From Beneath

Photographs are meant to be taken from above, except….

Except when they’re not, and there’s some compelling reason to take them from beneath.

Often, I walk the collie in the early evenings. It’s impossible in the winter, except with a flashlight; and then you get strange looks. But in spring and summer, you can still find strong evening sunlight – full of golds – emerging from hedges and shrubs in patterns that often resemble diamonds.

(Above: hidden glories beneath the foliage; and a matching ‘orb’ to boot!)

My favourite; easier than finding the fragmenting light, is to simply insert myself beneath several layers of the leafy canopy and point the camera upwards… as in the image above.

(Above: the ‘ghost’ of what is beneath)

Sometimes it’s not what’s there, but rather the ‘ghost’ of what is there within the suppressed rays of light – its shadow… If you’re lucky, you might get the moon, too.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Game birds?

buzzard-1

They’ve been tormenting me for weeks. Every morning as I drive to work, the buzzards line up on fence and hedgerow along a three mile stretch of the A41. It is a stretch of road where there are few places to legally or safely stop and I know every one of them. The buzzards appear to do so too. “Buzzards as big as bears”, wrote Stuart after they had attended our journey to Glastonbury a few weeks ago… and they appear to be when they are looking at you as you drive past, frustrated by the traffic and unable to stop.

Every day they have been sitting where they knew I could stop and grab a photograph… except on the days when I had the camera beside me. On those days, they infallibly choose to park themselves at spots where stopping is impossible. The herons have been doing it too. So have the kites. Only the robins have been their usual obliging selves. Until yesterday.

red-kite-1

The buzzard flew in just as I was approaching the one place to stop. On any other morning, I would have been obliged to sail on past and sigh…but the schools are closed for half term and the roads were quiet enough for a bit of sneaky manoeuvring. The buzzard did not seem too pleased about having lost a round in our ongoing game. Usually, they win every time. I still missed the heron a mile down the road… Then, lo and behold, a couple of hours later, I got a red kite too!

The thing is, you don’t really get a sense of the size on a photo. These were snapped rapidly from relatively close quarters and they look as if they could be pigeon-sized…but they are huge. The buzzard looks bigger and bulkier… but although a full-grown adult will weigh about the same, the red kite is by far the bigger bird with a wingspan around as wide as I am tall.

buzzard-2

The other part of the game is that you will never see them if you are looking for them, even when you know their regular haunts. Camera or not, even if you only set out with the intention of keeping your eye open for buzzards, the world is a buzzard-free zone.

The kites are usually soaring overhead, at least down here in the south, but buzzards could be as rare as unicorns if you are scanning the sky and hedgerows for them. They only appear when they choose. Which makes every sighting a gift. It is always a reminder too that some things cannot be expected, only accepted gratefully when they fly into your life.

red-kite-3

Heroes in a Landscape (1) Arrival

(Above: the splendid setting of the Castlerigg Stone Circle – but it didn’t look like this on the Friday!)

It’s a method for uniting a group of people to a common purpose. It’s a technique for ‘washing’ the immediate environment and dedicating your effort to the highest motive and energies. It’s a wonderful way to align yourself to your immediate surrounding, teasing out that sense of really ‘knowing’ what’s around you – especially in a landscape as beautiful and powerful as the English Lake District…in spring.

We can call it ceremony. Modern psychology, recognising its value, named it psychotherapy and psycho-emotional journeying. For thousands of years, it has been known simply as ritual and, once you remove the populist rubbish from around its edges, there lies revealed a beautiful and empowering use of the human mind and emotions.

The best example of ritual I know is the simple hug. It has rules: the touching of bodies is proscribed in a certain non-sexual way. The hands grasp the other in a gentle embrace, and the heads align so they don’t clash. The duration of the hug and, indeed, the distance of the other person, can be adjusted according to the level of personal trust involved. A hug carried out with loving respect is a powerful and uplifting thing… It’s a wonderful ritual.

Like many ‘mystery schools’, we use ritual. But only when appropriate. The greater part of our ‘communion’ with the landscape on the Journey of the Hero weekend was simply walking and taking in the fresh green delight of spring in northern Cumbria. When we did use ritual, it was powerful…and in some cases, created there and then to adapt to the specifics of the landscape of beauty around us.

