The Entered Dragon (1)

Like waking within a dream – or, at least, the point where the lucidity begins…

I turn my head in the small theatre, expecting others to be smiling, if not laughing. But no-one is, because no one else is here…

Just me and it…where ‘it’ is not the theatre.

The curtains part and what I knew to be behind them takes centre stage. Leathery pads, soft on the well-trod wood, make a sliding sound as it turns to face me. The eyes are glittering, but not as much as its breath, gathered to strike in elongated curls of superheated air.

The redness is appalling. So filled with force, so intimate…such a deadly embrace.

At its feet is a long, metal object – a spear, shaped in a very modern way, with a thick shaft at the back, full of mass and purpose, tapering to a tip so fine you can actually see the point at which its material ends and the menacing presence of ‘nothing’ begins.

The crimson creature shuffles forward, its walk a deliberate caricature of panto.

The glittering breath hisses, “Your move, surface child…”

To the hoots of its laughter, I force myself to a waking dominated by an even, thin film of sweat on all of my skin.

——

Increasingly, I read that we ‘live in an age of evil’. The state of the world’s politics is close to turmoil. Dictators dominate nuclear states and elections are warped from near and far by digital manipulation. The elusive ‘man in the street who can’t be fooled all the time’ is, sadly, absent. The drums and revenues of war are more important than the deaths of the millions of children crushed in its wake.

Perhaps they have a point; those who proclaim evil is with us as never before – evil armed with the power to finally destroy the world?

It’s a striking feature of the technological age that we don’t talk about nor believe in evil as a real thing – a real force, in itself. And yet, for most of the world’s history, that’s exactly how it was viewed. Today, we may adopt the maxim that evil is simply ‘the absence of good’. Hitherto, I might have agreed with this, but the ‘New Age’ dismissive approach to evil has, in my opinion, been shattered by the acceleration of dark deeds as we race towards the victories of ignorance on a grand scale.

But deep considerations of such things have a home, and the word for that home is ‘psychology’. As a lifelong mystic, I may feel that psychology fights shy of embracing spirituality. It seems frightened of losing its respected ‘ology’ and remains detached and clinical, treating our deepest contacts with a creative source as just another interior experience. And if you use the language and precepts of psychology, itself, you would find this hard to rebuff.

It is only when we dare to take up and trust the poetry of being that the walls begin to shake…

There is, though, a branch of psychology that dares to deal with evil; that declares that our turning away from an active ‘dark force’ within us costs us dearly – as individuals and societies. The science of such encounters was created by Carl Gustav Jung – Jungian Psychology. Most people have heard of it. Many know of the wrok of

Jung was a contemporary of Freud, the most famous of the 20th century founders of modern psychology. Freud gave us the Ego and Superego as the first structures of the ‘psyche’ – the internalised sense of self, the ‘me‘. Beneath them, he placed the dangerous powerhouse of ‘inner self’ and named it the ‘Id’ – literally the ‘IT’. From Jung’s perspective, Freud was obsessed with showing that the sexual force was the driver for the Id. Carl Jung accepted the existence of the Id, but set out to show that its power and expression was far more sophisticated than just sex. Even then, Jung had glimpsed the place where historic evil entered the life of mankind, if the whole of the psyche – ‘the whole of me’ was not understood and given life… The imposed societal pressures of the Superego were at odds and often at war with the needs of the complete human.

Our everyday experience as a ‘me’ is dominated by an ‘in-here’ and an ‘out-there’. During the day, we are bombarded by sense impressions, and, in secondary fashion, by the responses to those. Such responses can be physical (such as pain or pleasure), or psychological; affecting the wellbeing of our sense of self. Thus a ‘bad’ experience, like being degraded by our boss, can make us feel internally diminished or smaller, regardless of whether or not it has actually ‘hurt’ the senses.

Until the last century, no-one thought it possible to create a map of why this happened, It just did. Strong people figured out their own rules, and thrived. More sensitive people didn’t fare so well.

But the pre-psychology age inherited millennia of reflection about good and evil. Those who embodied good were considered to ‘shine’ – attracting and encouraging others to an inner yardstick of wellbeing shared. Those from whom evil flowed would pursue their selfish aims, regardless of the cost to others, who were crushed beneath the wheels of the advancing personal ambition.

As ‘society’ became more mechanised, expanding and changing the individual’s emotional and physical landscape, the principles and methods of industrial organisation were encouraged to overtake any notion of societal good – unless it happened to be a happy by-product. There were always exceptions; the local civic authorities of the nineteenth century did much to improve the lot of the ‘common man’. Such works were often the result of ‘societies of good’ like the Quakers and the Cooperative Society in Britain. There were many more.

There is a common thread here. Today, we would say that those who pursued their own ambitions, mindless of the costs to others, had huge ‘egos’. At the time there was no such thing as an ‘ego’. Our sense of the ‘selfish-selfless‘ balance at work was simply an expression of the evil or the good. Poor people of any age of mankind have been habitually pummelled so that they were incapable of questioning why the ruthless rich had so much more than they did…

Nothing changes until that difference in wealth becomes a living force of widespread dissent, itself, and people actually begin to ‘taste’ it. At that point the consciousness of unfairness spreads to include those who also used to be comfortable but whose own hard-working prosperity has now faded. As a man on a plane – an American – said to me not long ago, “Don’t let them tell you that the USA is prosperous. The guys in the middle who used to have a good living are desperate…”

The answers to such deep issues are often revolutionary… If we could actually see that the psychological forces at work are reflected in the whole of society, we might be able to recognise why egoic monsters can take our beloved countries swiftly into decline and why the country’s core can be polluted in a way that takes decades to redress… If they are fortunate.

