The predator within

blood moon 010

“Don’t worry…”  “It’s probably nothing…” “I’m probably just being daft but…”  How often do we hear words like these, keeping a bright smile firmly glued to immobile faces as fear strides in and starts clawing at our entrails? We recognise fear at those moments, we know its name. It is uncompromising, blatant, uncaring of our fragile mask of polite pretence. We want to act, do something… yet nine times out of ten we are shackled by circumstance, powerless to do anything at all except sit and wait, hoping, praying that the fear is groundless.

There are the fears we call worry that stalk us, like feline predators, silent and sure footed, circling ever closer while we are frozen, eyes locked on those of the beast, waiting for attrition to render us helpless, prey to our own imaginings and anticipation.

Sometimes it feels like we are being slowly gnawed, nibbled away from the ground up while we are chained in a dungeon of other fears… all our attention on the teeth that bite, not seeing that the chains we believe hold us are illusions, wisps of smoke born of unnamed terrors we refuse to look at.

Fear, in all its guises, is a dreadful thing to feel.

Of course, it has its uses. Fear was a very early part of our evolution and served to keep us alive in a hostile world. It still does… though we may not be running from a sabre-toothed tiger, we are beset by physical dangers we barely even notice, being so conditioned to care by our fears at an early age. We don’t consciously fear crossing a quiet, village road… but we still check for the truck that could squash us.

We are very conscious of the ‘big’ fears… and are acutely aware of those which are ‘lesser’, though they may not feel that way when they have you in their grip. They do not have to be reasonable to be painful and punishing. Anyone who saw Jaws when it first came out will probably have thought twice about sea bathing regardless of the fact that the chances of being a victim of a shark attack are one in 11.5 million, whereas one in ten thousand will die of flu, which we regard as a misery rather than a danger.

Fear can be useful in keeping us alive. It is, after all, what evolution designed it to do…protect us from danger. With our complicated lives, however, those primal fears have mutated and gone underground, taking us by stealth like an assassin in the darkness of our minds and emotions; silent, deadly and with little warning or chance of escape. We are conditioned by our own inner ninja.

These fears are more insidious, very difficult to pin down and understand; elusive shape-shifters that are so good at changing their outward appearance that they can be as difficult to see as the wind… we see them only by their effects, when they ruffle our branches or slam our doors. They clothe themselves in other guises, pretending to be things they are not… a fear of flying that is more likely the fear of crashing, a fear of dentists that may be the dread of pain, helpless at the hands of another… and they are just the simple ones.

What of the fear of death? Do we fear death itself… or what might come after? Is it the fear of hellfire, or the loss of our own identity… the ‘who will I be if I am not I’? The fear of commitment that may be the fear of losing control… or of being left alone again. The loss of status, things acquired that show who and what we are… yet mask the true fear that we are not. The layers of fear are so intertwined with our individual experience that they may be impossible for another to unravel completely, triggered as they are by unique combinations of events and experiences. Rather like making a cake. The same basic ingredients, varied infinitely by proportion, skill and the inclusion of flavourings.

It is said there are only five basic fears: extinction, loss of autonomy, separation, mutilation and ego-death… and that all can be attributed to one or the other, or a combination of these. When you think about it, in spite of our seeming multitude of fears, they all fit within these frames. The thing is, we seldom do really think about our fears, we react to them, allowing them to lead us blindly, often preferring to accept the apparent fear than to look beyond to the true root cause. In their purely physical terms they are easily understood, justifiable in the evolutionary attempt to secure survival. Yet they are far more insidious at the emotional levels.

Extinction… worse than just dying; ceasing to be. It is, from the level of our consciousness, unthinkable. Autonomy… powerlessness… to be restricted, subject to the will of a force beyond our control. Separation… utter aloneness, abandonment, exclusion… no longer a person. Mutilation… the loss of self-image through physical, emotional or social damage. Ego death… shame, dissolution of the image we build for  and of ourselves… leaving us unfit, unworthy, unloved. These fears, unrecognised, unseen, affect almost every corner of our lives, shaping our actions and interactions.