The idea for the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop began shortly after Sue Vincent’s death, a year ago. Keen to signal that the Silent Eye would be continuing its work, despite her sad loss, we came up with the idea of adapting the core of Joseph Campbell’s book; ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ into a three-day event that would reflect the Lakeland spring’s splendour, using the hills, lakes and even rivers of the region to provide a series of delightful challenges for our group of ‘happy adventurers’ – as Stuart named them.

(Above: the 1949 edition of Campbell’s groundbreaking book. Wikipedia)

A happy and wonderful bunch they turned out to be… But the weekend was to challenge us all in ways not always foreseen. The idea that the organisers were actually in charge of events in the underlying hyper-myth: life itself, was to prove deeply amusing…

Campbell proposed that all the world’s myths and fairy stories followed a common theme; a kind of ‘meta-structure’ whose building blocks were the skeleton on which each detailed journey was mapped. We wanted to use this structure to find synergy in the landscape, rather than an actual story. In this way, we would be more focussed and more in-tune with the beautiful places in which we wandered. He proposed the name ‘Monomyth’ for the underlying meta story.

The Monomyth contains the following stages;

1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.

2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.

3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.

4. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials.

5. Allies sometimes assist.

6. As the hero faces the ordeal, they encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.

7. Upon rising to this challenge, the hero receives a reward or boon.

8. They return to the ordinary world, empowered to act in a higher way. The world gains much from their renewed presence.

(Above: the Tarot Card ‘The Star’ from the Paul Foster Case deck)

While I concentrated on the locations and the vital timings, Stuart was busy crafting a method whereby the above stages of the Monomyth could be emotionally linked to their sequence. He proposed the use of the Tarot cards – that ancient method of both ‘divination’ and, more importantly, perhaps, the use of ‘active imagination’ to take us into a series of meditative states that reflected the Hero’s journey.

(Above: The ever-present Skiddaw mountain)

We were to begin, on the Friday afternoon, with the famous stone circle of Castlerigg, a ring of large stones at least five thousand years old, set on a natural plateau surrounded by some of Lakeland’s tallest mountains. Simply standing on that plateau is an act of magic, as nature quietly invites you to contemplate and share the reasons for the existence of this remarkable edifice.

(Above: Lakeland most famous weather – heavy rain!)

As we approached on the busy and fast A66 road, the skies began to darken. By the time we arrived at Castlerigg, we were in the middle of a full-blown Lakeland downpour… showing no signs of stopping.

It began to look like the ‘ordeal’ stage of our Monomyth was going to be thrust upon us ahead of schedule…

To be continued in Part Two.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Orderly and aligned

(Image by author)

There’s an old aphorism in the field of teaching mysticism: that if you endeavour to do something of significance; something that requires careful planning and even more careful resourcing, then you will be surprised how ‘testing’ the ‘final approach to the event will be. Moreover, the difficulties thrown at one may- humorously – be taken as a reflection of the event’s importance.

(Above: Castlerigg Stone Circle in its magnificent north-Lakes setting)

The word’s ‘final approach’ are borrowed from the art of flying a plane. As a much younger man, I did have ‘private pilot’ flying lessons; about fourteen hours of them in total, nearly enough to do my first solo flight – a big moment in a trainee pilot’s life… Sadly, we set up a software company at that point, and I didn’t have the time to dedicate to anything other than commercial survival…

I remember those days of flight-training, well. I learned a lot about how focussed pilots have to be in those last few minutes – then seconds – before the wheels hit the ground, hopefully together and in an orderly and aligned way. My instructor had a great sense of humour and those words of his stuck in my memory.

The same is exactly true of running a mystical workshop – any workshop, in fact, that requires acres of planning and ‘what if?’ testing.

(Above: the town of Keswick, seen from the shores of Derwent Water)

In theory, the Silent Eye’s ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop, centred around the beautiful town of Keswick in the northern part of the English Lake District, was ready to roll about a week, ago. All the proposed walks – along lakes, rivers, ridges and mountains, had already been rehearsed and timed. The written material for our opening and closing ceremonies at the wonderful stone circle of Castlerigg had been examined and fine-tuned.