In Part Two, we will look at how the work of Carl Jung and many in the mystical traditions pointed to this process of devolution, and how it throws light on the ‘awe-full’ power of the hidden parts of the ‘me’, singly and collectively.

©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.

Tango in the key of sorry

As the years pass, I continue to wonder at the marvel of human communication, and the sadness of how little we use its potential…

The world appears to be full of conflict and strife. But much of it is happening at the psychological level. The Trump era in America and the Brexit ‘civil war’ in the UK were both fuelled by similar (if not the same) media barons, but they continue to feed on two common elements of human nature – hatred and anxiety; in most cases related to things that were not present.

The power of fear plus the well-placed myth of taking back control are a potent brew… and a complete lie.

This lowest state, in which our desire for real interaction with those of other opinions drops to zero, is easily kindled in people who have limited awareness of the complexity and interaction of modern societies. The populist dictator always sows ‘his’ seeds among the weak-thinking, the people who believe in black and white solutions. But that state of mind is driven only by despair at their own situation.

A wise and enduring society ensures that, though there may be layers of prosperity, no-one is in that lowest position of helplessness.

For good or ill, our societies have evolved into enormous machines of interrelated complexity. All attempts to disengage with internationalism are doomed to the same sad death – costing the inhabitants of the country decades of repair in wealth and reputation. In many cases our societies may never enjoy the prestige they had, before.

But to blame the car which has just driven into a line of innocent people, where the bodies lie, broken across the pavements, is equally wrong. Complex machines require sophisticated pilots. There is no equivocation about a pilot’s science: the plane lands, successfully, or it crashes. There are no ‘alternative facts’ about whether it landed; just like there are no alternative facts about how a virus rips through an innocent and unguided population.

Populism dies in the face of such disasters… and for those who still persist with alternative facts there is, simply, no hope. They are to be shunned by the ‘healthy cells’ of the society to which they represent such a threat. The society – the ‘body’ – remembers health, and yearns to return to it. Only the routes back are seen differently.

In this deadly tango, which now embraces us all, are the seeds of despair and hope. The despair will take us all down – like the car without a driver, or a driver who chooses the fundamentalism of alternative facts over the power of the real and chooses to die in an orgy of ego.

Hope requires that, as individuals, we all take responsibility for listening to others’ point of view – no matter how antithetical they seem to our own minds. All counselling is based, first, upon listening.

There may be a ‘special place in Hell’ for those who engineered the chaos in which we find ourselves. But the greater power lies in the word ‘sorry’ – said from the heart opened with empathy.

It is the beginning of that special state that repairs a world.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a ‘school of the soul’ that offers a three-year, mentored path to personal, spiritual growth, independent of religion.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details.

The mysterious Picts… and beyond

Three questions are asked about the mysterious Picts of the Easter Ross coast of north-east Scotland: Where did they come from? What was the meaning of their wonderful art – miraculously preserved in stone for us to explore, today; and where did they go?

For more than six hundred years, between the 3rd and 9th centuries C.E., the Picts – literally ‘The Painted Ones’, sustained a kingdom running from a southern line between what is now Glasgow and Edinburgh – then known as the Antonine Wall, and the coastline of Easter Ross, north of Inverness in the Highlands.

For centuries, popular history viewed them as ‘half-crazed savages’. But these ‘wild painted men’ fought back the might of Rome’s legions before vanishing from history. They left no written records, but their culture and beliefs are etched into Scotland’s history.

(Above: a tiled mosaic of a Pictish design, outside the Pictish museum, Rosemarkie)

The Picts created intricate and sophisticated designs, which surpassed any other native art in Britain at the time. The subjects of their art varied from animals and mythical beasts to Pagan and Christian symbols; they appear to have easily synthesised the old and the new religions, and made it their own.

(Above: the beautiful beaches of Easter-Ross)

Although there are no written texts, the Picts left behind a wealth of spectacular standing stones, elaborate carvings and intricate sculptures for future generations to discover. We plan to explore several of these – and their stunning landscapes, during our weekend. We will also look at the nature of their art, and, possibly recreate something of our own using the Pictish symbol system.

(Above: Pictish Queen at Portmahomack)

The Easter Ross Pictish trail is has been established by Historic Scotland and offers a spectacular journey through a landscape which has been inhabited since the dawn of civilisation.

“Mysterious and often beautiful, Pictish sculpture presents one of the great puzzles of Dark Age archaeology” (Joanna Close-Brooks 1989) 

The Silent Eye had a series of workshops planned for this year. Due to the Covid-19 situation, these have, so far, been moved to the corresponding months of 2021.

The coming September Workshop: ‘The Pictish Trail’ presents us with an opportunity to resume our celebrated weekends of wandering and learning from the landscape…and each other.

As of the date of writing this, (22 July 2020) The Scottish government rules on travel and groups have been relaxed to a degree that will permit the Pictish Trail workshop to go ahead. Outdoor sites were never a problem. However, as of this week, Historic Scotland are relaxing their restrictions, and an increasing number of indoor locations are being re-opened.

