Reality TV?

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It’s full of trivia and artificial things; things which have arisen in the name of entertainment. Everywhere you look there is a stream of mindless celebrities willing – some would say desperate –  to eat tropical bugs to give themselves a chance of being famous, again. It reminds me of a sad film I once saw called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”.

There are also some of the best and most informative documentary programmes we have ever seen. Such a mixture, and, as usual, it’s a matter of personal choice – and a bit of effort…

Television. It’s changed a lot since I was a boy… Perhaps not all for the better. But it’s not the purpose of this blog to complain about the ‘box’. We are all entitled to our leisure time and to choose how we spend it. To me, there is a sense here of a ‘race to the bottom’ about a whole layer of modern entertainment. This seems to go hand in hand with a view of life as a comic strip, where there must be good guys and bad guys and violent resolutions. Superhero movies don’t help. The truth is complex. Resolution of problems always involves compromise. There is no black and white.

How about considering the humble TV in a different way: as a reflection of the mind and human consciousness, it’s an experiment that opens up a set of parallels that are fascinating.

The TV shows us a flat screen that our minds have learned to convert back into our native 3D. With a well made drama programme that we can be ‘lost’ in, the experience is a good approximation of being there. Children can be traumatised by scary TV programmes. Adults sometimes forget the degree to which they cannot separate it from reality. Only later in life do we see that the ‘scare’ can be switched off inside ourselves, but only if we ‘pull back’ from the flat screen experience and deny it its imaginative power. My wife still can’t and hides her face behind a cushion with really scary films…

In ‘switching off’ what appears to be present lies a mystical parallel. Can the television teach us to do the same thing with life, itself?

I’m watching a bunch of gym-obsessed twenty-somethings flaunt themselves on an island in the sun. The women are blonde and beautiful; the men shaped like Greek gods… But their conversation could be from a junior school. The whole thing is entirely artificial. I mutter under my breath and switch it over. It’s a documentary about plastic waste and what we are doing to our oceans. I care about this, so I sit down and watch, clutching my cup of tea. This is real… and painful. I wish the perfect sun worshippers were watching this, too. We could us their energies…

Can we, in life, switch over channels? To do this we have to find the equivalent of us being on our comfy chair and watching the TV. This is entirely possible and is one of the basic techniques that we teach in the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

We need to, literally, push the world away from our eyeballs. Sound crazy? Well, the reason the world is painted on our eyeballs is that we identify with what we see. Like the child with the television, we can’t see the screen and ourselves at the same time. By developing this dual consciousness – which is the work of only a few months – we  can begin to watch our own life as though it were a screen. In fact it is a kind of screen, one on which we project much of our existence. We see this as happening to us, but, really, we are happening to ourselves. At least at the mundane levels of life.

Once we begin to penetrate the understanding of the ‘world as television’ we can start to look for the truly real…. and that is a very different journey.

©️Stephen Tanham

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

A Bibliomantic Tale V…

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Borth-y-Gest from Portmeirion Beach

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 “We have Take-Off!”

Resignation

“One-Nine-One, or One-Nine-Two?”

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No 3 (Light)

‘Suddenly the world

Cracks, the phallos

Slams home, slams the ineluctable stroke.

And the universe splits, the touched-off tinder,

Fired by that blazing torch

Detonates all the tamped and pounded down empacted intensity.’

– William Everson

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“I think we were all surprised by that reading.”

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“We’ll save the dark reading for back at the Hotel.”

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No 2 (Dark)

‘How long they lie each never knows.

This prayer, their one worship. A worship

Learned in the years. For youth leans on them:

They are getters of children: known much and have suffered.

In the deeps of the soul have ached for each other,

Accepting suffering…

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And now in their night

They know the incarnational join: body to body

Twain in one flesh…

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Out in the night the River runs.

– William Everson

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to be continued…

 

A Bibliomantic Tale III…

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The Great Orme: summit.

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Tee minus One-Zero hours and counting…

“Pages Four-Four and Four-Five.”

“It’ll have to be Nine.”

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No 9 (Light)

‘I saw that God never began to love us… We have always been in God’s foreknowledge, known and loved from without beginning… We were made for love.’