The only thing that remained was for me to design a new language…

(Above: the shores of Derwent Water)

J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of ancient languages, and once designed the whole Elvish language so that the books comprising the Lord of the Ring trilogy would be founded in an actual spoken tongue. My admiration for this knows no bounds, especially since I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to create an infinitely simpler language of ‘gesture’ so that we can carry out part of the workshop in complete silence…

It’s part of a series of ‘triggers’ that, with the right sense of place can induce the ordinary rational mind to have a rest and let the whole of our being come out to play. For hundreds of years we have lived too much in one side of our minds, and much damage is being done by this. The high goal of the Journey of the Hero weekend is, in some small part, to extend this.

(Above: the man and his amazing digger)

And then the Fates began to have their sport…

On Sunday, Simon – a local contractor who has done wonderful things with a small digger to remodel what was once an old canal and now actually looks like a garden – called by in his pick-up truck to tell us that he was ready to start work on our new fence… the day after. The old fence having been storm-damaged some time ago. I swallowed hard. Part of the deal with Simon is that, when needed, I act as his labourer. It’s not exploitation; it’s just that he’s a one-man-band and wants to stay that way. It’s not even a money thing, it’s simply a question of time. He’s very good at what he does and works on the projects he likes and with the people he gets on with. The issue is that he’s always short of time to finish each project, and deeply appreciates my help fetching and carrying things and materials (like truckloads of earth) to his point of focus in the garden. We had waited three months to get him back, and the spring was in full riot… I had little choice…

(Above: Lakeland’s weather can change in an instant)

In the middle of his first day, with me a dirty and sweaty bundle, the phone rang, again. This time it was the company from whom we have just ordered two exterior doors to replace the low-budget ones we had to settle for when the ‘building fund’ ran out, ten years ago. This company came highly recommended and we were eagerly awaiting their arrival… just not this week. We said yes, of course, knowing that it was going to detract from the available time to ‘write that language’.

Fast forward to this morning, when, after the third 05:30 start in as many days, we were driving through a violent downpour on the M6 south, enroute to our annual checkup at our old dentists near Chorley. We liked the team there so much, we elected to stay on their books and put up with the hour’s travel when needed. I’d already allowed for this interruption to the week’s plan, but not in concert with the other two… My ‘light aircraft’ was fast becoming, in the immortal words of Johnny Depp in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘full of ‘oles’. I was beginning to lose my presence of mind.

(Above: who knows… we might even have time for an evening sail on the lake)

And then, on the outskirts of our destination, the mobile rang in the car. It was the receptionist from the dentist… frantic. She’d just arrived in, to find a phone message from her boss (the dental surgeon) to report that he’d been up most of the night with food poisoning – possible Norovirus. She knew we had driven down from Kendal through torrential rain… for nothing.

It was then that the magic happened. My wife and I looked at each other and burst out laughing; assuring the lady that it was okay; just another link in the testing chain of the week and something that could be re-arranged.

So here I am… typing away, having lost three days of my ‘finals’ week and hoping my remaining energy reserves will pull off a small miracle and deliver that ‘language of gesture’ before we leave for Castlerigg on Friday.

It’s not the first ‘final approach’ to an event that has been bumpy like this. Hitherto, they have gone well. I think I can see that small strip of safe landing space in the far distance. It’s starting to look orderly and aligned… I just hope my wheels are, too. Wish us luck!

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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 Light in the Cathedral

All cathedrals are places of wonder…

Whatever your beliefs, the sheer scale of the construction, the devotion of effort and vision – often spanning centuries – humbles us as we struggle to take in the vastness of their creation.

Chester Cathedral is no exception but it does have an additional quality that I’ve not found when photographing similar buildings. – the softness of the light.

I’ll be doing a blog dedicated to this deeply peaceful place, shortly. For now, here’s a few photographs…

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Enduring Magic of the Stone Jetty (1)

(Above: the Stone Jetty as it is today. Simpler, but deeply loved. Across the bay you can see the outlines of the Lake District hills. Image by the author)

The great Victorian steamers that used to take excited day-trippers across Morecambe Bay to glimpse the still distant splendour of the Lakeland fells are gone.