(Above: the ferry across the Cromarty Firth will be one of the features of the weekend)

Administration of the weekend

Inverness will be our base location, due to its facilities, though much of the weekend will be spent on the coast to the north of here. We will convene on the Friday afternoon (or evening) for a visit to the first of the Pictish Stones and a shared meal. If time permits, we can enjoy a walk around the town.

Saturday and Sunday morning will be spent further north, following the official Pictish Trail along the beautiful coast of Easter Ross, and the nearby hills. We will return to Inverness for Saturday evening.

The dates are: Friday 11 September 2020 to Sunday (lunch) 13 September.

Transportation, accommodation and meals are not included in the £75.00 per person fee. Please make your own arrangements for the above, though meals are usually taken as a group, in local pubs, and the costs divided.

Should the event be cancelled due to Covid-19 issues, a full refund of the monies paid to the Silent Eye will be made.

A mainline train service runs to Inverness from Edinburgh. A small number of car places will be available from Inverness from those driving to the event. If you are travelling on foot, please ensure you have checked this availability before your departure.

To confirm your interest, please send an email to rivingtide@gmail.com, attention Steve Tanham

Optional Extension to Orkney

A small group of us are intending to continue on the Sunday northwards to Orkney, via car and passenger ferry from Scrabster – Thurso’s port. We will sail to Stromness, returning to the mainland on the morning of the 17th September. As of the time of writing, some of the previously closed centres of interest are being re-opened to limited number of visitors. Orkney sites such as the wonderful Ring of Brodgar, have continued to be available during the Covid restrictions. Further updates will be given to anyone interested in joining this. Orkney is beautiful, spiritual and unique. This is rare chance to combine two events and visit it.

©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.

Dr Joy’s Garden

Real dedication, like an enduring friendship, is a quiet thing…

I was standing, in the early morning light, with Tess, our Collie, in hand, entering a compact garden which overlooks the headland at Alnmouth. We are on a week’s holiday; Bernie and myself, her sister and my mother. In some ways, it’s our annual ‘offering’ because my mother needs a lot of looking after. She has vascular dementia, and, year on year, the condition worsens and the change in the previous twelve months becomes apparent in the everyday events of holiday life repeating themselves – but differently.

(06:30 – Our Collie, Tess, getting excited because the beach is just over that rise!)

I had taken Tess, our dog, for our early morning walk. These normally take place around 06:30, not long after the dawn . Doing this allows me to get a head-start on the day, and, quite literaly, calm myself. I return, about an hour later, charged with the morning’s dawn-kissed air, and set about the day with my ninety year old mother.

Each day, Tess and I walk a slightly different route. The small town where we are holidaying, for the fourth year in a row, is circular in its geography, though it takes a while for this orientation to establish itself in the mind. This being the case, one can criss-cross the beaches, estuary and streets in a variety of ways…

 

(Above: An eager Collie, wanting more throws of the ball)

And so it was that we found ourselves, at the end of our hour, with a cup of take-away coffee from the enterprising post office cum general store in hand, in a memorial garden overlooking the estuary.

I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before. It was as though the time had to be right… The name on the dedication plaque was Dr Joy.

(Above: Dr Joy’s Garden)

The plaque in Dr Joy’s Garden reads:

‘Dr Joy’s Garden. This fine viewing area in which you are standing was created following a generous gift to the community by respected cardiologist Dr Joy Edelman (1937-2004), a long-time visitor, resident and friend of Alnmouth

The words on the plaque touched me deeply, particularly the last phrase, ‘friend of Alnmouth’. How simple and how meaningful to be a friend of somewhere in that sense. How treasured…

(Above: Dr Joy Edelman – eminent cardiologist)

Before me was the half-circle of the River Aln in its final approach to the North Sea. The sandy curve is beautiful, and defines Alnmouth’s history as well as constraining it’s present..

There is no spare land in Alnmouth, so what there is has been in place for a very long time, and the only development possible is to replace what is already there… requiring permission not easily achieved. This town knows it is a hidden gem, and they like that status. Surprisingly few outside of the north-east even know of it’s existence.

(Above: Practically every corner of the old paths and streets of Alnmouth lead to a visual delight)

We’re in the most northerly county in England: Northumberland, a place where, historically, the royaly-appointed wardens of the North defended England’s most vulnerable border from the ‘troublesome and warring Scots’, and centuries of border brigands – ‘Reivers’ as they were known.

(Above: the town’s Information Board shows the thin spine of Alnmouth, encircled by the River Coquet)

The map on the park’s Information Board within the memorial garden, tells the story of this beautiful and largely-forgotten place. The town has only one major thoroughfare – Northumberland Street; but it’s full of beautiful and interesting buildings. We are, indeed ‘here’ on the map, facing out to the mysterious island with a tiny cross; an image that features in most visitors’ momentoes.

It was this scene, featured in an episode of the detective series ‘Vera’, that first brought Alnmouth to our attention, five years ago. We became avid watchers of the TV version of the books by Anne Cleaves, admiring how the production made clever use of the Northumberland landscape.

During one episode, we noticed an curving its estuary and an island with a small cross. Neither of us had any idea where it was. We ‘googled’ it and came here on our first holiday that summer. Every year we’ve been back. It’s poignant because these will become the memories of my mother that I will most treasure…

(Above: the seaward side of the one large street in Alnmouth)

Northumberland street has just about everything you could want: general stores, several cafes, take-away coffee stops, and several gastro-pubs. There’s also an enterprising art gallery with modestly priced prints of local artworks and a cafe.