When you look at them from this angle, all the emotional fears lead back to one thing… the way we see ourselves. Yet, just as the fear that makes us run from a predator can save our lives, or pain alert us to a potential problem that needs to be addressed, so can these quiet, insidious fears be used to show a way forward. Our fears may stop us falling off a cliff top, but they may also hold us back when adventure beckons. Every good sword has two edges.

Our fears give us something to learn from. They are signposts that we can read, following their trail and finding their lair. As with many things the fear itself may be far more intimidating than the cause, bigger in appearance than in actuality. A mouse wearing giant boots and leaving a false trail.  Finding the mouse can be the beginning of an adventure, a voyage of discovery. Unravelling the tangled web we may face our fears, one by one, measuring ourselves against mouse or monster, and finally learning to see who we really are… and who we might become.

flowers moon 020

A silver cord

Untitled

As soon as I was considered old enough to wander alone… a ridiculously young age by today’s standards… I would knock on the doors of the various elderly relatives that lived within a stone’s throw of home or school. Their doors opened onto another era that to my young eyes qualified as the ‘olden days’. There would inevitably be a cup of tea; none of your new-fangled tea bags or ‘gnats water’, but the rich mahogany brew that seethed in perpetuity beside the flames of the range. If I was lucky and timed it right, there would be a slab of fruit cake topped with a slice of tangy cheese or perhaps a curd tart, or we might toast a teacake in front of the fire on the toasting fork and I would sit and listen, fascinated as the old ones spoke of their lives.

Between my great-grandparents and their siblings, I was lucky to have a window on a bygone world, yet it was a window with a heart and a voice… and it told stories. I heard tales of the long hours in Victorian mills where they had worked as ‘bairns nobbut as big as thee, lass.’ Of how their schooling had to fit around their working day and of the dreadful accidents and conditions in which children had worked within living memory… this memory, the one that paused to take a sip of their tea before leaning back to continue. I heard too of first dances and maypoles and Christmas stockings that were rich if they held an orange. Of traditions and forgotten legends… and of wars and national rejoicing and mourning. I learned history in a way no book or museum could teach.

Sometimes we went over to Castleford to see my maternal grandmother’s family. Not so many mills there… but I would seek out Great Uncle John on his allotment filled with dahlias and he would tell me some of the lore of the coal mines and of the pit ponies who lived their lives in the darkness of the mines, even then. The last working colliery horse was brought out in 1999. I heard him tell how dangerous the job still was, for man and beast and saw with my own eyes the coal dust embedded in his pores that was never to leave him… it had filled his lungs too.

And when, as was inevitable, their ranks gradually thinned, I attended their funerals, paid my respects to them, one by one, laid out on the parlour table in their coffins. The families gathered. I was a child, but there was no thought back then of protecting children from the reality of birth and death. I was ten when I helped deliver my little brother. The women gathered…these were women’s mysteries, a domestic magic of sisterhood that took no thought for age or youth.

Contrary to the opinion of many today, I don’t think for a minute that it did me any harm to be part of that. Far from it. I not only learned history, I learned to value people and their individual stories. I learned that I was incredibly lucky to have been born into a time and place where I was allowed to go to school and learn for a few hours a day and then be free to play, to be well fed and warm and sleep in a bed on my own instead of with half a dozen others. So I learned gratitude too.

mill lass

It was only many years later that I realised I had learned something else; the old ones had enjoyed sharing their stories. They had enjoyed the company. Most of them were old, infirm and seldom left the house any more… in short, I realised that many of them were probably lonely and glad of a visit from the blonde urchin who usually had to remind them whose daughter or granddaughter she was. It didn’t matter… I drank in their words with the dark tea.

I was reminded of all this when I read an article on loneliness and its negative effects on both personal health and well-being and its greater impact on society, employability and even survival. Further research highlighted some of the links between loneliness and poverty. It makes interesting reading and raises a lot of questions.