(Above: looking back at Morecambe from the end of the Stone Jetty)

Much later, old and tired ships would be chained to the north side of the industrial dock and broken up for valuable iron; to be re-smelted and given new life via giant and ‘satanic’ furnaces in Salford and Sheffield.

(Above: The Stone Jetty (right) during the time of Ward’s ship-breakers; a very industrial landscape. Behind and to the right you can see the old Midland Hotel (replaced by the present Art Deco building below) and the terminus of the Midland railway that gave it its name. Photo courtesy of New Morecambe and Heysham Past and Present Facebook Group)

The space at the start of its length was large and open, and looked across at the terminus of the Midland Railway – the reason that Morecambe could attract so many visitors in its heyday.

And then, in the course of a the decade of the 1930s, not long after the end of the ‘Great War’, in an age when the well-off were intent on enjoying themselves, two wonderful things happened to the bleak and largely abandoned Stone Jetty.

The first was the creation at its landward end of the new Midland Hotel – an Art Deco masterpiece known across the world.

(Above: the Midland Hotel as it is today. Photo by the author)
(Above: facing the sea and the Stone Jetty, the ‘mighty Midland’ hotel retains its Art Deco charm, courtesy of the recent refurbishment. The hotel now forms the start of the restored Stone Jetty. Photo by the author)

The second was the opening of Morecambe’s state of the art ‘Super Swimming Statium’ – a giant pool that had a record-breaking capacity of 3000 people.

(Above: the Super Swimming stadium – showing the vast number (3000 max) of visitors it could accommodate. The Stone Jetty is behind and to the left. Photo from New Morecambe and Heysham Past and Present Facebook Group)

Time passed… and the hundreds of thousands of visitors who flocked to Morecambe during the industrial ‘wakes weeks’ dwindled. Cheap flights and guaranteed sun drew families to spend their precious summer holidays in Spain. Morecambe suffered, badly. To this day, its promenade, though popular for day-trips, still holds a fraction of those of its Edwardian heyday.

The Super Swimming stadium is long gone, as is the much smaller ’Bubbles’ pool that replaced it. The Midland Hotel thrives, newly restored by developer Urban Splash and now owned by English Lakes group.

But the Stone Jetty remains. Simple and enduring, stretching far out into one of England’s most beautiful marine landscapes, it retains a special magic born of time, endurance and something special that no-one can define. These days it simply sports its spectacular views and a small cafe half way along its quarter kilometre length.

But, a few times a year something truly magical happens…

At certain high-tides, the sea appears to rise up and nearly engulf its structure. People flock to experience the remarkable ‘peace’ as the high-water laps quietly around its concrete and stone.

(Above: people begin to gather at the ‘end of the pier’)

People begin to gather at the end of the Stone Jetty. Everyone is quiet, as though hypnotised by the feeling of the place…

(A couple reminisce…)
(Above: Fishermen seem uninteresting in their fishing, content to just be here)
(Above: the ocean becomes a bowl of glowing light, perfectly reflected in the mirror-smooth sea)

At moments like this, I feel a new perspective emerging, one that takes us from the grime of the old ship-breakers to the splendour of nature and the potential of Morecambe Bay to fascinate and enchant, I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey though the Stone Jetty’s past and present.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

#StillLight : Night then Day

A simple grouping, photographed, then post-processed to look like a painting. The spring beauty of night and day.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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

Aligning with Gods

When we encounter the word ‘Gods’, we think of entities related to ancient views of the world; of ages before science threw the ‘definitive light’ of repeatable and numeric method onto our subjective experience of the world. In other words, we think of an outdated symbol system; one that describes natural events, and which seemingly lost its relevance to modern man a long time ago. Mankind came to define itself by reflections of the ‘without’ – such as wealth, and stability, rather than what was ‘within’.

Until the advent of modern psychology, we lived in a world that was fixated on the fruit of the senses, with no thought to how we as ‘selves’ experienced and related to it.

