

The rituals are written and in the process of being edited, proof-read and polished. The task of assigning roles, creating props and costumes has begun in earnest and April seems to be speeding towards us at a rate of knots.

I love this part of the process. We do not expect those who join us for the weekend to spend a great deal of time and money creating costumes for the characters they will embody during the rituals… but they usually surpass our expectations, and each bit of colour and detail adds to the illusion we create.

That illusion is the ‘window-dressing of the mind’… an aid to the ‘suspension of disbelief’ and a route into the collective imagination. The greater the reality we can suggest through costume, props and music, the easier it becomes to open ourselves to that Greater Reality we hope to touch through these weekend workshops and the Paths each of us follow.

The core members of the group always go the extra mile to create costumes that lend something special to the atmosphere we are seeking to create… and this time, it starts with a pair of humble plant pots. Symbolically, that is actually rather neat. The deepest and most beautiful aspects of the spiritual life and journey are always rooted in the simplest of things.

As we count down to April, some of our spiritual work will involve things as mundane as glue guns, fabric and the creative curiosity of ‘what if?’  as we try to create something beautiful and useful from the scraps and tatters of life.  And that too is symbolic and leads to another question to ponder…

What if you came along and joined us for the weekend…?

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE

Wings and little things…

Wake up, walk dog, deal with the emails over coffee… head to work. My mind wanted to be anywhere other than focussed on the day ahead, and I allowed it to wander.

I caught sight of a young man on a motorbike, convinced for a moment that it was my younger son, even though I knew that was impossible. Fifteen years a biker, he had sold the cherished beast when he was expecting his second daughter in order to buy a sensible, family car. He had done so without a backward glance or the least regret, because his little family is his world.

I probably had more regrets about the sale of that bike than he did. I knew how much he missed riding. It was part of him and lifted his spirits like nothing else… except his daughters and they will always come first. He had done the right thing and, perhaps, one day he would get a new bike. Maybe even the R6 he had wanted. If only I could win that lottery I don’t play or… Shaking off the daydreams, I arrived at work. I wasn’t looking forward to the day.

Windy, wintry weather is not ideal for playing with cold water outdoors… and cleaning humungous hot tubs and pond pumps are not my favourite jobs at the best of times. Being already soaked by the time I had finished, I thought I might as well wash the car too. It was going to rain anyway so, this time, at least, I couldn’t be blamed for the weather.

I was not a happy bunny, but while I was outside freezing, a pair of red kites wheeled low overhead, then soared and tumbled in their mating dance.  As I looked up to watch, I saw the resident wren hopping around in the rose bush and noticed the new growth of leaves. There was even a flower bud swelling, for all the world as if spring had already been and gone. My friendly robin began our daily conversation, sitting close to me on the fence and singing, leaving gaps for me to respond and imitating my calls. I still wonder what we are saying to each other, but I can’t be insulting him as he comes back every day for more.

Once more indoors, I laughed with my eldest son as nostalgia brought a tear to his eye as he heard a theme tune play. It was one of those tunes that have so many associations that you could never unravel them and pinpoint the reason why it moves you so. But it does, and the shared  moment means you do not need to ask.

Then there was a call from my younger son who needed a lift. I had been planning on calling there anyway to see my granddaughters. The eldest did not notice me arrive and her face when she looked up to find grandma watching her was a picture. The younger one is all eyes and mischief as she discovers the world and is a delight. We went out into the garden, so they could play on the  trampoline, and I watched them collapse into giggles together. I left them to it after a while and they played while I watched from the warm, talking to my son’s partner and reminiscing.

It was odd, but we were both of us thinking about the little ones eyes. She has her father’s big, brown eyes and we were both carried back to a hospital ward, nearly ten years ago now, when those eyes moved all who saw them, as he watched over his elder brother, who was fighting his way free of the coma in which he had been left.  The memory of those eyes and that smile will always haunt and move me.

Eventually, I packed my son and his gear into the car for the lift to his workplace. As we drove, we saw the first daffodil in flower. There was a buzzard on the fence at the side of the road and a heron in the grass. And my son had a note in his voice that I hadn’t heard there for a long time.

I realised that the bitterly cold day, in spite of the pall of grey clouds, had produced its own kind of sunshine and magic. It was a day of little things, as most days are… each one so small that alone they might hold no importance, but together they create something greater than the sum of their parts. Where I had begun the day in a state of frozen gloom, I was now happy.

Joy is a state of being rather than a state of mind… and that stays with you, underpinning all the moments and emotions, happy or sad.  Happiness is seldom a lasting emotion, for all we are encouraged to chase it and have come to see it as something to which we ought to be entitled. It is just the peak of the mountain… and it is all uphill until you reach and can enjoy it, knowing that it will soon be all downhill again, until you climb to the next peak.

I was keenly aware that the more open you are to the world, its small gifts and the people around you, the more peaks you are likely to see. The valleys in between then become no more than a time to catch your breath, and the contrast that allows the golden moments to shine. The unpromising beginning had become a string of golden moments, each one almost insignificant on its own, yet together they were magical and changed the whole feeling of the day.

My son had been saving for a long time. His leathers are musty with disuse, his helmet is mildewed and the ‘new’ bike needs work… but the look on his face as he wheeled out the R6 was priceless.