Our society is so much richer than the world that our grandparents and great grandparents knew. To our children, even the era of our parents fits the term ‘olden days’… a far off memory of an almost unrecognisable civilisation. While technology and the sciences have advanced by leaps and bounds and our daily lives are full of gadgetry even the science fiction writers might have dismissed as far-fetched, some things have not changed for the better.

We are a mobile society and in search or upward mobility we have moved away from the towns and villages where our families have lived for generations. Families are spread across the globe in a more fragmented way than ever before in history… individual family units break down and separate with tragic regularity and relationships seem to bear the heading ‘disposable’ all too often.

I remember years ago a TV ad campaign encouraging people to check on elderly neighbours, offer to run errands, bring food or get the house ready for winter. It highlighted the isolation that can come with age and marked me enough to stay with me all these years. Back then I lived at the heart of a large and close-knit extended family… it was never something I thought could happen to me. But the world has changed and it could happen to any of us.

The support network that would once have honoured our old ones and cared for them has foundered in very many cases and, between that, the reduction in relative income and the very gadgetry we may fall back upon in solitude to fill the silence, we become an increasingly isolated society on a human level, while ironically being able to stay in instant touch with the virtual world and family members in the furthest reaches of the globe.

And we are losing the stories… the human thread that is woven through our lives from past to future. Our TVs and computers flicker in colour and capture our attention… We might even be watching programmes on history. But once our attention is captured, we don’t sit and listen to each other very often, even to those we might live with, let alone the elderly who ‘take so long and repeat themselves so much…’ Yet theirs are the only eye-witness accounts of our history that we will ever hear first-hand; theirs the silver thread in the tapestry.

There is the well-known concept of the silver cord that connects body to soul in life, remaining in place until death, just as the severing of the umbilical cord signals our entry into life. I have to wonder how much of the richness of life we are losing in our isolation from each other… how much our children… and we could learn… and how much nourishment the heart could draw from the silver thread of story woven by our ancestors… even those who still walk amongst us.

Star-gazing

Andromeda Galaxy: Pixabay

I was awake far too early again this morning. Moonlight wandered in and dream-filled eyes looked out. The sky was still dark and the stars were hidden behind cloud and mist. I had been half awake for some time, thinking about stars… and that state on the edge of dream holds some strange concepts. The thoughts were not new… are any thoughts truly original? I wondered how many human beings have paused on the edge of slumber to consider the stars that wheel overhead every night, unregarded by most of us, most of the time.

I wondered about stars. We know there are planets… suns… galaxies… billions of the things twinkling away up there. To us they are just ‘stars’ most of the time. We assume we understand them to a certain degree, knowing what they are made of. Yet does that mean we really know what they are?

I thought about water. H2O… everybody knows that. We all know what water is and how it is made by two hydrogen atoms waltzing with an oxygen atom. We know what it looks like, feels like, where it comes from, what we use it for, what we need it for… but do we know what it actually ‘is’?

Every culture, every people, even any writer who has touched on these things, has created their own mythology of the stars to explain their nature. Long before telescopes and spacecraft we already ‘knew’ what the stars were. They were gods and heroes, mythical creatures… the souls of the dead. They were angelic beings or divine lights in the sky. They were, in my somnolent state, the souls of the departed, rainbow fragments of being awaiting rebirth…pinpricks in the map of heaven that let the Light shine through, showing us that there was something beyond the world we live in.

I suppose I wasn’t questioning the nature of the stars as much as the nature of reality and how the time and place of our birth on history’s pages colours our perception and understanding of that reality.

In this era of science and fact, of wondrous discoveries about the natural world around us, I wonder if we have lost something of the magical landscape our forefathers knew? Were they closer to the true nature of water, perhaps, when they saw it as sacred? By knowing the chemical composition of water and its cycle we are able to understand its physical nature, it is true, and it enables us to see clearly the impact our own species is having on the world for good or ill.

But perhaps we are no closer to understanding what anything actually ‘is’? I think we just like to comfort ourselves with the labels of knowledge and call it understanding.