– Julian of Norwich

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“I mean, I know they’re designated Christian Mystics, but some of these don’t appear to be talking about the Christian God at all.”

“Not the exoteric Christian God at any rate, Julian was a woman. She wrote in the medieval period, hence the pseudonym.”

“A mystic and a woman, I’m surprised she survived.”

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No 8 (Dark)

‘God is nearer to us than our own soul and God is the means whereby our Substance and our Sensuality are kept together so as never to be apart.’

– Julian of Norwich

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“Last time I was here we walked up, the Orme, and work unearthing the Bronze Age mine had only just commenced.”

“Substance and Sensuality could easily be applied to both miners and archaeologists.”

“Let’s go take a look at what kind of job they made of it.”

*

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“Well, looking at it from this distance, I’d be bound to wonder whether or not our, previously regarded as both ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’, forbears had discovered the art of ‘fractal mining’.”

“If you mean, in marked contrast to the ‘war on earth’ that our ‘civilisation’ currently propagates, I’d be inclined to agree.”

*

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“Shall we explore further?”

“Lead on, Mole, lead on…”

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“Now we’ve gained the ‘heart of the earth’…”

“Gained, or were gifted…”

“…It may be time to take another reading.”

“Pages One-Nine-Nine and Two-Zero-Zero.”

“Let’s start with One.”

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No 1 (Light)

‘Faith is certitude in existence. I think mysticism professes this. It is the mystic’s faith which enables him to transcend quotidian consciousness… The prophet takes over where the mystic stops. The mystic is ascent; the prophet descent.’

– William Everson

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“And we’ve just come from the top of the headland!”

“I may have to look up ‘quotidian’.”

“It has to do with days.”

“Approaching the Ancient of Days.”

“Possibly, go on then, give us the shadow…”

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No 2 (Dark)

‘Before the Pill the primacy of procreation in the sex life was so overwhelming that it had to be repressed, placed under taboo, strictly confined to the married state with enforced ignorance of its dynamic mechanism, because of the responsibility for the fate of children. The sex act could only be implied in legitimate expression. The explicit was confined to the pornographic and sold under the counter. With the invention of contraception in the modern world the taboo was softened and we began to get fairly explicit renditions, but there was nothing like amnesty. Not until the invention of the Pill was mankind’s apprehension sufficiently relaxed to feel safe with spontaneity.’

– William Everson

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“Okay… That’s thrown me.”

“We are deep in the body of the Mother.”

“That’s true, but I think the quotation only holds for modern man.”

“Expound.”

“Spontaneity was afforded our ancestors because they still possessed maternal community.”

“It’s an interesting thought.”

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to be continued…

Beheading the Rose – The Mystery of St Valentine

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In a plastic bucket beside the counter sat a dozen roses, each one individually wrapped, slightly faded, but with their heads held firmly erect in the stiff plastic. Each one would doubtless be bought and, given their garage location probably as an afterthought, along with the milk and petrol, and taken home to a loved one as a token. For many, that would be the extent of their expression of devotion for another year. For many recipients, it would mean the world. It was a sad sight.

On the 14th of February, across the western world, florists, jewellers and chocolatiers make a commercial killing as lovers and hopeful romantics celebrate St Valentine’s Day. Few of us are immune from interest in this date. Some pay court and show their hearts to a loved one, some stand firmly in the camp that sees the celebration simply as a money-making scam, while many believe that one day a year should not be the only time love is shown to another. Whatever stance you take, the chances are that you have a strong opinion about the day.

We know little of either St Valentine or the origins of the celebration. The legend of the saint seems to be drawn from three separate lives, all sharing a remarkably similar dénouement. In all three, the good Valentine is held in captivity and heals the sight of a blind girl, impressing his captor, whose daughter she is. Some versions go on to say that the man converted to Christianity after the miracle, smashing pagan idols and freeing slaves. Another story says that Valentine was arrested for marrying Christian couples and preaching his faith… both illegal activities in the early days of the Church. Even so, it is related that he earned the respect of the Roman Emperor Claudius… until Valentine tried to convert him too. In the typical fashion of such stories, the saint refused to deny his faith and suffered the threatened fate… he was stoned and when this failed to kill him, was finally beheaded.