(Above: the continuation of Northumberland Street, taken from a favourite cafe, just re-opened. The farthest point of the photo is the end of the town)

From the headland, where Dr Joy’s garden is located, you can walk in two directions. One takes you to the harbour, where a delightful hut announces itself as the Alnmouth Boat Club. I couldn’t help comparing it with the venerable ‘police box’ in the BBC’s Dr Who series; and idly mused if the club offered time-travel views of Alnmouth ‘through the ages’…

(Above: the much-loved Alnmouth Boat Club’s HQ. The passing figure of Tess the Collie gives an idea of its size…)
(Above: Beyond the boat club, the harbour teams with life)

If you go the other way down from Dr Joy’s garden, you come to two of the main features of Alnmouth: the golf club, and the long, sandy beach – one of the best in Europe.

(Above: Situated next to the beach, the Alnmouth Golf Club boasts that it is ‘The oldest nine hole links course in England. We didn’t see anyone playing there who didn’t have a smile…)
(Above: Alnmouth’s long, sandy beach – one of the best in Europe)

One of the most delightful aspects of Alnmouth’s buildings is the use of the local stone.

Northumberland County Council’s website says this:

“The predominant walling material is sandstone in shades of ochre, grey and pink, generally laid as coursed rubble, used both for buildings and boundary walls. The relatively large scale of the building stones, together with low window and door heights, enhances the small scale of the buildings.”

(Above: Taken not long after the dawn on our first morning, this shot reveals the pride in the local buildings of Alnmouth, and their conservation)

I hope this brief tour of Alnmouth has given you a flavour of this special place. Dr Joy Edelman was obviously moved by the delights of this remote haven. My mother loves it, too. In our own small way, we have become ‘friends of Alnmouth’, a quiet testimonial, like that of Dr Joy, to its tranquility and peace.

©️Stephen Tanham, 2020 text and images.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

The Summer Within

When I was a young boy, a favourite uncle, who was quite old, said to me, “You always feel young, inside, you know…”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard many times. I knew it to be true – from the look in the eyes of those who said it, despite the lines of time on their faces. But now, to experience it in my sixties, is sobering and refreshing at the same time.

In the Silent Eye, we put forward a method – really a journey – which takes each person on an individual path towards what we might call ‘a place of summer’ within themselves. The journey concentrates, initially, on what life and our choices have made of us. We look, with honesty… and sometimes grit, at what we have become. The desire for this may take place later in our lives, when the energy of youthful excess has had its hour upon our stage, but it doesn’t need to: it is appropriate at any time of life.

As children and then young people, we do not consider that the inner and outer ‘selves’ have different lives. If we are healthy, the energies flowing in the inner and outer seem to have the same exuberance. It is only as the decades pass, and aches, pains and stiffness sometimes penetrate our daily consciousness, that we begin to notice there is a two-state existence to our lives; that the inner, though often clouded by it, is not experiencing the limitations of the body in the way that the outer is…

There comes a point – somewhere in the middle of our lives, where health and flexibility can no longer be taken for granted; when deliberate, rather than spontaneous exercise needs to be done with discipline if we are to retain some degree of that youthful flexibility that makes ‘life worth living’.

This is when many become conscious of the inner life in a renewed way. In moments of deep sleep or other relaxation, they may touch on a glowing sense of presence within. This usually happens when the physical self is at rest, and the mental self is psychologically peaceful. The degree of outer and inner ‘quietness’ is important, for this feeling has a refined ‘glow’ of existence that is hard to define in words.

In these moments, we are experiencing our own soul; and the enormity and significance of this cannot be overstated. The sense of depth and calmness may be touched upon by poets, but is seldom described in ordinary writing – because it is so little known What we experience, here, lies beneath – and has always done so. Yet, it is not inferior, as ‘beneath’ usually denotes. This is beneath ‘as foundation’. Its power and lovingness exist in a deeply peaceful place, where it has been all our lives. This inner state is known in childhood, when the world seems ‘brighter’, but our rightful fascination with the outer is paramount to the consciousness that wants to ‘taste the world’, and the innate knowledge of the inner fades…

Touching this state, again, triggers certain responses. We don’t want to lose it, yet ordinary attempts to hold onto it will fail. To hold the contact with that presence that is so deeply ‘us’ – requires that we learn why we lost touch with it in the first place…

It is constantly changing, and, unless we understand the subtle currents that drive its changes, it will appear to float off on an inner, summer breeze.

Part of what the Silent Eye teaches is to understand, in a self-demonstrable way, what the soul is. In the simplest terms, it is our truth: absolute and unchallengeable once experienced. It came into this world, into our lives, before we – the personality of self – existed. Our personality has grown, in all its strengths and weaknesses, around the soul, like a suit of heavy armour around warm and beautiful flesh. This necessary journey was chosen by the soul for its development. When we die, the harvest of the life adds to the soul, and the armour returns ‘to the earth’.

The soul is made of something special. It is not subject to the ordinary laws that govern our lives. It is not subject to them because its existence pre-dates them. It is ‘bigger’ and more fundamental than those restrictions.

We don’t ordinarily ‘see’ the soul because it is closer to us than anything else. All our experiences are actually experienced in its substance, but our reactions to those experiences are of our ordinary, waking self. The inner peace, spoken of through mystical history, is the non-reactive response of the soul to life’s experiences, as it delights in oneness in the fullness of inner and outer life, combined.