Just think about it a moment… what are you? What am I? Are we simply the bodies we inhabit and in which we move through the inculated reality of the world? Are we more… or less… than our thoughts and emotions, aspirations and dreams? Behind all those there is that indefinable something that is ‘you’ and ‘me’… that unique and unfathomable ingredient that makes us all different. Even identical twins raised together have their own unique note in the symphony of life.

Perhaps reality is simply whatever we believe it to be? Most of the time, we would never question why o if an apple is an apple, a wall just a wall. Indeed, as children that incessant ‘why’ is often silenced with an exasperated ‘It just is, okay?’ and we cease to ponder reality, simply learning the rules by which we can move through its observed parameters the same as everyone else, agreeing a reality by consensus.

The odd thing is that as soon as you begin to question the true nature of the smallest grain of sand it throws everything else into question and possibilities emerge that bring the magic back to life. You have to wonder if our very acceptance brainwashes us into blindness, so that we fail to see the marvels and mysteries hidden in plain sight in a world we think we know.

The mind wanders odd pathways in that somnolent stare when the body sleeps while the mind is wakeful. Through mine, a phrase from an old ritual meandered, seeming to make an abstract kind of sense… that we are ‘the marvellous seed of the stars’. The image that rose in my mind was one of a wondering beauty and if we create our reality ourselves, I think I’m going with that one.

Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

The perfect teacher?

When the student is ready, the master will appear.

This saying is often quoted both by and to those who walk a spiritual path. All too frequently, it is said with the kind of supercilious air that implies that the listener is not yet ready… and further, that they are in the presence of one who already knows more than they ever will. The early stages of any path are littered with those who like to think they have walked much farther than anyone else.

The trouble with that is how it devalues a principle that is, in fact, true… though not necessarily in the way the seeker might think.

A few envisage a numinous being descending in glory to reveal the inner secrets of the universe to them alone. Many expect to simply meet a person or group who can guide them, or point them in the right direction. For most of us, though, it is not even that… it is a thought, a book, a glimpse into a moment that changes our view of the path we have chosen and sets us on our way. It can be the smallest thing and its magnitude is seldom immediately obvious because it is so different from anything we thought we expected.

The clue, though, is in the proverb; the master will appear. Not from out of nowhere, in a puff of smoke… when the student is ready, the guidance they need becomes visible to his eyes. It may always have been there, indeed, there is a teacher within, just waiting for the question, but without everything he has learned on his personal journey, the student is simply unable to see it for what it is.

There is one teacher we each experience every single day. It illustrates many of the most basic beliefs upon which we have founded our complex religions and our personal faiths. It may be from observing its ever-changing face that those beliefs arose in the heart of Man in the first place.

We have only to look at the planet we call home, in all its beauty and order, to see the origins of wonder. From the rising of the sun that chases away the shadows, to the seasons of the year that lead from youthful spring to sere winter… and on again to the rebirth of spring. From the harvesting of what was sown, to the precise perfection in the design of any living organism and its place in an endless, cycling chain. There is a perfect teacher there for all of us.

If you look at the incredible design of body, leaf or crystal, even at the most minute level…and then consider how everything we know works in harmony, feeding from, nourishing and reliant upon other links in the endless chain… apart, perhaps, from humankind’s behaviour… you cannot help but marvel at the scale and perfection of the design.

Accidents, mutations and evolution, say the scientists.

Really?

Am I suggesting that there is a bearded old guy on a throne somewhere, compass in hand, drawing up plans for creation? No. I don’t discount the scientific explanation at all. But I do see it as just that… an explanation of what is and most scientific explanations are little more than descriptions of the mechanics of the physical world.  It doesn’t mean it is entirely correct… how can we, a species that is a mere blip on the face of evolutionary time, expect to fully understand the whole process of creation? Nor does it mean it is incorrect… as far as it goes. Accidents and mutations are certainly part of the evolving design… but that design is too vast for us to see in its entirety.

With the intricacy of the interwoven strands of the physical world before our eyes every day and the dance of the  heavens above us at night, little wonder that humankind percieved Intelligence behind the design. From there, it is but a short step to see the basis of beliefs such as reincarnation, karma and the survival of the soul played out upon the body of the earth. Nor is it difficult to see perfection in action.