“I’ll take it straight home.”
“The long way?”
“No…” he sighed, “straight home.”

I watched, from way behind and through rather teary eyes, as a very happy young man disappeared into the distance, making an ‘unexpected’ turn… and taking the long way home.

Happiness lets the heart spread its wings. It comes most often from the little things in life… the everyday things… from moments shared and speaking eyes. I dried mine and drove home, smiling.

Getting there…

January…and the clock is ticking down to spring. Work that has been going on all year  now changes gear. It began in earnest last year, with a research trip to the British Museum to see the art and artefacts of an ancient civilisation that was at least the equal of Egypt, but which is less well known today… Sumer.

Over seven thousand years ago, long before the pyramids were dreamed of, the people who would become the Sumerians settled in Mesopotamia. Their culture was rich and colourful. We know that music and the arts were of great importance to them…and their city of Uruk, home to up to eighty thousand people at its height, was the centre of their world.

Gilgamesh ruled in Uruk almost five thousand years ago and his story passed into legend and thence into myth. It comes down to us, echoing through the ages, as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is regarded as the earliest great work of literature known to Man. The earliest version we now have was found in Nineveh. It was already ancient when a scribe named Sîn-lēqi-unninni collected the tales and wrote them down, over a thousand years before the birth of Jesus.

The story, though, is not ‘old’ in anything other than age. It tells of the adventures of the king, a story in which he is both villain and hero by turns. It is a very human story, though the gods of old walk through its pages, and although it can be read as ‘no more’ than a myth and an ancient curiosity, it can also be read as a representation of a human journey through life to the dawning of a greater awareness.

It is a magical story, wholly relevant to any seeker who has set their feet on a path towards self-development and a wider consciousness. It is also a story that resonates with our own time, where we encroach upon the natural world with little respect for its life and purpose.

The art and craftwork that we saw at the museum was beautiful and delicate. Tiny cylinder seals, intaglio carved and small enough to be worn in a ring, roll out scenes of gods, animals and starscapes.Jewellry of pure gold rests, fragile, on tiny springs so that leaves and flowers tremble with every movement. Ancient texts in cunieform, possibly the earliest form of writing and one of the greatest achievements of Sumer, tell forgotten tales…  It was a good place to begin and we left the museum aware that the text we would use for our April workshop sprang from a great civilisation with a deep understanding of the workings of the human mind and heart.

But, no matter how early you begin, the last few months are always against the clock as so much must be put into place when we begin to have an idea of numbers. This year, we know that once again, people will be converging from as far afield as Europe and the US to meet in a village in the Derbyshire Dales. Thousands of miles will be travelled between us as our various wheels turn and we head, from many different directions, to that central point of meeting.

It is easy to compare those diverse journeys to the greater one we have all taken as we come together at this point. Only a few who will be attending are Companions of the School, and we have each taken very different spiritual paths towards this moment in time. There are those who have followed a Shamanic path; there are Qabalists and one who refers to herself laughingly as a witch… yet who lives the life of a priestess of the old ways with all her being. There are ritualists and those who simply follow where their heart leads; Rosicrucians and mystics, Druids, housewives, magicians and scholars. We have all walked our individual paths alone, some have also studied with other groups and schools, some tend the hearthfire and many still forge their own way towards the goal we all share.

So what brings such a diverse crowd together, to share the adventure of a weekend workshop? That there will be fun goes without saying; these events are always a time of laughter. There is friendship of course… some old, some still to begin. Some are ‘old hands’, for others this will be a first time and a first meeting face to face with those only known through the ether.

Yet beyond the smiles and greetings there is something else at work. Each of us, from our own unique place in the great tapestry of life, is seeking a common understanding of something we feel to be greater than our normal human consciousness can fully grasp. We each have our own vision, our own guiding light… we may call it by many names, or know it only as a vague yet insistent pull at the heartstrings. Yet the further you walk along your chosen path, the less the details matter, you see only the light that floods both the paths and the space between them… and that light is the same.

This year the workshop takes us back five thousand years to the great civilisation of Sumeria. In exploring a world long dead, walking with the shadows of an ancient land, we are not harping back to the ‘olden days’ or hankering after times gone by… we are taking our own minds and placing them in an unfamiliar frame, where our perspective can shift. From fabric and gilding an illusion is born and, as within a dream, the illusion holds its own reality while it lasts. A ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ allows us to walk within that illusion and, as with a dream, what remains when we wake may cast the glow of understanding on our path.

We are holding up the jewel of being and letting it refract a thousand rainbows from many facets… and in those moments we may catch a glimpse of their colours. Such a moment does not bring the kind of knowledge that can be learned from books, nor the understanding of conscious thought, though these too have their place alongside what is learned through experience. What is reaped from such gatherings is no more than a seed… yet a seed may contain a tree, and a tree a forest. At the end of the weekend, each will take from this time out of time something unique to them alone which we hope will serve to shed a mirrored rainbow on their own journey.

As the wheel of the year turns towards Beltane, the time of renewal and Union, our gathering too will seek in the dark flame of a shadowy past a light for the future and perhaps move a small step closer to that greater Union between our human selves and that spark of Divine Fire that glows within every heart.

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Full details, cost and booking form are available by clicking HERE