The soul tries to speak to us every day, every minute and second of our waking and dreaming lives. But the noise of the world and our habitual turning away mean that it cannot be heard. Life is a ‘noisy’ place, and most of the noise is our reactive self.

The journey into that place of peaceful love and purpose belongs to us all. There doesn’t have to be a map – some people take it by storm. But a map helps on the journey. Few of us can find that beautiful home on our own simply because we’ve got used to not being there. Those who teach it are paying forward the love of they who taught them.

Like the flowers on the front of the bicycle in the opening image, we carry the soul within us always. It is us rather than we are it. This perspective is crucial…

We’ve just forgotten that the summer is always there… right in front of us.

©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.

Never West…

I’ve always loved maps…

I can remember, when a child, being bought a fold-out schematic of a town with streets, main roads, a river, a hill and a railway line. It was just a layout – a map – but I had lots of my own cars, a model train and some small figures of the right scale to populate the town with activity.

“Where are you?” my mother asked, shortly after I became joyfully lost in the richly-featured landscape on the carpet. I looked up, puzzled by the question. I picked up a plastic farmer and offered it to her.

“Are you there or here?” she asked. My mother was always good at making you think…

I can’t remember what my reply was – probably just to keep holding out the plastic farmer.

I grew up with a love of walking and cycling… and maps. I would spend my own pocket money to get a walkers’ map of my favourite places so I could pore over them, imagining, with increasing accuracy, what the landscape would look like. It never occurred to me to ask why north was at the top of the map. I knew from my spinning globe of the planet that the north-pole was at the top of the world, so, of course, all maps would be oriented with north as the top.

But it’s not always been so…

Understanding where we are in the world is fundamental to our survival.. and our sanity. It has psychological implications, too – most of them subconsciously acted on. Our brains are specially ‘wired’ to provide us with a continuously changing ‘map’ of where we are – usually relative to safety or ‘the known’.

Have you ever awoken from a disturbing dream and not known where you were for a second or two? It’s can be frightening; and gives us an insight into why our children cry when faced with the same or similar experiences. A dream has taken them out of the ‘familiar’ and they fear what is new, especially, as in the dream state, when rational thinking is unavailable.

The need for that ‘place of safety’ is hard-wired into our brain’s cognitive mechanisms. In so-called primitive mankind, the place of safety was a physical thing: a cave, or a dwelling in a sturdy tree, perhaps. It’s taken us thousands of years to become happy with the idea that we are somewhere safe (for example, staying in a hotel), rather than the actual location of the home.

Perhaps, seeing this, we become more sympathetic to those who lose their homes through economic or political upheaval. There are likely to be many more homeless people as the present Corvid-19 crisis works its way through our societies.

We are almost unique in trying to share the directions to home with others. The only other species with this is the honey bee. Insect species, like ants, leave chemical trails, but they don’t try to communicate through a language of place. Just us and the bees…

Humans have a long history of creating maps. The oldest examples discovered on cave walls are 14,000 years old. During that time, maps have been drawn, etched or scratched on stone, paper and, now, screened on computer devices – particularly portable ones, like phones and tablets.

(Above: This famous 1973 shot of the Earth, done by an astronaut who was upside down, was actually taken with south at the top. NASA decided to flip it to a normal north-up orientation before its release. Image NASA)

If we were to examine the Earth from space, we would immediately see how difficult it is to identity north. Unless you are long way from the Earth, there are no visual clues, apart from the point of a theoretically huge pencil around which the Earth rotates – the physical (geographic) ‘North Pole’. But this is not the same as the ‘north’ reading on that little pocket device the boy holding the plastic farmer would have got. The two would have been close, but not identical, as the vast and surging currents in the Earth’s iron core creates fluctuations in the magnetic field that swings the little needle on a magnetic compass.

The compass has been an essential part of the story of maps. It’s interesting that its inventors, the Han Dynasty in China (2nd century BCE to 1st century CE), used compasses that pointed to what we now view as south. South was the direction taken by the naturally occurring lodestone used in these early instruments. In ancient China, the ‘top’ of the map was therefore south.

Christian maps from the time of the Crusades were known as Mappa Mundi. East was at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre – the geographic focus of their ‘holy wars’.

(Above: the Hereford Mappa Mundi, with Jerusalem and the east, at the top of the map, Source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

In ancient Egypt, the ‘top’ of the world was east – the position of the sunrise. The Islamic empire placed south at the top, like China. Most of the Islamic population lived north of Mecca, so it was natural to ‘look up’ to the south.

The west was left out of this history. The place to which humanity ‘looked up’ – the top of the map – was never west. So-called Pagan culture was and is closely aligned with all four cardinal directions, and the west is traditionally the point where the day ends, and mindful humans reflect and later sleep to renew. It also marks the end of the force of life (Solar), for that day, and by inference, eventually, the end of life.

It seems no-one wanted to ‘look up’ to the place where the Sun set.