It is worth considering. When the student is ready, the master will appear. Maybe all we have to do is open our eyes.

 

Here and now

The problem with living in a downstairs flat is that there is no upstairs. This may sound obvious, but when you have lived in a house almost all your life, with an upstairs, you tend to forget. Many times I have grabbed my camera to head for the upstairs windows, only to realise that the couple who live up there might, possibly, object to me barging in unannounced every sunset and dawn.

My home is on a roughly east-west axis. Just sufficiently ‘off’ to mean that in summer, I can watch the sun rise from my pillow without needing to move. In winter I see the dawn through the garden doors that are, inevitably, already open for the dog.

Sunsets are a bit more problematic. The curve of the houses in my street and the rooftops opposite my kitchen window block most of my view. I get only the spreading colours as the light fades… which is where the upstairs would have come in handy. A little more height and I could see so much.

Yet, as I stood on the doorstep tonight, watching vivid pink and gold soften the sky, I realised how lucky I am to be able to watch the day begin and end, in glowing colours or beneath a pall of roiling clouds,  every single day. City dwellers seldom see much of the skyline and, when work takes me early into town, I miss the dawn as it hides behind the rooftops.

It may be natural to wish for things that are seen, but just out of reach or it may be the way we are conditioned by our society from the earliest age to aspire to ‘something more’. ‘The grass is always greener’ and all that…  But all that happens is that in looking beyond what is to what could be, we shift our focus away from the moment in which we stand and fail to appreciate what it offers. Not only that, but we create dissatisfaction for ourselves, a pressure for change for the sake of change and the stress of always chasing an illusive and elusive ‘something’ that we hope will be better than what we have. How often do we truly look at what we have in gratitude, not with some indefinable yearning?

Does it really matter that I see ‘only’ a sky suffused with colour and not the whole sunset? I could change that… a walk to the fields would give me an unobscured view, but it would take time and effort… a commitment and an active choice. Wishing alone will not get me from here to there… but I need do nothing at all to be here and now.

Every day is different, every dawn and dusk offers new wonders… and it does not matter at all where I am or where I stand. It matters only that I look up and see it as it happens.

Time traveller

nick north days

As the first lightening of the sky separates silhouettes from the blackness, the temperature plummets and cold floods my body. I can feel its bite and the reactive crisping of muscle and sinew as I huddle into my coat and my hands seek the warmth of pockets. Breath clouds the air in front of me, parting to let me pass as I walk and streaming over my shoulders. The smell of wet earth and leaf-litter has an illusory warmth of its own and an early bird lifts its voice in song as I walk round to the village shop in the pre-dawn darkness.

December… and there are fairy lights in the trees, sparkling with a promise of things to come. Gradually the village will fill with them and the night will become a wonderland, for now, the bare branches of one winter tree are decked with pinpricks of blue. Even so, the sight of these few lights in the darkness flood me with a sense of excitement as potent as when I was a child. Although I walk in the silence before dawn, it is the teatime dark of a winter afternoon, with the shop windows of the city reflecting light and colour onto pavements wet with snow-melt. Tall people cast their shadows as they rush by. The noise of traffic and voices and a chestnut seller touting his wares, the pungent smell of charcoal and toasted shells warm the air as I hold tighter to the hand that is both safety and guidance. I am five and we are going to see Santa’s grotto at Lewis’s in town…

I am in Schofield’s, where a young mother works on the haberdashery counter. Grandad has taken me into town and we call in to see her. She is showing me a painting on the wall of the store. She is going to buy it and bring it home. She is not really a Christian, but this portrait of Jesus speaks to her of courage, resolution and serenity. It will remain on the walls of our home for many years and define my image of Jesus.

Painting by Warner Sallman
Painting by Warner Sallman

The lady makes clucking, soothing noises as I cry for my Mam. I am tiny, very tiny and the lady lifts me up easily and stands me on the counter in Woolworth’s. I’ve lost my Mam and I’m scared. Really scared. A man in a uniform comes and they whisper. I just want my Mam. I see her white face coming and cry even harder. She picks me up and hugs me. Then scolds and smacks my legs… not hard… and hugs me again. She’s crying too. The vision that looks out of the child’s eyes sees that she is little more than a child herself.