After the pioneering psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, we began to have a picture of the inner landscape that had some significance, instead of the random and meaningless flow of sensory impressions – plus the mysterious things called dreams. The psychologists recognised that this sense of ‘me’ had some validity; moreover, it had a structure, one shared by us all. Our inner architecture had rooms… Together, these rooms made up a mental and emotional construct we called ‘self’. When we act, we act from within this self. It has likes and dislikes, fears and triumphs,

(Above: The Silent Eye’s mystical enneagram; a map of the ego’s potential to take us home)

In Freud’s model, which is often used as a foundation by those studying the interior paths to a ‘deeper self’, the regular ‘daytime’ self is divided into the (1) the lower passions – unruly and energy filled; (2) the image of perfection, such as a child might inherit from a stern church; and (3) the daily self (ego), whose impossible job was to mediate between the two, managing excitement and guilt while maturing a strong sense of being the ‘captain of the ship’.

Superimposed upon this were the elements of character, variously indicated and interpreted by systems such as astrology and, latterly, the findings of developmental psychology expressed in the mysterious figure of the enneagram; and historically related to the esoteric Christian work of the Desert Fathers, who mapped mankind’s highest ‘Christ’ potential to the lowly state of the average personality, and showed the latter’s weaknesses, yet linkage with the original nine deadly sins. These included acidia: the turning away from spiritual purpose, perhaps the most deadly in the face of much-need alignment.

All of these encouraged us to examine our inner lives, where we find not only psychology’s broader ‘containers’ but also encounters with certain archetypal figures – first pointed out by Jung – that appeared to correspond closely with the cast of ancient mythology – the Gods, heroes and heroines.

Those interested in the esoteric ‘mystery traditions’ were the first to point out that this was no coincidence; that the visualisation of such Gods were, in fact, examples of early teachings designed to take us on active imaginative journeys of ‘inner workings’ – landscapes loosened from the grip of the material in such a way that our consciousness is free to explore other realms of our interior, and literally ‘meet up’ with that which was trying to reach us from ‘within’.

(Above: the hour-glass, two worlds and a narrow channel. Image Pixabay)

We can envisage two worlds, set in an upper/lower relationship like an hour-glass, in which the sand grains glide through, vertically. To change the relationship of the worlds, we turn the glass over… a similar state to that of the Hanged Man in Tarot, who, though apparently sacrificed, is smiling…

(Above: The Hanged Man Tarot card)

These symbolic systems are reference maps to states of consciousness. For example, the Tarot card of the Hanged Man corresponds to one of the paths connecting the spheres on the Tree of Life (see below). On one level, it’s just a cleverly painted and striking image. On another it’s a place we live in when we are on a particular journey.

(Above: The Kabbalistic Tree of Life – a truly cosmic symbol)

To be on that journey, we need to have a longing for reality…

This may seem a strange notion. Surely, we already live, firmly, in a reality? Well, yes and no. We do appear to live in a physical reality, but what of our interior one? Does that offer us the same stability of existence and purpose? And what about those ‘rooms’ that divide the ‘self’ into id, superego and ego? We may find we need to understand ourselves at the level of the everyday self, or psyche, before we can use that as a start-point for a journey into the beautiful interior world that appears to be much bigger and real than we had thought. This doesn’t mean we need to be psychologists; just that we need to borrow a few of their well-worked notions to help us on our way.

The mystical enneagram will give us the rigour to work with our psyche, showing us how our outer characteristics are closely related to deeper and more spiritual layers of ‘us’, and requiring us to strip away ideas and attitudes that are detrimental to that journey.

(Above: The Silent Eye’s mystical enneagram; a map of the ego’s potential to take us home)

Once we have a clean foundation, the Tree of Life is there to show us a journey to a different Self, one that lives with the Gods and has always done so.

The Sufis would simply say that our one task is to look for love and the bestower of that love – the Beloved. In this task, no map is necessary, since we can always determine if we are closer this day than we were the day before, by how we feel. The work of that path, as with the enneagram, is to remove the obstacles to love.

Each of these systems, and many more, are the ways to align ourselves with something higher within us, and to make that a way of life rather than an idea which will soon fade. The intellect of the modern age is a wonderful thing… but it won’t take us to the Gods.

Only the whole of you can do that.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

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