Governments and their military forces have always been interested in maps. Battles are not always won with good maps, but they are certainly lost with bad ones. Google now dominates the world of computer maps, though there are alternatives. Google acquired a private company named Keyhole, who had US military backing to refine and develop the technology that became Google Maps. It’s a powerful product, and most of us have used it in one form or another. Google’s model with all its ‘Apps’ is to give them away and make revenue by selling your location and preferences to its advertisers. The financial cost is low, but it takes us into potentially murky waters. The average person knows little about what really happens with such data, nor who has access to it. Google recently fought a protracted revolt by its own employees, who considered its mapping developments were in danger of breaching the company’s famous ‘Do No Harm’ ethic…

Apple is the other big Tech player in this field. Apple’s business model is to charge more for premium devices but then guarantee to protect the user’s data. Apple did not back down on this – even when heavily pressured by the US government who wanted a ‘back-door’ into its primary security features for ‘anti-terrorism’ purposes. Many of my friends switched to Apple at that point and now view it as the only ‘safe haven’ for their information.

I use products from both sides of this divide. I like Google’s email and and spreadsheet products. But I use them only on Apple technology, then, at least, I have the tested integrity of its privacy promises. Google’s entire model is web-based, so their applications are not hosted in the device; only the browser is.

But the world is changing fast, as illustrated by Google and Apple now working together in the Covid-19 arena to provide a user-secure, distributed framework for ‘contact tracing’. Interestingly, the French government, one of the first to take this up, immediately demanded that the private user data be made available to their authorities. Both companies refused and the demand was eventually withdrawn. Even non-authoritarian societies struggle with these complex issues of privacy vs policing.

Science, like maps, doesn’t give us hard and fast answers. It provides a better-than-last-time fit of what might be happening, knowing that this iteration, too, isn’t perfect. For politicians to quote that they are being ‘led by the science’, as though that were a binary truth or falsehood, is a lie to an unknowing public.

Maps have become far more potent and powerful things. A map is a world. A map allows us to see a whole. A map invites us in… In many ways, it takes three ‘faces’ to make it work. The first is the nature of what is being mapped; the second is the style of representation, for example, figurative or actual.

We need to become the third face in the success of the map. We should enter into all these things, mindfully, knowing that commerce exploits without morals, that insular politics always leads to Fascism, and that the silent and caring voice of the majority cannot stay silent while our civilisation morally burns.

My mother, who now has dementia, wouldn’t understand the answer, but if she asked the boy-become-man studying the larger map of today’s political world the same question about where he was on that map, I might respond that he had to quickly outgrow the plastic farmer – the replica human – and become the fully empowered and fully responsible human by putting the small figure to one side, standing up and looking down at the whole map. If we don’t, then our star may set in the unsung west and humanity become a footnote in Great Nature’s experiments with Life.

That western horizon of our map is just around the corner… If we love the light, then we had better start running towards the ‘east’, and now.

(Opening picture: author-created overlay of two images from Pixabay. Originators: Skease and Philim1310)

©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.

Hollow Clown

He carried the box over to the old table and set it down. Despite its modest size, it was heavy. He reached for the Stanley knife and slit the old tape that held it together, then prized open the dusty lid, revealing the contents.

Immediately, he knew what it was: his old trophy box. He couldn’t believe it was still here? Surely he had thrown it away long ago. He had a half-memory of carrying it out to the recycling – five, maybe ten years ago… or had that just been a dream?

How many years had it languished, dusty and increasingly dirty, on one of the top shelves of the shed? The kind of shelf that you’d use for paint, or an expensive picture frame the wrong shape for any of the photos you had. He had been looking for a pair of snipe-nosed pliers; something you didn’t need every day, until the day you did. The top shelf in the shed was the last resort; the last chance to find a half-remembered tool.

Instead, he’d found the trophy box.

Wiping away the dust that had fallen into the box from the fragile lid, he let his fingers slide down the inside edge of the box, feeling into the layers like a geologist would dig down into layers of sedimentary rock. Four, five, six wooden frames came to life under his scrutiny. He knew what they were: wooden-backed achievement awards from the days of his corporate life. They were in reverse order. The one in front of him was gold.

“Someone else’s idea of gold,” he whispered, surprising himself with the depth of the observation…

The fingers dug deeper. The wooden frames gave way to paper. He smiled as the paper got older and crisper, remembering the earliest days of receiving praise and prize from people he respected, deeply – back then.

They were all part of the rich tapestry that is a life. Meaningless, now. Just layer upon layer of a dead past. Entirely valid back then, but without purpose now other than a set of steps that had got him here, in the old shed, looking in the wrong box…

The best of them had once hung on the walls of his office, in the way that people do when they want to impress visitors.

“Hollow,” he said, softly, watching the motes of dust spin and curl in the the air of his out-breath, in the golden light of the summer sunset.

His fingers had reached the bedrock of the base of the box. They curled, one last time, around the heavy upper rocks of the awards, ready to lift them all out and drop them into the waste-basket. Then stopped…

The card was smaller than the wooden frames; smaller than the letters of congratulation from the oldest of times.

“Zap!’ It read on the back. On the front was an image of a clown with a sad face, his lips curled down in the manner of circus performers. He never found out who sent it. Who had darkened his first day of real victory with a sour note. He looked at it again… The lips were curled down on the white and red face, though the eyes were warmer and kinder than he remembered. Perhaps the clown had grown old, too?

He let the layers of his life fall back into the dusty box, burying the mystery clown, forever.

“Enough!” He shouted, standing up and tucking the box under his arm. He opened the shed door and strode across the garden to the recycling bins at the back of house. As he turned the corner, a breeze blew dust in his eyes, and he had to put the box down to use a handkerchief to wipe them.