The five minute walk to the village shop takes the hours of excitement, anticipation, comfort and abandonment that the child once felt and now feels again as memory slips back to incidents long forgotten by the conscious mind, following a chain of associations that the mind can only observe but could not have deliberately constructed.

It is surprising how little it can take to lift our presence out of the present and into a memory so pristine and intense that we feel it with all our senses, even while the senses are busily engaged in the work of the moment. Our presence exists in both the now and the ‘other’ and we have effectively travelled in time to a moment that no longer exists and yet which is filled with sensory and emotional impact. Somehow we experience the moment in exactly the same way that we did once upon a time, yet we also observe it from within with the mind of the now, even while we walk through the now itself.

Where are we when we go back in memory? When are we? The body is doing what it does in what we call ‘now’, operating almost on autopilot as if the thing we call ‘I’ is no longer present, yet perfectly conscious of what we are doing… rather like leaving a foreman in charge, capable of making necessary decisions but not authorised to act on behalf of the boss. Yet we are not ‘back there’, even though we re-experience a moment that was then as if it was now. We observe, even though we can see through those younger eyes. We cannot alter those moments or affect the outcome. We cannot act, only relive.

The only action we can take at such times is to observe and possibly learn more from the reliving by seeing through the eyes and mind of an older, and hopefully wiser, self that has access to a wider knowledge… a ‘bigger picture’… and can therefore look on with more understanding than the child it once was.

Where are ‘we’ at any moment, if time and distance, holds no sway in the realms of mind? Not even death holds meaning in memory as we walk again hand in hand with loved ones long dead and feel their warmth. The body that ages can still be a child, the dead can walk and events long over can be not just replayed but relived. ‘We’ are not the time, the place or the body… we stand within them at will or at the whim of a chain of associations and both live and observe their passage and their mark. Perhaps we are more than we think…

A matter of time…

P1160237

I watched the sun go down tonight from the roadside. For once, the camera had not come with me… I was just driving to the shop and didn’t pick it up. Even so, I cursed myself for leaving the camera as I saw the huge, golden orb shot with crimson reflected in the rearview mirror. Too late to turn and go back, the sun would have gone by then but maybe, just maybe, I would be home in time…

No. Halfway home it was evident I wouldn’t make it, so, camera or not, I pulled over to watch the setting glory of an autumn day.

It took only a couple of minutes for the last of the blue to fade through a rainbow of colour to a molten sky, aflame against the silhouetted trees. Almost as if the sky was clothed in the colours of the School…I couldn’t help but smile.

It was the speed of those final moments, though, that struck me. In the space of just a few heartbeats, dusk became sunset and night swallowed the earth. The change came with incredible swiftness and was complete.

It made me think how fast our little planet is spinning, unnoticed by we who live and breathe her air. Hurtling through space around the sun at around seventy thousand miles an hour, rotating on its own axis at around a thousand miles an hour at the equator… and we are so habituated to that movement we never notice. Yet, we get motion sickness in a vehicle.

Our eyes and brains process light that hits a speed of six hundred and seventy million miles per hour…and we don’t bat an eyelid at that constant miracle. Our field of vision seems infinite. Even I, short-sighted as I am, think nothing of glancing up to say hello to Orion,  capturing in my gaze light which left the nebula nearly one thousand, three hundred and fifty years and nine trillion miles ago, to meet my eyes tonight. Some of the stars I see no longer even exist. Yet I have trouble getting to grips with things when I speak friends from ‘the future’ in timezones across the world. Odd, isn’t it?

We live our lives against the backdrop of the enormity of time, yet it often seems that all we know can change in a heartbeat. A single moment, a scintilla of time, and life can be transformed, becoming unrecognisable, both for better or for worse. It can be a small thing that changes a mood, moving a day from sadness to joy, or it can be the bigger events that upheave a lifetime.