The date of his martyrdom became his feast day… and the day when, for some reason, we choose to celebrate romance. Valentine eventually became the patron saint of beekeepers as well as engaged couples, happy marriages and love, and he is called upon to help fainting, plague and epilepsy. He was never officially canonised by the Church, but became a saint by popular acclamation and so was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969. His religious feast day continues to be kept locally, while the legend of his name is celebrated worldwide, with probably few knowing or caring about the reality or the origin behind the custom.

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For a long time the general consensus was that St Valentine’s Day was a convenient replacement for the pagan rites of Lupercalia. The name of the god, Lupercus, derived from the word for ‘wolf’ and he equated to Faunus, a Pan-like shepherd-god, whose image once stood in the Lupercal… the cave where the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome. The rites were ancient, probably pre-dating Imperial Rome, and connected to the fertility of spring. It was not an uncommon practice to supplant such ancient festivals with something more palatable to the Church, allowing traditional celebrations and holidays to become approved holy days.

Another theory ascribes the romance of St Valentine’s Day and its association with courtly love to Geoffrey Chaucer, suggesting that the customs described in his 14thC Parliament of Foules are part of that work of fiction, rather than the more ancient customs they appear to be to the reader. Yet a third explanation looks no further than the old belief that it is in mid-February when the birds choose their mates. The concept of joining together might come in through the pagan rites but whatever the truth of the legends or the origins of the festival, there seems little to inspire our devotion to hearts, flowers and romance in either a beheading or the earthy rites of a fertile spring.

Looking a little deeper, though, there is something to see. We begin with a goat-footed god, representing the inner workings of the forces of Nature that sustain life. Then, tracing the modern concept back to the medieval idea of courtly love, we come upon the idea of ‘noble love’… a more spiritual concept of romance than we understand today and one that needed no consummation, but was, instead, a source of inspiration. In truth, however, such noble love still sought something for itself, if only approval. Then, in the story of Valentine, we have a man to whom the love for and of his god was dearer than life.

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Perhaps we do St Valentine’s day an injustice when we dismiss it out of hand; perhaps too, with our rosily romantic gifts and gestures, we are seeking to express something inexpressible, in the same way that a child might deck itself in mother’s lipstick and gauds, reaching towards an adulthood it does not yet understand, but can dimly observe.

From the immense forces of Nature that drive life to perpetuate its vehicles, to the incredible, beautiful complexity of how her systems interact and entwine with each other in an inextricable embrace, the world around us speaks in a physical language of love. We can understand that dance… we too are physical creatures and part of that design, subject to its forces and compulsions. Although we have, over the past few centuries, preferred to see our animal nature as something base and to be escaped from into some airy realm of sanctity, we cannot, while we are in the world, escape the truth of our every atom. And why should we try? Is not Nature a more beautiful and intricate system than anything man could hope to create? The interdependency of all life on our planet speaks to me of love.

The idea of the courtly love that inspires, seeking nothing for itself, but only to find expression in art, deed and devotion… that speaks to me of a higher aspect of the same forces. The compulsion is the same as that felt by the stag, rutting in the forest, yet Man has choice and free will, the ability to raise his response to those same forces and act beyond desire and self interest.

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St Valentine’s choice took that one step further, if looked at literally; laying down his life for his beliefs in an act of principled sacrifice. With such a hazy set of stories, though, and ones that are echoed in the hagiographies of the saints and in our myths and legends so many times, it is entirely possible that we were never meant to take the stories literally. Undoubtedly they stood as examples of faith to the faithful, but regarded symbolically, they may be conveying a different idea… especially when the head is seen as the seat of the human personality… that of offering the egoic self to a higher ideal.

It may be that the love we know as human is a beautiful but pale reflection of something greater that we are, as yet, too small to know, but which sows the seeds of understanding, giving us a chance to learn to love without grasping or seeking to hold what must be free… letting us perceive a shadow of something greater that runs through the universe. The Sufi poets write of the relationship between the Lover and the Beloved, speaking of a journey that encompasses the whole of manifested creation and yet which can be travelled only within the human heart, using the language of earthly love to shadow forth that Love which is a oneness with the One. The feast of St Valentine may have more to reveal than whether or not someone will send us roses.

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Images from the Codex Mannese, a medieval songbook produced in Zürich in the early 14thC.