Straightening, he saw the smiling face of his wife coming out of the greenhouse with the first of their own tomatoes. She placed one in his mouth, laughing, and was about to turn when she pointed at the box by his feet. She reached down to pick up the lid that the breeze had blown from the top of the box.

“Who’s the laughing clown,” she asked.

Chewing the tiny tomato and shaking his head, he looked down to where she held the card of the clown. Above the striped red and white outfit were the bright eyes… but beneath the laughing eyes was a laughing mouth.

“Will you just hold that for a moment,” he said, wondering if all of this was a dream. The dream held while he took the box and dropped it in the refuse. It held while he walked back to his bewildered wife, and gently took the card from her confused fingers.

The clown was still smiling… He thanked and kissed his wife and dropped the card into his pocket. From now on, it would be all the trophy he needed.

©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.

Staying Dead

Following my exploration of the I Ching in the recent series of posts (list below), I’ve begun to examine its guidance from the perspective of what I know to be true after a lifetime’s immersion in the mystical arts.

One of the authors I have come to trust is Brian Browne Walker. Brian is the author of several contemporary translations of the I Ching, Tao te Ching, The Art of War and his own work: Wie wu Wei Ching. His writings are entirely sympathetic to the ancient tradition, while providing an easier daily access to its undoubted wisdom.

We have busy lives, and, often, little time to contemplate how we should start each day, or how we should react (or not react) to a given situation. Brian Brown Walker’s response was to create a ‘pocket version’ of the I Ching to run as an App on mobile phones.

Brian Browne Walker’s I Ching App

This App is simplicity itself to use, and allows the choice of dropping your own coins (see previous post) or tapping the App’s own coins. The results are ‘randomised’ into the equivalent reading. A small extra charge gets you the further guidance of the Wei wu Wei Ching, an addition translated text whose title translates as ‘Action through inaction’… something that captured my attention, as it was deeply relevant to my current state of mind and internal study.

It’s a concept we are not used to in the west. The idea of doing through not-doing requires a willingness to explore a deeper understanding of our place in the scheme of things. As individuals or societies, we can choose to act or not, when faced with a difficult choice. There are traditional and tribal methods of reaction, but they may not suit the person who is working to find a more harmonic relationship with their world – the world, for there is such thing as a world without its observer…

Each morning, I use the pocket App, above, to generate a view of the opportunities and challenges ahead. Initially, I approached this with skepticism, but, like generations of others, I’ve been astonished at how precisely the I Ching fits its guidance into the specific issues of my life.

On the day of writing this post, my reading was: No 3 – Chun. “Difficulty at the Beginning’. The literal meaning of Chun is a blade of grass pushing gently up through the soil, but meeting an obstacle. Its message is that patience and gentle perseverance is the course of action to take.

The startling part of the reading came from the secondary text provided by the Wei wu Wei Ching, which said:

To realize the Way
you must die and stay dead
and go on living. With one mighty blow,
sever the attachments of mind
and self and dwell in
emptiness.

The idea of ‘dying and staying dead’ is a profound one–if we understand what it refers to. There is a stage in mystical development where we must become dead to the person we were; must leave behind the parts of it that have become old. This act is a metamorphosis, much as the caterpillar undergoes when it spins the cocoon around itself and dissolves; awakening to find its chemical ‘soup’ has been transformed into one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth.

“You must die and stay dead… and go on living”. It couldn’t be clearer. We must make the effort to separate what has been outgrown from a vital core whose components we may not even know. We need to trust… We must trust that the ‘soup’ into which we dissolve will contain, along with the nurturing world around us, the material and forces to re-form us into a more powerful, honest and precise human being, fit to carry out that part of the world’s evolution, grand or simple, that has been allocated to us.

The effect this reading has is dependent on where we are in our life’s journey. It can be interpreted as a simple stage or a major point of transition. Only they who ‘cast the coins’ can know.

The text is not mine to quote freely, but one of the closing sentiments from this part of the book of ‘Action through Inaction’ is:

Where
before there were
ten thousand entanglements, now
there is undifferentiated
Oneness, clarity,
peace.

If we truly seek, what more could we ask?

Other parts of this series of posts on the I Ching:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, This is part four.

Brian Brown Walker on Amazon. The App is available on the Apple App Store or on Android.

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The Mysterious Self

One of the most wonderful elements of being Human is the sense of self; yet there is great confusion as to what the ‘self’ really is… even whether it exists at all.

Something harvests the experiences of each day yet declares itself separate from them. This accumulation is deemed to be a living entity – the ‘me’ – resplendent with a memory of having lived it, rather than the actuality of what was lived, and containing a trace of the story of that day, which, over time, is consolidated into ‘like’ experiences.

Language cements this relationship with experience. In western languages, we have the basic construct of ‘I do this’: subject, verb and object. Some older languages – often associated with highly spiritual societies – do not have this structure. Sanskrit, for example, the ancient language of India, would say “This is being done”.

It is memory that gives us this certainty of self. Its power of continuity becomes vital to our wellbeing. We take this completely for granted. We do this because we have no choice – it became our dominant perspective at a young age, typically before the age of seven. Because we ‘live in it’, we no longer see it – like so many aspects of our individual worlds.

Although wonderful, it is also a spiritually-deadly perspective, because it separates ‘us’ from the rest of our world.

Let’s consider the elements of this.