Just like the movement of the earth, we often don’t even notice how these changes begin. Or even at all. Sometimes we think we can trace them back to a particular and pivotal event, if we look but it is hard, if not impossible, to untangle the skein of a lifetime. The further you try and trace an event’s beginning back to its roots, the more apparent it becomes that you cannot do so, for each event is dependent in some way upon the ones that preceded it and brought you to that point in time.

We cannot alter past events and the future is unscripted… which leaves us with now, this moment, this scintilla of time, in which to change our worlds. And we do so. All the time. And don’t even notice.

I deliberately took time to watch that sunset. It is something that happens every day, something that has happened over my head nearly twenty-two and a half thousand times since I was born and which I seldom consciously take time to watch. I have to ask myself how many of those days of my life I have missed, simply by taking them for granted and not drinking in each moment in full awareness of the possibilities they hold, not living with a passion.

Tonight the sky was a rainbow veil that turned to a sea of molten gold. And I never want to take that for granted again.

Vexed by the Tribe 2 – the fabrication of complexity

Image © copyright Stephen Tanham

We’re visiting relatives. It’s friendly. We have a light meal and some cake to follow. But then someone mentions Brexit and a cold frost descends on the room…

My wife and I bite our tongues, knowing our hosts are firm believers that Britain’s post-colonial destiny lies in a renewed ‘Little England’ reborn from some poster of decades ago. Until my wife’s uncle says, “Besides, the EU isn’t democratic..”

If you know her, you can hear something snap. She leans forward to take another piece of cake and refreshes her tea from the beautiful Royal Albert tea service. “Who is your MEP (Member of European Parliament), Uncle Norman?” she asks.

“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t bother with that sort of thing,” he says, wrong-footed by the lack of the simplest fact. But the question was designed to show that the EU is as democratic as it’s possible to be… It ‘s just that Uncle Norman can’t be bothered to invest even that much effort in what it’s trying to do – what it has done, very successfully, since Europe emerged from the ashes of World War II.

But none of that matters. Nor does the fact that Vote Leave – the organisation behind Brexit, has just been fined the maximum possible for electoral over-expenditure. The mere twenty thousand pounds is a tiny expense to the billionaires who want to jerk Britain out of Europe so they can make even more money in a less regulated world.

The exchange is typical of a vicious polarity that has divided Britain down the middle (52% to 48%, plus or minus the fraud). Towns, counties and families find themselves on one side or the other of the great divide. Everyone knows something vast is happening.

Some people find it exciting… ‘It’s time for a change..’

Other people understand history… and manipulation… and don’t.

But all the above is just me expressing, as honestly as I can, one side of that polarity.

Someone on the ‘excited’ side of the equation will tell you that Britain has been ‘shackled’ by the EU (our main trading partner, and supporter of our poorest regions) for decades and that vast, new trade deals will be available to a plucky and rejuvenated England.. sorry, Britain… Donald Trump is excited about Brexit. He’s publicly stated that he has his eyes on our National Health Service…

It’s too late to change what Brexit has done to Britain. But it’s not too late to examine the fault-lines that led nation, industry and families to be ripped apart. In my opinion, this is critical, since we are being manipulated on a scale never seen before – and the Tribe is at the centre of it all.

In Part One, we looked at how an approach like that of the famous psychologist Maslow, could be used to explain ‘Tribal’ influences being preyed upon by political strategists seeking to implement radical changes in our political systems – leading to increasingly authoritarian governments within the western world.

Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs diagram’ Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is reproduced above with an explanation in Part One. The pyramid diagram below is my own attempt to create a schematic for what I see in Britain, and also what seems to be happening in the USA. See Part One for the details.

We face an ultimate choice of society: the Tribe or the Individual

Western civilisation has taken a long curve to get to where it is today. Its ideal, at least until recently, has been freedom for the individual. The freedom to live a life as we each choose, supported by a state which offers a balance between individual effort and financial return, is central to this ethic. But, when 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the people, something’s going to break.