Having a sense of Self means that I separate out parts of my experience and call them ‘me’. This act, alone, is quite remarkable. On what basis did my young self determine which bits were me and which were something else?

Vividness of experience must have played a big part. What my attention is drawn to becomes that which I focus on. My attention is grabbed by immediacy and there is nothing as immediate as my body. Continued focus on my body dulls the attention given to the rest of ‘my’ world, even though it is still there with all the power it had when I was a new-born.

This sense of my body becomes, in many ways, my first self – and this will remain dominant for the rest of my life. Spirituality in all its forms, faces this as the first barrier to development. We have to come to see that the solid reality of our own cluster of matter – our bodies – is only one reality; and that the dominance of this in our consciousness is due to habit, rather than any superiority of existence.

The dominance of self as body has another consequence – it locks us into pain. When the body is in pain, so becomes our whole self, if it is focussed in this way. Pain in the body will always be real, but its effect on our overall aliveness is determined by our attention. This discipline is one of the tenets of Buddhism.

The founding psychologists of the early part of the last century worked hard to establish a structure of the Self, or Psyche, so that they could truly investigate its workings. This was a giant leap in mankind’s ability to analyse its own existence. Freud is somewhat dismissed these days, largely because of his singular focus on the sexual power as the dominant ‘drive’, but he gave us a lasting legacy and some major insights into how the self develops and sustains itself. These are of great service to the spiritual seeker.

His description of the structure of the self is of great use to those pursuing a spiritual path; and has echoes across traditions as varied as the Kabbalah and Sufism.

Freud proposed a three-layer hierarchy for the psyche. The first of these was what became known (in English) as the ‘Id’. The translation serves us badly, because the native German was much more instructive. This word, (Das Es) was, literally, the ‘It’.  Using the word ‘it’ distanced the observer of her own psyche from this ‘beast’. The sentiment being: “I may need it for my survival, but I don’t have to suffer its beastiality in my normal life.”

And yet, the beast of the Id contains all our energy . . . Coming to terms with it is really important, if we want to lead a vital life. The sad part of this rejection is that it also locks away our younger self, with all its innocence and its delight – because it had appetites for things the subsequent world found ‘antisocial’.

This act of staring at the Id generated a kind of second self, known, in English, as the ‘Ego’. The native German, again more helpful, was ‘The I,’ (Das Ich). The ego’s job became to manage the monster below, allowing us to fit into society without picking our noses all the time – feel free to substitute your own metaphor . . .

But the Ego borrows all its energy from the Id, which it then seeks to manage . . .

The final layer of the Freudian self is, in English, ‘the Superego’; in German, the Uber-Ich (the over I). This is largely concerned with the ‘should-dos’ of our lives – the development of morality; that which is handed down to ‘well brought-up children’. Again, the Supergo borrows all its energy from the Id, to give the final structure and management to the concept of the self.

So… we have a beast and a trapped child, not allowed to develop into an adult self because we have rubbed up against the edge of acceptable society. Above that we have a parentally-created pattern of authority, that lives with us all our lives until we decide to break that ice ceiling and see the sky . . .

None of these things have been created by bad people. They result from two things: the commonly accepted concept of Ego, which is really the Personality; and the nature of Society – which centres itself around consensus and power, and therefore cruelly robs the individual of full life. If mankind has a purpose, it is to reconcile these forces, for the good of the life that follows.

These elements of the greater Self can be ignored – in which case the patterns of ego-driven personality will return to haunt us all our lives, producing similar patterns of events as the years progress. The alternative is to embark on a journey into the self; spiritually, we would say to go in search of the Self.

There are many trials to such a quest, the biggest being the act of turning away from the chosen path when the going gets difficult. The ego, which, remember, is a mental and emotional construct and has no real existence, has an armoury of below-the-radar weapons against such a frontal assault on its (false) kingdom.

Enneagram Reflected copy(Above: The Silent Eye’s own version of the traditional Enneagram has additional elements to enhance the deeper understanding of the Self, and its relationship to the self)

Techniques can help. One of the most powerful tools for providing us with a personal map of the journey is the Enneagram. Originally developed by Gurdjieff as a key to how the world ‘unfolded’ in its process (the spiritual ‘Word’), it was added to by deeply spiritual teachers, such as Ichazo, Naranjo, Alamass and Maitri, to become the basis of a way of understand the ‘whole in diversity’ in the sense of how the human personality obscures the greater part of the Soul, within.

The Silent Eye has combined this knowledge with the insight from a triad of mystical and magical pasts, to offer the student (we prefer Companion) a three year guided journey, taken by monthly correspondence course with personal supervision, where every aspect of the Self is encountered, deepening each year as the journey takes us to the realm of the soul-child and beyond.

Companionship is one of the keys. Schools like the Silent Eye offer this even more than they offer teaching. This is because the journey can only belong to the one taking it. In the real journey of the true Self, which brings us face to face, via the Soul-Child, with the Essence (Being) from which our Soul formed itself, we reach a point where no system or religion can have any power over us. We come, quite early on this path, to a place where we know that truth belongs to us, and only truth learned and experienced in this way has any value.

To stand alone and look out at that which we distanced ourselves from, when the founding layers of our personality separated us from the “Other”, is a moment that brings us to stand before reality – possibly for the first time. The new Self generated at that point is one of immense power . . . and intense humility.

10 June 2020

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Steve Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit, teaching organisation which delivers stages and mentored lessons via correspondence course. For more information contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com