The old industrial regions of the north and midlands of England and the American ‘rust belt’ have a lot in common. They are both examples of peoples with strong backgrounds – and self-belief. Their identity is related to the landscape in which they live, the hard jobs they have traditionally done and the family values they inherited. Such people (and I am from the north of England, so this is not said negatively) have a strong ‘Tribal’ presence, in the way I described it in Part One.

Their anger seeks expression. They are fed up of buying into an economic system that has left them behind; fed up of political rhetoric that forgets its promises the minute the elections are done – because it never had any intention of honouring them, once it had won the vote.

Success, measured by the human heart, is hard and never quick. It takes a long, considered view and cares.. Anything less is someone else’s agenda for more power.

But people believe in instant fixes – given the right hero. So, when there comes an opportunity to give the system a kick in the teeth, they take it…

I cannot speak for the USA, but it is certainly true in Britain. The ‘will of the people’ (one of the new hypnosis words) arose and kicked out the villains… or perhaps not. What did happen is the ‘will of the people’ was cleverly manufactured by people who understood that the world had changed, but not that much; who understood that the twin powers of social media and good old-fashioned hatred of ‘them’ could be harnessed beneath a flag that promised ‘freedom’.

Tribes have flags. What could be easier in a complex world?

Even before Britain reaches the ‘final, final’ departure date from the EU (the last day of October, 2019), Britain’s car industry is in crisis… Companies like Nissan, General Motors and Honda, who had made huge investments in Britain on the basis that it was a civilised and educated ‘gateway’ into Europe have done or are in the process of doing what any business would do. There is no longer anything ‘too big’ to fail in the world of global business.

Complexity can be manipulated to thwart maturity

Which brings us face to face with the behaviour of the Tribe. I am born into a Tribe. Our individual, ‘private self’ goal is to break through this, taking what is good from our Tribe, but claiming our freedom to follow our own path… a path that may see us diverge from that taken by the unquestioning Tribe. This is the core dichotomy of the world to come: can we mature beyond the Tribe to real and powerful individuality?

That may be the most important question of our age.

The bullies – the aggressive ones with guns or equivalent, discard the facade of democracy and proclaim the time-consuming processes of real consent as ‘weak.’ All authoritarian regimes reject the individual quest. This should be sacrificed, they say, for the collective.

This is the cross of Socialism, whose fundamental lack of fit with ‘today’s’ world is individual, not collective, intelligence, despite its admirable and caring values. But political identities are constantly evolving…

I know the world of ‘Tech’ well. It used to be called either computing or technology. I have spent most of my adult life in this sea. Tech has become a force of power in politics because in allows massive reinforcement of what the Tribal values are at any time.

The most potent power in the Tech world is the ‘Like‘ button. I don’t need to worry too much about the working out of something if I like its colour. I don’t need to worry about the truth of what someone said if it is associated with an advert for my football team. If my favourite things weren’t there, it would be a harder medium to be in. And so, those of great intelligence have placed before me what I may easily like. In so doing, I can be linked to those of like mind… and lied to. I will not question it, because my friends are there…

All of these ‘Tech’ processes were used in both Brexit and America’s presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica, a UK company, pioneered the use of ‘extracted’ social media data to achieve the results their customers wanted. The results are history…. and our present.

In sport, when someone cheats, their gold medal is taken away. In politics we shoot the drug that gave them the advantage and leave intact the sport’s result.

All of this is summarised in the diagram below. Which show how our real maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is easily manipulated to exclude the ‘common man’.

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

Modern complexity is being fabricated. Education could be used to illustrate the lies. The effect of 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 both nationalism and populism, and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

We still have the choice as to what we belong. We can belong to the values of our Tribe and be safe: “Well, we all did that…” Or we can belong to the truth, and seek it out with all our being. It is real, it has power, but it must be embraced, loved and understood – in a way that makes modern politics its opponent. But politics is just the will of the people, and, ultimately, though it may take a long time, that will not be fooled.

In Part Three, the conclusion of this series, we will look at the dynamics of polarity, and how opinion is not so black and white as we may think.

© 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.

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.